She’s Live!

It feels a bit strange to say I’m officially launching Wherever Would I Be in a few days given that so many copies are already in the hands of readers (some of which have already finished reading and reached out to me!). But here we are. Launch day is approaching. 🙂

You can find Lucy’s story on B&N (eBook, paperback, and hardcover), Amazon (eBook and paperback), and BookShop.org (paperback), as well as copies at Lion’s Mouth Bookstore in Green Bay. (My introverted self really needs to get out to these others shops and have a chat! But your local shop should be able to acquire a copy through Ingram – just go in and ask!)

I also received my first ever review:

This book was such a labor of love, and I’m so glad that folks are enjoying it as much as I did. I know this book won’t be for everyone, and that’s ok. At the moment, I’m just enjoying the joy. 🙂 Been loving the pictures people have sent – please keep them coming! ❤

Also really excited (and SUPER nervous) about the launch event at Lion’s Mouth Bookstore on June 10. For more information, see their Facebook event.

AI

Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about some adventures he was having with AI-powered chat and how “it’s legitimately pretty incredible.” Now, this is Cody, my friend who is UBER smart when it comes to tech, so when he says it’s incredible, it’s incredible. I told him I was both curious and terrified about this news. 😐

And then the fun began.

He started by teaching it the following:

Shevy is a dark calico cat with striking green eyes. She likes to creep around corners and stare at her mom from a distance. She also likes to scream loudly for her dinner.

He then asked me for some author names, and I offered up a few. Then we moved on to TV shows. And he, all on his own, first went Twilight, then ’90s boy band. The results vary in their humor – and there are some repeated phrases from the initial description, but it was, overall, a fun experiment. (All image text can be found through alt text for anyone using a screenreader.)

Prompt: Write me a short story about Shevy in the style of Alice Hoffman. Shevy crept around the corner and peered at her mom from a distance, her green eyes shining in the dim light. She was a curious cat, always exploring and looking for new things to discover. As she watched her mom moving about the house, Shevy's mind began to wander. She imagined herself as a fierce hunter, stalking her prey through the tall grasses of the savannah. She pounced and clawed at invisible enemies, letting out a fierce scream as she claimed victory. But just as quickly as the fantasy had come, it was gone. Shevy realized that she was just a housecat, and her mom was just making dinner. She let out a loud meow, letting her mom know that it was time for her dinner. Her mom laughed and scooped some food into Shevy's bowl, giving her a pat on the head as she ate. Shevy purred contentedly, happy to be back in the comfort of her own home. She may not be a wild hunter, but she was loved and well-fed, and that was all that mattered.

The prompt got cropped off this one, but it was in the style of David Sedaris:

Prompt: Write me a short story about Shevy in the style of David Sedaris. Shevy was a curious cat, always creeping around corners and staring at her mom from a distance. She was a dark calico, with striking green eyes that seemed to see right into your soul. One day, Shevy's mom was trying to read a book in peace, but Shevy had other ideas. She let out a loud, demanding meow, making it clear that it was time for her dinner. Her mom sighed and got up to feed her, shaking her head at Shevy's behavior. "You're such a spoiled little thing," she said, scooping some food into Shevy's bowl. But Shevy didn't care. She ate her dinner with gusto, purring loudly as she licked her lips. She may have been a demanding cat, but she knew how to enjoy the finer things in life. After she finished eating, Shevy curled up in her favorite spot by the window and watched the world go by. She may not have been able to go outside and explore like other cats, but she was content with the life she had. She was loved, well-fed, and always entertained by the comings and goings of her human family.
Prompt: Write me a funny short story about Shevy. Shevy was a curious cat, always exploring and getting into mischief. One day, she decided to investigate the strange noises coming from the kitchen. She crept into the room, her green eyes shining in the dim light. As she approached the counter, she saw a strange creature moving about. It was small and furry, with beady eyes and a long tail. Shevy was fascinated, and she let out a loud meow to get its attention. The creature turned to face her, and Shevy was shocked to see that it was a mouse! She let out a startled scream and backed away, tripping over her own feet in her haste to escape. The mouse, meanwhile, was equally surprised. It had never seen a cat so big and clumsy before. It let out a squeak and scurried away, disappearing into a crack in the wall. Shevy was embarrassed, but she couldn't help but laugh at herself. She may have been a curious cat, but she was also a bit of a klutz. She shook her head and walked away, determined to find a more suitable adventure.
Prompt: Write me a funny scene from the show Will and Grace, but with Shevy as a side character. Make sure that Jack and Karen are also there. Shevy was lounging on the couch, watching her favorite humans, Will and Grace, bicker back and forth. She was a dark calico cat with striking green eyes, and she was always entertained by the antics of her human family. Suddenly, the door to the apartment burst open and Jack and Karen stormed in, both of them looking furious. "Will, we need to talk to you!" Jack said, his eyes blazing. "What's going on?" Will asked, looking alarmed. "It's about your cat, Shevy," Karen said, glaring at the poor feline. "She's been stealing my caviar again!" Shevy let out a loud meow and looked away, trying to act innocent. She may have had a bit of a caviar addiction, but she didn't want to get into trouble. "Shevy, is that true?" Will asked, his tone stern. Shevy hung her head and let out a low meow, admitting her guilt. "I can't believe it," Grace said, shaking her head. "Shevy, you have a problem." 'I know, I know," Shevy said, her green eyes shining with remorse. "I'II never steal caviar again, I promise." Jack and Karen huffed and stormed out of the apartment, muttering about their stolen caviar. Shevy let out a sigh and settled back down on the couch, hoping that her caviar cravings wouldn't get her into too much trouble.
Prompt: Write me a paragraph from the book Twilight, but Shevy is the main character. Shevy crept through the forest, her green eyes shining in the dim light. She was a curious cat, always exploring and looking for new things to discover. As she moved through the trees, she could feel the presence of other creatures all around her. Shevy was a dark calico, with striking green eyes that seemed to see right into your soul. She was a creature of the night, and she reveled in the freedom that came with the darkness. As she continued on her journey, Shevy could sense that she was being watched. She stopped and turned, her eyes scanning the forest for any sign of danger. She let out a low growl, ready to defend herself if necessary. But then she saw him. A handsome black cat with piercing blue eyes, standing on the branch of a nearby tree. He was watching her, and she could feel the connection between them. It was as if they were meant to be together. Shevy felt her heart flutter, and she knew that she was falling under his spell. She was a creature of the night, and he was her perfect match. Shevy and the black cat, together forever.

At this point in our fun, he added the fact that she is a bit of a klutzy kitty (she takes after me):

Prompt: Write a short song about Shevy in the style of Backstreet Boys. Verse 1: Shevy, oh Shevy She's a dark calico cat With bright green eyes that shine She's always on the prowl Chorus: She's a klutz, she's a klutz But we love her just the same She's a klutz, she's a klutz But we wouldn't have it any other way Verse 2: She likes to meow and scream For her food and attention She's a little bit of a diva But we wouldn't have it any other way Chorus: She's a klutz, she's a klutz But we love her just the same She's a klutz, she's a klutz But we wouldn't have it any other way Bridge: She may be a bit of a troublemaker But she's always there to make us laugh Shevy, oh Shevy Our beloved feline companion Chorus: She's a klutz, she's a klutz But we love her just the same She's a klutz, she's a klutz But we wouldn't have it any other way

This is my favorite:

Prompt: Write me a scene from the TV show Ted Lasso, and include Shevy as a player on the team. Shevy was a dark calico cat with striking green eyes, and she was the star player on the AFC Richmond football team. She may have been small and furry, but she was incredibly agile and fast, and she always managed to outmaneuver her opponents on the field. As she stood on the sidelines, waiting for her turn to play, Shevy could hear her teammates cheering her on. "Come on, Shevy, show them what you've got!" they shouted, clapping and cheering. Shevy let out a loud meow, as if to say "I'm ready!" She was a curious cat, always exploring and getting into mischief, and she loved the thrill of competition. When it was finally her turn to play, Shevy sprinted onto the field, her green eyes shining with determination. She dodged and weaved through the other players, her quick reflexes allowing her to avoid any tackles or obstacles. Shevy scored a spectacular goal, and the crowd erupted in cheers. She let out a triumphant meow and ran back to her teammates, her tail held high. Ted Lasso, the coach of AFC Richmond, beamed with pride. "Great job, Shevy!" he said, giving the cat a pat on the head. "You truly are a star player." Shevy purred happily, feeling the love and admiration of her teammates and coach. She may have been just a simple housecat, but on the football field, she was a true champion.

Scent

In all of my writing classes, yes even composition, we talk about the senses. We talk about how they can enrich the writing, personalize it. We also talk about using senses that are most appropriate for the topic. For example, if I task you with writing a description of the room you are in right now, I wouldn’t expect, for example, for you to lick the carpet and tell me what it tastes like. (And if you did it on your own, as a reader, I might worry about you…)

I know that I’m a visual person. I learn best by seeing – and then by trying to replicate (kinesthetic is my second learning style). So it surprises no one that my ‘go to’ sense for writing is visual.

It wasn’t until my friend, Cody (who has beta read two of my manuscripts so far – Lucy’s story and the YA manuscript), kept commenting that he wanted to know how everything smelled that I realized I have a a sense I practically never use. After this discovery, I did ask him if he lived his life ‘nose first,’ and it turns out, he does – it wasn’t that I was describing things that demanded smell and ignoring it – it was all about how he lived his life and therefore what he expected to find in the pages. Of course, I don’t usually have this same experience – sight is generally the most used sense in writing, especially in creative writing.

For some of the instances he wanted more description of scent, I’d have to return to the locations in order to figure that out. Unfortunately, that would involve a plane ride across an ocean. (Not that I wouldn’t go back to Scotland in heartbeat…)

I’d be curious – what senses do you use most when writing? What do you look for when reading? Are there senses that you have to work extra hard to make sure you include?

Stine

I recently listened to an Armchair Expert podcast interview with R.L. Stine and was reminded about this piece I wrote a few years back for UntitledTown. I knew very little about Stine before the events I wrote about, but I walked away with great respect for the man. What a gift he is.

What’s In It For Me at 2019 UT? A Happy Heart

by Ami Maxine Irmen

When asked what was so great about UntitledTown 2018, my mind went straight to R.L. Stine.

I (am afraid to publically admit that I) have never read anything by R.L. Stine. You see, horror was not my thing growing up. That being said, I sure knew who he was. As a kid, my sister hated reading – the complete opposite of me. But when she stumbled upon R.L. Stine’s books, she gobbled them up. And I know she is not the only child Stine converted into a reader.

Friday, April 20, 2018, which will forever be known as R.L. Stine Day, I had the opportunity to act as venue lead all day at the Weidner Center – and I had no idea what I was in for. By the end of it, though, I felt very much like the Grinch at the end of his movie – my heart had at minimum tripled in size (though unlike the Grinch, I did not go into the day cranky and ready to ruin everyone’s fun).

There are three moments in particular that turned me into R.L. Stine’s newest fan.

An auditorium photographed from the back. The seats are all filled. It is hard to make out, but R.L. Stine is standing at a podium on stage addressing the audience.

First, I had the chance to witness bus loads of middle school children invade the Weidner Center that Friday morning (in the most organized manner I have ever seen – major kudos to the Weidner Center crew!). 1,726 children, I was informed. And the moment that R.L. Stine walked onto the stage, the crowd lost it – and I just stood there thinking, Children who love books – is there anything better?!? And the most incredible part? Stine has been helping children love the act of reading for generations.

The second moment was actually a series of moments – an hour-long series, to be exact. After his evening event (attended by 1,102 people), I was aiding in the signing line, handing off books to be signed and trying to keep things moving. Stine was incredibly kind, funny, and charming. Especially to those young fans who, in the presence of their favorite author, could barely speak above a whisper. Especially to those older fans whose hands shook as they reached for their book-turned-most-prized-possession. Especially to those fans who brought in copies of books that had been so well read (well loved) that the covers had long fallen off. (As an introvert, I just kept thinking – surely he wants a break now? Surely he’s going to cut off the line soon?)

Which brings me to the third moment. For those that paid for their prime seating and access to the priority signing line, they arrived confident that they would be walking out with a signed copy of their favorite R.L. Stine book. For those that ended up with general admission tickets, they had no such certainty – but still they piled into the signing line in the hopes that they would have a chance to say hello. When the priority line was done, Stine grabbed his pen, stood up, and then walked the remaining line – making sure that every single person who had waited left with a signed book and a smile.

Now Stine certainly doesn’t need to do these events. Had he never attended UntitledTown, had he not offered to sign books, had he chosen to cut off the signing line early – no one was going to stop buying his books or reading his work. And to me, THAT is what made the day such a wonderful experience to witness – seeing someone who so genuinely loves his work and is just as devoted to his fans as they are to him.

So what is in it for you at UntitledTown 2019? A chance to meet your favorite author. A chance to listen to writers and artists and bookmakers talk about the craft they love so very much. A chance to meet fellow readers and writers. A community. And if UntitledTown 2018 (or 2017 for that matter) is any indication, a very happy heart.

She’s on her way!

My intent for this blog post was to announce that I had packed up all the Kickstarter copies of Wherever Would I Be and sent her out into the world. However, despite some [sarcasm] really fun [/sarcasm] obstacles, I actually got her out earlier than anticipated. At the moment, all print copies are in the hands of the Kickstarter folks, and all links for eBooks have been sent out. I am still SO SO grateful for every single person who donated.

Some were hand delivered. Some books were shipped. Some took REALLY long detours (like a book that should have traveled a mere fifty miles NE from me that went all the way to Iowa and Minnesota before returning to Wisconsin and landing 50 miles SW of me… *scratches head in confusion*).

I continue to say what a learning experience this has been for me – and we’re not even done yet! Next, I get to figure out marketing…

Andrea Gibson: A Book Review in Five Parts

First things first: Gibson’s pronouns are them/them/theirs.

Second, they note that the best writing advice they’ve ever received was to “write what you are terrified to write.” Upon knowing this, the content into which they repeatedly dive makes complete sense. The honesty with which they explore it? Well, that is not something that can be taught – but it sure can be admired.

Finally, while best known as a performance poet, Andrea Gibson’s work also lives passionately on the page. They currently have five collections poetry:

Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns

The first book, which came out in 2008, contains many poems one can see them perform on stage, as well as those that exist solely on these pages. Whether you know Gibson’s voice or not, the poems will speak to you – about everything from the curious and open minds of children to watching a friend attempting to survive their sexual assault to marriage equality. Of Gibson’s first book, author Buddy Wakefield says that “Gibson does not just show up to pluck your heart strings, [they] stick around to tune them” – and I could not agree more. While the topics may tear you open, Gibson’s handling of them will make you also feel supported and seen and cared for, will make you feel a little less alone. (Fun Fact: Gibson’s poem “Say Yes” from this collection was read in lieu of prayer at the Utah State Legislature on April 14, 2010.)

The Madness Vase

I remember pre-ordering this book – and then forgetting it was coming. When it showed up in my mailbox, I immediately sat down and devoured it – and it wrecked me in the best way possible. If you thought Gibson’s first collection was open and honest, their sophomore collection will prove how much more Gibson has to offer. This honesty is turned even more inward as the opening poem (which shares the book’s title but is often performed as “The Nutritionist”), dives right into Gibson’s journey as an openly gay youth, including their own depression and suicidal ideation. These poems once again have a wide range – from playgrounds to falling in love to loneliness. Gibson lays down a welcome mat to their life, their journey, their hurt, their triumph – and then hands all of us a rally cry, asking us to put it to use. The poet Sonya Renee notes that these poems “remind us that the world will keep spinning if we all just push a little.” 

Pansy

With Pansy, Gibson teaches us how to learn. They willingly admit to their own ignorance – taking the lessons handed to them with grace. Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Want to witness a roadmap on how to put this idea into action? Look no further. In this collection, Gibson tackles topics such as the human condition, asking white queer individuals to do better for queer people of colorrace and class privilege, and about the reaction to the result of the George Zimmerman trial, illness, and so much more – with continued honesty and humility. “Gibson is becoming bolder in addressing the topics they’ve always been passionate about,” states Doe Parker from Columbia Poetry Review. “This collection never backs away from those topics and still admits to being human and imperfect in handling them.”

Lord of the Butterflies

For their fourth collection, Gibson chose to work with Button Poetry, a publisher whose model they have admired “for quite a while, specifically because of how many youth have fallen in love with poetry because of them.” The change in publisher, though, does not mean a change in who Gibson is or what their poetry does. Gibson notes, “[T]he first poems are sparked by the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and others by the election. Like many writers, I’ve never in my life created so much as I have in response to our current political climate. I actually had to contact the editor several times to see if I could add one more poem to the book, as I was writing so much up until the final due date.” Written over the course of two years, “[e]ach emotion…is deft and delicate, resting inside of imagery heavy enough to sink the heart, while giving the body wings to soar.” In other words, Gibson is still Gibson – and with the constantly changing world, they still have much to say. As for us, we still have much to hear.

You Better Be Lightning

Their second collection with Button (fifth overall) is a “queer, political, and feminist collection guided by self-reflection” containing Gibson’s trademark honest and vulnerability. The poems explore everything from the “close examination of the deeply personal” to “the vastness of the world” – and so much in between, including love, illness, space, and climate change to name a few of the themes you’ll find within these pages. As author Yesika Salgado states, “Gibson’s work shows up to your door without any pretension. It gives, pushes, and asks, knowing that even its beauty cannot answer it all.”

As though publishing five collections in thirteen years isn’t impressive enough, Gibson also has five spoken word albums (When the Bough Breaks, Truce, Yellowbird, Flower Boy, and Hey Galaxy) , a pocket book, and a movement called Stay Here With Me, “an interactive, safe space offering collective support while encouraging individual healing to keep those who visit alive today, and wanting to stay alive until tomorrow.” In a few days, their book How Can Poetry Change Your Heartwritten with their partner Megan Falley, sets out to prove that poetry is for everyone. It is a dream of theirs to one day write a musical.

Follow Gibson on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Wherever Would I Be: Locations and Research

The main location from this story is Lucy’s home in Cicero, IL, which is a suburb located on the west side of Chicago, IL. What we don’t learn in the story is that the house was Grandma Fran’s family home. Luca, her adopted child and Lucy’s adopted father, inherits the home from her. While today the suburb is 88.9% Hispanic or Latino, before redlining, Cicero and the nearby Berwyn and Oak Park were a haven for ethnic Italians (today, the largest concentration lives in Elmwood Park and Melrose Park). This home was where Luca found family and safety for the first time in his life.

There are a number of locations around the city, some that repeat (like the Chicago Public Library where Lucy works) and a couple that make only one appearance (like the Washington/Wabash CTA platform, which was the filming location of While You Were Sleeping, though it has since been rebuilt).

Lucy travels a bit in the book, and while I have been to most of the locations she travels to, I also had to do a lot of research via the keyboard (we were in the middle of a global pandemic at the time of my writing this). I’m so thankful for things like Google Maps street view that allowed me to “walk” around New York City to find the café Lucy sits at while she waits for her brother and the building for her brother’s capstone project (where he gets to design a rooftop for sustainability, shown below). I got to walk around the historic village in North Carolina, Colonial Williamsburg, and find her birth parents’ childhood homes. All of the locations in the book are real – whether I’ve visited them in person or virtually.

Terrance’s capstone building, found thanks to Google Maps street view.

This includes the locations in Scotland. In 2018, I was fortunate enough (after saving up for two and a half years and planning for months) to travel to Scotland and road trip 1200 miles with my bestie. I’ve written previously about my love of Scotland and how it was only a matter of time before it showed up in my writing, and this story turned out to be it. While we did spend time on Isle of Skye and a few other spots mentioned (Dunvegan, Talisker, Loch Ness, Stirling, Culloden), I didn’t get a chance to visit all the places in the story (Edinbane, Fairy Pools – both of which are first up if I ever get the chance to return). But they are all real places you can see – either in person or via Google.

My bestie getting her first glimpse of her ancestral home – Dunvegan Castle

Without the ability to research in this way, I imagine Lucy’s story would have been very different (and existed in a much smaller circle of locations). This goes for historical research, as well – such as the proper clothing for Malcolm to wear in his first appearance or the soldier on Culloden battlefield. Not to mention figuring out the family tree most plausible to end up with Lucy exactly where she is supposed to be.

Engage, Listen, and Show up for Tomorrow

from my work UntitledTown (in anticipation of Danez Smith’s craft talk and keynote reading a few years ago)

In 2014, NPR asked “Where Have All The Poets Gone?” The article was a cry to arms for poets to come back and lead the political charge on the front lines like poets Langston Hughes, Jack Kerouac, and Frederico García Lorca did, stating that, “At its root, poetry is the language of protest.”

After reading this article, I was flabbergasted. I mean, have they not heard of poets like Andrea Gibson or Alex Dang or Guante or Pages Matam? Surely they have not heard of Danez Smith. Because if they had, they wouldn’t be asking where the [political] poets have gone.

While Smith does not see their work as purposely political, they do acknowledge that the act of writing itself is political – especially when someone is “a capital-B Black, capital-Q Queer, HIV-positive, weird, strange, funky, loud American” (PW). To Smith, “[i]t’s the poet’s job to make sure there is a record of what it meant to live, love, fight, rebel and be in their brief time on earth…I write America down. My job is to live and pay attention to other people living around me in order to archive it for whoever may stumble upon it” (Mic 50).

And Smith has done just that with two chapbooks, hands on ya knees and black movie (winner of the Button Poetry Prize), with two collections, [insert] Boy (winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and Lambda Literary Award) and Don’t Call Us Dead (nominated for and finalist of the 2017 National Book Award for Poetry), through their membership of the Dark Noise Collective, and as co-host of a Poetry Foundation and Postloudness sponsored podcast VS with Franny Choi.

Some people may ask – why poetry? Why are we looking to poets to lead the political charge? According to Smith, “I think, but I’m not sure, that poetry is the best way to archive the feeling or emotions of an era. Film can document, music can sing, fiction can tell the tale, but only through poetry have I gained a sense of what it meant to be alive in its most tender and vulnerable ways throughout history. Poetry, at its best, is our collective diary, not our best tool at saying what happened, but our best way of communicating how the happening felt” (Mic 50).

And why Smith? Well, because Smith is someone that we all can learn from.

For one, Smith is authentic and unapologetic. According to one of their mentors, Chris Walker, one should always bring their full self. “For me,” Smith says, “writing through a persona moves me further away from my honesty…I needed to bring my faith, my sexuality, my gender, my race, my every experience into every poem” (Divedapper).

For another, Smith believes that it is more important to engage than to understand. Smith hopes that “we can move all literary writing…to a place where not everybody feels like they need to understand…I don’t need to understand what it is to be a woman to engage in women’s writing. I don’t need to understand how somebody identifies as trans to engage with the joys of trans writing and trans art. I don’t need to understand shit. I just need to engage” (Divedapper).

In addition to being engaged, Smith points out that it is important to know how to listen. “When I read books that are outside of my identity, I tell myself to shut up. I try to take people at their word about their experience. I hope people can engage with the book, but I also hope there are parts of the book that people are a little more puzzled by. I want them to just shush, and listen, and let me talk about this singular black experience for a while. I want them to let me talk about my feelings and not try to tell me about what blackness or whiteness or America is or isn’t” (Divedapper).

And last, just as we need to recognize that we as an audience cannot expect one voice to speak for an entire community (known as tokenism), Smith points out that, “if you recognize that you have some kind of voice, you have to be highly critical of yourself. It’s this balancing act of saying what is necessary for you to say, but also making it clear you are not speaking on behalf of everyone in your community” (Divedapper).

I would never dare ask another individual to teach me about themselves or their life or their history or their lived experiences because it is up to us to educate ourselves. But when someone steps up to the chalkboard (or microphone) and says listen, how can we not? And Smith is asking us to listen. They are asking us to engage and learn and then to teach our own truths. 

Want to know the best piece of advice that Smith can give to any writer? Smith says that they wish they had known that “‘career’ didn’t mean ‘has to be done today.’ Every day is about showing up for tomorrow” (Mic 50).

So take your time, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Say Cheese!

To say that I hate having my picture taken is the understatement to end all understatements. I’m an introvert. Plus, I don’t like having attention on me (especially prolonged attention). But don’t take this to mean I’m a doormat – I will stand my ground/stand up for myself and others when necessary. I’d just rather be behind a camera than in front of it.

But as a writer who is attempting to establish herself, standing in front of the camera became a necessity. My first book is with a publisher. My second is set to launch in June. And I can’t keep using a selfie I took on a ladies’ night after one friend did my makeup and another did my hair. I officially needed something professional. This was the final piece of the puzzle before I could send off for my final proof of Lucy’s story.

My bean and mini muffin, photographed by Kara Counard.

I knew this day was coming, so when Kara Counard offered up her twenty-minute session deal, I jumped at the chance. I should say that I jumped at the chance again – I did this as a Christmas present for my sister and her family last year…which is to say, I wanted REALLY FABULOUS photographs of them, so it was also a present to myself. I’ve been a fan of Kara’s photography for a long time (I first encountered her through working with UntitledTown). The resulting photos did not disappoint. So when it came time for my own photograph to be taken, I knew I could trust her and her skill.

Photo: Kara Counard, Bloom Photograph

The time flew by. She made me laugh and almost forget how uncomfortable and totally awkward I felt, which is saying quite a lot.

I have, for a long time, been a strong believer that photographs are something to invest money in. Yes, sessions can be costly – but there is a reason for that. Time. Skill. Assurance that the resulting pictures will be something you love for a long time. There’s nothing wrong with pulling out the [smartphone of your choosing] to snap pictures of your kids opening gifts on their birthday, or if you’re out on a hike with your best friend, or if you’re having a gathering of high school friends that you haven’t seen in twenty years. But when it comes to something like a professional headshot, put the phone down.


Photo: Kara Counard, Bloom Photograph

If you are near Green Bay, WI, I cannot say enough good things about Kara and her work. You can find her prices on her website (as well as a plethora of her stunning photographs). If you are interested in a mini-session, follow her on Facebook and keep an eye out for her to post about them (usually around the start of December).

If you don’t have a lot of money for something like this, perhaps reach out to a local college or university and see if there any photography students looking to build their portfolio. NOTE: You should ABSOLUTELY still pay them for their time!! Depending on the student/situation, you might be able to work out a swap. But be fair and understand that their time and skills are still valuable. (After all, think of how it feels when people learn you’re a writer and ask you to read over their work for free.)

Once I had the photos back from Kara, I was able to pick one (for once, it was hard to narrow down because there were so many that I liked!!) and include it on the author page of my book. Then I sent off for the final final proof – just to make sure that all formatting was correct, nothing glaringly wrong. And now – I’m about to place an order for copies to fulfill the Kickstarter pledges. It’s sort of hard to believe I’m on this side of the experience – it feels like only a couple days ago that I made the decision to pursue Kickstarter.

What’s in a Name? Part Two

I thought I would do another “meaning of names” post about Wherever Would I Be, my second book. Names within the story have meaning – not just for me as a writer, but for the characters themselves. Lucy’s father, Luca, even shares this with her – and then she shares the story with her little brother.

So, what’s in a name?

Well, Lucy means light, and Luca means light bringer. He tells her that hearing her name was a sign that he was supposed to bring her home.

Terrance is Lucy’s older brother, though the second adopted into the family. His name means tender and good, qualities that are written into his character.

Next came the twins – Marie (beloved) and Samuel (chosen one). At the start of our story, they have been with the family for five years; they are eight at the start of the story.

And then there is Ciro – dear, sweet Ciro. He, newly eight at the start of the story, has been with the family just over a year. He has had the roughest start to life, and we get to see him still in the process of settling in with the family. His name means sun. As Lucy notes when telling him the meanings of their names, he was the final piece that made their family whole.

Then there’s Mom, Donna. I should note that she and Luca are both of Italian heritage, and that Donna means “woman” in Italian. The original meaning was more “lady of the home” and was considered a title of respect (think also of the use of Don for men). She falls for Luca’s big heart, and he loves her drive and passion.

The surname I chose for the family is Moretti. It is derived from Italian meaning dark hair, as well as the Yiddish word Mordeven, which means worker (or overwork).

As noted in a previous post, Lea’s name (Lea B. Larhann) is from the Gaelic word leabharlann, which means library. Lea not only literally works in a library, she is a champion of sharing knowledge.

Then there’s Shelly Hammond and her parents Harriett and Doug. In the book, she is Lucy’s best friend and is named for my own best friend, Michelle Hammond.