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.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Price and Prize of Going Public

As a writer do you feel unnerved at the thought of going public with the personal? Terrified of revealing family secrets and then being asked to explain in interviews, signings, talks?

In this essay Karen Levy discusses what many memoir writers grapple with . . . the unnerving aspects of going public with the personal after leading a very private life. Yet as Karen writes: "There is really little point in writing a memoir if you don't give away pieces of yourself, and just as I discovered when I honed my writing voice, the more power I gained in writing and in speaking, the stronger my voice became, the more I enjoyed this next phase of the writing adventure."

Please welcome Karen Levy, author of My Father's Gardens, nominated for the 2014 Pushcart Prize, to the Women's Writing Circle ~ Susan

Writing is such a strange business. It begins as a most private endeavor, the glimmer of an idea, just you and the glaringly white screen, blank with anticipation at the wondrous words and worlds that will soon fill its emptiness.

If you are like me, you do battle silently, painfully, saying little to others about your work in progress lest it fail miserably and you will have nothing to show for the months and even years spent crafting and deleting, weaving and dreaming your characters to life.

Yet for being so private, the kind of writing I do is unnervingly public, a discovery I did not make until my memoir, My Father's Gardens, was published and in other people's hands.

I would be lying if I said that I had not hoped for a publisher who would come along and say yes, offer a contract and make all those years of effort justified, legitimate. But when I pressed send and watched my manuscript vanish from the screen and hurtle through cyber space on its way to my publisher's desk, I panicked briefly, suddenly realizing that the story to which I had given voice, my story, was no longer mine alone.

Others would now read it, judge it, judge me, and the thought was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

Little did I know that the journey into my private world would not end there, my book on the shelves of the local bookstores where I had dreamed it would one day be. While the writing part of the adventure had ended and successfully at that, the promotional aspect of having written a book had just begun and I found myself standing before groups of people who actually expected that I speak about what I had written. Just read the book! I kept wanting to say at first. Yet it had not been enough that I had exposed family secrets for which my mother, brother and a couple of friends had stopped speaking to me.

Now audiences wanted to discuss these secrets, open them to interpretation even though what I had written was a memoir, my version of the truth which my mother claimed was fictional. It took a few months of appearing in various venues to ease into this aspect of the writing life.

And I soon discovered that despite being a painfully shy individual, in my writing and public appearances I keep revealing secrets. There is really little point in writing a memoir if you don't give away pieces of yourself, and just as I discovered when I honed my writing voice, the more power I gained in writing and in speaking, the stronger my voice became, the more I enjoyed this next phase of the writing adventure.

Over the past year of promotional events my motto has become say yes to everything. I said yes to readings in hole in the wall art galleries, warm and welcoming poetry centers, and dubious open mic nights as young men sang of lost love and broken hearts while I sat waiting my turn on a ratty sofa in the gathering dusk.

I said yes to the Sacramento Library Fund Raiser and found myself in the company of impressive fellow writers. I said yes to the auction portion of that evening despite not knowing what it entailed and a few weeks later, found myself part of a sumptuous dinner with those generous contributors who had bid on my book.

I've said yes to bloggers all over the country and to newspaper articles in which they always get something wrong.

I've said yes to book clubs and retired teacher associations and have had confirmed what I've known all along - words are powerful, and while mine have severed some ties, they have also traveled across borders and cultures and into hearts and homes of readers. I would not have otherwise reached. I hope to be asked to many more events so I can keep saying yes.

How do you feel about going public with your family secrets and memoir?  What are the rewards of sharing you story? 

Karen is giving away a copy of My Father's Gardens to a commenter selected in a random drawing.

Karen Levy is an Israeli-American writer. Born in Israel, Levy spent most of her childhood traveling between her native land and the United States. Commuting between these two countries and having a keen eye for detail have afforded Levy the knowledge necessary to recount the immigrant experience in a very candid style. Following her military service, Levy pursued her studies in the United States where she earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of California at Davis, and an M.A. in English/Creative Writing from Sacramento State University where she teaches composition and interpretation of literature. My Father's Gardens is nominated for the 2014 Pushcart Prize. She lives in Davis, California with her husband and two children.

Karen's Facebook page is - My Father's Gardens

On Twitter - @Jerusalemlevy

About the Book: My Father’s Gardens is the story of a young girl who comes of age in two languages, and on two shores, between warring parents and rules that change depending on the landscape and the proximity of her mother. Struggling to find her voice and her place in the world as a result of her frequent travels between her native Israel and the United States, she feels that she must choose a place to call home. As her scenery alternates between warm Mediterranean and snow capped mountains, loud-mouthed Israelis and polite Americans, so do her loyalties: Is she more Israeli or American? How will she know when she has arrived? And while she chooses she is slowly transplanting bits of her father’s gardens on foreign soil.