Visit by award-winning poet is enriching

Jina Ortiz, co-editor of All about Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, has a busy schedule these days promoting the highly acclaimed anthology. Over the next several weeks, she’ll be hosting book parties in Springfield, Massachusetts, New York City, Washington, D.C. and other locations.

Despite her hectic schedule, she was able to spend a recent afternoon in Newton, Massachusetts, as guest of honor at my monthly book club meeting. All about Skin features 27 stories by women of color whose short fiction has earned them a range of honors. The prose in the multicultural anthology addresses such themes as racial prejudice, the media’s portrayal of beauty, and family relationships.

During our book club discussion, Jina mentioned how fortunate she andAll About Skin co-editor Rochelle Spencer were to work with such a nice group of writers. “All the women were really, professional, cooperative and humble. We lucked out,” she said.

She said that the women were supportive of her in her own writing pursuits, have enriched her writing, and have served as a source of inspiration. A writer and poet, Jina’s work has appeared in many publications, including New Millennium Writings, Afro-Hispanic Review, and Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices.

Jina probably doesn’t know this, but my spending the afternoon with her has enriched my writing and inspired me as well. Thanks, Jina!


What I learned during an afternoon with award-winning writer Jina Ortiz

I’ve been plugged into the writing community for years and have wondered if it’s worth my time, attending writing conferences, taking classes at Grub Street Creative Writing Center, and reading the trades magazines. I’ve spent hours scouring the “calls for submissions” in the back of Poets and Writers magazine and the online site, looking for places where I could submit my writing.

After spending an afternoon with writer and poet Jina Ortiz, I’ve come to All About Skina conclusion about the worth of my efforts. Jina is co-editor of All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, one of the most talked about anthologies. The volume features 27 stories by women of color whose short fiction has earned them a range of honors, from the Guggenheim Fellowship, to inclusion in The Best American Short Stories and the O. Henry Anthologies.

All About Skin was given a favorable review in a recent issue of Ms. Magazine and a lengthy write-up in Poets and Writers.

I’ve known Jina for years and got her to agree to be the speaker at my book club meeting recently. I asked her about the submission process for the anthology. She said that she and co-editor Rochelle Spencer received more than 100 submissions, which they whittled down to 27. She said they sought stories from authors they knew, put out an open call through writing networks, including writing publications, and attended writing conferences, where they solicited work.

While being plugged into the writing network is time-consuming, I believe it is worth it. The writers whose stories appear in All About Skin now have another high-profile platform to showcase their work. The volume is being looked at by some universities to be included as a textbook.


Looking to throw a literary party? Let Boston NWU show you how

Book PartyIf you’re thinking about hosting a book party for your organization, but don’t know where to start, let Boston National Writers Union guide you along. Each January, NWU books space for member authors to display and sell the books they’ve had published during the past year. This coming January the party will be held at the Cambridge Family YMCA and will feature William Martin, historical fiction writer and author of ten novels, a brief reading by six NWU authors of new books and a silent auction in which massages and vacation home rentals may be up for grabs.

Of course, a party wouldn’t be complete without refreshments. The event will be catered by a nearby Middle Eastern restaurant.

The book party is open to the public and should help members build an audience within the organization and in general.

The book party is one of the most popular events from NWU. Why not make it a program your organization can sponsor?

How to make your fantasy book tour a reality

Hair Kingdom head and shoulders

As a writer who hopes to one day get her novel published, I find myself fantasizing about my first book signing. I’ll be stationed at a table at one of the popular independent bookstores in town with a long line of avid readers clutching copies of my book as if they are precious cargo, awaiting my signature and some witty note I’ll include.

As my hand starts to cramp from signing my name 40, 50, 60 times, my publicist will pull me aside to tell me it’s time to head to my next event 45 miles down the road where more of my readers are waiting. In this fantasy, I’m at the beginning of my author tour, which will last a year and include not only cities along the Eastern Seaboard but major cities across the country.

Hair Kingdom Gift TableBut I don’t have to live in the fantasy to enjoy some measure of reality, in order to conduct a book signing or get the practice of doing a public reading. And neither do you. All you need is to have one story published in one publication online or in print to become a celebrated writer.

Recently The Hair Kingdom, the salon in the Roxbury section of Boston where I’m a client, hosted a Saturday afternoon brunch featuring several female entrepreneurs, an up-and-coming professional singer, and me. While we dined on wine, cheese, and some hearty chicken soup served right out of a slow cooker, to tie in with the title of the anthology I’m published in—Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game, I read an excerpt from my essay, “Short Distance Romance.” Then I did a signing. Despite the fact that I have one story in an anthology and not an entire book, the guests at the brunch were excited to meet me and thrilled to spend the afternoon with an author. I made a point to tuck a post card with my blog address into every book I signed. The event was a great way to build an audience and encourage me to keep writing.


My guest blog on Grub Street Daily has been posted

Every since I moved to the Boston area a little over 10 years ago, I’ve been affiliated with Grub Street, an innovative creative writing center. I’ve taken classes, participated in workshops, and attended author readings. Now I am a guest blogger. My first blog post on Grub Daily, Grub Street’s blog, was posted today. I’ve written about a group that’s provided me with encouragement over the years in my writing.

Meet me at the café with the unique river view

The managers of Bestseller’s Café in Medford, Massachusetts have invited me to give an author chat on Sunday, October 5th at 2 p.m. I plan to talk about getting published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game and sign books.

Bestsellers Cafe CappuccinoBestseller’s Café is a lovely establishment. The Boston Globe calls this independent bookstore and café stunning, with its bamboo floors, long counter filled with home-baked goods, and menu of soups, sandwiches, paninis, coffees and teas. So if you have time, stop by the afternoon of October 5th.


The Ultimate Second Date Tip for Writers

TownieThe evening is concluding. You’ve wined. You’ve dined. You’re interested in a second date. Maybe. But how do you bring up the topic without feeling awkward. How can you find out more about your date beyond the superficial without sounding like a cop conducting an interrogation? Ask your date to read a book with you. Organize a private book club with a membership of two. Pick a book that could generate lots of discussion.  Memoirs and nonfiction can work well, but fiction can also be an option.

When my husband and I were dating, we both agreed to read the memoir, Townie, by Andre Dubus. Townie served as a springboard for my husband and me to talk about all kinds of topics without feeling like we had to be careful of what we said or on our best behavior to try to keep each other impressed. A book club for two will give you an opportunity to get to know your date without the pressure of a date.

An interesting note: I chatted with Dubus this evening at a book event where he did a reading and signing and he told me that when he and his wife were dating they also read a book together.

Encouraging words from a bestselling author

Bechloss and Lisa

I had an opportunity to chat with Michael Beschloss, historian and commentator on PBS News Hour and NBC News. Beschloss made a speech at a work convention I’m attending in Las Vegas. After his talk, I purchased a copy of his book, Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, and got him to autograph it.

I told him about the novel I’m writing. He seemed intrigued by the topic and was encouraging. Every so often it’s good for an aspiring author to have a conversation with someone like Beschloss. It gives us hope while we’re toiling away at our manuscripts, wondering if they’ll ever get published.

I “sold” some “Chicken Soup” today

FRUGAL BOOK SIGNING CUSTOMERI had a lovely time at Frugal Bookstore in Roxbury, signing copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game. A number of friends stopped by to lend their support, including members of the Myrtle Baptist Church Book Club. I was also delighted at the new acquaintances who purchased the book. I even had a couple of children come up to me, aspiring writers who wanted to know how to get published. I was glad to be able to give them encouragement.

Independent Booksellers Tell How They Survive

Frugal books Photo

Have you ever wondered how the owners of independent bookstores feel about the pressure they face because of online booksellers and the large chain store with its seemingly endless selection of books, book-related merchandise, and full-service café menu? Many have closed due to their inability to compete. Some of the ones that survive look for creative ways to stay afloat.

Leonard and Clarrissa, the owners of Frugal Bookstore in Roxbury, where I’ll be signing books on May 3rd, have their own way of keeping the customers coming back.

LISA:So many independent bookstores, such as yours find it hard to compete with online bookstores and bookstore chains. Are you challenged by this? How do you keep the customers coming in despite this competition?

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: Yes we are challenged by it, however, our customer base prefers the experience of patronizing their local bookstore that carries niche genres that a lot of online and mainstream booksellers do not.

LISA: Your slogan is “Changing Minds One Book at a Time.” Please elaborate.

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: Leonard actually came up with the slogan. It was born out of his experience while incarcerated, each book he read not only helped to change his mind; it also helped him become who he is.

LISA: What are the challenges of husband and wife operating a business together?

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: As with any relationship whether it is personal or professional there will be disagreements and we won’t always see eye-to-eye but it is important to stay focused and positive, which is what we do.

LISA: What is the future of brick and mortar independent bookstores? Will they continue to exist?

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: It would be nice to know the answer but there’s really no way for us to know the future of independent bookstore. We only hope that more people will support them as they are an asset to us all.

LISA: Your store seems to be community-oriented. Please explain.

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: We promote literacy in the community by hosting book signings and book fairs throughout the city. We are also in the process of hosting a spelling bee for students in the near future.

LISA: What makes your bookstore unique? What do you offer that others don’t?

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: Our selection of books on African American studies, Latino interests, gifts, such as African figurines, soapstone sculptures, framed art, shadow boxes. Also, we provide a welcoming and professional atmosphere that people respect and appreciate.

My book signing in Boston is only days away

Chick ChickNext Saturday, May 3rd, I’ll be signing books from 1 to 3 p.m. at Frugal Bookstore, in the Roxbury section of Boston at 306 Martin Luther King Boulevard. The bookstore is located in The Mall of Roxbury. I spoke to co-owner Clarrissa a couple of days ago to confirm all of the arrangements. I’ll be at a tabe in front of the Chicken Soup Coverbookstore with my pen ready to sign copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game. She said the mall tends to be heavily trafficked in the early afternoon hours, so I should expect to sign quite a few books. As it turns out, another author will be signing in front of the store at the same time. I understand she’s flying in from Maryland, so between the two of us we should be able to draw a lot of customers. If you’re in the Boston area, I look forward to seeing you there!