A Fond Farewell

My children spread their father’s ashes on the Vineyard last week.  It is what he wanted.  He died in February and there was a small celebration of his life held in Boston in April.  This was the last of the tasks that David and Leigh needed to complete.  They sold his house last month and they knew they needed to wait until September when they both could make a trip to the Vineyard together.

Alan and I had been on the Vineyard for two weeks before they both arrived on Monday.  After a few days of just settling in and being together for the first time in a long while, they discussed their plan.  It was interesting to learn that they each had their own concept of how they wished to accomplish the task.  David envisioned simply swishing the entire contents of the receptacle into the water on Lamberts Cove Beach, but Leigh wanted to take a drive around the island and spread a little here and there.  After all, it is what Kit really liked to do best on the island–drive around and take in the beauty of it all.  They settled on a plan to do both, and to include me on the drive up-island, so that I could take part as well.  I was honored and pleased about that.

After spending a delightful afternoon at the beach we started on our little drive.  With the three of us in the car, we each participated in spreading cups full of Kit’s ashes—a little on Lamberts Cove Road, a little where Humphrey’s Bakery used to be, then on North Road on the way to Menemsha.  When we arrived at Menemsha, David was clear that he wanted to go out to the tip of the jetty.  We three started on that walk together, but I reached about half way and stopped; it was getting a little harder for me to navigate the rocks, and I told them to go on ahead–I would just wait right there for them.  I realized at that moment that it was what I did thirty years ago–Kit would take them all the way out to the tip and I watched.  I watched them every step of the way and I stood there mesmerized as my two children followed their father’s wishes and peacefully left a little bit of him in the waters off of Menemsha.  They were silhouetted against the skyline out there at the tip of the jetty and it was beautiful.  I choked back tears, but I felt so privileged to be a part of it all.

Then we returned back to the house on Lamberts Cove Road and dropped some ashes in the garden beside the house.  Kit had made the raised beds there many years ago.  My part was over.  Then Leigh and David went into the shed to each select some kind of receptacle in which the remaining ashes would be placed to take to Lamberts Cove Beach to say a final goodbye.  It was 6:30 p.m. by then with the sun just set and the beach taking on a beautiful light.  They walked way out past the big rock and flung out their individual receptacles–David chose a wooden box and Leigh chose a glass vase (she wanted beach glass to remain).  David videoed the scene and shared it with us as they returned home.  It was absolutely lovely.

Once again I am so proud of both of them and how they have handled this difficult time in their lives.  They did their dad proud.  I know he would be pleased. And I am grateful that I shared a little piece of it.

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Sharing My Book with Mom

IMG_20120513_115525My mother is 99 years old. My book, Reunited: When the Past Becomes a Present, was dedicated to our children and to her.  Mom has been living at Reeds Landing, a life care community, in Springfield, MA, for almost nine years now, first in an independent one bedroom apartment with a little terrace and garden, and for the past four years on the second floor in assisted living. When she first moved there she was still extremely active, worked out at the gym intermittently, played bridge 3 or 4 times a week, drove her car to do her own shopping, continued knitting and reading every day, and was the “Mom” or “Grandma” we knew and loved. Things are different today.  She is still very healthy, but memory lapses have increased and her overall wellbeing is diminished.  She is still very aware of everything around her, feels comfortable in her surroundings, and always tells us that she is grateful that she is living in a wonderful place with loving people around her, but we have had to become adjusted to her limited capacity as time as marched on.  Because of our lifestyle (and living in Florida), our visits are not as frequent as we’d like them to be.  My sister lives only five miles away, though, so there is constant connection that way.  When we do see Mom and make our trek up north for a visit, it is usually an event.  Alan makes it an event.  Alan wasn’t around when Mom lived downstairs, so he only knows her and the staff where she is now in assisted living.  (My book describes their relationship from years ago, however, and details how much they meant to one another.) So, in his inimitable way, Alan carries on with Mom and the staff as soon as we arrive and it becomes an event.

Prior to our most recent visit I was contacted by Vivian, the director of assisted living, to inform me that it had become necessary to change Mom’s care plan because she was exhibiting increased anxiety and needing more direction from staff, and that I would need to meet with Vivian to review the change in care required.  We had taken our time on the drive up north, stopping to see friends along the way, and arrived at Reeds Landing at about 4 in the afternoon.  As we parked the car, I stopped short and remarked to Alan, “We don’t have anything for her!”  We would usually arrive with flowers, candy, cookies, or other goodies, depending on the season and the occasion, but this time we had nothing in hand.  It wasn’t until the elevator was about to open on the second floor, and we would be face to face with Mom, that I said, “Oh, my God, the BOOK!”  We abruptly closed the elevator door and went back to the car to get a copy of the book from the box of books we had brought with us to begin distributing to bookstores, libraries, etc. on the Vineyard. I quickly signed the book for Mom.  We had recently sent copies to family while we were still in Florida, but we knew that we would be seeing Mom soon and wanted to present it to her in person.  In fact, I had been dreaming of that very scenario for a long time.  As I finished the manuscript almost two years ago and I decided to add Mom’s name to the dedication, I thought about the effect the book would have on her. As time had moved on and her condition continued to change, I knew that the window we had might not be that great in order to get the best reaction.

As we approached the activity room where Mom was seated with other residents and, Cheryl, the activities director, was talking with the group, Mom showed her usual display of surprise at seeing us, and expressed her customary, “What are you doing here?” After some general chit chat, we then escorted Mom to the little alcove that she liked and where we usually sat with her for our visits.  She uses a walker, but she still gets around on her own.  As we settled in for our visit, I said to Mom, “I have something for you,”  and I placed the book on her lap.  She looked at it. Then, after a while just staring at it, she said, “What is this?” I said, “It is my book. Who is that on the cover?”, pointing to the picture of me from our senior prom in 1961.  She quickly said, “That’s you.”  Then as she began reading everything on the cover, she kept moving her fingers over my name. Following that, she opened the book and began to read what she could on the beginning pages–with no glasses, mind you!  I tried to help her along, but then thought about going to the photo section and see how she would react to that.  She looked at every single photo and read every single caption herself, and she remembered every one of those photos.  She then kept flipping through the pages and attempted to read more of it, and I helped her along, selecting a few pages that I knew would be meaningful to her.  She kept looking up at Alan and I, looking back at the book, and then she started caressing the book in a loving way, and started repeating over and over, “This is a treasure! This is a treasure!” Had I gotten through to her? Did she get it?

Well, she did indeed get it.  I found myself choking back tears as I attempted to read sentences to her, because I realized this was a profound moment.  From the beginning, I knew that I was writing this book for Alan, most of all, but it was also for my parents and Mom was still here to appreciate it. The other words Mom kept repeating to both of us were, “You must be very proud.”  And she said, “Carmen would be very proud too.”  Wow.    Mom didn’t mention Dad’s name very often in recent years. We all tried to bring up his name and remind her of various past experiences, but we never got too much of a reaction. The book had awakened something in her. And she knew that Dad played a part in it all.  The other very important thing that Alan recognized during this encounter, was that Mom began saying, “This will keep the name alive.” I continued to answer that by saying, “Well, there won’t be any more Patavinos, but the Votta name will survive.” But Alan realized that what she meant was that the book would immortalize all of us, and indeed the Patavino name would survive even though there were no more Patavinos to carry on the name! Wow. How incredible is that! This became yet another instance where Mom surprised us all, had clear recognition, and was able to react in an insightful way.  We are blessed to still have those moments. And I felt exhilerated at what we had witnessed.

My book had had the desired effect on Mom. And then it had an equally fantastic effect on the staff at Reeds Landing.  Cheryl, the activities director, was so excited and said she would order a copy for herself.  She also decided right then and there that she was going to read the book to the group–the other residents.  Vivian and Sandy both expressed great excitement over the book too, and Mom became delighted to see the interaction between all of us that ensued.  Mom said that it made her happy to see that all of “her family” got along so well.  When I mentioned that to the staff, they were overwhelmed.

We arrived at Reeds Landing the following morning to have our meeting with Vivian and we decided to bring another book for the staff.  Mom had actually suggested it because she said she would like to put the book in the activity room.  I told Mom that I wanted her to keep her copy in her apartment so that it wouldn’t get lost.  Now, all of the staff will read the book and the other residents will hear it too.

It was more than any of us could have hoped for.

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The Journey to Publication – Part Two

And so I needed to become educated on what self-publishing was all about.

One of my resources, the owner of the book store on Martha’s Vineyard, Dawn Braasch, had advised me not to go the self-publishing route if I could help it, and her words had stuck with me.  But that was over a year ago and, as I was soon to learn, the publishing industry in general has changed considerably, and the entire concept of self-publishing has taken hold for both new authors, as well as for previously published authors.  I searched the internet and I read article upon article and downloaded tons of information.  There was so much to learn and so much information out there.  However, the most important thing that a self-published author must understand is what “self-publishing” really means, and one should not to be diverted by the myriad of companies who want your business and want to do it all for you and get you published–for a price.  I did learn that difference and I quickly understood that it would take a huge investment of time (and some money) to accomplish what I wanted to, in the way that I wanted to.  As a result of my research I found Brian Judd and SPANNet.  I joined and I started getting his emails and his book marketing newsletter.  I was becoming educated.

When my manuscript was finished (although I kept editing all the time), and I thought that I was ready to publish, I knew that I needed a cover.  I have a wonderful nephew, Matt Migdal, who is adept at creating websites and so much else, and who, I felt, would be able to help me come up with a suitable cover using photographs, etc.  We exchanged a few emails, but the timing was wrong for him and I was losing time.  I joined one of Brian Judd’s webinar which was all about book cover design.  I was introduced to Michelle DeFillipo of 1106 Design in Phoenix, Arizona.  The webinar was extremely informative to me and I came to understand the importance of a great cover created by a professional designer.  I communicated with Michelle and soon I made the decision to contract with her for several things.  She has written a very fine little book about self-publishing, which became very instrumental to me in making my decision as to just what tasks I would have 1106 Design help me with.  Ultimately I settled on: cover design, interior layout, proof reading, and ebook conversion.  All of that cost me about $3000, but the handholding and the help along the way was exceptional.  She led me through the process of establishing my publishing company as an LLC in the state of Florida; establishing an account with CreateSpace (in order to appear on Amazon); establishing an account with Lightning Source, a Print on Demand (POD) company, from which I will order books as needed.  There is quite a lot to it and the uninitiated must guard against being swayed by the companies that tell you that you can do it all yourself (with a little help from them.) You really need to do it ALL yourself.

As I began this process–learning every day–and got started, first with the cover design and then followed by the other tasks, I continued to become informed through the internet and investigating other sites.  We sent Michelle a package of photos and they provided us with a proof of their cover design.  We loved it!  We showed it to several friends and they loved it too.  We were on our way.

The process has been a long one with lots of stops and starts and time lapses that were unavoidable.  Shortly after we had gotten started on the project of getting my memoir to publication, I learned that my ex-husband was in final stage liver disease, and my daughter became his chief caregiver. She learned that his life expectancy was going to be relatively short and in December she asked me to fly up to Providence, RI, to be with her for a few days to provide the support she needed then and would need in the following months.  I made three trips up north and stayed with her for eleven days in February until he passed away.  It was sad and hard for everyone.  I tried to stay focused on my book, but it sort of took a back seat for a while.

Then we started moving quickly with the interior layout, proofing, etc. and at that point I found another resource that became my bible–Guy Kawasaki’s book “APE–Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur.”  There it was in one place–everything that I had learned on my own from hundreds of resources–in a single publication.  I wholeheartedly recommend it.  And, everyone following this path to self-publication must learn that you have to become a publisher and entrepreneur in the final analysis, if you truly want to become successful.  The writing, or the author part, is the easiest!  It’s the “what happens now?” after the book is published that makes it all worth it.

After lots of angst and back and forths, endless proofreading, my memoir is a real book.  It is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle version and we are starting the very arduous process of marketing it.  Everything that I have done in preparation for that; i.e. my FaceBook book page, my blog, my posts on LinkedIn and Twitter, building websites, joining self-publishing and writing groups, etc., is paying off, in that I have established a framework to continue with my marketing.  Press releases and reaching out to many other channels will soon follow.  It is a full time job!

It has been fun.  It has been rewarding.  And it has given me a new career path.  The feedback we continue to get is so positive and we are beginning to sell books!

So for anyone who has the inclination, I say, “Go for it!”  It’s an interesting journey.

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Google Plus for Writers (Build a Social Media Platform)

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The Journey to Publication – Part One

It has most certainly been a journey.  And a learning experience as well.  A journey that began about six months after our wedding in March 2010 when the thought struck me that I might just want to write about how Alan and I got together again.  I started writing some notes to myself on my computer about what had transpired in our lives up to that point, primarily concentrating on the theme of reuniting.  I wrote about our 25th high school reunion and my thoughts really centered around what it meant to us to reunite with one another, of course, but also to connect with so many old friends.  That is as far as I got then.  I didn’t return to my notes until almost a year later when I determined that I did want to tell our story–the whole story about how Alan and I rekindled our romance, what had happened to both of is in the intervening 50 years and what our life is like today.  I was hooked.  I became a writer!

Although I was an English major in college, I was never totally enamored with the process of writing and even getting down to writing a paper was a major chore for me.  In my work as a consultant I did publish many articles on work/life balance, but usually with the help of a publicist or writer.  And I certainly never held the dream of becoming an author or writing a book.  That wasn’t me.  That wasn’t my skill set.  So, when writing my memoir took hold and the publication of Reunited:  When the Past Becomes a Present became a reality, no one was more surprised than me.  I became a writer!  And the journey became one of learning about the self-publishing industry.  Today we are a company–AV Publishing LLC.

My daughter, Leigh Vincola, is a writer. She has a master’s degree from Simmons College in writing; she has taught writing; and she has published some of her work.  In fact, I have included a piece of hers as the Afterword in my book.  She was instrumental in encouraging me to pursue my project and she offered the first assistance I sought to read my skeletal manuscript, critique it, and make suggestions.  I think that was the point at which I felt I might, in fact, really be able to do this.  I found myself going back to it on almost a daily basis–editing, re-reading, and adding to my growing memoir.  Leigh helped with the overall structure, which was very critical.  All of this took place during the time that Alan and I were hopscotching back and forth from Charleston to Martha’s Vineyard and Sarasota on a fairly regular basis.  Our old Dell Inspiron laptop had bit the dust and we made the investment in a MacBook Pro and also decided at that time to use a Verizon broadband that would enable me to write wherever we were–including in the car–which seemed to be the place we found ourselves most often.  So, Alan drove and I wrote.  I wrote about our romance during our senior year in high school. I wrote all about Alan’s life when I wasn’t around during the ensuing 50 years, and I told my story too.  I wrote about how our reunion began and the emails that preceded our first face-to-face meeting.  I wrote about our new courtship, our new romance, and how we reunited with so many of our old friends from high school.  I included all of the details of our engagement and our wedding and the planning of our 50th high school reunion.  I even added details about our trips to Italy and described our experience securing dual citizenship.  It flowed and it was fun.  I didn’t labor over it at all.  I wrote quickly and smoothly.  I was amazed.  And Alan couldn’t have been sweeter in the encouragement he has shown throughout the whole process.  He listened as I read back to him and he was always able to add little bits here and there that I somehow had forgotten.  His memory is so much better than mine.  And he has encouraged and inspired me every step of the way by telling me that he is very proud of me for accomplishing this.

I felt that I had developed something which could work, but I needed help.  By that time it was December of 2011, and I had been working in Microsoft Word on my MacPro. I knew that I needed to have others–beside Alan and me and my daughter–read what I had written.  The first thing I did was print several copies of my manuscript and I asked friends and family members to read what I had come up with thus far.  I called them my “first tier” of readers.  The response was helpful.  Although everyone loved what I had done and offered praise and encouragement, I got little in the way of detailed assistance.  I realized then that I needed a professional editor.  I was awake in the middle of the night one night and lay in bed with my Droid in hand reading articles on HuffPost (as I often do when I can’t sleep), and an add popped up for an editor named Nicole Bokat.  I looked at her website and I sent her an email then and there.  The next day we spoke on the phone and we talked business and I hired her as my editor.  It wasn’t until March of 2012 that Nicole had the time to read my manuscript and edit it.  I was committed.  I had spent money.  And some day this book was going to be published.

After Nicole edited the manuscript and I got all of the other feedback I sought, it took me a few months to rewrite, restructure, embellish, and enhance the entire manuscript.  Leigh also helped once again, particularly with the structure of the book.  It was beginning to  really take shape and was greatly improved.  With Nicole’s guidance I began the process of searching for a literary agent.  I had, prior to that, spent a lot of time poking around the internet and had found many sites that could lead me to agents.  I began making lists, after, that is, reviewing agent websites to determine if we might be a fit.  I also made a phone call to Jim Levine, an old colleague of mine, who now owns an important literary agency in New York, Levine Greenburg Literary Agency.  Lo and behold, he remembered me, took my call, and said that he would read my manuscript.  That was totally amazing to me.  He read it in one night (by this time it was almost 200 pages) and called me back the next morning.  He decided to pass on it.  He said in today’s market it would be hard to get my kind of story the attention I wanted.  But, I think, the mere fact that he read it, gave me the impetus to continue–to move onward and see how I might interest others.  So, I sent out query letters–lots and lots of query letters–maybe 150 in all.  I got a few nice email responses, sometimes no response at all, but no takers.  Only one agent kept me on a string for about six months.  I received a great email from Emma Sweeney, of Emma Sweeney Agency, and she asked if she could have an exclusive for about a month.  I was very excited, but Nicole had warned me of being held up in that way.   It took much longer than a month with several back and forth emails between Emma and me.  Then her assistant phoned me and said they would need to pass.  Another few months went by and they asked if they could review it again! They ultimately passed on it, but it gave me more impetus to forge ahead. In the meantime I had continued sending out queries, but I also started looking at self-publishing and what that meant in today’s market.

My next blog will describe the second part of this journey and the decision to self-publish.

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Book Cover

Book Cover

This is the cover of my book: “Reunited: When the Past Becomes a Present. Coming soon.

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Our Wedding Day

Our Wedding Day.

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