Love Stories

When I was little, like eight or nine, I played piano. I had a songbook of popular hits and one of the songs I enjoyed was called Love Story. It had this haunting, sad melody. If I was feeling distraught about something or just moody, playing this song seemed to pull me deeper into my emotions. I didn’t know at the time that Love Story was the theme song to a really sad romantic movie of the same title. My mom must have known, must have seen the movie even, but she never told me about it. Or if she did, it didn’t hold my interest.

So just a few weeks ago, I rented the 1970s film Love Story as a bit of research on the romance genre. It was on multiple lists of all time best romantic films. I recognized the Love Story theme immediately when I was trying to turn off the subtitles, and as the melody connected me with that childhood melancholy, I knew I was in for an emotional rollercoaster.

When the film was over, I immediately went to my husband. Teary-eyed and sniffly, I hugged him, telling him how happy I was to have already had ten wonderful years with him. In other words, this movie played an e minor concerto on my heart strings, rendering me sappy, emotional and aware of the love and happiness in my life.

Is this what we want in a romance? To connect to the love in our own lives? Absolutely. A tragic ending? Occasionally, when done well (Romeo and Juliet for example). As far as tragic love goes, I would never change the ending of Love Story. It is a perfect composition, from the moment they meet in the university library to the father and son passing each other in the turnstile door of the hospital.

But is this what we want most of the time? Um, no. We romantics prefer a happy ending. In fact, if you read through articles and posts on the romance genre, people expect a happy ending. I’m not saying we always want fluff, but we want romance, a good story and happiness.


Talking with authors

A handful of you may know that I’m almost finished with my first novel. This would be a great time for me to mention the title of my book, but unfortunately I’m like a floor fan on a hot summer day when it comes to determining the best title for my debut novel–oscillating between one corner of the room and the other. A title, after all, is crucial to marketing your book and conveying what the potential reader can expect from the content nestled between that compelling cover design and the great quotes (from your mom) on the back cover.

The title isn’t the only delay. I’ve been reading online about marketing and it is clear to me that if I hope to sell more than a handful of copies, I better get my marketing p’s and q’s in order. Because after all, people have to know our books are out there before they can purchase them and a book will not likely go “viral” unless you’ve done your time promoting the heck out of it.

Even though there is an overabundance of advice online on how to self-publish, I tend to lend more credibility to the advice that comes from people I know who have already gone through the experience.

Thus my morning coffee date with Carolyn Vines, author of Black and Abroad. I met Carolyn at a Connecting Women gathering in The Hague and discovered that she had self-published a book a few years back. Seeing as the point of these monthly Connecting Women gatherings is to connect with others, I got up my nerve and approached this beautiful, well-spoken, self-published author to admit that I was; 1) working on a book, and 2) would greatly appreciate it if we could get together for a cup of coffee and discuss her self-publishing experience. And instead of saying she was too busy, or that I needed to be further along in the process, or a more crushing response (get lost! for example), she replied “Yeah. I’d love to get together with you for a cup of coffee.” And so today was the big day.

As two American women who have chosen to live in the Netherlands with their Dutch husbands, Carolyn and I unanimously picked a table in the sunshine, determined to catch some rays while we could. As she sipped her coffee, Carolyn graciously tolerated my flow of consciousness style of questioning, and did her best to answer along the way.

First off, she confirmed what all the online sources say; you need to be ready to self-promote through multiple channels of social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, an Amazon author page, if you’re going that route, and a website designed for your book or books. Good news is, most of these sources are free or low-cost–unless you have a premium LinkedIn account or go for a fancy website design.

But no process is ever entirely free. A book launch, for example, can be where the expenses begin to add up. I learned from Carolyn that if you want to do a book launch as a self-published author at a bookstore, you need to order and purchase the hard copies of your print-on-demand books (at cost) and sell them to the bookstore. The bookstore will then determine for how much they will re-sell them. I’m assuming because of overhead like rent, employees, etc, bookstores need to make more than a buck on the exchange. Thus they mark them up quite a bit–sometimes as high as 19.99.

This kind of mark up can be quite problematic for a self-published author. Imagine you are attending a friend’s self-published book launch. Your loyalty is with your friend, so even though the sticker price for her novel might shock, you’ll most likely bite the bullet and pick up a 19.99 (plus tax) copy of her book. But let’s say the book launch is over and you’re another customer browsing the bookshelves who doesn’t know the author personally–would you purchase a novel that costs 19.99 from an unknown author, or get the latest work from a world-renowned bestselling author offered for 25% to 50% less? The competition is steep enough without having to deal with this sort of inequity. It’s not the fault of the bookstore; it’s just a byproduct of supply and demand economics.

Adding insult to injury, it’s quite possible that the bookstore will ask you to “purchase back” the books that aren’t sold within a reasonable amount of time. No problem, you say. I can sell them from the back of my car, or from the basket of my bike (for my Dutch readers). But once again; you have to prove yourself.

But back to Carolyn Vines. The most fascinating part of our discussion was about Carolyn’s book, Black and Abroad.

I purchased it as an e-book and was blown away by her natural writing style. This memoir is far more than a fun journey about falling in love with and moving abroad with her Dutch guy. It spans twenty years of her life and deals with topics of race, poverty, transition, depression, prejudice, culture and finding your strength to grow beyond tragic situations, rather than letting these situations make you a lifelong victim. But words from her website can sum it up much better than me. In her online bio, I pulled the following:

black and (A)broad: traveling beyond the limitations of identity, Carolyn’s memoir, spans her twenty years’ living and traveling abroad and shares how she found the inspiration to transcend the limitations of her identity as a black woman.

And to top it all off, she brilliantly describes humorous situations and isn’t afraid to laugh at herself–a quality I’ve always admired in people. Seeing as I’m only a handful of chapters in and already hooked, it seems clear I’m recommending it to you as well. Although the book was written for a black female audience, you do not have to be black or female to appreciate it. In fact, I think the honest portrayal of racial issues is important for everyone, regardless of race or gender, to read about. I got the kindle edition here. If you read it, let me know what you think!

If any of you are interested in knowing when my as-of-yet-untitled novel is coming out, please subscribe to this blog by pressing “follow” at the top of the page, and you’ll be sure to hear more.

Multiple Realities

When I woke up it was sunny. By the time I got breakfast on the table it was sprinkling and overcast. My son was apparently under the spell of the weather, transforming from happy and cooperative to feisty and unbearable within a 15 minute time frame. He exploded. I exploded. Words were exchanged. We muddled forward.

The walk to school was pensive and gray, filled with big, calmly presented questions designed for my son to analyze his outrageous behaviour. He tried a similar technique on me. I used my superior vocabulary, height and stature as parent to maintain the alpha order. He heard me. I listened to him, giving him room to express himself. Even though there were other people on the sidewalk, bike path, riding the tram or driving up the street, they were rendered background noise as we bobbed along in our own little bubble of recovery.

As we entered the school grounds, our bubble popped, and we were absorbed into a larger bubble–that churning chaos of child energy that crescendos moments before the bell rings. We pushed through the doors with the sea of children and parents around us. Even though the hallways in the school seem impossibly narrow and there is no order to speak of, we all worked our way through the maze, getting to the right classroom, hanging the jacket in the right section while little bodies maneuvered around us followed by their parents.

This press of bodies and jackets and lunch boxes and parents of all different colors and scents used to wear on me, making the morning drop-off seem like a major cultural undertaking. Now that sea of chaos has been tamed by familiarity; I have collected names to go with the faces and shared experiences with them–even if it is as simple as waiting for our children after school, or attending a school event. These daily acts have made some parents lose their exotic qualities. Others are not so easily tamed and remain illusive and foreign to me.

Shared Society
Walking home I became not a mother dropping off her naughty child, but a woman on her way to work. Each step took me further away from the 200 or so children filling the school of knowledge, wiggling in their seats, or passing notes to one another, and closer to the day of work ahead of me. I passed others in business attire on their way to their prospective positions in our shared society.

Once inside the church building, I was completely alone. The silence was both welcoming and startling. A few rays of sunlight shot through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the ground floor gathering hall before receding behind darkened clouds. I started the coffee, luxuriating in its powerful aroma. I walked through the building, checking that all was in order before unlocking the large wooden doors.

Shortly thereafter, students for the 9:30 course started wandering into the building. They slowly gathered around a table in the hall, chatting politely with one another. These are no ordinary students, but seniors between 70 and 80 daring enough to learn about the computer. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but these folks seem different from most senior citizens I meet. Maybe I’m making assumptions about their shared sense of adventure and a desire to learn, but it goes beyond assumption; they think differently about little things; I haven’t overheard a single complaint about the weather or ill-health; I have overheard people making jokes and talking about current issues. I wanted to figure out what the common thread was between these people-who-dare-to-learn so late in life and put it on a spool for my future.

Later, a friend dropped by with his toddler, who emitted another reality of energy into the church and my day. His laugh, his big eyes, the way buttons on machines, such as the dishwasher’s start button, intrigue him. I gave my friend the lowdown on the morning house explosion and he gave me some very wise parenting ideas.

I had a pause between clients and headed to the gym. The sun was out, but I kept my resolve to head indoors for a quick work out. I entered the modern gym. Music pumped through the overhead speakers. Fit people moved in rhythm to the beat. I changed into my work out clothes and before long I was powerwalking on the treadmill, my steps also in rhythm with the song blaring through the speakers: “I’m sexy and I know it.”

When I returned home from work, my husband and son were both in the living room.

“I’m sorry about this morning,” were the first words out of my son’s mouth when he saw me. I had given my husband the low down, and wondered who had been the first to bring up this morning’s emotional fireworks display. When little man tried out some tests (not coming to the table when asked, for example) to see if I was really the no-nonsense mom I seemed to have morphed into, I implemented tips given to me both by my friend who stopped by with his toddler, and my husband’s non violent communication tips. What does this translate to? No dessert as a consequence. Amazingly, the tips were effective, but met with a crying fit and lots of calming conversation.

Now as I sit in relative silence once again, the only sounds an occasional tram or the tapping of my fingers spilling my day into the computer, I realize that over the pond people are celebrating America’s Independence. Perhaps I should have claimed this day as a holiday on the grounds of being American. Oh well. It’s illegal to shoot off fireworks any other day but New Years over here. At least I got one fireworks show today, and a whole stream of multiple realities.