Frightened Off Station Eleven

Following New Year’s celebrations in Door County, I celebrated by going to bed early and watching a movie. The next morning I woke up feverish, the first day of what would be a four-week journey through bacterial and viral mysteries. Maybe it was the flu. Maybe not.

“You know, if we were living a hundred and fifty years ago, I’d probably be dead,” I Paris museumdeclared deep into the second week when the unnamed illness turned into a sinus infection, an ear infection and swollen tonsils. My husband, who leans toward the “soldier on” philosophy of empathy, agreed and encouraged me to make a doctor appointment.

While sick I read my way through all the non-Ken Follett novels I had received as holiday gifts. Fever and a constant headache placed Follett’s thousand page volumes in the same category as learning a new language or understanding articles in The Economist. Marilynne Robinson, Maeve Binchy and Emma Straub filled my hours. Then I began Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

Back to that certainty that in the days before antibiotics, Tylenol and throat lozenges, I might have been a dead person. In the spirit of full disclosure, I think I told my husband if the crud took me in 2015, I wanted to be cremated.

IMG_0349In Door County, Wisconsin, where this story began, there is a joke that Peninsula State Park will one day be lined by memorial benches and ankle deep in the ashes of visitors and residents who cannot bear to spend eternity anywhere else.

I am perplexed about what is to be done with the ashes of loved ones. Urns behind glass in mausoleums give me an odd feeling. Urns on the bookshelves of friends make me wonder what happens when the Boomer generation passes and grandkids are left with an increasing number of urns holding their grandparents and their parents. I am aware of people carrying a small vial of a loved one’s ashes. My mother-in-law asked that hers be spread over her gardens. Four pounds of ash is not an insignificant amount of material.

With most of the world dying in Mandel’s book, the whole ashes disposal question is moot. When sick with the ever-changing illness, Station Eleven was not a good choice for passing the time. In the dark of my nights, Mandel’s quick killing Georgia flu seemed plausible. Two days and over two hundred pages into Station Eleven I closed my e-reader to ponder whether I would want to be a survivor of such a pandemic or die. After fifteen or thirty minutes of such wondering I knew I would not finish the book. Margaret Atwood, PD James, Cormac McCarthy and James Howard Kunstler have not bothered my sleep in worse times. But I wouldn’t sleep with Mandel’s story in my mind.

As a writer of speculative fiction, I’ve stewed for weeks about catastrophes that could alter the world. I write of things I fear might happen—nuclear missteps, military encounters, financial collapse, uncontrolled corporate growth. Mandel’s work is brilliant. Last week, fully healthy, I carried her book to the gym, set the elliptical machine on thirty minutes and read another forty pages. Over the next days I managed another forty. Close to the end, I walked away once more. To finish the book would be worse than my decision to watch Contagion while flying home from Paris. This year I’m piling up magazines, chick lit and historical fiction in case my flu shot is ineffective. Nothing stronger.

Mix and Match Social Media

Kindle topping pile of books

Some writers spend half the year driving to bookstores, church fairs, and events to sell very few books at each. They don’t cover expenses; much less earn enough to give up their day jobs. Some are aggressive with their social media management. They’ve been told they need to be on all social media sites, that the more titles they publish the more people will recognize their brands, and the closer they will be to the tipping point of success. Published by small publishers, they have almost no marketing support and run on dreams and trust.

This is a turbulent time for creators of artistic content. Writers once made a living selling short stories to magazines. Now many markets charge submission fees. The number of self-published book titles in 2013 increased 17 percent over 2012 and 437 percent over 2008. Like the music industry, the large publishing houses assume less risk by signing fewer unknown authors. Those published have weeks for their books to meet ambitious sales targets or lose support.

Calumet Editions, my publisher, has built an e-world marketing strategy that includes a website and an aggressive Twitter presence. Through a traditional distributor, it uses a print on demand approach with minimal inventory. It is a new marketing model that has empty spaces that are different than those of the very traditional small press that published my first four books without social media or ebook strategies. Indie flowers-cover-200bookstores would like to have The High Cost of Flowers, a Midwest Book Awards winner, on their shelves, but don’t always have the hours needed to add another distributor to their business.

What makes sense for my work to be discovered by readers? Here’s what I discovered:

Women over 45 account for 58% of all books purchased. They rely on personal recommendations and like to visit bookstores. More Americans own tablets, but still almost 70 percent read traditional books. That distinction doesn’t vary much by demographic group. Young people are more likely to read ebooks than older people, but they’re also likely to read paperbacks.

As of 2014, 74% of online adults use social networking sites. Highest networking use is in the 18 and 49 age categories where over 82% use networking sites. At age 50 networking sites use drops to 65%. About 71% of online adults use Facebook. Only 28% use Twitter.

Doing fancy calculations that means about 15 out of every 100 online adults over 49, and 19 out of those between 19 and 49, might see a tweet. BI Intelligence found Twitter use leans toward males with 22% of online men tweeting and 15% of online women.

Follow me on FacebookWhere are the women I hope to reach? Some are not online. Those who are find their way to Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Pinterest is leader in online shopping because of food sites. Facebook still claims top of the heap for other sales. The challenge for me is to pinpoint a social networking strategy to connect me with a primary demographic of women in their 30s through 60s.

I’ll share how I intend to augment my publisher’s strategy to connect with that group in my next blog.



Who is @c_kraack?

A contract sat on the corner of my desk for weeks. My publisher, Calumet Editions, is asking to formalize their social media-marketing program that is Twitter centered. I balked.

Calumet Editions is a small press run by two lovely people I have known for many, many years. I trust these guys. The High Cost of Flowers won two Midwest Book Awards. The book is selling about as well as any release without a publicity machine. Having published four books with a traditional small publisher depending on old school face-to-face marketing, I remain perplexed about how to successfully market books in today’s market.

For years I have managed my website:, a blog, Facebook and Facebook author pages and @c_kraack Twitter account. That is a fairly typical social media formula recommended for authors. Generating readers or followers is an uphill daily effort. There are vendors who will fluff up those numbers and if you’re lucky they will deliver real Twitter users, not robots. You can buy followers by the thousands. If that makes you feel successful.

Before Calumet, I had fun with my 300+ Twitter followers. I knew many of them. We high-fived each other’s achievements and exchanged pithy comments. I followed major authors and agents who would never follow me. I wasn’t hungry for a Klout ranking, but more like a kid with a lot of pen pals writing very short letters.

Fast forward. With over 90,000 followers, Calumet’s algorithms now drop people who don’t follow me or are inactive for a week. Many of my writing friends and book club followers dropped me because of Calumet advertising blocked out spontaneous connections.

@c_kraack is now truly a brand. One that Calumet has built. At any moment someone in kenburns3.jpgthe world could be reading a tweet from @c_kraack that I generated or Calumet generated. Some of those people buy books. From what I read about social media marketing, Twitter has a conversion rate around one percent. The expert advice is accurate that one social media outlet does not equal a marketing plan.

Where is small press marketing sweet spot? I am an author trying to read the trade publications and blogs, but I am not a marketer. I am a writer working to be discovered by readers. I’ll share what I find through a series of blogs.

Next up: Matching book buyers to social media usage.


What to Read: The High Cost of Flowers

pioneer press logo with bulldog and

“Cynthia Kraack’s fifth novel, “The High Cost of Flowers” (Calumet Editions, $15.99) won the Best Literary Fiction and Best Contemporary Fiction categories in the 2014 Midwest Book Awards and rightly so. This luminous novel is so moving, so real, parts are difficult to read because this is the story of every family,” writes books editor Mary Ann Grossman in the Pioneer Press.

“The story is told from each person’s point of view, including Katherine’s when she is lucid.…” notes Grossman about the main character, her husband, and adult children. “Most touching is Kraack’s depiction of Art’s devotion to Katherine. Even when she rages and tries to hurt him, he loves his wife. He is one of the most interesting characters in this season’s novels by local writers.”

Read the full review of The High Cost of Flowers at Pioneer Press.

The Writer’s Mind

Every dozen years or so the story circulates about women who live together finding their 011monthly cycles beginning to align. In the past few months I’ve begun to think some similar lunar phenomena is pulling the annual physicals of writing friends into a similar pattern, regardless of gender.

We work in fiction and memoir with deep minds that push the thought of blood tests and stethoscopes into personal zones that should not be explored until necessary. All of us are of a certain age and know of bad news that has been given to good friends. And we have written about grim events that required researching information we should not be thinking about the night before a physical.  But we can’t help ourselves.

This wasn’t the way being a writer was supposed to be according to the likes of Hemingway and Parker. Not one of us smokes or drinks (to excess). None of us are promiscuous or live in lands where diseases could be contracted in the water. We just think too much.

That same amount of overthinking is wonderful when crafting a scene. For example, I once crawled the length of our house dragging a thick book tied to one ankle to be sure a scene was accurate. I’ve watched an odd exercise show over and over to capture the intonation of the leader. I’ve researched the Mayo website a health condition that might kill a character.

My life is absolutely normal. Today I did laundry, dusted a few rooms and went to a baseball game. I also drew pictures of the farmstead where my next novel takes place, verified the tree species that make up a windbreak and researched high blood pressure during pregnancy. Farms, tree stands and pregnancy won’t be discussed at the doctor’s office. High blood pressure remains on my mind tonight.

Midwest Book Award Seal

That worry isn’t groundless. My mother dealt with high blood pressure from her thirties until she died fifty years later. My brother took medication for high blood pressure in his early fifties and died before his sixtieth birthday. My father had wonderful, steady, low blood pressure.

Time to calm down. Think I’ll read something by Jennifer Weiner before bed.


Cynthia Kraack on Mr. Media Celebrity Video Podcast

Cynthia Kraack on Mr. Media Celebrity Video Podcast

In The High Cost of Flowers, Kraack presents us with the Kemper family. They’re just like your family and mine, except the author gives the reader access to all of their secrets, warts and all.

“The character of Art Kemper in some ways was inspired by my Dad. My mother did, in fact, have a series of strokes. And watching him care for her and (exhibit) all the patience and long devotion to a spouse. We’ve also had some unhealthy relationships with alcohol in our family, as well. And the Catholicism. My folks were very strong Catholics. That’s about where the similarities between my family and the Kempers in ‘The High Cost of Flowers’ stop.”
—Cynthia Kraack

The High Cost of Flowers Wins Two Midwest Book Awards

The High Cost of Flowers was the 2015 Midwest Book Awards winner in the Fiction and XXX Categories.


The High Cost of Flowers, a novel written by Cynthia Kraack, was recognized as the top book in both the literary fiction and contemporary fiction categories in the Midwest Independent Publishing Association’s 25th Anniversary Midwest Book Awards. The ceremony was held May 13 in St. Paul.

This is Kraack’s fifth novel, but first literary work. The High Cost of Flowers is the story of an American family dealing with end of life issues and dementia of its matriarch while battling personal challenges and relationship difficulties. The Kemper family does its best, but not without sacrifices.

“Being a finalist in two categories was exciting,” said Kraack. “Hearing The High Cost of Flowers called twice as a winner surpassed all my expectations. This book took almost ten years to write. So many people in our workplaces or neighborhoods carry emotional burdens without a lot of support. Managing care of a deteriorating elderly family member can be overwhelming.”

“We are proud to have published The High Cost of Flowers,” said Gary R. Lindberg, CEO of Calumet Editions. “We’re a young publisher with more exposure in genre books. The High Cost of Flowers opened access to new readers for us.”

Experts from all aspects of the book world, including publishers, writers, editors, librarians, teachers and book designers, judge the competition. They select award winners and finalists based on overall excellence. Entries were submitted from a 12-state region including Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio.

Kraack’s first novel, Minnesota Cold, won the 2009 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award for Fiction. She has had a number of short stories recognized by national literary publications.


Read about The High Cost of Flowers

Buy Harvesting Ashwood from
Buy Harvesting Ashwood Kindle Edition from Amazon
Buy Harvesting Ashwood from Amazon

The fifth novel by Cynthia Kraack, The High Cost of Flowers is contemporary fiction about contemporary life. Continuing her tradition of studying what binds and strains within families, the Kempers are compelling characters not unlike those in books by Anita Shreve, Louise Erdrich or Sue Miller. The High Cost of Flowers is an American story as classic as suburbs, working parents struggling to raise decent kids and multi-generational confrontation.

The High Cost of Flowers, winner of 2014 Midwest Book Awards in the separate categories of Literary Fiction and Contemporary Fiction, by Mendota Heights author Cynthia Kraack opens the conversation through multiple generations of a fictional Minnesota family.  Katherine Kemper’s world continues to shrink as vascular dementia claims her memory and congestive heart failure weakens her body. The impact on her husband and adult children colors many aspects of their daily lives.

This is Kraack’s fifth novel, but first literary. The High Cost of Flowers is a contemporary American family story where an insufficient healthcare delivery system offers little relief for an elderly spouse reluctant to lose the companionship of his loved one, or their children sandwiched between emotions and obligations. 

“So many people in our neighborhoods and workplace carry the emotional burden of making decisions about a family member requiring more and more care,” said Kraack. “There’s never enough time and frequently not enough financial resources. With smaller families living across multiple states, there’s just not enough of anything to fill the well.”

The High Cost of Flowers began while Kraack supported her own father in caring for her mother after a series of strokes. “The devotion to his wife displayed by character Art Kemper was modeled on the best of my father who managed to honor my mother’s desire to stay home until she passed. I’m not a healthcare professional or representative of any dementia-related organization, but I am the only member of my family still alive after a difficult decade. Waiting until a memory impairment challenge touches your family is too late. Sandwich is a gentle word for how the Millennial, who are starting their families later, will feel when the dementia epidemic swamps their parents’ generation.” 

The What, Why, and How of Author Cynthia Kraack


Cynthia Kraack was recently featured in the blog of Linda K. Sienkiewicz, author of In the Context of Love, with the article What, Why, How: Cynthia Kraack, an ongoing feature spotlighting writers with their own words. Here’s an excerpt:


I’ve been a corporate professional because that was easy. I sing because music is like air. I have come to understand I write because life is so unsatisfying if I don’t. It wasn’t an easy lesson to learn.

In a footlocker in our basement are a number of notebooks filled with four or five paragraph short stories, longish poems, a few essays and many songs all handwritten in pencil when I was a kid. I was the Scholastic poetry winner, the yearbook editor, the college newspaper entertainment editor and graduated from journalism college when the reality of earning a living interrupted an undefined dream.

The Reviews are In for The High Cost of Flowers


From the Book Jacket

Cynthia Kraack’s fifth novel is a study of a family adrift, anchored only to itself by the individual memories of a shared past. The Kempers aren’t a pretty family at this stage in their lives, but the portrait Kraack paints is.
—Charles Locks, author of Greater Trouble in the Lesser Antilles

Family Drama that Pulls You In

The author realistically portrays what happens when a family crisis strikes and how the world you have known before, even if imperfect, is gone forever and those you love are changed forever.

—Michelle, Amazon Customer Review

Compelling Family Drama—A Good Read

Although readers may think they know where a story about dementia is headed, they will discover that it is never so simple. The story is realistic, but nuanced, and its power resides in the truths it reveals about family dynamics.
—Ellen S., Amazon Customer Review

Beautifully Written. Is There Redemption for the Collective Soul?

An extremely well told tale, beautifully written. Is there redemption for the collective soul of a family? Cynthia Kraack will pull at your heart strings as she proves the old adage that no two children grow up in the same family.

—MaryDon E Beeson, Amazon Customer Review