A bit of news

July 20, 2014

When last I shared a post with you patient people, “Kiss and Tell’s” public relations campaign was about a month from wrapping up and the news on the headache front was oh-so-very-good (although I mentioned one side effect of my prevention drug was that I DID miss that little thing we like to call eating). I realize there’s been a giant time gap, but if you’re game, come along and I’ll fill you in on what you’ve missed.

As I blogged in February, the numerous television appearances that Insider Media Management secured for Dr. Whelihan and myself to promote “Kiss and Tell” did not translate into book sales—surprisingly. Personal appearances turned out to be most successful, so that’s what we focused on toward the end of our campaign. However, I confess I was a bit distracted because somewhere around Christmas I had made the decision to move back to Austin to be with my family and friends.

It was a wrenching decision. When I moved to West Palm Beach, I figured it would be for only a few years. But I loved the ocean, loved The Palm Beach Post, loved my fabulous, smart roommate and ended up missing Texas way less than I thought I would. Huge surprise.

I stayed. And stayed. For a total of 12 years.

When I took early retirement from the newspaper in 2009, my mom wondered if I’d move back to Texas, but I told her I wanted to write my book. She understood. Three years later, when the book was finished, she asked again. I told her, “Now I need to market it.”

Which I did. For an entire year.

Enough.

Finally, this spring, I wrapped up my time in Paradise (as I like to call West Palm Beach) and took steps to bring all my belongings together in the same zip code. True, they are scattered between a storage facility on Braker Lane, my Mom’s attic AND her basement, but still, I like to think they are within shouting distance of each other.

In a show of solidarity, my wonderful pals Di and Patti (from Arizona and Ohio!) drove to Texas with me in early June, to ease the transition. We all lost a dear friend to a sudden aneurysm just days before my departure, which was wrenching beyond words, and a bit ironic as well. I had moved to Florida during a time of immense grief, mourning the unexpected death of my young niece.

To counter that memory, I very intentionally planned to say good-bye to Florida slowly, to give myself time to appreciate all the things I’d come to love about my adopted home. I had this serene, graceful exit all built up in my head—but once again, I left one state for another with a broken heart.

I limped into Austin feeling more fragile than expected. And the town isn’t quite how I left it, that’s for sure. I didn’t know where I’d fit in.

For the time being, I’m living with Mom, though I have already zeroed in on a nearby apartment complex where I’ll move this fall (halfway between my sister’s house and my mom’s condo!). Meanwhile, we are compatible roomies, while I make sure everything is as good with my 86-year-old mom as I think it is. I say we’re roomies, but between her trips out of town and the numerous dog sitting jobs I’ve already worked (and booked for the future), we’re apart more than I thought we’d be.

A quick trip to Padre Island in mid-June to celebrate Mom’s birthday was the perfect time for the moving company to call and try to deliver my furniture from Florida, so that was annoying. I had to wait an additional eight days before they sent another truck, but what are you gonna do? Finally everything arrived and has now been wedged into tiny storage units, joining the gang o’ stuff already hanging out at Braker Storage since the sale of my house last October.

Have I said how nice it’ll be to have my own place when I can unpack everything all at once? Well, it will.

Meanwhile, I started calling friends and getting back in touch with Austin peeps. It wasn’t long before I remembered why I love this place: the people. It does my heart such good to see the faces of friends after so many years apart, and still find so many shared interests, so much to laugh and talk about, such enthusiasm for time together. I feel … nourished.

And I’ve already received a couple of invitations to speak to groups about “Kiss and Tell,” so that’s exciting. Austin has a great demographic for the book and I look forward to marketing here. (I’ll blog about those appearances once they occur.)

Headache-wise, the Topamax is still effective, although I believe the stress of the move and my friend’s death increased the number of my migraines in May and June. I’m doing better now that I’ve settled in and am creating a routine at Mom’s. I can’t report only two headaches a month like I could back in January and February, but I’m hopeful I can get there again.

Part of the problem may be that, with my neurologist’s permission, I dropped from 125 mg. to 100 mg of Topamax at the beginning of May. Of course, I didn’t know then what a stressful time it would turn out to be. I asked if I could reduce the dosage because I was dropping too much weight and developing a food aversion. Eating felt like a true chore, something I almost dreaded. I knew that was dangerous.

My neurologist thought I could drop the dosage and still get a good effect with 100 mg. In addition, he felt the tension in my neck was reduced enough that I could cease getting Botox injections there (after four years). Needless to say, I was happy with that visit to his office!

Which reminds me, I need to find a really great migraine specialist here in Austin. That’s going to be hard. I’ll be comparing him to the BEST guy in West Palm. Dr. Winner was AWESOME.

Sigh. There are a lot of folks I miss back in Paradise.

I guess in some ways my heart will always be in two places. I’m going to have to get used to that.

 

 

 

 

The best drug so far

February 28, 2014

Though ironically I’ve been fighting aura from a migraine for most of the day, I’d already decided to update my blog today with all the good news in headache land.

Quick stats: 2 migraines in Jan; 2 in Feb! In 10 years, I don’t believe I’ve ever put together such a headache-light period!

I give a lot of credit to the Topamax (known by the common nickname Dopamax for its tendency to render users a bit slow to focus and make word choices) which I began taking in August. When I asked my neurologist if the Topamax could have taken this many months to kick in and be effective, he said absolutely.

If you know me, you know I don’t rely on just one protocol to treat the misery of my migraines. I’ve also tried everything from reflexology to acupuncture to diet, pills and things like eating ice cream or soaking my feet in very hot water when I feel a migraine coming on. (Don’t knock it! Sometimes these off-the-wall things do work. And believe me, people tell me new ideas all the time!)

I’ve been getting Botox shots in my neck and trigeminal nerve area every three months for four years to treat the migraines as well. Migraines usually start at the base of the skull, so keeping the neck area from going into spasm is crucial. I’ve also lately had a few neck massages by a very gifted masseuse, and I think that has helped immensely.

The side effects from the Topamax have unfortunately been quite pronounced for me. I suffered from severe depression for six weeks, which only very slowly tapered off. I was barely functional for a while, but finally my body chemistry got accustomed to the drug. It took several months, however. I’d say I’ve only just now—after six months—approached my pre-Topamax mood level.

And I definitely “lose words” or whatever you choose to call it, especially when I really want to sound smart or impress someone. I can always count on floundering at those moments.

Plus there’s the whole “loss of appetite” syndrome. Which is the most common side effect of Topamax and the one every woman I know immediately asks if they could please borrow. But I have to say I miss the enjoyment of eating. I seem to have stabilized now at a loss of 12 or so pounds, but my appetite isn’t coming back at all yet.

First off, I lost the taste for my beloved Dr Pepper. I think the caramel flavoring in it is what tasted bad. But I definitely had to give it up. The only soft drink I can handle now is Sprite or ginger ale. Mostly I drink water or tea.

Here’s what I didn’t realize about losing appetite: It’s a whole slew of things you lose interest in. In addition to not really being hungry, I find I often lack the energy to cook food. When it’s two hours past when I really “ought” to eat, I walk into my kitchen and look around and am unable to find anything at all that piques my taste buds enough to motivate me into preparation mode. If I do find something to prepare (hurrah!), once I sit down to eat, I find that after a few bites, I either feel full or I’m just sort of force feeding myself. All the pleasure has drained away and I feel no hunger or gratification in what I’m doing.

It really is the weirdest thing. And when I’m shopping for food, all of this knowledge comes back to me, and I find it difficult to spend money on groceries, because I envision all this unsatisfactory eating, and so then I end up with not enough food in the house to tempt me the next time I’m looking for food to prepare.

See? Loss of appetite is more complicated than you thought, right? Believe me, it’s way more complicated than I thought too.

Which is why I’ve been going out to eat a little more often lately. I’m trying to order off menus and tempt my picky palate that way. However, I can see I have serious work to do in the whole appetite building arena. I ordered chicken wings for lunch the other day and the smallest amount you could order was five. I had eaten a little bit of fish dip that we’d ordered as an appetizer for the table. Even so, it was sort of ridiculous when I realized I could only eat three of the chicken wings. I took the other two home to have for dinner. Sheesh.

I’m not trying to whine inappropriately about this, especially when weight loss is so difficult for many. (I’ve struggled with it myself and know how challenging it is.) I’m just trying to put in perspective the balancing act that’s necessary for those of us who struggle with migraines. There are giant compromises we make with these powerful drugs we use to prevent the migraines from taking over our lives.

It’s never an easy choice.

I knew when the depression was so bad at the beginning of my run with Topamax that, if possible, I needed to give the drug a fair shake. The other two preventives I’ve taken (Lyrica and Depacote) were each part of my life for about two years. (Interestingly, I gained weight on both of those drugs.) I am now wondering what two years on Topamax might look like. And how long this disinterest in food is going to last. Will it eventually get back to normal, like my depression slowly went away?

Fortunately, I do still love ice cream! Almost every night I have a bowl of Blue Bell vanilla bean ice cream with a banana cut up and a little bit of chocolate syrup on top. I look forward to it all day long.

Clearly, Topamax is not more powerful than Blue Bell.

Praise be!

How do you measure success?

February 23, 2014

When Dr. Whelihan and I decided to invest in a PR agency to help us publicize “Kiss and Tell” late last year, we knew it was a gamble. But in the end, I realized I didn’t want to look back and regret not believing in our book, not trusting that we had a solid, well-executed product worth standing behind.

So we signed a four-month contract (the minimum) and held our breath.

The results have been gratifying: Multiple TV, radio and magazine appearances in enviable markets, from Miami to San Diego. InsiderMedia Management has delivered plenty of “media hits” as they’re called in the business, for both Dr. Whelihan and myself. We’ve been kept busy on various local and far-flung talk-show sets chatting about how to keep the passion alive in relationships, always mentioning our book, our research and how to get your hands on your own copy. Naturally, I wish The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal had responded to the press packets IMM sent them, but I certainly can’t complain about the way the company has handled “Kiss and Tell.”

What none of us predicted was that all the increased television media hasn’t moved the needle on actual book sales—which has baffled us all. For sheer volume of sales, what works best is to tell people we’re going to talk in person about “Kiss and Tell,” hold an event, then sell and sign books afterward. For whatever reason, seeing us talk about the book on the small screen doesn’t have the same effect, though there would have been no way of knowing this in advance, naturally.

And so as we come down to the final month of our contract, how do I feel?

Older and wiser, surely.

Poorer, certainly. A PR company is expensive, and obviously, we hoped our gamble would pay off monetarily. It definitely did not.

And disappointed too. It would have been oh-so-nice to sell a warehouse full of books.

But I also feel strangely satisfied. And peaceful. I like that a lot of people now know about “Kiss and Tell.” The guy at the catering truck I frequent said “I saw you on TV!” the other day, and his helper followed me back to my car to buy a copy of the book and ask me a couple of questions.

Thousands of people in San Antonio, Austin, Fort Lauderdale and San Diego saw Dr. Whelihan or I talking about the women who told their stories of desire for “Kiss and Tell.” That feels right to me. It feels right that the work I spent so long on is finally being heard by more than just a few hundred people. That the dissemination of the information is much wider. I can’t help but feel satisfied by that. Even if people aren’t fascinated enough to buy a book.

I’m honestly surprised that more people don’t want the whole story. It’s weird to me that people aren’t a little more curious to peek into the bedrooms of these women who opened the doors to them and spilled all this personal information about desire. God knows I was curious. I learned so much and was deeply fascinated by their candor and breadth of experience.

But these days everyone has so much else going on in their lives. Being involved in the world of publicity has made me attuned to the fierce competition for people’s attention today. It is relentless and wearying, I must say. I often have conflicted feelings about being a part of it. I imagine anyone who has a product or service to sell must feel the same. It’s a difficult line to walk.

With one month left on our contract with IMM, we are shifting to focus on increased personal appearances, and pitching magazines and print media on some Mother’s Day ideas. It has been fantastic having a partnership with an organization that is devoted to seeing that “Kiss and Tell” is seen and appreciated out in the wider world. When you are self-published, it can feel like you are all alone in the wilderness, and tooting your own horn feels horribly self-centered after a while.

With the help of IMM, “Kiss and Tell’s” resume is now pretty much of an all-star affair, if I do say so myself. We have fancy credentials we wouldn’t have been able to garner on our own.

And that makes me proud.

So I guess that’s the strongest emotion I feel coming out of this period: Pride.

For me and TV, third time was the charm

January 19, 2014

Far wiser people than me have uttered these words, but allow me to reiterate: Be careful what you wish for.

Two months ago, with the hope of raising “Kiss and Tell’s” profile, Dr. Whelihan and I hired a public relations firm, which has led to me making three television appearances and realizing that while I do want “Kiss and Tell” to be famous, I do not actually want to be famous.

Back before “Kiss and Tell” was published, I naturally dreamed about it being a best seller. I confess to fantasizing about chatting with Oprah about all that I’d learned from the women I met while writing the book. In such fantasies I was relaxed and coherent.

I now know the reality of television bears little resemblance to my fantasies.

Dr. Whelihan appears on TV every month for a segment about sexual health on “Charlotte Today” and she makes it look incredibly easy. Because I am an extrovert and enjoy speaking publicly about “Kiss and Tell,” I was unprepared for how truly terrified I was when our PR agency notified me of an opportunity to appear in Miami on NBC’s “6 in the Mix.”

I was in Lake Wales visiting friends when I got the call. Unfortunately I’d just arrived for a 4-day visit, so I had to cut our time together short and drive back to West Palm that night, then get up early and drive to Boca Raton the next morning, where the agency’s media coach Chris worked with me for an hour before taking me to Miami for the 11:30 a.m. live show.

I was profoundly grateful for all the tips Chris gave me (ignore the camera and have a conversation with just the host; keep your comments simple; when in doubt, keep quiet and let the host fill in, etc), but nothing really prepared me for the panic I felt sitting in the lobby of the news building waiting for the producer to fetch us. It rose and fell several times, complete with rapid heartbeat and a practically debilitating sense of dread.

I calmed my breathing when I got on the set, but I only had 30 seconds to visit with the host before we went live, and during those 30 seconds a producer was counting down the seconds in the background. It was NOT calming. My performance was merely adequate, but over quickly and I was profoundly relieved.

I figured Dr. Whelihan would do all the rest of the TV, and indeed she did the next taping our PR agency secured for us. But InsiderMedia is very good at their job, and since both Dr. Whelihan and I were traveling at Christmas time, the agency was seeking bookings for us in the cities we were visiting.

And thus, on the way to Austin for the holidays, all wrapped up in Christmas cheer, I get a text during my Atlanta layover asking if I am available five days later to tape a segment at the Fox-affiliated station in Austin.

My heart fell because I knew my coach wouldn’t be there to quell my fears. But I quickly rallied enough to think positive, and for the next five days I concentrated on not panicking and just rehearsing what I might say to surprising questions about “Kiss and Tell.” (InsiderMedia marketed us over the holidays by pitching us as experts in how to keep your sex life active during the busy and stressful holiday season). By Monday morning I was ready, if nervous.

My friend Dianne accompanied me to steady my nerves, thank goodness. This time the segment was taped, not live, but it feels the same. You get the feeling no one wants to stop the cameras and I was still terrified to make a mistake. The two hosts and I took about a minute to talk before the taping began, and we had a good chat. But then they opened with an extremely general question we didn’t discuss—and I was stumped. D’oh.

Helpful people later informed me that I might do what politicians do and just answer whatever question I want. You know, control the interview. This assumes that I am not so scared that I can barely think. There’s a reason for that phrase about freezing in front of the camera, people. It’s real. I have thought about why it happens and I don’t really understand it. I wish I did.

When I speak to groups of people and I say something wrong, I never worry. I just correct myself and move on. But something about having that mistake recorded for all time makes you not want to say anything at all. You are so sure you’ll say something dumb that you’re struck silent.

Anyway, I did OK in Austin after I recovered from that initial question. But my mouth got so dry that my lips stuck to my teeth, so that was unsettling. Dianne said it wasn’t noticeable but I was afraid I was going to have to unstick my lips and teeth with my fingers! Classy, no?

The station aired the segment about four days later; I watched it once and didn’t want to view it again. It made my stomach feel squirmy to watch. I could see that I didn’t seem relaxed, but didn’t know how to fix it as long as I was too scared and insecure during the filming process to think clearly.

Meanwhile, Dr. Whelihan had been booked for a similar segment in Charlotte, N.C., where she was spending the holidays, and I watched her clip on Facebook. She completely nailed the interview and seemed totally at ease in every way, bantering with the host and chatting breezily off script about any and everything.

I was so frustrated over performing badly, and further annoyed for being unable to control my emotions and physical response on camera. Happily, Dr. Whelihan called the next day and gave me a pep talk, reminding me that she had been doing television work for 15 years now in one form or another, and had done taped work for 10 years before she ever had to go live.

“Lighten up, girl,” she said. “We’re our own worst critics.”

I really appreciated the support. I took a deep breath and decided to just relax into the rest of my vacation.

The next day the PR agency called to say a San Antonio TV station (an hour and a half away) wanted to have me on four days later. Was I available?

To tell the truth, I almost said no.

It was an early morning show in an unfamiliar city . . . and I knew I’d have to endure another four days of panic. My mom had just come down with the flu, I didn’t think anyone in my family could drive with me to San Antonio and I was just flat out tired of being scared.

But you don’t hire a PR agency and then turn down the bookings they find for you. I said yes.

And in fact, my subsequent panic was so bad that over the next few days I occasionally took a Xanax, just to get a break from the anxiety. Sure, I was discouraged by my reaction, but I was trying to adjust to the fact that TV appearances might be part of my life for a little while. I knew I had to figure out how to handle them more effectively.

Fortunately my sister Joan made the sacrifice to set her alarm for 5 a.m. to go down to San Antonio with me for the live show. (Yes, another live show!) I can’t imagine what a basket case I’d have been trying to make that drive on I-35 alone. We arrived a little early and set up camp in the green room. (That’s what TV stations call the room where guests wait to be called to the set.)

And there in the green room I had a little epiphany. I suddenly realized that I was the expert on the subject of women’s desire and I needed to stop allowing the circumstances surrounding TV studios to intimidate me. Somehow I needed to relax and just find a way to share my expertise.

I had taken a Xanax that morning, to get my physical symptoms of anxiety out of the way, and I felt fairly calm. Then the producer of “San Antonio Living” came in and told me they wanted me to stay on after my segment and talk on air with the host, Shelly Miles, about the questions they had received on Facebook that morning. I knew I was doing better than usual when that news didn’t phase me.

Soon after, they called me to the set. Joan came along to snap a few photos. I liked their set up, because we sat at a tall table instead of on couches, and I could see a screen that showed when I was—and wasn’t—on camera. So when I wasn’t shown, it was like being on recess. I could lick my lips, push my hair back or just relax and breathe without feeling self-conscious. The whole scenario felt much more relaxed because of those couple of things.

Shelly asked me the first question and I had the answer. And just like that, everything was fine. I liked her, she seemed engaged by what I said, I didn’t feel intimidated—and things just took off. We were on for 10 minutes! During the break she told me a question she wanted to ask, but it wasn’t something that fed into anything I had insight about. So I found the courage to suggest something else. Which she liked! She immediately picked up on it and fed into it seamlessly as soon as we came back from commercial break. How those TV folks can do that so effortlessly is beyond me.

Needless to say, it was by far my most successful appearance. Plus, the book was featured throughout, and at the end Shelly mentioned our website, www.KissAndTellBook.com so that was extremely encouraging.

When it was over, I was euphoric. I felt like I’d overcome a huge obstacle. Joan and I walked along the Riverwalk for a little while and stopped for a breakfast of chocolate milk and a blueberry muffin. I was chattering with happiness. I told Joan I would likely experience nervousness at future television appearances, but that at least now I had a positive encounter to lean on and think about when going into such endeavors. And knowing I could do well would build my confidence.

As it turns out, this is extremely helpful to me today, since tomorrow I am heading over to WPTV, here in West Palm Beach, to tape a segment that will air locally during the week of Valentine’s Day. Yes!

And the same afternoon I go to Fort Lauderdale to appear on a new talk show about relationships titled—I kid you not—”Get Some.” I don’t know any more about it than that because it’s a new show. (I have to say that “Kiss and Tell” might just be the perfect book to be featured on such a show. I’ll get back to you on that.)

I firmly believe my success on the San Antonio show has enabled me to face tomorrow’s tapings without dread. Granted, I’m not exactly jumping up and down with eagerness, but I’m not panicked and I haven’t had to take any Xanax.

I admit, I’m still a long way from being the Oprah-ready author I was in those daydreams I had a short while ago!

What’s up on Thanksgiving

November 28, 2013

I began my Thanksgiving with chilly morning walks for Sadie and Dexter, elegant standard poodles who require separate outings, thank you very much.

Their owners asked that I walk them one at a time, which I strongly prefer anyway. I find that two dogs, two leashes, multiple distractions and however many poop bags I end up with can lead to more confusion than I care to handle.

Also, I discovered during Sadie’s first walk that she enjoys barking and mildly lunging at any dog she encounters along the way. Since Sadie is 13 years old, and since I will be with her for just one week, I harbor no illusions about my ability to break her of this particular habit during our time together.

Fortunately it’s a very quiet neighborhood, and in three days we’ve only seen two dogs, so it’s hardly an issue. Both dogs are very sweet and docile all day long, though Sadie’s mischievous nature extends to a trick I’ve only heard about but never seen up till now—and that is grabbing the end of the toilet paper roll and pulling it out. Actually, I haven’t caught her doing it, though I think that would be funny. I’ve only seen the results, about 12 feet worth of toilet paper laid out across the bathroom floor in a perfect line. It’s pretty hilarious to find when you think you’re alone in a house.

Needless to say, I am thankful to be in the company of two entertaining, four-legged clowns this Thanksgiving. I’m preparing a dish to take to some friends’ home for a big dinner later this afternoon. Although it’s tempting, I won’t load up Sadie and Dexter to bring along, since my friends have a giant mastiff, and although all three dogs are good as gold, I don’t care to take chances that someone will get their nose out of joint.

When last I blogged, Dr. Mo and I were wrestling with the question of whether to sign a contract with a public relations firm to represent “Kiss and Tell.” After nine months, I feel like I’ve done about 75 percent of what I know how to do to market the book, so seeking help makes sense. We researched some other firms and asked dozens of people for their opinion. Honestly, there was a lot of disagreement. Plenty of people said DO NOT DO IT. And lots of people said THIS IS YOUR SHOT; DO IT.

We realized it was going to be a gamble. After much soul-searching, we threw the dice and decided to bet on “Kiss and Tell.” We signed a four-month contract last week with InsiderMedia out of Boca Raton. Already I’ve seen the difference, which is encouraging. A magazine in Fort Lauderdale needs a high-res photo of our cover for an article they want to do about us for Valentine’s Day; I wrote a 1,000-word blog yesterday for a relationship site; we did some fine-tuning on our website and Facebook page; and Dr. Mo wrote some tips on sustaining desire during the holidays for the company to use during marketing. I’m sure there’s much more to come.

The best thing for me is that the momentum of my life seems to have picked up, and that is a definite positive. When the Topamax made me so sick in August, I did pull out of it, but I don’t feel I’ve fully regained my normal energy or motivation. (Faithful blog readers will recall I started the Topamax in late summer as a migraine preventive, and immediately slid into a nasty six-week depression.)

Anyway, having the structure and contact of a relationship with a PR firm seems to be helpful for me at this stage, so that’s another thing to be thankful for on this particular day. I’m thankful as well for a few weeks at home here in sunny West Palm, although I thoroughly enjoyed a three-day trip to Charlotte, N.C. with Dr. Mo earlier this month for a book signing at Park Road Books. While there, I also watched the doctor at her professional best as she taped her live segment for “Charlotte Today,” a spot she does every month for the NBC affiliate.

Also in November I visited my former roommate, who moved to Cleveland about four years ago and took a job in a marketing department of a large law firm. A girlfriend from Austin flew in as well and we made it one of those fabulous girls’ weekends you never want to see end. Wonderful pubs and restaurants, the West End Market, Great Lakes Science Center and shopping at Crocker Park.

And, oh yes, cocktail hour with her parents.

My friend’s parents adhere to this quaint little tradition called cocktail hour. Like you see on “Mad Men.” Something I heard about but never experienced growing up in Richardson, Texas. Complete with ice bucket, olives, delectable snacks, napkins, drinks. Everything else gets put on hold. People sit down. Chat. Sip a drink. Have a little something to eat. Talk over the day’s events. Relax. Think about dinner.

It’s incredibly civilized. I could definitely fall in love with the whole ritual.

My vacation euphoria let my senses override what I know for certain: For me, alcohol equals a migraine. After my first (very moderate) cocktail hour, I woke up with a migraine, so I gave up the practice the day after I started it. I drank ginger ale on subsequent days, along with fancy snacks on cocktail napkins and a bit of sophisticated conversation. I am sad to report it wasn’t the same. I mourn my inability to imbibe, but I assume my long-range health (insert giant yawn here) will benefit. Sigh.

So that’s it. A Thanksgiving report, and a very good one overall as you can see. A bit of complaining in the headache department as I am wont to do, but I am definitely grateful for progress on the book front, good friends to be having dinner with, happy dogs here in the house with me, and loving friends and family all year long.

Plus, the chilly day in West Palm has turned bright and sunny, and it’s blown away the heavy humidity. So it is truly glorious outside. Before long it’ll be time to get Sadie and Dexter out for walks again. Happy days!

Mass Marketing

October 19, 2013

The best argument against self-publishing is the simple fact that most writers yearn to write books, not market books.

I’m glad Dr. Whelihan and I went the self-publishing route, and we’ve been amazingly successful getting the word out about  “Kiss and Tell,” but let me assure you that securing media attention and exposure in magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for any book, product or idea these days is very difficult and much more time consuming than people realize.

After a certain number of months thinking about ways to talk to people about the book you’ve written on sexual desire, let’s just say the desire wanes.

I find that half my time is spent just trying to ferret out the correct contact people at media organizations to pitch to. That’s half the battle right there, because there’s no point mailing your product into a black hole. Even with my former newspaper experience, I struggle with this all the time.

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw that “Kiss and Tell” had finally cracked a national magazine. Yep. The Aug. 26 edition of Publishers Weekly carried not only a description of our book, but also a thumbnail of the cover. Since only a few covers per page were used, I chose to be complimented that we were among those selected.

But how do you break into more of those larger markets/audiences and therefore increased sales? What I’ve had lots of practice at is speaking with 20-50 people about my topic and connecting with them one on one. I love signing books and chatting afterward with audience members, hearing their stories and feeling that bond. I’ve talked to groups as large as 140, but I don’t have a famous name that gathers many more people than that to a venue.

What I need is a TV audience, right?

So . . . speaking of TV audiences . . . a PR firm approached Dr. Whelihan and I about representing us and they happen to have a lot of contacts in broadcast media, which is a good fit for us, since we’ve already done a pretty good job pitching the book to local print media. I’m shocked by how expensive it is to secure their services though—more than a couple thousand dollars a month!

But when I look at how difficult it is to attract anyone’s attention in today’s society, and I look at the competition out there from both professionals and amateurs (and I assess how hard we’ve been working already to do this exact thing), I’m wondering if maybe it isn’t time to bring in some help.

It’s not as if I’ve stopped my own marketing efforts. Far from it. When Miley Cyrus made her ridiculous remarks last week on “The Today Show” about how people over 40 lose interest in sex, one of “Kiss and Tell’s” local fans took to Kathie Lee and Hoda’s website to tell the two morning show hosts to read my book and learn first-hand what women of a certain age were saying about their sex lives.

So I quickly dropped a copy of the book in the mail to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, along with a two-pack of Oral-B Pulsar toothbrushes and a cute note for Hoda and Kathie Lee. (I did the same for Dr. Oz when he visited West Palm three months ago.) My fingers are crossed. But you can’t count on lightning to strike. You can hope, but you have to drop a lot of lines in the water to hook one of these talk show personalities. Everyone is trying to get their attention.

So what do you guys think? Is it worth the gamble to spend money that could boost sales? The PR company loves the idea of pitching sex to Florida’s morning talk shows. They are more accustomed to difficult topics such as stamp collecting (seriously) and are thrilled at the prospect of what they consider an easy sell. I’m thinking there’s a good chance we could justify the investment, but I’m nervous, naturally. Reader input welcome!

Meanwhile, I’m packing for a trip to Austin. I leave in two days and am looking forward to several book signing events, meetings with friends old and new, family time and fall weather.

Color me thrilled.

The long wait for medication to kick in

September 29, 2013

I began a new migraine preventive almost two months ago and—to put it mildly—it didn’t work at first.

(And yes, I am simultaneously working on a blog to update readers with “Kiss and Tell” news, but as it turns out, when life kicks your butt with health issues, you pretty much end up being forced to put them first. So let’s get those out of the way first and then I’ll fill in the missing pieces of the book tour summer.)

Let me hasten to add that most of the migraine preventives out there don’t work right away. They are powerful drugs that must be introduced to your system gradually and have long laundry lists of side effects. But if they work, they are worth the trouble. I began my Topamax regime at 25 mgs. nightly for a week; then 50, then 75 and finally to 100. My neurologist said if I got too sleepy or had trouble adjusting to any level for whatever reason, to stick there for a while before jumping up to the next dosage.

One month in, at the end of August, I was miserable. My migraine chart showed seven headaches for the month, and one had lasted multiple days. That is not a good month, friends. Only two other months this year have been as bad. (Yes, I keep records. Thank you oh-so-much, obsessive-compulsive tendencies.)

I knew one month wasn’t a long enough trial period for the medication, but I was in despair over my pathetic situation. In addition to all the days of painful headaches, the drug was causing some of the predicted focus problems, plus I occasionally felt very disconnected and drift-y. Since I live alone and don’t have a person that regularly fastens me back to Earth so to speak, this became an issue. My appetite decreased and I never felt like cooking because nothing ever sounded good to eat, probably due to the distinct metallic taste in my mouth. I even lost the craving for my beloved Dr Pepper; never would have believed it.

I tried to keep exercising, but it was a struggle. I started visiting a neighborhood juice bar for healthy smoothies because meals felt like too much of a chore. A friend told me she noticed the circles under my eyes looked like bruises, so I knew I needed more sleep. I felt more depressed every day, like I just couldn’t keep up with the self-care treadmill.

At the beginning of September, I told a friend I was prepared to shoulder a second month of “adjustment period blues” but fortunately she was thinking more clearly than I: She admonished me to call the doctor for advice. D’oh.

He recommended I up my dosage from 100 to 125 mgs.

Though I continued struggling for another couple of weeks, the weirdest thing happened shortly after I upped the dosage. It was so abrupt that I went back and checked my calendar. At 6 1/2 weeks after I began taking Topamax, I woke up one morning and suddenly felt clear again. The fogginess that had crept in, and the tendency of my thoughts to kind of drift off down side roads was abruptly gone. I regained my productivity and felt grounded and engaged in what was right in front of me. And having that clarity restored made me realize just how far afield I had drifted.

And here’s the miracle: With the Topamax dosage at 125 mgs., we’d found the dosage—for me—that pushed the migraines back.

For how long is anyone’s guess. I’ve been in the business of waging war on my headaches for almost two decades, and I know nothing lasts forever. But September will be over tomorrow, and this month has hosted only TWO migraines. Up till now, February was the month this year with the fewest migraines—and I had four that month—so a month with just two is pretty much heaven for me. A super month like this reminds me of how amazing a migraine-free life can be.

It was only two weeks ago that I shook off the Topamax fog, with its depressive tentacles and nasty, isolating tendencies. It’s tricky to know what part the chemicals played in final analysis, because fogginess made it all, you know, foggy (which is why I was not blogging or even Facebooking or doing much of anything, honestly). All I know is the end result is positive.

It makes sense to me that my body chemistry had to assimilate the drug over a period of time. For now, the combination is working very well. My pharmacist told me there is a good reason doctors start Topamax at small doses; many people have adjustment issues. I’m interested now to hear what my neurologist has to say when I relate my experiences during my appointment next month.

For now, I’m just grateful to be waking up day after day with no migraine aura.

For my money, that’s a miracle.

Hello migraines, my old friend

August 2, 2013

The melody to “The Sound of Silence” keeps running through my head lately, along with these unwelcome words. Yep, it’s been a bad few months in migraine land.

The truth of my life is that no matter what else happens—from everyday activities such as grocery shopping and attending book club to the big ones, like starting a job or taking a vacation or even attending a funeral—I have to factor in migraine headaches.

When I first began getting the headaches, around age 40, I would usually become aware of them late in the afternoon, driving home from work perhaps. I couldn’t figure out why my head felt like it was splitting open behind my left eye and why the highway lights seemed so bright and annoying. When I told my sister that one night I had thrown up at the gate to my house before I made it home, she calmly informed me that if my headaches were making me vomit, they were migraines.

Point taken.

And diagnosis eventually confirmed.

That was almost two decades (and a hundred sure-fire cures) ago. These days, I tend to wake up with my migraines. They seem to gather strength overnight, and I usually know within 30 minutes of waking if I’m going to need a triptan (a $30 pill by the way) or if I can hold back the full-blown version of the headache with a couple of over-the-counter Excedrin Migraines.

Last month, for the first time, the pain of a migraine that formed overnight woke me at 4 a.m. I was in Texas for two book signings, sleeping at my Mom’s house. I actually had a dream that I had a migraine and then the dream turned real and I became aware that the pain wasn’t imaginary. I got up, fumbled in the dark trying to remember where I had packed my triptans, eventually got one down, and fell back into bed. NOT a good way to start a day, let me assure you.

But this is my life. People get used to their own private hells, I find. Everyone is bearing a cross. I’ve been emailing a friend of a friend who also struggles with migraines, comparing notes on which meds are effective preventives and which ones have side effects too dicey or too incompatible with our lives to risk. I used Lyrica for more than two years with pretty good results; in fact I occasionally went for an entire month without a migraine, but I gained weight and lost hair, so I didn’t care to stay on it indefinitely. When I slowly came off it, about four months ago, sure enough, my migraine count went back up, to 6 or 7 per month (with several of them turning into multi-day events).

My correspondent wrote that she had good luck with Propranalol for several years, so when I went for my Botox treatments this week, I asked my neurologist about it. (Yes, I get Botox shots in my neck, temples and hairline every three months to control the migraine pain. My Aetna plan covers most of the cost and thank goodness. The shots have definitely helped reduce the pain and frequency.)

Anyway, my doctor isn’t a fan of Propranalol. It’s an older drug and he says Topamax has pretty much replaced it. The downside to Topamax is that it can interfere with cognition and focus, causing patients to lose word choice and such. Apparently, its nickname is Dope-amax, which is hardly encouraging.

When I worked at the newspaper and wrote stories every day, my doctor didn’t think it was a good choice for me, and I agreed. Writing—for me—requires 100 percent focus. I have to be on my game. But I am writing much less frequently now, and the occasional speeches I give (where losing focus would be most unwelcome) are an activity I’m becoming very comfortable with. So I was willing to risk it.

Topamax it is.

The spaciness many people feel when they start taking the drug dissipates for most. One friend who began taking it about 15 months ago confirms this. I watched her closely at the time and didn’t detect any dopiness; I was doing covert research in case it was ever my turn. She’s gone from 3-4 headaches a week to 3-5 a month, which she said changed her life.

So now it’s my turn. Naturally I’m hoping for a vastly positive result, but after all the things I’ve tried, I’m being realistic. I’m also watching out for other side effects such as vision problems and dizziness. Also, some people don’t sweat normally on Topamax. Odd, yes?

Another common side effect is weight loss, though I doubt I’m lucky enough to score that one. My neurologist says soft drinks lose their appeal because of the metallic taste Topamax leaves in your mouth, and that contributes to people’s weight loss. I DO love my morning Dr Pepper; can’t imagine losing my taste for that, but we’ll see. My girlfriend who showed no signs of dopiness did actually lose some weight.

Last night I took my first 25 mg. tablet. It’s a slow build-up to either 75 mg or perhaps 100 mg. and the whole process takes at least a month. If I allow myself the luxury of the fantasy, I can recall what it’s like to have entire migraine-free months. That would be SO amazing.

Fingers and toes crossed. I’m going to think positive!

Managing expectations

July 13, 2013

The traveling that’s required to market “Kiss and Tell” has provided me with plenty of excuses for not keeping up with my blog. Granted, none of the excuses are good ones, but they are new. So they have effectively soothed the guilt over my month-long lapse.

I’d have been better off blogging every other day, because then I could perhaps capture the shifting moods and perceptions I’ve undergone concerning this whole marketing process. Why is it that no matter how people warn you of what’s ahead, we always manage to think our experience will be different, manageable and entirely in sync with the scenario we’ve resolutely constructed in our mind?

Or is it just me who does that?

After the solitude of the writing experience, I was more than ready for the public aspects of book selling. And I have enjoyed every chance I’ve had this summer to put “Kiss and Tell” in front of readers and share what I learned from the amazing women who became the characters for the book.

But the cost of traveling (which I’ve done very cheaply) adds up, especially when you combine gas, airline and hotel expenses with the fees associated with book store appearances (many have a community room fee of $100 to $250) and the occasional buy-back costs that kick in if you overestimate how many books might be sold in one night.  It’s hard. You want to think positive before an event, but if you are too optimistic, you’ll get hit with a hefty price tag buying back your own books—at retail, not wholesale.

Actually, that only occurred at the Barnes & Noble signing I arranged in Phoenix. All the independent stores I’ve dealt with have just relied on me to mail them our self-published books from my CreateSpace account. And after those events, excess books are just mailed back to me in South Florida.

But because “Kiss and Tell” is considered non-returnable, Barnes & Noble stores basically don’t want anything to do with us. The manager at the Phoenix store was just a really great guy who decided to take a chance on me because I walked into his store cold turkey and won him over.

I’ve since taken steps to address this non-returnable handicap, especially after I spoke with a representative of Barnes & Noble’s small press department in New York. A while back I sent B&N corporate a letter asking if they’d stock “Kiss and Tell” but got a rejection form letter in return. Basically the message was: “Of course you want us to carry your book; we’re great. But it’s unrealistic because there are too many self-published titles out there and 90 percent of them sell 100 copies or fewer, mostly to friends and family.”

Wow. Thanks.

I’m guessing whoever opened the mail didn’t read the synopsis I sent or the press clippings or the sales info, which indicated we’d already sold about 8 times as many books as the typical self-published book.

So, I got on my high horse and wrote a second letter asking them to reconsider, and to tell me what kind of sales figures we’d have to achieve for them to add us to their shelves.

And that’s when the B&N rep called from New York. She said our book already had enough sales and that B&N would definitely stock “Kiss and Tell” but for the fact that it’s classified as non-returnable, and warehouse-wise and storage-wise and inventory-wise it’s apparently impossible for Barnes & Nobles to order non-returnable books.

So I called my wonderful book designer Brion Sausser to find out if we could change this and he did some digging and said YES! Per his instruction, I’ve contacted my representative at Lightning Source (which we joined back when the book debuted) and supposedly it’s a doable change. CreateSpace can’t make it happen, but Lightning Source can. Why this is, I cannot tell you. When I figure it out, I’ll share.

Meanwhile, I’m now preparing for Texas book events in Austin (July 19) and Houston (July 22). The two Phoenix events were great, although the one at Changing Hands drew lots more people than the one at Barnes & Noble. Yes, it was 112 degrees the day of the B&N event, and there were lots of high school graduations in the area that day, but still . . .  those are just excuses. I can’t tell you definitely why one event gets more turnout than another. I can just tell you that for each event I try to spread the word as best I can.

But as I alluded to at this blog’s start, keeping one’s spirits up 24/7 while one “spreads the word” is far harder than I expected it to be. I’ll circle back around on that complicated process in a future blog.

To give you a taste of the back-to-back travel I’ve been indulging in this summer, allow me to note that I flew straight from Phoenix to Grand Rapids, Mich., to spend a week with my sisters and Mom to celebrate her 85th birthday. The morning after I returned to West Palm from Michigan, I drove to Boynton Beach for a weekend dog sitting job, which meant that when it ended, I had just two days back in my condo to pack for a road trip with my cycling buddy to St. Louis and Cape Girardeau. (We were looking for fun and adventure and also some book selling opportunities along the way.)

We pulled out in his van on June 24th, and I flew home from St. Louis on July 2. Three days later I started a week-long dog sitting job that ended the same day I started a pet sitting job in the house I’m in right now. It ends Monday and on Wednesday I fly to Texas for 10 days. Two days after I return to Florida, I start the first of four August pet-sitting gigs (including one in Key Largo! Woot!)

I adore traveling; during the time I was writing “Kiss and Tell” I deeply missed the excitement and joy it brings me. But not surprisingly, I feel a bit unmoored these days, ping ponging from place to place, taking in new faces and experiences, but lacking the time to process and absorb lessons along the way.

With so little time spent in ordinary pursuits at my familiar home base, I sometimes catch myself wondering “Now, who are you again?”

Fifty Shades of Green

May 30, 2013

Don’t you love it?

That’s the title Sami and Joe and I came up with for our North Carolina trip earlier this month. Take the beautiful Smoky Mountains, garnish them with spectacular spring weather and a bumper crop of wildflowers, and season with a small bit of business for my sex-themed book “Kiss and Tell.”

Voila! The Fifty Shades of Green moniker emerged.

Though I’ve visited the Smokies at least three times previously, I’m guessing it’s been a couple of decades since the last time. Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed by the reintroduction. The landscape was SO lush; the mountains so perfectly blue in their haze; the ferns and wildflowers so eager to impress us; the waterfalls so glorious. Everywhere I turned I found my eyes tearing up with the sheer beauty they were trying to absorb.

Sami and Joe, my landlords and dear friends, served as the perfect tour guides. Their place on Deep Creek sits about 2 minutes outside the entrance to Smoky Mountain National Park and they know it like their backyard. Day after day we headed into the park to visit their favorite spots: Cade’s Cove, Tom Branch Falls, Clingmans Dome and many more. We hit the tourists’ favorites, of course, but with their expertise, we also traipsed into the woods to stand quietly beside tiny graveyards, hidden away from most visitors. We read each stone, marveling at how many tiny plots we found for the infants who died a century or more ago.

We had a blast hiking through the tunnel that marks the end of the Road to Nowhere, which the government promised to build, but later abandoned. We studied the elaborate graffiti and laughed ghoulish laughs to hear our voices echo around the concrete walls. Good times!

I had arranged a meeting with the community events manager at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, and my hosts were gracious enough to devote one of our vacation days to that pursuit. The drive took a little more than an hour, and was gorgeous, by the way. My pitch for “Kiss and Tell” was well-received, and though it’s too early to pick a date, I was assured of a fall event there. I’m hoping to combine it with appearances in Charlotte and Raleigh, because my book partner, Dr. Maureen Whelihan, is well-known in that area for her monthly appearance as a sexual health expert on Charlotte Today, airing on the local NBC affiliate. With a bit of luck, I’m hoping the doctor’s busy schedule will allow us to appear together for all three of those events.

Our Asheville outing, which included some great shopping and a fabulous lunch, was yet another highlight of this incredible trip. I was able to unplug my “marketing brain,” and spend my time absorbing the beauty and peace of the mountains. On the way home from Asheville, we detoured slightly to include a portion of The Blueridge Parkway, stopping at Waterrock Knob overlook to marvel at the view. One more precious memory to store away for the ages.

When I returned to Florida—on a Sunday evening—I drove straight to a friend’s house for a 10-day dog sitting job (with some of my favorite pups in the world!) I’ve been plugging back in to real life, and mostly trying to secure some media coverage in Phoenix for my upcoming book signings. Since I don’t have the base of friends there that I enjoy in West Palm Beach and Austin, I’m nervous about WHO will come to hear me talk about sex there. I called and emailed radio stations, TV stations and local publications, but don’t feel like I got much traction.

However, I will try many of those contacts again tomorrow when I’m there, with the old “Hi, I’m here now and available to share stories about sexual desire with your listeners/viewers/readers!”

Keep your fingers crossed for me. I finished my dog sitting gig last night, and around lunch time today I catch a flight to Phoenix. While there, I have yet another dog job! (Yes, my side business is booming.) I will be happily ensconced with three gorgeous collies and two Maine coon cats.

I promise to blog from the Southwest and report on whether animals or human have the longest hair in this crowd.


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