True Mercy

My Interview with Eva Lesko Natiello, Best-Selling Author and Book Marketing Consultant

I attended two BookBaby conferences in Philadelphia and heard author and marketing consultant Eva Lesko Natiello speak at both of them. I was so impressed, not only with the success of her best-selling self-published novel, The Memory Box, but also her generosity in giving other writers very practical and useful tips on book promotion. So I decided she would be a great person to interview for my website.

Q. Please tell me about your background and how you began your writing career.

A. My writing career actually started when I left my first career to start a family. I have always had a daily need to do something creative, and it has taken the shape of many things over the years from painting, singing, sewing, cooking, crafts, etc. I actually had never intended to write a book, but I had just moved to New Jersey from New York City where I was living and working. Moving to the suburbs with young children plopped me into a new social circle of suburban moms. There is a definite way things are done in the suburbs that’s different from the way they ‘re done in the city. When I started writing my novel, I knew instantly that I wanted to set this psychological suspense in a bucolic suburb where the community of stay-at-home moms, a sub-culture all its own, would help highlight the juxtaposition of conformity and deception.

Q. How long were you writing before you began your novel? Did you take classes to polish your writing skills?

A. I basically started writing when I was writing my novel—though I didn’t know I was writing a novel at the time! I actually did take a writing class at the New School when I was about halfway through my novel and needed direction. It was an invaluable experience.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for your novel, The Memory Box?

A. One day I read a story in The New York Times about people Googling themselves. It mentioned that a 17-year-old boy, who was living in Los Angeles, Googled himself and discovered he was on a missing persons list in Canada. He had no idea until he Googled himself, that he was a victim of parent abduction. The fact that someone could find out something so personal about himself from a Google search was a fascinating concept to me.

Q. You have spoken to audiences about your journey to becoming a self-published author. Please explain it here briefly because I know other writers will be inspired by your story.

A. To be honest, self-publishing was a back-up plan. I had hoped to be traditionally published. But after three years of querying agents and receiving 81 rejections, I had to make a decision: give up and tuck the manuscript away, or learn everything I could about self-publishing and publish on my own. I had no idea it was going to find so many readers and hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. So many wonderful things have happened along the way. None of which would have happened if that manuscript were still on my computer.   

    Q. How were you able to promote your self-published book so that it became a New York Times bestseller?

A. That took a lot of hard work! And a good deal of time. Building sales momentum takes time when you’re an indie and you’re wearing all the hats. I started marketing in my community where people want me to succeed and I received a ton of support. One of the things I did early on, in the first year especially, was to get book clubs excited about The Memory Box. It’s a great book club read and people love to talk about it—mostly because it has a shocking ending. I attended as many book club discussions as I could. To date, I’ve attended over 200!

Q. Do you think the publishing world is slowly beginning to accept self-published authors or is there still a great deal of bias?

A. Oh definitely! Every day you hear about another traditionally published author coming over to the indie side. That’s when you know there’s real value and power to self-publishing.

Q. You have your own business helping writers promote their work. What types of services do you offer?

A. I help authors prepare to self-publish and share everything I do with my own books. I also coach authors on book marketing—giving them the tips and tools they need to increase visibility for their books in order to find readers and sell books.

Q. What type of authors should consider investing in a publicist? Is a marketing strategy always needed?

A. There’s definitely a lot of value in publicity, whether that’s with traditional media, book bloggers, influencers, etc. Before hiring a publicist, an author should consider how commercial their book is, or if it has a unique hook, or perhaps, if writing non-fiction, if the topic is newsworthy.

I also want to add that whether an author hires a marketing consultant or not, every author needs a marketing strategy. It’s impossible for a book to find its readers, gain traction in regards to sales, and have any hope for visibility without marketing. There are just too many books published in any given year. And if you’re an indie author, it’s even harder for your book to get noticed. But once authors learn a few targeted marketing tools and strategies appropriate for their book, genre and for them as an author, it feels incredibly empowering to know that they are moving the sales needle.

Q.  What common mistakes do you see beginning authors making that you would like to warn them about?

A. I recently published an article on Medium titled: (Mostly undiscussed) Advice for Beginning Authors. You can read it at https://writingcooperative.com/mostly-undiscussed-advice-for-beginning-authors-73f31e9e869d. 

Q. Are there particular books you recommend to help writers develop their craft?

A. I really like Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

 Q. Please share some trends you are noticing in the book industry.

A. I see trade authors self-publishing and I see self-published authors publishing some trade books. So, what’s emerging is the hybrid author: someone who publishes in more than one way.

Recently, I had a phone consultation with Eva about a book cover design for my new novel. She provided me a wealth of tips and information.  If you are a writer, I highly recommend her services and advice. To sign up for her newsletter, go to https://evanatiello.com/.

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April is Autism Awareness Month

The increasing rate of autism should be everyone’s concern, not just those who have a family member with the diagnosis. At the present rate, 1 in every 59 children is diagnosed with autism. There is a spectrum according to the severity: those on the high end of the spectrum are able to function independently while those on the lower end require constant care and supervision. Any child could receive the diagnosis regardless of socioeconomic class, color, or religion. Anyone who feels it is not “their problem” may one day be in for a big surprise—if that person does not have a child with autism, then a sibling’s child, a niece or nephew’s child, or a grandchild could have this developmental disorder. Therefore, autism should be everyone’s concern.

National Autism Awareness month concept with puzzle or jigsaw pattern on heart with autistic child’s hands supported by nursing family caregiver

The following is a list of questions people may have. I will try to answer them as clearly and succinctly as possible.

Q. What is autism?                                                                                                      According to the website Autism Speaks (https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism), “Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.” As every individual is unique, autism affects each person differently.

Q. What are some telltale signs of autism?                                                                                                                      Signs include

  • Repetitive behaviors like hand flapping, rocking, jumping
  • Inability to make eye contact
  • Speech difficulties
  • Repetition of words (echolalia)
  • Inability to participate in social interaction
  • Sensitivity to sounds, smells, and tastes
  • Trouble understanding the feelings of others
  • Agitation with schedule changes
  • Unusual mood patterns, sleep difficulties
  • Hyperactivity
  • Fixation on particular topics
  • Limited attention span

In my novel True Mercy, one of the main characters is an eighteen-year-old man with autism named Adam. I include many characteristics of autism in my portrayal of Adam like hand lapping, rocking, echolalia, sensitivity to smells, unusual mood patterns, and fixations on certain topics.

Q. When do signs of autism appear in children?

According to Autism Speaks, signs of autism may occur from the first few months of life to as late as 2 or 3 years old.

HelpGuide (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/does-my-child-have-autism.htm/ ) has compiled a list of early signs of autism:

The baby or toddler doesn’t:

  • Make eye contact, such as looking at you when being fed or smiling when being smiled at
  • Respond to his or her name, or to the sound of a familiar voice
  • Follow objects visually or follow your gesture when you point things out
  • Point or wave goodbye, or use other gestures to communicate
  • Make noises to get your attention
  • Initiate or respond to cuddling or reach out to be picked up
  • Imitate your movements and facial expressions
  • Play with other people or share interest and enjoyment
  • Notice or care if you hurt yourself or experience discomfort

Q. What can parents do if they notice these signs?

If a parent notices their child has developmental delays, it is vital they seek the advice of their child’s pediatrician to find out if testing is needed. The earlier the diagnosis, the sooner the child can receive early intervention, which is critical for the child to make gains in their development. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the therapy that has proven to help children with autism make significant improvements.

Q. What are some resources to get help?

I gathered some resources but this list is by no means exhaustive.

Autism Bedforshire http://www.autismbedfordshire.net

Autism Speaks http://www.autismspeaks.org

Autism Society http://www.autism-society.org

Autism Web http://www.autismweb.com

Autism Hwy http://www.autismhwy.com

HelpGuide  https://www.helpguide.org/home-pages/autism.htm

Addendum:

I had intended to conclude my blog post at his point, but when Amy Tobik of Autism Parenting Magazine (https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/supportive-states-raising-autism-child/?utm_source=Autism+Parenting+Magazine+Contributors&utm_campaign=71fe1ce660-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_06_18_01_56_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_782e0cc91d-71fe1ce660-96778409 ) sent me this article by Krystal Rogers-Nelson, I couldn’t resist including it. She provided a list in the order of the most supportive states for raising a child with autism.

The three main factors considered for these rankings include:

  1. State laws requiring insurance coverage of ABA therapy (points were weighted based on age limit, coverage limit, and types of insurers required to provide services)
  2. If a state is part of the ADDM Network (Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, which estimates the number of children living with autism and other developmental disabilities in various places in the United States).
  3. Grants available to individuals and families in the specified state
Rank State Age Limit? Coverage Limit? ABA Therapy Requirement for ALL Insurers in State ADDM Network Grants Available
1 California No No** Yes No Yes*
2 Massachusetts No No Yes No Yes*
3 Indiana No No Yes No Yes
4 Colorado No No Yes Yes No
5 Vermont 21 No** Yes No Yes*
6 Maryland 19 No Yes Yes Yes*
7 New Jersey 21 No No Yes Yes*
8 Washington No No Yes No No
9 New Hampshire 21 Varies based on age No No Yes*
10 New York No $45K Yes No Yes*
11 Oregon No*** No No No No
12 Connecticut 15 No No No Yes*
13 Maine 21 $36K Yes No Yes*
14 Pennsylvania 21 $36K Yes No Yes*
15 Mississippi 8 No Yes No No
16 North Dakota 21 No No No No
17 Ohio 21 No No No No
18 DC No limited to cost of similar therapy No No Yes
19 Wisconsin 9 $50K No Yes Yes*
20 Delaware 21 $36K Yes No Yes
21 Arkansas 18 $50K Yes Yes No
22 Minnesota 18 No No No No
23 Nebraska 20 No No No No
24 Utah 10 No No No No
25 Wyoming 20 No No No No
26 Illinois 21 $44,877 Yes No No
27 Florida No $36K, $200K lifetime Yes No No
28 Georgia 6 $30K No Yes Yes
29 Rhode Island 15 $32K No No Yes*
30 South Carolina 16 $50K Yes No No
31 Virginia 10 $35K No No Yes*
32 Kentucky 21 $50K No No No
33 Kansas 12 limits based on hours Yes No No
34 Michigan 18 varies based on age Yes No No
35 Oklahoma 9 $25K Yes No No
36 South Dakota 18 varies based on age Yes No No
37 Texas 9 varies based on insurance plan Yes No No
38 Alaska 21 varies based on insurance plan No No No
39 Iowa 21 $36K No No No
40 Louisiana 21 $36K No No No
41 Arizona 16 varies based on age No Yes No
42 Missouri 18 $40K No Yes No
43 Nevada 18 $72K No No No
44 North Carolina 18 $40K No Yes No
45 Tennessee 12 varies based on insurance plan No Yes No
46 Alabama 9 $36K No No No
47 Hawaii 13 $25K No No No
48 Montana 18 varies based on age No No No
49 West Virginia 18 $30K No No No
50 New Mexico 19 $36K, $200K lifetime No No No
51 Idaho n/a n/a No Law Requirement No No

Multiple grants available for this state.
**Can’t exceed the cost of treatment allowed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
***Must start treatment before age 9.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller designed to bring awareness to two issues: families coping with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

Need help with blog content? Please contact me through my website, www.idellekursman.com.

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Human Trafficking Crisis in India

I spent an evening at my local Dining for Women, a global organization of women dedicated to empowering women in the developing world.  I socialized with some delightful, like-minded women and then we watched a video about the human trafficking crisis in India and the inspiring work Her Future Coalition is doing for rescued women and girls.

Prostitution is legal in India but human trafficking is not. Government statistics show that every eight minutes, a child goes missing in India.  A human trafficking report in 2016 by the U.S. State Department wrote that India serves as a source, destination, and transit country for men, women and children victimized by slave labor and sex trafficking. Another study completed in 2018 wrote that the number of victims brought to India from Nepal rose by a staggering 500% between 2013 and 2017.

Why is human trafficking so prevalent in this region? There are a number of factors:

  • Men come to the region to work in the commercial cities, so girls and women are kidnapped from poor families to satisfy the demand for commercial sex.
  • The poorer the family, the greater the chance one of their daughters will be sold, particularly in the Northeastern region of India. Sadly, some families are so desperate they are even willing to sell their own daughters.
  • Believing their children will receive education and jobs, parents are tricked into sending their children to these agents.
  • Girls and women are trafficked for forced marriages because there is a shortage of available females due to female infanticide.
  • An estimated 11.7 million people work for debt labor. When families are short on cash, they sell their sons and daughters to obtain money. Often these children don’t get paid for years.

Unfortunately, many times after girls are rescued, they are rejected by their families and treated as outcasts once they find out they were forced into prostitution.

The situation is bleak but there are people willing to donate time and money to help them.  Organizations in India like Her Future Coalition work hard to rescue these women and girls, providing them shelter and job training so they have the tools to lead lives of independence and freedom. Her Future Coalition works with local agencies to construct shelters for rescued girls, where they are can stay for a long term and be safe and supported.  The shelters provide food, clothing, medical attention, and counseling. Since the majority of those rescued have very little education, Her Future Coalition sponsors educational programs leading to job placement.  The film showed examples of the most popular fields: nursing, jewelry-making, bee-keeping, and accounting. To date, over 700 survivors have benefitted from their educational programs. Human trafficking is a horrendous crime, but there are dedicated individuals working to combat it. The more the better.

Readers interested in finding out more information or donating to the Her Future can go to https://www.herfuturecoalition.org.

Women who want to find out about their local Dining for Women can go to https://diningforwomen.org.

References

Giri, Avinash, (2019, January 3). What’s wrong with India’s Efforts to Check Human Trafficking? [Blog post], Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2019/whats-wrong -with-indias-efforts-to-check-human-trafficking/

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Screening of Breaking the Chain– Human Trafficking Documentary

 

Different Forms of Human Trafficking

 

Audiences saw shocking newspaper headlines run across the screen and heard harrowing testimonies during the award-winning documentary Breaking the Chain. Filmmakers Laura E. Swanson and Kirk Mason produced and directed this account of two survivors of human trafficking in Michigan.

One was a young man named Kwami who was one of four children kidnapped from his native Togo by a relative. His kidnapper, Jean-Claude Kodjo Toviave, brought him and the other children to the United States. Kodjo worked as a janitor at the University of Michigan and claimed the four children were his own. He beat them with brooms and threatened them if they did not complete their chores. This continued for five years until Kodjo was finally arrested.  Kwani recounted those years in the documentary.

The other survivor was Debbie, who spoke about her years as a trafficking victim when she was 13 to 18 years old in the Detroit area. Debbie described how she was lured in and what she and other girls had to do to survive during that terrifying time.

The documentary showed Kwami and Debbie today and what they are doing to rebuild their lives. Law enforcement, attorneys, and other experts described the situations they encounter while they hunt down kidnappers and counsel victims.

Filmmakers Swanson and Mason noted that Michigan is ranked number 2 of the human trafficking trade in the United States. The state’s waterways and location near the Canadian border facilitate transporting of people for this heinous crime.

They are making their documentary available for viewing in different parts of the country to educate and raise awareness of human trafficking. Although these crimes remain hidden in the shadows, they occur every day, transcending socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and race.

After the film, James M. Gannon, Sheriff of Morris County, and Susan Panzica, Executive Director of the Justice Network, spoke about what citizens can do to stop the proliferation of human trafficking, which includes labor and sex trafficking:

  • In the food industry, many coffee and chocolate companies use slaves to grow their products. Consumers can help end this practice by looking for the fair trade labels on products before purchasing them.
  • Recognize red flags, such as a young girl receiving gifts from an older boyfriend, displaying behavior changes, or experiencing alienation from family and friends.

Breaking the Chain may have a showing in your area. Check local listings. I can guarantee it is an eye-opener and worth your time. Keep in mind, human trafficking is happening everywhere.

If you see something suspicious, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-3737-888

For more information, log onto www.njhumantrafficking.org

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller that intends to bring awareness to the human trafficking crisis. It is available in print on Amazon and IngramSpark and in digital on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

 

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When Children with Autism Become Adults

 

                                                                               Photo by Nathan Anderson

The Autism Population is increasing and the children are becoming adults. They need work and programs.

In my novel True Mercy, one of the main characters is Adam Hitchens, a young man with autism who does simple, repetitive clerical tasks at a local business. He has a place to go every day and is proud to hold a job. I recently read the article “500,000 Teens with ASD are Headed to Adulthood. Where will They Work?” By Suzanne Garofalo. It appeared in the Houston Chronicle and was reprinted in the disabilityscoop (https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2018/11/16/500000-teens-asd-work/25736/. The article contains many examples of young adults on the autism spectrum who have been able to find satisfying employment and now feel productive and have a sense of purpose. Many employers are realizing it is well worth their while to train and keep these employees, finding many of them to be dedicated and hardworking. Garofalo writes that “Research shows job activities that encourage independence to reduce symptoms and increase daily living skills.” Some businesses even qualify for a tax write-off for participating in programs to employ these individuals. While this is certainly encouraging and a reason to celebrate, Garofalo also points out that “nearly half of 25-year-olds with the disorder have never held a paying job, according to Autism Speaks.” All people by nature need a schedule, a program with activities, or work in order to thrive. Parents are finding that as their special needs children get older, it becomes harder to find programs and resources. Many programs have waiting lists.

It is my hope that more opportunities for this population increase throughout the country. With the rate of autism now 1 in every 59 births in the United States, “It is a population that’s exploding but finds few opportunities.”

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