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Family Inheritance Cover Art Smaller FamilyYesterday I received my first negative review on my debut novel, Family Inheritance, that will release in October. I’m okay with the fact that somebody didn’t like the book because I don’t like every book I read. What I’m concerned about is the message in her review. Here’s part of the review:

Coming from a mental health career, the idea that these characters resolved major trauma so easily is insulting. No one opens up that easily or quickly and especially three women who haven’t seen each other in over 20 years. The dialogue was ‘cheesy’ and very predictable.

I agree, no one resolves major trauma ‘so easily’ but these women had been dealing with their individual trauma for those 20 years, and had each reached a crisis point. We’ve all gone through traumas in our lives, some of them very major, and those of us who have survived and thrived understand that there is a moment when everything changes — when our thought processes change because of something we read or something someone said, or people come into our life who help us understand that we are better than our circumstances. When those things come together, resolving past experiences and trauma can be that ‘easy’ to use the reviewer’s word.

I don’t often share private stories in public venues, but I will share one here to help make my point. I was married for the first time when I was just over 18 years old. I knew him for two years and he seemed kind and loving. But . . . two weeks after we were married, I had the audacity to talk to him while he was watching a football game and he proceeded to beat me and leave me curled up in a ball, sobbing on our bed. That was the first beating I endured, but it was far from the last. And all the while, I kept thinking it was my fault . .  . that I was saying or doing something that made him mad enough to beat me.

I stayed in that marriage for 14 years. My parents were both alcoholics so the culture I had grown up in taught me to not talk, to keep everything private, and put on a good front. And that’s what I did. No one had a clue as to what I was enduring at home, not even my parents or my own siblings. If I had a black eye, I covered it with makeup or blamed it on being clumsy. If my legs and arms were covered with bruises, I wore pants and long-sleeved blouses. I learned to cope because at that point, it’s all I knew how to do.

Then, during a coffee break at work one day, a co-worker was reading a book that caught my interest. When she finished reading it, she loaned it to me. It was Your Erroneous Zones by Dr. Wayne Dyer. His words began to open up new ways of thought, and the co-worker and I started sharing personal experiences. In that safe environment, at that time, it was ‘easy’ to open up and it happened quickly with this person because I was ready. My private hell had gotten to be too much to bear alone.

My thoughts began to shift. Then, more caring people started coming into my life telling me ‘cheesy’ things like: I was important, they cared about me, I made a difference in the world. My mindset started to change and with that new mindset came new ways of behaving and new choices. While life still had its challenges, things were ‘easy’ compared to what I had previously endured. I left the marriage, started caring about myself, surrounding myself with positive people, and making choices that created a good, safe life.

I rebel against people who want to continue the victim mindset that says things can’t feel easy and that solutions to our issues can’t be simplistic. Why can’t they be? There is a saying I use quite often in my life, “To change your life, change your mind.” I’m not sure where it originally came from, but it is one of the most powerful sayings I’ve every heard. It doesn’t mean you won’t be tempted to slide back to what you knew. What it means is that you now know a different way of being and you get to choose each day which way you’ll go.

Don’t let anybody or anything tell you that recovering from a past experience or trauma can’t get to a point where it feels easy and simplistic. That’s your choice. As for me and my life, bring on the ‘easy’ and the ‘cheesy’.

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I feel like I need a drum roll, or a curtain being raised as I wait in excitement and anticipation to see what the audience will think. After all, the cover for my debut novel which will release in October, is a big deal to me.

It always amazes me how things can be happening all around us, all the time, and we don’t notice any significance until we step into those shoes. I’ve been surrounded by book covers ever since I was a young child and began to love and be fascinated by books; and I still have that fascination to this day. But, until I started working with my publisher on my own book cover, I had no idea of the love,  patience, creativity, thought, and work that goes into creating a good cover for a book. Nor did I really understand the extreme importance of a strong cover that will draw the audience to the book and then to open the pages and want to take the book (or eBook) home.

When we first started creating a book cover for Family Inheritance, I had an idea and concept in mind. Yet, as the publishing team and I worked together, new concepts started to emerge, and the characters from the book began to make themselves known in regards to the cover. (I know . . . for those of you who are not fiction writers, I’m beginning to sound a bit nutty.) Then one day, it just fit. The book, the cover, and the characters all seemed to belong together in one solid unit. Now, I can’t imagine the cover being any different than it is.

So, this phase is done. The book is in its finishing stages of being polished and honed, my marketing plan is coming together, and stage fright is starting to set in. Ahhhhh, the joys of being of author. But, I’m loving every moment of it.

Imagine a drum roll as the curtain slowly opens. Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to present . . .

Family Inheritance Cover Art Smaller Family

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While reviews are an essential part of being an author and building the fan base we need to sell and promote our books, reviews can also be swords that cut right into our hearts and leave us bleeding and gasping for breath. For me, the balancing act of being a published author is reading each review with respect for the person who wrote it and being open to constructive criticism that will help me become a better writer without taking the bad reviews so seriously that I want to crawl into a hole, never emerge, and certainly never write again.

I was recently reading the reviews of another author with whom I work closely. The majority of her reviews are great with people enthusiastically enjoying her characters and stories. Yet there in the pile of all those glowing reviews are those prickly, pointy ones that not only slice her characters and story apart, but blast her editors as well.

I’m a realistic person. I understand that not everyone will like everything that an author has written — no matter who the author is or how famous he or she may become. And, I realize that from a marketing perspective, there is no bad review because anytime someone has taken the time to read and review a book, attention is given to that book and author. In fact, a bad review can often bring as much attention to a book as a good review because other readers want to see if they agree with the review.

For most authors, our brains know all of that, but our hearts have minds and emotions all of their own and whether or not we tell ourselves that we will take the bad reviews in stride, they stick in our minds like rubber cement, not wanting to let go.

Every author deals with reviews in their own way and perhaps the famous authors who have dozens of books in the marketplace hardly pay attention to the bad ones. But for those of us who are new to the marketplace and the spotlight of other peoples’ opinions, reviews can have us jumping around with glee or hovering in an emotional dark corner questioning not only our writing but our very existence.

 

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I absolutely love writing; especially when I can step into that “space beyond the mind” where the story just flows, often with the characters leading the way. To anyone who isn’t a writer, that phrase probably sounds a bit Schizophrenic, but to other writers, it’s a well-known and desirable state. It’s when we are writing from that space that our stories and the words that end up on the page can leave us with the feeling. . .”Wow, I wrote that?”

As I’m working with my publisher’s team to get my novel ready for release next October, I’ve been experiencing some of those moments. This last week I received the draft of my back cover blurb for my approval and tweaking, and as I read the synopsis of the story, I must admit, I was drawn in. It was a curious moment for me to read the description of the book from someone else’s perspective.

Called to the bedside of their dying mother, three sisters reluctantly return to their childhood home in northern Minnesota. What should be a reunion of love and warmth is tainted by the ghosts of their childhood; their parents’ farm is a place of painful memories. With their mother slipping into a coma, Helene leaves behind a shell of a marriage in Atlanta—her country club lifestyle not at all what it seems. Alice has finally fled an abusive husband but is afraid her failing courage will put her children in danger. Waking up beside yet another stranger, Suzanne can no longer deny how an alcohol addiction may destroy everything she’s worked for—an addiction that barely masks the terrible wounds on her soul.

They may have escaped the farm, but Helene, Alice, and Suzanne find they are still perpetuating a cycle of pain, abuse, alcoholism, anger, fear, and bitterness. Seeing themselves through each other’s eyes, the sisters are forced to confront their demons as their mother’s presence supports them in a way she never could in life, on a journey of healing, of awakening. Slowly, the women tread through the wreckage of the past to create lives filled with hope, love, and triumph—building a legacy of the heart.

As my eyes scanned the words and my mind formed a visual picture of the story, I forgot that it was my book, my story. In those brief seconds, I was a reader. The story pulled at me and I wanted to know more about these women. When I finished, a small smile touched my lips as I sat back in my chair and  thought, “I’d read that book.”

For a few brief seconds I was totally mesmerized by the words and not besought with the quest to continually make the story better, the characters stronger, the book perfect. For a moment in time I stepped out of the shoes of the writer and into the pleasurable experience of being a reader. Then a big grin consumed my face as I thought. . .”Wow, I wrote that book?”

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One of the pre-publishing tasks that every author has to confront is writing their bio in a variety of lengths—a few sentences for the back of the book, a few paragraphs for websites (their own and their publishers), and somewhere in between for speaking engagements or publicity appearances.

It sounds like an easy enough task, doesn’t it? Yet I didn’t find it that easy. How do I take my entire life, even that portion that has involved writing, and condense it down to a few sentences that make sense yet will entice people to want to know more?

For instance, I was born and raised in northern Minnesota. . .yes, but there is so much more. I was raised on a farm and went to a high school that had only 27 kids in its graduating class. I road my bicycle on country roads and helped bale hay in the summer and bundled up in many layers in the winter to withstand the 30-40 below temperatures that often visit that part of the country.

I’ve traveled extensively, both nationally and internationally. . .yes, but. . .one of my favorite travel memories is seeing a giraffe in the wilds of Africa for the first time. The giraffe is my favorite animal and I’ve seen them in zoos all around the world, but to see one in its natural habitat brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. And. . .the Tuscan region of Italy touches my soul. If I had to choose anywhere else to live other than the US, it would be Tuscany.

An English teacher in high school helped me recognize my love of words and talent for writing. . .yes, and. . .she was my absolute favorite teacher who saw beyond the exterior of the young farm girl to the dreams that filled my mind and imagination, and to the possibilities of what could be.

Yes, I have written two nonfiction books about grief. . .but what about the agonizing journey that I traveled before writing those books? What about the experience of losing my son and not being sure I could recover from the heart-wrenching blow?

There is so much to each life that just can’t be encapsulated within the lines of a bio, no matter what length or who the person writing it is. But for me as a writer, I always want to tell “the rest of the story,” and with a bio, we leave it up to the readers to hopefully “read between the lines” and want to know more.

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