Attending a writers’ conference

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FWA Conference

Writing is a solitary activity — publishing is not. That means people like me need to network and meet other writers and publishers who share the same enthusiasm for writing as I do.

Regardless of how many novels we sell, there is always something to learn at a writers’ conference. The publishing industry is constantly changing and it’s hard for authors to keep up. Honing our craft is about more than learning proper punctuation, or when to use upper case or italics from the Chicago Manual of Style. These conferences offer the sort of nuts-and-bolts information that can improve our writing and increase our efficiency in the business side of the craft.

Sure, they’re exhausting (and usually involve cold coffee and a chicken dinner.) But I recommend that every aspiring writer attend at least one. Wherever you are on the road to success, you will meet others who have been there and who are ready to help you.

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.

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Renee interviews Author Jayne Rose-Vallee

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Jayne

Jayne M. Rose-Vallee. Jayne is an author and publisher of children’s books. Her mother’s love of poetry and quick-witted humor sparked an early appreciation for a good rhyme. Being raised on a farm taught her hard work and a little bit of dirt builds character. After raising three children on the east side of Detroit, she found time in the next chapter of life to follow her passion and write. The hesitant Jayne was encouraged by her daughter to publish her first book, Dinosaurs Living in My Hair, which catapulted her into a new business venture. Dinosaurs Living in My Hair is now a series with the third book currently being illustrated. The educational DLIMH!2 Coloring Book takes much of her dinosaur research and presents it to children with creativity and fun.

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 grew up in the Midwest. Attended Michigan State University. Married. Three children before the age of twenty-six. Stay-at-home mom. Volunteered and served on a variety of non-profit boards and community organizations. President of the Mothers’ Club of Grosse Pointe South High School and board of directors. Baked thousands of chocolate chip cookies for children’s athletic teams.
In summer, I cheered from the steamy pool deck; fall I watched from the sidelines of a muddy soccer field; winter I was bundled up under heat lamps in an ice arena; spring I was outside stiff from anxiety holding my breath through tennis rallies. My life was consumed with my family. When the last one went to college, we continued to drive and watch tennis matches, however, life as I knew it shifted.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
My daughter was an ambassador for Lululemon (she’s an Ironman/triathlete). As training for her ambassadorship, she underwent a program which asked her to identify life goals. She began mentoring me. She wanted me to publish a poem I wrote for her when she was four. After a year of ignoring her, I began to wonder, “What if?”
I found an illustrator, Anni Matsick, who agreed to undertake this project with an unknown, unpublished author. We worked together with Chris Schechner, (art director), and published books one and two. Bonnie Hawkins will be illustrating book 3 which is an underwater reef book where DLIMH tackles the subject of caring for Mother Earth.
Twenty-eight awards later, hundreds of school visits done, and thousands of hugs given, I am grateful to Lauren, my daughter, for her persistent encouragement to publish. It’s been an amazing journey. Not only is she the protagonist for the main character, but she single-handedly kicked me to get here.
Dinosaurs Living in My Hair is a poem I wrote for Lauren which details early childhood living with a mass of blonde curls. She would come in from play with sticks and dried leaves stuck in her tight spirals. It pulled and hurt to brush, comb, wash, etc. Parts of her hair never saw the light of day. I used to say, “Lauren, dinosaurs could live in that mess and I’d never know?” She’d shrug with those round blue sparkling eyes and dart out the side door to go play. Dinosaurs were the most ridiculous thing I could think of to say. I love the word imagination. I think to write the ridiculous is fun and persuade children think like this. Adults ask “Why dinosaurs?” Children know the answer is, “Why not dinosaurs?”

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
As an author/publisher the most difficult challenge to overcome was to believe in myself; to take myself seriously. Traditionally published authors and traditional publishers used to make me feel ‘less than.’ It’s taken five years, but finally I acknowledge in my heart, I’m legit. It’s the students who cheer, laugh, applaud, hug, and love the books, who changed this for me. They are the best indicator of quality. I trust them.
Recently I founded, Literacy for Kids, Inc., (LFK) a non-profit corporation whose mission is to promote literacy, advocate education, support tolerance, and encourage acceptance. We are busy organizing our first AUTHORS: IN-Detroit program where the purpose is to unite award-winning authors/illustrators with students at a face-to-face event. Each child will receive an autographed book from the respective author assigned to their school. LFK will selectively choose titles which promote vocabulary, history, culture, acceptance, and self-esteem. Since we have seen firsthand how students respond with excitement and optimism when engaged in this personal educational experience, we felt Detroit Public Schools would be a great place to launch our first project.
I am currently editing my first YA novel. It’s a cross between John Paulson’s, “Hatchet” and John Grisham’s “Client.” I wanted to write a book where Mother Earth was also a character. We have a piece of property in the middle of nowhere which speaks to anyone who has walked there. It feels sacred. My intent is to paint this emotional reaction into words. What I lack these days however, is time.
The second DLIMH!2 book has been adapted into a Spanish version. This is currently being printed and will be available soon. The book series is in rhyme and it was challenging to give it a beat and rhythm through the translation. We look forward to its addition to our selections.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
Most of my writing ‘ah-ha’ moments come early in the morning when I first wake. A year ago, we travelled to Africa. I was able to write for three weeks continuously while overlooking a watering hole. Every animal imaginable within walking distance made its way to drink directly in front of me. The marmot monkeys flitted around the treetops overhead, the baboons strolled down the dried river eyeing me cautiously, the padded grey elephant feet snuck in quietly, and the towering giraffes blended into the trees miraculously. Sleeping outside in a tent for three weeks, waking and writing, falling asleep and waking to write again, was one of the most magical times of my life. The wee hours, with my sleep angels having answered manuscript questions, were still fresh in my mind when I started typing each day. I find if I’m struggling with writing plot – characters – etc. – I pose the question in my mind before sleep, invariably I have my answer in the morning. It’s best to keep my pencil and paper next to my bedside to jot down before the day erases all of my secrets. I think I have sleep fairies.

What are your interests outside of writing?
I am an avid fly-fisherman. It’s an activity my husband and I learned together about year ten (10/40) in our marriage. We began in Montana streams and rivers and fell in love with the speckled trout. Now, we fish most in saltwater. We divide our time between Michigan and the Florida Keys. I still prefer wading in water – but being in the back country of the everglades is also spectacular. I have a half-written book (where fly-fishing is a character), sitting in my bottom drawer. Time. It’s my worst enemy.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I read a lot of children’s book because I like to introduce my granddaughter to the world of words. She loves rhymes which makes me happy. I love Jory John’s humor; Kenneth Kraegel’s, “Green Pants,” is awesome. When I hear my son read Mo Willems’ “Pigeon Needs a Bath” out loud it tickles my heart. It’s funny when his scratchy voice and scrunched up eyes recite words like, “too hot, too cold, too deep . . . “, it makes a mother proud to see him interacting with his daughter and a book. My all-time favorites though will always be nursery rhymes. They speak to me.

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.
My advice to anyone who wants to write is simply, “Write.” There’s no doubt the more you write the better you become. I love George Orwell’s advice when it comes to rules:
1. “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”
2. “Never use a long word where a short one will do.”
3. “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”
4. “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”
5. “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
He goes on to say notice the words ‘never’ and ‘always’ suggest these rules are absolute and must never be broken. Although with all rules – he was known to break them often!
I would add two more rules from my experience:
6. When proofreading take out the word “that” It’s seldom needed.
7. Editing is done best when work is read out loud. If you stutter through a sentence, something isn’t right.
We must encourage children to be creative and use their imaginations. It’s a dying art. God bless the children and the young at heart.

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. To suggest an author interview, email her at rgarrison@bestversionmedia,com

Better than snacking

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Book vending machine

A great idea to get children reading comes from England Elementary School in England, Arkansas. It’s received tens of thousands of likes on Facebook and TV coverage on the local news channel out of Little Rock.

The Bookworm Vending Machine works very simply: Each week 50-60 golden tokens are awarded to children who show outstanding behavior. They use their coins to purchase a book from the vending machine. (The kids love it, because they keep their books and take them home.) Many schools reportedly have used student activity money to purchase the $4,000 machine manufactured by Global Vending Group.

Best of all, the book vending machine encourages reading and exceptional behavior in children. (Sounds like a great fundraising project for literacy groups, book clubs or writer’s groups!)

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.

Renee interviews author Erika Kotite

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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’m a California girl through and through. Born in San Francisco, raised in Santa Rosa, educated at UCLA (English Lit), married in a tiny town called Occidental. However, I’ve lived out of state, too. After graduating UCLA I headed east to make my mark in the NYC magazine world. I wanted to work for Conde Nast, of course. I ended up at a large PR firm and then moved back to California after a couple of years to take a job at Entrepreneur Magazine, where I stayed for 8 years. There I learned the art of interviewing and pulling together the various elements of a story that made it deep and interesting. (We called them “meatloaf” features.)
For seven years I was privileged to be the editor of Victorian Homes and Romantic Homes. It was there I discovered my love of historic architecture, and I became fascinated with outbuildings. This was the connection to my ultimate role: author of books about she sheds.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
Many years after I left VH and RH — to work in book packaging and launch my own culinary blog, toquemag — a former colleague had also left the magazines to work in the book world, at Quarto. She was at an editorial meeting where the conversation was all around the new she shed phenomenon. Someone asked if there was any good writer out there who knew about she sheds, and my friend suggested me. I signed on with Quarto to write She Sheds: A Room of Your Own and then about 18 months later my proposal for a second she sheds book was accepted. (She Sheds Style: Make Your Space Your Own) This was extremely exciting as I knew how difficult it was to get a contract with a traditional publisher. I worked very hard and delivered what I consider two excellent books! So far the two books have sold more than 30,000 copies. Not bad for a niche home and garden book series!

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
Writing a book is a tough slog no matter what kind or genre. For the sheds books, visuals were critical. This meant I also needed to acquire 150+ good-quality photos of all the sheds I featured and handled all of the required licensing paperwork, W9, invoicing, etc. from shed owners and photographers. We know English majors don’t like paperwork. 🙂
The second book was even more complex as I needed 175+ photos and 23 DIY projects that I had to produce (either myself or with other DIYers) and acquire rights to. So I worked harder than I ever have in my life, including late nights and weekends. Through that time, my beloved brother and a beloved sister died, making it excruciating to even think about work. Looking back I don’t even know how I got through it. But I guess we always do, somehow.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
I am happy to say that she sheds have become so popular I decided to make a whole business out of it. I met the greatest friend and colleague, Sabrina Contreras, and together we launched She Shed Living in 2018. The company is all about women finding their space and their creative inspiration, whether it’s in a backyard studio or a spare room or anywhere else. Our products — the books, a line of exterior paints called She Shades, garden supplies, spa products, lapel pins, potting benches and jewelry — is paired with our services as custom shed designers! We work with a company in central California that builds the sheds with reclaimed lumber and vintage windows. Sabrina and I work with the clients to design the walls and get the site prepared for installation. We also help with interior design if the client wants that. We are also building a membership through Facebook and ultimately through our website. It’s all very exciting — hectic, but exciting!

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Well, I am VP of Publications for the Jane Austen Society of North America so…I read a lot of Jane Austen. Over and over. I am also a very big fan of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and even wrote a screenplay around De Smet and Laura (set in contemporary time). John Steinbeck breathes the essence of California upon me whenever I open one of his books. I love all of his work. I’m not sure who has had an influence on my writing from these wonderful authors, though. I will tell you that Dominique Browning, who was the Editor In Chief of House & Garden for many years, greatly influenced me when I was writing my own editors notes in VH and RH. I love her voice and her poetic prose.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
Ugh. No writing rituals. I’m so busy building my business that I haven’t written anything more substantial than a monthly e-newsletter in nearly a year. And you know what? It is painful. I need to get back to my writing because that is what I’m best at. Through all kinds of badly chosen jobs I’ve had over the years I finally realized that I needed to stick to what I do best. I hope to get a third book deal, around outdoor living, when I get a chance to send out proposals. Then I’ll make me some rituals, which will definitely include coffee.

What are your interests outside of writing?
Through working on the she sheds projects I discovered I really like building and DIY projects. I’m improving my skills with power tools, including using a table saw. I love to sew and LOVE to read. My own little she shed is strictly for reading. I enjoy travel and just returned from a two-week trip to the UK with my husband and 3 children (22, 20, and 16).

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.
I am a big fan of self-publishing. If I didn’t get that incredibly lucky break of knowing someone in the business, I would have definitely learned more about self-publishing and going that route. I’m having trouble (fears) finishing my screenplay so I wish I would have focused on that more. It’s not too late, though. I never feel like it’s too late, until I’m dead. We all as writers want to leave something valuable of ourselves behind. I’m no different. That’s our biggest privilege as well as our biggest challenge: to produce our absolute best and most truthful writings.

She Sheds book cover

Renee interviews author Florence St. John

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Janet Sierzant

Florence St. John writes psychological, nonfiction books about personality disorders. She is the author of, “The Codependence Trap,” a semifinalist for the Royal Palm Literary Award.

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 was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island. I relocated to Georgia and lived there for 26 years until I got divorced. I love Florida, traveling to Sicily and writing.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
I started writing after I asked my father to record five cassette tapes about his life growing up in Brooklyn. My first book is Gemini Joe, Memoirs of Brooklyn. After that, I couldn’t stop writing.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
I was always told that I wasn’t college material, but then I relocated to Georgia and attended Kennesaw State University, where I received my Bachelors of Science degree.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
My biggest aha moment was realizing that I am codependent.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I usually like to read non-fiction books, especially memoirs, but my favorite book is the Joy Luck Club.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
I try to write every day, I have so many books in my head. I never get writer’s block. But I’m also a compulsive revisor. I have no problem correcting or tweaking my work.

What are your interests outside of writing?
Zumba and walking on the beach

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.
My advice to other authors is… write because you enjoy it, not because you hope to be rich.

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. To suggest an author interview, email her at rgarrison@bestversionmedia.com.

Front Cover

 

 

Renee interviews author Robert Macomber

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Earlier this month Robert N. Macomber was a featured speaker at the Florida Authors and Publishers Association Annual Conference. He offered a fascinating look at how location research can make a story more vivid and memorable – for both the writer and the reader.

Tell me about your background. Where did you grow up, where do you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I grew up in southwest Florida, same area where I currently live. I studied political science and history in college and started as a teacher, then moved into law enforcement, but began writing while doing those jobs. Early on, I knew that my passions were sailing, history and storytelling, so I started composing articles on the side for some magazines, doing non-fiction pieces, and then moved into creating the concept for my Honor Series, which goes back 20 years, after I got some substantial encouragement to keep putting pen to paper. It’s been a long and fascinating journey. This year marks my thirty-first year of lecturing and twenty-second year of commercial writing.
Reading was big in my family growing up, as was sailing and travel. My dad was a civil engineer, but also had his pilot’s license and a small plane, so we did a lot of trips from as early as I can remember. He instilled in me a curiosity for exploration into different countries and into different cultures. That has stayed with me.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
Honoring the Enemy is the 14th novel in my Honor Series of historical thrillers, which depict the personal life and global career of U.S. naval officer Peter Wake from 1863 to 1908. Real historical events, personalities, and places inspire the plots in my books. I illuminate significant events in American and world history through Peter Wake, my fictional protagonist. My 14th novel covers the Spanish-American War in Florida and Cuba, and took many years to research in both places. My 13th novel, An Honorable War, set the stage in its storyline for the U.S. involvement in the Spanish-American War, and my 15th novel, “A Word of Honor,” which will be released in October 2020, will round out to the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, where readers will learn what’s yet to come for Peter Wake in the Honor Series.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
For this last book, dealing with the ever-changing U.S. government travel restrictions to Cuba and the Cuban government’s paranoia about an American author researching inside Cuba have created constant challenges. But I persevered past the obstacles. A quick word, though, to clear up some recent confusion: you can still travel to Cuba with a licensed tour operator’s group, just not on a cruise ship. As you probably know, I’ve taken groups to Cuba (still do), mostly readers, and they are forever grateful that the team I put together to make it happen worked out beyond their best, imagined scenarios. Everyone comes home having learned that the Cuban people are delightful and some of the most hospitable people on earth. Happy to add that several, who have traveled to Cuba in my groups, have eagerly returned to Cuba with me for a second visit!

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
Each time a reader expresses accolades for my work or a literary critic in the media gives me rave reviews, or when professional colleagues present me with an award, I still feel like they’re all “aha” moments. I don’t take those moments of validation for granted.
Otherwise, throughout my literary career, there are several, extra meaningful successes which I call “My Author Moments” but I’ll force myself to limit it to one. A few years ago, I was contacted by one of my readers who told me an unbelievable tale. She and her husband were home reading my book aloud to each other one evening when her husband had a very painful heart attack. While waiting for the first responders, then attended to by the medics, in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and in the emergency room, the husband insisted his wife continue reading my book aloud to him because it took his mind away from the pain. Thankfully, he lived and recovered, and they still read my books aloud to each other in the evening. True story!

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Major literary influences on me were C.S. Forester, George Macdonald Fraser, James Michener, Jack London, Mark Twain, James Jones, Edmund Morris, and Dan Brown. Since most of my reading relates to research, I don’t have much time to read for pleasure, but a few of those books I’ve enjoyed most in the last 2 years have been A Gentleman In Moscow, A Confederacy of Dunces, and The Woman Who Smashed Codes. I also just read The Patient Assassin by Anita Anand as a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books ~ an excellent read. The most impactful re-read of late has been It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. For every novel I write, I read over 60 books, and keep track because I include a bibliography at the end of each of my books.

Do you write every day? Any writing rituals?
Yes, every day. I get up at 0545, have breakfast, walk 1.5 meditative miles through coconut palm groves, do some light stretching & lifting, then begin working no later than 0800. Creative writing is done in the mornings, when I’m freshest mentally. Editing, research for books, research for my lectures, media interviews, and admin stuff is done in the afternoons. Sometimes, if the research in the afternoon really ignites me, I’ll do some creative writing in the evenings.

What are your interests outside of writing?
My interests include my faith, sailing through the remote islands near where I live, and travel. I like cooking exotic cuisines from the locales in my books, and while cooking I listen to the indigenous, folk music related to the dish. Sharing time to enjoy my wife and her interests is always valuable because I learn from her constantly. Also, we enjoy watching documentaries and a variety of movies (classics and foreign films in particular), and we try to find time to hear live music in smaller listening venues when possible. Balancing my hectic work schedule with time to relax is easier said than done.

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.
What would I have done differently? I would’ve started social media marketing early on with my first book, but, when I started my Honor Series, social media wasn’t what it is today. As social media grew as rapidly as it did, I wasn’t truly ready because I’m not that tech-savvy. It was too intimidating, and I didn’t ask for help. Now I have a little more help, and I’m relatively good at Facebook, but there’s room for me to grow, which is probably a common thread for many of your readers.
What would I do the same? Network, network, network – with enthusiastic kindness. It always reaps rewards and frequently leads to long, genuine friendships. Be ready to learn, adapt, and recognize your own limitations. I am constantly amazed at how networking opens up unanticipated opportunities for success.
Beneficial tips? Here are seven:
1) Stay organized and disciplined. Find what works for you. Since I have to focus on multiple book projects at one time, to keep each one accurate I use an old-fashioned storyboard (a 22 x 28 inch blank poster) for each project, on which I put the historical timeline, the story’s chapter timeline, imagery of important historical people in the story, maps, character lists (e.g., how again do I spell Kalākaua, king of Hawaii?), and sundry other trivia which is important for me to remember. The poster folds up and goes with me on my journeys because I work every day, no matter where I am. Over the years it takes for me to prep each novel, my storyboards are covered with scrawled notes, scratches, ink smears, wine stains, sweat (and occasionally blood) – all of which are separate memorable stories in themselves! With a storyboard, the batteries will never run down, and it works even when the electricity doesn’t.
2) Be different. Create a new niche in an established genre. Write on a topic nobody else is, but one most people would be curious about when they learn of it. Let that drive your brand.
3) Make friends with your readers. Stay in contact with them and give them enjoyable experiences beyond your book. My readers’ enthusiasm energizes me. Maybe those interested can get a few ideas if they friend me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/robert.macomber.750, or sign up for my Quarterly Newsletter, where there are examples of the other ways I engage my readers with opportunities to meet me. It’s simple to sign up on my website http://www.RobertMacomber.com.
4) Give presentations on your subject(s). Become known for being well-versed and confident as a storyteller. Your presentations can be symbiotic with your literary projects and add another revenue stream. I am a specialist in Victorian-Edwardian world history and lecture on 62 different topics. My lectures and books help feed parallel interest(s) and cross promote sales.
5) Ask for help. Put the word out you need assistance on a subject, place, event, skill, etc…. People have surprising knowledge or contacts, and often love being a part of a book project.
6) Always say thank you to anyone who helps you along the way: readers, authors, researchers, editors, booksellers, media critics, librarians, literacy groups, support staff and family. Thank them in the book’s acknowledgments, at public events, on Social Media, in your newsletter, or on your website. Let them bask in the satisfaction of a completed book project too. They deserve it, and it builds community!
7) Have sincere appreciation for your chosen profession. Yes, there are hassles and frustrations, but smell the frangipani blossoms, my friends. We’re writers and storytellers – the chroniclers of human life! Your journey will lead you to wonderful places, people, and experiences you can’t even imagine right now.
Onward & Upward!

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. To suggest an author interview, email her at rgarrison@bestversionmedia.com.

Keeping loved ones close

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“I need your help.”
Kathy’s voice quavered on the phone – not unusual for a woman whose husband recently died.
I arrived at her home to find her holding a silver bracelet with a hidden compartment for ashes, a filling kit and a tiny screwdriver. Her hands shook.
Following the cremation of a loved one, many people like Kathy aren’t sure of the best way to store the ashes. Rather than placing all of the cremains in one large urn, cremation jewelry is a way to share the ashes with family (who may want to keep a small portion) or simply to keep a loved one close. [See: “Remembering Mom,” May 4, 2014]
My sister opted for a glass pendant that was made using a small amount of our mother’s ashes. I chose a gold teardrop charm, which I’ve worn to weddings, graduations and birthday celebrations. (My mother loved a good party.)
No one knows who/what I am wearing, just as no one admiring Kathy’s bracelet will suspect its contents. Yet, the simple act of wearing these items helps us cope with the loss of someone we loved.
Indeed, jewelry offers such a splendid form of therapy.

Renee interviews author Amy Sweezey

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You may recognize Amy Sweezey as the broadcast meteorologist who works for WESH-2 in Florida. But she’s also written an award-winning, nonfiction children’s book that discusses weather forecasting in great detail.

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 grew up in Michigan (for the most part). I was born in the Upper Peninsula (which makes me a Yooper) and then lived south of Ann Arbor for many of my childhood years. I moved to Central Florida in 2002 for the job at WESH. After college graduation from Loyola University Chicago, I worked in South Bend Indiana and West Michigan before moving to Orlando with my husband. Our 3 kids were all born in Florida and are now in 10th, 8th and 6th grades. I homeschool them part-time which works out great with my wacky work hours. Since I wake up at 2 AM, having my kids home 2 days a week allows me to see them more.

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

For many years as part of my TV job, I have spoken to school kids about weather. It often comes with the territory of being a meteorologist — Teachers call the local weather expert to share with their students. I don’t know how the tradition first started but, for me personally, I speak at about 30-40 schools each year. Writing books about weather was a natural transition from homeschooling my own kids along with teaching other school-age kids about weather. My first book was conceived when my Florida-born children were learning about the seasons, but didn’t understand words like “snow” “blizzard” or “ice” when reading about winter. I decided Florida kids needed their own winter weather story, so I wrote It Never, Ever Snows in Florida about a little boy named AJ who had never seen snow. My second book, Let’s Talk Weather,TV Forecasting: Behind the Scenes is nonfiction and focuses on how I do my job. It’s all about the tools and instruments I use for forecasting. It explains the science behind the weather to 3rd-5th graders.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

Knowing HOW to get a book published has been the biggest challenge. I chose to self-publish both of my books, but there are many pros and cons to traditional publishing versus self-publishing. It’s much easier to get a book published when you do it yourself — but it also raises a lot of challenges when you don’t know what you are doing or where to start!

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

I was pleased to win a gold medal from the Florida Authors & Publishers Association in 2018 for Let’s Talk Weather. I’m not sure if it qualifies as an “aha” moment but now that my book has been published for almost 2 years I ask myself, “What took so long?” I wish I had published years ago.

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

I absolutely love to read! I used to devour anything I could get my hands on, especially fiction and historical fiction. Now that I have 3 kids and wake up at 2 AM for work, I have a really tough time finding the time to read. If I have time, I don’t always have the energy. Audio books and podcasts are in my wheelhouse now — which I can do while driving and not fall asleep! I still love fiction books, but I enjoy non fiction inspirational and motivational books more now than I ever have: Quiet by Susan Cain (I’m an introvert); The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates; anything by Brene Brown. I also read a lot of children’s books — not just about weather. I believe you need to stay immersed in your genre if you want to successfully emulate it.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?

I tend to write every day — but usually it’s for work, not for fun. I write a lot of social media posts and website updates. My daily writing is forecast based. My blog posts are much more fun to write — but I usually take a long time putting those together. I write and re-write and write again, then fix and change, and write some more. Even a blog post that’s only a few paragraphs long can take me days or weeks to polish. Part of it is because I’m a perfectionist, part is because I’m a grammar fanatic, and part is because I try to catch and change anything that might be worded controversially. Being in the public eye, specifically in a journalism/media field, requires a certain amount of care in being politically correct. Everyone always has a problem with SOMETHING you say or write, so I try to head off as many of those comments and criticisms right from the start.

What are your interests outside of writing?

With three kids, part-time homeschooling, a 2 AM job start, and two books under my belt, I don’t have much time for anything else. I enjoy the beach and sunshine (hence the move to Florida). I love meaningful conversation with true friends about things that matter. I like watching movies with my husband and I enjoy good food. Exploring new restaurants with my family, rather than always visiting the same place every time, makes for a fun, yet simple, adventure.

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.

Everyone says, “write what you know.” I agree wholeheartedly. The best writing comes from the heart. It’s real and authentic. Don’t just self-publish your book because YOU think it’s good. Get some feedback. Ask for critiques. Pay for professional editing from someone who has written books of their own (which you have read and admire). If you want your book to be successful and be something that people want to read, take the time to get it right. Don’t rush to the printer too soon. Once it’s done, it’s done.

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Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. To suggest an interview, email her at rgarrison@bestversionmedia.com

Renee interviews author Cara Cobb

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Cara Cobb

Cara Cobb is a resident of Cassadaga, Florida, a small community known for having a large number of psychics and mediums. She’s written a memoir about her life in a religious cult.

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.

My mother, a wealthy young Hungarian, was engaged to be married to a Nazi officer after WWII. Unfortunately for her, after the Allies won the war, the Americans allowed the Russians to first enter the cities that had been sympathetic to the Nazi cause. As our then allies barged through these marked cities, they plundered, raped and murdered the innocent populace.
My grandfather sent my mother and her two sisters out of Budapest ahead of the onslaught. They eventually trekked their way into Southern Germany, where they settled in a refugee camp high in the Bavarian Alps.
At the foot of the mountain was an American base, temporarily commandeered by a sergeant, an imposing New York Jew with a big heart, my father.
The Hungarians were hungry, cold and lacking in water and milk for their children. They needed help but were afraid to approach the Russian allies camped below. No young men were available to solicit the Americans, so the decision was made to send a beautiful woman with a big mouth.
My mother walked into the American camp— The rest is history.
I was born in Germany (February 14, 1952) and raised in the military. As we traveled, my mother insisted that we learn the language, participate in the culture and eat the foods of each locale.
After graduating from Berlin American High School in 1969, I married a GI from Hollywood, Florida. We returned to the states and settled in South Florida, where our first child was born in 1973 and I obtained an AA in Elementary Education.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
My father-in-law was a founder of a worldwide religious organization. My husband and I became very involved with the group and migrated to Fitzgerald, Georgia, to establish a community of “like believers” in 1978. Due to marital issues, I left my husband and the community in 2009.
My book, We Walk on Water, is a memoire of my 30+ years in the Move. My life there was unique, interesting and fulfilling. We gardened together, raised animals, birthed our babies at home, taught our own children and lived apart from the “world.” I left with no documented work experience to begin a new life at age 57.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
After leaving the Move, I learned of sexual, physical and financial abuse within the group that had been covered up. After my in-laws and mother passed, I decided to document my own experiences with candor, humor and love as an expose of this little-known, world-wide group.
The Move is the subject of a recent People’s Discovery Investigates Cult series for which I was interviewed. It is presently available on Amazon Prime Video and other venues.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
My biggest “aha” moment was when the UPS man delivered six boxes of my book to my door-step. I measure any success by the reactions of my readers, some of whom are former students from whom I have not heard in decades calling or writing to tell me how much my book means to them or how I have positively impacted their lives.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Books that have influenced me….. hmmmm, starting as a child with Edgar Allen Poe, Inspector Maigret and most recently, Educated by Tara Westover and The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. And I love Bible stories, especially the ones they don’t read in Sunday school.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
I do not write every single day. I keep an electric typewriter open to type quick thoughts or reminders of things to add to stories later into my laptop. When I do serious writing, I usually go in spurts, having to stop every so often to “clear my palate” with housekeeping, errands, phone calls and such.

What are your interests outside of writing?

Outside of writing, we are very social and enjoy entertaining friends. My partner and I are yard-sale and thrift-store junkies. He owns several properties (three of which we use, the others are rentals) and we fill them with found art and unique furniture pieces. Oh, we also have a mannequin population in our Cassadaga home that I enjoy posing and dressing. In addition, I have three children and six grands (although, I see only one regularly).

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.

If you are a writer, you know you are a writer. Write!!!! Keep a journal, write little stories. When I went into the religious group, I burned much of my youthful writings. I do regret that, although I have retrieved much from memory.
Yesterday, a writer friend gave me a profound insight. “Pretend you and I were driving to Winn Dixie together. What would you see? Cars, stop signs, street corners. Now pretend we are walking the same route to the store. What would you see? Perhaps a dead bird on the side of the road, perhaps a lost shoe, maybe an abandoned kitten. Write as if you are walking.”

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.

Taking care of the caregiver

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elderly
While being a caregiver for an elderly loved one can be deeply rewarding, it can also be extremely stressful. During those moments when my nerves are frayed and my patience is wearing thin, I’ve discovered some helpful techniques to remove myself from the situation and calm down.

How do I keep strong feelings from getting the best of me? I remember to “take five.” Best of all, my little mantra can take many different forms:

1. You could take five (literal) steps back from the situation if your loved one with dementia has become belligerent.

2. Count to five before you answer if you’re stuck in a cycle of repeated questions or comments.

3. Take five whole minutes to yourself (set a timer!) if you’re just worn out. While you relax, put on a calming television program or hand the person with dementia a favorite snack and leave the room.

4. In the evening, of course, you can always try five sips of wine…

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. She is currently writing the sequel.