Tag Archive | affordable funerals

Conquering my Internet angst

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00069]Hallelujah! I just updated the signature that goes out with my e-mails, and it took me only an hour and a half to figure out how! Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, says e-mail signatures are one of the most effective and easiest ways to market your work, but for me, when it comes to internet technology, nothing comes easy.

Lest you think I’m a total ignoramus, I’ve known how to create signatures for ages, but they’ve been tiny and self-effacing, in the plain text that’s standard with Thunderbird. To promote my new book, Hope Dawns Eternal, and let people know it’s for sale on Amazon, I wanted something flashier that will jump out at viewers, and for that, Thunderbird told me I need to use – insert gasps of horror, hyperventilating and pounding heart – HTML code. For the uninitiated, that stands for hypertext markup language.

I’m proud to say I didn’t have an anxiety attack. I’ve come a long way since acute panic made me drop out of a web design course at Hudson Valley Community College a few years back. Instead, I calmly clicked on Thunderbird’s HELP menu, found the information on creating custom signatures, and printed it out for further study. Call me old-fashioned, but for truly assimilating new knowledge, I still prefer paper.

The Thunderbird tutorial took me part of the way, but my signature didn’t look right, so I Googled “HTML code beginners.” That brought up millions of hits, and some further surfing turned up what I needed to know.

<Insert break here. It’s time for General Hospital.> 

Anthony Geary with this years Daytime Emmy

Anthony Geary with this years Daytime Emmy

Okay, I’m back. Luke Spencer saved one of his sons from a grisly death by defusing a bomb, only to face armed gunmen who – oh, never mind. Michael Easton, my favorite actor on GH, isn’t on this week. They’re concentrating on Luke because the actor who plays him, Anthony Geary, is retiring and moving to Amsterdam, and they want to give him a spectacular send-off. I doubt they’ll kill him, though, because he may get bored and want to come back for a visit.

But I digress. True, Hope Dawns Eternal is about soap operas, but it isn’t about General

Michael Easton as vampire Caleb Morley on Port Charles

Michael Easton as vampire Caleb Morley on Port Charles

Hospital. The hero, Jonah McQuarry, is a police lieutenant played by the reclusive actor Mark Westgate, who used to play a vampire on a long-gone soap called Oak Bluff. When a talk show host turns up dead, drained of blood, suspicion soon falls on Mark . . . You can learn more by checking out previous posts, or still better, by reading the Prologue and Chapter One right here on this blog. Then, of course, I hope you’ll buy it.

The world of publishing has changed dramatically in the years since I published my two previous books, and indie authors like me have more opportunities than ever before. But the trick lies in learning to harness the infinite power of the Internet, and for technophobes like me, the challenge is daunting. The learning curve is steep, fraught with perils and frustrations, but I’m determined to hang in there and master at least the rudiments of self-publishing.

My cover illustration for the original ELDERCIDE

My cover illustration for the original ELDERCIDE

When I published Eldercide and Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders, a small firm in Texas handled the formatting and design. They did a beautiful job, and I loved the finished product, but they took a huge percentage of whatever measly sales income I managed to accrue, and my royalty checks were minimal. Though I can probably never prove it, I’m convinced they swindled me out of some earnings.

Now, with the generous royalty arrangements available through Amazon, Smashwords and other distributors, I won’t get fooled again. By summer’s end, Eldercide and Mood Swing will be available in new editions, in a variety of e-book and paperback formats. I’ll be in total control, but the learning curve is less a curve than a raggedy zig zag line. The overall trajectory tends slowly upward, but there are lots of hidden hazards and pitfalls. Often I feel the way all those cops must have felt bushwhacking through the Adirondack woods in search of the killers Matt and Sweat, wary of ambushes and sometimes doubling back on their own tracks.

One example: The design of this blog. Notice how the headers at the top are superimposed on each other like a double exposure? I know exactly when the problem arose; it was when I changed “themes,” as WordPress calls its design templates, from “Misty Look” to “Koi.” While my blog was relatively inactive, I let it go, but recently I spent a couple of hours trying to fix it, in every way I could think of, but to no avail.

Finally I clicked on the WordPress link that says “Contact Us” and arrived at a site called “Happiness Engineers.” There I texted back and forth with a friendly fellow named Amal, who gave me all kinds of hints and suggestions to try. Alas, he couldn’t fix it either, and after a couple of hours, I thanked him for his efforts and signed off. The next day WordPress sent me an email with a questionnaire asking how the experience had been, and I didn’t answer, not wanting to get Amal in trouble.

Learning the rudiments of HTML is another challenge, but I’m hanging in there. I’ve got all summer to fine tune my marketing campaign and expand my online network. For example, once again I’ll be featuring guest bloggers, beginning around Bastille Day – but that’s a topic for another blog. Right now, I’m heading out to enjoy my shade garden and a gin and tonic.

A tall tale featuring my top ten tags

Julia Child

Today’s blog post is a statistical experiment. Never fear, I know that sounds dreary, but I’m going to have fun with it by creating a fictional journal entry using key words and phrases that seem to have drawn people to my blog.

I study my stats religiously, and they’ve been down in the past week. Perhaps my topics haven’t been uplifting or intriguing enough – I wrote about the death of an artist friend, website anxiety, agita and acid indigestion. On the other hand, “affordable funerals” has been one of my most popular topics to date, so go figure. Today, I’ll start with a true statement; after that, all bets are off. I’ll highlight the popular tags in turquoise, and see if I can drive up my stats for the day.

As Administrator for the Memorial Society of the Hudson-Mohawk Region, I get a lot of inquiries about affordable funerals. I’m fairly well versed in what’s going on with funeral homes in upstate New York, but I decided it was time to broaden my horizons. What better place to start than Baltimore and the grave of Edgar Allan Poe? I’d visited there before when I went to Bouchercon, but I didn’t want to linger, so after paying my respects I caught a shuttle to the Baltimore-Washington airport.

Next stop: London. Once there, I realized I wasn’t in the mood for research, at least not of the kind I’d come for, so I decided to cure my jet lag by exploring the local nightlife. I found a pub in the Soho district, and lo and behold, a devastatingly handsome bloke named Harold was soon chatting me up. He looked much the way John Lennon might have if he’d lived to see 60.

Jimi Hendrix

I regaled him with tales of my past – how I’d shown my paintings and won a prize at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, how a disc jockey had helped me sneak my paintings into the Beatles’ suite at the Warwick Hotel, how I’d lived in New York City’s SoHo district at the height of its glory. How Jimi Hendrix bought me a screwdriver and asked for my phone number at a Greenwich Village club, and I stayed in my loft for a week waiting for his call in vain.

Baseball diamond

Harold and I discovered we both had a passion for blogging. I told him how amazed I was to be getting hundreds of hits a day, but that I couldn’t figure out what made certain posts more popular. I could understand the appeal of “Norman Mailer ogled my chest” and “Julie and Julie and Julia” Parts 1, 2 and 3, but why “My blogging story arc – a field of dreams?” Enid Wilson’s steamy take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was a big hit too. Michael Jackson I could understand – I blogged about Michael as the archetype of a tortured artist. Harold and I agreed about the poignancy of his death, but that he’d probably passed his prime, and that the brilliant film “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” was a fitting legacy.

After my second Black Russian, I was feeling confident enough to pull both my mysteries out of my carry-on bag. He raved about my cover illustrations, and immediately insisted on buying both Eldercide and Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders. My first sale on English soil! I was thrilled.

“I’d love to show you more of London tomorrow,” Harold said.

“That would be great, but I’m not sure my husband would approve.” I pulled out my BlackBerry. “Come to think of it, I’d better give him a call. . . .”

 [the scene ends here]

Actually, it turns out that most of the above is fact, not fiction. I’ve been to Baltimore for Bouchercon and and visited Poe’s grave, but I don’t have plans to return any time soon. I didn’t jet off to London and meet a dashing Englishman, but everything I told him about my background and my blogging is true. Now I’ll type in all the tags and see what happens.

Hey, this isn’t a bad creative writing exercise – maybe I’ll try it again sometime. You’re welcome to try it as well. What tags and subjects have drawn the most people to your blog? Can you turn them into a story? I’d love to hear from you.

Julie & Julie & Julia Part III

Ten days ago my blog scored a record number of hits – 451 in one day. Trying to figure out why, I discovered that 319 of these visits were racked up by a single post –  “Julie & Julie & Julia Part II” from September 2nd. My family and friends would find this ironic in the extreme. I’m a good cook when I set my mind to it, but I avoid the kitchen whenever possible. This post and the one that preceded it were about writing and blogging, and cooking got barely a mention.

So why is the J&J&J post so popular? Note to self: duh – it’s the search engines, dummy. Over the past few months, I’ve been watching my stats climb steadily, and as of today, I’ve logged 24,022 hits on a blog I just started in May. All along I’ve been under the delusion that I’m building a devoted readership, and the comments and stats tell me I’m not entirely wrong, but the majority of visitors are lured in by certain key words and especially by well known names.

Here are my most visited blog posts for the past week, according to WordPress:

  • Julie & Julie & Julia Part II (September 2)
  • Julie & Julie & Julia (August 31)
  • Michael Jackson and the archetype of the tortured artist (July 8th)
  • My blogging story arc – a field of dreams (June 22)
  • Woodstock 1969 Part III: Requiem for the spirit of 1969 (August 12)
  • Woodstock 1969 Part II: Stuck in the muck for 16 straight hours of music (August 9)
  • Woodstock 1969 Part I: I was there with my paintings – now if only I could prove it! (August 6)
  • Did Poe get fan letters too? (October 30)
  • Affordable funerals Part II: Down by the riverside (September 12)
  • TGIF Blog Party – You’re all invited (August 21)

Julie Powell

It’s interesting that these are all older posts – the most recent is from October 30th. Does this mean no one is reading my more recent ramblings? No, those get visits too – just not as many. WordPress tells me where most or all of my readers come from, and a fair number come from other authors’ blogs as well as from online discussion groups like CrimeSpace and Murder Must Advertise. WP also tells me all the posts that have attracted visitors on any given day, so I know many folks visit my static pages with my bio information and sample chapters. Here’s hoping some of those folks are actually buying my books!

Most common searches that drew people to my blog recently: Julia Child, Julia Childs (I purposely inserted the misspelled name as a tag, a trick I picked up somewhere in the past few months), Edgar Allan Poe, Jimi Hendrix, Woodstock, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, baseball diamond (I can’t figure out that last one!)

I tend to shy away from statistics. In fact, sheer panic drove me to drop out of a statistics class at Dutchess Community College – me with my hotshot degrees from Barnard, Columbia and NYU. (I eventually enrolled for statistics again and got an A – a necessary evil, since it was a prerequisite for the PhD psychology program I briefly enrolled in. But that’s another story.)

I’m hereby making a New Year’s Resolution to put more time into understanding the wealth of blogging statistics available to me on WordPress, thereby maximizing the  effectiveness of the many hours I spend online. Meanwhile, for my Christmas blog post, I’ll create a short story incorporating all the popular names, subjects and tags that show up in my stats. Be sure to check back then! For anyone who’s read this far: sorry I never got around to the subject of cooking. But I’m sticking in some photos of Julia Child and Julie Powell as a consolation prize.

Fellow bloggers, do you have any wisdom to share about statistics and blog hits? I know many of you are far more sophisticated than I am on this subject, and I’d love to hear from you. 

©2009 Julie Lomoe

Affordable Funerals Part II: Down by the riverside

Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich

Funeral arrangements and memorial services can be meaningful, healing experiences even when costs are kept low. Membership in an affiliate of the Funeral Consumers Alliance can help families cope with their loss while keeping both stress and expense at a minimum. I wrote this article a year ago for the fall newsletter of the Memorial Society of the Hudson-Mohawk Region:

 Down by the Riverside: A Personal Account of Loss and Healing

In late August, my son-in-law died unexpectedly at the age of 42, leaving behind my daughter and two young granddaughters. Although I’ve been Administrator for the Memorial Society of the Hudson-Mohawk Region for several years, I’ve never before had so vivid and personal a reminder of the value of the Memorial Society and of its parent organization, the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

Another Affiliate Helps Out

My son-in-law had done no advance funeral planning. The family lived in Woodstock, just over an hour from our home but outside the range of the providers the Memorial Society contracts with. We brought our daughter and the girls up to stay with us immediately, and got to work making arrangements the next morning. I found my copy of the FCA list of chapters and called the number for the Mid-Hudson Memorial Society in Poughkeepsie.

A volunteer answered the phone on the third ring and gave me the name of their participating provider in Kingston. I called, got his answering service, and he called me back within 10 minutes. He was extremely helpful and informative. We had everything arranged in under an hour, an enormous relief for my daughter and the children, as well as for his aging parents, who were too shattered to deal with the situation long-distance.

Two weeks later we had a simple but beautiful memorial service by the Hudson at a public park. We were able to reserve the pavilion free of charge, and since the family had chosen cremation, there was no need for a funeral director to be involved by this point.

A Warm Gray Day by the Hudson

The day was perfect — gray and drizzly but warm, and over 100 people came. My husband presided, and my daughter and the nine-year-old granddaughter scattered some of the ashes in the Hudson while my husband spoke about how the ashes would make their way downstream past Nyack, where our son-in-law grew up, and New York City, where they had lived. Just then a great blue heron flew downriver.

The entire experience has convinced me more than ever what an important service the FCA and its chapters provide, and how meaningful and healing a memorial service can be when planned entirely by family and friends.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year, almost to the day, since that memorial service. My daughter and granddaughters have proven amazingly strong and resilient, and they’ve moved on with their lives. Last month Stacey became a first-time home buyer, and they’ve moved into a beautiful little brick house in West Hurley, right near Woodstock. The girls can continue in the same school system, with the same friends and the marvelously creative teachers and vibrant musical program you’d expect of a school in Woodstock. And there’s ample room for this grandma to stay over, both to pitch in with childcare and to partake of the local art and music scene down there. Maybe one of these Saturday nights I’ll even treat myself to a ticket to Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble. The former drummer for The Band holds these weekly shindigs at his home studio, and all sorts of musical luminaries are apt to stop by.

But I digress – a perfect example of how easy it is to drift off-topic rather than discuss death and dying. In Monday’s post, I’ll conclude this series with a discussion of some specifics about exactly how people can save money on after-death services by becoming involved with the Memorial Society or another affiliate of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. In the meantime, I’d welcome your comments and questions – maybe I can address them in my next post. For now, I’m off to the Hudson on another warm gray September day, to enjoy Albany’s free jazz festival – down by the riverside.