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Archive for July, 2009


Belinda Acosta lives and writes in Austin, Texas where she is a columnist for the Austin Chronicle. Her non-fiction has appeared in Poets & Writers, Latino USA, the Radio Journal of News and Culture, AlterNet, the San Antonio Current, and Latino Magazine. She is a member of Macondo, the writers’ collective launched by acclaimed writer Sandra Cisneros. She loves knitting, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, chips & salsa, mariachi (good, make your soul leap from your body, mariachi); conjunto music (todo old school), and given the opportunity, will square dance. Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz is her first novel.

Thanks for this interview, Belinda! Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started writing?

I was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. I get my Tejana creds from my mother, who was raised in deep South Texas. My father is Mexicano (San Luis Potosi—ajua! That’s Mexican for “Woo-Hoo!”). I’ve been living in Austin, Texas, since 1985 or so. I began writing like most writers, I suppose—because I loved to read. Also, I’m not good at anything else, except for acting, which I made a living from for about ten years before I returned to get my BA and subsequent MFA in writing from the Michener Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Your first novel, Damas, Dramas and Ana Ruiz, is coming soon from

Hachatte. What was your inspiration for it?

I responded to a call from a book packager—Jacob Packaged Goods. They proposed an idea for a book about quinceañeras, but unlike most of the other books out there this one would focus on mothers, not just daughters. I admit I didn’t have a lot of personal experience with the ceremonies at the time. In fact I didn’t actually attend my first quince until I was researching the book. But I liked the idea, and once I learned a little more about the project, I signed on to write the first two books in the Quinceañera Club series.

Did you have to do research for your book? Do you think quinceañeras
is a celebration soon to be extinct?

I did some online research and read a couple of earlier books on the subject. One was Julia Alvarez’s marvelous nonfiction book, Once Upon a Quinceañera. The other was a collection of short stories, Fifteen Candles, edited by Adriana Lopez. I went to my first quinceañera mass early in the writing process, in addition to attending a quinceañera fair in San Antonio.

Quinceañeras have been celebrated here and throughout Latin America for ages. I think what may wane are the more spectacular expressions of the ceremony in urban settings. The quinceañera, and especially the quinceañera mass is still very important to some Latino Catholics. So, I don’t see the fundamental ritual dying anytime soon.

Tell us a little about your road to publication. Was it easy finding a

publisher?

I didn’t find the publisher. That was the packager’s job. I wrote the manuscript. Writing is hard work. Writing the manuscript was harder than writing my Master’s Thesis and I thought that was hard.

What are your writing habits? Are you disciplined?

It depends on what I’m writing and what deadlines I’m working under. My day can begin as early as 3am and end when I finish or my brain dries up. Hopefully, those things coincide! Working on multiple deadline gives you no choice but to be disciplined.

I understand you are a columnist for the Austin Chronicle. What is

your column about?

I write weekly about TV and media in a column called TV Eye (www.austinchronicle.com). I also write features and reviews for the music, film, and books sections for the Chronicle as well as other freelance writing, when time permits. Novel writing has brought my freelance writing to a halt for the time being.

What do you have planned for launching your book?

There’s going to be a fabulous book release party in Austin, Texas, on August 18, followed by readings in Austin and San Antonio. A blog tour is also planned.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers may learn more about

you and your work?

http://qclubbooks.blogspot.com

You can also find me on Facebook (there’s a link at the bottom of the above site) and on Twitter @BelindaGene.

Are you working on another novel?

I am currently writing the second book in the quinceañera club series, Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over.

Thanks, Belinda!

Belinda is preparing a big launch for her novel. Check out her schedule:

August 18

Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz

Book Release Party

Cuba Libre – 409 Colorado – Austin, Texas

6pm to 9pm

August 25

Reading

BookPeople – 6th & Lamar – Austin, Texas

7pm

August 29

Reading

Borders Book Store – 255 E. Basse Rd. – San Antonio, Texas

August 29

Reading

Viva! Book Store

11am

There’s also a Facebook Fan group where folks can RSVP http://www.facebook.com/belinda.g.acosta#/pages/La-quinceanera-club-books-de-Belinda-Acosta/137625675297?ref=ts

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unseenI have read all of Alexandra Sokoloff’s novels so far, and I can only say she keeps getting better with every book.

In this her third novel, she once again (as in her first one, The Harrowing) chooses an academic environment: the story takes place in Duke University, North Carolina. Our protagonist, Professor Laurel MacDonald, has just arrived from California following a romantic relationship gone sour. In the beginning she has a bit of trouble fitting in her new working environment and soon learns she must publish if she wants to keep her job in such a prestigious institution. Soon she becomes enthralled by mysterious rumors of an ESP study that was conducted on campus by a well-known researcher back in 1965. Intrigued by the whole thing and obsessed by the idea of finding out more, she starts snooping around in the library and discovers a huge set of boxes filled with records documenting the infamous experiment. What she discovers intrigues Laurel even more: apparently, all the people who took part in the experiement died or became insane.

With the help of a charismatic Duke professor, Laurel decides to recreate the experiment in the same location of the original one: a creepy, desolated mansion not far from the university. Together with two students, they move into the house… and so the chills begin.

Is there really a supernatural entity in the house, or is it a hoax? More importantly, is it something created by the human psyche, by the experimenters’ minds? Sokoloff does a good job at keeping readers wondering about this.

The story quickly picks up pace once the experiment begins and there are creepy moments and chills aplenty, all the way to the thrilling, fascinating conclusion that will no doubt be loved by some and hated by others, but which really is the most natural ending for Sokoloff’s novel.

Sokoloff’s beautiful prose and skill at creating atmosphere set the novel apart from the regular ‘paranormal thriller.’ The story moves at an escalating pace – the more you read, the more you want to read. The characters are for the most part well developed. One thing I particularly enjoyed is all the history and theories about poltergeists. I also feel as though the author spent a lot more time and effort writing this novel; somehow, the writing has a more in-depth feeling than her earlier two. But what truly kept me reading was wondering what was real and what was not. I highly recommend this book to fans of the paranormal. Warning: be sure to keep all your lights on while reading it!

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Bob Pike is chairman and CEO of The Bob Pike Group and has consulted on training and performance improvement since 1969 with organizations like IBM, AT&T, Hallmark Cards, the USMC, the Joint Military Agency, Microsoft, and Pfizer. He is the author or co-author of 29 books, including the best-selling Creative Training Techniques Handbook and Dealing with Difficult Participants. More than 125,000 trainers on five continents have attended his multi-day train-the-training workshops.
Visit his website, www.TheFunMinuteManager.com.

Thanks for being my guest today. Tell us about your latest book,The Fun Minute Manager.

“The Fun Minute Manager” is a business fable in the style of Ken Blanchard’s “The One Minute Manager” (Ken and I have been friends for more than 20 years – and he wrote a wonderful forward to the book, by the way.) The principal character, Bob Workman, wonders why he finds fun at his civic club but not at work. He wonders why friends have created fun work environments that have improved productivity in the challenging work environments at their organizations – and he and his people seem to only derive stress from their challenges. The result is a series of events that allow Bob and his people to transform their work environment and increase productivity and customer satisfaction while having fun at work.

Everybody wants to have fun, but just don’t have it at work. Why not?

While making time for “fun” has not been viewed as a traditional role of a manager, smart managers will gain big dividends (ROI) when employee spirits are lifted–and they are reminded of their value to their manager, their organization and to each other.

This same smart manager will also discover that fun at work:
• Reduces stress,
• Energizes employees and lowers turnovers,
• Improved both employee and customer satisfaction,
• Lowers absenteeism and increases productivity, and
• Creates employee loyalty and group cohesiveness.

Why is fun at work important to an organization – and how can managers make it happen?

Any business owner or manager can learn relevant ways to bring fun into the workplace. The Fun-Minute Manager endorses the concept of having a fun component as part of developing any skill. Based on major research and our vast work experience, the book explains how having fun at work is a primary need among employees. Creating a fun work environment is worth the time and effort for any company. Managers that care about their employees AND their bottom line will find practical, timely and concise ideas you can implement easily and without any excessive time and costs.

What exactly is “fun at work”?

First, let’s get rid of either/or thinking. It is not fun or productivity – you don’t have to make a choice. It can be fun AND productivity. My colleagues John Newstrom, PhD and Robert Ford, PhD and I have identified some simple strategies that can (and have) been implemented in almost any work environment you can imagine. A fun work environment is one in which a variety of formal and informal activities regularly occur that are designed to uplift people’s spirits and positively and publicly remind people of their value to their managers, their organization, and to each other through the use of humor, playful games, joyful celebrations, opportunities for self development, or recognition of achievements and milestones.

Doesn’t that take time away from the job?

It’s less about taking up time – and more about some thoughtful planning. Here are just a few of the things people are doing right now (in order of frequency) to create a more positive, fun, work environment:

• Recognition of personal milestones (e.g., birthdays and hiring anniversaries).
• Fun social events (e.g., picnics, parties, and social gatherings).
• Public celebrations of professional achievements (e.g., award banquets).
• Opportunities for community volunteerism (e.g., civic and volunteer groups).
• Stress release activities (e.g., exercise facilities, and massages).
• Humor (e.g., cartoons, jokes in newsletters and e-mails).
• Games (e.g., darts, bingo, and company-sponsored athletic teams).
• Friendly competitions among employees (e.g., attendance and sales contests).
• Opportunities for personal development (e.g., quilting class and book club).
• Entertainment (e.g., bands, skits, and plays).

The book provides over 100 examples. Anyone can find things that will work in their organization. Many people say, “We do these things” but they don’t do them consistently – or in a way that makes employees feel valued. One example is an employee recognition dinner where people feel it’s simply a cattle call with too many people being recognized in too short a time period.

Why do you think the concept of “fun at work” has a place in these tough economic times?

Let me answer that by asking several questions: Do you believe that job stress is higher than it’s ever been? That people have greater fear about their jobs and financial security than ever before? And that stress and fear reduces productivity? That fatigue makes cowards of us all? The concepts in “The Fun Minute Manager” are an antidote for these conditions. This antidote could be taken almost anytime and anyplace. Organizations need it now more than any other time in the past two decades.

Why is fun an antidote?

Because two things drive out fear in a workplace: faith and fun and as the tough economic times continue, entitlement (if I show up I deserve a check.) shifts to fear (Will I have a job tomorrow?). Your great people are less affected. They know that security is in themselves and they’ll have no problem getting another job. When an environment of entitlement exists there is no stress, but there’s also little productivity. As soon as that environment disappears it is replaced by fear – which causes high stress – and also little productivity. That environment can also cause top people to leave. They don’t have to put up with that environment. When you put clear goals and accountability in place, support people – and then consistently add little celebrations, some humor, and recognition in the environment on a consistent basis – productivity and profits come back – often dramatically.

What if executives and managers don’t believe that fun and work mix?

Then their competitors are glad that they’re about to stop reading this interview! They want you to think that the idea of fun reducing stress and increasing productivity in these tough economic times is ridiculous? They want your organization to simply try to survive, rather than thrive in these turbulent times. Your competitors are silently cheering that you’ll continue to believe that. And they will continue to implement fun in the workplace and reap the productivity benefits.

What proof do you have that fun at work actually raises productivity and profits?

The research is in — and it’s contained in an entertaining way within the book. And we list more than 2 dozen companies like Southwest Airlines and Microsoft where fun at work is part of the culture. These companies produce phenomenal results year after year. Did you know that Colleen Barrett, who recently retired as CEO of Southwest Airlines sent over 3,000 handwritten notes every month for nearly 30 years thanking employees for specific things they had done to improve the passenger experience for Southwest customers?

What Bob Workman discovers in the book is that there are simple ways to prove the benefits to individuals and the organization for implementing fun at work. In the appendix we provide the tools to create a baseline – and then measure results over time. After all it doesn’t matter if it works everywhere else – it matters that it works where you work!

What do business leaders think about this?

CEOs and leadership experts are taking this seriously. Kemmons Wilson, Jr. of the founding family of the Holiday Inns said, “The responsibility of incorporating “fun” into an organization is as important a trait for a CEO to possess as is strategic planning. Having fun is a quality of success. The impact of having fun “together” is paramount to a family, a neighborhood, a church, a business, and a community. It may seem like a little thing, but it can make a BIG difference…Live, Laugh and Love.”

Howard Putnam, another former CEO of Southwest Airlines states: “Successful organizations have a clear vision where they are headed. They understand what business they are really in. And most importantly they develop a culture that supports the vision and business, just as Southwest Airlines did. We hired employees with attitudes that contained a humor and fun component and developed their skills. “

And Ken Blanchard, Chief Spiritual Officer of the Ken Blanchard Companies and co-author of The One Minute Manager said this: “Both the United States and the world at large are in one of the greatest economic crises that any of us can remember. It has been largely brought on, I believe, more by fear than by facts. There are two things that can drive out fear. The first is faith and the belief in a better way of doing things…The second thing that will drive out fear…is fun…fun is not synonymous with games. It means a lot of things. It is about ownership and creativity, celebration and recognition. It’s about doing the right things in the right way with the right people for the right purpose, and doing more of that each day. It’s about letting people find ways to feel pride and have fun with not only the things integral to their jobs and organizations, but also the things they should be celebrating in their lives. Each of these people, along with dozens of others, has endorsed “The Fun Minute Manager”.

What are some guidelines for using fun at work?

We give ten in the book – we use them with our clients to insure that fun leads to productivity. Fun activities should:

1. Make people smile (at a minimum) and laugh (if at all possible).
2. Positively and publicly remind people of their value to the organization and to each other.
3. Be inexpensive to develop, easily prepared, and able to be implemented within time and space limitations.
4. Uplift people’s spirits in ways that make them feel good about being part of this organization (e.g., not embarrass, belittle, or offend anyone in or outside of the organization).
5. Be as inclusive as possible, while respecting the right of anyone to opt out without censure, ridicule, pressure, or criticism.
6. Not detract from anyone’s ability to safely, professionally, or efficiently perform his or her job responsibilities.
7. Contribute to, and support, the organization’s culture and core values.
8. Be done on a frequent basis, encompassing both planned and spontaneous events.
9. Be planned and implemented largely by employees (not be a top-down program).
10. Produce organizational results that are desirable, identifiable, and measurable.

These are the “whats” the book gives specific examples and “how tos”.

Isn’t it time consuming to add in fun at work activities?

It doesn’t take a lot of time to put fun in the workplace to achieve results. What it takes is planning. And the results are well worth it. We are in the midst of tough times, but in the toughest of times people have always realized at a deep level that things were too serious to take seriously. So warriors joke when going into battle, while in battle, and in between battles – not because there is anything funny about it – but because it’s too serious to take seriously.

And those with health challenges are found lightening things up – because it is a way to move on through that particular challenge. And as those responsible for producing results in the workplace – and on whose shoulders rests the real job of moving the world through this current global economic crisis – we can do it faster, better, easier – if we’ll have the courage to allow and encourage our colleagues and co-workers to have fun while they are doing it.

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