The Bookwoman welcomes Lisa Braxton (Boston), WNBA Boston’s board member at-large, to the “Power behind the WNBA” interview series. The goal of WNBA is to make connecting, educating, advocating, and leading possible. As bookwomen, we believe that books have power.
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. Some 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 sidewalk 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 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 flying 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.
Among the many things authors must do before their book comes out in print is to pose for publicity shots. My debut novel is scheduled for publication 14 months from now—September 2019. That may seem far away, but the publisher needs my photos by May 2019 for the editing phase. So, I figured I’d take my pictures now—July 2018—because spring in New England doesn’t even begin to look like spring until June of any given year.
I had photographer extraordinaire, Adrienne Albrecht take photos of me on the grounds of the office park where we work. In addition to the author bio that will appear at the back of my novel, I’ll most likely use the photos for my website, newsletters I’ll send to subscribers, flyers I’ll have printed promoting my author appearances and workshops I might teach. I’ll also likely use the photos for any guest blog posts I may do or short stories or essays I might get published.
Color counts: Wear the color that looks best on you. (My personal favorite is electric blue)
Hide your blemishes: Photos freeze you in time.
Choose a smile and practice it: Good idea. But my smile is chronically lopsided. I have no way of correcting it. It’s become my trademark.
Sit or stand straight: A good photographer will coach you on that and point out when you’re slouching.
Bring a few more outfits than you’ll need: I brought several and found that some of the colors I thought would make me dazzle really didn’t. I’m glad I brought several choices.
And above all, the most important pointer is to have fun: We did. Adrienne and I had a fabulous time taking photos. When I checked my watch, we’d been at it an hour and half but it hadn’t seemed that long. We were having such a great time.
I got word today that the DrumConnection, New England’s premier hand-drumming school, based in Arlington, Massachusetts, will soon be shutting its doors. The DrumConnection offers excellent djembe and dunun instruction in private classes, workshops, and performances. The DrumConnection also sponsors trips to Guinea, West Africa, for study with master drummers. The retail store sells an array of drums, drum kits, cymbals, and accessories. I consider my relationship with the DrumConnection unique. I took classes there and attended workshops not to become proficient at drumming, but to breathe life into the characters of my novel.
The classes helped me shape the personality of one of my main characters, a drummer from Senegal. The Talking Drum is set for publication by a feminist press in the fall of 2019. Observing the personality of master drummer Mamady Keita as he worked with all of us to perfect our hand-drumming technique during a drumming workshop held at Medford City Hall chambers several years ago, helped me flesh out the personality of my fictional drummer. Spending time in classes practicing for hours the correct way to perform the slap, tone, bass technique on the djembe helped me describe, through another one of my characters who had never played the drums before, how the instrument felt against her palms. I don’t know why director Alan Tauber is shutting down The DrumConnection. Most likely economics are playing a role. He’s having a big going out of business sale, slashing the prices on his drums. But even though the brick and mortar store will soon be gone, I’m sure that the community that the DrumConnection has cultivated over the years will continue on in the drumming circles, trips abroad, and other avenues. I hope that my fictional characters can be part of the legacy reminding people of the importance of the DrumConnection and African drumming’s important place in the artistic world.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Grub Street is collecting them to send over in a bundle
Calls and emails to the city officials
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 email@example.com 617-635-3911
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As 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.
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.
Imagine growing up in a household in which you didn’t have to do chores. No washing the dishes. No taking out the trash. No cleaning up after Fido. But the one thing your parents did require you to do was to read books. And not just to read them, but read them aloud and record what you read on cassette tapes. That was one of the childhood reminiscences that Owen King shared with an audience of hundreds in the sanctuary of Newton Baptist Church in Newton, Massachusetts. Sitting next to him on stage, his dad, Stephen King, the award-winning horror novelist, added some details.
“Yes. I employed him to read books on tape throughout high school, probably paid him 9, 10 dollars each.”
“He introduced me to things I would never have read,” Owen added.
Father and son made an appearance at the church as part of their book tour to promote their collaboration, the novel, Sleeping Beauties, 721-pages of fright: the story of what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men. I built biceps carrying a copy of the book home.
Cultivating an appreciation of reading through small monetary rewards is a thread that runs throughout the family’s history. Stephen told the audience that when he was growing up in Stratford, Connecticut, his mother would read to his brother and him whatever she was reading: Agatha Christie, Perry Mason books, Great Expectations, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
He said when his mother read him a scene in which the evil Mr. Hyde runs over a child in the street, realizes what he’s done and then runs over her again, crushing her bones, he was hooked.
“I said ‘Ooh!’ I want to do that,” he said to the laughter of the audience. His mother began paying him 25 cents a story as an incentive to keep writing. Most of his stories back then centered on animals. “That was my first pay check,” he said. “Every writer starts with a little bit of talent,” he added, “and hopefully you’ll find someone who will be supportive.” The elder King was supportive of his son’s writing efforts. Owen King has had a story collection and novel published. Stephen King says he didn’t hesitate in agreeing to write this latest work when his son suggested it. “My dad can’t go to a ball game and be at the urinal without someone sidling up to him and saying, ‘Hey! King! I’ve got an idea for a novel.’ “ said Owen, “So I knew I had to be serious about this idea.” The event was sponsored by Newtonville Books.
I know nothing about professional football. I don’t understand how the game is played, never watch it on TV, except by default if I happen to attend a Super Bowl Game, and can count on one hand the current players whose names I recognize–this includes Tom Brady, quarterback for my hometown team. But I can now add Devon Kennard to the list. Kennard is a linebacker for the New York Giants. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. (Don’t ask me what that means.) He is also an avid reader. He conducted a book reading contest this summer that, according to the New York Times, has morphed into a dynamic book club. Kennard assigned the books The Alchemist and To Kill a Mockingbird. He re-read the books along with his online followers and came up with a list of questions that he thought would generate discussion. He was on target. He got a lot of response to his online book club and robust conversation ensued. “I didn’t want to be supergeneric,” The Times quotes him as saying. “I didn’t want people to just look up SparkNotes for answers. I wanted to actually have them be able to relate it to their own lives and what it means to them.” Kennard responds to the fans of his book club. He sends autographed memorabilia to those who give deep, insightful responses to questions. What one fan said he appreciated even more than the signed t-shirt and photo was that Kennard prompted him to re-read the Harper Lee classic.
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.
I got the news in an email while my husband and I were driving back to The States from the Montreal Jazz festival in early July. A women’s press had accepted my manuscript. I was giddy. I started the manuscript in 2008 and completed the first draft in 2010. I’ve been sending it out to literary agents and some small presses ever since.
Going through the experience of trying to get a manuscript published has led me to believe that writing and submitting a novel for publication is one of the most humbling experiences a person can endure. The rejection over and over again can be soul killing. I thought about giving up along the way but didn’t. I’m glad I stuck with it.
So it’s official. I’ve signed the book contract. This has been my dream since childhood and I’m finally fulfilling it. The publication date is scheduled for 2019. Now the work begins of preparing the manuscript for publication–working with the press on revisions and edits so that the finished product is as enjoyable as possible for you, the reader. Every so often I’ll provide you with updates on what’s going on in this journey toward publication.