Real and Imagined

Essays and Novels by Amy Tatko

Give and Take

Raise your hand if you enjoy asking for help. Yeh, that’s what I thought. Me, too. I feel much better when I am giving than when I am taking. Yet, I am here today to ask for your help yet again.

I need your help (PLEASE POST A REVIEW OF MY NOVEL(S) ON AMAZON!), but first I’d like to give you something: my thoughts about this business of asking for help, and a book recommendation (at the end, so keep reading…).

Knowing when and how to ask for help is an important part of life. I am grateful to two loving and brilliant women for teaching me the value of requesting help.

Years ago, when I was diagnosed with “walking pneumonia,” I did not have the skills (social, emotional, all of it) to ask for help. And anyway, when you tell an active, hands-on, young mother that she has “walking” pneumonia, all she hears is that she ought to be walking around, doing all that she usually does. I got sicker and sicker. One day, when I arrived at my eldest daughter’s Waldorf kindergarten classroom, her wonderful teacher, Libby, took one look at me and asked whether I had help. Libby is infinitely wise and quite direct, and as she looked at me with her no-nonsense question, I started to cry. I knew in that moment that I was really sick—sicker than I had ever been—and that I could not manage everything on my own.

“Amy needs help,” Libby called out to the other parents. “Who can take her girls for the afternoon? Who can make dinner for her family tonight? Who will drive her girls to school tomorrow?”

Libby looked very comfortable as she fired off questions into the crowd of parents gathered in the yard outside the kindergarten room. This was a woman who knew how to find help—and fast. Volunteers stepped forward, one after another. I was astonished to see how easy it was to ask for help and how willing most people were to offer their help at a time of need.

Then Libby looked at me again in that way of hers that nobody argues with and that leaves us in awe of her power and grace. She told me to go home, get into bed, and take care of myself. I did. I was able to because others were helping me by caring for my children. Libby made it all so simple, and I have learned again and again since then that asking for help is indeed simple. The hard part is recognizing and accepting that we need help.

A couple years after the illness that ended with full-fledged pneumonia and two ribs broken from coughing, on a pew at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier I learned more from the wise and wondrous minister Rev. Mara Dowdall about seeking help. Mara now preaches up the road in Burlington, and I still miss and cherish her very dearly. (Amen.) Mara spoke on several occasions about taking care of oneself and finding balance as a spiritual community of individuals who are generally much happier in the role of giver than taker. She taught me how to assess when to say yes and when to say no to requests for my help and demands on my time and energy. She also taught me that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

So, with Libby and Mara beside me figuratively (I am now reaching for their hands), here is what I need: reviews of my two novels posted on Amazon to trigger their algorithm, attract attention, and entice new readers to buy my books.

Will you help me with this?

I can’t do it alone, and I have exhausted my resources (financial, emotional, all of it) for my do-it-yourself project of publishing and promoting my writing independently. My decision to shift to national/global distribution for my books took time and soul-searching. I am now prepared to give money from my book sales to the corporate giant that is the documented reason for the drastic changes in the publishing industry that have made traditional publication nearly impossible for many debut literary writers like myself. A few years ago, I came close to getting a publishing contract, but the aggressive (and illegal) business practices of a wicked force (guess who) had a ripple effect that moved the finish line farther away each time that I was just about to cross it.

For the past year and a half, I have done all that I can to promote my writing through my website and social media. I had a giveaway on Goodreads, I went on local television, and I worked with a a marketing mentor. I’ve tweeted (gods help me) and posted on Facebook literary offerings that I thought others might find interesting. The truth is, though, that I’m not a fan of social media, and I can’t stand begging and competing for your attention.  

Please go to Amazon and post a review —short is fine!—of either/both of my novels. Only positive reviews will help me, so if you’ve read my stuff and liked it, I would be extremely grateful for your review on the website of the corporate giant that can connect me to new readers.

I’m a big believer in the give and take of life. I look at posts and “like” or even “love” what I can as a small show of support for others’ interests, lives, work, challenges, and dreams. That one-click process is easy. What I’m asking you to do is much harder. You’ll need to read my book, think about it, go to Amazon, log into or create your account, and then write something about the book. I know I’m asking a lot. I know that you are busy. I know that everyone everywhere all the time is asking for your attention, your money, your time, your help.

All I can say is please and thank you.

And now I’d like to give you a book recommendation:

AUTUMN by ALI SMITH (Pantheon Books, 2016)

This short, tight, dense novel drew me in from the first line with its highly original voice, wisdom, and wit. The Scottish-born Smith writes in the tradition of Virginia Woolf and is master of the concise yet lyrical expression of what it is to be human in these confusing and often disturbing modern times. In a mere phrase she can express a complex truth about the human condition that most capable novelists would need a full paragraph to address. Her narrative puts the reader immediately into the story and into the characters’ lives with no excess and no explanation. Autumn tells the interwoven, parallel stories of young Elisabeth and 100-year-old Daniel, their beautiful friendship that spans from Elisabeth’s childhood to her thirties, and their shared love of art and the 1960s British pop artist Pauline Boty. Smith leaves plenty of space for the reader to follow and imagine this brilliantly crafted tale. Autumn is the first novel in her planned Seasonal quartet, and I will soon begin Winter and quietly cheer on Smith, one of my new favorite authors, as she works on the other two installments.

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