I am passionate about a good writers' conference. While I don't think writers should sink their life savings into conferences, attending at least one a year is important for connecting with your tribe. Here are a few tips from my very first writers' conference (Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) back in 2014:
10: Socialize with new people! As much as it may break your little introverted writer’s heart, networking is probably the most important part of attending. the opening line "so what do you write?" works wonders.
9. Attend lots of panels. Craft, business, and all those in between! If you're attending with a friend, pick your panels in advance so you can divide and conquer!
8. Skip a panel here and there if you are overwhelmed. Often you can buy recordings. It's better to be fresh and absorb the information you can.
7. Sleep. It's the best way to avoid the dreaded Con Crud.
6. If you're just attending panels, dress comfortably but be neat. Layers and comfy shoes are important. Hotel AC can be unbearable, so be prepared. If you’re pitching to an agent or editor, kick it up a notch. No one expects a suit, but professional attire makes a good impression.
5. BarCon (the unofficial gathering at the bar after the evening festivities is the best way to make contacts. Many people who don't attend the conference will come to socialize, so it's a golden opportunity to make new writer friends.
4. If you're new to the biz, go ahead and pay for the extras that make sense for you. The content you can find in these extra critiques, master classes, and bonus workshops are all invaluable.
3. Bring business cards and pass then out a lot. Ask for those from people you jibe with. You don't have to go for expensive premium cards, but they should reflect you and your genre. Include your email and social media contacts. Often a picture is a nice touch!
2. Don’t bother bringing paper copies of your work. They will collect dust. Even if an agent falls in love with your work, they don't want to lug it home on the plane. Many won't even take business cards for that reason. An exception: read the panel descriptions to see if you need pages for various workshopping opportunities.
1. Remember, the people at this conference aren't your competition. They're your tribe. There is room for all of us at the top if we lift one another up. Make friends, and enjoy the experience!
Woman Reading, by Pierre Auguste Renoir
This is one of my favorite paintings. I got a *very* cheap print of it from the tacky discount store in my hometown when I was in High School and have moved it from apartment to apartment, house to house in California, Oregon, Indiana, and now Colorado, It now resides in the basement, but will find its place in my soon to be revamped office. At the time I bought it, I just thought it was cool and I knew the word “impressionist” It made me feel smart. I knew that Renoir had done a lot of famous paintings, but this wasn’t really one of them. I thought that was part of its charm, too. How hipster was I? Hipster before it was a thing.
One day, years after I bought the print, I was in Paris, I can’t remember now which of the two or three trips it was, and I was in the gift shop at the Musée d’Orsay and thought to myself “if any place on Earth is going to have info on this fairly obscure painting, I’m standing there”. A smart idea since the original hangs there. There was a short blurb in a Renoir book that pretty much said “it’s just a portrait he painted in 1875-76. The end.” Even today you can’t find much more information online about the painting. But there was one interesting fun fact: though he painted her with a book he preferred women who could not read, stating that illiterate women were better tempered and easier to get along with (paraphrasing). What a jerk.
And then it occurred to me: this painting is now extra awesome. Renoir is dead and buried, but she’s still hanging out in one of the greatest museums in the word, still reading. Hundreds or even thousands of copies of the painting are doing the same in homes all over the place. She’s a totally rockin’ feminist. Go Lise! (That’s what I named her. It was my name in French class).
I had another revelation as well: one of my characters from my debut Promised to the Crown, Elisabeth, reminds me very much of this painting. She’s a quiet, sweet, unassuming girl. She’s tall, with broad, masculine features, much to her petite mother’s dismay. Her only real beauty is a mane of wheat-blonde hair. She’s not allowed to learn how to read and her mother is bothered beyond words that she spends all her time with her father learning how to run a bakery. What’s worse is that she’s very, very good at it. If she’d been born a boy, she’d have become a master pastry chef. Instead, she ends up escaping to the New World and starting a bakery with her husband.
She’s lucky. Her husband recognizes her skill and “allows” her to run the business as an equal as she had done at her father’s side. The problem? Society and the Church in New France didn’t like it. Elisabeth never set forth to be a feminist. In 1667 the word and the concept didn’t exist. back then, there were two kids of women: there were “good girls” and girls who needed to be taken in hand. In her way, she’s the most subversive character in the book, simply because she wants to be left alone.
Elisabeth was never particularly easy to write, but now I absolutely love her. I imagine her in the kitchen with her flour, butter, sugar, and eggs (perhaps yearning for some cocoa powder that she can’t get in the New World) looking at the possibilities like Van Gogh looking at a blank canvas. She invents, she sculpts, she expertly calculates inventory, and surprises her clientele with creative selections for a Wednesday supper or Christmastide feat. She is a consummate blend of artist and business woman. And a total badass.
I love this job.
(adapted from my previous blog in 2013)
I'm so excited to reveal the cover for my upcoming novel, Daughters of the Night Sky! The story follows the life of one of Russia's brave fighter pilots from the regiment that came to be known as the Night Witches. To learn more about Daughters of the Night Sky, click here.
Before flying back to the States, the lovely Harmony Verna, author of Daughter of Australia, is going to show us the sights down under! Let's see what delights await us in Western Australia!
And thank you all for touring with us!!!
Tucked within the diverse landscape of Western Australia, the Goldfields were a magnet for thousands of prospectors and other adventurers in the early 20th century. As in the California Goldrush in 1850, Western Australia boomed as men and mining companies flocked to find gold and fortune.
Unfortunately, many of the pioneers were not prepared for such an inhospitable land of searing heat, red earth and black flies.
Today, the real gems in this area are the towns of Leonora and Gwalia, the main points of interest including the magnificent Gwalia State Hotel, a large open cut mine, the old miners’ cottages and other commercial buildings, left by residents in December 1963 when the Sons of Gwalia Gold mine closed. A very special attraction is Hoover House, now a guest house, but originally built in 1898 as a home for the mine manager. Herbert Hoover, who commissioned the house was later to become 31st President of the United States of America.
A highlight for spring travelers? Every year, this barren desert land erupts in wildflowers in every hue imaginable.
Photos courtesy of Australia's Golden Outback
All about Daughter of Australia and Harmony Verna
In a stunning debut novel that evokes the epic scope of Colleen McCullough's classic The Thorn Birds, Harmony Verna creates a poignant, beautifully told story of love and courage, set in Australia and America in the early decades of the twentieth century.
The desert of Western Australia is vast and unforgiving. It's a miracle that the little girl dressed in rags and abandoned in the sand is still breathing when an old miner discovers her. Even more so that he is able to keep her alive long enough to bring her to the town from which she'll take her name: Leonora. Sent to an orphanage, mute with grief and fear, Leonora slowly bonds with another orphan, James, who fights to protect her until both are sent away--Leonora to a wealthy American family, James to relatives who have emigrated from Ireland to claim him.
Years later, Leonora is given a chance to return to her beloved Australia. There, in Wanjarri Downs, she will again come face to face with James, who's grown from a reticent boy into a strong, resourceful man. Only James knows the truth about Leonora--that her roots and her heart are here, among the gum trees and red earth. And they will fight to find a way back to each other, even as war, turmoil, and jealousy test their courage again and again.
Sweeping in scale yet filled with intricately drawn characters and vivid details that conjure the fascinating setting, Daughter of Australia is storytelling at its most exhilarating and rewarding.
Throughout her twenty year career in communications, Harmony Verna has worked with all media facets: radio, television, magazines, newspapers, public relations, advertising and marketing. As a freelance writer, she has written scripts for the Food Network and articles for Modern Bride Magazine, Connecticut Woman Magazine and more. DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA was a final round selection for the James Jones First Novel Contest. Verna lives in Newtown, Connecticut, with her husband and their three young boys.
There is no better guide to Kyoto, Japan than acclaimed mystery writer, Susan Spann. Her Shinobi mysteries take us far beyond the tourist spots to the hidden corners of the city where intrigue abounds. Come along!
In Japan, ancient culture and modern technology coexist in a manner you rarely see elsewhere in the world. Tokyo’s massive neon skyscrapers rise around Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines established during the 8th and 9th centuries, and Kyoto has been a center of Japanese culture for thousands of years.
Historically, Kyoto was home to a number of hanamachi or “flower towns” where geisha lived, trained, and entertained (mostly male) patrons in the district’s many teahouses and restaurants. Although famous for their beauty, geisha were not prostitutes. Their primary functions were singing, dancing, and engaging patrons in conversation during meals. Geisha still exist today, and if you visit Kyoto, you can tour the remaining hanamachi and see where real geisha (or “geiko”) live and train, as well as watch a performance of traditional dances. If you find yourself in Japan, it’s definitely worth the trip!
All photos courtesy of Susan Spann
All About Claws of the Cat and Susan Spann
May 1564: When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro has no desire to get involved. But the beautiful entertainer accused of the crime enlists the help of Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit Hiro is sworn to protect, leaving the master shinobi with just three days to find the killer in order to save the girl and the priest from execution.
The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto's floating world, where they learn that everyone from the elusive teahouse owner to the dead man's dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai's death a mystery. A rare murder weapon favored by ninja assassins, a female samurai warrior, and a hidden affair leave Hiro with too many suspects and far too little time. Worse, the ninja's investigation uncovers a host of secrets that threaten not only Father Mateo and the teahouse, but the very future of Japan.
Susan Spann began reading precociously and voraciously from her preschool days in Santa Monica, California, and as a child read everything from National Geographic to Agatha Christie. In high school, she once turned a short-story assignment into a full-length fantasy novel (which, fortunately, will never see the light of day).
A yearning to experience different cultures sent Susan to Tufts University in Boston, where she immersed herself in the history and culture of China and Japan. After earning an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies, Susan diverted to law school. She returned to California to practice law, where her continuing love of books has led her to specialize in intellectual property, business and publishing contracts.
Today's stop is exciting because we have a native of China leading the tour. Weina Dai Randel, author of the acclaimed Empress of Bright Moon dulology, The Moon in the Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon. Weina will show is the highlights that no traveler should miss when visiting this fascinating country.
As someone who was born and raised in China, I honestly can't think of a place for you to visit, because, there are simply too many memorable places in China! Where should I start? The Forbidden City? The Great Wall? The Drum Tower, the Summer Palace in Beijing? Each place is imbued with history, splendor, and sadness too – because as you look around, you can't help thinking the people who strolled on those ground, the important people who once played a vital part in the history, are now, gone.
I was dazzled by the sight everywhere I saw when I revisited China after living in the U.S. for almost fifteen years. I've taken some pictures here and maybe you'll find me somewhere on them? You'll see the Great Wall, a corner of the Summer Palace, and the frozen river at the exit of the Summer Palace – it really was that cold in Beijing in December that the entire river was frozen.
I can't resist adding a picture of the Yu Garden in Shanghai as well. If you go to China, you have to stop in a southern city such as Shanghai and Suzhou, which are famous for their delicate and extravagant gardens. The Yu Garden was built in 1559, that's about 450 years old, before the U.S. became independent. Yes. It's true, if you go to China, people will casually tell you this is 500 years old and that's 800 years old, and for history lover like me, I could only nod and admire.
I have to mention the city of Xi'an, too, known as Chang'an in the Tang Dynasty, as described in my novels The Moon in the Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon. Xi'an is home for many world famous cultural heritage sites: Qin Shi Huang's Terracotta Army, Great Maternal Grace Pagoda, built in A.D 652, by Emperor Gaozong, in honor of his mother. Yes, I mentioned the pagoda in my novel as well!
The two palaces where Empress Wu lived no longer exist, but I found some reconstructed images of the Daming Palace, a secondary palace, smaller, more like a resort, which Empress Wu frequented at leisure. According to sources, the Daming Palace had about 5 miles perimeter, with 11 gates and more than 40 sites, pavilions, palaces, and a lake, known as Penglai Lake in Empress Wu's time. One palace, the Linde Palace, famous for its magnificent structure, measured about 132,400 square feet.
Photos by Weina Dai Randel (from top to bottom)
One of the buildings inside Summer Palace
A picture of Great Wall
A picture of the Yu Garden
A corner of Summer Palace
All About The Moon in the Palace and Weina Dai Randel
The time for taking hold of her destiny is now
At the moment of the Emperor's death, everything changes in the palace. Mei, his former concubine, is free, and Pheasant, the heir and Mei's lover, is proclaimed as the new Emperor, heralding a new era in China. But just when Mei believes she's closer to her dream, Pheasant's chief wife, Lady Wang, powerful and unpredictable, turns against Mei and takes unthinkable measures to stop her. The power struggle that ensues will determine Mei's fate–and that of China.
Surrounded by enemies within the palace that she calls home, Mei continues her journey to the throne in The Empress of Bright Moon, the second book in Weina Dai Randel's acclaimed duology. Only by fighting back against those who wish her harm will Mei be able to realize her destiny as the most powerful woman in China.
WEINA DAI RANDEL is the author of The Moon in the Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon, historical novel series of Empress Wu, the first and only female ruler in China. Weina was born and raised in China. Her passion for history compels her to share classical Chinese literature, tales of Chinese dynasties, and stories of Chinese historical figures with American readers.
Weina received an M.A. in English from Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas, where she was inspired to write about Empress Wu of China when she took a class in Asian American literature. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Writer's Garret in Dallas.
The Moon in the Palace is her first novel.
Next on our tour, we head to the Old World splendors of St. Petersburg, Russia! The amazing Jennifer Laam will guide us through the modern streets of the sprawling city, and show us the specter of a bygone era!
The historical characters who emerged from Russia’s Romanov dynasty include the formidable Peter the Great, the transformative Catherine II, and the tragic romantics Nicholas and Alexandra. Many of their stories played out in St. Petersburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this gorgeous city, travelers discover not only the ghosts of Russia’s imperial legacy, but the cultural heritage of the Russian Empire. This is where Tchaikovsky’s grand music was first played and Alexander Pushkin’s clever verse first adored. Consider a visit during the early summer to celebrate the city’s magical white nights. Discover the lost glories of the Winter Palace and revel in the world class art collection of the Hermitage Museum. Admire the towering Alexander Column, built to honor Russia’s victory over Napoleon in 1812, and Catherine’s tribute to Peter, the Bronze Horseman. Explore the streets, take in the beauty of the churches, seek out cafes and artists, and let your imagination soar.
Above: The Bronze Horseman ©Alex Florstein Fedorov, Wikimedia Commons
Below: The Winter Palace (Public Domain Photo)
All About Jennifer Laam and The Tsarina's Legacy
Then…Since the moment he first saw her on the night she seized the throne, Grigory “Grisha” Potemkin has loved Empress Catherine of Russia. Their love was forged first from passion, and then from friendship, as they began a long and prosperous political association. Now older, they face treacherous new threats, both from outside of Russia and from those within their intimate circle. Haunted by the horrors of his campaign against the Muslim Turks, Grisha hopes to construct a mosque in the heart of the empire. Unfortunately, Catherine's much younger new lover, the ambitious and charming Platon Zubov, stands in his way. Grisha determines that to preserve Catherine's legacy he must save her from Zubov's dangerous influence and win back her heart.
Now...When she learns she is the heiress to the Romanov throne, Veronica Herrera’s life swiftly turns upside down. Even as she gains a noble legacy, she loses everything she once thought important. Heartbroken and seeking purpose, Veronica agrees to accept a ceremonial position as the new tsarina and to act as an advocate to free a Russian artist sentenced to prison for displaying paintings critical of the church and government. For her efforts, she is both celebrated and chastised. As her political role comes under fire, Veronica is forced to decide between the glamorous perks of European royalty and staying true to herself.
In The Tsarina’s Legacy, Jennifer Laam deftly reveals the compelling connections between Grisha and Veronica as they struggle to make peace with the ghosts of their pasts and help secure a better future for themselves and the country they both love.
Yemen? Yes, you heard us right, Yemen. Not your usual vacation stop, but that's what's great about Reading Around the World... we don't have to worry about little annoyances like pesky government warnings telling you not to visit a place. (Seriously, it's probably not safe.) We can see all the beauty and turmoil of Yemen from the comfort of the patio or nearest beach chair! Over to the lovely and talented Nomi Eve to tell us all about Yemen and her gorgeous book, Henna House!
1. What are some of the sights that a visitor to Yemen shouldn’t miss? It's important to note that "The U.S. Dept. of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Yemen because of the high security threat level posed by the ongoing conflict and terrorist activities." But if one were to ignore travel warnings and go to Yemen (not advised!), the northern city of Sana'a is a must see for any tourist. A UNESCO World Heritage site, its distinctive towering buildings stand at the crossroads of ancient trade routes and offer breathtaking views and bustling markets. Another wonderful site is Socotra Island in the Indian Ocean. Socotra is chock full of species not seen anywhere else on earth including the distinctively shaped and named Dragon's Blood Tree. The island is part of an archipelago and is a magnet for students of biodiversity.
2. What are some popular dishes or well known staples in Yemeni cooking?
One of my favorite dishes is jachnun -- a rolled sweet dough that is baked overnight and traditionally eaten with a tomato sauce and a spicy relish. Another wonderful dish is Saltah,. Salted is a meat stew flavored with fenugreek and chili peppers, tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Most Yemeni stews are eaten with flat baked breads.
3. How has Yemen changes since the era depicted in Henna House?
Yemen has changed in many ways, but perhaps the most striking way is that today it is one country, Yemen, but in the era of Henna House it was divided two. The north was a Muslim Caliphate ruled by an Imam and called The Kingdom of North Yemen, the south was a British Protectorate, governed by England. Also, in the era of Henna House, Yemen had a Jewish community. Today there are almost no Jews living there.
4. Why did you choose to write about Yemen and the evacuation of the Jewish people?
While I myself am not Yemenite, I have a dear relative who is. Her stories intrigued me, and as I started to research early 20th Century Yemen, I grew more and more fascinated. Soon I realized that I had to write a book!
Above: Sana'a By Dar_al_hajar.jpg: Antti Salonenderivative work: MrPanyGoff - Dar_al_hajar.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14894185
Below: Dragon Blood Trees (Public Domain Photo)
All About Henna House and Nomi Eve
“A touching coming-of-age story” (Publishers Weekly) in the tradition of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, about a young woman, her family, their community and the customs that bind them, from “a storyteller of uncommon energy and poise” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times).
This vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920. Adela Damari’s parents’ health is failing as they desperately seek a future husband for their young daughter, who is in danger of becoming adopted by the local Muslim community if she is orphaned. With no likely marriage prospects, Adela’s situation looks dire—until she meets two cousins from faraway cities: a boy with whom she shares her most treasured secret, and a girl who introduces her to the powerful rituals of henna. Ultimately, Adela’s life journey brings her old and new loves, her true calling, and a new life as she is transported to Israel as part of Operation On Wings of Eagles.
Rich, evocative, and enthralling, Henna House is an intimate family portrait interwoven with the traditions of the Yemenite Jews and the history of the Holocaust and Israel. This sensuous tale of love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness—and the dyes that adorn the skin and pierce the heart—will captivate readers until the very last page.
Nomi Eve is the author of Henna House and The Family Orchard, which was a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection and was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.
She has an MFA in fiction writing from Brown University and has worked as a freelance book reviewer for The Village Voice and New York Newsday.
Her stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Glimmer Train Stories, The Voice Literary Supplement, Conjunctions, and The International Quarterly. She teaches fiction writing at Drexel University and lives in Philadelphia with her family.
Our next stop on the tour brings us to the birthplace of modern civilization, Greece! Our resident classics expert, Amalia Carosella, has some handy tips for a successful visit to Bronze Age Greece!
Don’t forget to bring plenty of guest-gifts with you when you travel through Bronze Age Greece. Guest-friendship was one of the most sacred bonds, and your best bet for traveling unmolested in and out of the incredible palaces of the Achaean kings. You won’t want to miss the imposing Lion Gate of Mycenae, or the sprawling palace at Knossos on the island nation of Crete – perhaps not quite so impressive as it was during its height, before the Minotaur was defeated and Minos fell, but worth the journey all the same.
The Rock of Athens has weathered every storm, an impenetrable walled fortress upon the Acropolis from which King Theseus rules Attica and Crete with the advice and counsel of his assembly. Be sure not to snub King Nestor of Pylos, either – an entertaining host with a story for every occasion, you’ll find your poor reputation precedes you if he feels that he’s been slighted.
And of course, across the sea, there is the golden city of Troy, its walls the work of Poseidon himself. You’ll find no finer palaces, no grander treasures than those inside Troy’s towering walls – at least not outside of Egypt. But tread carefully if your curiosity draws you to the Nile Valley, for Egypt is not often known for its kindness to foreign travelers, even when they come with rank and riches aplenty...
Above: View of Athenian Monuments (Public Domain Photo)
Below: Lion Gate of Mycenae. By Du Moncel Theodore (1821 - 1884) Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
All About By Helen's Hand and Amalia Carosella
With divine beauty comes dangerous power.
Helen believed she could escape her destiny and save her people from utter destruction. After defying her family and betraying her intended husband, she found peace with her beloved Theseus, the king of Athens and son of Poseidon.
But peace did not last long. Cruelly separated from Theseus by the gods, and uncertain whether he will live or die, Helen is forced to return to Sparta. In order to avoid marriage to Menelaus, a powerful prince unhinged by desire, Helen assembles an array of suitors to compete for her hand. As the men circle like vultures, Helen dreams again of war—and of a strange prince, meant to steal her away. Every step she takes to protect herself and her people seems to bring destruction nearer. Without Theseus’s strength to support her, can Helen thwart the gods and stop her nightmare from coming to pass?
Amalia Carosella graduated from the University of North Dakota with a bachelors degree in Classical Studies and English. An avid reader and former bookseller, she writes about old heroes and older gods. She lives with her husband in upstate New York and dreams of the day she will own goats (and maybe even a horse, too). For more information, visit her blog at www.amaliacarosella.com. She also writes myth-steeped fantasy and paranormal romance under the name Amalia Dillin. Learn more about her other works at www.amaliadillin.com.
What world tour would be complete without a trip to the City of Lights?! Heather Webb is back today to talk to us about one of her favorite places (and mine!) and her gorgeous debut novel, Becoming Josephine!
Ahhh, Paris, City of Light. There’s so much to say about this enchanting place. I adore it for its pulsing energy, and not the kind you might think—not the nightlife and the brasseries brimming with people (though this is great, too!), but the thrum of history and the lingering essence of those who lived and fought for the city before us. Those who once walked the cobbled streets, leaving their mark on the great French capital. As the sun sets and all is cast in a rosy hue, remember the powdered wigs and gowns of the monarchy, the washer women and tavern keepers, the famous coffeehouses that served as the hotbed of the revolution, and the brilliant minds that have added to the city’s allure. Artists, scientists, novelists, fashion designers, chefs. Remember one of my favorite people in history—fashion icon, patroness of the arts, horticulturalist, mistress of orphans, and generous soul who helped shape so much happening in her eighteenth century world, and still today—Josephine Bonaparte.
Above: Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral (Public Domain Photo)
Below: Malmaison, Josephine's residence, just outside Paris. (Photo by Heather Webb)
All About Becoming Josephine and Heather Webb
A sweeping historical debut about the Creole socialite who transformed herself into an empress
Readers are fascinated with the wives of famous men. In Becoming Josephine, debut novelist Heather Webb follows Rose Tascher as she sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris, eager to enjoy an elegant life at the royal court. Once there, however, Rose’s aristocratic soldier-husband dashes her dreams by abandoning her amid the tumult of the French Revolution. After narrowly escaping death, Rose reinvents herself as Josephine, a beautiful socialite wooed by an awkward suitor—Napoleon Bonaparte.