Bronx Book Fair 2018

It’s amazing how easy it is to live within a bubble. I live in Bronx, NY, and I have my entire life. I work in Manhattan, known to New Yorkers as “the city”. But while I’ve been a part of the online writing and bookish communities for years now, and I’ve made appearances at events in the city on and off over that time, I somehow never managed to stumble upon some of the events going on in The Bronx for artists within my very own borough. What an oversight! And the truth of it is, there aren’t enough of them. The Bronx has been continually disenfranchised, the media doing its level best to portray us as a neighborhood without thinking minds, a place where only the strong survive. It’s a myth perpetuated by those who proliferate it, a story created to make the old white men who so often make the big decisions feel better about continually pulling funding on education and literacy programs for the area.

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Lorraine Currelly, Executive Director, Bronx Book Fair

But strides are being taken in the right direction, often by stubborn members of the community itself, who have had enough of this wrong-minded take on our rich community. Created in 2013, the Bronx Book Fair takes place yearly at Bronx Library Center and, I’m ashamed to say, this was my first year in attendance. With the Bronx being a focal point of diversity, the organizing members look to reflect the community, with a diverse group of speakers and vendors. And this year just happened to be the first year in which the Executive Director was a woman–Lorraine Currelly, who was just a delight, her kindness and care for the community shining through every word she spoke as she made her presence known. It also happened to be the first year with a female keynote speaker, the lovely badass book lover and owner of the only bookstore in the borough, Noelle Santos.

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Noelle Santos, Owner, The Lit. Bar

Owner of The Lit. Bar, Noelle is really the person who pulled me into the Bronx literary community. I stumbled upon news of The Lit. Bar by accident, while looking into Bronx venues in which to do future book signings. I discovered The Lit. Bar’s website and emailed her for details. Noelle explained to be that she was still in the process of creating the bookstore, and that she’d definitely be happy to have me once they were up and running. After talking Bronx literacy with her, I have watched as Noelle gained media attention with her winning smile, her intelligence, and her real talk. “I’m not polished,” she said, but the truth is, she’s just not doing business-as-usual, and it’s about time for that. She doesn’t need to be polished. She needs to be authentic. In following her, and helping when I could (some of you have probably seen my social media blasts attempting to raise crowdfunding bucks, for instance), I tripped my way into the Bronx literary world.

As the Keynote Speaker of this event, Noelle shined as she related her story of discovering that the only Barnes & Noble, the only BOOKSTORE, in the Bronx was set to close, and how this inspired her to make a change. “I’m not signing any more petitions,” she said. She decided she was going to change the way the gatekeepers viewed readers through her own actions. She was going to show people that a real reader comes in many varieties, and she was going to do it by proving the need for a Bronx bookstore. And she has! Not only has she garnered a ton of press for herself and her cause, but she will be opening her bookstore this summer. And in many ways, she sounded the trumpets for others, looking to find a way to prove our borough is worth more than the gatekeepers of the education and literary industries believe. Hell, I heard the call! By the time I left her speech, I was itching to do something productive for the community. If her closing poem doesn’t rile you up, I don’t know what will.

If I dive into everything I did at the fair (I bought books! For me! For Logan!), this will become a very long blog post, so I’ll give you the condensed version, to the best of my ability. I unfortunately didn’t get to attend everything, due to a combination of the split between programs held in the auditorium, programs held in the conference room, and the vendor floor. Also, I ended up having to leave an hour earlier than originally intended thanks to a migraine (chronic illness and large crowds don’t mix all that well for prolonged periods). But here’s some of the compelling finds I made.

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Bronx Library Center Librarians from left to right: Elisa Garcia – Teen Librarian, Philip Radtake – Children’s Librarian, Elvira Ramos Paralles – Adult Librarian

Bronx Library Center is a beautiful and rather large library, and its librarians are kind, caring people who truly believe in spreading a joy of reading. One of the panels I attended included a discussion of book recommendations from librarians that work in all age groups, and suggestions on how to break a book slump and to encourage reluctant readers. One thing I learned? Don’t discourage children from reading outside of their age ranges. Reading over their age range can help challenge them. Reading below their age range can remind them of all they’ve accomplished, thus boosting their self-esteem.

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Tiffany Papageorge discusses her children’s book, My Yellow Balloon

I watched a presentation about a wonderful children’s story about dealing with grief, My Yellow Balloon by Tiffany Papageorge. Following that, there was a reading of the book in Spanish, as that book had just been released, translated into Mi Globo Amarillo by Fernando Aquino and Melissa Coss Aquino. Melissa also taught a writer’s workshop that focused on narrowing yourself to one writing project and how to remain focused on it until its completion. Specificity was stressed, and the need to cut out a time to work on several small goals to contribute to your larger goals was a very helpful discussion for a writer like myself, who always has a billion balls in the air.

Another highlight was a panel titled “How to Get Your Work Published.” While I’ve been around that block a time or two, this was a great panel for people who are just starting out and are looking at the different methods of getting your work out into the world. The panel featured Carolyn Butts, Editor/Publisher of African Voices Magazine, Steve Bloom, writer, and Jennifer Baker, creator/host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, and contributing editor of Electric Literature. The moderator was Marc W. Polite, Founder and Editor in Chief of Polite on Society. The sentiments here varied, with some discussing the advantages of self-publishing, while others discussed methods of snagging agent representation. Editing your work was stressed, as well as a need to get out into the world and make human connections. There was a general agreement that opinions are arbitrary and taste-based, and the reminder that rejection doesn’t mean the work is bad, it’s just not right for the person reading it. Writing Workshops were also discussed, reminding young writers that a writing workshop should feel helpful, not soul-sucking. Jennifer in particular discussed the helpfulness of borough-based grants in NYC.

Women in Leadership: Arts, Activism & Social Responsibility featured Yolanda Rodriguez, Co-founder and Executive Director of BxArts Factory, and Poet and Author Mercy Tullis-Bukhari as they discussed the various demands and misconceptions that circle women in the arts. A particularly interesting point was when a question was posed: Is it an artist’s responsibility to also be an activist? Both women stressed that activism should find its way into art when it comes from a genuine place. Tullis-Bukhari specifically discussed how her identity and the identity of her family are among the groups that are under attack in this country, so she often has no choice but to lean towards activism–it’s a part of her life. However, Rodriguez pointed out that if a person chooses to create work that does not serve as activism, or if a person cannot march among activist, it does not mean that they are not assisting in any way. There is more than one way to protest.

From the vendor floor, I got to meet so many amazing people, and wish I’d been able to make a stop at all of them. I discovered the National Writers Union (and joined them), an organization that offers tremendous resources to writers such as contract advice and seminars about important writing issues. To learn more, check them out here. Riverdale Avenue Books had a table, and I had a great time chatting with Publisher Lori Perkins. I picked up an intriguing book about the #MeToo movement that I intend to gobble up.  

Another great vendor represented at the fair was Boogie Down Books. Specialized in readers from 0-18, Boogie Down is a bookstore without walls, with pop-up shops and special book-related events hosted in local stores around the borough. Another great place for children who love reading to try, Writeopia Lab offers writing classes for kids in grades K-12, both individually, and through their school, or camp. It truly sounds like a great way to turn reluctant writers into pros.

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Me, raring to go, and then totally wiped out. 😉

All in all, while chronic illness left me super tired and kinda hurting through this, the people I met and the discussions I viewed were both inspiring and invigorating. It’s been a few days and I’m still riding high off the feeling of community and the sense that I want to do more. The Inkwell Council was my first attempt to try to do more for the writing community, and it has been a success. But my brain is starting to work towards what I can do for the literacy community in The Bronx itself. Stay tuned, folks–I’m spinning around a few ideas…I’ll keep you posted.

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My Kind of Book Review: Fragments of the Lost

Hello all! If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted here in a month, I was busy working on my latest YA novel, A Light So Dim (I’m 7.5 chapters in) for Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve also been reading. After my sister-in-law/co-councilor at Inkwell, a different Megan than the one who wrote the book this review is about, attended BookExpo and we both attended BookCon, the two of us found ourselves drowning in ARCs and purchases books–to the point of not having space on my bookshelves. So, I eeny-meenied my way through the stack, and picked my next read. That read turned out to be Fragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda.

Now, I think I should start by saying that, while Fragments of the Lost has a great cover that immediately gives the book a spooky, mysterious vibe, I never would have purchased this book if it hadn’t been given to me for free at an event. It’s not that the story doesn’t sound cool, and while I love some good mystery in my reading choices, my tastes normally run a bit too weird to pick a straight YA Mystery. But seeing as how I had been given it for free and it was the selection made through my very professional eeny-meeny method, I went for it. I turned out very glad I did, and am now adding the rest of Miranda’s novels to my to be read pile.

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Book Summary: Jessa Whitworth knew she didn’t belong in her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room. But she couldn’t deny that she was everywhere–in his photos, his neatly folded T-shirts, even the butterfly necklace in his jeans pocket . . . the one she gave him for safe keeping on that day.

His mother asked her to pack up his things–even though she blames Jessa for his accident. How could she say no? And maybe, just maybe, it will help her work through the guilt she feels about their final moments together.

But as Jessa begins to box up the pieces of Caleb’s life, they trigger memories that make Jessa realize their past relationship may not be exactly as she remembered. And she starts to question whether she really knew Caleb at all.

Each fragment of his life reveals a new clue that propels Jessa to search for the truth about Caleb’s accident. What really happened on the storm-swept bridge?

What I Enjoyed: The format of this story is what initially captured me. The fact that each chapter was titled according to something Jessa found in Caleb’s room and told the story of Jessa discovering it there, and a memory it triggered. As Jessa packs, another piece of the story is unwrapped, and we begin to build a picture of these characters, and the order of events that led to the accident. This structure-based release of information served the plot so well, and we got the opportunity to fully see the situation through Jessa’s eyes, and to solve the mystery yourself, or at least follow each step on Jessa’s journey to the truth.

This mystery was very well conceived and executed, and every piece of the puzzle slotted into place in a satisfactory manner, even if it sometimes took awhile for it to find its way there. The characters were each intriguingly flawed in their own way, and the message of the story was strong. We are not alone in this world, and each piece of a person’s life story is also a piece of those who loved them.

What I’d Avoid: There wasn’t much here that I was unhappy with. I really enjoyed this book from start to finish. When I glanced at other reviews, I found they had an issue with the pacing, but that never felt like a problem to me. It read smoothly, and the slower pace of the story was necessary to birth the frankly surprising turn in the mystery at the end. The build up to the twist was masterfully wrought.

Would I Recommend It: Absolutely. Anyone who loves a good mystery and doesn’t have an issue reading and loving YA (let’s face it, people who hate YA are out there) would enjoy this book.

What Can I Learn From It: This story was a master class in the slow unraveling of a mystery, and how to craft a mystery that makes sense and doesn’t feel like a total swerve when the ending is revealed. I don’t know if I could ever manage something similar, but I’m definitely motivated to now.

In the end, Fragments of the Lost was a mood piece that lived in the dark place of losing someone who was once so much a part of you. It was a great, touching read, with depth of feeling, interesting and complex characters, and a satisfying mystery. Check it out.

Guest Post: Shelving My Emotions

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Today, I’m guest posting at All the Way YA about the emotional and professional lead up to my decision to shelve my first novel. Here’s a snippet of the post.

The Order of the Key was my dream novel, the book of my heart. I invented the idea for it when I was fifteen years old and I never expected to be shelving it, unpublished, twenty years later.

Jeez. Twenty years later. I don’t think I ever thought of it in those terms.

To be fair, I haven’t been working on it this entire time, and the book I’m stuffing in the musty shelf of my mind is definitely not the book I started with. The version I’d created at fifteen contained a completely unlikeable, hormonal, emotional (possibly based on myself) super-cool highly powerful sorceress teen, and she hunted vampires as she romanced her way through a team of stalwart heroes. Hey, cut me some slack. It was the age of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it showed. The current, much cooler, much more mature version involves a fun and likeable geek who blunders her way through a semi-corrupt organization that fights interdimensional monsters and manages to find herself leading the rebellion to overthrow the corrupt portion of it.

When I say it has grown by leaps and bounds, I’m not just talking about its intriguing premise. The writing of the original novel was horrid. But it was the first thing I’d ever finished. I was proud of it.

To read the rest of the post, check it out on All the Way YA.

Busy Weekend of Writing Events

Hey all!

This weekend has been and will continue to be a super exciting weekend. On top of a birthday gathering with my two beautiful two year old nieces (honestly, the highlight of my weekend), this has been a great writing weekend.

Yesterday, I appeared on a live panel discussion on Youtube, which I managed to advertise on most of my social media platforms, but didn’t manage to post about here! That’s because my computer had decided to die the night before. Thankfully, I knew this was coming, and was ready with a new laptop and my backup files on my hard drive. Unfortunately, this left me scrambling to get the new guy updated in time to film the livestream, with a slight disregard to promoting it.

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The good news is, even if you didn’t spot my social media posts, you can still view the archived version of the livestream here. Just like the previous one, this will be run by Craft Quest, and will feature myself, and fellow authors Megan Manzano, Maria Turead, Ari Augustine, and Vivien Reis. This time we’re talking all about cliches, tropes, and stereotypes.

In addition to that, today, Sunday at 2PM EST, I’ll be chiming in on a twitter group chat to help authors prepare for Camp NaNoWriMo, which is quickly approaching. Join us today at #WhereWritingHappens, to participate, and you could win a Printable Packet for writers, created by Ann at There is Magic!

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If you’re interested in joining Camp Nano, I am hosting a cabin where we can all talk over our writing, and hopefully provide helpful encouragement! Comment below with your username if you want to join!

Lastly, stay tuned. Later this week, I will give you a heads up on a special guest post I will be making on All the Way YA, a great source for the real deal behind being a YA writer in this industry.

Hope to see you today!

My Kind of Book Review: Foolish Hearts

I recently completed working on my second completed novel, Never Say Never. As I prepared to pitch, I asked my buddy/little sister/co-editor/beta reader person, Megan Manzano, for a book recommendation. I needed a comparison title to include in my pitches. She didn’t have anything right away, but with #Pitmad rapidly approaching, happened upon a book that had her rushing to me in excitement. The book in question felt like Never Say Never. It wasn’t exactly like it, but it had the same mood, the same vibe. That book was Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills.

Naturally, I rushed to read it. By chapter 3, I was in love. I rarely blog book reviews, but I’m planning to start doing more this year. My format will look like what you see below. Now, onward to the vital statistics.

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Book Summary: When Claudia accidentally eavesdrops on the epic breakup of Paige and Iris, the it-couple at her school, she finds herself in hot water with prickly, difficult Iris. Thrown together against their will in the class production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, along with the goofiest, cutest boy Claudia has ever known, Iris and Claudia are in for an eye-opening senior year.

Smart, funny, and thoroughly, wonderfully flawed, Claudia navigates a world of intense friendships and tentative romance in Emma Mills’s Foolish Hearts, a young adult novel about expanding your horizons, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and accepting―and loving―people for who they really are.

What I enjoyed: The vibe of this book is fun and light, while still tackling real, human problems. Nobody is perfect here, everybody is a little odd, the dialogue is fun and snappy. I loved the relationship bits, and I have major love for the guy who snags Claudia’s interest, likable and over-the-top, Gideon Prewitt. With a cast of characters that truly felt like people cycling in and out of a real high schooler’s life, and an interesting plot about preparing for a play (the drama geek in me happy danced a bit), this story is all at once touching and relatable. Claudia is a fun heroine, a little deadpan, a little flawed, but a good person a heart. Tackling topics like avoiding change and fearing the unknown future, two topics that I’ve had a personal lifelong struggle with, Foolish Hearts follows Claudia into new friendships, new experiences, and new emotions. I clutched this book to my chest when I completed it.

What I’d avoid: I definitely wanted to feel more connected to Zoe. While the story is supposed to be about Claudia growing away from her and accepting that she must become her own person, feeling detached from Claudia’s best friend made it somewhat difficult to feel Claudia’s fear. It doesn’t truly harm the story, but there are places where I wish Zoe got a little more screen time, so I could truly feel the disconnect forming instead of simply be told it was happening.

Would I recommend it: For fans of YA Contemporary Romance, this book will make your heart flutter. But it’s not all about romance. It’s about friendship. The cast is diverse and realistic. Definite recommend.

What can I learn from it: I need to read this again and examine the ways she managed to introduce the reader to a large group of high school characters and keep them in the surroundings without diving too deeply into their character development, and also never really losing track of any of them. I attempted this in Never Say Never, and I’m truly hoping I managed this even half as well. Possibly? Either way, ALWAYS BE LEARNING.

In the end, Foolish Hearts was a fun, light and enjoyable read. I’d definitely recommend it, and it’s getting a place in my Pitmad pitches thanks to its very similar tone. Foolish Hearts + Greek Mythology = Never Say Never. That sounds fun, doesn’t it?

On Friendship

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Friendship is about giggling together about stupid stuff. It’s calling someone and saying, “This person treated me mean,” and having your friend answer with a whole-hearted “we hate him now.” It’s being able to joke through the hard times, even the hardest time, with the understanding that you’re in it together. It’s supporting each other when the rest of the world may not, and sometimes it’s supporting each other when even you don’t get it, but you want your friends to be happy.

Friendship is saying the punchline of an old joke and watching someone else laugh. It’s laughing and crying in tandem with someone. It’s stressing when nothing is technically wrong in your life, but your friend’s worries worry you. It’s being the only one allowed to get away with stealing food off a plate, and it’s occasionally getting cake smashed in your face because it’s birthday tradition.

Friendship is texting that hilarious meme to the person it defines 1000%, and it’s answering the phone to sounds of another person sobbing, feeling your heart twist in your chest, and plowing on with a pep talk. It’s knowing something is wrong based on the way a person says hello. It’s asking who you need to go beat up, and being nice to someone because your friend asks.

Friendship is trolling your fancy work party for free drinks together in cocktail dresses, and it’s going to the pizza place around the corner in your pajamas. It’s seeing each other at your worst and never holding it against them. It’s understanding each other’s moods, even when you’re not willing to put up with them. It’s giving a kick in the pants when it’s needed. It’s the fire that is lit under your ass when you’re being lazy or indecisive. It’s telling the truth, even when it hurts, but trying to mitigate that hurt so the person isn’t trampled to death by your truth.

Friendship is reminding a person how incredibly awesome they are, whether they can see it, or not. It’s allowing a person to be free to be exactly who they are, no matter what. It’s allowing someone to order off a menu for you because “they’ll know what I like”, and it’s knowing someone’s standard order at all of your favorite area restaurants. It’s ordering a bunch of meals knowing you’ll just split everything up amongst you anyway.

Friendship is being able to let loose to a person, it’s base jokes and fake flirts. It’s pretending to be your bestie’s girlfriend when people won’t leave her alone. It’s feeling free to snort over a funny joke, and it’s mocking your friend’s snort.

Friendship is playfully ribbing one another, and it’s not taking that ribbing personally. It’s answering the phone at inconvenient times and bringing each other chicken soup when you’re sick. It’s using your car as a moving van and taking charge during hospital visits. It’s openly stating your flaws like they’re facts, and being met with “it’s true” style nods. It’s being ready with that well-timed joke, that cup of coffee, that phone call, that eye roll, that tackle hug, whenever it’s needed.

Friendship, both giving and receiving, saved my life so many times. When I’ve struggled with rejections or with depressions, friendships have carried me through. So to my wonderful circle of friends, thank you for being you.

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This post was inspired by a recent Friendship day post by another blogger. Her name is Jazz Lily, and you should totally check out her blog–she’s an artist and poet, and her work is beautiful. Jazz Lily wrote a post requesting her readers to post a short explanation of what friendship is. I responded with, “Friendship is always trying to understand and support.” While I think that’s a fitting explanation of what friendship is, it didn’t feel like enough to truly express what has become an uplifting force in my life. Thus, this post was born.

Craft Quest Episode 1: Making it All Up

Last night, my fellow Inkwell Council member Megan Manzano and I guest starred on Craft Quest’s debut episode, where we discussed outlines and story beginnings with the panel of authors Maria Tureaud, Ari Augustine, and Vivien Reis. If you missed the livestream yesterday, you can find the archived video here. We hope you enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed recording it, and we hope it can help you with a nagging problem in your manuscript. Enjoy!