The Book Launch Failure Nobody Knows About…Until Now

Author: Meredith Noble

Author Meredith Noble


In the world of independent publishing, Meredith Noble is defying the odds with her book, How to Write a Grant:Become a Grant Writing Unicorn. Quickly becoming a #1 release on Amazon in its category and garnering a multitude of reviews, here she shares some of the challenges in her journey to success as well as valuable takeaways.

If you bought my book between September 30th and October 16th, you are the lucky owner of a limited edition, never-to-be-published again version! Why are early adopters so lucky you ask? 

Now see if you can’t guess my failure by having a look at the back cover.

Can you spot why? Nobody else seemed to notice either. Zoom in a little. The issue is that in redesigning the cover, we accidentally dropped the last sentence of the book description. 

Ugh. Nooooooo!!!!!

I did not cry right away. I was realistic about figuring out how to fix the problem. 

After figuring out how to correct the issue for Amazon and IngramSpark – the two outlets I use for self-publishing, I went home and cried. Big ugly tears. I cursed myself for making such an embarrassing mistake. 

My book is about grant writing and I emphasize always having an independent review of your work. 

I had failed at my own advice! 

In between tears, I thought, “Is this supposed to be one of those moments where failure is a lesson I am thankful for later on?”

Wrapped in a blanket, I opened Medium and queried the term “failure.” I found nuggets of comfort. Surely nobody would write a post that said, “No you ARE a failure! Nothing to be gained here!”

A stand out quote from Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s business partner, said:

“There’s no way that you can live an adequate life without many mistakes. In fact, one trick in life is to get so you can handle mistakes.”

The positive talk on failure certainly helped. 

What helped the most, however, was a dose of perspective. I was in the midst of reading the book, Pieces of Me – Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters by Lizbeth Meredith.

Wow. Now let’s have a conversation about personal resiliency. About mental and physical toughness so beyond what most of us will ever know. It was a deeply moving story and a good reminder that my book cover problems were quite insignificant. 

While insignificant in the big scheme of things, failure is a hard emotion to shake when you feel like you let others down. 

135 people volunteered to be on my book launch team. They contributed 57 reviews on Amazon within two weeks and shared the book broadly among their social and professional networks. 

All provided encouragement. All had great ideas. It became OUR book and OUR launch. I would not have reached #1 Bestseller for Nonprofit Fundraising & Grants if not for this supportive group. 

Around the time I discovered the back cover error, I was losing steam and did not know what more I should do to promote the book. I was working late into the evenings and weekends.  

The trouble with a book launch is that there is not really an end to it. You are always thinking about how to better promote the book. I know for my book to be successful, I need to be in the top three spots on Amazon for the search term “grant writing.” That is not an easy feat. 

I ordered 50 books to have on hand for conferences or workshops I teach on grant writing. The box arrived and I could not bring myself to opening it. I did not want to relive my negativity around the pathetic back cover issue. 

What a waste of printing. I cannot possibly share these copies. Or so I thought…

My partner Lucas and his twin brother Lee urged me to open the box. I did so begrudgingly, and the first thing I noticed was a highlighter mark through the title “How to Write a Grant.” I was insta-furious with Amazon, wondering if everyone’s copies were being delivered with highlighter marks. 

As my eyes scrolled down the back cover, however, I realized that Lee had provided a new ending to the unfinished paragraph. It was hilarious! 

The second book had a new back cover designed by Lucas. Combined, these books made me cry again.

This time, however, it was tears of laughter. 

Failure really does take a little distance to fully appreciate. Here are my big takeaways from the experience: 

Take Full Responsibility. If you ask me what my core values are, I will tell you they are taking responsibility, hard work, and making each move count. I learned all three growing up a ranch kid in Wyoming. Lucas updated the book cover for me and made the design error. Not once did I feel angry or mad at him. It was not his fault. It was my responsibility to check his work before sending it to the printer. I am thankful that perspective is in my hard wiring. 

Always Have Independent Review Of Your Work. It was not sufficient to review the back cover myself. I should have sent it to my editor, Elena Hartford. My editor was busy after I fixed the cover, and I was antsy to get the new file uploaded to Amazon. I resisted uploading the new file, however, or I would not have learned my lesson. I waited until Elena could bless the new cover with her magical editing eyes. 

It Is Okay to Feel Sorry for Yourself for Exactly a Half Day. I have no regrets about laying in bed wallowing in my own self-pity. I read an amazing book. I gained perspective. I thought a lot. I recharged my batteries. When you move fast, mistakes are an inevitable reflection of making good progress. Go ahead and feel sorry for yourself from time to time, and then get back in the saddle and make each move count. 

Leverage Humor to Make Light of Learning Opportunities. It was an especially sweet finale to this whole learning experience to receive the edited copies from Lee and Lucas. They are very special copies that I will keep forever. If someone in your life fails, see if you can’t find a way to use humor to laugh at the situation with them. 

If you want a copy of the book with your own custom back cover, send me an email with your mailing address at mnoble@senworks.org.

If you want a copy of the book that has a proper back cover, you can grab a copy on Amazon here. You can learn more about this entire journey teaching people to be grant writers on my website www.learngrantwriting.org


Author Interview with Lisa Braver Moss/Shrug

I love a good book, and was honored to provide an author endorsement for this one. Shrug is available to order now!

I’m so pleased to have Lisa Braver Moss as my guest.

Author http://lisabravermoss.com Lisa Braver Moss

What inspired you to write Shrug?

My experience growing up was similar to that of Shrug’s main character, Martha, so that was my inspiration. I wanted to create a coming-of-age story about childhood domestic violence and other trauma. I also thought the wild vitality of Berkeley of the 1960s made a great backdrop for the story. I was interested in the interplay between Martha’s household chaos and that of the world of Berkeley at the time.

https://www.amazon.com/Shrug-Novel-Lisa-Braver-Moss/dp/1631526383/

How did it influence your writing to be a survivor of childhood domestic violence?

I witnessed domestic violence against my mother, and was a target of it myself, while growing up. I felt chronically outraged by what was going on, and could be quite confrontational (which my father did not find amusing). My appetite for speaking the truth eventually morphed into a sense of urgency about writing Shrug.

Many stories of teenagers show rebels. What made you create a character who’s anything but a rebel?

I would argue that Martha is quite a rebel. Sure, she’s a bit of a goody two-shoes; she wants nothing more than to do well in school and find meaning in her life. And yet, just her being an achiever is radical in the context of her family. She’s contradicting all that’s unconventional at home: negative messages about school, unpredictability, lack of structure, impossible emotional demands, and explosive physical violence. The challenge was to show Martha as a complex, sympathetic character whose rebellion paradoxically takes the form of conventionality.


The family dynamics in Shrug are complicated. In essence, Martha’s father is abusive, but likely the better parent to her. Her mother is a victim, but flees the entire family. What do you hope the reader takes from these imperfect parents? 


Yes, the battering father, Jules, turns out to be the better parent than the victimized, histrionic mother, Willa. You see clues of this along the way. I wanted to show what it’s like to have the story’s “bad guy” be more capable of love than the “victim,” Willa. I felt this added depth and complexity to the story.

Your book cover is stunning. Tell us about the process of selecting it.

Thank you! It was one of those situations where there were four choices and it was completely obvious which one was the one. That was also obvious to the publisher, so it was nice that we were on the same page (so to speak…!).

I had expressed to the publisher that I envisioned a kind of wistful look for Martha. I provided a black-and-white photograph that I felt captured that look, and they did a fantastic job of creating the same mood without using that particular photo. I love the design and colors they came up with, too.

Of the three siblings, Martha, Hildy, and Drew, Martha, the middle child, seems to be the mother’s favorite. How does this family role affect her?

Martha is indeed in the unfortunate position of being Willa’s favorite of the three children. I say unfortunate because often in dysfunctional families, “favorite” means “able to be manipulated.” Couched as extra love, favoritism is generally more a matter of extra demands than of actual support. It’s no bargain.

Also, Martha carries such a burden of guilt about being favored that she’s slow to see that she, too is being mistreated by Willa. She’s too preoccupied with Jules’s mistreatment of all of them, too busy propping Willa up, and too busy worrying about her siblings. She also experiences her own suffering at Jules’s hands as secondary to Willa’s suffering. I think many children who see themselves as rescuers (rather than victims) have these same reactions.

This book of fiction brings up very real topics of domestic violence and resilience following trauma. How can storytelling bring attention to social issues and create change?

Whereas nonfiction can offer suggestions, how-to’s, research data, psychological insights and so on, I think fiction is deadly if it’s didactic that way. The subject matter of a novel may include social issues, but the primary purpose of a novel isn’t to create social change. It’s to engage, entertain, and maybe inspire thought.

What fiction can do is make people feel less alone. Those who grew up with domestic violence and the kind of trauma Martha experiences tend to feel isolated and ashamed at some level. But while the circumstances vary, feelings of isolation and shame about childhood difficulties are universal. And those feelings can lift somewhat when one immerses oneself in a world of fiction that addresses that terrain. If readers identify with Martha, they can feel less alone. That in itself does create a shift in the reader, and I think we can call that change.

You can connect with Lisa Braver Moss at lisabravermoss.com or on Facebook. Her book is available for ordering wherever books are sold.

Author Interview with Elizbeth Silva/Another Cheesy Family Newsletter

Author Elizabeth Silva

“I ALWAYS WONDER WHEN I GET my friends’ and family’s annual holiday newsletters what really happened in the writers’ families. What titillating tidbits are they leaving out?” –Elizabeth Silva in Another Cheesy Family Newsletter.

I met Elizabeth Silva at on online writers forum we belong to, and was drawn to her story immediately. I enjoyed the searing honesty of her memoir, which follows the twists and turns of her adult children making unexpected choices that leaves Silva and her husband raising their three grandchildren.

I’m happy to have her as this week’s guest.

When did you decide to write your book? Was there one pivotal moment, or did you always know you’d write your memoir?

I really had no intention of publishing a book, though I’d written for a magazine and The Dallas Morning News for the last few years, and I’ve always written about experiences that were important to me, a sort of hit-and-miss journal. It wasn’t until I found all my Christmas newsletters at my parents’ house after they died that the idea of writing a memoir took hold.

The structuring of your book is brilliant. Tell us how you arrived at it?

I remember several years ago, as I was writing my annual holiday newsletter, I thought to myself that the people we never see any more haven’t a clue what’s really going on in our lives. Yet the idea of including all the family drama in each letter was absurd. These were Christmas letters, after all. But I never kept the letters, and I never backed them up. It wasn’t until I found all of them together in an envelope that I decided how to structure my story. With the letters as an outline, once I got on a roll, I churned out the story pretty quickly. I would write while my husband was watching the Texas Rangers play baseball, after the boys got settled in to whatever they were doing for the evening.

What was the most difficult part about writing Another Cheesy Family Newsletter and why?

The hardest part was that the more I wrote, the more I realized to what extent I had enabled my daughter and my son to become helpless – over and over again- and how I had allowed my daughter’s outrageous behavior to affect her children. Even now, it’s hard for me to admit how toxic our home was at times. When I remarked recently to my other daughter how surprised I was by a reviewer’s insight into our family, she said, “Mom, you’re just now realizing this?” And this was AFTER the book was out.

What kind of feedback have you had from other people in your position who are raising their own grandchildren?

Relief that they are not alone – that their feelings of anger, disappointment, and resentment are normal and ok, especially when others tell them that they’re saints for taking on such a responsibility. We’re not saints. We’re doing what almost anyone would do for these kids we love so much.

How did you arrive at your pen name? Why did you use one?

My grandmother’s name was Elizabeth. I just chose Silva because it starts with an S and has 5 letters, like Sisco. I ridiculously thought if I changed all the names and places, no one would connect my family with the story – still thinking of my daughter’s feelings. If I had to do it over, I would have used my real name, and I still may put out a new edition under my real name someday.

What message would you give to parents of adult children who are struggling to launch? Where can they find support as they find the middle ground – somewhere between assisting their adult child and enabling them?

That’s a hard one. You love your kids so much, and you take on their failures as your own. But I think you have to examine your own behavior and ask yourself whether what you’re doing for your child is supporting them in their quest for independence or simply making it easy for them to rely on YOU, delaying the “growing pains” we parents had to face and conquer to become independent ourselves. Especially today, we live in a different society. I was expected to move out when I graduated and never come back. Somehow, though, in the way we raised our kids, we conveyed the message that we would fix everything for them along the way, and they would always have a soft place to land.

What are you working on next? And where can readers find you and your work?

My granddaughter is a phenomenal artist. We are working on a children’s picture book specifically for children raised by people other than their biological parents.

You can find Elizbeth Silva on Facebook: @lizsilva47 Twitter: @pattysisco2 Website and blog: elizabethsilvawriter.com, or order Another Cheesy Family Newsletter by clicking here.

Wondering if you’re an enabler? Elizabeth has a quiz on her web page.

Thank you for stopping by. Feel free to share this link if you like what you’ve read.

Author Interview with Susan Joyce on Screenwriting and Redefining Her Next Chapter

Author Susan Joyce in 2103Meeting author Susan Joyce in person was a highlight of my trip to South America.

We had originally connected through the Facebook group, We Love Memoirs two years earlier.

Susan has written two memoirs, and authored and edited numerous children’s books with her husband, author Doug DuBosque.

In addition to writing award-winning books, Susan has lived in several countries and ran a thriving publishing business with her husband for more than two decades. After all that, plenty of writers would have been content to retire. Yet when Susan spoke to me about her latest writing passion–screenwriting–her radiant energy was infectious.

I´m pleased to have Susan as my guest this week.

What led you to screenwriting?   

My heart led me to screenwriting. I´ve always enjoyed the theatre and films; even turned two of my books for children into stage plays with original music; songs I had written and by collaborating with an elementary school music teacher. Great fun! A thrill to see the productions performed on stages in schools and at a community college in Oregon.

Describe how the screenwriting process differs from writing books.

 Screenwriting is a different art form using different set formats. It´s a challenge and exciting to learn new ways to express my imagination with words in a community which encourages writers to think outside the book box; to SHOW and not TELL.

I receive advice, again and again, to write more books. The more the merrier for fans and followers. When I dreaded “making time” to write, I knew I needed something different to stay excited about creative writing. Script writing is fun, feels as if I am playing with words as I imagine the scenes they fit into.

A book or a film originate in the writer’s imagination first. Once the writer writes her version on paper, the script begins a new life when others involved in the production process; the editor, the director, the producer, the cameraman, etc share how they imagine it.

Like magic, the final creation becomes a dance shaped by the keen observation of others from different angles.

How do you engage with a writing community from your home office in Uruguay?

In today’s internet world, it’s easy. I belong to several online screenwriting groups and attend online workshops where I can share ideas and pitch my projects.

What takeaway do you have for other writers who face burnout?

Ask yourself what makes you tick, what makes you happy and move forward to a new adventure.

What are you working on now?

Many projects.

At the moment, I’m turning my book Good Morning Diego Garcia into a screen script and into a mini-series for television. Hopefully BBC. I will do the same with my first memoir, The Lullaby Illusion. I’m also writing a TV series set in a jazz club in Germany where expats gathered to make new friends in their new homeland.

Stay tuned.

 

For more information, you can find Susan at Susan Joyce Journeys.

Or click here to connect on Facebook.

Here her books can be found.

 

Love at the Speed of Email-Interview with Author Lisa McKay

After sailing through her fascinating memoir in which issues of love, faith, work, and passion are examined, I interviewed author Lisa McKay. Lisa, who presently lives in Laos, answers questions about Love At the Speed of Email as well as the writing process, and her thoughts on traditional versus self-publishing. 

Below is an excerpt from her book.

What drives any of us to stick with something for years when it’s not a constant carnival? 

For many, a need to pay the rent and eat, clearly. But that’s not all. Few of us who live in the Western world must do exactly what we do to feed and clothe ourselves. Many times our career choices are really more influenced by a cocktail of duty, fear, apathy, talent, priorities, and passion. Alternate lives, at least one or two of them, often lie within reach.

  Thank you so much for your time, Lisa!

Can you describe LOVE AT THE SPEED OF EMAIL for us?

Love At The Speed Of Email is the story of an old-fashioned courtship made possible by modern technology. Here’s the back cover text:
Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim. But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single, constantly on airplanes, and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.
While writing your memoir, you split your time between humanitarian work in several countries while being newly married. When did you actually find time to actually do the writing?
It was a challenge (although I must say I think it’s usually a challenge to find/make time to write, no matter where you’re at in life). I wrote the first draft during our first year of marriage. Mike was away for about a third of the year working on consultancies in different countries, so I had several months of free evenings. I was also only working four days a week – I had previously made the decision to drop down to 80% schedule and take a 20% paycut to concentrate on my writing. (Here I should pause to say that although that did cost us financially, it was a decision I never regretted. I loved having that extra time on Fridays).
The 2nd and 3rd drafts were a lot easier to find time to work on – we’d just moved to Laos, and apart from doing some consulting all I had on my hands was time. That first nine months in Laos was a huge luxury for me in that regard.
What’s the hardest part of taking your relationship, analysing it, and putting it into a book for all to read?
The hardest part of writing about my relationship with the man who is now my husband was figuring out what to leave out. We had written each other 90,000 words worth of letters before we ever met, and that was just the start of the raw material I had to work with.
Writing about my previous relationships was harder. One chapter, in particular, I must have rewritten a dozen times. I went over that story over and over again, trying to pin down what had happened during that time and, in particular, my own contribution to the unhealthy dynamics of that relationship.
How was the process of writing memoir different than writing fiction?
When I was writing my first novel (My Hands Came Away Red) I found myself getting surprised by what was happening. As I figured out the “what” of plot, however, an understanding my character’s actions and reactions followed fairly naturally.
Writing a memoir reversed this process. I already knew what happened – I’d lived it – but I had to work much harder to figure out what it all meant to me, then and now.
The plotting process was different, too. With the novel I wrote my way into the story blind, without an outline. As I wrote, the story gained momentum as events unfolded.
In contrast, I had a clear vision for the start and end of the memoir, but little idea of how I was going to get from one place to the other. Despite repeated outlines I continued to flounder in the middle until the very final drafts of the manuscript.
How has the process of promoting your self-published book been different than your traditionally published novel, MY HANDS CAME AWAY RED? What role has blogging played?
Self-publishing’s been more work than I had anticipated, taken more time, and has cost me more money. How’s that for a depressing summary?
In all seriousness, I don’t regret having self-published this book. I’ve learned a huge amount through this experience that I’m sure will serve me well. However, I also have even more respect for the role played by traditional publishing companies now. The editing and mentoring I received during the process of publishing my first book was invaluable – I am so grateful to all the staff involved in that process.
A word about money on this topic … Proponents of self-publishing often ridicule the royalty rates that traditional publishers pay (often in the range of 17%), and there is perhaps room for those to be increased. But on many versions of my self-published books I’m not earning a huge amount more than that. Amazon, for example, only pays you 35% on kindle downloads from a whole bunch of countries instead of the 70% it pays when a US customer downloads your e-book. Sure, that’s double what you’d earn if you had been published by a traditional company, but you’re also out there working to sell books without the benefit of marketing or publicity help unless you pay for it. (If you want to think more about money, jump on over to a pair of posts I wrote recently about costs and earnings associated with self-publishing. Here’s the link to the first one, Let’s talk money: What it cost me to self-publish my book). 
As for the role blogging has played … the blog has been a useful forum for helping me process the self-publishing journey and keeping people up to date. I also have no doubt that I’ve already reached more people with this story because I keep an active blog than I would without it. But I don’t have a huge audience by blog standards. I’m not nearly a mega-blogger, and it’s the mega-bloggers who are in a position to sell thousands of books just through the power of their own blog. So blogging for me has been something I do because I want to more than anything else, not a calculated publishing move.
Do you have any words of advice for others who want to write a memoir?
Screeds have been written on this topic, but here are a couple of points I tried to keep in mind:
Tell a story: When I started writing this memoir I thought I might be able to “glue together” a whole bunch of essays and blog posts I’d previously written and call it a book. A friend and editor bluntly told me that I was neither famous nor good enough to get away with that yet and that I had to tell a coherent story if I wanted to write a memoir. He was right. If you want to write a memoir and you don’t know anything about story arc, google it (for starters).
Write into the unknown: I don’t know who it was that said that if the author hadn’t discovered anything during the course of the book the reader likely wouldn’t either, but it’s stuck with me. If you want to write a memoir be prepared to do some soul searching and struggling to put into words some of your shadows and your fears. Work to learn about yourself while you’re writing.
Take your time: I know some people can write a book in a couple of months. I’m not one of them. My work is always stronger when I’m prepared to edit, edit, edit, and let it sit and breathe between drafts.
I’d love to hear about the Lao charities you support, and what you’re working on next.
A portion of my profits on this book will be going to support charities operating here in Laos. The two I have in mind at present are two organizations that focus on literacy and education, Pencils of Promise and the Luang Prabang Boat Library. Pencils of Promise builds schools and trains teachers. The Library Boat carries books up and down the Mekong to villages that can only be accessed by boat.

As for what I’m working on next, I’m not sure. Long term I know I want to write more books, but not in the next couple of months! A couple of things I know I will do in the next six months is guest posting to help get the memoir off the ground and starting to write more on the topic of long distance relationships. If you have a blog and you’d like me to guest post for you, do let me know! I’d love to hear from you. 

Lisa McKay can be reached at www.lisamckaywriting.com

 

Preventing Domestic Violence/Interview with Dr.Sally Dorman


M
My longtime friend, Dr. Sally Dorman, will return to Alaska next week for a summer visit.

Twenty-something years ago, I worked at an agency that served battered women and children. Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis. Sally was one of my favorite coworkers. We worked in the trenches together with other dynamic staff members, facilitating groups for battered women, creating school curricula for grades K-12 on family violence, and giving countless school presentations on the topic.

In the late ’90s, Sally moved out of Alaska to advance her education, and I became a social worker. We lost touch. Two years ago, we reconnected through Facebook.

Today, Sally is Dr. Dorman, a school psychologist in Maryland specializing in violence prevention programming. Her research on the impact of training school personnel to recognize the signs of childhood exposure to domestic violence was funded through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and  published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. in 2008.

Thank you Dr. Dorman, and welcome!

How did you go from working with battered women and children in the battered women’s shelter to the violence prevention work you do today?

I did clinical work for my master’s degree at a community health center while attending Mansfield University for a degree in Community Clinical Psychology. As a part of that, I worked at a local community mental health center for my internship, which got me thinking of the dire need for mental health promotion and prevention.

After the prevention work we did back in the day, it was only natural that my interests lie in violence prevention and decided to enter a doctoral program in school psychology. I wanted to do the prevention work through policy change.

What kinds of projects have you worked on to address kids affected by domestic violence?

I worked on a coordinated community response around domestic violence in western New York.  We used a public health model, looking at primary, secondary, and tertiary responses. The response focused on getting everyone in the community to realize domestic violence is a problem, and we all have a role in solving that problem.

As an example, if the police respond to a home in which 8 year-old Suzi is a child witness of domestic violence, they’ll make an arrest if applicable, and give community referrals to the family to address their concerns. The officer would notify Suzi’s school staff the next day so that they can follow up with Suzi to make sure she has counseling or supportive services that she needs at school.

With the coordinated community response, everyone in a community has a role in the intervention and will have training to know what that role is. The state of Texas has a project that outlines agency roles related to domestic violence. It is very innovative.

What’s the focus of educators today with regards to children exposed to domestic violence?

The study I worked on for OJJDP demonstrated the importance of giving educators information on how to recognize kids exposed to domestic violence and how to respond individually, in the classroom, and school wide through policy. It was important because those same kids were being mislabeled as having ADHD, and were getting medicated for symptoms that mimicked ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, inattention to classroom work, and fidgety when they may be reacting to trauma.

I’m at a the US Department of Education’s Safe and Healthy Students conference right now, and yesterday, the topic of bullying was being covered. The definition given for bullying was just about the same as the definition of domestic violence; when one person uses emotional or physical force to gain control of another person. The behavior has to be repeated, intentional, and used to gain control in both cases.

That really surprised me, and I think we’ll be hearing more about the link between domestic violence and bullying in the future.

Please give some examples of how we can support kids we suspect are witnessing the abuse of one of their parents by an intimate partner.

I think it’s important to let them know that if abuse is happening, it’s not their fault. Domestic violence is an adult issue, and it’s not theirs to fix. Let the child know you believe him/her, and tell them where they can get support.

For more information about a coordinated community response to domestic violence, go to or Close to Home.

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Author Interview with Lisbeth Coiman/I Asked the Blue Heron

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

A perfect time to spotlight author Lisbeth Coiman’s memoir, I Asked the Blue Heron.  

Lisbeth’s new memoir is described as covering the trauma of abuse, the joys of motherhood, and the challenges of immigration alongside the vagaries of mental illness — and the power of a friendship that saw her through it all. I Asked the Blue Heron begins with a simple sentence:

 I was 16 when my mother chased me with a hammer.

Q. Did you always know that this would be the beginning line of your book?

A. No. I didn’t know that was the beginning of the book. When I started writing my story, my writing teacher at the time, Theo Pauline Nestor, suggested to start there, but I contradicted her and decided I didn’t want to make my book about my childhood experiences. Instead, I wanted to honor my friend for guiding me for most of my adult life. With that in mind I started the book with the moment I met Zoe Graves.

I finished my manuscript, revised it the best I could, and started sending it out to publishers. A year later, I was disappointed and frustrated with the rejections, and vented on Facebook. I was extremely lucky. Out of the blue, a Los Angeles poet I admire, Ashaki Jackson, offered to have a look at my book. On the first note she wrote, “move this line to the opening page.” Still I refused. She said, “mine are only suggestions. This is your book.”

Many more hours of editing down the road, I started looking for other writers to blurb my book. I reached out to Suzanne Finnamore, author of Split. The same night she received the manuscript she wrote me back a beautiful email that I will keep in safe box for the rest of my life. She started saying, “your book starts with this line. This is your voice.”

It was the third time somebody pointed it out to me, so it was time to pay attention. It took a while to rewrite the first chapter, but I kept an eye on my schedule and worked night and day to do it. It changed the focus of the book completely, but I hope my story still honors my mentor and best friend.

Q. How have you promoted I Asked the Blue Heron.

A. I have found that book promotion is the hardest part of self-publishing. I still don’t have it under control.

I network a lot, and I’m grateful to several reading series in Los Angeles for inviting me to read from my book. I have promoted online, through social media, and through my blog. I’m constantly speaking about “I Asked the Blue Heron” to anybody I meet. For that purpose I carry it in the trunk of my car.

I will have more time this summer for book promotion, and plan to travel to a few cities in the US and Canada to promote my memoir.  I have been lucky. People keep inviting me to events. This week, for instance, I will attend a meeting in Torrance, CA  to tell my story and bring my memoir with me.

In July, I will speak to the congregation of a Unitarian Church in Redondo Beach. Little by little, by word of mouth, one book at the time, I continue to sell it.

Q. You’ve bravely shared your experience with mental illness. Can you give a few tips for others experiencing mental illness?

A. Stay on top of symptoms. If I tell my doctor, “I’m fine,” and I look fine, the doctor doesn’t have any way to know I am spiraling down (or up). I can’t wait until I believe helicopters with cameras are chasing me on the street to get the doctor’s attention, say, on a psychotic episode. Those things don’t start full-blown. Subtle symptoms show up before a crisis, and if treated on time, I can prevent crisis. Catching my symptoms requires honesty and understanding of my condition. If I know that I have a tendency to become paranoid, and I feel that NPR is talking about me, I have to tell my doctor as soon as possible. I’ll require smaller doses of medication to treat mild symptoms than those required to treat a full-blown mental crisis.

B. Work or volunteer. I have to do something that requires to wear clothes other than pajamas during the day, and get out of my house early in the morning. A well-earned pay check at the end of the month feels much better than medication, and doesn’t have side effects.

When I couldn’t find a job because I didn’t have a specific certificate, I went back to school to get the certificate. When I wasn’t able to work because of my immigration status, I volunteered. I shelved books in my son’s school library, planted flowers in a public garden, gave water to runners in 5K events, or taught English As a Second Language free. I kept myself busy to change the focus of my thoughts.  Human beings need to feel useful and appreciated. I suffer from a mental condition that makes me feel like crap, and if I don’t find a reason to get out of my bed, I feel worse. Apart from money, satisfaction, and a sense purpose, volunteer or paid job also provides me with a starting point to become part of a community.

C. Structure. Structure helps me live through my days with a sense of normalcy. People who do not understand my condition may think I am fastidious, or compulsively organized. I’m neither, but I want to prevent crisis. I prepare the entire wardrobe to wear each day of the week on Sundays because I freak out and cry if I don’t know what to wear in a hurry (which looks like Monday morning for every other woman I know, only they don’t become paralyzed.) I do shopping lists even to buy underwear because I can’t decide and get frustrated. I take pictures of where I park my car and where I enter malls because I get lost and panic. I have a large planner and know exactly what I will do every hour of the day. If I don’t, I literally walk around in circles. I write to do lists every day. Most importantly, because I live alone, and I’m responsible for my life, I have a Safety Plan posted on the refrigerator door, above my bed, and above my desk. If I start considering to harm myself, I have a plan to safe myself from harm. Nobody is with me to watch over me.

Still, there are things that are beyond my control, but I keep working on them. Self-destructive thoughts and unpredictable reactions when I am extremely frustrated continued to be a challenge for me.

To reach Lisbeth Coiman to book an author event or to find out more about her story, you may find her here. I Asked the Blue Heron is available here in both kindle and paperback.

Author Interview with Author Angela Ackerman of Writers Helping Writers

 

I first found Writers Helping Writers while I was working on my memoir.

I felt like I’d struck gold. This online support group, co-founded by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, is a resource for writers and editors, providing tools and support as well as a place for writers of all levels to connect.

Ms. Ackerman and Puglisi have now co-authored more than a dozen description thesauruses, including the most recent addition, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus.

I’m honored to have Angela Ackerman as my guest today.

Q. Can you describe that magical moment when you and Becca Puglisi realized you’d stumbled upon a recipe for success with your thesaurus series?

A.When we started the Emotion Thesaurus, we posted entries on our blog, one per week, and immediately saw our hits skyrocket. That helped us see that people struggled in this area and liked the idea of these unique lists of brainstorming ideas we were providing. Years later we self-published The Emotion Thesaurus and it quickly climbed Amazon’s bestseller lists. More incredibly, it has stayed in the top 5 in different categories ever since (six years and counting). People seem to be huge fans of our list style and we are so grateful. Word of mouth referrals are so important in our industry.

Q. What have you learned about the book promotion process that you’d be willing to share using your readers/supporters?

A. I am not a fan of promotion but I love marketing. Marketing is all about understanding who your audience is, what they need, and then making sure to provide it. My best advice is to take the time to know who your readers are and what they are interested in. and then supply whatever it is that they will find the most entertaining, helpful, or interesting based on who they are. (I have lots of marketing handouts, interviews, and swipe files on marketing at Writers Helping Writers, so people can check those out for more help.

Q. Can you give a simple description for how writers can best use one of your thesauruses?

A. All of our thesauruses take a challenging area of description and break it down. Each book is part instruction, part brainstorming list. The Emotion Thesaurus looks at how to show the body language, thoughts, and visceral sensations for over 75 emotions, offering a huge list of ideas to describe each feeling. The Negative and Positive Trait Thesaurus books tackle character personality and how writers can show, not tell, different traits through behavior and actions, creating deep, compelling characters. Our Urban and Rural Setting Thesaurus books explore the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures for 220 different story locations…and a lot more. Our Emotional Wound Thesaurus book investigates nearly 120 different types of painful events in a character’s past which explains their behavior, how they view the world & themselves, and fears they will have in the current story.

Q.Was it ever difficult when compiling the Emotional Wound Thesaurus?

A.Oh yes. I would say this was the hardest book we’ve written simply because emotional wounds aren’t fictional. Each traumatic event we profiled is something that people, including some of our readers, would have experienced. Some of the wounds in our book were personal ones too, forcing Becca and I to dig around in our own pasts. This wasn’t easy. We spent hours researching the accounts of people who have experienced things like domestic abuse, childhood neglect, racism, and rape. It took a toll on us and we needed to take a lot of breaks to mentally recharge (I ended up baking a lot of cookies for my kids!) Once we finished, we had a psychologist vet every entry for accuracy, because we knew writers would see themselves in some of the entries as we so often write about things that are personal to us.

Q.What has been the most surprising feedback you’ve received from publishing it this past fall?

The most wonderful feedback we’ve had is that people are finding this book is actually helping them work their own unresolved wounds, which is wonderful. This isn’t something we’re surprised by because Becca and I both found the process of looking at our own past trauma and thinking about how important it was to move past such things to live a full life very cathartic. This book does exactly this, showing writers how characters will behave when influenced by trauma, and how internal growth is the key to them becoming stronger and more capable so they can achieve their story goal. If anyone wants to see an example entry of this thesaurus, it can be found here.

I should also mention that we have many more thesauruses than books, too. If anyone wants to see all 14 of our description thesauruses, they can be found at our second site, One Stop for Writers.

To meet Ms. Ackerman in person, consider attending the Alaska Writer’s Guild Conference 2018 in Anchorage, Alaska with me this next September.

Or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

 

 

Thank you for stopping by, and for making Pieces of Me a #1 e-book on Kindle this week in domestic partner abuse category more than a year after publication. I was ridiculously excited.

Here’s the link to my Arctic Entries story I mentioned during the last post.

Have a great day.

On Love After 50 and Books/Author Interview with Ashley Sweeney

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Just before my initial book launch, I had the pleasure of meeting author Ashley Sweeney and her husband Michael as they were wrapping up Ashley’s book tour in Alaska. Their chemistry was obvious, as was their mutual respect. And as it turns out, their romance ignited the spark that turned in to the award- winning novel, Eliza Waite. I’m thrilled to have Ashley as my blog guest today.

Welcome, Ashley!

Q: What was the inspiration for your debut novel, Eliza Waite?

A: The idea for Eliza Waite was born on my first date with my husband, Michael, in the fall of 2008. While hiking across largely uninhabited Cypress Island in Washington’s San Juan Islands, we came across an abandoned cabin perched steeply above the beachfront on the island’s remote north side.

We were curious. The small, rustic cabin sat in sad disrepair, missing its door and windows, and sporting a sagging roof and mouse droppings throughout. It was evident that no one had lived there for a very long time.

But who had lived here? And what was his or her story? I couldn’t get the image of the cabin out of my mind, and from that chance discovery, I began crafting the novel.

Q: How did you research and promote the novel together?

A: Eliza Waite recounts the story of a disenfranchised woman who finds her way in the world, first as a lonely preacher’s widow in Washington, and then as a successful business owner and enlightened woman in Skagway, Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898.

Both Michael and I derived much pleasure researching for the novel, which took a full six years. We especially enjoyed our first trip to Alaska together in 2013. We cruised up the Inside Passage and stopped in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Anchorage (Michael had spent much time in rural Alaska in his career as a fisheries biologist; I’m a native New Yorker and had never been to Alaska before). At each of the stops, we conducted interviews and pored over myriad archival media: books, photos, essays, magazines, diaries, and cookbooks from the late 1800s.

Returning to Alaska with the finished product in 2016 was satisfying, particularly when we revisited bookstore owners, editors, museum curators, librarians, authors, and locals who helped with initial research. Michael and I often joke that Eliza has been with us since our first date, and we talk about her as if she’s an old friend.

Q: What are the unique challenges of a new relationship over 50?

A: Michael and I were 51 and 58 when we met at a party at a mutual friend’s home in the late summer of 2008. I had been married for 28 years and was newly divorced; my husband had never been married.

We took our relationship very slowly. For three years, while we were both still working fulltime, we visited only on weekends. Then we lived together for three years before our marriage in 2014.

Kindness is the basis of our relationship; it cannot be underestimated in any union, marriage or otherwise. We also share base values and political views. On a personal level, we have learned to give the other what he/she needs the most. I crave emotional support; Michael is a strong listener and offers steady encouragement. Michael craves independence; I give him lots of space to hike, explore, and do projects. Another key: we laugh a lot.

Q: Do you have any encouragement for singles looking for love after 50?

A: Enjoy yourself, your friends, your job, your activities. We’ve all heard the old adage that you’re apt to meet someone when you’re not looking. If you do meet someone with whom you feel a genuine spark, be gentle, honest, and kind with him/her. Trust your intuition. And don’t force it. Everyone comes with his or her own life experiences, and oftentimes by our 50s (or older) hearts have been bruised or broken more than once. Give it time to see if your lives mesh and the relationship evolves to a deeper level.

Age alone is not a dead-end for possible happiness with another partner. Michael had given up on marriage after many failed relationships; I had sworn off marriage after a long and unhappy marriage. Just goes to show you that our perceptions were shattered when we met each other.

Q: After the success of your first novel, do you have another in the works?

A: My second manuscript is finished and out on review. It centers on a feisty young Scottish botanical illustrator who is forced to accompany her authoritarian uncle to Oregon Territory at the height of the fur trading empire in the early 19th century. The novel spans 29 years and four continents and is filled with intrigue, deception, heartbreak, and lust; it chronicles one woman’s desire to be recognized in life and love.

I’m now working on a third manuscript that follows the ill-fated Donner Party as they travel west on the Oregon/California Trail in 1846. Just recently, I was turned on to another story, which may develop into a fourth novel set in the desert Southwest at the turn of the 20th century. It’s interesting that all my stories have come to me by chance, so I’m always listening!

Q: How can readers contact you?

A: Please visit my website: www.ashleyesweeney.com. There you’ll find info about me and my novels, and you can access my monthly newsletter, Word by Word.

A Writer’s Mentor/Interview with Author and Professor Dr. Virginia Carney

In 1992, when I was a welfare mom trying to finish my degree before my girls were old enough to feel the stigma of poverty, I met a professor who immediately felt like family. Later, it made sense. Not only was Professor Ginny Carney an inspiring and nurturing person,  her roots from Southern Appalachia were close to mine from Eastern Kentucky.

Before she moved  to Kentucky from Alaska to live near Berea College,while she attended graduate school, Dr. Carney became Ginny to me, a treasured friend and confidante who helped me believe that anything was possible.

Though I’ve not seen her in person in more than two decades, Ginny Carney remains a mentor and a dear friend.

January in National Mentoring Month, and I’m so pleased to have one of my favorites here today.  Thank you, Ginny!

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Who mentored you and fostered a love of stories and literature?

Neither of my parents was a high school graduate, and they were probably never aware of what a strategic role they played in cultivating a love for words in their children; both my mother and father, however, were avid readers and would often tell stories, sing ballads, or recite long poems from memory. Although we were very poor, they always subscribed to a newspaper and a couple of magazines, and when I was about three, they found a way to “buy on time” a set of the Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia. I loved those books, and somehow, I learned to read from them by the time I was four years old. Since our family had no car and no electricity, reading introduced me to worlds far beyond Southern Appalachia, and I developed an insatiable appetite for books.

When did you know you wanted to mentor others? How did it begin? Was it through foster parenting or parenting?

I’ve never really thought of myself as a mentor, but for as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for learning—and I have always wanted to share that passion with others. By the time I was four years old, I already had three younger siblings, and playing “school” with them was excellent preparation for my years ahead as a mother/grandmother/great-grandmother.

 You enjoyed a second career after nursing. How did that come about? Was there a pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a professor?

My childhood dream was to become either a medical doctor or a registered nurse. Due to lack of financial resources, however, completing college was a much greater challenge than I had anticipated. After getting married in 1963, I did begin applying to nursing schools, but was stunned to discover that none of these programs accepted married women (a story in itself!).

I did eventually complete nursing and work for several years as a pediatric/NICU nurse, but adopting a sibling group of four (ages 2-6) in the late 1980s, eventually compelled me to think about a profession that would allow more time with my family. Subsequently, I enrolled at UAA, where Dr. Arlene Kuhner (Professor of English) became an incredible mentor/friend, encouraging me to be proud of my Cherokee/Appalachian heritage, and to incorporate that into my writing.  I completed an M.A. degree in English in 1990, was privileged to teach at UAA for three years prior to my acceptance into a PhD program, and I continued working in higher education until my retirement in 2016 at age 75.

 Do you have any advice on how emerging writers can find a mentor? Are there secrets you have learned in being a mentor?

Of course, it would be wonderful if every emerging writer had a trusted mentor of his/her own. Often, however, mentors are individuals who don’t necessarily think of themselves as mentors, but who, as a result of life’s experiences, have gained a wisdom, compassion for others, and encouraging spirit that they instinctively share with others—especially with those who may be going through similar experiences. Therefore, emerging writers (of all ages) often find that their greatest support comes from authors like you, Liz—writers whose stories they may have only read, but whose words light an inextinguishable flame of creativity and hope within them.

 Is there a story or two you would like to share that you’re most proud of?

Of the hundreds of narratives that I could share, this story of an elderly Ojibwe woman in Minnesota is one of my favorites:

After outliving three husbands and retiring as a Licensed Practical Nurse, 85-year-old Miss Lois said, “I’m bored! Maybe I’ll take a moccasin-making class at the tribal college!” So, she enrolled in that one class, and she so enjoyed being with young college students that she decided to enroll as a full-time student.

One of the classes she took was my American Indian Literature course—a course in which we read about and discussed a number of emotional topics, including the Indian boarding school era, which has resulted in PTSD for thousands of American Indian/Alaska Native students and their families. At first, Miss Lois only alluded to the sexual abuse she and other young children had experienced at the hands of their “teachers,” but one day, she began joking about a group of girls “ganging up on a priest and tying him up.” Her young classmates (who had never attended boarding schools themselves) did not laugh.  Instead, they voiced indignation that their elders had “put up with” the physical and sexual abuse inflicted on them in many American and Canadian boarding schools. At that point, Miss Lois, who always seemed full of laughter and fun, shocked her classmates by breaking down in tears, and she began pouring out things she had kept inside for almost 80 years.  During the next several classes, other students began openly sharing their stories of incest/sexual abuse, and Miss Lois became their trusted (and highly esteemed) confidante/mentor. She went on to graduate from college, touching untold numbers of lives with her stories in newspaper and television interviews, as a participant in numerous panel discussions, and in her handwritten memoirs.

Miss Lois died in 2013 at the age of 95.