What You Owe Yourself? Authentic Writing

 

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Yesterday, I finished doing my first thorough edit of my new collection of short stories and poetry. Today, I am beginning the final review process.

I look at these two things differently.

During the editing process, you are still diligently working on the stories. You are editing, changing, rearranging, adding, subtracting, fixing mistakes and making corrections, using a thesaurus, and playing with the “sound” of the prose.

During the review process, I try to wear a “reader” hat.

This is difficult, especially when you are reviewing your own work.

But, you have to do it, you guys. You have to be willing to look at it through the lens of one of your readers.

Who are your best readers? I think of some of my closest friends—my mom—her friends—my aunt—and even some of my students who enjoy my books. Think of them…actually, picture them holding your completed book.

Then ask yourself this question: WILL THEY BE HAPPY WITH IT?

That’s what I mean when I say you have to review it as a reader. You have to imagine it’s not your own work, and it’s your chance to further question your storytelling.

That said, the one thing I don’t want you to do is to second-guess your authenticity–your own voice. Your voice and your authenticity are what make you YOU as a writer. Don’t do what I did a few years ago and begin a novel, show it to someone, and have that someone say, “This doesn’t sound like you.”

“Who does it sound like?” I asked.

“Someone else, but not you. I can’t ‘hear’ you in this writing.”

I stopped writing then and there and went back to the drawing board.

The best compliment I can get—and I’ve had many people tell me this (so thank you to all the people who have said it to me)—is that when they read my books, they can almost “hear my voice” telling them the story, as if I am there with them reading it aloud. Of course, these people know me personally or through my blog, but let me tell you, that’s the kind of thing you want to hear from your readers.

So don’t ever compromise your authenticity.

Remember, that’s why some people enjoy reading your work in the first place.

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A Little Milestone

A Little Milestone: I finished editing the short stories today for The Postcard and Other Short Stories and Poetry. It is almost done being formatted. This project–a couple of years in the making–contains 22 short stories I’ve written over a span of time. I have so much love for this collection for these particular reasons: they remind me of fragments of people I’ve met along the way in my life; they remind me to take the time to tell a story the way you think it should be told; and they remind me to never stop going for your dreams even when it takes baby steps and months or years to get there.

Thanks for keeping up with me as I tackled another writing journey. I got so much love for you all.

You Can Control Whether You Quit or Persevere

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Last night, we had to have the hard conversation with our daughter about possibly quitting something she’s involved in. She didn’t really want to quit, she just wanted to alter the way in which she does it. We talked it through, and we all came to the conclusion that persevering is the optimal course of action.

If you’ve never watched the Markus Zusak Ted Talk, author of The Book Thief, then you are really missing something. He quotes writer Samuel Beckett in his talk, and offers his own perspective. It’s worth watching. The famous Beckett quote is this:

“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Try again. Fail better.

These are words we can truly live by. If something’s not working, we must alter the course, but stay the course, that’s what’s most important. Keep working at it. Let your frustrations and failures help you march on toward completion—toward finding satisfaction in it all.

Last summer, I found myself at a low point with book publishing and promotion. I was not at all frustrated with writing and the writing process, but rather with the time one must spend promoting his or her work as an independent author. It’s not all fun and games. It can be exhausting, but it comes with the territory, I’m afraid.

However, I took a little break from it, went on vacation, spent time with my family. I put things into proper perspective, and I came out better for it. I’m continuing on my writing journey and self-publishing journey as we speak, and I feel so happy about it. I’m working on a collection of short stories and it’s changed my focus and brought joy to my life.

I stayed the course. Persevered.

You can do the same.

We all can.

Sometimes, you just need to adjust the perspective, and when you do, it makes persevering feel like it’s what you always should have done in the first place.

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BooksStephanie Verni is a hopeless romantic, Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University, and 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. Follow her on Twitter at stephverni or on Instagram at stephanie.verni.

Why You Should Always Follow Your Dreams

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The Story

Yesterday afternoon, I sat with my parents on their porch overlooking their spotless, inviting pool and their gardens that are in full bloom. It was just the three of us, and we got on the topic of graduation and what kids are studying in college, especially as my own son is off to college as a freshman in the fall.

I admitted that I had no idea what I wanted to study when I went to college. I just knew that I was supposed to go to the university and make something of myself. What that exactly was, I had no idea.

“Did you have any idea at all what you wanted to study in college?” my mom asked me.

I did, sort of, but I didn’t take that path. At least not right away. I had a dream, but I didn’t believe it was worth pursuing.

The Truth

Thirty-five years later, I admitted the truth to them as we sat there having lunch.

“I remember sitting in Ms. Sheppard’s History of Maryland class, listening to her talk, but toying with a short story I was writing in my notebook. I remember thinking, ‘Someday I’m going to write something worth publishing.’ That was the only thought I had. I didn’t really know how I was going to get there, I just knew that writing was a goal of mine and it’s what I wanted to do at some point in my life.”

So, I went to college. I went to Towson University and lived on campus.

I did not become an English major. Instead, I was a Business Administration major who earned a “D” in her accounting class. I knew that major wasn’t for me right away.

Taking matters into my own hands, I marched to the Registrar’s office and changed my major to Mass Communication. I learned about radio, television, and journalism; I took courses in public relations and communication, and I felt more at home. I also secured a job at The Baltimore Orioles in the Public Relations department, and that job propelled me a 13-year career with the ballclub.

I still wanted to write.

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I got my first master’s degree back at Towson University in Professional Writing and was promoted to the Director of Publishing at the Orioles.

I was writing. I was editing. I was doing exactly what I thought I might do when I was dreaming back in Mrs. Sheppard’s class. But deep inside, I longed to write fiction.

Simultaneously, I began to teach at a local community college. I left the Orioles and had children and continued to teach. Teaching became a passion of mine, and after my children were in school all day, I was able to move from an adjunct position at Stevenson University to a full-time faculty position in Business Communication. I was primarily teaching writing courses.

However, securing that full-time position warranted that I go back to school.

I earned an MFA in Creative Writing with the support of my husband, a subject I had loved since high school when I took it with Mrs. Susek. I loved every minute of that program at National University.

I had to write a book as my thesis.

I wrote my first piece of publishable fiction, a novel called Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and it will always be special to me.

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It took me a while to follow my dreams, but thanks to Mrs. Sheppard, for all her encouragement as a student in that history class, and Mrs. Susek, for all of her inspiration in Creative Writing, I finally chased that dream as a middle-aged adult. Now, I write on the side and I teach full-time, inspired by people I had along the way. I honestly have the best of both worlds. With three fiction books to my name and one textbook on Event Planning, I’m busy putting together a collection of short stories that started my passion for writing in the first place.

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The Lesson

My point of telling you this story is this: no matter your age, don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. You can go for it at any time. Graduating seniors in high school can start chasing that dream in college, in a trade, or through a work path. Graduating college students can get right on it by choosing a job that suits them, returning for a master’s degree, or going down an entrepreneurial track if that suits them. Middle-aged people like me can do it, too, if you have the support of those who love you around you to help make it happen. Do not be afraid.

Follow your dreams, people. Work hard to make it a reality. Invest in yourself and what you want to do in the future. I took a circuitous route, but you can go more directly. It’s entirely up to you.

 

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Playing With Book Covers For An Upcoming Collection

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I’ve started the editing process for my upcoming book entitled, The Postcard and Other Short Stories & Poetry. So far, I’ve organized the stories and made a comprehensive list of what will be included and what is getting pitched. It looks like the book will feature 15 longer short stories, 25 pieces of flash fiction, and about 20 poems. Along with the organization comes the idea of what the cover of the book might look like. As a visual person, I need to have this in my head as I work toward completion. For me, the whole creative process of putting a collection together encompasses so much—the storytelling is at the forefront, but the book packaging is so vital as well. When you are in the business of independent publishing and act as your own curator, designer, and editor, it takes time to comb through each short story and decide if it is worthy of your readers. (You all put a lot of pressure on us to deliver good stuff, and we take making you happy as a reader as the most important aspect of our writing!) Then, of course, it takes time to make it visually pleasing.

I’ve organized myself so that I will work on one story a day, at least to get myself going and not slow down this process. I’ll read each story as a reader, and then I’ll start attacking it as an editor/reviser. It’s sort of fun to look at things you’ve written a while ago and then immerse yourself in it again, but this time with a more intense approach to getting the story just right.

Below are four possible cover ideas that I have so far. If you have any input on which is floating your boat the most, please comment below to let me hear your opinions.

Have a great Monday, you all. If you need me, I’ll be right here…editing.

stephanie verniThe Postard-2thepostcardcoverThe Postcard & Other Short Stories & Poems

Become A Writer, They Said.

This one got me giggling.

As I sat in my office this morning looking at all the short stories I am planning to include in my upcoming collection, I started to panic. The same thoughts go through my head as I start gearing up for publication. It sort of goes like the above meme as well as like this one below.

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We love to second guess everything we write. And worse than that, when a short story we wrote was written a while ago, we are so tempted to go in and change it. A lot of it.

Mostly what I’ll be doing is fixing things — making them better for the collection. I’ll edit, add, delete, embellish, extend, and then I’ll wonder if I did anything right at all.

That’s the way it goes as a writer.

We have confidence, and we lack confidence. It’s a never-ending cycle.

But we go through this oddly pleasurable torture for the love of writing, because we can’t imagine not doing it.

Even if everything we write isn’t just so perfect.

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BooksStephanie Verni is a hopeless romantic, Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University, and 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. Follow her on Twitter at stephverni or on Instagram at stephanie.verni.

 

When We Were Very Young

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The collection my mother gave me for Mother’s Day.

On Sunday—MOTHER’S DAY—my mother gave me quite a special present.

But first we have to backtrack to a few weeks ago when…

…my daughter, husband and I watched Goodbye Christopher Robin, a film about the writer A.A. Milne, and what happened after he created that lovable Winnie-the-Pooh character, along with Christopher Robin, who was based on his own son. While the story was melancholy to say the least, it made me remember fondly my love for Pooh. My daughter loved Pooh, too, and carried around Lumpy, the Heffalump, as a small child. She loved Lumpy more than anything.

So back to my mother’s gift…

As a kid, I had the four-book collection that A.A. Milne wrote in hardback. I asked my mother if she still had them. She said she wasn’t sure, that she may have given them away.

You know what’s coming…

On Mother’s Day, I opened my gifts, and at the bottom of the bag was something heavy. Bound together with a pretty ribbon were the Pooh books that were mine as a kid, and I will cherish them forever. I love books, and keep a small library of my favorites, often lending them to friends, unless, of course, they are super sentimental, and then, they have to remain at my house. Pride & Prejudice, A Christmas Carol, and Austen’s collection are among those, now with the A.A. Milne collection, that cannot be checked out from the Verni Library.

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My maiden name in the book in my 3rd-grade handwriting.

Winnie-the-Pooh stories remind us of innocence. Of friendship. Of the love that happens between friends that is good and pure and sweet. The books remind us that often the simple things in life are to be treasured and valued. Winnie-the-Pooh reminds us of our own childhoods, growing pains, and of finding our place in the world.

So…

The books are on my shelf, if you’d like to come and peruse them for a while.

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What I’m Working On: My Summer Writing Projects

ThePostcardCoverTwo weeks remain until the close of the Spring 2018 semester. It’s been a very hectic, but productive one, and I’m eager to hear some final student presentations, read final papers, and complete the final curriculum of the year.

I may take a few days off afterwards to smell the roses, go for a road trip, see the Blue Angels, and stroll around Annapolis and some Eastern Shore towns with my Nikon in hand—one of my favorite things to do.

But I’m also looking forward to completing the writing and editing of my short story collection, tentatively titled THE POSTCARD and OTHER SHORT STORIES and POEMS. As some of you know who follow me, I’ve been talking about this for a while, but writing textbooks, teaching, and writing novels in between has delayed this project. I’ll be including the original short story I wrote called CONTELLI’S MIMOSA, a sad short story that ended up becoming my first novel, BENEATH THE MIMOSA TREE (although the novel turned around and had a much, much happier ending). I’ve also got some of my FICTOGRAPHY pieces that have been turned into longer stories, and three new stories I’m editing for the collection along with one other that’s in the works. I’m hoping to have this collection completed and on the market by August. I’m excited to share these with you.

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Annapolis: On the Chesapeake Bay.

I’ll also be reconnecting with Milly, John, Miles, and the rest of the crew in Oxford as I see where a possible sequel to INN SIGNIFICANT takes me.

Wish me luck, my friends.

All I need is a bit of encouragement and some good, strong coffee to get me through.

🙂

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9 Schmoozing Techniques for Networking

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In the world of business communication, we do a lot of schmoozing. It’s not a bad word; it’s not taboo—it’s what we do. We have to know how to mingle with finesse. It’s the art of schmoozing, and I think Urban Dictionary defines it best as: Talk that is business oriented, designed to both provide and solicit personal information but avoids overt pitching. Most often an artifact of ‘networking.’

So there you have it.

Now, how do you execute the schmooze like a pro?

I’ve done enough schmoozing over the years to offer a few pointers, especially for recent graduates, soon-to-be graduates, or those coming back in the game or switching careers. Overall, these would be my top nine recommendations…

  1. Have a firm handshake (but not too hard) and look people in the eyes. Staying engaged during the few minutes that you converse can make a big impression.
  2. Stay abreast of current news and issues so that should someone make a comment about world or national events, you are up on the issues. With today’s access to Twitter (most of my students say they get their news their first and then click to read stories) and online news site, you can scan the headlines and continue reading stories that may be conversation starters.
  3. Don’t be too serious. When you are schmoozing at functions, meet-and-greets, business mixers, or any type of events, be sure not to talk solely about business. Sometimes the last thing people want to talk about at functions involve actual business issues. The most important thing is to be likeable.
  4. Be genuine. No one likes a phony. You don’t need to try too hard. Just be yourself. People typically like the real thing.
  5. Remember people’s names. One of the great tricks to remembering people’s names is, after you have been introduced, say the person’s name back to them. For example, the person may put out his hand for a shake and say, “Hi, I’m Bob.” You reply, “Hi Bob, nice to meet you. I’m Brian.” This is a good habit to get into and may help you remember people when you are meeting many new faces in one setting. Also, try to zone in on one thing you might have in common–it can help you remember people after the event is done.
  6. Don’t be too pushy. If you have a card, you can offer it. “May I give you my card in case you need anything?” Or, if you’d like to get that person’s card, ask in the same manner. “May I get a business card from you?” This is not the time to pitch too hard.
  7. Be positive. Don’t use the opportunity to meet new people as a therapy session to dump on your current employer, job, or rank. No one likes to mingle with Debbie Downer. Stay upbeat and light. Not too much heaviness.
  8. Ask people questions. Don’t monopolize the conversation, and be sure to pick people’s brains about various subjects. Stay curious–you’ll learn a lot more that way.
  9. Keep conversations brief and try not to linger too long. One of the great things about an event worthy of schmoozing is that you want to talk to as many people as possible. Making connections—sometimes lasting ones that can turn into meaningful jobs or friendships—is the goal, after all.

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Flash Fiction from a Writing Prompt

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In the classes I teach at Stevenson University, students know that I have the propensity to use writing prompts in class to get them writing creatively and telling little stories. Their purpose? Simply to practice writing.

Often, when I have the inclination to write something but am in-between novels, I use writing prompts a lot. There are three main reasons to use a writing prompt:

  1. It gets you writing (as stated above) and thinking creatively.
  2. It gets you thinking in way you may not have been thinking when you started staring at the blinking cursor and allows you to take a writing journey.
  3. It can turn into something wonderful.

Years ago, I wrote a prompt that I loved so much, I used portions of it in my first novel. You can click here to see that particular piece writing if you would like.

I like the idea of someone giving me an idea to write about because it pushes me, just as those I give the students push them. It’s also fun to see where students take the prompts. For example, Student X might take the story one way, Student Y might take it another way, and Student Z might take it in an entirely different direction. That’s the beauty of prompts and of writing: we imagine things differently, and sharing that journey is exciting.

A website I use to garner writing prompts comes from Writing Exercises UK.

Today, I got the first line for the prompt from that site, and I’m going to share what I did with it. It’s totally rough, because that’s what writing prompts should be. They are a launching pad to see if you want to explore it further when you are done.

I hope you take the time utilize writing prompts to see where your creativity may take you.

Enjoy the writing journey.

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The first line generator gave me this first line:

There was a legend about the well in the garden…

Here’s the story.
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There was a legend about the well in the garden. Groundskeepers said the well held a secret to the old home and its matron, Cynthia LaMontagne, who lived on the property for all 100 years of her life. Born on the second floor to her own mother, Cynthia inherited the home upon her parents’ deaths and raised all eight of her own children on the property. The secret of the well was not a pretty one, and it reflected a haunting tale that left me searching for answers after spending time on the grounds of the old estate, set in the hills of France.
You see, I was not personally acquainted with Cynthia LaMontagne until she was eighty, and I was a college graduate back in 1998, the youngest of three children of Cynthia’s son, Martin, who had met an American woman, my mother, and moved to the United States in his early thirties. My father and his mother spoke only rarely and upon occasions when it was mandatory. However, it had been promised to me for ten years that upon my college graduation and at my grandmother’s urging that I would get to spend a month with her on the large estate in France so that I could see a little bit of Europe before I began a career in advertising in New York City.
I did not speak French, which would make conversations with Cynthia challenging, but my father had very nicely hired a local French woman who was bilingual as a translator to help with that. Despite turning eighty the summer I visited, she didn’t look much like eighty at all. She was a thin woman, with a strong nose and inset blue eyes. Her hair was white, but long, and she wore it in a bun on the top of her hair.
When I first arrived to Vue Sur Le Jardin, I was in awe of the expansive balcony on the second floor with vistas of the gardens—wildflowers everywhere—and of course, a small vineyard on the left side of the property. The house itself was not massive, but the grounds were. New York City has its skyscrapers and glittery skyline, but the view from that balcony was one to be envied.
“Bien?” my grandmother asked, smiling, seeing me taking in the scenery. It was an awkward initial greeting, hugging each other gently, the two of us having never met in person.
“Oui.”
On that first day, the translator had not yet arrived, and so Cynthia and I were content with lots of smiling and gesturing. Thankfully, the next morning, Helen arrived to take over on day two and to help me communicate with Cynthia. We sipped our coffees on the veranda, and she seemed like a nice person.
“Aimeriez-vous vous promener dans les jardins pour que je puisse vous connaître?” Helen asked. I looked at her squarely.
“I’m sorry, Madamoiselle. Would you like to stroll that gardens so that I may get to know you?” she asked in very broken English.
“Yes,” I said.
We began our descent to the main lawn, a rolling hill, with trees atop blowing in the wind. We came upon the wishing well, covered in ivy, wildflowers growing in all directions around it.
“C’est charmant,” I said, trying to practice my French so as to not disappoint.
“Yes,” Helen said. “It is charming, but there is a story, you see. One we don’t speak of.”
I looked at her puzzled. It always felt like something had been missing from my father’s stories, and there were not many. When I asked about his youth, he always dismissed them as good, with little elaboration. It was apparent standing among these gardens that I knew nothing about my father’s younger days. How could he not have told me all about the estate of Vue Sur Le Jardin?
“But you have to tell me. I’ve come all this way to understand my father’s upbringing and get to know my own grandmother who I’ve only just met in person yesterday.”
“I cannot speak it,” Helen said.
“But you must now,” I said.
Helen looked away with fear. Something had rattled her very core, as we stood among the beauty, a picturesque paradise annointed with flowers and stone paths highlighted by an abundance of sunlight.
“Your father’s sister, you see,” Helen said pointing to the well.
“My father’s sister is in the well?”
“I’m afraid the sad story is that your father’s sister was pushed and died in the well…”
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To be continued…maybe.purple-grapes-vineyard-napa-valley-napa-vineyard-39351.jpeg

Wednesday Wardrobe – The Floral Maxi Dress

AdamireI’m getting spring fever, you guys.

I want to wear pretty things that feel like summertime. I’m ready to be in flip flops, flouncy dresses, big hats, and sunglasses.

So today, I’m featuring a dress from Express that I got at a consignment store–in perfect condition. There’s a lot to be said for quality consignment stores. I pop into our local shop a couple of times a month just to see what great finds may be waiting just for me.

I shop everywhere, though. Nordstrom. Ann Taylor Loft. Kohl’s. Target. Macy’s. Boden. Sundance. I’m all over the place, because I like to try different things.

So here’s one of two maxi dresses I’ve picked up so far this season–I’ll be wearing them both all summer and on our two vacations.

The hat is from Marshall’s.

Orange mules are from DSW by Kelly & Katie.

Sunglasses are Foster Grant.

Summer. We are waiting.


Book Club Visits Benefit Authors – Truly.

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The lovely women of last week’s Book Club in Chartwell, Severna Park.

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Last week I had the pleasure of attending a local book club meeting, and I had the opportunity to mingle with readers of my novel, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, the first of three novels I have written and published.

From the book club side, the benefits of having an author attend your book talk is that you get some “behind the scenes” information about the book, its inception, back story, and inspirations from the author. Authors are typically willing to answer questions and provide additional insight into their books.

I enjoyed meeting the women in last week’s book club, and had a great time interacting with them. They asked great questions and were interested in learning about the writing process.

From an author’s perspective, book clubs offer us the chance to pick our readers’ brains a little, too, because hearing directly from readers is the best way to do research, think about adjustments for the future, and hear ideas for potential novels. If you can get your pulse on what they like to read, it can be most beneficial. I tell my own writing students that when I write something—especially a novel—I picture my readers in my head, I know what they are looking for in a book, and I try not to disappoint them.

I’d love to be a part of your book club — just reach out, and I’ll do my best to be there either in person or virtually. It means a lot to us as writers—we LOVE to meet our readers.
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BooksStephanie Verni is a hopeless romantic, Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University, and 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. Follow her on Twitter at stephverni or on Instagram at stephanie.verni.