Every Writer’s Dream

My book is up against mega-sellers like Wild, The Glass Castle, and Bossypants – and that’s just in the memoir category. Yet at this moment, Swimming with Maya has claimed the number one spot in women’s memoirs in the Kindle store. How is this David vs. Goliath story even possible?Maya 1 in Bios and Memoirs of Women 071813

My little indie publisher, Dream of Things, vies for attention with the likes of Random House. We don’t stand a chance in the world of printed books on store shelves. But in the virtual realm, the playing field levels out.

Mike O’Mary, owner of Dream of Things and intrepid e-marketer, took out an ad in BookBub, an e-newsletter targeted to readers in search of bargains. And for 3 days he priced Swimming with Maya at 99 cents for e-readers. Kindle and Nook readers are snapping it up. So far, more than 1,800 paid downloads on Amazon and 700 on Barnes and Noble. (You can still get yours until Saturday at midnight.)

It’s not just about sales, as Mike is quick to point out. All the downloads cause the book to move up quickly in the paid rankings in the Kindle store, and it is then featured on the pages of many other books under “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.” In essence, free advertising on Amazon. This, in turn, sparks more reader reviews on Amazon and more word-of-mouth marketing.

After the promotion ends, barring a miracle, Swimming with Maya will move back down in Kindle rankings. But Mike has found this kind of promotion has a “long tail” so the bump in sales will still continue at the full e-book price of $2.99.

Most gratifying for me as a writer is that I am hearing from readers who are in the middle of reading the book. Instant feedback and direct involvement all made possible by social media, my website, and email.

As I wrote in a previous post,  “Reaching Out to Readers,” when a writer has poured her life out on the page as I did in this memoir, it is beyond gratifying to hear that readers are moved, or that their own lives have been changed. Not all readers react favorably, of course. Because of the immediacy of digital media I can hear exactly what they don’t like, which is valuable information.

If someone feels strongly enough to review my book – be it positive or not – I’m in the very privileged position of having readers who care enough to comment.

It’s every writer’s dream to have a bestseller. Even if it’s only for a few days, Swimming with Maya has achieved that status. Other small press and indie authors take note: We may be small, but using electronic channels, we are mighty!

 

 

 

My Inheritance

A few days before my father turned 91, I reminded him of this milestone.

“Why that’s amazing,” he said, surprised and delighted, wrapped in a protective cocoon of dementia.

My father’s only choice at that point was to be here now.

Lawrence Vincent on his 91st birthday

Lawrence Vincent on his 91st birthday

This man smoked two packs of cigarettes a day until he was 62 years old, ate hot fudge sundaes and beef stroganoff, never exercised, worked like a fiend and kept the irregular hours of a professional actor until his mid-70s. Both of his parents died young.

How did he defy the odds? In a word: resilience. When life handed him lemons, Dad makes lemonade – and then made darn sure everyone around him appreciated it! Psychologists call this “adaptive coping.”

My father passionately loved his life in the theater as well as teaching acting to his students.  He delighted in movies, plays, and music. He loved life despite circumstances that would depress many. He survived colon cancer surgery in his late 80s and a broken hip a year later.

Until recently, Dad could be found tooling around the halls of the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey in an electric wheelchair. He didn’t know how old he was or even today’s date, but he still recognized my voice in our weekly phone calls.

I miss those calls. Dad died in March a few months before his 93rd birthday.

Some forms of dementia lead to paranoia and anger. My father’s made him a kinder, gentler human being.

The geriatric psychiatrist Helen Lavretsky, MD, writing in Psychiatirc Times, says resilient people are characterized by commitment, dynamism, humor in the face of adversity, patience, optimism, faith and altruism. My type-A father was naturally gifted with six of the seven traits – and his physical and mental limitations forced patience upon him – so near the end of his life he exhibited all of them.

I’m not one to sugarcoat the challenges of aging, but I look for the bright spots. My father’s ability to laugh in the face of adversity inspires me. Dad passed on the characteristics of resilience to me. Whether by nature or nurture, I have followed my father’s example by handling setbacks with renewed determination. My default setting is always humor and a belief that I’ll do better next time.

When I told Dad I was about to celebrate my 65th birthday, he gasped.

           “No. You aren’t!”

“I am, Dad,” I said.

           “Well you don’t look it,” he said.

“And you don’t look a day over 85,” I quipped.

He guffawed. I made my father laugh, which brought me joy and a measure of hope for my own old age.

Dad had little money to leave his children, but I’ve received gifts from him that you can’t put a price on – an ability to bounce back and a firm conviction that hot fudge cannot be bad for me.

 

 

Happiness

 “Life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste.”

– Bonnie Raitt

There was a time in my life I thought I’d never be happy again. But I’ve learned to look at seasons of life, not just days or years. Lately, I’ve been very happy. Not euphoric, mind you, but steadily, reliably content and upbeat, even joyful.

Why—at age 65—am I so happy?

A recent New York Times article headlined “Happiness May Come With Age, Study Says” details a Gallop study that shows that people get happier as they get older. Researchers aren’t sure why.

Although I wasn’t among the 340,000 adults between the ages of 18 to 85 included in the study, I have my own theories on this topic.

The older I get, the more I appreciate each tree, each bite of food, each sensation of my foot hitting the pavement. It’s the ordinary things that make my life happy—and I see them very differently than I did 20 or 30 years ago. Rather than being humdrum or routine, each moment seems to sparkle. Life feels full and rich.

I am freer now than I have been at any time in my life—most of the responsibilities I have are self-chosen, not imposed by the outside world. I am healthy and I work hard to keep it that way—daily yoga and hour-long walks, weekly weight training sessions, healthy food, moderation in my two chief vices (green tea and dark chocolate), and a warm and loving network of family and friends.

Some authors argue that life circumstances actually have little to do with happiness. Rather, we decide to be happy. And we can train ourselves to be happier. In their book, How we Choose to be Happy, authors Rick Foster and Greg Hicks say that extremely happy people make nine fundamental choices about how they conduct their lives. These choices generate and increase happiness.

Happiness is not feeling bubbly and perky every moment, according to Foster and Hicks. Instead it is composed of an enduring and profound feeling of contentment, capability, and centeredness. People who engage with life and live in the moment, “enjoying life’s bounty and abundance,” are happier than those who get caught up with overwork and worry and let life’s ordinary moments pass them by.

I won’t reveal all nine of the choices—you can read the book—but the foundational choice is intention. We have to intend to be happy and consciously choose the attitudes and behaviors that lead to happiness. For anyone who has suffered a major life trauma like the death of a child, it takes time to reaffirm the intention to be happy.

I believe that if we stay awake, open, and attentive to our needs, life will teach us how to choose happiness. That’s why older people are happier. We’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff. We’re grateful for each moment. Or as George Burns famously said, “It’s good to be here. At 98, it’s good to be anywhere.”

The study I mentioned shows that people become increasingly unhappy from age 18 to 50, and then suddenly their happiness increases, often dramatically. Look on the bright side—you are getting older. One day you may be positively ecstatic.

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