Monday, May 04, 2015

Race, Eldercare, and Irony

"House of the Strange Wheelchair" photo by AndreasS, CC BY 2.0

This is not a post about writing. Thought I should get that out of the way first.

So much of the advice for authors includes recommendations not to speak on political or controversial matters, for fear of offending your potential book buying public. Well, race in America is certainly controversial. And I'm going to talk about it. At least from one narrow window and one point of observation.

You can stay and read, or not, as you prefer.

***

I am staying in my father's independent living apartment for a few weeks while he is in rehab, as I try to coordinate the absolute chaos of what is complex geriatric medical care. But that is another essay for another time. For the first week of my stay, every TV played riot-fest 2015: all Baltimore, all the time and I can't help but see how vast the difference is between how whites and blacks have experienced this newest cycle of murder and unrest.

You see, this place, like so many others in South Florida, is a study in racial divides. The population of residents (across independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing) is nearly 100% white, and majority Jewish, from upper middle class suburban lives. The front line staff who care for them are nearly 100% people of color. Represented at the facility where I am staying are Jamaicans, Hatians, and Dominicans, as well as African Americans from all over the South.

The often well-off elderly residents are taken care of by individuals whose skin tone would have kept them out of the manicured golf courses and tennis clubs their charges moved here from. In the course of a single day, a resident will interact, often on a close, physical basis, with more black people than they would have seen in a year, outside of TV, or service positions at their former condo communities.

And before they retired here to Florida, most of those individuals came from primarily white suburbs in communities in and around major cities in the North - NY, Boston, Philadelphia, among others, that by virtue of real estate conventions, were economically and educationally segregated.

And here they are. Being transferred, wheeled around, fed, showered, toileted, and dressed by people who were most certainly the 'them' to their 'us'.

***

Some of the residents are rude. For some, it's a consequence of mental status changes that leave them dis-inhibited and the rudeness is not personal - rather the caregivers are convenient targets. Some of the residents are nasty - entitled, with more than a smattering of white privilege and out and out racism. I'd like to think that is the smaller population. Most of the residents are polite and simply appreciative of the care they receive.

But in watching the varied reactions to the news coverage of Baltimore over the past week, I noticed a profound difference in response:  Disgust on the part of the residents (white). Despair and frustration on the part of the caregivers (black).

And the comments I overheard from the residents ranged from the overtly racist (including repeated references to "those" people) to the simply tone-deaf ("what was he accused of?"). Nowhere was there actual discussion or dialogue between resident and caregiver. Nowhere did I hear compassion or empathy for the victims of police violence. For those communities who have been victims of systems of inequities for generations, even as this generation of Depression-era and WWII elders benefited from society's institutional largesse.

***

There is no doubt that I benefited from that largesse and I still continue to benefit from it. White and female and clearly 'western', I am not at risk for being profiled. My looks have never meant 'threat' to someone else. I once got pulled over for speeding on a country road in Maryland, driving my father in law's big BMW. I couldn't find the registration. Or my license (long story - I had moved, surrendered my NY driver's license, but hadn't yet gotten my PA one.) I was given a warning.

I am also conscious that while what is happening across the US will affect me, isn't about me. Yes, I have a voice and by virtue of being a fellow human on this spinning planet, have the obligation to use that voice. In support. In solidarity. As an ally.

***

I have began to use a number of phrases, pushing back at some of the comments I'm hearing. "Have you seen coverage of the peaceful marches?" "I have friends in Baltimore, and their experience is very different." "I hate how TV news chooses to sensationalize its coverage."

I suspect that very little will change with my remarks, but I must make them anyway, here in this strange place where white elders and black caregivers live such intimately divergent lives.


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Friday, April 24, 2015

The 'Just Right' of choosing an audiobook narrator

Illustration from "The Story of the Three Bears" by Leonard Leslie Brooke (archive.org)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the year since DERELICT was published, I've had readers ask me if and when there would be an audiobook version. And I've made polite and non-committal noises about it for a bunch of reasons.

First, because audiobooks aren't really on my radar. I don't listen to them. And second, because I've always hated being read to - even from the time I was a little kid. I think I've listened to exactly one audiobook and that was probably 10 years ago when we were on a family road trip and we got one from the library on about a zillion cassette tapes. 

I'm not sure why I don't like being read to. I do love listening to baseball games on the radio, and when I was young, my dad and I used to listen to radio mystery theater together all the time. But the thought of listening to an entire novel always seemed unpleasant.

But when a friend of mine mentioned that her commute was over an hour each way and that the only thing that saved her sanity driving was audiobooks, I realized that I was letting my own likes and dislikes get in the way of someone else's enjoyment.

So I wandered over to http://www.acx.com/, Amazon's audiobook creation exchange marketplace, and decided to give it a go. The set up was quite simple, since I'm already registered with Amazon KDP and am the rights holder to all my novels.

I know enough about audiobooks/podcasting to know that it's a lot of work. Aside from the basic equipment needed to record, there's work that goes into post production and I wasn't up to learn how to do it. At least not now, when I have several publication projects on my plate. Because of that, I was happy to sign on for a royalty share option. Yes, Amazon takes the lion's share of the proceeds (60%, in this case), and the rights holder then splits the remainder 50/50 with the audiobook producer, but 20% of something is better than 0% of nothing. And there's the very real possibility that having an audiobook will open me up to a new audience for all my books.

Once I entered DERELICT in the system (including a short excerpt from the book for auditions), ACX opened it up to voice actors/producers who then provide the rights holder with a short sample recording. Within a few days, I had almost 10 auditions to listen to.

This was the hard part for me. Since I don't listen to audiobooks, I wasn't sure I'd know what I even wanted in a narrator. So I plugged in my headphones and listened.

It was really weird to hear my story being read to me.

Like super weird.

Some of the voices were overly dramatic, like I was hearing a movie trailer voice over. I knew that was 'too big'.

Some of the voices were too distant, as if they were narrating a documentary. That felt 'too small.'

And then I heard Bill Burrows. He was just right. It didn't feel strange at all to hear him tell my story. It actually felt utterly natural, as if I'd written it for him to voice.

I'm not sure I could tell you why it felt like such a good fit, but I can tell you that when I was listening, I was able to dive into the story and forget that I was being read to. Even forget these were my words. Bill seemed to inhabit the story and gave just the right separation in style and emphasis to the narration versus the dialogue and between each character's voice.

There is a huge element of personal preference in the choosing of a narrator. It's not an exact science and like Goldilocks, I was able to find a just right. 

With Bill's permission, I am sharing the first 15 minutes from the audiobook for DERELICT, currently in production. The audiobook will be available sometime in the early summer. Please feel free to sign up for my occasional newsletter (link on the right sidebar) for notifications.

I hope you enjoy it! (And here's a link to it on the soundcloud site if the embedded audio doesn't work: https://soundcloud.com/ljcohen/derelict-chapter-1 )



#SFWApro
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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Social media, authenticity & marketing: Getting the balance right


Rock tower by the Yellowstone River

I got a private message on G+ this morning.


Not *that* kind of private message! The really awesome, validating kind. It truly made my day and the take home message for me was this:

 ". . .  thank you for being an Author who puts herself out there as a person who has more interest in being real than in spamming her followers with advertisements continuously."


And this is (nearly verbatim) the reply I wrote, additional commentary in italics: 

Thank you for this. Every single time I post anything about my own work, I have a tiny panic moment, wondering if this will be the post that tips my stream into obnoxious-land.

 I actually got several comments over the years from G+ folks that I made it too hard for people to actually know I was an author with books published because of my reticence to 'spam'. That's when I created a more complete Google profile and a pinned post with my book and purchase links.
I can't tell you how many times I've dumped my twitter feed and started over again because it became an endless stream of 'buy my/support my/fund my' messages. Same for FB, etc.
Promotion fatigue is a very real thing. When I see yet another pitch for someone's kickstarter/indiegogo campaign, I experience a moment of acute annoyance. This wasn't the case a few years ago. I wonder how widespread this experience is.
It's a real struggle to find that right balance and authenticity means everything to me. So thank you for the feedback that I'm getting it right more often then getting it wrong. :)
A few times a year, and when I have a new release, I make a recap post with the quick 'elevator pitch' of each of my novels and where to buy them. I still worry that it's too much.
As far as what works? Lord, I wish I knew. After Derelict took off last summer, I thought I had the 'magic formula' which I tried to replicate with Time and Tithe. But lightning didn't strike twice. I could analyze a bunch of reasons why, but at the end of the day, there is an element of luck and serendipity to this business of being an artist that no marketing expert or advertisement exec can explain.
Ultimately, I'm much more comfortable sharing my excitement about someone else's work than my own. Hell, I'm more comfortable talking about my hobby (ceramics) than about my writing work.
It would be easy to get bitter about that, lose your mind to envy of someone else's success, or double down on what everyone tells you works (even though you know it doesn't). Or you can take that negative energy and keep working.
Just keep swimming. . . AKA channel your inner Dory from "Finding Nemo". And I try not to beat myself up for the twinges of envy. As long as I don't wallow in it, or let myself slide into bitterness, I think I'm doing okay. And I really do celebrate the successes of my writing friends. I guess what I'm trying to say is that having mixed feelings is very human.
Do I hope lightning strikes for Derelict's sequel? Hell yeah. And I have all the things in place that I had for Derelict: my newsletter subscriptions are growing slowly and steadily, I'll be offering a pre-order discount, I'm in process to have an audiobook of Derelict soon which I'm hopeful will support the sequel, etc.

But there's too much I don't have control over. What I do have total control over is how I present myself, online and off, and in what and how I choose to write. Other than that? Not up to me.
How I wish this were otherwise. How I wish there was a secret sauce for success. (Hey, look, alliteration!) But there isn't. Save yourself from all the clickbait articles about "Five ways to sell a gazillion books." Read this series of posts by Delilah S. Dawson instead. They are filled with authenticity and truth.
And I read those posts [she linked me to Dawson's posts mentioned above] - they are pure gold. Should be required reading for every creative person putting there work into the world. Thank you for reaching out to me - first of all because you made my day and second because you have prompted my next blog post. :)

And as much as I appreciate hearing that I have gotten the balance right, I also want to be called on it when I don't. What tips your personal 'spam' scales in social media? 

#SFWApro
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Being honest; being real

This may feel a lot like 'vagueblogging' but to give specifics is to betray a certain confidence, which I won't do. (Ironic, giving the title of this post, no?)

But something happened today that made me realize how much everything comes full circle: the things I dealt with as a child are the same issues I have inherited in parenting my own children. Despite struggling to avoid some of those pitfalls and working on my stuff, today I was smacked in the face with it.

Ultimately, I can't control what another person - even (especially?) someone I love - believes. I can only be here and hold those I care for in lovingkindness.

This is a poem I wrote 5 years ago that I dug out as a reminder.


Unsealing the Records

When you were born blue
eyes owl round, dark downed
there was no one to ask if loss
too was passed through placenta and blood.
Sixteen now, when you meet my gaze, looking
glass familiar, no relative
wonders who you take after. Born
on your grandmother's birthday, one more
gift for a woman terrified of too much
fortune. I was far younger than you
when I learned some questions were weapons
even in the right hands. How words
could be strung on a necklace
or garrote. I swear there is nothing
you could say as sharp or shameful
as silence. I am here.
Ask me anything.

          -- LJ Cohen, 2010

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