Blast from the Past: The Fans Who Count On You

A text-only version of this post appeared in my GoodReads blog on March 21, 2011.  I think the lessons still hold true today.  By the bye, the hobby shop to which I referred, along with the entire Borders bookstore chain, is now closed. Enjoy!

Image via Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons License

“Don’t focus on counting the number of fans you have; focus on the number of fans who count on you.” — From the Facebook fan page of Puerto Rican a cappella group NOTA

In the past 24 hours, I’ve had cause to think about this quote from a couple of different perspectives.

I am occasionally guilt of trying very hard to “grow” my fan page over on Facebook. I had a contest for the person who brought in the most new members: the prize was having a character named after the winner in my novel, In The Eye of The Storm (it was a three-way tie, so there are three new characters). I share the page on my personal profile now and then, inviting new people to join.

None of this is bad, really.

I also spend relatively little time on “billboarding” — promoting my work. Instead, I have regular, weekly features to engage my readers — specifically because I want to focus on the fans who count on me.

Unfortunately, there are a number of examples out there where businesses don’t “get it.”

For instance, my husband moonlights a couple of evenings a week at a hobby store where he once worked full time. It’s a mom-and-pop place which, like many small businesses, is struggling in today’s economy.

For many years, the shop has had arrangements with local school districts; the students get a discount on materials they need for certain projects.

The original owner’s son is now running the shop and his roommate buddy is now the manager. The manager decided it would be a great idea to tear out many shelves to install an indoor remote control car track (he and the owner’s son are big into this hobby).

And where did the shelves come from?

You guessed it: the part of the store where the project supplies were housed. All of those supplies were literally thrown into a storage area, with no organization whatsoever — unless, of course, the manager threw them into the Dumpster, from which my husband rescued several perfectly good, unblemished items.

So, now the students come, looking for the things they need for their projects. They are counting on this store. When my husband proceeded to root through the storage area to find things for the kids, he was chastised. He was told to lie and say that Item X was no longer available, and to say that (more costly) Item Y could be obtained in the model trains department. The manager doesn’t care about the people who are counting on that store, in other words; he just cares about forcing them to spend more money.

My husband refuses to lie to people.

Another example is much bigger: the Borders bankruptcy.

I remember when Borders was a bookstore. Now they sell movies, music, t-shirts, stationery: you name it. They lost track of the fans who were counting on them in their rush to get more fans.

The Borders near my office was added the list of stores to be closed under the company’s bankruptcy proceedings. I wasn’t even surprised, given how far they’ve gone from their bookselling mission. For crying out loud, when I asked an employee there whether they carried bookplates, he responded that they didn’t sell dishes!

In the mean while, the tiny Books, Inc., store across from another Borders location (also slated to close) is thriving. Why? Because their business is selling books. The shop owner said in a recent television news interview that his focus was on his customers, knowing what they like, being able to make recommendations for other titles accordingly and so on.

In other words, Books, Inc., is focused on the fans who count on them.

Focus like that is way different from figuring out ways to part your customers from their discretionary income — and earns customer satisfaction that no amount of money can buy.


Blast from the Past: Remembering Joseph Carey Merrick

128 years ago today.

Sharon E. Cathcart

A text-only version of this article appeared on the now-defunct Red Room in 2004 and on Wattpad in 2010.  I’ve updated the date information and provided some new links. Enjoy!

joseph_merrick_carte_de_visite_photo2c_c-_1889Sometimes I think my head is so big, because it is full of ideas. — Joseph Merrick, in Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man

Those who have read In The Eye of The Beholder: A Novel of the Phantom of the Opera know this already, but I don’t mind sharing it here: Joseph Merrick is featured in the story.  No spoilers, I promise.

Joseph Carey Merrick, aka “The Elephant Man,” lived during the Victorian era.  He suffered from what we now understand as Proteus syndrome, where parts of the body grow at different rates.

Merrick lived part of his life as a sideshow freak until he was taken in by Dr. Sir Frederick Treves.  Treves arranged a home for Merrick…

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Sample Saturday: Les Pensées Dangereuses

lpd-v-3Hi, everyone.  This week’s sample is from my essay collection, Les Pensées Dangereuses: Dangerous Thoughts About Life, Love, Pets, Friends, and Depression.  I kept a blog on LiveJournal for many years, and that is where many of these essays came from.  This one talks about women’s issues and some revelations I had while at the movies.  I’ve included a related bonus track in case you decide to sing along.  Enjoy!

“You are the Dancing Queen …” (Blog, 7/24/08)

I had an epiphany tonight while seeing the film version of Mamma Mia! (you may recall me raving about the stage musical … and let me tell you, the film is every bit as enjoyable). Some of it may be a bit “TMI,” but I want to put it all out there for consumption, because I think it’s important.

I wrote several months ago that I was feeling very shaken and going through a lot that I could not articulate. I have now walked almost to the end of the tunnel (not only can I see the light, but I can touch the archway). In the process, I’ve figured out what was going on: I got a ticket back to “me” over the course of the summer.

I was very shaken by the fact that I had suddenly turned into this middle-aged woman who wore practical clothes and drove a practical sedan. I was, as happens with a lot of women “of a certain age,” turning invisible. To be sure, some things just made sense — I love my car, and have been nothing but happy with my Toyota sedan since day one. I recommend Corollas to people all of the time. I had to give up most brands of shoes (particularly cheap ones) when I developed plantar fasciitis — this which is in remission, but boy do I remember it every time I wear low-budget heels like I did today. Can’t do that very often (I saved this particular pair specifically because they go perfectly with one of my blouses. How often do you find apple-green suede sandals?). With all of the internal bleeding problems I had for so long, pretty lingerie became nonexistent … “sturdy” and “machine washable” were the order of the day.

So, yeah. How did this all come together during the movie? There is this great scene in which Meryl Streep, as Donna (the female lead) gets all of the women on her little Greek island dancing and singing along to “Dancing Queen.” Young, old, tall, short, chubby, thin: it didn’t matter. These women were all dancing and singing, and the men of the island were all cheering them on. They were delighting in themselves … really feeling the joy, and being seen for joyful, whole people.

That was when I truly got what had been happening with me on more than the superficial level that I’ve been addressing here: that I really grasped that I had earned a tremendous gift through the process of laughter, tears, and many a stumble. There I was, in a great outfit, looking and feeling wonderful and not at all invisible, tapping my toes along to some marvelous music. I know I can be, and am, seen for whom I am … and that encourages me to keep taking back the pieces of me that had slipped away through so many trials and tribulations. Things that I let other people chisel away at and take from me are coming back, and I am so very grateful for every single person and experience that got me to this place. It is truly amazing.

Sing with me (you know you want to): “See that girl, watch that scene … diggin’ the Dancing Queen.”

Want your own copy of Les Pensées Dangereuses?  Here are the book blurb and purchase links.

Part autobiography and part inspiration, Les Pensées Dangereuses (French for “dangerous thoughts”) is a series of essays on friendship, spirituality, education, bullying, animals, clinical depression and more. Author Sharon E. Cathcart (In The Eye of The Beholder) shares her thoughts, including an unfinished autobiography, “Unmasking My Phantoms: My Dance With Madness,” in this new book.

Amazon (click on the link to be automatically taken to the storefront for your country)

Barnes & Noble

Chapters Indigo (Canada)

FNAC (France)










Frequently Asked Question: What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

insecure2bwriters2bsupport2bgroup2bbadgeOnce again this month, the question comes from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group.

Maybe it’s a cheat, but I’ve actually answered this one in a previous FAQ post.  Still, I’m happy to answer again.  Quote from the linked article:

I think what draws me most to historical fiction is the glimpse into how people lived in other eras. I have always found that fascinating. Social mores, fashions, even food! I recently completed a course on royal food and feasting from the Tudor to Victorian eras.

I enjoy the process of researching a story, and I love the richness of detail that comes from doing that work. I’m one of those rare birds who treats research as a treasure hunt rather than a chore; the hardest thing I experience is limiting how much research I do, because it is far too easy to go down a rabbit hole and never do any writing!


Blogmas: Christmas Tag

I saw this come across on several other blogs and thought it would be fun to play.  Here goes!

Via The Enthusiast Blog

Use one noise to describe how excited you are for Christmas.

Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?

When I was growing up, the tradition for many years was to open gifts on Christmas Eve, with one gift from Santa Claus on Christmas morning.  When I was around 12, this changed to opening all gifts on Christmas morning.  Nowadays, my husband and I tend to give practical gifts or experiences (like theatre tickets) to each other, so there are no rules.  Sometimes the practical gifts are needed before Christmas.

What holiday traditions are you looking forward to most this year?

We try to go see Christmas lights in one of the fancier neighborhoods each year, or to attend a Christmas theatrical.  This year, my health has been such that we skipped the theatrical we regularly attend because I was under the weather.  Our local ballet company’s “Nutcracker” is still on the agenda.

Is your Christmas tree real or fake?

This year, we decided not to put up a tree.  We have two adolescent cats, brought in from the streets, who are very active … and who used to climb trees outside.  I think you know why we didn’t put one up this year. 🙂

What is your favorite Christmas film?

For a full-length film, “A Christmas Story.”  For a TV program, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

Where do you usually spend your holiday?

At home.

What is your favorite Christmas song?

What is your all-time favorite holiday food/sweet treat?

Mincemeat pie.  I am the only one in my family (either growing up or now) who likes it, and so it seldom appears on the menu.

Be honest: do you like giving gifts or receiving gifts better?


What is your favorite thing about Christmas?

The music, whether secular or religious.

When do you start getting excited for Christmas?

Around Thanksgiving.  I drag out my music and start playing it in the car long before other people are interested in listening to it.

What is the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

A chemistry set and a microscope, the same year.  My dad belonged to the carpenter’s union when I was a child in Oregon.  Wet weather meant that carpenters were often out of work around the holidays, so the union put on a huge party every year.  Each child could choose a gift from a vast array on the table.

I planned to be a veterinarian when I grew up, so there were two things I had asked for: a  microscope, and a chemistry set.  When I saw the chemistry set on the stage that year, I proudly selected it.  Unbeknownst to me, my folks had purchased me a good quality, functional microscope as well.

I think I was in the sixth grade.

me with thunderboltPrior to that, the award would have gone to my precious Thunderbolt, my bouncy horse.  I think I was four years old.

What is the worst present you’ve ever received?

My mother sent me the ugliest ski sweater in the known universe about 20 years ago.  Before I even describe it, I need to tell you that I don’t ski.  The sweater was bright turquoise at the bottom and ivory at the yoke, with purple snowflakes right across the bosom, and purple fringe around the base of the turtleneck.  My mother doesn’t do gag gifts; she apparently thought I would love this very heavy sweater (I live in California).

I opened the box and looked at the sweater in absolute horror.  I told my husband, “Well, it certainly looks warm.”  I never even tried it on.  I put it in a drawer, and subsequently donated it to charity.

It was years before I ‘fessed up to my mother what I had done with her holiday gift … which she didn’t even remember sending me, but agreed through gales of hysterical laughter that the sweater sounded awful and no, she didn’t know what she was thinking at the time.

As a kid, did a sibling ever receive a present that you wished was for you?

713YKxkg2eL._SL1468_My brother got a toy called “Speak & Spell” one year.  He was entirely disinterested in it, so I got to play with it a lot.

What would be your dream place to visit for the holiday season?

I would love to spend the holidays in either Paris or New Orleans.

Most memorable Holiday moment?

At my age, it’s hard to pick just one.  I guess it would be the times I sang, either solo or with a chorus, to bring holiday music to others … and there have been several of those.

Do you make New Years resolutions? Do you stick to them?

I don’t make them anymore, because they always fall apart.

What makes the holidays special for you?

I think that people are just a little more kind to one another.

What’s the best part about Christmas for you?

You know, that’s an interesting question.  We’re working on making new traditions in our home that are meaningful to us, instead of just doing the same old things … some of which stopped being fun a long time ago.  I think that opportunity for renewal is great.

You have been granted one Christmas wish…what will it be?

For everyone to have a home, good health, and enough to eat.