EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! I’m a literary debutante!

Printing Press

@TheDebutanteBall @ InannaPub #diversebooks #diverselit I am thrilled to report that I have been chosen for The Debutante Ball, a group blog for authors making their debut in the literary world. The blog is in its 12th season and celebrates 5 up-and-coming authors. Debutante Ball LogoFormer Debs include bestsellers in the genres of women’s fiction, mystery, literary fiction, nonfiction, young adult, and more. I’ll be blogging every week during the 2019-2020 season on a variety of literary topics, interviewing authors and hosting book giveaways as well as sharing exciting details about my big “dance” toward the publication of my novel, The Talking Drum, which is forthcoming from Inanna Publications in May 2020. The Debutante Ball was established in 2007. Check us out here.

Find your favorite read while in the back seat of an Uber

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Many of us who love to read and love to write have bemoaned the loss of brick and mortar bookstores over the past several years—the chain stores as well as the independents. We’ve wondered if our society will lose interest in reading and if the online booksellers are speeding up the demise of bookstores. We writers have wondered if we’ll have a decent-sized audience who will read our work. My fears were calmed recently while I was on a business trip. To get to my destination, I had to connect at Philadelphia International Airport. Killing time between flights I happened upon what is called the Philadelphia Book Exchange, a welcoming little cove with benches and chairs and a slot for dropping off books for others to read and selecting books that you’d like to read. It’s located at Terminal A-East. The airport also has a virtual library, which lets visitors access the Free Library of Philadelphia’s electronic collection of e-books. It’s located in the D/E Connector.

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And also during my trip I was delighted to see that my Uber driver had placed some delightful readings in the seat pocket behind the driver’s seat. It’s encouraging to see new avenues for inspiring reading.If you’ve seen libraries, bookstores, or book exchanges pop up in unusual or untraditional places, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.

 

Mark your calendar for the first-ever Women’s Fiction Day!

WOMENS FICTION DAY

June 8, 2019, marks the first Women’s Fiction Day. Sponsored by the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, the occasion is in celebration of women’s fiction authors, novels, publishers, booksellers, and most importantly, readers who appreciate women’s fiction and the power of a great story. As a fiction writer myself, I am very pleased by this news. Women’s fiction includes layered stories in which the plot is driven by the main character’s emotional journey. The stories can be contemporary or historical, and may have magical, mystery, thriller, romance, or other elements.

June 8th was chosen because it’s a celebratory month and many people enjoy summer reading. Summer signals a time to slow down, relax, visit a local library or bookstore, and discover new novels to experience during this beautiful season – and throughout the entire year.

Ways to Celebrate Women’s Fiction Day:

• Visit http://www.womensfictionwriters.org and subscribe to the free Read On! Newsletter where we’ll keep you up-to-date on new women’s fiction authors and titles. • Visit the WFWA shelf on Goodreads to find hundreds of titles.

• Visit your local library and/or bookstore to discover new authors and novels. • Follow WFWA on Twitter @WF_Writers or Instagram womensfictionwriters

• On social media, #bookstagram your favorite book and include a photo or stack

• Host or attend a women’s fiction book club event.

The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) was founded in 2013 and is now the premier organization for women’s fiction. The organization fosters an online community of inclusion and opportunity, and provides resources, professional development, networking, and support for aspiring, debut, and published women’s fiction authors, as well as industry professionals.

A Black History Month reading list

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Reading African American literature is a great way to celebrate Black History Month. In recognition of this observance, I offer my list of top 10 books (in no particular order) by authors of the African diaspora (people of African origin living outside of the continent).

  • Gloria Naylor–The Women of Brewster Place
  • Naylor won critical and popular acclaim for her first published novel. In later years it became a television miniseries. In The Women of Brewster Place and subsequent novels, Naylor gave intense and vivid depiction of many social issues, including poverty, racism, homophobia, misogyny, and social stratification of African Americans.

 

  • Zora Neale Hurston–Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Hurston was an anthropologist and influential author of African American literature. Of Hurston’s four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God is her most popular work.

 

  • Angie Thomas–The Hate U Give
  • This young adult novel–which is now a major motion picture– felt so real to me that at times I had to put it down and let the book cool off for a day or two before continuing. The Hate U Give debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list and remained there for 50 weeks. Thomas’ goal through her fiction, is to shed light on issues that many African Americans face.

 

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates–Between the World and Me
  • This emotionally searing work is written as a letter to Coates’ teenage son about the feeling, symbolism, and realities associated with being African American in the United States. Coates is an author, journalist, and comic book writer who gained broad attention during his time as a national correspondent at The Atlantic.

 

  • Langston Hughes–The Short Stories of Langston Hughes
  • My favorite writer, Hughes was a poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist and was best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. This collection of his short stories showcases Hughes’ literary skill and artistic ability.

 

  • James Baldwin–Another Country
  • The works of novelist, playwright, and social critic James Baldwin explored the intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions. The novel, Another Country, published in 1962, portrays themes taboo in their day, including bisexuality, interracial couples, and extramarital affairs.

 

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie–Americanah
  • Nigerian author Adichie won the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award for this novel taught in many university classrooms, that traces the life of a young Nigerian woman who immigrates to the U.S. to attend university.

 

  • Edwidge Dandicat–Claire of the Sea Light
  • This Haitian-American novelist and short story writer has won numerous awards and is gifted at using many different forms of storytelling. Claire of the Sea Light shows a town scarred by violence and corruption and social disparities but also filled with hopes and dreams.

 

 

  • August Wilson–Fences
  • The works of playwright August Wilson included a series of plays, known as the Pittsburgh Cycle, for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes for drama. Each work is set in a different decade and depicts comic and tragic aspects of the African American experiences. Fences, which became a major motion picture starring Denzel Washington, is but one of August’s exceptional works.

 

French Riviera and City of Light venues are reminders of the novelist’s impact on culture

 

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As I strolled through the streets of Monaco, on a recent working vacation to Europe, I was impressed with the number of tourists that crowded the tiny city-state-country-microstate along the Mediterranean coastline. Tour BusSome rode by on packed double-decker tour buses. Others flipped through racks of scenic postcards and sized up Grand Prix T-shirts at the ubiquitous souvenir shops. I joined the crowd at noon on the grounds of the royal palace for the changing of the guard and shared sidewalkCASTLE space with others to ogle the display windows of the luxurious boutiques. When I got to the square at Monte-Carlo, I was annoyed with myself that my camera was in my pocket as a Maserati rode past. As I peeked into the Monte-Carlo Casino from the grand stairs (you have to pay to get in, be a high roller, and properly attired) I began to ask myself: “What has given Monte-Carlo such an important position in popular culture. Of course, memories of the glamorous Prince Rainier III and his wife, Princess Grace are part of it, but a larger influence, in my opinion, has been that of Ian Fleming. The spy novelist described the casino extensively in his first James Bond book, Casino Royale, published in 1953. The Casino Royalecasino also appeared in Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye. Add to that the movie adaptations and a marketing bonanza was born. As I watched well-coiffed, wealthy patrons glide up to the entrance, a framed publicity poster of actor Daniel Craig in the role of Bond came into view near the casino entrance.

During the Paris portion of my adventure and tour, novelist Victor Hugo’s name was highlighted as we approached the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral. Known for its NOTRE DAME AND LISA.2jpgflying buttresses, gargoyles, and colorful rose windows, it suffered desecration in the 1790s during the French Revolution. Soon after publication of Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in 1831, popular interest in the building revived. The cathedral continues to play a large role in the landscape of The City of Light and in people’s imaginations.

The popularity of both Monte-Carlo and Notre-Dame illustrate the ability of novelists to play a role in keeping venues in the international spotlight decades and sometimes more than a century after their work has been published.

Countdown to publication: Posing for publicity shots

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Among the many things authors must do before their book comes out in print is to pose for publicity shots. My debut novel is scheduled for publication 14 months from now—September 2019. That may seem far away, but the publisher needs my photos by May 2019 for the editing phase. So, I figured I’d take my pictures now—July 2018—because spring in New England doesn’t even begin to look like spring until June of any given year.

DSC_5139AI had photographer extraordinaire, Adrienne Albrecht take photos of me on the grounds of the office park where we work. In addition to the author bio that will appear at the back of my novel, I’ll most likely use the photos for my website, newsletters I’ll send to subscribers, flyers I’ll have printed promoting my author appearances and workshops I might teach. I’ll also likely use the photos for any guest blog posts I may do or short stories or essays I might get published.

For anyone looking to take publicity shots for any reason here are some pointers from M.J. Rose and Randy Susan Meyers in their book, What to Do Before Your Book Launch.

Color counts: Wear the color that looks best on you. (My personal favorite is electric blue)

Hide your blemishes: Photos freeze you in time.

Choose a smile and practice it: Good idea. But my smile is chronically lopsided. I have no way of correcting it. It’s become my trademark.

Sit or stand straight: A good photographer will coach you on that and point out when you’re slouching.

Bring a few more outfits than you’ll need: I brought several and found that some of the colors I thought would make me dazzle really didn’t. I’m glad I brought several choices.

And above all, the most important pointer is to have fun: We did. Adrienne and I had a fabulous time taking photos. When I checked my watch, we’d been at it an hour and half but it hadn’t seemed that long. We were having such a great time.

Why this writer is sad at the shutdown of a drumming school

Drum Connection BuildingI got word today that the DrumConnection, New England’s premier hand-drumming school, based in Arlington, Massachusetts, will soon be shutting its doors. The DrumConnection offers excellent djembe and dunun instruction in private classes, workshops, and performances. The DrumConnection also sponsors trips to Guinea, West Africa, for study with master drummers. The retail store sells an array of drums, drum kits, cymbals, and accessories. I consider my relationship with the DrumConnection unique. I took classes there and attended workshops not to become proficient at drumming, but to breathe life into the characters of my novel.

The classes helped me shape the personality of one of my main characters, a drummer from Senegal.  The Talking Drum is set for publication by a feminist press in the fall of 2019. Observing the Group drummingpersonality of master drummer Mamady Keita as he worked with all of us to perfect our hand-drumming technique during a drumming workshop held at Medford City Hall chambers several years ago, helped me flesh out the personality of my fictional drummer. Spending time in classes practicing for hours the correct way to perform the slap, tone, bass technique on the djembe helped me describe, through another one of my characters who had never played the drums before, how the instrument felt against her palms. I don’t know why director Alan Tauber is shutting down The DrumConnection. Most likely economics are playing a role. He’s having a big going out of business sale, slashing the prices on his drums. But even though the brick and mortar store will soon be gone, I’m sure that the community that the DrumConnection has cultivated over the years will continue on in the drumming circles, trips abroad, and other avenues. I hope that my fictional characters can be part of the legacy reminding people of the importance of the DrumConnection and African drumming’s important place in the artistic world.

Dubbed “The Bronze Muse,” This Was the First African American Woman To Publish A Short Story

PoetI marvel at this woman’s accomplishments, considering all of the societal challenges she must have faced. Dubbed the “Bronze Muse” in honor of her skills as both a writer and lecturer, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper is regarded as one of the most extraordinarily accomplished African American women of the nineteenth century. She was, for example, a respected poet whose ten volumes of verse sold well enough to provide her with a modest income. In 1859, she became the first black woman to publish a short story. And her only novel, Iola Leroy; or Shadows Uplifted (1892), was the first book by a black writer to depict the life of African Americans in the Reconstruction-era South. (Many colleges and universities across the United States still feature it as part of their women’s studies and black literature courses.) But it was as a lecturer that Harper had her greatest impact, beginning in the antebellum period as an antislavery activist and ending up as a crusader for women’s rights and moral reform.

Harper was born of free parents in September of 1825, in Baltimore, Maryland. She was raised there by an aunt and uncle after being orphaned at an early age. She attended a private school run by her uncle until she was 13, when she went to work as a housekeeper for a family that owned a bookstore. Harper’s employer encouraged her to spend her free time reading and writing, and before long the young woman was composing her first poems and essays. Her first book, Forest Leaves (also known as Autumn Leaves), a compilation of poetry and prose, was published about 1845.

After leaving Maryland in 1850, Harper taught school for a while in Ohio and Pennsylvania. It was in Pennsylvania that she became active in the Underground Railroad. She also launched her career as an antislavery lecturer during this period, traveling extensively throughout New England, New York, Ohio, and eastern Canada to speak as often as three or four times a day. On May 13, 1857, for example, she addressed the New York Antislavery Society. In an excerpt of what is believed to be the only surviving example of one of Harper’s antislavery lectures, as quoted from Outspoken Women: Speeches by American Women Reformers, 1635-1935, Harper called for an end to slavery: “A hundred thousand newborn babes are annually added to the victims of slavery; twenty thousand lives are annually sacrificed on the plantations of the South. Such a sight should send a thrill of horror through the nerves of civilization and impel the heart of humanity to lofty deeds. So it might, if men had not found out a fearful alchemy by which this blood can be transformed into gold. Instead of listening to the cry of agony, they listen to the ring of dollars and stoop down to pick up the coin.”

The 1850s proved to be a productive time for Harper, and in addition to her public speaking engagements, she also published several volumes of poetry. In much of her writing, Harper argued for social change and in support of her beliefs. One of her most critically acclaimed works, the abolitionist poem “Bury Me in a Free Land,” was published in 1854 in her popular book Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects. This collection saw print in over 20 editions. “Mrs. Harper’s verse is frankly propagandist, a metrical extension of her life dedicated to the welfare of others,” commented Joan R. Sherman in Invisible Poets: Afro-Americans of the Nineteenth Century. “She believed in art for humanity’s sake.”

 

Women Reading Aloud acknowledges the power of women’s voices

Women Reading Aloud

WOMEN READING ALOUD is an international organization dedicated to the power of the writer’s voice. WRA believes in providing space for artistic growth. Founded in New Jersey in 2003, it offers writing workshops modeled after the Amherst Writers and Artists Method, the Author Series, and Work-in-Progress Series, Writing and Yoga Program, conferences and retreats where women writers can explore their “authentic” voices. Founded on the 3-in-1 principle, WOMEN READING ALOUD focuses on the equal value of the writer, the reader, and the listener. All genres are welcome. WRA encourages writers to cherish their own voices, as well as the voices of others, as they travel the writer’s journey.

Advocate now for a narrative arts center

Grub Street Logo

A coalition of literary organizations have banded together to propose a multi-use literary and cultural hub in the Seaport District of Boston, a vibrant center for teens and adults from all backgrounds to tell their stories and experiences. This effort is led by Grub Street Writing Center. The proposal has gotten a boost from the Calderwood Charitable Foundation, should their plan be approved.

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Share your excitement for a Narrative Arts Center by advocating and spreading the word on social media. Use hashtag #BostonNarrativeCenter in your tweets. Here are sample tweets to consider:
Help make #BostonNarrativeCenter (ow.ly/u5x530jbmBw )—Boston’s first center for literary groups to create, perform, and collaborate—a reality. Let @marty_walsh know this is important to you! Other ways to advocate ow.ly/xcnB30jbmFR
GrubStreet, @masspoetry, & @HarvardBooks are setting out to build the City’s first narrative arts/storytelling center ow.ly/u5x530jbmBw Want to make #BostonNarrativeCenter a reality? Here are ways to advocate ow.ly/xcnB30jbmFR

Tweet Mayor Marty Walsh, @marty_walsh, to let him know you support a Narrative Arts Center in Boston.

A letter of support

Write a letter of support addressed to Boston Planning and Development Agency and 50 Liberty LLC. The letter should explain why you are personally supportive of this idea and talk about the impact GrubStreet has had on your life as a student, instructor, community partner, or writer or the impact you see in the city and even nationally. Letters can be sent to Alyssa Mazzarella at alyssa@grubstreet.org. Grub Street is collecting them to send over in a bundle

Calls and emails to the city officials

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If you live in Boston, call and/or email your city councilor and the members on the Arts, Culture and Special Events Committee: Kim Janey, Michelle Wu, Timothy McCarthy, Matt O’Malley, Josh Zakim. Links to their emails are here: https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-council
If you don’t live in Boston, please email or call the councilor members on the Arts, Culture and Special Events Committee: Kim Janey, Michelle Wu, Timothy McCarthy, Matt O’Malley, Josh Zakim as well as the at-large city councilors. Links to their emails are here: https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-council

The Office of Arts and Culture Julie Burros, Chief of Arts and Culture julie.burros@boston.gov 617-635-3911

Mayor’s Office Marty Walsh mayor@boston.gov 617- 635-4500.

Six benefits for writers who appear on community access television

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Several other writers and I, who contributed essays to the anthology, Black Lives Have Always Mattered, published by 2Leaf Press, were recently invited to appear on the Boston Neighborhood Network, a public access television station. The mission of BNN is to inform and empower those who live, work and study in Boston through distinct and diverse community media programming, education and services.

We writers were part of a panel discussion for the program, “Willie’s Web,” hosted by Willie Pleasant. Normally, before making a television appearance, I am nervous. In fact, there have been instances when I couldn’t sleep the night before. But before the BNN appearance, I was relaxed. Maybe it was because I met Willie a few weeks earlier at a book party and she put me at ease. Or it could have been because I convinced myself of the misconception that community access was nothing to feel anxious about because very few people watch.

Here are six things I learned from appearing on public access television:

  1. There was no pressure to be perfect. BNN is a learning tool for the community. Residents who volunteer are instructed on how to produce and direct television programming. They are provided with workshops and multimedia training. The production team is not scolded for small mistakes, which helps engender a relaxing atmosphere on the set.
  2. Effective training ground. If you’re unsure if you’d feel comfortable appearing on television, you can find out through appearing on public access television without concern that a massive audience is watching.
  3. Plenty of leveraging opportunities. Making an appearance on public access TV can bring a writer to the attention of commercial stations. Writers wanting to pitch themselves to other outlets will have a copy of the show they can share with news directors and assignment editors at other stations. Appearing on public access can also bring a writer to the attention of people in the local community who might like to invite the writer for a public talk or community event.
  4. Generous amount of time for the interview. Willie’s Web was an hour-long program, which allowed plenty of time for all of us to talk about our writing. Most commercial stations wouldn’t be able to program that amount of time for a panel of authors.
  5. Station is small but mighty. Once the show aired live, it was scheduled to re-air the following week. Then it would be designated a video on demand, which the public would have access to indefinitely.
  6. Hyper local. Public access stations have a very loyal fan base who love grassroots, unvarnished programming. You may not have a lot of people watching your appearance, but the ones who watch will really care.