Warning: Submerged Obstacles

927016_lake_signWe heard footsteps on the roof and the sound of the leaf blower. Huge chunks of debris began flying past the window and onto the ground. I had not even noticed the roof, or the fact that it was covered in a two inch layer of leaves and pine needles which was now flying off the roof and onto the ground. I hadn’t even remembered that the gutters probably needed clearing out, my usual Thanksgiving chore.

“He’s amazing that he does that,” Deirdre said. We were sitting side by side on the couch covered in blankets, surrounded by four snoring dogs as she wrote and I read. Jim had already chopped wood and lit the fire for us to stay warm by in our post-turkey haze.

“I know. And he really seems to enjoy doing it. He loves this house,” I said as I watched him through the window on the roof, reveling once again in how lucky I felt. I had found someone who loved me, who loved my kids, who loved my quirky old, high-maintenance house as much as I did. I didn’t want to think the words “too good to be true,” but they lurked there under the surface.

The blower eventually quieted and soon he was out with a rake and a garbage pail clearing the whole mess up.

I always have a difficult time on departure day from Vashon, my escape from the real world. I want to continue my simple life of pretending it is 1946 when life was simpler, without social media and iPhones, when the best Saturday entertainment was baking cookies or playing long rounds of Mexican Train or sitting on the couch devouring an entire book. I dread returning to my real life of feeling overwhelmed, being berated by teenagers (though even I know that hiding in 1946 wouldn’t have changed this fact of life) and being chained to the world inside my computer.

I was happy to just sit for another day on the couch, watching the whitecaps against the navy water, the winter sun warming my face. A few times over the weekend, I had taken out the binoculars to get a closer look at what looked like black heads bobbing in the rough water, but that appeared not to drift away despite the powerful waves. Each time, they turned out to be logs, partially submerged, pushed one way on the surface by the waves, while the tide worked in the opposite direction on the length that was beneath the water, which caused them to stay more or less stationary. I watched for several minutes but the logs just stayed where they were.

On this final day, I was very content sitting beside my best friend who after a scary year fighting brain cancer was happily ensconced on my couch writing her experience into a memoir. It was good to see Jim relax as well, inhaling a thick tomb of a Ken Follett novel.

I didn’t notice Jim’s absence until he walked into the living room and gave us his prognosis on our ongoing septic conundrum.

“The pump is working fine,” he said. “The alarm works. The tank is not leaking or overflowing. I have no idea what could be causing the leak on the path,” He said this as he plunked himself into his chair and picked up his book.

Jim and I have had many adventures with the septic system, the most recent involved scooping poopy water out of the tank before realizing we could just lift the pump out and disentangle a root that had been sucked into its intake. We were certain that a tiny trickle on the path to the beach had been the septic’s overflow and it seemed to disappear when we solved the root problem. But this weekend I noticed the trickle had returned. We couldn’t attribute it to rain since the weather was clear and cold.

“Do you think we should dig the pipe up a little to try and see where the water is coming from?” My mind was whirring with possibilities. One of the things I loved doing with Jim was working out engineering problems with him. We bounced ideas off one another until we (he, in most cases) figured out a solution. God knows the Vashon house had many mysteries. He had fixed the 40s era radiant floors that hadn’t worked in years; we had concocted an (unsuccessful) plan to drag heavy steel poles on a makeshift raft; he had devised an elaborate enclosure under the house to keep the otters out.

“I’m not digging up a pipe. I have mission critical chores at home I have to do and I really can’t be taking on huge chores here while stuff at home needs to be done.”

I didn’t know what to say. Did he resent the chores he did on Vashon? Was he wanting to leave now?

“I wasn’t suggesting that we dig up the pipe now,” I said, feeling meek, not sure of what emotions I was feeling. “Are you saying you want to leave now? We can leave now if you want.”

“No, I am happy to linger. I just don’t want to take on a major project when I have other things to do at home.”

His clarification didn’t ease my uncertain emotions. Since I was standing in the middle of the living room, I didn’t know what to do. Resume my place on the couch and read? Or begin the departure chores. I needed to escape and so I headed upstairs to begin packing up. I tried to squash my feelings. I was hurt. Since we had to pack up anyway, I used it as an excuse to keep busy so I wouldn’t have to think or emote.

When I came down with bags, Jim looked up from his book.

“I didn’t mean we have to leave now,” he said. “We could hang for a while and have lunch and then leave after that.”

Now I felt bad that I was making him feel bad which made me feel even worse.

“It’s OK, I said. I’m just getting ready. I went into the kitchen and put the soup on and then began the sweeping. I knew my actions were probably making it clear that I wanted to leave, but I didn’t know what else to do. I now felt Jim’s desire to get back to his house. I wasn’t mad, but I was hurt. Did he resent being on Vashon? I knew he loved it, but I didn’t know what to make of his outburst. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been bothered by it. He sometimes grumbles about his obligations in one place while being in another. It is the peril of his somewhat transitory lifestyle, living between three homes.

So why was I feeling so emotional? I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I just kept sweeping and making soup and packing up. I had to keep busy.

Later, after dropping Jim off at his house, Deirdre (smothered by four dogs in a packed car) asked if I was mad at Jim.

“Did I seem mad?”

“Yeah, you seemed furious at him.”

It was not my intention to seem furious, since furious wasn’t the emotion I was feeling at all, though I still couldn’t pin down exactly what I was feeling. I wanted to burst into tears, and when I was finally alone, I did. But I had no idea why I was so affected.

Later, after taking care of his “mission critical chores” at home, he came over and we talked. Well he talked and I wept. Why is it always so impossible to talk through tears? So frustrating. I still couldn’t articulate my feelings, but I managed to eek out a few possibilities:

1. I was feeling beat up lately by the hostile teenager in my midst while the other barraged me with texts about wishing she was home for Thanksgiving. Jim’s grumpiness came across to me as another hostile affront.

2. I felt guilty for being so grateful for Jim and all the work he did around Vashon when he really needed to be doing that work at his own home. As if I perhaps didn’t deserve him.

Now, as I dissect this in writing, I can see that the guilt weirdly brought me back to my dormant-but-lying-in-wait grief. It seems like there is some correlation between being so damned grateful for something that was once so elusive (a good man in my life) and my feelings of not deserving the great thing that came into my life. But why on earth would I feel like I didn’t deserve Jim and all the wonderful things he does?

Perhaps it comes from those early grief days of having to ask for help with things, something I hated doing. Asking/needing help is such a diminishing place for me. I like my independence. Asking for help feels like a weakness. But the truth is, I’ve come to rely on Jim which feels dangerous. Like his help could go away. He could go away.

So could all this silliness really be because somewhere deep in my subconscious I fear losing Jim? Will this annoying fear of loss ever leave me?

I feel like those black log-heads in the water: being pushed in one direction on the surface, while below an opposite force keeps me from going anywhere.

 

The 4 Stages of Post-Loss Dating

retro_dating-tips-for-single-women-01I stood before a group of 30-40 widows and widowers in a brightly lit Toronto hotel conference room, my PowerPoint presentation on a large screen behind me, not exactly the atmosphere you might choose to talk about post-loss dating. This was my first-ever dating workshop, and I was filling in for the woman who normally conducts the dating workshops at Camp Widow. I wasn’t sure how it would be possible encapsulate my own 10 or so years of dating after Arron’s death, but several weeks of thinking about it helped me narrow my focus. I applied my mantra of “what would I have wanted to know” as I started out in the dating world?

I wound up coming up with 4 stages of post-loss dating:

1. Curiosity

This is where the numbness of grief has begun to dissipate and we begin to get out into the world again. Perhaps we can’t begin to imagine a day when we might be ever ready to date again, but we find ourselves curious about it. We hone our hearing to perk up at any conversation having to do with dating, we might “just browse” an online dating site, watch movies about relationships or dating and we begin to notice people not wearing wedding rings. Often this stage ends with our very first date.

2. “Wild Thang”

Perhaps now, there have been several dates with one person and you realize you can no longer buy your underwear at Safeway. You crave being touched. You long for intimacy. Going through this stage was disconcerting for me, as I felt like I was going crazy. I thought about sex all the time. One boyfriend gave me my first vibrator and it began to get a lot of use. I didn’t know who this new me was, but I hoped it was normal. What I eventually concluded was that most people have a wild stage after the loss of a long and/or meaningful relationship. As it turns out, sex is a pretty good salve for grief. I described this in more detail in this post I wrote a while ago.

3. Settling In

Eventually, perhaps after a few short-term relationships you begin to want more from a relationship than just sex. You begin to realize that all those people you dated were not your loved one, and you might even begin to realize that you were just a little bit guilty of trying to find your lost partner in a new mate. You take a step back, relish some alone time and begin to enjoy other aspects of your life. You might date, but you are no longer willing to say, “oh, what the hell, life is short” in order to justify the relationship.

4. Putting Away the Photos

Once you have reached the “Setting In” stage, you begin to realize that you want more from a relationship: something real, something meaningful. You are no longer holding onto the past and have, in a variety of ways, mentally “divorced” yourself from your loved one. This can sometimes take a long time. It took me ten years or so. For me, it culminated in a feng shui exercise of putting away many of the photos of my dead husband, creating a home where two people would be comfortable (particularly in the bedroom – two night stands, comfortable bedding, cleared closet space) as a way of psychologically inviting someone into my life. When you find yourself able to do these things you are mentally ready to invite that person in.

Of course, life doesn’t always work in a nice, tidy pattern like this. You may fumble your way through these stages in a great relationship, they may all happen at once or in a different order. These aren’t rules, but simply a way I found of explaining my progression through dating.

Of course, there was much more to my talk, and I saw heads nod, people smile, I saw sadness, and resignation. I hoped I saved some people from the fear of dating, gave others hope that they would some day be ready to date, helped people to realize they were not going crazy, that dating and relationships are messy business, but worth working towards.

Having never done this particular workshop before, I wasn’t sure if I would go overtime, so of course I finished early and asked if anyone had questions. One woman asked about my own dating experience, if I had had success.

I smiled and glanced at Jim who was sitting in the audience next to Selena, Arron’s mother which was altogether a bizarre way to conduct a dating workshop where you mention the word “vibrator” several times. I pointed him out as “Exhibit A” and he blushed. It was an amazing moment, realizing a person in your life could actually embrace all of you, your past, your flaws, your successes and become “Exhibit A” with grace.

Perhaps this is the 5th stage of dating…

Shying Away From Another 9/11 Anniversary

photo 1

Catching the sunset, August 2014

My son Carter sat perched on the edge of the Zodiac driving the outboard as he towed Jim and me in Jim’s hand-built plywood barge for a trip around the point to see the sunset. Carter’s jaw was set in a way his father’s used to when Arron was being “Mr. Big Pants,” the name I gave him when he was feeling super-confident and a little smug as he trotted off to work in his expensive Hugo Boss suit. Carter’s smugness came from a day filled with man-stuff, activities that only my boyfriend Jim could make possible.

My son is at the fifteen year-old boy stage of hiding in his room, grunting replies to questions, sleeping until 2pm and racking up hundreds of dollars a month in junk food. The fact that he joined Jim and I on a weekend excursion to our house on Vashon Island is astonishing, and Jim pulled out every trick he had to make the weekend exciting to a teenager hooked on Internet crack.

In one day, Jim provided Carter with gun lessons, patiently explaining their safe handling and then schooling him in the meticulous art of their cleaning; let Carter drive the Zodiac as they dropped a crab trap and shot off Jim’s .45 a few times across the Sound; allowed Carter to practice driving his beat-up Mercedes station wagon up and down the steep, winding road to and from the house; set up a shoe box so Carter could shoot holes in it with Jim’s air gun; wrestled Carter to the kitchen floor several times; and finally, let him tow us in the barge to see the sunset.

As I watched Carter drive the boat, I could see that in one day he had grown into a man. He exuded a confidence I swear had not been there the day before. As he grows and takes on more and more characteristics of his dad, I find myself wondering how our lives might have been different had Arron not gone to that trade show at Windows on the World. What would it have been like for Carter to grow up with his father? Would they have fought? Would they have been close? Would Carter be more or less self-possessed? Would he have been better disciplined?

Only a few weeks before, my daughter, a second-year college student who was six when her dad died, came to me with an essay that she wrote in her bid to transfer into The University of Pennsylvania’s Criminology program. As a high school student, I could barely get her to do her homework and hand it in, and here she was presenting me with an intelligently written essay about why she wanted to study criminology. Written over the summer. On her own time. Without my help. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that criminology has become her passion. The twists and turns that tragedy takes as it flows through growing children can never be predicted, except when in an odd way it makes perfect sense. As I read, she sat on the stairs behind me, her arms hugging her slim brown legs, looking both like a little girl and a grown woman at once. When I finished reading it, I turned to her.

“It’s really amazing, but there’s just one thing,” I said. She bounced down the stairs and stood over me.

“What?”

“I don’t think you should apologize for your poor high school marks. Show them how far you’ve come instead.”

“I wish I knew in high school what I know now. I wish I had studied more.”

“It’s OK. It’s never too late. You know it now. That’s what you need to show them.”

She smiled. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she said as she tied her hair into a high ponytail, grabbed her purse and headed out the door to the gym. I was struck suddenly by how strong she looked, both physically and mentally.

Another 9/11 Anniversary is upon us and I can’t decide how I feel about it. The truth is, I feel nothing. Dread perhaps, if anything. The day an unwanted spotlight shines upon us, in ways mostly good – filled with well-wishing “thinking of you” emails and phone calls from people I love to hear from and catch up with, but uncomfortable as well. I feel obligated to write or respond to each one, “Thank you for your thoughts…” when my instinct is to curl up and hide from all the odd attention. I love that people think of me, I’m just not all that thrilled with why they think of me. 9/11 is such a giant weight to bear. I keep searching for ways of making it bearable, or to give it a positive spin which in some ways is easy, in other ways impossible.

It seems after large-scale tragic events, there is an overwhelming desire to find someone responsible, to seek the whys, the should haves, the could haves. Reform is demanded and sometimes implemented, but rarely are the changes effective. We take off our shoes to board airplanes, we killed Osama, we’re no longer fighting a war in Afghanistan so therefore we must be safer, right? Since, you know, we’ve wiped out terrorism and all.

As a firefighter, Jim often says he is safer at work than he is at home due to all the rules and safety regulations in place to protect firefighter’s lives. His station is near a river that people occasionally drive into, but because the firefighters are required to wear life jackets during water rescues, they are often forced to watch helplessly as someone drowns because, with life jackets on, they are unable to dive under the water and rescue them. I can only imagine the fire safety requirements implemented in the wake of 9/11.

I have an entire book gathering dust on my bookshelf devoted to all the changes that America was committed to making as a result of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. Streamlining the CIA, shutting down the financial sources of terrorist groups, a unified, national emergency response unit, federally standardized birth certificates and driver’s licenses, setting up a “Youth Opportunity Fund” to better educate Muslim Youth, better managing our borders to name but a few. We certainly implemented a regimented airport security system, but it seems some of the other recommendations have been commandeered for different purposes. Suddenly, “better managing our borders” is a hot political issue and has slid into the realm of immigration control. Immigration control, gun control, the justification for invading countries are cloaked in that “war on terror” cover story and thus we wind up deluding ourselves that we are safer now than we were then.

The world seems impervious to the lessons we were supposed to have learned from 9/11. The war over Palestine/Israeli territory continues to wipe out thousands; planes are shot from Ukrainian skies; journalist’s heads’ are lopped off in Middle Eastern deserts; mentally ill people walk into to schools with guns and open fire; unarmed boys are shot dead by the people meant to protect them. The crappy stuff keeps happening. Countless lives are turned-upside down on a daily basis, leaving kids to grow up without fathers and mothers, and parents who will not see their child become adults.

The anniversary of 9/11 seems like a day to be reminded that crappy stuff still happens, despite all the so-called safeguards and changes we make to prevent it from ever happening again. No wonder I have a hard time being remembered for it.

Maybe then, to give 9/11 a more positive spin, the lesson should be that despite such tragedies, fatherless fifteen-year-old boys still manage to grow up to become confident men, to learn the art of acting like “Mr. Big Pants,” to look and act just like the fathers they never knew. Daughters who muddled through high school can suddenly shine in college and discover their strength as they try to find meaning in their pasts.

Maybe that’s too simplistic: Crappy stuff happens, but we all still grow up regardless of our circumstances. Yes, we are resilient. I suppose it makes sense then, that for me, the anniversary of 9/11 has become a moment when I am reminded to look at that resiliency first-hand. It’s a moment for me to take stock: to notice the confident set of my son’s jaw, to marvel at my daughter’s strong legs and awe-inspiring essay.

Crab for breakfast? August 2014

Crab for breakfast? August 2014

This morning, Jim and I pulled up the crab trap and found a crab too small and too female to keep. We brought it to Carter’s room where he was just waking up (it was 1pm after all) and Jim held it, legs wiggling, over the bed. Carter giggled his dad’s giggle.

After the crab’s little adventure to the bedroom, we set her back on the beach and watched her crawl sideways back into the water and shuffle away, thankful no doubt and perhaps a little wiser.

Hmm. Maybe I should write a graphic memoir?

I had so much fun this past weekend at Camp Widow. I Segway-ed and didn’t feel like too much of a dork. In fact I loved it. I also took an amazing workshop with the wonderfully talented graphic memoirist (Not sure that is the right lingo),Anders Nilsen and did my very first panel of graphic memoir-ing. A weekend of firsts.

My first attempt is pretty rough and I clearly suck at drawing dogs. This is based on a true story, some of which has been told in this blog post. I really had fun doing this and Anders has a new fan. I have ordered his book, a graphic memoir filled with real letters, drawings, postcards, created after the death of his fiancée to cancer. Truly amazing talent.

graphic novel - dog

Navigating the Book Promotion Jungle – Part 2

12x18-max-room-where-the-wild-things-are-placemat3I thought I would give an update on my book promotion progress since my last post about book marketing. It’s been kind of exciting, although I can’t say the book is flying off the shelves exactly. Here is a list of the things I’ve done since my last post:

GoodReads Ads

I paid $50 to run some ads for the book on Goodreads. The nice thing is that I was able to experiment with the wording of the ads and found that this one brought the most clicks:

This book will make you laugh, cry and most of all, cherish your loved ones- those who are alive and those who have passed.”

Stats from the ad: I had 155,390 total views and 102 clicks for a CTR (click through rate) of 0.07%.

Assessment: Not sure that was worth my $50.

BookRooster Review

Spent: $67

Result: 1 review

Assessment: Total bust.

BookSends

Cost: $125 for a front page ad.

Result: I used one of my KDP Select free days for this and the result was kind of awesome. 4300 free downloads in one day!

LibraryThing

Cost: FREE

Although LibraryThing is a difficult site to navigate, I have had some success with the giveaways (The link to do this is hard to find. Click the “More” link at the top of the page and then the “Get Free Books” link in the middle of the page). I did a second free giveaway and had 108 people signed up. I sent them an email through MailChimp and gave them a link to download the book for free using this amazingly handy new tool, Instafreebie. Highly recommend. It’s a great way to get promotion or review copies of your ebook out to people. And it’s FREE! Of the 108 who requested the book, through InstaFreebie, I know that only 53 actually downloaded it. I know I got several reviews from this.

StoryCartel

Cost: $30

This is not quite what it once was. You now have to pay $30 for a token and people will download your book and hopefully review it. Hard to tell the success of this one as there are no stats.

CONTESTS

It seemed like a good idea to enter some contests, so I entered the following:

IndieReader Discovery Awards

Spent: $150

Result: a professional review that I could add to my Amazon page. Frankly the review wasn’t wonderful, but they gave me a good line I could use. The cost also included inclusion in a contest. I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Assessment: Cheaper than a Kirkus review and includes a contest entry. Fair.

2014 USA Best Book Awards Contest – $69, September 30th.

Self Unbound Contest – $30, Deadline: October 1st

WD Writing contest – $25, Deadline: September 2nd.

Time will tell if these were worth it.

But as predicted, the overall book promotion bomb was….

BookBub

It took 3 tries to get accepted. I entered my book as a free book and gave flexible dates. I used my remaining 3 KDP Select free days.

Cost: $190 for the Women’s Fiction list.

Result: 44,500 free downloads! Holy cow! This resulted in my highest month of sales (62) and sales are trickling in this month as well (18 so far).

Assessment: If you can get into this email, do it!

OK, so to continue my accounting:

Blurb $50.00
b2b marketing $20.00
K-boards marketing $15.00
Promotion cards $200.00
Fivrr twitter promo $5.00
Blog Tour $80.00
Moo Cards $72.00
GoodReads Ads $50.00
BookRooster Review $67.00
IndieReader Review $150.00
BookSends (5/16) Free $125.00
Proofread $25.00
2014 USA Best Book Awards Contest Fee $69.00
Self Unbound Contest Fee $30.00
WD Writing contest $25.00
BookBub $190.00
 Total $3,183.00

And my sales:

Total Sales Total Revenue
Feb: 52 138.64
Mar: 21 31.29
April: 14 24.66
May 26 75.58
June 63 171.77
July 18
194 441.94

Which is to say, I’m still in the red: -$2,741.06

The good news is that I am up to 103 Amazon reviews now! Holy cow! That has been the most exciting thing. And people don’t hate the book! Amazing!

Next up, a print version of Remember The Moon. I decided to use Ingram Spark to produce my paperback version. I will write a further post on my experience there.

Happy publishing!

I Became a CEO Today!

Kelsye and Abby planning the birth of Writer.ly in 2012.

Kelsye and Abby planning the birth of Writer.ly in 2012.

What an exciting two years it’s been!

What started as a discussion in a coffee shop became a viable website that helps countless writers and freelancers connect to produce a better quality product – be it a book, a website, or a cover design.

Kelsye and I have had a wonderful time getting Writer.ly off the ground and we both marvel at how far we have gotten in such a short period of time. The other day we chuckled that we even managed to stay friends. Quite a feat for partners in a start-up, apparently!

We learned so much along the way – about running a business, building a website, fundraising, marketing and leading a community. Kelsye is one of the smartest, savviest, determined women I know and what I have learned from her has been invaluable. Most importantly, she taught me to be fearless, to take risks, to assume you can do something even when you’re not sure you can. What a gift!

Alas, the day has come for Kelsye to sail off toward her dream of becoming a full-time author, and I have no doubt she will be the next bestseller! I will continue to be her most enthusiastic cheerleader and wish her huge success.

Writer.ly would simply no be without Kelsye and so it will be my greatest challenge to carry on Writer.ly without her.  That said, I indent to use Kelsye’s gift of fearlessness as I continue to build Writer.ly. We had many great ideas for the site and the community which I hope to see to fruition. I have a team of great people helping me and I have Writer.ly’s incredibly supportive community cheering me on.

I look forward to a bright future for Writer.ly.

I hope you will continue to join me for the ride.

Using The Emotion of Grief For a Good Cause

Abby speaking at the 2014 Detlef Schrempf Gala Auction

Abby speaking at the 2014 Detlef Schrempf Gala Auction. Photo courtesy of Jim Evans

Standing on a platform surrounded by hundreds of round tables with orchid centerpieces and people wearing twinkly items that flashed around the room, I tried to speak slowly, give punctuation and emotion to my words. I was the final speaker before the “Raise the Paddle” portion of the evening where you hope to incite in the audience so much emotion that they dig even deeper into their pockets to donate to your cause. I joked earlier in the evening that I needed to make this audience of 350 cry.

The woman who spoke before me was a tough act to follow. She had us imagine a 16 year old girl who is told that her single mom has AIDS and all the prejudices she encounters in her high school as a result. And then the plot twist: the woman speaking was the girl’s mom. She was powerful. Her voice wavered at the end as she held back tears. She was knee deep in the emotion of her experience.

I tiptoed up to the platform and took the mic, knowing I was not. I spoke slowly. The waver in my voice came from nerves and not emotion. I made the mistake of stapling the corner of my speech and thus clumsily turned pages at inopportune moments. All along I was aware of my lack of emotion in my own story.

I forget the emotive power of my story. To me, describing my daughter as wanting to be a “happy person” a few weeks after her father died or wearing my two-year-old son like a heavy necklace because he wouldn’t let me out his sight is a distant memory. A memory that no longer has bite for me. But when I speak it, those small children come alive in my listener’s minds.

I have written and read this material for over ten years now, and so the emotion of that time has drained away for me (thank goodness), which is why I was slightly unprepared for the reaction I received when I stepped off the stage. A huge hug from a very tall man, Detlef Schrempf, whose foundation organizes the event; more hugs from fellow board members at The Healing Center on whose behalf I spoke, strangers congratulating me on a great job, the woman in the elevator who told me I caused her to spend more than she anticipated.

Which is why I think I’m feeling a little… is it guilty? Guilty for not feeling the emotion that I so blatantly unleashed upon others to drum up donation dollars. Is it fair to do such a thing? Exploitive? Manipulative?

After my speech, the Raise the Paddle began and many thousands of dollars raised. It’s lovely to think that my story played a part in helping other families who are new to the experience of grief. For that I would tell me story a million times over.

I never expected to wish to re-live the emotion of grief, but it might make moments like these seem a little less surreal.

 

 

A Father’s Day Round-Up

Photo borrowed from A Raja's Life and Stories (http://arajaslife.typepad.com/)

Photo borrowed from A Raja’s Life and Stories (http://arajaslife.typepad.com/)

I know how difficult Father’s Day is for the newly widowed. It’s another reminder of what is missing. The kids’ class-made Father’s Day cards and presents must find new recipients. Widowed moms try to make the best of the day, pat themselves wearily on the back for trying to be good dads and just get through it. Widowed dads might get lopsided pancakes in bed, a homemade card and a tie and try to not miss sharing those secret smiles with their wives.

I thought it might be interesting to go back through my old posts and see how I dealt with Father’s Day over the years. OK, ready for the ride down memory lane?

2008 – The Father’s Day Dilemma, where I advise another widow on how one might deal with Father’s Day as a widowed mom.

2009 – A Father’s Legacy, where Carter buys a Father’s Day card for his friend’s two dads.

2010 – Every Day is Father’s Day for a Mom Who is Also a Dad, an essay I wrote for HelloGrief.com on how I got through Father’s Day over the years.

2011 – Perspective, an essay I wrote about my own dad teaching me how to draw perspective.

2012 – Happy Father’s Day, Mom, more on how we muddle through the day, teenaged angst, and a lone call up from the basement of “Happy Father’s Day, Mom!”

2013 – Chasing Mavericks. Not exactly specifically about Father’s Day, but a clear example of being a mother and a father rolled into one.

This Father’s Day will likely go by without much of a blink from me or my kids. I’ll do my traditional call to my own Dad who will do his traditional grumble about Father’s Day being a Hallmark invention and that will be about it. Perhaps I’ll again get a “Happy Father’s Day, Mom” called up from the basement and I’ll laugh. If I play my cards right, I will be on Vashon with Jim doing Father-y things like repairing the path to the beach and life will be good.

For all those of you who are struggling through another “Hallmark” moment, take heart. It gets better. In the meantime, go have a G&T and put your feet up. You deserve it.

10 Things a Traditionally Published Author Should Know About Self-Publishing (That I Didn’t)

Imaged borrowed from Ilovetypography.com

Imaged borrowed from Ilovetypography.com

Talking to a writer friend of mine about my experience self publishing, she suggested I write a blog about what I wished I knew going into it. Since my first book was traditionally published, I may have been a little naive when it came to self publishing. It seemed like a good choice. My own agent had no interest in my novel and I wasn’t getting anywhere with other agents. I was lured by the promise of “70% royalties” and “full control” over my book. It seemed like a no-brainer. Here’s what I wish I knew BEFORE I self published (not that knowing it would have changed my path, but I would have had a more realistic idea of what to expect):

 

1. Self Publishing Takes Longer Than You Think

I formatted my ebook myself. I used to be a desktop publisher (back in the days when such a thing existed), so it was something I felt comfortable doing, and in fact, love doing. I have even been doing formatting the books of a few author friends. I wrote the book using Scrivener which has a “compile” feature that allows you to set up and compile your book into an ebook or a print book. Kinda handy. I compiled over and over, probably 50 times before I got the book looking the way I wanted it. It was a learning curve. Next time it will probably take me less time, but even if you have someone doing this for you, you will likely get the book back not looking quite like you wanted it. Ebooks are funny things and text appears in ways than you don’t expect. Be prepared for a cover design to also take longer than you expect. Depending on how well you were able to articulate your design idea to the designer, you may go through a few iterations before you are happy with a cover design.

 

2. Self Publishing Happens Fast

Of course, once you have the files ready, publishing takes no time at all. I wanted to experiment a little with KDP ( (I used Amazon’s KDP to publish my ebook) before I published and then all of a sudden with one click of a submit button, I was published and not at all prepared.

 

3. A Self Publishing Plan is a really good idea BEFORE you publish

Because publishing happens with the click of a button, you have to be disciplined to not “impulse publish” like I did. I would have done well to follow the advice of my Writer.ly co-founder, Kelsye and have a plan. View her webinar on 10 things you should do BEFORE publishing.

 

4. Publishing the book in ebook format is not enough

I went into this whole self publishing thing a little hesitantly. Even the day before I impulsively published, I sent the book to agents. I figured that if I just self published the ebook, I’d be simply testing the waters a little. I’d get a few reviews and see if there might be any interest in the book. What I’m quickly realizing is that my sales campaign would have been a whole lot stronger if I had published the paperback and the ebook simultaneously.

 

5. There is still a significant bias against self publishing and some of it is self-imposed

Now that I have to produce a paperback lickety split, I need some decent reviews to add to the back cover. I am friends with a lot of traditionally published authors, so I figured I’d have no problems getting a review. When each one turned me down (kindly), I put myself in their shoes for a minute. Is there any benefit for a traditionally published author to write a blurb about a self published book? Not really. In fact, it could be a little detrimental to the traditionally published author who needs to remain loyal to their publisher. Loyalty in publishing is a hot topic right now, and I could probably write an entire post just about that, but you get the idea.

 

6. Self Publishing your book is the EASY part

Once your book is published you need to let people know, and for me, this is the hard part. Through my association with Writer.ly, I have been inundated with information about how to market my book, but when it came down to doing it, I was overwhelmed. For my traditionally published books, I had so much done for me – entering the book into contests, getting the book into bookstores, setting up launch parties and readings. I’ve already written a little about this, so I won’t bore you with the details here. As Guy Kawasaki says in his book, you really do have to become an entrepreneur. And even though I am one (with Writer.ly), selling your own creative output is harder than it seems because it feels like you are bragging or pushing your work down people’s throats. It’s a hard nugget to swallow for us introverts.

 

7. Marketing your book takes a long time

I thought that I would put my book out on KDP, do a few KDP Select “Free” days (where you agree not to sell your book on any platform other than KDP for 90 days in exchange for the privilege of having 5 Free days on Amazon) and have thousands of downloads which then leads to hundreds of reviews. But I’m finding that it’s a slow build, and that every action you take to market your book builds up to the next. I’ve now had several free days and have tried different things for each one. The first two had abysmal results (90 or so downloads), but then I lucked out with the last one and had 5000 downloads. This got my book ranking higher in at Amazon which then led to it be seen by more people searching for books (in this case searching for FREE Kindle books). I hope the next (and last) round of my free days will yield even more downloads. After that, I will move on and try uploading it to different platforms. I plan on using IngramSpark.

 

8. Giving away books as many books as possible is a GOOD thing

I knew this going in, but still it seems counter-intuitive. To be honest, I’m not in the writing game to become a best seller. I’m in it to write and to impart ideas that I think are interesting or important or helpful. So giving away my book is easy and I love doing it, but I didn’t ever equate FREE books with SALES. My next point will illustrate why this is so.

 

9. Reviews are the gold of the publishing world

The reason you want to give away so many free books is that when you do, a handful of those readers will review and rate your book on Amazon or Goodreads. And reviews are the currency you need to qualify for some of the most successful marketing platforms out there. They change constantly, but for the moment, the killer app in this realm is BookBub. If you can get your book included in a BookBub email, you will have thousands of downloads. Which is what leads to “buzz” about your book. The buzz is the magical elixir when it comes to self publishing. You want people talking about your book so that word-of-mouth can take over and those giveaways become real sales.

 

10. You probably won’t get rich self publishing

We all have those secret notions that our book will somehow get all kinds of the aforementioned “buzz” and become an instant bestseller (making us millions in the process, because we made the smart move to self publish, thereby receiving huge royalties), but the reality is that few books ever manage to hit that nirvana. Perhaps you will achieve this if you write genre fiction, write it as a series and write it quickly, but most of us slog away at our books and write in unmarketable genres.

In the end, we are doing what we love (hopefully) and no matter how we publish, sometimes success is measured not in buzz and dollars, but in the joy we get from telling our stories.

 

The 9/11 Gift Store

Pandora 9/11 charms

9/11 Memorial Museum. For New York Post. credit: Sue Edelman

I woke up to this story this morning and couldn’t help feeling a little sick to my stomach. I think until now it was possible to convince myself that no one would be profiting from the 9/11 Memorial Museum, but of course who was I kidding? This is America, land of consumerism and greed. Even a repository for remains of the dead is fair game. How many other people’s cemeteries have gift stores?

You can bet the 9/11 gift store doesn’t carry my book, or any other book by a 9/11 family member. How about something that tells the real story of what happened and it’s aftermath, words filled with the emotion, blood, sweat and tears of our upside-down lives.  But no, instead people will buy their FDNY Pandora charms and think they are taking home a piece of history.

Remember, “Never Forget.”

Perhaps we could take some cues from the Pearl Harbor memorial gift store. It’s mostly a book store and proceeds go towards outreach programs. Let’s give people a chance to learn about the impact of that terrible day rather than have them take home a meaningless bauble or t-shirt. A gift shop could be a perfect way to make a meaningful difference and give further understanding to people of what they have just seen in the museum.

God, my black humor is getting the best of me… Here’s a t-shirt idea for families:

“My loved one died on 9/11 and all I got from the 9/11 Museum was this lousy t-shirt.”