We Are America: Stories From the Women’s March on Washington

It’s coming up, ladies. on January 20th, Women’s Marches are planned all over the country, from Montpellier, Vermont to Bozeman, MT. It’s impossible not to find a march somewhere near you, even if you live in a red state.

Last year I flew to DC and marched with my cousin, Ann Marie Mehlert, who is my friend Kathy’s sister. We tried to meet up with a group of friends of mine but the march was so much larger than anyone expected.

I arrived the day before by plane, train, and subway. I saw with my very own eyes that the crowd that showed up was so much larger than the one the day before. Inauguration Day.

Months later women showed up in the suburbs of Virginia and Alabama and learned we can change politics as usual.

I don’t know what happened during the passage of the tax bill but it was a lesson that we need to be ever vigilant.

This is the year we take back the Congress. This is the year we let the world know We Are America.

This year I’m meeting that group of friends I couldn’t find on the streets of DC last year. We are rendezvousing in New York City. Mothers, sister, college friends, daughters, friends who met while we raised those daughters. We’re cramming into a couple of hotel rooms and we’re taking to the streets. We’re angry and we’re heartbroken.

Share your Women’s March stories in the comments below. Where were you last year and where will you be this year?

“Women are the true architects of society.” ~ Harriett Beecher Stowe

Sheila Blanchette

Loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it” ~ Mark Twain

we-the-people We The People

January 21, 2017. We started the day with bagels and coffee and a stop at CVS for poster board and magic markers. The shelves were almost empty. It was another sign the media was underestimating this march. All that was left was a package of ten small multi-colored poster boards and medium size red and black Sharpie pens. Our signs were pretty weak compared to the other signs we would see throughout the day. We decided at our next protest we will plan ahead and make better signs.

my-bad-sign My very lame sign This is What Democracy Look Like

At the Metro the lines to purchase tickets were long. Yesterday I took the subway from Union Station to Tenleytown but only filled my card with enough money for the trip…

View original post 1,445 more words

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THE STORY BEHIND THE REVERSE COMMUTE

I thought if I wrote the story readers would understand and empathize with the struggle of the American middle class.

Five years later, Trump was elected and so many people were shocked.

“I didn’t see this coming. How could this have happened?” they asked.

I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Sophie?

Sophie is one of the main characters in my first novel, The Reverse Commute. Her husband is a blue collar worker. She wears a pink collar. They live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to keep their heads above water. Sophie would have seen Trump coming years ago, back when Ronald Reagan was President and busted the air traffic controllers’ union, among other things.

Sophie would not have voted for Trump. She would be a Bernie supporter who then reluctantly voted for Hillary.

How do I know this?

I am Sophie.

I wrote The Reverse Commute for myself. It was an act of self-preservation. I, like Sophie, was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Truthfully, I was standing before the abyss.

I lived in an old house built in 1728 along the Squamscott River just outside of Exeter, New Hampshire. Three squirrels frolicked along the rafters of my unfinished addition. The boiler blew up, the septic system crapped out, a tree fell on my van, and a year later another tree hit Rich’s truck. I had been laid off twice in my career. Rich’s work declined after the housing bubble burst. There was never enough money.

I drove a dented Hyundai with bumper stickers: New Hampshire for Obama and the Dave Matthews headless fire dancer. And yes, I did drive that car over a beach chair in the garage. My nephew saw this as a perfect metaphor for Sophie’s crushed dreams.

It is possible my entire life could be a metaphor.

I do wish on stars and I did have an erotic dream after watching the movie Blue Valentine starring Ryan Gosling.

My husband, Rich, is an easily distracted self-employed house painter and I worked as an Accounts Payable Royalty Specialist in a cubicle in a large old mill building in Ipswich, Massachusetts, forty-five minutes from my home in New Hampshire. I found the job after fourteen months of unemployment and $1200 a month Cobra payments.

Have I piqued your interest? Are you thinking about buying the book? Or do you need more?

I was friendly with the young man who sat in the cubicle next to me. His mother read The Reverse Commute and emailed to say, “The character Dan reminds me of my son.” Well yes, he should. When I moved to Florida she and I became good friends. We met at happy hours and Tuesday Trivia nights.

My books have continued to lead me to good friends.

My Dad did drive himself to a walk-in clinic while having a heart attack because he thought it was the flu. He told the ambulance driver to take him to Miriam Hospital instead of Rhode Island because they don’t charge for parking.

My friends and I did have weekly wine emergencies.

My dearest friend and cousin, Kathy, died of breast cancer at the age of fifty-one. We were roommates in Boston, we backpacked through Europe, and then the both of us ended up in the same small town of Stratham, New Hampshire.

John Irving once wrote about Stratham in Trying to Save Piggy Sneed:

“He (Piggy) lived in Stratham – on a road out of our town that ran to the ocean, about eight miles away….Now there was a town, Stratham! In small-town life is there anything more provincial than the tendency to sneer at smaller towns? Stratham was not Exeter (not that Exeter was much).”

John Irving also wrote:

“This is a memoir, but please understand that (to any writer with a good imagination) all memoirs are false. A fiction writer’s memory is an especially imperfect provider of detail; we can always imagine a better detail than the one we can remember. The correct detail is rarely, exactly, what happened; the most truthful detail is what could have happened, or what should have. Half my life is an act of revision; more than half the act is performed with small changes. Being a writer is a strenuous marriage between careful observation and just as carefully imagining the truths you haven’t had the opportunity to see. The rest is the necessary, strict toiling with the language…”

The Reverse Commute is not a memoir. It is a roman à clef, which is French for a novel with a key. A novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction. The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the “key” is the relationship between the nonfiction and the fiction. This serves to keep the author from incurring potentially expensive libel charges.

Some famous roman à clefs are: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tender Is The Night, Heart of Darkness, The Sun Also Rises, and The Devil Wears Prada.

I also gave the young girl in the novel some of my stories.

When I lived in Boston, my roommates and I hosted a Dead Celebrities Halloween party.

In another apartment I lived in on Commonwealth Avenue, one of the guys downstairs played the oboe in the Boston Symphony. He and his partner did convert their living room into a Japanese tearoom and invited us to formal tea ceremonies.

I spent a summer during college working on an assembly line at a Bic pen factory. I also called the labor board from a pay phone in the employee cafeteria. It was my Norma Rae moment.

There was some confusion, among some readers, about the alternating chapters. The book begins with a nameless girl on a train. She meets a handsome young man who is referred to as the Best Boy. He is an electrician and has ambitions of moving to Hollywood and working on movies.

The second chapter introduces the reader to Sophie and Ray, a middle aged couple struggling with middle class life during the Great Recession.

After four chapters or so, most readers quickly picked up on the fact that the following chapter would be back to the young girl’s story, then the next chapter would belong to Sophie, and so on.

I don’t know what to say about this other than I have changed the synopsis on Amazon and now introduce the book as two stories in one with alternating chapters. I didn’t want to change the concept of the nameless young girl and the Best Boy.  By the end of the novel, a majority of readers understood why I wrote it that way, and they didn’t have a problem following the story once they adapted to the rhythm of it.

The tricky thing with editing after the fact is that once you’ve seen the bad reviews you tend to overcompensate.

A few reviewers wrote that the ending was too perfect. The last chapter is titled Happily Ever After? The ending is meant to be ambivalent. I contemplated changing the chapter to Happily Ever After?????  Maybe some readers missed the question mark??? But the fact of the matter is, by the end of the book the reader knows what’s going on here, or should know after reading the chapter titled A Day Just Like Today. So the two endings – the young girl’s and Sophie’s with a question mark – again I don’t know what to say.

Maybe the book is meant for dreamers and magical thinkers. Read the book and then you tell me what you think about happy endings.

There were reviews that left me feeling sucker punched and ambushed.

“Throughout the story the liberal viewpoint is continually espoused. It sends the mistaken message that if only the government would take more action in the lives of the citizens, then everyone could live happily ever after. I kept waiting for the plot to show how their political ideology would actually help them attain their goals but never saw it.”

Of course, this woman also wrote:

“I guess one could say the book had happy endings but it seemed almost contrived.”

She was apparently another one who missed the question mark. I think she also missed the true spirit of the young girl’s story.

She wasn’t the only one to say the ending was contrived and I believe these reviewers were referring to a tragic event that takes place at a company picnic. Unfortunately, the company picnic that is a turning point for both women in the story was not contrived. It was real and if you link to this news article you will see yellow police tape in the photo. I was picnicking just beyond that cordoned off area when the accident happened. Like Sophie and the young girl, it was a turning point in my life, too.

I’ve thought a lot about why I wrote The Reverse Commute. I was after verisimilitude. The life I was living, and still am living in so many ways, is similar to a majority of unheralded American lives. Much of the dialogue and many of the scenes are based on real events. In all my novels I am writing about the world as I experience it in real time.

Flash forward five years. Trump is president. And here we are rolling back financial  regulations again. 57% of divorced couples cite money problems as the primary reason for the demise of their marriage. Do I really have to come right out and say a society that doesn’t take actions to improve people’s lives has dire consequences on said lives? Can’t the day to day struggle of the characters speak for itself? If the reader doesn’t understand the effect a nation’s politics has on its citizens’ lives, is it my fault?

I believe it is the job of the novelist to not just entertain but to observe the world and share the truth. The truth was always there in The Reverse Commute. After many blogs, pieces for the Huffington Post, and three more novels I felt I could do better by this little book. The love story with a message.

Over the past two months I have gone back to the original manuscript and the journals I kept that were also filled with sticky notes on which I scribbled things down in my cubicle. I wrote and I edited. The sentences are brighter and cleaner. The politics are back. The story is the same but closer to my original intent before the first edit I made after the nasty reviews. At that time I corrected the typos and removed some of the politics. I hate to admit it but I was intimidated by the bad reviews and the personal attacks. I am a much more confident writer now and I see this story for what it was, a middle class American shouting, “Hey, I’m out here struggling. Pay attention.

I learned to write in public, on my own. It’s not easy to speak up in a very divided nation. As one reviewer noted, “The other reviews were like republicans and democrats voting on a bill, “love it”, “hate it”. Wow, I had to see if this book sucks or is great. It’s great.”

I have no publisher to defend me, to prop me up when I get shit kicked. I don’t have a New York Times book reviewer to interpret and explain my positions. All I have is a passion, a drive, and a belief that for the reader there is a lot to be learned by imagining how another person lives when walking in their shoes for 300 pages.

I wanted to write a story about a woman who was trying to hold onto her marriage during difficult financial and political times, because that is what I was trying to do and I knew I wasn’t alone.

Let me be clear on something. This is not a book about politics. It is a real life love story with characters who have opinions and sometimes express those opinions.

I have reconciled myself with the fact that I may not sell a lot of books in my lifetime. I have never really understood the zeitgeist of the times I live in. I’ve always felt like an outsider standing in the snow looking through a window into a well-lit McMansion in the suburbs.

My younger sister and I discussed this. I told her I would leave the books to my daughters and maybe decades from now they could find a wider audience of receptive readers.

She replied, “In a different environment they will be found.”

I will admit it was not easy when I finally let the new edition go to the formatter. I must have read it twenty times then hesitated and checked it for the twenty-first time.

After I hit Send, I read an article in the New York Times that reminded me of a scene in The Reverse Commute. It’s in the chapter titled Tilting At Windmills. The young girl has just returned to work after being on vacation. Her co-worker tells her a sixty year old woman named Joan, who has worked at the company for sixteen years, has been let go.

For the record, I worked with this woman during my time in the cubicle. Joan’s story is truth. Months later she read my book. She is one of the readers who got it. She is also not the only ’employee at will’ who lost their job during my time in the cubicle.

“What? How can he do that?”

“He just can. It’s called an employee at will. She called Mandy at home later that night and told her all about it. She went in his office and one of the women from HR was there. That’s never a good sign. He had a list of his complaints against her, a review of her work so to speak. They went over COBRA and unemployment, which apparently she will be able to collect. At least he gave her that. Called it a layoff instead of a firing.”

“Oh, gee, that’s nice of him. She’s been here sixteen years. Suddenly she’s too slow?”

“When they were done dropping the bomb, Lou and the HR lady walked Joan to her desk. They gave her a box and watched her pack her belongings, the pictures of the grandkids and other personal items like those bobbing dashboard ornaments she collects. Then they had her hand over her door pass and escorted her out of the building….
Needless to say, morale is low right now and everyone’s scared. No one knows who’s next. We better get back to our desks, our fifteen minute break is almost up.”

When she got back to her cubicle she wasn’t scared, she was angry. She googled employee at will and discovered that it was a part of American law that stated either party could break the relationship for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all, as long as the company had not recognized a collective bargaining group or union.

Five years after writing that scene, the article I read in the New York Times addressed this very issue:

Bosses hold all the power in the at-will employment system that most American workers are subject to, under which they can be fired for “good cause, bad cause or no cause.” Employees who speak up risk everything — their jobs, their reputations, their livelihoods — while facing the unfair legal burden of having to prove their boss’s intentions. Until workers have the freedom from unfair firing, too many workplace rights will remain unfulfilled.

The alternative to at-will employment is “just cause,” which is the principle that an employee can be fired only for a legitimate, serious, work-performance reason.

The “just cause” system is typically part of union contracts. However, today only about 6 percent of private-sector employees are covered by a union contract. And there is a concerted effort to strip public-sector employees of many of their traditional rights and protections.

Similarly, workers may have a right to organize a union and collectively bargain, but in reality workers are often fired for organizing, and the laws against such practices — like all protections against unfair terminations — place the burden on employees to prove illegitimate intent.”

It took the election of Trump and the #metoo movement to get the Times to write this article.

I actually had another Amazon reviewer write this: “Don’t get her started on at-will employment.

I’d like to reply: “Oh no, please do get me started. I’d love to educate you.”

My oldest daughter called last night to tell me she road her bike ten miles to work at a country club where she waitresses. It was a slow night and after an hour they sent her home. I googled the minimum show up law in Colorado and discovered they don’t have one in the Rocky Mountain state.

Workers’ rights aren’t on the agenda in most places; only eight blue states have minimum show up laws.

My daughter biked the ten miles back to Fort Collins on a cold, snowy January night after making $9.30, the minimum wage in Colorado. If you want to know what this real life story’s connection is to The Reverse Commute,  Buy the Book. It’s in the chapter titled, A Backyard Wedding, that includes my story of the assembly line and the phone call to the Labor Board.

As one character in The Reverse Commute says, Let’s not forget, politics do affect our everyday lives.”

Or as Sophie wonders, “Was there a word for the way news events collide with your personal life? When she watched the news, it all seemed so removed. But she knew it wasn’t. The next day you could lose your job, your health insurance, your house, or all of the above. Your local school budget could be cut, bridges might collapse, your drinking water could be contaminated. Why do so many people say they don’t care about politics? Don’t they know they have to care? For their own good?”

All of my books are slice of life stories that contain characters with opinions. They are middle class Americans who have been affected by the politics of America since Ronald Reagan began to dismantle the New Deal. My entire adult life I have been a witness to this era of American history.

My writing is my small contribution at getting people to sit up, pay attention, and to care about politics and the lives of their fellow Americans. There is a new notebook. My daughter’s snowy bike ride has been recorded. Young people from Boston to San Francisco are struggling with college loans, exorbitant rents, and stagnant wages.

I’m here. I’m paying attention. I’m writing it all down. Stay tuned.

 

***The newly edited version of The Reverse Commute is available now on Amazon. Please buy it and if you enjoy it PLEASE write a review.  This little book needs some TLC.***

NEW Cover TRC

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:

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

A post shared by Sheila Blanchette (@sheilablanchett) on

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

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

Stories From Higley Hill: It Wasn’t a Good Fit

“This is the story of America. Everybody’s doing what they think they’re supposed to do.”
~ Jack Kerouac, On the Road: From the Original Scroll

Paperwork

Notes From A Temp Worker’s Journal: Week Three – The Final Two Days

Moses sat across from me, his desk perpendicular to mine. He is an Alaskan Inuit with a mohawk, but not a crazy mohawk. It’s attractive, short, not shaved on the sides, longer on top and down the back of his head, like the tail of a coonskin cap. He also has a Fu Manchu mustache, a bushy beard, and, below his lower lip are two skinny green tusk-like piercings. In each ear he has two hoop earrings; one silver, one black. He is married and the father of two boys; one three, the other six months.

We discussed books while we collated and stapled. He recommended A Working Stiff’s Manifesto. I told him about Nickel and Dimed. I also mentioned it was The Grapes of Wrath and its powerful ending that made me want to be a writer. He told me he read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley to his wife when she was pregnant.

By the third week, I felt I knew Moses well enough to ask about the tusks. He told me about his grandfather, the last Inuit on a remote Aleutian island to have the tusk piercings. The island was where Moses spent his childhood. The tusks are a symbol of the walrus. Moses is named after his grandfather so he got the piercings to honor him.

One day during a fire drill we stood together on a hill – what was referred to in the temp manual as one of the grassy knolls where employees are instructed to gather when the alarm goes off. As we walked out of the building a supervisor called out, “Make sure the temps know where they’re going.” There are so many of us I guess she was afraid we might get left behind. There was always the possibility of an ammonia leak and we needed to pay attention to the direction the wind socks were blowing. Supervisors were in charge of leading us through the parking lot to the safest grassy knoll that wasn’t downwind of a potential leak.

The early morning sunshine was warm and it was nice to be outside. Moses told me he was planning to start his own IT consulting business. He also shared his philosophy regarding this mundane temp job we were both currently trapped in.

“I know this is not my fate. It is for a finite amount of time. It serves a purpose,” he said.

I agreed and tried to remind myself of that when we returned to our desks.

Werner Herzog believed all original art “must have experience of life at its foundation.” Well yes, yet still. I kept asking myself how did I get here? I’ve had a lot of experience with working in places from a junk yard in Epping, NH to a vape shop in Pompano Beach, Florida. I’ve been subjected to unfair work policies, mundane tasks, and unequal pay for equal work. I’ve written about it, I’ve blogged about it, I’ve lived it. I’ve got enough material for several more books.

I recently read an article about writing workshops in beautiful, expensive places. Mountain retreats. Caribbean islands. Mediterranean hillside towns. The author of the article wondered what kind of meaningful real life writing could come out of these workshops. And who were the writers who could afford them? In moments of despair, while stapling, filing, and copying, I told myself this was my writing workshop. I was here to share the stories of the people who rarely show up as characters in the books that make the New York Times Book Review. The stories that don’t often attract literary agents who respond with rejections like this:

“This has less to do with your strengths as a writer and more to do with my goals as an agent and the trends of the current literary marketplace.”

Do tell. What are these trends? More self-help? More addiction memoirs? Stories of wealthy New York millennials filled with angst after losing Wall Street jobs during the Great  Recession, or even worse, their inheritance?

I thought about the places I have landed, the people I have met, the places I have traveled. If I weren’t here what would I write about while attending workshops in Aspen and Positano?

That worked for awhile but when I looked at the clock only twelve minutes had ticked by. We were three hours into the Monday workday, and that included the unexpected recess for the fire drill. I already missed Pink.

She was not the only entertainment missing during my final days at the temp job. A funny, sarcastic young guy who had a cubicle near the copy machines was sent to Providence for the week to train his replacement.

He had a handwritten sign tacked to his cubicle. “Crazy Guy’s Cube”. He fed us work, all those invoices we copied and collated and stapled and filed. He would stop by our office several times a day and offer up ironic commentary on the difficult situation he and the other permanent employees faced during the “transition phase”.

Crazy Guy had been offered a chance to transfer but he has a serious girlfriend who has a child and she shares custody with her ex. Crazy Guy also likes where he lives. He grew up around here and doesn’t want to move. “I’m a local boy,” he told me.

One afternoon last week Crazy Guy was training Moses on the preparation of MPDs or CMDs or some acronym I didn’t know. Whatever they were, they were making Crazy Guy evener crazier.

“I’m sick to death of talking to everyone about CMDs. Explaining CMDs. Training people to produce CMDs. Thinking about CMDS… CMDs…. CMDs.” He was clearly emotional that day. Getting choked up he told us, “This is the longest job I’ve ever worked at.”

Despite the CMD crisis, Crazy Guy was kind and patient with Moses and always used a dash of humor when he entered something wrong on the Excel spreadsheet they were working on. At one point he swirled his chair around, leaned over, picked up a large paper clip from the floor, and handed it to me as if it where a rose. “For you,” he said.

One afternoon a handsome black man from Providence who was wearing neatly pressed trousers and a dress shirt joined us in our crowded little office so he could train with Alpha. I sensed her anger and frustration. I had nothing but sympathy for her situation. A recent divorce, twelve year old twins – a boy and a girl – and a handicapped brother who also lived with her. She and her husband sold their house during the divorce and she’s trying to find a three bedroom apartment she can afford. The rental market is difficult. One afternoon she had to leave early to move her brother into a nursing home. The search for a four bedroom apartment would have been impossible. And she’s about to lose her job.

Throughout the day we followed Crazy Guy’s progress in Providence. He checked in to Alpha’s cell phone via text message.

“Did he buy new clothes for the business trip?” Talks to Herself asked.

“He can’t afford new clothes on his salary,” Alpha replied.

As if by osmosis he sent a response. “”I look like an auto mechanic compared to everyone else here.”

Around the office, Providence has a reputation for big city sophistication.

There are so many people I met that I haven’t mentioned. A woman I was filing next to one day told me she met her husband when she was five years old.

“When I tell people that they don’t believe me,” she said.

She raised her children in a nearby town. They still live in the area and so do her grandkids. She and her husband have already downsized to a smaller house in preparation for retirement. They both planned to work until they qualified for Medicare.

“But we’ll manage somehow. Hopefully I can get on my husband’s insurance until I find something,” she said. “Not this kind of job, although it is an honest wage.”

She told me she had been distracted and worried that morning. Her husband must have sensed her anxiety. He followed her to work and when she got out of her car, she asked, “What are doing here? Is something wrong?”

“I wanted to make sure you were okay,” he told her. “You seemed upset when you left the house.”

There are more stories. I’m using pseudonyms but these are real people I spent a brief moment in time with. They have hopes and dreams, worries and concerns. I get angry when I think of the problems we aren’t solving while wasting time on a President who got himself involved with Russian interference in our election, can’t stand up to Nazis, and clearly doesn’t give a shit for anyone but himself and his own ego. We continue to fight old battles while the problems that effect people’s lives fester and grow larger.

But words are adding up here. Blogs are supposed to be short for the short American attention span. A lot of people don’t want to hear stories like this. People once fought and died for unions to protect worker’s rights, ensure safety on the job, negotiate for fair wages and a retirement with dignity. Now we’re told “You’re lucky you have any job at all.”

Workers are hired as temps so the employer doesn’t have to provide health insurance, workman’s comp, and paid holidays. Many voters are misinformed. They vote against their own interests. They tell you not to cause trouble. You might get fired. Unions are a thing of the past. They’re never coming back.

Why? If people fought and won this battle before why can’t we do the same? How did we ever let ourselves lose our rights to begin with? Did we as a nation learn nothing from the Great Recession? How fragile the middle class is. How important workers’ rights and collective bargaining are. Instead of working together to improve our plight, we judge others by claiming people in these work situations courted their own demise by making poor choices or not working hard enough or not acquiring the right skills and education. But isn’t this just making excuses for The Man?

I’ll stop rambling but please America, pay attention.

Anyway, this is how it went down. On Tuesday evening of Week Three, I checked my phone at a red light in Brattleboro. There was a message from the temp agency.

“They don’t need you to return to work tomorrow. Please call us in the morning.”

For the rest of the drive home I wondered what I’d done wrong. Was it that day I stapled the invoices incorrectly?

Notes From a Temp Worker's Journal Well! Apparently, I am not very good at stapling. I had a stack of invoices and a stack of backup info. I stapled the two together. Thank God we have electric staplers!!! The stapled piles get very tippy. No one told me we have to staple in the top left corner. I decided it would be better to shake it up a little bit – some in the middle, some halfway from the left corner and the middle. The pile ended up being neatly stacked and easy to transport over to Accounts Payable. Wrong!!! AP sent it back. They said they were missing some as they picked up an invoice and entered it. They said they needed to feel the staple in the left corner. Are they doing this with their eyes closed? So I got to to remove the staples with a handy dandy little staple remover and re-staple. Yes, I went to college for this. So here I am again ordering takeout. This time it's scallion pancakes and pad Thai @ThaiBamboo in Brattleboro #takeoutThursday #thejobfromhell #tempwork #workingwomansblues #workinamerica #thewritinglife #forsomeofus

A post shared by Sheila Blanchette (@sheilablanchett) on

Maybe it was the occasional walk I took around the cubicle block to relieve my back pain? Or the stretches I did while waiting at the copy machine? I never talked politics and although I daydreamed about being a union agitator I kept my mouth shut. I offered encouragement and told Alpha how I too had lost jobs and maybe something better was coming her way.

The next morning I called the temp agency. The recruiter told me they gave no specific reason. They just said it wasn’t a good fit.

Well, I already knew that. I knew it on my first day of work. The rows of cubicles, the anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I was back at the cubicle job that led to my near nervous breakdown that only writing my first novel saved me from. I also knew it wasn’t the right fit when they photographed me twice. What’s coming next I wondered. Fingerprints? And even before I started the job I knew this wasn’t the right fit when the temp agency told me I had to return to their office to be subjected to a drug test. Let’s just say I fretted about it and drank copious amounts of water for two days only to find out I didn’t have to pee in a cup. Instead I sucked on a spongy lollipop and passed the test. I’d also like to point out marijuana is legal in both Vermont and New Hampshire.

One day during our fifteen minute morning break, Pink told me, “I was always the good employee. There was one time when I hurt my knee really bad but I came to work anyway. It was year-end and you know how crazy that is in the accounting department. I couldn’t call in sick and leave my co-workers with a heavier work load. So I didn’t go to see the doctor until three weeks after I hurt myself. By that time the metatarsal tear was worse. It required surgery and now, years later, my arthritis is really bad in that knee. And you know what? In the end, I didn’t get anything for my good behavior. Instead, I got laid off at sixty-four with one year to go to Medicare.”

And here I was bending over file cabinets and sitting in a shitty seat with no leg room under my desk. There was another woman I met at the file cabinets one day. She’d worked 34 years for a company that went paperless and laid off a lot of people when they needed fewer clerical workers. So now here she was, temping alongside me. One day at her old job, her back went into spasms. She couldn’t stand up or walk. She felt nauseous. Her boss wanted to call an ambulance. Instead someone brought her to the hospital where she spent seven weeks while they tried to manage her pain.

I had a few back spasms over the weekend. Maybe this was the silver lining. If I had finished out the remaining six weeks I too could have spent weeks in the hospital. In which case, my health insurance deductibles and co-pays would have negated my earnings.

If you live long enough just about anything that can happen will happen. I have been laid off due to mergers and lack of work and Ronald Reagan cutting the National Endowment for the Arts but I’ve never been fired. Or told I wasn’t a good fit.

I’m trying to avoid thoughts of the life not lived. Asking questions like, What if I had started writing sooner? Where would I be now? Jackson Hole? The Greek Isles?

But would I have been able to write the book I just finished and is about to be published?

I don’t think so. I think Simone de Beauvoir was right.

“Chance … has a distinct meaning for me. I do not know where I might have been led by the paths that, as I look back, I think I might have taken but that in fact I did not take. What is certain is that I am satisfied with my fate and that I should not want it changed in any way at all. So I look upon these factors that helped me to fulfill it as so many fortunate strokes of chance.”

***My new book, Under the Same Sun will on sale at Amazon on September 6th.***