Book Review: Kind Chemist Wife: Musings at 3 a.m., by Sarah Bigham / Reviewed by Candice Daquin — April 29, 2020

Book Review: Kind Chemist Wife: Musings at 3 a.m., by Sarah Bigham / Reviewed by Candice Daquin

Kind Chemist Wife: Musings at 3 a.m.,  by Sarah Bigham

Review by Candice Louisa Daquin

This is a book about many things. In essence this is a book someone who has chronic pain or any chronic condition will find a great deal in. Any woman also. Any lesbian. Virtually any human being if they are willing. It’s a universal book about a life. Sarah Bigham asks in her introduction; What is truth? Truth may be malleable but she’s most certainly able to access it within Kind Chemist Wife; Musings at 3am. The first time I read this title it was in Bigham’s biography and I thought it was such a gentle term of affection for her wife, which has gone on to seed her creation.

Bigham is covering a long time period, from hometown, student, campus, professor and her exploits otherwise. This all needs to go together to fully tell her story. This isn’t just poetry, the majority is prose or prosetry, and as such you need to do more than flick through to find your favorite poem, it doesn’t work like that.

Bigham is clearly a highly intelligent writer. You might think aren’t all writers? No. By intelligent I mean she brings things up we know, but in such a way it causes us to think more on the subject at a deeper level. This works really well with poetry of course but she’s also able to employ it with the unpeeling layers of her prose. “There is silence behind those doors now. Joy must be easier to embrace than pain. And so it will always be.” The seemingly simplicity of her observations are anything but.

If we tell our stories, the secret question is always, why would anyone want to hear? If we are ‘famous’ then it’s expected a certain portion of people may, but what if we are just us? What makes a life story of a stranger interesting? I would say the obvious answer is relatability but equally it can be the candor and courage of the storyteller. In Bigham’s case, she has a clever way of landing a point with something we can all envision, as with the story of her birth, ending with ‘I can almost hear the drill.’ It is both macabre, and highly human.

Funnily enough reading Bigham’s life you would imagine her older than the ‘middle aged woman’ she describes, as if her memories are older than the 48 years, she’s inhabited this earth. This speaks of chronic pain more than anything, even when relatively still youthful, people who experience chronic pain may experience time differently and feel at 48, much older than their years at least physically. I could feel this in the aged quality of her memories, not a bad thing but a part of who she is as someone who is never free of physical pain.

This leads to Bigham asking questions of certainty; What is true? What is certain? Can I ever be as certain as someone else? For a highly intelligent woman, it is hard often to place certainty in position of immutable and not feel it will shift. Bigham’s memories are very kaleidoscopic, they have less order than poignancy and as such, this is a disordered foray into a person’s 48 years of living and of their memories of their ancestors, which makes it a larger story than just one person, covering a multitude of topics, but always able to boil down to what really matters.

Coming from highly educated parents, less common in 1972, Bigham has excellent recollection of memories most of us would have long forgotten and as such, is able to illustrate with great alacrity, the landscape and vividity of her childhood especially. As she says; “I have always been quirky and find that I am often dealing with people who blink at me. My wife tells me this is because people are still processing what I have said. I am sure I am exasperating.”  Her frankness is endearing despite her insistence we might find her annoying, I suspect we’d find her a relief from the faux world beyond.

If you are expecting a linear, well compiled and ordered series of memories that lead to a definite conclusion, Kind Chemist Wife: Musings at 3am will utterly disappoint. This is far more in the realm of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept”, written by Elizabeth Smart the journalist, inspired by her romance with the poet George Barker. Why? Because the interject of Bigham’s wife’s thoughts about how others will see her, the going back and forth without specific order of thought, it’s more a phantasmagoric method of imparting than sequential, it’s a highly female and somewhat old-fashioned brute honesty approach in the vein of those thoughtful writers of old before technology gave us editor. Whilst some may be dismayed at this, I have found, these types of books are the most beloved, for their diary like bluntness and how we can climb over the social norms at get to the marrow of what is being imparted.

Clearly Bigham relishes intellect and it is both her haven and her confidence, as well as what she is attracted to and proud of in herself and others. But I am glad kindness also becomes a part of this story, for without it, we may only be reading about precocious childhoods and odd-girls-out and not get more from the story. Most of us would have let go of the pains of childhood and not even recall them, but there is a nostalgic value to recalling those slights and what made us, us, if you are able to, because you get a better sense of why you are who you are. Bigham’s prodigious memory is uncannily able to color in the myriad detail of her youngest years. You can tell Bigham loves to write, and is able to write on near any subject, she is also not always aware of when she may over-explain or over-tell a story, which we are all guilty of at times, but in this, it’s like having a conversation with your best friend.

Additionally, the story has little structure so at times it can be hard to hold onto those memories with the same cherish the author invariably does. But understanding how people become role models, or indeed, stop being them, elucidates childhood at its most focused and that in of itself holds value. As Bigham says; “Spending time in other homes taught me a lot about people in general.” This is one other way she’s able to elucidate on subjects with such honed skill. She has always been as much an observer as able to relate her observations. “I never felt I really belonged to anything” may sum this up best. For what does someone who feels on the periphery do? But pay attention to what everyone else is doing and how it makes them feel?

There is definitely a sad quality to this memoir as well as a lonely one, perhaps evoked best by descriptors such as; “social cannibalism of high school.” For those who struggle to fit in, who feel they know more than others and this is unappreciated, or who simply love to find out how others think and feel, this coterie of stories by Sarah Bigham will appeal and read much like a collection of letters from a favorite relative. Even if it’s not our own family we can learn and appreciate from the recollections of others. Furthermore, there is a universal message about children with disadvantage (her chronic pain) and how despite that, we can flourish and nay, excel.

I would be dishonest if I did not say, I am deeply drawn to the poetry in this collection for the simple reason that poetry is always original and it is harder for prose to be quite as enticing, or as thrilling, much like comparing a song with dancing without music. But that’s my bias. Sarah Bigham’s ability as a poet is extremely high, and she employs beautiful words to add to her recollections such as in the poem Inheritance where the word ‘gloaming’ a relatively unused, classical poetry word, is absolutely perfectly situated.

Her smarts are wholly evident (“Words have always been my utopian refuge”) in poetry where you cannot afford to run on and must be clever and concise. Lines like; “With a passion you had held in your diaphragm.” You cannot help but be spell bound by this clever woman’s tongue. Each little detail such as ‘freckled hipbones’ really raises the hairs on your arms, because it’s like she’s right there, seeing into you and everyone else. That at times horrifying but certainly uncanny ability as a poet really shines in this collection.

“I am forgotten — / in a mint green examination room / with yellowing stains in the / pitted corners of the vinyl flooring, / overhead lights / winking at the joke.”

I was also struck by Bigham’s comments on today’s writing marketplace and her universal question; “How many submissions, for and by women, may be rejected because there is nobody reading these submissions with an eye toward women’s experiences in the world?” This is a necessary, wider question beyond the scope of the book, which hints at the lethargy for truth from women by women in our publishing industry at large. I felt very proud of Sarah Bigham for having the courage to speak this truth, and I hope as more women do, what is considered publishable, and valuable, will shift to greater inclusion of fringe voices, which incredibly, still contain women despite our 51 percent of the population.

It horrifies me that a woman of Sarah Bigham’s awareness, or for that matter, any woman, irrespective, should be mistreated by our medical system so appallingly. However, having experienced the same biases and taints myself, I can attest to Bigham’s sorrowful recollections of discrimination and labeling by doctors. For anyone who has gone through ‘the system’ or any system that has a patriarchal bent, this book will resonate with you.

Pain Warriors are all very well but that’s if we make it. Bigham’s honest recounting show the fragility of this and how so many probably do not. It is both heartbreaking AND necessary to be aware of what women like Bigham experience and how our system fails them and despite this, they carry on. If that were the only value to this book it would be enough. Of course, it is but one of many. As Bigham says; “Stigmas be dammed.”

There Is No Manual for This, The Ologies and The Purse, are my favorite prose stories in the collection, for their embodiment of survival, humor set against suffering, unsaid love, and its quietude of daily life and the very great pains and joys that accompany them. There is such a pure, fierce courage in those words, it makes me want to know Sarah Bigham and her Kind Chemist Wife and hear all her musings at 3am. “The spots on my mother’s hands (the ones she says make her look old) that are part of the gentle hands that have hugged me for years and intertwine with mine when we walk together these days.”

Bigham reminds us of what matters, and also of what does not, in a flawlessly frank and at times extremely emotive book that is brimming with quiet immemorable value.

You can purchase Kind Chemist Wife: Musings at 3 a.m. direct via Amazon and through other independent bookstores.

For updates on Sarah go to her Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/Sarah-Bigham-101883001439012/

Sarah’s website is: http://www.sgbigham.com

If you are a fan of GoodReads consider leaving Sarah a review: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52191096-kind-chemist-wife

Sarah’s work can also be found in SMITTEN published by Indie Blu(e) as one of the talented poets part of this incredible female-only anthology about love and relationships.

 

 

Reader Publishing Question: How much does it cost to publish a book? — May 8, 2019

Reader Publishing Question: How much does it cost to publish a book?

Print-on-demand technology with easy user interfaces like KDP/Amazon mean that you can literally self-publish a book for free.  Really.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the expression “Print-on-demand”, it means that you as a writer upload your finished manuscript and the service publishes a copy of your book when someone orders and pays for it.  Gone are the days when a writer would have dusty boxes of their first book in their garage.  Today’s technology has made publishing a book affordable to anyone with a word processing program and a reliable Internet connection.

I, however, would make the argument that publishing for free is not always a writer’s best option.  Below I will discuss some of the costs associated with self-publishing and why some of these are worth paying.

ISBN or International Standard Book Number 

An ISBN is a unique identifying number assigned to your book. When you self-publish with a service like KDP/Amazon, you can get a free ISBN through them.  However, at least in the United States, most retail bookstores and libraries will only purchase books with an official ISBN.  If you have put together a book of your grandmother’s famous family recipes that you only plan to give all your cousins as a gift, a free KDP/Amazon ISBN will more than meet your needs.  However, if you have just written your first novel or book of poetry and plan to ask your local independent bookstore to carry it (currently three books that include my writing are sitting on the shelf of my local bookstore), you will need an official ISBN, even if the bookstore is taking your books on commission.  Bowkers is the official ISBN agency in the US and most countries have an official ISBN agency.  A single Bowkers’ ISBN can be pricy at $125- if you think you may be publishing more than one book in the future you may want to consider buying 10 ISBNs for $295, which reduces the price per ISBN to about $30 a book.

Title Set-Up Fees & Revision Fees

The most popular option for many independent writers is to publish their book through both KDP/Amazon and IngramSparks.  Publishing through KDP/Amazon will automatically make your book available through Amazon.com (US), Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de (Germany), Amazon.fr (France), Amazon.it (Italy), and Amazon.es (Spain.)  KDP/Amazon has excellent distribution in these markets and your title is often available for sale there within 72 hours of uploading your manuscript.  Indie Blu(e) ALWAYS publishes on KDP/Amazon first and then once the book is available, we publish via IngramSparks.

We do this for several reasons:

1) online and brick and mortar retail bookstores are much more likely to buy from an internationally known distributor like IngramSparks;

2) most US libraries will only order through IngramSparks;

3) IngramSparks has better global distribution outside of Europe, Canada, and Australia than KDP/Amazon;

4) IngramSparks offers better quality paper;

5) You can only publish eBooks and paperbacks via KDP/Amazon while IngramSparks offers the option of hardback copies of your book.

Although IngramSparks offers good global distribution and a really nice product, you pay for the quality.  The cost per book is noticeably higher through IngramSparks (either reducing your royalties or forcing you to price your book higher than your market may want to pay), IngramSparks charges a $49 Title set-up fee per book (KDP/Amazon does NOT charge for title set-up), and IngramSparks charges a $25 revision fee every time you upload a new version of a manuscript or your book cover (KDP/Amazon does NOT charge for revisions.)

IngramSparks does offer coupons several times a year for Free Title Set-up or Free Revisions.  I always google for new coupons before uploading a title.  I strongly recommend waiting until your manuscript and cover are absolutely perfect before hitting the publish button at Ingram.  It is incredibly frustrating to have to pay a $25 Revision fee because of a single type in a 150-page manuscript.

Cover Design Costs

At Indie Blu(e), we handle each title individually when it comes to cover design.  We have worked with professional graphic designers Mitch Green and Amanda.x.Colemanfor custom cover designs and interior artwork.  I have designed a few of Indie Blu(e)’s covers on Photoshop using royalty-free artwork or artwork by a professional artist who granted permission for the use of their work.  A money saving trick I like is to buy custom images (rather than custom covers) by my favorite graphic designers.  They are usually significantly less expensive than a custom cover and I buy them when I fall in love with them and stash them away for later.  The cover image for The Myths of Girlhood was one of those purchases- I just KNEW I had to have it and it didn’t bother me that is sat for eight months before the book went to press.

Many, many readers buy a book based solely on the book cover.  It is literally your book’s first introduction to potential readers and it MATTERS.  We have all seen self-published books with ugly or poorly designed covers and fairly or unfairly, we judge the content by the cover when we make our buying decisions.  There are some great cover design tutorials online if you are tech-savvy.  The reality is, both InDesign and Photoshop are expensive pieces of software, and if you are only going to be creating a book cover every year or two, it may be cheaper and less frustrating to pay someone to design your book cover.  If you are lucky, you may have a friend with InDesign or Photoshop experience who is willing to barter or trade services with you.  A couple hours of proofreading a manuscript in exchange for a decent book cover can be a bargain.

Proofreading/Editing Costs

Very few writers are good at proofreading or editing their own work.  We tend to read what we meant to write, not what we actually did, our eyes sliding right over mistakes.  As writers, we may need someone to do a very careful line by line read of our manuscript, looking for typos, spelling errors, and/or formatting issues.  Sometimes we need help earlier in the process of organizing our thoughts and our writing.  Poets frequently struggle with how to organize a group of poems into a strong focused manuscript.  Your sister-in-law the high school English teacher may become your most valuable resource before publishing your manuscript.  Most of us, however, would benefit from working with a professional editor at some point during the publication process.  A good editor can make a self-published book look professionally published and is a cost well worth considering.

If you decide to use an editor, I strongly recommend asking for recommendations from other writers who have published.  Indie Blu(e) Publishing and other reputable freelance editors offer a free edit of a  manuscript sample so you can get a feel for whether this is a good fit before you commit.  Freelance editors generally charge by the word, the length of the manuscript, or by the hour.  To get the most for your money with a freelance editor, I recommend making your manuscript as clean as possible before you submit it, particularly if the editor is charging by the hour.  Don’t waste the editor’s time correcting simply misspellings or duplicate words that you can clean up yourself.  And don’t ask them to ignore them- we literally can’t.  They are distracting.  You can also save money by request a targeted proof-read.  If your main concern is flow, ask the editor to focus on that.  The more the editor knows about your concerns, the more useful their feedback will be.

Book Formatting Costs

I can’t begin to communicate how important it is to submit a properly formatted manuscript and book cover.  Whether you are publishing in print, eBook, or both, it is essential that your manuscript and cover conform to the standards of the Print on Demand Service you are using.  Both KDP/Amazon and IngramSparks have detailed style and file guides you must follow if you don’t want to have your manuscript returned to you over and over again because of formatting issues.

Good book formatting is an unsung hero of the self-publishing world.  Book formatting should be so smooth and familiar that it does not distract the reader from the content.  You may not be able to describe book formatting mistakes, but believe me, you’ll know them when you see them.

Book manuscripts are uploaded to KDP/Amazon and IngramSparks in PDF format. Indie Blu(e) prefers to work in Microsoft Office Word because it is easy to track progressive changes in the manuscript, but if you are a whizz in Pages or InDesign you can prepare your manuscript using one of those software programs and follow the instructions for properly formatting as a PDF (less intuitive than you would think!)

At this point, my partner at Indie Blu(e) Kindra M. Austin and I have spent hundreds of hours formatting manuscripts to meet both industry standards and our own company style guidelines.  Often surrounded by empty cups of coffee, our hair standing on end, using language that would make a merchant marine blush.  Formatting a manuscript correctly simply takes more than basic Word Processing skills and if you are short on time, short on patience, struggle with learning software, and/or are not detail oriented, it is probably worth it to pay someone else to format your manuscript.  As with a freelance editor, it is always worth taking the time to make your manuscript as clean and perfect as possible before submitting to a professional manuscript formatter.

Should I use a service like Book Baby to self-publish my book? 

No.
No.
No.

Book Baby charges you a LOT for things you can easily do yourself or hire someone reputable to do for you.  They make a lot of money fooling inexperienced writers into thinking their packages are a good investment.  They are not.

I want to publish my book through a micro or small independent publishing company.  How much should I pay for that?

Nothing!

You should NEVER be asked to pay out of pocket to have someone else publish your book.  Vanity presses charge writers for slapping their logo on your manuscript and uploading it for publication. You do NOT want to publish with a vanity press.

The only exception Indie Blu(e) makes to this is occasionally splitting the costs of something out of the ordinary with an author, such as iStock or custom designed interior artwork.

It is completely on you as the author to submit the cleanest, most perfect copy of your manuscript that you can to your  micro or small independent publisher and you will be expected to review your proof carefully and notify the publisher of any issues of concern before the publish button is hit.

Will I get royalties from the sale of my book?

Indie Blu(e) authors receive a contracted portion of the their book royalties and a contracted amount of free copies of their book.  If anyone tries to charge you for their imprint to publish your book, run.

What most first time authors don’t know is that most books only earn a few dollars per copy from each sale.  A percentage of those royalties will go to the publisher to cover the costs they incurred publishing your book.  The rest will go to you.  Most Print of Demand Services pay royalties monthly on a delayed timeline.  For instance, KDP/Amazon has a 60 day delay between the month a royalty is earned and the date they pay it to the publisher.  IngramSparks has a 90 day delay.  Some publishers, Indie Blu(e) included, will wait until an author earns at least $20 in royalties before sending a first royalty payment.