Delving deeper into memories

My post yesterday sent me off on a tangent about memory.

I wrote about what I do remember on the day of my first confession, but there is a lot missing that I do not remember about that event.

I have no memory of my actual first confession, at least not one that stands out from other confessions I made during my childhood. I have lumped all my experiences of Catholic penance into one image of kneeling in a small dark room, hearing a small window-sized barrier slide open and a priest’s voice. I can’t remember what the various priests said over the course of my confessions.

“Forgive me Father for I have sinned,” I seem to have successfully retained as my appropriate response. I don’t remember the multitude of offenses I confessed to. I do remember there were big sins and smaller sins which fell into the two categories of venial and another name I can’t recall. I also didn’t remember if venial referred to the bigger sins like murder and theft until I Googled it. “According to Roman Catholicism, a venial sin (meaning “forgivable” sin) is a lesser sin that does not result in a complete separation from God and eternal damnation,” (Wikipedia). Maybe that’s why I don’t recall the name for the really big sins. I only committed smaller sins like fighting with a sibling or telling a white lie. If there is such a thing.

I also remember sitting on a hard pew and praying the Our Fathers and Hail Marys I was assigned as penance.

On the day of my first confession, I have no idea what happened afterwards. Did I go back to my own school? Did I go home? How did I get there? It’s a complete black hole. I don’t remember telling my mother what had happened, although I’m sure I did. And most importantly, I don’t remember her response. I wish I could.

I read recently that we can delve deeper into our memories and bring back details. I’ve never made a conscious effort to do so, and don’t exactly know how. Although I have to admit that I had to concentrate to bring back details for the scenes in my memoirs. But most of those were easily accessible. I suspect a little Googling might lend some guidance.

I get a little scared when I think about uncovering memories I haven’t sifted and sorted through as an adult. I don’t really know if it’s possible. If I tried, either I would discover things I had forgotten, taking me back to a time and place that no longer exists, or I would resurface empty-handed. Either way, it is a little unsettling to think about.

You’ll be the first to know.

 

 

~~~~~

 

 

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.

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

One year later — a review of Self-Publishing

One year ago tomorrow Dancing in Heaven-a sister’s memoir appeared for sale on Amazon.com. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported me on this journey. I’d especially like to thank everyone who read and reviewed the book for me. This has been a big help. You can find links to these reviews at my Dancing in Heaven page.

If you’ve read the book and would like to leave a short sentence or two at Amazon.com or Goodreads, it’s not too late. The reviews absolutely help me.

As I was looking back over my posts regarding my memoir and self-publishing, I came across the following:

I know I need to write her story, but I am afraid I have waited too long and won’t be able to remember it clearly. I am afraid it is too soon and I will remember it too well.October 5, 2009 – from Dancing in Heaven

I remember very clearly writing this in the middle of the night at our old house with Arthur, who was just a puppy then, at my feet, three years ago,  almost exactly two years before I published the finished story.

Isn’t it funny that it all started at this same time of year?

I had a finished draft a year later in November of 2010 and started deliberating about what I should do with it. I’m not going to drag you through all that again, but if you missed it, you can find all my posts about Self-Publishing here. By June of 2011 I had decided to go forward with self-publishing and with a lot of help from my graphic designer daughter, had a proof copy in my hands before the end of September. I did a little video of that thrill to share with you in case you missed it. That was a high point of the journey.

After a few rounds of proof copies and edits, Dancing in Heaven went up on Amazon.com, and other sites as well, October 7, 2011. I was actually visiting our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson when that happened. I had prepared some excerpt posts in advance to be able to blog from St. Louis. For some of these I taped myself reading the excerpt as I sat out on our screened in porch where I sit as I type to you today.

Over the past year book sales have done little more than trickle in. I’ve sold almost or only (however you choose to see it) about 300 books to date. And I owe a nice portion of that to three individuals: my good friend, teacher, and mentor, Jeff Hillard who has made Dancing in Heaven one of the required books for his Cincinnati Authors’ class two years running;  a good friend and high school classmate Nancy Henry Chadwick who chose it for her book club’s selection and hosted a book discussion; and Teresa Hutson Simmons, also a friend and classmate as well as the librarian at the Kettering College of Medical Arts, who shared the book with her colleagues and invited me to speak to students. Friends and bloggers who wrote reviews, interviewed me, or allowed me to guest blog also were very helpful in promoting the book. Again, links to these can be found at my Dancing in Heaven page.

At first I had a pretty good idea who was buying my book. Now when the sales trickle in, I always wonder. Who is it? Where did they hear about it? I sold one book recently in the UK — my first book sold out of this country. Is that one of you out there reading my blog? I’m happy that Dancing in Heaven has made its way into the right niche market at Amazon.com judging by what recommendations come up when I search for it.

I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve given away over the past year, but if I were guessing I’d say in the neighborhood of 50 — not all that many, but a fairly high percentage of those that I sold. I’ve debated doing mass giveaways, one of the Indie tactics to generate publicity and sales, but I’m not convinced that it will actually result in readers of the book. If anybody asks me for a book, I gladly will give them a digital copy. If someone offers to do a review, I send them a print version if they’d like. Many people have told me they’ve shared the book with someone else, so it’s hard to know how many people have actually read it. But I think 350 is a good, yet conservative, number. And I really don’t think that is bad.

Early out I made efforts to get reviews, to get involved with Indie organizations and support groups, and to try to promote my book. I quickly became disenchanted with what I saw as the Indie rat race, and soon stopped overt efforts. I know that my sales would be much better if I would promote the book with any regularity, energy, and enthusiasm. I just don’t want to spend my time doing that. I still occasionally make a lame effort or two at promotion, but mostly I have removed myself from that arena and will allow Dancing in Heaven to sink or swim on its own.

Would I do it again and self-publish another book?

I’ve thought about this a long time, and I believe I would. In fact, I probably will, if I ever finish my father’s story.

Would I show it to someone from a major publishing house if they came to me and asked to see my manuscript? Duh.

Will I spend a lot of time generating book proposals and summaries and query letters and wait perhaps years to try to get my next book accepted by an agent and then published? Not likely.

Will I do anything differently the next time? I will probably make every effort to keep my costs as low as possible. But I still will pay for good editing and cover/book design.

As disenchanted as I’ve been with trying to rise above the clamor and market a self-published book, I’m even more disenchanted with the notion of having to get that opening paragraph of a query letter so perfect that it will knock the socks off the agent who is buried beneath a pile of them. Did that agent have enough coffee that morning? Is she in a good mood when she opens my envelope? Was mine the last one to be opened at the end of a very long day? I just can’t deal with that kind of stress and dependence on luck and timing.

If I were a famous personality would I try to get an agent? You betcha.

Do I hope the world of self-publishing figures out a way to separate the wheat from the chaff? Of course. (Assuming my book/s fall into the category of wheat.)

Am I glad 350 people have read my sister Annie’s story? Absolutely. It’s made it all worth while to me.

Why we write our stories — a guest post at Wrote by Rote

I’d like to thank Arlee Bird at Wrote by Rote for the invitation to write a guest post on his blog about memoir writing. Why we write our stories, is a post I wrote about writing stories in general and Dancing in Heaven in particular. I hope you’ll stop by and read it there today or sometime through next week.

In addition to Wrote by Rote, Arlee is the author of  Tossing it Out (his main blog), A Few Words (a Sunday contemplation), and A Faraway View (about dreams). Arlee also initiated  April’s A to Z challenge.

Thank you, Arlee, for your interest in Dancing in Heaven, and your invitation to guest blog.

A bouquet of wildflowers to you.

Lisa Kramer gives Dancing in Heaven a heavenly review

I wasn’t going to blog today, but I wanted to thank Lisa for her review of Dancing in Heaven on her Hub page, and give you all a chance to read it.

Lisa Kramer or Lisa Wields Words
Lisa Kramer

Book Review: Dancing in Heaven a gift of love
by Lisa Kramer

“The world of publishing is changing, as more and more people take advantage of technology, bypass traditional publishing houses and either self-publish or focus solely on e-publishing. While many people view this change with trepidation, after reading a few too many poorly written books published by so-called “vanity presses,” I see it as an opportunity for some truly talented writers to share important stories. I have been the victim of reading poorly written books published by traditional publishing companies, and have come to realize through blogging and reading that there are incredible writers out there who simply couldn’t find their way through traditional means.

“So, I was not worried when I opened Christine M. Grote’s memoir Dancing in Heaven since I had shared part of her journey to publication with her on her blog. I already know that she is a talented writer. I had already read some sections of this memoir, and recognized the poignancy and beauty of the story. I knew that she cared too much about this story and agonized too long on every detail to make something not worthy of having hundreds of readers.[…]

“I was right.”

Near the end of the review Lisa writes,

“While this may seem ultimately sad, I can’t help but rejoice in being allowed to share a little bit of Annie’s story. When I started reading I had a flashback to a childhood memory, of visiting a friend’s sister who, like Annie, never left her bed without help. I remember being a little afraid as I entered that room, and not knowing where to look or what to say. Now, I wish that I had taken time to know her better, and to discover the true gift that I am sure she was to her family. I only hope that woman, who passed long before Annie, is somewhere out there with Annie, dancing in full-bodied joy!”

Thank you for this image, Lisa. Thank you for taking the time to read and review Dancing in Heaven.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Read complete review here.

In addition to her Hub page Lisa also blogs at Lisa Wields Words, and tweets @LisaWieldsWords.

What people are saying about Dancing in Heaven — a sister’s memoir

Dancing in Heaven — a sister's memoir“This is very courageous, brave writing. Annie’s story has enriched my life.” Carolyn Walker, published memoirist, and Pushcart Prize nominee.

Christine Grote’s extraordinary memoir, Dancing in Heaven, breaks new ground in the realm of creative non-fiction. It especially stands alone as the most significant, recent personal narrative to examine home caregiving to a physically disabled loved one. In this story about her sister Annie, which gracefully blends time and place, Dancing in Heaven captures the inescapable pain, unpredictable joy, and resilient decision-making that preoccupied her family for over 50 years as they lived with and attended to Annie’s needs – the speechless brave Annie who, not ironically, gave life to her family and countless friends. Although Annie didn’t survive, the miracle of Ms. Grote’s memoir resurrects the unforgettable life she left behind. A story crafted in the greatest love, you cannot possibly get at the stark truth of caregiving any more than this book does.” Jeffrey Hillard, editor & publisher, www.redwebzine.org

“Annie and her family made a significant impression on me and ultimately, on my career choice. Annie’s memory is honored with this intimate, personal tribute.” Jim McCormick, Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities Services.

Dancing in Heaven captures “the combination of constant desperate waiting, dread, confusion and exhaustion you experience when someone you love is dying.  The small kindnesses that seem like miracles.  The utter relief of hospice. . .  Annie was pure love.  In her utter helplessness, she was still able to radiate love.  And her whole family responded to that in a heroic way.”
Nancy Henry Chadwick, writer

“Christine’s love for her sister will never expire.  Her memoir is a lovely tribute to the life of this dear family member. . .” Dogear6, blogger Read complete review.

 


Sticky issues with memoirs and what I lost in the rewrite

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I ran into trouble with my memoir when I tried to get release forms signed by my family members who were in the book. Two of my siblings wanted to be omitted from the story. At the time, I was afraid I no longer had a book. You can read about my initial reaction in my Project Derailed post from July if you missed it.

I reexamined what I had left after I took my oldest sister and brother out of the book, and I believed that Annie’s story still shone through. I decided to rewrite the book as if we were a family of five people instead of seven, leaving out any mention of these two siblings as they requested. The main story is intact.

But I did lose things I really liked. Here are two abridged stories that got cut:

When we were young, a bat got in our house. I was fairly young, maybe four or five years old. I was in the bathtub by myself, with the door to the hallway open, when I heard screaming and then saw my siblings running down the hall towards the bedroom. Carol and my brother came first, and then my oldest sister, who probably wasn’t older than seven-years-old, came hurrying down the hall carrying Annie in her arms. She had never carried Annie before. Annie’s body, cradled between her arms, was dipping down to her knees. My parents must have been in the living room trying to contend with the bat. But my oldest sister, instead of just running and saving herself from the darting winged creature, stopped, picked up Annie, and saved her too.

The other story I hated to lose was at my oldest son’s wedding. We were in a hotel in St. Louis having breakfast in the lobby at the breakfast bar. I was sitting beside Annie when she got very excited. I had no idea why. There were a lot of people milling about, and a jumble of voices, so it took me a moment to realize that I could hear my brother’s voice. Annie hadn’t seen him in many months, or possibly even a couple of years, but she was able to pick his voice out of the crowd. He was the reason for her excitement. It brought tears to my eyes at the time.

My brother lives about six hours away and wasn’t home during Annie’s last days except for a short visit right before she died. So he didn’t participate in the main story line except for making frequent phone calls home. But my oldest sister, who lives close to my parents, was there all day, every day. She brought in groceries and frequently cooked dinner for all of us. She ran to the store for medicine. She sat with Annie and sang to her. Her presence was felt throughout the whole ordeal. She wrote and delivered a lovely eulogy that I had to cut from the book. I was very sorry to leave her out of the memoir. I desperately negotiated with her about editing and revising, but she opted out.

It has been a bittersweet experience for me.

But I rewrote the story, and continued onward with my self-publication project. I think it is still a good story. After all, it’s really about Annie, and possibly me, and we’re still there.

Have you ever had to make a large compromise on something you were writing or a project you were working on?

Are Memoirs Exploitative?

I’ve heard it said that memoirs can be exploitative. Someone is exploiting their father’s alcoholism, their mother’s mental illness, their friend’s cancer, their sister’s death.

And I suppose people can see it that way if they so choose. It is their prerogative.

And maybe, in some individuals’ minds the fact that in the past criminals have made financial gain on their stories has promoted this view. People are closely watching Casey Anthony right now to see if she will be able to exploit the death of her daughter for personal gain. It’s true. Some people do exploit the bad fortune of others. The dark side of human behavior continues to disappoint and distress me.

But I don’t see most memoirs as exploitative. Memoirs are a means by which authors can share their own personal journey for whatever reason. Oftentimes, I imagine, they hope that someone else can benefit from the sharing in some way. Here’s what the nay-sayers are missing: most memoir writers are not exploiting someone else, they are exposing their own pain. They are like a hermit crab without a shell, fully exposed to whatever reception their story receives.

I think memoir writers are courageous. I think Jeannette Walls’ story of her dysfunctional family and Ann Best’s story of her unfaithful, homosexual husband, took a lot of personal courage to write.

Since the beginnings of time people have wanted to share their stories. While earning my English degree several years ago, I took a class in which we studied some Holocaust literature. Holocaust stories just make me plain-out feel terrible. Horrendous treatment of people, horrible suffering, and not a thing in the world I can do about it. “What possible good can it do for me to read these stories?” I asked. “What can I do for the author who wrote the story?”

“You can read his story.” Was the answer. People want their story told.

Memoirs are a window into the human condition. Many times they are stories of human courage and resilience growing out of human frailty and suffering.

My own memoir, Dancing in Heaven, is a story of love, compassion, unwavering commitment, and the intrinsic value of human life in it’s most basic form. I know I open myself up to attack from or rejection by individuals who may want to read my story with a different agenda. It’s a risk all writers who speak their truth take.

I’m still going to tell my story. My sister Annie never worked, never got married, never had children. Her footprint on this earth was nearly invisible because, like the famous poem, she was carried the entire way.  Annie didn’t have very much to leave behind. But she did have her story. And I’m telling it.

Self-Publishing— Project Update: Moving forward

I decided to arrange these updates into categories, because more than anything else, I think the challenge of self-publishing is being able to keep all the balls in the air at the same time. A self-publisher has to perform the tasks of a writer, editor/publisher, business manager, and marketing director.

Writer

The large portion of the past month has been spent in rewriting Dancing in Heaven to omit family members who so requested. This involved cutting three large sections out, rearranging the flashbacks or vignettes that appear in the second part of each chapter, and writing a new section. Then I had to comb through the entire manuscript to remove any reference to, or inference of, additional siblings. I did this twice. I also had to remove photos. In some cases I cropped or Photoshopped individuals out. In other cases I selected new photos to replace the ones I had to remove.

I also edited and revised the extra pages that are located at the beginning of the book: the title page/s, copyright, dedication, acknowledgements, table of contents, and author bio.

I sent all of this to my graphic designer (and daughter) who will hopefully work her magic on it and make it all shiny again.

Editor/Publisher

I am very excited about the early draft of the book cover that my daughter is designing and can’t wait to show it to you when it is finished, which I hope will be soon. It’s better than I had hoped for and actually brought tears to my eyes.

I haven’t assigned an ISBN to the book yet and am going to wait until I know that we are close to publishing it. I think this is a simple matter of going into my account at Bowkers and giving them the title information. I decided not to register the copyright or get a Library of Congress listing. I don’t think it is that critical, and quite frankly, I’m starting to weary of all the red tape.

I have an account on Createspace, the print on demand provider I intend to use. I will have to navigate my way through their site when I have a final document and cover to upload.

I still need to finish the copy for the back of the cover. I have two short blurbs that I may use and am waiting on a third. I have a book summary written. I think Createspace will generate the barcode for me, but I need to verify that.

Once I get Createspace up and running, I will look into what is needed for the e-book, which I hope and suspect will be a simple matter.

Business Manager

Grote Ink, LLC is a registered company, with a checking (and savings) account and a debit card. I opted out of the credit card. I have been trying to collect receipts for all expenses up to date which include editing costs, workshop fees, legal fees for company registration, and ISBN purchase. I decided to apply for a Delivery Vendor’s License which will allow me to hand sell books at events, if I so choose, throughout the state of Ohio.

I plan to keep the business financial records on paper as well as on our copy of QuickBooks. I’ve used this computer program for my husband’s company with questionable success at times. (The accountant has had to bail me out on more than one occasion.) It’s one of those programs that thinks it knows what you want to do and at times whisks numbers away from you, which never reappear, ergo, I’m keeping paper records as well.

As far as the business goes, I think it is just a matter of keeping financial records from this point forward.

Marketing Director

I need a plan.

I have a vague notion of announcing the availability of Dancing in Heaven on my blog and social media sites, sending out a few free copies, and creating bookmarks, otherwise I’m pretty much stuck at the starting gate.

I also need a website, which I hope to create in the coming weeks.

I know I will need book reviews. I know there are other things I can do to promote Dancing in Heaven. I just have to sit down and figure it all out to come up with a plan. Since the business set-up, and hopefully writing, work is done, once I get the publishing activities behind me, I should be able to devote all of my time to figuring out marketing.

As always, I am open to any helpful suggestions you may have.

Have a restful weekend.