Monday, May 27, 2013

A Journey - Saying Goodbye to Lucy

When you are traveling as I have been this past week, you have to put aside your expectations that life will go on as usual  . . .  that there won't be roadblocks and unexpected obstacles along the way.
Like the language barrier, navigating the Metro, finding an ATM, time zone differences   . . . everything from people and culture. 
It's a lot like life.  Twists and turns and the unexpected.  I am traveling from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the Russian Federation and the first thing when I get to St. Petersburg are emails from my son, Daniel. 
Lucy is in the hospital. 
She began dying within hours after my jet was winging its way across the Atlantic, first to Frankfurt, Germany where I landed in a pristine airport with people who looked like me, yet whose language I didn't speak.  Although my great-grandparents had arrived from this country over a hundred years ago, I had no more in common with Germans than my looks. 
Somehow, Alex, my older son and traveling companion and I soldiered through the exhaustion and flying to Dusseldorf and from there, yet another plane to our final destination in St. Petersburg.  Got to the airport in Russia only to discover no bags.  We would find out later our luggage had ended up on a plane to Munich. It would be almost 24 hours before we got a change of clothing . . .  could it get any worse?
Then an email that Lucy, my beloved dog for the last 13 years, was in the hospital.  Thanks to the wonders of the Internet and Skype, we were able  to talk face-to-face with Daniel.  Lucy had suffered several seizures.  Our regular vet was gone for the night and so  Daniel took Lucy to an animal hospital where they treated her with diazepam to calm her (shades of my mother who was also on diazepam at the end of her life) and sent our dog home with a possible prognosis  . .  brain tumor - only confirmed if there was an MRI. 
Through Skype, Daniel relayed an image from his cell phone - Lucy crying, whimpering in pain on the white tile kitchen floor back in Chester Springs. 
Finally, the next morning the realization there was no hope. 
And so after traveling 7,000 miles and an  8-hour time difference, I learn within my first day here in Russia that Lucy is gone.  Daniel weeping on the phone . . . Lucy running through the fields of Elysium.
What am I supposed to do?.  Let this ruin my entire trip?  Or realize that life is fleeting, that it can all change in an instant, in a heartbeat.  
When you are thrown a curveball all you can do is re-adjust and keep going.  Still, you ask, why?  But as you move among the crowds of people speaking a different language, coming from a different cultural background, it comes into focus.  Our plight is the same no matter where we are.  Everyone is on a journey, unpredictable, filled with loss. 
All we can do is let the weight lift and move forward.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A 'Gutsy' Indie Author's Adventure

This is the third in an occasional series featuring authors from around the world.

I met Sonia Marsh through an independent author's community on Facebook about a year ago.  Since then, I wrote a story for her "My Gutsy Story" series, which is being turned into an anthology and published this September.  I reviewed her memoir, and had a chance to speak with her on the phone from Southern California where she lives. 

Sonia's memoir, Freeways to Flip-Flops, her work inspiring other writers to take a risk and write about their journeys and her entrepreneurship in establishing her "gutsy living" brand, make her a pioneer in the memoir and independent publishing movement.  I asked Sonia what inspired her memoir and, from that, her "gutsy" author platform.  Please welcome Sonia to the Circle. 

In 2003, I told my friends about our plan to uproot our family from a comfortable lifestyle in the U.S., to a hut in Belize. Many thought we were crazy . . .  others suggested I write a book about our new life. 

Sonia and her husband, Duke, in Belize
Fortunately, I started writing a year before our move, which was in 2004. Life at home had become quite emotional, with our oldest, teenage son causing havoc in our daily life, and I knew if I could capture everything while it was still “raw,” this would make my story both visual, and authentic.

My first step was to keep a journal. As a novice writer I had no idea it would take seven years to turn my journal into a commercial memoir.

After keeping a journal for a couple of years, I had 660 pages on my computer. I sent excerpts via e-mail to friends back home, and they said, “Sonia, your life in Belize is so exciting compared to mine back here, please continue sending me your stories.”  This was all I needed to keep writing.

Every day in Belize was a challenge, and being out of our comfort zone forced my three sons to adapt. Life was full of adventures and misadventures, and trying to make a living resulted in sabotage and other unexpected events. Our family worked together as a team and grew close as we depended on each other for security, and other reasons. Unable to get a business started forced us to return to California in 2005.

We had all learned different lessons from our year in Belize, and I knew I had a unique story to tell so I took writing classes and attended conferences.

I first heard about blogging in 2006, and decided this might be a great way to improve my writing skills while building an audience for my memoir. The name “Gutsy Writer,” came to me after a few months of reflecting on a theme that fit my memoir.

At first I wrote about topics that interested me, but were not necessarily related to my “gutsy” theme. This was a mistake, but I didn’t know enough about blogging at the time. In 2011, I had a professional website designed which gave me credibility. I attended monthly meetings with other bloggers, most of them young moms starting online businesses. I then decided that “Gutsy Living” would enable me to broaden my topics, allowing other writers to contribute to building my brand. One young blogger suggested I allow guest posting about “Gutsy” topics. This is how I decided to start the “My Gutsy Story” contest. I knew other writers had their own “My Gutsy Story” to share, but I had no idea this series would continue to grow. I managed to get sponsors so monthly contest winners could pick a prize. It’s still going strong, and if you’re interested in submitting. Please check out my Gutsy Living Blog contest page.  

In 2012, I decided to trademark the “My Gutsy Story®” name, and now have 61 authors who have contributed to an anthology with a publication date in September 2013. I am organizing an indie author event with “My Gutsy Story®” authors to be held in a movie theater in Orange County, California, for the anthology launch.   

Finding my brand was a gradual process. I feel fortunate that everything seemed to blend together with our “gutsy” family adventure in Belize. I have a specific message in my memoir: Freeways to Flip-Flops: Our Family’s Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island. Life lessons that I learned about my sons, my husband, and myself, thanks to our year in a third-world country.

This enabled me to build and grow my brand, “Gutsy Living: Life’s Too Short to Play it Safe,” which then led to speaking about taking risks in life, and not postponing your dreams.

I have found that making presentations in libraries, bookstores and at writers’ workshops has created a buzz about my book. Local newspaper articles have helped spread the buzz, and a couple of newspaper reporters called to interview me about my book, as well as being an indie author. I enjoy networking and marketing, and although most of us are scared of public speaking, I think this is necessary for indie authors to promote their book.

When I was thirteen, everyone laughed at an impromptu speech my teacher asked me to make. I have always remembered that embarrassing day, and have made it a life goal to overcome my fear of public speaking. If I can do it, so can anyone else.

Finally, I started a Facebook group called: Gutsy Indie Publishers, which now has 240 members. We all help one another during the various stages of publication. There are also book designers, editors, PR people, book shepherds, as well as writers who are just starting to write, and have questions. I invite you to join us, if you’d like to.

I think it’s important to realize that indie publishing means you’re starting your own professional business. It’s a full-time job that requires wearing many different hats, but as long as you’re willing to keep learning, it’s well worth it.

Sonia Marsh is a “Gutsy” woman who can pack her carry-on and move to another country in one day.  Her memoir has received 6 awards at the:

2013 London Book Festival
2013 Los Angeles Book Festival
2013 Great South West Book Festival,
1st Place, Gold Medal in “Autobiography/Memoir E-Lit Awards 2012/13 
2nd Place, Silver Medal in “Travel Essay” category E-Lit Awards 2012/13 
2013 Paris Book Festival

Sonia has lived in many countries – Denmark, Nigeria, France, England, the U.S. and Belize – Sonia Marsh considers herself a citizen of the world. She holds a degree in environmental science from the University of East Anglia, U.K., and now lives in Southern California with her husband, Duke, and their rat terrier Cookie. Sonia welcomes new friends, writers and readers at her website: 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Our Very Own "Leaning In"

Everyone has been reading or hearing about Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In. . . how women can empower themselves through voice and action.
At our Women's Writing Circle  anthology reception this past weekend,  we celebrated Slants of Light:  Stories and Poems From the Women's Writing Circle. I thought how we as writers are "leaning in."  We celebrated our accomplishments, our voices, each other. 
But we still have a long way to go. How do we stop downplaying our accomplishments?  How do we lean in?
It means bringing our families into our realm of  accomplishment and rejoicing with them, but if they choose not to partake, then letting go and reaffirming our commitment to our craft and creativity.

It means not apologizing to people about charging for our book and stop saying, I'm not good at selling and asking people for money; rather affirming our accomplishment and saying,  I am selling this book because it is my work, my expertise. I cannot let you have this book for free, nor should you expect it for free.
It means writing the truth of our stories and moving forward, putting behind the pain and writing without apology about lost innocence, failed marriages, our need for connection and romance, our disillusionment with the workplace, our struggle with addiction. 

This is the power of literature.
It means believing in our stories, and not sitting on the sidelines; not giving up on our belief that change needs to take place and is happening.

It means not listening to those who tell us ambition is equated with being unlikable. 
This is the power of our Women's Writing Circle anthology as celebrated yesterday at a beautiful historic bookstore in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  We made no apology for the stories and poems, which reflect our lives, our voices, our dreams, our desires, our meditations and reflections. 
We make no apology this is our time to tell our stories and that there are no male writers in this book. 
We make no apology that our stories are depressing, they are emotional, they are intense - and mostly, they are powerful. 
This is the power of telling our story.  As you write, you heal and move on - and share it with others. 
By writing the truth of our stories, releasing their intensity as well as their honesty, we  assert ourselves.   We do not care to downplay our accomplishments as writers, as entrepreneurs, as women.  We celebrate each other, our voice, our community as writers.

Monday, May 6, 2013

"Kitchen Table" Book Brainstorming

When you are a self-publisher, it's not enough to write, edit, illustrate and produce a book.  You want your book to reach readers.    And that means marketing and promotion. 
When you produce an anthology, you tap into an entire "village" of creativity. Which is what happened yesterday as we celebrated our achievement of collaborating, writing and producing an anthology of original, never-before published stories and poems by 15 authors. 
Our special "guest of honor" at this party was Slants of Light, our beautiful book lovingly crafted with heart, soul, talent and tenacity, which we offer to you, our readers. 
Watch out world when you put a group of women around a "kitchen table" - or a circular glass table on a beautiful outdoor patio - and let them brainstorm and unleash their ideas and energy! It's amazing. Each of us brought to "the table" our ideas for marketing and promoting our book.  We wanted to share those initiatives with all of you up-and-coming authors and self-publishers.
  • Meeting with independent bookstore owners and pitching the book on consignment coupled with an author signing.
  • Contacting college and university alumni offices which run the gamut from the University of Delaware, the University of Pennsylvania . . .  and on . . . and suggesting to former professors that the book be considered for women's studies curriculum as well as alumni magazine features.
  • Contact the local Women's Resource Center and women's referral networks in the Philadelphia area.
  • Write a blog post for Patch (online community newspaper owned by AOL which offers opportunities to write on topics of interest to the community).
  • Schedule programs and panel discussions at local libraries featuring women writers talking about writing, self-publishing and social media - (two programs scheduled).
  • Contact book clubs and ask friends to host a book party.
  • Contact hospital gift shops to sell the book and offer a book signing.
  • Contact nursing homes and assisted living communities to do readings and talk about writing, poetry and memoir.
  • Contact hairdressers and chiropractors, (just to name two), by asking them to purchase the book and place it in their offices/shops.
  • Ask friends to buy the book and when they agree, immediately put a copy in an envelope and mail off so they have it to show others.
  • Approach QVC (headquartered in West Chester, PA) about the book and the possibility to sell it on television. (A long shot, but you never know unless you ask.)
  • Contact townships about a table at their community fair days.
  • Contact churches about offering the book at craft fairs or for discussion groups.
  • Schedule book signings at the local coffeehouse (already scheduled).
  • Send out press releases and invite press to author signing and reception and propose they write a feature story on the anthology by making authors available for interviews and photos.
  • Partake in book signings in other states offered by friends and family.
  • Feature the anthology in the local business school's monthly flyer  (accomplished).
  • Speak to patients in the rehab units of two local hospitals about the healing journey of writing (in progress).
  • Promote through a magazine cover story (accomplished).
  • Schedule a giveaway on Goodreads (accomplished).
  • Place the book in a convenience store adjacent to one of the busiest gas stations on the New Jersey Shore (accomplished).
  • Offer guest blogs through the online writing community about the collaboration (accomplished,    Looking for more opportunities to talk about the power of collaboration)
And, this, dear readers, is what we have come up with in just two weeks! Although creating the anthology felt at times like Sisyphus pushing the proverbial "boulder" up the hill, at the end of the day a group of cheering women waited at the top (see the watercolor presented to me by Diane). All of us who author and self-publish can - and must -  cheer each other on. For what all of this comes down to is building relationships and connections with each other, in our communities and in the larger, world community. We would love to "brainstorm" with you, and ask that you leave your promotional ideas of what has worked  - what hasn't - in the comment section.  Many thanks from the authors of Slants of Light.