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.

Something in the air


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The one thing I remember most about the south of France is the fragrance of it. Inhaling deeply on a stone terrace in Nice, I discovered the air was scented with lavender and maybe a bit of eucalyptus that grew nearby. It was amazing and left me utterly relaxed! I’ve never found anything like it in a bottle – and I’ve spent a decade searching.

How can simply sniffing something in the air have such an impact?  

As The Mayo Clinic points out, some studies have suggested that aromatherapy can benefit our sleep patterns, help us cope with anxiety and depression, and improve the quality of life for those with chronic health conditions and pain. Avid aromatherapy fans use essential oils for a variety of purposes:

  • Improving mood
  • Providing calmness 
  • Clearing sinuses
  • Reducing stress
  • Setting a tone of a room (think: relaxing or energetic) 
  • Scent diffusion alternative to candle-burning 

According to scientists, when we enjoy what we smell, a domino effect happens because of how the body is wired. Enjoyment of the scent helps the pupils to dilate, and the body will produce chemicals that can encourage the smooth muscle of blood vessels to relax. That’s when your blood pressure lowers, and heart rate slows a little, which is a signal of calmness and relaxation.

A friend (who knows nothing of my quest to duplicate the fragrance of Nice) gave me a candle called RELAX, which is scented with lavender and cedar. I light it while I’m writing and editing. While it may not be identical to the south of France, I’m getting close.

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

Happy Holidays?


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My early Christmas memories in New England resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, with my aunt and uncle arriving at my grandparents’ house for a lavish holiday meal.  Friends and neighbors dropped in for a sip of eggnog (and some Fanny Farmer chocolates) while we waited for Santa. 

When my children were growing up, we stayed home for the holidays. The menu may have varied, but the essentials stayed the same: watching our favorite holiday movies, friends and family stopping by and spending time together on the couch. Today, my kids live in separate states with families of their own, so our traditions have changed. They usually involve an airport, and sometimes that feels like a loss.

Here’s the truth: our adult holidays may never match the magic of our childhood. And celebrating on Zoom is definitely not the best way to connect with our family.

But instead of scrolling through Instagram and looking at other people’s picture-perfect (and undoubtedly, STAGED) holidays, I am thankful for the holiday I do have — TSA checks, airport food and presents in my purse instead of under the tree. 

It’s not perfect, but it’s enough.

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

Thanksgiving Trivia


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Felix the Cat, the first character balloon, at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Apart from my Great Aunt Margaret’s stuffing, my favorite part of childhood Thanksgivings in New England was watching the Macy’s parade. My sister and I waited until the end, when Santa Claus arrived to officially open the Christmas season.

In particular, we loved the balloons, but we didn’t know their history. 1927, puppeteer Tony Sarg suggested introducing inflatable balloons to the parade. That year, Macy’s featured Felix the Cat, a 60-foot-tall toy soldier, and a 20-foot-long elephant, all manufactured by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, in Akron, Ohio. The helium inflatables, a bit more fearsome than those of today, grew larger and more complicated with each passing year. Some contained their own sound effects—like a barking dachshund—and others needed as many as 50 handlers on the ground, with a Pinocchio requiring 20 handlers for his nose alone.

Eventually, the balloons were fitted with slow-release valves so they could be let loose into the sky at the end of the parade, averting a logistical nightmare on the ground and simultaneously creating an airborne sensation.

In another feat of well-calculated promotion, Sarg offered a reward to anyone who returned a wayward balloon to Macy’s. The ensuing races to find and give them back were so heated that they became news in their own right—one woman, trying to catch Felix the Cat on the wing of her biplane while aloft, crash-landed her way onto the front page of the next day’s New York Times.

Thankfully, that tradition ended – like so many others. Today I buy my stuffing at the grocery store, but I make it as I watch the parade. Happy Thanksgiving!

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of “The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.”

Is Your Home Safe During the Holidays?


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While you’re spending the holidays in a tropical locale or in a quaint European town, thieves could be planning to attack your home. Yet a few easy steps can make your home look occupied and protect your property. (If it looks like there are still people at home, you’re much less likely to be robbed.) Do everything you can to make it look like there’s activity both inside and outside the
Up your exterior light game: While you’re automating your lights, make sure you have enough of them on the outside of your home. A well-lit place is less likely to be an attractive target for a thief. And motion-activated lights that pop on when they sense movement outside your home can help protect it every day.
Let your neighbors know: If those who live closest to you know that you’re away, they’re likely to keep a closer eye on your home and be alerted to strange noises or unfamiliar faces.
Consider mail and newspaper delivery: Thieves may notice an overfilled mailbox and take that as a cue to hit your home. A smart robber who is watching will notice that the mail is not being delivered. It might be best to continue with mail delivery and ask a neighbor to collect it for you.
Check your doors and windows before you leave:
You might not realize you have a back door or first-floor window that’s unlocked, but a thief will.
Chill on the social media updates: Just posted a picture on Facebook of the family hanging out on Maui or tweeted about a great restaurant you found near Disney World? You just gave thieves all the info they need to make your home next on their list. If you still want to make sure you’re sharing your good times online, set your profiles to private. Or, wait until you get home to post photos.