Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Tale of Two Cancer Books

In February 2012 two novels were published. Both had teenaged heroines who were cancer patients. That's the ONLY thing the books had in common, however.

One book was John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, which has been on the New York Times best-seller list for 119 consecutive weeks (49 weeks as #1) and is being made into a much-anticipated movie.

The other is a modest fantasy allegory combining music and magic and talking birds. I had high hopes for Leandra's Enchanted Flute when it was accepted for publication by a new, enthusiastic fantasy publisher with the stated mission of providing great books for kids. They were professional with wonderful attention to detail. Unfortunately, they over-estimated how much readers were willing to pay for ebooks. After publishing several excellent titles they went out of business in March 2013, one month after the sequel to my book was published.

(I hadn't planned for this book to have a sequel, but my editor asked if I would write one so they could publish the two stories in one paperback, since the first story was not long enough to be cost effective in printed form.)
My book's life was so short it didn't have a book signing
True, TFiOS had the marketing savvy of a large New York publisher (as well as Green's clever and well-publicized promise to autograph every single copy of the first printing—all 150,000 books) but more than that, his book is what today's readers want: raw, gritty drama, romance, sex, and snark.

I certainly don't begrudge John Green's success! I'm very glad he's made many readers more aware of how cancer affects people, especially teens, and how desperately those of us who live with it want to find some kind of normalcy. Hopefully some will take the story to heart and not take their own lives for granted. We should all learn to live with more thankful hearts and count our blessings rather than focus on our losses.

I guess I was born 50 (or maybe 100) years too late to be a successful author, but I'll keep writing anyway because I love doing it, not because I expect to make any money at it. The hard-to-accept truth of the matter is that there are WAY more writers than readers these days, and because it's so easy to self-publish an ebook, there's a glut of poorly crafted (or just unedited) novels on the market. The many worthy books (i.e., carefully crafted and tightly edited) become lost in the jungle, and this may explain the recent statistic that over 85% of authors sell fewer than 250 copies of their books.

When I was a kid, I used to write stories for my friends to read. Now my new "targeted" audience is my granddaughters, so I'll make sure all my stories are worth reading.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Processing the Grief Process

Grief is a powerful response to any loss in our life--whether the death of a beloved family member or friend, the loss of a friendship through a move or betrayal, the loss of one's health, the voluntary or involuntary end of a satisfying career or meaningful activity, or even just a big change in life which makes us feel powerless.

If we didn't love the person who has died or moved away or betrayed us, if we didn't find great meaning and satisfaction in the career or activity, it wouldn't hurt so badly to lose them. These permanent losses cause our hearts and psyches mental, emotional, and even physical pain. It's difficult to accept that what was once a vital part of our lives is now relegated to memory.

Worst of all, the pain gnaws away at what joy remains and makes the whole world seem utterly dark and without hope. This can lead to withdrawal from the world in fear that something or someone else will leave us and cause more pain.

How does a bereaved person learn to love and trust again? How does one break down a self-imposed protective wall to open the heart to love again, knowing that future pain is inevitable?

All I can tell you is what works for me. When I focus on what I've lost, I become very depressed. But when I focus on my current blessings, it enables me to move forward, one step at a time, giving thanks for this day of life and the possibilities ever before me. Enduring the pain of grief can make one more empathetic to what others are suffering. Reaching outside of self to give to others paradoxically frees the heart to love again and again.

Is there a risk when we give of ourselves? Of course! But an empty, guarded heart is a sad and lonely heart. The joy of loving others trumps all the pain in the world.

"For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." I John 3:11

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fun Friday: Making the Fashion Police Frown

Maybe it's because I was a kid in the sixties, or maybe being a straight-laced always-follow-the-rules German it was my form of rebellion, but ever since I was allowed to dress myself, I gave my mother headaches, saw lots of people shake their heads at me, and even got a braying sound from a boy in high school. Now my poor husband just sighs. The other day he even said, "The fashion police might have something to say about that" when I wore white tights with black shoes and my sort-of red and white dress.

It began early, this desire to push the limits of wearable fun:
My mother, of course, made sure I was put together, at least in public:
Once I started Kindergarten the next year, I wanted to "dress myself," and almost every day my mother sent me back to my room to wear something more appropriate. I didn't see the problem with wearing a red and white polka-dotted blouse with a green and yellow plaid skirt.
Living in Hawaii we often wore muumuus, which in my imagination were "princess dresses". That and my mother's full slips, which I'd take from her drawer and wear outside when my friends and I were playing dress up.
Even in uniform I had to dork it up with over-the-knee socks so my knees wouldn't get cold.
And thus continued a long tradition of dorky socks.
It didn't help that I was a totally awkward pre-teen.
Even when I was dressing up for something, I managed to wear my own thing (my sisters both had white dresses that day). At least I didn't wear my lime green fishnet hose with this dress. Probably my mother had something to say about it....
Once I got to high school I purposefully wore mismatched socks. I must have been desperate for attention. I remember one day in the cafeteria a boy dared me to stand on the table, roll up my pants, and show off my socks. Of course, I did....
My senior year I made several long dresses and wore them all the time, even in my first year of college. The colors matched better (except for the socks underneath), but maybe I was missing my princess dresses.

I can definitely relate to "Ugly Betty" both with her mismatched outfits and awkwardness. I wish I could report that I have totally grown out of my insecurities, but I guess that'll be a lifelong struggle. Meanwhile I have a whole closet full of costumes, including--yes!--princess dresses. So if you like to play dress-up or want to come with me to a Renaissance festival, I probably have something you can wear....