Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Selling Books During a Pandemic


We authors are perfectly content sitting in our favorite comfy chairs, wearing our furry bunny slippers, with a cup of coffee nearby, and pecking away on our laptops all day. If truth be told, the pandemic has provided us with a socially acceptable reason to be socially distant, so we can spend more time writing.

But, if we want to sell books, we must market them. Marketing is the most challenging and odious aspect of being an author, doubly so during a pandemic or economic recession, triply so--is triply a word?--because, unless our last name is Patterson or Baldacci, most of us can’t afford to hire an agent or distributor.

Without our usual in-person book signings, tours, and festivals, we must rely on Amazon to sell books and keep our publishers happy. And as my publisher, Jeanne Johansen of High Tide Publications, knows, I live to make her heart sing. “Cha-ching” is her favorite song. So, she has been holding Zoom workshops with her authors to help us understand the confusing world of branding, metadata and search engine optimization. Oh my!

I’ve learned that my brand is Cindy L. Freeman, my author name. The key is to use that name consistently in my online presence: website, Facebook page, blog spot, Amazon bio and wherever my name appears on the internet. Okay, that’s not so hard to understand, but metadata is another story. Yikes!

According to the dictionary, “metadata is data that describes other data, as in describing the origin, structure, or characteristics of computer files, web pages, databases, or other digital resources.” Yawn! More simply put--for those of us with more simple minds--it is data about data. I’ll have to trust Jeanne on that one. But now I think I understand how to use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to market my books.

Whenever I learn something new--rather, when something finally sinks in--I get excited and have to share. So, here goes. For each of our books, Jeanne challenged us to come up with multiple keywords. Keywords are words that are most frequently typed into Amazon’s search engine by readers looking for books like ours. For fiction, these words might relate to genre, topic, and character type. For nonfiction, they might identify a problem, solution, and audience.

So, my novel, Unrevealed, might come up in an Amazon search if someone entered any of these words or combinations: fiction, intrigue, romance, mystery, secret, heiress, business woman, lost sibling, powerful father, or family conflict. The goal is to optimize the chances of this happening.

My novel, The Dark Room, could be tagged with any of these keywords: fiction, family dynamics, child abuse, domestic abuse, hidden child, abuser, abused women, abused children, dysfunctional family, power and control and others.

Possible keywords for my novel, I Want to Go Home, include but are not limited to: fiction, homelessness, kids alone, teenager, brothers, protector, homeless kids, child protection, homeless shelters, etc. You get the idea.

So, how do authors ensure that our books pop up in searches? We must use the keywords often in our book descriptions, blog posts, websites, and social media posts. In this way we maximize the number of visitors and potential instances of our books being tagged. Okay, as long as I don't have to take off my bunny slippers, I think I can do that.

Wish me luck!

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com. Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and Peace.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Best Medicine

“Laughter is the best medicine.” The origin of this quote goes back to Proverbs 17:22 in the Old Testament which says, “A joyful heart is good medicine” or literally “...causes good healing.” It’s true. Scientists have studied the physical benefits of a good laugh and found that laughing can actually strengthen the immune system and promote healing of diseases. There’s even a name for the science of laughter. Gelotology is the term coined in the 1960s by Dr. William F. Fry, a psychiatrist from Stanford University, California. According to Fry, laughter produces chemicals (endorphins) in the body that relieve stress and enhance physical and mental health.

Throughout the four months in which COVID-19 has ravaged the earth, many of us have shared jokes and comic strips with each other via text, email and social media as a way to ease the stress of isolation and quell the worry about ourselves, our loved ones, and our world. At this writing, more than 120,000 Americans have lost their lives to the virus, and while there are areas of our country where the spread of this terribly contagious disease seems to be leveling off, cases are spiking in other areas. That’s no laughing matter, especially to those who are ill or have lost loved ones or watched in helplessness as patients in their care died of the disease.

The second part of that quote from Proverbs is “But a broken spirit dries up the bones.” I’m convinced it is the loss of hope that causes a broken spirit. When someone’s spirit is broken, it cannot be restored by reading a joke or taking a laughter pill. To one who has lost hope, laughter is empty and mocking. To one who is hopeless, people who make jokes seem insensitive and devoid of empathy.

People who are brokenhearted and broken-spirited need time to grieve. Trying to cajole them out of their sadness, trying to make them laugh when they need a good cry serves only to stall their healing. If we encounter someone on a window ledge contemplating suicide, do we tell them a joke? Of course not! Instead, we attempt to offer them a glimmer of hope. Once we have talked them off the ledge, we must allow them time to grieve, time to deal with the cause of their despair. We need to assure them that even in their darkest hour, there is hope, that life is worth living. They might require professional help, but they also need a reminder of God’s faithful promise in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

So, let’s take another look at King Solomon’s proverb. It doesn’t actually say, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Rather it says, “A joyful heart causes good healing.” Yes, laughter promotes the release of healing chemicals. Yes, laughter is good for us, but we can’t expect those whose hearts are broken by suffering and hopelessness to feel like laughing again until first they have walked through the dark valley and shed cleansing tears of grief.

During this pandemic, it’s important to remind each other that our sovereign God loves us and wants to hear us laugh again. When we place our trust in the God of the universe, God infuses our fear and sadness with comfort, comfort that we can share with others. When we feel weak and anxious, God gives us His strength and replaces our hopelessness with joy...if we remember to call on Him...yes, joy even amid problems, disappointments, and seemingly impossible circumstances. Only God can give us a joyful spirit amid tragedy, sustaining our hope until we can laugh again.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of three award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available through amazon.com or www.hightidepublications.com 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

I'm Ashamed



I’m ashamed; ashamed to be white; ashamed to be American.

I’m ashamed to live in a country where the so-called justice system is blatantly unjust; ashamed of the few white policemen who condone and participate in violence against fellow humans because of their skin color; ashamed of the looters and inciters who would take advantage of a situation for their own selfish gain. As a Caucasian parent and grandparent, I’m ashamed that Black parents must teach their children, for their safety, not to trust the police, not to wear hoodies in public, not to jog in parks, and not to walk down the street with their hands in their pockets.

After all the gains made in the 1960s by Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. through intelligent rhetoric and non-violent demonstrations, how is it possible that our nation has barely moved one inch closer to sanity or equality?

Where do we go from here? For how long will we, as a country, tolerate the white men and women who think they are superior to anyone who is not white? When will we stop tolerating white people who control because they can; privileged white people who get away with overpowering people of color because they can? When will we stop teaching our children to avoid, shun, or bully non-white children?

When will it stop? When will the legal system, the judicial system, and the penal system finally uphold the Constitution of the United States of America? When will Native Americans and Black Americans and Mexican Americans and Asian Americans and Latino Americans finally be protected from the minority group of racist whites who think they are in charge because they are allowed to be in charge?

I’m convinced that nothing in America will change or improve until the sector of honorable, respectful, honest, ethical, just and lawful white men and women--and there are many--stands up, once and for all, for what is honorable, respectful, honest, ethical, just and lawful. Honorable white men and women need to take action, to stand up and be counted. Americans of color are tired of fighting battle after battle while white men and women let the war rage on because it perpetuates their position of privilege.

Sunday afternoon I attended an inspiring, unifying “Black Lives Matter” rally in Colonial Williamsburg. At least as many whites gathered in front of the Capitol as people of color. It was organized and led by the Williamsburg Police Department and clergy representing numerous local denominations. The speakers, both black and white, were articulate, informed and respectful. It was so uplifting! I wanted to shout, “Finally the message is getting through!” At least maybe it’s getting through in our small community that until Black Lives Matter, no lives matter. But it’s only the beginning. We must keep the momentum going.

Honorable white men and women are the only ones who can affect positive reform in this country. Honorable white cops, business owners, clergy, and elected officials. Why? Because they/we are the “privileged white.” Our communities need confident, brave white citizens who refuse to remain silent, who refuse to be racist or oppressive or abusive, men and women who refuse to tolerate hateful speech and behavior in other privileged whites.

Relinquishing our white privilege does not weaken us. On the contrary, it simply trades white supremacy for mutual respect.

America needs to hear from respectful white men and women who believe that every human is created in the image of God, possessing the absolute, inherent right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I’m convinced this is how we make America great.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: UnrevealedThe Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available from amazon.com or hightidepublications.com

Friday, May 1, 2020

Looking Forward



Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not complaining. BUT! I need to get something off my chest.

I miss... kissing my husband. Yes, he wears a mask in the grocery store. Yes, he washes his hands upon returning, and yes, I sanitize the kitchen counters and door handles, but since asthma puts me at high risk, he’s determined not to expose me to Covid-19, so we settle for air hugs and kisses blown from a safe distance.

I miss... hugging my children and grandchildren. Not that we’re able to be together that often normally, but because both families live in rural areas, virtual options for connecting are limited.

I miss... seeing my students and colleagues. Zoom classes just aren’t the same.

I miss... going out to dinner. These days, our romantic date nights consist of dressing up in our best sweats to cook then eat dinner while sitting in our recliners and binge-watching “Heartland” on Netflix, followed by washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. But, since there’s no kissing involved...

I miss... going to real church instead of virtual church, being greeted by friendly faces and firm handshakes, and joining in robust hymn singing.

I miss... visiting nursing homes. My heart aches for “my ladies” and others who must be feeling lonely without their usual visitors.

I miss... observing people in public settings where I get my best ideas for stories and characters.

I miss… concerts and baseball games and sharing a glass of wine with friends.

No, I’m not complaining. Rather, I’m looking forward to the return of simple, everyday activities. When thousands (maybe millions) are suffering, dying, and mourning, I’m reminded to be grateful for good health, daily walks, family, and this extra time to read, pray and write.

Until the return of normal, let’s use this time of waiting to pray for the physical and spiritual healing of our country and our planet, and let’s boost each other’s spirits with hope and faith for a new and better normal.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of numerous award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available from amazon.com or hightidepublications.com

Friday, April 10, 2020

Men Have It Easy


Have you ever noticed how easy men have it? Here’s a case in point. I was telling my husband, Carl, that I needed a new dress for our granddaughter’s wedding, whenever that might be rescheduled after the pandemic. He said, “That’s easy. Just order one online.”

“You must be kidding,” I responded. “Women cannot order clothes online. They never fit.” I haven’t ordered clothing online since my last traumatic experience some ten years ago when I had to send the items back three times before I finally got the right size.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Carl continued. “You know your size, right? Just order your size.” This from a man who can walk into a store, pick up a shirt or pair of jeans and take them home without trying them on. They always fit. Men have it easy. Why? Because men’s sizes are both simple and consistent. Men’s shirts go by neck size and sleeve length. Period. Men’s pants are sized by inseam and waist. Period. Shopping done.

Women, on the other hand, have too many fashion choices. Even before considering a size, we must choose among the categories of Women’s, Petite, Junior, Half, or Plus. Once that decision is made, we might be able to wear any size between 6 and 14 depending on the fabric, the cut, the brand, and the style. Furthermore, if you shop at Chico’s, the sizing is totally different. At Chico’s, I might wear a size 1 or 2. That’s hilarious!

For women, even the length requires a decision. In dresses and skirts, you have mini, midi, maxi, or street-length—whatever that means—each of which could hit anywhere from the thigh to the ankle, depending on whether it is Women’s, Petite, Junior, Half or Plus. Slacks for women can be long, short, regular, petite, cropped, flared, skinny or boot-cut. Need I go on?

The fact is, I never knew I was a Petite until I was in my fifties. You see, I’ve always been slightly overweight. Do you see where I’m going with this? The word, petite, by definition, means slender, small or tiny. How can it make sense that someone who is slightly overweight is also slender, small or tiny? Well, in the fashion world, Petite refers to clothing made for women who are short in stature and short-waisted with short arms, which means it’s possible to be a 16 Petite. Isn’t that an oxymoron along the lines of deafening silence?

So, men, take my advice. The next time you are waiting impatiently outside the women’s dressing room, sitting in the “husband chair,” holding your wife’s purse on your lap, and watching HGTV on the television provided for your entertainment, try to remember it’s not her fault that she has been in there for two hours trying to buy one dress. When she finally emerges for your opinion, out of breath, hair disheveled, with sweat beaded across her forehead, the only appropriate comment from you is, “Honey, you look beautiful in that dress.”

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of numerous award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available from amazon.com or hightidepublications.com

Thursday, March 19, 2020

People of Faith


“It’s a small world.” This is something we say when in an unexpected place we meet or hear about someone we know. I remember voicing that very statement in London several years ago when my husband and I spotted a display of peanuts from the Williamsburg Peanut Shop in Harrods Department Store. Then there was the time I ran into a family from my music school in Williamsburg during a trip to the Bahamas. It was unexpected, and it felt like the earth was much smaller than its 25,000-mile circumference. Today, with the technology to access people and news across the globe, the world seems small, indeed.

I will never forget the moment during junior high school when I heard about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was a chilly November day in 1963 when my principal, his voice shaking, announced it over the intercom. At the age of thirteen, I felt like life as I knew it was ending. Kennedy’s presidency had brought hope and optimism to our country, and now he was gone. The future was uncertain, and all US citizens, regardless of party affiliation, joined in mourning tinged with fear. We didn’t have the internet then, but we stayed glued to our TV sets for days.

I remember clearly the live television broadcast of Good Morning America that I was watching September 11, 2001 as I dressed for work. The image of one plane, then another, crashing into New York’s Twin Towers was surreal and paralyzing. Even the anchor, Charles Gibson, was too stunned to speak for a moment. The earth stopped and seemed to shrink in size as countries around the world weighed in on this unspeakable tragedy.

We are in the midst of another such world-shrinking event, one we will remember for the rest of our lives. My high school students, who already have so much on their plates with schoolwork, exams, college prep, athletics, and social issues must add concern about whether they or a loved one will contract the virus. They are feeling like I did in 1963: worried, fearful, and wondering if life will ever return to normal. Their school administration and teachers are doing everything possible to ease their minds and accommodate their learning until they can return to campus, but it’s a challenging time of uncertainty, especially with wide access to media coverage.

So, how do we cope amid a pandemic? Last Friday, our principal called an assembly to announce that the school would be closed for at least two weeks. The students sat very still and quiet. As I glanced about the auditorium, I observed that their body language and faces exhibited tension. It was like they were afraid to look at each other, afraid or unable to react. That Friday was supposed to be opening night for their musical, 42nd Street. The students had worked tirelessly every day after school since January, and now their performance was postponed until further notice. Other students learned that all athletic activities were suspended, including a tournament, and my All-State Chorus delegates soon heard that their event would not take place. Some of the students began to weep silently in disappointment.

Amid their dismay, the most important statement by our principal may not have sunk in, but it stood out to me. She said, “Remember, we are people of faith.”

Ours is a Catholic school founded by The Sisters of Mercy. We start every day with prayer; we hold monthly Masses; at each level, the students are required to take theology; and every student must accumulate service hours. Mercy Core Values underscore our curricula.

At the Upper School where I teach, our students are typical high school kids with all the typical high school behaviors. There are cliques; there is boundary testing; there are negative attitudes and inappropriate comments. Some get into trouble and receive demerits or attend Saturday detention; some earn poor grades and must be placed on academic support, which might include dropping extracurricular activities. They are normal American teenagers. The difference is not in the students we serve, but in the learning environment we provide.

As a Mercy School, our faith education and service to the community, both local and global, are at the forefront of everything we teach. This faith-based education is evident in the way we handle issues and relate to each other. That’s what the principal meant by “We are people of faith.” She was saying that people of faith in God don’t need to panic or live in fear, not because we are exempt from disease or suffering, not because we’re better than people without faith, but because we have assurance that God walks with us through all of life’s ups and downs, even a pandemic, and sustains us with His unconditional love. We recognize that God is sovereign.

Our students may not yet be mature enough in their faith to believe that they can cast all their cares on God, but we, the faculty and administrators, are committed to modeling mature, merciful faith and unconditional love for them and each other. With God’s help, we will get through even this together.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of numerous award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available from amazon.com or hightidepublications.com


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Using Imagery


I’ve discovered that conducting a choir is a lot like writing a novel. Maybe that’s why I love doing both. Making music and writing a book are creative activities that fully engage the brain. Notice I didn’t say “listening to music and reading a book,” which, while valuable pastimes, are not the same as writing and making music. Whereas listening to music tends to be passive—The Mozart Effect was a flawed study—singing, playing an instrument and conducting are active, engaging the whole brain. Likewise, creative writing causes brain cylinders (neurons and dendrites) to fire, especially in the frontal cortex.

As an early childhood educator for many years, I studied the effects of music on the brain. Again and again, scientific studies confirmed that music making stimulates all areas of the brain, causing neurons and dendrites to activate. That’s why early childhood music is so beneficial for young children whose brains are still developing.

Recently, I found a 2014 study by German researchers published in the journal Neurolmage. These neuroscientists observed the brain activity of people as they wrote stories. According to the study, the brain activity of creative writers, especially long-time writers of fiction, is “similar to the brains of other people skilled in complex action like musicians.”

Scientific research notwithstanding, my experience in both fields has taught me that the most pronounced similarity between music making and creative writing is in the use of imagery. As a choral conductor, when I ask my singers to visualize the tone or mood of a musical piece, they respond more accurately than when I simply use musical terms like smooth (legato) or detached (staccato), strong (marcato) or light (leggiero), loud (forte) or quiet (piano). While they are familiar with these terms, both English and Italian, their response is far more immediate when I use imagery. Instead of asking them to sing smoothly, I might suggest the image of hot fudge dripping down the sides of vanilla ice cream. “Sing like a diva, not a wood nymph” shows them clearly that I want them to use a fuller, richer tone. “Think of a tennis ball bouncing on pavement or a stone skipping across the water” gives them an image of light, detached singing more effectively than saying, “Sing that phrase staccato.”

In a similar way, creative writers continually work to “show, not tell” their stories. Experienced writers know what this challenging process entails. We understand that, when our narrative engages all the senses, our readers’ brains are activated to produce images.

Show, don't tell is a writing technique in which story and characters
are related through sensory details and actions rather than exposition.
It fosters a style of writing that's more immersive for the reader, allowing
them to ‘be in the room’ with the characters” (blog.reedsy.com, Jul 11, 2019).

An excellent example of showing rather than telling is this passage from Ken Follett’s bestselling novel The Pillars of the Earth. It sets the stage in the first chapter where townspeople are waking and starting their day in anticipation of a public hanging:

Candlelight flickered behind the shutters of the substantial wood and
stone houses around the square, the homes of prosperous craftsmen
and traders, as scullery maids and apprentice boys lit fires and heated
water and made porridge. The color of the sky turned from black to gray.
The townspeople came ducking out of their low doorways, swathed in
heavy cloaks of coarse wool, and went shivering down to the river
to fetch water.”

Follett could have stated succinctly: It was a cold, winter morning and the townspeople were waking up. But by showing us the candlelit windows and shivering people “swathed in heavy cloaks” he engages all of our senses with powerful imagery that causes our brains to form pictures. We feel like we are right there in the town square with them, experiencing what they are experiencing. In one brief, expressive paragraph we discover the book’s historical setting, the time of day and the time of year. We know that the people are wealthy with servants. We see their sturdy houses. We know how they dress and what they eat for breakfast.

It has taken many years for me to realize how much music has helped my writing and writing has helped my musical expression. In both fields, words must be used in such a way as to activate the brains of our readers/singers, forming vivid images that leave no doubt about what we want to convey.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of numerous award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available from amazon.com or hightidepublications.com