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.

Countdown to publication: Posing for publicity shots

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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.

DSC_5139AI 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.

For anyone looking to take publicity shots for any reason here are some pointers from M.J. Rose and Randy Susan Meyers in their book, What to Do Before Your Book Launch.

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.

Why this writer is sad at the shutdown of a drumming school

Drum Connection BuildingI 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 Group drummingpersonality 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.

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.”

 

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

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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.

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.

 

 

The ‘She shed,’ a refreshing development for women who want a space of their own

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A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

This quote is from a 1929 essay by pioneering English writer Virginia Woolf. It is seen as a feminist text and an argument for both a literal and figurative space for women writers in a field traditionally dominated by men.

Recently women in general have been embracing the idea of having a space of their own, not necessarily to write, but to get away from the housework, the kids, the spouse–a sanctuary, a vacation spot right in their own backyard.

According to a recent Boston Globe article, “A place of her own? Enter the ‘she shed,’ ” women of means are building sheds in their backyards replete with skylights and French doors and window boxes. Lowe’s Home Improvement Store is pushing she sheds on its website, books have been published on the topic, and there are shows on the FYI and HGTV channels about these tiny oases.

I’m happy for these women. If I had the money, I’d build a ‘she shed,’ a place where I could have some alone time, away from the housework and other distractions. A more realistic possibility for me is moving to a bigger place where I can have a den or additional bedroom that I can turn into my writing room. I’d install bookcases, bring back my best buddies–all of my Barbie dolls and other collectible dolls my husband insisted I put away when we got married– make myself a pot of hot tea, and do some writing.

What it means to be chosen a finalist for the Still I Rise Micro-grant

STILL

Alternating Current, a boutique independent press, is dedicated to publishing and promoting literature that challenges readers. The press publishes diverse voices and all that is electric in the literary world. This year the press inaugurated the 2017 Still I Rise Micro-grant for Black and African American Women and Women-identified Writers. Out of 117 applicants, I was chosen a finalist from the writing sample I submitted. The judges said that they were thrilled with the quality of the work. Each time I gain a recognition such as this one, I’m encouraged to continue writing in spite of rejections I receive, to continue telling stories that I hope will resonate with the reader on some level.

Applications are now open for the 2018 grant.

 

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?

 

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.