May 4, 2022

Everybody Lies

 

  First, let me say I'm aware that I make things up for a living, so writing about lying is a little hypocritical. But I don't pretend that what I say is real, and that's the difference. Everyone in our society is bombarded with lies all day, every day. We're used to it. Sometimes we even enjoy it.

When analysts dig into why people believe lies, they find all sorts of explanations. Confirmation bias means we like things that reinforce what we already believe, so we accept lies that help with that. Many like leaders or organizations that tell them what to think, so they don't have to reason things out for themselves. If that leader lies, at least he's tough. If the organization runs to propaganda, at least it's working for "our" benefit. Another big reason we believe lies is fear. If we don't think we can cope with X, we like it when someone promises that X won't happen, even if we know in our hearts that it isn't true. Conversely, if the leader/organization says X will happen if he/it isn't in control, or if we're told the problem doesn't really exist, we want to believe that too. Life is less scary that way.

There are other theories about why we believe lies, but you get the idea. All sorts of psychological factors figure in. But here's an idea I haven't seen discussed before. What if we believe lies because we expect them? From the first day we can understand language, we're lied to. It's called advertising, and it's a billion-dollar industry. Advertising is expected and even respected as a necessary tool of business. Soft lies and hard lies, ads are built on convincing us something is true that probably isn't.

You're a consumer. It's your job to figure out what they're trying to do to your head.

Recognize the (sometimes subtle) messaging. "Is it true blonds have more fun?" a slogan from the olden days, played on women's desire to be attractive. Ads hint that you'll have more friends or be more admired if you buy this car or drink this vodka. The reverse is also true. They hint that NOT using a product will devastate your social life: bad breath, stinky pits, frizzy hair...the list of social "sins" is endless, and we rush out to buy products to "protect" us from ostracism.

Look past the hype. How likely is it that Pillow X is the best in the world? How much do you really care about which beer you drink? Do you really need that phone plan with bells and whistles you'll probably never use?

Note the background imaging. It's no mistake that while the drug company spokesperson is reading you that looooooong list of possible side effects, there are people on the screen doing fun things with family and friends in peaceful, scenic settings. It's called distraction.

Reject endorsements. Advertisers can always find someone who'll endorse a product if the money's right. I get very angry when celebrities push products, and my husband gets tired of me shouting "Whore!" at the TV.  How much would you bet that Actor X doesn't know jack about reverse mortgages? And if his old car broke down, wouldn't Rapper Y simply get a new, flashier one?

Note the wording. "Nine out of ten doctors surveyed would recommend this product." How many doctors actually answered their survey? Were they given some incentive to respond positively? How was the question worded? As Mark Twain said, "Gather your statistics, and then distort them as much as you please."

If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Recently, a friend slapped her midsection and told me, "I gotta get rid of this, so I ordered some pills I saw on TV. You take one every night, and they dissolve your belly fat." Sometimes we want to believe so badly, it takes almost no effort to persuade us. But take a moment before you order the exercise machine the people on the screen seem to be enjoying so darned much. Picture yourself using it for even half an hour every day, for months. Is that ever going to happen? (Hint: For the vast majority of us, the answer is no.)

What does all this have to do with lies we're told outside the world of advertising? All our lives, we've been bombarded with advertising that lies to us, so we expect lies in other spheres. I hear people dismiss political discourse with, "They're all liars." It's become an excuse to turn our backs and not listen, not analyze, not vote. But in the face of politicians' lies (sometimes attributable to hyperbole or exaggeration or even wishful thinking), our job is to dissect what's said and separate what's true from what's false, what's possible from what's improbable. 

We've all fallen prey to advertisers' lies and bought products that didn't deliver. If we became wiser about how we spend our money, that's a good result. It follows then, that if everybody in our political system lies, our job is to look past the hype and find who has real value and who is all smoke and mirrors.

You're a citizen. It's your job to figure out what they're trying to do to your head.

 


Mar 31, 2022

A First-World Issue, Funny...Maybe

 I have really short little fingers. I mean, I know that "little finger" should alert one to the fact that it won't be much, but mine are way shorter than the others, barely passing the middle joint of Finger #4.


Why is this a problem? Because my new keyboard, which is ergonomic and supposedly hand-healthy, requires a strong push to work the keys on the top row. I learned typing in a real class, where every day we set our hands on the Home Row and learned to keep them there. That means that my right-hand little finger should operate the "Back" key without much change in hand position. Sadly, it isn't up to the task, and it really slows my typing when it takes two or even three tries to erase a mistake.

Will this bring about the end of Western Civilization? No. Could I buy a more compact keyboard? Probably. I just thought it was kind of funny that as the world rages and ruins around me, something so small can be so irritating .


Mar 23, 2022

Have You Missed a Book in a Series?


A word I hear sometimes when people talk about me is "prolific."  Yes, I do have a lot of books out, and that can get confusing. Did you miss a book? Maybe a whole series?

To help readers decide if they're up to date, I've devised a list a la Seinfeld, using "The one where..."

THE LOSER MYSTERIES 

 Killing Silence- The one where we meet Loser, a woman who lives on the streets of Richmond, ignoring just about everyone until she feels compelled to help a little girl and her dad.

Killing Memories- The one where Loser goes home to West Virginia, intending to live alone, but finds connections to people who need her, especially her crime-solving expertise.

Killing Despair- The one where Loser goes back to Richmond to face her past and learn what exactly happened the night her husband died.

THE KIDNAP CAPERS

KIDNAP(.)org-The one where Robin becomes a criminal by helping her neighbor right a wrong--and decides she likes putting cheaters in their place.

Pharma Con -The one where Robin and the gang take on a Big Pharma scoundrel on his oh-so-secure estate.

The Trouble with Dad-The one where Robin has to deal with her con man dad while he's pursued by some very nasty people he conned.

MACBETH'S NIECES

Macbeth's Niece-The one where Tessa is captured by an English spy and taken from her uncle's castle against her will.

Double Toil & Trouble -The one where Tessa's twin sisters have their own adventures, one in the Highlands and one in France with William the Conqueror as her host.

THE SIMON AND ELIZABETH MYSTERIES

Her Highness' First Murder-The one where Simon meets Princess Elizabeth, and they try to discover who is killing and beheading beautiful young women.

Poison, Your Grace-The one where Elizabeth asks Simon to help her protect her brother Edward and prove she isn't trying to poison him.

The Lady Flirts with Death-The one where Elizabeth is locked in the Tower of London and Simon does his best to keep her alive, as he also does for his old friend Peto the Pope.

Her Majesty's Mischief -The one where Elizabeth sends Simon to Scotland to give her an objective opinion of Mary, Queen of Scots.

THE MERCEDES MAXWELL MYSTERIES

Shakespeare's Blood-The one where Mercedes is chased all over the UK by a madman looking for Spanish treasure.

Charlie Dickens' Documents -The one where Colm goes missing, and Mercedes and her oddball helpers go looking for him in Scotland.

THE DEAD DETECTIVE MYSTERIES

The Dead Detective Agency-The one where Tori finds herself on The Ship, learns that she was murdered, and insists that Seamus, her dead detective, must take her with him as he investigates.

Dead for the Money-The one where Seamus investigates the murder of a wealthy man and finds a lonely young girl who believes she's got nobody now that he's dead.

Dead for the Show-The one where Seamus goes to a Toronto theater, hoping to prove to a stubborn young woman that she really is dead, and finds that her sister is in great danger.

Dead to Get Ready--and Go-The one where Seamus finally investigates his own murder, facing the fact that his killer might have been the person he loved most in the world.

Feb 16, 2022

Are You Kidding, or Are You Being Mean?

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 I taught tenth grade for decades, and one of the things I tried to make my students aware of is the difference between joking, kidding, being funny, (whatever we call it) and being cruel. One of the lamest excuses we offer for cruel behavior is "I was kidding." I asked them to consider the following things, but people on social media might take the same lessons to heart.

Is it necessary to point out differences? The other day I was sitting with several people when a woman we all know came along wearing, for the first time since I've known her, a wide-brimmed sunhat. The day was hot. She has lots of skin damage from years in the sun, and I happen to know she sees a dermatologist regularly. As she approached, the comments started. "Are you going out to pick cotton?" "Where in the world did you find that hat?" "You look like a dork."

She took it well, but come on. Was it necessary? Might they have figured out why she'd chosen a hat that provided more shade? Are baseball caps the only allowable headgear these days?

Can the person change the thing you're "joking" about? Mitch McConnell's neck draws far more comments on social media than his behavior as a political leader. Why not focus on his decisions, his comments, his actions? Are we in kindergarten, making fun of a person's looks? Not cool.

Would I like it if someone said something similar to/about me?  As a kid I was thin, but "skinny" was the predominant descriptor. I started asking people who said, "You're so skinny!" if they'd be okay with me saying, "You're so fat!" Often, they didn't realize that I took the word as criticism, and some claimed they considered it a compliment. No, it's not. Especially among adolescents, words like skinny and fat are never useful.

Now come the comments about political correctness and cancel culture. "We can't say anything!" some complain. They might add, "We're expected to actually think about what we say before we say it!" Gee, what a concept! 

I agree that those things can be taken too far, and terms that started out as "okay" get branded as wrong, wrong, wrong. Take retarded as an example. It simply means "slow," so originally, when it referred to those whose learning is delayed, it was descriptive. But people began using it as an insult. (This is not uncommon. It happens in language all the time, and is called lowering. For example, stink was once any smell, but over time it lowered in meaning and now is used only for bad smells.) 

When a word is used as a pejorative, it's time to find other, less offensive, words to replace it. That can be difficult. With words like retarded or crippled, replacement terms can be cumbersome, like "differently abled," and many go the same route as the originals because people use them to "joke" (meaning point out in a mean way) about differences between people.

We can all be less hurtful if we considering the three points made above. Even if we're "joking" or "kidding," we're adults. It's time to leave the playground taunts behind.

Jan 21, 2022

What's the Deal with Subscriptions?


 I'll be honest. I know that the "deal" with subscriptions is guaranteed income for the entities that sell them. But if I were to organize a revolt, it would likely be due to rage against that particular machine. 

In the last week, I tried to buy two different online products that claim to be environmentally advantageous: laundry detergent that comes in dissolving sheets rather than bottles, and toothpaste in the form of pellets, so there's no tube. When I got to the checkout, both required that I sign up for a subscription to the product, so I never have to "worry" again about running out.

Really? I wasn't that worried about running out of toothpaste.

We face the subscription thing in many places.My printer company wants to automatically send new ink cartridges when they estimate that I'm about to run out. The photo sites I use to create book covers won't let me buy a single photo. I have to subscribe and pay a fee every month, even though I only need one or two photos a year. The company that sends my newsletters charges a monthly subscription fee, despite the fact that I only send one when I have a new book coming out.

Cable TV subscriptions offer a hundred channels, though we may only watch three of them. Audio book sites charge a monthly fee, even if you didn't have time to read a single book this month. Greeting card companies charge for the year, even if you forgot you'd signed up and don't send a single e-card.

What ever happened to buying something when you need it and paying for it at that time?

I passed up the environmentally friendly soap and toothpaste. I switch photo providers or freeze my account status when possible. In general, I avoid the whole "Big Brother" attitude that someone else should decide for me how often I need a product or service. 

If you agree...subscribe to my newsletter. I might as well try to get my money's worth out of that one.

Dec 23, 2021

Are You in Panic Mode Yet?



 It's two days until Christmas. You have someone to buy for. Maybe you forgot. Maybe that person is difficult to buy for. Maybe you feel like the trite gift card is just too...trite for this person. You're desperate.

How about a book?

No, it probably won't arrive before Christmas, but you could present the description and cover art, creating anticipation for that 'something nice' that will arrive later, when things have calmed down a little.

Each book is a personal choice, but there are so many to choose from, so many great hours of enjoyment to come.

And if it happens to be one of mine, well, you'll make another person happy. Bonus!

Find all my books (and Maggie's too) 

https://www.amazon.com/Peg-Herring/e/B002JK5FKY

https://books2read.com/pegherring/


Dec 10, 2021

Book Clubs Take Note: Discussion Guide: Sister Saint, Sister Sinner

Book Club Clip Art  

When I sent Sister Saint, Sister Sinner to my editor, she was (as usual) helpful about pointing out areas that needed more development, parts that repeated information already given, and places where the logic  temporarily failed. At the end, she made a comment that stuck with me: "People are going to be talking about the things you deal with in this book."

To me, that meant the story was destined for book clubs. Having visited a few in my years of writing, I knew that they often begin with a list of discussion topics. Now, they often don't stay focused on them, and that's okay. Sometimes it's the wine. Sometimes it's a natural progression. But discussion leaders like having questions that can get the conversation back on track when it strays too far from the story.

Every person who reads a book gets something out of it that no one else does. I had the experience once of visiting a book group where one reader didn't like the book and kept bringing up her objections, much to the dismay of the discussion leader. I remained polite when she asked why I did this and didn't do that with the plot. The leader kept moving on to someone else's comments. It wasn't my most pleasant experience, but I recognize that readers will never agree completely on the quality of a book. Authors have to get used to it.

In anticipation of book club interest, I'm posting 20 discussion questions here. You might not want to read them until you've finished the book, since there are spoilers. Mostly they serve to start discussion of a character, a plot point, or a theme. Here are examples from the list:

1.     1.  At the beginning of the story, the sisters have been living separate lives. Now that you’ve finished the book, do you see any significance to their distance from each other?

1.    14.  The relationship between Kim and Drew seems like it was meant to be. What factors in Drew’s makeup contribute to Kim’s attraction to him? 

1 1818. Olin Dobbs becomes for Nettie the son she might have had. Do you believe her support of Olin is a form of redemption for her?


Buy it HERE




Everybody Lies

    First, let me say I'm aware that I make things up for a living, so writing about lying is a little hypocritical. But I don't pre...