Self-Publishing Course Launches Authors!

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Book Logo for SelfPublishing WorkshopWhen I taught college writing, it was always great helping a student sell a magazine story or essay. But nothing compares to seeing authors publish their first book! Two writers from my Self-Publishing course now have titles on Amazon and other outlets!

Congratulations to Pat Heaney, author of the engaging young adult (YA) novel, Mean Sea Level, and Lauren Kehoe, whose YA book, The Numb, will keep you turning pages.

If you love to write and always dreamed of being an author, it’s never been easier to self-publish. I’ll be offering the how-to series again through the Belmar Arts Council starting Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014,

Self-Publish Your Book: from manuscript through marketing
Tuesdays, 7-9 pm, Jan. 14 – Feb. 18

Whether your book is destined for the best-seller list or your family reunion, the six-session workshop will give you an overview of your options, as well as specific steps, resources and costs for preparing, self-publishing, and promoting your book. Choose one or more of the weekly two-hour sessions:

  1. Make Your Manuscript Shine – Techniques to polish your writing
  2. The Scoop on Self-Publishing – General overview on indie options
  3. Create a Kick-ass Cover – Effective images, ISBNs, blurbs and more
  4. Format Your Manuscript – Importance of interior layout and design
  5. You’re Ready to Self-Publish – Print and e-book how-to
  6. Promoting Your New Book – PR & marketing tips

SEE FULL CLASS DESCRIPTION or to register, visit www.BelmarArts.org  (732-749-3360)

PLUS: I’ll also be giving a
Free Introduction to Self-Publishing session
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 from 7-8 pm
Booktowne
171 Main St., Manasquan, NJ

Through the eyes of gratitude

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Rudy's Little WorldMy friend Stacy Raye is blind, had two kidney transplants and a pancreas transplant. But instead of wallowing in these and other complications from her Type I diabetes, she’s one of the  most upbeat people I know.

I met Stacy after she published a terrific picture book, Rudy Gets a Transplant. Like all the books in her Rudy’s Little World series, it stars her adorable miniature poodle, Rudy. For years, Stacy kept me laughing and inspired through the regular blogs she posted from her furry child’s point of view. When he unexpectedly passed away earlier this year, I couldn’t even imagine her grief.

But a couple of weeks ago, on the 30th anniversary of losing her sight, my amazing Minnesota friend blew me away again by writing about her gratitude – only now the “voice” is that of Rudy’s little brother, Boomer, the Mellow Yellow Lab.

“In many ways, Mommy thinks losing her sight was a blessing.  It has helped her become the person she is today.  Although it changed some of the goals she had as a young person, so many better opportunities have happened that might not have occurred had she not lost her sight.  That is what she calls changing challenges into opportunities.
Who would have known, a 19 year old newly blind girl would eventually meet the man of her dreams, graduate college with honors, have 5 fabulous puppies, 3 transplants, write 5 children’s books, have a comfortable house, wonderful supportive friends, give presentations on both coasts, and do at least 3 TV interviews!  Wow!”

Rudy's Mon & Dad

Wow, indeed. I’ve been away from my own blog for a while but on this Thanksgiving day, I  can’t think of a better reminder than Stacy’s spirit and words. Here’s to seeing all of our glasses half full!

 

Prison and Peace

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cell in Alcatraz prisonJohn Grisham might spin a legal thriller like no tomorrow, but his New York Times opinion piece, “After Guantánamo, Another Injustice,” gave me more chills than any of his best-selling fiction.

It’s about a young Algerian caught in the post-9/11 frenzy for justice, who has spent 11 years at Guantánamo Bay. (Some of Grisham’s books, it turns out, are banned at Gitmo; the author wanted to meet one of the detainees who enjoys his writing.) He learned horrifying details of the inmate’s confinement, more startling because of the man’s apparent innocence.

“Nabil has not been the only ‘mistake’ in our war on terror,” writes Grisham. “Hundreds of other Arabs have been sent to Gitmo, chewed up by the system there, never charged and eventually transferred back to their home countries.” It is this return home that spurs the “injustice” headline: once there, these men are often homeless, destitute and ostracized – in other words, their lives are needlessly shattered by imprisonment.

But it’s not only foreigners bearing the brunt of a justice system run amok. Take Edward Young, a Tennessee stay-at-home dad of four who’s serving 15 years without any chance of early release because of a mandatory sentence for possessing old shotgun shells. In another eye-opening essay, “Help They Neighbor and Go Straight to Prison,” columnist Nicholas D. Kristof says Young’s nightmare captures “all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system.”

“We have invested in mass incarceration in ways that are crushingly expensive, break up families and are often simply cruel,” he continues. “With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has almost one-quarter of the world’s prisoners.”

What’s even more insane? There’s growing evidence that prisons don’t really work. Yet Kristof says that doesn’t stop states like California from spending nearly $180,000 a year on each juvenile in detention, but less than $10,000 for each school student.

When I read these kinds of articles, two things happen. First, I’m awed by the power of writing to expose unfairness. Second, I think of Peace Pilgrim, who never stopped believing in the innate goodness of people. And instead of feeling paralyzed and hopeless, I am more determined to use my words to promote peace and justice, as well.

What re-ignites your flame of activism?

Self-Publishing Workshop

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WorkshopClipI’m excited to announce a new six-session workshop that will guide you from manuscript through marketing! To be held Tuesdays, 7-9 pm from Aug. 13 – Sept. 17 at the Belmar Arts Council.

Did you write a sizzling page-turner? A targeted how-to? A memoir to pass on to your children? It’s never been easier to publish your own e-book or print book, whether it’s destined for the best-seller list or your family reunion. This six-session workshop will give you an overview of your options, as well as specific steps, resources and costs for preparing, publishing, and promoting your book. Choose one or more of the weekly 2-hour sessions:

  1. Make Your Manuscript Shine – Techniques to polish your writing
  2. The Scoop on Self-Publishing – General overview on indie options
  3. Create a Kick-ass Cover – Effective images, ISBNs, blurbs and more
  4. Format Your Manuscript – Importance of interior layout and design
  5. You’re Ready to Self-Publish – Print and e-book how-to
  6. Promoting Your New Book – PR & marketing tips

FOR DETAILS, see the flyer: Self Publishing Workshop

Channeling Peace Pilgrim in Peru

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Shamanic Fire Ceremony in PeruThere we were, two gringas in Lima, excited to begin backpacking through South America. But the minute we got off the plane, our laughter froze. There were  armed guards everywhere.

We knew the Peruvian government was fighting guerrilla insurgents. Yet it’s one thing to read U.S. travel advisories and another to inch past somber soldiers with rifles at the ready. I had never been that close to guns. Ever.

I took a deep breath and silently reminded myself, it is the way we walk the Earth that matters. The mantra was planted years earlier when I learned about Peace Pilgrim, who walked for 28 years with only the clothes on her back spreading her simple message: “This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”

My South American adventure was filled with many amazing things, but two are entwined in my very being.

The first has to do with living by Peace Pilgrim’s words. As my friend and I wound our way through impoverished towns, hiked the Andes, explored the rainforest, and squeezed into rickety buses filled with crates of chickens, we were overwhelmed again and again by the kindness of strangers. I could almost hear Peace Pilgrim’s high-pitched voice exclaiming, “Aren’t people wonderful!?!” And I knew then that one day I wanted to write a book to help share her legacy.

The other life-changing thread is my “miracle” baby, Ciarán. It was in a tiny, archaic clinic in the jungle city of Iquitos that I learned – after 14 years of infertility and all the anguish it entails – that I was pregnant! It took weeks to find a phone and call his dad with the stunning, incredible news.

Fast forward and the story comes full circle.

This year, I finally finished my book, Peace Pilgrim: walking her talk against hate. I’m thrilled to be sharing it with groups of all ages. And last week, my long-awaited miracle baby turned 21. He is a talented, smart, caring man, and I’m certain that a bit of Amazonian magic swirls in his soul. (My essay about our Shamanic Fertility Ceremony all those years ago was published yesterday in the magazine, We Said Go Travel.)

We never know where life will lead us. But one thing I am sure about: dreams sown with love fill your heart forever.

Very hungry caterpillars

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Monarch CaterpillarI’ve been raising monarchs for years. Or, rather, I’ve had the wondrous gift of watching a biological miracle.

All I do is look for teeny white eggs on the underside of my garden milkweed each summer, then put stems in a tank on my porch.

When they hatch, the caterpillars are scant threads, too small for me to see. I only know they’ve emerged by the pinprick holes in the milkweed, signs of their first meals.

But you know the rest of the story:  they eat and eat and eat, hundreds of times their weight each day, causing a swarth of destruction to their ecosystem, until they’re too bloated to continue – sort of like the restaurant patron in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. Only, instead of taking one more bite and exploding, they hang themselves up, shed their skins and harden into a chrysalis.

But here’s the thing. Inside the green gem with its gold rim is an astounding action flick where enzymes digest the caterpillar’s tissue, leaving a rich formless goo. And little cells, called “imaginal disks,” start growing like crazy. Similar to embryonic cells, there are four imaginal disks that will become wings, others that will become legs, antennae, organs, everything a butterfly needs, all feeding on the nurturing soup around them. Then in less than two weeks, often as little as seven days, a beautiful monarch is ready to fly.

It’s a miracle of metamorphosis, and only happens in insects. You’ll never see anything like this in mammals, or any vertebrates for that matter.

Yet there’s something about the meaning of life and imaginal disks, maybe because of the name of the cells. But stay with me.

What if we’re truly like hungry caterpillars, eating, eating, eating, obliviously causing a swarth of weather extremes, terroristic conflicts, class disparities, species destruction or even just our own unhappiness?

For the first days inside the chrysalis, there’s a battle between the caterpillar’s immune system (fighting to save it) and the imaginal disks, which finally triumph. What if we have our own kind of imaginal disks trying to transform our world? (I know Peace Pilgrim was one of these magical morphers.) Maybe the frenzy in our world means we’re reaching the limits of our gorging and we’re poised for metamorphosis. Maybe it means that peace and beauty will prevail.

I didn’t make up this monarch metaphor but I certainly like it. As I watch my caterpillars get bigger every day, I can’t help but imagine. Or should I say imaginal…

Monarch Caterpillar Large

Hanging Caterpillar

Monarch Chrysalis

 

 

 

 

Caterpillar shedding skin

Monarch Chrysalis Clear

Butterfly Leaving Chrysalis

Freedom from our stories

Sean, 4, fishing on Rideau CanalSorry. It’s a trick headline. You might think I mean the power of tales to ignite independence, especially since we Americans are celebrating the Fourth.

But actually I’m obsessing a bit over the stories that keep us trapped.

It started with my youngest son Seán. For years, he was convinced that his big brother was a bully. He had elaborate recollections of how Ciarán – for no reason at all – tormented, wrestled, pinned and made him cry. The older he got, the more the memories magnified. Then this Mother’s Day, we watched some long-forgotten videos that their dad dug up and transferred onto DVDs.

In one hilarious segment, six-year-old Ciarán is playing with Seán, then three. Out of the blue, Seán sucker punches his brother, pulls him down onto the carpet and jumps on top of him. Ciarán is momentarily stunned, then giggles. He stands, helps his little brother up and leans in to hug him. Just as quickly, Seán barrels forward to head-butt his target again. And when Ciarán rises a second time and decides to run away, the ever-tactical Seán slides in front so his brother trips over him and crashes onto the floor once more.

I don’t know whether I got a bigger kick out of watching the footage, or watching Seán, who was so shocked he uttered, “Wow, I’ve had it wrong all this time.”

But it also got me thinking. Of course Ciarán snuck in his share of knocks over the years, but certainly not enough to do what it did to Seán’s psyche. Yet we all – as individuals, tribes, nations – have these ingrained narratives.

My sons Ciaran &  Sean

Some, indeed, can launch liberty, link generations and kindle love. But many fuel resentments and perpetuate conflict. And that’s why I think we need freedom from our stories.

So, here’s to sifting through our tales – personal and global – and releasing the ones that keep us locked in. That’s real independence, and peace.

Peace Village Nirvana

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Foot bridge at Peace VillageGetting lost on a muddy hike for hours… No cell phone service for days… Food so full of beans that it raised the sheets at night (if you get my drift.)

Hmmmm, not your idea of the perfect get-away?

Well I’m here to tell you: it was an amazing weekend and I hope everyone gets a chance to spend time at Peace Village.  (No kidding, there really is such a place.)

It’s a center in New York’s Catskill Mountains built on the conviction that world peace starts with inner peace. Of course it sounds familiar – it’s the same message Peace Pilgrim spread as she walked across the U.S. seven times.

I learned of Peace Village from my friend, Susan, who backpacked with me through South America decades ago. We lost touch until recently, but that’s a whole other story. When we met at the retreat a couple of weekends ago, we couldn’t wait to scamper past a labyrinth, around a pond and into the 300 acres of woods. Before we knew it, we were sloshing through trails flooded by days of torrential rain and climbing over downed trees, but, like old times, we didn’t care. We were determined to do a long loop that would take us back to the main building.

Thing is, after an hour or so of following what seemed to be the right, albeit soggy, trail markers, we realized we kept passing the same tree, like Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore in one of A. A. Milne’s tales. To make matters worse, Susan is recovering from a knee replacement and I’m not as balanced crossing rocky streams as I used to be.

But here’s where the magic of Peace Village came in, and it has to do with thoughts.

In sessions the night before and that morning, the teachers talked a lot about how our mind dictates who we are. It’s nothing new in the “thoughts ‘r us” camp (i.e., “Whether you believe you can or can’t, you’re always right.”) But the Peace Village twist is that when we give ourselves time, even 10 seconds, to withdraw like a turtle into a shell of quiet, we remember who we really are: beings of love. Then we can respond to situations in a centered, peaceful way rather than a reactive burst.

So, there we were, lost in the the woods, leaning towards buggy, cranky and tired, without any cell phone service to cheat and look on Google maps. But we turned toward each other, took a long breath, and laughed.

Obviously we made it out, although we never did finish the loop. We spent the rest of the weekend soaking in the spirit of the place. OK, we also cracked up at the abundance of flatulence caused by the delicious vegetarian fare. But the real movement was in our hearts.

It’s amazing what a few days of good food, electronic embargo and mindfulness can do. Here’s a toast – of silence – to Peace Village!

Lessons in letting go

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Pine cone peace sign at Peace Pilgrim's grave.You think I’d know by now – even when everything goes “wrong,” Peace Pilgrim still prevails!

It happened again last week with my Author Talk & Film at Wall Library. The original date got changed twice, their slide show hook-up didn’t work with my Mac, and the wrong documentary was played.

But you know what? The room was still packed, I winged my way through what would have been my Power Point, and even though the film didn’t feature The Dalai Lama and Maya Angelou as promised, everybody loved the original documentary from Friends of Peace Pilgrim.  One woman told me afterwards she was more inspired than she had ever been in her life. So, really, none of the “mistakes” mattered. (Although I still urge anyone with an hour to watch  the beautiful Peace Pilgrim: An American Sagereplete with His Holiness and others who love Peace.)

It goes to show, once again, that everything works out the way it is supposed to. Just ask my friend, Neil Scheck, a fellow author and long-time pacifist (although you’d never know it by the gruesome death in his hilarious upcoming book Blue Balls: The Adventure Begins – click here for a sneak preview.)

He was so inspired after reading Peace Pilgrim: walking her talk against hate that he decided to walk to my library presentation –  four miles away.

“It seemed like the thing to do,” he told me later.

Once he got there and learned the library postponed the talk because the room was needed for primary elections, he decided to take the long way home and enjoy a wooded bike trail part of the way.

“I kept thinking that I should have some peace-making adventure, break up a fight or talk about pacifism or something, but without the attention-catching ‘tunic’ I just said hi to the few people I passed and had a very peaceful contemplative walk,” he said.

“I did pick up a coffee cup and two beer cans and carried them for a couple miles before I reached a garbage can, so that was something anyway,” he recalled, adding, “The home stretch was a little tiring.  But I kept telling myself that Peace Pilgrim would cover this much ground before breakfast. It really was a great walk!”

See, you never know what wonderful things “mess-ups” will inspire!

Peace (Pilgrim) in the Heights

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Letter from Spring Lake Heights 6th Grader

The sneakers always get them!

Sure, the 28 years without money (or anything else) is amazing. And hearing about someone older than their parents walking alone across the country is pretty startling.

But, it’s the old blue tennis shoes that really bring Peace Pilgrim’s story home to kids. And when I pulled the sneaks out recently at Spring Lake Heights School, the students (and their teachers) quickly leaned in to hear more.  After all, it’s the details in writing – and life – that are important, and what says more than holes in the toes, rips near the heel and cracked rubber soles?

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the shoes, along with her navy blue PEACE PILGRIM tunic. I got chills. And I’m blessed that the Friends of Peace Pilgrim have entrusted me with these treasures to share in my talks. I still get goosebumps every time I show them. They open a door to how Peace was given everything she needed as she spread her message of peace one step at a time – in shoes that were purposely one size too big and that usually lasted for 1,500 miles!

So it’s little wonder that many of the fabulous thank you letters I got from Mrs. O’Leary’s sixth grade class mention the footwear (like the excerpt above). But they also sparkle with so many other gems, like these:

“You picked a truly great person to write about… I hope I grow up to have the same attitude as the Peace Pilgrim.”

“When we went into social studies, all of us were telling Mr. Preston about [Peace Pilgrim] as if we were one big voice.” 

“You have inspired me to follow my dreams, just like the Peace Pilgrim.”

“Peace is very hard to come by, as Peace Pilgrim tried to emphasize, we need more peace. War is just killing.”

Peace Pilgrim's Blue Canvas Sneakers

I know life is busy, even crazy sometimes. So of course students’ enthusiasm might turn to other things after I leave, and their motivation might get shelved along with their copy of Peace Pilgrim: walking her talk against hate

But I’m thrilled to plant the seeds wherever I can. Who knows what a peek at these old canvas sneakers might inspire!

(Click here for a flyer describing available Author Talks/Presentations.)