Friday Five

1. The sun will come out tomorrow. You’ve likely seen the photos, heard the reports and watched footage of Hurricane Sandy. There’s not much else I can share about the destruction and disruption of the past week that you don’t already know. From my little corner of Brooklyn, I can tell you that Monday night, when the storm really barreled into the area, was a long and scary night. After midnight twice I received reverse emergency phone text messages (if you’re not familiar, this is when the emergency service contacts you to warn of imminent danger) telling me: SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY. DO NOT GO OUTSIDE. I thought there was a tornado coming, so Reggie and I hid in the closet, the only place in my apartment without windows.

My neighborhood is set up on a natural hill so flooding wasn’t a major concern for us, unlike other areas of the borough which are still underwater. (A guy who lives in a converted warehouse in the Red Hook neighborhood told me that he’d pumped the water out of his basement using a borrowed generator only to find that a few hours later it had seeped back in.)

As I write this, my office, in the West Village of Manhattan, is still closed due to power outages and subway service is still suspended. We’ve been trying to work from home, but it’s not been efficient. Some co-workers still have spotty cell service; some still are without power completely; some have trees through the roofs of their homes.

All of this of course means absolutely nothing in comparison to people who lost all of their possessions. I am hoping my friend in coastal Connecticut is okay. Last I heard, she was a block away from the evacuation zone and six houses at the end of her street were engulfed by the ocean. In other cases, rescue teams are still getting people out of their flooded homes.

If you’d like to help people in need, go to the American Red Cross or text RED CROSS to # 90999 (if you’re in the U.S.) to make an instant $10 donation.

Blue sky, it’s good to see you again.

2. Frighteningly Ghoulish. On a happier note, just before the storm, my company held the annual Halloween party. (Some offices have Christmas parties, mine has a Halloween party.) People really go all out decorating their departments. They don’t just carve a couple of pumpkins and hang some lame streamers. Oh, no. Each group votes on a theme and then transforms their area into another world. Some stand-outs this year:

Day of the Dead — The Day of the Dead is a holiday in Mexico when people gather to honor friends and family members who have passed on…unless you’re in my company in which case your Day of the Dead celebration includes a saloon…

…and a ceremonial altar containing Cheerios and some kind of canned fruit. (We’re not known for being historically or culturally accurate.)

Mardi Gras. Who says you can’t mash up two holidays into one? I’m not going to be the one to tell them that they can’t serve hurricanes a la Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans (ironic, no?), make shave ice and hand out beads. Not me.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High. What does this have to do with Halloween? Absolutely nothing. Except that it’s a lot of fun. And sad. Because many of the people in my department weren’t alive when the movie came out in 1982. One guy said to me, “I don’t get it.” Of course you don’t, dude. You were born in 1990. Aloha, Mr. Hand.

The photo isn’t great here, but this is one of our conference rooms reconfigured to look like a high school gym at prom. There is the photo booth over there in the corner and the gym bleachers to the left. The screen to the right is showing the movie.

Gilligan’s Island. Quite possibly my favorite area of this year’s Halloween festivities. Island theme. Check. Fruity umbrella-type drinks. Check. Yummy snacks. Check.

This is some guy’s cube. Really.

How did you celebrate Halloween this year? 

3. Paws up for progress. Last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban the sales of dogs, cats and rabbits from pet stores in the city. A lot of people aren’t aware that animals, particularly dogs, available for sale at pet stores actually come from puppy mills. (That is in the U.S. I’m not sure if this is as pervasive in other countries.) Puppy mills are large commercial breeding operations with hundreds, even thousands, of dogs. So while that puppy in the window is cute and cuddly, his parents live their lives in crates, often with little to no veterinary care, and kept constantly pregnant. Then when their breeding days are over, they are routinely killed, dropped off at shelters or sold at auctions for pennies — literally.

But back to the good news… Although they are not the first (27 other North American cities have enacted such legislation), Los Angeles is the first large U.S. city to ban the sale of pets from stores. Now other cities have expressed interest in following suit. It’s been a long, uphill battle, but I’m so happy to hear that some progress is being made to stop this practice. With 11,000 dogs and cats being killed in shelters every single day, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

4. Your bookshelf. I tend to take trends with a grain of salt (as evidenced by my fashion sense or lack thereof), but reading an article in Shelf Awareness recently got me thinking about the way in which we learn about new books. It wasn’t that long ago – just two or three years really – that I added books to my TBR pile primarily by browsing my local bookstore. (I could spend hours browsing in a bookstore!) Here’s what focus groups had to say:

Two years ago, 35% of book purchases were made because readers found out about a book in brick-and-mortar bookstores, the single-largest site of discovery. This year, that figure has dropped to 17%, a reflection both of the closing of Borders and the rise of e-readers. In the same period, personal recommendations grew the most, to 22% from 14%. Some three-quarters of personal recommendations are made in person, while the rest come by e-mail (8%), phone (7%), Facebook (4%) and other social networks (3%).

Surprisingly, considering all the attention it’s gotten, digital mass media, including Facebook and Twitter, rose just to 4.5% from 1.9% as a place people learned about the books they have bought. And the online channel represents 9% of discovery, which Peter Hildick-Smith, the president of the company running the focus group, called “way underperforming” in light of the amount of purchases made online. In part, this is because many readers search for books online knowing what they want. (By contrast, readers tend to go into bookstores with an “open mind.”) The result, Hildick-Smith said, is that many books “get lost in the long tail.” Amazon, for example, has 32 million book offerings.

If I’m not good at determining trends, I’m even worse at interpreting them, but it seems to me that is a fast change. Just two years ago many people were learning about books in bookstores, and now that has dropped to half that number.
How do you learn about the books that you want to read? 

5. Is social media social? What I also found interesting to come out of the aforementioned focus group is that social media doesn’t seem as influential as we are all lead to believe in terms of books. If I’m reading this correctly,  Facebook and other social networks make up a total of 4.5% of how people hear about new books they purchased.

Yet, it feels that it’s important for authors to spend time building a social media platform, even though it’s a relatively small number in comparison to the total. I know that as a reader, I often search for an author’s website, Twitter feed, Facebook page or blog, but that tends to be after I’ve bought and read the book.

As author Jonathan Franzen has said, “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” But since I haven’t won a National Book Award or been a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, I feel like I should be out there. But how much is necessary? How much is too much?  To get a broader view, last week, I took a short seminar on social media for authors. I learned a few interesting tips, some areas of applications that I hadn’t explored or was intimidated to try. The most exciting part of the evening (for me, at least) was that I won a one-hour consultation with the seminar host, where I can ask her any questions about social media, publicity and marketing for authors.

For you authors out there, what would you ask? Anything you are curious to know? 
Have a great weekend, everyone! 


  1. I’m so glad to know you are okay and that your home is elevated a bit. There are so, so many miserable people in your city, it’s terribly sad. Hope Reggie isn’t afraid of storms. Our Ralph is terrified of them. Lucy doesn’t seem to give a damn. LOL Hope you have a wonderful weekend, as well, my friend.


    1. We are doing well, Kathy. Thanks for sending your good wishes. Reggie doesn’t like thunder or lightening, but strangely with this storm there wasn’t any of that in our area. He was doing all right until a scaffolding partially came down one block over. That was quite loud.
      Woofs to Ralph and Lucy!


  2. Thank goodness you and Reggie are okay! Was thinking of you during the storm. Once again, nature has shown her power over humans. It’s really scary to think that a city the size of New York can be so defenceless.

    Wow, your colleagues are really creative. Of course you’d like the one with the good food and drinks! 🙂

    It’s interesting what you about how people chose books. I have to admit if I’m looking for a novel to read, I won’t go to the book store. Estie and I like the same kind of books, so we always talk about what we’re reading. I also use Goodreads a lot for recommendations. Follow some people with similar tastes. But I do read a lot of non-fiction too, and I love browsing in our local book stores for those. In that case I like to see what I’m buying, and also then be able to support the book store.


    1. Thank you for sending positive vibes our way. It’s been very overwhelming to see the amount of destruction caused by the storm. And that’s just in my neighborhood which is largely intact. I haven’t been out to New Jersey so I can only imagine what it’s like for folks out that way.

      I think a lot of people get recommendations on what to read from friends The power of word of mouth still can be beat! There are a number of local bookstores in my area that I love to browse in when I have time.


  3. I’m so glad you’re okay, Jackie. I can only imagine Monday’s scariness for you — even here in Maine, way on the fringe, it was a sleepless night, made worse by worry about family & friends in harm’s way. Do keep us posted on your CT friend.

    I’d love to know from your one-on-one with the seminar host (lucky you) whether she thinks blogging is necessary or a good idea for us as pre-published writers… there’s so many divergent opinions on this and it’s changing so fast. (And I guess I won’t take Jonathan Franzen’s word for it…)

    Hugs, Julia xo


    1. I’m not going to lie…Monday night was scary. I think it was made worse by the fact that the worst of the storm rolled in during the dark. It’s tough when you hear noises and you can’t see outside.

      Can you believe that I won that consultation? I will absolutely add your question to the list. I see Franzen’s point, though he came onto the scene before all of this was “necessary.” 😛


  4. Funny you mentioned social media at the end, because it certainly serves a purpose for checking in with family and friends during storms. I was happy to get the Tweet from you that you and Reggie were OK.
    I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the search for the author takes place after you’ve read the book. That said, if you are able to find the author is active in various social media outlets, you may be more likely to read more of his/her works.

    Your office Halloween party looked incredible, Jackie. Where do you work? I’m guessing this post will create a great many resumes getting sent to your employer. And your comment about the young whipper snapper not getting Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

    I hope your friend in CT is safe. My thoughts are with everyone affected by the storm.


    1. You’re right that social media definitely helped to get in touch with friends and co-workers to hear that they were okay after the storm. Definitely a plus. Even just a word or two provides some relief.

      The Halloween party is always a good time. When I was younger (ahem) it was more of a rowdy good time, but I still enjoy walking through the hallways to check out all of the decorations. People are so creative and talented! I couldn’t even dream up most of the things they’d done.

      Hope the boys had a fun Halloween. Have a great weekend!


  5. Jackie, I just sent an email to you to let you know you and Reggie have been and are still in my thoughts…we feel so helpless on this side, knowing how many are grieving and struggling to get their lives back. Thank you for sharing how you are, dear friend.


    1. Thank you so much for your kind and warm words! I almost feel guilty sitting in my apartment with electricity, heat and wi-fi when people just a few miles from here have lost everything. It’s all been very surreal.


  6. Glad to hear all is well! And great news about pet stores. One of my friends rescued a female dog that was used in a puppy mill. When you saw her, you could tell she had a tough life. She was sweet as can be, but she still broke my heart. Animals should not be treated this way, ever.


    1. One of the heartbreaking things about puppy mills is that so many people don’t make the connection between the cute dog in the store to the terrible life the parents are living. They just don’t know. When I was volunteering with an animal welfare group, I cared for some of these rescued dogs and it’s horrible to see what they’ve been through. One dog was missing her entire lower jaw because she hadn’t received any medical treatment and her bone had rotted away. I’m so glad that big cities are getting on board with this initiative.


  7. Holy cow, your work really goes all out for Halloween. It looks incredible, Jackie. And what fun it must be, to troll through all these worlds.

    With regard to the Social Media Question: I think it’s necessary for promoting self published books, and to a degree for traditional, but yea, it detracts from time spent WRITING – which is what IS essential (no question), if one wants to write.

    So glad to hear you and Reggie survived and are out of your closet – that was one scary storm. My daughter and her fiancée were visiting in NC with a flight out Monday night, and I just about chewed my fingers off with worry. Thankfully, it avoided the south unless you were right on the coast.


    1. We do not mess around when it comes to Halloween celebrations! (There’s even a costume parade.)

      It’s hard to escape the social media aspect of self promotion. It’s become part of the job description I think. But you’ve made a great point about self published authors having to key into social media even more. One reason I think why Amanda Hocking gave it up to go the traditional route.

      Glad to hear that your daughter was able to get out of harm’s way. Being trapped away from home waiting for a flight is no fun at all.


  8. Really glad you’re OK, Jackie. What a horrible storm. Can’t imagine what people are doing wo/ the subway and electricity.
    I find out about books from blogs and friends. Luckily, my best friend reads voraciously and we like a lot of the same stuff.


    1. It’s been a strange week to say the least! I think the subways will be fully back on line by Monday. Fingers crossed.

      I spent an hour browsing my favorite local bookstore today, flipping through interesting books and reading the jacket flaps. I love it, but I have to be careful I don’t come home with an armful of books that don’t fit on my shelves!


      1. I’m with you on that. There’s something about holding it in your hand, reading the jacket flaps, perusing the first few pages. Sorry to hear that you don’t have any local bookstores in your area. I think my neighborhood is becoming unique in that respect — not in a good way.


  9. I’ve been (and still am for the most part) away from my computer for some time now… but I’m so relieved to hear you are okay Ms. C! After everything I’ve seen and heard I was very, very concerned! Things still sound perfectly awful, but I feel so much better knowing you are hanging in there! Sending my very best thoughts your way… please stay safe Ms. C!!!


    1. Thank you for checking in SIG. I appreciate your message so much. Things are improving here by leaps and bounds. I hope help gets out to the folks in the Rockaways and the Jersey coast, many of whom are still without power, very soon.


      1. Me, too!
        I always forget how many things rely on power… until it goes away. It’s annoying after only a few hours without it… when those hours turn to days, though… it becomes unbelievably grating… just brutal.


    1. I’m always amazed at the creativity and talent of the people at my workplace. I, on the other hand, can’t even draw a stick figure with any accuracy.
      Thanks for sending your warm thoughts this way!


  10. So happy to read you guys endured the storm safe and sound. I can’t imagine how scared you must have been when you received those messages though and to hear the wind howling. It was howling way up here and freaked us out a little. To think of what people are going through down there breaks my heart.


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