I made it to the UD Alumni Bookshelf again

I was looking at the online UD Quickly Magazine. They have an alumni bookshelf. I submitted Dancing in Heaven there and it was put on the shelf in June of 2012. So, I was trying to find out how to submit Where Memories Meet – Reclaiming my father after Alzheimer’s. I was scanning down the current edition of the UD Quickly Bookshelf that was published in September and was surprised to see this blog mentioned. Although I shouldn’t have been. This summer I was contacted by the editor who told me the magazine wanted to feature blogs as well as books. I met her at the local Panera where we had a nice conversation and she interviewed me.

Check it out here. You’re all part of this. I wouldn’t have continued this blog without you.

Box turtle
Slow and steady wins the race, or at least gets you home. September 2015

~~~~~

A tribute to Vera

Today I bring you a guest post from Cindy Cunningham. I met Cindy through my memoir, Dancing in Heaven, as she explains below. From time to time readers of Annie’s story have contacted me to share their own story. I’ve decided to share with you any stories I receive for which I have permission to do so. My plan is to create a permanent page on my blog with links to these stories. Thanks in advance for reading Cindy’s story about Vera.

I live in southern California, but home is just north of New Orleans, LA.  Most people who don’t live in Louisiana hear New Orleans and instantly think big city.  I actually grew up in a very small rural area called Covington, which is north of New Orleans, just a stone’s throw away from the north end of the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway, which separates New Orleans from country living.

My children, identical twins, Aimee and Jaime (now 32 years old) and my son, Scott (now 34 years old) along with their children and my parents who are now 75 and 78 still live in Covington. Our grandchildren either fly out yearly to visit us or I fly there and visit them. While my 15-year-old granddaughter was here on a visit she told me she had to read a memoir for her upcoming honors English class.  I searched around and read several introductions and found yours. We both began reading and memories of my own childhood came flooding back.

My grandmother became a wife at the age of 15 and was eventually the mother of six children.  Each child was born at home, a house with a beautiful high ceiling my grandfather had made from the logs he had harvested over the years.  Back in the 1930’s in rural Louisiana there just weren’t hospitals and doctors to care for you.  My grandmother did manage to get a midwife to attend the births.  Each and every one went smoothly until my Aunt Vera was born.  May 29, 1938 changed my grandmother’s life forever.  The birth wasn’t going smoothly.  The baby just wasn’t entering the birth canal correctly and in desperation the midwife took an ironing board and pressed on my grandmother’s stomach in an effort to make the baby move.  Eventually the baby was born, but severely damaged.  My Aunt Vera had cerebral palsy.  She was a beautiful baby, just a baby trapped inside her body.  Nobody knew enough back then to help her.  She never got to attend school and was carried by my grandparents everywhere they went.  She couldn’t lift her head or straighten her legs or control her arms.  She sat in a rocker with a cushion in my grandmother’s kitchen as long as I can remember.  Her bed was a twin bed placed along the wall in my grandparent’s bedroom.  She slept in that bed until the day my grandmother went to awake her as she had done for 55 years.  I remember clearly getting the call that Vera had passed away.  My initial thought was “How will my grandmother live without her?”

Growing up, Vera was always there.  I saw her disabilities, but they were who she was.  I watched my grandmother carry her from her bed every day and put her in her special rocker in the kitchen so she could be with everyone all day.  Around noon it was routine for her to be moved to another rocker in her bedroom (also my grandmothers bedroom) so they could watch their favorite soap operas.  I would visit when I got older and mention a soap star to Vera knowing she was all into it and would be excited about my opinion.  She would light up and rock back and forth and try so hard to make words come out.  Words always eluded her.  Only grunts and noises would surface.  Sometimes she would get so angry because she couldn’t express her feelings and she would get flushed in her face and finally her body would go limp and she would fall back into her rocker with the look of defeat.  I wanted so badly to give her the gift of speech.

My grandmother told me stories of when I was little and would play around Vera’s chair and poke her and laugh and hide.  She said Vera loved it and laughed along with me.  Growing up seeing her so disabled was a natural thing for me, but it didn’t stop me from wishing it had been different for her.

One of my fondest memories is of going to church with my grandparents and Vera.  They attended a Baptist church in the country and Vera had a special rocker to the right in the front row.  My grandparents would sit next to her during services. Everyone would come by and speak to Vera and she loved it.  The church family was a big part of her life.

It seems my entire adult life while I was raising three children of my own, I kept Vera in my thoughts.  Every time I was out and about and saw a raffle or something that I thought might make her days brighter I would enter her name.  I remember once my grandmother called me and asked if I had entered Vera in a drawing. I had so many times that I just said yes.  She said that K-Mart had called and asked to speak to Vera and she told them that she couldn’t speak because she was handicapped.  They told her that Vera’s name had been drawn for a huge 4-ft pink energizer stuffed bunny.  I had to laugh.  My grandmother had someone pick it up and when activated it clapped it cymbals together and marched.  I was right. It did brighten her day.  No matter how trivial it was to most, it made her laugh.

Vera had about twenty baby dolls and my grandmother would dress them for the day and lay them out for Vera to see.  She would pick one and insist my grandmother place it in her crooked arms.  She would then rock it for hours.  Once I got her an anatomically correct baby boy doll and she loved it.  She laughed so much when she saw it.  The other thing she loved was punch balls.  My grandmother would tie the band to her finger and she would use her dominant right arm and swing it around. As with your sister, Diane, Vera’s right arm was always the stronger one.  She could swing it back and forth, but it always ended up curled up like the left one.  Her back was always hunched over and her legs crunched up too.  She was almost in a fetal position.  I use to wonder how her back didn’t kill her.

One Christmas I decided to buy small trinkets for the twenty-four days leading up to Christmas.  Vera loved Christmas and no matter how old my grandmother got she always went all out decorating for Christmas.  I also bought a hanging shadow box that on the 25th day would be given to Vera to put all of her trinkets in.  I made up poems about the trinket of the day and mailed it anonymously to Vera.  When I visited she was so excited about the trinket of the day.  Neither she nor my grandmother could figure out who was sending them.  The buildup was grand and it did my heart good to see their excitement.  On Christmas day I brought the shadowbox over, and revealed myself to them.  Vera was so excited she was beside herself.

Looking back I think of all of the things I did to try and make Vera’s life happier.  I think maybe on top of her being happier, it healed my heart in a way.  Imagining a life being trapped inside yourself with no voice or control over your limbs was so heartbreaking for me.  She deserved better and I couldn’t give it to her.

Vera died June 8, 1993. My grandmother was 79.  I thought about how my grandmother would, for the first time since she was 15, have freedom.  But how much freedom can you have at age 79?  Her health wasn’t good and she had always put Vera first.

Reading your book about your sister made me cry, made me laugh, and made me realize that there are so many Vera’s in this world and you and I were lucky enough to have them.  My life is so much richer because of Vera.  Her life was not a waste.  She touched so many lives in so many ways and her legacy will live on.  So will Diane’s.  I miss Vera every single day, but I know the day she flew away that she was whole for the first time in her life.  She could walk and sing and God was rewarding her for what she didn’t have here on earth.

Cindy Cunningham

Vera
Cindy’s grandparents and her Aunt Vera

~~~~~~~

Self-publishing—an update

I know, I know. It’s been so long since I wrote about self-publishing that you might have forgotten. Occasionally it slips even my mind.

I wanted to share two things with you: a interview and my book sales.

A few months ago, Beth Ann at It’s Just Life, suggested I request a review from TBM who blogs at Making my Mark, and is the author of A Woman Lost. TBM graciously read and reviewed Dancing in Heaven. A few days ago I answered interview questions for her.

Have I always wanted to be a writer?

What writers have influenced me the most?

When did I decide to write the memoir?

How difficult was it to write about my sister’s death?

I answered these and other questions about what I learned, my family’s support, and my current project. I know I’ve written a lot about Dancing in Heaven and my writing process, but I think there are new things in this interview. You can read my answers at Making my Mark. Stop over if you get the chance.

Now for the sales. Amazingly enough, considering my almost complete lack of regard or effort for marketing, sales for Dancing in Heaven continue to dribble in. At random intervals I receive a royalty check or a notice that money has been deposited into my account from a miniscule amount of $12 to a somewhat respectable amount of $320. That always reminds me that I’m still selling books, or at least that Amazon.com is still selling books for me.

I think Dancing in Heaven has made enough in royalties to pay for my publishing expenses which include setting up my business. I didn’t take the time to do the math and calculate the exact amount of money I’ve deposited, but I did add up how many books I’ve sold. As I approach the two-year anniversary of publishing Dancing in Heaven, I’ve sold about 770 books. Although initially I sold more print copies, over the two years the print copies amounted to only 18% of total sales. The lion’s share, 67%, of sales are from Kindle e-books. The remainder is from a combination of Nook, Smashwords, and hand-sold books. All things considered, I’ve been selling about one book a day. I’m okay with that.

I’m grateful for Amazon who basically does free marketing for me by suggesting my book to shoppers who are looking for similar titles.  Dancing in Heaven only has a bestsellers rating of 90,589, which sounds like it might be at the bottom of the barrel. But when I consider there are more than 1 million Kindle books for sale, that puts me in the top 10%. (Something Mark pointed out.) Which is somewhat amazing to me. I had read somewhere early out that the vast majority of books don’t break 100 copies. So at least I’ve done that.

I also have given away quite a few books, which means more readers for Annie’s story, which is what it is all about for me.

I’d do it all again.

In fact, I am doing it all again.

You can read more posts about my self-publishing journey, including things I learned in a self-publishing workshop, on my self-publishing page.

Another angel dances in heaven

I have several things I could post about: our trip to Buffalo for our son’s wedding, Lumenocity photos and video. I have a lot of photographs I could share from my 365 project and scenes from Buffalo. And I’ve been debating back and forth for a while now whether or not to share what has really been on my mind first thing in the mornings the past two days. I think I will.

On April 10th I received a message on my Facebook author page from someone named Karen. She wrote, “I just finished reading your book last night and I cried and cried….All through the book I kept thinking, ‘I wish I could talk to her”. I have a few things in common with you. I have a daughter who is 14 and has severe Cerebral Palsy.'”

It touched my heart that she reached out to me. Meeting people like Karen has been the greatest reward of publishing Dancing in Heaven. We corresponded a few times. I explored her Facebook page where she often posted updates about and photos of her daughter Jessica.

On Sunday night or Monday,  I read a post from Karen that came across my news feed. She wrote, “I don’t know how to go on without her. She was my life. Please, Jessica, help me.” I feared the worst and my fears were confirmed when I read through Karen’s news feed and saw message after message of condolence.

Jessie died Sunday morning. I read her obituary that Karen had posted.

I struggle with the message I’m trying to give you. But it’s something along the lines of what I believe to be a vast difference when a special needs child dies. There is a bond there that has been strengthened and tested in fire. There are so many aspects to it that most people never have to think about. And sadly, I am not finding the words to adequately explain.

I always feared that others would only see Annie’s disabilities and not her value. That’s why I wrote Dancing in Heaven. I always wondered if others would focus on the care giving my parents gave Annie, and perhaps even think in some corner of their mind, ill-illuminated or not, that perhaps there was a sense of relief that the care giving was no longer required.

I don’t believe you will find this to be true for any parent who loves their special child.

My heart goes out to Karen and her family. And the primal anguish in her words reminds me of what my parents must have felt when Annie died, four years ago now, on Friday.

Dance in heaven, precious ones.

Where do I go from here?

Where do I go from here?

When I decided to write about blogging, I did what I often do, I went online to find out what I could.

That’s not entirely honest. I googled it and check two links.

I found an article in New York magazine on line called The Early Years by Clive Thompson which was basically a timeline of the history of blogging. Did you know that the first blog, ever, was created by a college student in 1994? Almost twenty years ago.

Quite a few years ago my oldest son told me I should start writing a blog. I didn’t listen to him at the time, much to my chagrin. If I had maybe I could have proftted from being one of the early people in.

Did you know that people actually made money off of blogs? You probably did. I’m always the last to know.

But like so many other things, it helps to be popular if you are already famous. We like to follow people who have been proven to be well-liked by other people. The same goes for authors. We like to read authors who are the best sellers. They don’t have a problem getting an agent or a book contract. Same goes for famous people. Just check out the tables in your local B&N. But you already know that.

Clive Thompson talks all about it in Blogs to Riches: The Haves and Have-Nots of the Blogging Boom also published in New York magazine.

I never intended or expected to make money with my blog.

That’s probably a good thing, too.

I started the blog to encourage myself to write regularly, even every day, and to start creating an online presence. Just a little over two years ago on January 21, 2011, I started my blog with a short post, A New Start with Clean House, that mentioned both my mom and Arthur. Arthur is still with me. Mom is not. I still write about both.

My second post, Missed Opportunities, was about the red fox that I saw run through our yard, but failed to capture on camera. I still have missed opportunities, but now I keep my camera on a shelf in the kitchen where I am sometimes able to catch the wood ducks, the pileated woodpecker and the owl, the groundhogs, my most recent good catch – the scarlet tanager, and even a red fox.

I saw this female wood duck this morning. I think she was looking for her mate. They’re usually together.

01-Wood duck - 2013-05-01 _32.-500

My third post,  Fiddles radio broadcasts, signing off and iPads, was one of my all-time favorites. Very few people read it.

I tried to find the stats. I went to “all posts,” and then filtered for the date. I clicked on the miniature bar graph in the column that says “stats.” I had one “syndicated” view. I have no idea what that means, but it can’t be good. Truthfully, after rooting around a bit on my stats page, I don’t have any idea how many hits that page actually got.  I’m not going to obsess about it.

I continue to tell myself I shouldn’t be concerned with my stats anyway. I continue to not listen.

But a blogging acquaintance, compatriot, friend (what are we to each other anyway?) named Sue Dreamwalker commented on that post and continues to comment occasionally to this day. She has a nice post up today about May Day. So while some followers come and some go, she has stayed with me. I’d like to say thank you to Sue and all the rest of you who joined me early and have stuck around. Another shout out to Nancy at Spirit Lights the Way for lighting my way early on. And while I’m at it, I have to mention the amusing William at Speak of the Devil who continues to hold the esteemed position of being my number 1 commenter.

But I digress.

They say to have followers you have to be a follower. Which sounds a lot like friendship to me. And over the months, now years, that I’ve blogged, I continue to contemplate how this approach can possibly work unless you are satisfied with a static, relatively small, but loyal group of bloggers. A little blogging community. I’m not criticizing that, I’m just saying that if it becomes nothing more than a quid pro quo, your reach with your blog is limited to the amount of time you have to read and comment on others’ blogs. Which also depends on how long-winded your blogging friends are. You can see I will not fair very well in this system, because it becomes fairly obvious fairly early, that you can visit many photographers’ blogs in the time it takes you to read one lengthy, well-written or not, story on a writer’s blog.

This is a dilemma for me.

I started my blog when I was researching how to publish my memoir Dancing in Heaven.

After reading articles online, I realized that to publish a book, either by agent and traditional publisher or by myself, I needed an online presence. After I wrote Dancing in Heaven, I fully intended to seek an agent and publish it through traditional means. My mind changed. But the journey gave me a lot of fodder for my blog.

The advice I heeded was that I needed to build a platform, which at the time I read it was a completely foreign concept to me.

I started a blog.

I’ve read other advice more recently, that if you are a writer, you will serve your goals better by not spending time blogging, but writing instead. I think there is probably some truth in that position.

But I’ve also read that if you are a published author, you need to have a blog where your readers can learn more about you and communicate with you.

But then, I’ve read that if you want to have a successful blog, you need to  pick a topic, carve out your niche, and stick to it.

But that sounds kind of boring to me, and what would I do with my bird photos, garden updates, travel posts, and art series among other things?

If you’ve ever held a digital camera in your hands, running around a sunlit garden or walking through a park filled with birdsong, you already know that snapping photographs is a lot more fun than sitting at a desk doing the hard work of translating your thoughts from your brain through your fingers and the keyboard to a computer screen. Just saying. So maybe I get a little distracted at times.

I organize and generate pages, primarily for my own use, and simply because it feeds my OCD nature, but the occasional visitor finds them useful at times. Particularly the bilateral knee surgery documentation we did. People have thanked me for that one.

What I really think is that there is way too much advice out there on the web, well-meaning though it may be.  My head is spinning. Yours may be too after reading this disjointed post.

My solution is to do what I usually do in these cases. I trust myself. I trust my judgment. And I trust my heart. And thankfully I am married to an outstanding provider, so I am not obligated to make money from my writing in order to be able to feed myself. Which I should be doing a lot less of anyway if I want to listen to the advice about weight, health and nutrition.

I started blogging to force myself to write everyday. I’d grade myself at maybe a C on that one. Because, like I said, the photography has been enticing. And I don’t really consider my photography blogs “writing.”

The commaraderie and support that I received from followers, friends, and commenters I found invaluable as my family entered crisis control in the beginning of December with the diagnosis of my mom’s cancer and through the next intense weeks before both of my parents’ deaths in January.

I struggle with keeping up. I question what it’s all about. I wonder about the best use of my time.

My world was turned upside down when my parents died. I had devoted a lot of time and concern to their care. My foundation was badly shaken. And even though Mom and Dad were well past the days of doing anything of consequence to aid or assist me, they were two people in my life who always loved me no matter what, who always believed in me. And they were gone. That is a tremendous loss.

As I try to make meaning out of my life, I’m asking the question. Where do I go from here?

Memoirs Only Library

Several months ago I was contacted by Richard von Hippel, author of Not Again: “My body’s a write off but I’m all right.” Richard was putting together an online library of memoirs and invited me to participate. Richard has worked hard at adding content to this site called “Memoirs Only.” I am grateful for his efforts and for including Dancing in Heaven in this library. If you have a minute, I hope you will check it out.

memoirs only library

Self-Publishing—what not to do

Advisory: This post disregards, violates and otherwise ignores all advice to self-published authors regarding professionalism, such as: Be professional. Or if you can’t do that, at least act professional.

Thursday, November 15, 2012 — afternoon

You’d think I’d know better. I mean, after all, I was a high school valedictorian and managed to earn a bachelor of science in Chemical Engineering. You’d think I could manage to to update my Amazon.com book page. But then I haven’t done that in over a year. Maybe if I were 25 or 30, or whatever age one is at the prime of one’s mathematical ability, which I correlate to analytical ability, or a basic ability to think oneself out of a paper bag, I could have figured it out even if it was a year later. But, no.

I sure hope I haven’t inadvertently unpublished my memoir from Amazon.com. All I wanted to do was update my book description.

Give me strength.

Here’s the good news:

After publicly announcing I was abandoning all efforts at marketing my self-published book, I made personal record-breaking sales in October and am looking at a fairly good month here in November too (still a pittance for real authors, but good for fledglings like me). I don’t know how. I don’t know why. Maybe it has to do with some kind of fancy Amazon.com algorithm that pops my book up in front of the right eyes. Who knows? But I’ll take it.

In his infinite wisdom, Mark says I should keep doing what I am doing—nothing.

I also received a letter this week from the Midwest Book Review where I had requested a review of Dancing in Heaven in July. It read, “I’m very pleased to announce that the November 2012 issue of our online book review magazine “MBR Bookwatch” features “Dancing in Heaven.” (Along with a gazillion other books, but hey, I’ll take it.) You can read it here. It’s under “Greenspan’s Bookshelf” and you have to scroll to the bottom. But it made me all kinds of happy because I can add it to my marketing materials (which are largely nonexistent). And which brings me to the present crisis of the day.

I decided to update my book description on my Amazon.com page.

I read a good article at Catherine, Caffeinated, “The 11 Ingredients of a Sizzling Book Description,” by successful Kindle sales author Mark Edwards. I thought the tips looked good, so I spent all day sprucing up my book description, and attempted to update my Amazon page.

But I forgot (it’s been a whole year remember) how to make revisions and ended up, without fully realizing it, on the publish a book page. You know the rest. (If you aren’t trying to sell a book out there on the web, you can’t imagine what a mangled up mess of author pages, book pages, passwords, user names, web addresses, and a whole lot of other things I have to contend with. And clearly, I am not contending with them very well.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012 — night

I received an e-mail from Amazon.com stating, “Per your request, we’ve unpublished your book, ‘Dancing in Heaven—a sister’s memoir’ . . . It should become unavailable to buy withing 24-72 hours. . .Republishing requires approximately 12 hours.”

I read it aloud to Mark who said, “I thought you were going to keep doing what you had been doing — nothing. Are you trying the Cabbage Patch strategy and building interest by making your book unavailable?”

After two frantic e-mails to Amazon.com, I’m afraid to try to republish it, since it doesn’t appear to be unpublished yet. I know it’s just a matter of a day or two, but I just hope I don’t lose my “likes,” reviews, and tags. I sent a third e-mail.

E-gads.

Now I wait for 12 to 24 hours to see if I’ve made a complete mess of things, or whether the gurus at Amazon.com are going to bail me out.

Stay tuned.

Friday, November 15, 2012 — before getting out of bed

I checked my iPhone for e-mail messages and found this one from Amazon:

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience caused. Every time you make changes for your book in the bookshelf, it will go to the publishing status. (Who knew?) There is nothing to be alarmed as it’s a standard procedure. (Again, who knew?) I’ve republished your book on your behalf. It could take close to 24-48 hours for the title to appear as “Live” on the KDP Bookshelf. It’s common for a product description to take 36 – 72 hours to be fully updated on the web site, so yours should appear online soon.”

Good to know.

Read more posts about self-publishing, some of them actually helpful, at my Self-Publishing page.