Sunday, March 31, 2013

New photos taken with my cell phone

Keith Alan Hamilton, poet and photographer and creator of The Hamilton Gallery, came to visit from the Boston area a couple of weekends ago, and we toured him around some of our favorite places. Poems to accompany these photos will be posted soon.
Manhattan Beach

Marina del Rey

The Music Center and Disney Hall


The Getty

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Support your local bookstore

I'm so in love with my local bookstore Pages: a bookstore, I support it whenever I can. And it has supported me as well. I've had three readings there.

I hope you will do the same to make sure we keep our bookstores alive. In view of that here is a post I just came across from the Book Marketing Expert, reprinted with his permission. Let's work hard to prevent bookstores from going away.

Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques.

What Happens if Bookstores Go Away?
That sentence alone is enough to send chills down my spine. No bookstores? I can't imagine a world without them. Yet the fact of the matter is, that's likely where we are headed.
I don't often share this, but you know that term "bucket list"? One of my bucket list items is to get locked in a bookstore overnight - with a fully-functioning Starbucks of course because a girl needs her caffeine to stay up all night and dig through the thousands of titles on the shelves. Truth is, that one bucket list dream may never come true (and I suspect, neither will the dinner date with Bradley Cooper, either). Let's face it, the world is changing rapidly. Amazon is making book access so much easier and without having to get in your car and, you know, drive somewhere. Look, I do love Amazon and what they've done for indie authors is tremendous, but the opposite side to all of this good is that bookstores are desperately trying to find a market. Ironically, in the mix of all of this, the independents, once proclaimed to be dead, are not fairing as badly as the chains. Well, the chain: Barnes & Noble.

My prediction, though perhaps wild and seemingly out there, is that we're going to start seeing more niche stores, so children's bookstores, all-fiction, etc. because at the end of the day, we are catering to an audience who doesn't want to have to sift through hundreds of books to find the niche they are looking for. We live in the custom society: custom coffee, custom cars, custom pretty much everything. Would the same go for bookstores? Sure, why not? I also think that we're going to start seeing a lot more book departments expand within stores. Hallmark has been experimenting with this for years, though granted their book section is small compared to everything else they offer, they could expand this, too. I don't think you'll see airport bookstores go away anytime soon. There's a need there, gotta have something to read on the plane, though the surge of eBook purchases may change the need for those too.

Let's face it, the structure is changing. Ironically it's not going in the direction we once thought. A few years ago many bloggers said that libraries were a thing of the past, sweet but ancient dinosaurs. However, libraries have seen a resurgence in a down economy and librarians are eager to keep step with technology, offering eBook lending, etc.

The biggest challenge we face as authors and book promoters is that if, in fact, bookstores go away that takes away a huge chunk of those trusted book connoisseurs who would otherwise be out, on the frontlines, recommending books. Also, the shelf space, which for most of us isn't really a factor since our books won't be in bookstores anyway. But for those publishers and titles that depend on bookstores, how will they gain exposure? The answer is, of course, online.

I think as we see the market changing, we're going to see things like niche social media sites, which despite Facebook's online real estate could pull in more readers because, again, we want what we want. We don't want to sift through tons of data to find that great, new read.

Free books and excerpts will become a must. I've spoken with a lot of authors who feel this is just something they don't want to do. The numbers would, however, encourage a second look. Whenever we've run freebie campaigns we see a huge uptick in sales after the freebie is over.

Book bloggers: As time progresses, we'll need more voices out there. As we do now, we'll start seeing a lot of niche blog communities popping up and, I dare say, that if the bookstore demise happens we're going to see a lot more paid reviews.
Paid placement: Yes I think you'll start seeing much more of this. Though not through ads but through paid content online. Some call it advertorial, and perhaps that's a better term for it, but I think as we progress content generation to drive sales will become a huge factor.

What can you do now, this far ahead of the curve? Candidly, I think we'll start seeing the downturn of the bookstore right after Christmas. We're seeing it now already but as 2013 continues, more and more of the sales numbers are going to be facing a decline. What you can do now is stake your claim. Make friends with bloggers, network, put out good content. Don't wait for the bookstore rug to be ripped out from under you before you act. Do it now. And when the eventual demise of bookstores happens, you'll be ready to face that challenge.

Many of us ignore the library market because it's not glamorous, but guess what? Librarians are a fantastic group of book lovers who could really help your book succeed. Been ignoring the library market in lieu of something more glamorous? You may want to rethink that approach.

No one wants to see bookstores go away, least of all me. But the writing has been on the wall for a while and even if I'm wrong, which would be great, I still think that the online world will become more and more significant in all of the ways I've described. Let's face it. With all of the books published each day in the US, the market has been expanding on one side and shrinking on the other for a while.

So, head to your local bookstore and support them, but make sure you keep an eye on the future.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A successful library event

Since my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On has been checked out of my local Manhattan Beach Public Library many times, the library director asked me to come there to speak. The date we decided on was last Wednesday evening, March 20.

I was asked to supply the library with a jpg of my book cover and a brief description of my topic:

Writing was healing because it helped me put my pain on the page. Instead of carrying it with me every moment of the day and night, I found a place where I could have a little relief. There was so much I couldn’t say out loud to anyone. And since there was so much sadness, anger, and grief in me, I needed a place to put it.  Writing was like repeating a mantra as I kept my fingers moving. And I wouldn’t let anything get in my way. I recommend writing or another creative outlet to those who are looking for ways to heal.

After that I was on my own. My instructions were: you have an hour and a half from 7:00 to 8:30 pm to speak. That was it. I was left to create a program that attendees might be interested in from whole cloth.

Well, I’ve known from previous experience that the eyes of most people in an audience begin to glaze over after twenty minutes – sometimes even after ten – so I needed to create an event that was both interesting and way less than an hour and a half.

I divided the talk into three parts: 1) my work and writing experience, 2) how writing helped me heal, and 3) how I created my book. And I picked out book excerpts, poems from the book, and readers’ comments to read after each section of the talk. That was about forty-five minutes of me talking and reading. I opened it up to audience questions and comments at that point. I also put a list of local resources for people needing mental health and suicide prevention assistance, several copies of my book for purchase, and my bookmarks on the table in the front of the room next to the podium. About thirty chairs set up in three or four semi-circle rows faced me.
By five minutes to seven one chair was occupied – by my husband. But in the next five minutes several more people wondered in until I had a total of ten people in the audience, two of which worked in the library.

I was disappointed that so few attended, yet those who did were there because they had similar stories to tell – something I experience whenever I do a public reading or signing. As soon as I opened the program up to questions and comments, these people’s stories of mental illness and suicide started to pour out.

And though my library talk had low attendance, it wasn’t for the lack of trying. The library folks made a poster and flyer and advertised on their website, the city council, and the local newspapers. I sent out over seventy invites to Manhattan Beach residents through a Facebook event. Perhaps the subjects of bipolar disorder and suicide kept them away.

The best part: my small engaged audience applauded heartily, I sold a couple of books, I created a program I could present anywhere, and even my husband gave me presentation kudos. With that I consider the evening a success.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A couple of stories from Storylane

I’m sorry to say Jonathan Gheller has closed down his Storylane site. It was a good place to post and share stories and to get a little feedback. Plus there were always a lot of great prompts to choose from. However, upon its demise, Jonathan generously sent me back the several stories I’ve posted, and now I can share them here. I’ll start with a couple. Please let me know if you like them, and if so, I’ll share a few more. I’ll also share my latest Buddha picture. I love it.

How I Got My First Job Out of College
I graduated from UCLA with a degree in English and had no idea what I would do professionally with it. I had wanted to work as a journalist and actually completed all the course work for a degree in journalism at the University of Wisconsin. But family illness caused me to transfer to UCLA for my senior year, and UCLA didn’t offer a BA degree in journalism.

So I was stuck in a city I didn’t know and where I hardly knew anyone. I tried valiantly and unsuccessfully early on to get a writing job and then gave up. It was 1962. Not a lot of jobs for women writers in those days, especially in Los Angeles.

Then someone suggested I try the growing aerospace business in southern California.

And I did. I called Douglas Aircraft Company – the precursor of McDonnell Douglas and now Boeing – and asked the man who took my call if he ever hired anyone with a degree in English. And he immediately said yes, come right over. After a brief interview I was hired as a technical editor, working on users manuals for a spacecraft project.

I’d like to say this story had a happy ending, but it didn’t. The contract was cancelled – not unusual in that business – and I was laid off after three months.

However, that job kicked off my career of almost thirty years working as a technical writer and editor and a proposal manager in the aerospace business. Only later in life did I start to pursue the career of my dreams – journalistic and creative writing.


Some of My Favorite Toys Growing Up 

Growing up I loved to play with cutout dolls. I had dozens of them. One even had a photo of my face on it. Dressing the dolls up later evolved into my love for drawing and designing clothes and shoes. My girlfriends and I would sit for hours drawing very high-heeled shoes. I like to think that Christian Louboutin got his design prowess from us.


I also loved a large mama-doll my grandmother gave me. If I sat her up she would say, “mama” and open her big blue eyes. I still have that doll in its original clothes. Another toy I still have is the stuffed dog made out of real fur that my father gave me. I haven't looked it for a long time. I'm afraid to see how mangy it looks by now. My doll collection also included a set tiny storybook dolls, but I wasn’t allowed to play with them. I had them on display on shelves in my bedroom.

Girls back in the day when I was growing up didn’t play sports very much. I liked to swim and ride my bike. I also loved to play jump rope, jacks, and the One, Two, Three O’Leary ball game. I only started playing team sports in middle school.

Monday, March 18, 2013

New book reviews

An author loves to get notes from readers. I've gotten quite a few since my book was released in May 2011, for which I am very grateful. 

I was so taken by the one I recently received that I have to share it with you here:

“I just finished Leaving the Hall Light On this morning. I wrote my review on here and Amazon. As a published author I know how fulfilling it is to receive feedback from readers. I write you this message today because I would request that you read my review. I am a writer, nurse, mother, and wife who suffers with Bipolar 1 disorder. I would like for you to know that I felt Paul's soul in the core of my bones. I know intimately the feeling of quietly walking down the hallway as to not disturb my loved ones, locking the bathroom door, and making the decision to end my life. As I sit here this afternoon writing this message I struggle to stay out of the bathroom today. I began reading the book through the eyes of someone who suffers from mental illness, but finished the book with a new understanding of the loved ones who have to fight the battle by our side. I appreciate that you dedicated the bench in Paul's name. That was so thoughtful. I also thought that it was wonderful that his legacy lives on through the names of his cousins. What a wonderful way to celebrate his life. I cried when I read how you were shunned by your friends. I was cheering when you wrote how you found new friends who cared and was willing to invest in your experiences. I wish your family happiness and peace. I hope Ben has many grandchildren for you to enjoy. :) Paul's life was something to be greatly celebrated. He was a talented music creator, a loving son (even though it was hard to see sometimes), and a man who wanted to o find the light in the darkness, but unfortunately lost the bipolar battle. Please know that I know the feelings he was experiencing as he made the decision to lay in the bathtub. It was nothing you or your husband did. It's a chilling pain that suffocates us with the thought of loss. Loss of stability, loss of normal, loss of loves, and loss of independence. The destiny for many of us is a life full of living as ghosts. We fight the need to die and in the end die as we live. I thank you for taking the time to read this message and hope you have a wonderful evening.”

 * * *

And I am thrilled that one of my writing teachers, Barbara Abercrombie, took the time to read and post her lovely review of Leaving the Hall Light On, on her blog, Writing Time - where she provides reading lists, creative writing exercises, and nurturing for the writing community.

I had the pleasure of taking an essay workshop with her a couple of years ago through the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension. Barbara has published novels, memoir, books for children and numerous personal essays and articles.  Her latest book is: A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement (New World Library, June 2012). 

Barbara wrote:

“Leaving the Hall Light On by Madeline Sharples is a memoir about the most wrenching subject possible – the suicide of her son after his seven-year struggle with bipolar disorder. I have to admit I put off reading this for awhile because of the subject, but Madeline's tone is so direct, honest, and lacking in self-pity, and the narrative, even though you know what's going to happen, is so compelling and gripping, that it turns into a book you don't want to put down once you start reading. It's also the story of how a family survives this tragedy, how Madeline saves herself and finds a balance of keeping her son's memory alive yet moving on in her own life. The ending is beautiful: her other son's wedding eleven years later.”

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Please welcome Eleanor Vincent, author of Swimming with Maya

I first met Eleanor Vincent, memoirist, essayist, and award winning author,  in a writing workshop at Esalen in Big Sur California. It was in December 1999, four months after my son Paul took his life. While I was just getting my writing fingers moving again. Eleanor was already writing the first parts of her wonderful memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story. We have been friends ever since.

And I am so pleased that Swimming with Maya was just re-released in paperback and eBook by my publisher, Dream of Things, this past February.

Join me in welcoming Eleanor Vincent to Choices as she discusses her life since Maya died, the writing of Swimming with Maya, her writing work now, and some of her favorite books, authors, and things to do on a Sunday afternoon.

MS: You have experienced one of life’s greatest tragedies. How can people who have experienced a personal tragedy find peace and meaning in daily life?

EV: I think it’s different for everyone, but in general the things that helped me most were:

  • Excellent self-care and self-nurturance – eating well, resting, getting massages and pedicures, taking time to just be and not forcing myself to do, do, do.
  • Getting support from people trained in bereavement, both psychological and spiritual. My therapist was a bereaved mother herself, so she really got it, and that was pivotal in my recovery. My spiritual mentor Rev. Margaret Stortz was also very supportive.
  • Writing was a huge piece of my recovery. I think it’s very important to have a creative outlet and that could be anything from knitting or other crafts, to painting, to making music – whatever allows you to fully express yourself and your grief.
  • Giving myself the gift of time. There’s an old bromide “Time heals,” but I don’t think the simple passage of time healed me. I had to be willing to do the work. Time just passes. In the end, I think love heals – and that could be anything you feel passionately about – over time I felt more love and less grief. I was just so grateful to have had Maya with us for almost 20 years. She was a gift. It’s important to understand that there is no such thing as “closure.” I’ll never get over losing Maya, but I’ve incorporated that loss into my life and learned to adapt to it.

MS: You wrote a beautiful memoir, Swimming with Maya, about your daughter and your experience of losing her. Tell us about that journey and who might benefit from reading your book.

EV: I think my book could benefit anyone because it’s about hope and resilience. Swimming with Maya is a love story – it’s about a young woman who loved life and a mother who loved her daughters, and lost one of them. As parents, we all have to let go of our children. When your child dies, that happens in one terrible wrenching moment. So the book is about the long journey of letting go, of healing, and of coming to terms with Maya’s sudden death. I’ve heard from many parents who have never lost a child that Swimming with Maya helped them become better parents by helping them to appreciate and treasure each moment with their child. Most of all, it’s a compelling story and, while parts are very tragic, parts are touching, or funny, or inspiring. It’s a good read, so I think anyone could relate to it on that level and benefit from it.

MS: What were some of the benefits to you in writing Swimming with Maya?

EV: At the beginning of the process, during the raw writing, I think it saved my sanity. It gave me a space and place to grapple with my feelings. As time passed, and I began revising the book and refining the way I structured it, I think it gave me a sense of control. When I lost Maya, I lost my future and my illusion that I had any control over my life. I was the mother of a gifted young actress and I counted on seeing her face on a movie screen one day. When that dream shattered, I had to create a new future, a new dream. Writing the book gave me a way to channel my dreams for Maya into a work of art that would be worthy of her, and to claim my own work in the world as a writer and an artist.

MS: You have also found a way to keep your daughter alive through organ donation. Please tell us about making the decision to donate her organs. How does that decision feel now after all these years?

EV: I recently met the daughter of the man who received Maya’s heart. Our gift to Fernando extended his life by 14 years, long enough for his daughter Olivia to graduate from high school and start her college career, all with a loving father at her side. She is so incredibly grateful that our gift as a family to her family changed all of their lives, including her brother’s and her mother’s lives, and even the lives and outlooks of extended family members. She recently had her first child, a girl, and she named the baby Maya. It is a tremendous honor to be able to participate in someone’s life that intimately, to actually change the course of a life, to save a life. Organ donation is a great privilege – it gave me hope when all hope seemed to be gone – and that continues through the years. My daughter Meghan met Olivia, and shared what it is like to become a mother, so the younger generation continues the same spirit of generosity.

MS: What should every woman know about becoming a mother beforehand?

EV: That it will be the hardest work you will ever do. That your heart will be broken in so many different ways you’ll lose count. That you will fall in love so deeply and never fall out of love no matter what your child does or says. That it will be the most fulfilling, heart warming, growth producing thing you will ever do. It will change you in ways you cannot now imagine.

MS: What is your writing life like now?

EV: I recently recovered from a pretty serious shoulder injury. During that six-month recovery period I couldn’t write at all because my shoulder was completely frozen. Even journaling for more than five minutes was impossible. So that was tough. But it taught me a great lesson – seize the moment. Put what is most important to you first on your list, not last. So I’ve begun a morning writing practice where I make writing the first thing I do. Some days it’s difficult. I show up late to work. But at least I know I’ve already done the most important thing. My writing has always been the way I supported myself – first as a journalist, and then as a corporate communications manager. When I committed myself to creative writing in my mid-40s, I had to learn to compartmentalize. I’ve always worked two jobs. The difference now is that writing is job number one. Writing is hard work, but it also brings me a lot of joy.

MS: The publishing industry is in a state of enormous flux.  What should readers expect in five to ten years?  Who will still be reading books and in what format?

EV: My two-year-old granddaughter Lucia is a dedicated reader. She has literally memorized several of her books and holds them on her lap and “reads” them with tremendous expression. She takes her favorite books to bed with her. I believe there will always be a place for books. More content will be delivered in electronic form, but many people like Lucia will continue to want to hold a printed book in their hands. As content migrates online, it draws new readers; people who perhaps did not feel books were accessible to them. Now they are. When you fall in love with a book, ultimately, you will want to hold it in your hands or give it as a gift. No one knows for certain what the future of publishing holds. But I have great hope for the future of books.

MS: Do you have a favorite author or poet?

EV: Too many to name, but here are a few. Jonathan Franzen is one of the great prose stylists working today – his novel Freedom blew me away. I love anything by Ann Patchett, particularly Bel Canto, her novel, and her memoir Truth and Beauty. I love the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk – in particular his novel, Snow. Also Michael Ondaatje – The English Patient, Divisadero, and any of his poetry. I also love the poetry of Ellen Bass, Louise Gluck, Kay Ryan, Chana Bloch, Jorie Graham, and Robert Haas. Lastly I will mention the work of Sigrid Undset, a Norwegian writer who won the Nobel Price in 1928 for her trilogy, Kristen Lavransdatter, the most amazing book about motherhood ever written. I reread it every two years. It always makes me cry. I learn something new each time I read it. Who knew there were feminists in twelth century Norway, the time period of the novel?

MS: Do you have a favorite spiritual leader and what has been his/her influence on you?

EV: Again, there are many. Perhaps the most influential has been Shunryu Suzuki, who brought Zen practice to the West, and founded the San Francisco Zen Center. His book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, profoundly affected my meditation practice.

MS: What are your favorite things to do on a Sunday afternoon?

EV: I love lazy Sunday afternoons, although perhaps what I love to do does not sound so lazy. I love to swim laps and bask in the sun. Another favorite activity is hiking in the giant redwood groves above Oakland where I live. Brunch with my daughter Meghan, her husband Todd and Lucia is another favorite Sunday activity. When Downton Abbey starts again, you’ll find me glued to the TV screen on Sunday evenings.

MS: Please add any thoughts about your life, your writing, your family that you’d like us to know.

EV: My writing seems to be reaching a new level, and I feel very happy about that. I currently have three essays out in anthologies, and each of them is a strong piece of writing in different ways. I’m currently working on a new introduction to Swimming with Maya, with the goal of bringing out an e-book and a paperback within the next several months. I have another memoir I’m working on revising – about a midlife decision to live in a cohousing community that ran off the rails with poignant and hilarious results.

I love being the mother of a fabulous daughter, and I double love being a grandmother. As Anne LaMott says, it’s the bonus round. My son-in-law has become a real son to me, and since I never had a son, that’s been wonderful. Our little family brings me great joy and the satisfaction of seeing life come full circle. My new ambition is to live long enough to see Lucia bounce my great grandchild on her knee!

Thank you so much, Eleanor for being here with me today.

Eleanor Vincent Author Bio
Eleanor Vincent’s memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story, traces the life and death of her 19-year-old daughter and the subsequent donation of Maya’s organs and tissues. Published in paperback and eBook by Dream of Things, Swimming with Maya portrays a mother’s struggle to recover after a devastating loss and shows how the bonds between donors and recipients can have a positive impact on grief recovery. It was a finalist for the Independent Publisher of the Year Award.
Eleanor’s essays currently appear in At The End of Life: True Stories About How we Die, edited by Lee Gutkind; This I Believe: On Motherhood; and Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs. Other work has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury News, Five Fingers Review, The Sacramento Bee and other newspapers and magazines. Her essays, poetry and short fiction have appeared in a variety of anthologies, including The Santa Barbara Review, Across the Generations, and The Napa Review.
She is the recipient of a Community Service Award from the California Transplant Donor Network for her outreach work with organ donors and recipients. Eleanor has also been recognized for writing excellence by a Woman of Promise Award from the Feminist Writers’ Guild and a Mary Merrit Henry Award from Mills College, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing in 1995.
You can find out more about Eleanor at her website