Sanity in the Time of Covid

To say these are unsettling times would be an understatement. We’ve watched—are still watching—our country rippling and rolling as if a shaken blanket. Mass unemployment, racial tensions, and the daily fear of contracting a life-threatening disease is just cause for anxiety in the calmest of souls. As we watch the number of positive Covid cases rise (by the time I finish writing this, Florida, where I live, will top 100,000 cases and is pushing toward 4,000 deaths), we may think we’ve glimpsed the Reaper in our periphery.

I’m fortunate to work with a large group of brilliant healthcare providers, including a top infectious disease physician. Even so, the information shared by these knowledgeable doctors and scientists is sometimes contradictory. Our nation’s best are applying all they know and learn toward grasping and containing this slippery virus. How, then, can any of us manage our anxiety and remain emotionally upbeat as we navigate these strange, new roads?

I am not a psychiatrist or behavioral health specialist. Regardless, daily exposure to the facts and fallacies surrounding Covid, my husband’s job loss due to this pandemic, and the recurrent mass demonstrations in my county, has required me to face head-on my own anxiety. Here are some tips that have helped me cope with these fright-inducing events. I hope you’ll find comfort in some of the things that have helped me cope.

Focus on today. You live in the present, not the past or the future. It’s not balderdash to say each day is a gift. The fact that you’re reading this now instead of lying in a hospital on a ventilator is a very good thing, so be grateful for this time. Recognize that you’re in a safe place, you have food in your cupboards, a working phone or computer in front of you, and a day full of possibilities ahead. Remind yourself to remain in the here and now. You can deal with tomorrow when in gets here in the same, present-focused way you are handling today.

Disconnect. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, CNN, Fox, etc., etc. Give yourself a break! It’s okay to turn off your television, or at least turn it to The Golf Channel, Food Network, or The Hallmark Channel. (No one has to know!) Check out Cartoon Network or Comedy Central. Give yourself a full day–or week–away from Twitter and Facebook. Hide or block that person whose political posts cause your blood to boil. Follow instead that hilarious friend who always posts cat comics or inspirational quotes. Read a funny blog post. Listen to upbeat music. Fling open your drapes and dance! (You might make your neighbors smile in the process.)

Hit the beach. Or the mountains. Or the lake. Or your backyard. Get outdoors and breath the air. This kind of freedom is free! It costs you nothing to sit by the water and listen to it flow over rocks or wash in as waves lapping your feet. Hike to a scenic overlook or guide your wheelchair along a path through a local park. Bask in the sunshine or stroll through a light rain, sans umbrella. Reconnect with nature. It’s uplifting and energizing, and couldn’t your battery use that kind of recharging?

Immerse yourself in a task or hobby. Now’s the perfect time to take a course in a subject that interests you. EdX has a long list of free courses from universities like Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Berkley covering everything from Roman architecture to video game coding. Pinterest is full of ideas for craft projects, painting, baking, and home décor. Start a novel, a poem, or personal journal. Now is also a great time to work on your landscaping or clean out your closets and garage. (You can donate what you don’t need to charity, and if that doesn’t make you feel good, what will!)

Pray or meditate—or both. Sometimes a moment of silence is the best thing you can give yourself. Strike a yoga pose like lotus or child’s pose, kneel by your bed, or sit comfortably in your favorite chair. Be still. Let your mind settle and push away any negative thoughts that come to you. Focus on a favorite uplifting quote or verse. Visualize a flitting butterfly or soaring eagle. Let peace settle around you and fill your spirit. Allow yourself to smile.

Phone a friend. If you find yourself wading through deep blues, reach out for help. Call the most upbeat person you know and tell them you need an uplift. Phone a pastor or spiritual advisor. Zoom or Facetime someone who always makes you laugh. Reach out to your doctor or therapist (most healthcare providers now offer phone or telehealth visits without having to leave your home) for a one-on-one counseling session. You have a lifeline. Don’t be afraid to use it!

For a list of free mental health services in your area, check out Healthy Place, here. 

How to Survive Self-Isolation: Seven Tips and an Important Warning!

Most cases of Covid-19 (a strain of coronavirus) have manageable (if uncomfortable) symptoms, similar to influenza or even a bad case of common cold, in people who have otherwise healthy immune symptoms. Covid-19, however, is highly contagious, so if you’re exposed, your doctor will certainly recommend self-isolation. How on earth do you handle that? How will you survive fourteen days trapped inside your home alone or—possibly more concerning—with your family? Here are some suggestions to make your quarantine more manageable and—dare I say it?—possibly pleasant!

First, don’t think of it as isolation. Mindset is everything! Consider this a two-week recuperation from all things hectic: no work frustrations, no crowds, no traffic jams . . . sounds heavenly, doesn’t it! Rest and hydration are two of the most important factors in recovery from this virus, as well as recovery from influenza, common cold, and other viral miseries. Be sure to take whatever meds your doctor prescribes, and eat healthy foods as tolerated, especially those containing vitamin C. Push fluids by keeping a glass of water beside you at all times, and take a sip every time you even glance at it. Wash your hands often, and disinfect hard surfaces in your home. This is especially important if you are quarantined with friends or family, as you don’t want to infect or re-infect one another.

Next, be prepared. No, I’m not talking about stocking up on a year’s supply of toilet paper! Truly, folks, don’t lose your mind here. While this may be a zombie-prepper’s dream, it’s only a break for a couple of weeks, and you’ve long needed that kind of R & R, haven’t you? There’s no need to go crazy here. Shop now for the comfort foods you prefer when you’re home with a cold or flu: chicken broth, soups, oatmeal, oranges, etc. And since you may not feel bad for the duration of your quarantine, purchase ingredients for a couple of recipes you’ve long wanted to try but haven’t had the time to make. That 28-ingredient homemade pasta dish, for example. If not now, when? Helpful hint: canned goods, dried beans and pastas, root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, and fruits like apples and citrus foods have a longer shelf life, so you don’t have to worry about spoilage over your two-week isolation.

toilet paper shortage

Quarantined without warning? No need to panic! Most large-chain grocery stores (Publix, Walmart, Kroger, etc.) offer home delivery. Pay by debit/credit card and ask the driver to ring the doorbell and leave your packages on your porch. (An Isolation – Please leave packages here sign on your front door will suffice. Be kind and tape an envelope containing a tip below your sign.) This is an excellent time to make use of your Amazon Prime account, because they’ll deliver anything you imagine to your door free of charge in a day’s time. And hey, most pizza delivery and Chinese food delivery places offer hot soups, fresh salads, and steamed veggies that’ll help support your immune system while you’re recovering during this mini-vaycay.

Catch up on entertainment. Now’s the perfect time to binge watch all those Netflix series that your friends have been talking about. And that stack of to-be-reads on your nightstand? Curl up with a cup of tea, a warm blanket, and a fur-baby by your side, and you’re in self-care heaven!

Enjoy a spa day at home. Once you’re on the road to recovery, enjoy a steamy bath with a cup of Epsom salts, dried oatmeal, bath oil, or lavender buds. Turn off the lights and burn a scented candle, then follow your relaxing soak with a slathering of rich body cream. Next up? A self-serve mani-pedi, perhaps while watching that chick-flick only you wanted to see.

Do something creative. Now’s the time to drag out that cross stitch kit or art project that’s been hiding out in your spare closet. Write a poem or a story. Send a handwritten letter to a parent or favorite aunt. Organize a drawer or rearrange a shelf. Declutter a closet and start a box for charity. Be sure to limit physical activity to thirty minutes or so at a time. You don’t want to overdo it while you’re recovering.

Reconnect with your family. Isolated with your spouse or kiddos? Once everyone is feeling up to it, break out the Monopoly board or Yahtzee game. Teach your kids some card tricks. Watch a classic movie—you know the one—the one that was your favorite when you were their ages. (Prepare for eyerolls and groans, as well as laughter.) Over a steamy bowl of soup at the dining table, take turns answering “200 (Not Boring) Questions To Ask To Get To Know Someone Better” from this great list from Women’s Health. Ten years from now, you’ll be laughing as you say, “Remember how silly we were that time we were all isolated with coronavirus?”

While no one wants to be kept home sick, with the right attitude toward rest and recovery, you can make the best of your quarantine while avoiding cabin fever. By the time your two-week self-isolation is over, you’ll be recuperated, relaxed, and ready to return to work or school with a self-indulgent smile.

IMPORTANT: If you experience worsening symptoms such as fever of 102 or higher while on fever-reducing medication such at Tylenol or Advil, difficulty breathing, delirium, or chest pain, call or your doctor or 911 immediately. You may be experiencing a true medical emergency.

The Five Most Influential Books When I was a Young Reader (that would work for today’s teens, too)

Guest Post
by
Mary Hastings Fox

Mary Fox

Do today’s teenagers still read books, or has social media replaced print completely? Studies show that, by college, most are reading because they must. When they do read for pleasure, they are more likely to prefer books where kids must fend for themselves or die (The Lord of the  Rings or The Hunger Games.)  I thought it might be fun to think back to my favorite young adult books to see how things have changed.

1. Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene ( Mildred A. Wirt)

A first favorite was Nancy Drew, and I stuck with her all through high school. Mildred Wirt, ghostwriter “Carolyn Keene” for 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books, was an independent, resourceful woman herself. She endowed Nancy and many of her other heroines with these same qualities. The message was that any girl could be anything, and this is part of what made her so beloved with young readers. But there was more. The relationship of distant fathers and their determined daughters can always fulfill a young girl’s fantasy about who she will be as a woman. While Nancy is loaded with brains and wit, she is often isolated in a dangerous world, and it’s often not clear that any help will come in time, if ever. In my mind, this is the reason why Nancy Drew is still wildly popular after 75 years – she knows that her choices can be wrong and that she doesn’t know everything she needs to. She is essentially on her own and still, she persists!

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The book’s protagonist, Scout Finch, is a precocious, pre-teen tomboy, trying to understand the nature of bigotry in the 1930’s South.  Her father Atticus is an impossibly good and wise man wise who holds her hand as layers of people’s manners and charm fall away to expose the moral core of bigotry and violence underneath.  There are many of the title’s “mockingbird” characters in this novel–gentle, innocent victims of bigotry and the evil nature of mankind. The real mockingbird is the myth of human goodness. The town is forced to see each other’s racism and stubborn beliefs about class and race.

This book is, ideally, read at a time of the reader’s own coming-of-age. It’s also a time in life when kids are beginning to understand the greater worlds of literature. Atticus is the anchor to integrity and morality that centers his children during violent storms that threaten everything they know. In short, he’s the perfect father.

The message of love and tolerance amidst social pressure is important, but the main hooks for the teen reader are the drama of the story, the author’s fluid prose, and her exquisite characters.

3. Nero Wolfe by Rex Stout

…was rarely read by the girls of my generation. The heroes are two men: Archie Goodwin–earthy, gutsy, gritty, and very masculine–the wise-cracking gumshoe detective and the foil of his boss, Nero Wolfe. Wolfe is an overweight, orchid-loving intellectual and a gourmand. He is also a recluse who hates to work, and who, book in hand, prefers never to move from his chair except for dinner. Most women in the series are merely decorative, as Wolfe, among his other shortcomings, is a misogynist who barely tolerates Archie’s womanizing. So why would a girl read this stuff? Why to fix them, of course. I was alternately Archie and Wolfe in the stories and, being far less lop-sided than they were, I was better than either of them at solving the murders, at understanding everyone’s motives, and at making my life work. What girl could resist?

4. Murder on The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Agatha’s most famous protagonist was Hercule Poirot, and he was my favorite. He constantly referred to his approach to solving mysteries as using his brain’s “little gray cells.” Christie was no slouch in this department. She was an exceptionally smart and gifted writer, deftly combining sharp structure with a psychological spin. Her novels streamed along with unique but believable dialogue, flawless mood-setting, and carefully constructed murder plots that to this day serve as blueprints for modern detective writers. She left a library of work that’s both intelligent and timeless. I can pick up one that I read decades ago, and it feels fresh and timeless. Murder and good writing—a combination that made the “Queen of Crime” one of the best writers in history–and on top of that, she managed it while staying G-rated. I’ve still never met a teenager who didn’t say they loved the book when closing the last page on Poirot.

 5.  Grendel  by John Gardner

This is one of my favorite coming-of-age novels, and, in my opinion, a masterpiece that should be read by anyone who enjoys reading fiction. The way Gardner takes a character that you thought you knew and adds layers upon layers of depth to it is absolutely astounding. This is a fantasy book but it’s not light reading for a teen-ager.

Grendel’s internal conflicts drive the story in one of the best character analyses I’ve ever read.  Grendel is not really a story about a monster, it’s the story of an isolated person trying to make sense of the world as a hated and tortured adolescent. While the hero (Beowulf) still wins in the end, Grendel, the monster, is the protagonist, and it’s his last thoughts that stay with us. “Grendel is dying and so may you all,” he says, which is, after all, is consistent with the nature of a dragon. (Sound like any teen-agers you know?)  At seventeen, I went off to college with a new understanding of the complexity and foreknowledge of what it might be like to be a human.

About Mary . . .

Mary Hastings Fox studied literature and poetry before becoming a psychologist. She is an associate professor of psychology and education at the University of Maryland and has had her own psychology practice for 30 years. In addition to writing other people’s true stories, she published a textbook and numerous journal articles on organizational psychology. Most of her writing is now is deeply rooted in nature. The Last Skipjack is her first novel, with a sequel in progress.

 

And a Note from Rhonda

You’ll find that the hyperlinks above lead you to online shopping at this essay’s featured independent bookstore, Scuppernong Books in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Scuppernong is as warm and welcoming as any bookstore you’ll find. It also features a community bar with hot coffee, cool wine, and craft beer. Check their website regularly for featured author readings (including mine!) and other events! #shopindie

 

Building an Author Platform

Guest Post by Eliot Parker

What is an author platform, and why is it necessary? An author platform is simply the ability to sell books because of who you are, as an author, and the ability to reach readers in a variety of ways.

Why does this matter for authors? The evolution of technology in publishing (through Amazon, Smashwords, and other online publishing platforms) has made it easier for authors to produce work and make it available to readers. However, that also means the publishing medium is more crowded than ever before, with thousands of writers hoping their works get noticed by readers.

In 2016, the Washington Post conducted a nationwide study of book publishing, accounting for all the various books published that year in all platforms and formats. The study found that over 600,000 titles had been produced that year. That means that over 600,000 books had been published in 2016 and were looking to attract readers and interest.

As publishing becomes more accessible to more authors, getting work noticed by readers is becoming more complicated. However, building an author platform is more than just finding readers and selling books. Building a complete author platform also means staying aware and abreast of opportunities for participation in writing workshops, conferences, book festivals, and other events directed towards the growth of the individual writer.

In terms of book sales, here are places many writers should consider:

  1. Gift shops at state parks – Almost every state park with lodging has a gift shop. This can be an excellent place to sell books, especially if you are a native of that state. Often, your book will be one of the few featured, giving it more visibility. Plus, most state parks buy books in large quantities.
  2. Creative arts “stores” – Often, these stories are distributors of items other than books made my local artisans. Some of the distributed items include signs, canned goods, crafts, and other homemade items. Do not be afraid to approach the manager/owner of the store and ask about selling books in the store. Often, the manager/owner has never been approached about selling books as part of their local items, and they are more receptive to the idea.
  3. Craft festivals and fairs – These can be excellent places to sell books. The vendor table fees can be substantial, but the potential to sell books is tremendous. Fairs and festivals feature plenty of people selling food, handmade items like wreaths and yard signs, but few of those events feature authors selling books. Readers attend those events as well, and they will be thrilled to see an author participating. A note of caution: often festivals occur for several days, and the days can be twelve-hours in length or more. Stamina is a requirement to participate in events such as this.

For development opportunities for the individual author, I recommend the following:

  1. Attend one large, national writing conference each year. This is a great way to network with other authors, attending readings, meet agents and publishers, and recharge the creative energy needed to write. Pick a different conference in a different part of the country each year, so you are free to explore more new places with the new friends you will make.
  2. Subscribe to BookBuzz. This website offers paid promotional services. Each month, they will send an email with many free opportunities to sell your works or free webinars and seminars available to authors that focus on the “business” aspects of writing and publishing.
  3. Subscribe to Authors Publish E-Magazine. This magazine comes to your inbox several times a month and features calls by publishers looking for new work as well as literary journals that are currently accepting submissions. The subscription is free and well-worth it.

There are other ways to build an author platform. Having an active social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) is important, but there are other ways as well. Building a platform takes time and consistent effort on the part of the writer. In fact, as a writer, I have a goal of completing two tasks each day that will help me build or enhance my platform. That goal is attainable and does not require copious amounts of time to be taken away from my writing or other tasks.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to talk more about building an author platform.

eliot Parker

Eliot Parker is the author of four novels, most recently A Knife’s Edge, which was an Honorable Mention in Thriller Writing at the London Book Festival, and is the sequel to the award-winning novel Fragile Brilliance. He is a recipient of the West Virginia Literary Merit Award, and Fragile Brilliance was a finalist for the Southern Book Prize in Thriller Writing. He recently received with the Thriller Writing Award by the National Association of Book Editors (NABE) for his novels. Eliot is the host of the podcast program Now, Appalachia, which profiles authors and publishers living and writing in the Appalachian region and is heard on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network.

You may purchase Eliot’s award-winning books HERE.

The Ominous Whang of Narrow Bridges

or, how to deal with arrogant editors while setting fire to grief, loss, and writers’ block—all in an afternoon.

Guest Post by Tovli Simiryan

2020. There’s something ominous about saying, 2020, don’t you think? It has a hopeful aura, yet it reeks. It’s Orwellian. After all, by 2020 we expected to be living like the Jetsons. Well, aren’t we? We have cars that drive themselves; some are supposed to actually fly by the end of the year. Of course we’re afraid to get inside. “Details!” as my mother was known to comment, directing the conversation with her brand of self-centered sarcasm.

Frankly, she waited from the sixties until the moment of her 2019 death for Rosie the Robot to join her family. Unfortunately, the Rumba Vacuum was a disappointment to her. It wasn’t Rosie! She couldn’t discuss dust-bunnies or get it to pop the cork on the bottle of Prosecco her kids thought they’d successfully hidden from her. So, perhaps one’s expectations of the future are often wrapped in imprecision, or at least a tissue-papered hue of what might never be realized.

Will 2020 be a failure? I hope not. When these insecure thoughts race through our brain cells, my solution is the same as any other writer’s: grab white paper; latch on to a svelte gel-roller of a pen and turn insecurity into a short story, a blunt poem, or an essay. Nothing restores my self-confidence more than finishing a piece of writing and having a family member or friend say, “Where do you get this from?” “How do you remember these things?”

I love writing. I love the way something comes out and says just what you wanted to say. When this occurs, my place in the universe takes on an unbreakable sense of security and belonging. I am safe. I am worthy. I’m an introvert. I don’t talk; I write. Life is safe. Life is good.

Of course, not all writers are introverts. However, one thing I like to believe writers have in common is their little stories and songs become their children. They are born, raised; invested in and sent out into the world to find homes of their own and, hopefully make a meaningful change or statement no one else has thought to say before. Even if one word or a minor punctuation is unique, the writer has accomplished something beautiful and exclusive.

The year leading into 2020 was seminal. 2019 was the narrow bridge you make yourself navigate by learning to close your eyes, hum a tune, and precariously tip-toe across while learning to overcome fear and foreboding. Everyone died in 2019. Seriously. Only my little brother and I remain. The entire generation preceding us had left the world. If that wasn’t ominous enough, our own generation witnessed a fragility we’d never anticipated. Peers and loved ones we’d started kindergarten with discovered they were breakable and vulnerable. There were annoying knocks on their doors from diagnoses and illnesses that had taken their grandparents and great-grandparents. These malicious visitors pressed their unwelcome noses against the windows of our lives and rattled our door knobs. We knew, sooner or later, they’d have to be dealt with.

Solution? Pull out the pens, warm up the computer and knock off a few stories and a chapbook or two. Dust off the pages you should have sent out into the world a year ago, and encourage them to find a home. Write. Enjoy yourself. If you get stuck, find an antidote for writer’s block and patent it. While you’re at it, make peace with marketing. Consider becoming friends with someone who understands the nuances of 2020 copywriting. Give up on fear, point yourself toward the narrow bridge, find a unique tune, and enjoy the adventure. 2020 is happening, and you might as well jump into the Orwellian soup and have a good time, or meal, as the case may be.

Bobbie, our mother, passed away in 2019 while we were on vacation, enjoying our summer house outside Hillsboro, WV. She was robust, happy, and loved life. She’d moved to our Cleveland home due to significant health issues in 2013 following eighty years of California living. She did well. She thrived. However, in 2019 I began to see the same pattern I’d seen while caring for my great-grandmother. She was becoming frail. Her arms and legs resembled the balsa wood my little brother used to build his model airplanes. Just before our anticipated visit of Pearl S. Buck’s childhood home she became ill and had to be medevaced to Morgantown. My last memory of her was watching her disappear over the beautiful, awe-inspiring mountains of West Virginia on her way to a major medical center.

Change and loss do strange things. While she was living with us, she took center stage, and my writing took a seat in the back of the car. Still, a few short stories, poems and essays found homes of their own. One particular story was accepted in a new, but well-respected, foreign literary journal. I was excited to say the least. I signed a contract, even though no monetary payment was involved, and a 2020 publication date was identified. It would mean excellent exposure among writers I admired and wanted to emulate (Some since childhood!) My mother was quite impressed when I showed her the contract a year before her death.

As the publication date closed in, I received a copy of the story as it was to appear in print. There were the proverbial issues of comma here versus semi-colon there. Would you mind if we used block paragraphs versus indentations? Can we spell this foreign word using these English letters instead of those English letters? We require UK English instead of American English—do you mind?

I was a pushover. “No problem. You don’t like semicolons? Hey, use a comma; in fact, use two commas. Thank you for asking me. The copy looks fine.” Then it happened. I received an odd email from a sub-editor who recommended entire deletions, re-writes and other substantial changes.

Where is this emanating from? Was I just an innocent dufus, or did I mistakenly send something to an obscure writer’s workshop instead of an established publication? “You’re kidding me, right?” I mocked, privately. “Let’s accept a manuscript, sign a contract then wait almost a year to re-write the thing. Not!” I was obstinate to say the least.

Deep down, I knew this was not something I was going to tolerate. A good editor always should be taken seriously. When suggestions are made, the first thing a writer needs to do is freeze the ego. The second thing to do is listen. I did. I found myself reviewing suggestion after suggestion, rewrite requests and decisions to delete paragraphs and admonitions for using words that, according to a phantom editor, did not exist.

Good old 2019, the watershed year, the year where most of the folks I trusted and turned to, “the elders”, had passed away. It was inevitable. Along with my little brother, I’d become a member of the “first generation,” and we were alone. How daunting, lonely and frightening. I needed someone to tell me I was right, I was valuable. The only sound I heard was my own breath and my old computer making an odd clicking sensation.

This new generational membership began with questioning my ability, my sense of belonging and safety. Perhaps I was not a real writer, just a wanna-be hack. I had no one to commensurate with, no one to agree with me, no one who would even appreciate a well-placed cuss phrase. I was lost. For just a moment, the realization that writing might as well become a thing of the past was not so far fetched. I’d lost my self-confidence, and I was facing that narrow bridge without so much as a melody. I spent days rewriting. I implemented every so-called recommendation and deletion the magazine personnel had offered. It left me with a deeply embedded hollow feeling in the holy place from where words and ideas emanate. It was frightening, unsettling, and it made the grief for those we’d recently lost all that more devastating.

I decided to reach into the cyber world of writers, publishers, and editors; out-of-control writer egos and how-to formulas for standing up for ourselves. I was looking for support and understanding from my own kind. The result was odd. Without exception, the articles I found counseled writers to take a second seat: editors know best. Take the money, give up your words. Be compliant. Don’t rock the boat, or you’ll never be published again. It was disturbing. It left sadness behind that rivaled those losses recently encountered and collected as 2020 began.

Positive risks are scary, but it has been my experience that they usually pay off. I contacted a fellow writer and got back this response (I’m paraphrasing): “Just tell them to leave ‘the bitter whang’ alone.” It came from Rhonda Browning White, who’d recently published The Lightness of Water & Other Stories. I don’t know Rhonda well, but I enjoy her enthusiasm and writings. She didn’t disappoint me. Just that phrase—“the bitter whang,” Rhonda’s description of how a character created from her West Virginia culture and upbringing would describe the charming “scent” of diesel fuel, and an editor’s desire to exchange it for a blast of Downey, did it for me. In conclusion, she advised, “Don’t let them touch a word.” My self-confidence was back and my period of mourning the losses of 2019 was over.

After several deep breaths, stepping back to the edge of the earth for a day or two and taking a long, clear look at writers’ block and self-confidence, I realized it wasn’t my story anymore. I’d killed it. It no longer said what it was created to say, it was cardboard-ish and made no sense. It had no purpose and changed nothing in the world for the better or worse—an absolute disaster for a mysterious little story written in the irreal genre that thought it had found its perfect forever home.

Politely, I sent a note respectfully declining to make any changes, other than grammar, stylistic adjustments particular to the format of the publication, and compliance with transliteration consistency in the spelling of foreign words. I explained the story was likely not the best fit for the magazine after all and that I would be more comfortable withdrawing it from consideration.

We are now into the first month of 2020. My confidence as a writer has returned. I have sent several stories, poems and essays out into the world to see if they will find homes for themselves. The grief of 2019 is falling away. 2020! It sounds good like you’re pumping a shotgun, loaded for bear and trotting across the narrow bridges that make up our future. Isn’t it refreshing the air has the whang of fearlessness—the ambiance that satiates our writer-dreams with the perfect metaphor?

 

Tovli Simiryan lives near Lake Erie with her husband Yosif, who does all the talking.  Tovli spends her time filling up little pieces of paper with words until they morph into stories and poems.  Sometimes she makes these writings leave home, find cyber caves or journals of their own.  They are so faithful to their creator, they often send her royalties.  Stories and some poems are like that—always thinking of something outside themselves.    A few journals that have housed Tovli’s writings are: Ariga, Chabad Magazine, Jewish Magazine, Jewish Ideals-Conversations, Raving Dove and Tiferet Journal.  You can contact Tovli at:  tovli102@outlook.com; webpage: ​http://tovlis.wix.com/tovliwriter

Tovli Simiryan

Tovli Simiryan

Three Things to Do When Writing a Book Review (And One Thing NOT to Do)

All writers covet considerate reviews from readers who appreciate the hard work they’ve sandwiched between their book’s covers. Additionally, submitting thoughtful reviews can be an excellent way to earn bylines for your writing resume, while being a good literary citizen of the writing community. Even one-liner 4- and 5-star reviews on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, Target, and Walmart can help a new writer get noticed among the bestsellers whose work always ranks at the top of most search engines.

So how should you go about writing a good book review? What should you do—and what should not do?

  1. As you’re reading, jot notes about the things you love in the story. Mark quotes or powerful lines that move you. Use those in your review (note the page number for bonus points).
  2. Think about and mention the story elements, such as memorable characters, sensory and setting details, or lines of dialogue that stick with you. Write about what surprises you in the story. (Be sure to denote a “spoiler alert” if you plan to give away the ending.)
  3. What about the story will you take with you? What will you remember long after you close the book’s cover? Chances are, if it moves you, it will move other readers to whom you’re recommending the story.
  4. Do NOT review books you don’t like. Sure, some say any attention is good attention, but if you’ve watched a two-year-old have a tantrum in a grocery store, you know that’s not true. The writing community is its own microcosm, and you don’t want to be known as “that spiteful writer” who dissed the work that another reader or writer loves. Let it go and move on to write glowingly about the next book you love.

Where can you publish your well-written review? Many local newspapers and library newsletters seek book reviews, especially those written by local authors. If your review is especially detailed and thoughtful (and includes quotes with the page numbers on which they appear), you may submit it to one of the literary magazines and journals that publish well-written book reviews. Bonus: some will even pay you for your review!

Here are a few you can try (be sure to follow their guidelines, as each is quite specific):

And while you’re here, check out some of my published reviews (linked on my Publications page) for inspiration, examples, and recommendations for your next great read!

Rhonda Browning-White on her first book: The Lightness of Water & Other Stories

It’s always exciting to be interviewed, but it’s doubly so when you’re interviewed about your first book by an institution you’ve long admired and with which you are so pleased to be associated!

Converse College Low-Residency MFA

Tell us a little about your book and the process of writing it. How long have you worked on the collection?
The nine stories in The Lightness of Water & Other Stories feature strong characters such as West Virginia miners, Florida bikers, Tennessee granny women, and Virginia professors, who grapple with—and sometimes overcome—harsh issues that many of us face; loneliness, loss, grief, and guilt. I began work on this collection during my studies at the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Program. Some of the stories (in earlier form) were part of my creative thesis, while others are newer. Overall, the collection has taken about nine years to come together in its final form. The “10,000 Hours Rule” certainly held truth, for me, and I’m now looking forward to finding out what the next 10,000 hours of study will do for my writing. 

The+Lightness+of+Water+by+Rhonda+Browning+WhiteWhen and where can we find it?
Pre-orders…

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Summer 2019 Reading List — Four Books You #MustRead

Books Summer 2019 (2)

Whether you spend your summer days reading on the beach, in a shaded hammock in the mountains, or curled up in your own climate-controlled living room, you won’t want to miss grabbing one–or all!–of these Summer 2019 #MustReads! There’s something in the list below for everyone!

NOVEL –
Valerie Nieman’s To the Bones  is a murder mystery, slash romance, slash ecocritical novel, slash ghost story, and it deftly blurs the lines between these seemingly unrelated genres with page-turning skill. Y’all, this novel kept me up late, and the ending caught me so off-guard I know you’ll never see it coming. With equal parts Celtic mythology and Appalachian folklore, the twists and turns will have you laughing, gasping, and second-guessing what you think you know until the very last page.

SHORT-STORY COLLECTION –
The Sound of Holding Your Breath 
is Natalie Sypolt’s debut collection, and wow! What a way to start a writing career! These stories are set in modern-day Appalachia, but no matter where you’re from, you’ll relate to each of the fourteen stories herein, because these characters deal with emotions you’ve felt or feel, they’ve faced challenges you’ve faced or are facing–or shoot!–one might even be you! These stories will test your courage and your mettle, and you may find yourself at the end of this stunning work asking yourself if you would have behaved in the same way these characters did, if you would have responded in the same manner in which they did, should you be faced with what they are facing.

MEMOIR –
Dawn Davies writes “A Memoir in Pieces,” Mothers of Sparta, and even if you think you’re not a fan of memoir, prepare yourself to be struck to the core by the gorgeous rawness of these stories. It’s rare for me to cry over a book, but this one turned me inside out. I giggled, I shook my head, and I truly wept over the course of these sixteen stories, each even more powerful because I know it is true, I know Davies bared her weakest, strongest, and most honest self to us in these pages. We see Davies navigate her nomadic childhood, marriage and divorce, pregnancy and postpartum depression, and the beautiful heartbreak of motherhood. With blade-sharp prose, Davies bisects and dissects her life for us, and in doing so, she lays bare a path that leads straight to the heart.

FORTHCOMING NOVEL –
Though you won’t be able to order Jon Sealy’s latest, The Edge of America, until September 11th, you’ll want to go ahead and pre-order today and keep it at the top of your to-be-read list. This action-packed political thriller is set in steamy 1980’s Miami, Florida, and man, is it hot! The CIA is keeping their eye on employee Bobby West, who when in need of easy money succumbs to a money-laundering deal with the devil himself–if the devil is named Alexander French. West’s obstinate teenage daughter skips town with French’s millions and a small-town Southern boy who is merely looking for his own shortcut to riches, neither realizing an Israeli hit woman has been hired by Cuban exiles to find French’s money and exterminate them both. You’ll hold your breath on this one through to the very last page.
NOTE: Be sure to look for my detailed review of Sealy’s novel forthcoming in South 85 Journal later this year!)

 

 

Four Writers (and One Painter) Resolve: New Year’s Resolutions

Champs Resolution 2019

What good is a New Year’s Day without a juicy resolution or two? I mean, even if we let our resolutions fall by the wayside on January 30th or 3rd, we’ve at least thrown a pebble into the pond and cause a mind ripple to form, expand, grow. There’s always the chance that the seed we plant today—even if left in the dark ground—will germinate, receive rain, eventually surface to sunlight, and bloom into beautiful being.

That’s how ideas often work for writers. Sometimes our ideas are a lightning strike, and we rush to the keyboard and pound out an entire chapter. Other times, one perfect sentence comes to mind, and we jot it in a journal, and every week or so, another joins it, and one day it’s a poignant story. Sometimes it’s just a phrase that tings in the air like the toast of crystal goblets, and we scribble on a napkin, to find it later and craft a poem that resonates and, yes, ripples, from our heart into the hearts of others.

Have I convinced you to make a writing resolution? I hope so! Nothing ventured . . . right!

A few weeks back, I was thinking of resolutions and wondering if writers other than myself toyed with them, made them, avoided them, broke them. I asked around, and a few friends shared their own writing resolutions with us. (Thank you for playing along!)

I hope you’ll find one—or more—of their resolutions inspiring.

Writer David Davis subscribes to the seed germination philosophy of writing. He wrote as a youngster but let writing fall by the wayside. It didn’t matter: The desire to write had taken root, and it later grew into a gig as a feature writer for the Daytona Sun Times. After the magazine went out of publication, David stopped writing. It was a job, after all.

Or was it? After seeing a Facebook post about (imagine this!) writing resolutions, David felt a powerful tug, and he dug out some old story snippets written years earlier about his grandchildren. He picked up his pen, and he’s resolved to write those stories. See? Even broken resolutions have a way of reaching sunlight!

Author, poet, essayist, blogger (need I go on?) Tovli Simiryan adopted a more Pomodoro-esque resolution, using a Fit-Bit app to jolt her into submission—both figuratively and literally. “From the once cluttered and disorganized mental office of Tovli Simiryan,” here’s her step-by-step resolution to put more of her gorgeous words into the world.

Katie Piccirillo Sherman, a journalist and journalism instructor in Chicago, believes in success through failure, as evidenced by her resolution to rack up one-hundred rejections. “The more you’re getting no’s, the more you’re submitting.” Don’t you love her positive spin and sassy attitude? Cheers to your one-hundred, Katie, and to an equal number of acceptances!

My own resolution? Ahhh, I almost hate to share it, because I expect I will no doubt one day have to admit its failure.

I resolve to Write. Every. Day.

Yup, even though I’ve been writing for over a decade now, I’ve never written every day, not even during my deadline-crazy Converse MFA years. (Don’t tell my profs!) No, I’ve always taken solace in my former mentor Robert Olmstead’s words to our small workshop group that, “Sometimes serious writing is sitting quietly, staring out a window for an hour.” Indeed.

This morning, as I thought of the writing resolution I wanted to make—because I certainly intended to make one (or two—I’m also resolving to network locally with more writers: We all need a nearby tribe), I came across poet Gabrielle Brant Freeman’s Twitter post, an article shared from The Rumpus, written by author and artist Kelcey Parker Ervick who resolved to paint every day. A painting—every day. Ervick asks, “What happens when you commit to painting—or to any form of creating—every day for a year?

“You exist in the world differently.”

Wow. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, if that isn’t inspiring, what is?

Yes, I want to exist in the world differently. So, this year, I’m going to attempt the actual, hands-on, practical (though perhaps impractical is the better word) task, and write every day. Whether it’s a blog entry (checkmark today!), a chapter, a poem, or just one fine sentence that sings, I’m going to do it.

C’mon, writer. What’s your resolution?

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ISSUE 17: NOVEMBER 2018

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Cathy Day's course on novel-writing at Ball State University

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