Tag Archives: the creative process

Come into my parlor says the writer to the fly

LET ME SHARE WITH YOU, DEAR FLY

Let me show you around.

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

Constructing the tough scenes

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

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

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

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

Perennial preparation

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

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

It is still a surprise to the writer

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

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

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

But the details as executed, oh!

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

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

It is finished now

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

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

Andrew snippet

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

I’m on to the next.

And the goldfinches have gorged themselves for now.

 

 

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Character motivation fail last ditch solution

SOMETIMES, LOOK AT THINGS BACKWARD

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

It’s always something

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

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

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

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

How is the second novel in a trilogy different?

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

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

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

Notes from the current Production file:

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

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

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

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

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

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

X has an ethical dilemma.

Turn it INTO an ethical dilemma

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

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

Work OUT the ethical dilemma

Production files again:

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

Ethical dilemmas in real life

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

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

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

 

 

 

Queen of the Ninja Storage Vaults

IT’S THERE; RIGHT WHERE I TOLD YOU

Yes! With fist pump!

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

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

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

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

The object of my command

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

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

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

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

The results of my command

“I can’t find it.”

Or worse: “It’s not there.”

Sigh.

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

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

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

Uh huh.

Not just the kids

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

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

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

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

“Can’t find it.”

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

We laugh.

And I remain the Queen of the Ninja Storage Vaults.


PS Occasionally it was on the next shelf.

PPS This was used as an occasion of glee.

PPPS I am rarely wrong.

 

 

What to do with past insights

HUMMINGBIRD AT FEEDER

HUMMINGBIRD AT FEEDER

I AM WATCHING A HUMMINGBIRD ESCHEW THE FEEDER FOR FLOWERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illness? Three stents in my cardiac arteries

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

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

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

I have bigger fish to fry.

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

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

Some shameless self-promotion now goes with the territory.

So be it.

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

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

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

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

I bid you all a good day – and hummingbirds.

Writing in a niche market is fraught

AND CAN BE VERY HARD ON THE EGO

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

What is the niche? INDIE NON-GENRE fiction

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

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

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

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

I have not. Yet.

Stubborn I have been since a small child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s where the niche part comes in.

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

What works for INDIE GENRE promotion?

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

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

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

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

Stealing fire from the indie gods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The HOW

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

It may not be doable.

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

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

What I’m NOT happy with

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

Negative:

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

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

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

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

Positive:

Thank God for positive!

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

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

Why point out only some people like it?

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

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

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

The topic is esoteric to the point of madness

For which I apologize.

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

So I share it with my friends.

You’re already used to me.

Walking around in fear is stressful

IT IS NECESSARY TO CHOOSE TO DUMP STRESS

I’m walking around fearing sudden death, sudden incapacitation, and the need for more time-sucking procedures/tests/doctor visits/hospitals…

It’s too stressful to LIVE THIS WAY.

But after a certain number of life hits on the head with a 2 x 4, there comes a state close to ‘learned helplessness,’ where, if you’re not careful, you LET the stress have free rein – and, while you can’t change reality (whatever that is for you), you have forgotten that you CAN change your attitude.

It never stops, the stress from life

In addition to the medical stuff, which came unbidden and must be dealt with, willy nilly, I now have some dental stuff – and what the dentist thinks is necessary to do.

And I’ve accepted the job of ‘person who locates and chooses our permanent abode.’

Permanent, as in ‘where we – husband and I – will live the rest of our lives.’

The permanent solution to life

We are looking at the particular model of a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) for a bunch of reasons, the main one being that we want to spare our children (none of whom live close to us now) the ‘problem of mom and dad’ – basically, what to do with us when we’re no longer competent to manage our own affairs, and they have to step in and make decisions FOR us.

We have seen, first hand, how our parents dealt with this.

First hand – and at a distance.

And it is an interesting general problem which we’ve now seen proceed four different ways!

In Mexico City, my four lovely younger sisters have done the ‘huge extended family takes care of mom and dad’ – and are continuing to date with Mother. Done with love, it has still taken a huge amount of resources, and I have been in no position to help with much – I barely manage to visit every couple of years, and do the tiny bit of US paperwork (still incomplete) because my parents are both US citizens.

In the States, my lovely sister-in-law, who has always lived much closer to my in-laws, has undertaken the huge and complete burden much of the time, shepherding her parents as they wished and she could, and pushing for more permanent solutions when they had to be undertaken. By herself, with occasional help from her brother – as she requested it – she is still supervising all the care for my FIL.

We will have no child close, geographically, unless we move close to one of ours (and that child doesn’t move following professional opportunities, the thing that took them far away in the first place). We have no extended family in the States.

And I, with my disabilities, could provide little help to them, even if I lived close.

Making our own choices requires an enormous amount of work NOW

Evaluating places to move to, figuring out finances (husband is doing most of this part), comparing the amenities – and the long-term healthcare options – at each place has become my additional task, added to trying to write, learning to advertise – and the energy-sucking cardiac rehab exercise.

The additional task that comes when you decide you no longer want to be in charge of a suburban NJ house is selling it. Which require getting it ready for market. Which in turn requires fixing a number of ‘little’ things which, while they don’t affect the quality of living in a house all that much (such as a bump on the driveway from a tree root), WILL affect either the salability or the eventual sales price.

And the final task: dejunking a house we moved into in 1981 and reared three children in (and homeschooled them in).

Even with an assistant – whose time has been mainly spent lately helping the Master with the annual gardening tasks, not me with the dejunking – the decisions are mostly mine. And I don’t make decisions easily (that brain fog thing you have with CFS) or quickly, even with help.

There are twin mottos to keep me going: ‘If it doesn’t give you joy, out it goes,’ and ‘If it won’t fit in a two-bedroom smaller apartment, out it goes.’

Even then it is hard to make the decisions, and they must come out of my tiny daily supply of ‘good time’ – which is also my WRITING time.

Compartmentalization – and all the other tricks

The stress accumulates. I notice. I poke holes in it, take the time to do my de-stressing yoga-type breathing. Repeat.

Because there IS too much stress right now, even if the ultimate goal is much less stress.

To Do lists. Using a Scrivener Project for each of the tasks.

Doing the required things – I will not give up the cardiac rehab exercises, even if they are not yet providing anything much in the way of extra energy.

And letting go of the guilt, including the guilt that pops its head up because I can’t contribute what I should have been able to contribute to this household, had I not gotten sick all those years ago. A hardy perennial, that guilt.

And the guilt of actually spending that money we have carefully been not spending all these years, so we could take care of our needs in retirement.

And, almost daily, talking myself down from the ledge of ‘Woe is me!’

Writing suffers when the writer is stressed – normal

Blog posts have suffered, and will continue to, but, ironically, I need this outlet – because it de-stresses me to pin all this stuff to the ground in its little cages, where I let one problem child out at a time, on my better days.

The writing happens most days – though not as long. I have learned to accept that pinning something down on a timeline I haven’t looked at in two years WILL take that day’s energy – and is a GOOD use of that day’s writing time – because it MUST be done.

Most of these are from things I probably should have figured out long ago, but 15 years writing the first novel was already long enough!

I think there aren’t too many left, but have just dealt with a doozy.

And am very pleased with myself because it DID work out – and locked in, again, that odd feeling I have sometimes that I am a chronicler of an actual story. Good if you’re writing mainstream fiction with a long timeline, many characters (64 NAMED characters as of the last time I counted), covering locations in several different countries and states.

My solution to stress always includes writing it out

That’s how I make sense of the world, take the circling thoughts out of my head and acknowledge and record them, and eventually find ways to deal with them.

It is also part of my usual process to… I don’t want to say ‘cheer myself up,’ because that somehow implies putting a false face of happiness on top of the real problems. To talk back, to the stress, to the situational depression, to my feelings of inadequacy, to the long list of things I SHOULD have done and SHOULD be doing which get ignored.

Basically, the MORE dysfunctional I become, or allow myself to become before I notice that it’s gotten me again, the LESS I can do to change anything that’s causing the dysfunction, and so I have to get out of that state. And I’ve already proved – by trying – that I cannot accept chemical help and still get anything done.

So it’s my own resources, the written process after the thinking, and continuing to chip away at everything as long as God give me life and any ability to do.

And it’s a good time to prioritize (which I’m not doing as well as I need to).

MY motto is: “I’m working on it!”

Thought you’d like to know – and me to record – what ‘it’ is right now.

I’m working on it. You?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When there’s been a hole in your writing

Lighthouse at night at end of pier. Text: What can change a writer's voice and style? Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU STILL WRITE LIKE YOURSELF?

The Holy Grail for authors is to be recognized from their writing, because it’s distinctive and personal and memorable. It’s called voice, and goes along with having a style, sometimes for series, sometimes for all your books.

It is an interesting milestone when you find you have developed such features.

And the question I’ve been asking myself since all the garbage happened (starting way back in November of last year) is: Am I still myself as a writer?

Life events change people

And writers are people.

On some of the days I’ve been able to write since the side effects of medications have mostly been out of my system, I have noted with some pleasure that I seem to have learned how to do writing the way I do it – faster.

The process hasn’t changed – I gather a lot of bits my plotting process has decided will be in a particular scene, fill in some lists I have made for myself with such things as ‘What is the heart of this scene?’ and ‘What would happen if this scene weren’t here?’ and such, and start organizing the material into beats which make some kind of sense to me – and then the actual writing seems to flow, dreamlike, from all the little pieces, as they show me where they belong.

Maybe it’s faster because I’ve stopped second-guessing myself: most of the material will fit in, and occasional bits will be postponed, and very rarely a piece will be added to an earlier finished scene.

But I question such gifts.

Is it real?

And is it still me?

I don’t want a reader to notice that something ineffable has changed, and Book 2 feels wrong.

I won’t know the answer to this for a while, but I made a plea to my beta reader to be especially aware of the concept of change as she reads the new material (my method is to send it to her, polished, a chapter at a time).

I’m not sure what the heck I will do it I’ve been changed in my writing by the recent health events. I will accept that maybe the speed has come because I value my tiny bit of functionality even more, now that I’ve experienced how it can disappear completely for months on end.

But first I have to know.

I await her judgment. If she’s not sure, I will get more readers from those who loved PURGATORY, and beg them to look at a couple of chapters.

It’s a scary thought – and one of the things that’s been worrying me along with the obvious aftermath to health problems.

If you notice

anything specific in my NON-fiction – comments and posts and emails – that makes you wonder whether I’m still here, please let me know.

I have literally run to the end of my DIY ways: I can’t tell. And I don’t know why I’m slightly uneasy, unless it’s simply the kind of unease that makes you question EVERYTHING once you trip over something that shouldn’t have been there.

Oh, and: has this ever happened to you?

 

 

The phenomenon of the one-book author

Image of single orange flower, half open; Text: If you only have ONE STORY, is it worth writing? Alicia Butcher EhrhardtTHIS IS A QUESTION FOR FICTION WRITERS

I have been, since last November, in a position I had not been in in years, and which I neither like nor have coped with particularly well: not being able to write due to major illness and health problems.

Which is kind of ironic, since I’ve been out of commission as a scientist, my true and original career (though I planned to write in retirement, and DAMN! here I am at retirement age and technically retired from a job I was forced to abandon in 1989) for almost THIRTY years. A real shame after all those years in grad school battling to get a degree in a man’s field, Nuclear Engineering, and thirteen good years at major US science labs. But Life does things like that to you, and you roll with the punches, or don’t make it.

So, not to belabor the point, I’ve been out of commission for half a year almost; and now, due to the medications prescribed by my doctors, am facing the very real possibility that my brain will not come back to me, that the cognitive dysfunction which has been a result of the FIVE medications recommended for me to take (and which I’m fighting), and the still head-shaking INCREASE in exhaustion which I didn’t think could get worse.

Yes, I know we all get old and eventually die, and some don’t get to become old first, and there is dementia lurking on the horizon, but at my age, I felt I still had a number of usable years left – until now. Now, I hope I have years left, but I’m starting to get seriously worried about what has happened to my brain to make it even LESS usable.

Ten Early Warning Signs for losing your mind to dementia

This one particularly scares me because I store it years ago, AND I CAN’T REMEMBER – OR FIND VIA GOOGLE – WHERE I GOT IT.

The signs are the same in many places, so I am apologizing in advance to the person whose particular phrasing of them I’m going to show you (please let me know if you are that person, and what you want me to do):

  • Memory loss for recent or new information – repeats self frequently
  • Difficulty doing familiar, but difficult tasks – managing money, medications, driving
  • Problems with word finding, mis-naming, or mis-understanding
  • Getting confused about time or place – getting lost while driving, missing several appointments
  • Worsening judgment – not thinking thing through like before
  • Difficulty problem solving or reasoning
  • Misplacing things – putting them in ‘odd places’
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Changes in typical personality
  • Loss of initiation – withdraws from normal patterns of activities and interests

It doesn’t say in this list, or the one a an Alzheimer’s site, that the person’s AWARENESS of their own increasing problems is or isn’t a risk factor; my personal experience was the ability to hope that my people who had this problem were NOT scared and living in a hell of knowing their minds were going, when it was obvious to all of us – probably including THEM.

Since being put on cardiac drugs starting in February of this year, I have had EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE EARLY SIGNS HAPPEN TO ME. REPEATEDLY. Sometimes I’m very aware of it, and other times have had to have it pointed out to me that I was not thinking clearly.

I am aware of NOT being myself

It’s pretty obvious.

And when I haven’t been able to write fiction, the one thing I do which exercises my creative brain for a few hours on a good day (assuming all the incantations and spells have been laid, and the careful management of the physical body with rest, food, fasting, pain meds from before, and caffeine), and this started to go on and on and on, I’ve gotten pretty scared.

It’s subtle – NOT being yourself. It includes so many little things you can try to ignore, such as having literal trouble forming a word before you speak it…

So now, rather than bore you with my mental decline…

I would like to examine the title phenomenon: the one-book author.

Where is the place in the pantheon of writers for the person who chooses to or is forced to write but one book during their lifetime?

We have a bunch of famous ones, such as Margaret Mitchell and Anne Frank and Harper Lee (yes, in spite of the abomination of GSAW, which I refuse to blame her for).

In many of these cases, the process took a very long time. The reason for those is that the writer had to learn how to write, and if you have ever tried this little exercise, you know that the first thing you have to overcome is the sparkling story in your brain, compared with what you are able to set in permanent form when you try, especially the first time.

The authors may simply have not wished to do that process again. Or found more interesting and exciting things to do. Or ran up against the world and critics and the nether regions of fame, and decided strongly never to do that again.

Some of them were no longer with us when their one book was available for purchase. John Kennedy Toole (I believe he only has A Confederacy of Dunces out, with a Pulitzer in fiction to his memory) committed suicide; his mother stubbornly kept nagging editors until one published his novel.

How does this affect the READING PUBLIC?

That’s the part in curious about, and it may have changed in these days of self-publishing AND self-promoting.

Single novels written by indies MAY SINK WITHOUT A TRACE.

The continuation of the writing career, a pickup in merchandising, readers discovering the writer and reading their backlog – all of these things are necessary for all but the VERY LUCKY INDIE who catches the eye of someone in just the right position with just the right book.

Many of our successful overnight indie wonders are no more overnight than persistent: they have been writing – and publishing – longer than I have been writing, but fame just found them. A couple go viral each year: in one year it was Darcie Chan and The Mill River Recluse – which she sold 600k of at 0.99. I don’t know what she wrote before that (it was advertised as a debut novel); after that, she was picked up by a publisher, her prices were raised, and I don’t think the following two books did anything like the first in sales. I like her success (though would not want to be picked up by a traditional publisher without having the terms very carefully vetted); the books aren’t my style (they have, like WAY too many books nowadays, a REALLY NASTY SECRET in the past).

But aside from Chan, I haven’t seen a book sell two million copies like The Goldfinch, which was hyped and marketed by big pub (also, not a debut novel, IIRC).

There is a very good reason sometimes

When the first book is not as good as it could be.

Indies fictioneers don’t usually have the means to push that first book; reasonable indies expect their career to pay for itself, more or less, as they go. There’s no point to pushing a first one, if the writer can’t repeat the process in a reasonable period (write, publish, promote the hell out of).

And the most important reason is usually lack of knowledge. An indie, like myself, who spent 15 years writing a book, trying more to finish it properly than market before it’s finished, may have READ about marketing techniques, but has not MARKETED a real book yet, and there’s a huge conceptual and executional chasm between the cliffs.

So, what does that mean for indies like me?

If my career ended with To Be Continued at the end of Pride’s Children PURGATORY, because MY brain never returns capable of writing fiction, what happens to that book? What happens to the story, the ONLY one I want to write until it is finished.

I have been sitting at my desk for upwards of five hours daily since April 8 – with the result of a few notes.

The sad part: I had learned what parts of my ‘process’ could be sped up, and was actually doing quite well writing the second book, NETHERWORLD. Well started, completely planned, and in possession of a ratty old first draft and knowledge of my changed. My plan was to take less than a year to do the next book, another year for the third.

Want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.

I’m a good Christian, and a realist: God know exactly what will happen to me, what I will choose in the future, when I will go Home to Him. I can’t change an iota of all that.

Sometimes in the past two months and a half, I would have been perfectly happy for Him to say, “Okay, pack your bags – you’re coming home!” It has been that bad. Many times.

Not my choice, but a realist says, “Yes, Lord,” and brings very little in those bags.

That would leave me with nothing else published, and an unfinished story – which I’m assuming would do the proverbial sinking, sitting on the Kindles of the few people who discovered it since late 2015 for a while – and mostly abandoned.

It hasn’t done that well since it came out – I have a hard time with various of the components.

Price is one – few people want to pay $8.99 for an indie ebook of 167K tightly woven words, regardless of the fact that it’s cheaper than two 80K $4.99 books, or three 55K $2.99 books, and they can get an eARC for free by just asking.

Cover is another – if I had $10 for each ‘change your cover’ suggestion, I’d have a nice little advertising budget.

People who expected a Romance are cutting that it is too long or too slow.

And most readers (mine do better than average) simply don’t review OR tell their friends OR gift a book they like. Sometimes I wonder if they’re feeling guilty that they got pulled in to such a thing about a disabled woman.

And, of course, the ads – have NOT hit my stride there.

So what will happen to PC? PC 1-and-only?

If this is it for me, or my brain, which are roughly equal in importance for me.

But mostly because there would be no more.

I dunno.

I think the famous ones like GWTW had a lot of push in their day FIRST, and then it slowly became apparent the author was not going to write a sequel.

The reason for this post:

Suppose all of that were true: no more of the trilogy, no more books by me, no more writing to push what I already have to justify having spent my entire FREE time during the past 17 years doing nothing else.

Would I care? Yes.

Would I feel I should have spent my time otherwise?

NOT ON YOUR LIFE.

I hope it doesn’t sink like a stone, but I still have it available next to my bed in the nursing home for as long as I’m alive, whether I can read it or not.

And if God gives me life, and a brain to live it with, I will keep going forward.

Otherwise, I’ll try to remember to write out a quick outline of the rest of the story, as my daughter has advised, for anyone curious. They can post it on PridesChildren.com when I’m not here any more.

Assuming I have enough brain to write it.

If you are kind, please pray the dementia is reversible.

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.


 

Depression: unavoidable consequence of life-altering surgery?

Bird flying into the sunset. Text: How far away are the Grey Havens. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THERE IS SUCH A THING AS TOO MUCH LOSS

I don’t want to have to write this post, but I’m coming to the conclusion that this is the final ‘tail’ I have to deal with.

I don’t want to believe that it may be a consequences of having my life saved that, for a year, the last drug I’m on may dog my steps, make me wish I hadn’t made it, drive me to a different place where it isn’t worth getting up in the morning.

Maybe I’m writing this prematurely, but even if the whole experience disappeared tomorrow into a (tiny) burst of continuing ability to write, it HAS existed. It is REAL. And I’m probably not alone in having it.

Why would a platelet control drug (Effient) cause problems?

Because one of its side effects is ‘low energy.’

I thought getting the drugs with the major side effects out of my system would take me back to where I used to exist, in my low-energy CFS state that allowed a couple of hours a day for writing fiction – my ‘good time’ – if I did everything right: got enough sleep, took my naps, didn’t eat until after writing (to avoid diverting blood to digestion I needed for thinking), didn’t eat carbs, didn’t leave the house much, kept the adrenaline low by suppressing most of the effect of emotions…

What this actually means is that I need to achieve an energy level somewhat above bare-existence levels for part of the day, and don’t have much of a margin of safety. Many days, especially if something else HAD to be done, by ME, I had to use it for something other than writing fiction. But most of the time – maybe 5 or 6 out of 7 days – I could count on that piece of my old mind hanging around for a bit.

And now I’m down to 1 or 2 out of 7 – and it’s simply not enough to keep me from getting depressed – and then having to use some of those days and some of that energy to drag myself out of the pit of despair.

How do you handle depression?

A long time ago, when I first got CFS, there was some evidence that taking small quantities – about 10% of a regular dose – of antidepressants, and my doctor at the time tried four or five of them over a period when I was desperate to get some of myself back.

And the reaction to medication that still is with me – overreacting to small amounts, and usually not being able to take enough to reach a therapeutic dose – happened back then. None of the drugs I tried had any positive effect; all had side effects which made me beg off them; and on none of them did I reach even that 10% dose before this happened.

It seems to be my version (I’m far from alone in this among people with CFS (PWCs)) of this d**ned disease.

But because of this experiment, I won’t try anti-depressant medications again.

Long ago I learned Cognitive Behavior Therapy – from Feeling Good: the new mood therapy, Dr. David Burns. It takes time, involves, for me, a fair amount of writing it all down and dealing with it on paper.

But it has the advantages of:

  • no drugs for my system to deal with
  • no side effects
  • available in the middle of the night – or any other time and place
  • completely under my control
  • always works for me (eventually)
  • doesn’t need a therapist, a doctor, or a pharmacist – or a prescription
  • no cost

I can’t tell you the number of times in almost three decades that I’ve realized I’m getting overwhelmed, started writing about it, figured out what the important threads were, and worked my way out of depression that was making my life uninhabitable.

I don’t push this on other people – many other people can handle a drug just fine, don’t get many side effects, and just need their brain chemistry adjusted; or, if in a major depression, need far more help than they can manage this way. But it’s what I’ve used all these years, and it works for me – if I put the time and effort in. Which I always end up doing because I can, I don’t like inflicting this self on my family, and depression ruins what life I have left – and bring my fiction to a standstill.

Back to the life-altering part

It is characteristic of many events in life that change you from one person into another – love, marriage, a child, getting kicked out of school, divorce, joining the military, losing a parent… – to make you reassess what is important to you, what you are doing with your life.

Having stents installed, and finding out you might have been heading for a heart attack otherwise, changes you. It is a curious ‘surgery’ because there is little in the way of cutting and healing from that (except in my unlucky case, where I blew a gasket in the hole in my femoral artery – I still have the damage from that).

But that almost doesn’t matter, because I KNOW I am now another person/body. For one, I am now a ‘cardiac patient,’ with the implications of doctor supervision, meds, visits to the cardiologist, tests, and whatever changes these things may force on me.

And of course there is the mortality thing – events remind you time is limited.

It helps to focus you.

But I had ONE thing left to me, writing fiction, and I am dealing with not being able to do that ONE thing.

The rest of life doesn’t conveniently take up the slack

In addition to writing book 2 in the Pride’s Children trilogy, I am trying to market book 1. This has slowed to a standstill – I am hand-selling a couple of copies a month at best. It takes me a lot of time and many emails to get someone to accept a free copy for a possible review – which I’m happy to do when I can, but is happening very rarely lately.

I’m running Amazon ads (thanks to Brian Meeks for getting me started where I couldn’t figure out the basics); so far, since Feb. 4, Amazon tells me I’ve spent $30 on ads, and have sold one copy (though I think they may be responsible for a few more, but possibly not directly from someone clicking on my ads, which is what they track). I can leave that running in the background, and hope for a groundswell in the future.

I am also trying to finish putting up a short story prequel, Too Late, so that those who don’t want to read it here on the free fiction tab – or who prefer their own copy managed by Amazon for their Kindle – can have it for 0.99. Or people who get to my Author Page can select a low-cost alternative to the outrageous-for-an-indie price of $8.99 for an ebook (compare to big publisher prices which are higher) to read to see if I can write. Or even so I can make it available for download to anyone joining my newsletter or following my blog.

And of course there is cardiac rehab – and its attendant paperwork. I don’t even want to tell you how much time I’ve wasted on that, and I haven’t even started yet. When it happens, in a few weeks, it will also sap my energy by making me leave the house two more times per week, and expend energy I don’t have. The hope is that it might also eventually help. Not in the conventional way: I can’t do aerobic exercise, so there is no ability to increase aerobic capacity; the best I can hope for is a tiny increase in ‘fitness’ over time that might offset the decline I’ve been in.

If nothing else, it will shut the cardiologist up that I’ve tried it.

I’m not blogging as much – have nothing interesting to say other than to relate my experiences with the medical system as I’m doing – another indication of low energy.

And I’ve started going for the heart-rate limited slow walks which I’ve been trying to get to for ages (and may have been made more difficult by that blockage) – the only way I know for a PWC to increase fitness on her own. That is, I got ONE walk in – to the middle of the next block and back – when it was 66 degrees the other day. We’re back in the 30s, so I can’t do that for a while again, but will try to find the energy in the hopes that there might be eventual improvement in something, anything.

I still have to finish things such as my mom and dad’s tax returns (he died in Aug. 2014, I got the paperwork to do the next year, and the IRS has stymied my every effort so far to get the right information by… well, you don’t need the horrible details; sufficient to say it’s not done yet).

We want to get this house on the market – and move so husband doesn’t have to deal with me by himself in the future. And because it is so much work just to maintain a home and yard, and I’m not capable of helping any more.

Moving will be its own can of worms – as will finding the right place.

So, more stuff on the to do list – and less to do it with

I’m not surprised to be depressed under these conditions, but I’m not managing to get control of it, because the one reliable thing I had that helped – writing fiction – isn’t coming back fast enough.

I should be happy to be alive. I am grateful, but not happy. All it does right now is remind me how I’ve lost another huge chunk of me, and I can’t figure out how to get that miserable chunk back.

I don’t think most people realize how tiny my life is already. I haven’t had the energy to go to church, or to sing at the Princeton chapel, or to go to the Folk Music Society sings and concerts – the few things that used to get me out of the house.

I have an assistant – so she has been getting some of the backlog things, and the recurring things, done – we need to move to the dejunking, final fixing, getting rid of, downsizing and losing even more things from your life to fit a smaller place. I barely manage to work with her by giving her instructions when she comes. I’m no help any more lately.

There is such a thing as too much loss.

I’m perilously close to that point.

Comments?

Chest pain from striated versus smooth muscles

self-diagnosis

DEALING WITH PERSISTENT PAIN EXPECTED TO BE TEMPORARY

*** NOT medical advice. I’m not that kind of doctor. ***

Having abandoned the hospital last Tuesday with a relatively clean cardiac bill of health, and after the cardiologist visit on Wednesday, I noticed the pain hadn’t stopped. Not discomfort; PAIN.

(By the way, the cardiologists lose all interest in you at that point.)

It was a bit smaller due to relief – but that was all.

On Thursday, sensing it would finally work, I made the effort to voluntarily NOT cough when my body wanted to. That’s a trip, by the way: you have to catch it and distract it.

But it wasn’t enough. I was still setting off the kick-in-the-chest-by-a-mule feeling when I would do such small physical tasks as walk to the bathroom, go down 7 steps to the living room, and, the worst, coming UP those 7 steps and having to walk down the hall and across my tiny office to my desk chair, where I would sit, and grit my teeth until the pain started subsiding.

If I had not already done that, I probably would have made that hospital ER trip.

Why didn’t you go to yet another (or one of the same) doctor, Alicia?

Because I decided, if I knew I probably wasn’t going to die yet, that the whole experience had completely wiped out any chance I had of getting better without some serious rest time.

Internet lookup of possible sources of chest pain

Surprisingly not, it was hard to find the information online about non-cardiac causes. Because of course you push ‘get checked out by your doctor’ and ‘go to the ER’ as solutions, if you don’t want to have your patients’ families sue you.

Have you noticed how all sites that start with ‘Non-surgical ways to…’ quickly end up with dismissing those ways and heading for, ‘If you have to have surgery…’?

In the end I found NOT ONE SITE stating that coughing could CAUSE pain elsewhere that wouldn’t necessarily go away by itself.

And none of the sites talked about HOW long-term coughing might trigger TEMPORARY chest pain – I ended up deciding that one strictly on my own. Since it happened to me, I’ve decided it IS possible to cough so much that your chest gets supersensitive, and any little thing can then set it off.

Ibuprofen, which I now allowed myself, helped a bit – but not for long – and didn’t remove the crushing/tense feeling that minor exertion set off.

Some of the sites that talked about non-cardiac chest pain had a list of other serious things that it could be (with the ‘temporary’ part not discussed).

  • Some of them were pulmonary – things like pleurisy or pneumonia.
  • A bunch were gastrointestinal – having to do with spasms of just about anything from one digestive end of you to the other.
  • A very small number were musculoskeletal (specifically talking about the intercostal – between-ribs – muscles that help you get air in and out), and mostly seemed limited to sharp pains that might have been brought on by sudden muscular exertion.
  • And no one mentioned the specific area that seemed to be aching, the outer chest wall pectoral muscles.

Using the old noggin – a dangerous thing with mine

Assuming I’m not dying from something else wasn’t hard: I convinced myself the mule-kicks were induced by coughing, and would eventually go away if not continuously triggered.

So I decided to see if I could fix the phantom mule with things on hand in a regular household like ours, and figure out what it was. I also promised the husband I’d see my doctor again if the pain persisted despite my best efforts.

I decided, from the region affected, that the three candidates were:

  1. esophageal spasms
  2. pectoral muscle spasms
  3. intercostal muscle spasms

Tools on hand:

Last summer, I pulled my usual ‘I don’t want to go to the doctor’ routine when I’d had a bout of waxing and waning spasms of the GI tract, until, 8 days in, and 4 later than I would have taken anyone else, I went to Urgent Care and complained. I’d never had that intensity of pain before, and I was hoping it would go away before I had to have my insides subject to scoping – which would involve doctor visits, labs, tests, all things which are 1) exhausting, and 2) suck up my so-limited writing time because I have to leave the house.

When I finally went to UC, the doctor prescribed an anti-spasmodic called dicyclomine, and within a day or two my innards had stopped punishing me for eating, and drinking water. Much better. I stored the remainder, thinking it was a nifty thing to have with you on a vacation just in case.

Also, from a previous doctor I had Skelaxin, a muscle relaxant – said doctor saying I could take up to three a day. I had found that I could barely tolerate 1/3 of a pill, very occasionally, and it would knock me out. I’m a bit sensitive to medicines, which is why I try not to take them! But I have a couple of bottles of the stuff left, which will probably last until I’m in a nursing home, non compos mentis.

Plus over the counter cough suppressant, and the nice cough syrup with codeine which is the only thing that really suppresses a cough – and wipes me out.

What to use – and why?

I figured out the important thing depended on a fact I learned in Anatomy in 1968: that we have two kinds of muscle fibers:

  • striated muscles – heart, skeletal muscles, with the heart muscles being INVOLUNTARY
  • smooth muscles – lining your gastrointestinal tract (also blood vessels?)

The difference is that the striated ones can be affected by a muscle relaxant, and the smooth ones need the anti-spasmodic anticholinergic meds.

Using the muscle relaxant had helped a bit with Mr. Mule, but once I found the dicyclomine, and took some, I’m finding that the same medicine which the UC doc prescribed for acute abdominal cramps seems to be helping with spasms in the chest region. Same system: GI.

Conclusions

Which brings me to the conclusion that the pain probably comes from an esophageal spasm – a scary thing to consider if it were persisting or getting worse – but taking a few doses of the anti-spasmodic dicyclomine seems to be bringing the severity and duration of the pain attacks down to bearable.

Where we will keep them until they stop happening.

7 steps now trigger a much smaller animal kick; a jackrabbit, maybe.

I’m still having to control coughing attempts voluntarily, but I can do that, and the severity of that is also going down, so a week after this stuff sent me on an ambulance adventure, I am in a state of less pain, I plan to continue to avoid the doctors, and maybe I can get enough rest to get back to not leaving the house so I can write.

I’m so glad I took anatomy.

I’m not a medical doctor, so don’t do what I do.

But if you do, tell me what you figured out about your body.

The MOST important thing they don’t tell indie writers

Snowy forest night, black sky above. Test: Award winner! Bestseller! Get reader's heartbeat up! Alicia Butcher EhrhardtSOME INDIE AUTHORS ARE GOOD ENOUGH FROM THE FIRST BOOK

Traditional publishing believes it: they LIKE to take a beginner’s book, push it like crazy as ‘the next big thing,’ and then, if it takes, take credit for the success. If it doesn’t, most of the time (as that first book can take a number of years to create), we get articles in the NY Times and The New Yorker by disillusioned young MFA-program writers who thought ONE book was their ticket to live in Manhattan forever.

Hindsight is 20/20. You learn things later you wish you had learned sooner. And they can hurt you. Significantly.

And it’s possible this isn’t important for many beginning self-published writers, so no one has thought to mention it as specifically important.

Instant gratification is a plague on the modern world.

And the Dunning–Kruger effect is rampant. The link will give you a precis of the science, but the short version is that about the bottom 10% of people in competence in a subject think they know it all. Reread that sentence because Washington is full of it right now. The least competent think they are the MOST competent.

Maybe it’s a survival thing – if you thought you knew how to hunt the mammoth, even though your hunting skills were terrible, the mistaken belief allowed you to leap in there with your spear, and it was successful just enough of the time that the gene didn’t die out. Once in a while. And possibly is the origin of the phrases ‘fools rush in’ or ‘beginner’s luck.’ But I digress.

How does this apply to new indie authors?

Here it is: the thing I wish I’d known about – and had paid attention to: your book launch is critical, because in the first month you get a bit of free publicity (new books) from Amazon, and the DATE of that launch determines its eligibility for awards, and you need to know if your book is good enough and apply for those awards at the right time.

NOBODY IS OUT THERE SEARCHING THE NEW INDIE BOOKS TO SEE IF THEY ARE ANY GOOD, AND GIVING THEM AWARDS.

I published late in 2015. That made me ineligible for most 2015 awards (their deadlines had passed), and ineligible for 2016 awards because Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was published in 2015.

I didn’t need to publish then; I could have waited, would have waited if it I’d known the consequences. Early 2016 would have lost me the Christmas 2015 season (during which I sold a few books, very few), and I was so focused on getting that thing out there, that I didn’t even think about awards.

TO GET AWARDS, YOU HAVE TO SUBMIT TO AWARD COMMITTEES – AND PAY AN ENTRY FEE.

The fees cover the administrative costs of most awards, and the prizes (part of which may be subsidized by some foundation). They are set just high enough to discourage most new authors from frivolous submissions. And if you’re determined that the book should pay its own way, are an expense that may be hard to justify.

NOBODY will know that you applied for an award. Other than the financial one – which could be significant – there are no downsides to applying. IF those committees are honest, this might be your only chance to be considered on pure merit (their subjective definition, of course).

And the whole process runs up against the other part of the D-K effect, that the most competent people are  hesitant to say they are competent in a subject – because they actually know how much they don’t know. Many top scientists are modest and humble people.

There is a surfeit of Arrogance in the world.

Self-promotion is something most indies have to work at, and we’re all tired of the relentless self-promotion – Buy my book! Buy My Book! BUY MY BOOK! – of the modern Twitter feed.

But once in a while, a new – or even a first – indie book is a carefully-drafted, polished tome that would have merited consideration by an award committee – but didn’t know the basic facts of submission, because, even though they spent years reading the forums, blogs, and boards before publishing, the FACTS above in bold were never mentioned.

I would have liked to try.

‘Bestseller’ or ‘Bestselling author’ is USEFUL in marketing. And that should be achieved by sales, which most indie newbies won’t have. But ‘Winner of the _____ Award’ IF the award is a real one, and a significant one, is also very good for a book.

I would have liked to know it could be important. I screwed up.

If that’s arrogance and ego, so be it. The awards committees would have let me down, the money could have been wasted.

But the simple facts would have been nice to have, so I’m putting them out here on the off chance that someone else in the newbie self-publisher category will see this, and at least know to look up the awards and their submission guidelines and dates.

And that’s my screed for today. Are there hidden gems, condemned by the very lack of knowledge of their indie authors to remain hidden? What do you think?

“I coulda been a contenda,”

Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront.

Or so one likes to believe.


 

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.

Spending a rest and recovery day well

Tree in the fog. Text: A good listener is far rarer than a competent lover. Travis McGee

THIS IS MY FIRST ATTEMPT AT A SHORT POST

As you know if you read this blog on a regular basis, short isn’t my strong suit, though I do have a few Drabbles (100 words) posted here and on Wattpad.

My intention is to do some daily posts with no special topic that deserves a thorough treatment, but to post what’s going on.

I used the ‘almost well’ day to create a new cover for Too Late

And drag out all my graphics skills for a polish. I’m not quite back to writing fiction (that requires my whole brain), but there are still tasks that have been on the To Do list too long, and creating a cover for the short story prequel to Pride’s Children, Too Late, was one of them.

I went through a huge archive of my photos, looking for one that spoke to me, and didn’t have one of my children right in the middle of the foreground, the way I usually take pictures. It also had to be taken with a steady camera at a decent resolution. I’ll put the cover up tomorrow. The intent is to publish Too Late within the next day or so.

Mostly stayed off Facebook and didn’t watch TV

Wasn’t too hard – other people weren’t on either, and TV news is something I never watch anyway: they say the same thing over and over and over.

I’m not feeling all that chipper yet, so just as well. Just a few comments here and there on the blogs I visit – probably more inane than usual.

Read a bit of Travis McGee

Nightmare in Pink is where the quote came from. I didn’t go check – I’m probably paraphrasing. I can read John D. MacDonald over and over and over, and a few bits are dated, but nothing much has changed. I did notice Travis doesn’t like NYC – but then he’s a beach bum, and doesn’t like cities much. He’s right, though. Most people go through life without being listened to properly and enough. It doesn’t count if your listening time is spent deciding what YOU will say next.

But reading was a pleasure, because I’ve been so sick with the stupid coughing that I literally couldn’t focus on a page.

Getting ready for an ebook newsletter sale Jan. 22

I finally managed to get The Fussy Librarian newsletter to accept an ad for PC, which will appear on Sunday, Jan. 22, so I put it on sale as of today – I haven’t been getting to things in a timely manner lately, and they want you to make sure your sale price is in effect on the day your ad is shown.

That’s long enough for a short.

What did you do special today?


Oh, and thanks to Quozio – I hadn’t been able to use their software for a while, and I tried again today, and it worked.

Writers: grab YOUR unique promotion opportunities

Woman in fur coat holding sparkler in front of lights. Text: Target Yourself. How are you like your audience?I’M FEATURED TODAY ON BOOMER CAFE!

Hey! That rhymes!

I am a Baby Boomer, born between 1946 and 1964, by the Boomer Café definition.

We are the Post-WWII babies, and there are a lot of us. Many of us are getting to retirement age – and able to do as we darn please.

I’ve been reading Boomer Cafe for a while now (though not since 1999, their founding date!), submitted an article now titled, ‘A baby boomer writes the novel she always planned,’ and they published it today!

There are a lot of hard parts for beginning self-publishing novelists

One of them is the perennial question: who is your target audience?

Because the natural answer for newbies, even if they have written a baby board book, is EVERYONE! Which is not as silly as it sounds, since board books are not bought by babies, but for them, by siblings, parents, and relatives, of all ages.

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, my debut novel, uses every technique I could learn to appeal to men and women of all ages, and teens mature enough to understand adult themes of love, marriage, work, jealousy, obsession (teens = fans?), getting what you want, and sacrifice. The sex and violence and language ‘rating’ is PG-13 (minimal) because I’m interested in story, not mechanics.

But wide POTENTIAL appeal makes it a bear to market: try planning an ad or outreach that will grab the attention of male teens and their grandmothers, and you’ll see what I mean.

Wide appeal for a book means no generic marketing

So you have to look at yourself, see how you are a member of the demographics you are included in, and figure out how to use that to present your book and yourself as author to diverse groups.

If you write straight Science Fiction, for example, there are oodles of promotional opportunities in newsletters, blogs, lists, sites, and at your online retailers. Your only problem (and it is a doozy) is how to make yourself stand out from all the other SF writers and their books).

I read and I learn. What I have learned since PC came out is something I suspected before I published: regular indie marketing strategies aren’t going to work for me and this book.

Which means one thing: diverse marketing, and a different marketing strategy for each group, with the understanding that there is no more homogeneity in the ‘groups’ than there is in my general audience.

Call it ‘trait marketing’: What do I have in common with Baby Boomers?

And that’s where the inspiration for this particular article came from.

First, to clear that away, I have no interest in writing non-fiction articles for magazines, online or in real life. I am a novelist, with books to write and sell, not a free-lancer looking to support herself by writing non-fiction. That’s a different calling, and I don’t have it.

To the extent that I do, this blog and the one for the books (prideschildren.com) are my non-fiction outlet, and I don’t expect them to pay for themselves or my time from what I write there. I get satisfaction from putting my thoughts in order, from the possibility of an eventual book or two if one arises from the posts because a bunch of people seem determined to write the same way I do (it could still happen!), and from the visitors and commenters here and on the blogs I visit.

But it is almost a cliché that many people think that some day they will write a book – and, until I actually finished one and published it, I was in that group. And that was the perfect topic to pitch to Boomer Café, it met with their approval, I wrote it – and it’s here!

Writing for exposure is not NECESSARILY a bad thing, is it?

Boomer Café doesn’t sell ads. The only way I can use their site to get my book in front of the other Boomers who visit there is to write an article which gets published. And provide something of interest for the subgroup of Boomers who might like to at least consider whether they should attempt that novel.

Anyone who writes to me after reading that article will get pointed in the right direction, and that will be a small partial payment for the advice and many kindnesses other more-advanced self-publishers have given me.

If people who read the article want to, Boomer Café has posted my cover, and a link to Pride’s Children: PURGATORY on Amazon, so readers can check it out and purchase if it appeals to them (or they want to see what it looks like).

And I couldn’t hope for any more than that!

I’m exploring myself and Pride’s Children for that kind of publicity opportunities

This past year, I’ve done a lot of hand-selling, to readers and writers I’ve met on Goodreads, Wattpad, Facebook, and via blogs such as ThePassiveVoice and the many others I follow and comment on. That will continue – it is a more personal approach, and has worked well in getting some awesome reviews. It is not a given that I will get a review or a new reader – my success rate there is about 50% for people who will try reading. More importantly I have found almost all of the blurbs for the book that way.

I’m determined to make this a career, rather than a hobby, so I expect PC to pay its own way eventually.

The question to take away is…

What is there in common – and how do I use that to entice people into reading the first few pages, a couple of scenes, or a chapter or two?

BEFORE that, I have the usual: book title, description, cover, editorial reviews, ratings, Look Inside feature, ebook sample, reader reviews, author page, numerical rankings within the various categories and subcategories (if you scroll down far enough on the Amazon product page for the book)…

Even price. Readers have their own opinions about what books are worth; I have priced at the lower range of what traditional publishers charge for ebooks and paper copies, but higher than what indie genre writers charge. And run a sale at least quarterly.

AFTER that, after TRYING, readers know if they might like a book or not. I trust readers as I trust myself to know what they like to read – and whether I’ve done my job to supply that.

I’ve already met some new and interesting people on the Boomer Café site – maybe some will turn into readers.


Thanks to Stencil for the image above and the ability to add my own words.


Readers: how do you like to be appealed to?

Writers: what special niche marketing do you do?

Looking forward to hearing from you (hint, hint)!