Monday, October 27, 2014

A Novel Born In Memoir Completes Trilogy

I have shared on this blog the story of my late husband, John M. Cavalieri, who, two years before his death, wrote a memoir about his time as a West Point cadet during the Vietnam War. 

John also wrote about his battle with cancer and impersonal systems – the military, the medical establishment and corporate America; systems which often destroy the individual spirit and soul. 

My new book, anticipated publication date early next year, is titled PORTRAIT OF LOVE AND HONOR. Wrapped around the memoir of Jay Scioli (John’s pseudonym) is the story of Ava Stuart, author and editor, a woman who fears taking a risk on love, almost as much as she fears never finding it at all. Ava and Jay's love story "embraces" Jay's memories of the past and serves as a canvas on which to paint a larger portrait of love and honor.

My son, Daniel Cavalieri, pointed out that by incorporating his father’s memoir into a fictionalized love story, it represented the ending to a trilogy which began with Again in a Heartbeat: a memoir of love, loss and dating again, and its sequel Morning at Wellington Square. So at the very end with Portrait of  Love and Honor, we arrive back at the beginning.

For the past two years, I’ve written and revised numerous drafts. I’ve gone to bed thinking about the story, jumped up to write down this line of dialogue, that turn of phrase while still fresh in my mind. After batting around a dozen titles, I settled on one I felt the perfect fit.

Even the image for the cover (see photograph above) came to me in one shining moment.

Last week, I finished my book; felt as good as any writer can feel when accomplishing something they set out to do.

The Women’s Writing Circle provided invaluable input as I crafted my story and read excerpts. I especially thank Edda Pitassi, who gave heart and soul as my developmental editor – a woman of Italian American descent whom I know John would have loved; Diane Yannick, whose sensitive and insightful critique came unexpectedly and “capped off” the final version; Marjory Cafone who has been supportive and a valuable listening ear at read around and in private conversations.

Collaboration, friendship and support have always helped the writer. I may not have Gertrude Stein’s salon but I have something equally treasured and valuable – a circle of friends, colleagues and mentors who inspire and encourage the hard work of not just starting, but finishing a book, offering insight how to improve it.

Colleagues, friends and other authors can be incentive to finishing your work-in-progress..

I also thank Elizabeth Madden, a psychologist and social worker who critiqued the story and suggested I dig deep into the psychological dynamics of Jay and his family. Betty urged me to ask the questions: Why did Jay keep coming back to West Point year after year? What role did his mother – an Italian immigrant, play in Jay’s desire to be special? Was pleasing his father, a World War II veteran, instrumental in Jay’s decision to pursue his dream of becoming an officer despite signs that “duty, honor and country” often fell flat in the face of reality?

With John at Yosemite
Cynthia McGroarty, a former colleague at The Philadelphia Inquirer, set me on the right direction when she asked, “Who is Ava?”

Cindy wanted me to dig deeper into Ava’s story. That helped establish the framework of my novel – Ava’s love acting as an “embrace” around Jay story.

I also thank my son, Alex Cavalieri, who read the book and offered up what will eventually become its synopsis. And Bruce Mowday, bestselling author of Pennsylvania history and a friend for over two decades, whose interest in Jay’s story offered the much needed male perspective, separate from my sons.

Finally, to Kathy Pooler, memoirist, who also acted as a beta reader and gave me the warmest glow of encouragement when she said, “Susan, I was swept away and deeply touched. . . Fabulous, heartrending, real. I have no doubt John was not only with you throughout the writing process but is smiling right now and so proud of how you have brought this to fruition.”

In coming months I’ll blog about the themes in Portrait of Love and Honor, perhaps, take a page out of author Mary Gottschalk's innovative marketing and seek guest bloggers to write about those themes.  

I read on Daring to Live Fully a blog featuring tips for writers that.“Chilean author Isabel Allende once said that writing a book is like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean. You never know if it will reach any shores.” 

For now, just finishing the book offers a restful shore.

TOP PHOTO:  Susan G. Weidener photo:  All rights reserved.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Make Way For The Lovely Blogs

In many ways blogs have replaced the old-fashioned magazine. Remember those? We all used to thumb through them at our leisure.

I still recall how excited I was when TIME magazine arrived weekly in the mail. I would curl up in a chair and get lost in the articles, insights, and opinions of people from around the world.

Print magazines, unfortunately, are dropping by the wayside in a digitally-driven world. See this article in the Wall Street Journal.

 It might not be that big a stretch to say magazines are being replaced by many mediums, not the least of which is the blog. 

Blogs brimming with attention-grabbing observations; interviews by a variety of people; essays; stunning photographs, garner thousands of "views" by readers each month, sometimes each week.

I enjoy reading blogs about writing and publishing over a hot cup of coffee in the morning, or while eating lunch . . . even after dinner. Many blogs are linked through Facebook and Google+ which makes for easy access.

So why not take a moment and give a nod to a favorite blog?   A “one lovely blog award,” a sort of chain love letter, has been making its rounds through cyberspace as bloggers take a moment to recognize other bloggers.

I’d like to thank Madeline Sharples, Mary Gottschalk and Kathy Pooler for awarding the Women’s Writing Circle blog the “one lovely blog award” in the last two weeks. I admire the generosity of these three women who nominated me; I admire them as bloggers and writers. They share their personal journeys, their writing process and open their blogs to other writers without self-promotion.

The loveliest blogs are written in an informal or conversational style. That's the art of the blogging genre; to present information in a way that people can relate to, enjoy and, hopefully, find useful.

Blogs take a great amount of time, commitment and energy in order to give readers something new each week. That said, since I started this blog in 2008 the rewards of being published through this amazing medium known as the Internet and social media are numerous.

Now to move on to the “rules” of the One Lovely Blog Award . . . sharing 7 things about yourself that your readers may not know and then nominating your favorite blogs for the award.

Seven Things About Me: 

When I was in my mid-30s, people used to stop me quite often and tell me I looked like Glenn Close. It was pretty scary since it  was about the time she had filmed Fatal Attraction. I chalk it up to that horrible home perm I got that year (see photographs) because by all measures Glenn Close is beautiful and I have never considered myself as gorgeous as she.

Halloween is my favorite holiday and in the next life I want to come back as a vamp with a sexy Italian gangster at my side.

If there is one woman who has died that I could have dinner with it would be my grandmother Nanny Weidener. Nanny (maiden name Annie Beatrice Dean) came to this country from Blackpool, England in the early 20th century. After her husband died, when she had barely turned 60, she started a boarding house in Germantown, PA, as a way to support her and her elderly aunt. When Nanny turned 71, she got engaged to be married. Yes, there is hope no matter how old you are!

I saw the Beatles at the old JFK Stadium in Philadelphia when I was 14 years old. From the distance, they looked like little bobble head dolls, but I’ll never forget the hush that came over the screaming crowd when Paul sang "Yesterday." I went home and immediately wrote a love story with Paul as the hero.

Speaking of music, I saw Bob Marley at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia around 1972. Truly one of the greats, I’ll never forget his magnetic performance and voice at this small venue where I had front row seats in the balcony.

My best friend is Paula (see photograph with Paula. I still had the horrible perm. That's my son, Alex, nudging his way into the frame). We have been best friends for half a century – yes, this year marks our 50th year of being best friends. Who needs a sister when you have a best friend like Paula?

Over the last 15 or so years, I have met over 70 different men for Internet dates . . . but who’s counting?

Now To The Rules:

Mention a few of the  blogs and bloggers I enjoy (but not those bloggers who nominated me).  Then, someone I list is supposed to take it from here. I gladly let you off the hook if it's not your thing.

Lovely Blogs

Sherrey Meyer, Writer: healing life’s hurts through writing. This blog is rich in book reviews, memoir writing as a way of healing and interviews with authors and aspiring authors.

Widow's Voice: Seven Widowed Voices Sharing Love, Loss, and Hope.  A treasure trove of up close and personal experiences, emotions and grief that comprise the widowed journey, I have been a fan of this blog for years.

Write on the River by Bob Mayer. I just found this blog recently. Bob is a West Pointer and shares generously of his publishing journey, his prolific career as an author AND his opinions about the state of publishing in an ever-changing world.

Anam Cara. Kellie, Kellie Springer’s blog. Anam Cara refers to the Celtic spiritual belief of souls connecting and bonding. Kellie has come to the Women’s Writing Circle to share her wisdom about life, dispelling myths about women and culture, and the never-ending and exhilarating journey of self discovery. All of this makes her blog a treasure.

Sonia Marsh. Always one of my favorites because Sonia’s gutsiness, honesty and letting-it-all hang out personality set the tone and template for finding our voices through writing, publishing and promoting. Her blog features stories from people all over the world who share a "gutsy" moment.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Kathy Pooler Shares Pubslush Experience

What is Pubslush and how can authors use it to get the word out, create some buzz and stand out from the sea of books flooding the marketplace?

In this interview Kathy Pooler, author of Ever Faithful To His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, shares her experiences with Pubslush, a global crowdfunding platform.

It allows authors to raise funds, collect pre-orders and market upcoming book projects. Pubslush also gives authors an opportunity to gauge audience response for their project.

For those who have never heard of Pubslush, there are several articles about it, including this December 2013 article in Forbes, which says:

"Run by mother-daughter team Hellen and Amanda L Barbara, this American start-up is focused on providing crowdfunding services tailored to the needs of authors, agents, self-publishers and small presses . . ."

The article goes on to discuss the company's marketing tactics and fees.

I've met Kathy many times. We've attended writing workshops together and she taught a journaling workshop in February 2013 for the Women's Writing Circle. Together, we have traveled the journey of memoir. My review of Kathy’s memoir can be read here.

As part of the Women on Writing (WOW!) book tour, please welcome Kathy back to the Women's Writing Circle. ~ Susan

Q: Would you use Pubslush again?

Yes. Overall, participating in a Pubslush campaign was a positive experience for me. It’s a lot of hard work on the front end, developing the focus of your campaign and deciding on rewards but I found that the process helped me to hone my message and establish a solid foundation for the book promotion phase of the publication journey. 

They offer pre-marketing strategies to help build your audience and spread the word, which was exactly what I wanted. If you have a successful campaign (achieve 100% funding), your book remains on their webpage forever with links for ordering.

Additionally, now that I am in the marketing phase, I feel like I’m standing on solid ground with materials prepared—press release kits, and synopsis, because of my Pubslush campaign. It’s like a practice run before your book is even published.
Kathy reading from her memoir

Q: How much is involved for the author in terms of shipping books, writing thank you letters?

A lot of time and effort, daily during the campaign, is necessary and then again afterwards when the book is published.  At that time the rewards need to be fulfilled in a timely fashion.

Q: Did it ever feel "uncomfortable" to you, like being a saleswoman?

Indeed! I admit I am one of those "self-promotion-phobic" writers who do not want to come across in a selfish manner. What helped me over this hump was to find a way to connect with my message and purpose for writing my memoir in the first place. Once I made that connection to spreading a message of hope, courage and resilience to others suffering from abuse through my story, I was able to move forward with purpose.

Q: Did it help you open dialogue with readers, and if so, how?

Absolutely! Not only did I do blog, Facebook and Twitter shout-outs, I sent emails messages and personal notes to supporters. It is heart warming to have so many people rally around you and inspire you to keep going.

Q: How does Pubslush help find readers in advance of publication?

You can create buzz about your book and its message before it is published. If people know ahead of time about the book, they can decide if they want to read it. And if you can get people excited about reading your book, that’s even better. I had already involved many people through the beta reading process and was able to request and receive advanced reviews and endorsements.

Q: Where did your money go?

So far, the money has gone towards fulfilling the Pubslush reward—postage, promotional materials such as posters, bookmarks, supplies for my book launch party. My funding level was $2,500. I contributed 10% of that ( my choice) to their child literacy fund. I donated $200 to the local Catholic Charities.

I met with Ginger Cato, director of community education for the Domestic Violence Program with the local Catholic Charities (see photo above) and have a speaking engagement about domestic abuse scheduled at the local community college on October 23, 2014. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

About the Author: Kathleen Pooler is a retired family nurse practitioner. She is working on a sequel to  Ever Faithful to His Lead called Hope Matters: A Memoir about how the power of hope through faith in God helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. Kathy lives with her husband Wayne in Amsterdam, New York.

To visit Kathy's blog and website:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Living In An Age Of Digital Disruption

Are we living in an age of digital disruption? An ebooks LinkedIn discussion this past weekend centered on the Authors Guild meeting with the Department of Justice seeking an investigation of Amazon’s business practices.

As I wrote on this blog last week, cries among “literary lions” and others with a vested and established interest in traditional publishing claim that Amazon borders on creating a monopoly in the ebook market.

Yesterday as I trolled The New York Times, I found the paper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, putting the controversy into context in this article: Publishing Battle Should Be Covered Not Joined.

Sullivan writes: "It’s important to remember that this is a tale of digital disruption, not good and evil." 

Then I saw this article in SayDaily on the "democratization of content."

"The One Percent Rule of Internet culture goes something like this: One percent of users in any given community actively create new content, while the other 99% only view it. But on the new social-mobile Web, everyone is a creator."

Yes, anyone can create a book, publish a blog, “tell their brand stories and market their content.” Thanks to pro-level digital tools like Smartphones and mobile apps, non-professionals have at their fingertips tools to make professional-looking visual content.


While I love blogging and was recently cited by bestselling author, Madeline Sharples as having one of her favorite blogs, I often feel the pressure to come up with a more digitally savvy blog. 

This blog/website is set up much like the old-fashioned magazine. It offers written content in the form of an essay or journalistic Q and A. No videos here, no bells and whistles, nor have I hired a professional webmaster.

I’m comfortable and at home with the simplicity of the written word, and the photographs that enhance the commentary, not just my own, but the other wonderful bloggers and writers featured here.

That’s not to disparage all the great new tools out there, but the learning curve, the investment in time and money, just isn’t there for me, at least not now.

Interestingly, at a recent Constant Contact workshop I attended on email marketing, we heard that the fastest growing segment of people using Facebook and Twitter are over 60 years old. 

My own sons, their friends and other Millennials I've talked to, deride Facebook. They don’t have much interest in it or Twitter since they have no business to promote and no grandkids to show off. Or maybe they're just turned off by all of it.

Which gets back to the idea that Sullivan is right. We are living through an age of “digital disruption.” It is changing and upending everything from how we go about branding and marketing ourselves “just as regular people” to publishing and selling ebooks. And for better or worse, it’s here to stay.

It’s a choice now whether to accept it and move forward or continue mourning over a way of life that is no more.

Are we living in an age of digital disruption? Your thoughts on the digital world and its impact on writing and publishing are most welcomed.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Local Author, One Book At A Time

I spent this past weekend selling my books, talking to other authors as they sold theirs at crafts fairs and fall festivals.

Maybe we don’t know it yet, but when you find a few good people to spread the word about your book, setting up tables and displays, standing in burning hot sun, talking to people who even after a lengthy conversation don't buy your book, makes it all worth it.

You shared something meaningful, no matter who published your book or who controls what.  

Yet the politics of publishing continues to take center stage, threatening to drown all of us in a cacophony of egos, anger and angst. 

In today's New York Times yet another article relates the fury, frustration and agendas of the book publishing industry and the pricing of ebooks by Amazon. 

A group of “literary lions” under the banner Authors United has banded together, or, rather, a literary agent with a longstanding and vested interest in traditional publishing, is bringing them together. 

In July I blogged about how publishing is big business.  

Yet I think if we get too caught up in the politics of publishing, we run the risk of losing the reasons why we write; as well as eroding the ambition necessary to see a book through from beginning to end, getting it in print against all odds. 

Wasn't it always about the simple act of faith in the written word?  . . . facing the blank page each morning over a hot cup of coffee and hoping to write something worthy that would touch a few folks? If it were about money, ambition, arguing over "censorship" and monopolies, I would not have had the energy to write a book.

This week I ran into a woman in the hardware store parking lot. She had come to the Women's Writing Circle and read my memoir, which she purchased on her Kindle. 

She confronted the imminent death of her mother. “I believe some things are meant to be. Your story came to me at the time I most needed it,” she said, since I had written about my mother's death following a stroke.

Two weeks before I spoke to 40 women from the General Federation of Women's Clubs. They not only bought my books - which is always nice - but we shared stories of Valley Forge Military Academy, growing up there, after I read from one of my memoirs. 

Several deferred buying the trade paperbacks, choosing instead to purchase my books on Kindle.

Just knowing it is available in the marketplace continues to motivate me to forge ahead with another book. I'm a local author. I’m excited to help women and men get their stories where they want – whether read in the Circle, a few copies published for family or for a broader audience.

I love the creativity I see, not just among writers, but potters, jewelers, and crafters of all mediums who proudly display their work and open their hearts to the public. These conversations and connections drive the local author as we work hard to reach our audience, one person, one book at a time. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Crafting A Vision For A Novel

Writing can be a cruel taskmaster, a friend said. Writing is not about the “feel good” stuff, getting the 5-star review, the buzz going, the Facebook high-fives, although all of that can be energizing. It’s about the gruelingly hard work of polishing and honing your craft to become a better writer.

It's about bringing your reader into the story as an active participant, offering him or her what Hemingway said was the true measure of a good book – what can a reader learn that he or she can apply to their own life? Because if there’s no lesson there, why bother to pick up a book?

Over the summer I sent my novel based around a true story, my late husband’s West Point memoir, to five beta readers and a developmental editor. I waited expectantly for responses.

I was impatient to move forward with the book, decide whether to query or continue the journey of independent publishing.

 As the responses and critiques started coming in, it became clear more work was needed.  The differing opinions proved, if not enlightening, then testament to how six different people have six different perspectives on how they thought I should have written the book. All had definite opinions about Ava and Jay, the two main characters.

One beta reader told me. "I love it. It’s your best work yet. I don’t need more of Ava."

Yet another: "I want more of Ava, more of the love story."

"Jay's story is most compelling," another said. "Ava gets in the way."

I suspected one reader might have tossed the manuscript aside after the first 60 pages. "Who is Ava?  What does she see in this guy?" the reader wondered.

"Learn from the criticism," a friend advised. "Something can be gleaned."

I work in a small office with a view of a maple tree, photographs of my family tucked in desk cubbies just above eye level.  My yellow Lab, Lily, sleeps on the small flowered sofa under the windows.

 My house is quiet. I live alone.  No need to rent office space like some writers I know desperately seeking a quiet retreat without distractions.

I have written before on this blog and in my memoirs about John’s memoir gathering dust in a bedroom closet. How to bring his story to life, as well as give it a broader readership?

This was my vision, my creative expression. I decided to interweave his West Point memoir, which takes place in the past, with a love story that takes place in the present. So much for chronology, the story structure I employed with my memoirs. That got thrown out the window as I wove back and forth between first and third person, past and present.

Although I have been a professional writer all my life, I learn anew every day that this work is grueling. (We all know Hemingway’s famous quote – There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit at the typewriter and bleed.)

Like most writers, I need to sort through the confusion, the anxiety that my story isn’t worth much or doesn’t offer the reader anything new. 

This interview in the Paris Review with Hemingway is a must read for any writer:

In it he says he started out with 100 possible titles for A Farewell to Arms.

What might my readers take away from my story? What do they learn about themselves? These are the questions I continue to hold most valuable as I continue this journey and craft my vision.

Do you have a vision for your book?  How do you go about realizing it? Beta readers? Editors? Your own creative intuition?

FOOTNOTE: What did Hemingway consider the best training for the aspiring, would-be writer? “Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.”

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sharing the 'Secret' of Domestic Violence

Several women in the news media revealed this week that they had been victims of domestic violence. “I didn’t discuss it before this because I didn’t want to be perceived as a victim,” one newswoman admitted on a cable television station.

In the Women’s Writing Circle we have shared many stories of violence, not just physical violence but emotional and verbal abuse; and it is not always a partner or a spouse, but a family member who intimidates and then violates a woman's physical and emotional boundaries pushing her to the brink of despair and depression.

 In the five years of leading the Circle, I would say without a doubt that stories of domestic violence and abuse – spouses who verbally, physically and emotionally abuse, and parents who do likewise – engaging in abuse of their daughters, have been the most prevalent in read around.

Yet it takes a professional athlete beating his wife to bring into national focus the epidemic of domestic violence against women. The NFL is a culture of cover-up. So is our society when it comes to abuse against women. Domestic violence and abuse against women have remained a shameful secret, swept under the rug, the victim often blamed.

My first encounter with domestic violence occurred when I was a beat reporter for a suburban weekly newspaper. I covered police news and was leafing through the police reports one night when I recognized a name. It jumped out at me because she had been one of my best friends in high school, a big girl, star athlete, lacrosse player. Now I read how her husband had thrown her up against a kitchen wall, punched her and bloodied her nose.

Three weeks later, a similar report appeared and yet another six months later about my friend and her husband. He had again beaten her, neighbors heard shouting and screaming, and police were called. The details are vague now, almost 40 years later, but I remember I phoned her. We had drifted apart since college. I felt at a loss for words. I wanted to help, but not violate her privacy. As I recall she did plan on leaving him, had even gotten a protection from abuse order against him, but he stalked her, begged her to take him back. Our friendship was never the same, maybe because I wanted to help but didn’t understand why she didn’t just change the locks, divorce him, or maybe it was her inability to ever call me to talk. I believe she felt humiliated and embarrassed that I knew. I’ll never know since our friendship faded.

With the Ray Rice NFL scandal, the lines have been drawn, once again, in the usual fashion. Although Rice was caught on tape punching his then fiancĂ©e, now wife, in the face, women who believe Rice is not at fault wear T-shirts with his name and proclaim it is the wife’s fault for what happened.  Some - men and women have called her a “gold digger” for remaining with him. Psychologists say battered women remain at an abuser’s side because she believes she is the only one who “can heal him.”

While statistics show that one in seven men is a victim of domestic violence, this is in reality a woman’s issue affecting one in four relationships. Name calling and putdowns, withholding money, keeping a partner alienated from family and friends – stalking and sexual assault form the gristmill of abuse. Women who remain in abusive relationships, I believe, often struggle with guilt and shame . . .  even misplaced pity for their abuser.

 As we write our stories and share them in the Circle, we empower ourselves and say, this can happen to anyone. "Shame" becomes a shared experience, a validation that we are not alone, the "secret" is out in the open.

I think about the many women who wrote the truth of their stories.  They have come to me in the Circle or privately with their stories of partners who abuse them, parents who did the unthinkable. That's when I remember that line from one of my favorite movies, Goodwill Hunting where Sean, the psychiatrist played by Robin Williams, finally gets through to his client, Will Hunting, abused by his stepfather,

“It’s not your fault,” Sean keeps repeating to Will, played by Matt Damon. “It’s not your fault.”

Here in my own little corner of the world, we are doing what we can in our community to bring the issue of domestic violence to light. My church is presenting on Sept. 23, Domestic Violence in Chester County: Awareness, Prevention and Healing. If you live locally, I hope you can join us for this important discussion.

You are also invited to share your comments and thoughts here.

ALSO:  Last week's winner of  a free copy of Karen Levy's In My Father's Gardens goes to Cathy Coffman.