Writing A Novel – The Speech I Gave Today

Today, I had the honor and privilege of being one of several faculty speakers sharing their passions at our Fall 2017 Faculty/Staff meeting at Stevenson University. Below you will find the speech I gave, which was about writing, being an author, and self-publishing.

After all, it is one of my passions…

Photo Credit: Chip Rouse

***  Writing A Novel  ***

I consider myself pretty lucky that I get the opportunity to do two things I love on a daily basis: teach and write. I’m a proud professor here at Stevenson University and also an independent author.

I’m an independent author and write novels for two main reasons: (1) because I believe it’s my duty to show my students that I actually practice what I preach and (2) because it’s an outlet for me and I simply love storytelling.

Since 2012, I’ve self-published three fiction books: Beneath the Mimosa Tree, Baseball Girl, and Inn Significant. I also co-authored one textbook on event planning along with my colleagues Chip Rouse and Leeanne Bell McManus which was published by Kendall-Hunt.

During my 13-year career working for the Baltimore Orioles, I was quite fortunate that my love of writing converged with my career where I served as the director of publishing, was the editor of Orioles magazine, and produced and edited the special book celebrating Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak record in 1995. It was fun to tell Cal’s story.

Which brings me to the question I have for all of you. How many of you have a story in your head or finish a book and think, I could write something better than that?

If you’ve ever had this thought, and if you have a vision and can live in a make-believe world (for fiction) or tell a true story with colorful details (for nonfiction), you can write a book, too.

Today, I’m excited to share my love of novel writing and offer some advice using my own experiences to those of you who have a story swirling inside of you.

#1: First, do write your story. Just begin. My first fiction book, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, started as a short story I wrote while getting my first master’s degree. A professor of mine suggested it should become a novel. It only took me twenty years to write that novel during my MFA program in 2009.

My advice?

Don’t wait 20 years to write your story. Begin now. Just start writing.

#2: Have fun with your characters. The question I’m asked most often at book talks is: How much of the character is you, your family, or your friends? (If you only knew). That’s top secret, but it IS amazing how your friends and family are on their best behavior when they know you are writing. A tip I suggest is to make a list of each of your characters and write down all the things about them: what they like, dislike, look like, say, their dreams, the good and bad of them, etc. It definitely helps when writing.

#3: Enjoy the creativity of writing. Have fun crafting the story, the setting, and plot. Some folks like to outline, and some take a more organic approach. Research the methodology of some of your favorite writers. It’s fascinating to see how one writer’s approach differs from another’s.

#4-When writing, don’t agonize over every word. Do that later during the editing phase, which many of you already know can take longer than you think. It takes me far longer to edit a novel than it does to actually write one.

#5-It may be easier to start with something more personal. For instance, an assignment I give students in my magazine writing class is to write a chapter of their own memoir. Several students have told me that keeping their family histories alive helped them learn to enjoy writing.

#6-Self-publishing takes grit, commitment, and imagination. So why do I choose to self-publish? Because I like owning every step of the process. It sharpens all of my skills: creativity, writing, storytelling, editing, design, and then, the most challenging of all, marketing. As an independent author, it’s all on you. There’s no one to blame and all decisions are yours. It’s fiercely competitive out there, and the odds of massive success are slim. You just have to manage your own expectations.

Some writers may choose to go the agent route or connect with a small press. Do be leery of small presses that want to take your money and have you pay for the start up of your book, sometimes in the neighborhood of $5,000. My start-up costs were minimal. I paid $100 each for the ISBN number for each of my books (a total of $300), then an additional $25 per book for expanded distribution through Amazon. All total it was $375, or $125 per book. That’s it.

#7-Enlist the help of others. When your novel is done, find beta readers who will offer feedback on your draft. Join a writer’s group, either in person or online. Design your own cover or get someone to help you. Ask trustworthy people you know to edit. Chip Rouse over here and my mother, a long-time English teacher, edited my novels. Enter independent author contests. Remember: the project is yours, so you can give to it as much or as little as you like.

#8-Connect with local libraries, media, and the community. They will be good first supporters. In June, I kicked off the summer reading program in Anne Arundel County with a book talk; over the last month, I’ve attended three book clubs for Inn Significant, my latest novel, and I just attended a book signing in Oxford, MD, where the book is set. Enjoy meeting people and networking.

#9-Set up a blog and get a base of readers. Write about your writing, and get personal with your readers. It’s the best way to begin.

And finally,

#10-Remember, writing books is your love and not the way you make your living. While I would love be on the New York Times Bestseller list (who wouldn’t?), there are thousands of us out there hoping for the same thing. I have to remind myself of why I do this sometimes. The other day when I was struggling with new and innovative ways to promote my book, a friend asked me this question: He said, Do you write to sell or do you write to tell a good story?

I write to tell a good story.

If you have a love of storytelling, then just do it. Tell your story. If you make 10 people happy or thousands, remember why you do it in the first place.

Stephanie

20841993_10155523297888954_3655226197486168242_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball 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.

 

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The Case for Teaching: Inspiring Students AND Inspired by Students

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One of my students wrote this piece about my blog for our campus newspaper. So cute.

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m sitting on my porch writing this post and looking at this glorious day sipping my cup of coffee from my Yeti (which keeps it INCREDIBLY hot, let me just say). In a little while, my daughter and I will head to my parents’ house and sit by their pool and spend time with my brother and his family who are visiting. My son and husband will go play golf–a ritual they’ve tried to do on one day of the weekend. I love that they do this, as my son has one year left of high school before he enters college. I love my summers; they afford me a lot of writing, reading, and family time. That’s for sure. And, they allow me time to plan for the upcoming academic year.

In less than a month, I’ll be back on campus at Stevenson University teaching classes for my 17th year there (my 24th year of teaching overall). I started teaching when a neighbor of mine, who worked at the community college, asked me if I could teach an adjunct course in public speaking. As I had a minor in speech communication and a master’s degree, I told her I could, and a year and a half later (yes, it took that long!), I taught my first course at night.

I fell in love with teaching right then and there.

I was incredibly lucky, as I already had a full-time job I loved working for the Baltimore Orioles. Now, I had a part-time job I loved, too.

When I was hired by Villa Julie in 2000, and then became a full-time faculty member in 2008 when the college changed its name to Stevenson University, I was ecstatic. Somewhere in the back of my head even as a college student myself, I knew I wanted to teach. My mother taught middle school English for 30 years, her uncle was a teacher, my uncle is a professor, two of my aunts were teachers…so you get the picture. Sometimes, honestly, a profession may just be in your blood. And sometimes a profession feels more like a passion.

I probably don’t say it enough, especially to my students, but I love working with them. And to my former students, I loved working with you all, too. I enjoy watching them grow from quiet and unsure freshmen to confident and self-assured young people ready to take on the work force. Some of their transformations are downright amazing, while others of them confidently continue on their trajectory to success. I am so proud of what they have become and what they continue to do out in the world today.

Being in the classroom with students is one of my favorite things. In my writing courses, I especially love when we have meaningful discussions and I get to hear from them about their lives or how a particular piece of writing affected them. In my advertising class, I get to see them make a final pitch—trust me when I tell you, some of those pitches would knock your socks off! In my public relations class last year, the students actually made me so proud when they executed their press conferences that I got a little choked up and teary. And this year, I’m teaching a whole new course, whereby we will function as a full-service agency. It’s going to be exciting.

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As a university professor, no two days are the same, and I don’t have to sit behind a desk all day long. I am there to inspire the students, but the truth is, half the time, they end up inspiring me. They make me want to be a better teacher each and every day.

Honestly, if you open your ears and listen to what your students have to say, it can be quite powerful. They have stories to tell and experiences to share, and they are always eager to understand what I have to impart, even when sometimes they may not fully understand the method to my madness. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time.

But it’s always worth it.

Yes, school starts in less than a month.

I can’t wait to see what this academic year brings.

 

Stephanie

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball 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.

 

What I Didn’t Have in College

It’s time for the first Cup of Candor, so grab your coffee or tea, and let’s chat.

When I decided to embark on this new format for Steph’s Scribe and change the theme of the blog to A Cup of Candor, it came with an open invitation to my readers to offer suggestions of things they would like to see. One of my former students, a blogger herself at The Faithful Elephant, suggested I do a piece on “notes to my younger self.” I could open a can of worms with that one, believe me, as I’ve experienced some very hard and emotionally draining and heartbreaking life lessons along the way, but today we’ll begin with a much lighter, but still serious, topic.

Today’s topic is this: What I didn’t have in college.

And that thing is this: I didn’t have a mentor.

Looking back on my years at Towson University, both as an undergraduate and graduate student, I wish I had built a relationship with someone I could call a mentor. I never did that. Not a teacher as a mentor. I had work mentors, but not an educator, not someone I could talk to about matters of teaching.

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With one of my mentors from the world of baseball, Dr. Charles Steinberg, at Fenway Park.

Had I built a solid foundation with someone in education I could look up to, things may have been very different. I was working 80+ hours a week at the Baltimore Orioles during the time I studied in the master’s program in Professional Writing. I took one course a semester, as my full-time job was incredibly demanding. It wasn’t until the very last class in the program–a creative short fiction class–when I met Dr. George Friedman that I realized writing was going to be in my life, but it was my last class. George remained an inspiration and supporter, but I wish I’d had more time with him at the university. Simultaneously, I had the notion to be a teacher, but I never talked to anyone about that. Ever. It had always lurked in the back of my mind as a great career for having a family, raising kids, and doing some of my own writing.

But I never pursued it. Not then. I never talked to anyone about the possibility of earning a Ph.D.; I didn’t really talk to anyone about it at all.

I continued working at the Orioles and stayed for 13 years. After the completion of my Master’s degree, I was hired by a local community college to teach. When I retired myself from baseball and had fallen in love with teaching, I taught for a total of nine years until I was hired by Villa Julie College (now Stevenson University) as an adjunct professor. Even then, with two little ones, I never pursued a Ph.D. My life had moved along, and it wasn’t the right time to go for that.

When I became a full time professor at Stevenson, I ended up going back to school to earn an MFA in Creative Writing, considered a terminal degree, similar to but not as intensive, as a Ph.D. My kids were small and I couldn’t imagine investing four or five years of my life in a Ph.D. program at that stage of my life, so I opted (and gladly so) to pursue the MFA, which was a great decision for me considering my life, occupation, and family. I loved the program immensely and gained so much from it.

So here’s the note to my younger self: Get a mentor at an earlier age and ask a lot of questions. Talk about your job options and opportunities. Think through not just the here and now of your life, but also what is or could be in your future. Looking back on it now, I might have gone a different route and pursued a Ph.D. earlier in my life—before marriage and kids—had I had the encouragement from a mentor.

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With Shane, who said we were his PR mentors (student in front) and Dr. Leeanne Bell McManus. We pride ourselves on our mentoring of students.
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Some of my students today from 47 House, the Integrated Marketing Communication club on campus.

Everyone should have a mentor, both in business and in life. We look for guidance from people all the time. We want to have relationships with folks so that we can learn from their experiences and so that we can use that knowledge to inform our own decisions.

Now, all these years later, the shoe is on the other foot. I remember what it felt like to not have a mentor, and so now I believe it is both my responsibility and my passion to be a mentor to young people who are now currently in my old shoes. I know what it feels like to need someone’s support and guidance, and now I am there for my students. My door is always open, and if I can provide some insight, I will.

There is something to be said for being older and wiser, although I much prefer the idea of being wiser without the older part.

Hope you found today’s chat useful, and if you know someone who could use a good mentor, please feel free to pass along my message.

Stephanie

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball 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.

 

 

Thoughts on Missing Working in Baseball

Orioles friends from our reunion a few years ago.

It’s a question I get asked a lot.

“Do you miss working in baseball?”

Students ask me this often; then they ask what it was like to work in baseball, in sports, for a Major League baseball team.

I have often blogged about how working in baseball changed my life in so many ways. I became a serious student when I got my job with the Orioles as a sophomore in college. I learned how to budget my time and work long hours. I loved every minute of it. I even roped my best friend and college roommate into working there during my second year when I supervised a small staff and someone quit before Opening Day. She was supposed to be a fill-in and ended up staying the entire season…and then some. I grew up there and stayed for 13 total seasons. My best friends are from there. I met my husband there. I learned valuable skills that I now teach my students. I learned about the game, its history, and its pomp and circumstance—all of which I treasure.

Then I wrote a fictional novel about working in baseball entitled Baseball Girl, summoning my recollections and stories about working in the game.

On Friday night, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time with my mentor and dear friend, Dr. Charles Steinberg, in Boston. Our students and faculty were in town for a communication convention, and Charles, who now works for the Red Sox and Pawtucket Paw Sox, took us out to dinner. It’s funny how things come around full circle—I learned so much of what I know from Charles and Julie Wagner, and both are still my dear friends and mentors. Both Charles and Julie also wrote a case study for a textbook my colleagues and I wrote about event planning. Sitting at that table with Charles made me realize a couple of things: (1) how thankful I am that I had the job I had for all those years and that it helps me in my current job today, and (2) that strong friendships sustain themselves even when you don’t see each other as often as you would like.

Charles and me from Saturday night in Boston at Pico Niccolo.

Today is Opening Day, and I will not be there at Camden Yards to celebrate its 25th season at the ballpark. I have to teach my classes.

I was there on Opening Day 1992 when Camden Yards took center stage, and I helped coordinate the opening ceremonies. I value all of my time there—first as assistant director of community relations and then as director of publishing. For fun, and at Charles’s request, I even spent time as the ballpark deejay for a while, spinning tunes and getting the crowd fired up.

So the question remains: “Do you miss working in baseball?”

On days like today, with a fresh season upon us, a new team, and a clean slate with 162 games to go and a chance to win a World Series ring as a member of the front office, the answer is simply…

Yes.

Sometimes I do.

Good friends…

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of the newly releasedInn 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.

Back at Camden Yards, Pangs of Nostalgia and Thankfulness

Camden Yards*

This morning I took a ride to Camden Yards. It was surreal—like going back in time to the commute I did for many years from 1992 through 1998 when I was a full-time employee of the ballclub. (Prior to that, beginning in 1985, I commuted to old Memorial Stadium). I had to pick up something from our friend Mark at the Orioles offices for my son’s birthday. On my drive in, as I am often capable of doing, I became nostalgic remembering old times. I also got to thinking about how that job of working for the Orioles completely transformed my life. And I don’t write that lightly. It seriously did transform my life as I’ve written about several times before here on the blog.

What it also did was to inform my current job—that of professor of business communication at Stevenson University. Being able to talk about my experiences working in several different departments, including public relations, community relations, publishing, and Orioles productions gave me such a foundation of knowledge, that today, when I am in the classroom, I still use work experiences to illustrate points we learn in the textbooks we read. That added working knowledge I bring to the table helps me be a better teacher. Additionally, since I love to tell stories, it also gives me a lot of fodder; and trust me, I don’t hold back. Sharing the good experiences along with the bad helps my students understand concepts and theories they are studying. And finally, that job working in baseball also helped inform my writing of Baseball Girl, the fictional novel I published last year about life working in professional baseball, which of course, was loosely based on my own life and experiences working in the sport.

My year working for The Baltimore Sun was not an easy one, but I certainly learned a lot from it. The two years following that when I owned and operated my own consulting business taught me even more about responsibility and ownership and making the client happy. And many of those clients I worked with because I had connections to them from my days at the Orioles.

I don’t know if it’s because there’s been a lot of turmoil in the world and country lately or because I see a lot of vitriolic hate and vehement opinions on world and political events on Facebook (of which I will take no part in; you will never see me talk politics either here on the blog or on my Facebook page, because, truthfully, no one wants my opinion, and likewise, I don’t care to hear anyone else’s either), but I woke up feeling nothing but thankful this morning. I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I’ve worked hard to make a difference in each career in which I’ve had the opportunity to engage. My work experiences have helped inform my teaching, and I’ll forever be grateful for those teachable moments that help me provide my own teachable moments to our wonderful students.

And that’s today’s bit of Monday Morning Nostalgia, brought to you by a sentimental, sappy fool. 🙂

xx |

signatureStephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice.

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What Failure Taught Me, With a Nod To Author Markus Zusak

As part of the final in Magazine Writing, I asked my students to reflect on certain aspects of the course, including the readings, their writing, and the lessons learned, as well as their ability to construct a well-written response to a writing prompt. This year’s students were asked to reflect on writer Markus Zusak’s wonderful Ted Talk for Question #1 (Zusak is the author of the acclaimed novel, The Book Thief). I asked them to consider their own failure(s) or something that they are afraid to do that could possibly lead to failure. I got a lot of interesting answers, but most of them discussed how failure has led to other things—better things and personal growth. As Zusak notes in his talk, it was writer Samuel Beckett who said, “Fail again. Fail better.”

When looking back on my life, I have failed at things a multitude of times. I’ve failed at communicating properly, at telling people how I really feel, at being kind all the time, at motherhood, wifehood, daughterhood, sisterhood, and the list goes on and on. But there’s one particular failure that stands out to me and changed me, and it ironically happened in a classroom in college.

I was taking a course called Communication Process, and my topic, one that was given to me (as I would never have chosen it myself), was communication apprehension. Its proper definition is as follows: “Communication apprehension is an individual level of fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons.” Yup. Lucky me. I got that topic.

The irony of being charged with researching that particular topic was two fold: (1) that I had to present my findings in a 12-minute speech to the class, and (2) that I actually suffered from communication apprehension.

I was never comfortable being in front of a crowd as just me, standing and speaking in front of people. It was the reason I ticked off my 8th grade chorus teacher when she asked me why I didn’t audition for the play. “Because I don’t want to be on stage,” I said. “It’s too much stress.” Looking back, what a chicken I was.

Nevertheless, the more I researched communication apprehension, the more I began to suffer from it. I could feel my elevated heart rate every time I had to go to the library and find another source to suit the needs of the rubric. (And that was in the days when there was a card catalogue and no Internet).

microphoneWhen it came time for the presentations, the teacher also chose the order. I was second from last. In a class of 35, that was an eternity to wait, and a long time for communication apprehension to build. When I finally got my chance to get up and speak, I froze. Completely. I made my way along, until I could no longer take it. My hands were buzzing, my knees were knocking, my heart was causing all kinds of trouble in my chest, and I felt as if I could pass out. I asked to get a drink, and she allowed me to go in the hallway and calm down. When I came back into the room with questionable stares and few smiles, I became even more uneasy. The bottom line is this: I couldn’t finish my speech. I failed, and then felt humiliated by my failure.

I got away from the course by the skin of my teeth with a “C” because my other grades had been so good, but I’d never felt failure like that before. As a cheerleader in high school, I should have been used to being in front of crowds, but public speaking was a whole different game altogether.

When I came home after that spring semester and sat with my mother on the back porch, I told her that I might have to change my major—again. I had already switched from business to communication, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do. With solid coaching from my mother, I dared to try it again. Her advice: “Just be sure if you have to present again, you pick something you really know…something you are passionate about.” It was great advice, as long as the professor didn’t pick the topic for you.

I conquered that fear of public speaking by talking about the new part-time job I had just secured at the Baltimore Orioles in the new course I was taking, Business and Professional Communication. Standing at the podium in front of a large lecture hall in front of 100 of my fellow classmates, I went second and delivered a good speech, much to my own pleasant surprise.

That time, I didn’t fail. That prior failure made me never want to fail like that again.

I won’t lie—getting up and speaking in front of a large crowd still makes my heart go pitter-patter, but my years of teaching and standing before a group of students has made the process that much easier.

Three years ago when I was asked to represent our faculty and to speak at our Baccalaureate celebration for graduation, I accepted because I didn’t want to let the students down. I wanted to give them a good speech. Despite that there were 500+ people in the room, I used that energy to have some fun while I spoke from the podium. Plus, our university president was there, and when he saw me shaking it out before we processed into the gym and onto the stage, he told me his own best advice about public speaking. He said, and I will always use this tip for as long as I have to speak in public: “You never want to sit down when you’re done talking and say to yourself, ‘I could have done better.’ That’s what motivates me to give a good speech.”

I really loved this advice.

BaccalaureateSpeechVerni Looking back on that college classroom at the age of 19, I can say it was that failure that made me become a more serious student. With the acquisition of my job at the Orioles, I learned how to budget my time, get my studies done, and work a job that had incredibly demanding hours. My grades got better, my work ethic became stronger, and I developed a drive I didn’t know quite existed in me.

Whereas Zusak ended his talk with a quote NOT from a writer, I’ll take the other course and close with one from J.M. Barrie that is, surprisingly, not a depressing one. Barrie says, “We are all failures – at least the best of us are.”

Baseball = Love : Reflections on Ripken, Gehrig, and 2131; Baseball Girl Receives an Award; and Thoughts on Moments in Time

Reflections on Cal Ripken and 2131

2131-Verni

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Twenty years ago this week Cal Ripken tied and broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record. Twenty years ago. It seems difficult to fathom, actually.

I was proud to have been a part of such a wonderful front office — people who cared about the game of baseball and wanted it represented well both on and off the field. If I could have picked any time in history to have been with the club — including that 1983 season when the Orioles took home the World Series trophy — I would not change a thing. I started out on the ground floor as public relations assistant (who actually had to go out into the stands and sing “Happy Birthday” to fans), worked side-by-side with my mentor Julie Wagner in community relations, and was promoted to Director of Publishing where I stayed until I ended my career with the ballclub in 1998. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade one moment of my time there, even for a World Series ring (though I won’t lie–that would have been a very nice heirloom).

Readers of my blog know my incredible affinity for the ballclub. Pictured above is Cal, on the night of 2131, with his arm around his mother, Vi, Julie Wagner, the Orioles Community Relations Director, and me there in the front (Cal’s dad can be seen off to the left, barely in the photograph). As members of the event team that planned, organized, and executed 2131, we are standing on the field while the tributes and celebrations were happening, and I’ll never forget how Cal’s parents’ faces beamed. I was fortunate to have been assigned as the escort for Cal’s parents for the evening, and I was responsible for getting them where they needed to be as events began to unfold. Our team photographer, Jerry Wachter, captured this moment, and I’ll be forever grateful. Although Julie is probably mid-sentence saying something to me about what was going to happen next because she was one of the lead planners of the ceremonial events, Jerry caught us at just the right moment, and as the Whitney Houston song “One Moment in Time” was played that night, I believe we all felt suspended, relishing Cal’s amazing accomplishment, and sensing Lou Gehrig winking from the Heavens. If only for a moment.

Incidentally, one of the reasons why I hold on so dearly to memories made either at Memorial Stadium or Camden Yards is because some of my dearest friends were made there, memories that I will keep. Whether they are funny stories that make up my collection of 13 years at the ballclub or friendships that continue to grow and flourish even after we’ve moved on, the spirit that was the Orioles will remain with me forever. Cal’s remarkable evening is just one of hundreds of things I’ll always keep in my lovely, baseball memory bank.

The book we put together at the Orioles to commemorate Cal's accomplishment. I served as the editor and many of my friends and colleagues wrote chapters of the book.
The book we put together at the Orioles to commemorate Cal’s accomplishment. I served as the editor and many of my friends and colleagues wrote chapters of the book.

 I met all these women through baseball. We celebrated my birthday and 30 years of friendship on August 21. 

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Baseball Girl Takes Home An Honorable Mention in the Annual Readers’ Favorite Contest for Sports Fiction

HMAwardScreen shot 2015-08-31 at 11.19.20 PMLast night, my second novel, Baseball Girl, received an Honorable Mention Award in the Annual Readers’ Favorite Contest in the category of sports fiction. As the Readers’ Favorite Contest has become more popular over the years (its first contest year was only in 2009), the competition continues to grow. Having Baseball Girl acknowledged in the category of sports fiction is quite an honor (seeing as I haven’t ever written anything fictional that is sports-based, not even a short story). The recognition of this little story—that grew out of my overactive imagination, but is rooted in some of my own experiences working in baseball—means more to me than words can say, but I’ll try. When I set out to tell this story, all I wanted was for people to enjoy reading it. To take pleasure in it. To want to see what happens to the characters. When I receive a short note, text, or email from someone saying he or she enjoyed Baseball Girl, that’s what makes me happy. Additionally, when a little medallion of an award gets to be placed on the cover of the book in recognition for a job well done—though it may not have garnered first, second, or third place—I am so grateful for the positive feedback I have received and continue to receive. Honestly, it makes me want to be a better writer. Thank you, Jack Magnus and Readers’ Favorite for this lovely recognition. I hope your stamp of approval will encourage other folks who are on the fence about reading the book to give it a whirl and see what happens to Francesca, Archie, Joe, Jack and the rest of the crew.

Jack Magnus’ Review of Baseball Girl:

Baseball Girl: A Novel is a contemporary sports fiction novel written by Stephanie L. Verni. Francesca’s young world revolved around her dad and the baseball games they watched together, both in the stadium and at home. They loved the Bay City Blackbirds, and Francesca knew all the stats and even the team’s scoring system. From the time, she was seven until her dad’s illness and death at age 44 from leukemia, the two of them thrilled to the sounds of the bat hitting the ball and the cheers of the fans. When Francesca was a sophomore in college, a year after he died, she found a help wanted ad for a Public Relations Assistant with the Bay City Blackbirds. It seemed the perfect job for a communications major who just happened to live and breathe baseball.


Stephanie L. Verni’s contemporary fiction novel, Baseball Girl, is a marvelous novel that blends the coming of age, romance and sports fiction genres. The author’s long-term association with the Baltimore Orioles makes the novel feel like the real thing. Verni takes the reader into the inner workings of the front office of a baseball team, and it’s a fascinating look at the hard work, dedication, and stamina needed to be part of that world. While Francesca is no longer a young adult, the interwoven tales of her childhood through to her late twenties, combined with the ongoing trauma of her loss which keeps her locked up inside and unwilling to risk emotional attachments, make this story one of the more compelling coming of age tales I’ve read. Baseball Girl has a strong romantic thread, but the lack of any overtly sexual or erotic themes makes this novel eminently suitable for young adult readers as well as the target adult audience. Verni’s strong and competent Francesca is the perfect role model for young women, especially if they just happen to love sports. Baseball Girl is an awesome read, and it’s most highly recommended.

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Upcoming Book Events in the Baltimore | Annapolis Area

On Sunday, September 27, I’ll be in the Author’s Tent at the Baltimore Book Festival. Last year’s festival was held at the Inner Harbor, and this year it will also be held downtown. I’m scheduled to sell and sign books from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., so if you’re planning on attending, I hope you will stop by and say hello.

On Monday, September 28, I’ll be talking about baseball, books, and maybe even a Mimosa Tree at the Broadneck Library in Annapolis at 7 p.m. I’ll be giving away some goodies, and I’ll have lots of bookmarks and copies of my books on hand.

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Severna Park Voice Article

My local, hometown paper ran a piece on local authors and what we’re up to recently. I’ve linked to it here, and was thrilled to see that they very kindly gave my daughter a photo credit. She’s also an aspiring author, and a pretty amazing photographer as well. Thanks for making me look good, Elle.

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Moments in Time

Last week we began our fall semester at Stevenson University. I couldn’t be more fortunate to work at a place with the best bunch of faculty, staff, and students. I absolutely love my job, and every day I have the opportunity to be in the classroom is yet another one of my moments in time.

Thanks for popping in today, and I hope to see some of you soon.

XO,

Stephanie

P.S. If you want to take a stroll down memory lane and re-live Cal’s shining moment, I’ve provided the telecast below.

Endorsements for Baseball Girl

Thank you Banner

Today, I’d like to thank Dr. Charles Steinberg of the Boston Red Sox and Jack Magnus of Readers Favorite for their kind commentary about Baseball Girl. Dr. Steinberg endorsed the book, which you can see showcased on the new cover, and Jack Magnus gave it a 5-Star Review.

As for sales of this independent novel, they are steady, and I’m pleased with its progress without having executed a full-blown marketing campaign. Word of mouth seems to be helping it along, so if you’ve enjoyed reading it, please consider recommending it to someone or writing a review for it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I can tell you only that it was a labor of love. Having spent 13 years working for the Baltimore Orioles, I decided that I wanted to write a fictional story grounded in love and loss that was only made possible by my experiences working in the front office of a professional baseball team. While the story is fictionalized, many of the situations and feelings that the main character experiences and shares are similar to those I experienced myself. Working in baseball was magical for me–I met all of my best friends during my time at the club, and I even met my spouse working in baseball.

While Francesca certainly has to overcome the loss of her father, she also has other interpersonal relationships to navigate. It was fun to write, and I hope you enjoy the novel as much as I enjoyed crafting each of the characters, writing the introductory quotes to each chapter, and imagining what Bay City must look like (though many readers have already told me they know it’s Baltimore)!

Thanks for your support!

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Baseball, Baltimore & Boisterous Real Fans: Well Worth the Wait

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Energized Camden Yards.

As I sat in the Club Level at Camden Yards on Thursday night, excited for Game One of the ALDS to begin between the hometown Baltimore Orioles and the visiting Detroit Tigers, I basked in the atmosphere. The ballpark hummed. Why, it was only a few years ago when it was devoid of Orioles fans while intruders, fans of the successful Red Sox and Yankees, took over the seats during non-glorious seasons. Thursday night was a different story; Camden Yards was cradling 48,000+ energetic fans donned in orange and white and black. The ballpark was smiling.

Two gentlemen in their 20s sat down in front of me. They were both wearing Orioles shirts, and each carried his orange and black rally towel replete with the Angry Bird on it. At the first sign that the team was about to take the field, the two young men stood, ready for the first pitch. As the National Anthem played, they respectfully removed their caps as we listed to an operatic tenor sing in splendid fashion. After Manny Machado threw out the first pitch, it was game time, and they were ready.Rally

All throughout the game, I couldn’t help but notice the two gentlemen, mostly because they involved me in their contagious enthusiasm for the night, the team, and what would be the Orioles first win of the series. At each electric moment, whether there was a hit or a solid fielding play or a run scored, the two of them were on their feet. They were jumping up and down like schoolgirls, not caring about what anyone thought of them. They high-fived each other, and then turned and high-fived all of us: my husband, my son, my daughter, and me. We all danced to the music that blared through the O’s PA system; we chanted “Let’s Go O’s” and “Cruuuuuzzzz”; and we sang “O’Day…O’Day…” together. They never stopped smiling.

Those two guys represented all of us who are real fans—Orioles fans—especially those who have waited years for our team to have a shot at the World Series. Their glee was infectious, as was that of the rest of the folks cheering unrelentlessly in the ballpark.

Real Orioles fans were experiencing a real treat.

Many of us have cheered on our team faithfully during the losses, endured the rebuilding of the team, and continued to attend games at the ballpark proudly wearing our Orioles gear despite the years of half-filled seats and mediocrity.

It doesn’t matter when you are a real fan. It is well worth the wait.

The gentlemen in front of me.
The gentlemen in front of me.

On slumps, in baseball and in writing…

CreativityLast night after my son’s baseball game and in the middle of a post-game, in-depth discussion about baseball bunting, I told my kids to hold it a second. “Let’s call Charles and ask him what he thinks about bunting.”

I’m not a fan of bunting, though I do realize it has its benefits. I dialed Charles’s number, and he picked up. This, in itself, is miraculous. Sometimes he is just too busy to chat. Charles currently works for the Boston Red Sox, is a brilliant, creative mind, and happens to be one of my former bosses from my days at the Orioles.  He also is one of those dearest of friends where, when you chat with him, though we haven’t lived in the same city for years, not a moment has passed. We always just pick up where we left off.

In this discussion where Charles used Earl Weaver as an example of one who didn’t much care for the bunt, we determined that it’s really the sacrifice bunt that I have a problem with in the game of baseball. I don’t like giving up an out just to advance a runner. For some reason, it drives me crazy, and we talked it through. And don’t get me started on the suicide squeeze.

After we worked out the bunting issue—for you see, I am writing my next novel about baseball and working in the sport—he asked me how my writing was coming along. I didn’t tell him the whole truth, that I’ve been in a writing slump, and that I’ve hardly paid much attention to it lately. Instead, I just said, “Well, I’ve got about 42,000 words written.” Why I say this to people, I have no idea. What good is a novel in progress if you’re not writing it? “Beneath the Mimosa Tree” was roughly 58,000 words. This really means nothing. “Baseball Girl” may end up being longer. It’s hard to say when you’ve abandoned the poor, helpless characters that rely on you.

The truth of the matter is, I realized, like ballplayers, I’m in a slump. They have hitting slumps and I have writing slumps.

CalRipkenO'sBut like most slumps, at some point you come out of them. Remember when Cal Ripken had his hitting slump and problem with his stance at the plate? We all thought it was over, but the Iron Man fooled us, and came out of it just fine. We should have known better.

What I also didn’t reveal to Charles is that, thanks to his prodding and enthusiasm for my writing (he gave me wonderful, rave reviews for my first book), I am back at it. I’m ready to go. Today, a few ideas came flooding into my very tired brain. The light’s been switched back on.

As Dionne Warwick once belted out in song, “That’s what friends are for.”

Why I Write, Part II

OliveTreesRain“The rain was beating down hard, hitting the awnings over the kitchen windows. The leaves of our old magnolia tree were drenched and wilting. I wished I could afford a place of my own. My parents had been kind enough to let me stay with them until I save enough money to buy something, but I was beginning to feel anxious. But this I knew for sure—that my house would be just as cozy as my parents, and in the backyard there would be a sprawling mimosa tree like the one in Michael Contelli’s backyard.” ~ From my short story entitled, Contelli’s Mimosa. 1992.

This is how the short story I wrote, “Contelli’s Mimosa,” ended. Twenty-some years later, it became a novel. My first. But we’ll get into that more in Part III.

One such edition of Orioles Magazine.
One such edition of Orioles Magazine.

Twenty-one years ago, I graduated from my first master’s program with a degree in Professional Writing from Towson University. It was a great program for me, and I focused primarily on public relations writing. I’d begun my professional career at The Baltimore Orioles, working in public relations, community relations, and publications. During this time, I was the editor of Orioles Magazine, and we put together Cal Ripken Jr.’s commemorative publication when he broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak. Those were exciting times in baseball, and I was fortunate enough to work there. I primarily wrote and edited nonfiction work—magazine articles that suited the ballclub’s publication.

I did, however, dabble on the side with fiction, though I did nothing with it.

Years later, when I had children and was primarily a stay-at-home-mom working part-time as an adjunct faculty member, I wrote a little on the side, as well. A little poetry and short stories were concocted when I had time, but my number one focus were my children.

When I went back to school in 2009 as I worked toward an MFA degree in creative writing at National University, I jumped in with both feet. My children were older, and I was working as a full-time faculty member at Stevenson University outside Baltimore. The fact that I could totally submerge myself in writing was therapeutic for me, and although I was working full-time, I enjoyed the stimulation of my online writing program. I highly recommend this type of program for writers who can work autonomously and are driven by deadlines and open to constructive feedback. It motivated me, and made me want to become a better writer.

One such outcome of my program was this poem I wrote about Queen Anne Boleyn and her beheading that was ordered by her husband, Henry VIII. It’s one of my favorites because I tried to image how she felt as she was about to be executed and wrote it from her perspective…

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Anne Boleyn, played by Natalie Dormer, in HBO’s THE TUDORS.

Anne’s Threnody

I feel the bareness, my little neck,
As I sit in wait, haunted Tower—
Despite my fate, I’m not a wreck
As I wait upon my hour.

Your Grace, the King
Of Thee, I sing!

I shall not contest for fear that she
Will be punished for her name alone;
Pray goodness will guide her destiny—
She, a blessing for the throne.

Your Grace, the King
Of Thee, I sing!

A Calais swordsman, honorable chore!
I shall pardon him with my eyes—
No longer a Queen, but witch and whore,
Pray I’m deaf to my child’s cries.

Your Grace, the King
Of Thee, I sing!

The Boleyn name tainted, dear brother George,
Ill-justice—vile and unnerving;
Vast suffering, torment and wanton scourge—
So unmercifully undeserving.

Your Grace, the King
Of Thee, I sing!

Death is upon me; I shall take my leave
From this earth, from sovereignty—
Meddle my cause* so that some may believe
It was his impropriety.

Your Grace, the King
Of Thee, I sing!

(Note: It is believed that Anne Boleyn, in her speech at her execution, did say, “And if any person will meddle my cause, I require them to judge the best.” (http://tudorhistory.org/primary/speech)).

During this time, I realized even more so than before, that I needed to write, and I reconciled myself with this eye-opening notion: it didn’t matter if I became rich and famous from writing, because writing is what I enjoy doing. And when you enjoy doing something, it’s really quite a sin not to do it.

Remembering Earl Weaver

Earl Weaver. Photo credit: Orioles
Earl Weaver. Photo credit: Orioles

I didn’t know Earl Weaver well, only a little bit.

He was at the helm when I started working for the Orioles as a 19-year-old in 1985. He was tough and rugged, spoke his mind, but was always fair. He was nice to those of us who were beginning our careers in sports. When he had to be somewhere and we needed to escort him, he didn’t put up a fuss. Players and managers were not as standoff-ish back then as they became during my later years at the ballclub.

Several of us took a road trip to New York one year; Earl and Cal Ripken Sr. were there in the lobby, heading to the bar. When they saw us, they chatted happily with us. They asked  us to join them and wondered where we had been in the city that day and what we were up to later. Of course, we had been to the O’s vs. Yankees game, we said. We had ridden the subway home with Eddie Murray. Imagine that…all of us on the subway with a Hall-of-Famer.

Years later, Earl was kind enough to agree to go on Orioles Cruises, and I had opportunities to get to know him on those boat trips and witness Earl and his followers on the cruise. He was the life of the party. He was entertaining. People wanted to chat with him and sit at his table. They wanted to hear his legendary stories.

Earl Weaver was iconic in Baltimore and was lovingly called the Earl of Baltimore. When people say Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer detested each other, I kind of laughed. How could you detest someone like Earl? He was a little spitfire. When he walked into a room, it immediately became electric. He was a manager, and a manager’s job is not to be liked, it’s to win games.

Baseball people know that. And we respect Earl for the job he did and for the person he was. He will be missed.

Orioles Cruise with Weaver
Orioles Cruise with Weaver