Tag Archives: inspiration

Guest post: patience, boredom, and personal choice in dealing with them

Woman floating in turquoise water. Text: Attitude makes all the differenceWE MAY BE ABLE TO CHOOSE HOW TO RESPOND

Even when we don’t get to choose what happens.

My friend Gay Lyon responded thoughtfully to my whines about patience and boredom, and has kindly allowed me to share her words.

Gay, you’ve thought so much out. I haven’t gone there, because this is actually the first time in which it has hit me like this. I was always able to try to do something, and then that something would wipe me out, and I’d be too exhausted to do something for a while. Repeat.


Gay Lyon on Boredom, Patience, and how she deals with them – better than I do

Maybe there are people who are naturally patient, but I have my doubts. I’m inclined to believe that patience is developed by having no choice. I’ve spent a lot of time the past several years waiting to recover from a crash similar to yours, for days, weeks, months, at a time. I’m on month 5 of this current one. I’ve learned a certain amount of patience, because there’s not a darned thing I can do to hurry it along, and fretting only prolongs it.

In terms of boredom, it’s a question of what to do when you can’t do anything, isn’t it? I can tell you some of the things I do, but I don’t know that you’ll like it, because if anyone had said anything similar to me before I was forced to come up with them myself, I would have thought it sounded preachy and would have wanted to slap them.

My whole life before becoming sick was about DOing. Prolonged periods of having both brain and body conked out have forced me to reflect on simply BEing. Who am I, what am I, if I am not defined by what I do? Do I, does any human being, have any intrinsic worth outside of what we do? Are there ways in which a life which isn’t a life of service can have value? I have no answers to offer, but thinking about it is a way to occupy yourself when you are lying there staring at the ceiling.

Give thanks for boredom, because when I’m feeling really, really sick, I’m not bored, I’m just miserable. Boredom is a sign I’m starting to feel better.

I have to admit, I’m not often bored anymore. I was bored a lot more the first few years I was sick. Most of the time now, I’m too busy to be bored. Not because I do so much, but because I do everything so slowly that getting through the activities of daily living doesn’t leave a lot of time left over.

Another thing which I do when I can’t do anything else is pay attention. Be very observant. Look out the window. Really look. Look at the leaves on that tree; how many colors are there on one leaf? What shape is it? In what pattern do they grow on the branches? Is the top side different from the bottom? Can you see the veining? Applying that level of observation to everything around you fills up a lot of time.

And once you have observed it, as a writer, how would you describe it? Just thinking about how you would put it into words can help hone your craft.

You can apply the same type of observation to your internal self, too. For instance, what is this experience you identify as “boredom”? How does it actually feel? Is there a physical sensation connected to it? Where does it come from? Do you attach a positive or negative value to it, and if so, is that valid?

It’s a cliché to say that although you may not be able change your circumstances, you can change how you react to them. But I believe it’s true that misery comes from the longing for things to be other than what they are. I try to overcome that by actively looking for what’s good (the bright side, if you will) in my situation; things I can be thankful for. The bleaker your current situation, the more challenging that effort becomes.

My whole life, one of my greatest joys has been learning new things. So I ask myself, what can I learn from this? Or what have I already learned, without noticing it?

I hope your time having to rest both your body and your brain is short enough that your question becomes moot. But if not, maybe these thoughts will give you something to do in the meantime.


I’m trying, Gay. It does not come naturally.

Quality independent literary writing must be nourished

Butterfly on cactus flower. Text: Beauty and quality are fragile. It takes effort to encourage them. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtWANT INDIE STORIES OF GREAT QUALITY TO READ?

Author Jay Lemming, who writes indie literary fiction (among many other things, including a good blog), has taken the lead in finding out how readers of well-written fiction – often categorized as literary fiction online – find their next book, and he’s created a survey for those readers.

Thank goodness for Jay, because this is exactly the kind of thing my energy doesn’t stretch to encompass.

Here’s the beginning of his latest post, making the survey available to readers:

Well, it’s finally here: the 2017 survey for readers of independently published literary fiction.

Click here to participate.

But before you do, you may want to read on for another moment…..

The market for independently published fiction has expanded for several genres: romance, sci-fi, fantasy, horror and all sub-genres therein.

But the market for independently published works of literary fiction has lagged due to the more conservative aspect of its readers…

CLICK HERE to go to Jay’s blog and read about the survey first – it will make great sense that way. Then please take the survey – there is a group of literary indie writers who will be able to use this information, results of which will not be restricted.

Jay will write about the results when the survey is complete; you should bookmark his blog or follow to get these results when they’re available.

Everyone complains that X% of indie work is cr*p – Jay is doing something about that, as are the writers who take the time and make the extra effort.

PLEASE NOTE: there is an amazing amount and variety of indie genre fiction

And plenty of quality work there to read as well – most people can find what they like, and the better writers in their favorite genres.

Literary has become the equivalent of ‘not-genre.’

However, this particular survey is for those who want what we have labeled as ‘literary’ on sites such as Amazon, because ‘mainstream,’ ‘commercial,’ and even ‘big book’ have disappeared as categories, leaving everything not specifically genre as ‘literary.’

The big publishers still have a stranglehold on some of this work – many of their authors (I know several) work very hard, but never see much remuneration except ‘prestige.’ Sometimes that’s because literary work is required for tenure or to maintain employment in an English, Literature, or Creative Writing program.

If indie literary work becomes popular, these authors will take the plunge into indie (as some have done already), and be able to pay for such frills as mortgages and college tuition for their kids.

And some of us, ahem, have started as indies/self-publishers, and have no intention of crawling off to submit our work to agents and traditional publishers big/medium/academic/small.

But if quality writing isn’t rewarded, readers won’t be able to find it.

Go help Jay. Take a few minutes and fill out his survey.


Support indie work in general – don’t forget the Wishing Shelf Awards and the lists of finalists. Children’s books by age groups first, followed by adult fiction and adult non-fiction (scroll down). Look for Pride’s Children – but there are not links to Amazon and other retailers on the Finalists list because it would be too unwieldy; PC is on Amazon here.


My continuing thanks to Stencil for making it easy to create graphics for these posts with a few mouse clicks.


 

Real Fiction: How to develop empathy

Girl holding heart made of lights at night. Text: Use Real Fiction (trademark) to develop empathin vicariously. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

EXPERIENCE MANY LIVES VICARIOUSLY – BY READING

Let’s start somewhere

NOTE: None of what I’m about to say is meant to ask for help or pity, and certainly not for special privileges. Just understanding. JUST. And, among those whose lives isn’t constrained, both happiness for what they have, and a little of that empathy for those who don’t have it.

Even though political events have made this development more urgent, I’m not going there: better writers than I are doing that right now.

I’m discussing the part of empathy associated with illness, chronic illness

When friends seem surprised that I’m still sick, I want to respond as a character in my novel, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY does:

“Has the word ‘chronic’ been marked in dictionaries as ‘Archaic’?”

They don’t ask this question of people who have ‘real’ illnesses such as Lupus or MS or Rheumatoid Arthritis, do they? If someone now lives with HIV, friends usually understand that there is no cure, and remission is bought by a DAILY regimen of pills under a doctor’s care.

They understand that many mental illnesses are chronic, and also managed with a drug regime – every TV viewer has seen the TV writer’s trope: a violent person who is turns out is to be pitied because he has a mental illness, and is ‘off his meds.’

Invisible illness – can’t see it, must be fake

But if you have one of the invisible illnesses, ME/CFS or FM or Gulf War Syndrome, that are not understood because they have been disbelieved by medical ‘professionals’ in general, you are expected to have made a miraculous and convenient recovery using supplements, alternative medicine, acupuncture, specialists, exercise, diet, or yoga, and are now back to full health because, the groups’ sick in-joke, “You don’t look sick.”

‘Chronic’ thus means ‘inconvenient’ to those inquiring, “Are you still sick?”

It doesn’t mean, ‘needs continuing care for symptoms that wax and wane and never go away.’ It doesn’t mean, to the friends, ‘let’s not forget her because she doesn’t have the energy to make new friends.’

And it doesn’t mean, ‘Advocate for her, because she doesn’t have the energy to do it for herself.’

Then something happens to THEM

And it is too late; they get a crash course in empathy – or not.

Until the ill one is their child, their spouse, or their parent or grandparent, and they have to provide or arrange for whatever care is necessary, ‘chronic’ is just plain inconvenient, unless it is also ‘malingering,’ ‘gold-bricking,’ ‘laziness (she’d get better if she just got out and exercised),’ or ‘playing the system so she doesn’t have to work.’

And then, unfortunately, once they understand, they are too busy to be useful – because they are taking care of said loved one, and the now know how much energy it takes to do that, and have little left for the advocacy that is so desperately needed. Catch-22.

Which brings me to the point of this essay:

There have to be other ways of developing empathy than suffering chronic illnesses in your own flesh.

One of the best – and highly underutilized – is fiction.

But not the special books for children – barely disguised non-fiction

‘Little Tommy has Cancer’ or ‘What Does Ostomy Mean’ or ‘You have diabetes – now what?’ – designed, usually, to help the child, school, teacher, or close friend understand what is going on with the child.

Not usually meant for the world in general, such a book might have a cover picture of a kid in a wheelchair, or with an oxygen supply device, or getting a shot. These books are necessary for the ‘different’ ones, the same as the Barbie with crutches is meant for the different child to see herself (as both handicapped AND held to impossible fashion standards).

They are less frequently bought for the kids who don’t have the disability, disease, or impairment – but are there in the library if necessary. These aren’t the fiction I mean, because they’re barely fiction.

Nor books (or movies) intended to promote suicide as noble

Those are just disgusting: if someone becomes broken their best option is to find a way to tidy themselves out of this world so as not to inconvenience their ‘loved ones.’

Ask any real family affected by suicide whether they feel loved by it.

Million Dollar Baby, The Ocean Within, Me Before You – it has become a trope.

I reserve judgment in the case of ‘intractable pain or depression’ – and I could not possibly judge the person who chooses this exit if it is truly intractable – though I often hope it means they have been unsuccessful at finding help. It is not a matter for fiction, because fiction always conveniently leaves out the real details. Horribly depressed and wracked by pain people can and do have ‘quality of life’ in many cases – when their need to stay alive for those same loved ones is their prime imperative. YMMV.

Alternate preventive empathy development made easy via REAL FICTION

In Real Fiction (TM) of the empathy-developing variety, characters happen to also have a disability, illness, or difference – but it isn’t the focus of the story, while always being there.

Real fiction offers the reader a way to understand without being personally overwhelmed.

The writer can go into the thoughts of the character to show inner strength balancing outer pain.

The reader is thus safe to explore the consequences and conditions set up by the writer, to understand more, to literally be a voyeur – or in modern parlance to inhabit a virtual reality – that allows the reader to experience the life of a disabled person from the inside.

This alternate reality is temporary, and can be left or abandoned if it becomes too much for the reader to bear.

Fiction allows the small details that are important to the character to emerge, rather than be lectured about.

A great example is the book (and movie) Ordinary People, by Judith Guest. A family tries to understand why their son attempted suicide – and the family dynamics digs down into the real cause.

Pride’s Children is designed to be REAL FICTION

One of the main characters is a former physician who has CFS (ME/CFS), and is no longer able to practice medicine (which requires energy and brainpower), but has retrained herself as a novelist.

The story shows the development of her change in the area of personal worthiness for her goals, triggered by an accidental meeting with a charismatic actor which then affects her whole life.

Is she correct in the assumptions she’s taken on as to her own value as a PWC (a person with CFS)? Will chronic illness limit the rest of her life? Can she hope for and desire what ‘normal’ people are allowed by society to want?

At least you don’t have to get sick to find out. You will just have to read.

And be patient. It’s taking the writer a while to finish the story.

What’s your favorite vicariously-lived life? Who would you have liked to really be?

Spent today pitching a movie never to be filmed

READING SCREENWRITING BOOKS IS GOOD FOR NOVELISTS, TOO

It counts as research.

I’m reading – rereading in many cases – Blake Snyder’s three Save The Cat books.

These are well-known screenwriter tools, as is the Dramatica I use for plotting and character development.

The many similarities between the different forms of presenting a story allow significant crossover: a story is a story is a story. Each form is also very different from the others, because once they go out into the real world, a book and a play and a movie script are implemented differently.

But plotting Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD was not the reason for the reading. Plotting is all finished, and in the scene I’m working on right now, a movie is being pitched to one of our actors. I’m using the device of a pitch meeting to get all the information needed to understand this particular movie into the story in the most efficient way – without seeming like an info-dump.

Isn’t writing a whole movie a bit much as backdrop for a novel?

Of course it is, but you know me: if it’s going to be in the plot (and, with actors, you’re going to have movies in the plot), and I can give it verisimilitude (the appearance of actually being real), I can make you believe the one or two not real points in the rest of the plot.

Machiavellian, you say? Why, thank you.

But I’m not the only one to do things like this – heck, people in fantasies invent whole worlds and religions and ecosystems.

What attracted me to the idea is the fact that Snyder says, of the pitch:

“Poster. Logline. Simple story spine. Eager and inspired telling of the tale. Ten minutes, tops. That’s the pitch.” (p. 123, Save The Cat Strikes Back)

Which fits perfectly into my scheme to sketch out enough of this particular movie to last for the first half of NETHERWORLD, without taking up that much space in the book. After all, I’m writing a novel, not a movie.

I can trust that most people who read have seen plenty of movies, and, given the highpoints, will see a movie where there is only a ghost of one. My readers want to see people working (I hope), but they have no interest AT ALL in seeing the enormous amount of work and time it takes to produce a major motion picture.

Blake also says:

“Regardless of how you organize your story, once you’ve finished your pitch… shut up! The first one to talk loses. If you give into temptation and can’t help spewing more stuff after you’re said ‘The End,’ you are indulging in a pitching no-no called Selling Past the Close.

Shutting up

I’m going to follow his advice. What do you think of it?


*** Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale for 0.99 until 1/30/17***


Thanks to Quozio for easy quote images.

A day of peaceful marches succeeds

AMERICANS HAVE THE RIGHT TO PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY AND PROTEST

It’s guaranteed by our Constitution:

The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Funny how many people don’t know that.

I spent a good part of the day on the computer, wishing I could be with the peaceable* men and women who marched, all over the States and the world, to remind the incoming president that his power is nowhere near absolute, and he is the servant of the people, not their master.

Friends of mine who posted pictures were in DC and Oakland and other marches, and one of my children was at the San Francisco march.

I am very proud of all the people who, in the face of frustration, marched with peaceful intent. They were marching even for the people who voted for the present administration, because those people will need healthcare and job rights, too.

They put their money where their mouths were: it took planning, organization, time, money, and effort to get that many people – literally millions – to the many march sites.

Crowds scare me – I avoid places I can’t get out of quickly

How much of that is me, and how much decades of chronic illness and no energy, is debatable, but I hope I would have made the effort, somewhere, if it were physically possible; I would have liked to march with friends.

It is not enough to be there in spirit. The Millions Missing protests this past year had people with CFS send in their shoes to represent themselves, and a pair of mine went. Symbols are important, but it is sad that my shoes could do something I cannot.

There have been marches by disabled people – but they are usually much smaller and require a lot of support.

My stamina is zilch: the marches were for reasonably healthy people who could travel, assemble, walk the distance, stand and listen – and then get home safely. These are the times when I miss that the most, when everyone else gets to go.

Most of the time I pretend I live in this room at my computer by choice; today that delusion was very hard, especially when my friends were posting selfies of themselves with the monuments on the Mall in the background. I got to go with them that way; I spent the day watching, reading, listening.

And sleeping. Thrilling it was not.

And glad I could stop worrying when the message came from San Francisco: Home safe.


*The previous version: If you want peace, prepare for war.


What’s better, working for justice or preparing for war?

Prying the heart open and keeping it open

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

A CHRISTMAS COMPASSION FATIGUE REMEDY

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

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

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

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

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

Why fiction? Surely realistic photojournalism hits harder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does it happen?

By personalizing the general.

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

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

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

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

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

The fictioneer’s job

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

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

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

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

Moderation is a learned virtue

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

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

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

A combination of

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

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

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


The obligatory business reminder:

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

Easiest gift I ever gave.

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

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

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


Your comments are my presents.

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

Give a friend a book for Christmas

easy-xmas

LET’S SEND 2016 OUT IN STYLE

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

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

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

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

The latest reviews have been amazing

Sam Umek said,

The characters feel like real people that you meet everyday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do I want?

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

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

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

We love reviews and sales and publicity and…

But most of all, we want to be read.

Because that encourages us to write more.

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

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

Comments make me happy.


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

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

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY now collector’s item

pc1-collectors-item

FOR THE AMUSEMENT OF MY READERS IN PRINT

You have to love Amazon, and the people who sell there (caveat emptor), but treat them with care.

I keep track of things (okay, I look too often at the sales pages), and notice the oddities.

Which today included MY book, USED, for sale at $319.93 (plus $3.99 shipping and handling – sheesh! You’d think that at that price they’d throw in the shipping and handling for free).

So if you bought the paper copy, you can amuse yourself with the thought that it is now ‘worth’ (here defined as ‘being offered for sale at that price’) almost 15 times what you paid for it.

And I’m not even famous yet!

And if it’s one of the few paper copies I sent to reviewers, and the offer were real (which I highly doubt, being of a skeptical nature), someone just made some real dollars off me as a writer. I wish them the best of luck!

I’m sure if I pursued this ‘sale’ past the cart at Amazon (which I got to), something would go wrong, or someone at the other end would quickly buy a paper copy and have it sent to me, and there would be laughing all the way to the bank if it actually went through.

But it’s a funny little bit in a world which has turned funny, too, lately, so I got my five cents worth of chuckle out of it – and pass it on to the loyal fans.

I’m sure you writers out there have had this happened – it’s just the first time for me.

BTW, NETHERWORLD is coming along nicely – maybe it will be worth even more!

Hope in NIH research budget commitments for ME/CFS?

cross-start-line

OCCUPY M.E. FOLLOWS NIH RESEARCH ON CFS

This is a CFS blog as well as my writing blog. There are much better CFS bloggers, so I don’t do much with it here, but I read and follow developments, as we all wait for some kind of answer.

Jennie Spotila does a lot of things, and in particular, runs a blog called Occupy M.E., where she analyzes what the information actually says.

She’s been running a features for almost a year now, called ‘The NIH RFA Ticker.’ With it she examines every week how the NIH allocates research grant money. In her words in the initial post:

“RFA” stands for Request for Applications, and it is an announcement from NIH saying, basically, we will fund $X amount of research on Y topic. This is different from regular funding opportunities, because the money has been set aside. If enough meritorious grants are received, that money WILL be awarded. That’s different from tossing your application into the general pool and hoping it floats.

NIH last issued an RFA for CFS research in 2006, and we’ve been begging for another ever since.

The weekly update post

Every week she sees how much money has been allocate by RFA by the NIH, and every week since she started, the RFA money for ME/CFS research has been ZERO.

From the Nov. 7, 2016 post, the totals for fiscal year 2016 were:

352 RFAs issued, $2,840,680,617 committed to RFAs, and ZERO RFA money for ME/CFS. Yup. That’s over 2.8 BILLION dollars in your tax money and mine.

The latest update (Nov. 14, 2016) showed how much money is committed so far in FY 2017:

51 RFAs issued, $252,167,563 committed to RFAs, and ZERO RFA money for ME/CFS.

We’ve been promised research, and attention, and money for about thirty years now. MOre recently, with activists holding protests, the promises have been made that they’re going to figure out what’s wrong with us.

Jennie just posts, every week, that actions speak louder than words, and, so far, the actions tell us we don’t count, and there is no one interested in studying us (they have to apply for those research grants), and we should stop bothering them because they’re trying.

I dunno. Jennie posts the numbers. I am giving them a tiny bit more visibility here. I visit Occupy M.E. for the weekly update. She is very polite – these are public numbers. She is much more polite than I am.

And every week I’m outraged.

I don’t know where she finds the energy. I can only shudder at how disabled people with unappealing disease and conditions will be treated these next few years.

You might click through and leave her some encouragement; it has been a lonely haul for so long, it would be nice to see that number, that ZERO, actually change. Even then, it will be a beginning, not an answer, to fund research. But to start a marathon, you have to cross the line.

Application to fiction

After all, this is my writing blog, too.

When I started Pride’s Children, and gave Kary this disease as something to deal with, I was afraid that the disease conundrum would be solved – and the story rendered moot – before I finished it. It would still be a story worth telling, set as it is in 2005, but the edge, the urgency, would be lost if the reader knew that CFS, like, say, AIDS, had been solved. Historic, but not critical.

I needn’t have worried. It may take me years to finish the remaining two books in the trilogy – but we don’t even have a start in this one important area of funding. NIH funding. Government research money spent for the needs of citizens who would love to be productive again, and would settle for not feeling quite as sick. I’ll probably win this race.

Pray for us. But also be outraged with us.

Comments make for happiness and the feeling of being heard.

Censorship, prudence, peace-making, black-listing

nuanceIT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BE VALUE-FREE WHEN WRITING

I’m having a very hard time blogging, commenting, and being a responsible citizen on Facebook right now.

Responsible, because I want to stand by my words online, even if you read them in a month when the craziness is muted. Not gone – the consequences of this election will haunt this nation for years.

Born in California, reared in Mexico City, and living permanently in the States since I went to Seattle U. to finish a college career interrupted by non-student communists shutting down the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in 1968-69, I have NEVER seen an election like this one.

Being an INFJ (sliding to an INTP depending on my mood when answering questions – it’s impossible to tell with older people who have adapted the world to themselves with practice), supposedly makes me a peacemaker who, according to one online site,

‘their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue so that people need not be rescued at all.’

and

‘Egalitarianism and karma are very attractive ideas to INFJs, and they tend to believe that nothing would help the world so much as using love and compassion to soften the hearts of tyrants.’

The problem is I’m censoring myself

I’ve always tried to express my own opinions, and not jump on bandwagons too quickly. I spend time writing comments, re-read before posting, and tone down things which might be taken as fighting words.

The touchstone: not saying anything online I wouldn’t be willing to say in person, with that willingness being tempered by having to achieve something positive, or what is the purpose of talking.

I get snippy occasionally – everyone does – but tend more to pour oil on water than light it up for flames.

But I can’t tell you how many times lately I’m deleting entire comments, leaving challenging statements unchallenged, NOT saying something I really think should be said.

And not just about politics, but on Goodreads, in private FB groups, and even on that bastion of even-handedness and civility, ThePassiveVoice.

And it’s causing me some real discomfort.

Firebrands exhaust me

I’m not the best person for defending or advocating for anything – my energy is too limited.

I have the comments. I WRITE the comments.

And then I delete them, because the climate seems fraught. Everyone’s temper is short. People who claim to be Christian use language Christ would blanch at to impugn someone else’s ancestry.

Racism, sexism, ableism – all are alive and kicking. And punching. And screaming.

I blocked someone on my Facebook page I’ve homeschooled with, and known for twenty years (not close lately, but still).

We used to paper over differences, not mention differences in beliefs where it was not important, strive to find the common ground. Our homeschool group had several Jewish families, at least one Muslim one, ours (the Catholics), and a large collection of mainline and evangelical Protestants – and we coexisted and went on field trips together.

Nuance, thesauri, satire

It’s easier to stay out of the fray.

Indie publishing and traditional publishing long ago developed into separate camps with entirely different belief systems. I read, formed my own opinions, chose the indie camp and don’t regret it.

But, as a writer, I know perfectly well how to slant word choices to make a subtle point. Except that the subtlety seems gone, and everything said seems to lead to an assault on the castle walls.

I hope to hell it’s temporary

And that I won’t be ashamed of anything of said during the proceedings.

But I’m shaken. And unhappy. I’ve always thought it was a great thing to be an American, and that, regardless of problems, this is where I want to live. I’m looking forward to when diversity is even greater in our country, and education serves ALL our kids well, so they have futures.

And now we’re going down a possible black hole. And even the possibility of the black hole has done huge damage with its gravitational force.

Surely we can do better than this.

What to do? What to do?

I’ll gird my loins, go back into the fray, keep attempting to use reason while understanding there is always injustice.

And hope the rest of us are shaken enough to look seriously at ourselves and make sure we’re not making things worse. Platitudes, all, but I intend to try.

This can’t be, as someone said, ‘the end of the American experiment.’

Have you had a similar experience?

The okapi flies the empty nest

Young person with backpack from behind. Words: When it's time to leave home. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

GOOD PARENTS PREPARE FOREVER TO LET GO

The nest is emptying – and I don’t want it to and I do.

The last child, Daughter R, will be back Sunday, but she’s leaving – for good – and I’m weepy.

Two states and a four hours long car trip will separate us.

She moves from the friends she’s created here to the ones near her college in Troy, NY.

She’ll be fine – but I will miss the heck out of her, even as I know she has to do this, and she’s happy.

Her room is a mess, my assistant is probably not going to be available to help, chinchilla Gizzy’s room is still full – drawers and closet and shelves.

There is still plenty of her STUFF – garage, basement, two bedrooms, even kitchen – but the decision on both sides is that it will all be gone soon.

Home will be no more

So we can sell this house we’ve been in since 1981 – and move on ourselves.

She won’t live in this house any more – and I, who can’t even get around in it or the garden any more – can’t stand the idea.

So much unfinished stuff when the last child leaves:

movies
scrapbooks
pictures
and a whole life.

Her two older brothers have long taken their belongings with them – there are few reminders of their house-filling stuff.

Only a trace remains of the homeschooling years when I gave them all what CFS had left me.

Today was the day she chose; she’s sticking to it

She is better (except she has a cold today) than she’s been in a long while. She packed most of her stuff – except for the desk – herself into the car. MY car. We haven’t worked out that part yet.

She is going to a house with kittens – and will have to worry about allergies and breathing and sleeping.

She is a grownup.

I don’t know what I am any more, and it scares me some. For the longest time I’ve been her accomplice and helper for the sleep stuff – and now that’s her problem and not mine.

I don’t think she’s finished – no one really ever is, but there is so much she never found time to listen to that I could have taught her.

In many things, she has far surpassed anything I have done.

‘Home as prison.’

She’s been in a prison, benevolent, but still caged. I didn’t want to go home when I was her, but I was the oldest, and Mother was very busy with the rest. I didn’t want to be depended on to help her.

Gizzy is mine every night now – after all the help R gave me these past two years and more – and we never got a video of Gizzy following R’s instructions. Put it on list – she’ll be back Sunday. For another load. She has too much stuff.

I’ve been here, conscious of her, since she came home two years ago, defeated by the unknown sleep problem – and she goes now to where she should have been then. I don’t know if we COULD have solved it earlier – maybe a bit, but not significantly.

We did everything we were supposed to do, regular sleep doctors, psychiatrists, therapists – and it didn’t work.

I’ve written about what it took to find out what was wrong

Because it was never those things: it was a rare disease (Non-24 Sleep/Wake Disorder, one of the circadian rhythm disorders like shift work disorder but not quite), and not a mental problem or a lack of motivation.

Dealing with Non-24 SWD

She knows how to reset now, supposedly, and what to do, most of the time.

On vacation she was up – unheard of – before 10AM every day, earlier other days. Lots of exercise, lots of sun – and usually falling asleep before midnight.

She needs ten hours sleep – the far range of ‘normal’; her rotating sleep/wake schedule is more stable; but unlike most humans, she will have to monitor it and defeat it every day.

With a beta blocker which turns off melatonin production during the day, and a dose of melatonin at night to get it started up again. A small dose which should be taken four hours before bedtime.

But sometimes isn’t, for a very responsible reason: she doesn’t want to be in the position of driving after taking it.

Now she has to manage it without backup from parents – but depending on friends, which isn’t a bad way to go when you have no girl-siblings and a lot of girl-friends.

I have had a child in the house for thirty+ years. Now what do I do?

I want to be her. Free. Starting life. With no responsibilities for others yet.

I want to be free to be me now.

Having your whole life ahead of you is scary, even with backup – losing your children is hard.

What we have children for

I’m not losing her, and I’m not ‘letting her go.’

We’re completing a process I undertook the minute she was conceived: getting her ready to be an independent adult.

I KNEW my kids would be scattered by being what they are, following jobs, school, families of their own – I was right: San Francisco, Houston, and now Troy.

The ride has been magnificent.

I am unbearably proud of her: she toughed it out, kept trying even as it affected everything she attempted to do. She never turned to the traps that catch so many of our young. She kept up with her friends and her family and her dreams as much as she could, and now goes to realize them.

She will be fine.

I will miss having her here every day again – but only because she will always be my little girl.

We will survive – and I will get back to the writing.

And the rest of MY life, the lurking scary thought.

If you have kids, are you prepared to let them go?

Vacation and chronic illness: the goal is survival

PB021370.JPG

A view from the boat at the Grand Palladium, Riviera Maya

WHAT IS THE GOAL OF VACATIONS?


***** Kindle Countdown Deal Amazon US Oct. 10-Oct. 18, $0.99, IN PROGRESS *****

Please visit Pride’s Children on Amazon for your copy at a buck if you don’t have one, and give them for presents! It’s an easy way to make a recommendation.


The chronically ill person desperately wants to be normal – because normal is so much more fun.

I can’t speak for those who have always been ill, because they don’t have the memory of being ‘normal.’ But I can remember, almost three decades ago now, what it was like to go on vacation for the express purpose of having fun, taking a break from daily life, getting a tan or a snow burn, doing more exciting things and far fewer of the regular ones…

This is my first morning back from our first vacation in over two years, so, as I haven’t been blogging for a couple of weeks now, I thought I’d take the opportunity to capture the thoughts that a week at the Riviera Maya inspire – because if there’s one thing different for someone barely holding it together in ‘regular life,’ it’s going on a real vacation.

In no particular order:

Getting there: Airplane, taxi, private car, boat, bus…

I have an irritating combination of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a major mobility impairment (I do not walk well for any length of time – working on it). I think I would be dealing better with the CFS if I could do as I used to, and get out for short walks on a regular basis, staying well within the energy requirements. And I know I would have deal infinitely better with the mobility if I had more energy.

But what is, is.

To start the trip, we had to get from home in New Jersey to JFK Airport (from where there are far more non-stop flights), which means I started the trip by trying to nap in the car as husband did all the two-hour drive. I remember being an equal partner in the driving – and, as we both age, it would be nice to be able to help. Instead, as you can probably imagine, just getting to the airport has used up most of the energy for the day already.

The wheelchair IS available (always a concern when pre-arranging things), and I’ve gotten over that hump: me not being my slow self is a benefit to my family – whatever the loss of face from being pushed around (and I still feel it after all these years!), the gains in speed are worth it. There can also be some benefits – we often go through a shortened line for security, and have (and need every second of) advance boarding on the plane. My walker, Sylvia, is there for me to lean on – but needs rolling with us, and is one more large thing to deal with at every stage. On the plus side, more than once her seat has been used to transport baggage.

Then just somehow find a way of sitting mostly in one position from boarding to landing, and managing to get at least an hour of actual sleep to restore some of that energy, and we’re at the Cancún international airport for the next part: gathering of the party. Which, since their plane has been mysteriously delayed, requires sitting at an outdoor restaurant with all our stuff for two more hours, until son and girlfriend arrive from Houston, instead of hooking up within ten minutes as originally planned.

Find and negotiate for transportation to the hotel. REMINDER: if you can pay for things with your credit card, your bank usually has a far better exchange rate than almost anything you can generate on the spot, so use it if you can. But the rest of the world is not the US, and you must be prepared to accept lower hotel or taxi exchange rate if all you have is cash. Mexico has ATMs which will give you local currency – if you can find one. The usual perils of travel apply.

Finally, another hour+, and we’re at the Grand Palladium. Checking in takes no more than the usual (three tries to get acceptable room for the Houston contingent), and we end up, finally, at the dinner buffet.

Getting around at the resort

The biggest problem for me is that we love this resort – hugest pools, wonderful beach, great dining – but there is NO way for me to get to most of the places I want to be without an enormous amount of walking (with my trusty walker, Sylvia). We knew that even before we went the first time: TripAdvisor mentions it, the map shows it, and it is a plus for most people (given the array of eating opportunities). They will send you a trolley if you request one, but it can only get you to approximately where you need to be – so most times I opted for just walking the shortest route.

I am trying to learn to walk again, and I’ve walked this past week probably more than in the previous six months, and it was all agonizing, and that’s about the best I can say about it. If my current experiments fail, or I get even slightly worse, the next step will be a wheelchair, and most often husband pushing, and I REALLY don’t want to get to that stage. I am not a small person, and he already has his own limitations and aging. It may force us to consider an easier – and smaller – vacation destination. For now, I just loaded up on the extra ibuprofen (don’t tell my pain specialist – he’d have a fit), and gritted my teeth.

We finally got into a rhythm where the rest of the family would go on ahead, and let me get there at my own pace (which now includes frequent stops to put Sylvia’s seat down and rest). They didn’t like it – love you, family! – but it did help because they could stand in line if necessary. And the critical part for me was that if I was walking with family, I pushed myself much too hard not to always be the laggard, which increased both pain and a horrible new feeling of breathlessness. By the end of the trip we’d worked out a reasonable combination. Adjusting expectations is crucial.

Conclusion: I could have used the hotel’s help a bit more often, but did about right IF they let me do it my slow way. For next time – think very hard ahead of time, and use the trolley more often, even if I have to wait for it, because energy expended in walking can’t be regained, while energy expended in waiting is far less. And the hotel was uniformly helpful – when asked. Must give up some of the do-it-myself pride – which is still, after all these years, hard for me.

Days of sun and pool and never leaving the resort worked for me

I encouraged husband and offspring and potential new family member to do what THEY wanted to do (the kids did a wonderful day at Xcaret snorkeling through THREE underground rivers), and husband took them sailing.

While we older folk established a chair on the beach or near the pool (never worried a minute about STUFF at this kind of a resort), everyone spent the days as they wanted to – the kids did a lot of snorkeling in the salt-water pool – and I spent most of my time in the water.

And not just lazing: I am counting on neuroplasticity and slowly building up whatever muscles I have (because there is still some nerve conduction going on – maybe 30%) to improve my walking. I had counted on the pool being the exact depth for exercises I can’t do at home. So a good half of the time in the pool was spent – in Paradise – doing exercises and retraining muscles and brain.

Don’t sweat what you can’t change

I just ignored the parts I couldn’t do (didn’t go sailing this time, and have still, after five trips there over the past decade, not made it into the salt-water pool), and enjoyed every minute of the rest.

One of the days had a rougher-than-usual sea, and I got a nasty scare getting into the ocean (bit of a tumble) AND out of it (pushed very hard to get out before the next wave, and ended up not being able to breathe for a bit), and I almost let that keep me out of the ocean. But it was back to its normal calm later, and I did get a wonderful session in the beautiful blue-green water.

Marred by my only sunscreen fail. Kiddies: wear your sunscreen. Reapply every couple of hours, regardless of whether you’ve been in water. Don’t forget covering EVERY SINGLE AREA (I missed my lower arms ONE TIME and have spent the next few days slathering with green aloe gel). And let the stuff sink in as recommended. Wear a shirt part of the time even if you look like a dork. Tropical sun goes through less absorbing atmosphere, and will GET YOU. I never missed before, never had a problem – and it got me this time.

The cost to a chronically-ill person

Even in lowest possible energy-expenditure mode, vacations are a stretch. I never actually managed to unpack, used the same clothes more times than I had planned, didn’t find the after-sun gel until days into the trip, didn’t find my critical meds on the way home until it was almost too late…

The small things accumulated steadily.

I ate too much of the wrong things – half of the time from simple exhaustion (okay, the rest of the time from simple greed). Once I go down that path – eating more carbs than I can handle – it takes at least four days of eating very carefully to reverse the process. And there was no way to muster that energy in a situation where the level of exhaustion was very close to the edge, all the time.

The weeks of planning and packing took their toll (but now I have bathing suits!). I lost untold writing time because the arrangements had to be made with my good time (and even then I almost forgot to get us seat assignments for the trip there).

I lost track of where I am in writing NETHERWORLD, and will be doing a complete reset.

My guess: it will cost me another week just coping with the aftermath, and that if I’m lucky.

Would you do it again?

As often as possible.

Because I still can, and a day will come when I can’t.

Because the time with two of my three kids was priceless – and next time I hope we’re all together for the ‘annual family vacation.’

Because I have the feeling that a week of NOT stressing over what I couldn’t control, and being in basic survival mode (in a beautiful place, with food cooked by someone else), plus three of us in the room going to bed at a reasonable hour because we were exhausted (all of us), whether from fun or making it through, is a good thing (I’ve been going to bed WAY too late).

Because the soul needs beauty, and seeing coatis and mapaches and agoutis and iguanas and pelicans and flamingos in their natural habitat was wonderful (wish the idiot tourists would read the sign that says Don’t Feed the Animals Because it Kills Them).

I hope this brings me back to writing renewed.

And because it was, for all the effort and increased pain, fun.

We ill folk can get into small loops where pain and exhaustion are minimized – but so is everything else. Including fun.


***** Kindle Countdown Deal Amazon US Oct. 10-Oct. 18, $0.99, IN PROGRESS *****

Please visit Pride’s Children on Amazon for your copy at a buck if you don’t have one, and give them for presents! It’s an easy way to make a recommendation.


The same person who writes the blog posts writes the fiction.

Share your challenges with ‘vacations.’

Do you like your books pessimistic or optimistic?

Mountains, lake, trees. Words: Should fiction lift your spirits? Alicia Butcher EhrhardtWHAT DOES READING FOR PLEASURE MEAN TO YOU?

Why do we read?

To learn about the world and to learn about our potentialities as humans.

Really.

To read a book is to live part of another life.

To learn something new.

For relaxation.

For a vicarious adventure.

For pleasure.

Okay, so what KIND of books?

Optimist or pessimist? is a question I ask books.

Even horrible books can raise spirits, especially by the end of the book. The Diary of Anne Frank does that.

Is your book ultimately depressing or uplifting?

It’s a value judgment.

A depressing book – depressing author?

Doing some research, I spent time reading the Top Reviews for Karin Slaughter’s Pretty Girls (2016).

‘Top reviewers’ on Amazon are the ones who get the most comments or upvotes; the first four pages with that option selected had negative after negative reviews (it wasn’t until page 4 that I found two short positive reviews, from readers), many of those from reviewers you would love to get to read your book: Top 500, Top 1000, Vine Voice…

And those reviewers were appalled at the violence against women that was graphically depicted, over and over. ‘Gratuitous’ was used as a descriptor.

Many commented that the writing was good or adequate or competent (workmanlike would have been my assessment, from reading the Look Inside sample provided), but that the choice of subject matter left them sick to their stomach.

Ms. Slaughter is a NYT bestseller.

Apparently, previous books she wrote were not nearly as negative as this one; but many of these reviewers commented they would not read another of her books.

Some commented they wished they could scrub their minds of the images, for which they could find no socially redeeming reasons.

Me, I wondered why they continued reading, even if they skimmed.

The optimistic book – optimistic authors?

And I don’t mean just sappy and inspirational, with ready-made solutions to the world’s problems.

SF can be pessimistic (dystopias) or optimistic.

Romance is usually optimistic, and those fans who like to read Romance want their ‘happily ever after’ (HEA) ending, and can be very unhappy with writers who don’t provide one. There is a subset of books which end, not with an HEA, but with a ‘happy for now’ (HFN). These books are still hopeful, but possibly more realistic – and also possibly open to sequels.

Jane Eyre is optimistic. Silas Marner is optimistic.

Huckleberry Finn is optimistic. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Heinlein) is optimistic.

Thrillers and mysteries can be all over the map – but do deal with the grittier side of life, and more often are pessimistic or neutral, but possibly with an optimistic undertone, say, to a continuing detective’s life.

A special category is the detective who finds happiness

My favorite, obviously, is the definitely HEA ending of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels, ending with Busman’s Honeymoon, where Peter and Harriet marry, finally, and solve one last real mystery which sets the tone for their married life. Sayers wrote only two short stories about the pair and their children after that, even though her series was popular and is still popular now.

During all the novels, there was still an optimistic cast to the series: there was a right and wrong, people had principles, and there were consequences – but mysteries were solved and things set ‘right’ where possible. Sayers went on to write theology, so her stories were optimistic because she believed in the possibility.

You read what you like

And I don’t like ultimately pessimistic books.

Almost every genre can be written either way; even serial killer Dexter is optimistic.

I just want to know that, at the end of the book, things are, or have the potential of being, better.

That covers a lot of territory, but the thing in a book that makes me pick another book by an author is that there was hope at the end.

And you write the same way

The road to happiness for Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey is a rocky one. But when he asks her, on their honeymoon, if she finds life, on the whole, good, she answers,

“Yes! I’ve always felt absolutely certain it was good–if only one could get it straightened out. I’ve hated almost everything that has happened to me, but I knew all the time it was just things that were wrong, not everything….Things have come straight. I always knew they would if one hung on long enough, waiting for a miracle…”

I haven’t the slightest reservation about Pride’s Children. It is an optimistic book.

Not easy. Not simple. Not fast. And you may have to trust me for a while.

It makes a difference to me.


Are you an optimist or a pessimist? And does it show in what you read and/or write?

Data mining for the critical book description

Teddy bear with sign Looking for friend; Words: Help refine the book description; Author: Alicia Butcher EhrhardtCROWD-SOURCING IS THE NEW GOLD STANDARD

The purpose of a book description

The description of a book should do one thing, and one thing only: get a reader to click further.

The click may be to the book’s page on Amazon, to a Buy link, or to the Look Inside feature on Amazon. The next material seen, if it’s not the book, already downloaded onto a Kindle or Kindle app or a book in the mail, has to continue the process, but the first click which lands in a place the reader can make a decision should have an irresistible ‘Call to Action.’

The book description is the beginning of the words that form the Contract with the Reader.

Why fiddle with the book description after spending so much time crafting it?

At this point in the development of marketing for Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, the book description, originally crafted to attract the kind of reader I thought would like it, someone exactly like me (!), isn’t working.

Plus that turned out to be wrong: there is something that unites the merry band, a sensitivity perhaps to the way I’ve chosen to tell a story, or to something in the characters themselves, but I haven’t isolated it yet.

My gentle description of what is an intense book full of unexpected shadows is too mild. It expects too much of the general reader – and is not helping convert those who might reach the description into possible readers of the book.

Advertising – the soggy ground

The field of advertising is one I don’t wish to plow, because of the energy it takes to generate a hundred concepts until a few seem ‘possible,’ and then to refine the gold in those into ‘probable,’ and continue working an ad into ‘Yes!’

Companies spend a lot of money on advertising. I have neither the money – nor the time. So I’ve resisted doing the work.

I tell myself, ‘Finish the next book – then this one will sell.’ I think, ‘It’s good enough,’ or ‘The description is accurate,’ or ‘It doesn’t matter what I do.’

And maybe I’m expecting too much – and all this is moot.

But an ad I crafted for a summer issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly netted exactly one sale. I’m not getting it right.

Are there stones left unturned?

There are books out there whose readers I want, and I haven’t mined them yet to see whether there’s something I can use. Amazon has oodles of data – the whole book’s page is stuffed with information. Some of it I can’t get easily (or within my budget, such as Kirkus review) because the big publishers need a staff to do that for the books they’ve decided to push, and my staff consists of me.

‘Editorial Reviews’ can contain some pretty heavy hitters (‘Stephen King recommends that if you read one book this year…’) I don’t have access to – whether anyone reads the blurbs or not.

And I haven’t mined the 24 reviews, 21 of them positive, to really hear what my readers have said. The ones I already attracted, and who were impressed enough (yeah, I’m going with that explanation for now, rather than the chain-gang one) to write a review.

I intend to start doing this.

Especially the first: if I think Pride’s Children would attract readers who either liked, for example, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, or who specifically didn’t like it because of perceived flaws, I need to be spending some time looking at the description the copywriters at the big publisher produced for the book, and what the book’s readers have left in the reviews they wrote. I’ve done some of that – it could use a serious go-around.

That’s work I will do on my own.

You, my blog readers, have been kind

But I also want to ask my blog readers whether they think I’m doing the advertising part wrong – and what they think might work better.

Feel free to do one of two things:
1) Think for a minute and tell me what attracted you to read Pride’s Children, if you did, and
2) Anything you haven’t already told me about what I’m not doing right. Because I have saved, and will be rereading everything anyone already sent.

I have my own small data bank – that cache of all the words I’ve received already, kind or caustic – plus the reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and blogs, and I think I’m ready to do some more digging.

Email privately (abehrhardt [at] gmail [dot] com) if this blog is too public for you. I promise not to publish anything identifiable! And I’ll be taking suggestions in the helpful intent they’re offered. No hurt feelings.

For blog responses, here’s the easy link (no scrolling back up).


PS: price and cover are not up for discussion in this round – they are separate issues. I’ll reexamine both eventually, but right now I’m concerned with book description and ad copy. Just the words.

PPS: Don’t worry, writing NETHERWORLD is still my first priority. If you were worried.

I am always the wrong survey demographic

Diverse group of people in silhouette playing basketball on the beach. Words: Nope! You really don't want me to take your survey. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtMOVE ALONG; NOT THE DEMOGRAPHIC YOU’RE LOOKING FOR

I can’t fill out your online survey, and it is because you don’t want me in your group of survey respondents. I’ll ruin your results.

Really. In every possible area, I am the wrong demographic for your product.

If I bought your product, I am the wrong person to answer your feedback questions. My answers will either be trite and obvious, or useless.

Why did I buy your product in the first place?

If I bought your product, it was often for an off-label reason, and it’s also probably for a one-of-a-kind reason.

You will most likely not get me to buy your product again unless it perfectly serves a need I have – in which case I won’t need your advertising, or your automatic refill system, or anything useful to you in a marketing sense, and I’ll just buy it again as long as you make it and sell it. On my schedule. Which would give you conniption fits if you knew it, such as my buying a product only during the summers.

If you, by chance, put up a product which is perfect for me, and I buy it and love it, and tell everyone, and answer your questions, and leave a review – you will not find enough other people like me who will also buy it, and you will end up sadly taking it off the market.

In fact, I am the kiss of death for your product.

You fervently hope you are not attracting customers like me as your main audience.

What is my demographic?

Well, I’m female, overeducated, in physics/engineering. And when I see an ad at all, I read it carefully, and recall a lifetime of broken promises from you marketing folk, and it makes me very wary.

I don’t read Romances. Not the modern ones, anyway. They are about people in a very tiny demographic (perfect perky women and billionaires and Scotsmen) I’m not likely to ever come within range of, and I really can’t identify with them.

I don’t use cosmetics, except when trying not to scare the horses in the streets, and then buy an inexpensive new mascara once every couple of years.

I don’t wear heels – that eliminates a lot of potential products. Back in the day, shoes for women stopped at a size 9 (and were made fun of in Clementine: ‘and her shoes were number 9, herring boxes without topses sandals were for Clementine’) – so you can’t sell me women’s shoes, which are extraordinarily hard to buy by mail – the fit and all, you know. I wore a 10 before having kids, and an 11-1/2 W after three of them, darn it.

I am past the age of your female products, not interested in your products for older women (please God, as long as possible). I take as few supplements as possible. I don’t use anything with an odor.

I shop online – but not often, not well, and not impulsively

I’m disabled – and I don’t go shopping. I used to be tall, and you lost me a long time ago because it never occurred to you that a woman might be proportionally shaped, so it was either tall (and thin) clothes, or short (and ample) clothes at the stores, and never a large enough size in the tall ones – and you trained me out of all the female clothes-buying patterns I might have established way back then by having no merchandise available in my size.

I have no interest in fashion – because I was never able to get into it, and the hand-made clothes were never quite fashionable (even the patterns were hard to get in the right size, way back then, and had to be modified).

I have AdBlock on my computer. I don’t use a smart phone to access the internet. On purpose. Even Facebook ads get easily ignored – I’ve permanently tuned them out, and only sometimes bother to Hide Ad so you get that information.

Don’t court me – I’m a terrible consumer

You don’t want me.

And if you ever sent me a product to test, you would be sorry. My reactions would drive you to pull your hair out, and if you followed any of my suggestions, to the poorhouse.

And that is why I won’t fill out your survey or send you feedback: it’s a waste of both our times.


Are you their demographic? Some people actually like to shop.