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The latest in Regge's series of Endless Mountains ghost stories is available on Amazon:

The Boy in the Toy Room: An Endless Mountains Ghost Story

Nora is haunted. She's haunted by the past, haunted by the future, and haunted by the boy in the toy room. Wanting desperately to fall back in love with her husband, Nora moves back to the country to work on building their dream home. Building dreams isn't easy, though: she'll have to fend off a drunken ex, contend with an interfering mother-in-law, and try to keep a battered rental house from falling down around her.

Meanwhile, someone has been breaking into the house, and her daughter's imaginary friend, the boy in the toy room, seems to be trying to burn the place down. While the men around her rage and bluster, it's Nora's job to hold things together and keep her daughter safe, whatever the cost. 

 

And don't forget Waking Up Dead: An Endless Mountains Ghost Story

If Deidra Shay had known she was dead, she might have made other choices -- but she didn't. When her best friend, Jesse, finds her body and is pulled away screaming and crying, Deidra follows her home and all hell breaks loose! Friends and family are pulled into a maze of love and sex, revenge and redemption as Jesse and Deidra struggle to figure out how to go on living after waking up dead. 

This is romance, a testimony to friendship, and one answer to what life might be like beyond the grave for both the person moving on and the people left behind.

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Old And Still Evolving

photo by Angela Episale

Someone once told me that, "To live is to dream; to dream is to live." As I get older people I've been young with and dreamed dreams with are falling, one by one, into a state of perpetual stillness. Dreams are scoffed at and put into "when I was young" and "before I knew better" categories. This is the blog of someone who hopes to never know better. It's the rambling of someone who should know who they are by now, and doesn't -- someone who is still evolving. 

 

Thursday
Aug102017

THE SURGEON AND BIOPSY

The Breast Cancer Experience 2

Regge Episale

 

            Mike went with me to my first appointment. I’m glad he did. There was a lot to talk about and a second person is good. Two heads are better than one. The Breast Center in Scranton is easy to find. Go across the bridge and turn right on Penn Ave. Parking in Scranton is annoying, just like in Harrisburg, but there were plenty of spaces. It costs twenty-five cents for ten minutes, and I’ve never been there less than two hours, so bring lots of quarters if you ever have to visit.

            The waiting room is clean, bright, and well decorated. There are magazines, toys (although I’ve never seen children there) and a TV. Everyone is friendly and upbeat. I handed the receptionist my medical reports and disk, and she handed me a stack of papers to complete: medical history, family history, personal history, etc. I guess it’s good I had a long wait because there was a lot to fill out. Finally a nurse called me in for the basic things: blood pressure, temperature, weight. She apologized for the wait and said that Dr. Kelley is often late but that is a good thing since she always gives each patient as much time as they need. “Her patients love her. They feel she’s worth the wait.” Truthfully, I didn’t mind. The entire atmosphere was comfortable and every person who dealt with me gave me their full attention.

            Dr. Kelley herself was sixty-two years old, upbeat, warm, smart, attractive and relaxed. She teaches surgery at the new medical school in Scranton and has spent her entire career working with breast cancer. Her credentials are impeccable. She reviewed my medical history and was impressed with the long list of cancers in my family. I didn’t have information about my father’s family, and since then I’ve learned that cousins on that side have a history of breast cancer but even without that information, there was plenty to discuss. Dr. Kelley never talks down to people, does talk about the evolution of the study of breast cancer and all of the time is checking, looking, and sharing information.  

            She explained that she didn’t feel I needed a bilateral 3D mammogram because the ultrasound and MRI provided by Endless Mountains Health Systems were excellent and I have a breast density of II. On a scale of I through IV, with IV being very dense and hard to see through, mine are fairly transparent. (That’s information provided in your mammogram report and you should ask your doctor about it. It’s important. Dense breasts can hide things.)

            At the end of the exam she told me the next step was a biopsy. My heart sank. I expected to be sent somewhere else and given another appointment, and that wasn’t the direct route I had in mind. “I’d do it right now if I could,” I told her. “How long before it can be done?”

            She looked surprised and happy. “I can do it right now if you are willing.”

            “Here?”

            “Yes.”

            I was thrilled. She then told me that when she offers to do the biopsy immediately, many women say no, they aren’t ready, make another appointment for a week away, and run. I, on the other hand, just wanted to move forward. Cancer is cancer, time is of the essence, and the sooner things got moving, the better.  

            I was taken into a small operating room where I disrobed. Mike didn’t feel that he needed to be with me, and the doctor said there wasn’t room for him anyway, which was true. There was a sink, a cupboard, an ultra sound machine, an operating table, and just enough room for the doctor and technician to stand, one on each side of me.

            When the nurse tried to get the tumor on the ultra sound machine, she couldn’t find it and had to ask me where it was. That made two technicians who had trouble locating the lump and I felt better about not recognizing it sooner myself. It was far back under the arm, really in the location of the lymph nodes.

            I had heard stories about the pain of biopsies and had had a kidney biopsy in the past that really hurt, so was prepared for an unpleasant experience. I was right and wrong about that. Doctor Kelley used some kind of pain killer to deaden the area, and that worked fairly well although it didn’t deaden the discomfort completely. Dr. Kelley warned me that the needle sounded like a drill and some patients thought it must be old fashioned but it’s not.

            They turned the ultra sound screen toward me so the doctor and I could both see it. It was fascinating. I saw the tumor and saw the biopsy needle go in. It’s hard to explain it exactly. The biopsy needle isn’t thin like a needle you get a shot with. It is larger so it can collect tissue samples. The doctor had to push a little and on the ultra sound I could see my tissue resist before the needle got through. It didn’t feel good, but it wasn’t really bad. There was a whirring sound, more like a dentist drill maybe or a small compressor, and I could see a small vertical line twist as the suction picked up a piece of the tumor. She took nine samples. We’re talking about nine samples of a 12 mm area. It was hard to believe there could be anything left. I joked with her that the tumor was so small, she might as well remove the whole thing while she was in there. She laughed but said that no, she wasn’t allowed to do that.

            When Dr. Kelley withdrew the needle, she said, “Yep, this looks like cancer tissue. We’ll wait for the report, but that’s what it looks like.” I wanted to see the sample, see what a cancer tissue looked like, but she covered it and handed it to the technician. I guess some people get squeamish. I would like to have seen it.

            A bandage was applied and I was told not to stress the site, not to use my arm for heavy lifting or moving, and then was given a detailed list of instructions. The nurse and doctor joked with Mike about sweeping and mopping, and how to do it. A return appointment was set for a week later at 4:15 p.m. so we would be the last appointment of the day. Dr. Kelley explained that if the results were positive, she wanted us to have all the time we needed to ask questions and get an idea of what to expect. “Bring your cooler of beer, a bottle of wine,” she joked. “You might want to stay awhile.” She then walked us out, chatting as if we were old friends. She has a knack for that.

            It was time to wait.

            I was surprised on the ride home to realize I felt drained and tired. Sometimes I have a strong blocking mechanism that fails to let my emotions register. I guess that was one of those times.

            I can’t remember how many days it took to get the results. I remember getting a call from Dr. Kelley’s office, or maybe I had to call them. I do remember them asking how I was feeling after the biopsy. They then asked me if someone was with me, and if I had a place to sit down. I laughed. “I don’t need someone with me, and I am sitting. It’s positive, right? You can tell me.”

            “Yes. Dr. Kelley will go over it with you at your appointment. Are you sure you’re alright? Do you have any questions for me?” I didn’t. “I’m so sorry, but you’re in good hands.”

            I wasn’t upset or alarmed. I felt like I’d known the results for weeks. I just wanted to get the tumor out. I was glad when the dressing came off of the biopsy site. The tape left an ugly red scar that doctors mistook for the surgical site later on. I wonder if that scar is going to last longer than my scar from the other, deeper incision. 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Aug092017

WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME? 

My Breast Cancer Experience 1

Regge Episale

 

             At Christmas of 2016, I didn’t feel right. I had been under a lot of stress physically and emotionally, but that wasn’t really new for me. I usually rise to any occasion with a can-do attitude and take on any giant. December was different. I was tired, every little arthritis spot in my body was screaming to the point of being disabling, and I couldn’t think straight. I forgot things. I repeated myself. I didn’t remember what other people had said. I am not a person who struggles with anxiety, depression, or impatience, but I was struggling with all three. And I was tired. My energizer bunny was out of batteries. Something wasn’t right.

            “You drink too much.”

            “You’re worried about money.”

            “You’re getting older; it’s time to slow down.”

            “Mom, I’m worried about you.”

            I was worried about me, too. I wouldn’t remember exactly when it began if I hadn’t trusted my doctor. We have a twenty-year relationship and he knows I’m not a hypochondriac. He knows that if I tell him something is wrong, then something is wrong. The previous summer I had had a stress test, a scan of my carotid artery, and a biopsy of a nodule on my thyroid. All were good, so those were ruled out. He went looking.

            The first test was a CT scan of my lungs and spine. “It’s probably your thoracic outlet syndrome, but let’s make sure. I don’t want to assume and miss something important.” I do have thoracic outlet syndrome and arthritis in my neck, but there were no growths, no separations, and no signs of something new. He gave me an arthritis medicine and an appointment for my yearly checkup in April. The medicine made me sick so I upped my Aleve for daytime, increased my alcohol for sleep, and went on.

            One thing I questioned. My temperature, which is always around 97.6, was suddenly consistently higher: 98.4 – 98.8. Sometimes it was even 99. That was a low-grade temp for me. There was no explanation. I had swollen glands in my neck and under my arm and figured they had something to do with the fever. I thought I had some kind of virus or infection trying to take over and my body was fighting it off. That would explain the fatigue.

             Spring means concerts and plays and recitals, so I spent more time traveling back and forth from Montrose to Harrisburg. I spent less and less time going out with friends when at home. My memory continued to betray me. After one night of teenagers stealing a bottle of vodka and a friend becoming obnoxious and belligerent, Angela and I decided neither of us would drink anymore and there would be no liquor in her house. It helped her to focus; it helped me to recognize that the pain was real and intense. It also escalated my anxiety. I realized that my thoughts were too dark, my body was too tired, and my sleep was broken and not restful. I would wake up thinking about what I had to do, toss and turn trying to get comfortable, and something new started: I had night sweats.

            Anyone who knows me knows that I am never warm enough. I wear sweatshirts and jeans when others are in T-shirts and shorts. I have only one wardrobe: a winter wardrobe. Now, I found myself drenched in sweat, changing my clothes in the middle of the night, and feeling more and more tired. I went through menopause over twenty years ago and haven’t had hot-flashes since but even when I did, I didn’t have night sweats.  And my thoughts became darker and darker.

            Angela planned a Florida vacation for us at Easter. When she called me all excited to tell me the plans, I felt exhausted just thinking about it but I didn’t want to spoil it for her. We drove to a wonderful place on the beach and I tried to hide how tired I was. And then we drank too much. Poor Gabe got under my skin and I got mad at him, much to Angela’s shock and dismay. I went into a total drunken rant about how everything was so horrible in my life, how I felt used and misused and exhausted and angry. My sister came to rescue me but in truth, she was really rescuing Angela and the kids. She told me what I had said, how much I had had to drink. I tried to tell her that there was more to the problem. Something was wrong with my brain. By drinking, I had given her and everyone else a good reason to discount that fear deep in my head, but I knew. I knew it wasn’t like me to even have those thoughts, drunk or not. I knew I couldn’t drink as long as those thoughts were buried inside there somewhere. I quit again, but it didn’t help my brain.

             I accidentally took Angela’s car keys home with me. I must have returned them the next time I visited, but I didn’t remember that. Two weeks later I visited again. Before going, I searched my house, my purse, the hook I had put them on for safe keeping, my car, and everywhere I could think of. When I got to Angela’s, I told her I had lost the keys. She laughed and showed me where I had put them on a hook at her house the last time, making a point of telling her where they were. I didn’t remember any of it. At another point Angela said, “I’m worried, Mom. You aren’t yourself. You forget a lot.”

            I started having numb spots in my head. I would be driving and the entire back of my skull would go numb. Sometimes my face would go numb. Sometimes I was afraid to keep driving but would, just to get to where I was going. My yearly checkup was only a couple of weeks away, but I called my doctor again. He did an MRI of my brain and ordered my annual mammogram. “Arthritis and stress will cause those symptoms, but let’s be sure.”

            I did some in-depth research, this time not reading about cancer, but rather reading reports on each symptom. Every single symptom had at least one clinical study relating it to cancer of one kind or another. I messaged Angela: Look at this. Fatigue, depression, anxiety, fever, night sweats, personality changes, brain fog. It makes me hope I do have cancer so they can fix it.

            By the time I went for my mammogram, I knew that that swollen gland was really a small lump, and I knew that every single symptom I had could be attributed to some kind of cancer. I was grateful for all of those tests run over the past year because I could already rule out some of the scarier things. My biggest fear was the results of the MRI, but recent clinical studies show that what doctors once considered chemo-brain-fog can actually be cancer-brain-fog. They believe it is due to proteins that a tumor puts out. I was hopeful that I wasn’t crazy, but I wanted to see that report.

             The letter saying the mammogram was questionable didn’t surprise me. I watched the ultrasound and when the tech had trouble finding the tumor I was able to show her exactly where it was. I watched as she measured, studied the shape, and knew I was looking at a tumor: a small one, but a tumor. That didn’t surprise me, either. I’d done the research.

            I feel a little sorry for Dr. Dana. He walked into the office with the test results, put them on his desk and said, “The MRI is good, but you won’t like the ultrasound.”

            “Oh, I know. I have a tumor. May I see the MRI?”

            He handed it to me. “It’s very good,” he said.   

            “It says there is central and bifrontal cortical atrophy!”

            “Mild borderline atrophy appropriate for your age.”

            “I don’t care if it’s appropriate. I don’t like it!”

             “You don’t even have sinus problems. This is a perfect MRI. I want to talk about the ultra sound.”

            “I understand. There’s a tumor.”

             His voice raised slightly, “You know we’re talking about cancer, right?”

            “I know that. I can live without a breast. I can’t live without a brain.”

            The ultrasound didn’t mince words. “Small irregular shadowing highly suspicious 12 mm lesion in the axillary aspect of the left breast, corresponding to a small mammographic irregular density at this location; this is most likely a small malignancy and tissue sampling is highly recommended.” I needed a biopsy to be sure, but in all likely hood, this was cancer.

             Dr. Dana seemed frustrated and impatient. He sat at the desk. “I’m referring you to the Breast Center in Scranton.”

            “Not Lourdes or Robert Packer?”

            “This is the Breast Center. It’s all they do. They are the best.”

            “Okay. But I want the fastest appointment I can get. If they can’t get me in, I want you to check with the other two.”

            “I’ll put that in the notes. See?” He turned the screen toward me so I could see the instructions that said that if I couldn’t get in right away, the referral desk should check with Lourdes and Robert Packer. “I’ll have you in within a week.”

            And I was.

            I had a lump under my arm. It was so close to my glands that I honestly didn’t think it was a lump; I thought it was a swollen gland. It wasn’t until it didn’t go away that I recognized what it might mean. Also, as women we are taught to look for dimpling of the skin, nipple discharge, discoloration, a change in breast size or shape, or a lump (although most of us have changes in old breasts, and if you never had a lump, it isn’t easy to recognize early on). I had only one symptom of breast cancer: a small lump under my arm. I had many other symptoms I didn’t know about: brain-fog, night sweats, personality change, anxiety, depression, low-grade fever, and increased joint pain. Many things cause those. In my case, they were caused by a very small, very new cancer. I could have missed it. I am grateful for that annual mammogram and the habit of examining my own breast. I am grateful for the internet where I can find a lot of nonsense, but where I can also find actual clinical studies. I am grateful I have the ability to read those studies. I am grateful for a doctor who listens and talks to me. I guess I am just grateful in general. 

Sunday
May112014

I Wish I'd Been a Better Mother

"I wish I'd been a better mother. I wish I'd been as good a mother as I was a grandmother." Those were some of the last words my own mother said to me. "Can you ever forgive me?" she asked. I wonder if every mother feels like that? Like there are regrets, words they would like to take back, decisions they would make differently in retrospect, now that it's too late to be "better."

We don't get a second chance at parenting. Maybe that's one of the reasons being a grandmother is so special. We get that second chance, and most of us are better at it than the first time around. We have all those regrets to inform us and it makes us kinder, more patient, more willing to listen and hear what a child has to say. 

But back to the subject of getting it right. It isn't as if there is one way that is right for every child. Just when you think you've got something figured out, a second child comes along and they have different needs and different opinions and different ways of reacting to any situation. You've just gotten the "puppy power" game perfected that laughs your son into picking up his toys and along comes a child who doesn't want to play that game; a child who wants nothing more than to be next to you and work if you do and not do anything independently. You have a child who reads Though the Looking Glass on his own before kindergarten, and another who refuses to read at all, even though they know all the words, because they want you to continue reading to them. One isolates, one throws temper tantrums; one won't lie no matter how dire the misdeed, one lies about anything and everything just for the fun of it. My son was a monster until he went to school, my daughter was perfect until she went to school. 

And those stereotypes! They didn't fit. Girls do like to get covered in mud from head to toe, play with trucks, have sword fights, eat dog food. Boys do like poetry and music, dressing up, and bright colors. Now the grandchildren come along and suddenly the stereotypes fit like a glove. How is a mother to know these things before they jump up and hit you in the face?

And all those mistakes. I have the most wonderful adult children anyone could ask for, and sometimes, often actually, I wonder how I got them. There were temper tantrums of my own; days when I just wanted to run away; times when my anger at their father spilled out onto my kids; times when I called sisters, neighbors, my own mother, anyone for help because I was afraid of my own anger and frustration. And always, even at the moment, there was self-loathing because I was doing it wrong and I knew I was doing it wrong and I couldn't stop myself. 

I wish I could say I shielded my children from the adult problems, but I didn't. They heard fights. They were told about financial difficulties. They were moved from place to place as their parents, first together and then apart, sought opportunities and new beginnings. As children they were told too much and as young adults they weren't told enough. By then I was too afraid of losing them and they had full power over me. I had figured out that I couldn't control their lives and lived in terror that if I disagreed with them they could and would leave me, and if I wasn't there to protect them, who would? I knew enough about life by then to realize how many pit-falls there are, how many things can go wrong. Motherhood is a wild, careening roller coaster. 

I want to stop for a moment to say that my children and I had a community of mothers who made life better and even wonderful. On those days when I needed them, friends, sisters, and sisters-in-law stepped up and provided the much needed breaks. While our kids played we talked about our short-comings as wives, housekeepers, and mothers, and gave each other advice and a chance to laugh at our own frailties. We drank a lot of coffee, smoked a lot of cigarettes, and sometimes, I admit, drank our wine out of pretty glasses while we sat around a kiddie-pool and watched our children play. We had one thing in common: we loved our children and desperately wanted to be the best mothers we could be and time after time we felt like we were failing. We supported each other, believed in each other, and helped each other be better in a million ways. 

Life wasn't dark. All those stories and fond memories you read about in magazines and books made up the majority of our lives. We slept outside on hot nights and found star constellations. We built dams in the creek so they could swim. We made Christmas cookies and decorations, dressed in crazy clothes for Halloween, had thirty people at the table at Thanksgiving, and celebrated birthdays. We cooked together, making huge messes in the kitchen while kneading bread, got excited about the antique toaster that rolled bread through instead of popping it up, and canned and froze our vegetables from the acre size garden we planted together. And music. We played the piano and sang songs and danced around the living room. Cousins came and played guitars in our living room. Our house and lives were full of aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends. We had endless conversations, sometimes loud, about science, history, religion, philosophy, politics, and anything else that came up. My daughter set the front porch on fire while experimenting with a magnifying glass and sunshine, and made an electro magnet for show-and-tell in kindergarten. My son learned everything I ever knew and started teaching me. We made up poems, stories, and songs. Children were never excluded. I don't think it even dawned on us to leave them out. 

And the one thing I did the most right: I loved my children beyond words. I loved them every minute of every day. I knew they were spectacular, incredible, unspeakably precious. Every real-life decision I ever made, I made with them in mind. I marveled at their beauty and brilliance. I was proud of them. I was humbled that they could be my children. They amazed me, and it hasn't changed.

My children surpassed me in every way long ago. Now I drift toward Earth and watch them fly, and wonder if I could have really done so much wrong if these are the kids I raised. I have also come to accept that they are not a product of me or how I raised them, but rather they are their own entities, their own true selves, and they are truly spectacular. If I had any part in that, I am proud.

So, to my mother on this Mother's Day, and to every mother out there, I want to say, we all could have been better. We all punt and hope for the best. There is nothing to forgive. I guess the important thing to remember is that we don't raise children to be like us; we raise children to be their best selves. And we love them. Love them for all of life and beyond. I have regretted many things in life, but I have never regretted being your mother.

I love you, Frank and Angela. You bring me more joy than anyone or anything else in life. Thank you for loving me back. Hugs, babies.

 

 

 

Tuesday
Mar252014

There's More to Self-Publishing than Uploading Files

 

 The Novice Independent-Publisher

 

Insights from Regge Episale

Waking Up Dead: An Endless Mountains Ghost Story

The Boy In the Toy Room: An Endless Mountains Ghost Story

 

 

I was asked to write about my experience in the world of self-publishing. What I have to say first is that I am truly learning every day. The world of self-publishing is evolving and almost anything I put in this paper may change tomorrow. Before we get started, I highly recommend a book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch called APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a book. I have a shelf and computer full of books and information and that is by far the most helpful one I’ve read.

Keep in mind, however, that the field is changing rapidly and no information should be considered the last word.

I don’t want to always self-publish. It would be wonderful to have a publishing company take care of editing and promoting my work. I wrote about my decision in my blog, and although I now see some edits I should do, think it will be helpful to you in understanding my decision. You can read it here.

First of all, let’s change from “self-publish” to “independently-publish.” The reason is simple: even though you write the original piece of work, you still need to use the processes traditional publishing companies use, such as editing, formatting, and marketing. To do this you need to have deep pockets to hire professionals or be ready to learn a whole new skill set. I believe you need to do both and so, like a general contractor who builds the basic structure of a house but hires an electrician, a plumber, and a mason, you independently put your book through the processes needed but you don’t do them all yourself. Because my experience lies mostly in novels, that’s what I will talk about, but these same steps apply to almost any genre.

You wrote a book. Wow! I’m not kidding. Writing a book, whether it’s a novelette or full novel, is an accomplishment. People say they’ll write a book. People plan on writing a book. Some people, those who make themselves work at it, actually get it done. I’ve written three books, two of which I’ve published and one that has been in revision for years and is still alive and kicking. I have a list of books I plan to write and sometimes get frustrated with how long it takes me to kick just one out. But, let’s go back to the subject. You wrote a book. Now what?

Read it from start to finish yourself. If you get bored in a passage, so will the readers. If it takes too long to get into the story, the reader will set it aside with, “I just couldn’t get into it.” Read it out loud. Now, revise it.

Get an editor. That’s easy to say but hard to do. Editors can cost from $300.00 to $1000.00 and up. They base their price on the size of the book, their level of experience, and “what everyone else is charging.” Sadly, the price doesn’t necessarily reflect the value of the editor. And there isn’t just one kind of editor. There is content editing and line editing.

A content editor is going to read the book for plot, narrative, character development, and all of those other lovely things you’ve studied in class. A good content editor is going to let you know if a word or piece of clothing doesn’t fall in the right time frame. A content editor is going to tell you if your romantic scene feels like a step-by-step instruction for sex or if it makes their heart melt.

A line editor is going to tell you that a hyphen shouldn’t be used in place of an em-dash, that you changed tenses, need a comma, don’t need a comma, need a new paragraph, used an incorrect word, forgot quotation marks, used single quotation marks incorrectly, used “your” instead of “you’re”, and a million other things you know but will miss because no one, and I mean absolutely no one, can edit their own work without developing a blind eye.

A content editor can be a line editor, and be very, very good at both jobs, but they are separate functions. You need to recognize that. I get paid to edit books for other writers, and I charge separately for each function. When I read for content I automatically do some copy editing, but that isn’t my focus. I focus on the story line and characters and flaws in the facts. When I copy edit, the book is in good shape and I read every quotation mark, every period, every comma, and every verb tense. You get my drift. When you get an editor, you need to know what you’re paying for. My editor is a college professor who is also a free-lance editor.

If you don’t have someone qualified to edit, there is a group called 10 Day Book Club that has a stable of editors. They let you read editor’s resumes and reviews from people they have worked with. They offer copy editing, line editing, and a group of beta readers (what I’ll talk about next) for different prices. They aren’t the only kid on the block, but are worth checking out.

You might have a group of published people you can talk to and get a referral for an editor or editors they have used successfully. Before you hire an editor, get your hands on something they have edited. This isn’t a case of one-shoe-fits-all. Your editor should be someone you can have honest conversations with, and someone who can and will back-up what they say with citations and links. Don’t expect your editor to agree with you all the time and don’t expect to always agree with them.

Okay, you have a book and you’ve revised it over and over again and it’s as good as you can get it. It’s time to send it out to a trusted group of readers and get some feedback. I have a group I use that is made up of a wide variety of people. I have family, friends, and acquaintances. Some are writers, some are readers, and they come from a variety of professions. After all, a book should appeal to a wide audience and there’s only one way to know if it does; have a wide audience read it. (I give signed copies of books to the members of my reader group when the book is done, and acknowledge their help in the “Acknowledgement” section of the front-matter.) After you have considered and, if necessary, addressed concerns from your readers, it’s time to format for publication.

To format for publication, you need to know which company you want to deal with. I’m not going to say who you should use, but I found CreateSpace, owned by Amazon, to be the most affordable and fastest route. There are a lot of companies (Xlibris comes to mind) who offer packages for editing, formatting, printing, distribution, and “give” you copies of books, but you lose control. I just read a book that had been “edited” and “copy edited” by Xlibris. They even listed the editors. There were so many errors in the book that the poor grammar was mentioned in most of the reviews on Amazon. They also gave the author no choice about print size or space and it is very difficult to read. All of that for a mere $6000. Ouch. If you shop wisely you can have your cover produced, book formatted, content and copy edits done, and buy your own books for far, far less and have a higher quality product. Some good places to look are Lulu, Book Baby, Lightning Source, and Blurb, depending on what type of book you are publishing, but CreateSpace was the fastest and easiest for my purposes. It was an experiment and I was aware that I didn’t know what I was doing. CreateSpace has templates for cover design and very specific format instructions.

I made some mistakes that I won’t make again. I used the CreateSpace ISBNs but in the future I’ll buy my own. I didn’t have the money to spend at the time and I’m not complaining. It was nice to get free ISBNs. However, I will now need to do second editions if I want to put them under my own publishing company and buy my own ISBNs under Endless Mountains Books. I guess that isn’t a mistake so much as something I will change in the future.

At the time I published my first book, CreateSpace charged an additional fee to upload my book to Kindle. A year and a half later, they offer to do it immediately and for no charge. That’s why understanding formatting is so important.

For a book, learning how to set the gutter, what fonts and sizes to use, the difference between section breaks and page breaks, what kind to use, how to make an index, is brain numbing work. Google the information, download CreateSpace instructions, and format like crazy. There’s too much to it for me to list here, but once you get it you’ll wonder why it was so hard. Until then you’ll wonder why you’re killing yourself trying to figure it all out.

I suggest you pick up any one of the many books on your shelf and see what is in the front matter. Create those same pages for your book. Look inside the book and notice that there are two different headings: author name on the left, title on the right. If you aren’t good at this stuff, be ready to learn a lot or hire someone to teach you or do it for you. When done, make a new copy in a second file if you want to change your layout for Kindle or any other eBook. Study that, too.

I like that CreateSpace sells you a proof. Buy it. Buy several of them and have your trusted readers read it again in print. Read it yourself, out loud if you need to, because you will find errors in print that you didn’t see reading the same book online. I’ve made the mistake twice of reading the proof on line, approving it, and then sighing at every mistake I found when reading in print. I finally gave up. I was tired of revising and my books aren’t perfect. They are getting better, though.

And now it’s time to market. I haven’t found a great company to do this for me, but they are out there and I’m hunting them down. I will say this: I sold a lot more of my first book than I did my second one, and the only difference was how much I worked at it. The Boy In the Toy Room is a better book than Waking Up Dead, but I had some family issues this year that kept me from doing the marketing I needed to do and it shows. I did write a blog on my first efforts. You can read it here: Marketing 101.

You can have the best book in the world and if no one knows it’s out there, you aren’t going to sell it. The first marketing you should do is giving your book the right search words on CreateSpace and Amazon (or whoever you chose to print it with). Mine are: paranormal, ghost stories, ghost, women, fiction, adult fiction, women’s fiction. Someone looking for your genre will search that category.

Get really good business cards made up and some post cards and give them to the grocery clerk, your waitress, every person you meet. Tell them you’re an author and you have a book. I have tried the cheap route via Vistaprint but find that Moo is well worth the price.

Be ready to give your five second pitch. Yes, that is a marketing tool you need. The five-second pitch, also known as the elevator-pitch, is a very short description of you book that doesn’t give away the ending but does inspire curiosity. It’s essential. Work on it. Write it down. Get comfortable with it.

Your cover is also a marketing tool. I have photographers and artists in my family and I got permission to use their work on my covers. Keep the cover simple and relevant. Too busy is bad. Clear and eye-catching is good.

The blurb is also an important tool. The blurb should make someone want to read your book but, again, not disclose too much. Mine reads: “If Deidra Shay had known she was dead, she might have made other choices—but she didn’t. When her best friend, Jesse, finds her body and is pulled away screaming and crying, Deidra follows her home and all hell breaks loose. Friends and family are pulled into a maze of love and sex, revenge and redemption, as Jesse and Deidra struggle to figure out how to go on living after waking up dead.”

Write a press release. Mine only got into one paper after I sent it to several, but it also got me an interview.

Give books to people who will market for you, such as DJs and KJs at your local bars. Walk into independent book stores and give the owner or manager a signed copy of your book and ask them to carry it. Donate copies to your local libraries and offer to give a reading, a talk, whatever rocks their boat. Five local book stores carry my book. I have been on a panel for ghost stories, am giving a talk on “Getting Acquainted with your Ghost” in May, and have given readings everywhere from libraries to bars. Join LinkedIn and stay active. There is a wealth of information out there. Participate in fund raisers by having a table at outdoor markets sponsored by your local organizations. Donate books for fund raisers. Attach yourself to a local charity and donate a percentage of each sale to them, and let them and everyone else know that you are doing it. My local charity is True-Friends Animal Shelter.

Blog and post links to your blog regularly on Twitter and Facebook. I have failed to keep up with those things this year and as a result my sales are way, way, down.

My next book will be published with Lightning Source. I have found that I now know how to format, am ready to buy my own ISBN numbers, and want the added exposure of the stores they market to through Ingram, a large distributing company (Google them). However, since they do not offer any author services, such as information on how to format and upload, I wasn’t ready before. Now I am, and will place larger print orders by offset press, which will result in reduced costs for me.

And I will continue to submit to publishers. Not these books—the ghost stories—but other books. To keep myself from going crazy with the time and cost of submitting, I will probably start out using Writer’s Relief, an organization that will help with the cover letter, sample chapters, book synopsis, and agent and publisher research:

The industry is changing. Big publishing houses are starting to recognize that authors are submitting manuscripts less and less. Agents are starting to work for writers, offering editing and marketing services for self-publishers. Ingram is distributing books by self-published authors who use Lightning Source. Small publishers are jumping out of the wood work—some good and some bad—many of them offering specific genre work and developing an expertise in their field. And publishers are starting to agree to re-publish self-published work that is successful. Writers have made their point: they can and will reach the public. But I also think writers have learned a hard lesson: if you spend all of your time formatting and marketing, there is a lot less time to write.

I would do it again in a heart-beat. Being a self-published writer has opened doors for me that mailing manuscript after manuscript to be lost in slush piles never, ever could have. I have a readership. I can prove that I write and people read what I write. That being done, I’d really like to get back to my stories.

 

Monday
Nov252013

Endless Mountains Ghosts: The Real Stories

This is a rough draft of a new ghost story I was told. It's a little heart-breaking and a lot heart-warming. It is told in first person as all of these will be to protect the individuals generous enough to share their stories with me.

 

The Brother I Never Knew

 

I knew what my brother looked like. His pictures were all over our house. He died two years before I was born and I also remember the day they told me about him. I was maybe five-years-old when I walked into the living room to find my parents and syblings sitting around talking. They weren't smiling, which was unusual when I was around. Usually they wanted to play with me, talk with me, and since I was the baby of the family, gave me their total attention. But this day was different. I asked them what was wrong, because any five-year-old knows when the grown-ups are sad, and they told me about my brother, the one who had died before I was born. They were sad because they were missing him.

Maybe I was jealous, maybe I wanted attention, but mainly I remember wanting to make them laugh and smile like they usually did, and so I started being extra "cute" by making funny faces, acting out jokes, and learning to mimic TV characters. On that day and ever since then I've felt it was my job to make my family happy.

My parents often talked about ghosts. Although they claimed there were many people in our family who could see and hear ghosts, I never did. These were just stories, entertaining and fun to hear, but I didn't really believe in ghosts. 

And then, when I was about forty, my world fell apart. My son was diagnosed with diabetes, my daughter had pneumonia, and I found out that my insurance didn't cover nearly as much as I thought it would. My finances were in ruins, and I was sure -- absolutely sure -- that I was going to lose my house and everything I'd worked for all my life. It was the year anything that could go wrong did. 

In my role of family-happy-maker, I couldn't put my burdens on anyone else, so spent a lot of time in isolation trying to figure a way out of my problems. I would take long walks, or go hang out in the garage with my tools, and think. Those days my thoughts were dark and scared.

One night when I was in the garage, contemplating my next move and not seeing one, I felt a tug on my belt-loop. It wasn't just one tug, but a few, like someone trying to get my attention. I turned around, expecting to find my wife or one of my children behind me. There, as clear as day, was the brother I had never known. I recognized him immediately from the pictures in the house. He was five-years-old (I know this because of the pictures taken just before he died), small, blond, and smiling. When I looked at him, he ran to hide behind the washing machine, and then peeked out at me like he was playing hide-and-seek. He was giggling. 

We played for a little bit. I would turn away, feel a tug, hear a giggle, and when I turned around he would run away again and peek at me from behind the washer.

I got too comfortable, too happy to play with him and, in a move I now regret, decided to startle him with a trick of my own. I expected him to laugh, much as my own children would at such foolishness. The next time I felt a tug at my belt-loop, I spun around, raised my hands as if trying to catch him, and made a growling noise. Much to my shame, his grin turned into a look of terror, and he was gone.

I spent lots of time alone in my garage hoping to see my brother again, but he never came back. My problems at home improved and life went on. Then, a few years later, it all fell apart again.

This time my family was in chaos. I won't go into particulars, but I was having lots of family problems, and lots of people got involved. I come from a big, close-knit family, so that isn't unusual, but I couldn't take the strain. In order to get away from everyone I took to hiking the mountain often for hours at a time. Having spent my life trying to help pour "oil on trouble waters" so to speak, I had trouble accepting that I couldn't do anything to make things better. I was discouraged and depressed over the whole thing.

One day I was standing on the mountain looking over an empty field when I distinctly heard a voice say, "I wanna go to school really bad but they won't let me go." It was the voice of a child. I looked around and couldn't see anyone, but the voice had been absolutely clear. Suddenly it wasn't a warm day anymore, but cold and snowy. In front of me I could see a road, covered with snow and ice. I bllinked and it was gone. 

I can't explain what happened, but I know I was shown something from another time and heard a child who was unhappy. It scared me to death. I really did think I was losing my mind and was afraid to tell anyone what had happened. I kept taking walks but avoided that place, afraid to have it happen again.

I couldn't forget it, and finally shared the experience with my sister. She had practically raised my brother who had died, and then me. "Yes," she said. "He wanted to go to school and our parents got special permission for me to take him for a day." Understand, my brother was dying, and he was never going to be old enough or well enough to go to school. "The school agreed for him to go, and a date was set," my sister told me, "but when the day came, we had a big storm. The roads were covered in ice and it was too cold for him to go outside. We had to cancel. He died shortly after that."

It was a sad and touching story. I think that maybe my brother shared his sorrow with me because I was feeling so much sadness at the time. I don't know. I do know that I started going back to that spot and waiting, but he never spoke to me again. 

I do want to say that both times my brother contacted me, I was in need of comfort and companionship and I had the sense that he was offering those to me. I felt warmth, affection, acceptance, and love. How I could feel all of that and still be afraid, I can't explain. I would love to see him again. I try to see him again. Hopefully, someday, it will happen. Until then, I love you, brother.