Festival of Reading

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20171113_072611I read the email and blinked.

“Congratulations!!! Colette Bancroft, the book editor of the Tampa Bay Times, and the Author Selection Committee have recommended your award-winning release, The Anchor Clankers for presentation at the 25th annual Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading.  

The Tampa Bay area celebrates outstanding authors and the love of reading at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading. Held on the Bayfront campus of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the festival attracts more than 6,000 book lovers and brings together people of all ages and socioeconomic groups to celebrate the joy of reading.” 

Jumping up from the computer, I did a little happy dance. Then, I cried.

I cried for the six years I spent writing the book. I cried for my parents, who didn’t live long enough to read it. I cried, mostly, out of sheer gratitude that a selection committee chose to honor my work.

Last November, I slid into a chair and watched other authors’ presentations at the 2016 Festival of Reading. One year later, I was invited to give my own.

That’s why I now encourage anyone who has a book lurking inside them, to write it down. Write a lousy first draft and then, a better second draft. You’ll probably publish your third draft.

And next year (when you’re standing at a podium discussing your work,) I’ll come and listen to YOU!

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“The Anchor Clankers” latest review

According to Beth Rodgers, Staff Reviewer for YA Books Central:

“The historical context adds depth to the plot, as the story is set around the time that Disney World was being built. This added a healthy dose of interest, as it showed how the issues that teens deal with nowadays were dealt with in the late 1960s and early 1970s. From drinking to worrying about the romantic implications of the drive-in to teen pregnancy, Renee Garrison touches on a variety of topics that are still relevant in teen life today. It helps today’s teens see that they are not alone, and that life occurred before them and will continue to do so once they become adults. It was also fun to learn that the author herself grew up in the same way as Suzette, moving every few years and living in the Sanford Naval Academy with her parents when her dad took a job there. This was a welcome addition, making the story unique.”

(Suzette is doing a happy dance!)

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Blowing in the wind

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The invitations were sent and the champagne, cooling.

Then Hurricane Irma invited herself to the party.

Today was to be a Book Launch Party for “The Anchor Clankers,” a time to celebrate the six years spent writing, editing, designing and proofreading my manuscript before its publication.

When a book is finally published, it’s the end of a long, (sometimes arduous) journey for the author. My sweet friends recognized that, and wanted to throw a monumental celebration – an event that required considerable forethought and planning.

Simply picking a date is difficult, since every day of the year is someone’s birthday, someone’s holiday, someone’s marathon, someone’s surgery, or the day after a hurricane hurtles into Florida, sending 75 m.p.h. winds and 12 inches of rain your way.

Life is full of surprises and things that cannot be foreseen (such as the absence of power, water and gasoline.) I’m so grateful to the people who planned to attend and hope that everyone will take two hours out of their busy lives on October 4 to come the rescheduled Book Launch Party.

Everyone, that is, except Irma.

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“The Anchor Clankers,” is available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com

The Gold Medal goes to…

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J.D. Salinger averaged 20 words a day to finish his 73,000-word classic The Catcher in the Rye over a 10-year span. My novel took six years to get from a legal pad into a binding.

Much of that time was spent sitting alone in front of my computer. On good days, I wondered how a book could be so easy to write. On other days, I struggled – week by agonizing week – wondering if it was worth the fight. Every book has its journey, which may take a month, a year, or even a lifetime.

Probably because they spend so much time alone, authors value recognition from their peers. At the Florida Authors and Publishers Association 2017 President’s Book Awards ceremony, the goodwill was palpable. Winners had been notified that we were finalists in the competition, so when the bronze medal in the Young Adult category was announced, I prepared to stand. I did the same when the silver medal was announced. That’s when I began to fear I’d been notified in error. (I didn’t even hear my name called as the gold medal was announced.) Fortunately, I DID see a six-foot picture of my book cover flash on stage, so I stood and walked toward it.

Turns out that E. B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, was quite right when he said, “It is deeply satisfying to win a prize in front of a lot of people.”
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What would JK Rowling do?

When you’ve written a book, the next thing you must do is create an author website. It’s the first place readers go to find out about you.

As I recently discovered, finding a cure for cancer may be easier than creating a website. Starting with a bit of research, I went straight to http://www.jkrowling.com because:

  1. I wanted to see what a professional did and
  2. I’ve been told I bear a slight resemblance to the creator of Harry Potter.

No surprise: Her website is lovely, no doubt because her budget is unlimited. She lives in a castle in Edinburgh and is married to a British doctor. Advantage – Joanne.

Experts suggest, “Make the site more about YOU the author, than about your book. A personal site is usually more compelling to readers and potential media than a book site.” Unfortunately, my life is quite unremarkable (much like my skills in technology.) Authors like me generally have two choices: the DIY approach or hiring a professional designer.

John Cossu of SOS (Software Oriented Solutions, not “Save Our Ship” though that acronym works, too) came to my rescue. A few clicks of the mouse allowed words and widgets to fall into place – no magic wand needed!

I hope you visit the new website www.reneegarrison.com. (I also hope you like it.) Please let me know!

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The beeramid

The sailing team captain felt the sweat trickling down his forehead. At least that’s how he explained it to Suzette the next day.

“We needed twenty cans across the bottom to form the base.”

They carried a bag of empty beer cans from its hiding place in the boat house. One boy even raided a Boy Scout recycling bin for extra cans. They’d hidden some in their rooms, of course, but didn’t want to risk lifelong detention by stashing upstairs the quantity they needed.

“Such a sweet project.”

After practicing in the boat house, the boys devised an efficient plan: two knelt on the floor to stack while two quietly passed cans from the bags. Silence was imperative since any loud crashes would surely wake the Captain’s daughter.

“Her bedroom is just inside the front door,” one cautioned, as they crept down the corridor. “Absolutely no talking, or we’ll get killed.”

The group worked quickly and methodically until a pyramid of beer cans rose more than five feet from the floor and completely blocked the doorway. As a final touch, one midshipman grabbed the camera that hung from a leather strap around his neck and snapped a few pictures for posterity, maybe even the school yearbook.

It looked amazing, an aluminum tower glinting in the corridor security lights. The group headed up the nearest stairwell, careful to avoid the rent-a-cop on his rounds.

Miraculously, Suzette never heard a thing…that is, until her father pulled open the front door on his way to watch the battalion’s morning formation.

“Good luck at school today.”

His head was turned toward his daughter’s bedroom, and he wasn’t looking in front of him as he walked. Suzette started to say thanks, but her mouth simply hung open as she watched a shower of red, white, and blue beer cans spill inside the apartment, burying her father’s feet.

The Captain’s hand still gripped the door knob.

 

~ Excerpt from “The Anchor Clankers,” available for Pre-sale at http://www.syppublishing.com/anchor-clankers/ Please visit the website and use Coupon Code “ANCHOR” for a $3 discount!

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A Book is Born

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Publishing a book is a lot like giving birth to a child: You stare at the object in your hands, hoping it looks a bit like what you imagined it would. After laboring over it (in this case, for six years,) the literary bundle finally arrives in all its glossy glory!

I’m thrilled to announce “The Anchor Clankers” is now available for pre-sale at SYP Publishing. Please visit their website and use Coupon Code “ANCHOR” for a $3 discount!

 

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Meeting “The Anchor Clankers”

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Skipper

“Whoa. A real G.I. Joe, that captain,” Tim Russell muttered quietly to Bill Moore as the Captain marched down the front portico steps.

Then he noticed the man speaking to a woman and a girl with white blonde hair that was almost as long as her tanned legs.

“Who are they?”

Bill glanced outside.

“They would be the Captain’s wife and daughter,” Bill answered.

The Captain got into his car, but the women lingered in the grass with a small silver Schnauzer. Tim headed towards them.

“That’s not much of a dog,” Tim said, coming down the front steps. “You must be Mrs. LeBlanc. Hi, I’m Tim Russell.”

“Hey there, you look like a real sea dog,” he said, softly, bending to scratch the mascot’s ears.

Suzette stared at him. The guy was a hunk. Streaked blond hair and super tan, he must be a surfer or a water-skier, especially with that body. She could feel the sweat starting at the waistband of her shorts and trickling down the back of her thighs.

“Yes, and this is my daughter, Suzette,” Mom answered. “The dog’s name is Skipper.”

Tim looked up from the dog and squinted at the girl.

“You’re obviously not going to school, here. Will you be at Sanford High School?”

Suzette was glad the sun was behind her. That way he couldn’t see that her face was beet red from the heat (or because she was blushing.) Not to mention five new pimples were probably forming under the sweat.

“No, my parents chose a Catholic high school in Orlando. I’ll be going there.”

Of course, her education would occur elsewhere. She figured that people who send their sons to military school want structure and a strong male influence for their children.

They did not, however, want girls.

Tim nodded. “That’s probably better for you. I’m not sure the guys at Sanford High would even speak to a girl who lives with the anchor clankers. In case you haven’t heard, that’s what they call us, here.”

 

– Excerpt from “The Anchor Clankers,” a novel set at The Sanford Naval Academy in Florida

The first thing you see

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Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover?

I received this email from Southern Yellow Pine Publishing: “We’re setting up a phone call conference with artist Elizabeth Babski to talk about the cover design.”
Suddenly, I’m terrified.

I think of all the books that I’ve picked up in libraries and book stores. Occasionally, a glance at the cover was all it took for me to put it back on the shelf. I understand how important cover design can be in luring readers inside a book.

Admittedly, I’m not an artist. I paint pictures with words rather than brushes. But I know that an amazing cover can capture a reader’s interest even before they see the first sentence.

Creating the right cover is an art form, which involves evaluating the book’s content and understanding exactly what will resonate with my Young Adult readers. Regrettably, Elizabeth had not been given my manuscript to read, nor had I seen samples of her art or her website. So, we chatted and I gave her the “Cliff Note” version of “THE ANCHOR CLANKERS.”

They say that you can’t judge a book by its cover. They are wrong!

I’m anxious to see her suggestions.

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Sore today, strong tomorrow

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My physical therapist wears a shirt that reads, “Suck it up, buttercup.”

I’ve been seeing a lot of her since I had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff.  She appears sympathetic during each hour-long torture session (most serial killers do – it’s the secret of their success.)

However, the camaraderie among other victims – er, patients – surprises me. When our eyes meet, there’s a smile, a nod, or murmur of encouragement. During brief moments of rest, I’ve had people lean over and ask, “How did it happen?” or “Did you have surgery?”

Simple gestures, yet when you’re in pain and feeling frustrated, encouragement from strangers in the same boat is comforting. Our injuries may be diverse, but our goals are clear and compelling: to be pain-free and able to move with a full range of motion.

The prospect of meeting these folks again one day in Starbucks or the grocery store (anywhere but physical therapy) appeals to me. Our shared experience creates a kind of fraternity, though our initiations were vastly different.

Our motto: It really will get better every day.

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