The Joy of Swimming Upstream

This sign in the window caught my eye, so I went inside...

This sign in the window caught my eye, so I went inside…

I began writing this blog three years ago on the 4th of July, 2011. My first post was called “Celebrating Writer Independence.”  Basically, that has been the theme ever since. My husband was still alive then and on the big night of July 4th, he stood behind me as I sat at my computer, his hands supportively on my shoulders, and with the fireworks literally going off outside, he asked, “Well, are you ready?” “I’m ready,” I said and with my heart pounding as I clicked the “Publish” button — and my blog was born!

“I’m a blogger!” I shouted. It was exciting!

What a country!

I’ve been fully immersed in “indie” ever since. I became a publishing company; I “indie” published my own book, The Therapist Writer, as well as the books of two other authors, and I’m about to publish two more. I’ve been reading about “indie,” talking “indie,” teaching “indie,” and breathing “indie” ever since.  I run a writer’s group and all we do is talk about indie publishing and mourn the closing of bookstores all around us. We meet at CROWN Books in Woodland Hills, California, and it’s our third bookstore.  The others we once met at have blown away.

So, imagine my delight one day as I was walking along Sherman Way in nearby Canoga Park and glanced into a store window — and found myself eye-level with the above sign: “I Refuse to Participate in a Recession.” It was then that I realized that I was looking into a bookstore. Not an old dusty bookstore that was on the verge of going the way of the others, but a new-ish looking bookstore, neat and tidy and bright blue with two cozy arm chairs right up front.  And I could see a man behind a counter — reading a book.

Next Chapter Books in Canoga Park, California

Next Chapter Books in Canoga Park, California

“This I gotta see,” I said to myself, and I marched in.  I just had to find out the story behind that sign.

Boyd T. Davis, the very independent owner of Next Chapter Books in Canoga Park, California

Boyd T. Davis, the very independent owner of Next Chapter Books. He sells “Quality Used Books” — mystery, fiction, music, photography, children’s books, theater, Vietnam, the Civil War, and his favorites, military and aviation.

Here’s the Story

After thirty-eight years in the corporate world, Boyd Davis told me, “I realized I was in a financial position to do what I wanted, so I opened a bookshop in Woodland Hills. Then I needed more space so I moved here.”  That’s it. That’s the story. While other men his age in a similar financial position may be out there golfing, traveling, or going on cruises, Davis is in his shop, reading.

“How do you start a bookshop?” I asked.  I’d never really thought about it before. After all, if you’re a Barnes & Noble or Costco they probably send you books from a distributor, but how do you start off when you’re on your own?

“At first I contributed my own personal collection of books, and then I bought some from library sales, and I also had book scouts hunting for books. Then people started bringing in books.” While Davis doesn’t ordinarily take books on consignment, he is open to talking to local authors about carrying their books on a case-by-case basis. (Crown Books in Woodland Hills also takes kindly to local authors who may display their books and set their own prices.)

You're looking at somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 books: "I never actually individually counted them," Boyd said.

Boyd Davis estimates that he has somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 books: “I never actually set out to individually count them.”

A section of the children's section

(Above) A section of the children’s section.

And his favorite section, military and aviation

The owner’s favorite section — military and aviation

What’s the “Next Chapter” in Publishing?

It’s hard to say what’s on the horizon in the publishing industry. Will more publishers tank? Will “indie” publishing fill the gap? Will more bookstores bite the dust? Are we all swimming upstream? Possibly, but those of us who are “into indie” don’t care. Being in charge of the game is what’s fun!

In fact, the day before the July 4th holiday I drove past Next Chapter Books and glanced inside. Boyd Davis was in one of the big, cozy armchairs — reading.

(Next Chapter Books is located at 21616 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, CA 91303. The website is http://www.nextchapterbooks.com. Phone: (818) 704-5864; info@nextchapterbooks.com)

(c) 2014 Sylvia Cary, LMFT

Photography for Writing

All Ye Photographers Who Also Write, Enter Here

All Ye Writers, Enter Here — and Learn How to Take Good Pictures!                                      –Photo credit Sylvia Cary

If you’re a writer, you’d better start  1) learning how to take good pictures, or, 2) learning where you can get good pictures for free — because you’re going to be needing them.

If a picture is worth 1000 words, then I’m out of a job —  I’m a writer.  But as luck would have it, I also like taking pictures. That’s a good thing because today the Internet (which is now where most of us writers hang out) is all about photos and videos. Consider Instagram. Pinterest. Twitter. YouTube. Consider 152 million blogs. Consider 1.11 billion Facebook users. And they all upload photos. Millions and millions of photos. Every single day.  Just try Googling for “photo apps” or “photo enhancements” and it will be clear to you immediately: Photography is hot! And, of course, the more photographs there are, the more photo-related business spring up, from photo organizing to photo storage to professional speakers who give talks on photos.

Smile!

I’ve loved photography since I was a little kid.  Beautiful photography makes my heart swell. I’d rather go to a photo exhibit than a painting exhibit. In grade school and high school, I usually ended up being the unofficial class photographer, and on paying jobs in adulthood, I often ended up being the newsletter editor/picture taker.  Ditto when I became a psychotherapist and joined a local chapter of a mental health professional association: Newsletter editor and picture-taker.

AWE -- This is one of my favorite photos of my granddaughter. It moves me.

AWE — This is one of my favorite photos of my granddaughter. It moves me beyond 1000 words..

I’ve always had some kind of camera handy, from my Kodak Brownie, to a second hand double-reflex (which I wish I’d kept — it might be worth something on Ebay!), to a string of ordinary picture-snappers, to a series of progressively improved Polaroids (black & white gooey to color non-gooey), to throwaway cameras from the drugstore, to a heavy Nikon with a motor drive (when I was actually working in a photo studio), to a couple of Canon Elphs (increasingly small and light), to regular cell phones with cameras (I never used the cameras), to my current iPhone 5 (which I use as a camera every day — more than I use it to talk on the phone.)

Jeff Bezos: “A Picture a Day”

About thirteen years ago I watched a TV interview with Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos. During the interview he mentioned taking a picture a day.  I had one of those Eureka moments. I loved that idea.  So much so, in fact, that I decided to do the same thing.  It was a way to keep track of how I was spending my life. I did this “picture a day” thing faithfully for about eight years, printing out the pictures on my little photo printer, and putting them in albums marked “2003, 2004, 2005…” until about 2010 when the style of the particular photo albums I’d been using became unavailable, and that was enough to throw me off-track. Another reason was too much repetition. My life was probably not as exciting as  Jeff Bezos’ — meaning I didn’t have different things to take pictures of every day. After all, how many times could I take a picture of my manicurist, or my cat, or my computer. So I gave up on “a picture a day.” But I didn’t give up on photography. I’m into it more than ever. That’s why I attend events like the Big Photo Show.

Well, this hasn't changed! Men love taking pictures of pretty girls!

One thing that hasn’t changed in the world of photography is the fact that men still love taking pictures of pretty women!  (I don’t know what was going on with the blond women in the blue sparkly thing, leaning over. A contact lens problem?). This was at the LA Convention Center May 17th-18th.     Photo credit: Sylvia Cary

There were also men playing with a drone

While some men were taking pictures of pretty women, other men were having a great time playing with a drone. I started taking pictures of them — when suddenly the drone was right in my face…

Yikes, my first face-to-face drone sighting! This is what you don't want to see outside your window. This isn't the kind of photography I'm talking about here!

Yikes!  My first face-to-face confrontation with a DRONE! This is probably NOT what you want to see hovering outside your bedroom window.

“256 Shades of Gray”

One speaker at the Big Photo Show, Mark Camon, a longtime photography instructor, used the above phrase to make a point:  ” Don’t forget about shooting in black and white.”  I agree.  There are some things that are just made for black and white. Ansel Adams in color? I don’t think so.

When you shoot in black and white, you have to see and think differently. -- photo credit Sylvia Cary

When you shoot in black and white, you have to see and think differently. — photo credit Sylvia Cary

One fun thing about the iPhone is that you can switch from color to black and white just by sliding an icon. Back in the old days, I’d have to carry two cameras — color film in one, black and white in the other.  How things have changed.

Hints, Tips and Apps FYI

photo apps — On your own, you can check out all those thousands of photo apps I mentioned above just by going online and Googling for them. But here are a few things I heard recommended by speakers at the Big Photo Show and by a member of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, Nancy McFarland, an expert I heard speak two days after the Big Photo Show.

picturekeeper.com — a thumb drive that picks up the photos off your computer, as many as 4000 of them if you are using the smaller thumb drive, but it does not pick up duplicates, which is great. If you need a second thumb drive, it takes up where the first one left off. $30 on up. (I just ordered one because I’m going crazy with all the photo duplicates on my computer).

Forever.com — permanent photo storage in the “cloud.” You get your own personalized web address (ex: YourName.forever.com). $6.95 a month for 36 months or $250 for life.

DropBox.com – well-established storage and sharing site for photos and documents.

Flip-Pal.com – a hand-held scanner for scanning photo prints in place without removing them from the albums. You can also scan larger prints by doing sections at a time and the program “stitches” the photos together into one. Cost: about $150.00

shutterfly.com  – one of many such photo sites. You can upload groups of photos and have them made into books, small to large. Other sites (some more expensive) include Artisanstate.com, Blurb.com and Peekaboo.com.

Animoto.com – create your own “videos” from still photos, or use real videos – free up to 30-seconds; annual fee of about $30 if you want longer videos. Comes with various design styles and public domain music.

morguefile.com – beautiful photos for free to use for blogs, book covers, websites, etc.

dreamstime.com — photos for blogs, covers, etc., but they charge a fee so you need to be careful and check out the details of each choice. Many photos are really cheap — just a few dollars.

Mextures.com - a photo app that adds textures and moods to your photos. (See below)

Compare this with the same picture above, except this one uses an app called Mextures. Pretty cool, huh?

Compare this version of the photo with original above. To create this version, I used a photo app called Mextures.com. Pretty cool, huh?

(c) 2014  Sylvia Cary

Author of “The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published.”

 

Literary Agents: Rules of Engagement Still Basically the Same

IWOSC (Independent Writers of Southern California) Annual Agents Panel for 2014 (l to r) Telly Davidson, Moderator; Eddie Pietzak, Renaissance Management; Dana Newman, Dana Newman Literary; BJ Robbins, BJ Robbins Literary Agency; Greg Gertmenian, Abbot Entertainment. Standing: (on left) Gary Young, Director of Professional Development, and (on right) IWOSC's President, Flo Selfman

IWOSC (Independent Writers of Southern California) Annual Agents Panel for 2014 (left to right) Telly Davidson, Moderator; Eddie Pietzak, Renaissance Management; Dana Newman, Dana Newman Literary; BJ Robbins, BJ Robbins Literary Agency; Greg Gertmenian, Abbot Entertainment. Standing in back: (on left) Gary Young, IWOSC’s Director of Professional Development; (on right) IWOSC’s President, Flo Selfman. Photo: Sylvia Cary

Once a year, I attend the Agents Panel presented by IWOSC (Independent Writers of Southern California) in order to get a refresher course in what’s going on in that “other” world known as Traditional Publishing. I’ve spend so many years now as an editor and book doctor helping authors (especially therapists) get self-published that I almost forget that traditional publishing still exists, that there is still a world out there where terms such as “book proposals,” “query letters,” and “rejection letters” are used on a daily basis. I speak “indie publishing” now which utilizes an entirely different vocabulary.

However, since I have a couple of author clients who still hope to be traditionally published, even though they know their chances are slim, I want to help them with their dream as best I can, so I need to keep up.

Every year, the huge room for the Agents Panel is always energy-filled with book people buzzing about publishing. Much as I love sitting at my computer, this event is always a high for me.

Every year, the room for the Agents Panel fills up with book people buzzing about publishing. Just being there is a high for me. — Photo: Sylvia Cary

Rules of Engagement Still the Same

While traditional publishing has gone through some huge and hurtful changes over the last decade and while self-publishing had become “hot,” what’s clear from panel discussions like this one is that traditional publishing is still alive and kicking, even though wounded, and there are still authors who want to go the traditional publishing route (look at the crowd!) and they want to know the best way to approach literary agents who are the gate-keepers to the publishing houses they want to approach.

As the moderator Telly Davidson went up and down the line of agents and asked them questions about how authors can best approach them, it turns out the rules of engagement are basically the same as they’ve always been. But they are worth repeating.

Keeping in mind that there are probably “two schools of thought” on every issue, here’s a brief run-down of the basic hints, tips, do’s/don’ts and advice from the IWOSC Agents Panel of 2014:

  • authors should do their homework!
  • authors should research the agent and agency they plan to approach. (Check websites, directories, etc.)
  • authors should know that different agents have different tastes and want different things (e.g., panelists Dana Newman and BJ Robbins both like narrative non-fiction)
  • pet peeve: not getting the appropriate material from authors
  • pet peeve: authors who spell the agent’s name incorrectly
  • every query letters should show the author’s “voice”
  • authors should make it clear in a query what they are trying to say
  • if an agent asks for 50 pages don’t send 100 pages
  • hook readers with a  “grabber.”
  • “I want to be sucked in,” one agent said.
  • in fiction, “I want a strong character with a good arc and a mission.”
  • if the author is asked to send a book proposal, “write good chapter summaries”
  • “a long synopsis of a book I haven’t read is a killer and a bore”
  • go easy on Prologues or Introductions: “People skip them.” (However, some say a prologue works well for an E-Book or when using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature)
  • if accepted by an agent, ask questions: “What’s your strategy going to be?”
  • most agents prefer emailed queries and submissions — but check
  • always check agent’s website for submission guidelines first
  • about memoirs: “It can’t just be you had an interesting life; it has to be more than that. You have to have some kind of connection to the rest of the world so you touch several audiences.”
  • If an agent says, “It’s too small,” it means the book doesn’t have a large enough audience
  • agents want to see that the author has a built-in platform (audience)
  • agents are busy and it might take anywhere from one hour to six months to get back to the author
  • marketing is daunting and today’s it’s up to the author!

“Secret Password”

One big “perk” of going to these writer events in person is that often the panelists and speakers give attendees their email address and tell them what to write in the subject line which lets the agent know you are special because you were there in the room when they spoke. That means they’ll read your query before queries from “those other writers” who weren’t there in the room.

So what’s the secret password to put in the subject line? That’s for me to know and you to find out — when you go to IWOSC’s Agents Panel next year.

(c) 2014  Sylvia Cary, LMFT

10 Things Therapist Writers Worry About

Publishing a book can be scary. But don't let your fear keep you out of the game. Forewarned is forearmed.  Avoid these 5 mistakes can keep you safe(r).  -- photo by Morguefile

Publishing a book can be scary. But don’t let your fear keep you out of the game. Forewarned is forearmed. Here are ten things therapist writers worry about and what to do about them.                    — photo by Morguefile

Loose lips sink ships.  – World War II poster

All writers, not just therapist writers, should pay attention to the legal side of publishing, and concern themselves with the possible consequences of what they say in print. Blabbing off and not heeding the rules can get anybody in trouble. No writer benefits from getting sued. That’s definitely not a perk.

Writers who also happen to be licensed mental health professionals and write about their work with clients have to be particularly vigilant because they are bound by a number of legal and ethical restrictions (such as maintaining patient confidentiality) which can inhibit and impact what they say.

Now, I don’t know if it’s just that therapist writers are worry warts, but when it comes to writing a book, here are 10 things therapists seem to worry about, have the most questions about , and need the most help solving:

Help is on the way.

Help is on the way.  Photo credit: Morguefile

1. Should I copyright my book idea?  It’s mostly new writers who worry that somebody is going to steal their book idea. News flash! You can’t copyright an idea, even a good one. You can only copyright the execution of an idea, i.e., how that idea is expressed in writing. The minute you put it down, you are protected. You don’t even have to officially register a copyright, but it’s still wise to do so just in case you get involved in a legal case. Then, you’ll have an official copyright date on file. Go to www.copywrite.gov, read the instructions, and email a digital book file and $35 to get your “placeholder” copyright (while you are finishing the book). When your book is published and available for sale, go to www.copywrite.gov again, follow the instructions, fill out two copies of a form, and then mail the two copies of the form, a check ($65.00 as of this writing), and two copies of your book to the Library of Congress, Copyright Office, Document Recordation Section, 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, D.C. 20559-6000. (Always double-check the website for any new information and instructions). One copy of the book goes to the Library of Congress. (Yes, you can go there and check out your own book!); the other copy gets stored somewhere.

Don't worry if there are other books on your topic. Tweak your book into something new and fresh.

Don’t worry if there are other books on your topic. Tweak your book idea into something new and fresh.        Photo credit: Morguefile

2. What if my book idea is already taken? So what? Unless your topic is unique, there are probably hundreds of books on your subject already in print. Search Amazon. You’ll be astounded at how many authors have beat you to the punch. But that doesn’t matter. Your challenge will be to tweak your idea so it’s “better and different” than the rest. If you want to write “about alcoholism,” and you note that thousands of others have already done so, then tweak it. Write about “high IQ alcoholics” instead. That will be your niche. That will make most of the competition go away and make your book stand out. Next, look only at the books in your niche that were published in the last five years. Read the customer book reviews. Read the “Look Inside” feature. How do competing books handle the topic? What’s missing? Note the Tables of Contents. You’ll learn what to focus on, what to add, what to leave out, and you’ll get ideas about how to market your book – the hardest part.

3. What if my book title is already taken?  Same answer as #1 above. You can’t copyright a title. For example, there are many books called “The Gift.” Some are differentiated by their subtitles. There’s was also a movie called “The Gift” and a TV show called “The Gift.” You can still call your book “The Gift” if you want to, but why would you? Don’t you want it to stand out? The only titles and words you can’t use are trademarked — like Hell’s Angels, Hello Kitty or Harry Potter.

4. Can I write about my patients? Yes, you can write about your patients, but you know the drill. As mental health professionals, we are legally bound to protect their identities. This means you have to learn the “art of disguise” to the point where friends, family and even the patient themselves won’t be able to tell who you are writing about. This actually shouldn’t cramp your style too much because the details of a patient’s life are rarely critical to the story you are trying to tell, or the message you are trying to convey. Of course, you can side-step this by getting signed releases from the patient and perhaps recognizable others in the story, but that’s not always foolproof. The other way is to change everything — dates, ages, places, details about looks, jobs, family members, even therapy issues (if uncommon enough to be recognized). It’s the core of what you are writing that’s important. Focus on that.

When you're writing about friends and family, be kind.

When you’re writing about friends and family, be kind. Photo credit: Morguefile

5. Can I write about friends and family? Authors rarely get sued for saying something nice about somebody. It’s when you get critical or expose gossip and hurt someone’s reputation in the world that makes people cranky – or litigious. In my first book I said that my sister, during her high school years, looked “scruffy.” I didn’t think that was such a big deal, but she was hurt. And I learned something. It wasn’t necessary for the sake of my story to use a critical term. Did you ever see the movie “Tea & Sympathy?” It’s about a male student at a boarding school who has an affair with the head master’s wife. When the boy leaves the school, the wife tells him, “When you talk about this – and you will – be kind.”  So unless you are a journalist and writing a killer exposé about, say, the mistreatment of the elderly in a nursing home (and your facts better be right!), then, as a general rule, “be kind.”

Saying unkind things in your writing not only hurts people but makes them cranky.

Saying unkind things in your writing not only hurts         people but makes them cranky.                                          Photo credit: Morguefile

6. Can I quote from other experts in my field? Being able to quote from thought leaders in our area of expertise is critical. How could we progress without referring to those who have gone before us? The tradition of “Fair Use” allows authors to quote other people – up to a point. The law here is “fuzzy “and vague. It all depends on what’s being quoted. You may have heard that you can “quote up to 50 words,” but that’s a myth. Perhaps you can quote 50 words from a scientific document, but you probably can’t quote even five words from a song or poem. According to Jonathan Kirsch, a Los Angeles based attorney specializing in intellectual property and publishing law, when it comes to substantial quotes you need to get “permission” (see below). “If you rely on ‘Fair Use,’” Kirsch added during a talk for writers I attended (I’m not an attorney myself so I go hear them speak), “you are taking a risk.” Being published traditionally doesn’t protect you either. “The publisher wants the author on the hook, as in, ‘Author shall indemnify, and hold harmless, the publisher.’” In other words, guess who is considered the “deep pocket” in this scenario? YOU are! One workaround is paraphrasing and giving credit to the original source, but you have to be careful that you don’t get accused of misrepresenting what the original author said. Another “quoting” issue I run into as an editor is over-quoting. Mental health professionals, especially when they are new to book writing, are insecure and tend to fall back on quoting others instead of putting their own opinions out front. I have to scold them: “Don’t keep quoting other people. You are the expert here because this is your book, so quote yourself!”

7. Can I write about myself?  Some mental health professionals are skittish when it comes to writing about themselves. It makes them feel exposed and vulnerable. “What will my patients think?” I know traditionally-trained “blank screen” therapists who wouldn’t dream of disclosing personal information to patients, including the fact that they write. Sadly, it keeps many from writing at all. On the other hand, I know therapists who blog, share opinions, and have Facebook pages filled with family photos and events. Often these therapists who are at ease with self-disclosure are in recovery from the same conditions they are treating their patients for — addiction, over-eating, bi-polar disorder, divorce. They experience sharing and writing as helpful to their clients and vice-versa.

8. Can I use a painting or photograph for my book cover?  If you painted it or snapped it yourself, or hired a graphic artist for the job, yes, if you think it would make a good book cover. But if it’s something from the Internet, probably not, unless you’ve bought it and have the rights. Or it’s from a free photo site, such as http://www.morguefile.com. Paintings and photos, like books, poems, and song lyrics, are often under copyright protection — unless they have fallen into the public domain (meaning the copyright has expired). Written works fall into the public domain 70 years after the death of the author. This means thousands of books are up for grabs every year. That’s why anybody can make a movie of Hamlet or reprint Sense and Sensibility through their indie publishing company. You don’t need to get permission from Shakespeare or Jane Austen.

As they say, "It's easier to ask for permission than ask for forgiveness." Photo credit: Morguefile

As they say, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”                           –Photo credit: Morguefile

9. How do I get permission to use quotes in my book?  You’ve probably heard this cute little line: “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Unfortunately, when quotes don’t fall under the “Fair Use” umbrella, or are not in the public domain, or are not properly paraphrased with credit to the original author, then you’ll have to get permission. How do you do this? You ask. The hard part is finding out who to ask. Check www.copyright.gov to see who has the copyright. (By the way, this information is sometimes dated or wrong.) Track down the author if he or she is still alive. Write a letter to the author via The Writer’s Guild because they’ll sometimes forward a letter on to authors. Contract the publisher who may do the same. Check Facebook even if the author is dead. When you do find somebody who can say yes — they may say no. I wanted to use a poem in one of my books, but the poet told me she still gets paid speaking gigs based on that poem, so she wasn’t going to let me have her cash cow! In most cases, once you manage to track down the author, they are happy to be quoted if you quote them correctly, give them credit, and are “kind.” (Warning: Sometimes there’s a fee involved.) In your book, either on the page where you use the quote or in a special section, you say “reprinted by permission.”  Getting those “permissions” is an achievement!

10. What if my book is a best-seller?  That’s a problem!? Well, I guess it could be since it’s usually just famous authors who make money who get sued. Unknown self-published authors who sell 100 copies or less rarely get sued. But don’t count on things going either one way or the other. Don’t blow off the legal side of publishing. The best advice I got was to hire an attorney read a book I wrote to make sure there was nothing libelous or slanderous in it. He had me get a release letter from one person, which I did – just in case. With another book, I deleted one of the twenty-one interviews in which a man said something “not kind” about somebody else. That “somebody else” threatened to sue if the book was published, so I replaced the interview and avoided a potential problem. Rule of thumb: Prevention trumps litigation! Now you can go ahead ad tell your tales without fear.

May all your writing puzzles be solved.

May all your writing puzzles be solved.                     Photo credit: Morguefile

(c) The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published by Sylvia Cary, LMFT, available on Amazon and Kindle

Pretty Thoughts

Ojai, pretty town, pretty inn, pretty flowers, pretty day all help one have pretty thoughts. -- Photo credit: Sylvia Cary

Ojai, Califoria: Spending a pretty day, in a pretty town, in a pretty inn, in a pretty garden,  taking pictures of pretty flowers, all helped bring on prettier thoughts on this first anniversary of my husband’s death.                 Photo credits: Sylvia Cary

I once asked an art museum guard what he did with his mind all day while standing tall in a doorway, watching people look at  statues and paintings.

“I think pretty thoughts,” he said.

I didn’t press him further, but I got the point. He focused on pretty thoughts to get his mind off what might have been unwanted thoughts –boredom, perhaps, or resentment, physical discomfort, emotional pain, or even grief.

A Lavender Getaway

Basically, I did the same thing last week when I escaped from Los Angeles on the first anniversary of the death of husband, Lance. Lung cancer got him sometime after midnight on January 2nd, 2013, so on New Year’s Day I drove up the coast along the Pacific Ocean and then up a road into the mountains to Ojai where I had a reservation at The Lavender Inn.

The Labender Inn in Ojai. I knew just from the name I'd love it.

The Lavender Inn in Ojai, California. I knew just from the name I’d love it.

I spent the next 24-hours soaking up every corner of this lovely place, sitting in garden chairs, writing, taking pictures, and filling my mind with pretty thoughts instead of ruminating over memories of Lance’s miserable last weeks in an LA area hospital ICU, and the picture I have trapped in my head of him dead.

I sat in the garden and got a little writing done.

I sat in the garden and got a little writing done, and emailed photos to my daughters .

My favorite chairs - Adirondack chairs in all colors.

My favorite chairs – Adirondack chairs in all colors.

I sat by the fire in the living room, reading a novel, which I rarely do. I'm usually a non-fiction gal .

I sat by the fire in the living room, reading a novel. I rarely read novels. I’m a non-fiction gal . But this one drew me in. “You’ve outlasted the log,” the Inn’s owner laughed when I finally went up to bed.

Red Room

I crept into bed at 7:30 and read until after midnight, finishing the novel, realizing that it was not "The Day," January 2nd, the day Lance died. I pulled the blankets up over me and fell asleep.

I crept into bed at 7:30 pm and read until after midnight., finishing the novel, then realizing that it was now “The Day,” January 2nd, the day Lance died. I pulled the blankets up over me and fell asleep, missing him, a sad thought creeping in.

The next morning I went out on my balcony and looked down at the beautiful garden and another sparkling California day. In other parts of the country snowstorms were raging with record-breaking cold.

The next morning I went out on the balcony and looked down at the garden, and couldn't help but notice all the different chair arrangements that were set up for couples.

Looking down into the garden from my balcony I couldn’t help but notice all the different chair arrangements that were set up for couples. I took more pictures of the chairs instead of thinking about them.

Then it was downstairs for my favorite meal of the day, breakfast.

Then it was downstairs for my favorite meal of the day –breakfast. Delicious, healthy, and pretty.

Guests sat out on the porch for breakfast. I walked around and took more picture, more chairs in different light. Everything looked photogenic.

Guests sat out on the porch for breakfast. I walked around and took more pictures of things in the morning light. Everything looked photogenic.

I was blown away by this painting of a painting on the garden wall.

Lavender Fields

Lavender Fields

Back inside the inn I stopped in what they call the "media room" and saw this wonderful old typewriter. They say Mark Twain bought a typewriter and hated it so much he exchanged it for a buggy whip.

Back inside the inn I stopped in what they call the “media room” and saw this wonderful old typewriter, along with books, magazines, local newspapers, and the inn’s only visible TV . They say Mark Twain once bought a typewriter and hated it so much he exchanged it for a buggy whip.

I went from the typewriter back upstairs to my room where I had my laptop set up and I spent one hour working on an adaptation of a screenplay I wrote years ago, thinking about turning into a novel. I've never written a novel, but the one I'd just read inspired me. I practiced writing from the main character's point of view -- in the first person. It opened up new ideas to write in the first person instead of "she" did this or said that.  Then it was getting to be check-out time.

Leaving the typewriter behind, I went back upstairs to my room where I’d optimistically set up my laptop intending to get more work down than I actually did!

Tempus fugit. It was check-out time already. I packed and went downstairs to pay. I bought a coffee mug with “The Lavender Inn” and picture of a lavender Adirondack chair on it.  I’ve used it every day since I got home.

I hadn’t told anybody at the inn why I was there, but I did write in the guest book that I’d came to honor the one-year anniversary of my husband’s death. I had hoped for a lovely, quiet, peaceful and pretty place. I was not disappointed. It was perfect.

After I checked out, I did a bit of sight-seeing.  I walked around town and then was lured into a tiny restaurant by the smell of quiche lorraine. I ordered it.

I sat by the window and looked acorss the street at the well-known spa, The Oaks. I'd already taken a bite of my quiche before it occurred to me to take a picture of it. It was pretty, too! Here it is with a part missing.

I sat by the window and looked across the street at the well-known spa, The Oaks. I’d already taken a bite of my quiche before it even occurred to me to take a picture of it. It was pretty. I don’t like cooking, but I love pictures of food. So here is my lunch with a little piece of it missing. It would never make the cover of a cooking magazine.

Bye-Bye Ojai

There’s something about getting away, even if only for a day, that can open up the brain and let some new, even pretty, thoughts in. So when you’re trying to fend off unpretty thoughts, the ones that are like bees around a bee-keeper, just skip town. Drive north, south, east or west.  An hour or two. You are sure to see something pretty. It will make you feel better.

I had to stop to take one more photo in a shop window.

Bye-bye, Ojai

On the way out of Ojai, I stopped to take just one more picture in a shop window. It made me smile. It was cute. Maybe that’s the kind of thing that museum guard enjoyed thinking about.

(c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT

All photos in the post by Sylvia Cary

The Swimmer: A Lesson in Self-Esteem at the Bottom of a Mud-Hole

First, conquer the mud hole -- then take it from there. -- Photo credit: Morguefile.com

First, conquer the mud hole — then take it from there. — Photo credit: Morguefile.com

Home Away From Home

“Consider this your home away from home,” a camp counselor told me the minute I arrived.  But I had my own name for it — Divorced Children’s Camp.  I was one of five kids who’d been sent there because we all had parents in the throes of divorce.  I was six.

The camp was an old Victorian house with a wide porch, situated on a dirt road in the (then) tiny town of Landgrove, Vermont. Aside from me, there were four other campers  – Mary, who didn’t speak (she had stopped after a trauma in her life, we were told); Janice, who always looked neat and never got into trouble; and two boys, Warren and Karl.  The two counselors in charge were Danny, 19, who had red hair and hoped to try out for the Yankees; and Frederica, 22, blond and leggy, who loved crafts – and Danny.  They’d been given special instructions by the camp owners to be extra sensitive to our plight — meaning they should keep in mind that we were the products of broken homes and should be treated with kid gloves.

We did the usual camp things.  We went on hikes and walked to the one-room school house on Friday nights for square dancing.  On Sundays, those of us who actually knew our parents’ current addresses were encouraged to write postcards home.

We also went swimming in the mud hole under the bridge where Danny taught us how to catch frogs and cook them.  “They taste just like chicken,” he promised.  But to me they tasted just like frogs.

One afternoon at the swimming hole, Danny announced:  “We’re going to have a swimming contest.”

“What’s first prize?” Karl asked.

“Ice cream, I hope.”  That came from Warren, who was on the pudgy side.

My immediate reaction to Danny’s contest announcement was to tune out.  The very word “contest” had nothing to do with me.  Contests had to do with people winning things – other people winning things.  Even at six, I knew that certain things in life were givens.  The given that applied to me was:  I don’t win.

“I don’t think we should call it a contest,” Frederica, the other counselor, said.

“Why not?” Danny asked.

“Because only one person can win.  That means four people have to lose.”

“That’s the point,” Danny said.

Frederica continued pressing her case. “Failure isn’t what these kids need at this point in their lives.  They’ve had enough disappointment already.”

“Give me a break,” Danny said.

“It’s setting them up to feel badly about themselves?”

“That’s bull!”

Frederica, hurt, unexpectedly turned to me for support. “What do you think, Sylvia?  Should we have a swimming contest?  Or should we just swim for fun?”

It was clear what the right answer here was — but I knew enough to avoid taking sides when people were arguing, so I said, “Either one.”

Not getting what she needed from me, Frederica turned to Janice. “Don’t you think we should swim just for fun?”

Janice fell right into it.  “Yes.”

“See!” Frederica said victoriously.  “Janice doesn’t want a contest either.”

“Then we’ll flip a coin,” Danny said.  “Heads I win.”

He pulled a coin from his pocket, tossed it.  Heads.  “Yes!”

Whether you're a swimmer or a writer, just dive in!

Whether you’re a swimmer or a writer, just dive in!

Ready, Set, Go!

Danny lined us up at the water’s edge by height.  I was last.  He took off his watch.  “Okay, sports fans, what I’ve got here is a stop watch.  It’s a very expensive item.  It can time you down to a 10th of a second.”

I tried to imagine a single second being cut into ten pieces.  I was impressed with any watch that could do that.

“Okay, now I’m going to swim over to the other side. You guys will come across one by one.”

Danny began to wade out into the pond, holding the watch up high over his head.  As he got into the deep part, I held my breath.  Was he going to dunk that expensive item into the muddy water?  He did a one-armed sidestroke and made it to the other side.  Relief.

“Okay, Warren, you’re up!”

Warren, his pudge hanging over his trunks, waded into the water.

“Hon, remember, this is just for fun,” Frederica called out. “What’s important is trying.”

“First prize here I come!” Warren said confidently.

“Ready!” Danny shouted.

Warren snapped to attention.

“Set!”

Warren leaned forward.

“Go!”

Warren plopped into the water, and sank.  He bobbed up in the same place he went down and began slapping his fat arms on the water, finally making some headway.  Breathlessly, he pulled himself up on the grassy embankment.

“Finish line!” Danny shouted, and wrote down Warren’s time on a yellow pad.

“Good for you, Warren,” said Frederica.

Danny stepped on her reassurance, “Next!”

It was Mary.  Without waiting for the ready-set-go command, she jumped in and dog-paddled across the pond as though in a dream, participating in a contest with rules of her own making.  When she reached the other side, grinning, she ran over to Danny and was rewarded with hug.

Then Karl jumped in with a huge splash, fingers spread so wide apart that gallons of water went right through them.  His stiff arms, moving in wild, circular motions, looked like paddle-wheels on the side of a Mississippi river boat.

“Finish line!” Danny shouted, and wrote down Karl’s time on his pad.

Next was Janice.  She swam very precisely, in perfect form.  She’d had private swimming lessons back home as well as ballet and tap.  She could do the Australian crawl, the sidestroke, the breaststroke, even float on her back.  She pressed her fingers tightly together, pointed her toes, and kicked delicately.  She turned her head up to the surface after each precise stroke and breathed in, then turned her face into the water and breathed out.  She wore a pink bathing cap with flowers.  It was a lovely thing to see.  And it took her forever.  I knew she hadn’t won.

Danny noted Janice’s time, and called for the next swimmer.  Me.

I figured that by the time my turn came it would be a mere formality.  Surely, one of the others had already won.  But I was more than willing to proceed since I already liked to swim “just for fun,” as Frederica called it.

Danny yelled, “Ready!”

I turned my body towards my destination.

“Set!”

I threw my arms up over my head, hands together, fingers straight – like Janice’s.

“Go!”

I dived into the pond.  But instead of re-surfacing as the others had done, I stayed down there, eyes squinched closed.  Underwater was my realm. There, it was cool, dark, silent.  I formed my body into a bullet-shape, like one of those tadpoles we’d made into orphans, and using my arms, propelled myself forward in spurts.  Soon time disappeared.  There was no stop watch, no contest, no camp, no counselors, not even any water — just pure swimming through infinite liquid.

Then, clunk.  I hit the mud embankment on the other side.  My first reaction was disappointment:  Is it over already?  I surfaced and scrambled up onto land.

“Finish line!” I heard Danny shouting.

I was jumping up and down on one foot and then the other trying to get the water out of my ears when I heard Danny say, “And the winner is – Sylvia!”

The information was jarring and I didn’t even want to let it in.  I had an impulse to jump back into the water.  There, it was comfortable.  Familiar.

Winning knocked up against the walls of my own personal law:  I don’t win.

Frederica was off to the side, giving comfort to Janice.  Warren and Karl were busy having a water fight, and Mary was happily hanging onto Danny.

“Hello!”  Danny was waving at me and grinning. “Anybody home?”

The Choice

I could see that the two states of being – I don’t win and I can win – could not occupy the same space.  I was going to have to let one of them go.  With everyone waiting for me, I vacillated back and forth.

Then I made my choice:  “I won!” I shrieked.

Danny pinned a construction-paper blue ribbon onto my bathing suit.  I could read the crayon writing upside down.  It said:  “First Prize.  Swimming Contest.”

Today that grungy little ribbon is in a scrapbook in a drawer somewhere.  How very beautiful it looked to me that day – the day I decided that I was more than a child of divorce, a child from a broken home.  On that day I decided I was a swimmer.

"Impressive! I believe she did it!"

“Impressive! I believe she did it!”

(c) 2013  Sylvia Cary

15 Ways to Let the World Know Your Book Exists?*

My Favorite Bookshelf which contains my 5 books, books I've published through my publishing company, and book that I've edited for others -- each one with a separate and specialized marketing challenge.   Photo: Sylvia Cary

My Favorite Bookshelf  contains books I’ve published through my publishing company, books I’ve edited, books I’ve written and had published, and books I’ve read or used to find critical information about the business of books. Each book here no doubt presented the author or publisher with huge marketing challenges.    Photo: Sylvia Cary

The Challenges

* Have you had a book published and don’t know how to market it?

* Have you been surprised to learn that today even traditional publishers expect authors to market their own books?

*Have you finally realized that nobody is going to buy your book if they’ve never heard of it?

The Overwhelm

I know lots of authors. I grew up amongst authors. I know authors who have been published every which way, from traditional to indie to Ebooks. And for most of them, unless they’re seasoned, it has come as a shock to realize that finally getting to hold their published book in their hands isn’t the end of the story. Next comes the hard part — book marketing. That’s when the overwhelm sets in. Even if you’ve been lucky enough to have a major publisher and an assigned publicist (a rare luxury these days), marketing is still a chore.  One of the hardest working writers I know is a woman who was published by a big publishing house and did the full (often exhausting) book tour throughout the US and Canada. So there’s no escaping the reality of marketing. As Former President Bill Clinton is said to have commented about his first book: “I didn’t sell it because I didn’t promote it.” So you gotta promote your tail off.

To market, to market, to market.

Book marketing can be overwhelming. Even though my own book, The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published, contains forty-five pages of mostly DIY marketing ideas from A-Z, when I was faced with actually doing the things I wrote about, I didn’t know where to start.  Soon after the book came out, I’d been widowed. I’d grieved. I’d moved. I’d adopted a needy and difficult feral kitten. And whenever I reminded myself that I “should” be marketing my book, I’d freeze. Where to begin?

When it comes right down to it, there are entirely too many things you can do to market a book!  Well-known book marketer, Penny Sansevieri, author of Red Hot Internet Publicity, recently wrote a guest post on an agent’s blog called “50 Thing Under $50 Bucks to Promote Your Book.”  Then there’s the huge book called 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, edited by John Kremer. Yikes. That book always reminds me of why I like small food markets: Fewer choices.

Focus, focus

I knew I needed to zero in, so I decided to focus on only 15 ways to market a book — and that’s it.  And, since they say the best way to learn is to teach, I scheduled a workshop for next (as of this writing) Saturday Oct. 26th called DIY Yourself Book Marketing: 15 Ways to Let the World Know Your Book Exists. During this workshop I shall attempt to teach authors and wanna-be authors how to market their books. Ha! What the planning of this workshop has forced me to do is to concentrate on 15 marketing technique and put blinders on for the rest. I’ll get to them, or some of them, another day.

The Top 15

If I were to go into each of my 15 top book marketing methods in detail, this blog post would scroll down to the floor. So I’ll list them and then you should Google them and determine which book, blog, article,  website, or YouTube video gives you the best information. For example, my top pick in this list of 15 is Amazon.com because it’s the largest online bookseller, because it’s global, and because it offers authors a wide range of great marketing opportunities. Consider buying Penny Sansevieri’s Ebook, How to Sell Your Book by the Truckload on Amazon.com. Do this kind of research for each item on this list. It shouldn’t be that overwhelming if you keep in mind that it’s just 15 — not 1001. So here are my picks:

1) Amazon; 2) Blogging; 3) Bookstores; 4) Contests; 5) Elevator pitch; 6) Handouts; 7) Emailings; 8) Traditional Media; 9) Networking; 10) Press Releases; 11) Reviews; 12) Social Media; 13) Speaking 14) Videos; 15) Website.

You’ve Got to Start Somewhere with Something

Obviously, each item on my Top 15 list has sub-categories, and I know I’ve left things out, but you’ve got to start somewhere in order to get unstuck or unfrozen when it comes to book marketing. By keeping your focus on 15 instead of hundreds, you’ll see how one action can be used for multiple purposes (like your 30-second elevator pitch which you’ll end up using in many ways.)

Let me give/show you an example. Under #14, “Video,” videotape any talk or presentation you make, or set up an “interview” situation, and email it (or use Dropbox if the file is big) to a video editor and have them cut up your video into 3 or 4 short segments (under two minutes) and post the clip on Amazon, your website, your blog,  your email newsletter, or put it up on YouTube, perhaps on your own  channel. It sounds complex, but a good video editor can do it in a jiffy.

The clip below is one of five from a TV interview on I did on “Book Beat” about my book. It was swiftly edited, complete with titles and music, by L.A. area video editor,  Mallory Jackson (Jackson.Mallory@yahoo.com). But of course these days where a talent lives often doesn’t matter since most things can be done by email. I’ve edited books for people I’ve never met.  Here’s the clip:

*Workshop for Locals

If you live in the LA area and you want more details on these Top 15 marketing tools, you can sign up for my workshop on Saturday Oct. 26th, 9:30 am to 12:30 pm in Sherman Oaks, only $60.00.  Sigh up at: http://www.therapistwriter.eventbrite.com.

(c) 2013 by Sylvia Cary, LMFT

Video editor Mallory Jackson

“Don’t Go There”

Grief is a Scary Place to Go

GRIEF IS A SCARY PLACE TO GO

October. Bright colors. Halloween approaching. Very soon my grandkids will be going trick-or-treating in their cute costumes.  There will be funny-faced pumpkins on neighborhood doorsteps. I’ll trot along behind and take pictures. Halloween is very photogenic. There may even be a fall nip in the air so when I get home I’ll be able to “turn on” my store-bought fireplace (it has real-looking flames and real heat). I’ll enjoy that after so many hot Los Angeles days.

Anniversary Reactions

Yes, so many heartwarming memories associated with the month of October. And since this blog is primarily about writing, I was going to talk about my upcoming October workshop on “DIY Book Marketing.” I thought I’d give some pointers and tips on the subject for the many “indie” published authors out there who are facing the huge task of trying to sell their book.

Just not today. I just can’t write about marketing today. My good thoughts about October are being crowded out by sad thoughts, “anniversary reactions,”  memories related to the events that happened just a year ago which led up to the death of my lovely husband, Lance.  Those memories hurt.  But trying to write about “book marketing” when I’m thinking of something else hurts more.

October 8th (tomorrow, as I write this) would have been Lance’s 71st birthday. What a wonderful time we had one year ago on his 70th birthday when we threw him a huge surprise party at his favorite Italian restaurant, Maggiano’s in Woodland Hills, California.  His cousin Jorgen flew in from Denmark (where Lance was born) as a surprise.  And it was! In the restaurant, we all  sat at one  long table (tables pushed together) — family and friends, talking and laughing,  popping up and down to chat with those too far down the line to hear above the din.

Enjoying Lance's birthday party. Here, my daughter and son-in-law shake hands over the heads of my grand-children, with Lance (striped shirt) in the background across from his cousin and 11-year-old grandneice from Denmark.

Enjoying Lance’s 70th birthday party. Above, my daughter and son-in-law shake hands over the heads of their children (Lily and Lyle), with Lance in the background (right) across from his cousin, Jorgen, Danish flags stuck in a glass between them.

Towards the end of the dinner, Lance stood up. Forks clinked against glasses to get people to quiet down. He gave a touching speech. He has no idea he was sick.

Soccer Game Tickets 037My daughter, Claudia, gave Lance soccer tickets to a Galaxy game (the card was made by my granddaughter, Lily). That soccer game turned out to be  our “last date” together before Lance was diagnosed.

Turkey Day and “D” (Diagnosis) Day

After Lance’s birthday there was Thanksgiving.  It was great. My daughter Claudia and husband Roy hosted it because I was recovering from a back mishap. I wrote about it in my 2012 blog: “Mishmash: What I Love About Thanksgiving.”  After the meal, we all stood by the fireplace to take our annual Christmas photo. Lance, though “tired,” still didn’t know he was sick.

In early December, Lance did feel sick. He took to his bed and missed a week of work. Lance never missed work. When it turned out not to be the flu, he was treated at home for “pneumonia,” and when he didn’t get better he was admitted to the hospital where he got the bad news:  Stage 4  lung cancer.  Not fixable. Maybe six months left with “targeted chemo.”  He was sent home with oxygen and a boatload of equipment to await more tests and then get a pet scan to see where the cancer might have spread. The night before the pet scan, this man who’d always has such a strong heart , had a massive heart walking to the bathroom. It felled him. The paramedics took him back to the hospital. Eighteen hours in Emergency, then up to the ICU.

In ICU all the holidays ran together:  Christmas Eve. Christmas. Our 28th Wedding Anniversary. New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day 2013.  Somewhere in there came strokes. It was increasingly difficult to communicate with him or make sense of what he was saying. And then on January 2nd, 2013, he died.

Stalker Grief

Grief is sneaky.  A month ago I was at Crown Books in Woodland Hills where I run a monthly drop-in writing group. It’s next door to the restaurant where we had that wonderful birthday party for Lance. I walked into the restaurant just to use the Ladies’ Room because the one in the bookstore was on the blink. I didn’t even think of the party. It wasn’t until I was on my way out and found myself in the area where the party had taken place that it hit me — POW! A sock in the gut. The tables were now empty, pushed apart. I looked at the empty tables and saw a brief “vision” — a fantasy re-enactment of the whole party. I rushed out.

Doing a Drive-By

Then there was the day I drove past the townhouse complex where Lance and I lived for 23 of our 28 years of marriage.The landscape was so achingly familiar.  On impulse I made a right turn into the side street, a turn I’d probably made a thousand times. Next I turned left into the alley, then another left into the driveway. I drove past all the garage doors and slowed down when I got to the one that used to be “our” garage door.

For a brief moment, like something out of a time-travel movie, I felt I could push the button on my visor and the garage door would open and I’d see all our familiar things, my filing cabinets, Lance’s computer stuff, our books. I could park the car, open the downstairs door and walk up the stairs — and right back into my old life. I’d find Lance at his computer, as usual, and the cat curled up nearby.

I just wanted to go home.

Grief involves wanting to go back, rewind, undo, and go home again.

Grief pushes you to try to go back, rewind the movie, undo, and go home again.

“Stop Going There!”

By the time I got to the end of the townhouse complex driveway, I was in tears. I pulled over and called my daughter so I could cry some more. Afterwards I called a friend, “Why did I do that?” I blurted out.  “Then stoppit. Don’t go there!” she told me. “It’s not true that time heals. Time just teaches you to stop going there.”  I didn’t tell her other things I did, like listening to Lance’s last two cheery messages to me on my cell phone, one calling me from Fry’s computer store, the other from home after the Galaxy had won a  soccer game. He was happy: “See you when you get home!” I saved those messages. When I got a new cell phone, I had them transferred over.  I still have them.

And sometimes I go there.

Danish flags brought to Lance by his Danish cousin for the birthday celebration

Danish flags brought to Lance by his cousin for the birthday celebration

As the onslaught of anniversaries hits me over the next three months, I know it will be hard not to “go there.” After the anniversary of Lance’s birthday tomorrow, there’s  going to be Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve (that’s when we used to celebrate Christmas — the Danish way), Christmas Day, our would-be 29th wedding anniversary on December 29th, New Year’s Eve (in 2012 I’d spent it at Lance’s bedside as he endured 100% oxygen being force-fed into his lungs just to keep him alive), then New Year’s Day (with goodbye visits from family and friends), and then the next day, Jan 2nd, 2013, the day that Lance died.

I’ve told people I don’t even want to be in L.A. for that anniversary, but where would I go? You can “go there” even when you’re someplace else.

Pictures

I have dozens of pictures of Lance in my little apartment — another easy way to keep going there and remembering back. Probably I should put some away. But for now they will stay where they are. I can only go so fast. If I’m still doing drive-bys five years from now, that’s a whole different story. Then stop me.

Anyway, of all my many pictures of Lance and me together, this is a favorite:

Dinner together at the same favorite restaurant . This was our 27th wedding anniversary the year before. The 28th was spent in the hospital. I love this picture of Lance. It's so -- "Lance."

Dinner together at the same restaurant  where we had Lance’s birthday bash. This was, I think, our 27th wedding anniversary on December 29th, 2011. Our 28th, on December 29th, 2012, was spent in the hospital. I do love this picture of Lance. It shows this warmth, kindness and love. It’s so — “Lance.”  It’s so what I miss.

(c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT.   Photo credits: Sylvia Cary, wwwMorguefile.com and the waiter at Maggiano’s Restaurant in Woodland Hills, California

Night Life for LA Writers

Los Angeles — An Amazing City for Writers

Are you a writer? A wanna-be writer? A screenwriter? A wanna-be screenwriter? Do you live in the LA area? Then check out Meetup.com, Eventbrite.com, Jeff Gund’s infolist.com or any other site that tells you what’s going on around town for writers.  Here’s a look at what this writer did over the past week:Magical Under the Moon. Inside the Sportsman's Lodge in Studio City a meeting of the Book Publicists of Southern California is in Progress.  Photo: Sylvia Cary

Magical Under the Moon — The Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City. Inside, a meeting of the Book Publicists of Southern California (BPSC) is in progress.

Inside, a panel discusses "How to Avoid PR Misteaks" for a group of book publicists. The organization was started 37 years ago by publicist Irwin Zucker, standing (right), still going stonge.

A BPSC panel discusses “How to Avoid PR Misteaks” for a group of book publicists. The organization was started 37 years ago by publicist Irwin Zucker (standing, right). The group meets monthly. (www.bookpublicists.org)

Even driving out of the Sportsman's Lodge looks magical at night.

Driving out of the Sportsman’s Lodge looks magical at night.

The next night, it was "Stories Under the Stars" in the Encino backyard of writer Lila Silvern.

The next night, it was “Stories Under the Stars” (with a musical intro) in a Sherman Oaks back yard. The weather was perfect and so still that every word was heard.

And there was food under the stars.

And there was food under the stars…

And more food under the stars...

…and more food under the stars.

And stories of course. Here, writer Lila Silvern reads a humorous short story from her upcoming book of stories called "Confessions of a Geriatric Prom Queen."

Here, writer Lila Silvern reads a humorous short story from her upcoming book of stories called Confessions of a Geriatric Prom Queen.

Another night it was on to the colorful digs of Office Slice, an energized center which hosts special events, panels and workshops.

A totally different venue: The colorful digs of Office Slice, an energized center in Sherman Oaks which hosts many writer-related events, panels, seminars and workshops. Above, Managing Director Judy Santos (standing, in white) introduces a publishing panel. (www.officeslice.com)

Above, another Office Slice presentation, this one on the art of using more images in blogging. Circe Denyer and Linnaea Mallette offered plenty of tips.

Another Office Slice presentation, this one on blogging, and specifically the art of using images in blogging. Circe Denyer and Linnaea Mallette offered plenty of great tips.

Called "The Table," this industry group for writers, screenwriters, actors, directors, producers, and everyone else in show biz has been meeting every Thursday night for 20 years. Now meets at Marie Callender's in Sherman Oaks.

Above: “The Table.”  This industry group for writers, screenwriters, actors, directors, producers, and anyone else connected to show biz has been meeting every Thursday night for 20 years. There are now “Table” groups popping up in major cities across the country. The LA group meets at Marie Callender’s in Sherman Oaks. (Their new website is still under construction but Google for stories and information).

Free Drop-in Writers Group at Crown Books in Woodland Hills, a daytime event. The group is sponsored by Independent Writers of Southern California. They have monthly panels and monthly Saturday seminars.

A free monthly drop-in Writing Group at Crown Books in Woodland Hills, a daytime event — but there are nighttime groups going on somewhere. This one is sponsored by Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC) which also has monthly panels and seminars. (www.iwosc.org)

The Scriptwriters Network, which has been around for over 25 years, presents panels and speakers at least twice a month. Check them out at www.scriptwritersnetwork.org.

The Scriptwriters Network has been around for over 25 years. The organnizaton presents panels and speakers at least twice a month, as well as networking mixers and special events. Check them out at http://www.scriptwritersnetwork.org.

Toastmasters for Writers (known as TM4Writers), possibly the only club for writers around. There are several hundred Toastmasters  groups in the LA area, on all subjects -- but you can go to anyone of them. Go to toastmastersinternational.org to find other clubs or http://748804.toastmastersclubs.org/ for the writers' TM (two Saturdays a month, 9:30 - 11:30 am.  Splendid training for pitching and marketing your writing

Toastmasters for Writers (known as TM4Writers), possibly the only TM club for writers in LA — although there are several hundred Toastmasters groups in the LA area focusing on all kinds of subjects — but you can attend any of them. Go to http://toastmastersinternational.org to find other clubs or http://748804.toastmastersclubs.org/ for TM4Writers (two Saturdays a month, 9:30-11:30 am. Splendid training for pitching and marketing your writing.

And then finally…

Starbucks is always busy late into the night with writers sitting behind laptops, inspired by all the writer events they've been attending all week.Starbucks is always busy late into the night with writers sitting behind laptops, inspired by all the writer events they’ve been attending all week.

(All photos in this post by Sylvia Cary)

(c) The Therapist Writer Blog, Sylvia Cary, LMFT, author of The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published

What Do You Do After You Say “I Have a Great Idea for a Book?”

First, Decide to Take the Plunge

Okay, so you have a book idea and you’re willing to take the plunge because you think it’s a great book idea. But is it? How do you know? How can you tell if your book idea is lousy or lovely? How do you know if it’s even viable?

Writers, Take The Leap! There's Always a Helping Hand. As Publishing Guru Dan Poynter Says, Don't Die with Your Book Still In You.    Photo: Sylvia Cary

Writers, take the plunge! Get published, even if you have to do it yourself. There will always be a helping hand along the way. Heed the words of publishing guru Dan Poynter: “Don’t die with your book still inside you.” Photo: Sylvia Cary

Do Your Basic Research — The Top Ten

I’m not talking about heavy-duty library research. I’m talking about the simplest kind of research that you can do on the Internet. It’s so basic that I’m always surprised when somebody comes to see me for a book consultation session and they haven’t done research  on their “great” book idea.  Do they think they can just sit down and start writing without knowing some things first?

So, let’s get to it. What should a wanna-be author do if they think they have a great book idea?

1. Write down what your book is about in twenty-five words or less? Fiction or non-fiction?

2. What’s your working title?

3. What’s your working sub-title?

4. Look up your book’s title on Amazon. Is it being used already? Is your subtitle being used?

5. Look up your book’s topic on Amazon. How many books are out there already on the same subject?

6. Sort books similar to your idea by date of publication. (Amazon gives you sorting options). How many were published in the last five years?

7. Of those that were published more than five years ago, were any of them best-sellers? Are any of them still classics in the field you want to write about?

8. Narrow down the list of books similar to your book idea and using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, read the Table of Contents, read a few pages, and look at the back cover. Is the book still similar to your book? How is it different? Read the reviews on the Amazon site.

9. Google your topic and read what others are saying about it in their blogs, articles, newsletter or in their videos.

10. Sign up for Google Alerts and use keywords related to your topic so you’ll get notices when somebody else is talking about it or there’s “new news” about it.

These are the basics  musts before you take the plunge. I discuss this subject with TV interviewer Jean-Noel Bassior (TheBookMentor.com) in the video clip below from my appearance on BOOK BEAT (available on YouTube):

Twist and Tweak

Don’t be discouraged if you discover that there are many books on your subject and many with similar titles.  You can still write your book. If somebody has already “got” your title — even though you can’t copyright titles — pick something else. Find something even better. As Jean-Noel says in the video clip, you have to “take it to the next level.” You have to come up with a tweak, twist or create a niche that takes the book where it’s never been before.

No matter what subject you’re writing about, imagine it as a branch on a tree.  You don’t want to recreate the same old branch; you want to burst forth into a new, fresh, leafy branch. What will this new branch be about? What will you call it? Will it be about something unexpected and different? Will it fill a gap? Is there really a book in it — or more?

Book Ideas Branch Off Into New Book Ideas, Just as a Tree Springs Forth With Newer, Fresher Branches. Photo Taken at Vermont Bed & Bath Inn by Sylvia Cary

Old book ideas branch off into new book ideas, just as a tree blossoms forth with newer, better, fresher branches. Keep tweaking your idea until you get it right.
Photo by Sylvia Cary — taken at a Vermont Bed & Breakfast and the inspiration for the cover of my book, The Therapist Writer (cover design by Dotti Albertine).

Sometimes it may feel as though there’s nothing new under the sun, but when it comes to book ideas, just one more twist or tweak or shift in point of view can take your baby from an ordinary book idea to a great book idea.

Your assignment: Start writing it.

(c) The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published (Timberlake Press), Sylvia Cary, LMFT. YouTube video clip by Melody Jackson. Photos in this post by Sylvia Cary.

Video

If You Could See Me Now

Fireworks-in-Green- Photo Credit Flickr Link: 1894019504_c37a88042a.jpg

Fireworks-in-Green-
Photo Credit Flickr Link: 1894019504_c37a88042a.jpg

This particular July 4th has a special meaning for me. Two days ago, July 2nd, was the sixth-month anniversary of the death of my lovely husband, Lance Wolstrup. Today, July 4th, is the second anniversary of this blog. Lance was always proud of me for starting a blog and whenever I’d get lazy about posting, he’d whisper in my ear: “How’s the blog coming along?” He would read what I ‘d written before I posted it and we’d talk about it. I miss those talks. He would also gently nag me about finishing my book, which I finally did, and it was published just a few months before he died.  We were married for 28 years, and he always wanted me to do well, to have success, to have my dream. He was like that. Whenever I spoke at an event for therapists or writers, or if I was on a radio or TV show, he’d want to know all about  it the minute I got home. He was interested in my world. I miss that, too.

So, Lance (can you believe I used to call you “Lancy-Pants!”), I’m dedicating this second anniversary blog post to you.  If you could see me now, I hope you’d be proud:  I  didn’t abandon the blog.  Though not prolific, I hung in there even when I had widow business, including moving, to attend to.  I’ve been marketing the book, too, and recently I was a “guest expert” on a Cable TV show called BOOK BEAT, which turned out to be great fun. If they have YouTube in heaven, perhaps you can catch the show there.  Knowing you, you’ll be interested — although I’d prefer it if I could just run home and talk with you about it face to face. And how about this, Lancy-Pants? In your honor, today’s post is the very first time I’ve ever inserted a video clip into my blog. Guess how I learned how to do that one? On YouTube! So gimme five!

Therapist Writers Tune In and Listen Up

Now on to my fellow tribe members — my colleagues who are both therapists and writers. I hope you will get something out of the video clip I’ve inserted below (I’ll be posting others later on). This first short segment from a 20-minute show is an overview of what The Therapist Writer is all about. The interviewer, Jean-Noel Bassior, asks questions such as why I felt it was necessary to write a book about writing aimed at mental health professionals; why therapists worry when they write about their patients; and how therapist writers can protect a client’s confidentiality (and avoid getting sued)  by using the “art of disguise.”

Interviewer Jean-Noel Bassior and Sylvia discussed why write a book just for therapist writers, why therapists worry about writing about patients, and how therapist writers can disguise who they are writing about to avoid getting sued

Sylvia Cary, LMFT, on BOOK BEAT  Photo by Susan Levin

Now, Lance, back to you. Your 28 years of encouragement have helped me carry on, so not to worry. All I have to do now is just think of your words, “How’s the blog coming?” or “When is that article due again?” and I scramble to my desk (or any of the other places I like to write) and I get to work, as that line from an old song wafts around in my brain: “If you could see me now…”  So if you’ve got your laptop up there with you, go to YouTube and type in “Sylvia Cary writer” and catch the rest of the BOOK BEAT clips — or if you prefer, you can wait until my next blog. I assume you’re following me, right?

(c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT