Notes From A Book Tour: For What’s It’s Worth

The Road-NY thruway

Driving Route 90 – The NY Thruway

My last day on the road I drove Interstate 90 East with the idea of standing on the shore of Lake Erie in early morning light. I could see the Great Lake from the highway so it didn’t seem like much of a detour and I had an early jump on the long drive ahead of me. The cheap motel I spent the night in had a lumpy mattress, a septic smell in the otherwise clean bathroom, and a noisy couple next door getting it on in a squeaky bed.

Hotel room in Erie

My hotel room – Lake Erie, PA

When would I ever be traveling along the shores of Lake Erie again? It could be sooner than I imagined, or never. I veered right and took the exit for North East, Pennsylvania.

PA Vineyards

North East, PA vineyards

On a quiet Sunday morning, I drove past miles of vineyards, pumpkin patches, apples, and signs proclaiming Jesus is Lord. There were dilapidated barns sitting beside dressed up barns advertising wine tastings. Pretty front porches with wicker chairs and sagging porches with peeling paint. Lights were on in kitchen windows, church parking lots were empty, for now.

Guns-better pic

Guns For Sale North East, PA

Guns are sold in a set back building situated between a liquor store and a hydroponic garden center. There were flags and more flags; waving on front porches, telephone poles, and wrought iron fences. Put there as if I might forget where I was, but the gun shop had already alerted me to the fact that yes, despite the hundreds of miles I had traveled over the past two weeks, I was still here, in The United States of America.

Market Place flag North East

On the outskirts of North East, PA

The drive to the lake was taking longer than I thought it would. Then I noticed the sign for Downtown Erie. Damn! I was driving west, not north, back to where I started before dawn.

What am I doing here? I wondered. What wild goose am I chasing this time? Alone in the early morning light on a quiet church-going day my frustration quickly turned inward. Did I accomplish anything on this Hometown Book Pop-Up tour? I’d sold a lot of books and earned enough money for food and shelter on the drive home but none of those sales would register in the records that keep track of bestsellers.  This is no way to make it to the New York Times bestseller list. As an Indie author, I can buy my own books at a discounted price for resale but those sales don’t count toward my ranking. I contemplated giving people who came to my Pop-Ups a bookmark and sending them home to order the book on Amazon but how could I pass up a sale when it was standing right there in front of me? Would they really buy it when they got home? I told myself there was always value in word of mouth, IF I could get the reader to write a review and recommend the book to friends and share it on Facebook.

Huskies Beer North East PA

Package Store – North East, PA

My car was a mess. I hated my pocketbook; a black hole where my phone, my reading glasses, even my overstuffed wallet, were easily lost. And then there was Siri who couldn’t find her way to Lake Erie. “I’m sorry. I can’t help you right now.” Was there anyone out there interested in helping me on this journey?

My Car is a Mess

A whistle blew as a train approached from the east. I turned around in the parking lot of an abandoned office park and headed back to the town of North East. Maybe I’d find some Messages from America on the quiet tree-lined side streets but as in so many other places I’d traveled through on this road trip there were no signs of hope and resistance.

Mammo month North East PA.JPG

Breast Cancer Month – North East, PA

Instead, pink ribbons were everywhere, reminding the women of this small town that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

The local election for Clerk of Records appeared to be the hottest race in town. Everyone was supporting the same candidate. I can’t remember his name and for all I know he could be the only guy running for office.

The town had gone back to their lives post-Trump. They had work to do, bills to pay, healthcare issues to worry about. They didn’t appear to be concerned about the obstacles that would create road blocks along the way; the efforts Trump and the Congress are making to cut healthcare, dismantle the EPA, and give giant tax cuts to the wealthy. The President’s lies, the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I saw so many flags at half mast over the past week, but the flags were raised again and life goes on. For the lucky ones.

Town center North East PA

Main Street – North East, PA

I parked the car in front of a wine and cheese shop, and took a walk through town. Around a corner I stumbled upon a magical alley where fire escapes and painted grapevines climbed red brick walls.

Alley 2 Northeast PA

An alley in North East, PA

I left the alley, looped around the block from the opposite direction, and then entered from the other side. I stood there for awhile and took pictures. I don’t know what it was about this alley but it made me smile and gave me a small measure of hope.

Doorway in alley Northeast PA

Doorway – North East, PA

It’s been over a week since I returned home. I’m trying to decipher the notes I took in North East. I’m trying to recall the hope I felt in the alley. I am now in Providence getting ready for a Hometown Book Pop-Up in Pawtuxet Village, my original hometown. The place where I grew up.

Hometown Book Pop-Up Pawtuxet Village

Hometown Book Pop-Up – Pawtuxet Village, RI -Carlos & Tesh at Shastea

Earlier this morning my daughter’s boyfriend, Kyle, invited me to join him on a hike to Ross’s Cliffs, just over the border in Connecticut.

The top of Ross's Trail Killingly CT

The view at the top of Ross’s Cliffs – Old Furnace State Park in Killingly, CT

We took the road I traveled when I worked at the inn and would drive to Providence to help my Dad after the fire at his condo. My mother’s Alzheimer’s was getting worse and times were hard but I enjoyed this ride through rural New England.

Ross’s Trail climbed through sun-dappled trees and I thought about the hikes I took in the Great Mountain Forest when I created Leo Heaton, the first character in Under The Same Sun who spoke to me.

Excerpt from Under The Same Sun:                                                                                                  “I hike a lot and when I’m alone in the woods I notice things. Tonal differences in rocks, peeled birch bark fallen from trees, a twig trapped on a rock in the middle of a swift moving brook. When the breeze blows through the oak trees, leaves dance, and to me it sounds like the rustle of silk. At night when I lay my head on my pillow, it’s just me and my thoughts. I worry about life and what the future holds for my girls. I never expected to be doing this alone so I have a hard time falling asleep, until I let my thoughts drift back to that rocky, primeval forest. Deep in those woods the world is sane and perfect.” 

Sunlight at Ross' Trail Killingly CT

Old Furnace State Park – Killingly, CT

I am having a hard time finding my way into this blog. I can’t remember why I wanted to write about my brief visit to North East. But during the hike, as always happens when I’m out in the woods or walking by the ocean, I found my way.

Maybe what I felt that morning in North East, after getting lost and doubling back to the place I started, was a rapt attention to the world around me. I was transported to an enchanted place where sanity and perfection were possible.

I left North East that day without seeing another soul except those at kitchen windows or in passing cars. I spoke to no one. The stores were all closed. No one walked the streets. The town could be anything I wanted it to be. Then I got in my car and drove an eight hour day, alone, across the entire length of Upstate New York.

Some combination of light, stormy weather looming behind me, clouds and sunlight, created a luminous stunning atmosphere. A glorious light, as if the world had been scrubbed clean and was new again. I could imagine anything. I could imagine America when it was new and full of hope, like a day in Philadelphia when a group of men from thirteen colonies imagined a place where everyone is created equal and there would be justice and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Hoosick Billboard

Billboard at the border at the New York – Vermont border

Just before I crossed the border into Vermont I saw a billboard with large letters that warned of heroin and impaired driving. I had seen similar signs throughout my journey. In Ohio there was even a hotline that drug impaired drivers could use to call for help.

I remember thinking we all share similar concerns and problems. We all have similar hopes and dreams. We truly do live under the same sun.

The problem is, not everyone realizes this. There are too many distractions and hardships, too many opinions, too many tribes that no longer have a shared vision, and too many news sources and politicians that support those divisions.

The hope I felt in the alley was a dream, the American dream, that was signed and sealed on a piece of parchment paper two hundred forty one years ago this past July 4th. We once had a common dream and like in The Wizard of Oz you were there, and you, and you, and me. We were all there.

These days it seems we no longer dream the same dream. Some don’t remember the  dream or misinterpret its message. There are those who are defeated and angry, they lick their wounds and blame their problems on someone else. Someone different. Someone foreign. They are vulnerable to those with enough power and stature to twist the dream to suit their own greed and self-interest.

 

As we approached the top of Ross’s Cliffs I wondered where the hope that briefly visited me in North East disappeared to. It was so fleeting.

Kyle

The Top of the Trail – Ross’s Cliffs

We stayed there for awhile. It was a perfect place to ponder. We imagined Mohegans and Pequots standing on this bluff watching for the white man’s approach. So called civilization on its way.

Peace Killingly, CT

Messages From America: Old Furnace State Park Killingly, CT

It could have been that I was hiking with Kyle, a Mohegan Indian, and thoughts of the retelling of history, the mistruths of the Native American story we were told, came to mind.

It also might have been thoughts of the recent visit I made to the slave quarters at Magnolia Plantation in South Carolina where the curators are finally telling the truth about that piece of American history.

Or it could have been the message on the bench where I sat and contemplated the beauty that lay before me.

“This bench is part of what’s left of my soul, that I carried on my back to share with this cliff and with those that are here for peace, and peace of mind. Thank you all who enjoyed it and left your mark, but whoever tossed it over this cliff once…you were seen and you are more than half found.”

It’s hard to imagine someone would hike this beautiful, spiritual place and toss a gift of  handcrafted beauty over the cliff. It’s hard to imagine the mindset of some of my fellow Americans these days.

Contemplating Ross' Trail Killingly CT

I met wonderful people on my book tour. I also heard horrible things on talk radio. I saw Confederate flags on highways in the Carolinas. Las Vegas happened. I came to the conclusion one on one there are many kind and generous people but America as a whole leaves me feeling sad and confused.

I can’t help but wonder if it was only a dream.

 

Under-the-Same-Kindle cover

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NOTES FROM A BOOK TOUR: BE SAFE OUT THERE

PART TWO OF A  JOURNEY SELLING BOOKS IN AMERICA IN THE YEAR 2017

Jamestown, SC

Passing through Jamestown, SC

 

I wrote this blog on the eleventh day after the Las Vegas shooting. It brings to mind a quote I used in my recent novel Under The Same Sun at the beginning of a chapter titled I Heard The News Today .

“A thousand such simple tricks they played,
 and after eleven days returned to themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed.”
 ~ Robert Beverly’s History of Virginia

Once again the news cycle has moved on from another mass shooting. There are fires burning in the wine country of California, Trump is threatening NBC and other news organizations, Puerto Rico is without clean water and electricity, and North Korea looms large.

I don’t know what event Robert Beverly was speaking of. I found the quote after I finished the rough draft of Under The Same Sun. Rich and I had just left the inn after some contentious encounters with the difficult owner. We were recuperating. Rich was painting at a house on the Cape and I was trying to get back into my novel when I found Thoreau’s book, Cape Cod, on a bookshelf in our friends’ living room. This quote jumped off the page and helped me navigate the final chapters of Under The Same Sun.

If you want to know more, you need to buy the book and read it. I’m here to share Part Two of the stories and the people I met on a recent book tour through the South.

Lake Wylie, South Carolina

Lake Wyle, SC

Lake Wylie, SC

I met Cindy a few years ago. Her son and my daughter live together. We became fast friends. Rich and I visited her and her husband Ron last April in Lake Wylie and also at their pecan farm in South Georgia.

Cindy is a Mohegan Indian and was born on the reservation in Connecticut. Her son lent me his signed copy of Medicine Trail:  The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquidgeon by Melissa Jayne Fawcett, the current medicine woman for the tribe. Gladys was the medicine woman until she passed away at the age of 106. I brought the book to Cape Cod where some of the Mohegan beliefs and teachings made their way into Under the Same Sun.

After dinner, Cindy and I watched the 60 Minutes piece on the Hubble telescope. When it was over we talked about the Trail of Life and how the Mohegans may have come closest to understanding our existence after death.

When I woke up the next morning Cindy was already cooking grits and bacon.

“Something really bad happened last night,” she told me as I poured myself a cup of coffee. “I didn’t want you to walk in the kitchen and see it on TV. I thought I’d warn you first. There was a mass shooting in Las Vegas last night.”

I did not expect this to happen while I was promoting my book. I wrote the book because I want this to stop.

Flowers and Books

Flowers from Suzy – Lake Wylie, SC

We ate breakfast and watched the news with sad hearts. A good friend of Cindy’s dropped by with curlers in her hair. Suzy was getting ready for the Hometown Book Pop-Up later that night. She had three bouquets of flowers for us. She told me the story of her grandmother who had started a flower shop and how her adoptive parents kept it going and turned it into a thriving business. It seemed like such a sweet Southern thing to do, making sure we had fresh flowers for our event.

Later in the day Cindy and I stopped at the Market on Wylie wine shop where I met the owner. Barbara moved to Lake Wylie from New York. Her shop is lovely and she has the most amazing prosciutto, racks of lamb, fine cheeses, prepared meals, and wine. Cindy told her about the book. I gave her a bookmark.

“We have to do something together. A wine tasting book event,” Barbara told me.

I loved the idea. We are making plans for my return visit. “It is a win-win for the both of us,” we agreed.

Market on Wylie Wine Shop

Cindy and Barbara at Market on Wylie

The Lake Wylie Hometown Book Pop-Up was a huge success. I sold enough books that my sales carried me through the rest of my road trip.

The next morning I was the bearer of bad news when I met Cindy in the kitchen for coffee. Tom Petty had passed away.

Driving through the Smoky Mountains White Oak NC

Driving through the Smoky Mountains from Lake Wylie to Nashville

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

I met N. Frank Daniels on Facebook through another writer, Darin Strauss.  We became Facebook friends and chatted about books and publishing. Frank was putting together an online imprint and asked if I’d be interested in representing my generation – the baby boomers. When I mentioned I wouldn’t be far from Nashville during my travels we made plans to meet.

Cindy asked me how I knew Frank. When I told her, she said, “You be careful. Text me when your meeting’s over.”

When my daughters both heard about this they said, “Mom, you don’t meet up with people from the Internet.”

“We’re meeting in a bookstore,” I told them.

“Yeah, but still…..” They went on, continuing to lecture me.

Me and Frank Books-a-Million Nashville, TN

With Frank Daniels at Books-A-Million ~ Nashville, TN

Frank and I met at Books-A-Million. I talked about my book and he shared his first novel, Future Proof, which was originally launched on his Myspace page. The good reviews and a book tour he embarked on, similar to mine, got the attention of HarperCollins who picked up his book and sent him on a book tour to places like Chicago and L.A.

Life got in the way and it took him a few years to write another novel. By this time the publisher was looking for “more marketable, commercial writing”. Frank self-published his second book, Sanctuary, with CreateSpace.

At the time I met Frank I hadn’t heard from Politics and Prose, an Indie book store in DC, but a cousin of mine in Pennsylvania had tried to set up a Hometown Book Pop-Up at his local Indie Bookstore in Collegeville. He was given the same song and dance.

“We don’t sell books published by CreateSpace.”

We brainstormed. Frank currently works as a sales rep for a distributor. He delivers food to grocery stores and sets up displays. I told him I once worked for a distributor selling speciality food items. We commiserated about the receivers who rule the back rooms of supermarkets like crazed dictators of banana republics.

He also said, “I won’t ask how old you are because that’s rude but are these the worst times you’ve lived through?”

“Yes.”

I told him about my Dad the U.S. History teacher.

“I remember him being upset in 1968. The assassinations. The riots. The Democratic National Convention. He hated Vietnam. I was eleven back then. I think it was the violence that upset him. Now he’s worried about democracy, and I am too.”

“Yeah, me too,” Frank said.

Out in the parking lot we said our goodbyes. He was over a foot taller than me but we managed a hug.

“Be careful out there traveling solo,” Frank said. “Text me when you get to your hotel.”

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

Louisville, KY

Louisville, Kentucky

I checked into the Fairfield Inn in Louisville at one in the afternoon. Luckily, my room was ready. I asked the woman at the front desk about the waterfront area. She gave me a lot of info and a map.

“I guess I picked the right hotel,” I said.

“You did,” she said. “But don’t be out alone after dark.”

I walked the streets, took photos, then headed to the Riverfront Park. It was a muggy day and I was pretty sweaty when I saw Joe’s Crab House in the distance. It was three o’clock but I had skipped lunch so I walked another half mile, found a seat at the bar, and ordered a cold beer and the best crab dip I’ve ever had.

Ohio River Louisville, KY

Ohio River from Riverfront Park, Louisville, KY

The young woman tending bar told me she was working two jobs to save money for med school. We talked for a long time. I told her about my Messages From America and how I couldn’t find any south of the Mason-Dixon line. She replied, “Oh, you won’t find them. Everyone around here thinks everything’s just fine.”

I asked her about the bridge you can walk across to Indiana.

“It’s a long walk. You won’t be back before dark and you don’t want to be on that bridge in the dark.”

She told me she saw Bernie Sanders there, on the Kentucky side, after he won the primary in Indiana.

“I wanted to vote for him in the primary but I couldn’t because when I was eighteen and still living at home I registered Republican. It was too late to change my party. A lot of kids around here do that, they register Republican like their parents. I’ve since fixed that.”

I paid up and told her I was going to Whisky Row.

“I mean I have to try the Bourbon while I’m in Kentucky. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back, it took me this long to get here.”

I had told her about having visited forty-five of the fifty states and how Kentucky was one of the five I still needed to visit.

“That’s so cool. Just make sure you’re back at your hotel before dark,” she said.

Whisky Row, Louisville, KY

Whisky Row ~ Louisville, KY

Whisky Row was hopping on a Friday night. I met a couple on a pub crawl and asked which bar they recommended. They directed me to Sidebar, a quiet place, not quite busy at five o’clock. I asked the bartender for a local recommendation and he suggested Angel’s Envy. It was smooth and delicious.

I was still hungry and decided to try another bar before it got dark. The pub crawl couple had also recommended The Troll Under The Bridge so I walked over for a nightcap. Hey, you know, there was no book pop-up here in Louisville. This was strictly for me, a night in Kentucky to add to the bucket list. As my friend Midge said back in Isle of Palms, “vacation properly.”

Troll Pub Louisville, KY

The Troll Under The Bridge ~ Louisville, KY

The bar was below street level, no windows, dark and rowdy. The local couple was sitting on stools at a tall table.

“Hey,” he shouted. “Too quiet for you over there at Sidebar?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Us, too,” he said.

I took the last seat at the bar and ordered a Knob Creek and a wedge salad. The man sitting next to me had cerebral palsy and spoke haltingly. He told me he had returned to college at the age of forty and was studying political science at a small school I’d never heard of. He wanted to discuss current events. He was curious about my politics and polite in his disagreement. He expressed interest in my book so I gave him a bookmark although I didn’t think he’d buy the book.

“I better get going,” I said. “Everyone’s told me to be off the streets before dark.”

“They’re right but I think you might be a little late on that.” He looked at his watch. “It’s six-fifteen.”

I went out the door, doggie bag in hand. The wedge salad was an entire head of iceberg lettuce. I climbed the stairs to the dark street. How did that happen so quickly?

Whisky Row was just getting started for the night but one block away the streets were quiet. I had four blocks to walk to my hotel.

A black family turned the corner onto the street I was walking. The older woman used a cane and held her husband’s hand. A young couple walked in front of them. I hustled up behind them.

The older woman turned around and said, “What you doin’ out here alone?”

“I had an early dinner while it was still light and didn’t realize it got dark so quickly.”

“You walk next to me,” she said.

I sidled up next to her and we started a conversation. They were visiting from Atlanta.

“We’re here for the whisky,” her husband said. “What brings you here? You sound like you’re from Boston.”

I told them I had lived in Boston for several years and I also lived in all six New England states at one time or another. Then I told them about how I came up with the Hometown Book Pop-Up, visiting places authors don’t usually go. How I was visiting friends and taking my book to the readers.

“I like that,” their daughter said.

Everyone wanted a bookmark so I passed them around.

“Under The Same Sun,” the matriarch said. “I like that. How’d you come up with that name?”

“Well, like I said, it’s a story about small town America during the recent election and how we’re all in this together. We really do live under the same sun.”

“Oh indeed, yes we do” she said. They all nodded their heads.

We were now at the corner of the street where their Marriott was to the right and my Fairfield Inn was to the left, about a half a mile apart. The daughter looked up and down the street. There was no one around, just an old woman sitting on a lawn chair in front of a liquor store.

“It looks clean,” she said. “But I think we’ll walk you to the door.”

“Oh, I’ll be okay,” I said. “It’s well lit around here and it’s a busy street.”

“We’re going to walk you to the door,” the older man said.

I thanked them when we got to my hotel and told them to contact me when they read the book, the link to my webpage was on the bookmark.

“We sure will,” they all said.

Street art Louisville, KY

Walking Louisville, KY

There is no safe place in America. I didn’t intend to be out after dark but it happened. There’s a passage in Under The Same Sun, a scene where Emily Heaton and Henry Howard plan a camping trip in the woods on a summer night just before their senior year in high school. It’s a special night. They’re both nervous and find themselves talking about all sorts of things. Emily mentions her grandmother’s worries and fears. She tells Henry, “One thing I know for sure, I don’t plan on living my life within the confines of fear.”

A little later Henry kisses her on the cheek and says, “I like what you said about fear. It’s a crazy way to live your life.”

John Steinbeck once said, “Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.”

I believe this is also true regarding the people we meet on our journey through life. I believe we carry with us everyone we encounter and all the places we go. They make us who we are. They frame our stories and provide a compass. If we close our minds and judge before we experience we become one type of person. If we open our hearts and listen with open minds we will become someone else.

We live in difficult times that could possibly change us. These days are filled with fear, anger, judgement, and sometimes hate. But my compass directed me to the good people who are still out there. Kindness prevails.

***Please buy the book. Help me spread the word. Write an Amazon review. Support an Indie author. Tell your friends. Together we can make a difference.***

http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun

Under-the-Same-Kindle cover

Notes from a Book Tour: One Book at a Time

PART ONE OF A  JOURNEY SELLING BOOKS IN AMERICA IN THE YEAR 2017

Over the years of my life I have traveled many a road. A lot of the miles were shared with my husband but on this most recent road trip I was traveling alone, pitching my latest novel, Under The Same Sun.

Timmonsville, SC

Driving through rural Timmonsville, SC though cotton fields

Driving alone can lead to soul-searching solitude that turns to reflection and wonder. Or as Wendall Berry once put it, “one’s inner voices become audible.”

There were a few days of doubt and uncertainty. Days when I asked myself, “What are you trying to accomplish out here?” On one such day I left a copy of my book at Politics and Prose, a neighborhood bookstore in Washington, DC. Two days later I heard from the manager who sent an email to tell me this:

“We are not going to be able to accept your book, Under the Same Sun, as it is published with CreateSpace, the Amazon publishing wing, and it is our store policy to not carry any of those titles.”

Book drop DC

A book drop at a Little Free Library in the Tenleytown neighborhood of DC. Hopefully Under The Same Sun gets more love here.

It shocked me that an Indie bookstore would diss an Indie author. But it didn’t surprise me. If you don’t know the right people, have the money and time to get an MFA and attend a distinguished writer’s workshop, or have the ways and means to work an unpaid internship for a popular magazine, your odds of getting traditionally published are 1-4%.

Keith from Politics and Prose ended his email with this: “Your copy will be available for pickup at the store, it will be held under your last name at the registers. We will hold for two weeks.”

I waited and then decided to write Keith back. I told him I was sorry he felt that way and that he hadn’t at least read the book and given it a chance. I told him I was on a book tour and now home in Vermont so I wouldn’t be able to pick up the book but I hoped he wouldn’t throw it in the trash. In my mind that would be like burning a book. Particularly a book where the author had plunged into a sensitive, pertinent, hot button American topic that needs to be discussed.

Gosh I hate pictures of myself but at least I tend toward optimism rather than pessimism in regards to self- doubt. The inner voice of doubt didn’t last for more than a few miles. It was drowned out by a louder voice that amplified the stories people shared with me, the hometowns I visited, and the terrible news I watched in other people’s kitchens and a few hotel rooms. So loud was the other voice, so ever present was the American landscape and its diverse people, I instead found myself reflecting and wondering about the heart and soul of a nation.

Walth Whitman Rest Stop, NJ

The Walt Whitman rest stop on the NJ Turnpike where a scene from Under the Same Sun takes place.

Here are just a few of the good people I met and sold my novel to, one book at a time. They appear in no chronological order.

ERIE, PENNSYLVANIA:

At Joe Roots Grill a local couple was sitting a few seats away from me. I overheard them talking about traveling to places I had just been to. Charlotte, North Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina. When meeting new people I can always find a door to walk through. It usually starts with something like, “I couldn’t help but hear you talking about Charleston.”

They invited me to move closer. His name was Tom and she was Gay. They are graphic artists and illustrators and their story is When Harry Met Sally. They grew up in towns not far from each other. He was from Fairview. She was from Erie. They met at the Pittsburgh College of Art. He would drive her home on holidays, they’d go their separate ways, and then drive back to school together when Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer break were over. After graduation they once again went their separate ways. Years later they found each other back in Erie. She was a widow and he was divorced. They’ve now been married for ten years and also have a home in Jupiter, Florida.

I told them how Rich and I loved the public beaches in Jupiter and they were very interested in visiting the Wakadahatchie Bird Sanctuary in Delray, which they had never heard of before.  Tom told me a story of a man who once walked across a frozen Lake Erie to Canada. It took him 28 hours. He never slept, just kept walking.

Gay asked the bartender to change the channel from the Sports News to the Real News. He obliged. Our conversation changed to the current state of affairs, our fears of nuclear war, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and our strong dislike for our current President. We were all in agreement so we quickly moved on to how we enjoyed dining at the bar and meeting new people.

I shared stories from the road and I mentioned Under the Same Sun. They were very excited about the book so I gave them my calling card – a bookmark. They promised to buy the book and we exchanged phone numbers and made plans to meet up when Rich and I get down to Florida again.

Presque Isle Lake Erie

Presque Isle State Park, Lake Erie, PA

After they left I ordered a slice of lemon cake for dessert. The bar was quiet, most people were eating outside on the patio. The bartender made his way down to me. He had overheard my conversation with Tom and Gay and he wanted to talk. He told me he and his husband lived here in Erie. His mom had raised six kids by herself and now that they were all grown up she took a job as a traveling medical technician and moved around to various hospitals where she trained people in medical safety, things like best needle practices. She spends a year at a time in a different city and enjoys this opportunity to see America. She’s in Worcester, MA at the moment.

I asked him if he and his husband found it hard living here in Erie, a rural area of New York where many people voted for Trump . At first he said no but then he told me his in-laws and quite a few of his own relatives had voted for Trump.

“A lot of people are okay around here,” he told me. “I try to avoid politics most of the time.”

He’d like to move someday but his husband has a good job working at a nearby prison where he coordinates educational programs for the inmates.

He and his husband were planning a visit to New England for Christmas and looking for a place to stay. I told him about the inn Rich and I managed.

“It’s Connecticut’s most romantic B&B.”

He liked that and wrote down the info. I told him to drop my name when he got there. Maybe the new owners would give him a free room upgrade. He told me he loved reading on his Kindle and I gave him a bookmark.

“Is there a book, too? I want to buy one for my Mom. She loves to read, too.”

“Yes, there is a book.” I gave him another bookmark. We said good bye and he wished me safe travels.

“Be careful out there,” he said.

That was a recurring theme throughout my travels. There will be more of that to come.

Sunrise Isle of Palms

Sunrise on Isle of Palms, SC

MAGNOLIA PLANTATION, SOUTH CAROLINA

When I lived in New Hampshire I belonged to a book club for fifteen years. Most of the members lived in West Newbury, just over the border in Massachusetts. It was started by my friend Midge and she invited my cousin and dearest friend Kathy to join too. We drove together to all the meetings and when Kathy passed away from breast cancer I would cry at the end of each meeting when I drove home alone.

Our book club weekend was based at Isle of Palms, South Carolina where we had rented an AirBnB on the ocean. We walked the beach, toured Charleston, cooked dinner, drank wine, and laughed and shared stories. Some of my old friends finished reading Under The Same Sun by the pool.

A day trip to the Magnolia Plantation had been planned. When we boarded the trolley to the slave quarters we were seated amongst a group of black women roughly the same age as our group. They were from Dallas, Texas and told us their book club was celebrating their 20th anniversary.

“We’re a book club and celebrating our 20th anniversary, too!” one of my friends said.

2 book clubs

A chance meeting of book clubs from West Newbury, MA and Dallas, TX at the Magnolia Plantation outside Charleston, SC

We all started talking at once. We’d read a lot of the same books over the years. We were so busy getting to know one another we didn’t notice the trolley hadn’t taken off for the slave quarters. A woman came up and clapped her hands, “I have an announcement to make,” she said.

Our tour guide had called in sick and the tour was canceled. They were either going to refund our money or see if they could come up with something else. They told us if we could wait a little longer they may be able to reschedule. Many people headed to the ticket booth to get a refund or sign up for a different tour to the gardens or the mansion. The two book clubs continued chatting and getting to know each other. We asked the trolley driver to take pictures and one of the women from Dallas taught us how to air drop a photo on an IPhone. Standing in a cluster waiting, we exclaimed with wonder when our phones simultaneously beeped with the arrival of the photos.

I introduced my book and apologized for taking this opportunity to shamelessly self-promote myself. The Dallas ladies were excited to hear about it and I passed out bookmarks. They promised to put Under The Same Sun on their reading list. I hope to hear from them soon.

We ended up taking a later tour that afternoon. The Dallas group was no longer with us. They must have signed on for a different time.

Slave Cabins Magnolia Plantation

Slave Quarters at Magnolia Plantation, SC. This is a duplex. Ten or more people were crammed into each unit.

Our replacement tour guide was the historian for the plantation. She sugar-coated nothing about this terrible, heartbreaking piece of American history. She told us about the horrific journey in ships from Africa to America, where human beings were stacked like books on a shelf and chained together for six to eight weeks. Forty percent of the people died before they ever arrived in America.

Standing in the tiny slave cabins many of us were overcome with sadness. We had just finished a tour of the mansion and it was incomprehensible to imagine how anyone could treat another human being like this.

I stood alone in one of the small, rough buildings that families once called home and tried to imagine ten or more people sleeping here. I thought about Charlottesville. I thought about Trayvon Martin. I thought about some people’s ire against Black Lives Matter and I wondered why our country still has to fight to make some people understand black lives do matter. I wondered what the women from Dallas thought when they took their tour. I wished we had been together so I could hug them.

Leaving the plantation

Touring the Slave Quarters at Magnolia Plantation

Black Lives Matter Providence, RI

Black Lives Matter Providence, RI

Before I left for this trip I did a few Hometown Book Pop-Ups in New England where I saw several lawn signs sending messages of tolerance and peace. I started an Instagram photo series of Messages from America. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any once I left Washington, DC and crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

All Are Welcome DC

A sign in the window at the Little Red Fox coffee shop in Washington, DC

Over a week later a bartender in Louisville, KY told me, “Oh, you won’t find them. Everyone around here thinks everything’s just fine.”

However, I did find this while walking around Charleston after my friends left to catch their flight.

Shiloh AME Church Charleston, SC

Shiloh AME Church Charleston, SC

***If you enjoy my blogs, I promise you’ll love Under The Same Sun. It’s available here: http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun 

If you’ve read this far you know how hard it is selling books on your own. I need your help. I need your support. Together we can make the world a better place. Join me.

NOTES FROM A BOOK TOUR: PEOPLE

I’m always looking for a story. I never set out with pre-conceived notions regarding what the story will be. There are people I meet that spark my interest immediately. They share a story that resonates. A lightbulb goes off. The story falls in my lap.

Or it could be a place I find interesting because it tells a story of who we are. As Nobel laureate Albert Camus once said, “with clear-sighted earnestness it illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.”

Love Your Neighbor Ipswich MA

Ipswich, MA

When I am on the road I am living in the moment. Life’s distractions are sitting in the backseat. Depending on where I’m traveling and who I meet, I sometimes feel like an outsider. An exile in my own country. I try to report the good stories I find. Unfortunately, these days there is a growing amount of negativity and I can’t ignore it. It is part of the story we are currently living. To pretend it doesn’t exist is to turn a blind eye despite the fact I believe there are more kind and generous people than mean and angry people.

My first destination on what I have coined my Hometown Book Pop-Ups was the place where my writing began. Ipswich, Massachusetts. I had lunch with a former co-worker, one of the few people I worked with who was still there. We met at a brewery and caught up on kids, work, travels, and life. Then I had a little time to kill so I walked around the town where I spent four years in a cubicle. A flood of memories returned.

EBSCO Ipswich, MA

A scene from The Reverse Commute Ipswich, MA

Carrie, the friend I was meeting after lunch, has lived in Ipswich all her life. I met her long before I worked in the cubicle. She was dating my brother-in-law and was a lifesaver the day I came home from the hospital with my youngest daughter who had an infected blocked tear duct and was on stomachache inducing antibiotics. Carrie occupied my two and a half year old while I rocked and rocked my newborn.

Carrie is fighting the battle of her life right now. Diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma she had her arm and part of her shoulder amputated. It has been two years of grueling procedures, operations, and treatment. She has shared it all on her Facebook page and shown us all how to be brave and honest, and also fragile and human.

And still, she offered to host a Hometown Book Pop-Up. We met at the Kosciuszko Club. Words with lots of vowels always trip me up. Words like pernicious, auspicious, obnoxious. So like the locals I call this place the K Club. Carrie invited some friends. We chatted about books, shared drinks, and had a good time. Carrie’s mom is the bartender here and also an old friend of mine. There was some discussion about something Trump had recently done that two of the women liked. I avoided politics. I wasn’t here to argue.

Dream

A motto to live by

Carrie’s doctors have told her she is now on palliative care and she should live life three months at a time. So she cashed in her pension and her 401K and went out and bought a pontoon boat with a Bimini cover. Ipswich is like many small towns, insular and full of gossip. A place where people have a lot of opinions and share them with their lifelong neighbors. Some people are judging her for this decision to buy a boat. The only comment I can offer is “People”. It’s a shoulder shrug sort of opinion, as in I really don’t know what to say.

After the Hometown Book Pop-Up Carrie and I and one of her friends from the Trump conversation went to a pizza place. Carrie was wearing a sleeveless summer top. We somehow started talking about health insurance, bills, and the rising cost of rents in the area. The friend pays a thousand dollars a month for her apartment and only earns $1200 a month.

“How do you pay your other bills?” I asked.

“I economize. I make do.”

I couldn’t help asking,  “How? You need food. You have a car. You need gas and there are always repairs. New snow tires. Oil changes. What do you do for health insurance? Does your rent include heat, electricity, WIFI?”

No, it did not include utilities. But she said she wasn’t a taker like other people. She was managing on her own, like we all should. Carrie later told me she inherited some money. I never did quite figure out her politics. It didn’t really matter. She was a very nice, friendly woman and her hair raising stories of illegal Mexicans in Tucson, Arizona sounded like something out of Breaking Bad. I didn’t know what to believe but we had a nice night.

PEOPLE.

Meanwhile, a little boy in the booth behind me was standing on his seat and staring at our table. Carrie was talking about the people who were judging her for buying the boat. She used the word ‘shit’. Then, speaking softly, she said in a slight whisper, “That little boy won’t stop staring at me.”

The little boy’s mother spoke loudly. “It’s because you used a bad word that he doesn’t know. We don’t use words like that.”

Carrie apologized and they left a few minutes later.

“Sometimes I can’t help but hate people,” Carrie said.

I had a million questions.

“If he doesn’t know the word shit how did he know it was a bad word?” “Was he staring at Carrie because he is an innocent child and had never seen a woman with one arm?” “Was it the mother’s own discomfit with Carrie’s appearance and her inability to explain the situation to her son that set off her anger?”

We all agreed this woman missed a teaching moment and instead lashed out with anger instead of empathy.

PEOPLE.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told Carrie. “It says more about her, than you.”

A single woman sitting in a booth across from us spoke up.

“You’re exactly right,” she said. “I watched that whole exchange. The woman and her husband or boyfriend or whoever he was never stopped playing with their phones. The kid was bored and fascinated with you. He’s just a kid.”

We invited her over to our booth and started a lively conversation. She is also a writer and took one of my promotional bookmarks. Her son came out of the kitchen and gave her his paycheck. She does his banking because he’s busy with school and work.

“He’s a good kid,” she said. “A hard worker, too.”

PEOPLE.

The use of this expression can mean many things. There are all sorts of people. Every one of us agreed there is a lot of anger in the world right now. Some people think they can say whatever they want. They are used to hiding behind email and Facebook/Twitter comments. But now anger is creeping into our daily dialogue. Our President leads the way. This weekend he called football players sons of bitches for exercising their 1st amendment rights.

From Ipswich I drove to Exeter, New Hampshire. My former Reverse Commute. I was staying with my good friend Liz who helped me put together a Hometown Book Pop-Up in my old hometown. When I texted her on Saturday she told me to call after two in the afternoon. From noon until two she was driving the tractor that was pulling the Democrats’ float in the Brentwood Home Days parade.

Exeter River

Exeter River – Exeter, NH

Liz ran for local office, and lost to a Republican. She volunteers for numerous charitable organizations. She is tireless, fearless, and dedicated.

PEOPLE.

She now belongs to the Woke Book Club. It was started by a New Hampshire woman who had never been politically active before the 2016 election. Liz invited me to come along and she’d introduce me to the group. It ended up being a Pop-In on my end. They asked me to join their discussion of Dark Money by Jane Mayer. It is about the Koch Brothers and other billionaires and the rise of the radical right.

For almost two hours, we had an earnest intelligent conversation. Some of the readers didn’t quite finish the book, it was too frightening and upsetting. Everyone took turns speaking; the moderator let us sometimes ramble. It was an amazing afternoon and good to see concerned Americans engaged in trying to affect change during troubled times. I even sold several books after the meeting and can’t wait to get some feedback from this intelligent, friendly, caring group of men and women.

PEOPLE.

John Rice's Farm Srand

My friend’s farm stand in Stratham, NH

We also stopped by to visit an old neighbor of mine. When we sold our house and moved to Florida he was planning on getting off the grid and becoming more self-sufficient. I would say he is well on his way. His front yard is now an apple orchard. He also grows and sells vegetables, garlic, honey, and maple syrup from his sugar shack. Chickens roamed the yard. He heats with wood and uses candles for lighting at night. He gave us some delicious apples, giant juicy tomatoes, and garlic to take home. We also sampled candied pears he was drying in a toaster like thing in the garage.

PEOPLE.

MLK lawn sign Stratham NH

Another former neighbor’s lawn sign Stratham, NH

I spent the weekend at Liz’s lake house in the Belgrade Lakes region of Maine where we met up with our husbands who went fishing on Saturday. Liz and I drove to Augusta to look for a protest. We were angry and exhausted by the continuing onslaught of Republican attempts at repealing healthcare. We wanted to find Susan Collins, the Republican Senator from Maine. All we found was a small, quiet American city on a muggy Saturday afternoon.

Big Hearts Open Minds Mount Vernon ME

Mount Vernon, Maine

Liz told me about a mural that was removed from the State House and relocated to the Maine State Museum. It was lovely and I was troubled by the fact Republican Governor Paul LePage did this. All I can say regarding this is: History Matters.

HOMETOWN BOOK POP-UPS: AUGUSTA, ME The Maine Workers' Mural that was removed from the state capital because a Republican governor thought it represented socialist/communist ideas. The 1st panel represents Child Labor when children as young as 8 years old worked in factories as recently as 100 years ago. The 2nd mural represents Women Textile Workers holding white handkerchiefs as a symbol of the impure air conditions created from lint. Other panels depict the enactment of The Secret Ballot to protect workers from intimidation from employers and the 1937 Shoe Strike when workers walked out of shoe mills seeking fair wages and shorter hours. Despite federal laws legalizing the right to organize workers were beaten and jailed for marching and speaking up. Don't think this can't happen again. #payattention #resist #workersrights #speakup #historymatters #murals #publicart #visitamuseum

A post shared by Sheila Blanchette (@sheilablanchett) on

And PEOPLE. As in POLITICIAN PEOPLE.

As I travel to different parts of the country on my Hometown Book Tour I will be sharing a series of photos – signs I find on front lawns throughout America. I’m calling this series Messages From America and I’m sharing them on Instagram. I considered whether or not I should share all of the messages I find along my route and decided it is a positive message I want to send. If I find some negativity, which I’m sure I will because I saw those Confederate flags and other messages when I traveled South last spring, I’ll mention them but I don’t think I’ll photograph them. There are plenty of good people in all parts of America, even ones with differing opinions. Those are the stories I’m sharing.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples” ~ Mother Theresa.

After all, how many train wrecks do we need to see?

*** If you’ve been enjoying the stories I’ve shared here during the past five years, please buy the book. It’s available here:

http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun

Secret Handshake: Scenes From Under The Same Sun

Red Barn-Norfolk

In Under the Same Sun, the town is also a character in the novel. Lives become entwined in various places throughout Unity. An Italian restaurant, waiting in line at the CVS pharmacy, a high school parking lot after a lacrosse banquet, teenagers sharing a joint on a porch roof, and always Dunkin’ Donuts, the hub of this small town. Unity is not one specific town, it is rural America New England style. Old mills, boarded up buildings, loss of job opportunities, along with entrepreneurs opening breweries and farm to table restaurants, beautiful countryside, breathtaking hiking trails. Hard times and hope.
A widowed Dad raises his twin daughters with the help of his mother-in-law. An edgy, mysterious English teacher who grew up in Unity returns to help her dying father and stays, taking a job at the regional high school. Teenagers dream of escape. Parents wonder how they’ll cover college tuition. And life goes on. People grow old. Neighbors help neighbors. People fall in love.

EXCERPT FROM UNDER THE SAME SUN:

He whispers, “Why are you so far away?”
“Hmmm,” she moans, rolling closer to burrow against him, her body warm.
“Was I making a lot of noise last night?”
“I didn’t hear a peep” she whispers.
Leo walks his fingertips up her arm, her skin as soft as her well-washed, fine cotton pillowcases. He traces the tattoo above her left breast, a small bluebird. She reaches for his hand but brushes his elbow instead. They criss-cross arms, twisting together like a pretzel. Eyes closed, she gropes again for his hand and misses.
“Stay still. What are you doing?” she asks.
In a sleepy voice he replies, “Secret handshake.”

http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP ME? BUY THE BOOK AND WRITE A REVIEW ON AMAZON

Where do I begin with this subject? It is so fraught with anxiety. Authors are told they need to develop a thick skin but so many of us are sensitive souls. Take John Steinbeck for instance: “Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard.”

I learned to write in public. I was working at a mundane job in a cubicle and struggling to keep my sanity. Writing literally saved my life but I had no idea what I was getting into.

The book I wrote, The Reverse Commute, was a roman à clef. Sophie was a strung out, fictional version of myself. She lived in my old house in New Hampshire, her husband painted houses, and she too had squirrels in her bathroom.

One night Sophie is home alone drinking wine and watching Blue Valentine starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. She has an epiphany. “This is my life.” The night I was home alone drinking wine and watching Blue Valentine an entire novel popped into my head. From that moment on I couldn’t stop writing.

The novel alternates chapters between Sophie’s story and the story of a young girl also working in a cubicle in the editorial department at the same company where Sophie works in the accounting department.

Several Amazon reviewers didn’t like the fact the chapters alternated between the two women. Many didn’t like the fact the young girl didn’t have a name and that her story led up to the ending while Sophie’s story began after the surprising ending and it is only in the final chapters that the reader is brought back to the fateful day that unites the two women’s stories.

Some readers couldn’t figure things out because the ending didn’t reveal itself until the ending. A few readers even said there was no ending.

Honestly I don’t know what to say to that. Many readers liked the ending. But clearly I had bitten off more than I could chew as a first time writer without the help of a big time New York Publishing editor to straighten it all out and clean it up.

I did promotions on various websites that advertise free Kindle books. I gave away 28,000 copies. Yes, that’s right. 28,000!!! Most of my bad reviews came from readers who wrote things like, “I’m glad I got it for free.”

Let’s just say I’ll never do that again.

Many of these reviewers didn’t like Sophie. They called her a bitch. Ouch! That’s me you’re talking about dear reader. One commented that the writer didn’t know the difference between it’s and its.

I first saw this review when Rich and I were driving across the lonely landscape of eastern Wyoming to deliver our youngest daughter to her summer job at Yellowstone National Park. I had the book with me and started compulsively scouring its pages to find my errors. I found one it’s that should have been its.

“Fucking bitch,” I muttered.

“Hey, give it up,” Rich said. “We’re getting close to the Tetons. Forget those jerks.”

I ignored him and kept searching the book for typos. “You’re missing some fantastic scenery,” Rich kept telling me. But I was obsessed. I couldn’t find a wrong their or there which someone else accused me of. I did find the heal that should have been heel. I started to get paranoid, imagining this one “Heel” had activated a movement and now others were joining in. They were all complaining about IT.

IT felt like a cabal of haters who didn’t like Sophie because of her random liberal comments and her dissatisfaction with being trapped in a cubicle “sitting for health insurance”. One reviewer said, “All the characters seemed to want to move to France. Go ahead then, go there.” One of them even said, “I really didn’t like her and her friends and their wine emergencies.” Hey, those are my good friends you’re talking about. I emailed my friends and apologized for implicating them in this disaster. Channeling Steinbeck, they told me to “forget about those bastards.”

There was also this sort of comment about Sophie: “Usually by the time you’re middle aged you’ve worked through your choices in life. In my opinion, you don’t have daydreams.”

It hurts my fingertips just typing that, but I guess we all have opinions, humble or otherwise. Imagine no longer daydreaming because you believe you’re too old! I understand someone may have a different political perspective but giving up on dreaming because you’re in your fifties? Sorry, that is really depressing and says a lot more about the reviewer than the writer.

But then things turned around and I got a review titled: “The Book With the Amazing Highs and Lows in Reviews”. The reviewer wrote this: “When I read the reviews I picked this up with a huge dose of curiosity – I thought maybe it was one of those books with a load of good reviews that actually sucked – or maybe it was one of those gems that a whole lot of folks just did not get. Some books are like cilantro – you either love it or hate it. For me – I LOVED the book. I do not think this is a spoiler alert – but I am in my 50s and maybe that had something to do with why I loved it so much. There was a perspective I could grab on to with both hands. But I think the same could be said for a person between 25 and 35 – because the story has a strong story line from that perspective as well….Don’t over think the reviews – just relax – read – and enjoy the ride! I fully enjoyed the writing style – and although I did get a bit confused about the parallel story lines at times I REALLY liked it! This is NOT a formulaic romance novel – it is a unique story line with huge doses of life as it really is.”

I never did like cilantro but I’ve grown to love it.

Somehow, in the midst of my deepest despair, while sitting in an Adirondack chair gazing out at the Snake River and talking to a man from New Zealand who was driving a motorcycle through the American West, the idea for my second novel, Take Me Home, took hold. And despite Rich’s concerns that I was missing the passing scenery I took some notes on a man I met in the middle of nowhere Wyoming. He was an interesting guy who worked in a gas station/fireworks shop and had tattooed fingers that read “Next Time”. Both of these guys ended up in Take Me Home, a fun little story about finding love late in life. Not anything I set out to write when I first started this adventure, but it kept me going as it was true, I hadn’t worked out my life choices. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days in a cubicle. I do have an unrealistic belief that dreams do not end until you’re six feet under.

What I originally set out to write was my frustration with the times I lived in. I have always tried to write by the words of the amazing Oliver Sacks.

“The most we can do is to write —intelligently, creatively, evocatively — about what it is like living in the world at this time.” 

Stuck in my cubicle, I saw so many problems. Loss of worker representation when unions were busted. Stagnant wages. Pay increases frozen while executive salaries grew ever more extravagant and the corporation you worked for bought out other companies and expected their employees to “absorb” the additional work load because there was no room in the budget for new hires. And of course, there was always the never-ending struggle to obtain affordable health insurance. College tuition expenses were upon us when I wrote the The Reverse Commute. My oldest was a senior in high school and I was faced with the question, “How the hell do we pay for this?”

I look back at that first novel written in 2012 and see the makings of the 2016 election. It was all right there. Some want to blame it all on racism. Yes, there is a lot of that but I still believe the election could have gone a different way if more politicians were familiar with Sophie’s day to day struggles.

I carried on and kept writing. I got better at it. I attended a writers’ conference in Southampton, NY, took a class with Robert Emmett Ginna, and had the opportunity to meet the esteemed James Salter. In my solitary dorm room I tore apart my third novel Life Is All This. I gained the confidence to get back to writing the stories I felt I needed to share.

An Amazon reviewer compared Life Is All This to the work of Richard Ford, a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Someone else compared me to Alice McDermott. All despite the fact Sam Ryder, my main character, was not afraid to voice his political opinions.

Believe me, the fact Sam is an opinionated male and Sophie was an opinionated woman has not escaped me. I will admit when I decided I was going to write the third novel from a male perspective I felt liberated. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Richard Ford once said: “Giving a book a bad review is like driving along the road and seeing a hitchhiker and deciding that instead of not picking him up, you’ll run over him. Sorry, I can’t pick you up, but I will kill you.”

He also said this: “I try to find ways to insulate myself from the feelings of bad reviews. The feelings of bad reviews are not so much that somebody doesn’t like your book but that it keeps other people from reading your book. I hate that.”

And this is where you come in my friends. I need your reviews. Reviews not only help people make book buying decisions. There are book promotion websites that advertise new books. Places like Book Bub which a fellow author called a game changer. But you need a certain number of good reviews to get on there. They don’t tell you how many, they won’t admit this is a criteria, but everyone knows it is.

I am bracing myself for the bad reviews. I now know even Pulitzer Prize winning authors get bad reviews and are hurt by them.

When Richard Ford was asked why reviews matter he said this: “They create the all-important buzz. It becomes one of the little strings that are plucked in the hum of what’s going on about a book.”

This is how you can help me. If you like the book please help me create that all-important buzz. WRITE A REVIEW.

Authors are encouraged not to answer their bad reviews. Richard Ford didn’t listen to that advice. He once received a bad review in the New York Times from another famous author, Alice Hoffman. He took one of her books out into his backyard and shot a hole in it. Then he mailed it to her.

I was tempted to fight back, but each time I tried to do it Amazon or Goodreads had a little pop-up reminding me that they strongly advise against it.

Before I started writing this blog I went back and looked at the bad reviews for The Reverse Commute. Not a really good thing to do when you’re experiencing the anxiety of having just released a new novel.

This one from LeftBrainedFemale jumped out at me:
Interesting that while the main character works in Massachusetts, she lives over the state line in “live free or die” New Hampshire where they have no state tax. Unfortunately, the author’s disdain for those of us who truly love our freedom was quite off-putting. I can’t wrap my mind around women with grown children and families still whining about their life choices. It’s one thing to recognize poor choices and work to correct them; quite another to be stuck in the mindset of a moon-eyed star-struck teenager.

It wasn’t the familiar moon-eyed star-struck teenager dagger that got me. Like I said, that says a lot more about LeftBrained than me. It was the Live free or die, false tax scenario she was spewing.

Five years after I published The Reverse Commute, the very common day-to-day struggles of Sophie’s life began to see the light of day. Finally, the media and the politicians discovered the problems of rural America and the struggling middle class. And it was the fake news aspect of the review that now bugged me.

I didn’t pull out a shotgun – I don’t own any guns. I just hit the little X at the top of the box that popped up warning me to not respond to negative reviews then started writing.

Dear LeftBrainedFemale, In these days of misinformation and fake news I just wanted to make sure you were aware of the fact that although Sophie lived in New Hampshire where there is no state income tax and worked in Massachusetts, she would nonetheless have to pay Massachusetts state income tax. Her real estate taxes in NH would be higher than MA because they pay for the schools her kids attended, while her MA withholding tax would help pay for the schools her children didn’t attend. I know this because I made this very same Reverse Commute when it was the only job I could find after 14 months of unemployment after a layoff during the Recession, along with the expense of making Cobra health insurance payments of $1200/month. We all do what we have to do to take care of our families. It’s really important to stay informed, now more than ever.
By the way, I did escape my cubicle after I published this book & my husband and I managed a B&B in CT, so sometimes the mindset of a moon-eyed star-struck teenager isn’t all that crazy. Thanks for giving the book a chance. ~ Sheila

I haven’t heard back from her yet.

~~~~~~

***My advice on writing a review: Don’t overthink it. Write what you liked about the book. One or two lines is fine. You’re not writing a novel. But if you have a lot of good things to say, by all means Go For It! Remember, you don’t have to write like a writer. Write like a reader.*** 

And a great big Thank You to everyone for your support over the years.

Addendum: I did catch a typo above. Advice should have been advise. I corrected it. Shit happens. We make mistakes. No one’s perfect.

Under The Same Sun is available here: http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun

Under-the-Same-Kindle cover