Monthly Archives: December 2016

Prying the heart open and keeping it open

Mittened hands holding coffee cup. Text Warm hands=warm hearts? Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

A CHRISTMAS COMPASSION FATIGUE REMEDY

Christmas morning and there are no immediate tasks. The one offspring at home is still asleep – not like when she would wake her siblings, and they would be entertained for hours by the presents from Santa – those they were allowed to open so their parents could sleep a little longer. But not the other presents, so that subterfuge worked until they got hungry or bored – sometimes quite a surprisingly long time.

A post on Steve Bargdill’s blog quoted a bit of Dickens, from A Christmas Carol, which I hadn’t noticed before, about Christmas being

the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely

got me thinking about how easily that heart shuts again, often by the end of the day simply by the feeling of being stuffed the holiday meal can bring.

And how it is the job of those of us who write fiction to wedge that door open. And keep it open.

Why fiction? Surely realistic photojournalism hits harder.

Oh, it does. We all carry images. Too many images. And that’s the problem.

If we see our neighbor’s child fall off a bike in front of us, we will do something. Help, call the parents, call 911 – whatever we would want done for our own child in the same circumstance. And our neighbor would do for our child.

But we know how many children there are out there, falling off bikes, not having bikes, getting bombed… And we know we can’t help them all.

Now that the internet and TV bring us a constant barrage of images of people needing help, I get angry at the governments whose job it is to take care of their citizens – and don’t do it. Because, though we do what we can to contribute to the charities we believe in, we personally can’t help those in need enough.

Fiction brings us back to ONE child, the one we’re writing about. ONE person of any age at a time. Slowed down.

And it does that any day of the year, not just when the music is blaring out of the loudspeakers and for only the length of a pressed parent’s patience.

How does it happen?

By personalizing the general.

People cried when the Dickens episodes came out about Little Nell.

People rejoiced when Scrooge woke to find it still Christmas Day.

Dickens knew that. He knew his readers knew about workhouses, and cold, and hunger, and debtor’s prison. Too much knowledge.

So he personalized it. A single character who wasn’t even real was capable of doing what knowing about the whole real world of the time couldn’t do: sneak in under the barriers put up around hard hearts to show that the hearts inside weren’t really stone, but more frozen into immobility.

We can handle one story. The photo on the news about some idiot who abandoned one pregnant dog will generate many offers to take in that dog and her puppies. So much so that shelters have to watch carefully and make sure she doesn’t just go to a home of people who’d like to be on the news. But the outpouring of love and money one story can generate shows the instinct is still there.

The fictioneer’s job

Write the one story, and write it so well that the reader’s emotions are evoked and strengthened as if the reader were the character.

Carefully and skillfully, because people don’t like being preached to, and will scamper off beyond reach the minute they realize that’s what’s going on. If they can get away.

Which usually involves the “show, don’t tell” rule – and works best if the words don’t even mention the target feeling. Tell a reader someone cried, or show a reader someone crying – and the reader doesn’t have to cry. Detail the steps that lead to the character struggling not to express an emotion as the world is trying to make him – and the reader may have to do the crying.

Use carefully – compassion fatigue comes into play as much in reading unrelenting pain and sorrow as it does in seeing it on your TV.

Moderation is a learned virtue

‘Ni tanto que queme al santo, ni tanto que no lo alumbre (Mexican proverb).’ Not so much (heat, light) that it burns the saint (praying), but not so little either that it provides no illumination.

Getting that balance just right is the work of a writer’s lifetime.

We learn some of it from every book we’ve ever read that remains with us. Writers have their own lists of favorites – and it is almost impossible not to have had our own hearts softened by those which have made the impact, often when we were too young to block the effects. People who read the classics when they are children are formed by them.

A combination of

  1. knowing you don’t know how to do something
  2. finding other stories where it is done
  3. deliberately looking up books and blogs that teach how to do it

is what I use when I find a new problem of craft.

Steve’s post, and so many writing books I can’t think which to mention, have taught me the mechanics of evoking emotion in readers; the rest, and whether I do it right, is up to them.


The obligatory business reminder:

I have sent a few Christmas presents of my own with the Amazon ebook-gift method – it works fine. Buy on Amazon, provide an email address, they do the rest: they send the recipient an email (with optional message from you) telling them how to retrieve the gift, and how to download a Kindle app for any device including their phone and desktop. Etc.

Easiest gift I ever gave.

*****The 0.99 SALE is going on until at least the end of New Year’s Day – *****

and I may extend it a day because 1/2/17 is a holiday (how easy it is to forget that when you don’t go to work on ‘workdays’ any more).

No obligation to actually READ – but I would love the chance to pull some of my blog readers into at least starting to read Pride’s Children.


Your comments are my presents.

As a practicing Catholic, I wish everyone a holy and blessed Christmas. And my best hopes that whatever holidays you celebrate with great joy this season will make us all more capable of living in peace and tolerance. It can be done.

What to write when your house is under attack

Squirrel on snow holding red berry. Test Life hands you berries? Make berry chiffon pie. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtSOMETIMES YOU HAVE FEW CHOICES – DO YOUR BEST

Those of you who know how noise sensitive I am will realize this is a bit of a torment – I’m stuck in my own home with two guys tramping around with hoses, air guns, a powerful vacuum, and one of them is a trainee who must be shouted at.

We are having our ducts cleaned.

It hasn’t been done since the house was built in 1981.

I must stay because where the heck would I go? And because I must be the one who manages Gizzy, our chinchilla who hates noise more than I do.

I am, of course, sitting here with my noise protection head-gear; for some of the noises, it is barely enough. Four hours (est.) of this is going to feel great – it presses my head to do a good sound blocking job, but, hey, it’s better than the other options. I took the ibuprofen for the headache already: what a coincidence, you can take more in four hours!

 Who knew that the inside of heating ducts got dusty?

Isn’t that what the filters are for?

Me, I grew up in a country without central air (Mexico) because it never got so hot that you needed air-conditioning, or so cold that the fireplace wouldn’t handle it those few nights a year when outside was chilly.

So, no ducts.

When I lived in Seattle, radiators. No ducts.

In grad school in Madison, Wisconsin – radiators.

First house was in Maryland – and even though we had central air and heating, we only had that house three years, and no changes were necessary. So we didn’t learn then.

Then, this house – and how was I supposed to know you had to hire a very short person to climb inside your ducts to clean them? Periodically? Job security for elves?

Last time – eleven years ago – when they replaced the HVAC, we actually PAID to have the ducts cleaned. But somehow it slipped our mind, and we never had them actually come do the job. (They’re looking into giving us our money back!)

Perfect time to write a blog post of the light-weight variety

Honestly, most of you who need to know this probably already do.

When people mention TV shows of their childhood, they are often surprised that I never saw them.

When people mention their English teachers being good or terrible in high school, college, creative writing or MFA program (or even the esoteric PhD in Literature), I realize I’ve never had but one English teacher, and that in a course I apparently didn’t need to take (after I’ve taken it, I find this out. No matter: I actually enjoyed a teacher who pranced around in front of the class spouting Shakespeare – because I’d never had one).

So, of course, I don’t know about duct cleaning.

I made the mistake of asking

Well, apparently most people don’t ask (maybe they just get out of there).

The nice young man-in-charge from the plumbing company must not get enough chances to expound, because we got a long spiel on the details of the process (which requires making holes in places with a drill). Enthusiastic lad.

All I wanted to know was the order of operations.

It turns out they basically don’t care. After doing certain things, they will go through each room and clean our the air supply vents. What order they do bedrooms in is not important.

So I will have them clean my office ducts, and then, while they’re doing something to the attic bedroom, I’ll scoot Gizzy in here, where she will promptly hide inside my upholstered armchair (she hates light, too), and go to sleep. Or into a state of shock. It’s hard to tell.

What will I be doing?

After delighting you with trivia like the above, I will play sudoku, surf the web, and generally waste the whole time.

Because there isn’t a chance in h-e-double hockey sticks that my brain will be able to do anything like writing fiction.

Or paperwork that I’ve been avoiding.

Or (coherent) phone calls. And the other kind, really, don’t solve anything.

And, even if I could walk properly, it’s too cold to go out for a long hike. Like to the next county. And I’d need food. And a nap. And the, you know, facilities.

Plus there are still people out there blowing leaves around, and outside isn’t that nice and quiet, either.

That’s the best you can do?

Pretty much.

I could color, but I tried it once and I didn’t like it.

And I could embroider the sections in cross-stitch on my tapestry which I can’t do while watching TV because the room is too dark.

Or I could eat, from stress, continuously for the remainder of the time. Also maybe counterproductive.

Something actually useful?

Or I can think a bit about how you do book marketing and promotion when you’re as slow as I am, and the next book will take years, maybe (let’s sincerely hope not, but it’s been started since March 2015, and I’m already into its second chapter. Woo hoo! (In my defense, the first many months were spent in planning in excruciating detail.)).

Not much you can do while occupying the inside of a jet-engine. Ask the birds.

It will be over at some time in the afternoon

So don’t cry for me (although pity gratefully accepted). This is just, like waiting for the dentist for hours before he deigns to drill into your teeth, part of the torture of civilized life – and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to do nothing while other people work to get my ducts sparkling clean, considering what the rest of the world has to put up with.

I really hope I don’t look back to this, and realize this was an oasis of leisure.

After all, I don’t expect myself to get anything done today, and I usually pester myself continuously about getting something written, because, like, I’m wasting my life.

Bang. Bang. BANG!

Enjoy your quiet.

Now, in respect for others, I will gracefully listen to your own complaints. Leave one in my comments!


***** 0.99 Sale still going on until New Year’s Day *****

Did you know you can give people ebooks for presents by just buying the ebook at Amazon and supplying their email address? They don’t even have to have an account. Amazon handles the rest – and you can even put in a message for the giftee. US link here.

Amazon has a FREE app to read Kindle files for almost every device you could read on. All?

I personally wouldn’t want to read 167K books on a mobile, but there’s no accounting for taste.

All other countries who can purchase ebooks from the ‘Zon: type in Pride’s Children: PURGATORY in your very own Amazon.

*****  *****


I just love the editor at this online magazine. She publishes any drivel I care to supply!

Endless self promotion due to the fact that you need to see things SEVEN times before you buy.

Thanks to Stencil for the squirrel. Gizzy has the same kind of tail. Bushy.

Every writer’s nightmare: corrupted Look Inside

Red Christmas ornament. Words When your sale goes wong; check, check, check; Alicia Butcher EhrhardtGOTCHA! MURPHY’S LAW STRIKES

I deliberately picked clashy colors for the image, where I normally at least try to make something catchy and attractive, because I messed up (yes, I bear full responsibility regardless of whose fault it was), and it may serve as a cautionary tale to other writers.

And as a request for forbearance for readers – don’t always assume the mess you find online is because the writer is an unprofessional idiot.

And, if you’re kind, drop the author a note, saying, “You might want to check your Look Inside feature on Amazon, because it doesn’t look right.”

Trust me, they will (should) be more than grateful.

No, you can’t do everything. No, you shouldn’t be paranoid. But I realize now I’ve seen what happened to me on other authors’ book pages on Amazon – and made that exact assumption: if an author can’t be bothered to make sure their book looks perfect on the Look Inside feature, they must not be very good at anything else, either.

Sigh.

The marvelous Look Inside! feature

After all is said and done – cover, advertising, book description – the most important action call is the Buy button that occurs at the end of your sample on Amazon, at which point the buyer makes a decision on whether you can

  1. write professionally
  2. start a story well
  3. keep interest going

All the advertising in the world doesn’t fix something badly written.

And that sample is the clincher for readers who are now skittish about books which disappoint, from having bought other books and not reading the sample.

So the sample should be pristine, with no errors of any kind. No typographical errors. No formatting errors. No spelling errors. No punctuation, capitalization, or grammar errors.

And preferably both something intriguing, and evidence at the same time that the author will satisfy the reader’s curiosity as the story goes along (as evidence by raising at least a minor question somewhere, and answering it). So, quality.

Because all readers are looking for at that point is a reason not to buy.

Don’t give them one.

A perfect upload doesn’t ensure things will STAY perfect

When I created and uploaded the files for Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, back in October of 2015, I worked my little tail off to make sure that the Look Inside feature was perfect.

Once it was, and all the previewers had satisfied me by showing exactly what I expected to see, I went live.

I then purchased the first copy, downloaded to my Kindle, and examined everything as if I were a customer.

I had done my due diligence – it looked just as I wanted it to.

And since then, I have been afraid to mess with it, because the 5 or 6 tiny typographical errors I eventually found (no book is perfect) were literally tiny – a misplaced comma, a dash which ended dialogue had its quotation mark sitting all by itself on the next line (thanks, MS Word) – and I didn’t want to take the chance of making anything worse.


Here is what happened:

Rather than attempt to tidy it all up, I will let you experience the panic, by putting in the text of the posts I made on my Goodread UK Kindle group author thread.

15 hours, 58 minutes ago:

WARNING: the look inside feature for the ebook, both US and UK (I have not yet checked the rest) is thoroughly broken – and I apologize profoundly to anyone who has looked at it, especially with a thought to possibly buying it, and found the horrible mess that I just found.

It never occurred to me (newbie gets bitten again by the obvious) that anything could change from the way it was when I uploaded it, bought the first copy, and checked it out – about a year ago.

I don’t know when this happened, but I will be spending whatever time and energy it takes to fix the disastrous formatting destruction on the Look Inside feature – the best place an author has to sell a book, because a reader can SEE whether there are problems.

I don’t know, not having bought another copy, and not recently, whether the problem is confined to the Look Inside feature, or somehow infects the copy a reader would download. My downloaded copy is exactly the way I set it up – so again, my apologies if you looked.

I didn’t do this – but it IS my fault not to have caught it sooner.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. It’s MY name on the cover.

I go to fix. Pray for me.

15 hours, 54 minutes ago:

Please note: electronic Advance Reader/Review copies should not be affected – those have never left my hands until I email them to someone.

15 hours, 52 minutes ago:

Phew! The preview here on GR is unaffected.

14 hours, 32 minutes ago:

Amazon Kindle Senior Representative confirmed it’s not my problem, and they will fix it within 24-48 hours.

I have been told by other authors, over and over, to recheck these things – and did not. Let this kerfuffle be a lesson to me to not take anything for granted.

And if it saves someone else time and panic, that would be nice.

‘Check your files periodically, as if you were a customer.’

A few minutes ago:

Amazon’s swift author support came to my aid last night – when I got up this morning, the problem with the ebook Look Inside feature (the print was never affected) for Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was fixed.

They told me last night it would take 24-48 hours, and I braced myself to worry. At 1:30 am, the formatting was still messed up when I went to bed.

The biggest relief last night was finding out that it wasn’t my fault – the file they had from me was uncorrupted.

I will probably never find out what happened, exactly, nor do I really need to know, since it wasn’t my fault, but thank you to the person who reported that the UK Look Inside was not looking good (wish I could remember where I put that notification); I checked later than I should have (I should check these things immediately), and maybe that explains why a 0.99 sale is not doing as well as I had hoped.

But all is well now, and I have learned my lesson: trust, but verify.

And it was an example of the amazing responsiveness I have received over this past year+ from the people who provide service for authors at Amazon. I’ve read of problems at B&N, and others – I’ve only had good service from A.

Admittedly, they somehow caused the problem – but I was asking them to fix it in the middle of the night.


The upshot?

It is fixed – for now.

I ran a sale without checking first (the last time I looked it was fine – really, I didn’t just not look at it for a year!).

I found out by accident that, yes, bad things can happen even if you don’t make any changes to your input files (so I should probably go fix that comma).

Someone may help you by catching a problem – and telling you about it – in which case, thank your lucky stars.

But I should have checked. I SHOULD HAVE CHECKED.

My apologies if you were affected – and hopes you will give me a second chance.


***** Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale wherever ebooks are available at 0.99 (equivalent in your local currency) until the end of New Year’s Day 2017.*****

Books make great last minute presents – an email from Amazon will announce the gift.

To purchase a Kindle book as a gift (from Amazon help):
  1. From the Kindle Store, select the book you want to purchase as a gift. …
  2. On the product detail page, click the Give as a Gift button.
  3. Enter the personal email address of your gift recipient. …
  4. Enter a delivery date and an optional gift message.

The best ‘thank you’ and encouragement you can offer a blogger is to buy their book(s), especially when they do not have a Donate button.

And nobody says you have to READ them (though I hope you would).


Please comment and share your horror stories – I feel like an idiot right now, and it would be nice to have company!

Give a friend a book for Christmas

easy-xmas

LET’S SEND 2016 OUT IN STYLE

If you’ve always wanted to try Pride’s Children – now is the time.

If you’ve read Kary’s story, and wanted to recommend it – now is the time.

If you want to give it to a friend – now is the time.

If you’ve hesitated because it’s long, and you’re not sure, and it seemed too big a commitment – now is the time.

The latest reviews have been amazing

Sam Umek said,

The characters feel like real people that you meet everyday

…One reviewer complained about the length, but I found it too short. I am used to reading BIG books. Alicia has written a book that is spellbinding and you don’t want the story to end.

Pat Patterson, a self-identified ‘simple man, a Southern redneck,’ said,

This book was a feast, and I am quietly stepping into the line for the next one

…Kary is CLEARLY a hero, by any criteria you want to apply apart from armed combat, and she is the center of the book.

…I found myself turning page after page, and DEVOURING the words, licking my lips figuratively at how delicious they were, and thinking: SHE CAN’T KEEP THIS UP! There is no way she can continue to let me walk around and see and hear and feel what the characters are experiencing; except she did.

Indie freedom means I can do this when and if I want to

One of the big advantages to being a self-published author is that I can turn on a dime.

If I wake up one morning, check my sales and ads, and don’t think my marketing plan is working well for this book, I can change it – or I can ditch the whole thing RIGHT THIS MINUTE and do something else.

This means that the marketing – an entirely separate skill from writing – is a work in progress.

I don’t want to think about it too much for the rest of this – interesting? – year.

But if the price I chose for the ebook doesn’t work for some readers who might otherwise enjoy Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, I can find that out by playing around with the price point.

A Top Reviewer, I am told, said that Pride’s Children was the best 0.99 novel she’d ever read.

What do I want?

New authors want readers. And the beginning of word-of-mouth recommendations.

Of course we want fame and fortune, but realize that may take a while – and more books published.

We want readers waiting for the next book with bated breath.

We love reviews and sales and publicity and…

But most of all, we want to be read.

Because that encourages us to write more.

I’ve tried many things both ways: with positive reinforcement or with stubbornness. I’m sufficiently persistent to keep writing, with no regard for the outside world, but the encouraged way is far easier. I don’t like taking good time to write myself back into writing fiction; with my CFS brain, this happens far too often.

I want your most precious gift: your time. And I want you to feel it was well spent.

Comments make me happy.


Thanks to Stencil for holiday images and the ability to make quick images that look professional, to illustrate posts. If I needed more than a few images a month, I’d get the paid version in a flash.

Especially thanks to those who have written reviews since Pride’s Children came out – I am reliably informed it is doing quite well in that department (27 reviews, 24 of them positive!)

How to live with other people and still stay sane

not-entitledTHANKSGIVING IS A SEASON, NOT A DAY

Every day I suffer silently through a ton of tiny insults:

my special cleaning tool left out instead of put in its place,
ice cubes used and not replaced,
a mess in the sink,
a surface which I cleared and cleaned mysteriously being full of ‘stuff’ again,

The list is endless. I wouldn’t, I don’t do those things to other people, and yet they do them to me.

And, like my Mother, who one day realized – and told me – that my Father leaving the cap off the toothpaste yet once more meant that he was still alive and with her, I know, and savor, this as the very small price of having other people in my life.

And I’m tearfully grateful.

The upstairs bathroom is once again clean all the time, and the carpeting vacuumed in the attic bedroom, and the bed made – and I miss our last chick every day, because it can only be that way when there is no one living in that space.

When I am no longer cleaning bits of hay out of random places in the house where our chinchilla Gizzy is allowed to roam for a bit of time in the evenings (she likes to run, and loves stairs), for whatever reason she won’t be with me any more.

I don’t know what it is they find especially annoying about me. The husband is a saint and actually looks confused when I ask him. The children have learned mom is opinionated and has relatively little trouble expressing herself, nicely, of course. The chinchilla, well, I provide food and special treats, and she consents to occasionally giving me her paw on command.

Those tiny insults? Bring them on. Writing them down? It’s one of the ways I store the memories.

And the ice cubes? At least there are still ways I can serve.


Thanks for the ability to make images, Stencil!