A Time to Celebrate
The room was bubbling with conversation, laughter and congratulations. The book cover was fabulous and everyone loved the title. I felt energized and pleased. When I read suspenseful excerpts from the story, the audience wanted to know what happens next. Many of my guests engaged me with questions about the story and my journey as an author. I had finally held my very first book launch event, in January 2017.
Despite several guest cancellations due to a winter rain storm of epic proportions, I had an overflow crowd. I autographed and sold many books which was gratifying. Thus, I looked forward to the second launch party in February. But that was not to be. On the last day of January, I tripped and fell, breaking my arm near my wrist.
A Time to Step Back
Since I needed to have surgery on my arm, I was forced to cancel a week’s vacation in Hawaii and the second book launch party. I solicited help to complete the publication on Amazon Kindle and Ingram Spark; friends came to visit and brought me meals. I had to learn to let go and let others take care of my needs. Once I accepted this slight twist of fate, I felt deep gratitude for the supportive community that surrounded me.
Journey of Independent Publishing
I’ve experienced quite a journey of research, learning how to write historical fiction, writing many drafts and deciding how to publish. Although this was my first novel, writing and editing were familiar from my prior work in non-fiction. But I had no idea what was in store when I decided to self-publish. I joined the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) and learned a lot from the generous and experienced members. Publishing tasks and promotion tasks piled up on my to-do list. Even so I didn’t know about the promotional advantage of scheduling the “Cover Reveal.” I missed understanding about fixing the launch date far enough in advance to have time to send out advance reader copies for review and to set up a pre-order process.
As I planned the book launch, I was thrilled to have a friend offer a venue for a second launch party. So initially, I sent out invitations via an online event management program for guests to choose one of two dates. That turned out to be complicated and some people overlooked the need for an RSVP to get the venue address resulting in much confusion and frantic emails.
This reminded me that coordinating any sizable event, with RSVPs, is still a big undertaking despite the software and apps that supposedly “simplify” the process. I learned that many people still do not respond to or are a bit baffled by e-invite systems. I had to keep updating my “e-list” manually and respond to emails sent to me directly. I felt anxiety because my invitees were good friends, colleagues and family members. What if I inadvertently had left someone out or forgotten to follow up?
- Most importantly, given my goals for the book, I don’t need to rush to meet anyone else’s expectations or schedules. Stressful deadlines are not worth it. I have enjoyed my slower pace.
- It is important to plan extra time for key first time tasks that are likely to take longer than expected.
- There are many ways to promote and launch a self-published book; and all of them don’t necessarily fit for my book.
- Simplifying the invitation process makes it easier on both the guests and the host.
- Appreciate colleagues and friends who provide support and laughter for the milestones.
“Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.”
Myra Pollack Sadker*
My grandmother, Ellen Russell Scott, inspired and motivated me as I was growing up. She was in constant pain from rheumatoid arthritis, yet she seldom complained. She shared a smile with everyone she encountered. As a former teacher, Ellen valued education and encouraged me to get good grades and do the best I could.
I agree with the National Women’s History Project, (NWHP) that “We draw strength and inspiration from those who came before us.” My hope in writing a story based on Ellen’s life, “Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness,” was that others would find inspiration in her courage and her strength.
The character of Sarah is devastated by the loss of her husband Sam, as I imagined Ellen must have been when my grandfather H.D. Scott died leaving her a widow with five children. Here is an excerpt from the book.
Immediately after his death, she steps outside…
”I felt myself shiver. The wind was unusually still for New Mexico, but the air was crisp and cold. I went back inside. I wanted to feel the heat from the fire in the stove. I wanted to be warm, really warm. I sat down in my rocking chair rocking slowly. The coldness inside moved up my back and tingled at the nape of my neck….
“’I’m, a widow.’ I said aloud. I was alone, completely responsible for the children, not just for a few weeks or the winter season until Sam returned. I felt cold, flat. I opened my Bible, hoping for solace. I began to survey the landscape of my mind, much as I had the landscape outside. My mind was a closed book with all the memories of my life with Sam shut away. ‘I am alone’…”
But Sarah, like many women alone today, pulls herself together, finds the courage and fortitude to take her five children back to Nebraska.
Sarah Finds Strength and Confidence
The back story of Sam, a fictional character, is based only on limited information about my grandfather, a man not as Sarah experienced him nor what the reader expects. Sarah must face the betrayal of her trusted husband. Like many women who face adversity, Sarah finds through the humiliation of betrayal and her struggle to hold her family together, the strength and confidence within herself to take a position as the first woman school superintendent in the state of Nebraska.
Women’s History Overlooked
Without knowing about the women in our history or in our family stories we lose the opportunity to find role models, be inspired and dream about our future. As we know, women in our diverse American cultures are overlooked in mainstream history. Yet, as the NWHP website states, “they are part of our story, and a truly balanced and inclusive history recognizes how important women have always been in American society.”
I am grateful to the National Women’s History Project founded over 30 years ago in Santa Rosa, CA. NWHP serves as a catalyst, a leader and a resource in promoting women and their role in our American history. In 1978, they initiated a week of celebration of “Women’s History.” Congress ultimately declared March as Women’s History Month in 1987. This month is in recognition of the importance of women in our history. A balanced and inclusive history must not make the mistake of ignoring the critical role and contribution of women.
The Power of History and Inspiration
Knowing the stories of women from our own families, acknowledging the contributions of women in our cultural heritage and giving recognition to the historical achievement of the women overlooked in our history books, helps us know who we are. Then we can feel the power of inspiration and ignite our dreams.
What stories do you know about the women in your family history? What women in your life have inspired and motivated you?
*Quoted on the website of the National Women’s History Project.
“Sarah” and I need your help.
Self-publishing authors like me depend on word-of-mouth and social connections to help sell books. In addition, breaking my arm and having surgery put me behind in my marketing efforts. As a friend or a fan of “Sarah,” would you be willing to help spread the word?
Team Sarah Needs Your Help
I’d love you to join “Team Sarah” to help in any of the following ways.
• Identify bookstores where I could do a reading from Sarah’s Secret. Finding out the name of the person who schedules readings would be really helpful. With the book now available at IndieBound, it’s a good time to reach out to bookstores.
• “Think outside the bookstore.” I can do a reading at a different venue, such as a private “book party” for friends, at a writing class or library.
• Order Sarah’s Secret from your favorite independent bookstore. Talk to bookstore staff who are interested in local authors and new titles.
• Go to Goodreads.com, add Sarah’s Secret to your “book to read list” and make me your Goodreads friend.
• Post a question for me on my Goodreads.com author profile: Ask the Author! I promise to post an answer.
More Ways to Help
• Ask your book club to read Sarah’s Secret this year. A book club reader guide is available in the book. I am willing to come for the discussion for local groups or use Skype if the groups is too far away.
• Refer me to local historical or genealogy groups. I would love to talk about my genealogy research journey, women in the West, homesteaders in the Great Plains, or similar topics from Sarah’s Secret.
• Connect me with blogging sites focused on history of the West, genealogy and family research, women in U.S. history or other related topics. I’d love to get your ideas and referrals.
• Post a recommendation of Sarah’s Secret on your social media sites, e.g. Facebook, Linked In, Pinterest and Twitter. Re-post announcements from my sites or use my website link to refer your friends.
• Recommend me as a presenter or speaker for special events or conferences. Let me know who to contact.
• Introduce me to print, radio or broadcast reporters covering books, lifestyle features, local interest or similar topics willing to do an interview or short feature.
• Ask your local library to order Sarah’s Secret.
• Include an announcement in your own websites, newsletters and blogs about Sarah’s Secret with a link so people can sign up for my updates: http://sarahssecret.subscribemenow.com
Send me your ideas for marketing Sarah’s Secret. Be creative.
Contact me for background info, descriptions and announcements. firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah and I thank you for joining the Team!
in these dimmer days
when gloom and doom
conversations occupy the tables
in every corner of concern?…”
(From: What Matters Now by Minx Boren)
It is the “season of sharing” and the “season of hope.” Hope for peace and a better future. Yet, I find myself, like many of those around me experiencing these as days of “gloom and doom.” This year of blame, name calling, fabricated lies and divisiveness is coming to an end. I would like to feel optimistic and confident about next year, about our future. But it is hard.
In the research for my novel based on the lives of my grandparents, I was inspired by the grit and determination of the pioneer homesteaders who lived in lonely isolation on the prairie, daring to find hope, support and community. They held values of generosity and sharing, even among those with very little themselves like my grandparents. Giving to those most needy was a common practice. For homesteaders who often lived miles from their nearest neighbors, Christmas was a time of sharing and gathering in community. I imagine my grandparents and their children dressed in their “Sunday best” traveling by horse and wagon or by sleigh to visit with neighbors. Perhaps they gathered at the small community church to meet for religious services, share potluck meals and sing carols around a piano or accompanied by a guitar or a banjo.
This is our heritage of the “season of sharing,” remembering those less fortunate and sharing what we have in community. In the analysis of the election results, we are hearing that the messages which tapped into hunger and nostalgia for our past were successful. Minx Boren captures some of the longing in the next stanza of her poem…
“What counts now
when countless folk
feel harried and hungry
for the richness of more
when gold stars of hope
are needed to illuminate
their heavens and give weight to
Unfortunately, that nostalgia reflected in the election results is for a past where the “richness of more fulfilling times” offered narrow benefits primarily to the privileged who were mostly white and male. Many of us do not want to return to that past. We believe in the advancement of our human rights and we appreciate our health care and our creature comforts. I have no nostalgia for my grandparents’ life in an underground dugout, traveling by horse and wagon and suffering illness and the early death of loved ones. However, I do find myself longing for the prairie heritage of community, willingness to share and to offer freely given support to those in need. That heritage contrasts with the individualism, meanness and greed… what seems to me to be the “season of taking back.” Looking for the “gold stars of hope,” described in Boren’s poem, is very challenging as I listen to the pronouncements of our new President and the appointments he is making to his cabinet.
He is taking back hope, dreams, protection, human rights and probably jobs, too. No wonder we are discouraged and dismayed by what this picture of the future suggests. However, I believe that we must not succumb to numbness, depression and despair that will keep us from envisioning the opportunities of what a brighter future could be. We must not normalize greed, meanness and bigotry. The future I want for us is a future that requires us to get involved, take action, build community, keep the vulnerable safe, speak up for individual rights and in the spirit of giving, be as generous of heart, soul and material goods as we can be. Boren says it well.
are imagination and inspiration…
and a roll up our sleeves movement
of such magnitude that the future
can hear us coming
with our heads held high
above the cloudy predictions
and our knap sacks filled with
our gumption and our grit
our gifts and our gratitudes –
the building blocks of new
cornerstones of possibility.”
Let’s create our brighter future!
(Poem excerpts from What Matters Now by Minx Boren, poet and author.)
“We are all profoundly creative” – Julia Cameron
The amazing Julia Cameron who has written over forty books, opened the conference with her keynote, “The Right to Write.” Author of The Artist’s Way, she is a novelist, playwright, songwriter and poet. She has credits in the theater, film and television. She is incredibly prolific!
She’s a very talented and creative writer, but she argues that “we are all profoundly creative.” But how does she find the time to be so creative in writing in so many genres? She suggests that time is not the answer nor the question. And she laughs, while she confides to us that she is going to let us in on her secret.
Women Writing the West is an organization founded twenty years ago
to support authors and other professionals in promoting the contributions made by women to the history, culture and growth of the American West. More than simply a recognition that women played broader and more complex roles than being wives or prostitutes, the new view of the Women’s West speaks to the diversity of women of all cultures and all time periods. It acknowledges the rich variety of ways women responded to, and continue to respond to, the western experience. The Women’s West is based on a tradition that includes such fine writers as Willa Cather, Mary Austin, B.M. Bower, Mari Sandoz, Dorothy Johnson, Juanita Brooks, Laura Ingalls and Rose Wilder, and Helen Hunt Jackson. Women Writing the West exists to nurture today’s writers of the Women’s West, and those to come.
Since I’ve been writing a Western tale inspired by the lives of my grandparents, I wanted to attend this conference to find kindred spirits, other women writing about women in the West. I was not disappointed. I met women who were still struggling to write their first book, women who were still doing the research and women who had written several successful books. Everyone I met was welcoming, inclusive and encouraging. Women Writing the West is a supportive community.
The two-day annual conference held this year in Santa Fe, was structured to cover the Business of Writing and the Art of Writing. On the Business of Writing day we learned the rules of stand-out covers, the tax responsibility of authors and how to get a book into the library market. The Art of Writing was more memorable to me because it built on Julia Cameron’s secret tool.
What is the secret? Morning Pages: three handwritten pages at the beginning of the day in which we can dump all of the extraneous thoughts that cross our minds. “I forgot to call Sally back.” “I need to buy milk today.” “Why didn’t Jim tell me about his reservations?” Morning Pages are a tool to clear the mind and all the dark corners to help us be more conscious and focused as we move through the day. Morning Pages provide permission to write anything without worrying about grammar, punctuation, wording. Morning Pages helps to minimize our internal critic. The brilliance of Morning Pages according to Julia is that they can free us from internal censorship and perfection.
During the Art of Writing day other presentations picked up the theme of negative self judgement. One presenter, an author of several books, Jane Kirkpatrick called this self-talk “harpy chirping.” We found ourselves in reassuring company as we realized that most everyone had “negative harpies,” that internal judge who mocks our work with the stories we tell ourselves. “I am not as talented or creative as ….” Or, “My writing is not good enough to submit for publication.” Or simply, “I can’t write like that.”
Morning Pages is one tool to help us get those negative stories out of our minds and enable us to focus on writing. Another suggestion is to focus on the goal which we each have when we began our writing. Another option is to repeat “I, ____, am a creative writer”, inserting your own name, each time that negative judge shows up.
As writers, our goal is writing, writing the best we can. It is not to become as Julia told us, the “curator of the Museum of Perfection.” Instead, find your “believing mirrors,” people who mirror back to ourselves as strong, powerful and creative. And use the tools of Morning Pages, focusing on the goal and reminding ourselves that we are creative writers.
What tools or tips do you have to minimize the negative self-talk and the internal critic?
(Note: don’t forget to sign up as a VIP Reader for my book “Sarah’s Secret.” You’ll get sneak peeks at chapters, pre-publication, and more!)
READ CHAPTER ONE A PRE-PUBLICATION EXCLUSIVE
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My debut historical fiction will be published in a few weeks.
TITLE: SARAH’S SECRET: A WESTERN TALE OF BETRAYAL AND FORGIVENESS
As friends, supporters and readers of my blog I want to give you an opportunity for this exclusive offer to read early chapters of the book. So please sign up now to become a VIP Reader! Announcements and more chapters will be available in the future.
Please share with your friends. Thank you for your support. I hope you enjoy Chapter One.
A final title! I am excited! Thank you to all of your who contributed ideas, re-wording, themes and ideas.
Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness
The book title is so important. It must compete with all the other options available to readers…other books as well as other activities. The title must engage potential readers and interest them in reading this book. It needs to show up in search engines and be enticing on the bookstore shelves.
Beyond all this competition, I want a title that reflects the story being told. A story from the West and homesteading days, a secret never revealed and Sarah’s emotional journey. I remember reading a book a few years ago with a title that was very misleading given the content of the book. Perhaps it was chosen for search engine optimization but the inconsistency left me puzzled. Consequently I wanted to hue closer to the actual story, even if it doesn’t have all the key words for search engine optimization.
Thank you for helping me choose a title that comes as close as I think possible to these criteria:
Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness.
Now on to the cover design.
Thank you to those of you who made suggestions and contributed ideas for the title of my new book. You are great friends and supporters! It was so helpful for me to see what you liked and endorsed. I gave it much thought and as a result I have narrowed it to the following title:
SARAH’S SECRET OF BETRAYAL AND FORGIVENESS
BUT I would love your suggestions and thoughts about a sub-title. I am interested in getting either words or images of the West or Western themes. What are your suggestions???
Thanks so much for your help.
Here is a short summary of the book or you can read the longer synopsis of the book I included in my last post requesting your help in choosing the title.
The story is told from the perspective of two protagonists. In the 1880’s, Sam, irresponsible, lonely and untrustworthy has abandoned those he loves until he seeks redemption and marries Sarah. In 1911, Sara, struggling to find the inner strength to overcome loneliness, poverty and illness to support her children after Sam’s death. After a perilous journey by wagon from New Mexico to Nebraska, she learns of Sam’s betrayal. Will Sarah find forgiveness in her heart and the resolve to accept her new life alone?
I am excited to be finalizing my manuscript for publication. But I can’t decide on the final title. Would you be willing to help? I have listed four of the finalists below. I would be so grateful for your help.
Let me know which title is most likely to attract your attention if you were looking for a book to read. You might have other ideas or combinations, which is fine, too. Let me know your choices and your thoughts in the Comments section of the blog. Thank you!
Here is the synopsis to give you context for the title.
The story is told from the perspective of the two key protagonists, Will and Sarah.
In 1878, Will is on the run after killing a man in a bar room gunfight. He escapes the Texas Rangers by joining a cattle drive headed to Dodge City, as the cook. He struggles with the dilemma of saving his life or attempting to return to his pregnant wife and five children. Just when he thinks he might be able to return home, he is confronted by a bounty hunter who captures him and plans to return him to Forth Worth, Texas to be hanged. Will is freed by his trail boss and a buddy from the cattle drive. He finds himself “riding the owl hoot trail” in Kansas as a wanted man.
Will finds refuge on an isolated homestead with Peggy, a widow and her daughter, Margaret Ann. He helps her with the livestock, building a corral and a “real” house while he hides out from the law. He struggles with his responsibility to return to his wife and family and his increasing attraction to Peggy. When Will learns that his wife and children may have perished in a tornado, he gives in to his desire for Peggy, only to find that he is too afraid to take on the responsibility Peggy asks. He abruptly abandons Peggy and finds himself on the dodge from the law again when he meets an itinerant preacher named John who saves his life. John recognizes Will’s guilt and challenges him to grow up and be a man. When Will struggles with his culpability in abandoning the women in his life, he turns to John who guides him to find redemption. Will decides to homestead in Wyoming ready to settle down with a good woman.
In 1911, Sarah, a widow with five children struggles to find the inner strength to overcome betrayal, loneliness, fears, and self-doubt. Her husband, Sam, thirty years her senior, died with a curious and defiant declaration, “I won’t answer!” Despite poverty and a crippling illness, she is determined to keep her family together, leave New Mexico, and return to Nebraska to be near her parents and siblings.
During the perilous journey home, Sarah must face her fears as a woman traveling without the protective company of a man, confront her son’s sometimes reckless attempts to be the man of the house, and cope with real dangers which threaten their lives. Still grieving from the loss of her husband, she ventures into unknown territory desperate to find help for her sick infant daughter and then learns of the death of her beloved father.
When Sarah returns to Nebraska, she receives staggering news which complicates her efforts to support her children. She is shocked, angry and emotionally devastated. Since she is attempting to establish herself in the community as a teacher, she believes she must keep her husband’s betrayal a secret even from her own family.
Title Choices for You!
Again, here are the titles I’m considering for the book. Let me know what you think in the Comments below. Which of the following seems to fit the story line best? Do you have any other thoughts, ideas or critiques of the title choices that could help me? Or do you have an completely different title you might want to suggest?
I’m all ears!
A. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: A Western Tale
B. A Family Secret: Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness
C. “I Won’t Answer!” A Secret from the American West
D. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: She Kept the Secret
Advice, often passed along to novice writers, includes that we have to learn to “kill our darlings.” This advice has been attributed to many famous authors such as Falkner, Wilde and King. As writers, we can become very attached to what we consider a brilliant piece of writing, a scene or a character description in earlier drafts, that no longer fits or is not appropriate for the story as it has evolved. Recently, as I worked through needed manuscript revisions and feedback from “early readers” and my editor, I came to the realization that I needed to “kill one of my darlings”. Let me share with you an excerpt from the original story which takes place in Texas in 1878:
I resisted this act of murder for a long time, despite advice that I should “kill this darling.” I liked Susanna’s independence.
This story continues when a former lover/patron of Susanna’s barges into her house, Will gets involved in a gunfight, Susanna is killed and the Texas Rangers are looking for Will. I thought the story helped explain Will’s later behavior as he runs from the law. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that instead of explaining Will’s later behavior, this story only made him more puzzling and really didn’t explain his character at all. I did need to “kill my darling”, dump Susanna and do a major re-write.
But what would be better? The other problem was that “killing” this story meant that something needed to replace it. It is easier to delete than to create. I finally had an idea and as it unfolded, I was excited. When I finished writing, I realized I had a much better story. I needed to overcome my resistance and “kill my darlings” to write a better story.
Here is the opening of the revised story:
As a writer, have you had to dump a favorite passage of your own? Have you had to “kill your darlings”? Or as a reader, do you wish that a writer had deleted a section that didn’t add to the plot or make any sense?