From the AlzAuthors Blog: Ellen Smith Discusses Her Alzheimer’s Novel “Reluctant Cassandra”

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By Ellen Smith

Reluctant Cassandra came to me first as a title. I’ve always been fascinated by Greek mythology and especially with the character of Cassandra. She was given the gift of prophecy along with the curse that her warnings would never be believed. In Greek mythology, Cassandra’s story ends with the fall of Troy—a tragedy she foresaw but was unable to prevent.

What would it be like to see the future and still be helpless to change the outcome? Unfortunately, I’ve lived that experience. Many of us have. When I wrote my own version of a modern-day Cassandra story, I imagined a woman whose father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She could see clearly that his health was deteriorating, but it was still so hard for her and her family to accept the future that was unfolding.

Reluctant Cassandra LargeThe journey that my characters took through anticipatory grief was very similar to what I had just been through in my personal life. I actually wrote Reluctant Cassandra the year after I lost my son. Living through his diagnosis and passing was a heartbreak I hadn’t been able to put into words, but when I stepped into this fictional world, the pain of my own Cassandra experience poured out.

While writing Reluctant Cassandra was cathartic, the story continued to take on a life of its own after publication. Only a week after my release date, I received my first letter from a reader. She had connected strongly with the story because it mirrored her own experience after her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I was so touched that she reached out to share that with me—in fact, I still have her email printed out and pinned over my desk! Her letter was later joined by more notes from other members of the Alzheimer’s community. Here I had written this story at a time when I felt so alone and now it was connecting with readers from all over.

In the three years since Reluctant Cassandra was published, I’ve continued to write and advocate for those with Alzheimer’s. I released a short story collection loosely based on the setting of Reluctant Cassandra on Channillo for Charity, with all proceeds going to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. Even though I didn’t know anyone with Alzheimer’s when I was first writing Reluctant Cassandra, this disease now has many faces for me. I see those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s themselves, as well as their families, friends, and caregivers. I’m grateful to them for telling me their stories, and honored that they are willing to hear mine, too.

This is the true gift of a story: it reaches across the barriers of time and place and circumstance and allows us to connect with each other. The Greek myth of Cassandra was first told hundreds of years ago, and yet the story still impacted me as a 21st century reader. My novel was inspired by a grief I couldn’t put in to words, but writing this story allowed me to become a part of the Alzheimer’s community. I could never have imagined where the book would lead me when I first thought of the title years ago. I am beyond grateful that it brought me here.

author headshotAbout the Author

Ellen Smith is the author of Reluctant Cassandra, Every Last Minute, and the Channillo for Charity series Ghosts of Eagle Valley, which benefits the Alzheimer’s Association. When she isn’t busy writing, Ellen can usually be found reading, crafting, or playing piano. No matter what she is doing, Ellen is always wondering, “What if?” Ellen lives with her family near Washington, DC.

 

 

Connect with Ellen Smith

For more extraordinary books about Alzheimer’s and dementia please visit the AlzAuthors Bookstore. Reposted with permission of AlzAuthors, the global community of authors and readers whose lives have been touched by Alzheimer’s and dementia. I am a co-founder and admin.

The Writing Life: Author Collaborations – How to Make Friends and Find Readers

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This post was originally published on Books Go Social and is reprinted with permission.

By Marianne Sciucco

In 2013, when I published my first novel, Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, I was like most new indie authors: I had no idea how to market it or find readers. My first efforts were disappointing, and I found myself struggling to find footing in an overcrowded book market. The fact that my book was a sort of niche book on a difficult subject added to my frustrations.

In addition to being a writer I am a registered nurse with no formal training, education, or work experience in publishing, business, or marketing. I learned all I could on my own by attending conferences (online and in person), reading books and blogs, and participating in webinars and online classes.

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Two years later my studies led me to the concept of Author Collaborations: Symbiotic relationships with authors writing in my genre to cross-promote our books and share each other’s audiences. It sounded interesting, so I decided to seek out authors of books about Alzheimer’s and dementia to build a marketing platform to serve all of us. Little did I know that three years later I’d be one of six daughters of dementia at the helm of a global community of 170+ authors known as AlzAuthors.

The Story Behind AlzAuthors

The first person I contacted was Jean Lee, author of Alzheimer’s Daughter, a memoir. She’d written to me months earlier to tell me how much she loved my book and to ask if I would read hers and give my opinion. I thought her book was excellent and encouraged her publishing endeavors. When I approached her with the idea of working together she jumped at the opportunity. I asked if she knew of anyone else and she recommended Vicki Tapia, author of Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia.

Vicki was a bit skeptical, wondering how it would benefit her to promote other authors’ books. Jean and I reasoned that caregivers need a variety of good books and other authors are not our competition. There’s strength in numbers, we said, and we could all support each other and our readers. Vicki decided to give us a chance, and the three of us embarked on a month-long campaign in June during the Alzheimer’s Association’s Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, piggybacking onto an established, national movement. We posted about it on our blogs and shared it on our social media, primarily Twitter and Facebook. We created our own hashtag, #AlzAuthors.

Our success at this encouraged us to join forces once again during National Caregiver Appreciation Month in November. We called it the “#AlzAuthors: Ending the Isolation of Alzheimer’s” campaign and again posted on our blogs each week, shared on Twitter, and hosted a Facebook event. This campaign also met with success, and we realized we were on to something. Plus, we enjoyed working together, sharing our stories and helping readers find our books.

How We’ve Grown

Our next endeavor in 2016 was much bolder. We launched our own AlzAuthors blog featuring a new author and book each weekday in June, Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. We also cross-blogged to our own personal blogs. It was a challenge to find 20 authors willing to post with us, an unknown entity, and to get the posts ready each day, but when the month ended we decided to continue, although on a once a week basis. Each new post is promoted on AlzAuthors’ own Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest feeds, and to our audience of authors and Friends of AlzAuthors via personalized emails. To date, we have featured more than 150 authors and are scheduled six months ahead. Authors now seek us out.

Since 2016 our management team has been joined by three more talented authors and daughters of dementia dedicated to Alzheimer’s awareness: Kathryn Harrison (Weeds in Nana’s Garden, children’s’ literature), Ann Campanella (Motherhood Lost and Found, memoir), and Irene Olson (Requiem for the Status Quo, fiction). Each of our admins brings special and much needed skills to the organization. Five of us hail from across the United States and Kathryn joins us from Canada. We communicate and manage AlzAuthors using email, Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype, text messages, and telephone calls. In November 2018 the full team met in person for the first time at the National Caregiving Conference in Chicago. Here we are wearing our exclusive AlzAuthors apparel with the beautiful logo Kathryn designed.

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L to R: Ann Campanella, Marianne Sciucco, Kathryn Harrison, Jean Lee, Vicki Tapia, Irene Olson

More Growth

As the blog expanded we added the AlzAuthors Bookstore and became Amazon Affiliates to help raise funds to support our organization. We also developed a resource page of helpful organizations we partner with, and host group book sales at least twice a year. Other ventures include presenting our books and organization at conferences with local Alzheimer’s Association chapters, showcasing our members’ books on dementia-friendly cruises, publishing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiving Stories, an anthology of our first year’s posts, writing for the Huffington post and  Maria Shriver’s Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and other dementia blogs and websites, and promoting Alzheimer’s awareness and AlzAuthors on podcasts.

What We Learned

Our collaboration has taught us a great deal about cross-promoting, our audience, and our authors.

From the start, Jean, Vicki, and I worked well together and were dedicated to our mission, but a few authors who agreed to collaborate with us on those early ventures did not or could not share our enthusiasm or stay active for long because of one reason or another: Personal issues, a high-powered job, an author’s own progressing Alzheimer’s. This led to our carrying the full load, and since this was a collaborative effort there was disappointment, and in some cases, hard feelings for those we felt let us down. We learned to choose our partners with care, and made our expectations known before taking on a new admin.

We also came to understand not all our authors are interested in becoming full-time authors or in writing new books (although many have.) Some are still on their caregiving journeys. Others are living with the disease themselves. Most wrote their books long after their dementia journeys ended and are ready to put their dementia years behind them and move on. Yet we maintain a core of authors who continue to write about dementia and caregiving or in other genres and want to promote their work and raise Alzheimer’s awareness. They are the driving force behind our success.

We also learned every dementia story is different and it’s important to respect those differences and feature books and blogs that speak to the experience of as many caregivers and families as possible. This sometimes leads to interesting discussions as to whether to take on a new book or author. Our authors are our greatest strength because they are not professional writers but ordinary people with compelling stories. Many are self-published. All are worthy of attention and have something of value to impart to readers.

Another important thing we’ve learned is our target audience is more than what we originally envisioned. When we were each living our own dementia stories we hungered for books and blogs to guide us and discovered a startling lack of resources. We each wrote the book we wanted to read. Recognizing that need, our mission has always been to help caregivers find written resources to support their caregiving needs, but our efforts have shown us they are often too consumed with their own daily difficulties and don’t have time to read. Some don’t want to read about a tough situation they are currently living. We shifted our focus to market not to just caregivers – we will never not address them – but to others involved with Alzheimer’s and dementia care: Medical and nursing professionals, social workers, elder law attorneys, financial planners, support organizations, and nursing home and assisted living personnel.

Where We Are Now

In three years, without realizing it, we created an organization that fills a void, a niche. We are entrepreneurs of a global community of authors writing about the most important disease of our generation. We support each other professionally and personally.  I experienced this myself when my stepfather was diagnosed with mixed dementia in late 2015 and I became his medical, legal, and financial representative. The support of my admin team was invaluable and much appreciated.

In 2019 we have some interesting plans, including becoming a 501 3c, participating in another dementia friendly cruise, publishing a second anthology, and much more.

If you would like to start your own author collaboration here are some tips.

13 Tips for Starting an Author Collaboration

  1. Choose your partners with care. You will work closely together on a shared mission.
  2. Brand your group. Come up with a catchy name, a mission statement, an easily recognized logo.
  3. Stick to your purpose so readers aren’t confused.
  4. Set a schedule and keep to it so readers know when to expect to hear from you.
  5. Establish a few guidelines for which authors/books to include. Evaluate books and authors critically. Analyze the writing, the reviews, and the author’s platform. Expect them to promote their involvement with your collaboration.
  6. Build social media pages for your group and post to them each day. Monitor and respond to feedback. Create your own hashtags and use them.
  7. Offer a convenient, private way for admins to communicate, i.e. Slack, Google Chats, Skype.
  8. Offer a convenient, private way for members to communicate, i.e. a Facebook group.
  9. Keep it fresh – run group book sales and other special promotions.
  10. Develop a mailing list and use it each time a new post is published.
  11. Reach out to others working in your field, i.e. book bloggers and reviewers, organizations, agencies, and cross-promote with them on their websites, blogs, and social media.
  12. Consider becoming an Amazon Affiliate to help raise funds to keep the collaboration alive.
  13. Understand it takes time – perhaps years – to build a following.

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