Category Archives: CFS – living and writing with ME/CFS/CFIDS

Coping with the experience of having life options limited; methods of managing time, energy, brain fog, and pain; how it has changed me.

Thanks to those who go beyond

Who will tell you what to read?

WHAT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF YOU CAN’T EVER READ

Seems such an obvious statement, but being invisible is a big problem for authors – getting the title of your book out there is a constant pressure, and you become very fond of those who make the effort on your blog, their blog, a writing site, a reading site, or any place where readers who would like YOUR books congregate.

And then something has to persuade them to read enough words to get to a ‘Call to Action,’ which can be as simple as a recommendation followed by a link.

The problem of recommendations

If the subject of what you’re reading comes up naturally, I don’t find it too difficult to ask a few questions about what someone new to me likes to read.

I rattle off a couple of favorites of mine – say Jane Eyre and the Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries and maybe Dune – and watch to see if the listener’s reaction is fight or flight.

No one likes pushy authors, those who insist their books are ‘for everyone.’ Because it’s not a very believable statement in general, though people who are glad they read Jane Eyre have the most flexible mindset (which is why it gets so much attention). The enjoyment, or even that the story was self-chosen, are the keys – such a reader probably plowed (or ploughed) through similar long-lasting books.

I tried reading A Confederacy of Dunces – an award winner with a good author story (John Kennedy Toole committed suicide when he couldn’t find a publisher, his mother persuaded a legendary literary agent to champion the book, and it won the Pulitzer Prize), but had to force myself to finish Chapter 1. Because it may be brilliant, but it made my gorge rise and choke me. ‘Icky’ is the best I can remember about that long-ago attempt I have no desire to repeat. I don’t get very far into Lolita, either, for similar reasons. Or The Catcher in the Rye.

I can’t imagine their authors spending time with those characters, however good the writing may be.

So I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, and am glad I don’t have to assign either book to, say, a class of high school juniors (assuming teachers still get to make those choices), and then have to talk about it in class.

It’s personal for the author

And books can become a personal crusade favorite for readers who then recommend, gift, or lend something they loved.

So, if you LIKED a book, take a moment and do SOMETHING to encourage the author to keep it up:

  • Rate the book
  • Review and rate it
  • Blog about it
  • Recommend it to a friend
  • Leave nice words on the author’s websites
  • Buy an extra copy to lend
  • Send a copy to a friend or family member
  • Use as gifts
  • Ask your library to order the book(s)
  • Write a guide
  • Mention your favorite parts
  • Tell people you can’t wait for the next book in the trilogy
  • Hire a band to parade in DC in costume
  • Anything you would like if YOU had written the book.
  • Be your most creative.
  • Give a copy to any medical personnel who have no empathy for diseases like ME/CFS – this will allow them to live the life of one – without actually having to get it, or Long Covid, or Post-polio Syndrome, or Lyme disease – or any one of a bunch of post-viral syndromes and similar misunderstood ‘invisible’ diseases.

Crusade for indie books in principle by doing something a little beyond your normal response – the author will be delighted.

It’s not the money (though adequate royalties of around $6 per any version I have are about three times larger than many traditional authors make per book) – I crave the readers. Thanks!

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Don’t forget – the Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD ebook is IN KU, and

The NETHERWORLD ebook goes on sale (Kindle Countdown Deal) for a week starting October 19 – lowest price you will find it.

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NETHERWORLD ebook is live – prideschildren (dot) com

And the print version is ‘In review’ at Amazon

If you are interested in my fiction, and haven’t signed up at its site, click on Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD‘s announcement post for the ebook – but the print version is already up, cover and all, and Amazon has notified me it may take 3 days.

The ebook took ONE HOUR to be approved, late last night – I guess no one else was up!

Details at the link – not everyone who comes here is interested in fiction.

Check there, too, for the details of the two Kindle Countdown Deals that are set up – one for PURGATORY, Sep. 21, and one for NETHERWORLD, Oct. 19. Best way to pick up a copy of either.

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CASCADE is Mark and Steffi and Chapman sticks

There’s a water fall in those hills, somewhere.

A BLOGGER’S OBLIGATIONS: SHARING FINDS

When we find something that blows us away, that touches us somewhere in the deep recesses of our hearts – sometimes for an odd reason – in this case because something about Mark reminded me of our middle son, so that when they appeared in my FaceBook feed, with an instrument (the Chapman stick) I’d never heard about, I was intrigued enough to listen: we need to share.

They travel – and busk.

There are, according to Mark’s website, about 8000 Chapman sticks in the world.

It’s like saying ‘there are about 8000 pianos in the world.’ Not a very big number. Not surprising I’d never heard of them (the Chapman sticks) or seen them played.

Their music is unique. There are links on his site to the inventor and pictures, if you care to follow.

The music is the important part

The first video I saw, on FB, was them playing ‘Hallelujah cover on two Chapman Sticks – performed by Cascade,‘ and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is one of my favorite songs. Their instrumental cover is simply beautiful.

Because of my ME/CFS, I have a very hard time listening to music, instrumental or otherwise, and have a horrible tendency to get earworms from it, and to not be able to get it out of my head for literally weeks (I think it’s one of the many processing problems from the damage the disease does to the brain).

So I don’t listen much any more – but Cascade’s versions don’t kick that pile of dust up. I just went through making up a weeks’ pills, listened to 3-4 of their pieces, and none of them wrangled my brain to the ground, so I was immediately prejudiced in their favor, because I LOVE music, and miss it greatly.

So here are a few links for the like-minded

Let me know what you think:

Lost in Time, filmed at Lake Constance in Germany.

The Way Home, new from July 2022.

Floating away, street performance in Molde, Norway.

May you find something you love.

They have the usual CDs and digital downloads – I’ll explore them in the future and definitely get some of their music.

Bon appetit!

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NETHERWORLD is a few tiny steps from uploaded to Amazon – but Mark and Steffi were a beautiful interruption, and I needed to find something like Cascade.

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Font lessons learned the hard way

A LOT CAN CHANGE IN SEVEN YEARS

In 2015, I was publishing a book for the first time, after spending a gazillion years writing the first book in my Pride’s Children mainstream trilogy, PURGATORY.

Newbies have a lot to learn, and it is an intense experience if you do it yourself, and you’re pretty sure there’s no way you will forget the steps.

But you have to allow for change – from the outside world – and it won’t take you or your needs into account.

I forgot two major things: software changes and computer crashes.

Software changes negate some changes you make to your copy

I was barely surviving, even back in 2015 when I spent a summer learning graphics and covers and formatting, and I thought that, between my notes and my blog posts, I was saving enough information to do it again with the second book in the trilogy (eventually named NETHERWORLD).

I didn’t even think – no spare brain cells – that the process would be different in a few years, and that it would take me seven to write the next book. Seven is a big number of years in computers.

Because of several computer crashes during those years, and a coast-to-coast move from New Jersey to California, I had to rely on backups for some of my major applications, and sometimes those backups came from outside my own storage systems.

When you download such a backup, you get a pristine copy, ONE THAT DOESN’T HAVE YOUR MODIFICATIONS.

And the major mod that bit me was that on several of my indispensable applications, including Word, Scrivener, and Pixelmator, I had installed fonts I used for the interior and the exterior of the book – duly licensed and paid for – because I liked them.

Find your fonts: on your computer – or download them again

Because I included a Design Notes page at the end of the printed copies of PURGATORY, I had a list of all the fonts I used, their licensing information, and where I’d downloaded them from; plus where I’d licensed them from, with a copy of the invoice and registration information.

Not easily accessible – I didn’t think they would disappear, so I was cavalier about storing them properly – but (and here I credit Apple for saving my bacon several times by making a back of my data at the time of the crashes) they were there on my computer backups, and I eventually located all my information.

Font information is now stored in a MUCH clearer fashion, in a folder on my Desktop labeled 2022 PC Storage/2022 PC FONTS (incl PC1 fonts), and backed up on my computer and in the iCloud, so I won’t have to do this again.

[NOTE: this is where I’m trying to save other users, especially self-published authors (SPAs), time and effort – do this from the beginning, and add all new fonts to this storage system, and don’t be like Alicia.]

Fonts I use for covers or exteriors for Pride’s Children:

  • Alido (monospaced, from SummitSoft, licensed in the Big Graphics Bundle)
  • New Yorker (a very good imitation of the expensive official one, free from Allen R. Walden, to be credited)
  • Goudy Serial (from SoftMakerSoftwareGmbH, licensed) in 6 weights
  • Sorts Mill Goudy (free from Barry Schwarz, credit)
  • Cambria (pre-installed, licensed for all uses with MS Office)
  • Book Antiqua (monospaced, pre-installed, licensed for all uses with MS Office)

Saving – and printing out and saving in physical form – the licensing information is a good idea; fonts are someone’s Intellectual Property, and you don’t want problems with a published book because you don’t have the required information handy to prove you licensed what you use – SPAs are a small business, and it helps to behave like one.

Install the fonts on your system

Before you do anything with additional fonts, they have to be installed on your computer in a form you can then add to your software.

For the Macs, this means installing them into the app Font Book, which couldn’t be simpler (assuming the font is one of the approved font types – which I found listed at Apple Support).

The extra fonts I chose for PURGATORY were all .otf or .ttf, which made it vastly simpler for me: double click on the font, Font Book opens automatically, click Install.

Book Antiqua and Cambria were IN the Font Book already, which makes me think that installing Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac also installed the Office fonts properly. Thanks, Microsoft!

Transfer the fonts to your software – if necessary

On the Mac I don’t have to do this! All the fonts in the Font Book that are not grayed out were now available when I opened Pixelmator!

And now I’m back where I was, font-wise, before the computer crashes and the move, and know a lot more than I did then.

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Scary time of absent brain

The future is boundless; our life, not so much

Not intending to be dire or apocalyptic – but often being able to write a blog post, almost any kind of a post, signals, for me, the end of a difficult period where the brain power needed to do almost anything is just not there, and I’m not sure if it’s the waxing and waning of ME/CFS – or the beginning of the end of being able to write.

Those who know me, or have been following for a while, know how close to the edge of completely non-functional I live. A little bit worse, and no creative juices flow at all.

I wait it out, deal with whatever is causing additional problems beyond chronic illness and disability, pick up where I left off when I can function a bit again.

THERE IS NO POINT

in wasting any of my energy in railing against my fate – it doesn’t help, and doesn’t make me feel better. [Note: my brain supplied ‘railing’ as the appropriate form of protest against things bigger than I can manage. I was terrified for a few seconds when Google only supplied ‘fencing’ as a definition, until I insisted further and ‘rail’ as a verb came up. Phew!]

It is what it is until they figure it out, this ME/CFS, come up with a definitive diagnostic, find the mechanism(s) that cause it, find a treatment, find a CURE!

Today I had an interesting interaction with someone online who claims 1) to have had it, and 2) to have a treatment protocol that cured him. I had the strength of character to tell him I was glad for him, and not interested in arguing with someone online who has the ‘solution of the week.’ And to please stop writing to me.

As we tell new people, “Hope it’s something else – something that DOES have a diagnostic and a treatment.” If something actually cured someone, it is awfully likely they didn’t have what I have in the first place, but something with similar symptoms – and a CURE!/treatment/prognosis.

It’s vanishingly likely that he has something that can help, and I don’t have the bandwidth for another savior with a solution. I’ve been at this nonsense for 32 years.

There is a finite (ie, non-zero) possibility that now that they’re pouring money into long covid research that they will actually look enough to find a real solution. That’s where my hopes are being pinned; ask me in a couple of years if anything panned out – because governments finally realized that 10-30% of the long covid survivors were, essentially, getting ME/CFS and, more importantly to governments, turning from productive working tax-paying citizens into sick citizens needing the disability benefits they have been promised since they started working. Ie, it will COST the governments, and they may figure out a cure is finally worth putting some money into research, instead of telling people it’s all in their heads.

Hope I’m still around.

More than that, hope it works for people who are not recently ill – not that I begrudge the newbies, but I want to be at the head of the line.

Hey! Look! I’m producing coherent (okay, you may argue about that) sentences!

It’s been a rough time since I announced I had finished writing Netherworld, and now that I have finished proofing the text.

The plan was to format and then to get the cover out of my head and onto a page. It’s been weeks. Sometimes I just go read the end, fall in love with it all over again, and go back to sitting staring at the screen.

Because love hasn’t been translating into action.

So far it’s just par for the course, and I expect it will resolve itself, and it won’t hurt to get the new Airbook(name?) from Apple with the M2 thingamabob my eldest daughter says is good – not having the computer question resolved – should I format and cover on the old machine, or wait for the new one and bite the bullet and update my Scrivener which may have some of the things I needed that the previous version didn’t have?

But I can’t believe how much that tiny obstacle in my path stopped me from making ANY progress.

Physical problems have been the stumbling block

I don’t want to go into details, yet, on a public blog, but my already-strained-to-the-limit body and mind have had a huge task added to keeping us all going, it has affected sleep, pain, and comfort to an incredible degree, and taken every speck of energy I had.

Finding a solution took energy I didn’t have, and going outside my medical system, and I’m glad I did – but it won’t be over for a while, and it isn’t going to be any fun. Until AFTER September, and then there will be recovery.

And I won’t have any relief from taking care of the problem constantly unless I am very, very, VERY lucky next week.

I’m sleeping in 1-2 hour chunks. That should account for the feeling of doom – sleep deprivation is classified as torture.

So I shouldn’t worry, right?

Except that there’s always that one last straw, the one that breaks the badger’s back, and I wonder, when I have the brain to wonder, whether this is it, and hope it isn’t, because I’m not finished writing quite yet.

If I am, it isn’t because I quit. I was because I was wrestled to a standstill by Reality, which always wins.

Meanwhile, putting words on page has given me a little much-needed hope again, and getting the news my computer situation might be resolving has given me a goal in a decision I kept going back and forth on (wait – or go ahead on familiar if not completely adequate technology – wait -…).

Thinking outside the box hasn’t worked yet

but I am vastly encouraged by the fact that I figured out how to, initiated it, was fortunate enough to find a listening ear (after several tries), and it may work much better than what I have had (nothing). And in my weakened state, no less!

I’m very proud of myself for trying – hope it works out.

So there – and mysterious. The women who read this blog and are older than 50 and/or have had children may have a clue; the rest of you really shouldn’t want to know. It’s grotty and embarrassing and against all the modesty my middle-class Mexican upbringing instilled deep, courtesy of my beloved Mother.

If I navigate it successfully, you may ask privately, and I’ll name the Beast.

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As soon as the fog clears a bit more, and/or the new laptop is here and mastered, I will go doggedly right back to working on the publishing of NETHERWORLD, instead of just going to the file, re-reading the end, and crying into my beer because I love it so much.

I’m just waiting for two good friends to let me know if they liked it, too, to feel a whole lot better.

And if you like to be in at that stage, my contact information is in the About. I could use a few more readers/reviewers who are familiar with PURGATORY, and need to keep going.

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It’s that time: typo hunting time

THE PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD

In the publishing of the next book, every self-published author has to face the fact that typos exist, are blamed on the author (who has ultimate responsibility), and are as hard to eliminate completely as cockroaches.

What is a practical limit for the number of typos?

A little checking provides a couple of rough guidelines:

  1. A typo per thousand words is too many.
  2. Three typos in ten thousand words is proofing to a professional standard.

That standard means that, in a novel of 187,000 words, one could discover 56 typos – a huge number – and still be within professional quality. But it’s a twenty-chapter book, and that is only 2-3 typos per chapter, which doesn’t sound quite so bad.

The kind of errors matters

Using the wrong word isn’t a typo – it’s a mistake. It often comes from not knowing a word well enough, and not looking up the correct usage if you’re not certain.

There are a number of these anthills to die on, and experienced writers will know the difference between may and might, principal and principle, and verb affect/effect and noun affect/effect.

No one but beginners should have problems with its and it’s, or their/they’re/there. A professional writer needs to be certain about the basics, and have a cheat sheet for the ones which cause them trouble personally.

And it never hurts to check again, reinforcing what you know, challenging what you think you know. I am getting very humble in that department, as my damaged brain keeps throwing me the almost right word, I find it slightly odd – and have the sense to check. The bigger your vocabulary, the more chances for this to trip you up.

Leaving out a short word is a typo – a good friend just caught me leaving out ‘to’ from the infinitive ‘to commit’ – thank you!

The little shorties which are the wrong word, but are an actual word, are one of my peccadilloes: it, if, is, in – it is so easy to type the wrong consonant!

Transposing a couple of letters or leaving off a final letter – happen frequently to all typists, and can be very hard to catch. Sometimes the best way is to have the robot voice of your computer or program read you your own deathless prose – and make you giggle. My current typo-in-hiding is leaving the final ‘r’ off ‘your,’ which sounds funny when read back to me – YMMV.

Paying for professional proofing

does not guarantee perfection, unfortunately. It may be worth it but I think it doesn’t teach you anything. You’ll still make mistakes and typos, and have to figure out how to make the corrections stick in your writer’s mind, if they’re the kind you can learn from such as using a word incorrectly.

If you accept the corrections made by a pro too quickly, you may not move the problems into long-term memory properly – and so will continue to make that kind of flub. It’s worth taking some time to ask yourself why they happened, and whether you can make a permanent self-fix.

And you’re still the one with your name on the book.

So wish me well on what is the final proofing:

Sending out ARCs I think are perfect, and getting back the little niggly (and wonderfully welcome), “I liked it – but on page #n, you have a typo…”

Embarrassing – but I am grateful for every catch.

And vow to learn from them.

Can’t be perfect – but I can always become better.

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Love in the time of pandemic

AND WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

Gak! It’s been almost a month since I posted anything!

There was a lot of quarantining in that time. NOT because we were exposed to Covid, though some independent living residents in this facility were (we found out because they had dinner with friends in Assisted Living at the Friendship Table, and the AL people ARE tested regularly because they’re in the health-care portion of our facility).

And because those people in IL who WERE exposed to the people in AL who tested positive, the State of California required them to quarantine for FOURTEEN DAYS in their apartments. None of the IL residents got Covid, thank goodness, but WE had a vacation in Lake Tahoe with our kids a few weeks later, and realized that WE wouldn’t be able to go IF we got exposed ourselves, here, and then had to do the same quarantine for 14 days.

That is, we quarantined for 14 days so we wouldn’t have to quarantine for 14 days – at an inconvenient time which would put the kibosh on OUR vacation. Mixed up world, eh?

So – any progress on publishing NETHERWORLD?

Well, yes and no.

For the ms., I created an easy ARC from Scrivener – the complete, very long pdf of the whole thing (~500 pages), and sent it to the first person who’s offered to review AND buy it on launch day (thank you, David!), and as a backup complete proofed file to several places, including my amazing beta reader (thank you, Rachel!), and gave my husband and children the necessary information to manage my literary estate (and publish Netherworld) if something happened on the trip/vacation/return. You never know.

The formatting is no further than that.

For the cover: I have all the pieces, an updated Pixelmator 3, and an updated Learn Pixelmator 3.5 video course (free update – thanks folks!).

I’ve bought licenses for the two cover images from Dreamstime, acquired another photo from the same friend who supplied the sky for Purgatory’s cover, found a couple of low-res images to guide me in the changes I’ll need to create the cover in my head, and put the whole thing into a folder and a backup on the iCloud. Phew.

Now I just have to do the work, get it past my cover mentor (thank you, Jessica!), and create ebook, paper and hardback covers to spec, and then, because I want to make one change to them, redo a bit of the Purgatory covers (bigger name so it shows on the thumbnail, add the award, etc.) which really amounts to redoing a fair amount of the Purgatory covers AND creating the hardcover one.

I have my permissions from Cambridge U. for my KJV quotations – feels nice and official.

I got my copyright certificate from the Library of Congress! I always feel better after I do that, for whatever it might be worth.

Launching is, of course, dependent on having something to launch. I had approached a PR firm, put up with a long delay to talk to them, checked in with them and received a promise of an answer of some kind before the end of May, and than have been ghosted. It does remind me that if people are not reliable in the small things, it’s probably better not to rely on them for the big ones, so that firm is permanently off the table. Too bad, because I liked them, and had already invested some effort into them.

I’m still obsessively re-reading the end of Netherworld – and not changing a word. I promise explosions, and I hope they are well received.

I want to continue getting into writing LIMBO

I literally can’t wait – because there are only a few hours between the end of 2 and the beginning of 3, and I’m very happy how that turned out.

And I’ve already started writing Chapter 41(LIMBO goes to 60).

BUT I’ve been dealing with some medical problems for 2.5 years to no solution, and I’m in the middle of trying to fix some things that really need fixing, and it’s a slow process because disability means EVERYTHING is so much harder – from making phone calls through phone systems that won’t just let you call someone to make an appointment, to doctor visits which consume an incredible amount of prep time, energy, and recovery time, to a whole slew of medical tests with the same problems – which the new doctor insists on before she will even consider DOING something.

Plus a big paperwork problem I’ve finally admitted I had to step in and manage, do some of, get help, hand over to the pros…

And my limited number of daily spoons is gone every day before I manage to write. Because it’s not just ‘write a few words’ now – it’s the whole huge Book 3 planning review, restart, clean up, carry stuff from 1 and 2 typical glorious mess of starting the final volume in a trilogy. Drives me up a tree that I can’t just do it.

But I’m literally doing the best I can

And not managing to sleep very well with all the above, to boot.

I can tell stress that I’m fine until I’m full-body blue, but that does NOT take away the stress. It just doesn’t add worry, but the things I’m having to do are stressful in and of themselves, and that is such a deep autonomic process that you can’t affect it much.

Plus the physical problems have extra pain and much discomfort associated, which has to be micromanaged – and I was already exhausted before that.

There are signs, portents, and possibilities

of improvements, but not fast.

This is literally the first time I’ve even been able to think of writing a simple blog post, in the whole past month.

Life happens – you deal.

I know what my primary aim is (if family is okay), but I’m not able to DO it right now.

Don’t worry. Nothing TOO horribly grim. But I’m all tapped out of spoons every day, almost the end of the morning, when I’ve done nothing yet.

But stuff slowly gets done, and goes into the rearview mirror queue from the To Do list, and I’ll get there.

On the bright side

my oldest daughter is helping me select my new computer for the foreseeable future – my current lovey is from 2015, and can’t be upgraded far enough because then my necessary old software – Office 2011 for Mac and Dramatica Story Expert – won’t work, and I don’t have the mental bandwidth right now to deal with another potential crash.

Everything is properly backed up (Time Machine and iCloud), but bobbles with computers cost me days or weeks when they happen, so for the first time in a long time, I’m being proactive: a new Macbook Air with the M2 processor and good camera should take me far into the future and definitely through LIMBO.

It will, however, require some learning – not my strong point.

So that’s the update:

I’m working as hard as I can on the critical list items

I’m as far along with Netherworld as I can be, including covers

Ditto redoing the Purgatory covers

Ditto writing into the future with Limbo

and dealing with the sorry carcass which makes all of this possible at all in as graceful a manner as I can against the extra stress of having to do it at all, and the unbelievable amount of extra energy it takes

AND, courtesy of my lovely assistant Sammy, whose last day is today (she’s graduating! going on to grad school! going home for the summer!), I have already acquired an assistant for the fall (another senior – so I’ll get 8-9 months of her life, and leave her a changed young woman – but seniors are really handy), and she’s interested in learning the self-pub aspects of the job I haven’t had time to do with Sammy because other things were more, uh, important.

And the ability to write this post reassures me that there’s still a ‘me’ here.

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More when there’s actually progress on this laundry list.

Be well. Have a great summer. Don’t work TOO hard.

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PS: If you are desperate to read NETHERWORLD, and wouldn’t mind writing a review to be posted when it’s published, email me (abehrhardt at gmail), make your case, and I’ll send you what I have at the time.

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May 12 is International ME/CFS Day

Millions of ME/CFS victims are missing from LIFE

Every year this date reminds me that we STILL have no diagnostic marker, treatment, or cure for the devastating disease that stole my life as a physicist in 1989, the week of Nov. 5th.

Another year with nothing really new that can turn me back into a functioning person.

Or even help new victims.

Except that this year there is an understanding that, if we didn’t know what virus had done the damage, ALMOST ALL of the long-covid victims would be diagnosed, based on symptoms, with ME.

But we know that virus, and possibly that will help some of the targeted research that now has been funded to figure out the mechanism of the damage and find a way to reverse some of it.

And maybe, MAYBE, some of that research will benefit newer victims of ME/CFS, and possibly – though the damage is so long-standing it’s hard to think how – those of us who have been waiting for decades.

If you pray, pray for us.

If you’re not the praying kind, think of us kindly.

We’re still sick – and I wouldn’t wish this illness on Putin.

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Meanwhile, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is still in existence because of ME/CFS, and NETHERWORLD will be out very soon (the disease makes me very slow).

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Where have all the bloggers gone?

Inspired by Where have all the flowers gone? Popular folk song

WANTED: INTERESTING BLOG POSTS ABOUT LIFE AND WRITING

If you’re of a certain age, or ever went to Scout camp, you may already been humming along.

I’m having to sign up to follow and receive via email more and more blogs, because the bloggers I’ve been following for years are publishing fewer and fewer posts, and I need reading material to keep myself centered in the writer-support blogosphere I inhabit.

I write fewer posts because most of my posts have had something to do with the skills I acquired while learning to write – and I’m not actively working on those right now unless I find something I need to learn to get through a current scene.

Because I’m getting to the end of Netherworld – and know exactly where I’m going.

And there aren’t any tricky or new scenes – just the kind of wrapping up I’m hoping will put smiles on readers’ faces, followed by worried frowns about the implications!

I use writers’ blogs to stay up-to-date

I haven’t done marketing in a while (and it shows) because I have two brain cells, and one is needed for breathing, while the other takes an occasional turn at writing a few more words.

But one of these days someone will post something which will trigger something else, and I’ll be off and running.

There are lots of beginner ‘How to’ posts, fewer post on marketing, and almost none on marketing a very small output. At least not successfully.

So I take on new blogs

when I find one which has something a little less basic to say, or is in an area I probably won’t write – hoping to steal the genesis of an idea I can tweak into the book-selling campaign of the century.

I’d appreciate suggestions of blogs to follow, especially if you wouldn’t mind telling me what you like about them.

New platforms may be the problem

I don’t think I’m going to try Instagram or Tik Tok or Book Tok or even Twitter – mostly because I don’t think that’s where my kind of writer finds readers and followers.

Certainly not Youtube – not now! The competition must be fierce.

Trying a Patreon was a waste of time for me (this time) because you have to bring your own followers – and then generate extra material for them. The latter I like – I have lots of words about process and writing – but I don’t have yet the critical mass of followers, and, with very little energy, can’t afford to try.

But a lot of people ARE moving to the new platforms – the young ‘uns don’t use FB much any more.

Where are the readers?

To be more specific for me, where are the readers of mainstream/literary/contemporary fiction, but only those who are not hiding behind the wall of ‘I only read traditionally published and vetted fiction.’

And that, my dear readers, I have not solved yet.

But then I spend most of my time writing lately, and ultimately that will have to yield the answer.

So I try each new blog I find through blogs I already read or people who somehow find me, and participate for a while to see if we are a good fit. There are tens of thousands of my words out there contributing to these fun conversations.

Eventually we will reach critical mass, right?

I’d hate to think the indie experiment is doomed.

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Send me your recommended blogs.

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Don’t throw me under the bus

Davis, California – February 2022

THEY PROMISED US AN ENJOYABLE RETIREMENT

As working people, the ‘system’ promised us, if we worked hard and saved our pennies for retirement, didn’t spend it all, that we would enjoy some years of healthy living, ease, family, and freedom.

Now they want to renege.

The rest of the world wants to go back to ‘normal,’ ignore any public health measures that might prevent passing on a deadly virus which keeps mutating into something even more dire (so far), has killed oh, around a million Americans directly, and, if I’m reading the statistics right, another million or so in ‘excess deaths’ – deaths which wouldn’t have happened if normal ailments had been treated in hospitals in a timely manner.

Well, those hospitals were full of covid patients – still are.

And after every new peak, ‘they’ are quick to assume it’s the last of its kind (remember after Delta, and before Omicron cases started climbing stratospherically?), and give up restrictions before people get tired of them.

The view from the vulnerable block is pure astonishment

In the US and in much of Europe they are already preparing to ‘live with the virus’ – everyone will eventually get it, THE OLD, SICK, VULNERABLE, IMMUNOCOMPROMISED, FRAGILE WILL DIE, and the world will go back to being a lovely place for idiots to party and catch covid at a concert, restaurant, or bar.

And take it home to Grandma.

Who needs Grandma anyway?

People who might have lived for years, decades

Because what they had, while not fun, is manageable: diabetes, heart disease, obesity…

Or potentially curable: some forms of cancer, getting a replacement kidney or a part of someone’s liver or a heart transplant…

are incredibly susceptible to getting covid.

They don’t just fade away: death from covid is painful, exhausting, humiliating – and with little support from family and friends – lonely.

And people dying of covid in a hospital cause other people not to be able to lifesaving surgery or care – and die, too.

Let us get rid of one of these right up front:

Obesity. It’s an ugly word. It’s a word of our time. Before, the chubby of us had reserves for surviving – and potentially fighting off – some diseases, and lasted longer.

Be that as it may.

It is not something that someone can change quickly. Or at all.

Doctor-supervised diets have a 2% success rate after two years.

And it is a cop-out. Just because a doctor doesn’t like it, and blames everything on it, and says, “If you just lost weight and exercised, you wouldn’t be sick,” doesn’t make it so.

And back to the important qualification for being useless: there isn’t a person on this Earth who can lower their weight consistently and safely QUICKLY.

Another is exercise

For post-viral illnesses such as long-covid, ME/CFS, and possibly any others such as chronic Lyme disease, exercise is CONTRAINDICATED. Read that carefully. It means: “Doesn’t help and DOES harm.”

The exercise-and-it’s-all-in-your-head brigade have been thoroughly debunked, their statistics shown to be bad science, and guidelines are changing everywhere. Not fast enough – and with rearguard actions by the biopsychosocial cabal trying to claim their methods actually work (they don’t want to lose all that lovely research money, ‘treatment’ money, and prestige; and in some cases knighthoods or damehoods (sic?)).

New people with our diseases are needy and desperate. They will grasp at anything that offers hope, and they are not good at separating the quacks from the legitimate scientists. They are given something and told it works, and they try over and over, blaming themselves when non-proven methods actually DON’T work.

Worse than that: they make themselves sicker. For every post-exertional crash, the baseline lowers on what a person can safely do. Enough of those, with the very best intentions, and people end up bed-ridden or worse.

Exercise is dangerous for people recovering from these viruses. DANGEROUS.

Compassion fatigue

I always thought, when I was younger, that I would be able to work my way out of anything by just putting the effort in.

As an old person, I would keep walking, keep doing yoga, have the time for more exercise.

And that people who ‘let themselves go’ had brought it all on themselves. Well, some of them have. But I’ve been trying for over three decades and guess what? NOPE. You can’t work yourself out of CFS.

You DO stop going to doctors because they don’t like illnesses without a cookbook approach. They don’t like mysterious illnesses that somehow have normal bloodwork – for the tests the insurance companies will allow.

They don’t like taking into account one of my widely-shared symptoms: intolerance of medicines. We are the people who get all the side-effects of almost everything that works for ‘normal’ people. I actually went through four of the five classes of blood-pressure medications after getting stents (and both Plavix and Effient – which made me deadly ill). My last cardiologist in New Jersey said the fifth kind of BP drugs would most likely make me quite sick, so we skipped them.

The protection of the booster shots for the immunocompromised

should be extended to the elderly if it is warranted.

I’m in the vulnerable category – I got my fourth shot, considered the second booster shot, four days ago. My arm still hurts and a day after the shot during which I felt as if I had the flu was followed by two days of not getting much done because of being a bit woozy and brain-fogged, and I don’t care at all.

In a week and a half or so, I will have whatever immunity my body can build up from the shots, and I was the one who nagged my doctor’s office as soon as the CDC said people like me should have another booster.

We are back, cautiously, to congregant dining – but the husband and I are taking it very slow because I don’t want to get covid at all (I already have the equivalent of long covid; online friends who have had covid on top of ME/CFS are struggling). Everyone here wears masks, distances socially, and avoids as many group activities as possible – except for today, when we celebrated the lives of those fellow residents who left us this past year with a short ceremony and two songs – sung through my KN95 mask.

We are all wondering what will follow Omicron and its B version.

It will take a long time before people like me will feel safe – and seeing mask and other requirements vanishing left and right, when the scientists tell us it is NOT over, doesn’t help.

PLEASE continue to be careful and smart even when the official rules relax.

The life you save may be someone you love.

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I’m hoping my brain will be usable for writing fiction tomorrow.

Please pop over to prideschildren.com and follow if you are a fan of mainstream fiction of the ‘big book variety.’ There is a short story prequel there and a sample. PLUS the first scene of NETHERWORLD, and reports of how close it is to being published.

This post was composed while not completely with it – may be a bit ranty.

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What to do with a negative review

Can ‘Good’ come from ‘Evil’?

WHAT TO DO WHEN A READER DISLIKES YOUR WORK?

The traditional answer to this is, believe it or not, NOTHING.

Because a reader’s review is as much their opinion as your book is yours.

And you are grateful to have a reader who was moved to take up keyboard and leave you feedback.

And because you cannot please everyone.

And, most importantly, because have negative reviews is a rite of passage for writers, and now you’ve had yours.

Phew.

And here you thought having all 5* reviews was a mark of a good writer, and now your stellar reputation is trampled forever.

Is acceptance your only option, then?

Well, no.

The first instinct may be to send out destroyer missiles, but that may not actually remove the stain on your reputation.

The review stays.

But I came across a very creative way to use and benefit from that bad review on a blog post of Tahani Nelson, a fantasy writer. She turned a negative review (a reader got almost to the end of the book quite happily until she realized, oh dear, the warrior princess was gay!) into a great ad for her book. I won’t spoil her thunder – she deserves people to go read her post. Or at least scroll down to her ad. It’s gorgeous. Go ahead – I’ll wait.

So, I thought – YOU have some 1* and 2* reviews

What creative use are you going to make of them?

First, two of the ads (maybe written by the same person?) have the same error: ‘It is 545 pages long.’ Um, no. The book is 485 pages long.

The reviewer accused me of writing tedious descriptions about everything. Um, no. If anything, I am extremely parsimonious in the description department for a peculiar reason: Pride’s Children is written in very deep close multiple third person point of view, and I only use descriptions a character would actually THINK at the moment, which eliminates most descriptions (characters don’t do more than noticing a detail or two most of the time). Whether they’re tedious or not, that I’ll leave up to the individual reader, but I try to think of something obvious but fresh or relevant.

One reviewer must have thought the first paragraph of the prologue – a short excerpt from a faux New Yorker article that is my link between books, and the ‘outside’ view of the story from a magazine writer’s perspective years later – was actually the first paragraph of the book – and called it a run-on sentence. The paragraph is 79 words, a complex sentence but not a run on. The prologue is labeled Prothalamion – in honor of Dorothy L. Sayers who used one brilliantly in Busman’s Honeymoon.

The actual first sentence in Chapter 1 is 11 short sentences in 93 words. With periods or ellipses between them – clearly delimited.

I was accused of needing to prove I have an immense vocabulary. Why, thanks, I do know a lot of words, but all I try to do is use the words the characters would use. Which sometimes is very constraining.

The missing clues to my bad reviews (so far)

Several pieces in the negative reviews clued me in to the problem, and it’s a different one than I originally thought.

“I read Pride’s Children because of my daughter’s suggestion. I am not a fan of romance novels”

and

“the book was much too long. It could have been easily condensed to 2/3 the length”

and

“The number of quotations before each chapter was overkill – for the most part they only made sense to me after the chapter had been read.

And these pieces from positive reviews give different clues:

“These relationships do include romantic attraction and love (and even have it as a central focus), but it’s not the sole focus; family relationships, friendships, working relationships, etc. -some healthy and some not– come under the lens as well. And the development of the central attraction isn’t a “romance,” except in the sense that a Jane Austen novel could be called one (and allowing for differences in setting and literary conventions between the early 19th and early 21st centuries, a comparison to Austen isn’t entirely inapt!)”

and

“I cannot recommend this book, this trilogy, highly enough – but not to everyone. This is a book for readers who appreciate literary fiction and a very deeply developed romance with a thoughtful debate on ethics. I believe the pace and the delayed gratification will frustrate many modern romance readers who look for fast-burning romance, titillation, and simple love stories. However, if you are a reader who will appreciate a modern ‘Jane Eyre’, this trilogy is for you.”

My problem?

There are MANY Romance readers and writers in the world – and they do extremely well by each other.

But they have styles and tropes and limitations and expectations, among others:

  • only two characters in the relationship (excepting the exceptions for subgenres)
  • a point of view that goes back and forth at certain times between the two lovers-to-be – in the same scene
  • relative short
  • a particular style of covers
  • a happy ending (HEA – happily ever after) or (HFN – happy for now)

And somehow or other, even when the cover, description, and ad copy try to convey that Pride’s Children is NOT a Romance which follows what the readers expect, some readers picked it up, read, noticed things were not what they expected – but kept going all the way to the end (skimming, I’m assuming, in some places) – and still decided they were not happy, and left a review. An unhappy one. A 1* or 2* review.

I think that may mean I need to work on my ad copy. I don’t know how to say ‘mainstream love story’ as opposed to ‘Romance’ – because it sounds horribly condescending somehow, but wouldn’t you want to know there were supernatural beings or zombies in a book before you chose it to read, given your preferences either way?

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Suggestions welcome.

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If you read, or even prefer, mainstream love stories, and haven’t signed up to be notified about mine, please hop over to the Pride’s Children blog, and follow so you will be informed when they come out. Not frequently – I’m dreadfully slow – but they’re big fat complicated stories when they do.

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Don’t wait for the band wagon

CLIMB ABOARD NOW WHILE THERE ARE STILL GOOD SEATS

It is axiomatic that there are no overnight successes.

Why?

Because it takes huge amounts of determination and preparation to be ready to respond well when an opportunity finally comes along – and if you’re not ready, it will leave you in the dust and move on.

Take your American Idol singer

The pipes that astonish are not natural, spur of the moment, magically angelic. Nope. If so, they are most likely to freeze at the first sign of stress.

The singer not only sings a lot in the shower, but has had parents paying for individual teachers, has been singing in the church choir, has spent years listening to music, and has been through a whole list of roles in the school plays.

Being on stage in front of a bunch of strangers and wowing Simon Cowell is not a fluke.

The illusion that it is sudden and unexpected and a direct blessing from Heaven is for the AUDIENCE. The ones who want to jump on the bandwagon as it goes by because, “I’m just as good as she is.” It keeps them buying the advertised products, watching the shows, purchasing tickets for Kelly Clarkson when she comes to town.

Even the little Wow! stories are the product of hours and hours and hours of cameramen recording every remotely possible candidate practicing in the hall – to be scrolled through for the exciting bits AFTER the winner has been chosen.

It matters only for the individuals

The producers don’t care who wins – they have SO many contestants that their triage is stricter than that after a major accident: they may let a few charismatic duds go through a few levels they aren’t qualified for – one leaves in the random possibility because crowds are fickle, but the staff’s job is to make sure that the two or three possibles culled out of each thousand who apply are usable.

They have no investment in a particular candidate. It’s dangerous to have one because talent and stardom are unpredictable beasts.

But the individual candidates, those who want to win, have to be ready to win – if it happens.

Artists need support BEFORE

before they are recognized as somehow ‘good.’

before they get discouraged and stop producing amazing work.

before everyone else discovers them.

It is even more important for those who are slow, or for whom doing the work is a great mental and/or physical effort.

I know that I will never forget the earliest responses on Wattpad from other writers, the ones who kept me cheerfully sharpening my nose. Because they KNEW – and SAID so – BEFORE others.

Peter Hyland, one of my characters, says,

“None of my friends are perfect. And most of them are irreplaceable. They provide the mirror when I get too big for my britches. New ones are hard to find.” He squinted at the dying sun. “I need them far more than they need me.

PRIDE’S CHILDREN: PURGATORY, Chapter 13

It is hard for people to commit, to say, “I’ve found this new writer/photographer/painter…, and you should look into their work” to recommend someone to a friend. What if the friend doesn’t like the new artist? Easier not to say anything, and just nod wisely.

But once the wagon is full, one more supporter isn’t going to make that much of a difference.

Getting started is hard – but up to the writer, who is the one to make the decision when something is first ready to be released to the public.

But keeping it going is much harder still, and that’s when the support can make the difference between someone going on to do creditable work – or quitting.

Why now?

It may or may not be important, or a stepping stone of any size, but I’m saying thank you to all my readers who have been saying, “I like what you write,” since I started putting Pride’s Children out in serial form on Wattpad.

You may or may not have noticed the new badge on the sidebar.

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY has been named Indies Today’s 2021 BEST CONTEMPORARY novel, and I’d love it if those of you who read mainstream fiction would pop over to my other site, the one for the books, and sign up to follow that blog as I get ready to finish and publish the second novel in the trilogy, Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD.

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Is labeling mainstream novels literary counterproductive?

A REVOLUTION HAPPENED AND NOBODY NOTICED

Amazon tries; it really does.

To satisfy its customers, to make searching for what they want easy (easier), to supply it efficiently.

By revolution I mean both also that things turned around – 180° – from where they were, sort of, before.

Because before this all happened, ‘literary’ was a separate category in bookstores.

And literary meant a number of things:

  • Difficult to read, requiring great attention
  • Small in scope – One DAY in the life of Ivan Denisovich
  • Elitist
  • Using difficult flowery language
  • Very detailed – a navel closely observed and described
  • Slow and languid
  • Somehow not for everyone
  • Requiring a large SAT vocabulary
  • For people with an MA in English or Literature
  • Suitable proof for a doctorate
  • A credential for teaching English or Literature
  • With a limited audience
  • Special
  • Art
  • Cliched
  • Maybe French or translated from Italian or Russian
  • Not commercial
  • Often not ending anywhere near happily

Add or subtract from my list what comes into your head when you hear ‘literary novel.’ Please feel free to mention them in a comment.

What’s the revolution, you ask?

That ‘literary’ now means ‘traditionally published good stuff’ on Amazon, and is seen as almost the exclusive purview of, you guessed it, the traditional publishers large and small.

The books that are vetted by agents and editors at publishing companies (excluding the celebrity stuff), and are therefore both ‘better’ and ‘not for the hoi polloi.’

The other similar term is ‘historical,’ which is a little fuzzier and often about WWII, sometimes about WWI or the American Civil War.

Because the term ‘mainstream’ disappeared, and is not the same as ‘contemporary,’ which can be attached to, say, a Romance and a worldview: ‘Contemporary Christian Romance’ is a searchable thing.

It is considered presumptuous to label your own work ‘classic.’

And ‘General Fiction’ is not a category, but a garbage can.

‘Psychological’ is filling the empty slot somewhat – almost all novels for grownups are psychological, but is confounded by ‘thriller,’ ‘horror’, and ‘women’s fiction.’ With, of course, nothing actually labeled ‘fiction for men.’

It used to be possible to find mainstream fiction by looking for ‘a novel’ on the cover. No more. It now means only ‘book of at least 50 pages.’

It doesn’t matter for mainstream because

I’m convinced readers of mainstream fiction who use Amazon come there to find a good price on something they’ve already decided to buy.

I don’t think they search on Amazon. Not beyond maybe being attracted by something similar being offered by the ‘also read’ bots. There is just too much stuff.

They get their recommendations elsewhere – book critics (who rarely do SPAs*), reviews in the few places which still have book sections (print journalism has taken a lot of hits lately, too), and the publicity material put out for their best-selling authors by the traditional publishers (other authors get bupkis from traditional publishers – return on investment isn’t worth it).

So the market is saturated and sopped up by the same few titles which keep those offices in Manhattan open for the publishers (and their unpaid interns).

I’m hoping for virality. It can make the huge difference to a start – and then the writing must maintain the quality so that future books, even if widely spaces, are eagerly awaited.

Feel free to help kick that off – if you like mainstream fiction.

Don’t let ‘the system’ keep producing same old, same old – and then complain you can’t find anything you like to read.

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Thank you for listening to the daily rant. Now, if I could just manage to do it daily! 🙂

Oh, and the answer to the title question is yes: ‘Literary’ has too many negative and restrictive connotations in the minds of too many readers.

‘Literary’ is not a good substitute for such terms as mainstream, ‘big book’, epic, blockbuster, or commercial novel. It isn’t the same. Even when the intent is to make it a synonym with ‘well written.’

IMNVHO (In my not very humble opinion,)

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Final note: Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is taking part today and for the next few days at a promotion at HelloBooks – which has many other wonderful bargains for serious readers of General Fiction (its category) and many other genres.

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*SPAs = self-published authors, sometimes known as indies or independent authors

When the WIP forces change on your writing style

I’VE BEEN STRUGGLING WITH A NEW CONUNDRUM

I didn’t expect to, not this late in the middle book of a trilogy.

I capture these thoughts when they happen, hoping to have something to refer to when it happens again.

The constraint here is both the calendar – the end is near, and the content until the last scene is what it has to be – and a sense of pace.

In the real world, things have their own importance, and can’t be hurried – or slowed. Their pace is what their pace is.

In fiction, however, technically every bit is under the immediate and complete control of the writer – nothing happens without her say so – and completely not. Why? Because the pace you work hard to develop as you go seems to have a built-in speed you didn’t put there.

I’m not used to this

All pantsers are familiar with this.

Whereas I, an extreme plotter, like to think I’m in control of everything.

The story takes over.

And you bumble around in the dark until you learn.

Oh, and try doing this with WRITER brain fog!

You can’t write chaos smoothly

But it can’t be completely chaotic stream-of-consciousness either, not for very long on the page: the Reader won’t stand for it.

So it’s a mixture, and, from deep third multiple pov, you have to credibly present a chaotic situation for a character you’ve already developed (starting that way in Chapter 1 or with a new character is a different ballgame), and who is usually much less confused.

So you will get a little indulgence from your audience, but don’t want to presume on that – or they’ll start skimming, and you’ve lost them.

Balance.

So, another skill attempted in the craft.

I wonder what the beta reader will say.

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If you’re a reader, do you notice this kind of thing? And how much patience do you have for a change in how you see characters, especially when they’re under stress?

If you’re a writer, has this one bitten your ankles?

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One way to encourage a writer

When you are reaching the end of writing a novel, it looks as if you’ll never finish.

Encouragement comes in odd places:

  • a reader wanting to know when the next one is out
  • sales you didn’t expect, didn’t advertise for
  • the writing going particularly well
  • a tough section written
  • and a review that blows your metaphorical socks off (one gets so jaded).

This morning, my inbox contained a link to that kind of review, and I encourage those who are here for the fiction to take a quick look at the books’ sister site, Pride’s Children . com, and sign up there if they haven’t – because NETHERWORLD will be here early next year, and that encouragement keeps me focused.

An encouraged and supported writer (thanks to all my visitors and commenters and fellow bloggers and friends from FB and GR – you know who you are, and I hope you know how important you are) is a happy writer, and is probably writing much better than a discouraged one.

I don’t buy the drugs-and-alcohol motivated writer narrative (one reason being because my body doesn’t process alcohol fast enough and I don’t tolerate most meds), so I have to go on HAPPINESS, the universal salve.

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Sleep and lowered stress would be nice, too, and research to treat and cure this dratted disease (ME/CFS). I’m doing the best that I can.

Reduced brain fog would be ideal.

I’m doing the best that I can.

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