GATHERING MY FORCES (Why I relaunched my memoir) by Doreen (Dody) Cox


There have been several instances in my life when I’ve woken up from some stupor and realized that it’s time to take charge of something that is important to me. Instead of continuing to be swept along by events and conditions as they were, I’d gathered my own internal forces together in order to direct my own passage through the event. Such reversals are rarely done without the influence of others met along the way. Within this past year, my gathering forces converged and swept me into making some changes regarding writing and publishing.


Adventures in Mother-Sitting was my first published book. After my mother died, I threw my heart and soul into writing a memoir for family and friends, one that told our story. At the time that it was completed, it had only been six months since my mother had died. I wasn’t even online at the time, as I was not sure yet as to what direction to take beyond getting through each day. The world of publishing was foreign to me; I’d never heard the term “indie” author. And I hadn’t planned for the memoir to be published. But then I had an unexpected encounter with an old friend who had just published his memoir. He gave me the name of his indie publisher and the rest was history, or so I had thought.

I’m grateful for all the help that I received in order for Adventures to become a published memoir. It was important at the time that I honor my mother’s long-held wish: for me to write a book. But grief is a powerful force with which to reckon. Caught up in grieving and not knowing anything about publishing or promoting, I relied more on others than I did myself. I didn’t pick up my memoir again for a long time. I did set myself up to be online, but for a while, I merely did whatever I could to make it through my days. It took me over a year to once again feel my curiosity stirring, a surge that told me I was ready to tackle something new.

WhistlingDucks(Whistling Ducks perched on the dock by Dody’s Florida home)

Throughout that next year, I began to explore the world of promoting, signing up to be on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter plus some other writing sites. It was through my connections with authors on LinkedIn and Twitter, though, that I began to be educated. Tweeting became a lifeline, engaging me and connecting me with indie authors of all genres, some who wrote memoirs and others who wrote fiction. For the first time since my mother had died, I began to feel alive with excitement and purpose. Coincidentally, people were beginning to read Adventures and give me feedback on my story via reviews.

It had been easier to slip into a space of viewing my memoir only through my own eyes; that’s how it was for me after I finished writing Adventures. My memoir felt complete to me—family and friends gave me feedback that said it was. Even the initial readers gave it five stars. So I let it be. Truthfully, I really didn’t want to think about having to read the finished memoir much less do a revision. I didn’t even want to write a sequel about life after caregiving, as some had suggested. I wanted to move on with my life and continue to write, but this time, write fiction.

Because of my interactions with other authors and the fact that I was an avid reader, I began to pay attention to book covers. I’d always been drawn first to the cover of a book. If the cover caught my attention, I’d open it and read the first few pages to see if the author’s words engaged me. But I didn’t do that with Adventures. I was being like an ostrich, burying my head in the sand—it was a long while before I acknowledged an urge to take a good look at my memoir’s cover. Whenever I glanced at the cover, I’d only notice our smiles in the photo and remember the moment that this picture of Mother and I was taken. But I was gathering information, and concurrently, my inner force was stirring, preparing for the time when I’d recognize that the cover did not measure up to the quality I wanted readers to see.

This is what I’ve learned: writing is an art, and like all creative activities, it requires study and loads of practice. Writing a novel or a memoir requires different skills than those I’d used previously when writing technical manuals. In order to hone one’s skills for writing books, an open mind to hear feedback from readers and other authors is a key ingredient. I comprehended this while writing my first piece of fiction, a short story titled A Sacred Journey. It was gratifying to get feedback from others, especially from an author whose novels were favorites and whose writing skills I’d come to admire: Julia Hughes. It was very exciting to watch my story go through changes as I rewrote passages that came even more alive for me. The experience was exhilarating. When it came time for me to decide on a book cover, I chose carefully, exploring until my gut centered on Laura Wright LaRoche of LLPix Designs. After receiving such a marvelous cover from Laura, the comparison in quality to my memoir’s cover began niggling at me.


After my short story was published, I began working on a new story. I was over 10,000 words into it when the niggling thought regarding my memoir wouldn’t leave me alone. Laying aside the new story, I gave in to my gut feeling to flip through Adventures and grade my writing skills against what I’d recently learned. It did not surprise me to see that my memoir didn’t measure up to the level I wanted it to have, neither the cover nor the writing. I knew that the memoir told my story well enough to engage readers; their reviews told me so. But the writing itself no longer satisfied me.

I’ve always been intrigued by the flavor that comes with recognizing some encounters as serendipitous. Two events happened concurrently with my dissatisfaction. The first was a four-star review that honored the story itself yet offered suggestions to clean up the writing. I took notice of those suggestions because I’d noted them myself while perusing my memoir. The second was what I consider to be a prominent serendipitous encounter with an indie author whose novel I’d just read. It wasn’t just that the story in Crooked Moon moved me so deeply—it was the high level of skill with which this author wrote, particularly the dialogues between characters. I wanted Adventures to measure up to the high standard of writing that I’d noted in this novel and in the subsequent novel I’d read by this exceptional author. Could I write as vividly, take a reader as deeply into my mother-sitting story as this author had taken me into hers? I wanted to try but was hesitant to even begin.

It was the unwavering encouragement from Lisette Brodey, Crooked Moon’s author, which stoked my spark into a flame for the revision of Adventures in Mother-Sitting. She became the wind beneath my wings; I’m convinced that my mother gave her an angelic nudge from heaven to help me. Even before my part-time GED teacher job ended for the summer, I cracked open my memoir to begin putting into practice all that I had learned.

The storyline itself did not change. I deleted some redundant passages, particularly ones that were too detailed with regard to my care of Mother. I also refined some of the more poignant experiences that I’d had relative to our changing relationship. I’m told that the descriptions of those are more vividly expressed in this new version because of the way that I’ve learned to craft my words. There were two chapters regarding my spiritual focus that just didn’t fit in the memoir. I removed them though didn’t toss the chapters away. They’re in a separate file because I felt that the chapters were well-written and convey my outlook on spirituality quite succinctly. Also, I’ve been learning to temper my habit of writing long, lofty sentences. This style is great for writing prose, but not appropriate for this memoir. I’d like the reader to stay with me in the story, not go off with me on some tangent.

Reading through Adventures and doing the revision was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. It was intensely cathartic for me, taking me back through the experiences I’d had while taking care of my mother. It brought back the joy, the richness embedded in our final few years together. I’ve just completed the upload to Amazon and am ecstatic for what I’ve accomplished.

Midway through the rewrite, an unexpected gift came from Charles Roth of CMRdesign. He created the loveliest book cover. Using the same photo that was on the initial book, Charles skillfully removed the birthday confetti that was draped over our faces, leaving an observer to focus only on our joy. Every time I look at the new cover of Adventures, my heart expands, reminding me that the love shared between my mother and me still remains. This new cover from Charles is priceless—I’m deeply grateful.


In concert with my decision to rewrite Adventures, a surge of desire to become my own publisher set in—I’d done my homework. Making this change in direction happened accordingly. Honesty and respect is a great policy. To this end, Charles came to my rescue once again. The logo for Whistling Duck Books is exquisitely designed—I love looking at it. Every morning when my local whistling ducks wake me up, I think of Charles and this striking logo he designed, one that reflects my decision to follow my heart’s desire.

New_Color_WhistlingDuck_logo 2

I’m thankful to many authors I’ve met in the stream for their friendship, their example, and their support of my efforts. My connection with these wonderful people adds such richness to my life, personally and as an author. In particular, I’m immensely grateful to Lisette Brodey and Julia Hughes, authors extraordinaire, for their unwavering guidance, helpfulness, and encouragement. It is my hope that readers will find that this second edition of Adventures in Mother-Sitting is written in a way that invites them to step into my story with me. Although it’s a hard one to experience, the story is one in which compassion, humor, and love overshadows every tough moment.

 * * *

After a somewhat convoluted career path in various business-related and mental health endeavors, Doreen (Dody) Cox has settled into a later-in-life passion: writing. Her first book, Adventures in Mother-Sitting, is a memoir of her three years as a full-time caregiver to her mother, coping with dementia. It has just been released as a second edition. A Sacred Journey is a short story with themes inspired by her love for nature, curiosity regarding spirituality, and respect for dignity in death.

Dody resides in Florida and is a part-time GED teacher of multicultural students. The class is held offsite in one of her favorite places: a library.



Adventures in Mother-Sitting




Deborah Nam-Krane was born in New York, raised in Cambridge and educated in Boston. You’re forgiven for assuming she’s prejudiced toward anything city or urban. She’s been writing in one way or another since she was eight years old (and telling stories well before that).

She first met some of the characters in The New Pioneers series when she was thirteen years old, but it took two decades—and a couple of other characters—to get the story just right.

Time to chat with Deb!

What is your latest book?

My latest and first book is The Smartest Girl in the Room. It’s about Emily: nineteen, very driven and trying to graduate from college immediately. As crazy as that looks, she actually has a very good reason for what she’s doing. Emily doesn’t have time for romance, but it falls into her lap with Mitch and they end up on the perfect all-night date in Boston. Unfortunately, after that Mitch makes a really stupid decision that breaks her heart.

Emily’s still reeling from that when her mother kicks her out, and she ends up with someone who seems safe—but appearances are not what they seem, especially when you’re vulnerable. When she realizes just how off her judgment was she becomes very protective and very controlling. That’s certainly going to be a complication when Mitch comes back for a second chance with her, but she’s also going to find that not everyone is going to thank her for taking charge.

I’m calling this both Romance and Chick-Lit. As much as the story is about Emily and Mitch getting together, it’s also about Emily’s relationships with her friends Zainab, Jessie and Miranda. I’m also calling it New Adult because the characters are nineteen to twenty-six. Hopefully everyone else will just call it a good story!


Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, it’s the kick off book for The New Pioneers series. All of the characters, in their own way, are driven by episodes from their past and we spend some time looking back, but it’s also about dreaming of a better future and moving forward.

Above all, this is an American story— newer and older Americans. I’m the daughter and great-granddaughter of immigrants, so that’s definitely a perspective I’m bringing to the table, but my other ancestors were here for hundreds of years before, and some thousands of years before that. America absolutely benefits from the constant infusion of new people, ambitions and ideas. But new ideas can also come from the people already here, and in my opinion it’s the interaction of old and new that creates something really interesting. That’s America, and that’s part of what I tried to imbue into these stories.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I write out the entire first draft before I go in and make any major edits. I need to power through when I write so I can make sure I get it all out the way I want it. Once I’ve hit everything I go back and make my changes. It’s usually adding in a bunch of things, walking away for a little bit, then taking out even more. (Isn’t that the way everybody edits?)

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I was skeptical about social media a couple of years ago and didn’t understand why all of the adults were rushing to use something my young teenager was using. But when I joined and started reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in decades I immediately understood the attraction. It’s also been a great way to meet people with similar interests, and I don’t just mean writers. On top of that, I’ve been able to connect with journalists and media outlets I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Considering how much of my story has been inspired by news stories, that’s a big deal.

Social media and social networks are great marketing tools if we’re trying to sell something, but we have to use them for public relations, not advertising. PR is the long game, but it’s fun! It’s your opportunity to craft the public image you want, as opposed to having something foisted on you. And it’s free (basically).

What I have tried to do through the various networks I’m on is share items that highlight my interests in education, history, politics, art, publishing, technology and social justice (among other things). What I’m hoping I’ve done is convince people that I’m someone who thinks before she speaks. Does that mean that everyone would or should rush to buy something from me? Of course not, but hopefully it makes people interested in what I have to say.

I’ve found a great group of people to follow and share with (although I’m always looking for more) but what worries me is all of the filtering these sites use. It’s worst on Facebook; I’m guessing I see about a third of my feed on a regular basis, and not because of any changes I’ve made. But Twitter is also offering the ability to “tailor” what you see. I don’t like that at all. It’s really easy to get caught up in your own narcissistic bubble, and that’s exactly the opposite of what we want as writers— or people.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

A lot. Most of us aren’t selling our book at a high price point (anywhere from free to $4.99) so in a way these are like the impulse buys people make at the bookstore register. Hopefully the final decision is being made because of the excerpt, but I think the cover is the first thing people use to decide whether to read the excerpt. Get the best cover you can afford, and you might be surprised at what you can get even if you think you can’t afford anything.

Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?

I think the analysts and bloggers are right: Barnes and Noble as we know it won’t be around in another three years. And in a way that’s crazy, because the ones near me are always busy. (So were the Borders stores.) But the superstores haven’t figured out a way to keep up with the changing marketplace. And Barnes and Noble is shooting itself in the foot by making things so inexpensive online but so much more expensive in the stores.

Having said that, people clearly have a desire to go into a bookstore and browse. I think we’re going to see a return to smaller bookstores, and they’re probably going to be attached to something else. But it’s going to be a while before they come back to the level that we had them a decade ago.

In the meantime (and this is admittedly more of a wish than a prediction) I think more people are going to come to libraries to get their browsing “fill”, and I think libraries are going to start offering more services for the reader who wants more of an electronic experience. We’re already seeing that. But everyone would do well to remember that many if not most people still want the tactile, skin-on-page experience and shouldn’t plan on converting everything over to e-readers.

Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?

Absolutely! These characters lived in my head so long that I really didn’t want to stop writing them, and that was after going through four books with them. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. I’ve written a couple of short stories about them, some of which will help my readers bridge the gaps between the novels, and some of which were just ways for me to keep “talking” to them.

A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

I reviewed on Amazon for over ten years and I review quite a bit on my writer’s blog, so I might be the wrong person to answer this question, but here I go: yes, reviews are very important, especially if you’re primarily selling on Amazon. Reviews and sales numbers are used to rank you, but they’re also used to make your work more visible. Sales matter more—as another writer put it, the more you sell, the more you sell—but reviews matter a lot. Please don’t ask me to explain the mysterious algorithm Amazon uses, because no one has figured that out.

A few more things: first, as a reviewer, I always tried to be as detailed as possible when I was reviewing. I wouldn’t expect that from any reader reviewing my work, but I would hope that especially a negative review (one or two stars) would get more of an explanation than a positive review (four or five). If you didn’t like it or thought it failed, please explain why. Believe it or not, many writers will appreciate that. I once took a point off of a review because of a historical inaccuracy. The author wrote to me that night to thank me for pointing it out; now she could make the correction before it got sent off for the Kindle version. You’re not obligated to do anything when you write a review except give your opinion, but it helps make the whole process better.

The second thing would be to write a genuine review giving your honest opinion. By “genuine” I mean you have actually read the entire book. I have cringed looking through my social media feeds and see authors brag about good reviews they have obviously traded for by writing reviews for other authors. Just…don’t. It makes us all look bad, and Amazon has started cracking down on writers reviewing other writers (and they’ve gone too far in my opinion).

There’s a lot we can do to market ourselves, and some of that is worth spending money on (blog tours, newsletter advertising, even social media ads). But reviews are something we shouldn’t pay for. Ultimately we have to let our writing speak for itself. The only surefire way to get good reviews is to write something good. Have people read your work before you release it to get their feedback and PLEASE make sure you get an editor: if you’re going to spend nothing else, spend some money on that. It’s one thing to get a bad review because someone doesn’t like a plot point or character; it’s another thing to get a bad review for something completely avoidable, like typos or grammar.

Have you ever started out to write one book and ended up with something completely different?

My second book was a story that lived with me for a long time. I finished my first book knowing exactly how I was going to write it and then did a 180. I didn’t change any of the action, but the emotional perspective of the characters shifted completely. And then the story became charged in a way I’m still trying to recover from. I always knew it would reverberate through the next two books, but it ended up doing so in a much different way.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?

How doable indie publishing was going to be. My big concerns were editorial services and marketing. It wasn’t until the last year or so that I understood how little you could expect from a traditional house as far as marketing, and that’s for everyone except the biggest names. And I had no idea that I’d be able to find editors and designers who could do good work that I could afford.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I’ve been in Cambridge and Boston since I was two, so I (finally) consider myself a Bostonian. Boston is also a huge part of my story, and sometimes I think of it as another character. However, I was born in New York City and I still have family and friends there, so part of me feels at home there. If I were to move anywhere, it would be there. Not Manhattan though—definitely Queens.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

Um, other than the fact that I write romance? I guess the fact that I’m a lifelong Trekkie. If you name the Original Series episode, I can tell you the plot and season. I take my Trek pretty seriously and I’m willing to discuss it for hours at a time. Oh yeah: hands off Mister Spock, he’s mine.

What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?

How do you choose just one?

The first film that comes to mind is Casablanca because Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are in the dictionary next to the word “chemistry,” but Citizen Kane is also one of the best films I have ever seen. And I love James Bond like a drug. More modern films? I love light comedies: The Man Who Knew Too Little has made me cry from laughing so hard, and I am not proud that I paid money to see Malibu’s Most Wanted and have sought it out again on television.

I am even more all over the place when it comes to books. I loved The Scarlet Letter, A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Washington Square, Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov. Anything that makes me feel connected to something, whether it’s because it explains a historical event or phenomenon really well or it draws me into the story. The People of the Book was amazing, as was Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. But I’m a sucker for good non-fiction too. Galileo’s Muse and World 3.0 are some of my most recent favorites.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Daytime television aka Soap Operas. I loved those when I was a kid because they spent a lot of time drawing out the story and the characters, and the payoff could be huge. That industry has gone through a lot of changes, and not all of them for the better. A lot of the writers have forgotten that the best stories are character driven. You also have to find that just-right balance between too many new characters and not enough. I’d say out of all of the ones still on the air Days Of Our Lives is the one getting it most consistently right.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

+Start small: make the Internet a better place. I have a feeling the original concept the good people at the Department of Defense had for this thing wasn’t so we could use it as a shopping mall or to pass pictures of naked celebrities around. Let’s connect to people in different parts of the world. Let’s use this amazing tool to break barriers, not enforce them. And let’s tap into all of the information out there about science and technology that doesn’t usually get reported.

+Take a deep breath and think before we speak, write or act, and let’s not try to overreact in general. (And then once we’ve mastered that we can pass on the message to the mainstream media…)

+Read more fiction because it can help you be kind and empathetic. Honestly, that’s one of the most awe-inspiring things about a good piece of writing— it helps you understand someone who isn’t like you. Human beings are endowed with an amazing capacity for imagination; it really isn’t that hard to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes before we judge them.

Care to brag about your family?

Doesn’t every proud mom? 😉 I have been married for 20 years this month. I met my husband in college/law school and we have four children together: a nineteen-year-old daughter, a thirteen-year-old daughter and two-eight year-old sons (yep, twins!). They’re all kind of brilliant on their own and I’ve been homeschooling them for about three years. I’m pretty tickled by all of their diverse interests: a lot of science, inventing, comic books, writing, math, languages and politics. It’s not something I can take credit for, but I do a lot of bragging anyway 🙂



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