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.

Six benefits for writers who appear on community access television

Group Photo Cropped

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.

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

Porter group photo

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

How Writers Can Make the Most of National Reading Month

March is National Reading Month, when we celebrate the joy of reading. Schools all over the country are planning literacy-related activities to highlight reading in fun and unusual ways. Writers can celebrate the observance by reading to schoolchildren. Not only is this a meaningful avenue for volunteering, it provides some benefit to the writer. Here’s how you can make the most of it.

  • You’ll get to practice reading out loud: If you haven’t done a public reading in a while, reading a storybook to children will be a great warm up to reading your work before an audience.
  • You’ll get to practice public speaking: You can tell the kids about your love of reading and writing and your successes and challenges of getting published.
  • You’ll get new material for social networking posts and tweets: Reading to kids is an adventure. The conversations you’ll have with them during your reading could be interesting to your fans and followers.
  • You’ll attract new readers: The kids will likely go home and tell their parents that a “real author” came to their school that day. The adults might decide to Google you, find your web site or blog and start following you.

So let’s celebration National Reading Month. Let’s get reading and see where it takes us.

 

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.

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.