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.

Heather Chicken Soup Book

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

City Hall

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.

7 Common mistakes to avoid when writing a personal essay

I have been writing personal essays for the past 10 years or so and have suffered through rejections, but have had quite a few successes. Most of what I’ve written has eventually gotten published. Based on my experiences I’ve come up with a list of common mistakes writers should avoid when trying to get a personal essay published.

  1. Not changing your strategy when an essay is rejected

I wrote an essay about how I met my husband, who sat quietly three pews behind me in church for years until he got the nerve to approach me, and thought it was the perfect piece for the “Modern Love” column in The New York Times. About a month after submitting it, I got the standard rejection e-mail. (At the time, I didn’t know that “Modern Love” receives thousands of submissions a year. Only 52 are published.) I shortened the essay and sent it to Chicken Soup for the Soul and it was accepted. Later, an inspirational literary journal, Finding Mr. Right, published the essay too. I’m glad I didn’t give up after The New York Times rejection.

  1. Starting too slowly

It seems practical to start an essay in chronological order, or to set the scene through exposition, but that might not be the most interesting approach. Consider beginning the essay in the middle of the story with action or compelling dialogue. Here’s an example:

“I wish all the black people would go back to Africa.”

With those words, my idyllic world was shattered. My innocence was lost.

That’s how I began my essay, “The World I Didn’t Know Existed,” with a quote from one of my elementary school classmates. The essay is about my first encounter with racism. The essay is published in Black Lives Have Always Mattered, A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Personal Narratives.

  1. Holding back

If you play it safe and keep your essay on the surface, you may not be giving your reader something to grab onto, something he or she can identify with. When I wrote my essay, “Praying on the Job,” which was published in an inspirational anthology called The Book of Hope I went into some detail about how my husband’s job loss affected not only our financial situation, but our marriage. It was painful to dig deep, but also cathartic, and something readers could relate to.

  1. Writing a diary entry

A personal essay is more than a running log of what’s transpired in your life during a certain period of time. That won’t keep the reader’s interest. You also don’t want to use the essay format as an opportunity to vent. Be sure to provide a universal truth, so that the reader is given something to reflect on.

  1. Taking a trip to nowhere

A good essay, like a piece of good fiction, takes the reader on a journey. You, the writer are in a different place by the end of your essay. In “Trust Yourself,” which I had published in The Northwestern Magazine, I began as an insecure Sunday school teacher to first and second graders, but through a friendship with one of my little students, I developed confidence that the kids were benefiting from my being their teacher.

  1. Writing large

You may have a lot to say, but you may want to bite off only a chunk at a time. A personal essay is not a biography. It is not all encompassing, covering decades of your life. It is actually a snapshot in time. Choose focused events to make a larger point.

  1. Thinking that you don’t need feedback

I have my sister read over just about every essay I write. If there is something unclear or confusing, she lets me know. Feedback is critical. After I’ve written an essay and revised it more than a dozen times, there could be problems with it that I just can’t see anymore because I’m too close to what I’ve written.

By avoiding these and other pitfalls, you could be further on your way to producing essays you be proud of while at the same time, increasing your rate of publishing acceptance.

My essay is featured on the new Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast and how writers can raise their profile by having a podcast

Chicken

The editors at Chicken Soup for the Soul have informed me that they have just started a series of inspirational podcasts to promote their books. Chicken Soup for the Soul’s publisher, Amy Newmark, will discuss a different Chicken Soup for the Soul book each day and highlight one story that appears in that book.

My essay, “Short Distance Romance,” which was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game has been chosen to play a role. My story is on the website now under “Wow Wednesday,” and will continue to be available on the Podbean app—which is available for free from the app store—once it airs. It was neat hearing Ms. Newmark talk about me and my story. The podcasts are six or seven minutes long and provide entertaining stories as well as great advice and easy-to-implement tips for improving your life.

For writers, podcasting is fast becoming another medium for storytelling and bringing attention to published works. It can drive traffic to your website. There is tremendous power in being in a listener’s ear as well as before their eyes with the written word. It is also a way to introduce your writing to people who aren’t avid readers. They can listen to you while they’re driving, exercising, doing housework. They can listen to you while they’re multitasking.

We’ve all heard that creating videos is important for writers to grow their online presence—book trailers and author interviews are examples. For writers who don’t feel comfortable on camera, podcasting can be the right avenue. I understand that podcasting equipment is affordable and simple to use. The newer line of USB microphones and software are inexpensive.

Podcasting does require content production and a commitment of time in order to be successful. For writers, it could be worth pursuing.

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.

 

 

Publication news! My essay is featured in a new anthology

The Book of Hope Cover Image

My essay, “Praying on the Job,” has been published in The Book of Hope: 31 True Stories of People who didn’t Give Up. I hope my story, of the struggle of my husband and me during his period of unemployment, will inspire readers to persevere through difficulties.

Here is the description of the anthology on Amazon.com. “In this priceless collection of true stories experienced by everyday people, readers get to share in the angst, the grief, the frustration, and fears of the writers. This collection of 31 stories proves there is always hope no matter how negative our situation might be. Sometimes just knowing someone else has walked your path opens the doors and windows so new ideas and solutions can flow. This book can bring comfort, inspiration and guidance to those suffering from life’s challenges. These stories can help make walking such paths the adventures they can be.”

Holiday bazaars are a wonderful venue for writers

booksDuring the weekend, I was a vendor at the holiday bazaar at my church. I rented a table and sold copies of anthologies I’ve been published in: Finding Mr. Right, More Christmas Moments, Inspire Forgiveness, and a few other volumes that fall into the inspirational category.

The wife of the retired pastor came by my table and was surprised when I told her that I was selling the books for $10 apiece. She thought I’d charge much more.

But I didn’t want to sell them to make a profit. By selling them for the amount I had to pay to purchase them, I was able to keep the price reasonable and get my words of inspiration into the hands of more people. That was my primary interest, through my writing, giving hope to people who are facing challenges.

A secondary benefit was that participating as a vendor helped me build an audience. me-and-booksEven though I’ve been a member of that church for more than 12 years, at least half a dozen people walked up to me and expressed surprise, saying they didn’t know I was a writer. When I told them about my novel, several asked when it would be coming out. Whenever I do get it published, I’ll have a group of supporters ready to purchase it.

In addition, some of the shoppers told me about opportunities to be a vendor at other events, which could serve as a vehicle for getting a whole new audience interested in my work.

So, writers, the next time the holidays come around, look into becoming a vendor. It could raise your profile in ways you didn’t imagine.

I heard from the editors of the New York Times today and the news wasn’t good. Or was it?

The New York Times website states that the editors of the “Modern Love” column feature, which appears in the Sunday edition of the newspaper are looking for deeply personal essays about contemporary relationships. Ideally, essays spring from some central dilemma the writer has faced in his or her life.

I thought an essay I wrote about a challenge my husband and I faced after we introduced a pet into our household would have wowed the editors enough to accept it for publication. However, I got a generic rejection e-mail this afternoon.

Initially, I felt disappointed. But then I reminded myself that the New York Times is the nation’s newspaper of record. The Sunday paper has a circulation of 1.4 million. The editors probably get hundreds of submissions to the “Modern Love” column every week, which makes the odds of getting published very low.

And then, of course there is the comforting cliché that when one door closes another opens. A few years ago, I sent a different essay to “Modern Love.” It was called short-distance-romance and got rejected, I turned around and sent it to Chicken Soup for the Soul and it got accepted. The essay has a much longer shelf life in Chicken Soul because it’s in a book, as opposed to being on a sheet of news print. So sometimes an initial rejection isn’t a bad thing.

So what has been your experience? Has an initial rejection by a top-tier publication led you to submit the same work to another outlet, leading to satisfaction with the placement?

Anthology featuring my essay is now available on Amazon.com

Finding Mr. Right, an anthology featuring one of my essays, “Short Distance Romance,” is now available on the publisher’s website, as well as on amazon.com. It will be available on Kindle later in the year. Here’s the description of the book: Whether the quest for a soul mate is currently a work in progress or a happily done deal, this breezy beach read featuring the true stories of 20 accomplished authors will resonate with women of any age who have ever loved, lost and loved again.

News from the editors of “Finding Mr. Right” anthology, featuring my essay

What do personality makeovers, church pews and Prince William have in common? Each of these elements figures into the true storylines of our top three essayists. First Place winner Karen Cole, Second Place winner Lisa Braxton, and Third Place winner Mehk Vijayaragavan took time for short interviews with the editors this week and their replies can be found at https://findingmrrightsite.wordpress.com/

Why perseverance pays off when trying to get published

At long last, my essay, “For Better, for Worse,” is being published. I say, “at long last,” because I submitted the essay to various publications for about two years and was giving up hope in finding a home for it when I heard from Whispering Angel Books.

Whispering Angel Books is dedicated to publishing uplifting and inspirational stories and poetry for its readers while donating a portion of its book sales to charities promoting physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

My essay, about finding out just after getting engaged that one of my kidneys was no longer functioning and how my then fiancé and now husband and I worked through the situation, is published in “Soul Survivors: From Trauma to Triumph,” a collection of inspiring personal essays and poems celebrating the resilience of the human spirit over pain, trauma and tragedy. A few weeks ago, the editor contacted me to show me a proof of my essay and check for accuracy my bio that will appear in the book.

The Whispering Angel website states about the collection: “These pieces, written by some of today’s most prolific writers, will touch your heart, soothe your soul, and restore your faith that you can overcome and survive life’s darkest moments, emerging with strength, courage, hope, tenacity and even beauty.” I feel honored that my essay is being included in this volume.

It took me longer than I anticipated to get the essay published, but I guess the waiting was important so that the essay could end up in the right home.

 

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.

 

The Sun magazine shines the spotlight on published essays

I was thrilled when my essay was published in the “Reader’s Write” section of The Sun Magazine last year in the June issue. The topic was “doors.” I just found out that there’s a women’s project being organized by a local community theater grouThe Sun Magazine Logop in Pennsylvania. The Sun magazine editors have asked for my permission to have my essay be among the ones included in the informal play audition to be held in a few weeks. This project provides not only acting roles for women but gives my essay exposure to a whole new audience. This is an unexpected, and welcomed benefit of getting my piece published.