Sample of Memoir I Ghostwrote
Sample Chapters – Cornelia Amiri
CHAPTER V: CROSSROADS OF HELL
Except for the din of chirping insects and the lowing of cattle from the nearby pasture, it’s quiet until Grandpa speaks. “So, how are you doing?”
“I’m fine.” The routine answer pops out of my mouth, but I feel like I’m jumping out of my skin. I don’t want to be alone with him.
“You remind me of myself. I used to act the same way when I met somebody for the first time.” He flicks the lighter on and pokes the lit cigar in his mouth. The end has an orange glow. “Let me tell you a story about your grandpa, so you’ll know a little about me.” He rises from the lawn chair. “Come on.”
I follow him into the red barn. I scan the walls, plastered with military photos, racks of dusty guns, and spider webs draping news clippings picturing policemen, though my mother had told me my grandfather had trouble with bad cops. I glance at a green tractor on the opposite side and more military souvenirs on that wall. I didn’t expect any of this in the barn.
“I was in World War II. Did you know that?” The cigar’s mellow, slightly sweet aroma dances in the air, like it’s wispy tendrils of white smoke.
“I see it all as if it’s happening right now.“ A glint of fear shines in his eyes. “German soldiers on the road. No trees for cover. I fire a round. Bullets tear into them. My knees shake. I almost retch.” He stares off into the distance.
I can’t tear my eyes off of him as he speaks.
“We head into the woods. Blood-curdling screams and the nonstop noise of artillery bombard my ears. I duck behind a tree for cover. They shoot. I shoot back.
“Wow Grandpa, you were tough!”
“He takes me by surprise from behind. He wraps his hands around my throat, squeezing tight. Can’t breathe. I grab my M1942 bayonet…insert it…flip him around…stab him…again and again. You hear the screams?”
I don’t answer. I’m frozen with dread. There’s no screaming, not here in the barn. But, I hear the chugging of Grandpa’s breath, he’s panting heavily, it sounds like a train engine.
“I did my job. My duty.” His gaze is fierce, his eyebrows slant downward.
This is wrong. The memories this place holds are dangerous to him. I grab his hand and try to pull him toward the barn door. “Grandpa, let's go back in the house.”
“Not yet, I want to tell you about him.” He takes his cigar out of his mouth and points it at a newspaper clipping with a Police Officer’s photo. “The shootout. In 75, when you were two or three, I drove to the gas station, and right off, two cops get out of a pickup. They were off duty, wearing regular pants and shirts. The attendant pumps their gas while they chat with each other and have a smoke. I spot the orange toolbox in the bed of their truck. It’s mine. I know it. But, still, I walk over to get a better look, to make 100% sure.
One of them steps up to me and says, “Well, well, well. If it isn’t Superman. So what’cha want?”
“Gritting my teeth, I stare at the initials on the toolbox. “Damn it. That’s mine,” I said. I shook my finger at it and told them, there’re my initials, right there. I make my living with those tools…fixing cars. You have no right.” Grandpa puffs on his cigar. “You lucky you the law and we at a gas station. But the next time you step foot on my property, you gonna be some dead Piggly Wiggly’s. Then, when I had my say, I get in my car, slam on the gas pedal, and burn rubber, leaving a cloud of smoke.”
“They took your tools, Grandpa?” I want to help him, but I don’t know how. “That was mean of them.”
“Sure was. That’s how I came to be in court in 76. They brought me in wearing one of them orange jumpsuits. I could barely walk with my legs and arms in shackles and chains. Tony and Dorothy sat it the courtroom
with their heads bowed, eyes closed, praying for me.”
“That’s good Grandpa. God helps people.”
I’m on edge from his tale yet engrossed in it.
“The judge deemed the shootout was racially motivated by the Lexington Police harassing me. And because your grandmother, uncle, aunts, even the Governor of Mississippi requested my pardon, but mostly due to my colon cancer cause they didn’t expect me to live more than six months, the judge leniently sentenced me to life on house arrest.”
“That’s good. Not the cancer, but that they let you out of prison.”
“I was only defending myself from the cops. I warned them not to come onto my property.” His expression distorts into a menacing glare and scowl. “I had every right to do what I did.” He puffs on the cigar, it seems to calm him down. I take his hand. “Let’s go back to the house. It’s late. You need to get to bed.”
Grandpa comes with me back to the porch. I let out a sigh of relief. He takes a seat in a lawn chair.
I plop down in the one at his side. “You can’t die Grandpa.”
“That’s life grandson. You are born to die.”
“Can we go find the colon cancer person so you don’t have to go?” The tiny muscles in my face and throat tighten up, I know tears are coming. “I wish it was that easy, cause I would have got him a long time ago with no hesitation.” Grandpa sets his finished cigar down in a tin can by his chair, then he stands up. “Let’s get back inside Jeff, it's cold out here.”
I’m not cold at all. It’s a hot summer night, but I stand and walk back into the house with him. He reaches out and pulls me into his arms in a big bear hug. I’m taken back. Surprised. Then again, everything he said and did surprised or shocked me.
I climb into bed beside Michelle as Grandpa walks to his room and shuts the door.
Michelle turns on her side toward me. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. Go to sleep.” A scene from an old movie pops into my head. Dark clouds fill the sky above huge waves crashing against an old-timey ship, rolling side to side. Then the wind howls and shakes the huge sails. One of the men on board says, “A storm’s brewing.” The Captain tells him, “It’s too late to navigate out of the storm. Batten down the hatches.” I remember what happened next in that film, and I draw the covers completely over my head and roll over into a ball.
* * *
An ear-rattling boom jerks me awake. The sight in front of my eyes paralyzes me. I can’t move my arms or my legs. I can’t speak. I can’t scream. I’m drowning in raw fear. Grandpa is pointing a twelve-gauge shotgun mere inches from Uncle Tony, who lies unmoving on the sofa bed. Crimson blood gushes from his chest. His eyes roll back in his head. Tony’s Dead. Murdered.
Michelle grabs my hand and squeezes it tight, so I know she’s awake. My heart’s hammering. I feel like my breath’s been sucked out of me. I’m numb. Shut down. I pull the covers over our heads. Hoping that by not seeing us, Grandpa will forget we’re there. But I also feel certain he’s going to shoot me. I’m sure I will die any minute. I’m overcome by the coppery stench of blood and the acrid, sour smell from the fired rifle my grandfather used to murder his only son. My sweat…soaks the sheets.
Because of the sunbeam shining through the window on the different colored, thin cotton squares of the patchwork quilt, I can see Grandpa. And, out of the corner of my eyes, I see Grandma in the hallway creeping in stealth to the living room. I need to warn her. I try to scream but my mouth won’t open.
Grandma must sense the danger. She glances up at the huge shadow in a hunting stance, fast approaching. Her eyes grow rounder, her pupils dilate, and she shuts her lips tight in an expression of stark fear. “Calvin? Calvin? Is that you?”
His breath is loud, like a heavy wind in a rainstorm as he paces back and forth
“No!” Grandma’s gaze falls on Tony’s body.
Her wail is immobilizing. It cuts through my soul, giving voice to my pain, though my own body and voice turn their back on me, overcome with shock.
“Why? Tony wrote all those letters made all those phone calls to get you out of prison We wanted you here with us.” Somehow Grandma musters the strength for words, trying to get through to him, to reach the man she loves. “Why kill the people who love you? You have so much anger and pain you can’t tell we’re not your enemies.” In a flash, she breaks toward her bedroom.
My pulse is racing. He runs toward her door.
“Nooo!” My grandmother screams for her life.
A raw brutal boom pierces my ears. No other sounds come from the bedroom. I know she must be dead.
The floorboards groan and creak as my grandfather walks over to us. Michelle and I watch him through the colored patches of the quilt we’re hiding under. The long, hard barrel is pointed at my face, no more than an inch away. I feel the heat of his breath. I sink into darkness, a dread so deep, no person should ever have to face it. That’s the only way to explain the feeling of knowing my grandfather wants to kill me and is going to do so, now.
Suddenly, Mom runs out of her bedroom, and into the living room. “Dad! Dad! Wait!”
He wheels around, aiming at her.
I’m going to explode from the tension and horror. No, not Mom. God, don’t let him kill her.
Mom races down the hall, heading toward the back door. He chases her. I hear the door open. I don’t hear the gun go off. Maybe she’s safe. Did she get away? Then I hear him fire a shell. He must have shot at her. I don’t know if he missed or if he hit her. Is she alive? Is she dead?
CHAPTER VI: DEATH OF NEW BEGINNINGS
Grandpa walks back to our sofa bed. He paces back and forth in front of us, clutching the rifle. His shoulders slump in a defeated posture and he cast his head down. He spins around and trudges to the hallway, moving as if his feet are lead. At the hallway, he leans against the wall, then slides down it until he’s sitting on the floor.
Outside a man’s speaking to him through something electronic and loud, with static. Maybe a microphone type mega phone or a radio. “Pull out! Pull out! Get out now!“
Grandpa releases a tremulous yell of pain and despair. He’s not looking my way, but I’m compelled to see what he does, so I turn over on my side and lift my head slightly. He sticks the long, hard barrel of the shotgun into his mouth and pulls the trigger. There’s an ear-piercing boom. Blood is everywhere. Michelle didn’t watch. She doesn’t know what’s happened.
I grab her hand and throw the covers off.
“Go,” I yell.
We leap out of the sofa bed and push our legs as hard and fast as we can. We run out of the front door.
The first person I notice is Mom. She rushes to us. There’s no blood on her. She’s okay. She wasn’t shot. She wraps her arms around us both in a big tearful hug. Mom cries. I cry. Michelle cries. None of us can stop crying.
Police in black riot gear with shields and helmets are everywhere. They surround the house.
Four officers approach us. The tallest asks, “Is your Grandpa alive?”
“No, he shot himself. He’s dead. I think he’s dead. “ My heart’s hammering, I’m speaking fast. I can’t slow down. I need to breathe.
Another cop asks Michelle, “Is your grandfather dead?”
“He’s still in the house. He has a rifle. He’s alive.”
She didn’t see him kill himself. She tells them what she believes.
The police don’t take any chances, they assume he’s still alive, armed, and dangerous. Officers rush to the open door and throw teargas bombs inside.
The paramedics can’t go in and get Uncle Tony or Grandma or Grandpa’s bodies out until the tear gas clears.
Silent medical personnel and policemen with solemn, serious expressions stand by us. Waiting until the tear gas is safe or for some other crazy thing to happen. We stand by them, weeping.
* * *
Michelle, Mom, I and are clad in nothing more than our bare feet and pajamas the whole time we stand in the grass with the police. I’m tired, hungry, and still in shock. I also need to use the bathroom, badly. But we can’t go in the house, it’s a crime scene, not to mention three dead bodies are still inside. My mom takes me behind a tree and stands guard until I finish.
As we walk back, I spot a white Monte Carlo driving fast, recklessly, down the road. It’s brakes squeal as it stops at the gravel driveway.
“Dad,” I yell.
“J.R.,“ Mom calls.
“Daddy!” Michelle runs to our car.
Mom and I are right on her heals. Dad pulls open the door and sprints toward us with his arms spread out.
Dad grabs Michelle and me first, a second later, Mom is with us. The four of us huddle together, in a clinging family hug. I don’t want to ever let go of any of them.
“Oh my God! What happened?” Dad’s tone is etched with alarm and bewilderment.
In a choked voice between sobs, I manage to say, “You left us. We should have gone with you.”
Dad’s still hugging me. I glance underneath his arms and watch two men wearing blue plastic gloves, and surgical type masks roll a stretcher carrying a thick-plastic looking black bag, the size of a person. It’s zipped up. Two more EMT’s pass by rolling a stretcher with another black bag. Then the last two other men from the ambulance come by with another stretcher and I can tell something big and long is stuffed in that tightly zipped bag just like the others—the corpse of Tony, or Grandma, or Grandpa.
Between sobs, my mother tells my father, “He’s right. None of this would have happened if you stayed.”
My father beats his chest. “Oh my God! Why? Why didn’t I stay?”
I watch the EMTs load my uncle, grandmother, and grandfather in body bags into the ambulances. The red light won’t spin on top and the high pitch siren alarm won’t echo through the air on the way to the morgue. It’s too late for that. The body bags will be stored in the county morgue until the funeral, so everything involving the living can go on as usual. I know it’s not going to work like that. Not for me. Not for my family. We’re no longer navigating a normal route.
All of us are navigating a path, eventually, we reach our destination, for some of us, through no fault of our own, we’ll end up in a tightly zipped body bag. Where will my path take me?
I watch the ambulance pull out of the long gravel driveway.
Samples of Writing of Mine
Beckoning her toward freedom, the soft roar and tranquil flow of the foamy waves pulled Vevay from a dark, melancholy mood. She dug her toes into the sand and rested her chin on her drawn up knees. With the sea as her only solace, she had long ago given up any real hope of escaping.
No one ever visited her roundhouse and she wasn’t allowed to go anywhere except the beach to tend the flock. Without a husband, she would never be free of her parents.
Nibbling on her lower lip, she scanned the shore. Sheep flounced across a field of wild, red strawberries, skirting a large wolfhound who romped and played. No one else was there to see her.
Shedding her baggy undyed tunic, she drew out a pair of old braies and a sleeveless tunic from a hole in the nearby tree where she kept them hidden to wear when she swam.
She slipped them on and ran into the sea. Brisk, salty waves splashed at her bruised skin, rejuvenating her. Waist deep in the sea, she dove into the teal sanctuary and swam with spirit, alive with a freedom she never had on land. Vevay broke through the surface for a big gulp of air and then let the waves carry her along with a rolling tug. Imagining herself a beautiful mermaid, she giggled when a huge wave tossed her up into the air. She landed back in the soft water. Here, her mind floated as gently as her body. Here, she could laugh.
Here, she could be free. Only here.
Sensing another’s presence, but seeing no one, she instinctively jerked in fear. A warm, glowing feeling rose within her. No longer afraid, she played pretend like she did as a little girl and whispered, “Is it you, my patron god, come to rescue me?”
With a huge splash, a white-foamed wave washed over her. Vevay laughed. Yet, when she rubbed the sea spray from her eyes, she gasped at what she saw—a man stood before her.
Only his chest, arms, and head were above water. The sun glistened off his pale, muscular chest, brightening his skin to a silver, otherworldly tinge. His hair was the lightest shade of blond she’d ever seen, the color of the sand. The moment his deep, dark eyes met hers, a wave of magical energy rushed through her core.
“I did not mean to startle you.” His smooth, sensual voice flowed through her like a ripple of heat.
Even as she felt the warmth of his being, fear coursed through her veins. She’d learned to not trust people. “I haven’t seen you before. Where are you from?"
He smiled and eased forward. “I am of the sea. You trust the sea, do you not?”
“You are a man.” I take comfort in the sea, albeit I know you not. She shook her head. “You are of the land, not the sea.”
He quirked one brow. “People are not always what they seem.”
“True.” Vevay turned her head toward the sound of loud barking coming from the shore. Not warning growls from the wolfhound, but animated, playful sounds, happy and excited at this man’s presence.
“May I swim with you?”
Her gaze jerked back to him. Friends were one of the many things she wasn’t allowed. At the thought of going against her parents, her skin crawled and all the muscles in her body tensed. A frightening image of her father’s livid features as his hand came down on her relentlessly flashed across her memory. An acute pain shot through her inner thighs where he always pummeled her. She dare not disobey him. He would kill her.
She couldn’t turn her gaze from the stranger or she would have swum back to shore. His eyes were brighter than the sunlight that glistened on the waves as he flashed her a whole-hearted smile. Without warning, he ducked headfirst into the water. His long, muscular legs shot up, splashing her.
She clasped her hand against her chest. Her breath caught in her throat and she gasped. She’d never expected this. She blinked her eyes, then looked again.
By the gods, the man had no feet, no ankles, no heels, no toes. His legs extended in normal fashion from his body, but two small fishtails took the place of his feet. When he came up for air, she noticed that his forearms were covered in what looked like silver bangles. Scales. He leapt from the water and into the air like a flying fish. The sea-creature was bare, except for an unusually large merman’s pouch, which hung between his legs like a loincloth.
She must be daydreaming again. That explained what she thought she saw. The tightness in her neck and shoulders eased as her muscles relaxed, stretched slightly. Her mind must have drifted off to her fondest wish, for her patron god, Dylan of the sea, to come to her rescue. It seemed so real, it always did. But this isn’t Dylan. It couldn’t be. Why would a god want anything to do with me?
Something pushed her from behind, and Vevay shrieked. She turned around, shaking, and she saw a seal. The sleek, dark animal was barking at the seaman as if speaking to him. Laughter spilled out of Vevay. Taking a deep breath, she mustered her courage and slid her head underwater. Pushing off with her feet, she swam as fast as she could to catch up to him.
Pulling her arms through the water and gently kicking her feet, she glided through the sea. Her lungs strained with the effort, she needed air. She opened her eyes, and the salty water stung. Where had he gone? Her lungs burned and she pushed off of the ocean floor.
Vevay broke through the surface and took a satisfying gulp of air. The seaman’s tail fins hit the surface with a large splash. She slipped below the water’s surface and swam in that direction until she reached his side. The seal swam up, gliding beside her.
Gently, the seaman grasped her shoulders. She jerked away from the contact, inwardly filled with an icy chill. She cringed and shivered in fear, reliving her most recent memory of her father’s treatment. Then, she instantly felt different. A warm, soothing sensation flowed through her as the merman cupped her shoulders. Swimming with him to the surface, she broke through and took a deep breath. He smiled at her, and she forgot about her father.
“Who are you?”
He gazed back at her with wide eyes, open-mouthed, hesitating as if lost in thought. “It is not yet the time for names.”
The words, ugly, foolish, No one will want you. You belong in a cage, resounded in Vevay’s mind in the voice of her mother. She turned her head away as the sting of tears pricked her eyes.
As if he could read her thoughts, he cupped the side of her face. But she flinched at his touch. The feel of a man’s touch made her cringe. Touch was pain, violence, and punishment—in her family.
“Maiden, you are beauty itself. Your skin is white as sea foam and your tri-colored eyes, of blue, green, and amber, glisten like a thousand precious gems.”
Her scalp tingled as he wrapped a lock of her hair around his finger.
“Your hair, in contrast to your skin, is black as a raven’s wing.” He paused as his eyes twinkled. “Though it is not time to tell you mine, might I know your name?” His voice was deep and melodic.
He smiled, and her heart skipped a beat.
“White wave, it is a good name.”
“It is thought to be a fitting name reflecting my behavior. My mother says I loved to wade into the sea and play in the water as a child. She still blames me for that, for she would have to get up all the time and pull me back to shore. Then I would run toward the waves again. So, it is what I’m called.”
His lips curled up into a sad, half smile. Concern showed in his eyes, but her first thought was that she had misread it. No one else cared about her. Was it concern or judgment in his gaze? Still, his smile bespoke kindness, it radiated warmth and hope.
“I suppose I was a bad child.”
“You have never been bad. You are nothing but good. You have done no wrongs, neither to me nor anyone else. You are pure of heart. I am honored that you swam with me.”
She felt less alone than she ever had.
His lips lifted into a smile, as the corners of his eyes crinkled, and his eyes twinkled. “Grab my shoulders and ride on my back to the depth of the sea so I can show you things you’ve never seen before.”
Held in fear’s grip, as always, she ached to go with him but faltered. “I cannot, I will drown.”
She trod water for a moment, reminded of her mother’s stern warnings that merfolk took girls like her to the bottom of the sea and drowned them. Still, her mother lied about most things. Everything, really.
Vevay had listened to the druid's stories and thought of those tales all the time. From them she’d developed a keen sense of good and bad. Though no one in the village would believe it, her parents wanted only bad things for her. She knew with every fiber of her being this merman was good, because he had no characteristics that reminded her of her parents.
He invited her with his open palm and curled fingers to continue swimming with him. “Whenever you need to take a breath, tap my shoulder and we will share my air.”
The seal whipped its head back repeatedly, as if beckoning her to accept the merman’s invitation. Instinctively, before fear took over, she grasped the seaman’s shoulders and hung on as he dove under the surface. Swiftly he swam far out to sea. Even on horseback, she had never gone that fast. Her lungs ached for air. With her arms wrapped around his neck, she released one of her hands and tapped his shoulder.
He turned his face to hers. His white blond hair rippled above his head in the low gravity of the sea. Pressing his lips to hers, he gently caressed them as air entered her mouth. Small bubbles rose in the water around her head as life-giving air filled her lungs.
Though her stomach had begun to cramp from anxious fear, the moment his lips and breath touched her mouth, the pain left her. A trickle of heat rose from the base of her stomach, curling toward her heart, where it swirled and danced. For his breath was more than air, it carried his essence. His breath on her tongue tasted like the scent of the ocean… fresh, brisk, free.
She clasped her arms about his neck again, and he dove. His feet, or rather his tails, swished from side to side as he coasted, yet when he swam fast, he flicked them up and down.
A large school of bright yellow fish parted as she and the merman plunged deeper. As the sea grew darker, the temperature dropped. Overcome by the chilly water, she shivered, but refused to ask to go to the surface. She wanted to be here, enthralled with the fish gliding by in all sizes and shapes and in a rainbow of colors. A sea turtle slid past her, flapping his flippers like a bird in flight, soaring through the blue-gray water. Its eyes were as round as an owl’s, with a blue-green shell as smooth as a polished river stone.
The merman dove deeper. As he covered her mouth with his, sharing his breath once more, she felt as if a mellow breeze engulfed her. Her shivers stopped, replaced with a warm tingle.
At this depth, the water was dark purple. Glowing, white, round, magical mushroom tops swam from the bottom up. Jellyfish. With skin more delicate than a flower petal, they moved in the dark water like a tribal banner waving in the wind.
They swam past a clump of colorful plants fluttering in the water. Vevay kept one arm clamped around his neck while she stuck the other one in front of his face with her palm out, gesturing him to stop and let her look a while. She was delighted when he did.
Amid the swaying sea-plants’ rhythmic dance, she spotted a sea-dragon, as small and green as the plants it hid among. Its head was shaped like a horse’s; its body long and raggedy like a dragon's, fluttering against the water.
When she patted the merman’s shoulder, he turned his face to her and breathed into her mouth, filling her lungs with the sweetest air. Like a powerful wave, his offering crashed into the wall of numbness she wielded the way a warrior used a shield. Vevay didn’t know how tears could well in her eyes underwater, still they did. She was so starved for kindness that from the mere taste of it she wept with joy. She wrapped her arms around his neck, clinging, hanging on to all he offered, vowing to never let go.
He swam upwards until they broke through the surface. She could barely see the shore, yet it commanded her to return. Pulling Vevay back to her lot in life. The thought of a chance to escape her dismal existence, that she might be rescued by this shiny merman, slipped away like the ebb of the tide.
“I have to get back.” The icy chill of fear gripped her and would not let go. Her head began to throb. “Da says he wants to kill me. Wants me to die. He will drag me from the sea and beat me until I am dead if he finds me now.”
“Do not fear. I will take you to shore. You are safe.” His voice was like thick honey, warm, soft, soothing.
The loss of the enchanting dream of rescue, which seemed so real but a moment ago, wrecked the last shred of her self-control. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks as she spoke to the doubts in her head that had warned her all along: None of this is real. It cannot be. She eased her arms from his neck, and he turned facing her as she trod water.
His eyes locked with hers in a long, hard gaze.
“It’s too perfect, too wonderful. It cannot be.”
“But it is.” His voice was throaty yet comforting, like the gurgle of a seal. “You deserve so much more happiness than what you’ve had in these few moments away from your parents.”
As she gazed into his eyes, she felt frozen in place except for her feet, which were treading water. “You are real?”
“As real as you are.” He leaned closer to her and touched her chin tenderly with his thumb. “I will get you back to shore.” He flashed another sad half smile. “Come.”
Placing her arms about his neck, she leaned against his back and took comfort in the strength of his muscles. She took a deep breath just before he plunged under the water.
He swam so swiftly, they were soon at the rock-covered shore. He broke through the surface, and she gasped for air. Taking in a deep, shuddering breath, she let go and climbed over a jagged black rock and onto the shore where her sheep waited.
Standing on shore in her wet clothes, she glanced back at the merman. The sun glistened on the water and shimmered on his blond hair, which hung below his ears. She stared at his broad, ribbed chest and oval, firm-chinned face, and his large blue eyes. Before she could thank him, he ducked under the water and slipped away.
Vevay shed her wet clothes and hid them back in the tree, then pulled on her tunic dress. She ran her hand through her wet hair as her gaze fastened on the very spot where he had been. After sitting on the rock, she brought her knees up to her chest, and hugged them.
She glanced toward her flock and called out to them, “He was real. He swam with me.” She took a deep breath. “Fair, he called me fair.” A warm force penetrated her core and she felt as if his essence was still with her. Uplifted, Vevay leaned back and basked in the sun. “It is the happiest day of my life,” she said to herself.
As her hair dried and the chill of the deep water subsided, she counted her long-horned sheep in a sing-song chant. Before she could finish her count, Cory, her wolfhound, reared up on the boulder where Vevay sat and butted her tummy with his shaggy head. While she petted his shaggy fur, he pressed his wet nose and soggy lips upon her cheek. She hugged his soft neck. What a wonderful day. She’d never felt this alive.
Soon she would have to put this happiness aside. She couldn’t show pain, anger, or happiness in her home. Any emotion triggered her parents to attack her. The only way she could survive was to never feel.
Once she stepped into her roundhouse, she switched to her other-self, the one who didn’t feel, didn’t speak, the one who survived.
She only felt alive at the seashore, tending her sheep. Her sheep, her dog, this was all she had… until today. Why did the merman seem to care about her when no one else did? He was not only real; he seemed to know what real was. She could tell villagers she swam with a merman and they would not believe her, yet would not judge her. But, if she told them her parents got pleasure and lustful feelings from hurting her, she would be branded a bad girl, a horrid liar.
Yes, she had learned that lesson long ago. Help was for people better than her. People thought she was bad. If your parents try to kill you, beat you, use you in ways you can’t think about or say aloud, then you must be bad. Deep down she knew it wasn’t her that was bad, but she couldn’t do anything about it. It was her parents that were bad, but she couldn’t tell anyone. She needed help but there was none.
However, she felt different by the sea and even more so when she swam with her merman. She pushed back that thought while she and Cory rounded up the sheep.
She grew hungry as she got closer to the roundhouse. Hopefully her parents would let her eat tonight. She never knew what would happen from morning to night. She and Cory darted here and there after the sheep, herding them into their pen. When she turned, she sensed rather than saw a figure standing by the door flap to her home. A thin man with black hair and of average height, though she always felt like he towered over her, because for most of her life he had been twice her size. She shuddered and took a deep breath. Her Da waited for her.
The next morning, rays of sunshine filtered in through the cracks in the wattle and daub panels and the smoke hole in the center of the round thatched roof. Vevay awoke early. She was never able to sleep for more than a few hours at a time. She forced herself to rise and put on a tunic. She had to wait for her father to give her permission to tend the sheep.
Her mother woke next, as always. “You're filthy.”
Vevay knew what came next.
Her mother picked up a rag and dipped it in water. “Spread your legs.”
Helpless to refuse her mother’s command, as her father would kill her, she automatically did as her mother demanded. Her legs still bore the red handprints from her father’s palms lashing at her last night.
Though the apex between Vevay’s thighs already burned with pain, her mother rammed the cloth inside Vevay’s body, intensifying the sting and the soreness.
Her mother gawked with a mix of hatred and hunger in her hard eyes as she roughly scrubbed the sensitive, abused flesh. “You’re dirty, filthy. Everyone in the village knows you are no good. They all say I shouldn’t do anything for you. You are disgusting. Still I tell them she is my daughter and I love her. No one loves you like me. Never forget that. No one will ever love you the way I do.” Her mother threw the rag down. "You made it filthy, it stinks. It stinks like you.”
Her father woke up and took his place by the stone-ringed fire in the center of the roundhouse. Vevay kept her head cast down and fought the burning sensation between her legs and the nausea that turned her stomach. She closed her eyes and focused on her memory of the merman’s sunny face, sea blue eyes and golden curls. Her shoulders relaxed and her heart lifted. She was filled with immediate relief as she envisioned her sanctuary, her friend.
She steeled her emotions as she asked her Da, “May I have permission to tend the flock?”
Her father kept quiet for a good while, then said, “If it is what you are supposed to do, then you better do it.”
Vevay walked past the shield on the wall, which marked her father as a rich and important man. Pulling aside the leather door-flap, she left the hut and whistled for Cory, the wolfhound, to follow. Her legs were stiff, still in pain as she led the flock down to the shore. When she sat down she could still see the red imprint of her father’s fingers all over her inner thighs.
Vevay watched the sheep as silent tears streamed down her cheeks. Cory barked at the bleating lambs as they wandered about, nibbling the fresh green clumps of grass growing beside the rocky shore. Vevay leaned her wooden staff against the large black rock, and stripped off her undyed tunic dress in one fluid movement and then pulled out the braies and tunic from their hiding place. She stood transfixed, looking at the waves as the sea breeze tousled her dark tresses.
She turned to the huge, bear-like wolfhound. “Cory, guard the sheep and ram well. I am taking a swim, but I shall be back soon.”
The huge, shaggy dog barked as if in answer. She rolled her braies up above her knees and waded—escaped—into the shallows of the sea. The ebb and flow of the cool waves tickled her feet.
If only the seaman came back. To have a friend was such a solace. She envisioned his full-faced smile and her spirit basked in an exhilarating energy. In truth, though, she did not even know his name.
She waded up to her waist and then dove into the briny water. When she came up for air, she turned on her back and floated in the gentle waves. Her mind drifted away, the pain forgotten. The cool water exhilarated her body down to her toes. For fun, she turned over in a back flip and came up spurting salt water from her nose. Suddenly, the water erupted into a huge splash. Vevay’s mouth dropped open and she screamed. Her heart hammered against the inner wall of her chest as she looked around to see what kind of sea monster loomed before her.
He shot up like a porpoise, but a breath span from her. She clutched her chest and caught her breath. “It’s you.” Vevay let out a soft chuckle of relief. “You scared me.”
The warmth in his smiling eyes called to her soul. “Come swim with me.” He ducked under a wave.
She gulped a deep breath of air and dived under. Soon she caught up to him and glided at his side. His golden hair streamed about his sculptured face and little bubbles rose from his mouth as he smiled. When he broke through the sea’s surface with a splash, she also came up for air. His firm, muscled body faced her.
She couldn’t tear her gaze away from his penetrating eyes. As a maiden, despite her mother’s accusations, she often watched other folk mate at the sacred festival of Beltane. She had that horrid thought again. Felt hollow…unnecessary. Wanted to end this awful, useless existence. She had the thought that when her father beat her, he was coupling with her. But it couldn’t be true. It was something else. She couldn’t live if it was true. She'd kill herself if it was true. No, it can’t be, she told herself again. She shook her head, trying to clear the confusion.
This warrior of the sea had called her beautiful. He was the man she wanted to hold and kiss on Beltane.
Taking her face in his hands, he asked in a tone that was almost a whisper, “May I kiss you?”
She felt safe with him as she recognized the sincerity in his gleaming eyes. She said, “Yes.”
He lowered his mouth to hers. His hot breath fanned her face, her cheeks tingled. He pressed his lips to hers. His mouth was wet and salty like the sea. The fire from his kiss swam through her veins. He released her lips, took a breath, and smiled.
Vevay moaned. “By the mother, Arianrhod.”
He jerked back. His eyes bulged in an expression of alarm. “Why did you call out to Arianrhod?"
“I am sorry.” Her mind spun with confusion. Why was he angry? What had she done? “I but called out to the goddess in a moment of surprise.”
“I have no love for Arianrhod, she is no mother to me.”
“She is one of the mother goddesses.”
“Not to me.” He released a long huff of breath.
An unbelievable suspicion hit her. She recalled the druid’s tale of Arianrhod’s sons, and one was cast into the sea. “What is your name?”
“It is the second time you have asked me my name.”
“Why will you not tell me?” She rubbed her front teeth against her bottom lip. “I ask once more, what is your name?” It was unlike her to be so bold. But she had to know if her suspicion was right.
“Thrice you have asked and so I must give it you. My name is Dylan.”
“Dylan.” She couldn’t breathe. Dylan, which meant son of the wave. Dylan, the son of Goddess Arianrhod, the brother of the sun god, Lleu. Vevay’s heart raced so fast it felt like it would leap out of her chest. “The god ... you are the god of the sea. My patron god.” Once he said his name out loud, it all seemed real. But it couldn’t be. What would a god want with me?
She heard his voice inside her head. You called me your patron god. Vevay heard his thoughts, though she had never been able to do that before. She shook her head, still hardly able to believe this was real.
“Would that I was so much more.” He pulled her into his muscular embrace.
Vevay let out a long sigh. She felt so safe in his bracing arms. “Why did you come?”
“I came to you long ago and breathed life into you when you washed up on shore, nearly drowned. Your life would have ended that day by your own hand. I knew in truth you wanted to live.”
“Yes. I wanted to live. It was just a moment that overcame me and without thought I tried to drown myself. I just didn’t think I could go on. I was wrong. But, are you saying you were there? It was you that saved me? Why didn’t you say something?”
“You had to get to know me, to trust me. It is not like me to brag of rescuing a maiden in distress, much less to boast of being a god. I rarely give out my name. I am not one to draw attention to myself. I live a simple life, alone in the ocean. God or not, it is what I’m comfortable with.”
“I still do not fully understand why you came to me.”
“In a way, it goes back to Arianrhod. I call no one mother, least of all her. You too have no one to call mother. All those who live without a father or a mother’s love can spot other orphans of the heart, and so I spotted you.” He curled his fingers under her chin as he gazed into her eyes. “Though hurt by the pain your parents cause you, your spirit is not damaged by it. It remains kind and hopeful, as does mine.”
“I am not abandoned.” Emotion was building in her, and she couldn’t stop her lips from trembling. “I live with my mother and father.”
“No, you live with your abusers. You have abusers, not parents. You have never known a mother’s or a father’s love, save for the love you give to your sheep and your dog.”
Vevay couldn't say anything, she just swallowed hard.
“Do not cry.” Dylan brushed his wet yet warm fingers across her cheek. “You are safe with me."
His tender touch filled her with a warm glow.
“I know.” Could it be? He understands what I suffer? “Is your mother ... is she like mine?”
Dylan took her in his arms, so she wouldn’t have to tread water. He brushed the hair away from her face and peered into her eyes. “I will tell you.” His face took on a pondering expression. “The high druid, Math, needed to appoint a virgin to sit by his brother Don’s throne.” His tone grew more animated. “The god Gwydion suggested Arianrhod, keeper of the Silver Wheel of Stars. Math performed a magical test to discover if Arianrhod was indeed chaste. When he touched her belly with his finger, the goddess cried out with labor pains. Then and there, she gave birth to two sons. I was a healthy baby but a creature of the sea. Math named me Dylan for son of the wave.”
He tilted his head to the side. “Arianrhod despised my brother and me. She had nothing to do with us. Soon after my birth, I crawled to the sea and dove under the waves. From that moment on, I swam like a fish.” He took a deep breath. “The god Gwydion is my father and my twin brother is Lleu. Gwydion took him, though he was born a great blob, and raised him. He grew into the comeliest youth ever seen. As the sun god Lleu is known as the god of light, I am called the god of darkness, for I live underwater where the light doesn’t shine. That is the story of my birth.”
“Arianrhod is wrong to blame her babies for her lack of chastity.” Her chest ached with sympathy for him. His mother had no right to blame him for her faults.
“Yes, she is wrong. And your parents?”
“I cannot say.”
“No, but one day you will be able to say that nothing they blame you for is your fault. It is all theirs.”
“People do not want me to say anything. No one in the village allows me to talk about my family. When I was little, I tried to get help. People said I was bad to tell lies about my parents.”
“How I want to call forth a great wave out of the ocean to drown your evil parents and your selfish tribe, which will not lift a hand to help you. Though I can’t, Don would not allow it, but I will help you.”
“No one can help me.”
“I am a god, there is much I can do. Whenever you come to the shore, call my name to the waves, and I will appear.”
“In truth? My thanks. I’ve longed for a friend.”
He smiled and gestured that she should follow.
She took a deep gulp of air, ducked underwater, and swam after him.
Dylan glided silently through the sea. He flipped onto his back and swam gazing at the sky through the blue water. He spun over and skimmed the sea bottom covered in kelp and dotted with rock and shell-armored creatures.
Vevay slowly touched the various odd-looking shell fish. It surprised her how different similar-looking creatures felt, from rough textures to a soft leathery feel.
Shoals of bright-hued fish glided through the sea grass with their mouths open to catch the food floating by. The fish looked like caches of sparkling rubies, emeralds, amber, and sapphires falling through the turquoise water.
Breaking through to the surface, she took a deep breath as a gentle ripple moved across the water. Dylan broke through the ocean surface and took her hand. Diving back under the sea, they headed for shore.
Vevay climbed onto the jagged, black rock at shore side. Dylan lifted himself out of the water with his powerful arms and sat beside her on the rock, basking in the warm sun. He slipped his arm around her as she wrapped her fingers around the scaly portion of his forearm and leaned against him. They sat silently.
Dylan tilted his face to hers. For the longest time, she peered into his large, gentle eyes, which filled her with a loving sensation. She quivered as his mouth descended. She shut her eyes and concentrated on the heady sensation of his soft, warm lips. Heated honey flowed through her. Vevay’s tired soul melted into the kiss. Her whole body tingled. Slowly, he moved his mouth away, leaving her lips burning.
Sliding his fingers over hers, he lifted her hand to his lips and as gentle as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, he kissed her knuckles. “On the morrow, I have something special to show you,” he rasped. “Farewell.” He dove into the sea and glided away.
She felt beautiful, alive and important around Dylan. Things she’d never felt before. Was this what it was like to be loved? She gazed after him, unable to catch her breath.
sample of a business book I ghostwrote
Golden Key # 4:
Change is constant in the hospitality industry and it impacts customers, members, managers, and employees. You’ll notice a variety of changes in rates, staff, menus, events, brands, analytics, management, guest/member expectations, job responsibilities, revenue strategy, distribution, technology, and industry mergers. Businesses need to engage in active transition and restructure their company around new processes.
Here are some examples of just some of the changes in the industry:
• Networks like Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak have pretty much supplanted conventional travel agencies
• Airbnb, Homeaway, Flipkey, and Vbro are innovative and popular options to traditional lodgings.
• Even well-known classic brands have undergone mergers and acquisitions
• Millennials have driven the development of fresh hospitality brands with novel ideas
• Private clubs aren’t relying on golf as the chief draw for everyone, they’re adding other amenities like fitness centers, yoga classes, biking groups, marathons, teen game rooms, climbing walls, and so on.
Change is a gift—it grants new chances for companies to benefit from shifting demographics, innovative tech, or the latest markets. However, challenges also arise from changes like more competition, workforce shortages, and defining moments.
To embrace change, take a fresh look at the full scope of it as well as the current climate. You’ll be able to identify coming changes if you take a creative approach by initiating new ways of doing things and innovative ideas.
These tips will help you succeed and take advantage of the opportunities change offers:
• Appreciate that not only is failure essential to learning but that along with risk-taking, it is the key to success.
• People are inspired by their colleagues’ ideas and accomplishments, so foster a collaborative environment—which is also known for raising a team’s group IQ.
• Positive thinking encourages your employees’ creativity and boosts success.
• Humor goes hand-in-hand with productivity and innovation. It’s conducive to unique ideas and lessens stress. Teams that laugh and have fun together are more creative and prolific than more serious, quiet ones.
• Brainstorming generates numerous ideas, motivates the team, and encourages a non-judgmental environment.
A paradigm is a typical example, model, or pattern. Paradigms like division of roles and responsibilities bolster positive service performance, which ensures memorable guest experiences and generates profitability for owners and investors. But when a paradigm changes, it basically erases the old rules and boundaries and we must adapt to new ones. We must look at things differently. Depending on our background, perceptions, or beliefs (cultural and otherwise), we can be intimidated or frustrated by shifts in paradigms. After all, we had a set of rules, a pattern, that we followed for years and suddenly someone or something completely changes it. It’s human nature that when our regular way of doing things changes, we’re fearful and resistant to that change. These paradigm shifts are the reason for most of the issues and chaos that come with change.
These paradigm shifts of disruptive innovations, shifting global economies, climate change, employee and societal demands, and changing consumer preferences can radically shake up regimented business structures. But changes can be advantageous. As Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” This is particularly important to me as I mentioned earlier with Hurricane Sandy and what we did for the community.
People who are optimistic about new ways of doing things are prone to benefit from the opportunities they offer. Typically, those who accept change and moreover are enthused by it are successful in business. I remember how the industry resisted wearing denim in the dining rooms. Members used to say that is was not clubby enough, it was too casual. However, as soon as they adopted it, dining reservations went through the roof and overall, member satisfaction was at an all-time high.
In the hospitality industry, changes can sneak up on you, so keep that in mind when it happens. You have a choice of anticipation or alarm. Though no one can foresee the future, those who prepare for changes are more likely to look forward to them.
Here are some shifts that are revamping the relationship between hospitality employees and their customers:
• The Internet—Interaction with the Internet has accelerated to the point that the average American spends twenty-four hours a week online. So, it’s vital that your business is up-to-date on online trends in your target market to improve communications and build visibility, which will increase occupancy, customer loyalty, and operating performance. Your social media presence is crucial to your continued success.
• Mobility—Hospitality businesses should employ mobile devices for interaction and to individualize the customer experience. Eighty-four percent of people access the Internet from mobile devices. Also, use mobile access to connect with, engage, and motivate your workforce.
• Expectations—Each year customers’ expectations increase, and these new demands propel the hospitality industry.
• Generation Gap—Many private clubs have relaxed their dress codes because younger members found them too restrictive. Also, they have waved rules on tweeting and texting on the golf course, for example, which turned off younger members. So, by relaxing the dress code (members don’t have to tuck their shirts in and some even play music in golf carts), and allowing cell phones on the fairway, younger people are joining. At the same time, the older members, who prefer the more traditional ways of doing things, can still abide by them, but by personal choice rather than rules.
Though paradigms are essential and beneficial, they can negatively impact business by obstructing novel ideas or solutions. Hospitality companies that are willingly open to new perspectives and opportunities, and immediately respond to paradigm shifts, tend to thrive.
Overcoming Opposition to Change:
The resistance to change that companies encounter can be categorized as:
· Organizational—Threats from unknown or unwanted organizational form and process change and intimidation prompted by the internal or external business environment.
• Group—Threats to team cohesiveness and social standards that will spark resistance to change if they aren’t correctly handled.
• Individual—Personality factors that level various emotional responses to change.
It is essential that management resolves to lead the change. Employees are a company’s most valuable resource. Managers need to consider them and involve them in the process, as well as resolve to lead the change. But, spurring on your hospitality workforce is not a simple mission, as every employee has a unique personality and outlook. Managers need to voice their new vision clearly and positively. Throughout the change, they must make sure that information is shared through all communication channels and understood and adapted by the entire staff.
Employees need to be kept up to speed on all future changes since they’re the ones who’ll be incorporating them. They’re your front line, the ones your customers will be looking at and talking to when they ask about the change.
Managers also need to ask their staff for feedback regarding the change. It's crucial that managers utilize their active listening skills before, during, and after the change is implemented. They need to hear their staff’s opinions and understand their views and appreciate their perspectives on the changes.
When workers don’t cooperate with their superiors or collaborate with coworkers, the level of service provided to the customers goes downhill. Additionally, when employees resist change, conflicts can happen with managers and colleagues.
Employees might not put forth their best work, which can harm the company’s reputation. And, some employees might even quit. To prevent all that, management must realize that they need their workers to be onboard with the change and ready to employ it. In turn, management needs to actively show they back the change and they support their staff.
Continuous change in the hospitality industry is necessary for survival. Hotels, clubs, restaurants, and other businesses that stay stagnant and don’t improve will have a hard time keeping up with competitors. A cheery workplace is vital to change. Happy, motivated employees have a friendly rapport with coworkers, which lifts morale and improves performance, and that raises customer satisfaction, which keeps the company profitable.
Employees often benefit from one-on-one coaching, with their manager or supervisor talking to them about the hurdles that are hindering successful change. When a worker opposes change, their direct superior is best able to zero in on which part of the change they don't like and help them deal with it.
When managers and employees share the attitude that there’s always room for improvement, it’s easier to effect change, which keeps the hospitality industry moving forward into the future.
Embracing innovation, rather than resisting it, impels businesses to grow. The hospitality industry has come a long way from the days of a cash box instead of a cash register. Plus, we now have mobile payments and much more. Private clubs and other hospitality organizations need to utilize new technologies to make it easier to meet the distinctive expectations of their members. For businesses in this technology-centric industry to succeed, they must embrace change.
When you begin to utilize the latest technology, you need to help your hospitality staff adjust to the changes. It’s vital to develop your strategies and plans before the change. Create a smooth transition by initiating the changes without impeding your employees’ regular tasks.
Naturally, change comes with uneasiness and doubts, but once your staff understands what it entails, plus the benefits, it will be easier to enhance your business with innovative technology.
Here are some of the latest technological changes or ones to be prepared for:
• Bots—Chatbots can be programmed for any language and they reply to more customers at once, multiplying the number of leads and the volume of business over what you'd get without them. Some prominent hotel brands utilize robots as a virtual concierge or at the front desk for answering questions, telling customers about local tours and recommending various eateries, activities, and sites to see near the hotel, and to handle basic room requests via the logistics system. Private clubs can use them in the same way to provide information on activities, schedules, and upcoming events, and to respond to any questions. Chatbots improve efficiency and reduce costs by handling these basic tasks and quickly answering guest or member questions, plus they operate 24 x 7. Of course, for those members who want to talk directly to a person, staff is always on hand. But for most members when it comes to general information they prefer the speed and convenience bots offer. They also provide a way for companies to easily evaluate interactions with customers to understand members' or guests’ preferences, which helps the staff provide more personalized services.
• Tech-Enabled Meeting Spaces—Modern meetings run on technology. Business people need to make multimedia presentations and video conference remote attendees—sometimes both simultaneously. And for marathon meetings, they want access to services like catering with minimal interruptions. Most of all, clubs and hotels know they need these spaces to be as user-friendly as possible. The A/V rooms of the past that required dedicated engineers are no longer an option. If you think these kinds of business needs are limited to boardroom-style conference spaces, you’re missing an important part of the picture—business customers are increasingly asking for advanced technology enablement in ballrooms and event halls as well.
• Mobile phones—Hotel keys are expected to become data in guests' cell phones either through NFC technology or by scanning a barcode. Private clubs are using cell phones and other mobile devices to take food and drink orders and handle point-of-sale transactions, which is more efficient and therefore frees up some of the staff’s time, so they can provide more individual, personalized attention to the members.
• Voice Platforms—Siri, Bixby, Google Home, and Alexa, are all commonplace now, and they’re getting smarter all the time through machine learning. People use them daily to set alarms, play music, regulate household devices and more. They’re also useful in the hospitality industry. In hotel rooms, guests can use them to control the lights, drapes, television, do not disturb notices, and the thermostat. Voice technology is also often used in clubs and hotels for booking, taking simple food orders, and performing other mundane tasks so the staff can devote their time to more meaningful interactions with the members or guests. Housekeeping staff can use them to confirm which rooms or areas have been cleaned or need to be cleaned. Voice-activated platforms are easy to use and can be customized to a company's needs and preferences. Going forward, companies in the hospitality industry are sure to change many current procedures by incorporating this technology in new ways.
• Blockchain—Booking systems and review websites, for example, can be greatly enhanced with this technology. Blockchain could connect customers to hotels without requiring large commission fees. Also utilizing blockchain means that clubs, hotels, and other hospitality businesses have an option of taking cryptocurrency payments, which don't require transaction fees. It’s also anticipated that in the future disputes can be automatically solved by using smart contracts.
• SIP-DECT—is popular in the hospitality industry in Europe, as a mobility-enabling alternative to wireless broadband networks and radio-based networks for managers and staff no matter where they are on the property. Even if they are in areas where cell coverage may not be good, like the golf course, they can be contacted. It can also be used in hotels to reach the valet, concierge, and more. It’s economically reasonable, especially compared to the alternatives, easy to use, and offers a predictable voice quality.
• Data Explosion—Vast data is gathered through mobile bookings, guest reviews, Internet search engines, and other means. When it’s analyzed, it helps hotels, clubs, and other companies drive buying behavior, stay ahead of trends, as well as develop target pricing and customer loyalty programs. The data lets businesses know which programs, promotions, and discounts specific customers will like the best. For example, it can be utilized to pinpoint which item on the menu card will sell best in specific holiday seasons, customize email updates, target coupons specifically to guests’ preferences, based on their past purchases.
• Self-help—With wireless self-service kiosks, club members can order their meals right from the golf course. When they finish their round of golf, their dinner will be ready to eat. Also, remote check-in and check-out options are becoming popular, and in some hotels, guests use apps on their cell phones for room service. In private clubs a spectrum of services can be automated, which frees the staff up for activities that better enhance the member experience. And the trend is only going to accelerate.
• Apps—Guest apps fuse everything from announcing specials to features to loyalty programs. Private club members can use a virtual concierge app to book tee times, restaurant reservations, or to learn about upcoming events. If a customer uses the group rate for a conference, a hotel can use the app to message them information on the event with a map of meeting rooms where sessions will be.
• Digital Signage—With WLAN, clubs and other hospitality businesses can post menus, schedules, promotions, announcements, club news, tournament scoreboards, and so on, anywhere on the property.
• Virtual Reality—VR changes the way hotels, clubs, and other hospitality businesses are marketed—going beyond images, text, and audio-visual ads. Customers can view golf courses, swimming pools, spa and fitness facilities, conference rooms, restaurant dining areas, and even nearby tourist attractions almost as if they were there. Customers can use virtual reality to see what their stay would be like or what being a member of the club would be like. Virtual reality can be utilized to tell a compelling story and give customers an experience they’ll enjoy while promoting a company. I see this as a major tool for membership recruitment.
• Augmented Reality—With new advancements in augmented reality, the hospitality industry will be using it more in the future. There are AR apps that guests can use to virtually redecorate their hotel room. AR games allow guests to make their location an important part of an established AR game. AR can be used with interactive elements in a hotel room like AR wall maps. Customers can make their own apps, which can make exploring the hotel or locale more enjoyable.
• Tech Lounges—are stylish spaces that offer wi-fi and a place to check in, access local info guides, relax, or get work done in a spot other than their room, and they are great for private clubs as well.
• Biometric Authentication—This technology will allow members to leave the club restaurant after they eat, knowing their bill is automatically paid though there’s no wait staff or pay terminal interaction. The smooth processes of getting purchases verified immediately, in the golf shop or hallway house (Food & Beverage Service Area at the Turn) for example, without using money or even using a phone or wallet, digital or otherwise, is convenient for members. It can be used the same way at hotels. However, this is one of those changes that some consumers will probably resist due to privacy and security concerns.
• Radio Frequency Identification—If members have RFID tags on their cars, the staff will know the moment they arrive at the club, which will improve the level of service. Also, they can be used for security purposes and to track golf carts, golf bags, and other belongings and property.
• Location Based Services—Members of a club or guests of a hotel can get service no matter where they are on the property. The staff can locate members any time and any place in the club or hotel to deliver services to them. It also works the same way when you need to locate employees, so it increases the efficiency of hospitality businesses.
• Unplugged—Another big change is some hospitality companies are embracing detoxing or unplugging from tech. The idea is that if members or guests aren’t online, texting or scrolling through social media, they’ll use more amenities and have a more peaceful and relaxing time.
Technology like AI, AR, and biometrics raises us to new heights of serving customers. We live in an era of never-ending change. Employees who are flexible and can easily adapt, and managers who are skilled in leadership, will pave the way to new innovations in the hospitality industry. One of my favorite examples is when I introduced the usage of electronic on-the-spot mini surveys in the restaurants. As you can imagine, in the country club industry, everyone is an expert on food and every member wishes to design the menu the way they’d like it. It was very powerful for me to have live data where I could have a conversation with a member the next day who would say, “I hated my steak and I can bet you that everyone felt the same.” I had the data to know that it was not the steak because 98.6 percent of the members and guests who had the same item the night before clicked that they were very satisfied with it. As we are trained to make the customer happy, I would always find a clever way of making her happy without blaming the steak.
Golden Key # 5:
The Power of Social Media
Like many other industries, the use of social media in hospitality has become vital. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to get the word out without a well-structured and well-thought-out campaign through several platforms. It’s no wonder social media marketing is a topic that has gone viral. After all, 4.02 billion consumers are online. The average person spends two hours a day sharing their opinions and reading those of other people on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networks.
But those aren’t the only sites they use. Yelp, Urbanspoon, and TripAdvisor are also popular for connecting with others who share like-minded interests and values. Furthermore, collaboration-hospitality has evolved because consumers want new and unique experiences. They no longer base decisions on brand loyalty. Popular people-serving options such as Airbnb are transforming the hospitality industry.
Reviews at these various spots allow consumers to learn about experiences others have had. People trust social media reviews by friends, family, and associates and even total strangers more than they do those from news stations or ad agencies.
Once consumers see online reviews and ratings that are like their own experiences, they begin to rely on the opinions on these sites as if they were posted by a trusted friend or family member. They make choices on dining, travel, entertainment, and leisure activities based on that feedback.
The power of social media lies in actively participating on social networks and encouraging customers to share their opinions, since they are more believable to other consumers than advertisements and their reviews can reach further.
Many hotels and airlines have launched their own online communities to replace their previous rewards programs. Since monetary value is a key element in drawing new customers, many of these online travel communities provide discounts or coupons to encourage nonmembers to participate. Businesses who have a lot of active members on these sites are often successful in building long-term relationships with their customers. These sites usually offer specific benefits such as providing travel information, booking reservations, setting up tours, listing feedback on the level of customer service they provide or the ambiance of hotels or restaurants, and allowing members to share their own experiences with others in the community.
There are many strategies you can use that are targeted at specific online communities:
• Post daily.
• Display your social media links on your website.
• Also, advertise them in emails, blog posts and at your business where your customers will be sure to see them.
• Take the time to write trendy, beneficial, and exciting content to receive a high number of impressions from the social media channels’ algorithm-based newsfeed.
• Also, follow your customers and members on social media and encourage them to follow your Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.
• Track the number of discussions or comments about any new service or benefit you’re offering or that anyone in your industry is.
• Reply right away to reviews, comments, and feedback, and resolve customer issues quickly.
• Make the most of the real-time info on market trends and consumer needs that social media platforms offer to revise your advertising or plan new services, amenities, or events based on that info.
• Pay attention to your customers’ comments and feedback to see if your offerings fit what they want and discover what features you offer that they like the most.
The 284 million on-the-go users on Twitter come there for whatever's fresh, thought-provoking, and timely. The 6,000 tweets keyed per second come to about 500-million daily. Also, you’ll find five times more new videos there than any other platform.
For Twitter, you want to keep your page updated frequently. Also, carefully craft your bio to instill your brand’s persona so tweeters feel like they know your company and like it. In addition, your bio has the dual purpose of getting followers, so you can build customer relationships with them and get them to do something, so you want to include a call of action. Also, try to fit in two hashtags. Put the best photo possible with your hospitality business bio. In addition, it’s vital to include your location. Consumers enter the location they need in their tweet searches and if yours isn’t listed, your hotel won’t pop up in the results. Fitting all this in when you’re allotted a maximum of 160 characters is hard to do, so be creative.
As for tweeting, be sure to mention that guests who book directly will get the best deal and tweet any promotions you’re running. Also, create private lists in Twitter so you can target your marketing to a selective group of users.
In 2017, Twitter expanded its character limit to 280 for tweets. But it’s still a short space, so you want to make the most of it. Include a link to your website in your tweets. It’s easy to shorten your link for that at tinyurl.com. Links are great for tweets because 92 percent of all Twitter users click on them. Adding a link is the simplest way to get more views and shares.
At Twitter, hashtags rule—they stretch your tweet’s reach, and steer potential customers your way while building brand awareness, customer engagement, and loyalty.
Here are some tips on how to use hashtags:
• If your business is a hotel, you can generate leads by using the hashtag for specific events, concerts or festivals coming to your area in a search along with the word—hotel. Most likely tweets from people searching for lodgings will pop up.
• To foster brand awareness, use any trending hashtags suitable to your business, especially those for local landmarks, tourist attractions or hotspots near your hotel.
• You can also connect with and support local companies by following them and tweeting about their services to your followers. They will repay the favor.
Using the right hospitality hashtags is the key to stretch your reach and increase engagement. The obvious one is #hospitality, but here are other popular hashtags below if your business is a hotel:
These are just some samples of hashtags you can use. Good hashtags will result in new followers and more engagement. You also might try these examples of travel hashtags:
Along with the travel hashtags, use your location such as:
Here are more popular hospitality hashtags:
This gives you an idea of the kind of hashtags to use. Feel free to play with the Twitter search bar and try different words with a hashtag in front to find the best ones for your business. Again, you should use location hashtags with them and your brand hashtag. If you don’t have a hashtag specifically for your business, create one and encourage members or customers to use your brand hashtag. Ensure that it fits your club and isn’t already used.
Try using a mix of general and niche-specific or brand-specific hashtags. But keep in mind that the hashtag is minor compared to your content, it's the quality of your tweet that’s crucial in making an impact. Also, when it comes to social media, don’t overlook Facebook.
After the Cambridge Analytical scandal, Facebook made several adjustments to boost privacy and transparency. Beginning in January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg revamped newsfeeds to greatly reduce organic brand content and support more friends and family posts. Also, they began phasing out third-party data used for target marketing. And they’ve made a lot of updates, not just the ones that let users modify privacy settings and delete their data, but other ones as well like Facebook’s new augmented reality ads, which will help them hold onto their competitive edge. However, it’s notable that a study released in September of 2018 shows that 44 percent of users in the eighteen to twenty-nine age group deleted the Facebook app from their phones in 2018. Compared to the sixty-five-and-older users who deleted their Facebook app, the ratio for the younger users leaving is four times more.
Moving forward on Facebook, you should develop a unique marketing plan that connects your business objectives to the consumers’ wants and needs. You can use Facebook stories, live, images, videos, and Facebook ads. Post gorgeous, high-quality photos because images drive 2.3 times more interaction. Also, Canva and Picmonkey let you easily enhance your pictures by adding text or graphics. Videos also catch consumers’ attention, if they have captions, are accessible, easy to understand, and the gist of it is useful or valuable. Add links to share company news and your blog articles. It's advantageous to use Facebook’s live content because it triples engagement. Consider using Facebook stories, they're trendy and are placed in top position on the newsfeed.
For Facebook ads, consider applicability and cost-effectiveness. Assess what works best to foster awareness. Make certain the ad conveys your brand message and showcases your facilities, logo, and business colors. Let the viewers know what you can offer them that other companies can’t. Ensure it upholds the tone of your Facebook page. And, include a specific yet easy call to action.
Facebook groups are great places to mingle and share videos, photos, and comments with others who are customers of your business or have similar interests. Members can also upload photos to the group album, ask “Friends” to group events, and message others in the group regardless of “Friend” status.
Secret groups are great for promoting club activities and functions to members. Administrators should encourage interaction by promptly liking posts and responding to them. The group administrators are the ones who choose who can join the group. There are three types of groups:
Open—Anyone viewing the group can see the members' posts. They can also see them in newsfeeds or searches when they join or receive an invitation to join.
Closed—The posts can only be seen by members. But the group name and its members’ names are visible to anyone on Facebook.
Secret— The name of the group doesn’t show in Facebook timelines or searches. Nonmembers can’t see the group name, member list, or anything about the group.
Secret groups are great for promoting club activities and functions to members. Clubs can also create sub-groups like mini-clubs for engagement on specific topics or special events.
Besides setting up your own Facebook group, another way is to search groups for those relevant to your hospitality customer base, such as those for travelers, golfers, tennis players, and so on. Join these groups, and be sure to follow any rules against promotion, then use them to discover the latest content related to the industry and to share content with your prospective customer base.
Since Facebook ad content is highly visible, people see it frequently, so update and revamp it every week or two. Make a spreadsheet to record your core metrics so you'll be aware of what you want to accomplish with the ad. Look at your click-through rate to determine where you can improve.
Here are tips on the best times to post on Facebook:
• The best day is Thursday
• Highest engagement —12 pm to 2 pm on Wednesdays, and from 1 to 2 pm on Thursday.
• Other good days and times to post— between 10 am to 3 pm.
• Saturday has the least engagement
• And as far as times—early mornings and late nights have the least engagement.
Interaction is the key to success on social media, and it’s easy to get your staff involved by creating an employee advocacy program. Provide your staff with shareable content that shows everyone you’re not just another hotel or club. Your reach will spread much further with content shared through your employees’ feeds. Posting videos is an easy way to get people engaged with the hotel, club, restaurant, or other hospitality businesses. Post any events or celebrations you hold on the property or nearby. Personalize your company by posting pictures or videos of the Christmas tree or your staff in Halloween costumes. Speaking of pictures, consider including Instagram in your social media strategy.
Instagram is the leading photo sharing portal, boasting 200 million active users. It's an essential platform if you're reaching out to millennials, as 90 percent of Instagram users are under age thirty-five. It’s also perfect for hospitality businesses to engage with users.
Check out the images and hashtags your competitors are using there, so you can see what does or doesn’t work. Consistent, enticing images attract customers, and with the variety of filters and layouts they offer, you can vividly showcase your property’s top attractions. Use hashtags including those for locations. Also, routinely enter searches for photos guests have posted of your hospitality business. And don’t forget what a great addition blogging is to any social media strategy.
Blogs offer a lot more space than social media sites to share anecdotes that build interest in your club, restaurant, facilities, accommodations, or nearby tourist attractions. Furthermore, well-written, catchy, compelling posts draw potential guest to your website. For branding, include your logo and company colors on your blog. Share your blog posts across other social media platforms.
Regularly update the content so readers will come back often, which will boost your online visibility. Since Google indexes everything online, your blog is another way to bolster your cyber presence. Websites with a blog receive about 434 percent more indexed pages. Also, all hospitality businesses should keep TripAdvisor in mind for social media marketing.
TripAdvisor is a chief source of ratings and reviews for hotels and all types of hospitality businesses. Your media team should stay on the lookout for any reviews, particularly less favorable ones, and reply within one hour. Offer your guests review cards featuring TripAdvisor, Yelp, or other platforms to encourage them to share their experiences. Also, don’t forget what an important part videos play in your social media strategy.
With 1.8 billion YouTube users logged-in each month, your social media strategy should embrace videos. Over half of YouTube views come from mobile devices, reaching people everywhere. And, 67 percent of viewers are likely to make a reservation after watching a virtual tour of the hotel or club. Be sure to use popular keywords in your title. Create a catchy and detailed description and include your property's website link and phone number. Also, another great social media network you want to consider is LinkedIn.
The biggest professional network connects over 500 million people worldwide. Through several hospitality groups on LinkedIn, you can easily network and exchange ideas and strategies for building your social media presence.
Also, LinkedIn videos for sponsored content help you build brand awareness and drive traffic to your website or use videos on your business page to spotlight your news and events. LinkedIn is another place where you want to use hashtags in your posts. And don’t overlook Pinterest as a major social media platform.
Pinterest is a perfect fit for the hospitality industry because it has 70 million global users and is a favorite of foodies and travelers. Many major hotels and clubs, value it as part of their social media plan. When creating your page, focus on your profile picture and the details: company bio, website link, and the boards at the top, because they’re the sections that capture most people’s attention.
The idea behind Pinterest remains simple yet ingenious. It's like the old-fashioned cork bulletin boards we used to pin things on. The general rule of thumb is a minimum of ten and a maximum of fifty boards. Make them as general or as specific as you want. Pick a topic for each board and a category. People with similar boards are likely to re-pin your pictures. Choose catchy but clear board names and appealing board covers. Pin photos of your hotel, club or hospitality business, along with images of local landmarks, plus vacation or leisure-time activities that are popular in your area. Post a brief SEO enriched description and a link to your website with each picture.
Tips for Clubs
Social media is a great marketing tool for private clubs. First, by engaging on the various social media networks in the same ways we’ve gone over. Secondly, consider running sweepstakes or contests to get people excited and involved. Some great prize ideas are a free thirty-minute tennis lesson, a round of golf or a dinner for two at your restaurant. Contests also enable your business to gather leads and referrals, plus they cultivate brand loyalty.
Another idea is to point out a picture-perfect spot for a selfie (maybe on the golf course) to share on social media. Also, consider displaying scrolling feed in your clubhouse so everybody can see the posts about your club on social media.
Social Media Teams
If you remain proactive, responsive, and keep customers updated, they’ll use your business again. So, it’s essential that you form a friendly, dedicated social media team that responds immediately to all feedback and prompts positive reviews. On Twitter, for instance, 78 percent of consumers expect companies to respond to their complaints within an hour. Take every review and comment seriously. If you don’t respond to complaints or unfair criticism, it can diminish the positive feedback you get.
Also, most customers post questions they have for a company on its social media page. If you assist them as promptly as you would if they were standing at the front desk, your brand will build the trust of consumers and you’ll soon have a base of loyal customers.
It's clear that all hospitality establishments such as hotels, restaurants, apartments, private clubs, hostels, and all others can build their business and increase profits through the power of social media marketing