On Life

Answering the Question: How Many Books Have You Sold?

How many books have you sold?

It’s the question people like to ask me about my recently released novel entitled Inn Significant. It seems to be the question people have on their minds as the marker that indicates how successful the book has been thus far.

The funny thing is, I liken the question to someone asking me about my age, how much I make, or how robust my sex life is.

Sometimes we are focused too much on the results and not on the process. At least that’s what my husband and I try to teach our kids. The most important aspect revolves around the process that helps us achieve our goals; the results are often secondary (and yes, at times, can be quite important).

As for Inn Significant, I didn’t set out to write a bestseller. That thought is not based in reality; I like to think more realistically. When I began writing the novel, I set out to start the process, see the process through, and complete a project. A writing project. Do you know how many people start something and never finish it? My goal is always to complete it. Writing has been in my blood since I was about 13 years old. I feel compelled to tell stories, and I’m more concerned with the process of that storytelling journey than I am with the results of that journey.

Moreover, I find myself echoing the sentiments of writer Elizabeth Gilbert when she says, “…if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).” Well said, Ms. Gilbert.

If you have the creative inspiration to redecorate a room, you do it, don’t you? If you have the urge to build a spectacular garden with a fountain in your back yard, you take it on, right? If you sit at a blank canvas and paint something that moves you, you don’t tell your inspiration to run away and hide, do you?

No, you don’t; nor do I. If I have the inspiration—if it happens to bless me with a story I think I can piece together in a meaningful way—I write it. Why would I tell my creativity to take a flying leap?

As for book sales, I do my best to try to promote the book, talk up the book, market the book, and sell the book where I can. Just this week, I entered two independent author book contests, and I’m about to enter more. I sent my book off to people who may be able to help promote it. I mailed out press releases. I was booked to talk at a library and a book signing is in the works at a bookstore. I do what I can.

But this is not why I write.

I write, once again, to quote Elizabeth Gilbert, because of this one, main reason: “…at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir—something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 11.07.47 AMTo put it simply, I just like to be able to say that I welcomed inspiration and “I did it.”

I also love the fact that my kids see their mom be fearless about putting her creativity out there.

That’s a process worth teaching.

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15781589_865992106837911_1585157622209528074_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of the newly released Inn SignificantBaseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree.  Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt. 
To visit Stephanie’s Amazon Author page and see her books, click here.

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On Life

Campus Book Talk Tonight and Some Monday Inspiration

BaseballGirlFinalCoverwithAwardsI’m excited to talk to students tonight about the self-publishing world. Faculty in the Halls, a program at Stevenson University, has asked me to speak to students about the path of publishing your own book. As I’ve published two novels this way, I’m excited to share my knowledge of the growing arm of publishing, how you can make this work for you, and the pros and cons of doing it on your own. I’ll be talking about both Beneath the Mimosa Tree and Baseball Girl, and I hope to inspire some folks to give it a whirl. It’s by no means easy, but it is something that, given enough drive and determination, you can do it.

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Also, as it is an absolutely stunning Monday morning here in Maryland, and I’m feeling inspired by the rebirth of spring, I thought I’d share some of my favorite inspirational quotes to get you through this week–and rejoice in all that the rest of spring and summer have in store for you.

Do you have any big plans coming up this year? What do you plan to do that you have always wanted to do? Are you expecting to travel soon? If so, where? What inspires you? Begin to write these things down and allow yourself to look forward to things ahead, while also remembering to enjoy this very moment right now.

There is much to be inspired by, and much we can do to inspire others.

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On Life

The Witch’s Memories | Friday Fiction

 

WitchThe Witch gathered up her things—the cauldron, the potion mixer, the wide-brimmed hat—and stepped over the woman she had just put into a deep sleep. The Witch left the woman lying on her back on the carpet, her form in an unattractive spread eagle position in her yoga attire, a bit of her belly flopping out of the waist of her pants. The truth of the matter was, the sleeping woman used to be her friend. Not any longer, however. The Witch did not care for her at all. It had finally come to that. The woman could never be trusted, and The Witch had been used for the last time.

Many years. For many long years she had been her friend. Funny how people use you when they know they can get something from you, The Witch thought. It’s interesting how when people needed a potion to help make their kid well or a cocktail to ensure a memorable party took place or be included in all events The Witch planned (and yet ignore the concept of reciprocity), The Witch was always the first one they would call. But when times were challenging for her—when The Witch had problems of her own and needed a friend—her friend could not be found.

Because, you see, that’s the thing about being a witch. Everyone wants to point her finger at you. Someone has to be the fall guy and everyone needs someone to blame. It’s been this way for centuries—witches always took the blame, whether that blame was warranted or not. Human nature has shown us over and over again that people enjoy watching others go down. Moreover, they often secretly wish and hope for it. They genuinely make their minds up about you before they actually know anything of your situation, and it’s mostly hearsay. Gossips and uncaring folks tend to judge first instead of asking if perhaps they could help in any way.

How misunderstood we are as a group, The Witch thought as she placed her paraphernalia in the two baskets of her bike and began pedaling for home. It was getting dark, and The Witch contemplated how there are not enough hours in the day to count how much good she had done. Whatever. It didn’t matter because it was the mistakes she had made in her own life that seemed to constantly be under a microscope, scrutinized and uncharitably condemned. It was always the way. The expression “seek first to understand” was never a concept others grasped with regard to witches, and quite frankly, she was tired of making an effort and getting none in return. It didn’t matter how kindhearted or welcoming she could be; witches would always continue to be the scapegoat because folks are unwilling to either take the blame or share the blame. Why do you think Elphaba got the reputation she did in ‘Wicked’?

She wondered whether the woman—when she awoke in only a few minutes, the most potent part of the potion having worn off by then—would have any recollection of what had transpired. There had been little struggle with the woman, and because she liked a good cocktail, she had gulped it down in two sips. The Witch had followed the spell explicitly—it was the one her mother had passed down to her from her own mother. The potion would merely remove all recollections the woman had of ever knowing and interacting with The Witch on any and all levels. No significant or lasting harm was done at all—just a mere vanishing act any magician was capable of executing. No memories of The Witch would remain in her reservoir when she awoke. She simply wouldn’t remember anything at all had ever passed between them.

WitchQuoteAs she analyzed this situation, it made The Witch angrier. How wonderful it would be for that woman to never remember their friendship, yet The Witch, with her sharp intellect, keen memory, and kind heart, still had to endure all the pain of it. Hurtful memories. The Witch considered lingering memories the most dreadful evil of all—a constant, excruciating reminder of whatever one wishes not to be reminded of in the first place. A penance of sorts.

By the time The Witch had parked her bike, she had come to the conclusion that she was ready. Finally. This time she wouldn’t chicken out. She walked into her studio and began to mix things furiously. There was a maniacal frenzy to the way she was churning the mixture, her eyes darting back and forth, her sensibilities heightened. The cauldron began to bubble, and the smell of rosemary, tea leaves, pine needles, pumpkin seeds, and peppermint filled the air. The scent pervaded The Witch’s nostrils and invigorated her. Then, briefly, she paused, leaning her head over the boiling cauldron, the steam enveloping her face, and she allowed herself to breathe it all in. She turned and filled a test tube with the boiling liquid to the top. She sat herself on the floor next to a pillow and drank it.

Within moments, she slid down, slumping on the pillow, the test tube landing safely on the edge of it. The Witch fell asleep for what felt like days, months, years. When she awoke to the morning sunlight streaming across her face, the birds rambunctiously chirping outside, and a lawnmower purring in the distance, The Witch sat up and yawned.

She stretched her legs and had the overwhelming urge to hop on her bike and ride into town for some coffee. The problem was, she just couldn’t remember where she parked it.

—Stephanie Verni, 2015

On Life

Withdrawal and The Staircase

StaircaseToday I decided that I would write a little something. I haven’t written anything creatively in a while, and it’s sort of getting to me. I’m going through withdrawal and I don’t want to go through withdrawal. I want to write something, and while I am far too busy to spend time writing what will be my next novel, I will tackle some short fiction, or what some deem Flash Fiction.

Here’s the prompt that I got from the 3 a.m. Ephiphany written by Brian Kiteley. It’s my “go to” book of prompts I use when I want to write a little something but need a push. The beauty of prompts is that it could potentially turn into a longer story—either a short story or a novel, even. One never knows where it will go. So, I’m ready to begin.

The Scenario: Write a story that starts with one of the sentences from the list below. This should be your opening sentence. 400 words. Go.

The sentence I chose from the list is as follows:

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs before she saw him.

This sentence has to be my first line. Where will I take it?

Let’s find out.

* * *

The Staircase

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs before she saw him. He could tell it was her by the shadow of her profile that reflected off the wall, her silhouette animated, floating upward as it bounced with her gestures, a result of the large, crystal chandelier that hung as a statement piece just above the middle landing over the polished, white marble floors. The scent of cinnamon combined with the freshness of the greenery wrapped with twinkle lights that decorated the banisters filled the air as Christmas music floated to the ceiling. He had not seen her in many months; at least, they had not come face-to-face. There were times he would position himself in the public library at the largest window in the fiction section just to catch a glimpse of her as she strode by on her way to work. She never knew he was there—just as she had no idea now.

When the shadow turned, he was still standing, gaping, his eyes lurking upward because he did not have the strength this time to walk away. She was only about fifteen feet from him, and that strong Vodka tonic—two tall ones to be exact—might have been enough for him to finally have the courage to say something to her, or at least to remain standing in the spot until she descended the staircase.

For a moment, the lights flickered—three quick flicks—and the music skipped a few notes as the wind outside roared. There was a subtle gasp from the guests at the party when the room darkened that one last time, but they persevered and illuminated the room just as she had begun her descent. He was still looking up.

By the time her foot reached the fourth step, she saw him. She reached for the rail with her right hand, and she paused on the stairs. Their eyes froze, locked in place, neither one daring enough to look away. He felt a pain shoot across both eyes and then ricochet into his chest. He wondered if she could see, actually see, what heartbreak looked like. Her dress sparkled from the lights, from the chandelier. Her lips were red and warm and moist. Her left hand found its way to her chin, yet she remained motionless, peering down the staircase, expressionless at first, but then—he could swear he saw it…he knew he saw it—the very corners of her mouth began to curve upwards, and he believed he witnessed the slightest twinkle in her eye.

* * *

On Life

Suggestions for Helping Kids (and Adults) Enjoy Reading

booksI’ve been teaching now since 1993 when I instructed that first course in public speaking. Over the years, I’ve moved from teaching public speaking into teaching writing and other communication courses. Over this period of time, I’ve noticed a dramatic drop in the amount of outside reading done by students (I’ve also noticed, as have my colleagues, that textbook reading has decreased as well, as too many students rely on the course Powerpoints). Admittedly, we have a lot of distractions today—cell phones, social media, cable television, sports and social commitments, and family life—all of which contribute to having less time to “sit down and enjoy a good book.”

A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University found that reading lights up brain activity because it asks readers to put ourselves in the shoes of our characters, which, in turn, tends to make us more empathic people. Being able to understand how others may feel is at the core of reading; we learn to understand and ask questions, and this process allows us to learn more about ourselves as people. Would we do the same thing as that character? Would we have acted in that manner? As we read, we wonder…we are curious…and that exercise leads to being a person who can empathize with others.

The bottom line: it’s important to read. And it’s important to get our younger kids and students, reading, as well.

When I asked my feature writing students why they don’t read outside of class, one answer was because there was difficulty finding anything to read of value. Another answer was that there just isn’t time for it. And yet another was a lack of enjoyment that comes from it.

So, how can we, as parents and teachers, foster a love of reading with our children and students and with others in our lives? I have a few suggestions that may help as we move forward to tackle this meaningful endeavor.

  1. READ ALONG WITH YOUR CHILD/STUDENT — With younger kids and students, a good idea is to read along with them. This does not necessarily mean you must sit and read the books out loud with them (although with the little ones, this is imperative). It suggests that you read the same book the student is reading, almost as one does in a book club, which would enable you to have discussions about the book with your child. I did this last year with my son; we both read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, and we had wonderful discussions about Nazi Germany, the main characters, death as the narrator, and more. This tactic works well and it opens all of us up to reading a variety of stories that we may not otherwise have read.
  2. SET AN EXAMPLE — Instead of turning on the television at night, curl up on the sofa with a good book. Fall is coming, and it’s a good time to decompress and read some of those novels or professional guidance books you’ve wanted to read. Demonstrating a love of reading yourself will set a positive example for your children.
  3. SELECT A BOOK THAT IS ALSO A MOVIE — One thing children and students love to do is to draw comparisons. Let them read the book, and then promise them that you’ll see the movie or get it OnDemand or from Red Box. Being able to see differences in the work (from book to film) engages students and allows them to think critically and analyze both works. This is also fun to do with book clubs.
  4. FIND A GENRE THAT WORKS FOR THEM — What we like to read isn’t always what a child or student might like to read. Take time to visit the library or Barnes & Noble and get suggestions from educated and passionate librarians or employees who are there to help. Be open to recommendations, and be sure to tell the librarian what types of stories usually capture your child’s or student’s attention.
  5. START SMALL — I can see it in students’ eyes when a particular piece of work I ask them to read feels overwhelming or daunting. Start small. Novels and stories come in all different lengths. Choose one that your child or student can complete easily and does not have to labor through to finish. They will get a sense of satisfaction from reading the book from cover to cover.
  6. PICK A SERIES — Lots of readers today enjoy getting caught up in a series like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Mature readers enjoy reading a series, too. Find one that might win over your reader and may keep them wanting to know more about the characters and what their fates may be.
  7. GET TO KNOW THE AUTHOR — Many times, readers feel connected when they know a little bit about the person who wrote the story. Do a little homework. Watch the author talk about his or her book on YouTube. Read the author’s biography on his or her website. Feeling something for the author or hearing a personal story about why he or she wrote the book in the first place may pique curiosity.

With any luck, any or all of these suggestions might be helpful and can potentially encourage reading. Good readers often become good writers. They dissect books and learn technique, style, and story construction. Reading opens our minds to wonderful new worlds and implores us to use our imaginations.

Lots of good comes from reading. Let’s continue to encourage our children and students to allow themselves to get swept away into a good book.

Once they do, with any luck, there may be no turning back.

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To see a list of BOOKS I’VE ENJOYED, CLICK HERE.

About Creative Writing

The Worst Part About Writing

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Yes, I’m still at tonight. Working diligently on my collection right now.

However, the worst part about writing is that you get attached and stupidly emotional about the characters you create. Why? Because sometimes they are loosely based on people you know, lessons you’ve learned, the ways you have grown. You are reminded of things and times gone by. And then you read something like this that turns you into a weepy blob:

Every individual soul chooses the significant people in that life. Destiny will place you in the particular circumstance; it will dictate that you will encounter a particular person, at a certain time, place.  ~ Brian Weiss

It has happened to each of us.

That is all.

#romance #love #friendship