Shhh! I’m in the Library!

Yesterday, I went to the library.   Even as I write the words, it almost sounds quaint, as though I were writing a period piece.

With the advent of the internet and computers, libraries, with their stacks of dust collecting books, can seem antiquated to the casual observer.  After all, who wants to spend time wandering through aisles, paging through books, when the world is a few key taps away on a computer?

Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I couldn’t live without my laptop.  To be able to access all of the information available on the internet is a wonder indeed. But—and tell the truth now—how many times have you hopefully tapped a term into a search box, eagerly anticipating the answer to a burning question, only to spend the next half hour clicking through links, none of which was helpful?

Enter the ever-faithful library.   In the past few months, I’ve checked out books on writing, publishers and literary agents.  And though I didn’t always find exactly what I was looking for, I unearthed enough information to allow me to return to my computer and quickly find what I needed.

For some reason, to my mind, there’s still nothing like holding a book in hand, especially if it’s a reference book.  Being able to return to particular pages that I’ve marked with a sticky note is not only comforting to me, frankly, sometimes it’s just simpler, especially when I’m a dozen clicks away from the page on which I thought I saw something that interested me, but I forgot exactly where it was on my internet journey.

Granted, you may not find up to the minute information at your local library, but do yourself a favor and see if your local branch stocks books like Writer’s Market along with other writing/publishing references.  The info in the books changes regularly and most must be purchased; you can’t access the information online for free.  Borrowing a copy from the library saves money and allows you access to multiple sources.  Even if your library doesn’t have the latest version of the book, again, you’ll have access to some great information which you can then refine with a computer search.

On another note, most libraries have computer access.  You can use a library computer or bring your own laptop.  Take a few hours and work a plan to investigate publishers, literary agents or sources to send your writing.   Start with the reference books, then hit the library computer system to clarify info and develop a mailing or query list.  In addition, the library atmosphere will help keep you focused and on track.

In an age when instant information is all the rage, sometimes the key to getting things done is to simplify.  In that case, nothing beats a good reference book and the quiet, industrious atmosphere of an old-fashioned library.

Visit Mary Fran Bontempo at her website at

Springtime Thaw on March 20

Bears aren’t the only warm-blooded animals to hibernate. It seems to me, after the Christmas holidays, my world goes into a short state of  hibernation.  Now some of it is of my doing—enjoying the cold weather, gray skies and fluffy, white stuff less and less as I get just a bit older. But some of it, for sure, is set into action by others. There are just these inactive periods when emails don’t get where they’re going, connections get lost because of winter sniffles, aches and pains, and the frenetic activity of ordinary days is lost, as the world slowly arises from its holiday slumber. At this time of the year, my world is the polar opposite of a great sports car—-it goes from 60 to 0 in an instant. Or so it seems.

So, not surprisingly then, our publishing seminar—-the really wonderfully attended event produced by MaryFran Bontempo, Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban and myself, has also gone into hibernation, and somehow that email to sign up for the spring semester, never arrived—-in any of our inboxes. So, just a little plug as we wind up once again to empower ourselves and others to get out there and ‘just do it’, we will in fact be offering another publishing seminar on Saturday, March 20th, from 10am-noon, somewhere in Central Bucks. As soon as we are assigned a location, we’ll let you know. And we promise to come, packing even more of experiences gained from the writer’s life with us.

Check the website for details as the date gets closer:


Wrapping It Up

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? Wrapping it up seems like a good headline to sum up this seasonal time of wrapping presents, wrapping up projects, wrapping up another 365 days. 

So, let me leave you with a bit of end-of-year news and wisdom.

1. Book signings are tough. Without celebrity status or an incredibly long list of devoted friends and family members, book signings can be excruciatingly lonely, boring and disappointing. So, instead, why not come up with a way your knowledge can help others? A talk, a seminar, a workshop is much more rewarding and often a better use of time. When you offer people something, you always gets more in return.

2. Keep the most important things, the most important in your life. It’s easy to lose yourself in all the flurry of activity that writing and publishing books bring with it. But every so often, life comes along and smacks us in the face with the realities of how we spend our time, and sometimes a lesson on how we should.  A child leaves for school, a husband struggles in a business, a parent passes away, a friend becomes ill, couples get divorced, families with kids at home become empty-nesters. These life passages seem to run faster all the time, leaving us square in the path of the cliche, where has all the time gone? Lesson learned: time goes by quickly—-make sure you’re making time for what is truly important in your life.

3. Trust in yourself. Know when to listen to the outer and inner critics. Some are valid; some are not. If instinct tells you to keep plugging, keep plugging. Myriads of editors, publishers, agents and others have been proven wrong over the ages. Proper persistence often pays off.

4. Enjoy the journey. You never know where writing is going to take you. It has taken me to places I’ve never been—introduced me to people I would have never met—exposed me to topics I would never have known anything about. It’s a journey, not a marathon. Plan to enjoy it. If you don’t, take some time to think about your path. Maybe it needs tweaking or a complete makeover. Either way, it’s progress toward where you should ultimately be.

Whatever your genre, whatever your denomination, whatever your status in life—-enjoy this wintery, slow-down of life—this pause to reflect on what is truly important in this life, and focus yourself once again for another 365 days of lessons to wrap, unwrap and maybe even re-gift.

Chrysa Smith

Signed Books–The Perfect Gift!

It’s hard to believe (and somewhat cringe-inducing, I know), but the holiday season is almost upon us and with that comes the dreaded buying of the gifts.

Hard as I try to maintain some Christmas spirit while searching for just the right thing to please my loved ones, the truth is that most of the time, I end up grumbling and muttering to myself while I wander aimlessly around countless department stores for hours on end, frequently coming home empty-handed.

If your search for holiday cheer leaves you feeling more like the Grinch than Clark Griswold, I may have a solution.

On November 27th, from 6:00 to 8:00 P.M., five local authors, including yours truly, Carmen Ferreiro Esteban, Chrysa Smith, Suzanne Zoglio and Sandy Cody, will bring their delightful works to the Doylestown Bookshop to ring in the holiday season in a Home for the Holidays celebration.

Signed books make thoughtful, inexpensive and personal gifts and the authors you’ll meet have scripted works for everyone on your Christmas list.

Each author targets a different audience with her work. For younger readers, The Poodle Posse series, penned by Smith, details the antics of three cuddly canines as they share their days with their loving but occasionally confused owner, Mrs. Flout. Young adults will enjoy Two Moon Princess, written by Ferreiro Esteban, which tells the fantastical story of a discontented medieval princess, eager to live life on her own terms, who lands in modern day California.

In Everyday Adventures, Or, As My Husband Says, “Lies, Lies and More Lies”, I laugh my way through the trials and tribulations of modern day womanhood, taking the reader along for the ride. Sandy Cody authors the Jennie Connors mystery series, Put Out the Light, Consider the Lilly and By Whose Hand, which explore the challenges facing a single mother as she learns to balance independence with family and career responsibilities. And Suzanne Zoglio will help both women and men Recharge in Minutes as she describes 101 ways to refuel any time/any place and how to Create A Life That Tickles Your Soul .

This year more than ever, we’re all in need of some good cheer. So get a jump on holiday shopping, find the perfect gift and do join us at the Doylestown Bookshop to say “Hello.” We’d love to meet you and start your holiday season off right. See you there!

Mary Fran Bontempo

An Unexpected Gift

See full size imageA friend once told me that he never got disappointed because he had no expectations. That’s an interesting theory and one I’ve come to adopt myself in light of certain unpredictable situations like cocktail parties and book festivals.  So, I wasn’t completely disappointed that sales were lower than low at the Collingswood event this month. And although I had gone there with some desire to sell books,  I came home with  empty pockets and a blessing—a bit of grace and wisdom which tends to show up in my life (and maybe yours) at the most unexpected of times, in the most unlikely places. This day, it showed up in the person of Thomas E. Pierce.

Pierce is the author of The Last Rose—A True Celebration of Eternal Life.  I was captured by the kindness of Thomas and his wife Lillian, as they offered to share their tent with me if the skies opened. But I was truly captivated as the author explained his book to me. Five years ago, you may remember the news story about the Baltimore Water Taxi that was struck with an unexpected gust of wind that flipped the boat over in Baltimore Harbor.  That day, Pierce lost his wife of 37 years and his 35 year old daughter.  As he so bluntly put it, “What’s an overweight, bald man in his 60’s supposed to do now?”

One of the many things he did was to write and write and write. He wrote about the events, his feelings and finally, what led to the publication of his book, his faith trail, which led him through the darkest of times, the unknown and the unexpected, as his life began to take on a whole new direction. He met with priests, old friends and with a ‘medium’ who brought Pierce visions of the past, the future and an uncanny  foreshadowing of names, numbers, coincidences and connections which seems to invisibly guide us to the place where we need to go.

So Tom, who brought his wife one yellow rose each month on the date of their anniversary, for 37 years lost her unexpectedly, in a most tragic way—and his daughter too. Yet today, he is happily remarried, to the first girl  who caught his eye as a school boy in Philadelphia—-the girl the ‘medium’ brought to his attention during their session. Lillian, who had moved west many years earlier, was newly widowed herself. She lost her husband after many years of marriage, and returned to New Jersey. The two reconnected, and Lillian actually had to leave early that day, for a school reunion with ladies she’s known for decades. Tom’s other daughter  Kathy, is married with two young girls—-seemingly, the lights of Tom’s life which keep him going and laughing.

So, Tom gave me a copy of his book and a reality check that day—something we all need when we tend to get caught up in the minutia of our lives. And I gave Emily and Kayla—his young grandaughters,  copies of my children’s books. Tom’s message is summed up in the line “All the kindness a person puts out into the world works on the hearts and thoughts of mankind.” He’s right. It worked on me that day, and reminded me to pass it on.


Chrysa Smith

Starting Fresh

j0439450So here it is September again.

I find myself in an interesting place this year. For the first time since my children began their educations, I have only one child attending school this year. Unlike in the past, however, this time it’s not because two of them are too young to attend, it’s because they’re too old.

Actually, that’s not really true. The fact is that two of my children have graduated from college and my youngest is a sophomore at a local university. The two who’ve graduated haven’t yet found their niches, however, and going back to school is still an option for them.

Sometimes I wish it were an option for me. As I’ve watched my kids go off to college, I’ll admit I’ve been envious. Oh, to have nothing more to think about than reading, studying and what I’m going to eat for dinner–a dinner that, for better or worse (institutional meals aside), someone else made for me.

But for now, at least, going off to college and living in a dorm isn’t in my immediate future. (I really think someone could make a mint off of a university for adults; we would actually appreciate it.) So I’ll have to settle for pretending and once again tapping into the feeling that I get every September–that is, the feeling that a fresh start awaits.

When my children were young, we marked it by purchasing new school supplies and uniforms. They may not have enjoyed the process, but I did. Even as a kid I loved the smell of new copybooks and pencils. (I was weird, I know.) As a writer, the feeling has only intensified.

But it was always more than that. It was the sense of expectation, the knowledge that new and exciting possibilities were in store. And new challenges as well. I was always the type of kid who looked forward to learning new things. I still do.

This point in my life is fraught with different challenges–many which I never dreamed I’d have to tackle. But there is still a sense of possibility. Possibility that things will get better and that exciting, interesting challenges lie ahead. Once again, I find myself eagerly anticipating a “new” year.

Now, I’m off. I think I’ll go out and buy a new notebook and some number two pencils. A little inspiration couldn’t hurt.

Mary Fran Bontempo

Julia long de vie

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Chrysa Smith

A friend invited me to see JULIE & JULIA.

Great, I thought, the perfect afternoon diversion from teaching a summer camp, talking about writing and working on my own new release. So, we went.  Little did I know that this decision would turn into several weeks of Julia talk, Julia cooking and an effervescent evening of celebration, that Julia herself (I’m sure) would have glowingly endorsed, with a nod, a wink and her signature signoff, Bon Appetit!

But before all the glitz and glamour, I didn’t get a break from writing. After all, Julia’s cookbooks are infamous. However, it was sure nice to know that the mother of television cooking shows and French-American cooking herself, was a many-times-over, shunned author. Her work was too complex, too large, too consuming—maybe too advanced or prolific for the dull mind of the average American homemaker. Little did they (the experts) know, as often happens, that she was actually a Renaissance woman—-a woman with vision, beyond the confines of what present day society and cultural norms dictated to her. She was, quite frankly, today’s woman—a woman with a broader mind, sense of adventure and as it turned out, visionary of what was to come, decades down the line: American homemakers cooking more complex dishes, using good, fresh ingredients.

I loved the struggle. I loved the message and I loved the relationship between the modern day Julie and the Donna Reed era Julia—the woman who would don pearls while serving, yet be so bold and brash as to question norms, stretch limits and tell others, only when absolutely necessary, where and when to get off.  I absolutely loved her. And to this day, she continues to roll around in my head as a new role model— to those of us who go for the gusto, stretch the limits, color outside the lines and refuse to be defined by others.

So, being utterly shameless, I borrowed the idea of hostessing a Julie & Julia dinner party for a group of friends—-friends who recently share something in common (besides liking to eat)—-friends who are all relatively recent empty-nesters. What better comfort to give than sharing and serving good food, good wine and good conversation?

And so it was. Seven of the twelve invited women enjoyed appetizers on the deck, then sat in my breakfast room last weekend, dining on Beef Bourguignon, bottles of French and American wine and fresh French bread. A realtor, accountant, teacher, postmaster, nurse, and two authors were united for a few hours, by a sense of loss, a sense of hope and companionship brought to them by the breaking of bread, the sharing from a bottle, the telling of stories. In fact, I believe it might have also inspired a few future dinner parties to come, because in the end, as purveyors of fine food understand, there is little that a good meal and friendship cannot heal.

Ah, la bonne vie!

Ready or Not, Make a Decision and Go

View ImageAah, the joys of self-publishing.

I sit at the computer, nails tapping on the desk, thinking about book #2 in my series. It’s now at the printer, and pretty soon, at the point of no return.

Two minutes later, I sit at the computer, nails tapping on the keyboard. Book #1 has finally made its way onto—a year and a half after it was introduced. What took so long? Happily, school visits, book signings and fairs. But now, I wait the 10 day grace period, waiting for an email telling me how many thousands of books Amazon would like to order.

A minute later, my mind wanders back to book #2.  Am I printing the right quantity? Will history repeat itself? Will it be grander? Will the economy take history off course? My nails raised to my mouth, I try not to bite them, as I ponder the decision not to put a spine on a paperback once again. Actually, not really a voluntary decision. I fully expected to give the book a little backbone, so it could sit upon more bookstore and library shelves with ease. But after a commitment to myself and my ISBN number, to keep the second book priced as the first, I had no choice. Giving the book a spine doubled the production costs.  So, I now see why hardbacks and picture books are priced as they are. I now understand why authors charge what they do for school visits. Keeping the profits up is hard when keeping the prices down and the quality up.

So, three minutes later, I sit at the computer, nails in my mouth, hoping there are no production snags; hoping the books come off the press, into their shrink-wrapped blankets and into my warehouse, all in time for September school visits. Then my mind wanders off to the recent commitment I made for the next school year—free school visits within the region; nominal costs outside the region. Was that a smart commitment? With book #2 being almost double the page count, printing costs are up—even if the book does not have a spine. Profit margins are less, but there will now be two books, more familiarity and some repeat visits.

Two minutes later, I sit at the computer, thinking about the Doris Day song that comes to me whenever my mind spins endlessly around Monday-morning quarterbacking issues—Que sera, sera. At each point along the way, you are faced with decisions. You look at the facts–look at the options—weigh the info and make, what is hopefully an intelligent decision. Then, you sit back and let the cards fall where they may. Que sera, sera—what will be will be. 

A minute later, I sit at the computer, look at my nails and make an executive decision— what needs to be at this very moment is probably a manicure.  Aah, the joys of self-publishing.


Chrysa Smith

To Blog or Not to Blog?

Thoughts on writing, publishing and other things.

j0438487To blog or not to blog?  That is the question.

Actually, it’s only one question in a seemingly endless list of questions when it comes to electronic mediums and writing.  Specifically, just how much time should one spend mining technology when you’re trying to be a writer?

Anyone who has written a book, or anything for that matter, feels the triumphant surge of euphoria when you’ve dotted your last “i” and crossed your final “t.”  Your masterpiec is finished!  Now you can sit back and wait for the money and fame to start rolling in and transform your life.

Well, not so fast.  Unfortunately, for writers, the completion of a written work is only half the battle.  Actually, if someone were to do a statistical analysis, it’s probably only one-tenth of the battle.  Because if you want anyone to read your stuff, your real work is just beginning.

As Chrysa, Carmen and I found out first-hand, the act of publishing your work can be time-consuming and confusing.  There are multiple options available and each must be evaluated for you to find what’s best for you.  But even that can look easy next to the marketing of your work.  Where, oh where to begin?

Which brings us to the technology quandry.  With blogging, social networking sites,  websites and internet organizations for writers, book review sites, and on and on and on, the possibilities for trumpeting your work are endless.  And that’s precisely the problem.  You can get lost in that mess.  If your true love is working on your craft, what’s a writer to do?

The answer is a little bit of everything–the operative words being “little bit” and “everything.”

You should have a website–almost a given for any writer.  Use the networking sites to build contacts and steer traffic to your personal site.  Search out a few sites that cater to writers in your genre.  Many offer marketing tips as well as ways to increase your contacts.

And blogging, despite bearing the occasional stigma of being an excuse for anyone to blather on about anything (not here, of course), can actually be a great way for you to write short pieces regularly, giving your readers a more personal glimpse into your personality and keeping your skills sharp while you try to make that first million from your book. (Since blogs attract the most traffic by being frequently updated, try joining forces with a few writer friends, as we have.  Takes the pressure off any one writer and broadens the audience for all.)

So by all means, blog, tweet, update your website and embrace that technology.  But don’t forget to write.

Mary Fran

Gearing Up—The Chestnut Hill Book Festival

Go to fullsize imageThere’s a new book festival in town, and next week, Carmen, MaryFran and I will be there–at the signing tent, at a gallery, and yes, even at a closed car dealership. (What can I do to put you and this book together today?)

As a juvenile fiction writer, I’ve got to get my groove back on. Once the school year ends, my work comes to an abrupt halt. If you’re a teacher, you get it—and I suspect, you’re glad. You get a well-deserved break from the routine; a chance to recharge the batteries. But as an author with a new book scheduled for release later this summer, the silence is unnerving. I can tell the press. I can tell bookstores. I can tell my email contacts. But I must wait to talk to my main audience—the teachers who are lying on the beach, in Europe, in their yards with their phones off the hook.

Waiting is not my strong point. So, I will take myself, my books (so glad I will soon have two titles)to the Chestnut Hill Book Festival and talk about the new, soon-to-be released title, as I wait to tell the world. I can hardly wait!

If you go: The Chestnut Hill Book Festival runs Friday night, July 10th through Sunday, July 12th. MaryFran, Carmen and I will be there on Sunday afternoon, July 12th, between 1 and 4pm; at the car dealership, at the gallery and at the signing tent, respectively. More info:


Chrysa Smith

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