Author Archives: Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

About Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

I write. And I blog. And I love every minute of it. Some day I will be known by the single name - Liebja (lee-ebb-jah), which, as far as I know, I invented when I was 14. A long time ago. My debut novel is now available on Amazon - Pride's Children: PURGATORY. First of a mainstream love story trilogy.

The writer comes from somewhere

Ernest and Pepita Butcher

THE BEST START ON LIFE YOU COULD GET

Life has been biting at my ankles this year, and I’m almost at the point of telling you you can have 2017. I don’t want it.

Mother, 94, has gone to Heaven to be with Daddy, who died three years ago at 91. We  imagine them dancing together again. We all thought they would be here forever, even if diminished from their prime of being one of the most vital and alive couples we ever knew.

My sisters and I, growing up in Mexico City, agreed many times that they were the best parents we knew, and we wouldn’t trade them for anybody else’s parents.

So many stories we can tell, and will remind each other of, but I’m sure everyone has their own family stories, and I can’t do them justice. But they SHOWED us what love is.

And we hope we are passing it on.

Advertisements

Writers have only so many hours

Desktop with coffee and office supplies. Text: The longer the to do list, the less efficiently I handle it. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

OF 24 HOURS IN A DAY, 2 OR 3 OF THEM ARE GOOD

I mourn the loss of reading material online, which is hypocritical of me, as I’m also NOT producing any of it myself on a regular basis. Blog post reading material, that is.

With me, having two main tasks on the plate is a stretch. Right now I have several – and the blogging has suffered.

I apologize for the self-centered post to follow, but it may explain the hiatus a bit.

The A1 task has become ‘finding a place to live.’

I am vetting Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in California, with a few in NJ and PA for comparison.

I had hoped we’d be out of here by now, resting after our labors in a new community, preferably in California (land of better weather and my birth), with the time-consuming search behind us, and nothing more challenging, apart from my fiction, than using the new pool and gym and having dinner with other compatible residents.

The problem: it is a ‘forever home,’ and will require quite a lot of our money over the coming years, and, even though we could change once we got there if we didn’t like the one we picked, we’d be older, possibly frailer, and it would be a physical and financial challenge.

So, pick well – and give the community the rest of your life.

So, picking well is crucial. And hard.

The A2 task has become ‘get rid of this house.’

The reason we’re moving, and not aging in place, is that THIS house and yard and my lovely perennial garden consumes way too much of our energy, and our social life is diminishing to the vanishing point as OTHER people leave. And the common-in-this-day: our children do not live near us or each other, and that won’t change.

My mother, in Mexico City, is lovingly taken care of by a rotating staff of three aides – supervised by my whole family. I can’t expect that – no extended family here. I hope we get the kids to supervise when we’re older, but it will be remotely most of the time. We had our children very late as we established OUR careers, and they are barely getting started in many ways – one of the unforseen consequences of me listening to all the people who said you could wait. Plus I never expected to be sick. 28 years this November.

We are being responsible with time, money, and our wishes, and setting ourselves up now, BEFORE the crisis that usually precipitates moving (often then into Assisted Living or a Nursing Home) for older adults.

We also plan to enjoy the freer lifestyle – there is no point to having a suburban house unless you have a lot of family or friends there frequently. One of my ambitions is the ability to travel – because the grass is not our problem, nor the drains, nor freezing pipes… You get the picture.

Many of my generation are starting to see the benefits, and doing the same thing: move while you can enjoy the Independent Living part of the new place, be already situated in a place you chose when you need more care.

So: DEJUNK the place, fix it up, sell it – find new place, move in, fix it up a bit. Unfortunately, for someone like me, this is the same as a To Do list item: climb Everest.

The A3 task is: finish my dad’s last tax return

And do Mother’s for the last couple of years.

I finally got one step further on this task.

A bit of background: as the only child in the States, it has always been my duty to take care of such things as my parents needed. They were both American, and lived in Mexico. And my Daddy was, if not secretive, definitely of the older generation, which kept things close to their chests – especially finances – because it was nobody’s business but theirs. Daddy always paid whatever taxes he owed to the USA as an expat. He was a WWII veteran, and an honest man. I miss him a lot. I don’t get there to see Mother nearly enough – and it is a hugely exhausting trip for me.

That wasn’t a problem, but the orderly transition of information was never made, and a bunch of things had to be regenerated or reconstructed after Daddy died, and the IRS made this rather difficult because there were pieces I had to justify acquiring.

Needless to go into detail, but I now have the information I need to file those tax returns, which means that job goes to the head of the queue, as it has been several years. It wasn’t CRITICAL, because there will be no taxes OWED (fines are based on unpaid taxes), but I really don’t want to have to carry that paperwork with me as we move, and risk both losing it, and having the whole filing be postponed MUCH longer.

The A4 task is: writing Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD (formerly A1).

This is the real reason for fewer posts: the writing is happening when I have the brain and the energy, and I’m much farther along than before. Book over blog posts.

On bad days, if I can write at all, the text seems leaden and ungraceful, but I plow ahead, and have been pleasantly surprised to find that the graceless prose requires far less work to bring it up to my standards than I expected: being tired and low while writing doesn’t get in the way of the fact that the PROCESS I use is solid.

Though, as I stated in a comment recently on FB, no one in their right mind would use my process.

But it WORKS for me, still allows me to put together this vast story by creating tiny individual mosaic tiles to cement into the solid overall framework with some tweaking but no loss. I marvel at this. It’s taken twenty years+ of writing to get to this point, of knowing exactly what to do (except for the art part – that comes from no conscious process I can see or summon): gather everything I have decided must go in a scene, and the process plus subconscious turns it into a short story.

Because that’s how I see every scene: a short story, as complete in itself as I can make it (without the redundancy of creating the world anew each time).

The A4′ task is: marketing Pride’s Children: PURGATORY (formerly A2).

With only one of me, and so much effort in the marketing department being unfruitful (you have no idea how much time I’ve spent on Amazon ads this year, but it was a huge commitment which hasn’t panned out, but may, one of these days), and that me being so low energy, it is currently stalled.

And likely to be ignored a lot, while at the same time I mourn having no sales or borrow except the occasional one I generate at great effort by hand. I’m mourning a lot of things right now – what’s one more?

But this one is actually a drain on the spirit, even though I hope the publication of more works will be the promised kick to sales of Book 1. This is practically an indie promise: write more books, and you will do better.

Which begs entirely the question: nothing will happen without marketing, and marketing two or three is more work.

The rest of the list: singing, a bit of socializing, life.

Less of all that every day – my folk group singing is yielding to the reality that I’ve been in this group for years, if not decades, and every single one of us is that much older – and now finding it hard to drive at night. In its current form, its days are numbered. We’re singing along, waiting for the old dear to have one of those crises I wrote about above.

I thought I had lost my choir singing on Sundays; after the stents, the meds gave me anxiety and panic attacks of major proportions, and I’ve written about the Post-Traumatic Stress created, but most of that seems under control since I am NOT on the meds (and I’m doing my cardiac rehab in the basement, thanks for asking, three times a week). I’m actually better at climbing the stairs to the crypt of the Princeton chapel where we practice (NOTE: shortness of breath IS a sign of possible artery blockage – you aren’t getting enough oxygen!). Now I’m worried about the voice part, which I always knew would happen some day, but it may get a bit better, at least until we leave, if the STRESS level drops. Singing is largely breath support, and stress makes that harder.

And the socializing, when it happens, really wipes me out – but is psychologically necessary. I look forward to it being less stressful in the CCRC, or why move? And I will be missing all my friends, which won’t help. I’ve asked to go to the annual folk-singing picnic by Skype.

That’s the update.

There sure has been a lot of adrenaline – which I handle badly – attached to these events and their outcomes, and the ability to cope, which involves being able to really rest for at least a half hour out of every three, has been severely compromised (and I have no idea how it will go when we visit 5-8 CCRCs in California in the 10-day or so trip I still have to plan).

But I am hopeful.

And I am WRITING many more days than not.

And I am making PROGRESS on NETHERWORLD, which is REALLY the A1.

Peace to all of you. How are you?

For your trouble, here is an epigraph from Chapter 22:


The heart does not rest
For at battle with itself
It can never win.

Tahiro Mizuki,
trans. by R. Heath


My appreciation, again, to Stencil for allowing me to produce the graphics which head many of my posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The delicate sensibilities of a writer

THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA

I’m sitting at my computer feeling sorry for myself, and I get a sign from God: a hair is annoying me by touching my wrist.

I look down, don’t see it.

But I feel it, and I know it’s there, so I reach down anyway, and pull that thin white invisible hair up with a ‘Gotcha!’ feeling – and I know what He’s trying to tell me today, just this minute, just for now: if you can feel a single hair on your wrist, and KNOW it’s there, you have the sensitivity you need to write.

It has been a tough time. The Amazon ads don’t work – I have not yet figured out properly how to attract the people who click on my ads to continue on to buying, followed, it is hope, by reading, and then by whatever post-reading effort a reader might make: review, recommend, …

Winter is coming.

The days are significantly shorter, and today is the Fall Equinox.

One more time, I have not used the summer well, and now it’s over.

I think the hummingbirds are gone – I haven’t seen one at the feeder in days. I wish them well, on their long and unbelievable journey to Central America. If I manage to move, as we hoped to, I won’t be here to see them next year – I will ask the next owners to put up the feeder. Maybe they will.

Or maybe they will decide that all these perennial flowers – the bee balm for the hummers, the black-eyed Susans, the butterfly bush, the lilies – are too much trouble to weed, and they will replace them with lawn.

If we are still here next spring, when things need weeding and pruning again, I will have failed – but the urgency isn’t making anything faster.

New beginnings.

I just want to be in a different place for the next thirty years, if God grants me that many. A place with other people around – we have become very isolated, and it’s not going to get better.

The cul-de-sac at the end of the street needs new children on tricycles.

I can clean the windows, with assistance, one more time, but it is getting to be an almost impossible task.

It hasn’t been a good year, what with fires in the West, hurricanes in the Southeast, and earthquakes in Mexico. And genocide in Myanmar. And stents in my arteries.

Will California really be better? I remind myself the Big One hasn’t hit yet. I’m scared of moving, but more scared of staying.

The real reason?

It’s too hard to write when I keep getting interrupted by things I can’t do well needing to be done, and I’m hoping that will be minimized when I no longer feel responsible for a house. And I have a narrow window here to make use of a gym and a pool to improve what capabilities I can, and I want to do that before it’s too late.

So I can write.

I’ve missed my 40s, 50s, and almost all of my 60s due to disability; I think living in a place where someone else is responsible for almost everything has the potential to be better.

I want to be selfish.

Does this resonate? Time passing and opportunities drying up before you get to use them?

 

Fiction: the SECOND-BEST path to empathy

DIRECT EXPERIENCE BEST PATH TO EMPATHY?

En carne propia‘ – ‘in your own flesh’ – is always the best way, subject to the limitation that reflection is necessary to develop empathy, and a certain amount of facility with the concept of sharing something emotional with another human being, which is not necessarily evident in all cases of shared experience.

Having cancer does not confer automatic empathy with other victims of the disease.

And direct experience also has the flaw of actually being divisive if the two people with the same experience have reacted very differently, and they put that down to some inherent quality in themselves. This results in the ‘I got cancer, and I did X, and now I’m far better than those lazy sods who won’t make the effort to do X…’ phenomenon.

Because direct experience doesn’t include another person.

You’d think it would make people empathetic, or at least sympathetic toward the others in similar circumstances, but no.

Fiction is a largely underused way to deliberately develop empathy

The fiction-based trick is that you can be pulled into experiencing what another person – a character in a book – experiences, IF there is enough information in the writing.

On August 22, 2017, I had a guest post on Big Al’s Books and Pals, and I posted the link to that article here. The title Al chose out of the ones I supplied as suggestions was ‘Want to be someone else? Read fiction.’ Which is true, but didn’t mention empathy. My bad – I should have chosen my own title.

I had a couple of interesting conversations there with readers of the blog who commented, and that was the extent of the feedback.

I’m reproducing the whole post here:


Fiction is uniquely positioned to develop and increase empathy, because it provides a way around and under and through the barriers most people put up around their hearts and minds.

Humans think in stories. Why? Because we spend our lives learning the rules that ensure our survival.

Our brains are wired to learn in two ways: first, by direct personal experience – a hard way to learn some rules. Our feelings then cement the lessons, make them unforgettable.

And second, by empathy – acquiring knowledge through the experience of others.

For this, reading fiction is the best way to learn. The rub is the experience has to feel real for it to serve that purpose, exactly as if it happened to us. And the way we do that is through our emotions, which are engaged when the experience is ours.

Fiction is better than facts: facts have no emotional component to make them stick. We store them away, hope to remember them when we need them. Going on a hike across the desert? Bring water. Check.

Fiction is better than non-fiction: reports of the experience, say, of crossing the Antarctic in the middle of winter, are both entertaining and raise in us sympathy for the sufferings of the explorers. Poor guys!

And reading fiction is much better than video input for one simple reason: we can’t pretend video is happening to us when it is so clearly happening to someone else. Sympathy, not empathy.

And that’s the key: reading fiction is the best way we have to feel the emotions created by experiencing something as directly as possible without it happening to us. Because, as we read, we have to put in the effort to create, out of black marks on a page, the actual experience in our minds.

Listening to stories works almost as well, but requires a storyteller, and the emotional component is affected by that teller.

Reading is just you and the book.

Oh, and the author.

Most fiction invokes the sympathetic response in the reader – the entertainment value hooks the reader, and we’re off on an adventure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, because we need entertainment to relax after our own lives, however crazy or calm. Lots of entertainment.

But the best fiction aims deeper: to ‘grab the jugular.’ To ‘feel like a punch in the gut.’ Or the dreaded, to make you think. Which is really to make you experience, to fully engage your empathy, to make you feel as if it happened to you. To teach you. To change you.

Here is where another of the rules of life comes into play: humans hate being preached to. The preaching is an overt attempt to change the reader or the listener, via logic backed up with emotion. Usually negative emotion, fear: you are bad, you will go to hell, you must change! You are bad, you will destroy the Earth, you must change! If you touch the stove, you will get burned, don’t!

So the author without the moral authority of the preacher or the physical authority of the dictator has to be sneaky. Covert. Tease and wheedle rather than command. Better still: make you complicit in your own change. Make you want to change.

And how does the author do that? By pulling you in with superior entertainment value (remember, we need lots of stories) up front, and by layering the experience which creates the empathy for the new experience under that. Great stories, story moral picked up by the reader from being the character, having the story happen directly to him.

We then come full circle to Show, Don’t Tell. Show the character having the divorce or being attacked by terrorists or marrying the prince. If you have your parameters right, if you’re telling the story the right way, the reader has identified with the character, and the reader is getting divorced. The reader has to escape the terrorists to save the President. The reader walking down the aisle just realized the rest of her life is proscribed by royal protocol.

The author’s power is very real.

Authors don’t always use this power to its fullest, because there is a final step: choosing the purpose of the empathy, choosing the change for a higher aim: the good of humanity.

Sounds horribly preachy, doesn’t it?

What prompted this post is that I don’t like a recent way this power is being used, to push an agenda which makes me sick to my stomach: the proposal, supported by carefully crafted stories, that people who are defective/handicapped/ill should remove themselves from the world because they are a burden to other people, and that this frees the other people to go on to something better.

Disabled people already face an uphill battle in many areas of their lives. Having society go back to an earlier model of disability which says that ‘they’ are a burden to other people, and therefore don’t have the right to the same hopes and aspirations as the ‘normals,’ is a huge step backward. To encourage them to consider removing themselves is a further abuse against their rights to live and to love.

As an author of fiction, I have the following tools:
I know how to create sympathy and empathy.
I know how to appeal to men and women.
I know how to entertain.
I know how to bury something deep in the fabric of a story.
I know how to make you identify with a character.
I know how to create situations that test the limits of character and privilege.
I know how to manipulate your emotions.
And I know that ‘disability porn’ – using disabled people to be ‘inspirational’ – is roundly despised by disabled people everywhere.

By picking the right story to tell, I believe I can make you buy my premise that disability is not the end of life as you know it.

Now that I’ve revealed many of my secrets, you still have to decide whether you’re going to let me try. And then decide if I know what the heck I’m talking about.


Why repost my own post?

Because I don’t think readers of the original blog, which sends out daily emails with reviews of indie books, are used to posts that are not a review, and I’m hoping the ideas will resonate with readers of this blog.

 

Physical or Mental: Why it Matters

It being Labor Day – and so many of us ME/CFS people remembering how much we used to be able to work, this post seemed especially relevant. Treating a physical illness as mental is bad for two reasons: the physical illness doesn’t get researched, and solved; and the real mental illnesses don’t either.

And my perennial: follow the money. Whose interest is it to keep ME/CFS classified as mental? Those who (mis)treat mental illnesses and have invested their professional careers in it.

The Self-Taught Author

This is the second in a three part series of articles looking at related issues. The first article can be found here, and explores Dr Sykes’ reply to the ME Association regarding the Science Media Centre’s recently coverage of new biological evidence in ME/CFS.

This article is going to explore the broader topic of why it matters whether the disease is considered physical or psychological.

Dr Sykes believes that, “Any organisation serious about CFS/ME should not care whether the causes of and treatments for an illness are physical, psychological, or a combination of the two.”

What an extraordinary statement. I would have to argue the opposite: Any organization serious about ME/CFS absolutely must care.

An example outside of ME/CFS

In 1980 the claim was still being made that incest occurred in fewer than one in a million women, and that its impact was not particularly damaging. (Bessel Van der…

View original post 1,405 more words

Come into my parlor says the writer to the fly

LET ME SHARE WITH YOU, DEAR FLY

Let me show you around.

Let me show off the carefully constructed room I have created for myself, and I want you to see.

Constructing the tough scenes

I have spent over two weeks crafting the scene I just finished.

I have known for almost all of this century what would happen here: this scene has ONE main job.

It is a pivotal scene: without this one scene, the second book of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, comes to a screeching halt.

The way I write, though, that is not unusual.

Perennial preparation

Outside my window a pair of goldfinches is systematically eating every single seed on the drying heads of the coneflowers planted just, it seems, for them and for this purpose. I never see them at other times of year – the little yellow and black birds, tiny compared to the big fat robins that eat the worms, tinier still compared to the crows and pigeons, and microscopic compared to the hawk that lives around here somewher (in themiddle of suburban NJ!), but bigger than the hummingbirds whose feeder I need to replenish today.

But for the goldfinches to have this feast, a whole host of details must have gone perfectly: the perennial plants were introduced years ago, the weeds have been removed (now by my assistant, as I can’t do much of that any more), the fertilizer was applied, and, most importantly, I have kept that same assistant from removing the drying seedheads of this year’s crop as garden debris. Yes, it would look a lot tidier, but the whole point of the garden was hummingbirds and butterflies – and the other wildlife that eats the various seeds and drinks the different flower nectars.

It is still a surprise to the writer

Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m an extreme plotter. Hundreds or thousands of pieces have pre-planned scenes (yes, there is a bit of give – I’m not a psychic) where they will ‘happen.’

This particular scene had the regular mix of other bits attached – some pieces are identifiable as recommended by Save the Cat, Blake Snyder’s books for screenwriters, and others come straight from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction.

I have known about the details for the past two years.

But the details as executed, oh!

And it was still very hard work – three weeks of it – to turn this collection of plot points and character bits, events and revelations, new leads and old connections – into something that I felt would take me there, and be so real I couldn’t imagine changing any of it (now – the weeks have been nothing BUT changing the HOW).

So I can take a reader there with me, invite that reader into this scene, one of the rooms on this long house tour of mine, and have the reader feel at home and comfy in the plush padded armchair whose footstool has a hand-embroidered tapestry cover.

It is finished now

And it is real, and reliably causes my brain to load the experience.

So it’s ready to eventually share. Here’s a taste:

Andrew snippet

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. What? Where? Why? I promise it all connects.

I’m on to the next.

And the goldfinches have gorged themselves for now.

 

 

Character motivation fail last ditch solution

SOMETIMES, LOOK AT THINGS BACKWARD

I’m STILL a new author. Millions of words written over more than twenty years, but only one novel published.

It’s always something

And I’m surprised to land in a situation I haven’t had to write before? Gimme a break! There a huge numbers of situations I haven’t landed characters in and had to write them out of yet.

Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself. After the headache from pounding my head against the wall goes away, of course.

Book 2 of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, has been giving me writing problems since the minute I got started on it – that should have been a clue.

There is no point in writing scenes and circumstances similar to the ones in PURGATORY, because I’m finished with PURGATORY. I know – have always known – that NETHERWORLD has to kick everything up to a new level, or I’m just going through the motions to finish a story I could be bored with.

How is the second novel in a trilogy different?

Only I’m not. I have a whole new set of story pieces that need exploring. Plotting with Dramatica does this. And writing with it has been described as going through a four-story house, thoroughly exploring every room on each floor before going up the stairs to the next floor. Everything on the second floor is new. Sitting on top of the first story, but not requiring me to go back down to the first-floor rooms, because they’re already done.

What I have to do, instead, is listen to the gut feeling that tells me I’m NOT writing something the way I want to (I know when it’s right; this scene isn’t).

And yet the process is complete. I know how to gather all the pieces of a scene, how to get it (or something like the final version of ‘it’) started, how to organize the flow, how to end a scene with a line that leaves a question.

Notes from the current Production file:

I have one per scene; that’s where I work all this stuff out because the inside of my head is not usable workspace for complicated stuff – I lose too much.

All this agonizing really means is there’s work to be done. So do it.

Other writers have written outlandish things – there are solutions. Only I will have to figure out my own.

And in all those years of stuffing my head with reading material, I must have absorbed something useful. Making the effort will bring up any pieces I can’t find in my writing books. It’s just work.

The Production file notes (pieces removed, so as not to give plot away at this stage, marked by ellipses):

Nope, there’s still a motivation problem. We know why Z is unhappy – Y is being a stinker about the …. We know why Z pushes X and wants W there.
But we don’t really see why X ultimately agrees to assist.
X is stuck – things are NOT moving forward.
X thinks W might be able to help.
W can say no, and X will be off the hook.
But X is the one who has to write a letter to go with the … Z is sending.

X has an ethical dilemma.

Turn it INTO an ethical dilemma

Let’s look at it from the other side: X DOESN’T write the letter. X argues with X to attempt to see what’s bothering X. X figures it out: sort of screwed either way.

Then X looks at consequences further down the line – and doesn’t like them.

Work OUT the ethical dilemma

Production files again:

Then Z goes ahead with his plan (and Z’s now pissed at X); W comes or doesn’t.
If W comes, W will wonder what the hell, and why didn’t W even get a whiff of warning from X.
If W doesn’t come, does W interpret it as X being protective? Or as X not warning W – for X’s own selfish reasons?

Ethical dilemmas in real life

I need to remember that in real life, if the answer is clear, an ethical dilemma doesn’t exist or is trivial, and it is BORING.

And that readers pay to see someone other than themselves grapple with consequences as a way to see a different possible solution.

I’ll work it out. Soon, I hope. So I can write it – and go on to the next one.

 

 

 

Queen of the Ninja Storage Vaults

IT’S THERE; RIGHT WHERE I TOLD YOU

Yes! With fist pump!

Today I found the solder. Let me tell you the story.

I am famous in my family, and even now that the kids have left home, my powers are intact.

IF nobody moved them (that is a fairly important part), I can tell you where an awful lot of things in this house are stored. (It’s also on a card in my storage card file, but nobody other than me looks there.)

I have had that power since before the children were born, but it was just a normal skill, and didn’t develop into a super-power until they were old enough to send on hunting expeditions to the basement (and other places, but the basement is notorious).

The object of my command

was, of course, to retrieve an item I needed (rarely one someone else needed, but it did happen) from the basement storage area WITHOUT me, the maternal parent, having to go down to the basement.

This is the object of the hunting expedition most mothers send most children on.

My mother used to catch me unawares and start her command with, “You’re younger than I am…,” something rather hard to dispute. So I learned from the best (she managed five daughters, a cook, a laundress, a gardener, and a maid or two, with aplomb, but these minions had regular hours, and these orders usually happened after those). Then she would send me upstairs if we were down, and vice versa.

So I would send the Ehrhardtlets down to the basement with very precise instructions describing the appropriate shelf, drawer, or box, and request the item I didn’t want to go up and down two flights of stairs to acquire.

The results of my command

“I can’t find it.”

Or worse: “It’s not there.”

Sigh.

Followed, if I really needed said item, by the traipsing down to the basement (or occasionally up to my office) with said offspring in tow.

And, usually, the highly satisfactory discovery of the item in question EXACTLY WHERE I SAID IT WAS.

Followed immediately by being accused of having ninjas which had quickly put it there, because it wasn’t there when they went down (or up – usually for my good scissors) to look.

Uh huh.

Not just the kids

“I’m going to the hardware store for some solder.”

“We have solder. Did you look in the solder box?”

“There’s no solder in the solder box.”

“Are you sure?” (I’m up three half-flights of stairs.)

“Can’t find it.”

“I’ll be right down; I’m pretty sure we put some away just the other day. You didn’t use all of it, did you?”

“No.”

I go down to the basement. I look to see – having some vague memory of using the labeling tool – whether I put the solder in a different plastic shoebox (and labeled it – because that’s what I do). I look – after asking him – in the boxes where we carefully placed all the parts of the current job that took over the workbench. Nope.

Frustrated, I go back to checking the solder shoebox for the third time.

And there it is! The solder is in the donut-shaped white plastic container, with a loose piece coiled up in the hole. It’s in the box clearly labeled ‘soldering supplies.’ I hand it to the husband, get an incredulous look back.

He has more sense than to mention ninjas, so I, having just located the solder where I said it was, IN ITS PLACE (even though even I couldn’t SEE it), mention them.

We laugh.

And I remain the Queen of the Ninja Storage Vaults.


PS Occasionally it was on the next shelf.

PPS This was used as an occasion of glee.

PPPS I am rarely wrong.

 

 

Sale honors Guest Post, new Reviews

ALWAYS CELEBRATE MILESTONES

Big day for Pride’s Children! And, to mark the it (and surviving the eclipse), Pride’s Children is $2.99.

A Guest Post on Big Al’s Books and Pals

where I remind readers of the power of fiction:

“Fiction is uniquely positioned to develop and increase empathy, because it provides a way around and under and through the barriers most people put up around their hearts and minds.”

“Reading is just you and the book.”

“Oh, and the author.”

And I give away some of the writer’s secret tricks.

Al gave me space to write about how reading fiction is SPECIAL. Read the post here.

A lovely new review on Amazon

From a reader who took time when she didn’t have it:

“It truly is in the vein of old-school bestsellers; expansive story, larger-than-life characters, and a realistically detailed, interesting world.”

“Once I settled in to the story I was right there with Kary and Andrew. The pace is deliberate, but I was never bored, and in fact, often found myself reading longer than I’d intended. If I’d had the time, I might have read it in one sitting.”

The rest of the review is here.

From Bill Peschel, a book blogger with wide-ranging reading habits

A few tasty bits from an extensive review (I urge you to read the original):

“It deals with the reality of managing an illness that saps your energy and doesn’t leave visible marks, a rising star dealing with the risks of fame on his ability to trust and love, and the morality of his ambitious co-star who trades on her beauty to move up the Hollywood ladder.”

“Kary Ashe does not fit the model of a typical romance heroine…. Like most good writers, she is self-involved, self-protective, but also observant and hard-working.”

““Pride’s Children: Purgatory” reminded me of “Notting Hill,” particularly the problems a private person has moving into a star’s very hot and public orbit. But the resemblance ends there. This is the first book of the trilogy, so the story doesn’t end with the happy couple clenching and wedding bells chiming. That may be too long to wait for some readers, but I don’t mind. I loved submersing myself in Kary and Andrew’s worlds, and look forward to meeting them again.”

Read Bill’s complete review here.


The sale will go on as long as I still feel a bit giddy. Feedback makes me giddy (hint, hint).

Structure and me we’re old buddies

STRUCTURE – FREEING, NOT CONFINING

Doing my visits to my favorite blogs, I ran into a new post on Maverick Writer (recommended because has such novel ways of looking at writing) about a writer for whom the hallowed three-act structure, re-examined, provided new insight.

Catana writes in a number of fantasy sub-genres, and we’ve had some interesting conversations about many topics, but I didn’t realize until this post that she’s a dyed-in-the-wool pantser (at least I think she is, from the posts and her comments).

I always find it fascinating when someone tackles long-held beliefs and finds something usable in the opposite to what they’ve assumed, whether they change or just incorporate some of the ideas, because writers, especially older writers like me, NEED to do that and remain flexible and open to ideas.

I, myself, can pants for as long as maybe ten or twenty pages (which need revision). I have to work hard sometimes to bring my own posts into some kind of logical format before I send them out into the void, some days more successfully unified than on others.

Structure is how I manage to write

For me, with the brain fog and the CFS, who can’t remember from one day to the next sometimes what she had for breakfast, structure is critical.

I don’t have to create a soaring 150 floor building all at once – I can set up the structure, and decorate one apartment at a time. On bad days, I can decorate one room in the apartment. And on really bad days, I can paint the cabinet door in one room.

I’m very aware other writers can hold their entire book in their head. I might have been able to do that now had I not gotten sick, but that ship has sailed (I routinely carried an awful lot of subroutines in my head when I programmed, and their connections, so it’s not too farfetched).

But I can’t. And, to tell the truth, it’s an awful lot of stuff to carry around.

The three-act structure, revisited

She’s giving it a chance. I hope she finds some useful pieces, as the desired result is always a story that hangs together.

I was going to comment, and it got too long, so:

As for me, extreme plotter that I am

I live and breathe structure, because it FREES me from the plot after I set it up. Then I can concentrate on characters, and themes, and just the right amount of scenery, and language…

Today I was working on a scene which is pivotal to Book 2, even more than many. I started from scratch – the old rough draft is hilarious. But I knew why this scene needed to be here, and what would happen if it were not (the story comes to an abrupt halt). I knew who was probably in the scene – and it didn’t change the structure to make a few small changes there. The scene had no preferred physical location, as long as its aim was accomplished (and it is in Uttar Pradesh, India), so I had the fun of brainstorming – and came up with something I never would have thought of before that I think will give it a great punch.

When I got to my question on foreshadowing (every scene gets asked that question), I saw oooh! a perfect opportunity. In it went – because I know the foreshadowed event will be happening, and this will make it not seem to come out of nowhere. Moving an interaction from a later scene into this one – because the structure allows it – lets me add some conflict which actually affects the aim in a usable way.

Etc.

Getting the whole to hang together

Otherwise, each one of the ideas that come to me while writing could be a dead end, and waste hours and pages, and mire me in mud.

I hate throwing away usable words, because I work hard now while writing the words to make them be good from the beginning. I toss lots of stuff – but compare it to the structure as I decide to toss (or move it elsewhere – after all, my brain gave me those words for a reason).

I think this one will be fine with around two beats, and the material is starting to organize itself into two piles that ‘go together’. Beats are my in-scene structure. Each scene needs a first and last line – which connect the scene to the chapter and the book. Within the scene I need (as per The Fire in Fiction) an outer and an inner turning point so the scene is coherent as a whole.

Anyway (nobody ever asks about structure, and you didn’t really ask, but I love it), when I start tomorrow, I will have all the sequins – and the costume cut out, and the assembly may take as little as a day (assuming my brain is on). Works for me.

Like making a collage: first I gather substrate and pieces, then I affix them where they please me, then I hang it where I always intended to.

Reader or writer, what is your gut feeling about books that do – and don’t have structure?


Stencil gets my thanks for making easy graphics possible. Give them a visit.

Check out PC’s reviews on Amazon – just got a sparkly new one!


 

The slow posts of summer 2017

THE SUMMER SLOW DOWN IS ACTUALLY A SPEED UP

This is a stub, a placeholder, a tente-en-pié (keep you on your feet), an appetizer – lagniappe?

Any one of those words that means a quick update and not a thought-out post with a point.

Why? Because when other bloggers stop blogging, I worry a bit.

Don’t want you to worry. There have been no recent crises – Yay!

On the To Do list:

Writing NETHERWORLD. Yup. Main A1 priority that keeps getting a day here, a day there (the least efficient way for me to write). And publishing Too Late.

Finding a permanent place to live – for which I have, up to now, processed more than 110 CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities), most of them in California, to see if we can 1) afford them, and 2) find a community we’ll fit into.

Paperwork for my Dad’s estate, too long on the to do list, but the IRS has made each simple step complicated. I will persevere.

Getting healthier. Here I would like to report slightly better walking capacity (after days and days and days of lower back strengthening exercises), and continued cardiac rehab (though I haven’t been able to increase it much since I started, I’m now into my fifth month, which is some kind of record).

Dejunking the house prior to getting it on the market. This means the Christmas tree came down this week. You may applaud.

I think that’s the major ones.

CCRCs in California

The why? It’s drier (humidity and I don’t get along), and the places we’re looking at have better weather. I have been warned – not all places in California have ideal weather. The spouse put me onto the idea of getting an idea of each city from Wikipedia (who knew each has a page?). If there is a Climate section, the little graphic illustrates temperatures, rainfall, and sometimes humidity for a year – which is exactly what I need to compare, say, Sta. Barbara and Bakersfield (nice, not so nice).

I now have had hour-long conversations with about 21 salespeople (the shorter list), along with getting electronic and snail mailed information, and followups. I learned a lot.

The basic information on the websites seems to be 1) we have apartments and/or cottages, and 2) we are the best CCRC in California. So there’s some hype.

Considering that one of the major decision factors is cost, you’d think they’d be a bit more up-front, but if there is information at all, it is usually, ‘from (quotes entrance fee for tiniest unit and monthly fee for one person in it.’

Not very useful or realistic, and I hate to hang up the minute someone tells me the actual numbers (which implies I couldn’t go). The reality is that we have some choice in the matter, but a place is going to have to be perfect for us to go for the higher costs (and most of the for-profit places in the San Francisco area are simply not an option).

I’m to the point of running numbers past a calculator and guesstimating some scenarios on how long we’ll live (always a fun exercise) and how long we’ll need what kind of expensive assistance to do so.

Dejunking is slow going

Not because I can’t get rid of stuff, but because doing so requires me to give my assistant (who’s been a little erratic due to real problems) permission: ever single item in this house not in my husband’s office is my problem.

And some of it has to be kept around so the house doesn’t look razed when we show it.

My brain will tackle that problem far better when it doesn’t need to do phone calls and financial calculations with its little bit of energy, and we have a very short list of places we would willingly move to tomorrow.

And when the heat and humidity abate a bit, and we can stand to dejunk the garage some more.

It’s amazing how much stuff goes when an assistant takes it to its next owner for you (or makes it disappear). Until you get down to family photos and the CD collection you always meant to put on a hard drive.

Exercise, walking, etc.

Here I have to be extremely careful. We CFS folk can overdo things in an instant – and have to pay for it with days of getting nothing done, and huge amounts of extra rest.

I’m so far over capacity already with all the extra stuff on top of what I had before that all I have to do is go to a meeting with the financial advisor (a short meeting, he said – ’twasn’t) to lose two days.

I’m looking forward to living in a CCRC where the plan will be: write in the morning; get more fit/relax/float in the pool/do a short stint in the gym/walk to dinner, in the evening.

I swear.

Meanwhile I have to keep the spine from insisting on more surgery (so far, so good, and I don’t trust any of the surgeons I’ve seen). This requires daily exercise and stretching. Lots. The stronger the spine gets, what do you know: the easier the walking has become.

But we’re talking micrometers. I know – husband can’t even tell. And it’s made me do things I shouldn’t have done (leaving the walker in the car for something that turns out to be a longer walk than I planned is the #1 problem).

And the perennial: removing a few pounds from the joints would probably help; meanwhile, don’t add any.

Removing all cardiac meds made a huge difference to all of the above – zombies aren’t good at becoming healthier. Doctor doesn’t even want to see me for six months; BP and HR are behaving themselves nicely with meditation and rest and the rehab (I guess – had to tell).

The career as novelist

Taking a bit of a beating right now, but moving.

The biggest other time-eater is learning and running Amazon ads. I find I don’t do well when the sales are way down (depressing) because I’m not hand-selling, and going viral isn’t happening on its own.

Which means advertising. The last email I got (review pending) had ‘Loved it!’ four times in a row, so I do have a tiny tribe, but I have no reach – and everyone else on the planet (with energy) is writing bunches more books and ads.

I’m trying various targeting ideas. If any of them work…

But the very best time I spend, exhausted or not, is when I’m in Bianca’s skin (today) or Andrew’s skin (last week) or being Kary for a while (right before that). And that’s still good, if a little claustrophobic: I have to get awfully close before I can write them.

Drop a line

How’s YOUR summer going?

 

 

 

 

 

Writer education: the first one-star review

Created by Melony Paradise.

Melony Paradise Sure. The laurel wreath is from pixabay so it’s CC0 with no worries of copyright blah blah blah lol. I did grab the stars from Amazon, not sure if that matters… But, feel free to use it however you wish.

AS A WRITER, I DO NOT APPEAL TO EVERYONE!

I am writing this post in solidarity with another writer in one of my writing groups, who is feeling the ouch of the first 1* review.

He/she has received a lot of good advice – from ‘consider the source,’ to ‘what the heck do they know?’ Melony created a badge to be used, because we all told the writer that it is a step every writer has to go through, and it is a badge of honor to go through the process, and that you are NOT a REAL WRITER (TM) until someone has given you a 1* review, especially a nasty one (we’re skipping the little old lady of apocryphal fame who thought she had given the writer a nice Gold Star for her book).

Every writer gets these reviews, and I took notes on mine, intending to let them marinate and simmer a while before doing anything with them, as it isn’t nice to bite reviewers back, and it is considered whopping bad form to do so (for many reasons.) If you wait long enough, and don’t name names, you will accumulate more negative reviews, and you can let off a little steam without identifying anyone.

‘When you publish, you’re going to get negative reviews.’

Notes, April 7, 2015: write your own negative review – to be prepared!

This seems to be blindingly obvious truth. It doesn’t matter what you write, someone somewhere will take exception to something in it, from your title to your name to anything in your content.

I’m wondering whether it isn’t possible to immure yourself and toughen your spirit so that you are prepared to deal with this automatic gotcha, to put up Kevlar walls before you read your first review.

Come on: be creative. You’re a writer. If your imagination isn’t up to this, there are always one-star reviews on Amazon to give you examples.

I would stop short of wishing yourself physical or psychological harm, but that’s just me. You could get creative in that part, too, and find out if you’re selling yourself short, and should be writing thrillers or worse.

There are two main things to attack when writing a negative review about a book: the book – and the author.

I’m limiting this post to the book: if you find yourself wandering off into the part of the internet mentality where you get people whose manners wouldn’t pass muster, and who think that attacking an author for writing something they didn’t like, don’t post the results below (but you may do whatever you want with them otherwise, obviously).

Getting negative reviews written by readers – or non-readers:

Notes: GoodReads reviews, a while back.

Education continues apace here at chez Liebja.

My turn finally came up on a promotional thread at Goodreads (thanks, guys). Three people had enough interest to request a copy for review purposes. They are each supposed to read and then post a review within three weeks.

Two new reviews came in today. [redacted]

I’ve never expected to appeal to everyone – that would be foolish.

That point was illustrated very clearly today, when one review was a 4* review – a Goodreads member’s first review (thank you) which said the story had pulled her in. Thank you!

And the other was a 1* review.

Reacting to a new and different negative review

I’ve had one 2* review before – I was not that reader’s taste. And I was fine with that one, as I am with the new one. I am not to this reader’s taste, either (and no, I’m deliberately not providing a link – if you MUST see it, it’s easy enough to find).

But this one was curiously different. I’m still trying to figure out whether I understand it. Not the review – that’s clear enough. Reader didn’t like it – got it. Not her style. Got it.

But she did what the other one did on a smaller scale, and which I would never do. She made statements about me, rather than the book, and ascribed a status to me based on what I had written.

We call those ad hominem attacks: about the person, not the work.

What is a negative review?

You have to remember that the review is one person’s opinion, and they are entitled to their opinion.

You asked for their opinion. If in their opinion you are a terrible writer and your book is utter trash and needs a lot of work, it’s their opinion. That’s all.

It isn’t truth you need to hew to.

You aren’t going to go out and do penance because you’re so terrible.

It’s just a review.

Go look at popular writers’ bad reviews

Pick an author you really like, one whose books you look forward to and enjoy.

There will be negative reviews. You will disagree with them.

What I consider useful information is that a popular writer isn’t affected by the reviews (too much), and goes on to cash Amazon’s money anyway. Some popular writers have more negative reviews than positive ones!

Your reaction to the 5* author/book

Is “Yeah, right. Must be all from friends and relatives.”

Adjusted reaction to your first 1* review

So go back to work, happy and secure in the knowledge that you have the REAL WRITER’s (TM) credential – at least one negative review, preferably a 1* review – and have survived your Baptism of Fire. (You did survive, didn’t you?)

 

What to do with past insights

HUMMINGBIRD AT FEEDER

HUMMINGBIRD AT FEEDER

I AM WATCHING A HUMMINGBIRD ESCHEW THE FEEDER FOR FLOWERS

This is a photo so old that it’s my previous feeder! There is a birdie out there visiting the flowers (which have stopped blooming – I need to dead-head more of the bee balm) aggressively – and not stopping to cheat for a drink at the feeder I just replenished this morning. Smart bird! Go for the real stuff.

Not a very good picture – taken from my office window, and the birdies wiggle.

The hummingbird moving in my peripheral vision reminds me to stop, blink, breathe, and look further than two feet away at the monitor.

New feature (for me): bits from the past.

I’m starting a new feature with this post: Insights from my Notes.

I have several millions words worth of notes in notebooks and in my Scrivener writing files, and I occasionally read one – and promptly forget its insight again.

Since I seem dry lately on writing about writing – I’m actually in a place where I don’t want to change much of anything, but just to finish the Pride’s Children trilogy before I forget what the heck I’m doing, or go senile (always a possibility) – I haven’t had much to blog about except illness – and some of the insights of that process.

Illness? Three stents in my cardiac arteries

And I have reached such a place that my cardiologist won’t see me again until January – and didn’t even bring up the fact that I have stopped taking ALL the meds they recommended (on pain of immediate death by massive heart attack).

So the battle there is a stalemate. And I am keeping up the cardiac rehab in my basement – and trying to increase the amount of exercise by tiny amounts over the next few months.

And I am deliberately ignoring all chest pains that are not mule kicks, and all sharp pains that come and go, and anything that doesn’t grab me by the neck and insist I do something, because I am literally tired of living on the edge and overthinking this thing. If the big one comes along, and is silent, it will get me anyway.

I have bigger fish to fry.

Today’s insight comes from March 8, 2016 at 9:51 AM

We have a tradition in this country: Flannery O’Connor, Margaret Mitchell, even Harper Lee, of pouring time, love, and everything you have into the slow writing of a novel. This is what I want.

Some shameless self-promotion now goes with the territory.

So be it.

Putting endless time into something does NOT guarantee it will be good. Not putting time into something does not guarantee it won’t be good.
But with my life, this is what I know, this is what I can do.

I could still be ridiculous, off key, have delusions of grandeur that are not justified.
My ego could be massive with no reason.

But I think it is because I actually have something to say, and this – fiction – is the way I can say it.
Others do plenty of advocacy [for CFS] – and I am shamelessly letting them do the work FOR me, since that is not my charism.
Fiction is mine.

I think I have something good going, and I need to spend the time to finish it – without the fear that dogs my steps.

I bid you all a good day – and hummingbirds.

Writing in a niche market is fraught

AND CAN BE VERY HARD ON THE EGO

When feedback is rare, because, as an author, you haven’t ‘taken off’ yet, the individual pieces that come your way can carry far more power than you expect. And do more damage, or, in my case, make you a lot more stubborn.

What is the niche? INDIE NON-GENRE fiction

Classified – or should be – as General Fiction, ‘literary’ only if the quality is up to the standards of readers who specifically choose to read literary fiction (and omnivores).

That quality is subjective, to some extent. There are so many ways for a novel to fail, from poor characterization to too much characterization, from implausible plot to none at all, and from the habit of stopping the story for minute description of details to an overreliance on flowery language.

I amused myself for a while reading the negative reviews of popular literary fiction, until I realized that the authors were doing quite well – and their fans often didn’t bother to leave feedback (how many ways can you say ‘I liked this book’?), but their detractors did, so the ratings tended to be skewed.

These authors long ago learned to ignore the critics, write the next book, and feel confident it would be bought in reasonable numbers.

I have not. Yet.

Stubborn I have been since a small child

I was the kind of ugly duckling people hesitate to pick on. Unkindnesses were not uncommon, but outright bullying requires the consent of the bullied – or their physical inability to resist – to work properly, and that was not me.

I had a family to back me up (“our ugly duckling, right or wrong”), who loved me and still do (thanks, guys!). I didn’t have any of the easy pickings, gayness or excessive weight (though I was on the stocky side) or scandals in the family or dimness. It wasn’t much fun to pick on me, if I even noticed it, so I was mostly left to my own devices.

And I didn’t CARE about other people’s opinions (except my parents’). We felt we had the best possible parents compared to all our friends, so it was a serious failing not to be up to their standards, and we tried very hard

Why mention this unlovely trait? Because it affects not my writing directly (I’ve pretty much settled into a voice and style, at least for this set of books), but my mood.

Making my mood conscious, and then removing it if inconvenient, takes up some of my daily time. Sometimes the process results in reflection, and you get a post.

I’m trying to improve both sales and reviews/ratings

The plan was to have Pride’s Children: PURGATORY selling quietly at some rate in the background, with borrows from Kindle Unlimited a separate small stream of income, justifying the writing.

I tell myself that writing is a business, not a hobby. One may become a talented amateur painter, for example, but no hobbyist-painter spends every possible moment painting.

The difference is both the intention – and the time and effort put into the endeavor.

Which has led to me spending time looking at the means for promotion available to those pesky self-publishing indies.

That’s where the niche part comes in.

If you write, say, Science Fiction or Category Romance, you have a lot of company (writers) and a defined (and large) audience of potential readers. Within these genres, there is a sense of camaraderie, and a sharing – on the indie side – of information about which means of promotion work, and how to go about them.

What works for INDIE GENRE promotion?

I am well read on the methods – indie writers are very generous with information.

Nothing is a slam dunk, of course – people who think you just throw a book together, repeat at three-month intervals, set the first book to permafree or 0.99 and pay off your mortgage, find the field harder to plow than they expected. There is work, and savvy, and exploiting the available avenues, and marketing, and spending your money wisely on ads and promotions.

But a new indie writer – or one tiring of the traditional dance and swallowing her distaste and trying self-publishing (usually because traditional publishing has huge problems for genre writers, including skimpy advances (if you get one at all) and very low royalties) – finds many ideas to try.

Follow the methods. Write your books. LEARN. Cross-promote. And if you’re energetic and confident and prolific – and can write worth a damn, especially within genre conventions – you can make a career.

Stealing fire from the indie gods

I’ve been reading all this since I started reading the self-publishing blogs in 2012, and educating myself to the business side of writing.

And every thing I read was cause for reflection – and me looking for the other side to the idea, the one that might work for me. Because I knew, from the very beginning, I was different.

I doubt traditional publishers would take a chance – that pesky heroine, and some of those ideas – not at all ‘more of the same.’

And I also knew that ‘prolific, ‘energetic,’ and ‘genre conventions’ were not going to work for me.

I have been welcomed in many places, even as I bring in my weird differences, simply because most indies are welcoming people. Their success doesn’t depend on keeping me out of a traditional publisher’s catalog slot. We are competitors in only a very general sense.

The one I am trying now has to do with Amazon ads; I’ve joined a FaceBook group whose purpose is to learn how to master Amazon ads in two ways:

making you comfortable with advertising on Amazon – and teaching you how to create the ads, and

fine-tuning the ads to find a comfortable rate of return for your advertising dollar.

The people I share this group with are mostly indie (a few hybrid authors do traditional + self-publishing). And most of them are very firmly genre writers: thrillers and cozy mysteries, paranormal Romance and Christian Romance, SF and fantasy.

I haven’t found many ‘literary’ or mainstream or general fiction authors identifying themselves as such. So I’ve been mostly alone in my plan to see what I can adapt from genre techniques of marketing, reading every post with the intention of turning it on its head if that would help ME.

The HOW

I have a very specific set of techniques in my plan.

It may not be doable.

It may be doable, but so expensive that it’s not worth it.

I won’t share unless it works, because the techniques are also very frangible and friable and delicate. I can see them working – and then not working if even a relatively small group people decide to try to follow suit.

What I’m NOT happy with

This is the hard part, and I’ll illustrate it with two bits of feedback I received in the past two days:

Negative:

Readers’ Comments
‘Interesting in many ways. The characters have considerable
depth and the plot is interesting. It could do with a good
editor in parts to ‘cut it down’ a little. Also, parts of it
are difficult to follow. I had to re-read the first chapter to
understand all of it. But, if you are prepared to work, you
will find here a fascinating story populated with strong
characters. Just a note, the cover’s a bit flat.’ Male reader,
aged 42
‘Powerful characters – yes. Interesting plot with plenty of
twists – yes. Well described setting – yes. Very complicated
and a hard-to-follow writing style – yes. This probably needs
an editor with a red pen to cut it. If that happened, it would
be a top-notch EPIC!’ Female reader, aged 56

‘A bit too ‘wordy’ for me. If you read it, have a dictionary
handy. I’m guessing this was a huge job to write. And for
this, I congratulate the author. Her knowledge of her settings
and characters is stunning, and the illness of the author is
well-handled and adds a further element of interest. I enjoyed
it, though it was a rather exhausting read.’ Female reader,
aged 59

‘The stream of consciousness is interesting but killed the
book for me. It just over complicated the story and made it
difficult to follow. Personally, I would encourage the author
to cut the length of this story considerably. The characters
are interesting and well-handled, the plot is powerful with an
excellent ending. It just needs editing a little.’ Indie
Publisher, aged 51

I.e., Change your writing – it’s too long and too hard for me.

Positive:

Thank God for positive!

I have long finished your book and loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. It was entirely to my taste. “The Essex Serpent” had this kind of pacing as well, and I found myself absorbed in the balance between internal monologues and external events. I ended the book wanting to know what happens to Kary, Andrew and Bianca next.

I.e., I like it the way it is and want more.

Why point out only some people like it?

Because when you write to a niche, but there is a much larger pool of readers who won’t like what you write, or won’t quite ‘get it,’ you have to be very careful NOT to attract those other readers – who will then leave the exact kind of reviews you don’t want to be associated with, lower your rating, and attempt, in their kindness, to ‘fix’ you and your writing.

And when the readers you DO want to attract by your ads are firmly convinced that no indie author can write the right kind of novels, because if they could, these writers would go through the traditional gatekeepers and be blessed and vetted, the least thing can scare those readers off from even trying to read your book.

Ergo, fraught. Writing in such a niche. And even more fraught, is trying to find a way to do it indie anyway, including advertising. And still find readers.

The topic is esoteric to the point of madness

For which I apologize.

But I had to find SOMETHING to do with the feedback which showed up in my inbox, and with the well-intentioned comments (change your price, get a professional to edit your work, get a professional to design your cover, make it shorter, CHANGE your book) which has been my fare lately.

So I share it with my friends.

You’re already used to me.

How to pick a forever home

CHOOSE VERY, VERY CAREFULLY!

I’m in the middle of a huge search.

For a while now I have been staring the rest of my life, so to speak, in the face.

It has become – even before the events earlier this year which resulted in three stents – very obvious that living in a 4-bedroom, 2.5-bath NJ suburban home was becoming untenable.

Like the older pet which needs to be rehomed so it can live out its remaining days in relative peace, I can’t handle the little I used to be able to handle of my life – without some major changes.

ALL OF THE FOLLOWING ASSUMES YOU HAVE SOME CHOICES.

When you have no choices to make, you live the best you can, going along from one step to the next as well as you’re able. Your choices are dictated by the moment, by an illness, by something external you have no control over.

To a large extent, this depends on prior choices – did you take care of yourself physically? And did that work for you? Did you put some money into savings – assuming there was some to spare? Have you invested in a house which can be sold now? Are you able to move if that’s the best choice, or does something anchor you in place?

If you are poor, your choices are limited all the way along life.

If your health is not good, your choices are extremely limited. I’ve dealt with that one myself for 27+ years, with no end in sight; any change in that part of my life will be created, within the disease of CFS by me, and without, by some unknown researcher some day. Even if a cause and treatment are found, or a treatment only, there is no guarantee that it will reverse the damage I live with. Me managing like crazy, just to stay on a slowly-declining plane, is already doing the best that I can.

If life is unkind, you are already stuck, but there may be a possibility of becoming unstuck some day.

Facing the facts in time

Many people wait too long to make the decision where to go, what to do – and end up making that decision by accident, when a life crisis comes along.

Friends of my parents gave me a model. I didn’t understand it at the time, since they were living in a fair amount of material comfort in Guadalajara, but they went and bought into a community in, I believe, El Paso, TX. J at least was an American citizen, and one or both of them would probably have had Medicare by that age, and possibly they wanted to be in a place with access to American hospitals and healthcare. I know none of the details, but it seemed odd at the time (my own parents didn’t do the same, due to large extended family in Mexico City, and more limited funds) because of their family in Guadalajara, but now I see they were making a decision for a whole bunch of things while they were still capable and competent to make those decisions.

It has stuck with me, even though it has taken until the last couple of years for me to see the why.

I began four or five years ago to seriously consider the future. The kids were not all launched, but that time was coming closer.

I remember pointing out the advantages to a planned change – rather than a chaotic one induced by circumstances – to a colleague in a support group who was older, and whose wife was older, as well as to family.

No one listened; and the colleague’s wife now has advancing dementia – making it very difficult for him to move, for her to adjust to somewhere new, and for her to help in the decision and the move. Family has reached a different solution, and it was as a response to crises, just as I predicted, crises that might have been avoided.

The stories are everywhere: people whose parents refused to ‘be put in a home’ until a major illness or crisis caused a non-optimal solution to be hastily implemented. People who didn’t move until one of a couple faced significant health problems, at which point it was too late to enjoy the move.

We are fortunate to have options

Which is almost funny, since the story of my life lately is that I’m completely out of options.

I preach the necessity of disability insurance, if it is at all possible (and recommend you pay for it yourself – which has huge tax advantages if you need it), because you are five times more likely to become disabled during your working years than to die – and everyone has life insurance, but most don’t have disability insurance. Private disability insurance goes beyond SS disability (which is downright stingy): it kept us middle class when I became unable to work.

Consider also the possibility of a disability lasting long enough that you really need some built-in inflation protection. I had none, and it really hurt.

I would have been able to save more money had I worked. I prefer working – keeping myself sane these many years has not been easy.

So, facing the decision of what to do with the rest of our life is happening with me still sick, but with some retirement accounts and a house which can be sold.

The parameters to the decision

I am fortunate to have a living spouse in reasonably good health – right now. In fact, I would like to preserve that health: when he goes out to clear the snow or mow the grass on a hot humid day or prune bushes standing on a platform, I worry. I used to help with the snow – can’t do that any more (but he FINALLY bought a snowplow). I used to do a fair amount of the weeding – can’t do that any more, because sitting on the ground or a low chair or bending over cause significant pain over the next couple of days, and that heat and humidity are probably what landed me in the hospital this last time.

So he’s doing ALL the work, and even with some help from an assistant, he’s still IN CHARGE of all the work. We had people last year; they were ultimately unsatisfactory.

Taking care of house and yard consumes too much of his energy, all of mine, and just has to be done again. That doesn’t even take into account ‘things that go wrong,’ such as the roof or the AC or the driveway or the trees that die.

So, the obvious is a place where we do none of the maintenance work, in or out.

Another stressor has been how hard it is to leave the house to go somewhere for a vacation, added to how long it takes us to pack – and leave the house so someone else can do the bare minimum. Homeownership had its joys when we did everything ourselves (BC – before children); then it became just work while the kids were home and things got done when they had to be done, in among all the other chores; now it’s impossible.

Pet care – you’d never believe how hard it is to take care of one tiny chinchilla, and how difficult to arrange for someone to keep her alive while we’re gone. Impossible without an assistant (thank goodness I have one now for a few hours every week), still tricky even with someone who potentially can drop by every couple of days to make sure Gizzy has food and water and the AC hasn’t died (if it gets too hot, she won’t make it – that thick silky fur coat). Already seriously considering finding her another home (anyone want a slightly spoiled chinchilla?), and am making sure anywhere we consider allows pets in case she goes with us.

These will be the best years we have left

Seems obvious, but we’re not getting any younger.

I want a place where I can make the big push for 1) getting as much exercise as the CFS will allow, 2) making the best use of any improvements in walking ability, 3) hoping that reduced stress will contributed to better overall health and mobility.

This means I need a year-round pool and gym, and PT people on-site, somewhere I can actually get to without spending a day of my energy.

And we need bike paths. Even though I can’t go far, not being able to walk doesn’t mean I can’t ride a bike! My limitation is actually the energy – I can go short rides, hope to be able to increase those a bit.

And I want good weather: in NJ, if you miss a ‘good day,’ there may not be another for a while. I grew up in Southern California and Mexico City, where weather was a stable thing, and the next day would be much like today, and both would be pleasant. Then, going out to do something will be governed by whether I have the energy today, not by whether it’s feasible!

I require a heated year-round pool. No quarter given on this one: I’m a water baby, even if I’m not actually swimming, and I’m not moving somewhere for the rest of my life that doesn’t have a pool. Not happening.

I tell the spouse that the next 5-10 years of our lives are the good ones – and if we are to do ANY traveling, it will be now. I want to see my mother and my extended family in Mexico, possibly at family reunions in Michigan. I want to go to the beach in the Riviera Maya or in places like Acapulco and Huatulco, which have warm ocean water in the winter. Because I know I can do these – at my extremely slow pace (once I cope with a week of packing and survive the week when we come back). I want to spend time doing a vacation with the kids while it still is fun for most of the family.

The solution? I’m working my tail off to find it

California has, at last count, 102 CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities) – places we can move to and get all those things above.

Some of them are unsuitable because they are retirement communities for particular religious groups we don’t belong to; others are urban and have no pool; still others are way too expensive for us (I’ve eliminated all the for-profits). Some would make it difficult for me to get to the gym or pool – my time being coherent is also limited, and the more energy I expend in getting, the less time I have for the activity; the independent cottages, ‘just a short walk away,’ seem, by definition, to require more health to get to the pool or gym – I believe an apartment in the same building as the facilities is my best option.

The CCRC concept is doing well. It is recommended you stick with places over 90% occupancy (proof of continuing fiscal responsibility), but when a place is 98% full, by definition there are few units left! People move on to assisted living or nursing home care (a CCRC by definition has both available to its residents when they need the next step), and some pass on, but the rates are not high, and I’d like to move fairly soon (once the pesky house is dejunked and sold).

It is a lot of research work and no one can do it for you. Not really. I have spent hours talking to nice sales and marketing people – only to hang up and realize there is no way we can afford their lovely CCRC. The main reason: they don’t put their prices on their websites (probably because then people won’t call and talk to the nice salespeople), but it is inefficient and wearying when you really do know how much you can afford and what you need, which most people on this search don’t yet. A tendency to put information such as ‘apartments start at…’ out for view means people think they might be able to swing it – and then can’t when the range of prices becomes known.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina

I’ll figure it out. We’ll pick 5-8 of these places, and then take ‘the trip’: stay in a few, see the physical plant, smell the nursing home portion (apparently, that’s the biggie – clean places take work and money), and have lunch with some residents in assisted living to see how they are really living – and being treated.

Then we will make a decision, hope the house-selling sill support that decision, and spend an enormous amount of my good time – and all of husband’s – actually doing this.

The average age of entrance used to be 80; it’s already dropping as people realize they can’t live worry-free if they have a house on their hands. Even with a lot of money and a lot of help, it’s a constant set of chores.

Think about this sooner, rather than later, if this kind of solution to our common problem appeals to you. Time goes by much faster than you expect.

Wish us luck (even if you would never consider leaving your home, or living with a bunch of strangers horrifies you).