It’s a little like Thanksgiving

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I hate Swedish meatballs.

Forgive me, IKEA, because I’ve heard yours are amazing. But the version my sister prepared when we were growing up was inedible. (My mother, however, was thrilled when sis tackled recipes from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls.)

At the dinner table my parents praised her, while I choked down enough to pass muster. The menu may have been lacking, but the conversation was good. Back then, my parents were on to something.

A youth mental-health crisis that was building for a decade before the pandemic, has worsened over the past two years. In 2021, 44 percent of high school students said they felt persistently sad or hopeless in the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, mounting scientific research shows that gathering for regular meals and conversation might be one way to build children’s emotional resilience. (Having TV on in the background has been found to reduce the quality of children’s meals.)

I know it’s hard to deal with conflicting schedules of working parents and kids. But avoiding digital distractions and eating family dinners together is worth the effort.

Just don’t serve Swedish meatballs…

Renee Garrison is the award-winning authoof two Young Adult books, The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.” She is Past President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Reading Aloud to Children

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There is a proven way to help children learn and it’s free: Read aloud to them.

Young children who have lots of stories read to them enter kindergarten as much as 14 months ahead in language and pre-reading skills. According to educators, while listening to stories, children learn a more sophisticated vocabulary than they are likely to hear elsewhere, while also picking up grammar, syntax and general knowledge. The more children under five are read to, the richer and deeper their language capacities become (with positive effects later in English, math and other subjects.)

Even better, it works for students 12 to 13 years old, too!

In a study lead by the University of Sussex, 20 English teachers read novels to poor-to-average students for three months. Morale and test results soared. Children who once hated English lessons were practically racing into the classroom to find out what happened next. When given reading comprehension tests, average readers made 8.5 months of progress while poorer students made 16 months of progress.

The simple act of a teacher reading aloud a few times a week produced students who were happier, more motivated and more capable academically.

Renee Garrison is the award-winning authoof two Young Adult books, The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.” She is Past President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Let the light in

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In the foreword of his book, The Place of Books in the Life We Live (copyright 1923), author William L. Stidger writes, “Books are like the windows of a tower. They let light in. Every life is a growing tower. It is put stone by stone. The higher it grows, the darker it gets if we do not put in a window here and there to give light. That is what a book does to a life. It lets light into that life.”

Well said, indeed.

Stidger believed that a book could frequently be the turning point in the life of a boy or girl, man or woman. It can change the course of a human life, awakening the soul like nothing else. In addition, he believed that books would keep the soul and the world alive, raising people to greater heights.

One of the greatest things we can do is to encourage others to be eager readers. We can give books for gifts and urge others to expand their horizons through the creation of excellent reading habits.

Keep reading, my friends, and inspire others to do the same!

Renee Garrison is the award-winning authoof two Young Adult books, The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.” She is Past President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Don’t worry, Be happy

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My Irish ancestors always viewed the glass as half empty.

I have a tendency to do the same, which isn’t unusual since people are influenced by the way they were raised. Yet I’m trying to change, since optimism helps us be more resilient, have better pain management, stronger immune function and longer lifespans. Fortunately, experts say that optimism is a style of thinking and not a fixed personality trait.

I’ve always enjoyed trying a new style.

Psychologists believe that it’s possible to boost optimism with practice: They suggest starting by limiting the negative elements in your life. Fill your social media with people and organizations making a positive impact. Spend more time with people who are optimistic. Listen to upbeat music. Try meditation.

Of course, when your car doesn’t start or your boss frustrates you, negative thoughts can wear you down. But experts advise us to get out a piece of paper (I have plenty) and write down three things about the situation that could help you see it more positively. (I’ll let you know if it works.)

Full-time optimism may be impossible to achieve, but I’m setting small goals to make me feel less pessimistic. My glass is beginning to look half full.

Renee Garrison is an award-winning author and president of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Getting ready for a conference?

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Planning the Florida Authors and Publishers annual conference is exhausting work, but the benefits are worth it. There are speakers, networking events, name badges and swag bags, along with the President’s Book Awards Celebration to honor excellence in the publishing industry. I hope those who attend learn a ton of new things and are inspired by our workshops!  That’s why I have a few suggestions on how to make the most out of FAPACon 2022.

Tip #1: Plan which sections to attend

Writing conferences like FAPACon share an agenda with attendees at least a few weeks before.  I circle any talks, panels, or round tables that interest me. That way, I can “relax” during the conference itself and focus on the sessions and networking without worrying if I’m missing something important.

If different sessions run at the same time, I find a “conference buddy” to share sessions with — each of us taking notes and then sharing the important information with each other. (Some conferences also record sessions live, so you can access the replays later for the ones you missed.)

Tip #2: Find your peers

As writers, we can spend a lot of time sitting alone in front of our computer. And while we tend to have our social media friends, and gatherings, nothing beats meeting other writers in person — especially if they write in the same genre as you.

But how do you find those peers and approach them in the first place?

If your conference doesn’t have genre- or topic-specific meetups as part of the official schedule, create your own: Look for a Facebook group or other forums for attendees to chat in. Post something a few weeks before the conference asking: “Are any other historical fiction authors coming? If so, I’d love to meet up!” Set it up on the first day, so you’ll find your peers and be able to enjoy the rest of the conference in good company.

Tip #3: Make the most of the bar

I meet the most interesting people at conferences by hanging out at the bar — and that’s usually where I have the most insightful or productive conversations. Bars, lobbies, and coffee shops are where people go to relax during a conference. There, it’s much easier to strike up a conversation, mingle, and get to know other people.

Do you want to talk to one of our speakers? Most people will try to intercept them after their talk, which leads to massive lines trapping the speaker inside the room when their talk is finished. They may be exhausted from their workshop, and eager to leave the room. Offer to get them a drink (or a coffee) or just politely ask whether they’ll be at the bar (or in the lobby) later, so you can chat with them in a more relaxed setting.

Renee Garrison is the award-winning authoof two Young Adult books, The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.” She is President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Good for the environment

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I’ve always envisioned being buried in a cavernous mausoleum, with a large bar and seating area. (That way I know my kids would visit.) However, I just learned of a new option: reefball burials.

 A “reefball” is a large mass of rough concrete in the shape of a ball. Holes are deliberately left in it to allow fish and other creatures to use it for feeding, security and development. The cremated remains or “cremains” of an individual are incorporated into an environmentally safe cement mixture and installed in a marine environment that can benefit from an artificial reef. (I wouldn’t be fish food.)

Imagine – a final resting place that helps restore marine environments and establishes new habitats for fish and other sea life. A Sarasota Company, Eternal Reefs, is the only firm in Southwest Florida currently providing such a service. There are more than 750,000 reef balls in oceans around the world, according to the company.

It’s nice to think that, even after my death, I could support marine life long into the future. Plus, my kids love boating, so maybe they would still visit…

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of two Young Adult books, The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.” She is President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Having Books at Home

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Some people snoop in their friends’ medicine cabinet. I prefer to peek at their bookshelves.

If you want to understand someone’s true personality, take a look at his or her library. The books that they read offer a psychological profile of their tastes, interests and values. I believe book-centered rooms are the ultimate escape, the place to head for to think and read, regenerate your spirit and ideas.

· The library is a room of secrets. Add a hidden compartment to your bookcase, something Mr. Holmes would approve of.

· Books you love to read, plan to reread or need for reference, should never be out of reach.

· Standing on chairs or beds is no substitute for a sturdy, stable library ladder.

· Two comfortable chairs and good lighting are the most important elements of a well-stocked library.

Renee Garrison is an award-winning author of young adult novels. The above is excerpted from “Sweet Beams: Inspiring everyone who lives under a new roof!”

Renee Interviews Author Kathryn Knight

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Kathryn Knight is an international award-winning author, independent publisher/First Freedom Publishing, genetic genealogist, American historian, keynote speaker, and cemetery preservationist. For over thirteen years, Kathryn documented more than 20,000 hours researching the first recorded Africans to arrive in the English settlement of Virginia in 1619. In addition, Kathryn is a board member of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.  

I use the pen name K.I. Knight. My literary works includes Fate & Freedom, a five-star Gold medal historical trilogy detailing the lives of the 1619 Africans, as well as my nonfiction work, Unveiled – The Twenty & Odd: Documenting the First Africans in England’s America 1619–1625 and Beyond, for which I was awarded the Phillis Wheatley Book Award by the Sons and Daughters of the U.S. Middle Passage. I have also written in or contributed evidence for several Historical journals and genetic how-to manuals.   

I’m a board member for several national nonprofit organizations and a member of numerous genealogical, historical, and literary societies. I’m a mother of three adult children and live in North Florida with my husband, Tom.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story? 

Let’s call it an addiction! My addiction began with the realization my husband descends from one of the earliest Africans to be brought to America.  

Then I hit a brick wall. A brick wall is a term many genealogists use when they are out of leads or avenues to find a potential ancestor. Thirteen years later and over 20,000 hours of research, I was ready to start writing a historical trilogy most Americans knew nothing about.   

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle? 

Biggest problem, there wasn’t a lot of documented evidence. I had to start from scratch!  

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success? 

In 2015, I began to collect DNA from descendants who believed they too were related to the first Africans to be brought to Virginia. After three years of collecting DNA and analyzing the genomic patterns, I happened to run my own DNA sample and realized I, too, was related to the same African ancestor as my husband. This ancestor was the heroine in the Fate & Freedom Trilogy. What a surprise this was!!!

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing? 

 I read a lot of history books. My favorite historian is John Daly Burke. President Thomas Jefferson gave Burke a special appointment to write The Early History of Virginia. His work is remarkable.  

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?  

I do not write every single day. However, I do work with DNA daily.  

What are your interests outside of writing? 

 I’ve been told I’m an “earthy person.” I spend most of my off-time gardening, taking care of animals, and working Investigative DNA cases.  

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this. 

The Same: The 20,000 hours of dogged research it took to discover a 400yr. old hidden truth wasn’t an easy task. I can only say, when your passionate about something, follow that passion. Hard work pays off in many ways.  

Different: Not sure I would do anything different.  

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of two Young Adult books, “The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.” She is President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Party Manners

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In many areas, Covid-19 cases are declining and that means friends will be arranging more get-togethers. With Saint Patrick’s Day parties fast approaching, it’s time for us to remember how to be a good guest.

1. RSVP.
The number one gripe I hear from friends who host parties is that people don’t RSVP, or they do and then don’t show up, so it’s almost impossible to tell who is coming and how much food you need. If you get an invite to a party, and you think you’d like to go, click ‘yes’. Really, it’s not that hard.

2. Offer to bring something.
Chances are good that your host will say you don’t need to bring anything at all, just yourself, but offering anyway is standard party etiquette. It’s also a way to help your hostess defray the cost of the party, which sometimes can run pretty high. And if you are asked to bring something, for heaven sakes, don’t take it home with you at the end of the night (unless your host specifically asks you to).

3. Talk to people you don’t know.
Sure, all your friends are at the party. But these are people you’ll see again — how will you meet NEW people if you just stick with your group all the time? Go by yourself to get food or drink — this is a pretty natural time to chat up people you don’t know. Talking to new people is also a HUGE favor to your hostess, who will have to worry less about guests who don’t know a lot of people at the party.

4. Say thanks.
Throwing parties is lots of fun, but it’s also hard work. And when you work hard at something, it’s nice to have somebody else say: hey, thanks. Good job. Traditional etiquette dictates that you send a mailed thank-you note to your host. If that seems like too much effort, AT LEAST thank your hostess when you leave (and again in an email or text message the next day.)

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of two Young Adult books, “The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.” She is President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Just like Carrie Bradshaw

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She has a library card!

Did you Know?

  • Approximately 14 million middle and high school students are on their own after school. 
  • 8 in 10 Americans want all children and teens to have some type of organized activity or safe place to go after school. 
  • The hours between 3 and 6 p.m. are the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.
  • There are more public libraries in the U.S. than McDonald’s restaurants or Starbucks.
  • Students make 1.3 billion visits to school libraries in a given year, about the same as nationwide attendance at movie theaters.
  • Research shows that as an age group, teens (ages 12 – 18) receive the least financial support. Government, philanthropic and non-profit spending directed at teens lags far behind what is invested in children (birth through 11 years) and young adults (19 and up)

sources: Afterschool Alliance’s “Afterschool Essentials: Research & Polling” (.pdf) & ALA’s Quotable Facts

Libraries Provide Key Services to Teens

Libraries have a strong track record of providing a variety of key services that meet the unique needs of teens.  Make sure your teen has a library card. 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of two Young Adult books, “The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.” She is President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.