Dear Mom

Among the family treasures Mom left behind were packets of her personal letters.  The earliest ones were written to her parents in the months after she divorced my father.  My brother was four; I was a toddler.  Mom was preparing to marry again.  Her new marriage would take her over a thousand miles from home.  Usually she wrote to both parents but one letter was addressed only to her mom, my grandmother.

  “Mother, I know what I’m doing so don’t worry.  I am very happy…and I’m sure everything is going to work out perfect.  (He) loves me and thinks a lot of the kids.  We have very nice plans for the future.  We are so happy when we’re together and we have talked everything over, and we seem to feel the same way about everything.”

Mom, Tim, and Grandma

A twenty-five year old daughter, writing to reassure her worried mother.

A few weeks ago my dear aunt sent me another letter Mom had written, one I had never seen.  This one was written in southern Wisconsin and mailed to my uncle in northern Minnesota.  It was written five years after the letter mentioned above.   By then my brother and I had been joined by two younger siblings.

“The children are going to Sunday School here now at the Faith Lutheran Church….We have been going to church there too, every Sunday since they started Sunday School.”

I know my uncle cherished his sister’s letter.  In those pre-Internet days when phone calls were only for holidays or emergencies, letters were how people communicated, how separated families kept in touch.  Letters were eagerly awaited. Receiving one was a gift.

“We had another letter from Jim and one from his fiancé…Elizabeth.  They are going to be married August 15th.  She sent a clipping of their engagement and her picture out of the paper.”

Just as my uncle had when it was new, I enjoyed receiving this letter, so many years after it was written.  It brought back precious memories from days gone by.  It gave me a glimpse into our family’s history, written in Mom’s fine penmanship.

“(All of us) went for a picnic in Palmer Park on Sunday.  Really enjoyed it.  The (kiddies) went in the pool.  We roasted wieners and marshmallows.”

This picture is from another Sunday, in another park, but the same year, and with the same people.  Along with Sunday School, picnics became a regular event, an inexpensive way to gather with family, and enjoy each others company.  I’ve had a copy of this picture for years but when I read Mom’s words about the picnic, it reminded me anew of those warm, carefree days.

In the letter my aunt sent me, Mom also wrote about my little sister’s illness, and of my step-dad’s still fledgling business, how much money he’d earned the week before, and his hopes for a city contract.  These small details make this particular letter even more priceless, more poignant.  More poignant still is what she could not write in it.  Just over a year later, an unforeseen accident would take the life of her youngest son, my brother Tim.

I believe in the value of holding on to old family letters.  While some details may seem insignificant now, in a few years time they’ll refresh treasured bits of memory, and serve as a part of family history.

The Internet has pushed letter writing into obscurity.  For the wordier among us, it has been replaced by e-mail.  Others rely on Facebook or Twitter for rushed messages. Twitter only allows 140 characters but a lot can be said in a few words.  I can almost see a snippet from one of Mom’s letters tweeted to the masses “Baked a chocolate cake today.”   Those words alone would remind me of her.  Of course, it wouldn’t be in her handwriting, on the prettiest stationery she could afford.

I do like aspects of the new social media.  I love the ability to almost instantly see pictures of my grand-nieces and grand-nephews blowing out their birthday candles.  I love the shorthand way of sending an animated electronic greeting card.  And I know how very much military families treasure frequent e-mailed messages from loved ones serving overseas.  I do hope they think to print them, or save them in some manner, for the future.

Tucked away, tied in ribbon and stacked in a sturdy box are letters my husband wrote to me when he was stationed overseas.  In another box are those I wrote him.  We haven’t looked at them in years, but each one was received with as much joy as any e-mailed message.  In old age we’ll sit down and re-read these letters written and mailed with love, and loneliness.  Memories will awake.

Do you save old family letters?  How long has it been since you received a handwritten letter in the mailbox?  How long since you sent one?   ♥

Thanksgiving Blessings

As we gather to celebrate this Thanksgiving Day, let’s each take time to reminisce on holidays past, and those blessings yet to come.  Finally, may we rejoice and be grateful for the good in our lives today.

May you and your loved ones enjoy a peaceful, memorable Thanksgiving. Happy Turkey Day to all! ♥

 

🙂

Self-Publishing – A Cautionary Tale

Wikipedia defines a vanity press as “a publishing house that publishes books at the author’s expense.” The term vanity is apt.  A book from a vanity press is most commonly born from a writer’s need to be published, whatever the cost. There are no gatekeepers at a vanity press. The only limits are the size of the author’s wallet and the amount that author is willing to spend on a dream.

Early on in writing, I learned that vanity publishing was to be avoided. English teachers, critique partners, and other fellow writers all spoke of self-publishing as the bad boy, the guy from the wrong side of the tracks – undesirable for one pursuing a respectable writing career.

The birth of the Internet then e-publishing and e-readers blurred that definition. Suddenly anyone could self-publish, regardless of the size of one’s wallet.  The limits were lifted.

Joe Konrath at WisRWA 2010

I first heard Joe Konrath speak at the WisRWA Conference in Spring 2010, but I wasn’t ready to hear his gospel. I don’t remember much of his talk (but I did take a great pic at the book signing; he signed a peanut for me :wink:).  Guess I still hoped some traditional publisher would recognize my brilliance and wave a favorable contract before me.  But e-Publishing?  Wasn’t that the same as vanity?  No thanks (sorry, Joe).

Then came the RWA National Conference in New York City in June 2011, and the buzz about self-publishing. At dinner one night, author Mary Stella mentioned Joe Konrath’s name. Her zeal touched me.
When I returned home, I looked up his column, The Newbies Guide to Publishing. I started educating myself.

Was self-publishing the right path for my full-length novels?  Could I do it freely?  Would it harm my reputation?  Then I realized, what reputation?  I wasn’t published. Despite some contest wins, at the rate I was writing and submitting, I wasn’t likely to be. Publishing something, anything, would give me a stake in the new world. I could learn the ropes until my novels were ready.  For the first time in ages, I grew excited about writing.

So a few months ago, using free guidebooks, I formatted and self-published two little e-books.  I paid $10 each for an ISBN from Smashwords but that was my only cash outlay, and it wasn’t technically necessary.  You don’t need an ISBN to publish on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  And yet now these little books are available on Kindle e-readers, the Nook, on Smashwords, and other e-reader sites. I’ve even had some sales. It can be done.  More important, in a few months time my first novel will go online.

I believe there’s a huge difference between independent self-publishing and vanity publishing. Both may have the same result – a published book.  But in indie publishing the author is empowered, working freely.  In vanity, the author pays someone else for the opportunity to work.

This past week I read that Penguin Books has created a company called Book Country Fair.  For a premium price of $549, Penguin’s Book Country will format an author’s book and publish it on sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and so on.  There’s no editing.  No cover.  You’ll need to provide those at your own expense.  Oh yes, in addition to the $549, Book Country also takes 30% of the book’s royalties, for life.

By publishing through Book Country, on an e-book sold by Amazon for $2.99, an author earns $1.47 (plus pays the initial upfront fee of $549).  By comparison, if an author totally self-publishes on Amazon, each e-book sold for $2.99 earns the author $2.05.

Why would anyone want to publish through a vanity press?

I urge you to read more about this issue on the following sites:

I’m adding my voice to the chorus.  If you choose to self-publish your work like a growing number are doing, please do NOT pay out a large upfront fee AND royalties, such as those charged by Book Country Fair and other vanity publishers.  It’s simply not necessary.

Finally, please share this with others by clicking the button/s below.  All comments are welcomed.   ♥