“Shadow Campus” Book Club Dinner in Schull, West Cork Ireland — Great Craic!

What a wonderful experience last night sharing the origins and future of Shadow Campus characters at a book club in Schull, Ireland – my very first in Ireland! I didn’t really know what to expect. All I can say is that it was far more than my fondest hopes. What fun!

Annemarie, who has been a friend for many years, invited me to the book club. She read Shadow Campus recently and shared it with the club.

I don’t know when I’ve laughed so much, learned so much about my own characters and been so encouraged to finish the sequel. One of the things I love about West Cork is the inevitability of events inspired by extraordinarily talented people. The music, drama, festivals, art and comedy events, to name a few, seemingly emerge from nowhere, transport you, and stay in your heart and mind forever.

The book club meeting with Annemarie, Aileen, Amanda, Collette, Fionnuala, and Leah was one such event. The book came alive, as Collette said. We talked of Shamus, Meg, Dr. Michaels, Denise and other characters as if we know them – and indeed we do. Interesting, though, we all saw Shamus somewhat differently. I think it’s not a stretch to say that we all rather love the guy. He is definitely a diamond-in-the-rough who matures and grows. He loves to the best of his ability; he cares beyond his realization. There is a tenderness and toughness about him and, while male readers like and identify with him, especially as an emerging detective, female readers often love him. He was treated very well again last night.

Below are some of the questions that arose and my best recollection of how we answered them. That’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an author. Your characters are accessible. They can be who the readers want them to be. You get to learn so much more about them. By the end of the evening, Shamus, Meg, Dr. Michaels, Denise, Rashid, and the other characters could have walked into the room and we would have recognized them instantly. They would have gotten a marvelous reception. We might have asked Meg why she got pregnant? Who is the father – really? Shamus would have received some very probing questions and a few dinner invitations. Dr. Michaels wouldn’t have been lonely.

In fact, Dr Michaels emerged in our discussions last night as handsome, romantic and even husband material! That’s a first. He’s complex and sometimes arrogant, but he received higher attraction ratings than Shamus from some around the table. No names mentioned here, ladies. You know who you are!

It was great craic, as we say in Ireland. Without giving too much away to those who haven’t yet read Shadow Campus, here are some of our discussions and discoveries:

Was Shadow Campus written in the U.S. or Ireland? The answer is both. It was started in Palos Verdes, California where I was teaching at the University of Southern California and was developed and completed in Ireland. That is one of the beauties of West Cork. Creativity is everywhere and it’s contagious.

How long did it take to write Shadow Campus?  Now, that’s a tough question because between being a professor, writing articles and books about communication and politics at work, like The Secret Handshake and It’s All Politics, raising three children, the manuscript for SC rarely came out of my desk over the past years except during the summers.  I’ve also dealt with some medical issues. It was, however, often on my mind.

The “bones” of the entire story was written in a very intense one-week semester break. I just had to get up around 5 a.m. and begin to write this story.  It flowed.  I’d awaken, get the kids off to school, and write, write, write.  That was the beginning of Shadow Campus.  Then it took about 5 summers to finish the book and a final push. Chris, my husband and editor, was always encouraging and his skills invaluable.

How did you feel when you finished and knew it would be published?  Usually with nonfiction books, and I’ve published many of those, you’re so busy getting them ready and accurate that you initially just want to drop when the work is done. But, for a first novel, especially, publication was immediately exciting.  I remember one night before going to sleep I was alone thinking, “It’s really going to be published now.”  Shamus, Meg, Rashid, and the others who had lived in my brain would now belong to everyone who reads Shadow Campus.  I wondered for a brief moment if they and I were ready.  But fortunately that passed quickly.  It’s a little like having children; you’re never truly ready.

How did your children respond to the publication of Shadow Campus? Fionnuala asked this. She knows my three children, as most of the book club members do. I was pleased to be able to report that when it was published each of the “kids” was joyful – really happy for mom. They were kind of proud too. I’ll remember those three conversations. They meant a lot.

Did you purposely not include a lot of detail about how your characters look? Amanda, also a professor and aware of the challenges women face in academia, explored this. I’d never been asked this question. It’s a good one. Recalling that I’m a first-time novelist, I made some choices about pace as well as detail. Pulitzer prize winning writer, Laura Sessions Stepp, said of Shadow Campus, “I was hooked from the beginning.” I wanted to retain that page-turning element. Irish author, Deirdre Purcell, also read early chapters and loved the pace and intensity of the plot.

Some authors describe their characters in detail – often quite beautifully. My field of study is communication. I wanted Shamus, in particular, but also Meg and others, to be sufficiently described to enable the reader creative license.

There are sprinklings of description throughout the book, but mostly what the characters say and do allows the reader to see them through their own eyes. It leads to some wonderful discussions about how they look. There are many versions of Shamus out there!

What did Roddy Doyle say to you at the Bantry Writer’s Festival?

In the acknowledgments of Shadow Campus, I mentioned renowned Irish author, Roddy Doyle. Some years ago, I attended a session he taught in Bantry, West Cork. Toward the end, people shared ideas for stories. I followed suit. When I finished, he said to me, “You have to write that book.” I told him my nonfiction agent was not convinced. Doyle said, “He’s wrong!” He told me to never give up on the story – and I didn’t.

Last night I promised to mail a copy to Roddy Doyle.  Since Collette and her husband, Tom, run the post office here, I’ll have to make good on that one!

What will happen to Denise and Shamus? Will they get together in the next book? There is considerable pressure on me to get these two together. Aileen insisted last night, with great humor, that Meg and Dr. Michaels do the same. What to do? What to do? I am still deciding. I didn’t take love relationships very far in SC. Nothing was finalized. I guess we’ll all have to see what happens in the sequel.

Amanda, for example, thinks Denise may be too smart or intellectual for Shamus. She’s not convinced it could work. They’re also both unwilling to sacrifice or diminish their careers. They’re separated by 3,000 miles. It’s a tough one.

Dr. Michaels, it was mentioned, may be too old for Meg. Some protest ensued after that was mentioned. He’s in his fifties. She is now in her early thirties. We shall see.

Should a more “professional” cover be used with the sequel? I raised this question. Leah was persuasive here. She really likes the cover that was derived from one of my oil paintings. Chris did the graphics. When you’re close to a book, it’s difficult to be objective about such things. The consensus seemed to be that the cover was right for the novel. I’ve read several articles about the importance of covers that grab attention – ones that compete with the bestsellers out there. And yet, I don’t want to fall for something flashy. The decision will need to be made soon, as the sequel to SC is nearly finished.

There were many other discussions and much laugher. I learned a great deal about the characters and leaked a few details about the upcoming sequel.

Writing is hard work and, at its best, a dialogue with readers. Last night was very special.

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Chemistry: Often More Persuasive Than Logic

The blog I posted at Big Think today is about human chemistry.  We’ve all heard about it and mostly associate it with romantic relationships.  But chemistry — that sense of attraction, intrigue or interest felt in the presence of another person — is critical to many types of relationships.  Audrey Hepburn purportedly said that it’s necessary to be “a little bit in love with your leading man and vice versa.”  She added, “If you’re going to portray love, you have to feel it.”

At work, when negotiating or persuading, it’s easy to underestimate the importance of establishing a sense of chemistry or rapport.  But if you’re going to influence people, you need to take an interest in them.  Taking an interest in another person is one of the most effective forms of influence.  The primary reason is that such interest in another person and attention to what they have to say is rare.  When something is rare, it is often valuable.

There’s a difference between romantic chemistry and the kind that makes collaboration possible.  The similarity is that in both cases the people involved feel that what each other has to say is important, intriguing or even fascinating.

How do you establish such chemistry at work?  There is an element of mystery to it.  Otherwise, we’d all be interested in and attracted to the same people.  One thing we can manage that does contribute to chemistry is the level of attention and involvement we show when speaking with others.  Checking our phones constantly cannot be good for chemistry.  I sometimes wonder how people unable to stay away from their phones are able to foster effective relationships at work or home.

Why not conduct a chemistry experiment?  Tomorrow, take just a little more interest in what someone has to say. Turn off your phone.  Find a little more that you have in common.  Share a moment of humor or a few stories.  Take an interest in that person’s interests for even a few more minutes.  Don’t overdo it.  Then see if the gift is reciprocated.  It may seem a bit manipulative at first, but honest interest in others is easy to generate if you truly listen, and especially when you begin to see the positive effects.

I started The Secret Handshake by mentioning in the introduction that people who are truly effective leaders and influential in whatever they do are usually the ones who make other people feel good about being around them.  That’s a form of chemistry and it’s within your grasp — especially since so many people neglect to consider its importance.

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Hillary Clinton’s Campaign and the Issue of Gender

Today on Big Think, I posted a blog entitled “Hillary Clinton and the ‘Women’s Point of View’ Conundrum.”  As Clinton launches her campaign for the U.S. presidency, she faces a number of challenges related to being a woman.  One of those challenges has a lot to do with how human beings think, particularly about women.  While men are rarely expected to speak for most or all men, women who reach high-level, visible positions in male dominated fields are often expected to represent the “women’s point of view” on issues for which even believing there could be one is ludicrous.  Clinton will confront this issue.  The press will remind us constantly of her gender, even when it is irrelevant to the issue at hand.  Highly effective and successful women I’ve known and interviewed have learned how to feel confident about being women, while also helping people get to know them as individuals.

This is one of the major challenges facing Clinton.  She’ll need to assist those who usually think in terms of categories (that’s most us) to get beyond that tendency– to come to know her as a woman and also as an extraordinarily capable and experienced leader.  While many women don’t think they should have to do this work, that people should not notice their gender first, knowing it’s a human tendency to rely on categories makes the task easier to accept.  To the extent that Clinton and her campaign clearly define for people when gender is relevant and when it is not, without defensiveness, her chances of becoming the first female President of the United States will be greatly enhanced.

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Hillary Clinton and the Gender Challenge

We are already getting glimpses in the media of how big a role gender will play in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. We are on the doorstep of history again. The battle will be intense. There is no doubt about that. Clinton has come closer than any woman in history to the U.S. presidency.

How she handles the gender challenges inherent in running for president will partially dictate whether she wins.  In that sense, skillful communication and persuasion are critical.  She can’t talk too much about being a woman or too little without hurting her campaign.  Accentuating her gender has its risks.  She may have learned from the last campaign, however, that downplaying a good part of who you are inhibits spontaneity and thereby authenticity. People don’t think they know you. Distrust results.  This time she is likely to be more comfortable with her gender and better able to expertly manage how it’s expressed.

There is no way to escape gender.  Most of us cannot ignore it as a category.  It influences our expectations.  We have never seen a female U.S. president, so imagining how gender might influence one is difficult.  Realizing that it influences how we perceive candidates, what we expect from them, how we expect them to communicate and how we vote is also difficult.  Yet, few of us escape categories our minds have been taught to apply.

Clinton will need to help voters get past categories that keep them from seeing who she really is and what she would bring to the presidency.  The “thin pink line” is how I described the challenge in They Don’t Get It, Do They?  It refers to the sense women have that expectations for them are entwined with their gender.  If they are assertive, they risk labels like “ice queen.”  They’re frequently faced with the Catch-22 that acting like a woman makes them appear less qualified to lead.

There continue to be major challenges faced by women who seek to obtain leadership roles in government and business.  While bias is part of the equation, a lack of familiarity with women at these levels and a widely shared habit of thinking of strong leaders as men enter into it as well.

Also, how a female leader should communicate trips us up.  It’s relatively unfamiliar ground, especially in politics.  Clinton is not only running for president, she is essentially forging important communication latitude groundwork for future female leaders.  She’ll be helping a country and the world learn what a leader, who happens to be a women, sounds like.  We’ll learn how she leads.  This doesn’t mean that women taking on such roles in the future will necessarily act and speak like her, but rather that Clinton will, as a candidate for the presidency and certainly if she wins, make female leadership somewhat more familiar.  She will widen the thin pink line, even more than she did as senator and secretary of state.

Whether you support her candidacy or not, a female candidate with a strong chance to win the presidency shifts the way many of us think.  It helps to interrupt antiquated habits of thought regarding gender that have lasted far past their applicability.  Many people will cling to those habits.  Hopefully her candidacy will make retaining their intractable mindsets more difficult.

(Updated April 13, 2015)

 

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What’s Easier for You: Giving Credit or Criticism?

“Giving Credit Even When It Isn’t Due” is the title of the blog I posted today on Big Think.  It’s a reminder that giving credit to others for effort, good intentions and accomplishments on the way to a goal not only makes them feel better about you, it motivates them as well.  Few people are motivated for long by fear of punishment or humiliation.  They resist or retaliate, when they don’t just give up.

For those of us more inclined to criticize than to give credit, the reason is likely habit.  As I’ve written about in my books and on this site, we are creatures of habit in our communication.  We get stuck in ruts.  One of them for you or people in your life may be finding fault more readily than seeing promise.

As the blog at Big Think explains, there are ways to give credit that enhance persuasion. In other words, giving credit can be considered a persuasion strategy.  I remember my father used to nudge me to achieve goals.  Rather than express annoyance or anger, he mentioned that what I’d already achieved meant the next step was in reach.  It worked. Indeed, many of those next steps weren’t too far.  What made them especially achievable, however, was his belief in me — his recognition of past successes, even small ones, as indications of future potential.

That’s what motivates many of us.  Who doesn’t like to hear that what they’ve already accomplished is an indication of how much more is within their grasp?  So, next time you’re about to criticize someone, consider whether a little credit for what he or she has done is in order.  It may work wonders and get you out of a rut too.

 

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More on Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable

I posted today on Big Think about a process from my book, It’s All Politics (PURRR) that can help avoid reacting rather than responding, especially at work.  Often many of us say what we don’t mean, speak before we think, and slip into patterns that diminish the likelihood of work being done well.  Such events raise tension at work and home.

The PURRR process is a device to use in turning around the inclination to speak before adequately thinking ahead to potentially undesirable consequences.  Once you become proficient at this process, thinking about the steps becomes unnecessary — until you find a booster of PURRR necessary because you’re slipping into old habits.

It’s a particularly useful technique if you’re inclined to taking things personally.  There are content and relationship meanings imbedded in much of what we say.  We have the option of attending to either or both.  The example provided in the post shows how to focus away from the personal.  If you don’t know how to do this well, someone else’s bad mood can become your issue and your mood as well.

Choice points (see categories in right column of this page for more) in conversation are opportunities to bring about preferred outcomes.  Often, we can alter the direction conversations take by recognizing choice points and selecting a path forward that takes us away from altercations, hard feelings, or spending the day seething.

 

Twitter: @kathreardon

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Is There Still an Art to Connectedness?

As human beings we have a need for inclusion — being connected to others. Professionally, such connectedness can be a considerable advantage as well.  As I wrote in a blog at Big Think today, however, it’s easy to forget that “real” connectedness, the kind that matters socially and professionally, requires more than counting links or followers.

Certainly there is something to be said for quantity of connections when attempting to reach people with our ideas or products.  These same contacts can provide advice, at times, and information about other social and professional opportunities.

But being connected in a way that matters is still an art.  As I described in The Secret Handshake and It’s All Politics, one of the greatest gifts we can give or receive is truly listening, truly being heard — truly being present in conversation.  That means taking time to pause, to think, to recall what is important to people with whom we’d like to generate and/or maintain more than just passing acquaintances.

Borrowing from three of the many people I interviewed when writing about politics, the Big Think blog shares one of the key ingredients of the art of connecting.  Employ this approach and what is now merely quantity of connections may be imbued with quality as well.

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