The new impostor syndrome: redefining the literary genre

Single perfect yellow bloom with the words: Quality - who decides. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtRANTING ABOUT CATEGORIES GETS YOU NOTHING

It is funny how the meanings of things change, and with the change, a whole cascade of other meanings change.

Critics have quoted a ‘tsunami of crap’ as coming from the new self-publishing authors; defenders have responded with versions of Sturgeon’s Law: ‘90% of indie/SP/SF/… is crap, but 90% of everything is crap.’

The percentage varies according to the viewpoint and attitude of the critic.

Is literary the new mainstream?

But I digress from the point I wanted to make, and which I’ve mentioned before: that the category my writing used to fit into naturally, mainstream commercial fiction – set in the present or near past, with realistic settings, dealing with current human problems – has disappeared, leaving me with no category to put my non-genre fiction in – except General Fiction.

General Fiction covers too much ground, and makes no implications of complexity or quality.

Those of us in this position who aim for complexity and quality are thus, perforce, labeling ourselves ‘Literary Fiction.’

And ‘literary fiction’ is now considered a genre, much like science fiction or paranormal romance or mystery/thriller.

Who are the ‘literary’ writers?

Which puts me in an odd position of ‘competing’ with the likes of Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie – who are highly literate types of the kind who publish in literary magazines and are pushed by literary small publishers and not expected, necessarily, to sell much. But who may aspire to Nobel prizes in Literature, and the Pulitzer Prize.

Or with the likes of Donna Tartt and The Goldfinch, a ‘literary’ anomaly in that it sold millions of copies.

I feel like an impostor when compared with what I used to assume were the literary writers. I feel less of an impostor when compared with the books that have done the same as mine, crowding into the literary category, but not necessarily supported by the MFA or the professorship in English Literature which used to be de rigeur, credentials I don’t have.

What the ‘real’ traditional practitioners of literary fiction think of this travesty, I can only imagine. It was hard enough competing against all those MFA graduates for the limited number of poorly-paying slots in literary magazines with tiny distribution but with prestige, and now they have to compete with all those upstarts who should have been weeded out firmly by the editors at the publishing houses who were known for publishing literary works.


Possibly, I am reversing an earlier unfortunate trend, in which authors such as Charlotte Brontë wrote ‘a novel’ such as Jane Eyre, which has now become a ‘literary’ classic. They used what they knew: an education in the classics, including Greek and Latin, would have been natural for a parson’s children; their writing reflected who they were, what they’d read, how their world was organized. They were not aiming for ‘literary’ – but simply wrote with the care and knowledge that would be common to their position in society and their level of education.

That education would have been based on reading widely; there may lie the root of my comfort with the idea of classifying my writing as, among other things, literary. My youth was spent reading everything I could get my hands on – including much of what is now considered literary canon.

I found, though, that I did not like a lot of the more modern work. I read Toni Morrison and The Color Purple and Seize the Day and hated their preciousness in focusing on language to the exclusion of plot and characters I could identify with (yes, that makes me a heathen). I read Down and Out in Paris and London, which I liked, but can’t get past page one of Ulysses.

Categories change; we change with them

So I’ve decided not to worry about impostor syndrome and calling myself literary, and assume that the category is broadened, by necessity, to accept us johnnies-come-lately who actually may be hewing to the earlier, classical meaning of novelist – one who writes stories – without going so far as to kick the others off the high end of the island (those who write stories I can’t read because they seem to be missing the ‘story’ part).

De gustibus non est disputandum (no accounting for taste). There’s room for all of us, and, in this day of algorithms, we must make some accommodation for others so we may all be found at Amazon.

We indie literaries probably escape the notice of those who are firmly in the publishing grasp of the real literary publishers, anyway. But I’ve stopped worrying about being an impostor – because I care about the results.

Are you categorizing your writing as ‘literary’? Do you find reading material with ‘literary’ as a keyword? What do you believe the literary writer promises the reader?

The damaged brain: the OTHER writer’s block

A volleyball alone on the beach. Words: Will I know when the game is over? Or will my brain just slip away. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtOVER THREE WEEKS WITH NO REAL WRITING IS SCARY

I live with a major fear, that my damaged brain, so far able to eke out a couple of hours on a good day for being creative and writing fiction, will some day become unusable for this purpose.

Add aging decline to the damage sustained from illness or trauma, with the inevitability of death at the far end of the descent, and the conclusion is inescapable: one of these days I will write my last, whether I know it at the time or not, and I won’t be able to cajole the neurons into working for me ever again.

This happens to Alzheimer’s patients, such as novelist Iris Murdoch. One day, after not much work, the pen is put down – and never taken up again.

Or a stressful interlude may divert the writer for a while to other matters, and the synapses break down in the interval – and writing is never resumed.

What will the end be like and when will it come?

I don’t fear it so much if I don’t notice it, though I fear greatly the depredations dementia perpetrates on its victims, including the lucid interludes which come and go, with the old desires undimmed.

What I fear is what happens every time I take an enforced break – taxes used to do it to me, preparing for/going on/recovering from vacation does it now every time – of not having my good time available to write with regularly because said good time is required for more pressing matters which I have decided to allow/have forced on me.

This vacation, which ended last Sunday, Oct. 9, with a long day of travel, has been followed by an extraordinarily non-productive week. Unproductive of fiction, though I’ve written several blog posts.

Because I’ve sat myself down at the computer most of every day to write fiction. And it isn’t coming out because I’m not having my good time. It isn’t happening.

Interruptions are harder for me, and take longer to come back from

What I’m having a lot of is interruptions. Hubby is doing taxes, belatedly, for NJ – and has decided to investigate various long-overdue details from the years when I was doing them because he was working – and ‘needs’ things, and he needs them now so he can move forward with his plans, and he doesn’t know what he will need ahead of time so I can locate them the night before, and he can’t divert his attention to something else because whatever it is is on the critical path. One or two of these diversions, which cost people in general almost a half hour each to recover from, and me much longer, and that day is dead to fiction. Yes, I’m that fragile.

Daughter is moving out, coming and going at random, requiring something very small at times – where are the decongestants? Or rather where is the box where I usually find decongestants? Which requires that I stop what I’m doing, important or not, and find them in the suitcase we took on vacation, which I meant to return to the box on the floor which will then go back to its natural place in the bathroom closet – where she would have found the decongestants without bothering me, had I made it that far on unpacking.

A friend who moved precipitously to Florida, without me having a chance to take her out to lunch and talk with, calls. We spend an hour on the phone, and I will take her out to lunch when she comes back to get the house ready for putting on the market – we’ve been friends thirty years – and I want to talk to her. Up until recently, she was right across the street – and we rarely found time to talk because I can’t easily walk over there, and she has grandchildren, and there was always tomorrow – only now there isn’t.

This Saturday started with the leaf-blowing neighbor and his lawn cutting service making a constant noise I could only partially block with my ear-plug-and-industrial-strength-headgear solution – which isn’t really comfortable enough to write with on the days where I’m so close to the edge of not being able to write – like today. The leaf blower just came back for a second session, forcing me to wear headgear again for my afternoon nap.

Coming back from a sea-side vacation with wet bathing suits and T-shirts requires laundry. It has taken chunks out of four days, and will take more: gather and wash, put in the dryer before it gets moldy, get daughter to bring up because heavy loads are getting too much to me, and folding – but it’s sitting on top of my still full suitcase, instead of being stored where it belongs, closets and drawers in several rooms, because it is ‘vacation stuff.’

Healthy people don’t have these fears, even when they get sick

Daughter pushed through, loaded the car on Thursday, drove four hours, unloaded in NY state. Today she drove back with the feeling of being sick, and went out for the evening and possibly overnight – as soon as she had some lunch. I used to be able to do that, LONG ago.

I wrote the above a while ago, before a nap and dinner, and then the hubby came in and complained about being under the weather (he napped all afternoon) since we got back, and the fear died down a bit. Maybe we’re still fighting off that small vague illness we all brought back – and the aftereffects will go away.

I hope so. Even at my pace, I want to use what’s there to write.

But that fear won’t ever go away.

Do you experience this kind of writer’s block? For the same – or a different reason?

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The okapi flies the empty nest

Young person with backpack from behind. Words: When it's time to leave home. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt


The nest is emptying – and I don’t want it to and I do.

The last child, Daughter R, will be back Sunday, but she’s leaving – for good – and I’m weepy.

Two states and a four hours long car trip will separate us.

She moves from the friends she’s created here to the ones near her college in Troy, NY.

She’ll be fine – but I will miss the heck out of her, even as I know she has to do this, and she’s happy.

Her room is a mess, my assistant is probably not going to be available to help, chinchilla Gizzy’s room is still full – drawers and closet and shelves.

There is still plenty of her STUFF – garage, basement, two bedrooms, even kitchen – but the decision on both sides is that it will all be gone soon.

Home will be no more

So we can sell this house we’ve been in since 1981 – and move on ourselves.

She won’t live in this house any more – and I, who can’t even get around in it or the garden any more – can’t stand the idea.

So much unfinished stuff when the last child leaves:

and a whole life.

Her two older brothers have long taken their belongings with them – there are few reminders of their house-filling stuff.

Only a trace remains of the homeschooling years when I gave them all what CFS had left me.

Today was the day she chose; she’s sticking to it

She is better (except she has a cold today) than she’s been in a long while. She packed most of her stuff – except for the desk – herself into the car. MY car. We haven’t worked out that part yet.

She is going to a house with kittens – and will have to worry about allergies and breathing and sleeping.

She is a grownup.

I don’t know what I am any more, and it scares me some. For the longest time I’ve been her accomplice and helper for the sleep stuff – and now that’s her problem and not mine.

I don’t think she’s finished – no one really ever is, but there is so much she never found time to listen to that I could have taught her.

In many things, she has far surpassed anything I have done.

‘Home as prison.’

She’s been in a prison, benevolent, but still caged. I didn’t want to go home when I was her, but I was the oldest, and Mother was very busy with the rest. I didn’t want to be depended on to help her.

Gizzy is mine every night now – after all the help R gave me these past two years and more – and we never got a video of Gizzy following R’s instructions. Put it on list – she’ll be back Sunday. For another load. She has too much stuff.

I’ve been here, conscious of her, since she came home two years ago, defeated by the unknown sleep problem – and she goes now to where she should have been then. I don’t know if we COULD have solved it earlier – maybe a bit, but not significantly.

We did everything we were supposed to do, regular sleep doctors, psychiatrists, therapists – and it didn’t work.

I’ve written about what it took to find out what was wrong

Because it was never those things: it was a rare disease (Non-24 Sleep/Wake Disorder, one of the circadian rhythm disorders like shift work disorder but not quite), and not a mental problem or a lack of motivation.

Dealing with Non-24 SWD

She knows how to reset now, supposedly, and what to do, most of the time.

On vacation she was up – unheard of – before 10AM every day, earlier other days. Lots of exercise, lots of sun – and usually falling asleep before midnight.

She needs ten hours sleep – the far range of ‘normal’; her rotating sleep/wake schedule is more stable; but unlike most humans, she will have to monitor it and defeat it every day.

With a beta blocker which turns off melatonin production during the day, and a dose of melatonin at night to get it started up again. A small dose which should be taken four hours before bedtime.

But sometimes isn’t, for a very responsible reason: she doesn’t want to be in the position of driving after taking it.

Now she has to manage it without backup from parents – but depending on friends, which isn’t a bad way to go when you have no girl-siblings and a lot of girl-friends.

I have had a child in the house for thirty+ years. Now what do I do?

I want to be her. Free. Starting life. With no responsibilities for others yet.

I want to be free to be me now.

Having your whole life ahead of you is scary, even with backup – losing your children is hard.

What we have children for

I’m not losing her, and I’m not ‘letting her go.’

We’re completing a process I undertook the minute she was conceived: getting her ready to be an independent adult.

I KNEW my kids would be scattered by being what they are, following jobs, school, families of their own – I was right: San Francisco, Houston, and now Troy.

The ride has been magnificent.

I am unbearably proud of her: she toughed it out, kept trying even as it affected everything she attempted to do. She never turned to the traps that catch so many of our young. She kept up with her friends and her family and her dreams as much as she could, and now goes to realize them.

She will be fine.

I will miss having her here every day again – but only because she will always be my little girl.

We will survive – and I will get back to the writing.

And the rest of MY life, the lurking scary thought.

If you have kids, are you prepared to let them go?

Social Security and disability retrials in Kentucky

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I have occasionally boosted posts from an online friend about the almost 1500 cases the SSA is re-trying in Kentucky – because the lawyer who won disability for these clients has turned out to be not what he should have been.

The SSA is blaming the legitimately disabled clients – for their poor choice of lawyer (Eric Conn) YEARS ago.

Well, there may be hope on the horizon – a judge in one of the cases has stated:

Federal Judge Thapar just entered an order declaring that the SSA has treated Conn’s former clients worse than Al QAEDA members in ruling that the ongoing hearings are unconstitutional!

Visit DC’s site to see the links and more information, but I would like to pray that this is the break the disabled clients need to get through some of the unbelievable machinations (What is there to hide? is my question) of the SSA.

If you have the stomach for it, read more of the posts on the site, boosted from Ned Pillendorf’s site (he’s the lawyer coordinating the efforts to defend all these folk).

I am no longer subject to the whims of the SSA, as I am ‘retired,’ but found it incredibly frustrating myself (was turned down the first two times, and got very little retroactive disability income when it was finally granted) to deal with them.

And I never did manage to find a way wherein a disabled person can publish (assuming they’re up to writing) – knowing what I now know about how erratic writing income can be – because the SSA can only deal with X hours per week at Y dollars as being a source of income for a disabled person. I’d give you more details, but it is incredibly short-sighted and BORING, and I wasn’t able for years to get them to look at how writing income would affect disability income.

Also fortunately for me, I had nothing publishable until well after I was ‘retired,’ so it didn’t matter to me (I didn’t withhold Pride’s Children – it took me that long to finish it) that they couldn’t handle it, but young disabled writers would be destroyed by the rules.

This effectively silences them – unless they write for free.

Remember – disability and illness can happen (and are five times more likely than death) to anyone in the years before retirement. This affects all of us, especially artists and writers, and we don’t even know about it until it is too late.

Vacation and chronic illness: the goal is survival


A view from the boat at the Grand Palladium, Riviera Maya


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The chronically ill person desperately wants to be normal – because normal is so much more fun.

I can’t speak for those who have always been ill, because they don’t have the memory of being ‘normal.’ But I can remember, almost three decades ago now, what it was like to go on vacation for the express purpose of having fun, taking a break from daily life, getting a tan or a snow burn, doing more exciting things and far fewer of the regular ones…

This is my first morning back from our first vacation in over two years, so, as I haven’t been blogging for a couple of weeks now, I thought I’d take the opportunity to capture the thoughts that a week at the Riviera Maya inspire – because if there’s one thing different for someone barely holding it together in ‘regular life,’ it’s going on a real vacation.

In no particular order:

Getting there: Airplane, taxi, private car, boat, bus…

I have an irritating combination of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a major mobility impairment (I do not walk well for any length of time – working on it). I think I would be dealing better with the CFS if I could do as I used to, and get out for short walks on a regular basis, staying well within the energy requirements. And I know I would have deal infinitely better with the mobility if I had more energy.

But what is, is.

To start the trip, we had to get from home in New Jersey to JFK Airport (from where there are far more non-stop flights), which means I started the trip by trying to nap in the car as husband did all the two-hour drive. I remember being an equal partner in the driving – and, as we both age, it would be nice to be able to help. Instead, as you can probably imagine, just getting to the airport has used up most of the energy for the day already.

The wheelchair IS available (always a concern when pre-arranging things), and I’ve gotten over that hump: me not being my slow self is a benefit to my family – whatever the loss of face from being pushed around (and I still feel it after all these years!), the gains in speed are worth it. There can also be some benefits – we often go through a shortened line for security, and have (and need every second of) advance boarding on the plane. My walker, Sylvia, is there for me to lean on – but needs rolling with us, and is one more large thing to deal with at every stage. On the plus side, more than once her seat has been used to transport baggage.

Then just somehow find a way of sitting mostly in one position from boarding to landing, and managing to get at least an hour of actual sleep to restore some of that energy, and we’re at the Cancún international airport for the next part: gathering of the party. Which, since their plane has been mysteriously delayed, requires sitting at an outdoor restaurant with all our stuff for two more hours, until son and girlfriend arrive from Houston, instead of hooking up within ten minutes as originally planned.

Find and negotiate for transportation to the hotel. REMINDER: if you can pay for things with your credit card, your bank usually has a far better exchange rate than almost anything you can generate on the spot, so use it if you can. But the rest of the world is not the US, and you must be prepared to accept lower hotel or taxi exchange rate if all you have is cash. Mexico has ATMs which will give you local currency – if you can find one. The usual perils of travel apply.

Finally, another hour+, and we’re at the Grand Palladium. Checking in takes no more than the usual (three tries to get acceptable room for the Houston contingent), and we end up, finally, at the dinner buffet.

Getting around at the resort

The biggest problem for me is that we love this resort – hugest pools, wonderful beach, great dining – but there is NO way for me to get to most of the places I want to be without an enormous amount of walking (with my trusty walker, Sylvia). We knew that even before we went the first time: TripAdvisor mentions it, the map shows it, and it is a plus for most people (given the array of eating opportunities). They will send you a trolley if you request one, but it can only get you to approximately where you need to be – so most times I opted for just walking the shortest route.

I am trying to learn to walk again, and I’ve walked this past week probably more than in the previous six months, and it was all agonizing, and that’s about the best I can say about it. If my current experiments fail, or I get even slightly worse, the next step will be a wheelchair, and most often husband pushing, and I REALLY don’t want to get to that stage. I am not a small person, and he already has his own limitations and aging. It may force us to consider an easier – and smaller – vacation destination. For now, I just loaded up on the extra ibuprofen (don’t tell my pain specialist – he’d have a fit), and gritted my teeth.

We finally got into a rhythm where the rest of the family would go on ahead, and let me get there at my own pace (which now includes frequent stops to put Sylvia’s seat down and rest). They didn’t like it – love you, family! – but it did help because they could stand in line if necessary. And the critical part for me was that if I was walking with family, I pushed myself much too hard not to always be the laggard, which increased both pain and a horrible new feeling of breathlessness. By the end of the trip we’d worked out a reasonable combination. Adjusting expectations is crucial.

Conclusion: I could have used the hotel’s help a bit more often, but did about right IF they let me do it my slow way. For next time – think very hard ahead of time, and use the trolley more often, even if I have to wait for it, because energy expended in walking can’t be regained, while energy expended in waiting is far less. And the hotel was uniformly helpful – when asked. Must give up some of the do-it-myself pride – which is still, after all these years, hard for me.

Days of sun and pool and never leaving the resort worked for me

I encouraged husband and offspring and potential new family member to do what THEY wanted to do (the kids did a wonderful day at Xcaret snorkeling through THREE underground rivers), and husband took them sailing.

While we older folk established a chair on the beach or near the pool (never worried a minute about STUFF at this kind of a resort), everyone spent the days as they wanted to – the kids did a lot of snorkeling in the salt-water pool – and I spent most of my time in the water.

And not just lazing: I am counting on neuroplasticity and slowly building up whatever muscles I have (because there is still some nerve conduction going on – maybe 30%) to improve my walking. I had counted on the pool being the exact depth for exercises I can’t do at home. So a good half of the time in the pool was spent – in Paradise – doing exercises and retraining muscles and brain.

Don’t sweat what you can’t change

I just ignored the parts I couldn’t do (didn’t go sailing this time, and have still, after five trips there over the past decade, not made it into the salt-water pool), and enjoyed every minute of the rest.

One of the days had a rougher-than-usual sea, and I got a nasty scare getting into the ocean (bit of a tumble) AND out of it (pushed very hard to get out before the next wave, and ended up not being able to breathe for a bit), and I almost let that keep me out of the ocean. But it was back to its normal calm later, and I did get a wonderful session in the beautiful blue-green water.

Marred by my only sunscreen fail. Kiddies: wear your sunscreen. Reapply every couple of hours, regardless of whether you’ve been in water. Don’t forget covering EVERY SINGLE AREA (I missed my lower arms ONE TIME and have spent the next few days slathering with green aloe gel). And let the stuff sink in as recommended. Wear a shirt part of the time even if you look like a dork. Tropical sun goes through less absorbing atmosphere, and will GET YOU. I never missed before, never had a problem – and it got me this time.

The cost to a chronically-ill person

Even in lowest possible energy-expenditure mode, vacations are a stretch. I never actually managed to unpack, used the same clothes more times than I had planned, didn’t find the after-sun gel until days into the trip, didn’t find my critical meds on the way home until it was almost too late…

The small things accumulated steadily.

I ate too much of the wrong things – half of the time from simple exhaustion (okay, the rest of the time from simple greed). Once I go down that path – eating more carbs than I can handle – it takes at least four days of eating very carefully to reverse the process. And there was no way to muster that energy in a situation where the level of exhaustion was very close to the edge, all the time.

The weeks of planning and packing took their toll (but now I have bathing suits!). I lost untold writing time because the arrangements had to be made with my good time (and even then I almost forgot to get us seat assignments for the trip there).

I lost track of where I am in writing NETHERWORLD, and will be doing a complete reset.

My guess: it will cost me another week just coping with the aftermath, and that if I’m lucky.

Would you do it again?

As often as possible.

Because I still can, and a day will come when I can’t.

Because the time with two of my three kids was priceless – and next time I hope we’re all together for the ‘annual family vacation.’

Because I have the feeling that a week of NOT stressing over what I couldn’t control, and being in basic survival mode (in a beautiful place, with food cooked by someone else), plus three of us in the room going to bed at a reasonable hour because we were exhausted (all of us), whether from fun or making it through, is a good thing (I’ve been going to bed WAY too late).

Because the soul needs beauty, and seeing coatis and mapaches and agoutis and iguanas and pelicans and flamingos in their natural habitat was wonderful (wish the idiot tourists would read the sign that says Don’t Feed the Animals Because it Kills Them).

I hope this brings me back to writing renewed.

And because it was, for all the effort and increased pain, fun.

We ill folk can get into small loops where pain and exhaustion are minimized – but so is everything else. Including fun.

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The same person who writes the blog posts writes the fiction.

Share your challenges with ‘vacations.’

The curious incident of the train in the nighttime

Picture of dog. Words: No. You can't. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt


It is my nature to analyze ‘what happened,’ especially with the physical and mental details of what it is to live – and try to write – with ME/CFS, and the only way I have of remembering for sure is to write them down.

I share – because there may be useful information there for others, with or without CFS.

The beginning: when I could have and should have made a small decision

We’re sitting watching TV (the second part of Luther, Season 4), and it is exciting, as TV shows go. This is relevant.

The text comes from child in NYC at 9:49 PM: “I’m getting in at 11:08.”

I text back: “Will pick you up at 11:08.”

This is our system: if I don’t confirm with the correct time, we’re not good yet, because I’ve gotten it wrong before. And she had to wait at the train station.

It’s a good system. I know when she’s getting in, she know I know, and we both have it in writing.

I don’t have to remember.

The MY problem starts

But note: at 9:49 she is already ON the train. And I have one hour and 19 minutes before someone has to be at the train station to pick her up.

It’s still good – and she doesn’t know what train she’ll be on unless she’s either on it, or is close, and knows she has enough time.

There’s always another train (until 2 AM? sometime, and then they start up again a few hours later) from NY to NJ.

At worst, she’ll spend an uncomfortable few hours sitting in the train station.

I mention the arrival time to husband sitting next to me.

He says (and this is the crucial bit), “I’ll pick her up.”

The next bits are on me, and are why I’m writing.

I said, “If I have to get her, I need to take a nap before.” See? I know my limits.

He says, “I’ll go.”

The problem sticks up a finger to the wind

We watch the rest of the program, another twenty minutes or so, chat about the ending.

I see what I should have suspected, given how the last couple of days have gone: he is falling asleep.

I say, “I’ll get her.”

He says, “You sure?”

I say (big lie, it turns out), “I’ll be okay. It’s only ten minutes to the train station.”

He says, “Okay.”

It’s now about 10:10, maybe 10:15 (reconstructing from memory here).

I LET the MY problem compound – because I’m not making good decisions

And this is where I made my fatal mistake (well, okay, not fatal fatal, but fatal as in fatal mistake): I futz around a bit putting my embroidery away, and don’t head straight up to bed for a nap before picking her up, because I’ve been skipping that last night lately (it happens inconveniently in the middle of watching the little bit of TV or a movie we do in the evenings – which is also our chatting time for the day).

But I forget that it doesn’t matter if I’m sitting at my computer wasting time, surfing, writing an email to a friend: I am not risking anything major by missing that nap and being rather non-functional. After all, who can tell what level of non-functional I’m at late at night, and I ALWAYS resist lying down for these naps I need, because that’s what mental two-year-old do.

He trundles up to bed, I look at the clock – it’s now 10:35.

And I’ve just, by being non-functional already, priced myself out of that nap.

The MY avalanche begins

Because I do what I should have done when I said I’d go: the calculus of napping and time and leaving the house that is required – for me to be a safe driver on the road.

Here is what I HAVE to do: start getting ready 10-15 minutes before I need to leave the house, dressed, with shoes on, having my purse and PHONE with me. And my driving glasses, which I don’t keep in my purse all the time necessarily because I have two sets – day and night – and keeping them both there makes the purse too full and heavier.

I need to leave an extra minute or two if I decide to wear my leg braces. They’re an annoyance when driving, just a bit awkward, but help if I need to walk or stand more than a minute. I decide to just put on sandals. It will take me longer to walk to the car, but I won’t have them on while driving, and I won’t have to put them on.

I need to put clothes on, because I am in jammie-equivalents 99.99% of the time.

I need a pit stop.

I need to get out of the house, get into the car, and settle the controls and mirrors. I know others have used my car, and they won’t be in the right place.

The avalanche gets a’rolling/sliding

So I look at the time again, and there MIGHT be time for a shorty – a 10-15 minute mini nap (oh, how I wish I’d taken it!), but only if I get a move on, make the decision, and MOVE.
This is me, non-functional at night. I don’t make the decision.

Instead, my stupid mind moves to ‘what I need to do to just drive safely to the train station.’
If necessary, she can drive back. Unless she’s too tired.

I decide: Diet Coke.

I know it’s late at night, and caffeine after 3PM is a huge no no because it keeps me up at night.

But we’re in not-thinking-straight-crisis-mode now, and the Diet Coke WILL give me the kick I need.

I can take just a sip, right?

I change my mind: I won’t drink it before I leave. I will take it WITH me in the car, and that way won’t use it unless I need it.


I get dressed, grab my purse, put the sandals on.

One last pit stop and out to the car.

I sit in the car, adjust the mirrors.

And yup, you guessed it: it is now 10:55 on the car’s clock – and I forgot to bring the Diet Coke.


Decision time.

I figure out I probably have created enough adrenaline to do this.

It would take me 5 minutes to walk slowly back into the house, climb the stairs and get the forgotten Coke, and get back to the car.

I know the train may or may not be on time, it sometimes takes them a long time to let passengers off, and there is a long walk from the far platform, and the Hamilton Train Station is a relatively safe place for her to wait for me if I am a few minutes late, even at 11 PM.

My mind emphasizes ‘relatively.’ I decide to skip getting the Coke, go the ten minutes or shorter in my immediate future, and get there on time.

Remember, these are all MY decisions. I want to be the perfect mother, saying, “It’s fine – I’ll get her,” to my husband, and showing up on time for my daughter, then one who can be counted on in an emergency to do what’s necessary.

Never mind that I’ve CREATED the EMERGENCY.

Because I so often can’t do these things. Because it is humiliating to be sick and ALWAYS dependent on other people. Because I rarely leave the house, and this is a short trip which should be within my limited capabilities. Because, because, because…

And the folly succeeds!

I do it.

I drive to the train station – and hit ALL the red lights on the way, at their maximum durations. It doesn’t matter – I’ve allowed for the maximum times, ten minutes.

I’m fine.

I get to the train station, and the train pulls in as I stop in the little parking lot opposite the entrance.

In a couple of minutes, the passengers start coming down the long staircase from the overpass.

This time she is the second person.

I flash my lights, she comes on over, and we head home.

On the way home I mention a tiny bit of the above. She says, “I could have driven from the station.”

I say, “I know, but I’m fine.” With a second person in the car, my anxieties calm down just fine.

Another bad decision? Probably. But easier – and we really are that close to the train station. 5 minutes – if you get all the green lights. Which we did. On the way back, of course.

No big deal – picking someone up at the train station and driving home.

The beginning of a really bad night

She says she’s tired. I tell her I’ll put the chinchilla to bed if she will feed Gizzy her treats. We agree. I add ‘put out foods for Gizzy’ to my pre-bedtime list. It’s a short chore in principle. If Gizzy has been out of her room, it may take longer to get her back if she’s hiding under the living room couch and I have to chase her out with a flashlight (the light, not the metal part).
Later, it will turn out that Gizzy never left her room (she sleeps under the bed) because it was Italian-American weekend at Mercer County Park, and they ended with fireworks, and fireworks turn Gizzy into a shell-shocked ball. No biggie – I leave out her food and close the door earlier than usual.

Now the payment for my folly really starts.

Daughter goes up to her nightly struggle with getting to sleep.

I am too wound up to go right to bed, but manage to force myself into bed at around 2AM, not too bad for me.

And the night of horror starts.

Why? Because I have broken the basic rule: you’re NOT normal

The root cause is the BRAIN FOG I live with.

The proximate cause is that I can’t metabolize adrenaline (which I know). My body insists on twitching every few seconds, just as I’m starting to fall asleep. It requires the FULL set of stretches and isometrics I do to get rid of the twitchies.

There are oh, about ten, bathroom trips. I have minimized water, though really thirsty. Doesn’t matter. I have a few sips.

I go up and down the stairs too many times.

I have a small protein shake – which, because it is full of ice, usually makes my core temperature go down and lets me get sleepy.

I end up eating two Atkins bars in the middle of the night.

I get up and play sudoku on the computer until I realize I cannot make that last column add up no matter how hard I try.

I spend time lying there with the lights off, exhausted, knowing it’s the end of the world, and I’m having trouble even doing my meditation breathing, and I’m going down hill so fast it’s scary, and I’ll never be any use to this family, and how could I possibly have thought I could do something useful like picking my own child up at the train station?

Eventually, around 5:30, I finally get to sleep.

Cost accounting: I lose  day of my writing life again

My happy body gets me up at 9, later than I’d generally like, ridiculously early after nights like this.

I put myself back to bed after what seems to be the twentieth bathroom trip of the night.
I sleep until almost noon.

And THEN it finally hits me: this is the AFTERMATH of adrenaline, you idiot. It happens every time – which is why you don’t allow yourself emotions, and you certainly don’t allow yourself adrenaline.

This is MY fault.


My decision-making functions don’t work, and especially don’t work when I’m tired. And go all to hell when I push them.

The conclusion: write it down.

Maybe it’ll serve as a cautionary tale, even though it’s a stupid little story of a single night.

But, you see, it will cost me today’s writing time (for fiction) because I’m singing at the Princeton U. chapel at the 4:30 Mass, and to get there for practice I have to leave the house at 3, which means, backtracking, I have to be in BED for the pre-nap by 2:10, and have to allow for something to eat in there somewhere, and I desperately need a shower, so I’ll have to nap with wet hair…

I started writing this at 12:03, and it’s almost 2 PM.

Another bad decision? Probably not. I can’t write fiction under these conditions – too jumpy.

Why do I write these things in such detail?

Because I’m working on a non-fiction book, working titled PAPER BRAIN, because no one has solved this for me in the almost 28 years I’ve had this stupid disease, and if I don’t write it now, I’ll forget.

This is, by the way, why Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD will take a long time.

But I’m working on it.

And I could go on in this vein for another hour. Husband came in, and said, when given the mini-summary, “I could have woken myself up.”

I won’t even tell daughter – she has enough on her plate, and did NOTHING wrong.

But some day I’ll read this and remind myself, and maybe I’ll get smarter, or at least remember.

Or someone else will.

And I will continue to try to avoid adrenaline, the adrenaline I thought I wasn’t going to create or need – last night.

Be warned.

This was pretty much the way it happened. Stream of consciousness writing.

Don’t pity me. It’s my life. I try to learn from it.

I’m okay. I’m going for that nap – it’s 2:07.

Drop words in the box if it resonated. Thanks!

I keep forgetting: if you like the blog posts, consider buying the book in the sidebar – it’s written by the same detailed idiot with experience.

Copyright 2016 Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

Do you like your books pessimistic or optimistic?

Mountains, lake, trees. Words: Should fiction lift your spirits? Alicia Butcher EhrhardtWHAT DOES READING FOR PLEASURE MEAN TO YOU?

Why do we read?

To learn about the world and to learn about our potentialities as humans.


To read a book is to live part of another life.

To learn something new.

For relaxation.

For a vicarious adventure.

For pleasure.

Okay, so what KIND of books?

Optimist or pessimist? is a question I ask books.

Even horrible books can raise spirits, especially by the end of the book. The Diary of Anne Frank does that.

Is your book ultimately depressing or uplifting?

It’s a value judgment.

A depressing book – depressing author?

Doing some research, I spent time reading the Top Reviews for Karin Slaughter’s Pretty Girls (2016).

‘Top reviewers’ on Amazon are the ones who get the most comments or upvotes; the first four pages with that option selected had negative after negative reviews (it wasn’t until page 4 that I found two short positive reviews, from readers), many of those from reviewers you would love to get to read your book: Top 500, Top 1000, Vine Voice…

And those reviewers were appalled at the violence against women that was graphically depicted, over and over. ‘Gratuitous’ was used as a descriptor.

Many commented that the writing was good or adequate or competent (workmanlike would have been my assessment, from reading the Look Inside sample provided), but that the choice of subject matter left them sick to their stomach.

Ms. Slaughter is a NYT bestseller.

Apparently, previous books she wrote were not nearly as negative as this one; but many of these reviewers commented they would not read another of her books.

Some commented they wished they could scrub their minds of the images, for which they could find no socially redeeming reasons.

Me, I wondered why they continued reading, even if they skimmed.

The optimistic book – optimistic authors?

And I don’t mean just sappy and inspirational, with ready-made solutions to the world’s problems.

SF can be pessimistic (dystopias) or optimistic.

Romance is usually optimistic, and those fans who like to read Romance want their ‘happily ever after’ (HEA) ending, and can be very unhappy with writers who don’t provide one. There is a subset of books which end, not with an HEA, but with a ‘happy for now’ (HFN). These books are still hopeful, but possibly more realistic – and also possibly open to sequels.

Jane Eyre is optimistic. Silas Marner is optimistic.

Huckleberry Finn is optimistic. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Heinlein) is optimistic.

Thrillers and mysteries can be all over the map – but do deal with the grittier side of life, and more often are pessimistic or neutral, but possibly with an optimistic undertone, say, to a continuing detective’s life.

A special category is the detective who finds happiness

My favorite, obviously, is the definitely HEA ending of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels, ending with Busman’s Honeymoon, where Peter and Harriet marry, finally, and solve one last real mystery which sets the tone for their married life. Sayers wrote only two short stories about the pair and their children after that, even though her series was popular and is still popular now.

During all the novels, there was still an optimistic cast to the series: there was a right and wrong, people had principles, and there were consequences – but mysteries were solved and things set ‘right’ where possible. Sayers went on to write theology, so her stories were optimistic because she believed in the possibility.

You read what you like

And I don’t like ultimately pessimistic books.

Almost every genre can be written either way; even serial killer Dexter is optimistic.

I just want to know that, at the end of the book, things are, or have the potential of being, better.

That covers a lot of territory, but the thing in a book that makes me pick another book by an author is that there was hope at the end.

And you write the same way

The road to happiness for Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey is a rocky one. But when he asks her, on their honeymoon, if she finds life, on the whole, good, she answers,

“Yes! I’ve always felt absolutely certain it was good–if only one could get it straightened out. I’ve hated almost everything that has happened to me, but I knew all the time it was just things that were wrong, not everything….Things have come straight. I always knew they would if one hung on long enough, waiting for a miracle…”

I haven’t the slightest reservation about Pride’s Children. It is an optimistic book.

Not easy. Not simple. Not fast. And you may have to trust me for a while.

It makes a difference to me.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? And does it show in what you read and/or write?

The odd reason Pride’s Children will never be free

Text showing a Google search of a site infringing on IP by offering a free download of Pride's Children.IF YOUR BOOK HAS NEVER BEEN FREE, THE PIRATES STICK OUT

I’m not as blasé as some indies about ebook piracy. I’m not spending a lot of time and energy on something I have no control over, such as sending DMCA take-down notices to websites which post supposedly free access to millions of ebooks, mine being a small minnow in their insatiable maws.

For one thing, I don’t think I’d have any real effect.

For another, I’m not sure I want those people mad at me.

And again, I’m sure a great many of those sites, if not all, are phishing sites, and people who attempt to get a free book are sufficiently punished by having their personal information harvested.

And finally, although the greats in the indie world like Hugh Howey and Joe Konrath think that if anyone ever reads these downloads they might turn into a fan and buy your other books (or which I have none right now), I’m skeptical.

And I already offer a free ebook Review Copy to anyone who will consider writing a review (consider only – there is no way I could enforce a promise anyway), so if you want to read it, drop me a line. There’s no real need to pirate. A copy from me will just be a nice clean file (and possibly you need a format other than .mobi for Kindle, too).

Does the price of an ebook encourage pirates?

I follow Kris Rusch’s and Dean Wesley Smith’s pricing strategies. I do understand that there are some readers who have been burned, and won’t try indie work unless it is very inexpensive – in some way, that’s the cost of the new freedom to publish. It will sort itself out.

I don’t think the listed price for an ebook affects pirates at all, though. I think they just grab everything for their lists with computer algorithms, and don’t take any time to curate their selections.

The automated service to protect IP – Blasty (beta)

I’m a beta user for Blasty, a program being developed to defend your intellectual property by automating the process of identifying infringements and issuing the take-down notices for you. As far as I know, they’re still not charging beta users as they develop their program, but I’m sure it will be a service with a fee when they’ve gotten it tuned up.

But right now the process involves them showing me everywhere on the web the phrase ‘Free download PC’ appears, and asking me to click ‘Blast’ if it is infringing.

And it is super-simple for me to BLAST! when I can scan Google’s 24th page of results quickly, check the ‘free download…’ phrase, know that I have NEVER made Pride’s Children free for ebook download, and click the Blast button. I don’t have to THINK.

And, since I’m well past a thousand completed blasts, and just had to spend a while blasting another 15+ pages worth of Google results (at about ten a page), I’m grateful for shortcuts.

The furor for free is a feeding frenzy

When I homeschooled, I discovered that even caring homeschooling families had an odd quirk. I’d go to the trouble of arranging, say, a visit – FREE! – to the NJ State Museum. Families who got their registration in first got the 20 places the museum reserved for us, with a staffer to take us around and do activities with our kids. And people would simply not show up. When families could be 7 members, that left me looking like an idiot with the museum, and besmirched the name of homeschoolers, AND annoyed the heck out of people who didn’t get on the list because they took too long to respond – and could have gone.

So I started charging a small per-person registration fee – say $5 – and refunding that (essentially just returning the check to the parent) if they showed up! To an event they had signed up for and committed to. In principle.

Principle: if you have skin in the game, your commitment is real.

I think ‘free’ in indie ebooks has had its best run already. I feel people grab something free (which now doesn’t stand out much), but haven’t invested even a buck, and never get to most of what they grabbed.

Permafree – such as the first book in a series – seems to be an exception. I’ll know if I ever finish a series! That makes sense, as a ‘loss leader’ to tempt a reader to try a new author. I haven’t taken any on myself to read, so I don’t know whether it is a good tactic.

Conclusion, summary, will she ever shut up?

Thought it would be a way to introduce you to Blasty, and payment (I get a blog post out of spending the time clicking those red buttons), and a little oddity for your reading stream.

Now that I’ve started blasting – a never-ending process, it seems – I’m wondering where this is going to go. Pirates adjust their algorithms every time something new comes along, I’m sure. I’m not worried about them at this point, possibly never (if the indie greats have thought things through, with their experience, I’m good with the concept of not worrying about piracy).

But if Blasty manages to automate this process even more, so I don’t have to inspect those pages and pages of people offering free downloads of MY book, the phrase which includes ‘free download’ will be the automatic giveaway.

Because I’m not making Pride’s Children free. Ever.

Advance warning: there will be a Kindle Countdown sale the first week of October – US and UK 0.99. If you’re following, you’ll get the post which announces it.

And the offer – contact me if you want to read it for free (abehrhardt [AT] gmail) – is still open. I’d love it if you would then post a review on Amazon if you like it.

Data mining for the critical book description

Teddy bear with sign Looking for friend; Words: Help refine the book description; Author: Alicia Butcher EhrhardtCROWD-SOURCING IS THE NEW GOLD STANDARD

The purpose of a book description

The description of a book should do one thing, and one thing only: get a reader to click further.

The click may be to the book’s page on Amazon, to a Buy link, or to the Look Inside feature on Amazon. The next material seen, if it’s not the book, already downloaded onto a Kindle or Kindle app or a book in the mail, has to continue the process, but the first click which lands in a place the reader can make a decision should have an irresistible ‘Call to Action.’

The book description is the beginning of the words that form the Contract with the Reader.

Why fiddle with the book description after spending so much time crafting it?

At this point in the development of marketing for Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, the book description, originally crafted to attract the kind of reader I thought would like it, someone exactly like me (!), isn’t working.

Plus that turned out to be wrong: there is something that unites the merry band, a sensitivity perhaps to the way I’ve chosen to tell a story, or to something in the characters themselves, but I haven’t isolated it yet.

My gentle description of what is an intense book full of unexpected shadows is too mild. It expects too much of the general reader – and is not helping convert those who might reach the description into possible readers of the book.

Advertising – the soggy ground

The field of advertising is one I don’t wish to plow, because of the energy it takes to generate a hundred concepts until a few seem ‘possible,’ and then to refine the gold in those into ‘probable,’ and continue working an ad into ‘Yes!’

Companies spend a lot of money on advertising. I have neither the money – nor the time. So I’ve resisted doing the work.

I tell myself, ‘Finish the next book – then this one will sell.’ I think, ‘It’s good enough,’ or ‘The description is accurate,’ or ‘It doesn’t matter what I do.’

And maybe I’m expecting too much – and all this is moot.

But an ad I crafted for a summer issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly netted exactly one sale. I’m not getting it right.

Are there stones left unturned?

There are books out there whose readers I want, and I haven’t mined them yet to see whether there’s something I can use. Amazon has oodles of data – the whole book’s page is stuffed with information. Some of it I can’t get easily (or within my budget, such as Kirkus review) because the big publishers need a staff to do that for the books they’ve decided to push, and my staff consists of me.

‘Editorial Reviews’ can contain some pretty heavy hitters (‘Stephen King recommends that if you read one book this year…’) I don’t have access to – whether anyone reads the blurbs or not.

And I haven’t mined the 24 reviews, 21 of them positive, to really hear what my readers have said. The ones I already attracted, and who were impressed enough (yeah, I’m going with that explanation for now, rather than the chain-gang one) to write a review.

I intend to start doing this.

Especially the first: if I think Pride’s Children would attract readers who either liked, for example, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, or who specifically didn’t like it because of perceived flaws, I need to be spending some time looking at the description the copywriters at the big publisher produced for the book, and what the book’s readers have left in the reviews they wrote. I’ve done some of that – it could use a serious go-around.

That’s work I will do on my own.

You, my blog readers, have been kind

But I also want to ask my blog readers whether they think I’m doing the advertising part wrong – and what they think might work better.

Feel free to do one of two things:
1) Think for a minute and tell me what attracted you to read Pride’s Children, if you did, and
2) Anything you haven’t already told me about what I’m not doing right. Because I have saved, and will be rereading everything anyone already sent.

I have my own small data bank – that cache of all the words I’ve received already, kind or caustic – plus the reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and blogs, and I think I’m ready to do some more digging.

Email privately (abehrhardt [at] gmail [dot] com) if this blog is too public for you. I promise not to publish anything identifiable! And I’ll be taking suggestions in the helpful intent they’re offered. No hurt feelings.

For blog responses, here’s the easy link (no scrolling back up).

PS: price and cover are not up for discussion in this round – they are separate issues. I’ll reexamine both eventually, but right now I’m concerned with book description and ad copy. Just the words.

PPS: Don’t worry, writing NETHERWORLD is still my first priority. If you were worried.

The writer’s greatest trap: friendly fire

Feet walking up steps. Text: To be fully responsible means accepting even the unintended consequences. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtIS A CLOSE FRIEND WHO WRITES – AND WOULD DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY IN YOUR BOOK.

Friends who are writers are a unique resource

Writers want the approbation of readers, critics, family – but especially they want the praise of their close friends who are also writers. And it must sound both earned and sincere.

So when a close friend who is a writer takes your writing apart, nitpicking, essentially calling your baby ugly, a major dissonance is set up in your head about what you have written – and whether you need to listen and change things you thought you were sure of.

It is in many ways a gift: if the emperor has no clothes, the emperor is making an idiot of himself, with the well-remunerated connivance of his tailors helping him along. Yes, they are making a fool of him – but he is also making a fool of himself.

Good friends tell you when you’re making an idiot of yourself, and sometimes this should and does bring you up short, followed by insight and realization, and a new path.

Writers have blind spots, just as everyone else does. Most editors think writers are much too close to their own writing and lack the objectivity necessary to edit themselves, and should never do that (and should pay said editors, genuine or scam artists, big bucks to mess with the writer’s work and ‘improve’ it).

Lack of objectivity is a problem

And any writer who doesn’t think it’s a real possibility is already lacking in objectivity by default.

Which is, as I’m just figuring out, a very strong reason for me not to have a writer as a beta reader (or alpha reader – depending on what stage you usually share your writing at; I call alpha readers ones who see rough drafts, and beta readers those who see something which is as polished as I can make it before outside eyes and brains get a look at it).

And when you expect a reader, and get the writer in full critique mode, it is a very uncomfortable experience.

When you ask someone how did you like my book?

In my defense, I didn’t think my reader/friend considered herself a writer – or I would have been far warier, because I know the tendency to rewrite work that isn’t ‘right’ to your own standards and specifications, if you’re a writer. Which is the reason I won’t read other writer’s unfinished work – I can’t afford to get sidetracked onto someone else’s problems when I’m having so much trouble finding the necessary brain power to solve my own.

So, faced with a huge critique when I expected some feedback from a reader and possibly a few questions to clarify why I had made certain choices, my first reaction was to feel betrayed, gut-punched, defensive, attacked where I least expected it, ambushed. I have had the same reaction to close friends who have been critical, who consider themselves experts because of their reading, or who consider they know me and thus know my intentions and my flaws – and poke at my choices. But not to the same level, because they are not writers.

I shouldn’t have let it happen

I was tired – which she should know means ‘not all here’ – and, in retrospect realize she blew right over because she had so much to say. I have also realized it is a potential huge gift to receive a critique of such proportions from someone who seemed to have engaged enough to have serious questions and opinions (see It is daunting to be taken seriously as a writer) – we talked, or rather I listened, for the better part of three hours (and I can’t do that).

Plus, her ego needed soothing, as perhaps she recognized she was doing a certain amount of stomping on my grave, and she is a valued friend I had just never seen as a fellow writer, so my instinct was to shut up and let her have her say. And keep the flow of information coming.

And I couldn’t get away physically, because at the time this was happening, I wasn’t sure I wanted or needed to get away and shut off the listening I was trying to do, because it was literally the first time this had happened. The only other time I’ve worked with another writer was when I was starting Pride’s Children, back in the early part of the century, and my writing partner was working on her thriller, and we would get together to be a mutual support society, read each others’ latest pages over lunch, and talk a bit about it: we learned very quickly not to go to critique mode, and instead to reflect something about the new pages back to each other. If either of us had asked the other, “How do you do X?” it would have meant admitting we didn’t know how to do something, and had no idea how to learn it, and that we thought the other knew it well enough to teach. Fortunately for our friendship, we didn’t go there. Or I think those lunches would have become very rare. Support and critique are mutually exclusive.

Why write about this experience?

I write these posts about the writing process because I’m still a beginner in many senses, and I’m discovering these things as I write about them, and using the posts and the process to make real-life decisions.

And I’ve spent all morning – time I didn’t have and energy I don’t care to spend – dealing with the consequences and figuring out what to do about it.

My conclusion is that I can’t change a word, and I can’t change a thing about my process or the content of my story or my characters. No changes will be allowed to plot or theme or language. I can’t. For me, this whole story – all three volumes (which were always planned to be a unit) – has been locked into its final form except for the actual words for such a long time that I have to take ownership of it as I’ve made it.

I need to be far clearer about what I need as feedback

My decisions have been taken long ago – and the current writing only supports those decisions. Even the most minute changes my friend was angling for are wrong for me. Her feedback reflects how my story hit her, which is an incredibly valuable piece of information for me, as I value her experience and her friendship, and she is somewhat in my target audience.

But I realize I have long passed – long – the point at which I might change anything, however arrogant and self-centered and pig-headed that sounds. And I’m not even sure those changes I might have accepted in the past were what she was talking about – she wanted the core values of my story modified because she didn’t quite like them the way I decided they would be.

I don’t think she realizes this. In the same situation I would have backed off completely rather than talk about how something didn’t work for me. She said she assumed she could speak freely and be frank because we are long-time friends now. And I respect that. I don’t know if it was hard for her, and that’s part of why it came out in one piece, because she had to get it out. She has spent at most a couple of weeks with my story. I have spent fifteen years.


But I’ve spent the morning examining the battlefield (for battle it was, out loud at the beginning, and then in my head as I tried to let her have her say without interruption, while continuing to get more and more exhausted) and picking through the bombed-out ruins, and coming to my conclusion which is: never again.

I gave her the courtesy of writing down as many of her points as I could remember, and of listening last night and of considering this morning whether I needed to do anything.

And have decided on a blanket prohibition against this ever happening again.

Because of who I am, and how having CFS has forced my hand…

I have made my decisions – plot, character, language, theme – and every one of them has taken thought and huge effort and no little time. They will be allowed to stay unaltered. There will be no changes in what’s planned or written, because it’s all of a piece, and I literally can’t change anything this far into the game. I wouldn’t be able to handle the consequences of the changes, and how they would affect the plot, for example.

But mostly just NO. This is the way Pride’s Children is, and all I can hope is that God gives me enough time in this life to write it all out.

It’ll remind me not to seek feedback from friends, as I’ll have to live with the aftermath. And to just plow on ahead, instead of being so damned needy.

Burned paw on hot stove. Lesson learned.

Have you ever been blindsided by a critique?

I am always the wrong survey demographic

Diverse group of people in silhouette playing basketball on the beach. Words: Nope! You really don't want me to take your survey. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtMOVE ALONG; NOT THE DEMOGRAPHIC YOU’RE LOOKING FOR

I can’t fill out your online survey, and it is because you don’t want me in your group of survey respondents. I’ll ruin your results.

Really. In every possible area, I am the wrong demographic for your product.

If I bought your product, I am the wrong person to answer your feedback questions. My answers will either be trite and obvious, or useless.

Why did I buy your product in the first place?

If I bought your product, it was often for an off-label reason, and it’s also probably for a one-of-a-kind reason.

You will most likely not get me to buy your product again unless it perfectly serves a need I have – in which case I won’t need your advertising, or your automatic refill system, or anything useful to you in a marketing sense, and I’ll just buy it again as long as you make it and sell it. On my schedule. Which would give you conniption fits if you knew it, such as my buying a product only during the summers.

If you, by chance, put up a product which is perfect for me, and I buy it and love it, and tell everyone, and answer your questions, and leave a review – you will not find enough other people like me who will also buy it, and you will end up sadly taking it off the market.

In fact, I am the kiss of death for your product.

You fervently hope you are not attracting customers like me as your main audience.

What is my demographic?

Well, I’m female, overeducated, in physics/engineering. And when I see an ad at all, I read it carefully, and recall a lifetime of broken promises from you marketing folk, and it makes me very wary.

I don’t read Romances. Not the modern ones, anyway. They are about people in a very tiny demographic (perfect perky women and billionaires and Scotsmen) I’m not likely to ever come within range of, and I really can’t identify with them.

I don’t use cosmetics, except when trying not to scare the horses in the streets, and then buy an inexpensive new mascara once every couple of years.

I don’t wear heels – that eliminates a lot of potential products. Back in the day, shoes for women stopped at a size 9 (and were made fun of in Clementine: ‘and her shoes were number 9, herring boxes without topses sandals were for Clementine’) – so you can’t sell me women’s shoes, which are extraordinarily hard to buy by mail – the fit and all, you know. I wore a 10 before having kids, and an 11-1/2 W after three of them, darn it.

I am past the age of your female products, not interested in your products for older women (please God, as long as possible). I take as few supplements as possible. I don’t use anything with an odor.

I shop online – but not often, not well, and not impulsively

I’m disabled – and I don’t go shopping. I used to be tall, and you lost me a long time ago because it never occurred to you that a woman might be proportionally shaped, so it was either tall (and thin) clothes, or short (and ample) clothes at the stores, and never a large enough size in the tall ones – and you trained me out of all the female clothes-buying patterns I might have established way back then by having no merchandise available in my size.

I have no interest in fashion – because I was never able to get into it, and the hand-made clothes were never quite fashionable (even the patterns were hard to get in the right size, way back then, and had to be modified).

I have AdBlock on my computer. I don’t use a smart phone to access the internet. On purpose. Even Facebook ads get easily ignored – I’ve permanently tuned them out, and only sometimes bother to Hide Ad so you get that information.

Don’t court me – I’m a terrible consumer

You don’t want me.

And if you ever sent me a product to test, you would be sorry. My reactions would drive you to pull your hair out, and if you followed any of my suggestions, to the poorhouse.

And that is why I won’t fill out your survey or send you feedback: it’s a waste of both our times.

Are you their demographic? Some people actually like to shop.

Choose reading carefully for maximum satisfaction

A runner with the words STOP The reader is the starting pointARE WE GOING TO HAVE A READER VS. WRITER PROBLEM?

General warnings:

If you don’t like epic mainstream commercial fiction (i.e., ‘big books’), you should think a bit before you start, or you might have to make some adjustments along the way. I’m not going to tell you what you can read and can’t read (note carefully this is not on the book’s site, which should contain nothing but praise and happy customers’ reactions).

If you don’t like the epigraphs at the beginning of the chapters in Pride’s Children, you can skip them. All of them, the long ones, only the ones that are Kary’s writing, or the biblical ones – whatever you want to skip. I won’t stop you. Epigraphs in general are sort of pretentious, aren’t they?

At the same time, feel free to ignore the Chapter titles – they probably don’t add anything to your reading, and are just the author pretending to be refined. Too mysterious by half, just decoration. Skip.

If you don’t like prologues, you can skip mine. You will miss a few tiny pieces of critical information tucked into a single-page, 145 word piece, but it’s definitely your choice if you don’t like prologues. Besides, some of that won’t even be relevant until the second or third book of the trilogy, and you’re not going to remember it anyway. Skip without a thought.

Character warnings:

If you don’t like third-person multiple point of view, we’re going to have a major problem, because that’s the choice I’ve made for how the story is told, and it isn’t easy to change, though you might just tell yourself it’s omniscient pov done poorly, and live with it. Three first-person povs, rotating, seemed more awkward, so I chose three third-person ones.

There may be a problem with too many characters. I stopped counting after about 50. Just ignore the minor ones and you’ll get most of the story. If they’re important, they’ll come up again. If not, why bother remembering them? If you don’t want to read about disability in your characters, you might want to skip the whole thing anyway, and look for books with young, hot, healthy characters – all of them.

Many people aren’t all that happy spending time with Bianca. Her scenes are clearly marked, so if you want, you can just skip those. You probably get plenty of her in the scenes by the other characters anyway.

Writing warnings:

Don’t like big paragraphs of mixed dialogue and interior monologue, some direct and the rest indirect? Feel free to pick up the dialogue bits (they’re marked with double quotes, single quotes when it’s remembered dialogue), and skip/skim the rest. Your choice. There are all kinds of annoying bits that foreshadow things that won’t happen for a long time, anyway.

Don’t like paragraphs of pure description of which you think there are too many? Skip ahead – don’t worry that there might be something buried in those descriptions that will add to the story. They’re probably window-dressing, the author showing off she knows many words for sky color.

After all, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is a whopping 167,000 words, and they can’t possibly all be relevant to the story, and you usually skip the boring parts, so skip ahead freely, without a qualm.

Don’t pay too much attention to the language – it really is a little bit much, and it would have been much better if the author learned to ‘write simple.’ Maybe she will by the next book. If you bother to read that one. Skip the part about context.

Plotting warnings:

If you’re still going to be unhappy that he and she (not telling which she) don’t get together and have hot monkey sex sooner, feel free to skim until you find the parts you like to read. It won’t bother me anyway, since I won’t know unless you decide to write about it in a review, and then you don’t really have to put your name on the review, so it’s no biggie.

You can even tell everyone you didn’t like PURGATORY, and aren’t planning to read NETHERWORLD and whatever I decide to call the third book in the trilogy. Besides, trilogies are too long. Fine with me – I am happy for you to have your own tastes and opinions, and truly believe they are just as good as mine.

I’m not sure I can help at this point if some of this stuff seems confusing, there are too many characters, the story seems to keep getting disconnected, and many pieces just plain don’t make sense, though.

I wish you much happy reading with other books more to your taste if you don’t like mine.

Still want to read? Or should I have warned you before you already read?

Writing a DRABBLE got me banned

A pair of small empty canvas sneakers between two sets of lower legs with sneakers; the word NO is in a yellow circle and the word BANNED is below.BANNED – FOR WRITING FICTION?

New milestone: my writing got me banned permanently on a site.

The reaction to a fictional drabble (100-words) was swift and disproportionate.

I was writing for FREE for a site which publishes a drabble a day (or none if they don’t have any they like). The reason: because, if they included your drabble on their newsletter, they would, by way of payment for your work, put up a link to your books.

Writers shouldn’t write for free, should they?

IF they choose to, and have a reason which makes business sense to them, now.

It’s fair enough: I write something you can choose to use, you give me a tiny bit of promotion by

1) letting me publish a sample of my work (NOT my book, just my writing), and

2) providing a link a newsletter reader can choose to click on to my Product Page on Amazon, where, as it happens, I have one single book up – 167,000 words of fiction (see that – I can write at more than one length!)

Drabbles? Is that like a haiku for prose?

Drabbles are an interesting story form. You get exactly 100 words and are supposed to tell a complete story, beginning, middle, and end, in that space. Obviously, you get little room for backstory or description, and editing a short story down to an even hundred word is an art in itself. I have written a few fiction ones before, and a whole book of non-fictional drabbles on Wattpad (64 at last count, I believe, mostly about the process of writing, editing, and publishing a novel).

Back to being banned, please!

I submitted some drabbles to the site as time permitted; the first five were, in due course, published.

Then I realized I had two available there which had not been published, and that the daily newsletter had been appearing for a while with no drabble in it, either.

So I thought it reasonable to go investigate; sometimes software somewhere between the site and your home computer resets, and the defaults need to be changed.

I was totally surprised when I attempted to log into the site and received the message:

Totally barred for unprofessional behavior

or was it?

Permanently banned for unprofessional behavior

(didn’t get screen shot; can’t now)

Excuse me? Huh? I hadn’t done any behavior at the site for a while, much less anything I considered unprofessional – all I did was post a few drabbles a while back for their consideration (no obligation – they warn you at the beginning that your drabbles may not be posted – I was fine with that when I started submitting a few, after noticing what other writers had created with their 100 words). These drabbles were in the site’s SUBMISSION queue, posted to my account while waiting to see if they would be published or used.

Pause: If I had been informed at this stage that something was unsuitable, I would have removed or changed it. You can hardly afford, when sending work anywhere, even for free, to get upset if it isn’t published.

What do you do when something like that happens out of the blue?

Through a back channel, and assuming something technical had gone wrong somewhere along the line with them, and expecting an apology!, I cautiously sent the email:

I went to the site this morning intending to post another drabble, to find that I have been permanently barred for ‘unprofessional behavior.’

This mystifies me – the only behavior I’ve committed at the site has been to post a few drabbles, some of which have been published in the daily newsletter.

Would you please tell me what my next step should be? I would at least like to retrieve the unpublished ones – or see a list of them.

I’m assuming this is a mistake. If not, could you please let me know what I’ve done, so I don’t do it again?

No answer came over a several day period; I assumed the person I had written to was busy (it had happened before that I didn’t get a response, prompt or otherwise).


Before I do this next bit, PLEASE NOTICE I AM NOT NAMING NAMES! I’m making the information vague ON PURPOSE: I believe this site and every other has the right to control what they publish, to remove contents and comments they find objectionable (as I have at my site), and to not be publicly indicted for their behavior because of it. In fact, I consider TROLLING and FLAME WARS very unprofessional, and do not participate.

In addition, brain fog and extremely limited energy and awake time due to CFS, make it really not worth my while. I actually assumed I had missed something important in this whole event simply because I didn’t read something or understand it right.

So why post at all?

BECAUSE it is MY first banning anywhere for writing FICTION, and I choose to write about the experience on my own blog. That’s what writer’s blogs are for. It may even serve as a cautionary tale for other newbies.

If someone I know very well wants the information, I will be happy to supply it; I have warned some writers already. PRIVATELY.

When you got no response, what did you do next?

Next step, try the front channel. I sent the following email to the site directly:

Dear XXX site:

I had been happily supplying drabbles; you published four or five of mine for the daily newsletter.

Then drabbles didn’t appear for a while, when I knew I had two left that hadn’t been used.

I went to your site to find I’ve been ‘permanently banned for unprofessional behavior.’

Since I’ve done nothing on the site, much less anything that might be considered unprofessional in my book, I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look.

If I did do something you objected to, would you please let me know what it was? So I don’t do it again?

Really clueless here – no idea of what I did. They had even actually published a somewhat similar drabble of mine before.

The response was swift and abrupt:

[Short pause here: because the sender of a letter/email owns the copyright to the words, while I could show a friend the actual email, I may not publish it exactly as is, and it doesn’t come under the concept of Fair Use. So I’m going to paraphrase it, and try to be accurate, but you’ll have to trust me on the content. Of course, the owner of the copyright – the sender – would have to own up to it and make a big deal of it if I did publish exactly what I received – but I’m well read in copyright law, and not about to give that a chance, since I’m trying not to identify the person, but only write as to how this affected me, okay? Also, too bad, because there was a lovely typo.]

It’s not professional to request help, dislike the help offered, and write about murdering the person who offered the advice.

[I didn’t request the kind of unsolicited advice the drabble was writing about; it was sent by a marketing firm without being asked for or wanted. Especially not wanted. And the number of writers who have use an incident that happened to them to choose their next murder victim in their stories is Legion, to the point where it’s a meme for beginning writers (I did it myself when I started) to get rid of some hostility that way. It’s FICTION, folks. What else do you call The Silence of the Lambs or Misery?]

This is rubbish.

[The opinion of the site owner is valid on their site. It was an intense drabble, and it took me an hour to get it to say exactly what I wanted it to say, with no room to qualify or maneuver. I have the feeling I hit a nerve somewhere, but have no idea WHAT nerve, unless the responder has had unpleasant experiences – and how would I know that?]

It’s a permanent banning so don’t bother me again.

[Not bloody likely. Excuse me for asking when you provided no information at all, and I didn’t think that much of your site anyway, nyah, nyah, nyah!]

I asked a writer friend whose response was, “Banned for fiction? That’s absurd.”

What should the response have been to my original email?

Any one of the following, singly or in sequential emails (if I was insistent), would have been the professional response of a site open to the public. And remember, the drabble was never published by them. It was in their SUBMISSION queue. Something like:

Your drabble does not suit us at the present time.

We don’t think drabble X can be rewritten to be appropriate for our readers, so we have deleted it.

Your drabbles are too dark; please don’t send us any more. We don’t think we are the right publisher for them.

We find your work too disturbing for our site. Please do not send us more. And we don’t think we want to associate with your work. Thank you for your previous submissions. We have closed your account. Please do not open another account.

In other words, just about any formal rejection you’d get from a publisher after submitting, oh, say, Carrie. Or Hannibal. Or Cujo. Or any slasher thriller or novel with Jack the Ripper in it.

What next?

Nothing, really. No action is necessary on anyone’s part, least of all mine. I know where I’m not wanted, and would not return even with a very good quality formal apology (which I’m not likely to get). The drabbles are mine (those were the terms – they merely requested you not post them elsewhere until they had been used on the site – IF they were used on the site). I always intended to publish them myself later.

I’ve put them on a new drabbles page; note that the drabble You Do What You Have To Do has a similar punchline and was published on the site (without ‘advice being offered’ by the victim, of course – which should make it worse, not better, as the results were applied without provocation).

I will put these on MY site, under MY control, from now on – it’s easier. I have apparently thin skin, probably too thin for indie, and it bothered me. I have now written the bother out, and it’s a closed matter as far as I’m concerned.

That all said, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a writer to consider her words before putting them out into the wide world. Words have power – words can hurt.

Have you any experiences of being banned? With or without provocation? How did you react? (Not talking here to those who make a habit of being deliberately confrontational to get attention – you know who you are.)

Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make images for posts.

And, if you like the non-fiction and/or short fiction, consider purchasing and/or reading the long fiction – see sidebar. They’re written by the same person.

New post over at Pride’s Children


I put stuff that is more book-related on the other site – and if you have been supportive lately – for which I thank you – there is a list of the things that keep me going over there.

It’s constantly amazing how much effort it takes to get a book launch off the ground, but it’s a very big world, and I haven’t wanted to play some of the cards I have.

I would always rather books made it on their own merit, but there is that pesky bit about people even hearing that it exists, and with 7 billion people on the planet – and it seems 7 million other books competing for attention – maybe a little noise has to be made.

I’m just reading, studying, and searching for the RIGHT noise.

There are cards which are hard to un-play, information about an author which, though relevant, makes you think of the author and not the book, so I’m holding onto some of those.

All writers (okay, most – those generalizations are always wrong. Hehe.) want to be read, and read widely. I’m no different.

Even ‘merit’ is a slippery concept. You are advised all around to ‘write a good book’ and ‘know your audience.’ Hard to do when you don’t write in a particular genre, and are at the mainstream/commercial end of the literary spectrum (i.e., well written, I hope, but not high-falutin’).

IN ANY CASE – I’m always glad to have y’all talking back to me.

If you write literary/commercial/mainstream, know where the audience is, and how to interest them, PLEASE let me know. I’ll make you cupcakes or something.

Rhetorical questions in fiction: good or bad?

Healthy dessert with grapes, cherries, and granola, with the words: What do you think? 3 question marks. Good? Bad? and Alicia Butcher EhrhardtSHOULD YOU USE RHETORICAL QUESTIONS WHEN WRITING FICTION?

This was a shocker.

When working on Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, I came across a note:

Sue Coletta: don’t use rhetorical questions. They take you out of the story.

Like all other blanket prohibitions, this one is wrong.

But it sounded good. And I had stored it away for a reason, specifically to make sure I didn’t do something that took my readers out of my stories.

How many rhetorical questions are too many? One? Two? In how much ‘scene’?

I had just finished writing the first scene for one of my main characters, and it seemed a good time to 1) check to see if I had many rhetorical questions in it, and 2) to go back to Book 1, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, and see if I had that problem there, too.

I startled myself: this main character, Kary, had TWENTY-SEVEN rhetorical questions in her new scene. Wow. Certainly too many.

So I check a different main character, Andrew, and found he had a couple. (My scenes have 800-1500 words in them, typically.)

I went back to Book 1 and found Kary had another huge number of rhetoricals in her last scene. Andrew, only had a few in his last scene in Book 1.

And I realized how different I had made these characters in how they talk to themselves – and I didn’t even know I’d done it!

One of my ‘go to’s on my Left Brain righT method is to ‘Become the character’ before attempting to write the character’s next scene. It includes going back and reading that character’s last previous scene, and possibly a few before that, to get into the character’s voice and mannerisms.

This turned out to have a vastly different style in something I prized, the interior life of the character – and I didn’t even do it on purpose.

Characters are different – duh!

I’m not sure whether I’m channeling or inventing these characters.

But it spooked me.

I don’t know when this happened, and yet there it was.

I just knew they were different, and I knew how they were different (from spending years living with them in my head and in my notes), and the characterizations came out by themselves.

I like things like this in my writing, but I always thought I did them deliberately.

About those twenty-seven rhetorical questions that Kary had? I couldn’t change a one.


Sue’s admonition – Don’t ask rhetorical questions because they take you out of the story – needs to be changed.

To: ‘Don’t ask the READER rhetorical questions.’

Because it takes the READER out of the story.

It’s fine for the CHARACTER to ask herself questions without answers. How often? As often as she would do it if she were real.

Is she?


What is real?

Do you ask rhetorical questions?

Thanks, Sue. You made me think – and that’s always, uh, interesting.

If you find any of this intriguing, and/or want to see rhetorical questions in action, you can find Kary’s scenes in Pride’s Children at Amazon US, written by the same person who writes these posts. Note: the link leads to the reviews; the product page link is in the right sidebar. Don’t you like to see what other people think about a writer before considering buying?

PS I’m depending on word of mouth right now, as I can either write, it turns out, or market. Or you could go out and find a cure for CFS, so I can do both (might be a wee bit harder).