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.

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.”

 

Six tips for conducting a book party

o-sex-rulesAs I look forward to my novel being published in 2019, I think about the book party I’ll have—where I’ll host it, how I’ll get people to attend, ways to keep people invested in the party long enough for them to buy a copy of the book, possibly recommend it to others, and write a 5-star review for Amazon. I’ve concluded that the best ideas for approaching a book party come from attending the book parties of others. That’s what I had in mind when I recently attended the book launch of Janie Brodman, the author of Sex Rules: Astonishing Sexual Practices and Gender Roles around the World. Here are some of the tactics I learned:

  • Inform people of your book launch the old fashioned way.

Months before Janice’s book was published, she came to a Writer’s Night Out event I attended that was sponsored by the Boston Chapter of the National Writers Union. She talked excitedly about her book, told us about her upcoming book party and exchanged business cards with us. At least two National Writers Union members (including me) attended.

  • Tap into your already existing network and fan base

Janice holds a PhD from a Harvard and taught at the Harvard Kennedy School and has been a PhD advisor at MIT. She hosted her book launch at the Harvard Coop, the campus store for the Harvard and MIT communities, a convenient location for her Harvard and MIT colleagues.

  • Choose a target-rich venue

The Harvard Coop is at a major intersection and within feet of a subway station. It not only gets high foot traffic from students, but the general public. Thirty minutes before the book party, a manager announced the event over the intercom. Then 15 minutes later he announced it again. Of the 75 people who made the trip to the third floor for the event, a number were most likely customers who happened to be in the store and heard the announcement.

  • Bread and Circus

Janice had a Harvard University jazz trio perform as the guests made their way to their folding chairs. I saw at least two senior citizens getting their groove on, doing a two-step to the music. For snacks, Janie supplied cheese and crackers, seltzer water and cookies.

  • Be gracious

Before she gave her reading, Janice came around to each and every one of us and thanked us for attending.

  • Employ soft-sell marketing

After she took questions, she told us that her agent told her to ask everyone to give the book a 5-star review on Amazon. That way, the request seemed to come from her demanding agent, and not her.

As I left the book party, I looked back at Janice. She has a line of about 25 people waiting to purchase her book and get her autograph, and I had some wonderful ideas tucked away for when it’s my turn.

The thrill of being in the audience at author readings is just as thrilling as being “onstage”

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Ever since moving to the Boston area 14 years ago, I’ve been a fan of Porter Square Books. An independent bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that supports independent presses, small book associations, and little-known authors, Porter Square Books has hosted a number of author readings and panel discussions that have drawn my interest. Whenever I attend an event there, I’m thrilled to sit in the audience and listen to authors give a reading or expound on their writing method. I’m practically giddy when I get to speak one-on-one with the author and get the author to autograph a copy of the book for me.

Now I’ve gotten a taste of how the author feels.

Porter Black Lives CoverRecently, three other writers and I gave a reading at Porter Square Books, co-sponsored by the National Writers Union Boston Chapter. We are all contributors to an anthology called Black Lives Have Always Mattered: A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Personal Narratives. I was concerned that very few people would come out to hear us since we are little-known writers. But through the publicity provided by the publisher, 2Leaf Press, and each of us presenters promoting the event through word-of-mouth, email, and social media, we got a decent turnout.

My husband says about 50 people showed up. The most heartwarming moment was afterwards when individuals came up to us with copies of the anthology they had just purchased. People actually stood in line to get my autograph on the book. They had big smiles on their faces. It was surreal.

 

 

I’ll have an omelet with that bestseller

The bookstore as we know it is on its deathbed. That’s what I’ve been hearing for the past decade or so. Financial pressure and competition from online retailers, including Amazon (which has made a surprising pivot with plans for a growing constellation of bookstores) have led to the shutdown of Waldenbooks, Borders, some Barnes and Noble bookstores as well as many independent shops.

Bins of Music and CustomersBut the bookstore itself isn’t dying, just the business model. Proprietors who are trying creative approaches are finding that the bookstore is not only alive and well but thriving. I visited one example with my friend, Lisa Allen, on a recent Saturday—Tres Gatos, Boston’s first, full-service combo restaurant/ bookstore/music store. It’s in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, a hip, artsy, intellectually vibrant neighborhood. Tres Gatos uses a hybrid business model, a full-service restaurant in the front, music store—featuring classic vinyl—and bookstore in the back. Lisa and I feasted on tapas, gambas all I prebre, freshwater farmed shrimp sautéed in a rich and complex sauce, and sweet potato pancakes topped with whipped fennel chili butter. Then we headed to the music and bookstore. Store manager Phil Wilcox told us that he orders book, including bestsellers, from the second biggest book distributor in the country and gets inventory every three or four days. He receives vinyl inventory every four orShelves of Books and CDs five days and says turnover is good for both books and music. The businesses help each other. Customers who come in looking for classic albums will peruse the shelves of books. When the restaurant business gets light during the cold weather months, the book business picks up. Before I left Tres Gatos, Wilcox had sold me a CD, “Senegal 70,” West African Latin jazz urban orchestra music that I can’t imagine I could have found elsewhere.

If Tres Gatos offers any indication, the future of books in a retail environment looks good if niche marketing is put to use effectively.

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.

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.

Support local bookstores before it’s too late!

I was looking forward to reading my monthly e-newsletter from Bestsellers Café, Bestsellers Cafethe bookstore/coffee shop in Medford, Massachusetts. I always like to see what books they recommend and the listing of upcoming author and live music events. However, I was saddened to see that the latest email was a good-bye letter. Bestsellers Café will be closing down at the end of January because of “unfavorable terms of a lease agreement.” I am so sorry to hear this. Bestsellers Café showcases the work of rising authors and has a section devoted to books published by local authors and independent presses. A couple of months ago they invited me in to speak about the essay I got published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology. The manager gave me a lovely introduction before I gave my talk. Only a handful of copies of the book were sold, but I was invited to come back the next time I have something published.

Writers who are trying to get established depend on this country’s privately owned and independent bookstores like Bestsellers Café for support. You’d have to be a highly successful commercial author before Barnes and Noble would consider hosting an event for you. There’s nothing to be done about the closing of Bestsellers Café, but let it be a reminder to all of us of the importance of supporting locally owned bookstores. Because if we don’t, they will cease to exist.

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.

Fun trip to the local Barnes and Noble

Heather Chicken Soup BookVisiting Chino Hills, California this week for my goddaughter, Heather’s high school graduation, we decided to stop in Barnes and Noble in one of the malls. I’m happy to report that Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game was on the shelf. Heather took a peek inside at my story, “Short Distance Romance.” She was tickled to see godmommy’s name in print.