I’m Still Here

And I find myself attempting to write poetry.

Window poem

A VIEW FROM MY WINDOW
It is raining outside my window.
Climate scientists predict New England will be a tropical rain forest in the future.
It’s not hard to imagine.
Average rainfall in Vermont is 36.7 inches.
Days w/ precipitation – 151.

Fog enveloped many of our days this year.
Literally.
And existentially.

It is 4 days to the midterm elections.
My younger daughter in Montana sends a text.
“If we don’t win the House we’re fucked.”
Indeed.
That is not exaggeration.

I light a fire in the wood stove.
And gaze out the window
Where the leaves have dropped and the rain pours down.
A stained glass piece made by a friend in Rhode Island hangs in the window.
Its prism captures rainbows.
When the sun shines.

Pheasant feathers to the right were given to me by my friend’s daughter when I visited South Dakota.
The turkey feather to the left was found in our backyard.
A local artist made the vase.

I brought the pine cone home from Colorado where my oldest daughter now lives.
I don’t know why I carried it home from the Rocky Mountains to the Green Mountains.
There are plenty of pine cones in my Vermont yard.
To the left of the pheasant feathers is a piece of wood Rich found in our yard in New Hampshire.
Where we once lived and raised our daughters.
He thought it looked like a bird.
It does.
If you have the ability to form new ideas.
To ask Why Not.

This found treasure came with us to Florida where we also once lived.
Then moved to the B&B in Connecticut where we worked as innkeepers.
There’s a long skinny piece of wood you can’t make out.
Below the crank that opens the window.
Discovered on a hike in Lake Tahoe when our peripatetic eldest child lived there.
We all agree it looks like a snake.

The views out my windows hold stories of our life and of a country we were once proud to call home.

I am older now.
My life savings won’t cover an exodus.
My daughters are here.
Out West.
Across the Great Divide.

I don’t know what the future holds.
I long to be home.
With a still life of a window
In a country I once knew.

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I’m Still Here. I’m Still Writing.

And I’m still learning how to master social media. I’ve watched the amazing young people from Parkland, Florida speak up and harness the power of this sometimes perplexing, confusing, and occasionally harmful medium.

We use social media to share stories of hope.  With its power to reach millions of people we have the ability to inspire movements. We sell books, jewelry, fitness programs, and a growing number of people are even selling sobriety.  We keep in touch with friends, reconnect with people we’ve lost touch with, and make new friends.

And we can also fall prey to fake news that can sway elections and harm our democracy.

I use it to keep in touch with friends and family and to sell books. And sometimes I sell them at Hometown Book Pop-ups that are held in pubs and restaurants that have cozy nooks in the bar where I meet readers, sell books, sign copies of my books, answer questions, and share glasses of wine or mugs of locally brewed beer. I find Facebook helps me reach more people who show up at these Pop-Ups and become new friends.

I used to blog here a lot but I began to question whether or not blogs sold books.  I also struggled with how to get people to comment and join the dialogue. I have very lively conversations on my Facebook pages. Yes, I have more than one, there’s my personal page and my author page.  But more on that later.

I’d love to hear from other bloggers about their experience selling books and blogging. Do you think blogs are passé’? Have you cut back on your blogging? Does a blog sell books? How do you know if it’s working?

In September, I  published my fourth novel, Under The Same Sun. I blogged a bit in the beginning but felt Facebook and Instagram were far more effective tools. I am also currently using Ereader News Today – advertising all four of my books with a monthly email promo. Life Is All This will be on sale this month. I haven’t received a date yet but I’ll let you know when I do.

Some of you mentioned you had been enjoying my blogs for quite some time – I started blogging five years ago – but you hadn’t bought any of the books and thought it was high time you checked them out. I’m looking forward to your feedback.

Being an Indie author is lonely sometimes. You don’t have a literary agent to cheer you on. You don’t have a publisher promoting your books. But I don’t mind doing all the work and  I love hearing directly from readers. I’d just like to know what it is that is actually working.

How did you find me? What made you buy the book?

As you can see I use Instagram a lot. It’s a one stop shop. I post short stories or excerpts from my books that include photos from my travels that inspired various scenes in the books. I have received so much advice regarding the American attention span. “Your blogs are too long.” “People only read 1000 words, if that.” I don’t know what the truth is. When I do sit down to write a blog it’s still too long.

Pictures and short stories do seem to grab people’s attention but my favorite feature on Instagram are the share buttons. I can click on Facebook and Twitter and hit up three social media sites with one post, then get back to writing the next novel.

Of course I don’t know if these Instagram posts sell books either, unless I hear from readers. I’d love it if Amazon shared data the way WordPress does. Where do my buyers come from? What links brought them to my Amazon page? If WordPress can do this, you know Amazon can. Why don’t they? If I can effectively sell more books isn’t that to Amazon’s benefit?

If you know a way to get this information, please let know.

A fifth novel is percolating. I intentionally spent less time writing and a lot of time promoting Under The Same Sun this winter. It has paid off and also increased interest in the three previous books. Things are happening, slow but steady.  Sales are up for all four books and they’re all getting good reviews. Under The Same Sun, a timely novel, is being well received and the reviews give me hope that America is a place that cares.

 

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Trains are always nearby out West, crossing the plains, hugging the mountainside, boxcars filled with tales of new places, adventure, hobos, and romantic trysts. From The Reverse Commute: “We were on a train with a couple from Ireland, a young boy and his girlfriend. The boy was quite a storyteller. In Spain somewhere, the Pyrenees I think, the train traveled through a series of tunnels carved into the mountains. The lights would flicker and leave us in total darkness. The boy was a chain smoker and used his hands when he told his stories. The light at the tip of his cigarette swirled and made mesmerizing circles in the dark. His stories were tales of his everyday life, but they were fascinating. It was the first time I realized anyone’s life could be interesting if they told the story right, even the boring parts.” bit.ly/buythereversecommute #traintracks #thereversecommute #writinginspiration #lonesomewhistle #everydaylife

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Rich and I are heading out on another road trip soon to visit our daughters who live in Colorado and Montana. The road is calling. It’s where the inspiration comes from and it is where I am happiest. I will be posting stories on IG and when a really good story comes my way – a story of a thousand words or more – I’ll share it here.

I do miss blogging but I have bills to pay and books to write. I’ve spent the winter cleaning ski condos, painting with Rich, and editing The Reverse Commute, my first novel. There are only so many hours in a day and I put a lot of time and effort into these blogs.

I’ll be traveling to Asheville, Memphis, Arkansas, Wichita, Colorado, Park City, Montana, South Dakota and back to Vermont. If you’re somewhere along the route and would like to host a Hometown Book Pop-Up or belong to a book club that would like to have the author join them, message me. I could try to arrange something. And most of the time I am always available throughout New England and  New York.

In the meantime, I invite you to follow me on Instagram where there are Stories From Higley Hill at least once a day.

P.S. I managed to keep this  blog to just under a thousand words. 979 to be exact.

On Writing Take Me Home

Take Me Home is a straightforward love story of finding love late in life. It travels from Rhode Island to Florida then across the country to Idaho and back east to the North Fork of Long Island – all in chronological order. It is a knee jerk reaction to some of the reviews of The Reverse Commute. I didn’t want to confuse the linear readers.

Josie Wolcott has lived a different life than I have. She was an unwed mother, a single mom, a divorcée. However, Josie and I do share a common profession and a restless need to wander. We also both possess a not always rational belief that life might be better somewhere else. Josie puts it this way:

“Oh, I’m very familiar with that struggle. When things go wrong, I tend to run, as if life will be better in a new place. The problem is, the place may be new, but I brought myself along on the journey. I still have to deal with her, the restless eternal wanderer.”

After I wrote Take Me Home I didn’t spend a lot of time promoting it. Two months later, Life Is All This came knocking on the door. Florida had a fertile sense of place. The sights, the sounds, the lifestyle.

Recently reading this book and re-editing a bit, I have once again fallen in love with the story I wrote. Josie is an extremely thoughtful character. She has a lot of insights I still find to be true.

After Rich and I sold the house in New Hampshire, I left for Florida and he stayed behind for two months to finish a job he was working on. He was offered a housesitting opportunity at a large old farmhouse with an apartment above the barn. It was directly across the Squamscott River from our old house. A very good friend of mine from Rhode Island joined me on my road trip to the Sunshine State.

When I arrived in Florida, I stayed with another friend for almost a month. She had offered me lodging until Rich arrived but it didn’t work out as expected. There were numerous complications I won’t get into. By the first of March, I found myself alone in an apartment that was not quite what I had imagined my Florida life to be like.

I had started a new novel shortly after I arrived in Florida but I was constantly being offered advice on writing a sequel to The Reverse Commute. I wasn’t sure how that story would lend itself to a sequel. It made no sense to me. I was just beginning to live my real life sequel to the story. I had no idea how the Florida experiment would work out. Should I write about Ray and Sophie running a B&B? Rich and Sheila would run a B&B but that was two years off in the future.

So I started a story about the young girl and the Best Boy living in Los Angeles. It was a mess. My sister basically told me to trash it. “You’re not in the right environment. This story makes no sense,” she told me.

Alone in my apartment, some random stand alone scenes came to me.

The apartment was dark and stuffy. She stroked her hand along the kitchen wall until she felt the light switch. The room looked empty and forlorn. Who lives in a place like this, she asked herself, looking at the two folding chairs and the bare walls with no pictures.

sports chairs

Who was this woman? What was she doing in Florida? I had no idea, but I kept writing. I was experiencing single life for the first time in years. I was far from home, alone, thinking about what it would be like to be divorced or widowed.

I wrote down the story of the scary mammogram I had back in New Hampshire.

There was an insomniac living above me, opening and closing the deck door all night long. I wrote that down, too. At the time it was just She. Josie hadn’t fully formed yet. Her son, Luke, did not exist.

  Despite being exhausted, Josie had a hard time falling asleep. The apartment didn’t feel like home. Luke’s presence didn’t change the feeling of dislocation she often felt. She closed her eyes, listening to the peepers.

  The sound of the sliding door opening to the deck above jolted her out of an uneasy sleep. Rolling along the track, the sound rumbled through the apartment as the door slid shut with a thud. Every few minutes it happened again, and again, and again. She mumbled, “Goddamn it.” The door slid shut, punctuating her thought. They must be crack addicts, cokeheads, neurotic chain smokers. Some nights it went on until three, starting up again at five in the morning. She turned on the light, stacked her pillows, and picked up a book by the side of her bed.

I took more notes on observations I made and people I met. The exchange between Josie and the Middle Eastern woman, regarding Josie’s parking skills, did happen to me one morning when I was leaving for work.

When Rich arrived, we did enjoy the Florida bar scene at first, but it quickly became old and expensive. We started to take day trips, sightseeing and walking the beach or the Great Florida Birding Trails. Wakadatchatchie became a favorite bird watching excursion several nights a week. I spent a year blogging about my Florida walks. The pleasure of walking made its way into the book. So did the bar scene with its two-for-one happy hours.

Josie’s boss in Florida was based on a man I worked for in Exeter, NH when I was temping during a fourteen month lay-off. I have had so many temp jobs and worked with so many clients when I ran my own bookkeeping business I have been able to accumulate an entire library of characters.

The idea to make Andy Radcliffe an optometrist came to me when I talked to an old friend at a funeral we attended back in New England. His optical shop was struggling due to competition from Walmart and Lenscrafters. When his son thought he might like to take over the business, our friend advised against it. It was a side of the changing economy I had often thought about. A friend of mine’s first husband owned a local hardware store and he too had to sell his business because of the competition from Home Depot and Lowe’s. I’m always aware of the zeitgeist and these observations make their way into my stories. I’m writing about the times I live in and how ordinary lives are effected by circumstances beyond our control. It relates to a topic I’ve been posting about on Facebook; a topic you never hear politicians talk about. One of the many reasons why so many Americans don’t have sufficient retirement savings.

While I was still alone in Florida, I watched the Delray Beach St. Patrick’s Day parade from a bar stool on Atlantic Avenue. Bar stools are fertile ground for collecting stories. A man from Chicago who once played the saxophone for a living and belonged to the musician’s union told me his story and it ended up in the chapter when Josie goes boating on the Intracoastal.

“So what do you do, Josie?”
  “I’m an office manager for a builder. How about you?”
  “I manage a golf course, but in my heart I am still a saxophonist. I used to work in a band, playing nightclubs, weddings, bar mitzvahs, all over Chicago. We marched in parades, too. I did that until I was in my early thirties, back when the musicians’ union had a lock on the jobs. You couldn’t march in the St. Paddy’s Day Parade unless you were a union band. But that all ended, they busted the unions, so I moved on to golf course management. I got a job as a superintendent at a country club outside Chicago then the recession came along and hit the golf industry hard. I lost that job, too. So, Florida’s the place to be if you work on a golf course, right? I moved down here five years ago and I love it.”

Jacob may be entirely fictional but his dialogue comes from stories Rich shared with me after his long days working construction in the hot Florida sun. My husband is the one who taught me about cracking foundations and rebar. He also told me a second-hand story of a plumber who pissed in the kitchen sink of a mansion on the beach.

From a drywall contractor in Pompano Beach to another temp job during my year of unemployment during the Great Recession, I myself have done bookkeeping for many guys in the building industry. In Hampton, NH there was a wonderful guy who kept beers in his fridge for his crew to drink at the end of the day.  Jacob is a compilation of many men I have known.

  “Hey.” He pointed to a guy at a table to the left of them. “Doesn’t that guy look like Alec Baldwin?”
  “No way. Alec Baldwin is much better looking. That guy’s nose is hideous.” Josie laughed.
  The bartender walked by. Jacob swirled his hand over their drinks, indicating they wanted another round.
  “You really think he looks like Alec Baldwin? He’s not even wearing a toupée, he’s wearing a wig. He’s gross.”
  The guy in question, the supposed Alec Baldwin look alike, had a bulbous red, bumpy nose.
  “Maybe one of his younger brothers?” Jacob asked.
  “No, not at all,” she said.
  “Okay.” Jacob pushed the second margarita toward her. “But after a couple of these, Hollywood will come to you, too.”

I write simply what I hear, what I see. I keep these stories in journals. They are stories I feel need to be shared, like the demise of unions and the changing economy of big box stores putting the sole proprietor out of business. These are things that happen to the very real people I meet along my journey through life. Like this line from the man from Chicago I met at the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I wrote it down on a cocktail napkin after he left the bar to join the St. Paddy’s day revelers out on the street.

“There used to be a time when a guy could support a family playing the saxophone. I still see myself as a musician. It’s a part of my self-image, even when I’m researching fertilizer options and arguing at town meetings over run-off.”

In Take Me Home the reader is left to make of this what they will.

Josie’s stories of traveling through Europe are one of the few things that are actually my stories. When I was alone in Florida I read my travel journals. Mrs. Erna Sommers at the B&B in Rothenberg and Mrs. Penock and the train ride to Amsterdam are both true stories.

“Among the invisible tools of creative individuals is their ability to hold on to the specific texture of their past. Their skill is akin to that of a rural family who lives through the winter on food stored in their root cellar.” ~ Vera John-Steiner

I have been to Edinburgh but Josie’s story of her time there is pure fiction.

Other than the backpacking tales, the story of  Josie’s Aunt Maddie is the only other literal truth plucked from my own life. I had a great aunt who lived with my paternal grandparents in Providence. She never married but she did have an engagement ring in a shoebox in her bedroom closet. Aunt Maddie’s story is my Great Aunt Josie’s story (and that is how Josie, my character, got her name).

James Salter once said: “There comes a time in life, when you realize that everything is a dream; only those things which are written down have any possibility of being real.”

What would happen to my Great Aunt Josie’s story if I didn’t share it?

So I got to a point where I had these random chapters and no idea where they were going. Then we took a vacation out west to drive our daughter from her college campus in Denver to Yellowstone National Park where she was working that summer. We stayed at a fishing lodge along the Snake River in Idaho.

Upper Mesa Falls Ashton, ID

“Good evening,” he said. “Beautiful country, isn’t it?”
She looked up, smiling. “Yes, it’s lovely.”
“I think I’m going to have to try my hand at that.”
He pointed to the river where a fisherman was casting his fly. It was a lovely sight with the late day sun scintillating across the water’s surface.
“Are you visiting from Australia?” she asked.
He scoffed. “No, no. I’m a Kiwi. Home’s Dunedin, New Zealand.”
“Sorry, I thought your accent was Australian,” she said.
There it was again, her chronic apologies.
“Well, I’ll let you get back to whatever you’re doing. Time to shower up. Did you enjoy the falls?” he asked.
“Yes, I did.”
She turned the laptop toward him to show him a shot of the trailhead to the falls. It was taken from an old inn, the photo framed by the posts on the front porch.
“Nice eye,” he said, abruptly turning to go back in his room.

I had seen this man earlier in the day when we hiked to Mesa Falls. He did shout out to me to use the men’s room. Coincidentally, he ended up in the room next to us. He and I had this conversation while Rich and Michelle napped in our room. The rest is pure fiction.

Josie was becoming a living, breathing character. She was constantly on my mind; she was traveling with me on this western road trip.  So naturally I thought, “What if  Josie ran into this man? What if she was moving to Idaho to manage a fishing lodge?”

At the time, I thought the Kiwi would be a major character until I got to the end of the chapter and the story took a different turn. I was on the road, traveling through the West and my imagination ran wild.

To quote James Salter once again: “There is no situation like the open road, and seeing things completely afresh. I’m used to traveling. It’s not a question of meeting or seeing new faces particularly, or hearing new stories, but of looking at life in a different way. It’s the curtain coming up on another act. I’m not the first person who feels that it’s the writer’s true occupation to travel. In a certain sense, a writer is an exile, an outsider, always reporting on things, and it is part of his life to keep on the move.”

The story took off.  Jacob, the good ole Florida guy, evolved. The character of Andy Radcliffe developed. He and Josie had quirky families. Josie’s son Luke was easy. Sense of place has always been effortless for me.

Then along came Andy’s dog, Fergus, who I constantly had to worry about. I only had dogs when I was growing up. I never owned them in my adult life. I had to figure out what to do about Fergus when Andy was traveling around. While writing this book I realized this is why I had cats. Dogs are a pain in the ass.

Luke had an evening class so he left a key under the doormat. A lack of feminine upkeep was apparent upon entering the apartment. Dirty dishes were in the sink, the fridge empty except for a carton of ice cream and a twelve pack of Avalanche beer. Crushed beer cans and glasses were strewn around the living room. All signs pointing to the absence of Melanie.
  “Oh no, I think Luke broke up with his girlfriend. Do you want a beer?” she asked.
  “Sure,” Andy said. “Except for living in a college dorm, I never did get much of this bachelor pad experience at a young age,” he said, wistfully glancing around the room.
  “From the looks of it, you weren’t missing much,” she said.
  The spare bedroom appeared to be occupied. She lifted the cushions on the sofa, it wasn’t a pull out.
  “I think we may have to find a hotel room. I can’t believe Luke didn’t tell me what was going on.”
  “He’s a twenty-two-year-old guy, how much does he tell his mother? It’s okay,” he said, searching through his phone for hotels and finding a room right in town that allowed dogs.

  It’s hard looking back and trying to remember how the story took shape. How did I write these sentences? How did I create these people?

The landscape of the west spoke to her spirit, which she had neglected for so long. The grandeur of the mountains and the waterfalls, contrasting with the intimacy of a delicate columbine growing at the base of an aspen tree. Small tableaus set amidst the large dramatic scenery, waiting to be found on her daily walks. The big meaning of life explained within the story of a daily ritual. A hike in the woods to a waterfall with a man who was changing her outlook on life.

Columbine

And of course there was always music.

  “Is this your song?” Josie asked. “Because I was expecting some disco.”
  “No, my song should be next. Listen, I have to tell you something. I think you may be shocked by this.”
  “What?” she asked, concerned.
  “I know how to dance,” he said. “I realize this may come as a surprise to you, but I’ve been told I’m actually quite good.”
  “Did I say you couldn’t dance?”
  “I’m pretty sure you were assuming that, as you haven’t asked me to dance all night.”
  She smiled, guilty as charged. The Stones were wrapping up their song. Mick was crooning, “You make a dead man cry.” Andy took her hand and led her to the dance floor.
  “This song’s for us. Now remember, the guy leads.”
  “I know that,” she said.
  “Yeah, well I’m thinking sometimes you might forget.”
  His laugh was sweet, his eyes crinkled with a smile.
  The opening notes from a steel guitar set the beat. He tapped his foot to the music, reached around her waist and took her right hand in his left as she reached for his shoulder. Lyle Lovett started singing Private Conversation as they moved across the dance floor. He wasn’t kidding, he really could dance. And he meant it when he said he would lead. With his right hand firmly on her back, he got her to spin around, facing the opposite direction while somehow turning himself so he was facing her, the two of them changing positions without a hitch.

 

***Take Me Home is available on Amazon in Kindle and book editions. If you’ve already read the book, reviews are always kindly appreciated***

http://bit.ly/buytakemehome

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A Poor Excuse For a Blog

Below is a Facebook post I put up this morning. I’ve been writing a lot lately. But I haven’t been blogging. I’m questioning a lot of advice I have received over the last five years regarding selling Indie books. The market has changed since I wrote The Reverse Commute and gave away 28,000 free copies.

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

I’d love to hear from other bloggers about how things are going. I’ve tried a few of the email blasts, Fussy Librarian and two others. They didn’t come close to achieving the “sales” of five years ago. Of course, I didn’t offer the book for free.

I have some feelings about readers who only “purchase” free books. I’ll keep them to myself. Let’s just say writing a book is hard work and takes a lot of time. Granted, it is a labor of love and I’m not complaining. I’m driven to write. It’s become a necessary practice. Something I do to keep my sanity in these troubled days we live in. But I also need food on the table and heat in the house during a long cold winter in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

I share small stories on Instagram. I’m not sure that sells books either. It’s a strange yet fun corner of the Internet. Many people “curate” their activity on IG, their word not mine. Most days when I scroll through my feed I ask myself, “Are they living in the same America I am in the year 2017?”

If you’re on IG please follow me. I actually comment and like posts there, if the follower reciprocates. Here’s my latest IG story:

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STORIES FROM HIGLEY HILL: A NICE LITTLE HOBBIT HOLE Just got three great reviews on Amazon for Under The Same Sun. The fire is roaring. There’s homemade soup and cornbread cooking in the kitchen, and the Patriots are behind but let’s not forget you can never count them out. Like all of us – it’s an uphill climb with good days and bad but we will succeed. Today was one of the good ones so as we watch the game and drink Bloody Marys I said to my husband, “I love this funky little house of ours.” And he replied, “Yeah, it’s a nice little hobbit hole.” “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.” #tolkien #keepthefaith #nevergiveuponyourdreams #vermontlife #homeinvermont #storiesfromhigleyhill #thewritinglife #hobbithole #underthesamesun #buymybook http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun

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And here’s today’s FB post:

“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb”

~ Mary Oliver

Some of us here on my FB page have been discussing the short supply of kindness and empathy in America, It’s all greed and power. I got mine, you must have fucked up, sorry – can’t help you. You get what you deserve.

And then there is Mary Oliver..

Many of the poems I share are from First Sip, a daily free email of wisdom and survival that I have found extremely helpful in the terrible days of Trump. You can subscribe to it here:

http://thedailysip.org

Lately there are many days I question the value of FB. Does it sell books? Are the connections real? Or is it an advertising tool for Mark Zuckerberg? A way to track our spending habits and political leanings? A tool for Russian interference in our elections?

Then there are days when lively, meaningful discussions happen.

There are also FB friends who become real life friends. People I met here and then met in person. N Frank Daniels and Charlene Wooden – I am thinking of you, They are two of the most recent friends from FB who became real life friends.

Frank is an author I met through Darin Strauss on FB and then met in real live in Nashville, TN during my book tour. We discussed publishing and politics and exchanged books. I am hoping to share a review of his latest book very soon. You can read about that adventure here:

https://sheilablanchette.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/notes-from-a-book-tour-be-safe-out-there/

Charlene and I met in Easthampton, MA recently. We sat in a coffee shop for two hours and discussed politics, raising teenagers, and age discrimination in the workplace. Because she’s close by we will meet again.

We all have more in common than we realize. One by one we can change the world. I haven’t blogged much lately. I started to hear from some people who said “I love your blogs. I’ve never read your books.” ??? Well okay then. Here are my books:

https://www.amazon.com/Sheila-Blanchette/e/B009Y3MRNC/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

The links are also along the right hand side of the blog page.

I’ve stopped blogging for awhile. It’s free entertainment and I’m glad some of you have enjoyed it. I’m currently re-editing The Reverse Commute. That’s a long story and I may, or may not, write a blog about it. I’ll let you know when the edition is ready. I also have ideas for another book swirling around in my mind.

There are only so many hours in a day. Consider this a blog.

My latest book, Under The Same Sun, has an important message. It’s hard selling books these days. Not many people read. Another sad American statistic. Please buy the book.

I need reviews. Some of you have written lovely ones. Thank you! Others have promised reviews. I’m waiting. Someone recently said “you have a lot of reviews. I only read 4 or 5 before I decide whether or not to buy a book.” It’s Amazon I’m after here. I need to get their attention so they help me advertise. The more reviews the better.

Share a recommendation on your FB page. Help me spread the word. Thank you to those who have organized book clubs and Hometown Book Pop-Ups. They have been a success. I already need to place a third order for books!

Happy Holidays!

http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun

Under-the-Same-Kindle cover

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

On Sale Now: Under The Same Sun

Under-the-Same-Kindle cover

“What happens in Unity, Connecticut could happen anywhere in America.

Under the Same Sun begins at a kitchen table on a school day morning in Unity. The novel paints a picture of a struggling rural town during the year leading up to the 2016 presidential election. A portrait of people familiar to all of us, it tells the story of their desires, disappointments, divisions and, ultimately, the beauty and the frustrations of day-to-day life in America’s forgotten places.

Leo Heaton is a widowed father who lives with his twin daughters, Emily and Amanda, and his mother-in-law Dori O’Neil. Their lives are interwoven with the townspeople, including an edgy, mysterious high school teacher who is a role model for the Heaton twins. Helen Tremblay has also attracted the attention of their father and they become involved in a secret romance.

The cast of characters includes teenage friends, a wealthy prep school boyfriend, an interracial family who own a a maple syrup farm, and a Mohegan Indian who hosts parties in his man cave and shares his native wisdom. The citizens of Unity cross paths in chapters set in the simplest of places: the local Dunkin’ Donuts, high school parking lots, auto repair shops and lumberyards, and hiking trails in the Berkshire woods.

When an avoidable tragedy occurs the small town of Unity becomes Every Town America. A place where nothing newsworthy happens and people feel relatively safe.”

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