Sparking Ideas

sparking ideasWhen I saw Jeffrey Deaver at a writers’ conference several years ago, he told a story about how one of his plots was conceived. He’d had an electrician over for some rewiring and Deaver was observing his work. At one point the guy was making a tricky connection and he said he had to be careful not to touch a certain wire or connection or else the result might be fatal. Deaver’s creative mind perked up and he said, “Really? Tell me more.” Or something along those lines. Thus, was the idea behind The Burning Wire.

I can relate. There are many times when I am researching a story an idea will hit me when I listen to somebody talk about something completely different than what my story is about. Or I see something interesting that sparks an idea. Or I visit someplace and note observations and descriptions.

I’ve mentioned several times to people how a scene in Alpha was changed when I visited the Val-Air Ballroom. My original idea was to have Mallory, who sees a woman she’s been looking for, chase her through an empty building. I hadn’t been to the Val-Air in a while, so I visited to write down descriptions. I didn’t think I’d be able to get inside, but I could still remember it from when I had been there in the past.

To keep a longer story short, I ended up walking into a quinceanera, a birthday party for a 15 year old Mexican girl. They go all out for these parties. People and music and food and the cost to rent the Val-Air? I couldn’t imagine.

Anyway, nobody threw me out and probably didn’t notice I was there. I was fortunate to find the manager in his office and was able to obtain a bit more information. Walking out, I thought to myself, “You can’t make up this stuff.” The birthday party was included in the book.

When I, uh, committed a minor infraction by trespassing on railyard property (don’t tell anybody, ok?) to look for descriptions for the climactic scene in Alpha, I found the perfect spot under the East 30th Street Bridge. It was so much better to see it and add some reality to the scene than it would have been if I would have tried to make up the descriptions.

Another example of how people can spark an idea is from a few weeks ago at my writers’ group in Knoxville. I had been trying to come up with the final chapter, the epilogue of the latest novel I’m finishing up. I’d written a series of interludes that progressed in intensity and I wanted to make the final scene the most intense. I couldn’t think of anything for a couple weeks. At the group, I’m listening to the moderator read his selection and he mentioned something about Minneapolis. In my story, I have a character who lives in Minneapolis. The idea quickly formed, and I scribbled down a short outline of that scene. It’s intense, but it also has a bit of humor that I think will be a pretty good way to end the book.

People will give you ideas. Listen to them. Listen to their stories and what they want to discuss. Keep your mind open. A story idea or a new scene or a change of scene may occur.

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U & I: Talk Talk

talkWhen I pick up passengers I leave it up to them whether they want to talk during the ride. Many times, the only words I hear are hello, a confirmation of the name, and a confirmation of the destination. They’re silent the entire trip with maybe a thanks at the end.

Some passengers want to chat about me and they ask the usual questions of how long I’ve been driving and where I live. Most passengers will talk to each other about the event they’re going to, what happened at the place they just left, or other things in their lives.

I don’t mind silence or if they want to talk. I feel I’m helpful to visitors to Des Moines who are looking for interesting places to visit, restaurants to try or discussing things in my life they ask about. Since I’m a published author, sometimes I have a chance to promote my books. I’ve even sold a book to a guy when I had a box of books in the back of the car.

There are times, though when I wonder if the passengers realize, or care I can hear most of what is being said. Sure, there are times when couples talk low and I don’t hear things, and that’s fine. Some of the topics that are discussed…well, maybe those should be kept for another time and place. On the other hand, the apathy about my hearing them could be because we’ll probably never see each other again so it doesn’t matter it If overhear.

I don’t mind if people talk about themselves…for the most part. I’m not interested in certain topics. For instance, the guy who was going to his probation officer told me that’s where we were going. I wouldn’t have known his purpose or recognized the building if he hadn’t announced it. Then he proceeded to explain a lot of the crimes he’d committed. Not major felonies but I’d keep DWI and check kiting to myself.

I’ve heard gossip and family history. About a guy who started out pretty well until after college when he started drinking and taking narcotics. About how the ex-boyfriend treated a girl. A guy almost discussed his marital problems but decided against it and then made me an offer to lay a hundred bucks down for me at the roulette table at the casino. Red or black, my choice. If I won, I’d get $200. If I lost, I’d get nothing. Or I could take a fifty dollar tip right away. I went with the fifty since he was a bit intoxicated.

Some passengers I wish would stay silent because they’ll talk just to talk. And the manner of speaking is irritating. Repetition or subjects that don’t need too much explanation, but they’ll harp on about for five minutes.

I’m okay with people giving me directions, but when I know where I’m going, you don’t need to tell me to turn at the next corner…then left at the next corner…then turn right at the convenience store, etc. I do find it helpful if a passenger will tell me what house to stop at, so I don’t have to look for numbers or try to guess which driveway to turn into. At night it’s a bit difficult.

Some of the drunks get a bit rowdy and exuberant. Had a guy call me Cowboy all the way home. Had a couple girls who were drunk, and we stopped at McDonald’s and they couldn’t decide on an order, then one discovered she’d lost her purse. She figured she’d left it back at the bar. It had her money and license, so she couldn’t drive home the next day to Minnesota until she retrieved it. They spent most of the trip to West Des Moines griping about a guy until we were close to the house when they complained about the lost purse again.

As I mentioned, I don’t mind conversation. Sometimes, I wish the passengers would be a bit more prudent in their choice of topic.

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Random Thoughts

random thoughtsJust some random thoughts on the drive home from class.

Why do Mustangs have 3 tail lights on each side and who decided that?

Does anybody ever put gloves in the glove compartment anymore?

I can understand 6 packs and 12 pacts and a case of 24 who came up with the idea of a 15 pack?

Why is it one goose and 2 geese, but not one moose and 2 meese?

Why don’t I ever see a telephone on those telephone poles?

Why do we have 20 oz for a bottle of pop yet we jump to the metric system and have a 2 liter bottle? Speaking of sodas I’ve wondered if there was ever really a Dr Pepper and a Mr. Pibb?

Why do theaters advertise movies starting at 7 o’clock but then show 20 minutes of previews? Should that be considered false advertising?

Why can’t we all agree that daylight savings time is obsolete?

Why do you find only one shoe or 1 sock or 1 glove on the side of the road? What happened to the other half of the pair?

Why do we still have kilometers on our speedometers?

What exactly is a Camaro?

Why do weathermen still forecast shower activity? You don’t hear them forecast sun activity or snow activity.

What type of training did the guy take to become the maker of those urinal odor control pods?

Did Adam run out of cool animal names when it came to the fly?

Why are they called handcuffs when they go around your wrists? Shouldn’t they be called wristcuffs?

Why can’t fitted sheets be easier to fold?

I often see signs for clean dirt wanted for fill. Isn’t clean dirt an oxymoron?

Not much this week, just random thoughts while driving that I remembered afterward.

Oh, one more. Do they still teach in driving class that the green arrow means you can go without waiting for oncoming traffic? Because I still see a lot of drivers see the arrow and sit and wait.

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Chapters – XV

webicon“We booked an excursion to a water park, but nobody told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price.”

It’s all about value, isn’t it?

When I buy books, I try to get the best value. I try to find the best copy, no dents or cracked spines, no pages folded. Yes, I used to be very picky when it came to choosing a copy of a book. My standards have lowered so I could obtain copies of books I really wanted, but I still look at value.

Years ago, I spent $30+ for a hardcover. I don’t buy hardcover any more. When I had extra money I bought off eBay. Some of the sellers are crooks. Selling a book for two or three dollars and charging five, six, seven or more for shipping. What a crock.

Today, paperback books go for around ten dollars or more. Hardbacks are still around thirty to thirty-five.

The independent published authors may be bound by what their publisher sets the price at. Self published authors have a bit more leeway. My issue is, I never could see paying $17 for a paperback book. Yet, that’s what Alpha costs. Sure, I buy the books half price so I can charge less than $17, but I’m not making money that way.

Other authors charge eleven to fifteen, roughly, for their books. I sat beside an author whose publisher was charging $45 for her book. At the authors’ fair, she was charging only $30…and she sold six of them. Six! I sat there with a book almost half the cost and sold zero.

It’s what people are interested in. And the value.

How much have you paid for a book? How much would you pay?

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Around the Globe with Abigail Drake

street-viewOn this warm Friday, I pick up this week’s featured author and ask her where she’d like to be interviewed. She’s pretty open since, as we shall soon read, she’s been all over the world. So, I take her back to my city, Des Moines. (Okay, technically I live in Carlisle, but work with me here.) I know a nice coffee shop down on Ingersoll that has some interesting non-coffee concoctions. There’s even an artist displaying some his projects. We ensconce ourselves at a corner table to start the interview.

The Enchanted Garden Cafe Bannner 540 x 200

1. Who are you and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?

I’ve lived all over the world. I spent years in Nagoya, Japan and in Istanbul, Turkey. I loved those places, but now I live in the idyllic little town of Beaver, which is in the rolling green hills of Western Pennsylvania. I’m probably not the most fascinating character in our town (we have quite an assortment of oddballs here), but I think there are several things about me that are interesting. First of all, the fact that I did spend so much time abroad is a bit of a novelty. Secondly, because I’m a writer, I get a great deal of attention for that as well. I use it for good, however – by teaching classes to teens at our local libraries. Last of all, I blog about my dog on Facebook, and he is now the most famous (and fascinating) Labrador Retriever in the county. He has many followers, and he’s far more interesting that I am.

2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?

I think people would be surprised to know I speak three languages (Japanese, Turkish, and English) and that I studied Japanese and Economics in college. Also, I kind of “fangirl” over Neil deGrasse Tyson and George Takei. I got to see both of them in person (at two separate events). As soon as they walked on stage, my reaction was the same – a freakish and girlie scream. It was kind of scary. I hope they didn’t hear me.

3. What interested you to become a writer rather than something else such as rock star?

Well, first of all, I can’t sing, dance, or act, and I hate being on stage. What inspired me to be a writer is the pure joy and delight I find in the process of writing – and in the wonderful relationships I’ve developed with my readers.

4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?

Oh, gosh. Can it be a very big dinner party? I have so many favorites – Madeleine L’Engle (she wrote my first favorite book), Jane Austen (I loved all of her works), William Shakespeare (he’s brilliant and amazing), Mark Twain (I adore his dry wit), and Ernest Hemingway (mostly because I think he could tell us some great stories).

5. If I were stranded on a deserted island or suffering from a four hour layover at the airport, why would your book(s) be great company?

My books are a nice, happy, funny escape from reality – which is just what you need at an airport (or on a deserted island!).

6. Share your process of writing in regards to: plot and character development, story outline, research (do you Google or visit places/people, or make it up on the spot), writing schedule, editing and number of rewrites.

My process is to force myself to sit in a chair everyday and work. Sometimes that is the hardest part – making time to actually get it done. Also, I take classes all the time and I try to learn from other writers. I’m more of a “pantser” than a “plotter,” but I do have most of the story outlined in my head before I even begin writing the book. As far as research is concerned, if I haven’t seen the place with my own eyes, I do a lot of extensive research online. I write quickly, and I’m fairly prolific. As far as how many edits I do, that depends on my editor. Usually, we go back and forth about four times – if I’m lucky!

7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”

Not everything works for everyone, but there is one universal truth. You need to put time into it, and make time for it. I just spoke about this as the keynote speaker for the Pennwriters Annual Conference. If you’d like to read it, my dog shared it on his blog this morning. https://www.facebook.com/caponethewonderdog/posts/1827555237303820

8. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read, “Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” What is your philosophy of life?

Be kind. Find the good in others, because if you look for the good, you’ll see it.

9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?

I’m working on a book especially for the people who read my dog blog, and, at the same time, I working on the sequel to my newest book (“The Enchanted Garden Café”) and the fourth book in my Passports and Promises series, “Excess Baggage.”

10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?

I have two websites, one for my young adult books (www.wendedikec.com) and one for my women’s fiction and other novels (www.abigaildrake.com). Also you can always follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/abigaildrakewriter/).

______________________

coverThe Enchanted Garden Café

South Side Stories

Book One

Abigail Drake

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Publisher: Kindle Press

Date of Publication: May 1, 2018

ASIN: B079ST8JW1

Number of pages: 272

Word Count: 89,000

Cover Artist: Najla Qamber

 Tagline: Something magical is happening in the garden.

Book Description:

For her sixth birthday, Fiona Campbell’s mother, Claire, made her a peace sign piñata filled with wishes for a better planet instead of candy. When she got her period, her mother held a womanhood ceremony at their café and invited the neighborhood. On her sixteenth birthday, they celebrated with a drum circle.

Fiona grew up trying to keep the impulsive Claire in check, and their struggling café afloat. She plans to move out, but first must find a way to stop a big corporation from tearing down their business and destroying her mother’s livelihood.

Claire thinks karma will solve their financial and legal problems. Fiona prefers a spreadsheet and a solid business plan. The last thing she has time for is Matthew Monroe, a handsome complication who walks through their door with a guitar on his back and a naughty gleam in his eye. But when disaster strikes, and Fiona’s forced to turn to him for help, will she learn to open her heart and find she can believe in something magical after all?

Amazon

Excerpt:

 Falling in love is like baking.

Results may vary with experience.

~Aunt Francesca~

Chapter One

I opened the box and stepped back, tripping over a pile of Himalayan wind chimes I’d left lying behind me on the floor of the shop. They clanked in a discordant melody as I untangled them from my feet.

“What the heck?” I asked, ignoring the chimes and focusing on the parcel that had arrived in the mail earlier that morning. Tiny stone phalluses in various shades of gray filled the container to the brim. Checking the return address, I noticed the shipping cost and wanted to cry. Most of our inventory budget for the entire month had been used to mail this one small box halfway around the world.

“Mom, what exactly did you order from Inuyama, Japan?”

My mother popped her head around the corner, a bright smile on her face. “Did they finally arrive, Fiona? I’ve been waiting for ages.”

“For stone penises?”

Why was I even surprised? This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. My mother, Claire de Lune Campbell, had never been the master of impulse control, and she had a history of making very poor decisions. She’d been born Claire Campbell and added the “de Lune” in, what I can only guess, was a moment of pot-induced inspiration. The pot no longer played a part in her life, but the total inability to make common-sense decisions remained.

Mom picked up one of the stone penises, a happy twinkle in her eye. “Aren’t they lovely?”

On the outside, Mom and I looked alike. The same blonde hair, the same blue eyes, the same stubborn tilt to our chins, but there the resemblance ended. Mom was as happy and bright as a butterfly landing on a flower, and she had the same level of fiscal responsibility. I stressed about everything, especially money, but I had good cause.

My mom owned and operated the Enchanted Garden Café, where we served food, coffee, and specially blended teas and sold unusual items in our small gift shop. Nestled in the middle of the South Side, the funky hippie district of Pittsburgh, it was the perfect spot for my mom but a constant source of anxiety for me.

I wiped sweat from my face and brushed off my clothing. Dust covered my T-shirt and shorts, and some kind of stone powder had fallen out of the box from Inuyama onto my tennis shoes. Mom, glowing in a dress made from recycled saris, didn’t have a speck of dust on her, but she hadn’t handled the phalluses.

Kate, the girl who worked behind the counter, came over to us, her blue eyes alight with curiosity. “I want to see them,” she said. Mom handed her one, and she studied it closely, peering at it through the thick black frames of her retro hipster glasses. Her ebony hair was pulled off to the side in a low ponytail, and her colorful tattoos peeked through the crocheted black cardigan covering her pale skin. “At least they are anatomically correct. Look at those veins.”

My cheeks grew warm, and Mom smiled, putting a cool hand against my face. “Aww, Fiona is blushing.”

“No, I’m not. It’s hot in here.”

“Of course it is,” she said, making me feel twelve instead of twenty-five, but it was hot for early June, and the air-conditioning was broken. Again. Even with all the windows open, it still felt stuffy.

I ignored her and picked up a penis. “What are these things anyway?”

She beamed at me with pure, unfiltered happiness. “Fertility charms from a little shrine in the mountains of Japan. They have a big festival there every year. I went once.”

She sighed, most likely remembering happy times at the fertility festival, and went back to the kitchen. I looked at Kate and rolled my eyes, making her snicker, before getting back to work. The fertility charms came in all sizes and seemed handmade. I just wasn’t sure how to sell them or where to display them in our shop.

A Victorian eyesore, the café was painted on the outside in what once had been a mix of bright pink and various shades of green. The pink had faded to a dull rose, and the green looked like the color of old limes just before they rotted. It needed work and a fresh coat of paint, but instead of doing so, we spent our money on phalluses from Japan. That was how things worked with my mother. No planning. No rhyme or reason. No logic. No rational thought.

The bell above the door tinkled, and I turned, a penis in each hand, as a stranger walked into the shop. I couldn’t see his face at first because the sun was at his back, but he carried a guitar case. A sure sign of trouble.

“Hello,” he said as he came closer.

He had straight dark hair that brushed his shoulders, brown eyes, and a goatee. He reminded me of a sexy, naughty French pirate, and I knew his kind well. Close to my age, he was definitely one of the artsy, flighty types who always hung out around my mom. I could spot them a mile away.

“Holy guacamole, if he were any hotter, I’d need new underwear,” whispered Kate, taking off to the back of the shop and leaving me alone to greet the stranger.

DrakeAbout the Author:

Abigail Drake is the award-winning author of twelve novels, including three young adult books under the name Wende Dikec. She has spent her life traveling the world, and collecting stories wherever she visited. She majored in Japanese and International Economics in college and worked in import/export and as an ESL teacher before she committed herself full time to writing. She writes in several romance genres, and her books are quirky, light, and fun.

Abigail is a trekkie, a book hoarder, the master of the Nespresso machine, a red wine addict, and the mother of three boys (probably the main reason for her red wine addiction). A puppy named Capone is the most recent addition to her family, and she blogs about him as a way of maintaining what little sanity she has left.

She is a member of Pennwriters, RWA, Three Rivers Romance Writers, Mindful Writers, Women’s Fiction Writers, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She teaches writing to children, and her non-fiction article about the life of a child in Istanbul was published in Faces Magazine (an imprint of Cricket Magazine) in February 2016.

Newsletter: http://madmimi.com/signups/181796/join

http://abigaildrake.com

https://www.facebook.com/abigaildrakewriter/

https://twitter.com/DrakeAbigail

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14932644.Abigail_Drake

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5 autographed copies of The Enchanted Garden Café

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Chapters – XIV

eating-habits“On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.”

———————————————

So this brings up my eating and writing habits, both of which have changed in the last year. As some may know, I gained a lot of weight when I started my new job two and half years ago. Within the first year, I was up to about 260. I was sitting at a computer for eight or more hours per day and not getting my morning exercises like I had when working for the hotel. I had gained enough weight I had to go buy large size jeans.

So, last year, I became serious about fixing the problem. I made time to exercise. Running, WarriorXFit.com, getting back to my instructor for workouts, a bit of biking. So, too, I changed my eating habits. Less fast food and fat.

Slowly, but steadily, I lost weight and was stronger, had more stamina. I drop about 30 pounds and have managed to keep it off. I changed my eating habits to include a bit more fat (eggs, bacon, avocados, peanuts), but I’ve switched to protein shakes in chocolate milk in the mornings.

Unfortunately, a couple months ago, my work schedule changed. I was going in an hour later and working later. That fouled up my afternoon workouts. I could get home, change clothes, go for a run or workout and get back in time to go to the writers’ group meetings. Because I’m working later, I can’t do that. Or I can if I don’t go to group. So, I’ve picked up a schedule of going to the Tuesday night group every other week.

The biggest thing, though, is even though I clock in at eight, I still get up like I was going to clock in at seven. This gives me some time to work out in the morning. Now that warm weather looks like it will stick around a while I can go running in the mornings when it’s warm enough. Otherwise, I’m still doing the WarriorXFit most weekdays.

Then I go in early to work and write for an hour or so. I’ve finished a story that way, and I’ve gotten a good start on another one. Some days I’m in by 6:30 and have almost 90 minutes to write.

Sundays, I try to get out and run and work on my form.

So, I adapt to the new situations and make time to change my eating and writing habits.

What have you done to adapt to new situations?

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Directions For Dummies

directionsThis week, I’d like to discuss something personal. I’d also like to discuss how, in some ways, we have a dumbed down society.

As much as I hate to admit it, I am getting older and at a certain age, we men need to undergo certain procedures. So, I scheduled my appointment for a physical, took the day off to attend. The results were fine save for a higher than normal cholesterol level.

The doc wanted to schedule the colonoscopy and after I explained my scheduling problem he suggested a new way to check for issues. Cologuard is a method that can be done in the home, and sent off to the lab. I agreed and the ‘kit’ was sent to my house.

It is simple: send in a stool sample. No problem, right? Now, I understand making certain the labels are filled out correctly and placing the labels correctly. I get it. The problem I had was the seven step set of directions to be able to do this. I’d like to go through the seven steps, and discuss how dumb some people must be to need these directions as they were written.

Step 1: Check expiration date of kit.

Because maybe they sent an old kit? And I had to use the kit before it expired. My kit arrived in late March and the expiration date was September. I’m pretty sure this is not going to something I’m going to put off. “Sorry, I forgot I needed to poop in container for 6 months.”

The kit included a bracket to put under the toilet lid, a plastic container for the sample that goes into the bracket, a tube for a smaller sample, a jar of preservative, and the labels. Everything goes back into the box and the box gets re-mailed to the lab.

Step 2: Prepare to collect stool sample.

The issue here is timing. I needed to collect the sample and mail it in a timely fashion. This section also shows how to put the bracket under the toilet seat. There are 6 directions on how to do this. One of the steps is: lift the stool sample container out of the box and place on a hard, flat surface. The next direction is: Turn the container lid and unscrew it. The next step: Set the container lid down. As opposed to what? Holding it in your hand? Seriously, is some person not intelligent enough to put the lid somewhere while you do your business?

Step 3: Collect the stool sample. 5 steps to poop in the container. However, after collecting the sample without getting urine or toilet paper in the container, you remove the bracket and…wait for it…finish using the bathroom. Did I need to be told that? Really?

Step 4: Scrape the stool sample.

The tube has a small stick onto which a small sample of the poop had to be smeared. 7 directions for this with pictures, including a notation that ‘Your stool sample may look different from the stool sample pictured.’ Well, that’s good to know. The last step after putting the sample back in the tube is: Set the tube down. Because if I didn’t, I might still have the container lid and now the tube in my hand. I have my hands full, what am I going to do?

Step 5: Prepare stools sample container for return.

6 directions for this including the warning not to drink the liquid preservative. Whew! Glad I read that one because I was pretty thirsty by this step.

Step 6: Label your samples.

Fairly straightforward.

Step 7: Prepare your samples for return.

In essence, put everything back in the box and mail, but it takes 9 directions to tell me that.

When I described some of these directions for dummies to my dad he made a comment that he wondered what B.S. meeting had to be conducted in order to plan out with real people who get paid money what these directions should be. “Well, okay, the person has removed the lid, but what is he supposed to do with it? Keep it in his hand? Come on, Bob, we have to tell these people to put it down somewhere.” I’m sure a similar sentence was used.

Anyway, somehow, I managed to complete the procedure with no mistakes…maybe because I had such explicit, detail directions.

Or maybe because I’m not an idiot and I understand how to poop into a container.

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Customer Service Part II

handshakeA couple months ago, I was reviewing the scheduled blogs. I knew I was several weeks ahead. When I saw the customer service blog, I had to smile. This brought to mind an incident of poor customer service and how it affected me.

February 11. I’m at my parents’ and ready to go home. The car won’t start and I have to borrow their car. What the mechanic discovered was a circuit/fuse box was corroding because of the water and snow and ice off a tire. It had affected the circuit that controlled the spark plug and a lot of the other wires were corroded. He made a temporary repair, but I was driving on borrowed time.

I asked Firestone about a new part. $700. Just for the freakin’ part! My next option was to search the salvage yards and see if one could be found. The first place I tried had it. Sam’s Riverside. I stopped by on Thursday, February 15. The guy said I could pick up the part the next Tuesday and that he’d call to let me know he had it.

The following Tuesday, he didn’t call, so I called him. He didn’t have it but he’d check on in it and let me know. My hope was I could get the part and possibly have the car fixed and ready to go to Black Belt Camp on the 23rd. That didn’t happen and the next day, my car developed problems on the way to class and didn’t start afterward. So, now I’m stuck in Oskaloosa. A friend let me stay and drove me home and to work. I Ubered to a car rental place to rent a car.

Jump ahead to the 26th. Monday. I call Sam’s and explain to the first guy that I was still waiting to hear about the part. He puts me on hold. Minutes later, another guy picks up the phone and asks who I am holding for. When I explain again, he says that he just asked about that. He had been checking open ticket from the previous week and had just inquired about it. They hadn’t been able to get to it because of the weather the previous week but that he’d check on it. Later that afternoon, when I called I was told that they couldn’t find the car to remove the part. They had moved inventory and were looking for it. The guy told me he’d let me know Tuesday and if he couldn’t find it then, he’d search around and find the part somewhere and call me on Wednesday.

Wednesday, I start calling other places. The fourth place I called, Don’s Auto (just up the road from Sam’s), had the part and said they’d have it pulled within an hour. Actually it was more than 90 minutes, but he called back and said he had it at the desk. I stopped and picked it up and began making arrangements to have it installed.

My point about customer service is: Sam’s has a sign that one can’t miss tacked to the column at the desk. It lists the reasons businesses lose customers. I don’t remember all of it, but 1% die, 5% move, and so on. The last one in big letters said 70% of customer go somewhere else when the business has an apathetic attitude toward the customer. That’s what I felt they did with me. They told me they were really busy. Apparently, so busy that they couldn’t keep me updated.

Don’s also had a customer service sign: Take care of your customer, or someone else will.

Don’s did take care of the customer and they earned my thanks.

UPDATE:

Written about a week after the original was written. Unfortunately, there some other problems with my car and I thought the part from Don’s didn’t work. I ended up going back to Sam’s and they had ordered a part (still didn’t call until after I called a week later), but ended up getting another part…which I need to return.

My point is, Sam’s came through a little late but without an update and not in a timely manner. I’m still not completely happy and probably won’t return to them if needed again.

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Customer Service

c2e15ac69038577a57173702af976fd8--customer-service-week-customer-experienceI was going to write a series of blogs on Customer Service. I’ve had this paper around for awhile and just didn’t take the time to look it over and sit down and write the series. Reviewing the paper, I realized, I didn’t need to expand on the notions, just type them verbatim. So, here it is:

9 Tips on Providing Excellent Customer Service

Excellent customer service can create loyal customers for life who are willing to refer your business to friends, family, and colleagues.

Providing customer service starts with a genuine desire to delight your customers, but you also have to think beyond selling your product or service. You need to consider the cumulative experience your customers have when they visit your store or website, what they think and feel, and what you can do to make it better.

1. Know Your Product/Service

In order to provide good customer service, you need to know what you’re selling, inside and out. Make sure you know how your product or service works. Be aware the most common questions customers ask about your products, and know how to articulate the answers.

2. Be Friendly

As they say, customer service starts with a smile. When you are in a face-to-face situation, a warm greeting should be the first thing your customers see and hear when they ask for help. And even when handling customer service requests via telephone, a smile can come through in your voice, so make sure you’re ready to be friendly.

3. Say Thank You

Gratitude is memorable, and it can remind your customers why they shopped at your store or hired your company. Regardless of the type of business you have, saying thank you (not Tanks) after every transaction is one of the easiest ways to start a habit of good customer service.

4. Train Your Staff

It’s important to make sure all of your employees, not just your customer service representatives, understand the way they should talk to, interact with, and problem solve for customers. Provide employee training that gives your staff the tools they need to carry good customer service through the entire customer experience.

5. Show Respect

Customer service can often involve emotions, so it’s important to make sure you and others you have handling your customer service tasks are always courteous and respectful. Never let your own emotions overtake your desire to see your customer walk away happy.

6. Listen

Listening is one of the simplest secrets of customer service. Listening means hearing what your customers are saying out loud, as well as what they are communications non-verbally. Watch for signs that they are displeased, as well as what say to you directly.

7. Be Responsive

There may be nothing worse than non-responsiveness to a customer who is trying to get help, resolve an issue, or find out more about what you’re selling. It’s important to respond quickly to all inquiries, even if it is only to say you are looking into the issue and will be back in touch. Some response is always better than none so the customer doesn’t feel ignored.

8. Ask for Feedback

You may be surprised what you learn about your customers and their needs when you ask them what they think of your business, products, and services. You can use surveys, feedback forms and questionnaires, but you can also make it a common practice to ask customers first-hand for feedback when they are completing their orders.

9. Use Feedback You Receive

You need to to do something with the feedback you receive from customers in order to make it useful in your customer service process. Take time to regularly review feedback, identify areas for improvement, and make specific changes in your business.

Good customer service often comes down to consistently checking in with your customers and making sure they are happy with not only the products and services you’re selling, but also the process of purchasing, ordering, working with your, etc. If you do that successfully, you are on your way to becoming known for providing excellent customer service.

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Stay Positive

Stay positiveHow do you stay positive in the face of obstacles and problems? Here’s how some of my students have:

STELLA

I deal with adversity and obstacles by keeping on trying. I sometimes get upset and frustrated and sometimes want to quit, but I keep trying. When I was learning to tie my shoes, I was scared at first and a little upset, but after I tried it a few times and figured out I could do it, I was happy and excited that I had learned something new. When I was at the pool and wanted to try the water slide, I was scared even though my mom, dad, and brother were all riding it. I thought it was too fast and scary. I eventually got up the courage to try it and thought it was really fun and went down it like 100 times.

DREW

My mom always tells me to stay positive. I try to listen, but sometimes it’s hard. Like everyone else, I have problems, and everyone has problems, even small ones.

One of them is school which I find difficult. At times there’s school work for firsts, always stressing me out and taking up my time to relax. I also don’t like bullies, even if it’s not me being targeted. It just really annoys me to see someone hurting another because it makes them feel good. But there’s one thing I can tell myself to stay positive, “It won’t change until you do something.”

Beside that, I also have problems at home. Things can get pretty negative there, but I make due. One thing I can look forward to in the future is being able to travel back to Japan, where we can be a hole family again.

Although it’s hard to stay positive, it would be better than the negatives. You’re less energetic when you’re sad and you’ll think less and make terrible mistakes. That’s why you got to think about the positives and not the negatives.

BRENDAN

Well, once when I got a hard math assignment, I got frustrated. I felt I couldn’t do it. So, I asked my Nana for help. After she explained it, it made sense. Then I was able to do my math assignment.

Sometimes, when I’m trying to learn something, I want to give up because I can’t do it. Well, I feel then, like I couldn’t do it. But, if I can take a time out from it, then usually it can be done.

Repetition – like I learned to tie my shoes or roller skate or ride a bike.

Positive reinforcement helps!

Sometimes I pray about difficult things to get easier.

DEACON

I have to deal with adversity everyday of my life and I really do not like it. Sometimes, in taekwondo I have to practice a different move. This is how I stay positive in stuff like taekwondo. First, I think about something to cal me down. Then, I keep trying and trying and keep doing my best and if I don’t give up, I succeed at the taekwondo moves.

At school when I have something hard to do, I might ask my friends to help with the task. When my friends volunteer to help me, it makes it not so hard as it is being done alone. If I can’t do something because I’m hurt, then my friends help me right away without waiting and I’m happy that they will do that for me.

When I first hear I would learn division, I thought I could not do it. But when my parents made me do it, I got better at it. I started to pass tests on division and multiplication. I was glad I finished division facts on my own without anyone helping me.

AMBER D

Overcoming obstacles and adversity is hard and it’s hard to stay positive when things happen. However, after a moment (no more) of being down or whatever, you have to look at yourself and decide, “Am I going to let this get the best of me?” or am I going to do something about it and use it as a learning experience. We can take the difficulties and see them as opportunities to better ourselves, learn to grow.

AMBER

My biggest stay positive is when things get tougher and challenging, I want to just give it up. I feel I can’t do it or everyone is better at it than me.

I have learned staying with karate and focusing and practicing and listening to my coaches. I will get better at it. Also, my teachers at school said when I started karate, I had a more positive attitude and not as shy as I used to me and I speak up more. I have learned you don’t have to always whine and it takes practice at everything.

SALEENA

My stay positive is at school. I’ve had struggles with math and reading is my biggest challenge. I like to give up on it and I get real upset trying to understand it.

I know I have to try to stay positive and know it will get better for me the more I practice at it. I try to stay happy and positive at school. I have realized it’s not worth it to give up, then you will never learn.

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