Women’s National Book Association Awards the WNBA Second Century Prize to Little Free Library

wnbaboston-2016

In November of 1917, a group of women booksellers gathered at Sherwood’s Bookstore in New York City to form an organization of women active in all aspects of the book world. Having been shut out of the all-male American
Booksellers Association and the Booksellers’ League, the women connected, educated, and advocated for themselves, and the Women’s National Book Association was born. I’ve been a member of both the Washington, D.C. and Boston chapters.

One of the signature programs of our Centennial  is the awarding of the WNBA
Second Century Prize, a $5,000 grant to an organization that supports the power of reading, past, present, and into the future. The one-time cash award will be given to the Little Free Library, a nonprofit organization that promotes reading for all ages, but especially children, by building free book exchanges.

Under the guidance of Second Century Prize co-chairs Mary Grey James and Susan Larson, nominations for the prize came from WNBA chapters throughout the country. A committee chose Little Free Library (LFL) based on its
grassroots organization, which has impacted thousands of readers of all ages and backgrounds. LFL embodies the goals of the Women’s National Book Association by promoting literacy and the love of reading.

Little Free Library was founded in Hudson, Wisconsin, by Todd Bol to honor his mother, a school teacher. In just eight years the organization has become an international movement of mini-libraries sharing the message of “give
one, take one.” LFL has over 50,000 libraries in 70+ countries with millions of books exchanged annually.

No longer known only for its charming small libraries placed in front yards and public spaces, it continuously develops new initiatives. The WNBA particularly applauds the LFL’s new Kids, Community, and Cops program,
which helps police departments set up book exchanges in their precincts —a commitment that resonates with the WNBA’s own National Reading Group Month program.

“This means so much,” said Todd Bol, creator and executive director of Little Free Library. “Little Free Library is about 90 percent women, so it really is a women’s movement, supporting friends and family and community.”

About the WNBA The WNBA is a 501c(3) organization that aims to connect, educate, advocate, and lead in the book world and broader literary community. We do this through networking and professional development, as well as public
programs including the WNBA Pannell Award, which promotes bookstores that excel in connecting kids with books; the WNBA Award, which honors visionary bookwomen, from Eleanor Roosevelt and Doris Kearns Goodwin to Ann Patchett and Amy King; and National Reading Group Month, which celebrates the joy of shared reading.

A day of celebration for small presses

Pulitzer

The winners of the Pulitzer Prize were announced this week. The prize for poetry goes to Tyehimba Jess for the book, Olio. The book is described as astoundingly innovative, combining poems, songs, historical facts, fiction, interviews and tables to create a chorus of compelling voices — all singing praises for the countless African American performers whose contributions to minstrel shows of the late 1800s have been largely undocumented.

The book was published by a small poetry press in Seattle–Wave Books, surprising to many on the book publishing industry. Small presses, or independent presses, as they are often called, make up about half of the book publishing industry market. Many focus on fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Since the profit margin can be thin, small presses can be narrowly focused and driven by other motivations, including reaching niches that mainstream publishers ignore.

Small presses are a potential outlet for novelists and writers of other genres to get published, but they are often overlooked in favor of the big publishers. Writers don’t support small presses as much as they should by purchasing the literature they produce. That’s a shame. I had the opportunity to talk with dozens of editors and publishers at small presses while at the AWP Conference Bookfair in February and seek out publishing opportunities with them.

NewPages.com, a website of literary news and information, has an extensive list of small presses and calls for submission worth checking out.

 

 

Panelists at mystery novel conference explain why a Smart phone can put them in a panic

I find it ironic that writers whose job it is to frighten their readers or at least make their pulses quicken with their plot twists and suspenseful moments sometimes find themselves facing the same emotional and physiological moments when dealing with crafting their mysteries and crime fiction.

dead-crow-logoWhile attending panel discussions at Mysterium: The Mystery Novel Conference, held recently on the campus of Wesleyan University, I was surprised to discover that some writers experience anxiety over technology. They are so afraid to deal with technology that they either avoid it by setting their novels in the pre-1985 era or they have whatever gadget the main character is using sabotaged by the end of the first page.

One crime novelist said that’s why it’s not unheard of for a main character who’s standing in an alley, looking down at a lifeless body to drop his or her cell phone in a puddle and then have the cell phone end up in a dumpster. “Because if you can Google everything,” she said, “the investigation can easily be solved.”

chris-with-the-dogThis got me wondering how mystery and thriller author Chris Knopf felt. He’s best known for his Sam Acquillo series. At the conference I attended his talk, titled “Writing Mysteries in the Age of Google.” He suggested that authors use technology in their stories as they would in real life. “If you’re going to be realistic, it has to be a seamless and a natural part of your story,” he said. “Don’t use a particular brand. Otherwise your books will only last a couple of years.” He said that Google is not something to be avoided, but embraced in degrees. “You have to deal with Google when the character is chris-knopf-book-coverresearching. I use Google for the basics and then I go talk to people. The same goes for my characters.” Knopf said that voicemail can be used as a device central to your plot. “I integrate voicemail into the story,” he said. “The dead man’s last words in a voicemail trigger the story.”

And I’m sure I’m not the only writer who thinks she can pick up hints on writing crime and law enforcement scenes from watching television. However, Knopf said, “Don’t rely on it. It doesn’t translate. I have a forensic analyst I consult. Everybody has to have a geek these days.”

And, of course, social media is too big to ignore, as are drones. “You don’t have to have a drone creep up to a house in a rural area,” he said. “New York can send a drone. They can be as tiny as a bug. They can fire weapons, shoot you with poison. There’s a lot of drama possible with drones.”

Writers: Here’s a ‘novel’ way to market your book

Book readers live an average of two years longer that those who don’t read at all. That’s the finding of a study out of Yale University. Researchers examined the reading habits of 3,635 people over the age of 50 and found that the ones who read up to 3 ½  hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over 12 years of follow up. This was even after variables, such as health, education, and income, were taken into account.

It’s not clear why there’s the “reading advantage,” but researchers suggest delving into novels promotes cognitive processes, such as empathy and emotional intelligence, which can boost longevity.

So the next time you give a book talk, speech, or book launch use the line, “Read my novel. It could add years to your life!” It could make your book sales increase dramatically.

Book Review: What to Do Before Your Book Launch

I’ve never had a book direct me to put it down and take care of an important matter  before continuing to read. That is, until I came across What to Do Before Your Book Launch. The guidebook for traditionally published authors was written by M.J. Rose, an internationally bestselling author of dozens of novels and internationally bestselling novelist Randy Susan Meyers, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on a couple of occasions.

Seriously, I was reading the book and was told to put the book down THAT INSTANTBook Image and secure my domain name. I already had LisaBraxton.com—that’ the domain for this website—but I didn’t have “dot org” or the domain name that is the working title of my manuscript. I did what the book said, stopped what I was doing, and secured the other domain names.

The authors of What to Do outlined a number of other things writer need to take care of or at least be involved in because of changes going on in the publishing world.

They point out that 10,000 novels hit the shelves each year. The price of books has gone up 20%, while review space has declined 20-50%. Fewer magazines and television shows feature authors. Publishers can only support a very small percentage of the books they publish and more than half of debut authors never publish a second novel.

So what does an author do in light of these changes and shifts in the business of books and media? Take an active role in publicity and marketing of the book.

What to Do tells you how to build websites, gives pointers on taking a publicity shot and offers the pros and cons of blogging, producing a book trailer, and a newsletter.

What to Do Before Your Book Launch is a “must-read” for any writer looking to get a book published. It’s a quick read—only 88 pages—that can be referred to over and over again during the publication process.

Women’s National Book Association Boston chapter “Author’s Night” Puts Spotlight on Writers

On Thursday, May 5 at 7 p.m. five authors will have the opportunity to give short readings from their published works during “Author’s Night” at the Boston Public logo-with-color-behind-it-260x150Library. The event, to be held in the library’s Commonwealth Salon, is being hosted by the Boston Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. The event, which will showcase five members of the chapter, is free and open to the public.

Events like this, hosted across the country by writing centers, libraries, university creative writing programs, and writers unions and associations, give writers

  • A reason to step away momentarily from the isolation of the laptop
  • An avenue for introducing their work to the public
  • An opportunity to practice speaking before an audience

If you’re in the Boston area, and love the written word, check out the event May 5th. If you’re outside of Boston there’s bound to be a writing institution planning a similar kind of event.

What I learned onstage at the comedy club

I’m not a comedian. I don’t write jokes and I’m not especially funny. Yet, on a recent weeknight I was onstage before an audience of 150 people at Laugh Boston, one of Boston’s most popular comedy clubs. With a level of confidence that surprised me, I stood in front of the mike under the bright lights. As I spoke, I heard a few titters here and there, then some chuckles, then clusters of people actually laughing out loud.

I’d won over my audience. My confidence was building. What’s great about Laugh Boston is that you Laugh Bostondon’t have to be a standup comedian to get onstage. You just have to have a story that fits the designated theme and know how to tell it.

The Moth storytelling is held at Laugh Boston once a month. There’s probably a The Moth storytelling near you. Events are held in major cities all over the country and also in London, Dublin, Melbourne, and Sydney. Here’s how it works. Ten audience members per event get to come onstage and tell a 5 minute story. Then audience members who volunteer to evaluate the presentations, judge them.

THE MOTH IMAGE

In an earlier blog post, I stated that I thought The Moth offered a great opportunity for writers to practice before an audience, a “dress rehearsal” for when they would do an author reading. But I also discovered that The Moth offers writers the opportunity to find out whether what they’ve written has audience appeal.

Cat bookWhen I was called onstage I told a story I had written in essay form for an online class I’m taking with Creative Nonfiction, out of Pittsburgh. The story is about how our cat, Savannah, bit my husband, and we considered getting rid of her. The essay is just under 3,000 words. For The Moth, I boiled the story down, emphasizing the dramatic parts and then back-filling with explanation before bringing the story back to the presents and its dramatic conclusion.

From the audience response, I knew that my story was relatable. People became emotionally invested in it. So, if you’ve got an essay or piece of creative nonfiction you’ve written and want to test it on an audience, come up with a storytelling version and get onstage at The Moth.

 

Why do I keep bumping into Andre Dubus?

He was sitting at one of those little two-seater tables, chatting with a friend in the lounge area of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center when I spotted him the other day—novelist and short story writer Andre Dubus, finalist for the National Book Award for House of Sand and Fog, which was later adapted for film and nominated for an Academy Award, Guggenheim Fellow, Oprah Book Club pick, and National Book Award finalist.

I instantly new it was him as I saw him out of the corner of my eye as I was passing by because of the hair. It’s distinctive: dark, soft waves with a swirl of grey at the center near the hairline that looked as if it could have been applied with a painter’s brush. He was sporting that rustic, Ralph Lauren look—the pointy cowboy boots, boot-cut jeans, open-collared shirt, dark, fitted blazer.

He stood up as I approached his table. I started to introduce myself, but I didn’t have to. “I know who you are.” He sounded ebullient. “You’re the novelist.”

“Yes, I am,” I replied, relieved that I didn’t have to explain myself.

He shook my hand. “Do I owe you an email?” he continued.

My mind raced back to the times I tried to get in touch with him, when I sent him updates about my manuscript. “Yes,” I said. “You probably do owe me a few emails, but that’s okay.”

I had been hanging around the convention center, waiting for a friend who was in the exhibit hall at the American Library Association mid-winter meeting. I had no idea that Dubus was one of the speakers. Before we parted, I handed him a copy of the Christmas Moments anthology that features one of my stories.

The first time I met him was about eight years ago when the nonprofit I work for invited him in for our organization-wide book club meeting. He read from House of Sand and Fog. At the time, I’d been writing short stories and hoped to write a novel. I told him so when he signed my copy of his book. He wished me luck and inscribed the book with “Good luck with your writing.”

Then, a few years later, I attended an author event at Newton Free Library to listen to him read from his memoir, Townie. Afterward, he seemed delighted when I told him that I’d completed my MFA in creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University and mentioned that he knew novelist Diane Les Bequets, one of my mentors who was running the program. He encouraged me to keep writing.

A couple of years later, not long after I’d gotten married and finished revising my novel, I showed up at Newtonville Books with my husband. I could feel the energy in the bookstore as Dubus’s fans awaited his arrival. They filled most of the seats but left a few up front. My husband and I didn’t have much choice but to sit there, front and center, with the lectern not much more than a foot away.

Dubus walked in and after he was introduced, opened a page in his story collection, Dirty Love. He adjusted his glasses, and as he was about to open his mouth to read the first line, he looked up at me and said, “I know you. We met before.”

Later, he signed my book and we had a nice chat.

Why do I keep bumping into Andre Dubus? Sometimes it’s by accident. A couple of times it was planned. When I’ve been around him I’ve wished that his stature as a novelist and memoirist could somehow rub off on me, opening doors for me in the world of publishing. But, the more realistic part of me simply enjoys the delightful and inspirational moments I’ve had with one of my favorite authors.

Enhance your public readings with THE MOTH

When my friend, Sue, asked me to join her buddies Rudy and Amy at THE MOTH story slam, held at Laugh Boston comedy venue this week, I didn’t hesitate. As a writer who tells stories, both fictional and true on the printed page, I was curious to see how stories are told in a story slam. Moth events are held in major cities around the country. There’s also THE MOTH radio hour at a station near you.

Laugh Boston

Here’s how it works. THE MOTH provides a theme for the evening’s event. When I attended, the theme was “dedication.” People sign up after they arrive to tell their stories. Only 10 are chosen per event. They are given 5 minutes to tell their story. If they go beyond 6 minutes, they must leave the stage. One of the organizers goes table-to-table asking people to volunteer as judges.

After we got our seats and ordered drinks, and the storytelling began, it didn’t take long for me to recognize the difference between telling a story and giving a reading. Storytelling is done without notes or pages of text so that we audience members could better connect with the speaker. The storytellers were animated, gesturing with their hands and arms, physically acting out portions of their stories. They changed pitch as they spoke, paused to let the audience laugh, and got emotional as they talked. They truly connected with the audience.

Participating in a story slam may not make for better writers, but could make writers, better speakers. So many writers just aren’t that comfortable in front of a microphone.

I picked up a few other tips. Wes Hazard, a local standup comedian, was picked to tellWES HAZARD a story. His was about gastrointestinal problems that left him flat on his back in both a men’s and women’s bathroom in a comedy club venue. At the close of THE MOTH, there were clusters of people wanting to meet him and talk to him about his horrible experience. Wes was smart. He was armed with postcards with details of his upcoming comedy performances listed and his website. There’s no doubt that he used telling his story at THE MOTH to market his standup. Writers can use events like THE MOTH to increase their fan base and readership.

Sue, Amy, and I did our best to cheer on Rudy when he got on stage and told his story, which, in fact, captivated the audience. However, he didn’t get the top score from the judges. We couldn’t believe it. Some of THE MOTH staff told him as he left the stage that his story was the best. They didn’t agree with the judges. It reminds me of the responses I get from publications I send my stories to. I can get a bunch of rejections and then a publication will come along and the editor will say it’s just what she was looking for. It’s all so subjective.

 

‘Tis the Season to Reflect on Publishing Successes

I’ve been feeling a little down this holiday season. I spent the past year revising my unpublished novel, had a former co-worker who runs an editing service proofread and copyedit it and have been sending it out to agents. So far, I’ve gotten a few rejections, some advice for tweaking it, but no nibbles.

But I have to remind myself of the successes I’ve had this year. I was honored when the ladies of GBS-NCNW asked me to speak at their membership tea in September. I read “Short LISA PHOTO READINGDistance Romance,” about how I met my husband in the most unlikely place. The story was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game.

Not long after that, I got some good news from the Editor of The Northwestern, my alumni magazine, that they would publish my essay, “Trust Yourself,” about volunteering at my church and my friendship with one of my little first graders.

As the holiday season got underway, I got good news again. And again. And again. Writer’s Digest magazine gave me an Writers Digesthonorable mention in its 84th annual writing competition. The mention was for an essay I wrote centering on a troubling medical diagnosis I received.

Grace Publishing, a publisher of Christian publications, accepted my essay, “Sunshine for Christmas,” and included it in it More Christmas Moments anthology.

Forgiveness Book ImageI had sent an essay I titled, “The World I Didn’t Know Existed,” to Inspire Christian Writers earlier in the year. Just in time for Christmas, Inspire Forgiveness was published, including my essay.

There was a time when I struggled to get short pieces published, but that’s beginning to change. I need to remind myself of this as I go through the process of seeking a literary agent to represent me.

Looking to promote your writing? Take a cue from Mariah Carey

Without fail, starting the day after Thanksgiving, until the end of the year I think of Mariah Carey. In fact, I can’t get her off my mind. It’s not because of her stunning five-octave voice or the ups and downs of her personal life. It’s because I can’t walk into a department store, supermarket, auto repair shop, or hair salon without hearing, All I Want for Christmas Is You. It becomes a continuous loop in my head that doesn’t come to a stop until New Year’s Day.

I do love the song. It’s one of my holiday favorites and because of it, I, along with thousands upon thousands of other people think of Mariah during the holiday season.

Good for Mariah.

Recording a holiday album is smart marketing for performers. It means that every holiday season, whether the artists have produced something during the year or not, the buying public will think of them. Keeping oneself in the minds of consumers is Christmas Moments Imageimportant for writers too. This holiday season, an essay I wrote, “Sunshine for Christmas,” was published in an anthology by Grace Publishing, More Christmas Moments. It’s a lovely collection of heartwarming stories. I am selling copies this year and plan to make them available at holiday craft fairs in the future.

Christmas stories, like Christmas songs, never get old. Getting published in anthologies that have a seasonal tie-in is a way that writers can maintain their profile with the public. Thanks for the tip, Mariah!

My reading at the ladies’ tea

LISA PHOTO READING

I spent Sunday afternoon with the ladies of the Greater Boston Section of NCNW. They held their annual membership tea at The Jonathan Belcher House in Randolph, Massachusetts, a lovely building on the National Register of Historic Places, which is GROUP SHOTavailable to the public for meetings, wedding receptions, birthday parties and other occasions. The ladies showcased my good friend Bithyah Israel, the founder of City Strings United, an organization that enriches the lives of young people through cello lessons. She sang a solo, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” They also had me read my story, “Short Distance Romance” from Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game. Greater Boston Section of NCNW is a voluntary nonprofit membership organization helping to improve the quality of life for women, their families and communities. One of the board members paid me a beautiful compliment after my reading. She said the reading was special because it was the first time she’d been read to since she was a child.