Local Author Series: Fred Contrada

Local Author Series: Fred Contrada

Note: This is the first in a series of blogs on authors living in the Pioneer Valley.

By Vanessa Pesa

As part of my internship, Janice has decided to have me interview local authors and blog about them to give me some hands-on training and insight into the writing profession. Plus, it’s a great way to network with some great people in the line of work I’m aiming for!

The first interview I did was with Fred Contrada, a 62-year-old reporter for The Republican and a self-published fiction author.

Fred has been interested in writing since he was a young boy and began writing fiction while a student at Holy Cross College. Upon graduating in 1974 and getting his career started, Fred said he had to take a step back from creative writing, making reporting his full-time profession and focusing on his wife and children. He emphasizes the importance of raising a family.

Fred has been with the newspaper for 27 years now. His main focus is writing his column, which appears on Thursdays.

At a certain point, once his career was established, Fred began to edge back into his fiction writing. His main genre is literary fiction, and though he is very busy writing for The Republican, he manages to set aside time. He sets aside 45 minutes every morning for his fiction and assured me that this really adds up. If there is nothing on his schedule, he will work a bit longer, but claims “it’s hard to do for more than a few hours” so the 45 minutes works perfectly for him.

Fred let me know that he is in the formative stages of his most recent book, Dirty Rice. The next step in his writing process is sending it off to a reading group for extra sets of eyes, and this process usually takes a few months. He is not quite sure yet what his opinion of the book is, so his readers will need to wait and see if it comes to fruition.

In looking back on his older fiction from his college years, Fred says that he “doesn’t see the creativity, only the artifice,” and it is painful for him to read. This just shows how he has grown as an individual and as a writer over the course of his life. He has written approximately a dozen books in his writing career, yet has only published five.

All of Fred’s titles are self-published; his goal is not to make a lucrative career in fiction, but to continue to pull in enough revenue to print and sell more books. He is basically recouping the expenses in order to publish more books.

If you’d like to read some of Fred Contrada’s work you can download a Kindle copy of his book Dorchester Ave, or for the other four titles, Trager Stories, New Orleans Stories, The Trail and The Boat, you’ll need to get in contact with him personally by email at fcontrada@repub.com or by telephone at 413-478-7512. He is also on Facebook if you’d like to check him out! https://www.facebook.com/fred.contrada

Interview with Domenic Ciannella

Interview with Domenic Ciannella

I recently got an email from a priest in the Episcopal church named Domenic Ciannella. He contacted me because he was interested in being featured in the Springfield Republican’s Voices of the Valley feature in the Monday Business section. Domenic’s business is focused on helping people with their grief journey, and that, of course, resonated for me.

Domenic sent me an interview he did with Robert Henderson, a pastoral counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist in Glastonbury, Connecticut. I thought it might be of interest to you readers.

His profile will also be featured in The Republican, conveniently on this very day, so be sure to take a look at that in today’s Monday Business tab; we’ll post the live link when it goes up on MassLive.

Robert Henderson: You recently have opened the Acorn Pastoral Care Services here in West Springfield. What are your intentions?

Domenic Ciannella: My opening of Acorn Pastoral Care Services coincides with my decision to retire from my position as hospice chaplain and bereavement coordinator with Wing Hospice and concentrate on developing my private grief counseling practice.

RH: What have you noticed in your work at Wing?

DC: I have been amazed by the courage shown by those who are struggling with making sense of their loss, especially given that our culture often denies the reality of death and loss. Consequently, those who grieve all too often find themselves isolated.

RH: How can grief counseling help?

DC: Given the opportunity to share themselves without being judged or compared, people often discover a freedom to befriend their grief and be transformed.

RH: Do you deal with loss other than death?

DC: Yes, there is grief associated with all of life transitions, such as divorce and job loss. I will provide a safe and supportive place to work through the difficult feelings.

RH: How can people get in touch with you?

DC:I may be reached by phone at (413) 739-1918 or by

email at therevdomenic@comcast.net.

The Long Walk

In the past month, I’ve read two very different books that offer up a similar temptation for me.

For a few years now, I’ve thought about how fun it would be to call a time out on life and go somewhere, anywhere, and explore. When I think about acting on this, most often what I want to do is pack a backpack full of gear and head to a trail and walk and walk and walk.

That is exactly what Cheryl Strayed does in her book, Wild, a memoir of her hike along the Pacific Coast Trail out west, and it’s what author Richard Paul Evans’ main character, Alan Christoffersen, does in Evans’ novel, The Walk.

Strayed’s book was the amazing story of her heading out on the trail without any real forethought or preparation. She wasn’t a big hiker, and she didn’t do any work in advance, such as taking practice climbs with a pack full of gear. She didn’t even break in her boots, which meant she nearly crippled her feet in boots that were a size too small.

Strayed headed out on the trail after her mother died, and Strayed herself began to self-destruct, committing adultery and flirting with drugs in her grief. She knew she had to separate herself from reality, and off she went.

There are many scenes in the book that effectively frightened me away from hiking alone in the woods. She encounters large, scary animals and more than a few rattlesnakes, for instance, but the bigger threat was men; she very nearly was raped on one occasion.

So for this reason, I liked the journey that Christoffersen, a fictional character, embarked on in The Walk. After his wife dies, and his business partner steals his clients and opens his own firm, Christoffersen also loses his home and vehicles to foreclosure. An experienced hiker, he packs up his gear in a backpack, walks out of his home in Seattle, Washington, and heads for Key West, Florida.

Christoffersen hikes on main roads. He stops at diners, grocery stores, and every now and again, he stays in cheap hotels rather than camping out. This seems a safer means of travel that allows for a hot shower every so often and good meals. I also prefer his destination.

In terms of the books themselves, I would highly recommend Strayed’s book. It is excellent journalism and a gripping read. Evans’ book, on the other hand, is only so-so, rather melodramatic and trite, but inspiring nonetheless.

I think my interest in packing a bag and heading for the beach is part of my mid-life processing—and notice I’m not saying mid-life crisis here. I’m just frustrated, and sometimes exhausted, over the work that is life.

I wonder if we have more fate at work here? I wonder if these authors are tempting me to, you know, take off and go somewhere. And I wonder if I will.

I don’t really see that happening, but maybe an adventure is in my future. My daughter has invited me to meet her in Italy in September.

Perhaps these books are a sign I should go?

The Fated Transfer

The Fated Transfer

Hello all, my name is Vanessa, and I am Janice’s new intern at Beetle Press. I will be focusing on her creative work, specifically on editing and pitching her new book, with a working title of The Sun Drifters.

Janice talked a lot about fate. Well I am a strong believer in fate as well. I believe fate brought me to the western part of the state.

I moved to western Mass to live with my partner, Jenn, and transferred from Bridgewater State to Westfield State in the process.

At Bridgewater State, I was aimlessly slugging through an English degree. Did I want to teach? Did I want to edit? I had very little guidance from my advisor at the time and was more or less left to my own devices to sort out the pros and cons of each career choice.

Upon transferring to Westfield State, meeting the phenomenal staff in the English department made me feel instantly at home. Never before had I felt such a community connection within a school, and I was pleasantly thrown for a loop. People knew my name before I met them; professors welcomed me to the department and ensured that if I needed anything to be sure to ask. My advisor did more than arrange my schedule, guiding me in making the best decisions for my future plans in ways that made the most sense in my daily life.

Talk about fate.

But it gets better.

My career goal, which I finally narrowed down, is to edit books for a publishing company, but there really aren’t any publishing companies in this area.

I was referred to Beetle Press mainly because Janice is highly regarded in western Mass as being extremely knowledgeable in all things editing; I was told she could give me a solid foundation of the ins and outs of the multi-faceted editing field.

When I showed up at her house that October morning, and she proposed that I be her motivation to finish the work of fiction she had been working on, my jaw dropped!

All she was saying was exactly what I wanted to hear. This is the epitome of the best internship ever. This is all I could have ever asked for to learn from Janice because this is all I want to do with my English degree.

Did she see me coming? Am I really the carrot on that infamous stick, or is Janice the needed breath of clarity in my ceaseless whirlwind of undirected thoughts? Or is it a bit of both?

Something has brought us together for a reason, and I cannot wait to see just how amazing our results will be.

Fated Pairing: Intern to Focus on Book Project

I am a believer in fate.

I had all but given up on my second book six months ago when I got an email from a student at Westfield State University who was interested in working with me on literary pursuits as opposed to assignments relative to my PR and communications business in western Mass – Beetle Press.

I met with Vanessa Pesa at my home office in October 2014, and she presented as professional and put together, and I realized I had been granted my reason to get back to the book. If Vanessa was to offer up her time to complete a literary internship with me, I needed to make sure there would be a manuscript for her to read and promote.

That was four months ago. I had 60 pages written at the time, and I knew I needed at least 100 more to tell the story that was loosely kicking around in my head.

So I started writing and now I’m at 152 pages, some of which will be deleted in the end I’m sure, but the story has evolved in exciting ways I wouldn’t have imagined. I feel so close to done, and I have Vanessa to thank for that. She is my carrot on the stick.

Vanessa officially began two weeks ago and will be doing things like applying for copyright permission, researching appropriate publishing houses and agents to whom I can send the manuscript and even sending a copy of my first book, Divine Renovations, to Oprah with a note.

Then Vanessa will be my first reader! It’s her job to tell me what works (hopefully something does!) and what doesn’t. That’s scary and exciting both.

Stay tuned next week, when you will hear from Vanessa about her background, experience and interests. I’m going to have her introduce herself to you.

And stay tuned as well for her thoughts on the book.

It’s going to be a great semester.

‘Good Effort, Not Sexual Enough’

So here’s the sad story.

The folks at the eromance blog I wanted to write for read my sample blog last Monday, the same day that I replied to their ad on Craigslist, and they responded right away. To tell me they weren’t interested in me.

I think they were interested in the kind of person who can tell the difference between a vibrator and a cigar case. What they told me, in the shortest, most cryptic email I have ever received is: “Good effort but not sexual enough.”

Because the email was so cryptic, with no greeting or closing or contact information, for a few paranoid moments I thought I’d been had by an Internet scammer. But I realized a pervert would have tried to draw sexual content from me, and the eromance folks did not. They simply moved on. Besides, I also had to consider the site itself: It does indeed exist, and it has good content on a wide range of topics.

So then I thought I would push back. In the ad, they had noted that they valued persistence, and so I did consider responding to say I could be more sexual, more erotic.

That same day, I even got an email from a friend—the one who put the vibrator in the swap—about a “tantric sex class” Saturday, Jan. 31 at 1 p.m. at CLINIC Alternative Medicines in Northampton, if you want to go. I had no idea what that would be about, so I read the flyer: “The four Principles of Pleasure are a sexual and non-sexual tantric solo practice of meditation, movement, connection, and pleasure that will give you the methods to experience better orgasms and the power to be authentically whole in body in life.”

And I thought, “Hey, I could go to this and then offer the eromance folks a test blog.” I thought I’d show them I, too, could be sexual. But I realized that would mean sitting in public and listening to others talk about orgasms. And then I thought, um, no. Not that I’m against orgasms, mind you.

I came back to my center and realized that’s just not me. I reached out to eromance because I’m into romance. I’m the one in love with love, intimacy, sitting up late talking about hopes and dreams with the person you love.

I don’t want to write about—well, you know. I think the eromance people made the right call if “sexual” is the niche they need to fill on their site.

So I guess I will have to use this forum to blog on love and intimacy. And find another way to pay those pesky student loans!

Lobbying to Blog about Romance, Sex, Love

I’m in love with love.

Ever since I was in fourth grade, and I realized I liked it when Anthony, the little Italian boy, shot elastics at my head and otherwise offered up his attentions, I have been focused on matters of the heart. I can’t actually help it. I’m a hopeless romantic who loves summer sunsets and happy endings.

Movies like “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Pretty Woman” make me laugh and cry and nod my head knowingly. And there’s nothing I like better than getting together with girlfriends to sip wine and compare notes on dating, breaking up, marriage, communication with special others, emotional intimacy, self-esteem, sex and sometimes, when one particular friend is involved, even erotica.

So when I stumbled across an ad for romance bloggers on Craigslist recently because I’m searching for an additional income stream to pay off my daughter’s tuition loans without selling my house, I was intrigued. I’m writing this blog as a way of showing the leaders of www.eromancehelp.com why I’m someone they should take a close look at after they review the other 600 to 800 inquiries they expect to receive.

Here are 10 reasons why I should be one of the 20 writers they hire:

I have a varied love resume. I have been married and divorced and married and widowed, and I raised two children and five stepchildren with these two men. I married my second husband after I realized I had fallen in love with the carpenter who came to renovate my kitchen and that that wasn’t normal. After I married said carpenter, he died. And now, I am a 50-something single woman dating and still trying to figure out the love thing, which I know I better understand now but will probably never master.

I know how to tell a good story. I have been a journalist in western Massachusetts for over 30 years and have written for newspapers, tabloids, magazines and journals. I have written about weddings and funerals, solopreneurs and Fortune 500 companies, scientists and students, and I’ve told thousands of day-in-the-life stories, like the one about the women in Chicopee who pinch pierogis for a living. I also run a PR and communications business, Beetle Press of Easthampton, and I tell clients’ stories of success to help them raise awareness. I also teach them how to tell their own stories.

I’m an experienced blogger. I blog weekly on my business website, and I have been blogging sporadically on my own personal site for four years now, since my carpenter husband died. On the business site, I feature clients, community leaders and nonprofits that save and transform lives. My blog offers clients an extra layer of promotion while giving my own work some PR as well. On my personal site, I blog about the stuff of life that catches my attention, but I don’t have nearly enough time to devote to it because, you know, I don’t pay myself to do it.

I’m an experienced romance author. I wrote a memoir about the loss of my second husband, called Divine Renovations: A Carpenter, His Soul Mate and Their Story of Love and Loss, and I am close to completing a work of fiction that is also a love story. I have been told by readers that my work is compelling, raw, personal, hard to put down. (Read reviews.)

As a blogger for www.eromancehelp.com, I could combine my practical, professional knowledge with my passion and personal experience. I have a unique combination of skills that make me well-suited to write eromance. I would well handle assignments from the blog site’s editors or write about the things that tug at my own heart and mind, using the skills and experience that have positioned me in the Valley as the writer you want to turn to when you want to get heard.

I’m good at giving advice. When friends want to know what to do about the boyfriend who won’t come to the family Christmas dinner or the husband whose eyes are wandering, I am the one they call to ask, “What should I do?” Last week, a former college intern I supervised emailed to tell me her mother-in-law was dying. “You are the only one I knew who would understand. Please tell me what I should be doing,” she said.

I can hunt down and tell with authority any story and would excel at telling stories about love and romance and intimacy. I have been searching for and telling unusual stories for over 30 years. I got the idea for the piece on the pierogi pinchers from a classified ad, and I would make it my business to make my blogs rich, informative and fun. I would search far and wide for interesting romance topics and shine a light on them to educate, enlighten or maybe even to poke some fun.

I’m not afraid to ask questions. At a Yankee swap before Christmas in 2014, my daughter opened a festive package that contained a vibrator. She announced, “It’s a vibrator,” and I said, “No honey, that’s a cigar case.” I tried to open it to show her the cigar inside. She said, “Mom, that’s where the batteries go.” “Oh,” I said. By the end of the night, I knew all there was to know about vibrators because I’d asked a series of curious questions of the woman who put the item in the swap in the first place. I also got her to talk about a workshop she attended on erogenous zones. And I could write all about it.

I’m funny and tender and practical and whimsical. My blogs would not be ordinary. They would grab attention, make readers feel and think and come back for more. And I would make sure that when they came back, they found what they were looking for.

I’m in love with love. Maybe you’ve already heard me say that.