Sunday, October 15, 2017

Why Does Dancing Mean So Much



For those who know me, you know how much I love music and dancing. I love a variety of genres - anything that gets me on my feet and moving. From the time I was a little girl, music has always spoken to me. And I believe one way to express my feelings and the way music touches me is through dancing. It is one of the reasons I loved being a cheerleader when I was in middle school and high school.

But, dancing wasn't always something I have been able to do, which is why I cherish the ability to do so.

As a matter of fact, when I was nine-years-old, I was told I would be in a wheelchair before I was a teenager.

Imagine the one thing you love with all your heart. The one thing you do, that you have a passion for. Now, imagine being told by a doctor that you would never be able to do it again. How would you feel? Heartbroken? Lost? Empty? Hopeless?

Well, I felt those things. I was nine and my doctor told us that within the next few years my bones and muscles in my lower back and legs would begin to weaken to the point I would be wheelchair bound. I remember walking out of the hospital after meeting with the doctor and stopping by the payphone near the exit so my mom, who was distraught, could call my dad. I watched her sob the news into the phone. Then, I remember a calm coming over me as I walked over to her, grabbed her hand, and told her (I remember this word-for-word), "Don't worry, Mom. Between me, you, and God, we can get through this."

I had been diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy.

I began a heavy round of medications to help with strengthening - one for my muscles, one filled with calcium for my bones, one for pain because the pain was so bad, and one that was a vitamin. I took almost four pills three times each day.

When I was eleven-years-old, I told my mom that the side effects of my medicine were too much. They nauseated me, made me dizzy and tired. She decided to stop the medications.

I then began middle school - 6th grade. I loved school. Science and Math were my favorite subjects, along with English. I was placed in AP classes for those subjects and excelled. Near the end of that year, I decided to try out for the cheerleading squad. In my school, the cheerleaders were the dance and cheer team all in one. I attended the meeting, learned the cheer/chant and the dance. We practiced every day after school so we could get them down before tryouts in front of the judges that Friday.

Friday came, and even though I was in pain, I stated after school. Before I was called in for my "audition," my mom took me aside (she was always my biggest supporter, fan, and cheerleader), and told me that she was proud of me. She explained that out of all the girls trying out, only 10 would make the team so if I didn't make it, it didn't mean I wasn't good. It just meant that there were others who may be louder than I was and that was okay.

I went in, shaking, heart pounding, hands sweating, knees and hips throbbing, and performed my cheer. Then the dance, followed by the mandatory back-handspring, roundoff, and splits.

After all the girls tried out, we were called in as a group as they gave the speech about how proud they were of all of us, how great we were, and then they called out the names of the girls who made the team for the following year.

My name was called.

But none of my friends' names were.

I walked out of the room in tears and my mom mistook them for me not making the team. I told her it was because my friends didn't make it with me.

But that was okay. I made new friends in those girls on the squad.

I tried out the following year, and made it.

When I was in 8th grade, I tried out for high school cheerleading, and make the Varsity squad coming in as a Freshman cheerleader.

But, the one thing that didn't happen was me ending up in a wheelchair. My muscles didn't weaken. My bones grew stronger.

I still had to go back ever few months for appointments with my doctors. I still had to undergo tests to track my progress. I had biopsies for various health-related issues. But, I didn't end up in a wheelchair.

I'm still not in one.

As a matter-of-fact, those words I spoke to my mom in the hospital that summer day when I was nine-years-old were more true than I knew at the time, because when I was 18-years-old, my doctors told me my body was not showing any signs or symptoms of MD. None at all.

I joined the US Navy. I went through Bootcamp, but received an injury that resulted in reconstructive foot surgery on both of my feet and weeks of recovery for each one.

I had to learn how to take my time walking again. It took about a year before I was back to "normal." It took another six months before I could get back to the one thing I loved: dancing.

I guess the point of this post is that we should never give up hope. We should always move on, keep walking our path regardless of the obstacles that are thrown our way. We may miss out on something great if we give up at the first sign of trouble. I would never have those memories of being a cheerleader if I had lost hope and given up when I was diagnosed.

Don't miss out on creating memories. Don't miss out on living your life.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Why Reviews Are Important




Reviews.

Ah, yes. The dreaded, loved, anticipated, confusing review.

You’ve noticed them all over Amazon and other major book retailers. You have seen authors asking, begging, you for them. You have read raving reviews and some not so flattering ones.

But you probably don’t fully understand the importance of them. Right? I mean, it’s only a review. 

What’s the big deal?

Well, that word ‘only’ doesn’t fit. Because reviews are a HUGE deal!

If you are anything like the millions of readers out there, myself included, then you want to get an idea of what a book is about from someone who has actually read the thing, right? I mean, book descriptions only tell you what the author wants you to know. But, as an author myself, I know the descriptions only tell you the best part of the story leaving in your mind just enough of a tease to hopefully entice you to buy the book and read it. You wouldn’t want to do that if the blurb told the entire thing, right? You want to know what other people thought of the book; get an idea of what the characters are like, the storyline, the scenarios, etc.

Was the story detailed? Fast-paced? Were the characters fleshed out? Was it edited properly, or were there errors in the grammar that detract from the story? All of those answers are often found in the reviews.

But did you know that reviews help the author, too? So, if you have a favorite author you absolutely LOVE, and you think other people NEED to read their work, the best way to do that (or help entice readers) is by leaving a review.

Or, if you really didn’t care much, you can do the opposite.

It really is up to you.

Think of a review as your personal endorsement of the story. In your review you can be as honest as you’d like. Actually, the more honest, the better. Tell people what it is about the story you loved or didn’t care for. Tell them if you enjoyed the length or wanted more. Did you enjoy the author’s writing and would you read more of their work? Well, tell potential readers that.

If you, as a guy, test drove a new car that you feel you’d like to buy, you would probably tell your buddies about it, right? Or, if the car was awful; the interior cheaply put together, the shifting of gears too hard, steering too tight, you’d warn your friends away.

Or, if you, a woman, found a new store/make-up brand/purse, you would most definitely tell all your girlfriends how much they need them too, right? Or, if you tried a new brand that didn’t work. Either their sizing was terrible, the foundation set into the creases of your face, the purse stitching was coming apart too soon, you’d tell them to stay away.

That face-to-face word-of-mouth is your review of the product. The different is that on Amazon or any other retailer, you are able to reach a much larger audience with your opinion.

So, let’s get into the why’s and how-to’s, shall we?

First, why?

Well, because we all love to express our opinions, right? Not only that, but if you are a huge fan of the author then you’d like to see them become successful or stay a success. The more reviews a book has on any major retailer, the better the chances that retailer’s algorithm will recommend that book to their customers.

You ever notice the recommended sections when browsing for books? Or on the results page when you search for a specific topic? The most reviewed books usually show up first, guaranteeing that people searching for that topic will see those books.

The online book retailers see more people not only reading but also reviewing those books so they must be worth promoting, right? So they think, with the book(s) being popular, that you may also enjoy it. They make sure you see that book. You see the book, check out the reviews, and decide to buy it yourself. Wham! Not only does that author make some money, so does the retailer.

You see, the more popular books are the more the retailer stands to make, so they will do what they can to showcase those they feel (or their algorithms decide) are possibly the ones to guarantee business.

A great article I found to further explain this is Why Reviews Matter by K.S. Brooks.


Secondly, how?

It really is simple, trust me. And you can do this all anonymously as well, especially on Amazon since they allow you to create a screen name, so to speak, for your public profile. Mine is A. Shades. 

Not so anonymous, but you get the idea, right?

Anyway, often, when you have reached the end of an ebook, your Kindle may show you a pop-up asking if you would like to review the product on Amazon (some even have the feature where you can link it to Goodreads as well so you kill 2 birds with 1 stone).  Well, when that option comes up, you would follow those instructions. Usually it begins with giving it a star rating and then you are prompted to write a review and giving it a title or tag line.

The second way would be to go to the product/book page on Amazon manually and at the bottom where it shows the reviews, there is a section that gives you the option to write a review and share your thoughts.

Now, don’t get intimidated. It is pretty easy. And you don’t even have to say much, if you choose not to. A short and simple, “Loved the story!” or a, “Didn’t care for the story.” Both work. You let potential readers know your thoughts and you helped the author in the search algorithms.

For a more in-depth tutorial on leaving a review and how, I found this article, Reviewing 101 by Big Al helpful.


Lastly, by leaving a review, you aid your favorite author in their chances of being accepted by other author promotional platforms such as BookBub.

BookBub and others like it, have an incredible following of people who sign up to receive their recommendations. For an author, receiving an email of acceptance is into this “club” is HUGE as they only accept those they feel meet strict guidelines.

The following is a snippet from BookBub’s website:

“While there is no specific “minimum requirement” for reviews,
our editors are generally more likely to select books
with higher numbers of authentic and positive customer reviews.”


So you see, they may not specify a number, but they do recommend the author have a considerable number of reviews to make the book seem more “authentic”.

To give you more of an idea of what BookBub is looking for, you may find this article helpful.  Tips on Optimizing Your Submission for a BookBub Featured Deal.


I hope you have found my thoughts, ideas, and reasons on reviews helpful. I encourage you to consider leaving a review (always an honest one) for the books you read from now on.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

How To Make An Interactive, Designed Tweet

I asked Moctezma Johnson, SMUTPUNK author, how to design an automated tweet. Or, at the very least, how to make a predesigned tweet, and he answered in an article/post on his website and gave me permission to share here with my readers. (Thanks, MJ!) 

So, read below if you are interested in such a thing. I know I was. (The below post was originally share on MJ's website. Click Moctezuma Johnson's SMUTPUNK Erotica to read original post.)

 

Learn how to make tweets work for you more!

Okay, Press Me to See what the fuck MJ is talking about, first.

Okay, so this mess (https://twitter.com/intent/tweet?text=Shit%20@MJKingOfErotica%20can%20teach%20you%20an%20incredible%20trick%20http://wp.me/p6B82a-1lb%20%23LPRTG%20%23DesignedTweet%20%23Tips) can become a pretty, neat, pre-written tweet containing twitter handle and hashtags.
How, MJ, How? Well it’s simple if you know a little unicode. Now, I’m not going to explain the whole alphabet to you but you will notice a lot of %20s and %23s. Well, those are the basic pieces you need to code your own interactive designed tweet buttons.
  1. First, you start with this code: https://twitter.com/intent/tweet?text=
  2. Next write your first word of the tweet flush against the “=” sign. (See my test tweet above)
  3. Then use “%20” for a a space.
  4. Now write a word and then %20 until you have the text of your tweet.
  5. Include an @twitter-handle (write your twitter handle here) so that you are notified each time somebody tweets
  6. I suggest you try to sneak this into the main sentence of your tweet, but that’s just so it looks neat
  7. Be sure to add a link to whatever it is that you want people tweeting about
  8. Add hashtags by inserting the code %23 before the tag you want.
    • Note: still use %20 to make sure you have a space or the hashtag won’t read and will be impotent.
  9. There are more codes but these are the basics to make an interactive tweet.
  10. When you’ve finished your code, insert it as the link url to any link. I usually use “Press This” but you can add it to any text.
    • Tag me in your first designed tweet so I can see my star pupil in action and start retweeting your success.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Autism and Me



As you probably know, Ashlee Shades is a pen name for my work. 

But behind the name is a very real person – a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and friend. I have goals and dreams. I have emotions and feel deeply. And one of those things I feel deeply about it the awareness of Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). 



Why do I feel so much for this cause, you ask? Because my youngest son has been living with it since he was young, and diagnosed when he was almost 4.



 You see, if you grew up as I did then you probably have a vision you think of when you think Autism: a person who doesn’t speak and can’t do anything for themselves. But I have to let you know that Autism & ASD go so far beyond what you see. I didn’t know it until my child became one of those statistics. You know, that time when “It will never happen to me” actually does happen? Below, I will share with you my personal story and experience with this well heard of but still little known of “disorder”.



 I became a mom when I was 22 years old to a beautiful baby boy. As he grew, I celebrated all those milestones as he met them: first word, first step, first time sitting up without assistance. He met them all before the “average” age. He was so very smart and energetic. When he was just over 18 months old I found out I was expecting my second child. My youngest came into this world on a chilly late afternoon in mid October 2005.



 My youngest son was also meeting all those major milestones, but at a later age than my oldest did but well within what the physicians deemed as the average age range. He said “mama” for the first time on Mother’s Day 2006. Talk about exciting!



 I was a proud mom of two amazing little boys. (Now, I am a proud mom of two amazing young men). They were and are my life.



 One day, ‘S’ (my youngest) stopped making eye contact. He was around 2 years old at the time, and no matter how many times I said his name he just wouldn’t look me in the eyes. He would look in my general direction, so I knew he was hearing me, but the eye contact was gone. I overlooked this and brushed it off as par for the course for a two-year-old.



 Then ‘S’ stopped playing as he used to and instead, he began organizing his toys – usually the little box cars and mega Lego blocks. He would line them up according to size, shape, and color. And don’t you DARE touch it or you would ignite a tantrum like you’d never seen. Later, this organization trickled to his food. He stopped eating foods that had any seasoning other than salt, and even then it was the same thing: chicken with pasta. I had to vary the way the chicken was made, but it was always seasoned the same and the pasta could NEVER have anything other than a bit of butter with salt, or he would not touch it AT ALL. ‘S’ also refused to eat on any plate that was not his green section plate; and he would not use anything other than the matching bowl if he ever ate soup (rarity) and cereal (another rarity).



 ‘S’, around the age of three, stopped talking in full sentences. By this time, I knew something was going on. Not only did he stopped speaking in sentences, he also covered his ears with loud sounds, ran away from butterflies, and would not go outside if a lawnmower was in use anywhere within hearing.



 I knew it was time to seek advice from our family doctor who then referred me to a pediatric psychiatrist. After rounds of testing (If your toddler has never had an MRI, let me tell you it is one of the worst things to have to watch as they prep them), there was a diagnosis. Ready for it? Idiopathic Autism Regression. In layman’s terms: Autism without a known cause or explanation that occurs “out of nowhere”.



 I remember that day in July 2009, driving home with my mom in the front passenger seat and ‘S’ sleeping in his booster seat in the back. I was crying, feeling like I had failed my child. He lost his ability to communicate with me. How long had he been “trapped” within his own mind? How long had he been feeling lost because he couldn’t express his feelings to me like he used to and was therefore assumed to not have them? I was a terrible mother!



 But that day changed my life for the better. It forced me to open my eyes to a world farther reaching than the small little box I assumed it was – that it WAS for me, until July 13, 2009. That was the day that my mom’s words of “The world isn’t so black and white,” actually hit me. The world is a rainbow. The people in it make up the full picture. Without the variety of personalities then rainbow would not be the vision it truly is.



 So, with that diagnosis in mind I began my quest for knowledge. You have probably heard the statistics of 1 in 66 will be diagnosed and that boys are more likely to be diagnosed with an ASD than girls. You have probably also heard the controversy over whether science has or has not linked ASD with vaccinations. But what you do not hear of as often, what many forget to realize and understand is that my son isn’t science, he isn’t a statistic, he is a very bright, exceedingly intelligent, passionate, caring young man who loves animals, the world, and art.


A recent sketch by 'S' - age 11 years.

 ‘S’ may not have had the ability to make personal connections and develop friendships when he was younger as many kids do, which excluded him from many play dates, but he was advanced with math, reading, language arts – he was at 4th and 5th grade levels at the end of 1st grade. He may not have played kickball at recess in elementary school, but he wrote short stories and drew pictures that were displayed in galleries and in school shows. He may not have been able to communicate verbally,
but he managed to express all of his feelings through art, which speaks to so many on a deeper level than words ever could.



 ‘S’ hated taking a different route to school. I always had to take the same roads, leave at the same time, and park in the same general area every time I took him to school. ‘S’ did not see the sense in starting in the fresh foods section of the store and working our way to the checkout lanes from there because to him, the food would not stay as fresh according to him, so I changed my shopping routine (which does make more sense, right?).



 I could stay here for days, weeks, sharing stories with you about how ASD has affected us, how it has changed us, but I won’t.



 I will, however, share with you a few things: it is not a “life-sentence”. Not ALL people with an ASD will be the same any more than you or I without an ASD are. They will not express themselves in the same, but then again, neither do you or I. They do like patience. They do like acceptance. They do deserve them, just as you or I would like and want and deserve.



 The day my son received that diagnosis changed our lives, yes. But it was only for the better. Because that was the day that, while we had long road ahead of us with educating ourselves and growing as people, we had our eyes and hearts opened to the bigger picture this world is. And while I have been blessed with many beautiful people in our lives who have helped us in our journey and made it smoother, not everyone is as lucky. Not all cases of ASD are a “high functioning” as my son’s case is. Many parents have a harder struggle, not just in receiving a diagnosis – fighting for theirs -  but also in educating themselves with what it means and learning where to go.




And while science has done much in the way of finding out possible causes, there is NO CURE for this, yet. There are treatments, however.



 
But in my opinion, a “cure” is not what is needed most. What is needed most is more caring, compassionate, understanding, and patient people who are willing to understand and accept that this world is bigger than they are and not everyone fits in the “normal” or “average” box; and that what society deems as “the way” is NOT the ONLY WAY.

 
The world is a rainbow, people, and I am blessed to be the mother of two children who make up a portion of that beautiful gift from nature.


For more information on Autism/ASD and how you can help, please visit AUTISM SPEAKS.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Book Boyfriends?

It has come to my attention that many women would prefer a book boyfriend to a real one. Somewhere along the lines of 60% or so. Pretty amazing, huh?

Makes you wonder what they got that "real men" don't. What are real men lacking that book boyfriends have? Is it that real men aren't as possessive as a book boyfriend? Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, if a real life guy told us what to wear, to whom we can speak, what to eat, purchased a company we worked at, etc. as a certain book boyfriend does we would probably tell him to take a hike, right?

 I am not going to ponder more on this topic. I am going to share part of a post I found helpful to those of you who are looking for a new book boyfriend - looking to improve or expand your fish pool.

For those of you who are not familiar with this author known as the "King of Lit Porn" or "Smutpunk" let me warn you that this erotica author does NOT sugarcoat his opinion. This man tells you exactly what he thinks, regardless of whether or not you like it. You either love him or you hate him. Me? I have had a debate with him a while ago, but that was because we were both passionate about our feelings on a specific topic, and our opinions were at opposite ends of the subject. I consider him a good friend.

Who is this guy? He is Moctezuma Johnson! I am almost positive you have heard of him if you have spent any time at all on social media hangouts where authors spend their time.

But, enough about who he is. Let me share with you some of his recent "Weekly Sex Tips" about how to score a book boyfriend. The below paragraphs are taken from his post titled...


"How to Score a Book Boyfriend In the Flesh


Three Cockish Tips to Get the Man of Your Dreams to Appear in front of your Eyes"


It has come to my attention that 60% of the women out there would prefer a book boyfriend to a real one. That’s an interesting fact. I started thinking about why I have fucked so many women and something occurred to me. I usually try to have a deep conversation with a woman who I am meeting for the first time. I want to meet ‘on the level.’ Usually, though, I find she’s not up to the task and then change gears to just trying to take advantage of her, which she is often game for. It’s almost like fucking is easier than talking. However, on the rare occasions when the two meet, you have a sizzling chemistry. I think that’s really what most of the women out there are looking for, the meeting of brains and brawn in one package. Well, from what I spy looking around, achieving that is a two-way street and, while men are sometimes to blame for dropping the ball, there are things you women can do better too. Here are three easy steps to finding a man as great as your ideal book boyfriend in the flesh: read, share, and eliminate the noise.
You need to read. The things is, when I look around FB most people are just reading the same old tired genre fiction. Yes, I look down on that (and, yes, I know there are exceptions). You need to expand your horizons and actually read stuff of merit. I write erotica. I know it’s crap. I can vouch for that (check the book shop here to verify). I’m not saying every erotica book isn’t worth reading. Many books are great. However, to feed the soul and become the kind of woman that a great man wants, takes a little more than reading a series of one wank wonders (as enjoyable as each may be). Read some philosophy, read some scientific treatises, read some literature. One of the reasons I am such a slow reviewer is that I read one erotica for every ten to fifteen other books I read. I like science (if you don’t know where to start, try Watson & Crick’s Double Helix, science-fiction (try Foundation by Isaac Asimov), and literature (try Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino) the most, but there’s a wide range of topics to read.
Next, to score yourself an amazing book boyfriend in the flesh, you’ll need to share posts (particularly my posts for maximum browning points). Share other writers, share what you love. Share good stuff. And cut out this inspirational bullshit (see B.A. Ro’lyin for what NOT TO DO, lol. Sorry, babe!). Being cute won’t get you jackshit in this life filled with assholes, backstabbers, and republicans. You need to be a hustler making moves. You need to actively employ that genius. You need firepower on the tongue and chili powder in the soul. If you prepare your brain-soul-loin connect properly, you don’t need some bullshit meme to tell you how to live or encourage you to keep doing what you already know. Not if you’re a smutpunk. And I know you’re a smutpunk, or why the fuck else would you be on this blog reading this shit? Right!? So get to it, share smutpunk and romance and all the good shit you love and build your network.
Last, cut the noise. Facebook is a good example of how there’s so much noise out there that seems okay that you may not even notice it is bad for you. There’s fake news, contradicting half-baked memes, religious quotes, romantic posts, and other complete mumbo jumbo. You scroll quickly through and think it isn’t infecting your brain, but it is. It’s a fucking virus. Beware! My advice, if you want to make a deep connection with a person that is rewarding mentally and physically, is shut the noise down and concentrate.
I’m not sure this really constitutes a sex tip. Maybe I have this in the wrong category. In fact, I’m not sure this is a tip at all. Maybe it’s a life hack. Maybe it’s a note to self to focus. I guess the point is that a book boyfriend (or girlfriend, of course) isn’t going to come to an undeveloped person. You need to cultivate what you are. Let me help...


You can read more of Moctezuma Johnson's

*(You can find Moctezuma using the tags "Weekly Sex Tips", "Smutpunk", & "LPRTG" in social media searches.)*

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Beneath the Surface

Beneath the Surface
When you look at the picture to the left, what do you see?

Do you see the white froth of the waves as they crash into the sandy beach?

Do you see the beautiful color in the sky as the sun's light graces it?

Do you see the vivid blue-green color of the ocean, the waves rippling toward the land?

Do you see the light brown color of the sand on the beach lying in wait for the water to make contact?



You probably notice all of those things. Our eyes are pretty much trained to see things like that in a picture. From one corner to the next, from side to side, we see the various colors and shapes and details...

But we notice only what is on the surface.

We don't normally take into consideration the things beneath the surface.

We don't think of the sea life, the colors, the treasures that are living just beneath the top surface of the ocean - the things that are not shown in this picture.

We are the same with life outside a picture.

We see a person - adult or child - and make assumptions about them based on what we see.

Their clothes, their hygiene, who they surround themselves with - all those things influence our opinion. Many times our assumptions are wrong. Many times a person who is dressed in scrubby clothing, dirt on their face, and messed up hair has just finished working and is heading home to their hundreds of thousands of dollars in value house.

Sometimes that young woman who is eight months pregnant is not a promiscuous teen mom-to-be but rather, she is a victim of rape and is carrying the child to term because she wants to love that baby.

There are times the person who is acting grumpy has been up all night long with a sick child and is worried about that child.

Each of us is made up of many shades beneath our surface. We are more than the clothes we wear. We are worth more than a surface judgment. There are reasons for everything we do. And there are reasons for what others look like, act like, and the way they speak.

You do not have to understand their reasons in order to accept they have them just as there are reasons for your own behavior they do not have to understand in order to accept. We are human beings with feeling, emotions, and thoughts that vary in depth. What one person finds joy in another may feel apprehension - that is okay!

So before you make your next judgment about someone based on surface appearance, I challenge you to take a moment to think of what they are hiding "beneath the surface".

And now, I leave you with these beautiful pictures as a reminder to not miss out on something great by forgetting to look deeper...