Monthly Archives: September 2016

The curious incident of the train in the nighttime

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

WARNING: DETAILED ANALYSIS OF A FAILURE. MAY BE BORING.

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.

Execution

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.

Damn.

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 a 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.

Again.

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

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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.

Really.

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.

Aftermath

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.