As a child growing up in Alamo, harvest season signaled families throughout the area to pile into station wagons for the annual trek to the Allegan County Fair, where food, rides and attractions attacked our senses in delightful chaotic fashion. Over the course of the evening, our family would inevitably end up at The Mouse Game, a popular arcade game featuring a live mouse that would be dropped onto a horizontal spinning wheel outfitted with a multitude of numbered holes. As the (I’m sure, terrified) mouse ducked into hole #12, the winning player would then choose from a colorful collection of cheap stuffed animals hanging overhead.
But these mice weren’t the only animals put to work for our amusement. Across the way was another game, this one featuring live goldfish packaged in plastic baggies and given away as “prizes,” likely to be flushed down the toilet by parents two days later after finding Timmy’s prize sitting at the bottom of the bowl serving as a makeshift aquarium.
The Mouse Game has long passed, so as I sat on a bench this past weekend at the county fair with my niece, I was surprised to see a young boy walk by, clutching that familiar glowing orange baggie.
While the world today is recognizing the fact that animals don’t belong in traveling shows, it appears that we have overlooked the antiquated act of giving away live goldfish as prizes. It’s time for “Win a Goldfish” to join The Mouse Game as a childhood memory of yesteryear.
By Heidi McCrary, author of “Chasing North Star,” available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
“This is Us” comes to an end, and why I’ll miss Rebecca most
They have been weekly guests in my home for the last seven years—before COVID was a word, and before Apple TV, Paramount, and YouTube TV were viewing options. Sometimes the visits were heartwarming and fun, but more often, our family gatherings around the kitchen table over Thanksgiving dinners were filled with stress and drama. Together, we’ve weathered untimely deaths, addictions, divorces, and illnesses. Simply put, we’ve been there for each other. Or rather, I’ve been there for them. Truth is, they have never acknowledged my loyalty because the Pearson family is too busy worrying about the Pearson family. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Which is why I’m still here for them, tissue box beside me, preparing to say goodbye to the gang on the NBC hit drama, This is Us after seven rollercoaster years. Are they the most narcissistic woe-is-me group of whiners inhabiting the airwaves today? Perhaps, but, like family, we love them anyway.
I’m loyal to my TV friends. It’s the only explanation I have for suffering through the excruciating final season of How I met Your Mother. It’s why I continued hanging with the ladies on Mom after Anna Faris left the show. And it’s why I stuck with Mad Men long after Don Draper and the gang left the cool martini era of the 60’s. And it’s why I’ll be right alongside those Pearson kids as they stand together around Rebecca’s bed to say their goodbyes to their mother.
Speaking of Rebecca…
After seven years of analyzing each Pearson family member under the microscope, I have concluded that I’m going to miss Rebecca most. Caught between dreams of being a singer, duties to her family, and looking for love again after losing the love of her life, this flawed character is believable and real as she tries to make the best of difficult situations while also constantly reminding her children that they are her everything. The fact that 50+ women everywhere can relate to actress Mandy Moore (AKA Rebecca), currently in her late 30’s, is testament to her acting skills as she regularly portrays Rebecca in her later years. Her acting is believable—whether she is portraying Young Rebecca navigating through courtship, or Mature Rebecca finding her way again post-Jack.
If you want proof of just how relatable Rebecca is to the everyday woman, let’s look at a recent episode where Young Mother Rebecca goes out to dinner with Jack to celebrate their anniversary. She proceeds to get quite drunk, and when the two of them are forced to rush home to save the babysitter, they later sit down with the kids to discuss what happened. After Rebecca and Jack learn from the boys that the babysitter was “mean” to their sister, Rebecca asks, “What do you mean, mean?” She then pauses, pondering what she just said, and repeats, more to herself, “Mean, mean,” causing her to laugh at her own joke—a joke no one else finds humorous. This small moment is priceless, making me love her even more.
I measure the likability of TV and literary characters I come across on my viewing and reading adventures based on the type of conversation the two of us might have over a drink. I not only can envision Rebecca and me laughing over drinks, but I can also see myself telling the bartender, “We’ll have another.” While I will miss the entire Pearson family, I will miss Rebecca most. Maybe down the road, we’ll catch up on Netflix.
And how to extend your book’s 15-minute shelf life
If you’re currently clutching a half-written manuscript or in possession of the first seven pages of what you’ve deemed the next best-seller, you might have caught yourself daydreaming of that day when your polished novel is presented to the world. And the world rejoices. You kick off your publicity tour with a stop at the Today Show Studio 1A, where Hoda and Jenna can’t get enough of you as you humbly admit that your incredible talent and lovable personality have allowed you to break through the sobering fact that debut novels are rarely commercially successful. While these daydreams are fun, statistics show that debut novels rarely catch fire. Still… can you beat the odds?
The answer is… maybe.
While a miniscule proportion of talented and well-positioned writers are able to secure a literary agent who eventually leads them to the bliss of publication with one of the traditional publishing giants, the remaining wishful authors often travel down a different path with much heavier traffic. Some may go down the road of self-publication while a growing number of writers are securing publication with the ever-popular hybrid publisher. Working with a hybrid publisher carries the benefit of validation, in that your work is vetted before the company agrees to publish your book. The expenses and sales are then shared between author and publisher. The upside of this collaboration is the book being available online wherever books are sold (Amazon, Barns & Nobel, etc.) and in your local bookstore, just as with books published in the traditional manner. The downside? Lots and lots of money out of your pocket. Let me say it again…
Lots and lots of money.
The initial investment for the printing of your book is just the start of a well-oiled machine that cranks out invoice after invoice until you’re convinced that you’re never going to make back the money you’ve put into supporting your ridiculous addiction. And you’re probably right. As the publisher of one hybrid publishing company puts it, the path to success for writers is an ongoing process. In other words, the probability of Kim Kardashian being our next President is more likely than you, recouping your money from your first published book.
But that’s not why writers write.
There are several actions you can take to keep your book on the minds of readers and go beyond your allotted 15 minutes of fame before the window shuts on the selling opportunity of your book. Working on these five things will keep your book relevant, and your name top-of-mind with readers…
Don’t blow it all, on the launch of your book – It’s easy to think that you need to come out of the gate screaming, but it’s important to think of your book’s shelf-life in terms of a marathon instead of a sprint. While we all want a successful book launch, there’s a benefit to spacing out your appearances at area libraries and events. By focusing on just a few appearances during the launch period, you allow for the public to warm up to your book, and for you to grow as an author. In fact, by letting a year go by, you will have the luxury of hindsight, allowing the appearances you schedule down the road to bring you real customers, not just the same familiar batch of friends and family.
Understand the difference between publicity and marketing – Knowing what I do now, I would have saved the thousands of dollars spent on publicity that garnered little impact throughout the country. Instead, think about investing in a conservative yet consistent campaign in your niche market on social media. Whether it’s a geographic area (I chose to market myself as a local author, advertising only in the state I live in.), or a particular segment, like travel enthusiasts on the east coast. You may not become a world best-seller (Or you might!), but you can dominate a niche category or geographic area.
Become an expert – By that, I mean, figure out what your schtick is. Librarians and event coordinators are looking for someone who brings something to the table other than, “I wrote a book, and it’s a great story.” While the book I wrote is a novel, it borrows heavily on my childhood with my sisters. By bringing my sisters along for appearances, we have found that we are quite entertaining. It’s quirky and different, and readers love getting to meet the characters in person.
Keep investing in YOU – Speaking at libraries and other events isn’t just about having books on-hand. It’s also about presenting yourself in the most professional manner and highlighting your attributes. Go a step beyond the basics of bookmarks and signage. Having a mini media-wall not only promotes your presence at events, but it also serves as a wonderful backdrop for fans to take a selfie with their new favorite author. Don’t forget to encourage people to post the photos on social media with your chosen hashtag (#NameOfYourBook).
Above all, keep writing – It’s all about keeping you and your book relevant beyond your allotted 15 minutes. Every article, post, and blog circles back to growing you as an author. Whether you’re penning articles on a favorite topic for online magazines, blogging about current affairs or your journey to publication, or starting your next writing project, the key to successful writing is to keep writing.
Writing is an addiction that must be fed for it to grow. To ensure your longevity as an author, it’s also helpful to put your earnings from book sales into an account earmarked for marketing your current book and for publishing your next. While you may not make back your initial investment, by feeding your writing addiction, you will not only grow sales, but you will also grow yourself as an author – and the likelihood that your next book will be even more successful is a given. Because there will be a next book!
This past week, a school in Tennessee removed the graphic novel MAUS from its library due to inappropriate curse words and a depiction of a naked character. Keep in mind that this book uses illustrated mice and cats to tell the story of THE HOLOCAUST. That’s right, the parents in this school district are less concerned about the murder of 6 million Jewish people than the possibility that little Timmy might learn a new swear word that I’m sure he’s never heard before in the car.
Whether it’s MAUS or TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, another book that has seen its share of censorship, it’s nothing new that parents are so afraid that their children might feel some discomfort while learning about a world beyond their gaggle of friends on social media.
Reading can and should challenge us. It’s OK to occasionally feel uncomfortable with a story that stretches our belief or an opinion we don’t share or understand. It’s called LEARNING. Fortunately, because of the news coverage on the book banning, MAUS is now reaching more readers than the author ever dreamed of.
MAUS reminds us that we can’t forget to teach our children of the horrific ramifications of racism and hate. On September 11, 2001, my children witnessed on news reports what I told them would be a defining moment in their lives. That evening, as a family, we watched the tragedy unfold in real-time on TV. While some parents shielded their young children from the horrors of that day, I believe my boys needed to see what humans are capable of doing to one another.
A documentary aired soon after on CBS, produced by filmmakers who just happened to be following firefighters on that fateful day. CBS made the right decision to air the special without editing out the gruesome scenes and the natural cursing by the firefighters. My husband and I could have decided that this special was too violent for young children and would make our kids uncomfortable. But isn’t that the point?
Thank you, Tennessee parent, for opening our eyes to the importance of MAUS and all those other books that make our children think.
Heidi McCrary is a writer and Author. Her novel, CHASING NORTH STAR is available at Kazoo Books, This is a Bookstore, and online wherever books are sold. Follow Heidi at heidimccrary.net and facebook.com/HeidiMcCraryAuthor