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.

French Riviera and City of Light venues are reminders of the novelist’s impact on culture

 

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As I strolled through the streets of Monaco, on a recent working vacation to Europe, I was impressed with the number of tourists that crowded the tiny city-state-country-microstate along the Mediterranean coastline. Tour BusSome rode by on packed double-decker tour buses. Others flipped through racks of scenic postcards and sized up Grand Prix T-shirts at the ubiquitous souvenir shops. I joined the crowd at noon on the grounds of the royal palace for the changing of the guard and shared sidewalkCASTLE space with others to ogle the display windows of the luxurious boutiques. When I got to the square at Monte-Carlo, I was annoyed with myself that my camera was in my pocket as a Maserati rode past. As I peeked into the Monte-Carlo Casino from the grand stairs (you have to pay to get in, be a high roller, and properly attired) I began to ask myself: “What has given Monte-Carlo such an important position in popular culture. Of course, memories of the glamorous Prince Rainier III and his wife, Princess Grace are part of it, but a larger influence, in my opinion, has been that of Ian Fleming. The spy novelist described the casino extensively in his first James Bond book, Casino Royale, published in 1953. The Casino Royalecasino also appeared in Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye. Add to that the movie adaptations and a marketing bonanza was born. As I watched well-coiffed, wealthy patrons glide up to the entrance, a framed publicity poster of actor Daniel Craig in the role of Bond came into view near the casino entrance.

During the Paris portion of my adventure and tour, novelist Victor Hugo’s name was highlighted as we approached the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral. Known for its NOTRE DAME AND LISA.2jpgflying buttresses, gargoyles, and colorful rose windows, it suffered desecration in the 1790s during the French Revolution. Soon after publication of Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in 1831, popular interest in the building revived. The cathedral continues to play a large role in the landscape of The City of Light and in people’s imaginations.

The popularity of both Monte-Carlo and Notre-Dame illustrate the ability of novelists to play a role in keeping venues in the international spotlight decades and sometimes more than a century after their work has been published.

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.”

 

Advocate now for a narrative arts center

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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.

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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

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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.

Six benefits for writers who appear on community access television

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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.

Public housing complexes receive books from the National Book Foundation

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I became aware of the term “food desert,” some years ago when an effort got underway among some city council members in my hometown to bring a supermarket to a section of town that didn’t have one. A food desert exists when nutritious food is difficult to obtain due to availability, affordability, distance, or limited places to shop in a given area.

I have now learned of a new term—“book desert”—and am glad that the problem is being addressed. In order to bring more books to what they’re calling “book deserts,” the National Book Foundation, the US Departments of Housing & Urban Development and Education, the Urban Libraries Council, and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading are distributing over 270,000 books to public housing authorities throughout the country.

The Book Rich Environment Initiative will bring books to thirty-six different public housing authorities, including New York City Housing Authority, whose chair and CEO Shola Olatoye said, “Books are essential for children developing reading and writing skills that will last a lifetime. This collaborative effort will bring 50,000 new books into NYCHA homes and have an immeasurable impact on young residents who we know will fall in love with reading, one book at a time.”

Penguin Random House joined the initiative as lead publishing partner and promised 200,000 books, and Hachette Book Group and Macmillan Publishers have also made large commitments.

“This initiative is unique in its multi-organizational, collaborative approach to connecting young people with books and other literary experiences,” said Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “National government agencies, non-profit organizations, local partners, and the publishing community have all leveraged their unique resources to create a model that’s far reaching, but also responsive to each local community’s needs. That’s what makes Book Rich Environments impactful.”

I say “Bravo!” to the National Book Foundation, the US Departments of Housing & Urban Development and Education, the Urban Libraries Council, and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading for launching this effort.

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.

Writers could take a cue from The Poetry Fox

When I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference a few months ago, I didn’t expect to encounter a furry creature with a tale at the book expo, banging away at the keys of a manual typewriter. I also didn’t know that he had a cult following.

The Poetry Fox has been making the rounds of literary festivals, conference, and art shows. Give him a word and in a jiffy, he’ll write a poem, stamp it, sign it, read it, and then give it to you.

I don’t know his motivation, but he is getting the general public interested in the literary world. There is something refreshing about street poetry, where poets create works on the spot. Could writers take a cue from The Poetry Fox and create snappy short stories on the spot for the public?

 

A day of celebration for small presses

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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.

 

 

Five things I learned at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Washington, D.C.

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With bestselling author Walter Mosley

Last week I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, better known as AWP. It is the largest literary conference in North America. This year it was held at the convention center in Washington, D.C., and hosted 550 events, 2,000 presenters and more than 800 presses, literary journals, and literary organizations from around the world at the book fair.

This was my third time attending the conference. I learn new things each time. Here are 5 things I learned this year.

  1. It’s a good idea to put your photo on your business card.

During a panel discussion titled, “Agents and Editors and Publishers, Oh My! Demistifying the Business Side of Writing and Publishing,” an agent pointed out that she meets hundreds of eager writers at conferences who hand her business cards, but when she gets back home, she may not be able to match the business card with the person she met. A photo business card will likely jog her memory.

  1. It makes sense to smuggle your own food into the conference.

At a food stand set up in the center of the book expo in the convention center, I paid $10.00 for a medium-sized bowl of pineapple chicken and another $5.00 for a large bottle of diet coke. Talk about sticker shock! I got smart quickly. Since I was staying with my sister, who lives in the D.C. area, I was able to raid her refrigerator and pack a ham and cheese sandwich, some fruit, snacks and my own beverage. This cost me nothing and sis was happy that I helped to empty out her fridge.

  1. If you didn’t win the writing contest you entered, you can always apply again.

I’ve applied for several first-time author contests. None have named me the winner so far. Several of those independent presses and associations that sponsor the contests were represented by the publishers and editors at the AWP Book Fair. They told me to feel free to apply again because they use different judges every contest cycle. One press also told me that sometimes people apply the following year and win.

  1. If you’re not paying attention, you could miss a hidden treasure.

I was walking through the book fair near the back of the room where a small African American publisher I had talked to earlier in the day was located. The publisher remembered me and beckoned me over. He pointed to a man dressed in black, seated at the exhibit table, hunched over, checking his smart phone. It was the bestselling novelist and crime fiction writer, Walter Mosley. I’ve seen the movie starring Denzel Washington, based on his novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, and read one of his novels with members of my book club. It was thrilling to meet him. I asked him if he would take a picture with me and he said in his charming way, “Only if you’ll put your arm around me. Of course, I obliged.

  1. If you’re looking for an independent press to publish your manuscript, the book fair is the place to be.

I was eager to see the books of an independent press I was considering sending my manuscript to. I was horrified when I saw that the books are designed in square dimensions, not rectangular dimensions like most books. Stopping by the table of another press, I was able to quiz the representative about their efforts to market their books. I was able to hold the books and see the quality of the paper, design, and binding. Coincidentally, one of the authors was at the table, autographing copies of his novel, when I walked up. He told me all about his publishing experience with that press. I was impressed with their operation and walked away pleased.

Next year’s conference will be in Tampa, Florida. I’m not sure yet if I’ll attend, but if I do, I’m sure there’ll be lots of tips to pick up there too!

Why Hidden Figures” inspires me in my effort to get my novel published

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I recently went to the Showcase Cinema to see Hidden Figures, the phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. In addition to the women’s empowerment theme that I was looking forward to, I was interested in seeing the setting because the story took place in the city where I went to college, Hampton, Virginia.

The movie featured actress Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson. Known as “human computers,” they were among the brightest minds of their generation.

They were teaching math in the segregated south when they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II when America’s aeronautics industry washidden-figures-2nd-picture in dire need of expertise. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills. Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts. They were kept in the Langley Air Force Base all-black “West Computing” Group, and relegated to “colored only” bathrooms and couldn’t even pour themselves a cup of coffee from the same coffee pot, etc.. Yet, they had confidence and were assertive, playing critical roles in the space program.

I left the theater walking a little taller than when I entered and thinking about the challenges these women faced. The treatment they got from their peers and supervisors was sanctioned by society and the law. Since seeing the movie and reading the book, I’ve been sending out a revised version of my manuscript to literary agents.  At times it’s discouraging. Not that I am in anyway comparing the magnitude of the challenges they faced with mine, but I do I ask myself, “what would Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary do?” They would surely persevere. They wouldn’t give up. They would push on past the rejections, until they got the novel published.