Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guest Blogging with Casey Crow

As you may or may not know, the writing community is one that is pretty close-knit -- especially when it comes to interacting online. When I was a freelancer actively looking for work, I was part of an online freelance writing community called Freelance Success. This is a fabulous site and community that is made up of all types of nonfiction writers and boasts just about every byline you'd see in most consumer magazines (Woman's Day, The New York Times Magazine, TIME, USA Today Magazine, Parenting, etc.). Tons of contacts, support, and guidance from veteran writers and industry experts. It's actually thanks to FLX (as it's called by its members) that I got my book deals last year!

The last few years, as my work has centered more on corporate copywriting and teaching, I've strayed away from this kind of freelancing and have been interacting more with my creative self when it comes to online writing communities. Yes, I will admit, I have several works of fiction in progress: a YA novel (which was my master's thesis project from over two years ago); a romantic paranormal suspense novel that I'm thinking of building into a trilogy -- again, more than two years in progress; and a sci-fi romantic novella I started last summer as a way to flush my brain.

Whether it's my addiction to work or my undiagnosed and untreated ADD, I have yet to be able to sit down and conscientiously finish any of these projects. This week I'm editing a 600+ page Web site -- and assignment I took without batting an eye. Last year, I co-authored two books that was easily 700 pages total. Yet, I can't seem to push these stories and characters that I know and love forward. Fiction writing is by far the hardest thing I have ever done.

So, I am eternally grateful for having been able to make contact with and build some relationships with more experienced novelists through the Internet. I actually met Casey Crow through Facebook, via Cynthia Eden, another author who was kind enough to critique some of my work a few years ago. Casey was kind enough to offer me a spot as a guest on her blog, which I happily took her up on. I'll be doing a series of "confession" blogs, starting with a post where I unabashedly come out as a book addict (a huge shock to anyone who knows me, I'm sure). Check it out: Confessions of a Book Addict.

Would love to hear suggestions or ideas for future posts!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Help Your Fellow Man, Woman, Child, and Pet

For my PR Writing courses at Montclair State University, I group my students up and pair them with nonprofit organizations so that they can gain some real experience in developing communications strategies and working with media -- all the while supporting some great causes.

One of the organizations we are working with this semester is Community FoodBank of New  Jersey.With Thanksgiving only two weeks away, you can imagine that the project for Community FoodBank of New Jersey is in full swing. We're currently promoting the organization's annual Turkey Drive, which will take place on 11/20 and 11/21 at 40 locations throughout the state.

In addition to helping promote these events locally, they are also holding a huge drive on campus and promoting the organization's virtual drive as well. This is a really cool option that enables people out-of-state or who can't make it to a donation event to help out.

The whole class has really come together to make a difference for this organization and the three students dedicated to this project were able to secure a fabulous article about their drive in The Montclarion, which is the student paper. The rest of the class is working this weekend to distribute posters and flyers in the towns where the donation events will take place in an effort to jump-start grassroots awareness.

While holiday food drives that will help provide hot, nutritious meals for families are a familiar part of the season's activities, we should also keep in mind that it's not only people that are in need right now. Pets, too, are feeling the strain on the economy, since if people are having trouble feeding their families, of course they'd be having issues feeding their pets.

If you routinely donate supplies to the local animal shelters, kudos for the help you're giving to homeless animals in your area. You should also look into providing pet food to a food pantry that accepts these types of donations, as well. This can help prevent those who are struggling financially from having to give up their pet because they can't afford to feed them anymore.

Also look into pet food banks in your area. In North Jersey, some animal hospitals serve as a pet food bank, where people can drop off food for cats, dogs, and other household pets. The supplies are then distributed by a local Meals on Wheels program.

The next time you're thinking about what to donate to the local food drive, consider adding a bag of kibble or a case of canned food to your list. Save Our Pets Food Bank provides a listing of pet food banks nationwide. If your area isn't included, check with your local food pantry about donating some pet food. They may think you're crazy at first, but if you explain why you want to donate the food, they're likely to understand.

Friday, November 5, 2010

E-publishing Killed the Reader

Back in June, Salon.com published a piece about how, should the continued assertions that the publishing industry will soon be no more come to fruition, readers will find themselves awash in very bad writing.

The piece explains that authors are finding increased opportunities to publish and market their works without editorial or publisher constraints/input thanks to more accessible digital self-publishing media. It goes on to say that the result of this is the creation and expansion of a huge library of poorly written stories that are neither engaging nor coherent in some cases. The ease-of-access through the Internet and the minimal fees charged for these e-books (which in many cases are little more than barely paginated PDF's) make them a minimal risk for consumers looking for something to read. After all, if you pay $2 for a bad story you wanted to delete after five pages, what have you really lost?

But this discussion begs the question of what the larger effect of this phenomenon has on the general reader, and authors as well. The article says that the common reader will soon become well acquainted with the "slush pile," which is the stack of bad manuscripts that come across book editors' and agents' desks on a daily basis. These professionals are paid to read through every new vampire romance, western, mystery, space adventure, horror story (yes, often all in one manuscript) that is sent to their doors.

Out of a pile of hundreds, maybe one will stand out as being something that is written well enough to warrant publishing expenses and appeal to widespread audiences -- if the moon is blue and the editor dances naked under it beseeching the blessings of the gods. But at least, they get a paycheck for their often futile efforts.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bipolar: Use the Term Wisely and Accurately

When celebrities exhibit a pattern of irrational behavior, my mind tends to wander to the question of mental illness. However, I am well-educated in this area, being a clinical depressive myself and having a best friend with bipolar disorder. I’ve done tons of research into the subject, taken psychology courses, and witnessed and lived through some of the worst things that these types of conditions can bring about.

What worries me is the casual use of “bipolar” in pop culture to define unseemly behavior in general. Like most everyone else, I’ve heard about the antics of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson, and various opinions about their behavior. While many have linked Spears and Lohan to bipolar, it wasn’t until I watched Good Day New York this morning that I heard it connected with Mel Gibson. The program aired a segment with celebrity psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere, who said that Gibson’s pattern of angry verbal diarrhea outbursts could be a product of a manic state.

If he does indeed have bipolar disorder, that would make a lot of sense. When someone is in mania, they’re hyperactive, can’t sleep, can’t control their thought patterns, are impulsive, have erratic in behavior, and are reckless. This can even lead to psychosis, even though they’re in a “high” state, rather than a deep depression.

Considering the stigma that goes along with mental illness, bipolar in particular since it’s become a new “catch phrase” of sorts, it’s likely that if someone has “gotten by” throughout their life without diagnosis and treatment, they wouldn’t seek it out. With someone from Gibson’s generation, it’s less likely, since it’s only recently that society has become more open about these types of disorders.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer Reading and Updates

So, I've been offline for a while teaching some intense summer courses and working on some new projects. Because the ASVAB books are doing so well, I'll be teaming up with another expert to write a new Complete Idiot's Guide, which will be due out in about a year.

I also won't be returning to teaching full-time this fall. Instead, I'll be concentrating more on my writing and completing some projects that have been in the works for a while. I will be teaching a PR Writing course at Montclair State University and a composition course at William Paterson. I've got a lot of new ideas and some new nonprofits that I'll be working with for my PR class, so I'm looking forward to the semester.

In addition to joining and being motivated by a great writing group (comprised of some of my former classmates), I've been reading quite a bit this summer.  Here are a few of the books I've checked out:

Bullet by Laurell K. Hamilton: This is the latest in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series. Anita is back in St. Louis dealing with all sorts of vampire, lycanthrope, and metaphysical politics. To be honest, I only got halfway through it before I started to lose interest. Though I've been a vocal supporter of Hamilton's work in the series in the past, I'm starting to think that I've just had enough.  


The Darkest Passion and The Darkest Lie by Gena Showalter: Gena has become one of my new favorite authors. Her Lords of the Underworld series takes a cool twist on the Pandora's box mythos, Greek mythology in general, and more modern philosophies. Centered mostly in Budapest, the series follows the lives of several immortal warriors who were originally created by Zeus to be his personal guard. Then one had the bright idea to open Pandora's box and the consequences were dire for all those involved -- and then some. Each was given a demon from the box to share their body with. The series has so far focused on Death, Pain, Violence, and Doubt, and these two books are about Wrath and Lies, respectively. Gena writes these anti-heroes so engagingly that you can't help but like and root for them. She's got great style and a knack for focusing one book on two main characters, while building subplots for books to come. In all, good reads. 


 In Other Worlds by Sherrilyn Kenyon: This is a collection of short stories from the best-selling author of the Dark Hunter, Were-Hunter and League series. I've been hot and cold about Sherrilyn Kenyon for years, mostly for her penchant for torture in her stories. But I picked this up because I really liked her three League novels (Born of Night, Born of Fire, Born of Ice), and this book had a short story about the fate of a peripheral character who suffered a horrific injury in the line of duty. The other two stories are a dip into some kind of cheesy, kind of funny fantasy of the magical persuasion. If you're familiar with the Were-Hunter and League series, you will likely appreciate this collection. If not, well, there's always Rhyannon Byrd's Primal Instinct series, for which she released two new books for: Touch of Seduction and Touch of Surrender.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Review: Dreamveil by Lynn Viehl

Oh Lynn Viehl, how I love you and hate you! First, you write this phenomenal vampire series about the Darkyn, warrior priests from the time of the Crusades who fell victim to a virus that made them immortal and dependent on blood.

Then you left me hanging at the end of the series, but threw me a bone with your spin -off series about the Kyndred. It seems in Viehl’s Darkyn universe, a nefarious sect of the Catholic church has been systematically trying to eradicate the Darkyn from the world, and in turn have become sadistic monsters themselves who have genetically enhanced orphans (the Kyndred) using samples they’ve collected from the so-called “bad guys” they hunt.

The first book in the Kyndred series, Shadowlight, left me unsatisfied. The structure of the story was too complex and the characters not connected enough for me to really get into it. After a few e-mails back and forth with her, I found out why the book did not sound like the voice I’ve come to know and crave over the last few years, and she promised the next installment would be better.

Oh boy, was she right.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Life Lessons from Chris Christie

Since Chris Christie stepped into office as NJ's governor, the news I wake up to every day is increasingly grim. It seems instead of actually representing the people who put him in office, he's waging war against them with his senseless budget cuts. 

For example, the public libraries are one of the areas that are facing huge hits in funding. This will result in a tragic loss of services for the general public as well as students throughout the state. To support the libraries that have kept me in books while the recession raped my bank accounts and helped me get through many a college paper, I signed an online petition that went to my local congressmen and to Christie himself. 

What do I get in return? I bunch of auto-generated e-mail responses that are so political, they gave me a headache. The worst was the one from Christie's "Office of Constituent Relations," which held a disclaimer at the end that said: Privacy Notice: This e-mail address, e-mail message, and any attachment to this email message contains information that is privileged and confidential from the State of New Jersey, Office of the Governor.

Ok, first, why isn't how the governor responds to the public considered public record? Shouldn't the public be aware of the line of BS that helps Christie sleep at night so that they know how to properly defend themselves when the strike hits?

Second, when I hit reply and wrote "Maybe this would be more effective if it weren't a form letter. This isn't helping your cause." I was immediately greeted with another auto-generated e-mail telling me that my response was undeliverable. Don't know why I thought any different!

I'm sorry Christie, I just don't believe that you'll take my opinion under consideration when making your decisions about what happens to me and those in my charge as a state employee, despite your reassurances that you will. 

As a governor, you have done nothing but alienate this constituent and the harder you push, the more you will push us away. Didn't anyone ever tell you the fable about the sun and the wind? Is that why you're condemning the next generation of NJ children to live in your ignorance as well?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

PR Writing Students Rock this Semester

I am so proud of my Public Relations Writing students this semester that I just had to share the great work they've done.

A large part of their grade is based on a group project. Each group worked with a nonprofit organization to raise funds and awareness, while using public relations strategies and deliverables to promote their activities. What started as a simple class project resulted in more than I could have ever expected:

Little Kids Rock:
Two groups held events for this nonprofit organization that provides instruments and music education for school districts that can't afford them. One group worked with a university concert organization to host a benefit concert that featured national and local up-and-coming artists.

The other group worked with Alexus Steakhouse and several campus organizations to put on Kiddie Concert at the Lex, an afternoon of fun and music for kids of all ages. Together, both groups raised over $1,000 for Little Kids Rock, which is enough to provide instruments for two entire classes of young musicians.

Starlight Children's Foundation NY*NJ*CT:
Three groups worked on various projects for this organization. One group collected funds and donations of crayons and coloring books to complete Starlight's Admit Kits, backpacks filled with personal care and comfort items to help ease the fears and pain children go through when facing a long stay in the hospital. After two events and having collection boxes places several places on campus, they collected enough to complete 25 Admit Kits.

Another group is raising funds to provide brand new teddy bears for children in local hospitals. They created a Web site (www.msustarlightbears.com) where people can donate, held and event, and used publicity to raise awareness for their project and drive traffic to their site. They have raised enough money for 3 bears so far and their Web site will be collecting donations through May 31. Any little bit helps, so please check it out.  

The third group is selling bracelets through the rest of the summer to go toward the purchase of a Fun Center for a local hospital. The Starlight Children’s Foundation’s Fun Centers enable children in hospitals to pass the time playing Nintendo Wii, virtual games, and DVD’s right from their beds. The goal of these centers is to put a smile on children’s faces and make their recovery seem faster. Bracelets are being sold for $3 each. Contact Tyler DeMatteo at dematteot1@mail.montclair.edu if you're interested in purchasing one.

NJSPCA:
Two groups worked with the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The first group created a variety of press materials to help educate NJ residents about the organization and its need for community support. They focused on April as National Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month as a news peg to reach various news organizations and promote a fundraising event in Englewood. The second group developed flyers, press releases, audio news releases and PSAs to promote NJSPCA's involvement with the Quick Chek NJ Festival of Ballooning from July 23 - 25.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Morris, Bergen & Passaic County:
Finally, one group of three students organized and held a clothing drive in Englewood for this organization. Dubbed Project BAM (which stands for Brian, Andreas, and Mike), the event drew 20 participants who donated a total of 409 pounds of clothing to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Morris, Bergen, Passaic.  

All of these students worked extremely hard and should be proud of what they accomplished this semester.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Type O Negative's Pete Steele Dies

Yes, I know my last post was about Richard Marx and Matt Scannell. But my musical tastes run far and wide. One of the very few things I can thank my ex-husband for is introducing me to the goth metal band Type O Negative.

I first listened to Type O Negative back in 1997/98. Frontman Pete Steele's deep voice and the heavy, rhythmic sound the produced was hypnotic. Standing at 6'7," Steele himself created a vampiric-like image of himself, adding to the mysterious/shocking air that surrounded the band. Of course, his stoic appearance on Jerry Springer and centerfold photo shoot for Playgirl in 1995 helped with that greatly.

You can imagine my (and everyone else's) shock and surprise to hear that Peter Steele, frontman and bassist for  Type O Negative, was found dead of apparent heart failure on April 14. He was 48.

According to the band's website, Steel had been fighting a sudden illness before his passing and had been enjoying much better health as a result of a "long period of sobriety." An autopsy will be erformed to determine the exact cause of death.


Like Steele himself, the band is best known for its heavily gothic music and lyrics that focus on rage, sex, fantasy, romance, death, and self-loathing. They also experimented with the boundaries of what made music music. On their 1998 album, October Rust, one track consisted of the buzzing sound that can be heard through an amplifier when you plug in a guitar. Another was a compilation of guitar, drums, and voice that depicted a war or battle.

“Peter Steele was one of the most brilliant and funny personalities in music and it was all for real," said Kenny Hickey, Type O Negative guitarist and Steele's friend since childhood. "Half the time people thought he was joking, but he was actually telling the truth. Part of me died with him.”

Services for Steele will be private, but memorial services will be announced at the band's website.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Richard Marx and Matt Scannell -- Awesome Show

Sense might not make the man, but a touch of humor is always a good idea when you’re playing an intimate concert with a friend.

The “ancient and formerly mulleted” Richard Marx (his words, not mine) with longtime friend and musical collaborator Matt Scannell (lead signer of Vertical Horizon) took the stage at The Community Theater Mayo Center for the Performing Arts in Morristown, NJ, this past Friday night as part of an ongoing tour featuring the unlikely duo. Not only was the music awesome, but the rapport these guys had with each other and the audience made the night a really great end to the otherwise hectic week.

I’ve been a fan of both artists’ music for many, many years. My older sister, who went to the show with me, loved Richard Marx when his first few albums came out. Through the CD’s I pilfered from her room and a broadcast concert on MTV – yeah, back when they were all about the music – that she taped and we both watched ad-nauseum, Marx’s music became an integral part of the soundtracks of our youth.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Oh, No They Didn't!: The Real Princesses of NJ

I'm not offended by much in this world, but Disney just lost quite a few points of respectability with this. It's just wrong on sooooo many levels. If this is how people outside of Jersey view us, the gods help us all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Weekend From Hell: Flood!!! (Video Included)

Worst. Weekend. Ever! It wasn't enough that my 3-year old kept me up unto 3 a.m. Friday morning with a surprise stomach virus. Or that she then gave it to me and had me sacked out in bed all day on Sunday. OR that my husband was away for all of this. Mother Nature had to have her say, as well.

The Noreaster that hit NJ this weekend caused flooding the likes of which I've never seen in my town. Now, I've been living in downtown Bloomingdale on and off since 1995 and though the Pequannock River runs just across my street, it has never (in my memory) flooded to the point where streets were shut down and people EVACUATED on Sunday.

So, first me and my girls were stuck in our apartment because we weren't allowed to drive on any of the streets surrounding it, which was just fine with me. Then we're ordered to get out; not what one wants to hear when the most energy that an be mustered is to pull the blankets higher when a fever has one shivering, aching, and nauseated.

I scrambled to get my two kids and four cats out safely up the street to my parents' house, which is 20 feet above street level and held up by a cement retaining wall -- only to find that they too are evacuating and we all have to hit a hotel for the night.

On top of all that, my husband has to be picked up that evening at the airport. Stress, lack of sleep, and sickness are not the best combo for doing anything, let alone driving, so thank goodness my dad was able to get him for me -- just in time to hear that the 300-foot wall of water that was supposed to hit town never came, but not whether the roads around our house were open yet. Then my 11-year-old isn't feeling so good Monday morning...

The following is a video I found on YouTube that shows the extent of the waters before the evac. This was filmed right where I live, starting behind my daughter's daycare (across the street from my house) and up to where my parents live. Un-freaking-believable. Good news is no damage to my house or my parents' -- can't say the same for many of my neighbors, though.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Review: Flirt by Laurell K. Hamilton


Anita Blake is the most popular girl in St. Louis – and everyone wants a piece of her, both figuratively and literally. As the resident federal marshal/vampire executioner, the enforcer for the local werewolf pack, queen of her own band of wereleopards and likely the most powerful animator (someone who raises the dead) in the country, Anita walks a very fine line between the supernatural and human worlds (see my review of Blood Noir for a more detailed summary of the series).

Some say she is a living vampire. Others say she’s a murderer witch. And more say she’s slut for having so many men in her life at the same time. In reality, she’s a woman caught up in so many metaphysical ties and is trying to figure out how to deal with the not-so-human creature she’s become and still stick to her ethics.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Must Be Doing Something Right

For the last year, I've required all of my students to create and maintain blogs and write in them twice per week. Some students bemoan the assignment, while others find a new outlet for their voices. But never has this assignment sparked the kind of reaction that it has in one of my Montclair students this semester. 
Since I gave the assignment in mid-January, he has uploaded 24 posts and has gone well beyond the assignment's requirements by designing the hell out of the blog itself. In fact, he's turned it into a portfolio for his music and artwork and even asked me why I wasn't following it yet (I just updated my RSS feeds Monday).

I find this incredibly cool. Not only is he finding an outlet to promote his work (which is great since he's in my PR Writing class), but he's also getting tons of experience writing. He told me this week that he'd been meaning to do it for a while, and the assignment just forced him to get going on creating this marketing tool that I hope will become a help to his future career. You can check out his work at http://robinthemeantime.blogspot.com/.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pixie Dust, Ink, and Magic are All you Need

I was looking through my RSS feeds earlier today and came across this little gem of wisdom from one of my fav authors. She's writing about one of those how-to books for writers, which I find utterly hilarious. Most of the people I've come in contact with feel like writing is some kind of mysterious and unattainable ability that they just don't understand. Apparently, the author of this book is one of them.

Lynn Viehl writes on her blog The Paperback Writer:

"Writing, according to this woefully misguided little tome, is described as something like a magical process, largely unconscious, that belongs in the realm of fairies and wizards and sparkly stuff. Over the last thirty pages my state has completely shifted from utter disbelief to appalled fascination. Where are the orcs? I'm actually waiting for orcs to show up."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Sad Goobye to Rachel Wetzsteon

I am at a loss for words right now, having just heard that one of the most vibrant and vivacious people I've had the pleasure of knowing is no longer with us. Rachel Wetzsteon, a phenomenal poet who had an ease and grace with words like no other, was my first creative writing teacher at William Paterson University and most likely the reason I ended up pursuing writing as a career.

I met her in the earlier part of the decade (I can't remember the year) The way she approached writing and fostered the creativity of her students was like nothing I'd ever experienced. Though my major was in communication, I took two of her writing classes as electives to fulfill my degree requirements because I loved her teaching style and approach to writing.

At that time in my life, I had abandoned any inclination I'd had previously as a writer/author of fiction. My path was centered on journalism and editing, not creative writing or literature. Her enthusiasm for poetry and the written word was stunning (and I am in no way a fan of poetry). She introduced me to the concept of the writing workshop and taught me to channel emotion and perspective in to words and form.