As today is Halloween and also the last day of October, it marks the end of the month of #FROCKTOBER, which I’ve been participating in on Instagram at stephverni. In order to highlight and bring awareness to OVARIAN CANCER, I posted one outfit each day for the month of October. While I’m sort of relieved it’s over, I always finish what I’ve started, and I hope I’ve raised awareness of this type of cancer, which my colleague and friend, Chris Noya, is battling. It’s never to late to contribute: visit Cancer.org (American Cancer Society) or ovarian.org (National Ovarian Cancer Coalition) to donate and help change lives.
Here are the last few shots from the month of #frocktober:
NOW…ON TO SOMETHING NEW…
Tomorrow, in conjunction with the Stevenson Library, we will kick-off NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH here on campus. We are a designated writing site, so you can always feel free to come here and write and get away from any distractions you may have. The event begins at 2 p.m. in the STEVENSON LIBRARY IN THE BROWN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS. I hope to see you there.
Many popular novels began with the National Novel Writing Month challenge. Are you up for it?
Additionally, it would be really lame if I were to help kick off the month of writing, but then didn’t write.
So, here’s another challenge I’m going to be involved with for the month of November: we are going to (TOGETHER) participate in this amazing writing challenge. We will share ideas, tips, writing insights, and our work throughout the month. I will be blogging EVERY DAY with regard to some aspect of writing, whether it’s sharing a writing tip, story, work in progress, or chapters of a novel.
We have to work together and encourage each other. So…writers out there…whether you are a…
Last week, Dr. Leeanne Bell McManus, Chip Rouse, and I gave a three-hour presentation to an organization entitled, “Event Planning: A Seminar in Communication.” Centered around ideas from our textbook, Event Planning: Communicating Theory & Practice, we talked about communication theory, ideas, tips and case studies, and offered strategies for leaders in event planning.
Additionally, one of the aspects we talked about was creativity, and our textbook includes a chapter dedicated to leadership. I like to talk about the combination of the two: creativity & leadership.
After researching and reading about this topic for years, as well as presenting on the topic at conferences, I’d like to offer my take on creative leadership, for I believe it is the cornerstone of any successful organization or endeavor. I also come to the table a bit biased and in favor of creativity, as I have the privilege of working in two fields I believe offer tremendous opportunity to unleash your creativity—that of teaching and fictional writing.
That said, I believe creative leadership requires those in power to possess these types of characteristics.
1. Creative leaders have open minds.
They are open to ideas and suggestions. They understand that the people they have hired or are working on their organization’s behalf are good at what they do and believe in the organization’s mission. Rarely is one person the innovator; it take a couple or more visionaries to make things go—just look at the early days of Apple. Creative leaders are able to examine a variety of ideas and appreciate the dedication that has been put forth by individuals and teams, and they always stay open to newer and better suggestions.
2. Creative leaders are not afraid to change and break habits.
In order for any organization or business to thrive, creative leaders must welcome change and not get bogged down by habits. In an event planning business, can you imagine if the leaders did not commit to this type of excellence? Events would be the same, and events of distinction would never be created. However, change for the sake of change is rarely a good idea unless it is grounded, researched, substantiated, warranted and undeniably necessary. Remember when they had to bring former CEO Howard Schultz back to his original role at Starbucks because things got out of hand?
3. Creative leaders value their teams.
Rarely will you come across satisfied and passionate employees whereby there is no creative leadership. The stifling of creativity can prove deadly when individuals are stripped of creative measures. Workers and creative teams must be allowed to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and removing aspects of creativity could lead to decreased motivation. Teams need to feel that their contributions to the organization’s success are vital to the organization’s continued growth, and that their input is valued.
4. Creative leaders are motivators—and it’s a team effort.
I recently watched a “60-Minutes” piece on my former O’s colleague and friend, Theo Epstein, the current GM of the Chicago Cubs and former GM of the Boston Red Sox, who broke the curse of the Bambino. In that piece, Theo talked about how he builds his team and how important the cumulative sense of the team’s character is to the team’s success. That sense of choosing the right people leads to motivation that is unsurpassed, as was witnessed by the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Theo’s energy spills over into all those involved in the team, and as he states, no one person is solely responsible for the success. Perhaps that is why Fortune magazine chose Theo Epstein as its #1 World Leader in the March 2017 issue. I’m proud to know him. There is no denying that team spirit has the power to win it all, as has been proven time and time again in athletics. That same energy works in organizations, as well.
5. Creative leaders are constantly looking to the future for the next story.
Creative leaders can’t stay in the moment for too long—they are always looking to the future for the next project, idea, or task that will prove meaningful. There’s always another story to tell, if you will, and they are ready to move on to creating something even more meaningful than the last project. If they sit still for too long, they get itchy. Creative leadership means forging ahead with the next plan, because they know what it means to build on success.
The year was 1992. I picked up a copy of best-selling author Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison Countyand couldn’t put it down. I knew it was a love story, and I was riveted. Like many other readers, I was intrigued by Francesca and Robert Kincaid’s 4-day, intense love story set among the landscape of rural farmland in Iowa. Kincaid is a photographer, out to shoot the covered bridges in the area; Francesca is an Italian war-bride whose husband and two children go off to the state fair for the weekend. When Kincaid stops to ask Francesca for directions, a whirlwind affair begins that changes forever the lives of these two souls.
While literary snobs panned this novel, claiming, as the New York Times writes, that the characters were “unconvincing, the sentiments sappy and the writing overripe,” I found the novel charming, sad, relatable, and refreshing. It’s a stark reminder of the choices we make in life and why we make them, despite the overwhelming passions we may feel.
Waller’s ability to paint Francesca as a dutiful wife and mother with a deep-seeded passion, along with his depiction of Kincaid’s tough-guy image with a soft and endearing heart, are at the forefront of his writing. The tenderness that ensues makes you both like the characters and feel sorry for them all the way to the end when you understand Francesca’s request she makes to her own children when they learn the truth.
Another reason why I regard this book so fondly is because I was nearing the end of earning my first master’s degree in professional writing and was taking a class in writing short fiction. Waller’s style is one I admired and tried to imitate; he may have written in dramatic fashion, but he knew how to tug at a reader’s emotions. He is definitely someone who influenced me as a writer.
Waller was 52 when he wrote The Bridges of Madison County, yet another reason to admire the man. After years as a business professor, he got the idea of the story after visiting the covered bridges in Iowa and, as a musician who had written a song about a woman named Francesca, brought the two notions together into his novel. The rest, they say, is history.
The Bridges of Madison Countywas a best-seller for three years, outselling Gone with the Wind. Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the film version along with Meryl Streep in 1995. Mr. Waller died on March 10 at the age of 77 of multiple myeloma.
Well, friends, I’m coming down the home stretch. By next week, my novel will be written, if it does not happen sooner than that. People have asked me this question: what does it feel like to finish a novel?
As this will be the third one I have published, it feels a little like saying goodbye.
What I mean by that is you live and breathe the characters and their situations for so long, that when you’re done writing their story, their story is over, and you have to say farewell.
The creative process of actually building and telling the story is my absolute favorite part of novel writing. Rewriting, reworking, and all the marketing are certainly not my favorite aspects. As you develop your work of fiction, you are permitted to live vicariously through your characters and the plot; you imagine their paths, conversations, and hardships, and you allow them to develop and change for your reader. There is never a point in my writing when I don’t think about the reader. The reader is always at the forefront of my mind with regard to this craft. I never want to disappoint, and if I do, I promise you, it is not intentional.
As I begin to write the final two chapters of this book, knowing full well how it will proceed and how it will end, a sense of melancholy comes along with it.
I’m still on track for a September delivery, and I intend to keep my promise.
And so, in the end, when people ask me what it feels like to finish a novel, I can only respond this way: it feels as if another part of you is set free, which is wonderful, but it also feels a great deal like saying goodbye to something you love.
About two months ago, on a nice day in March, I sat on my back porch and cried my eyes out as I finished Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. My friend, Shawna, and I were talking about both the novel and the upcoming movie on Saturday at the pool. She hated feeling so sad at the end of the story, and I didn’t mind it; she also doesn’t want to see the movie, and I get that. It is terribly tragic, but it’s also so touching. I’m ready to face it in the theatre with a box of Kleenex. I’ve been waiting a couple of months to see how it transitions from book to film, one of my favorite pastimes.
This got me thinking about the different books that have made me cry over the years. Another particular book that caused waterworks was Dickens’s classic Great Expectations. I remembered reading it as a high school student, and it had little affect on me emotionally. As an grown up with two small kids who was pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing, I read it again in my forties for my class. That one, I finished on the porch or our former home in Ellicott City, again, tears streaming down my face as I finished it. What a different perspective I had with regard to Great Expectations as an adult than I had as a teenager. I highly recommend reading it for pleasure if you don’t remember it well. Also, Dickens always manages to make me cry with A Christmas Carol, a novel I’ve written about many times before on Steph’s Scribe.
Mitch Albom, no matter what book he writes, typically has the power to make me cry. Whether it’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Tuesdays with Morrie, or Have a Little Faith, I find his stories sentimental and often tear-jerking, with profound lessons in between the lines.
I can’t even think about The Book Thief without getting goosebumps. I loved every page, every word, every ounce of creativity Markus Zusak put into that book. He’s inspired me to be a better writer and to write the way your gut tells you to write. The Book Thief is one of my favorite books ever. Tears and all.
Another book that had me crying on the beach–only this time they were tears of laughter–was Jill Davis’s book Girls’ Poker Night. My family watched as I went into hysterics, laughing uncontrollably at this hilarious book. Jill Davis’s sense of humor is right up my alley, and I giggled the whole way through it.
Also, if you’re looking for sentimental books to read with your kids, I highly recommend Kate DiCamillo. Two of my favorites by her are The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Magician’s Elephant. During that mega snowstorm in 2010, my kids and I read The Magician’s Elephant curled up together in bed. I was reading aloud when I got to a part that choked me up. My daughter reached over, grabbed my arm, and said, “Mommy, I can read for a little bit if you want.” Bless her heart. She was so little then, but she understood that it was sentimental and touching.
On the flip side, as a writer, I’ve had quite a few readers of Baseball Girl, my most recent novel, tell me that they got a little choked up and even shed a tear while reading it. I’m glad to hear that it had that affect, because I meant it for it to delve into that deep love people have for their fathers, and I used the relationship of Francesca and her dad to illustrate the power of that type of love.
For a list of some of my favorite books, click here to visit the page BOOKS I’VE ENJOYED, and don’t forget to tell me what you’ve enjoyed reading, whether they’ve caused tears or not.
Stephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice
I’m about to finish Adriana Trigiani’s touching and inspiring novel entitled The Shoemaker’s Wife. I’ve enjoyed reading this sweeping story of Italian immigrants loosely based on the history of the author’s own grandparents. From the mountains of the Italian Alps to New York City to a small town in Minnesota, the characters and sights covered in this novel will allow you to become a part of a different time and place when the world was a different place, America was growing, and World War I loomed. The truth of the matter is this: a good book will never let you down.
As I’ve become older, wiser, and more finicky about how I spend my free time, I find getting lost in a good book some of the best therapy around. My knowledge about various topics has grown immensely by reading the works of others, and I don’t just mean as a writer. Sure, as a writer, we learn things from other writers such as technique, style, tone, and scope of work, but we also learn about people, places, and things.
Reading allows us to be entertained, to escape, and to challenge ourselves. It requires us to tap into our own imaginations as we read the words the writer put on the page. I keep trying to tell my students to pick up some of the classics that they might otherwise not read because they think the work may be too difficult. However, upon closer inspection, my students have found Dickens and Austen fun to read. They tell me they are glad I pushed them to pick up a book they may not have chosen for themselves.
When you spend time with a good book, it becomes etched in your mind. You may not remember every detail of it or all the things that happened along the way after you are through, but you will be left with an impression, insight, and new information that you did not have prior to making the commitment to it.
When I find an author I love, I try to read everything she or he has written; however, the worst part comes when you realize that you HAVE read all that he or she has written and start to twiddle your thumbs until the next one is released. Nevertheless, the truth of the matter is this: a good book is one to cherish and love, recommend, and encourage others to read.
I am probably going to cry when I finish The Shoemaker’s Wife. It will be as if I am saying farewell to my own Italian family as I kiss them goodbye.
I’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes I see something that makes me stop and pause. This saying did it for me today. As a writer, blogger, professor, and a believer in a positive vision for the future, I love the meaning of this quote. Too often, we hold on to the past, when sometimes, what we need to do, is just look to the future.
We are all guilty of doing it at some point in our lives.
You’re supposed to remember the dates of big anniversaries.
I totally missed it.
Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the publication of my novel. It wasn’t even a blip on my radar; I am wrapped up in other things and didn’t take a moment to reflect on the last year.
Anniversaries are for remembering. For reflecting on what has happened since you embarked on whatever it was: marriage, children, jobs, schools, a project come to fruition, etc.
I’m still the same old person I used to be (and I do mean old). I go about my daily routines in the same way I always did. I take care of my family, make lunches, teach courses, go out with friends, attend sporting events, and see my family regularly. Not much has changed, really.
Except for one thing: I set a goal, and I attained it. I am satisfied. From the time I was in high school, I said to myself, “Someday I will publish something. I will put a story out there.”
I encourage all people with dreams to never stop dreaming. Set your goals, and work toward achieving them. Whether you self-publish a novel or get a publisher; whether you run a marathon or do a 5K run fundraiser; whether you take swing dance courses or cooking classes and learn new steps or create a masterpiece cake.
On this one-year anniversary, I’m glad I can say I did it. And, hopefully, within the year, I will say I did it again.
I’ve been addicted to Pinterest for the last few days. Seriously. I find it relaxing, and I’ve always loved looking at magazines. Pinterest is such a great way to share ideas, decorating tips, recipes, fashion, books, and more. If you want to see what I’m up to on there, check it out here:
Anyway, I found some great sayings, and I really love this one. I think it speaks to anyone who has set a goal for himself or herself, and it definitely speaks to writers. Keep going, keep writing, keep editing, and keep being creative. It’s all worth it in the end. Even if it’s hard.
In 1972, two guys name Al Ries and Jack Trout collaborated on a series of articles for Advertising Age. The articles were about positioning: positioning a company or a brand in advertising. Now, 41 years later, the term “positioning” still holds true and is a buzzword among media creatives.
The question? How can we get a consumer to pay attention to us in this, as Ries and Trout call it, a highly “over-communicated society.”
Their question is even more viable today as it was in 1972. We are inundated by messages all day long. Think about it: We see ads on Facebook, Twitter, on television and radio, billboards, bus signs, magazine and newspaper ads, and the list goes on as these messages fill our minds with clutter. Have you ever stood in Times Square and just looked around in awe? How many messages are facing you? You as a single, solitary person must then interpret and process the information.
Sometimes you just want to shout STOP THE MADNESS!
Two nights ago when I was interviewed on ABC2’s show THE LIST, I talked about how to write your book, to take it step by step. But being an independent author means you have to tackle two sets of skills: writing the novel, which is creative, and then marketing the novel, which can be creative but requires some business finesse. The truth is, the most difficult part of the process is marketing that work once it’s completed, or, as Ries & Trout like to call it, POSITIONING IT to readers.
All of us independent authors must have a niche: What sets us apart from other writers? Why is our book special? And, as I work toward the completion of a second book, I am already asking myself a vital question: What is unique about this novel, and how will I position it in the very large, very vast book marketplace?
I’ve learned a few things along the way as an independent author, and I’ve taken to heart what Ries & Trout have to say about positioning myself—and my work. I’ve made a little, teeny-tiny dent in the publishing world, which is changing on us day by day. More and more people are turning to self-publishing. And to boot, e-books are on the rise. In fact, according to Digital Book World, e-book sales account for more than 50% of titles sold. And while many think digital book sales may have peaked, no one can predict how sales will fare in the future.
The good thing is that people are reading. And that begs the question: How do we get readers to pick up our book?
The answer lies in positioning yourself. Positioning your book and you. Do you have a blog or website? Can people get to know you and your writing that way? If they become interested in your blog, perhaps they will pick up a copy of your book. You can Tweet. You can get followers on Facebook. You can become a Goodreads author. You can pin on Pinterest. You can link in with people on LinkedIn. You can send out press releases and try to tackle traditional media. You can enter your book in contests and try to win awards. These are just a few ideas that independent authors use to launch and gain readers.
But truth be told, the position is what you want. You have to have a good product in order to position it well. For authors, our product is our work, our book. If someone likes what you’ve written, they will be more inclined to buy the next one you put out.
Being an independent author is all about positioning.
But it takes time, patience, and drive.
Not to mention, a good story, and lest we forget, some good old-fashioned word-of-mouth referrals.
Well, the Words & Wine Benefit was lovely. Despite the torrential downpour, ominous sky, and tornado warnings, “people did come, Ray.” I always enjoy myself; chatting with people always makes my night. Meeting Governor Ehrlich, chatting with Rafael Alvarez, and talking books, Ft. Knox, Kentucky, and the professional writing program at Towson University with people were the highlights. There were 20 of us authors mingling with folks and each other. I love when people ask me about my book. So much fun to talk about it! I hope we helped the Friends of the Catonsville Library raise some money, and I look forward to going back next year.
Stephanie Parrillo Verni
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