Summer Reading

By Vanessa Pesa

These are the books my book group has read this year. I thought I would provide my readers the list and a brief synopsis to give some ideas to tuck inside your beach bag this summer!

Wild by Cheryl Strayed – Strayed’s personal journey across the Pacific Crest Trail as she grieves the death of her mother, divorce and reckless behavior, including her inexperience in her current situation, all in an attempt to take back control of her life.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick’s wife, Amy, disappears. There are signs of a struggle and Nick is the main suspect, but maintains his innocence. Told from alternating points of view between Nick and Amy, this psychological thriller makes deciphering the truth near impossible as the scenes continuously unfold.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman – Follow the true account of Piper Kerman’s conviction and 15 month sentence in a Connecticut correctional facility for a drug crime she committed ten years previous. Kerman learns to navigate this foreign world while learning from the fascinating women she meets, offering a rare, yet surprisingly humorous, look into the lives of women in prison.

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris – A fierce saga told in the voices of three Indian women, spanning three generations, starting in the present day and moving backward. A daughter, mother and grandmother’s stories are interwoven to come to terms not only with the past but to reconcile the future.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – Following characters from all across the globe, this novel delves into the ways that families nurture, love, betray, honor and sacrifice for one another, and how the choices made resonate through generations.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – Combining fiction and fact, this novel takes the true account of the 1893 World’s Fair and follows a serial killer who used the fair to lure victims to their death.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett – Follow Dr. Marina Singh into the Amazon jungle as she searches for her former mentor, who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug. Singh will confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she battles the harsh and unforgiving world that awaits her within the rainforest.

Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman – A fictional collage of dreams by Albert Einstein in 1905, while creating the theory of relativity, in which he conjures various worlds, each dream story capturing a different world.

Her: A Memoir by Christa Parravani – A memoir about identity, love and survival, Christa loses her identical twin sister and searches for meaning in this and ultimately struggles with her own will to live on in her wake.

Selling the Lite of Heaven by Suzanne Strempek Shea – Advertising to sell her engagement ring after being left at the altar by a man who decided to enter the clergy instead, a young woman meets Randy, a recently engaged prospective buyer who keeps coming back to see her.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – Bernadette, a rockstar in life but a closeted agoraphobic, disappears when confronted by a family trip to Antarctica. To find her mother, Bee compiles official documents and emails to create this fascinating novel about a mother-daughter relationship mixed up in a crazy world.

Local Author Series: Suzanne Strempek Shea

Local Author Series: Suzanne Strempek Shea

By Vanessa Pesa

Suzanne Strempek Shea says her idea of a hectic commute is walking down a hallway to her office, her office being a sunroom in the winter and her back patio from May to October.

It is on this turf that she spends the majority of her days, gleaning inspiration from the ambient setting. Suzanne, 56, a full-time writer from Bondsville, Massachusetts, has been lucky enough to carve out a career that allows her to focus entirely on her craft.

Journalism is Suzanne’s base; her writing career starting at the young age of 9, when she created a newspaper for her parents. This then spurred her on to write for newspapers once she reached high school.

She is extremely ambitious, saying that her career really took off when she realized her town paper wasn’t covering her high school’s hockey team. This frustrated her, so she went to the editor to complain, and he claimed that the paper had no one to send to the games. He told her, “If you go to the games, why don’t you write the stories?” Rather than be put off by this, Suzanne did just that, and the rest is history.

As a full-time writer, Suzanne’s reporting days are behind her, yet nonfiction is still an ever-present part of her career. She has written three memoirs, titled Songs From a Lead-Lined RoomShelf Life and Sundays in America. She is also the author of six fiction novels titled Hoopi Shoopi Donna, Selling the Light of Heaven, Lily of the Valley, Becoming Finola, Around Again and Make a Wish But Not for Money.

Make a Wish But Not for Money, Suzanne’s newest novel, follows Rosie’s accidental career change to palm reader at a failing mall, which opens up a world to her that she never knew existed, leading her to reassess her own future while exploring the futures of others.

As far as upcoming appearances, Suzanne will be traveling quite a bit locally this coming spring and right into the summer months. She will be doing a book signing and reading from Make a Wish But Not for Money at the Peabody Institute Library on June 4. She is also co-hosting the annual “Are You a Bookie?” reader day at Bay Path University on June 14, so if you’re interested in checking out her work or meeting her in person for a quick chat these dates are a great opportunity!

You can also check out her personal website here for additional information and follow her on Facebook to stay up to date!

A Twofold Internship Experience

By Vanessa Pesa

My learnings from my internship experience with Janice Beetle really fall into two life categories: Professional and personal. I’ll start with the former.

Janice is a bright businesswoman who has been honing her craft for many years. She has provided a foundational skill set that I can carry with me wherever I go. Aside from the blog writing and social media management I oversaw, which were extremely valuable experiences, I was also able to interview many local authors.

Beginning these relationships and being able to hear and tell the stories of so many gifted writers provided a more subtle learning as well as a network I can draw on to pursue career potentials. I expect I may reach out to some of the folks I met, all of them established individuals in the creative genre in the Pioneer Valley, and I may ask for tip and guidance.

I am not originally from the Pioneer Valley, so to be able to go out into the community and meet these wonderful people was a truly rewarding experience.

The remainder of my learning was more personal, and more gut-centered, than academic.

From the start, Janice and I discussed our meeting was fated; we wondered if some higher power had brought us together at just the right time; I still believe this to be the case.

Janice and I have put in a great deal of work on her fiction manuscript, Unleashing the Sun, and being involved in this creative project was most valuable in advancing my career goals overall. I hope to enter into the publishing industry in the editing field, so to be given the incredible opportunity to be the first set of eyes and hands on this piece of fiction is beyond my existing vocabulary.

I was granted the ability to also research and craft query letters, a synopsis of the book, and to research agents accepting queries in Janice’s chosen genre. The project did not come full circle in this semester. The manuscript is not yet complete, and four of the eight queries we sent were met with a “Thanks but no thanks” type of response.

But it was very educational to stand beside Janice every step of the way during the submissions process. I have no doubt in my mind that she will complete her work on the book because I believe in the quality and integrity of her writing, and I know she will update me on the process because she knows how much it means to me. She has told me when she gets back at it, I will again stand beside her, and I will be compensated for my work. Janice values my thoughts and opinions and treats me like an equal, a colleague.

And that takes me back to our fates.

Yes, working on the manuscript is partly how we were fated to find our way into each others’ lives. Yet, I also look to Janice as a mentor, someone who will guide me when I am struggling with life, when I’m feeling a bit lost, and she has demonstrated she will always be there for me.

Janice has been so much more than an internship supervisor; she has taught me how to be independent, how to stand up for myself but not be angry with myself when I can’t. She has been a support system in so many ways when I needed it the most. Janice has been a friend.

What is my biggest take away from my internship experience? A wealth of knowledge and an amazing friend.

Finding an Agent

By Vanessa Pesa

Finding the right agent is key when preparing to send off your manuscript, so Janice been focused on who is the best person to receive Unleashing the Sun!

Writer’s Digest offered a great article on the topic recently and listed 28 agents interested in authors, so I pulled a few out and thought I’d share my findings with you faithful readers!

Regina Brooks, from Serendipity Literary Agency, is interested in both women’s fiction and memoirs. According to her short bio, she is “looking for authors who are willing to forge new paths and produce work that is distinguishable, creative, profoundly expressive, provocative and enduring.”

Allison Hunter represents Inkwell Management in New York City. She is looking for literary and commercial fiction, (including romance which is great for Janice!), love stories and family epics, particularly from funny female authors. She is also interested in memoirs, so Divine Renovations could also be considered!

Andy Kifer of The Gernert Company is seeking literary fiction and smart genre fiction. In his short bio, he includes that he is a “sucker for love stories and inventive narrative structure.” I have a feeling he will find Janice’s style very appealing!

Andrea Somberg, from Harvey Klinger, Inc. is located in New York City. She is interested in literary, women’s, commercial and romance as far as fiction goes. She will also accept memoirs if submitting nonfiction.

Carlie Webber of CK Webber Associates in San Francisco is seeking submissions of romance, women’s fiction. John Willig of Literary Services INC. is looking for the same style of submissions.

Most of the agents listed here request a simple query letter to start the submissions process and will request more information if interested. Some do request a one- to two-page synopsis and the first few chapters of the manuscript, however, this seems to be a less frequent expectation overall.

The manuscript has been submitted to quite a few agents, and Janice is currently receiving “thanks but no thanks” and hoping for one good hit.

Here is a sampling of responses thus far:

From Katie Kotchman, of Don Congdon Associates, “Thank you for your email. I appreciate the opportunity to consider your work for possible representation, but I’m afraid I’ve decided to pass.  Please do not be discouraged as many best-sellers have been passed on numerous times prior to being successfully published. I wish you the best of luck finding an enthusiastic agent and publisher for your work.”

From Somberg, representing Harvey Klinger, Inc., “Thanks so much for sending along the sample pages of Unleashing the Sun.  I’m sorry to say, though, that I just wasn’t as completely drawn in by the material as much as I had hoped.  What with my reservations, I’d better bow out.  Thanks so much for contacting me, though!  I really appreciate it, and wish you the best of luck.”

From Monica Odom, of Liza Dawson Associates, “Thanks for letting me take a look. I’m afraid this doesn’t seem like the right project for me, but I’m sure other agents will feel differently. Best of luck placing your work!”

Onward and upward!

Strength in Networking

By Vanessa Pesa

Network, make connections, establish relationships now, build them up, nurture them, and they will help you in your future endeavors. As interns this has been an underlying theme in each task we are assigned, each project in which we partake.

Janice stresses before each interview that the other interns and I go out in the world to conduct that we end each conversation by asking the person we are writing about if we can hold onto his or her contact information in order to maintain an open line of communication. Dr. Michael Filas, our internship advisor, has likewise stated on multiple occasions the importance of caring for these relationships, so, if years down the road, we want or need to reach out, it won’t be uncomfortable or unnatural. He says we should work to stay connected through social media or quick emails to check in periodically.

He also mentioned that you never know how valuable someone may be in two months or 10 years or how willing they may be to help.

I have been thinking a great deal about the future, as graduation is fast approaching, and my head is already spinning as I realize how close May truly is. I am originally from the south of Boston, so I have been looking to possibly move back after school to pursue an editing career within a publishing company in the city. As I have begun researching jobs, I realize the next step would of course be to find a place to live. Though I am from the area, I am not entirely familiar with the heart of Boston and which areas are best to live in.

A friend of mine, Deanna, lives in Brighton and has lived there for quite some time. I worked with Deanna at a bank approximately six years ago, and we have kept in touch through Facebook, but I haven’t seen Deanna since we worked together.

I recently sent Deanna a Facebook message, asking her where she thought the most affordable and safest areas were in the city. I wasn’t expecting much; I figured she would shoot me back a few suggestions, a tip or two, nothing crazy.

What I got back blew my mind.

Deanna had typed up a two-page Word document, listing at least 20 cities and burgs surrounding Boston, the proximity to the center of the city, what trains were accessible to each, whether or not I could have a car, the demographic, the average price range for a one-bedroom, and the list continues. She put so much time and energy into this list I was awestruck in reading it.

And above all else, it was touching and heartwarming that this girl that I haven’t seen in years would take time out of her busy life to create such a thoughtful document, that I mattered enough to her to do so.

Janice and Dr. Filas are right; take care of your relationships, and never be afraid to ask for help.

Local Author Series: Marian Kent

by Vanessa Pesa

Marian Kent, a 48-year-old grant writer and successful Easthampton poet, says “if I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it.” This affirmation is evident throughout Marian’s work, and she continues to compete with herself each day.

Marian is a mogul in her own right. She has created her own publishing company, or empire as she refers to it, called ALL CAPS Publishing, in which she is the founder and editor, and through which not only she publishes her own books but also publishes other authors’ works. This company was designed intentionally in order to ensure that her books never appear self-published, which is very important to Marian; the books are extremely professional, the covers are designed by a local musician and graphic designer named Max Germer, and she assured that the level of detail and attention that goes into each book is such that they reflect this effort.

Her newest book, SUPERPOWERS or: More Poems About Flying, achieves this goal. The cover art represents a retro comic book, right down to the cellophane packaging. It is creatively divided into sections by superpowers such as invisibility and immortality, and the poems are selected that way, respectively. Marian says this is a fun way of organizing. Her first book, Responsive Pleading, has a similar organizational theme, based on the seasons in this case. She says she latches onto a concept of why she would want to collect something and bases her books around this focus. Her next idea for an upcoming collection will be based upon a journal of her grandmother’s poetry combined with her own writing, but still needs to further conceptualize and iron out the details.

Poetry is Marian’s main genre, yet she has dabbled in short fiction as well, but feels that this is harder. She even wrote a 50,000 word novel in 30 days a few years ago, participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. She has not published this, but would like to revisit it, and also wishes to branch out further from poetry at some point in her writing career.

Blogging spurred her writing practice; she built a strong readership this way. It quickly awoke the creative writing aspect within her and she was able to connect with writing communities, such as the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads. This is comprised of a group of poets that create writing prompts and provide support. This allowed her to build a strong online presence and following, and has now spread this to various social outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

Locally Marian is part of the Florence Poets Society and frequently participates in local fundraisers such as Northampton’s Center for New Americans November event where she writes 30 poems in 30 days. She has also been doing many local readings and you can check out her scheduled events here if you’d like to check one out!

How she finds the time to write is her number one challenge, but she is a very productive writer and her way of writing is observational. She always carries a notebook and jots down notes as they filter in, saying that “there is no shortage of things to notice.”

In Springfield Marian works as a grant writer full time for HAPHousing, a nonprofit that focuses on affordable housing and homelessness in the community. It is predominantly a fundraising position, seeking out resources and development for the individuals she works with. This is a fairly new position to her, and she says that this work finally gives her the opportunity to merge the two processes. Marian feels that writing is a practice, and while poetry and grant writing are two very different skills, to have writing be the focal point of both careers feels like the right fit for her.

Marian has had the opportunity to have some of her poetry published in local journals, but spends less time focused on submitting her work in this arena, feeling that she would prefer to spend her time writing and promoting herself. She says that we are lucky to be in a moment in time when publishing is really changing; self-publishing has changed from even just a few years ago. She feels that what she has been doing is working and what she has been able to accomplish is a huge success.

If there is more you’d like to know, it can all be found on Marian’s personal website here. There are constantly new poems on the site, so if you want to get a glimpse of how great Marian’s work is, go check it out!

Janice Silverstein

When my daughters Molly and Sally were little girls, I went through a Shel Silverstein phase, and each year at Christmas, or on their birthdays in February, I’d create poems for their enjoyment. They received them hand-written in fancy journals—like a collection of works.

Recently, I dug these journals out and, for fun, started reading some of the poems to my grandson Eli. He thought they were so funny I thought I’d share a sampling. They are circa ’99-ish.

Eli thought The Dumb Shoe was the funniest, and he kept stopping me in mid-read of the others and insist that we go back to it, and he’d crack up all over again. I hope these give you all a fraction of the enjoyment Eli got.

The Muse

I have a magic pencil.

It writes all by itself.

I took off its eraser.

Underneath there was an elf.

He writes my papers for me,

Thinks up all the ideas.

I can face my teacher now.

Toss aside my fears.

He isn’t good at math.

He can only count by twos.

So, I gave him a fitting name.

I call him “The Muse.”

The Dumb Shoe

Once there was a really dumb shoe,

Made in a factory in Kalamazoo.

It went out for a walk

Down a long, winding street

Before it realized, “Oh no! I need feet!”

Mom

My mom is a runner.

She zooms for miles every day.

I know she loves me dearly,

So she’ll never run away.

My mom and I are artists.

We like making things.

She made me, but not with clay,

Or glitter, glue and strings.

Mom loved me into being.

She got some help from dad.

They think I’m very special,

And that makes me feel glad.

Loss of Appetite

A wiry man walked by me.

He had very stinky feet.

I was going to buy a donut,

But now I don’t think I could eat.

Another Limerick

There once was a red horse named Frank.

His stable was dirty and stank.

I decided to clean it,

And I really did mean it.

I filled up a big army tank.