Beta Reader Benefits, or, The Writing Joke’s on Me

51G0FYMCDVL._SS500_Two months ago I began a revision of my out-of-print book, Tales from My Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit, with this goal in mind: to create a storyteller’s voice that would bind the story vignettes together, unify them and provide a larger coherence and meaning. I looked at the characters in the stories from the POV of the setting, that is, the setting personified an all-seeing entity called The Third Floor. For two months it was challenging fun to play with the advantages of OPOV, omniscient point of view. My plan was to launch an e-Book edition of the revised work in the fall.

It was a great idea with craft possibilities for expanding on and deepening each tale, as well with marketing potential due to directly addressing readers’ fears about dementia. I experimented with acknowledging the narrative voice as part of the story. I let go of my discomfort with expressing authorial involvement with all of the characters. I finished the revision and then gave it to three beta readers: a writer colleague, a visual artist, and a filmmaker. A beta-test is a trial of something in the final stages of its development carried out by a party unconnected with its development. So these three were not critique partners, so much as overall book testers.

Each one gave me the feedback that my great idea of using the place as a narrator didn’t work, that in fact, it depersonalized and therefore de-dignified the individual elder protagonists of the stories. For all three readers, the Third-Floor-as-Narrator device stopped the action repeatedly, and resulted in a blurry tangle of stories that detracted from reader satisfaction. Two of the beta readers had also seen the original 1996 version of Tales From My Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit, and they both opined that the original version’s format created framed portraits that were clearer and far more poignant than the OPOV revision.

Whoa! To detach, I sat with this feedback for a couple of weeks. The disappointment began to fade. I sat some more. I went on vacation and forgot about the project. I cam home and reread the beta reader feedback. Omg, these readers were right. I sat with this dawning realization another week. Finally one morning I sat at my computer and laughed. I laughed at myself, I laughed with myself. I sat at my desk and actually enjoyed this comical discovery that the original format of my out-of-print book was better than the revision. And then gratitude completely replaced my lingering disappointment. My beta readers had truly tested my product, as well as my writer’s soul. Without their generous attention, my work would have fallen short, would not have reached into my readers’ hearts as I hoped. Because of their feedback, and because I was able to take it in, Tales from My Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit is all it can be.

I updated the prologue and expanded several stories, but otherwise the e-Book edition will retain the book’s original vignette format.Another amazing result of the feedback pertains to the book’s original photographs, which had been destroyed in publisher outsourcing machinations, back when the book went out of print. One of the beta readers encouraged me to scan the full-page photo portraits of the elders, to see if they could be salvaged in this way for the e-Book edition. They can! Without her encouragement to inquire into this further, I would have remained stuck in my mistaken conviction that recovery of the photographs was impossible. Instead, 20 retouched portraits of my teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit have been rescued for publication in the updated e-Book. My target for e-launch of Tales from My Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit is September 2013. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Broad with a Diverse Portfolio

As I prepare to launch my eBook, Tales from My Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit, I’ve been reading a lot about the branding required for online marketing. I choose to sidestep that kind of branding iron, and I’m sure I’m not the only writer to resist the laser focus on a specific goal or topic.

The book I’m about to send into the world, Tales from My Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit is a collection of narratives set in a nursing home, stories for adults seeking some redeeming truth beneath terrible suffering. It’s an updated edition of an out-of-print book published by Families International in 1996. At the same time, today I happily write fiction for young adults, and plan to e-publish one of my YA novels next year. Last week I had a political essay called “Ding Dong the DOMA’s Dead” published in Sheville, a regional online magazine. And I am proud to be a poet contributor to 2014 edition of the amazing We’Moon, which just hit the bookstore shelves.

So what’s my brand? It’s broad, as in wide-ranging, extensive, and expansive. I embrace my diverse author portfolio, and my broad, Gemini self as its own kaleidoscopic brand. I hope always to surprise myself, and my readers, with what I write next.

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Ding Dong the DOMA’s Dead

images-4For over forty years I have lived my adult life in a country that has not recognized my right to love, but I never expected to be affected so deeply when DOMA was overturned by the Supreme Court today. What the ruling brings up in me are feelings I never even suspected were hidden. I want to understand these tears and tremors. The surge of longing to be seen and accepted is making me shaky. Why now?

Why not now. Why not a tsunami after forty years of stuffing down and damming up such natural longings for societal acceptance? My tumult and tears show me the pain I have hidden. It feels terrifying to allow hope. Yet, believing that DING DONG the DOMA’s DEAD brings a cleansing exhilaration! No matter how disappointed I may feel at another juncture down the road, right now the release of hope feels a bit like taking the risk of falling in love. You know it’s maybe dangerous, but you don’t care. But a tumult of questions arises and stirs confusion. Will I now expect too much? Will I want to live with my love in an equal rights state? Not where I live now? No one ever promised that sweeping change would be easy.

The repeal of DOMA is causing an abrupt societal lifting of long shame. Since shame is socially induced, it can only be lifted in a socially-witnessed context.DING DONG the DOMA’s DEAD and, pow, we are no more to be treated as shadow citizens, whose plea for passing invisible was the most we could ask. Yet how can shadow citizens enter the full sunlight of freedom to love without blinking and stumbling? For decades I have held myself in a certain posture of resistance and ready defense. I have, in my bones, the experience of profound social exclusions and wounding remarks. The legal restrictions have been, before now, air I breathed, forgetting its poisons in order to keep breathing.

Long ago on this same date as DOMA’s overturn, my mother and my father married one another. There they were, scared and ecstatic, two who loved one another, making a vow to bond as a mated pair. They faced the unknown as I do, and the risk they took was fully as foolish and demanding as the one I face today, should I marry the woman I adore. But this is the first time in my life that my society allows and endorses my taking that risk!My mother and my father took their right to love for granted. That is the difference.

For me at the age of sixty-six, this fresh air of acceptance releases so much untapped energy within me that I hardly recognize my breadth! May this be the true legacy of DOMA dead— that millions, like me, will pour our released love and power and joy, out into the wide world. I end by thanking each person who took each small action along the long path to overturning DOMA. Each has been  a drop of water in the stream. Today, in a stunning waterfall, the stream of change cascades thunderously over the edge, into the pool where we all have the freedom to love.

 

Offering My Gifts to the World

51G0FYMCDVL._SS500_My 1996 book of Alzheimer’s narratives has been out-of-print for a long time, so my current project is revising it as an eBook. This project, The Third Floor, has its ups and downs, and my outlet for expressing the vicissitudes is an “Artist Check-In” conference call which I make weekly. (An article describing the Artist Check-In, published in the fall 2012 issue of the SCBWI Bulletin, can be viewed here. artist check in article

This week on the check-in call, I reported on the steep learning curve I’m climbing to enter the world of e-publishing and promotion. I ticked off the research I logged this week on digital book cover designers, online stock photos, mail manager services, and Kindle Singles. I spoke to my midweek slump, when the project seemed worthless and impossible, and to the renewal that came from a friend who had read the original book I’m now revising.

My colleagues listened deeply as they always do. One thanked me for being out in the Star Ship Enterprise exploring where she had not yet gone. One gave me a link to Lynn Serafinn’s groundbreaking book, http://the7gracesofmarketing.com/And my reframing of marketing as offering my gifts to the world was clearly reflected back to me by another colleague. Their listening and feedback helped me understand — writing to change the world means I dare not skip the steps of learning how to get the writing into that world. Giving goes nowhere if I don’t do the work of identifying and finding my receivers.

What would I do without these sister artists? Lynnn Serafinn and Sherri L. McLendon (www.professionalmoneta.com), my local guru in mindfulness approaches to marketing, and Tami Simon of Sounds True. (listen to her being interviewed by Krista Tippet of NPR’s On Being show last week, 5/30/13)

Grateful to the max, I don’t have to do without them. And you don’t, either.