Tag Archives: Hard choices

How to go viral with literary fiction

IS IT DESIRABLE TO MAKE LITERARY FICTION GO VIRAL IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Big question. Big risk. Big reward?

Before talking about HOW, the question is WHY?

‘Going viral’ is a short way of saying ‘become wildly popular so everyone wants one.’

Potentially lucrative.

Also, potentially lethal.

It is one thing to have a product/idea be popular with the masses, but it is another to have the masses laugh at it.

A hula hoop going viral at the right time becomes a toy that almost anyone can buy – AND almost anyone can learn to use – at least sort of. Right before Christmas, at the right price (enough for a hefty markup but not expensive enough to break anyone’s bank), and balanced with the manufacturing ability to produce more in a hurry, hula hoops were very popular and sold millions. (Disclosure: I had one as a kid in Mexico, and was pretty good at it.)

But a book?

It almost seems contradictory to the concept of literary fiction to try to make it go viral.

Except that it has been done.

Something like two MILLION copies of The Goldfinch were printed.

Something like half of those copies were eventually pulped.

Unknown numbers of the ones purchased were READ.

Unknown numbers decorated coffee tables as the ‘book to have.’ Not to have read, necessarily, but to seem to have read. It being literary fiction and wildly popular, if you had a copy you wouldn’t necessarily tell your friends whether you had read the whole thing or not.

Full disclosure: I read the reviews, lots of them, and decided it was probably not my kind of book: too many of the complaints were pet peeves. Some day I will find out for myself, but the day hasn’t come when I can divert MY focus without derailing my own writing. Yet.

How did it go viral?

The most expensive way, the way of the BIG traditional publisher, with a campaign that put the publisher’s entire resources behind a gamble: that they could push a literary novel into being THE literary novel of the season, make it a ‘must have’ and sell enough copies to justify the advance, the push, AND enhance the publisher’s reputation.

Not just reputation, but selling a reasonable number of paper bricks at a hardcover price is lucrative – one well-publicized ‘winner’ can carry the publishing house’s season.

The economics get all fuzzy if the numbers don’t work out, or they would use this system for all their books every season. But the economics MUST work out, or the big publishers wouldn’t keep trying to find (make) the breakout novel of the season.

In sum, it costs a lot of money, but can pay off with a lot MORE money.

How to take advantage of the possibility if you’re an SPA?

Well, if you’re already a popular SPA like Brandon Sanderson, with a loyal fan base, you can kick it to the next level with a huge Kickstarter calculated to both satisfy those fans and create a beautiful buzz for your books. [Hint: He wrote four books in secret – and then releases them to his Kickstarter fans before anyone else is allowed to buy them.]

What if you’re an unknown SPA?

Then you have to hope like crazy that you catch the public imagination – or, possibly better still, the attention of a significant influencer, and get the push from someone else’s fame.

Because the product is not an easy one to sell. For one thing, they consume, each, almost a whole waking day. And there isn’t yet an audiobook so you can do other things while listening – plus it needs closer attention than many, to pick up and follow its varied threads. It’s a pretty intense experience to live a story with three main characters by sitting inside their heads, right behind the eyeballs, thinking their thoughts and registering the external world through their senses.

Not a short commitment from a potential reader, as a popular five-minute song might be.

Add to the mix an author with no energy due to a boring chronic illness – no energy to do the vaunted indie marketing, which requires dedication and verve, spending hours creating material and doing what a whole lot of professionals at a traditional publisher will do for a favored author: designer cover, a book tour, appearances on media from internet to live TV, promotions at Walmart, movie tie-ins for the fortunate… arranging, arranging, arranging – by someone(s).

The right mix of promoting the book and promoting the writer is crucial – time-critical and planned and managed. And still subject to luck. Not just the cost – but the contacts – are crucial to try to control the presentation and roll-out for maximum exposure.

So what do I OFFER such an influencer?

Few things can be left to random kindness any more.

The best value from an influencer is one who discovers your book – and promotes it on their channel of influence (think BookTok) – without any work from the author. Because they like it.

But no one can COUNT on that LUCK. Even when a book such as the lovely The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, written by a very ill woman who paid attention to the snail in a terrarium, happens, there are friends and pushers, people who did the work of finding a publisher for her, who made it their job to promote her memoir and her writing. Another book which didn’t count on luck, but was awarded the Pulitzer for fiction, A Confederacy of Dunces, was pushed, after he couldn’t get it published and committed suicide, by John Kennedy Toole’s mother, to writer Walker Percy. Again, not something to count on.

What I can offer is the brownie points (does anyone still remember those?) from discovering something unique: a chronically ill and disabled writer who takes forever, but writes mainstream fiction – and writes it well, or the influencer wouldn’t even be considering using up their points for someone else. It could be pushed as ‘discovering the indie/self-published X’, where X is the influencer’s favorite important mainstream writer. I’m far too modest to suggest a comparison author, but my reviewers (at least two) have compared me to Jane Austen. It’s worth a thought.

And if you don’t go viral, how about getting banned?

Another path to notoriety! Otherwise known as ‘publicity.’ Anything to make a good story, right? Not mine – the influencer’s.

It’s a little harder for me – I’ve been looking to the future use of teaching Pride’s Children in schools, and have deliberately kept the actual words and events to the PG-13 level – but someone is quite welcome to take my third main character Bianca Doyle’s unorthodox way of getting a father for her children as scandalous and upsetting drivel to which innocent teenagers (!?!) should not be exposed. Go ahead – it takes little to get the righteous flustered and judgy.

Those are the potential arrows in my literary-publicity quiver

I am quite happy to discover and entertain more, if you have suggestions – I want to be widely read. I would like a few more reviewers, please rhapsodizing about my prose. You needn’t be fulsome – understated works, too.

I would like a huge contingent of breathless fans waiting for me to finally complete work on LIMBO (or LIMBO & PARADISE), to the extent of making preorders possible.

I would love a ready market for any prequel or sequel short stories about our merry band and their quarrelsome ways, and I will continue to work at my deliberate pace (or until cured) to add to the canon.

Wishes make good goals for 2023, if a tad unrealistic. One can dream.

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Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, and HAPPIER NEW YEAR to all – may the holidays you love and celebrate bring you joy.

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Who and what a writer is matters

WHEN YOU ARE YOUNG, YOU TRY OUT FEELINGS

And the books which become favorites, the ones you remember, are the ones that make you feel good somehow.

Because that’s what you get objectively and subjectively when you read/buy a writer’s book: their particular take on a life, love, and the universal.

It isn’t accidental that some books become classics: they appeal to something in the reader that makes the reader buy the book as an adult, and read it to their children, because it’s an easy way to say that: this is what I want you to grow up loving – and feeling – because it was important to me, and I want you to have it.

As you go through life, and get battered, you choose

But you have to read widely first, so you find out what you need.

Is it The Velveteen Rabbit?

Is is Pooh, original or Disney (or both)?

Is it mysteries or gory serial killer thrillers? Do you like fantasies and are you satisfied when someone else – the protagonist – is The One? Or do you prefer stories in which, due to the writer’s skill, YOU are the center, the quester, the One.

There’s a whole MATRIX of other relevant bits

  • Historical time
  • Gender
  • Location on this planet or an alternate universe
  • Ending
  • Language
  • Complexity of ideas
  • Style and tone and vocabulary
  • Originality

But the most important one is always: how does it make you FEEL?

Because that’s what you’re looking for in the next story, the next favorite, the next book.

And that’s what will determine a basic satisfaction with what you read, and what you look for when you take a chance on something new.

I’m a sucker for well-written books

And I get annoyed when that leads me astray: well-written – but with a basic nastiness to the ending; well-written – but with an underlying misogyny or racism; well-written – but with characters you’d never want to meet in real life.

I still remember one book which was recommended by a literary blog I no longer recall and which the reviewer said it was a shame more people hadn’t read, since it was so well-written. I bought it! I read it! I was indeed very well written. And the recommendation made me miss the early red flags, because the story, about a murdered young girl, and how it affected her family and friends, turned into a story which blamed the victim for her own murder – because of the way she ‘responded’ to the sick adults who perverted her innocence. And the final conclusion to the story was that it wasn’t important to identify and stigmatize the killer!

I deleted the book from my Amazon account, something I rarely do, but haven’t been able to scrub how it made me feel from my mind.

Because first the writer described how wonderful she was and how everyone loved her – and then destroyed her by saying she deserved what happened to her! As if anyone, especially a child, a teen, deserved to be murdered.

It makes me wonder WHY someone would write such a book. And realize there’s a whole subculture of writers who do – and readers who love those books.

When I write I make conscious choices

I leave the characters those turnoffs that the big trucks use on a mountain road when their brakes fail – but I can’t make the characters use them.

I adopt the slow burn: things happen with enough time to think about why, to consider consequences, to justify actions. There are plenty of stories – and real life events – where something pivots on a tiny accidental point. They don’t interest me because there is nothing a character can do to avert the coming disaster – they will cope with the change, and the coping will show who they are, but it’s a cop-out, and, under dire circumstances, even good people make mistakes. And have to live with the consequences of a split second.

Not much in the way of subtlety with the turn-your-life-on-a-twisted-dime stories, especially if the reader can see it coming at the previous mile marker. Plus, those books don’t reward re-reading, and that’s a waste: depending on a trick ending is a fool-me-once.

I WANT to write something re-readable.

I want it to take several readings to see many of the connections.

I want most readers to have to go back and read the previous volume before the new one – or to have internalized what came before so they wouldn’t have to (I’ve had both kinds of readers comment about this).

I offer the usual bargain:

I do the work – you tell me how it made you feel.

Then tell me how it worked for you.

Try it out on the prequel 1500 word short story Too Late.

Then remember there’s plenty more where that came from.

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Phoning in a bad editorial review

PAYING FOR AN EDITORIAL REVIEW GUARANTEES NOTHING

I’m going to be very careful with this post, as getting a bad editorial review is one of the hazards of paying for reviews: your book could be crap, and a proper reviewer is entitled to say exactly what they think of it.

This reviewer sends you the review as a courtesy, so you can tweak any problems before it gets published.

Sometimes you have the recourse of requesting that the review be dumped, and I have exercised that right.

So any quotes I list from the to-not-be-published review are my only product for my money – as only the reviewer and I should have access to the content, and therefore no one should be able to search for the quotes on the internet, and identify the person I’m complaining about here.

Got it?

I will leave off any identifying information

and write only about the substance of the review, which is the subject of my complaint in a general way (I can already see readers wondering how bad Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD was, and whether I simply can’t take criticism).

Indies like me need a few impartial honest editorial reviews and we need to pay for them. They – in full, or quotes from them – go in the Editorial Reviews section of the book’s Amazon page.

Having a decent editorial review legitimizes you as an author, gives you some credibility.

We need to choose our source, as it can get into real money (for example, a Kirkus review is almost $500), and it will take a lot of sales to make that review worth the expenditure.

There are many other reputable review services available to self-published authors (SPAs), less expensive ones, but the field is, like literary agentry, completely unregulated, even taking into account that the ultimate result, the review, is published for anyone to see.

One would hope for some self-regulation, but the standard thing for an author to do if you don’t like a review is to let it sink like the millstone it is and hope no one sees it.

FIGHTING a review is not done, and will get you branded a ‘difficult author.’

Again, got it?

So why am I taking the risk?

Because I had expectations (silly woman?) that a professional reviewer would at least read the book.

Or enough of the book to be able to say something real and thoughtful about what I spent 7 years of my small supply of good energy producing.

When I was offered the draft review to tweak

my heart sank.

I wrote back, after a bit of reflection at the complete mismatch between my understanding of my book, and the review:

…I have been looking forward to your review for a long time.

And now I have to ask you to completely cancel publication.

If you have any interest, let me know, and I can provide you with a list of all the points your review did not mention that are critical to the story continued in NETHERWORLD.

I don’t know what to think, but the review below in the email you just sent me is not something I would want published if I have any choice in the matter. It does not represent the continuing story nor the characters.

Email, 11/5/22

I did NOT expect a response other than cancellation; what I received was:

Oh my! The review can of course be put on hold.

Please let me know what was wrong or missing. I will go over my notes and re-read, and re-do the review to get it right.

Sometimes I leave out some points in a story in favor of trying to preserve some elements of surprise for the reader; but in this case it sounds like I missed too many and was too general.

Please let me know specifics, and I’ll work at identifying where in my notes I went awry, and will redo the reading and notes as needed.

Lovely offer, so what’s the problem?

I’ll go into specifics of a few things below, but ‘missing a few points’ was not my interpretation.

In fact, when I started to make a mental list of the ‘few points,’ I quickly realized that the entire book had been left out, and a completely generic Romance review was what had been supplied.

If anyone knows Pride’s Children, they know that it is NOT a Romance, was never intended to be one, and misses every trope that a Romance reader expects from a satisfying Romance. Romance is a perfectly viable category with dedicated writers and MANY more readers than literary fiction – and enviably lucrative – but I don’t write Romance.

I’ll let a reviewer for PURGATORY comment:

…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!), nor is it predictable or syrupy…

https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R37NLDE4OZP2AG/

In fact, as much as I respect Romance writers and readers for knowing and getting what they like to read, I have been fighting Pride’s Children being categorized as a Romance everywhere that crops up, including Goodreads, where the librarians refused to do anything because some READERS had chosen to include PC on a shelf with ‘romance’ somewhere in its title.

Pride’s Children is a LOVE STORY embedded in a mainstream trilogy set in the intersection between Hollywood and writers

From the same reviewer:

…This is solid general fiction of a very high order, in the best Realist tradition, exploring human interactions and relationships between enormously well-drawn characters who come fully alive, as real, intensely human people. 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…

Op. cit.

And now for a few review details, so you can judge for yourself

The whole mention given to Bianca, arguably the most important character in NETHERWORLD, is “And then there’s Andrew’s film co-star Bianca, whose debut film is starting to make its mark on the world,” followed by a single reference to ‘the dance between these three’ and one to ‘a triangle of connections, ambition, and obsessions that embraces scheming, film industry politics, and love and friendship alike.’

The rest of the review tries, generically, to make a two-character Romance out of the friendship between Andrew and Kary: “… recommended pick for prior enthusiasts of the tale, who will find the ongoing growth and connections between Irish megastar Andrew O’Connell [sic] recluse author Dr. Kary Ashe continues to introduce challenge and revised their visions of life…” and “…As each makes their way through dates, other life connections, and events that test their talents and perspectives, readers receive an intriguing contrast in personalities and love that will especially delight prior followers of Andrew and Kary’s worlds.”

The ending tells libraries that NETHERWORLD has “… thought-provoking escapades and interpersonal conundrums where all the characters are both villain and hero will welcome the nicely-developed tension and psychological insights…”

All the characters are both villain and hero?

Excuse me while I gag. The whole point of Pride’s Children is that integrity and morality are NOT relative, not subjective, not ‘opinions,’ but fraught choices with consequences even for those who don’t get to choose.

What do authors do with bad editorial reviews?

Distinguish here first between the REVIEW being bad and the BOOK being so bad the review which says that is good, but this can be irrelevant unless the book is so hyped people go to the original source to see what was actually written, which could lead to a firestorm of sorts until the internet finds the next flaming pile.

The most obvious and most common response is to find some chunk of words in the review that can be used as a pull quote – words to put on the cover or in an ad – that are TECHNICALLY not a lie, because those words, in that order, appear in the review, even if the review context clearly negates the pull quote. Easy? “…one of the best thrillers…” from an original “Nowhere NEAR one of the best thrillers…” Usually a bit more subtle, but you get the idea.

Or if lucky or money is available, a bad review can be buried by several good ones. With the additional fillip of implying the unwanted review is somehow sour grapes.

Dropping the review completely means the loss of whatever was paid for it, which is sometimes the only option.

Arguing about the review in public, WITH names, is best left to well-paid PR pros, because of all the positive and negative ramifications. ‘Going to war’ is expensive, with pitfalls.

Another option, mine, is to use the review carefully as a cautionary example of what can happen, for the newbies to learn from and more experience writers to commiserate about. And then to put it behind you. And, of course, never use that reviewer or editorial review service again.

I briefly considered one OTHER final option

Complaining to the service managers or owners about the review and the reviewer.

Not probably the best option – the reviewer may have been bringing in cash for the service for a while.

Possibly an excuse for the review service to dump the reviewer (usually added to other examples of the reviewer cutting corners or losing their touch).

But extremely dangerous to the individual unarmored AUTHOR, because people won’t necessarily remember that there was some justification for a complaint, only that a certain AUTHOR (those horrible people) had the nerve to complain about a PROFESSIONAL REVIEWER, followed by closing of the ranks of the pros and more complaints about, in this case, entitled indie AUTHORs.

So I’ll stop at ‘cautionary tale,’ hope I get some feedback and not too many people trolling (if you are not a regular, that behavior will get you banned before leading to any posting of your comment; regulars are welcome because I know they will be civil).

I can’t be the only one unhappy with a paid-for review that seems entirely unrelated to the book.

Am I?

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Oh, and don’t forget to BUY the book (or going to Booksprout to request an ARC if you are even considering writing a review), so you can make your own decision if my happiness with NETHERWORLD, and especially its ending, is a crock.

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Surviving an extraordinary month in one piece

View of a bridge down a city street with tall buildings; snow is falling, there are cars and people on the street.
So many places you can be!

WHERE HAVE I BEEN AND WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING?

I am just coming out of a period that started, really, far before Sep. 26 when I went to Stanford U. hospitals for a badly needed surgical repair.

It involved taking care of myself in ways I had to learn, going through all kinds of medical tests to make sure that someone with ME/CFS (me) would be a suitable candidate for surgery at all, and then getting there at the right time without the coronavirus putting a stop to the whole parade: I literally had a covid PCR test on Sunday Sep. 25 in a parking lot in Redwood City – all ready for the hospital the next morning – and being fairly sure I was not sick, but knowing that the juggernaut would come to a shuddering halt if I happened to be and be asymptomatic.

And it would take months to get another surgical date, months I did not want to have to face.

Husband and I had isolated in our apartment in the retirement community for over two weeks, going out for doctor’s appointments, and husband going down to dining to retrieve takeout every night for dinner so we wouldn’t be exposed to the cases that seem to randomly infect this place now that people are being so less careful with masks and gatherings.

I had literally been waiting 2.5 years for this surgery date, since I needed it just as the pandemic was getting going in 2020, and anyone who could avoid going to a hospital did so.

Before going to my medical destiny, I published NETHERWORLD:

The Pride and Joy – NETHERWORLD

It was finished in March, but the complications of the health stuff kept me from focusing on cover and formatting, and I finally got help from friends, Bill and Teresa Peschel of Peschel Press in Hershey, PA. Bill kindly and accurately produced the cover from my notes and comments (patient man!), and responded to many rounds of requests for corrections to the interior formatting of the paperback – and I did the final touches to the ebook cover and interior produced by Scrivener on Sep. 18 and 19 and uploaded the files, which Amazon accepted with relative alacrity, making me no longer a one-book author.

And then came the surgery and its aftermath – the HORROR

The operation went fine, and the results have been stellar and relatively painless, and most everything now works properly, and all of it as well as possible.

But pain management went flooey – starting with side effects of medication changes the week before, and then continuing for the most pain I’ve ever had, for weeks, accompanied by side effects from other new medications designed to help, to finally me getting off EVERY NEW MED, and back to my long-time stable pain medications from before – and them slowly being enough.

I tried to tell them I’m a non-standard patient; I thought they had listened.

Nope.

Don’t know what I’ll do if I ever need to do something like this again, but there will be some very interesting and thorough conversations somewhere along the line: ME/CFS patients are NOT normal patients.

It’s over, I will be released from restrictions in a week

and I will be able to use our warm therapy pool, and then work up to riding my tricycle, and longer trips that the bare minimum rides on Maggie, my Airwheel S8 (a bicycle seat on a hoverboard).

And after getting my brain back these last few days, and catching up enough on sleep to be coherent (pain makes it IMPOSSIBLE to get rest), I have a big paperwork task to finish and send to the accountants.

And I will then be able to start up my new Macbook (I got the midnight blue one), and plug away at organizing the upgraded software I bought it for, and get going to finish the trilogy by writing volume 3, working title LIMBO.

I will be back to whatever passes for normal in this body and this household.

Nothing has yet changed on the research horizons

Rather, it seems that every day some scientist group has a new theory about what may be going wrong in the aftermath of viral infections such as Covid-19 and ME/CFS, and they want research money to find out if they’re right.

One of them will figure it out – the economic impact of millions of people coming down with Long Covid cannot be tolerated.

Except for the diehard holdouts, most doctors are starting to believe that post-viral illnesses are real and not psychological, or hysterical. They have no clue how to help us that gets down to basics and CURES us yet, but they are starting to treat the symptoms and minimize some of the miseries.

There is where HOPE lies: enough scientists committed to figuring it out, supported by research funds. Whether it is too late for people like me who’ve been ill for decades won’t be known for a while, and indeed the research horizon, my husband cautions, is more likely to be five to ten years than anything much faster: the coronavirus does an incredible amount of damage.

Some of it may not be fixable. I may not be fixable. Which would be a bitter conclusion I’m not ready to face yet.

All us post-viral illness folk still have to make it through the days

If you have it, my sympathies. If you have managed to avoid long covid, please be careful – if you get covid, your chances are estimated at 10-30% to not get better.

Have sympathy if you are not ill or have not lost someone dear – the tragedies are endless.

And send good vibes, pray, or cross your fingers – because I can’t wait to get back to spending my daily tiny allotment of energy FINISHING Pride’s Children.

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If you read mainstream fiction, or psychological literary fiction, and haven’t read NETHERWORLD, it’s on Amazon in ebook and print. And in KU.

I would love to hear what you think – especially about whether it ends suitably.

And you can sign up to be informed about matters connected with the books at prideschildren.com.

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Applying for writing awards is hard

BECAUSE LIEBJABBERINGS IS MY WRITING BLOG, TOO

When I post something on my other blog, the one for the Pride’s Children books and stories, that might be of interest to the people who follow my writing posts here, I’ll usually provide a link.

The latest post there talks about the psychology of putting yourself forward for awards, something which still feels somehow odd, if not wrong.

Self-promotion is weird. Filling in things like ‘Author Bio’ and talking about yourself in third person, because that’s what the traditional publishers do, is weird.

The simple act of submitting your work for an award, which wasn’t successful for me for a long time (and it is only recent that my work received one), is still weird.

But if I don’t, no one will. And that’s a sobering thought.

Pop over to the post – and if you ever think you might read my fiction, Follow – so you’ll find out about sales and samples in a timely manner. And the sales before they’re over.

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How to read and review NETHERWORLD

PRIDE’S CHILDREN: NETHERWORLD IS WAITING FOR REVIEWS

If you hurry, you might be the first to post a review – poor NETHERWORLD is sitting on Amazon without a single one as I write this.

I’m slowly getting over the aftereffects of surgery, so I will be more proactive in the coming months.

FIRST SALE FOR NETHERWORLD BEGINS OCTOBER 19

because Amazon needs its price to not have changed for 30 days, and I have set up a Kindle Countdown Deal for my readers who follow this blog: you can even buy it for $2.99 in ebook on Amazon US that day (unfortunately, countdowns are a US thing, too).

OTHER ways to read and review:

IF you want to download an ARC

follow this link to the books’ site, and it will tell you how to join Booksprout and become a reader/reviewer (they even have other books you might like to download and read). While you’re there, if you haven’t clicked ‘Follow’ before, feel free to do so now – it is the best way to get details about the book delivered to your inbox, and to hear about sales in a timely manner.

I’m using this method because I am still not well enough to handle the back and forth of individual communication about ARCs; if you want that, it’s going to be about a month before I can commit to doing it (it takes a lot of work on my part).

I would appreciate it very much if you join, download and read, and review – and it will be much faster for you.

IF you would rather buy

simply mosey over to Amazon’s page for Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, and choose ebook or print. It is a bit longer than PURGATORY, but the ebook is the same price.

And, of course, I would still love a review!

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It’s that easy.

But be warned: I write long books.

But then: that may be partly why my readers love them.

I’m slowly getting back to functional, but surgery isn’t easy for someone like me. All anyone really needs to know is that it seems to have been successful, and I’m working on the pain part, and can’t wait until I’m back to what passes for normal for me.

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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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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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Fixing what’s not working on novel

HOW LONG DO YOU STICK IT OUT?

Over at C h a z z W r i t e s, Chazz asks: Are you ready to fix what’s not working?

He kindly provided a long list of questions, and after I got started, I realized I should post this here, and just leave the first two answers as a teaser on his blog, which you should visit and follow.

He starts his post with:

Publishing gurus are full of ideas for you. To optimize your sales, they might suggest new covers. They will tell you that your only barrier to startling success is a simple (yet costly) tweak to your book description.

ChazzWrites – 19 March 2022

He asks you:

How do we adapt? Consider these questions:

Here is my list of answers – a good set to answer for yourself in writing. I’ve edited or changed his questions a bit in places to suit me better – you should read his.

What is success to me?

People reading and reviewing my mainstream trilogy – I am pretty sure it will take off in a big way some day, and these people keep me writing.

What works for you?

Doing it exactly my way, designed for a damaged brain and no energy – because it works.

What doesn’t?

Everyone else’s suggestions – I can’t follow them, and when I make the big effort, they don’t work for me.

Have you tested other options?

Yes, though not extensively – I’m VERY slow, and this takes time away from writing.

Have you played with the variables?

Not a lot – by definition, half of A/B testing is going to be wrong!

Would you drop what isn’t working?

In principle, yes – but I have to somehow decide people who don’t know me and my work know what they’re talking about. So far, not convinced.

Are you doing more of what works for you?

I am – and I do as soon as I identify something that works, I do more of it. When I have time and energy, the kicker.

What haven’t you succeeded at trying that might work?

Going viral (not something you can just ‘try.’) Getting on Oprah or equivalent. Practically, attracting a BIG influencer who goes to bat for me.

Have you tried that?

Have asked maybe ten – they all have shied away or answered in generalities or haven’t answered at all. Doing things their way works for them; altering, looking at the outliers, not so much.

Before changing, have you completed other projects?

Yes. I can only work on one thing at a times – very little ability to do elsewise.

Have you analyzed pros and cons of a strategy such as changing genres?

Not until I finish the mainstream trilogy (but I managed to tuck some historical fiction AND some science fiction into it).

What would your costs be?

Funny: They go from me, my time, and my energy, immediately to a very expensive version of let other people do it. I could probably afford it, if I were convinced it would make a permanent difference – but I don’t believe that, because the limitation is still me.

What would the cost/benefit of getting paid helpers be?

I would have to sell a LOT more books to make them pay for themselves, and, since I will never be able to create much of a backlist, there won’t be much help from other work, so it would depend on a single huge campaign for the trilogy.

How much money do you need to live?

Fortunately, I’m retired, settled into a retirement community, and okay.

How much MORE do you need for WANTS?

Lucky that way – none.

Do you have the helpers to effect this change?

Not yet, though I’ve approached several possibilities, and listened carefully to their answers.

Would this be an investment, or money down the drain?

It’s my life, and my only chance of a legacy, since I became chronically ill.

Is a helper worth the time or mental toll it will require?

Haven’t found one yet that is.

What’s keeping you from trying?

Lack of energy.

What’s the worst that could happen?

No increased sales, and the loss of a lot of money which should have gone to charities and the kids.

What’s the best that could happen?

Breakout – and a fame which wouldn’t make much difference to a very isolated disabled life, but would be fun (instead of always being odd woman out).

Is the new way of working a passion, an excuse, or an escape?

Passion, of course. Nothing else is worth the kind of effort necessary.

What makes your new approach significantly different from old projects that failed?

I’m doing it myself; the failed one approached traditional publishing and didn’t get a brass ring.

Are you happy or excited to make this new commitment?

Haven’t had a credible proposition yet; there’s one possibility in the works – a PR company. I’m waiting to hear, because they will have to do all the changing – I don’t have the capacity to.

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And there you have my answers.

Thanks to Chazz!

Go visit, read his actual questions, answer them for yourself.

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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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Setting fiction in worlds with calendars and clocks

GOING TO ABSURD LENGTHS TO MAKE TIMES AND DATES WORK

There are two parts to verisimilitude: characters and plots.

When you graft a fictional character onto a world in a historical context – changing the name of the president, for example (still missing President Bartlett of the West Wing, not so much the Presidents Underwood of House of Cards), is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, because FICTION.

But there is a significant difference between an alternate history – one which answers what if? questions about what would happen if something changed due to that fictional occurrence (President Lincoln survived the Civil War) – and one which aims to change only a few features of an event, without completely changing the chronology of what happens after.

Because, within wide parameters, most people aren’t important enough to change history, and writing things a little different to end a personal story in a particular way is a perfectly valid fictional technique: you don’t imagine the 1950s differently, but your sleuth solves cases in them.

My fictional world is the real world

I want you to think, when you finish reading my WIP, that you’ve read something that really happened.

But because I chose Hollywood (and Bollywood added to it in the second volume of the trilogy), I need a worldwide stage for some parts, which has resulted in characters at times in very different time zones being aware of or communicating with each other.

Or traveling from one place to another and back.

Or of something they do affecting a different character somewhere else.

Stories aim to give you the flavor of reality

Stories – even very long dense epic stories – give you only a tiny part of what ‘happened.’

Try to document your day. In just one 24-hour day, you perform thousands of actions, make hundreds of decisions. Even listing them in a recording as you go through the day would take forever.

So the writer in a novel has to give you enough of the right kind of scenes so that you think you’ve lived with the characters – but are actually seeing a tiny fraction of what real people would do in that time.

The RIGHT tiny fraction. To give an illusion of time passing and being present.

The writer has to know a lot more than the reader

Or readers will notice the gaps. Call them plot holes, inconsistencies, anachronisms. Or my favorite: refrigerator moments. Because you’re at the refrigerator at 3am and suddenly it occurs to you that there was no logical reason for something that happened in the plot, but you were swept away by the action, and didn’t notice. It may have been Lawrence Block who mentioned no reason for the Estonians to be eating chocolate chip cookies (my memory is very vague on the topic).

Well, I don’t want any of those.

I don’t want readers to say, “Wait a minute – that couldn’t happen!” Because it would pop the ‘suspension of disbelief bubble, and damage the flow.

So I go to a lot of trouble to make sure something might have happened that way.

MOST readers will never notice the hole, or if they do, care.

Funny thing: in my mind, that doesn’t absolve me of the requirement to make sure there aren’t any I can see.

In practical terms in NETHERWORLD

It means that when I do my complicated alternation between characters, and something has to happen on a close timeline, I spend effort making sure that timeline is actually possible.

If two characters alternating are on different continents (a recent example), and there is a plane flight from one of those continents to a place on a third one, I use a lot of convenient time/date software (what time is it in Berlin when it’s 3am in Shanghai?) in coordination with other software which tells me how long the flight will be for a particular aircraft.

Sometimes I’ve had to reset the time for a particular sequential scene.

Other times I’ve had to start a scene earlier or later, build in a gap, or have it end at a different time.

The interesting thing to me has been that when I get that involved in the details of ‘could it work’, I find myself feeling more like a detective than the plotter of a novel.

I’m discovering what happened rather than creating it.

It has been eerie how real the timelines are – and how I’m able to fit the changes in without it rippling through the rest of the scenes.

Some scenes are anchored in REAL TIME

I’ve chosen to insert a character into an actual historical event, so I have to make sure a barrage of physical actions happen around that exact event.

I don’t want a reader to remember something – that year that award ceremony happened on a Monday, not the usual Sunday – and me have gotten it wrong.

It’s enough fiction that I’m putting my characters into that ceremony.

I want the reader to have the spine-chilling thought, “Hey. Wait. Am I remembering it wrong?” because my fictional part fits so well into the past reality.

And it’s not that many years ago.

Next time I may pick something without these real-world anchors!

Or in a fictional universe.

I never realized how much work it might be until I was up to my neck in alligators in the swamp.

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As a reader, what do you do when the glitches are so obvious you can’t ignore them?

As a writer, am I crazy to worry about these tiny details?

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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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Traveling with a nonstandard mobility device

An Airwheel S8 is a mobility device

THE BIGGEST ADVENTURE IN THREE YEARS

I haven’t posted for a while for a very important reason: traveling to the Boulder area for our son’s and daughter-in-law’s wedding reception. (I am recovering slowly from the trip, and am finding my writing very much more basic this week – bear with me.)

The wedding was a lovely Zoom event a year ago – it wasn’t deemed safe to have it in person before vaccines in the middle of a pandemic – and under Colorado law, the kids could do the actual wedding themselves by signing a form. They chose to do that, and did a wonderful job of vows with a backpacking theme – talking about how and why they packed the items for a trip.

This year, vaccinated and safer, the wedding reception took place in a venue with the Boulder mountains in the background, family and friends from all over present.

The ceremony was out on the grass in the setting sun – I made it to a seat somehow, and was misty-eyed at the very personal and heartfelt words. Big smiles by everyone. They make a great couple, and have been together a long time now.

So we had to get there

Our son had asked if I wanted a mother/son dance after his wife’s father/daughter dance and theirs as a couple, and I said yes.

I can’t stand very long, or walk very far, and am extremely awkward and unstable on my feet.

So of course I said yes – these things are important, and don’t happen very often.

If at all possible, you do them, because regret is the cost of not trying.

We didn’t have time or occasion to practice before, so it was a one-time event.

My secret weapon was Maggie

Maggie (for the magnesium alloy she’s made from, and the maglev motors that run her) is my Emotional Support Robot Mini Riding Horse – and my bionic legs – and my mobility device.

An Airwheel S8, she is a bicycle seat on a hoverboard. We are a proud member of a subgroup on the Electric Unicycle Forum (even though she has two wheels).

She can be used sitting or standing, lasts a long time and distance on one charge, and I use her around the retirement community inside (elevators and long carpeted halls) and outside (on the Davis greenway, sidewalks, and bike paths). I don’t stand – but the kids and others have tried that without problems.

The trick was getting Maggie there and back – on a plane

Without damage.

To Denver International Airport and back to Sacramento.

I follow John Morris’s Wheelchair Travel blog, and knew this wasn’t going to be simple.

Why? For a bunch of reasons:

  • Maggie is not a wheelchair nor a scooter, devices most people are more familiar with as mobility devices.
  • Maggie is electric.
  • Maggie has lithium batteries built in.
  • The batteries cannot be removed – the procedure for replacing one is long and involved.
  • Most devices travel in the cargo hold with the luggage, including my walker of many years, Sylvia.
  • Most people have never seen an Airwheel S8 (I am a ham; I do demos at the drop of a hat, and talk about my mobility device to anyone who evinces the most minor interest).

My greatest fear was showing up at the airport in Sacramento

and having a particular crew (the pilot’s word is final) or counter staff refuse to take her on the plane at all.

The next biggest were having my mobility device damaged during the trip, refused passage on the way back, or become lost baggage. My very sturdy walker has been affected by the many trips she’s been on, and the bracket I put on the front to hold a basket was broken off on a trip long ago. I breathe a sigh of relief every time the walker shows up again while deboarding.

If Maggie stops working (it has happened – this is my second Maggie), she becomes a 32 lb awkwardly shaped piece of metal and plastics that barely rolls.

There have been a number of incidents with cheap lithium batteries causing fires on planes and in other places, so I understand their concern – in principle. But electric wheelchairs travel all the time.

If absolutely necessary, I would have dragged myself all over the wedding venues with my walker. But what would happen to Maggie if I couldn’t take her with me was a big concern, because airports are not a place you can store things and time would be limited (as well as my energy, which is my constant battle to preserve).

Preparation before hand was key

I spent a lot of time a couple weeks prior to the trip (over an hour on the phone) talking to the person the Accessibility phone at the airline had at the other end. We sort of figure out that it would probably work. This person said a ‘note’ would be placed in my file for the trip.

A few days before the trip, I got anxious. I went to my reservation to see if the note said what it was supposed to say. There was no note. The only codes were the ones I had written into the form when buying the tickets – informing the airline that I needed a wheelchair in the airports, and that I can walk enough (hanging onto seatbacks) to get to my seat, so I wouldn’t require the on-board airline wheelchair to get to my seat.

Nothing about Maggie, nonstandard devices, batteries… all the things we discussed. Nothing I could mention to a gate person or counter person.

So I called again – and this time got someone who said she was Accessibility – and didn’t recognize the name of the other person! At the same phone number. Not a good start.

The second person was much more helpful for a specific reason: with a little searching, and knowing the airline website, she was able to find the specific wording which would let me take Maggie onboard, either in the wheelchair closet or in the cargo. I printed it all out, highlighted the relevant sections, and brought it with me.

I didn’t need to use it – but it could have gone the other way.

The airport trip was easier because I have an Assistant again

She was available to drive us and our luggage to the airport when we needed it. And she promised to bring Maggie home if something went wrong and my mobility device wasn’t allowed on the plane. Fortunately, I didn’t end up needing to call her back.

Sacramento was an easy airport to navigate: it was agreed I would use Maggie to get through TSA, and all the way to the gate, where the final decision cabin/cargo hold would be made – by the crew/pilot.

So far so good – and then, at the crowded gate (we were plenty early), the gate person told me the crew said there was no room on board for my device.

First big hurdle

The crew person who came out said there was no room. But I was allowed to go down the ramp to the plane on Maggie.

And at the door, I asked to be allowed to see the closet.

At this point I’m sort of holding up boarding (btw, disabled people are supposed to board before ANYONE, including First Class passengers, VIPs, people with small children – a right more honored in the breach than in the observance), so they let me on (I’m hanging onto anything I can at this point, with Maggie about to go down to the cargo hold), and I see that the only reason they won’t put here there is because it has a bunch of crew luggage.

So I state unaggressively but unambiguously that my wheelchair device has priority over crew luggage. I may have asked if they wanted to see the printout of their website written information; I don’t remember – the counter people didn’t want to see it either.

At that moment one of the pilots stepped out, and asked if he could help. I explained, said Maggie could be picked up with one hand. The flight attendant removed the luggage, the pilot placed Maggie easily in the closet, and the hurdle was over. I am very grateful – but still shaking – as I make my way to my seat, hanging on to seatbacks. My husband dealt with the carry-on luggage, sending the walker to the cargo hold, and putting our other stuff in the overhead bin.

After landing there was a wheelchair waiting for me, so I pushed Maggie in front of me through the very large airport, down to baggage claim (on a train!), the attendant got us to the door, our youngest daughter was waiting in the cell phone parking lot with the car, and the hotel room was actually there (you can bet I had called, prepared them for late arrival, and reminded them I needed an accessible room – but the ride was still spent with me worrying). I made sure to tip the wheelchair attendant very well – he was very helpful and stayed until we were in the car.

The wedding festivities went well

Except for me having zero energy, and being totally wiped out most of the time, everything in Boulder allowed me to participate as much as I could, because our youngest daughter rented a car and did the driving, all of it, and we fit.

At the actual reception venue (not designed at all for disabled people), I either used Maggie as a live cane (she is very stable that way, if a bit too short), or people carried her in for me and I grabbed whatever I could for support, and we managed.

The mother/son dance went incredibly well – I assayed a twirl at the very beginning, and it worked beautifully, so we did a bunch more, and it was really great to dance for the first time in years. I’m hoping someone has video!

The return trip was fraught

for a bunch of reasons, including Denver having a huge number of visitors leaving over the weekend (we were grateful our flight was on Monday).

We got there early. The counter help person took a snapshot, and texted the request for the on-board cabin to the gate. First step accomplished.

But when we navigated the busy airport and TSA and train with another wheelchair attendant, and got to the gate early – there was no one there, and the food venues didn’t have anything I could eat. I ate an Atkins bar, and prepared to wait.

When the gate person showed up, it was a repeat of the first boarding, with none of these people having seen my device (usual), or the form passengers are supposed to supply to go with their device to the hold (they said they had NEVER seen one – it’s on the website), and they started telling me the closet was too small.

Again, very unaggressively, I explained that Federal regulations require a certain size closet, and that Maggie was smaller than those dimensions. They came back with saying that there are many different aircraft, and not all have the closet (even if they have the number of seats that require the closet – 100), and that they didn’t think the closet door was wide enough.

It all felt as if they were trying to prepare me to be disappointed. At this point I’m completely wiped out by the trip, the wedding, the problems at the hotel (the only accessible feature I needed was a shower seat – and it turned out to be coming off the wall!), the physical and mental gymnastics required to be a disabled person in an able world.

Back to me

I managed to pretend to be positive. To do my little demo of how well Maggie serves me. To be polite and chatty with the gate person, the flight attendant who basically told me it probably wouldn’t happen but they were working on it and that the door was too narrow, and the pilot who came out and said all the same things, but that they were going to try.

This time I was allowed to be the first person down the ramp.

When I got there, I was prepared for failure, but of course the closet door was plenty wide (they have to be able to fit a passenger’s folded manual wheelchair into that space), the on-board aisle wheelchair was there, in the closet, and completely folded out of the way – and Maggie went in sideways through the door with space to spare.

I dragged myself to my seat, shaking again, and somehow survived the flight home, the wheelchair from the plane pushing Maggie in front of me, baggage claim, and was lucky enough to have the Lyft driver I arranged for as soon as we were at baggage claim and the suitcases were coming out arrive in three minutes, manage to load all out stuff, and get us home.

Feedback to the airline

Five days later I found the energy to fill out their survey.

I hate those things. They want you to check all kinds of points worded so only a horrible person would complain – but I put enough into the text boxes where allowed to give them a picture of what happened, to say everyone was very nice (they were – even when saying no a lot), and suggested that more on disabled passengers, wheelchairs, the on-board closet, and nonstandard devices should be done in training (knowing they all get periodic passes through it), and submitted. I doubt it will do any good, but you never know – I’ve done what I could.

My husband submitted his version – and he is a very supportive man, and didn’t step in and take over at any point (much appreciated) who knows exactly what I go through – he had some extra comments, again, very polite – and we’ve both done what we can with their awkward survey.

The future – I plan to travel more, and Maggie is an essential part

I hope this post gets shared (and I will ask John Morris if he wants a version for his site) because other people need to be prepared.

It was a constant obstacle course. Things are designed for able-bodied people. Any one of several hundred points on the track could have been the sticking point. Everything that eventually worked could have failed. I am grateful to have gotten there and back – and still exhausted.

Everything takes more energy and time when you are disabled – and you have far less energy than everyone else. Not fair, but it is what it is.

I saw no one else in their own wheelchair in either airport. That was surprising.

I’m sure the system is so daunting most physically disabled people just don’t try it most of the time. The mental strain is significant – and I can see how hard this would have been on someone less coherent than I was (and I was not doing well), or with other problems processing crowds, noise, and roadblocks.

I thought a wheelchair attendant was the key to getting through TSA efficiently (I cannot imagine what shape I would be in after standing in line – sitting on Maggie for any length of time is not great, especially if we aren’t moving), but it isn’t, and I think, after pushing Maggie, live, in front of me through corridors, trains, and elevators, it would be easier if I just rode her, while pushing the walker in front of me. But the attendant was critical in dealing with luggage, saved some of my energy, knew exactly where to go, and would have been helpful had anything gone wrong. Six of one, half a dozen of the other – and tip money very well spent. And an extra pair of hands is nothing to be sneezed at.

But most of all, I am incredibly grateful for those who

have fought all the previous battles:

  • Making sure there is an on-board closet
  • Making sure there is a wheelchair that fits in their aisle to get a passenger who can’t walk to their seat
  • Creating the Americans with Disabilities Act and its protections
  • Creating the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), [which] prohibits discrimination in airline service on the basis of disability – and all its protections
  • for other bloggers like John who write about the joys and perils
  • and who provide feedback constantly on how air travel meets or falls short of these ideals for every day travelers.

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Please excuse my lack of editing this down into something shorter and more pithy – I am still not recovered, and this feels below my standards in many ways, but if I don’t get it all down now, much will lose its immediacy.

Please feel free to pass this on.

Please contribute your own thoughts and experiences and suggestions.

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