Scenes From My Balcony on Summer Solstice

During summer solstice, a sacred time here in Alaska when it’s light almost all night long, I sat on the balcony most of the day and night, reading and writing.

I’d squished all of my socializing in the day before. Coffee with one friend, a long walk with another, thrift-store shopping with my oldest daughter, and an evening hike up some good-sized hills with the youngest. A leisurely hair color and cut with my friend and stylist.

So on solstice, I did the thing I’ve always meant to do, which was nothing much. With the phone muted and no radio or television on in the house, I listened to the birds sing and Rottweiler on the next-door balcony snarl. I heard the wind rustle in the trees, and watched planes ascend. I read an entire book, and worked on two of my own. I watched in awe my new Polynesian neighbors arrived home from church, opening the door to their minivan so that a long procession of ornately dressed children could emerge. I counted six.

I thought about all of the scenes I’ve watched from this balcony over the past twenty-four years. Like my daughter at fifteen, learning to change the oil in a car with the help of my next-door neighbor (with the snarly Rottweiler). A mother moose with two babies, enjoying a nibble of our newly planted tree. Like my oldest, driving away, her belongings stuffed into her sedan, driving away one final time to move in to an apartment with a roommate. Two blocks away. Only to return home  a few months later.

And I thought about how this year is already half over, and reviewed my good intentions in the way of New Years Resolutions.

Spanish lessons? That didn’t go so well. But clearing my home of clutter and readying for the next great thing? Pretty on target. I’ve trimmed expenses and have continued with my weight training, albeit somewhat half-heartedly, so there’s that. And I stopped watching television.

But now, just taking a day to appreciate the stillness and the chaos from my balcony was a feat in itself. Typically, I need to be recovering from illness to do so little. I savored every bit of it.

How is your summer shaping up?  And are there things you’re working toward worth checking in on?

I hope you too can have one day to simply recharge your batteries.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Importance of Sharing Ugly

Yesterday, I had a conversation with the Seward Library Book Group about coming clean in my memoir, or, as one member put it, telling on myself.  Referring to the times I mentioned my own flaws and frailties, being judgmental or quick tempered, that are sprinkled throughout the book.

Then conversation quickly morphed to social media sharing, how we can feel so alone as we scroll through picture after picture of seemingly perfect images posted, and the disconnect so many of us feel, now that we’re all “connected.”

It reminds me of the memoir I’ve been reading, Another Cheesy Family Newsletter.

The author, Elizabeth Silva, structures her story with chapters beginning with the sunshine-y newsletters she sent out over the years tucked inside Christmas cards, followed by the backstory of what was really going on. Her feelings of helplessness as her now-grown children did not launch as planned. A daughter’s heroin addiction led Silva and her husband to become parents all over again of three vulnerable and resilient grandchildren. A second daughter’s divorce, and a son’s prolonged lack of ambition only added to the stress.

The Christmas newsletters and the social media phenomenon bring up the same feelings. When we only share only our best side, where we look attractive, accomplished, our kids seemingly brilliant and irrepressibly happy, we perpetuate the notion to others that they’re alone in their loneliness or failures or even despair. Even though that’s not the intention.

I’ve struggled with sheepishly giving optimistic updates on my Facebook author page. While it doesn’t make sense to draw attention to negative reviews or my angst about the financial hits I’ve taken to keep my book positioned well, it feels dishonest. So I’ve written essays about writing and parenting to present a more honest view.h

If one compared my author Facebook page with my real life this week, they would see an information gap that defined my days.

While it is true that I loved my youngest daughter’s 30th birthday soiree and the various writerly events, they were sandwiched between an increasingly impossible day job and an even more impossible, never-ending job as the parent of an oldest child experiencing profound mental illness who continues to flounder as an undue amount of tragedy is thrown her way.

Last week, her only asset, an old Camry, was shot repeatedly in the commission of a crime in downtown Anchorage while she slept nearby in her apartment. The car was parked at a meter outside. It was totaled. But worse than that, it triggered her PTSD, and has set her back further. The crime is unsolved, so no one will be paying restitution to compensate her loss.

Of course I’m fortunate she was not physically harmed. She’ll get through it, but not without a lot of support.

On good days, I remember to be thankful that I can give said support.

On many others, I’m angry or just worn out for having to.

I so appreciate social media for the many positives it brings, the same way I do when I get a chatty Christmas newsletter. But there is no substitute for real human contact, and authentic interactions. Sometimes, it’s important to share the ugly.

We all struggle. We all fail. We all get overwhelmed.  And none of us have to be alone as we slog through our journey, or keep our struggles a secret.

Maybe one of the greatest gifts given me post-publication is going place to place, finding pods of community where ever I’m invited to speak, and feeling encircled with caring readers and writers who often share their own stories.

I hope you have a supportive circle to both celebrate and grieve all life dishes your way. And thank you for being a part of my community.

Holiday Catch-Up and NaNoWriMo

I hope your holiday season is going well.

Please forgive my lack of activity. I’m gently behind on some emails and calls and blogging this month.

I’ve slowed down markedly with the increasing cold and decreasing light. Sometimes, after I get home from work, I sit in a cold stupor and just think. I know I’ll defrost soon enough as the weather resolves.

During the latter part of October, I finished with book events in Sitka and Kodiak in their respective libraries. Both trips for me were magical, with the well-attended and respectful conversations about trauma and writing and anything else that came up. Both trips included beautiful wildlife. And both trips gave me time with treasured friends who live on the Alaskan islands. Huge thank you to the people of Sitka and Kodiak, including the libraries there.

I returned home feeling refreshed and encouraged. And in need of time to just write and to binge-watch TV with my cats and to catch up with friends.

So that’s what I’ve been doing a little more of. Writing. It’s NaNoWriMo  ,National Novel Writing Month, and while I’m not planning to finish a novel in the month of November, I’m nearing 100 pages on the second book of my trilogy. And editing/producing Pieces of Me so it will one day be an audiobook. And I’ve happily written some essays for different magazines, and am seeing some of them find their way to publication.

I wondered if I’d be sad about the book tour excitement being over. It’s been such an emotional roller-coaster, and while so many things went wonderfully, I had a lot of near-misses and disappointments too.  But honestly, I just feel pretty pleased and grateful to have shared it with you.

So I gave myself 90 days of no book events. A vacation from hearing me talk about me. I needed that.

And then a nice lawyer called and booked a talk in February for a group of attorneys who volunteer to represent victims of domestic violence for free. Their conference comes just as my 90 day event break ends, and this is a group I definitely want to talk to. Volunteer lawyers have helped me find my missing father, seek orders of protection and eventually a divorce when I needed to from my former husband, and volunteer lawyers helped recover my missing daughters. I am truly forever indebted. It will be an honor to meet with them.

I plan to have a low-key Christmas and sneak in some sunshine at the end of December. A trip just for the sake of fun with two old friends from my childhood.

Until then, I’ll keep plugging away. Please remember my author page on Facebook, and thank you for your comments.

With you, I’m never alone.

Thanks for that.

 

 

 

Pieces of Me Turns One/Looking Back and Moving Forward

Today it’s been a year since my memoir was officially launched.

More than 65 events, 103 online reviews (and counting), and three awards later, what a year it has been.

Thanks to your support, Pieces of Me has enjoyed national attention, and has garnered international fans as well.  None of this would be possible without your support. There just are not enough thank you’s to go around.

The gifts that followed after publishing my book are the relationships that have been strengthened, the new friendships made, and the opportunities to talk with family, friends, and strangers  about issues that have been traditionally have secret. Like family violence. Parental child abduction. Intergenerational trauma.

When giving presentations to high school and college students, I love recalling that pre-internet time when people across the community united to help me bring my kidnappped daughters home. What a diverse group my support network was made up of, and their generosity was duplicated in  beautiful Greece.  And what a special time it was in history in general when people actually spoke to one another instead of at each other.  It reminds me that together, we can accomplish most anything.  It reminds me that when we are divided, we accomplish very little.

There have been some stressful times promoting the book. I ruffled a few feathers. I got very tired. And I relived some very horrible moments in my family’s history.  But the good has far outweighed the negative.

I have some more events coming up. Indeed, I am about to get on a plane and speak at it conference this weekend.  But after October, it is time for me to slow down and work on my next book.  I’m excited about it, having pitched it to  a literary agent at a writer’s conference last weekend, who deemed it the “most promising manuscript,” of those pitched to her in that event.

I plan to begin charging for book trips that cost me both money and personal leave time so I can break even financially. But I have treasured this year and these moments together.

I will continue to work toward getting my memoir into universities, and welcome any help to that end.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

XOXO,

Lizbeth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Duties as Assigned in a Writers Life

  

 

 

 

 


I’ve enjoyed the slower pace of summer the past few weeks.

Nearly a year post-pub, I am fortunate book event requests continue for Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters, but at a slower yet steady pace. Now I have time to do the other tasks associated with being a writer.

Things like endorsing books for authors upon request, which requires reading said book and summarizing the impact of it in a sentence or two. Like reviewing writers grant applications local writer’s guild, posting on social media, and prepping for two upcoming conferences I’m a presenter at. Like reading voraciously and giving online reviews for other writers, and meeting with hopeful authors upon request. Like researching new affordable ways to market my memoir online and introduce it to new readers. Like writing essays and posts for blogs and magazines about this writer’s journey. Like reaching out to universities and requesting my book be considered as extra reading or texts for their sociology, psychology, or gender studies program.

These are other duties as assigned for writers. They are optional. But writing, much like the rest of life, is best done in a supportive community. There is a time to take and a time to give.

Thanks to so many giving writers in my local and international community, I’ve learned a lot and had some successes, and have found a safe place to land when sharing failures.

I’ll be the first to say I’ve said yes to a few too many things this year. I’ve skimmed special moments with family and friends or during events because my mind has been racing to the next thing on my list while I’m working through the present one. And I’ve let my savings whittle away as I’ve dug deep in my pockets to make sure I’d be available for events wherever requested. And I’ve loved every bit of it.

But it’s time to slow down. I’ve begun requesting speaking fees to cover writer’s events that cost me. It’s a shift in thinking and inevitably results in some no’s, but that’s alright.

I’ve taken the time to enjoy conversations without feeling I need to get back to work. I’ve cuddled my cats with wild abandon. I once snuck away for tent camping with my daughter. And I took an afternoon to watch a rescued porcupine baby learn tricks. And every morning, I listen to the breeze blowing in the leaves before I get up and start my day. Not exactly a state of Zen, but it’s a start.

In three years, I retire from my all-encompassing day job, and will face a lot of big decisions then about what’s next. How will I fill my days? Where will I fill my days?  Will I become a fulltime writer? Will I leave Alaska permanently to live closer to family, or split my time between states. Everything is unsure.

But what I do know for sure is that I can work as much or as little as I want in writing, and enjoy the love and support of an irreplaceable reading and writing community that will be with me, wherever I land.

Thank you for that.

On September 1-8 (2017), my publisher will be offering 32 terrific e-books for only 99 cents! I promise you, there are treasures here. Feel free to load up and tell your friends!

Thank you. Always.

Smile Before It’s Over

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Dr. Seuss

Just as I was packing for my Portland book event, I got the call that a friend died. Jim was more than a friend. To my little girls, he was a hero that defended their right to safety when they were in Greece, a rare rescuer who tried to stay in regular touch with them as they grew to be women. A great lawyer. An even better uncle. We will miss him, and will always be grateful for his love and support.
Portland was a comfort. From my hostel owners to the bookstore owner (thank you, Elisa at Another Read Through!) to the community at large and the other authors from She Writes Press, I couldn’t have had a more restful/low stress venue.

Me with memoirists Marianne Lile, Karen Meadows, and Nadine Kenney Johnstone.

This May I joined Zonta International, and am excited at the many people and possibilities that membership will provide to work empowering women and children around the globe. Since Zonta has chapters virtually everywhere, the opportunities will follow me into retirement, wherever I am.
Just when I was sure books sales would climb with time, Amazon has found a way to sell books without compensating authors and publishers. If you Google it, you’ll read about the crushing news this is to the publishing world.  Deep sigh.
Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters is a finalist for the International Book Awards! That, and a finalist for the USA Best Book Awards and a silver medalist for the IPPY’s in memoir/personal struggles. If I had endless personal leave and cash, I’d be flying to New York right now for the fancy IPPY ceremonies. Instead I’m plugging away at work and other writing projects, excited about next week’s event in Louisville Kentucky, the city of my birth. I’ve not ever had two sides of my family under one roof. I’m sure I’ll be a nervous wreck in the moment, but for now, it’s exciting to think about.
And that’s life in a nutshell. Still loving book groups and other events, but finding time for rest. Eight months after publication, I’m able to finally take a deep breath and look at both my book life and my regular life with calm energy. I stayed in my PJ’s last Saturday until 3PM and made myself an amazing smoothie, and was mindful to appreciate each ingredient-the spinach, the avocado, the raspberries, and the chia seeds. I let myself listen to my cats purr and didn’t worry about the messy house.
If you have friends or family in Louisville, Kentucky, please tell them I’ll be at Barnes and Noble-Hurstbourne soon! And I’ll speak with Rachel Platt at Great Day Live! even sooner.
 Life zips by quickly. It will forever be a mixed bag. It is so important to make a point of smiling before it’s over.
Thank you for your support.

Springtime is here

Hello,

You are the first human I have communicated with today. I’ve sequestered myself in my room for hours to write a few posts for 49 Writers, so I’ll keep this brief.

This, after a week filled with wonderful moments catching up with friendships I’d been neglecting, hanging out with my adult daughters a bit, and savoring the retirement party of a coworker who reluctantly left her career of 27 years working with at-risk youth.

April is such a hopeful time of year. There’s more light, less snow, the summer to look forward to, and the triumphant feeling of surviving yet another winter. My energy is returning.


Completing nearly 50 book events in the past months since September has produced many results, not the least of which is fatigue. I’m tickled to report that word-of-mouth appears to be paying off (thank you, thank you!) and I’m slowing my schedule for better work/life balance.

If you will be in Portland, Oregon on May 12th, please join me at Another Read Through Bookstore where I will be sharing the floor with three delightful memoirists. Just in time for Mother’s Day!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’ll have author Karen Meadows as my guest. Karen  wrote Searching for Normal: The Story of A Girl Gone Too Soon. She shares from her book and from her heart.

Thank you for dropping by.

A Sense of My Ending/How Will I Later Recall Writing and Promoting Pieces of Me?

I saw the movie The Sense of An Ending recently, and this quote jumped out at me.

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts?

And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around us to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but–mainly–to ourselves.”– Julian Barnes, The Sense of An Ending.

The last sentence. –Told to others, but–mainly to ourselves,” really sticks. As I wind my way through different towns and states promoting my memoir, talking to many wonderful others, I think about how I’ll remember this process in my final memoir.  I suspect it will be published in my seventies if I’m fortunate enough to last that long, covering the process of healing where the last book left off, following getting to know my extended family, and the publishing my first book. What will I think then about this process of storytelling when it’s a memory?

I borrowed heavily from old journals, newspaper articles, and ingrained memories of awful events to write Pieces of Me. What comes later will be different, a more normal life.

What I hope old Liz will remember to tell about the one in her fifties is that both writing and promoting her book was a complicated process. Not glamorous as imagined in years past. Filled with extreme solitude and then extreme socializing. Many sleepless nights, worried about the feelings of those included in the book and those who weren’t,  and hoping I did due diligence at each event to make it worthwhile, gnawing concerns about money, thank you cards needing sent, and emails needing care. And I hope the old gal will remember that in the midst of all that, there was an outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and strangers, and that people were empowered to tell their own stories,  because a sacred atmosphere of vulnerability is created in writing memoir, and an understanding that everyone has a story, and every one of our stories is indeed important.

On this current trip, I’m so grateful to the University of Washington Bookstore and their staff, to friends and family and strangers who came out to show support, to my new friends I made at the Seattle hostel,  and to King5 News for covering my book and the event. I loved seeing my  dear friend Ira, who found my father for me so long ago.

At the University of Toledo’s Catharine S. Eberly Center for Women, I’m grateful to the passionate staff for including me in their mission to empower women, and for creating an elegant event that was covered by WGTV13abc and filmed for university students for later video streaming. I adore my friend Billijo for driving from Minnesota to Ohio to join the event and spend time with me before and after. And great thanks to my friend Jennifer Jarrett for coordinating this, and for tonight’s Meet the Author event at Luna Pier in Michigan and for being my host family. I’m indebted to my youngest daughter for caring for my home and cats and for her work to stop the flooding in my kitchen after a pipe broke.

If you’re interested in telling your story, I’ve long enjoyed the National Association for Memoir Writers. There are free coaching sessions run by Linda Joy Meyers, a therapist and author. It’s a gentle way to get your feet wet.

Thank you for stopping by.

Remembering the Magic of When a Community Unites

March used to be one of those months for me that held dreadful anniversary dates.

We all have those dates. Whether it’s the dreaded anniversary of a death, or a divorce anniversary, or maybe even a natural disaster like a hurricane, there are the dates that split our lives in two. There was life before the traumatic event, and life after the traumatic event.

I left my husband on March 5, 1990. He abducted our daughters on March 13, 1994.

There was life before the abduction. There was life after the abduction.

This March, I’ve been busy with book events related to my memoir. The events have given me time to think not just about those anniversary dates, but the phenomenal amount of kindness my family was gifted that helped put trauma back in our rear-view mirror.

My coworkers at the battered women’s shelter donated their leave. Friends threw every kind of fundraiser imaginable to help with expenses. My Alaskan lawyers donated their time and resources, and then my Greek friends donated their time and opened their homes to me. People of diverse backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, and ages worked along one another to help us achieve the impossible. When I look back on that awful period in my life, I am filled with gratitude.

What is it about a disaster that brings out the best in people? And would I have the same experience today, in this age of social media where too often we camp up and talk about each other rather than to each other?

Often, people do show up when help is needed. Think of a car accident with people inside a smoldering vehicle.  A human is in peril. In that moment, it’s all that matters.

Alaskans have long had a rich history of helping one another, especially in the 90’s when my daughters were kidnapped. The weather, the location, the physical isolation serve as reminders that we need each other to survive.

After the girls and I returned from Greece in 1996, we resumed living small, quiet lives. And then two decades later, as I began promoting Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters, all the memories came back. Not just the bad memories, but the beautiful memories of all the grace and love we’ve received.

I wish we didn’t need to go through hard times or traumatic events for people to unite for a common goal. But I’m so fortunate to have once been witness to the miracle of unity inside my community, both in the states and overseas. And to have commemorated that period in my book makes me both humbled and proud.

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of my daughters’ kidnapping. A reminder that I am one of the lucky parents whose kids returned.

Thank you for being a part of my story.

 

 

 

5 Tips to get Indie Authors into Indie Bookstores

Last year, I remember telling any number of loved ones in other states that I’d likely see them in the upcoming months as I launched Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters.

“I’m sure I’ll have a book event somewhere near you,” I said with such conviction.

Looking back, I think I must’ve temporarily lost my marbles. Had I assumed a magic carpet would arrive at my door after my book launched?

No such luck.

Book events, especially those out of my hometown in Anchorage, Alaska, have been anything but easy to coordinate.

I’d thought as a debut author published by a small press, indie bookstores would open their arms and doors wide for me. I’m indie, you’re indie sort of deal.

But it hasn’t worked that way. I’ve commiserated with enough other authors in the same boat to know I’m not alone. We’ve learned that when our PR contracts end, we’re often invisible to the bookstores.

For example, I called The Village Bookstore in Bellingham, my old college stomping grounds where I still have a lot of friends. Village Books has a lengthy application form for authors (as do many independent bookstores), and they charge an hourly rate for consultations with authors to discuss the possibility of having an event. Really? Like I haven’t up-fronted enough costs on this venture, I wanted to say.

So I called Bellingham’s Barnes and Noble.  It’s free to chat with them, and I know they’ll order the books and pay shipping for them and do some marketing, so essentially all I have to do is show up. The event planner told me to email her a follow-up request, and said since I was already in their system, having done a Barnes and Noble event before, it’d be easy. So I emailed. And emailed. And called again. Nothing.

I’ve found this experience duplicated with bookstores in other cities like Fairbanks, Seattle, and Portland. So I began asking the bookstore owners what I needed to do to convince them to host a book event for me.

Here are 5 tips they offered, and once I employed them, the doors opened wide.

  • Let the bookstore owner know that you have connections like friends and family or other affiliations nearby to fill the bookstore for your event.
  • Does your story have a connection to the town or city the bookstore is in? Emphasize this when pitching the event planner. I met an author from Washington who had Skagway, Alaska in her book’s theme. She enjoyed an extensive book tour throughout Alaska last summer because of it.
  • Demonstrate you have reach to a wide audience via social media and your author website, and that you’ll use your reach to publicize the book event.
  • Assure the bookstore owner you’ll not cancel your event at the last moment. One Portland owner said  cancellations by out-of-town authors had happened too many times in recent history and resulted in wasting of the bookstore’s time and resources.
  • To sweeten the pot, authors should be willing to schlep their own books to consign with the bookstore. It’s less financially risky for the bookstore when the author manages the inventory.

I’ve found that coordinating events out of my home town is not a passive process. If I simply give up after one or two emails or calls, I will not get the desired results. So I’ve nagged and cajoled and made myself known to the events planners and bookstore owners.

And now, Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters will meet some other parts of the country. And for that, I am truly grateful. I’m also grateful that Pieces of Me is in its second printing, and grateful for the reader’s reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  They make a huge difference in sales. Thank you.

Do you have friends in Seattle, Toledo, Portland, or Louisville that might like to attend one of my book events?

Please forward them to lameredith.com/upcomingevents.

Spotted by my friend Ruth at Cabin Fever