This past weekend, I attended the 2019 James River Writers Conference. I walked in this year feeling different. I didn’t care I didn’t have a book to pitch and all I wanted was to hear about was quality writing in all of the many forms it takes. I took some notes but I realized what I needed was to be around other writers.
I needed to catch up and laugh with some of my friends.
I needed to be reminded to set aside time for myself each week to put pen to paper and let this particular truth deliver a gut punch: I shouldn’t be devoting more time to my blog than to all my other writing.
Which is exactly what I have been doing for several months now.
Every novelist, screenwriter, memoirist, short story writer, journalist, poet and agent reminded me that there was story still beating inside of me.
The keynote speaker, the incomparable Marita Golden, emboldened us to celebrate ourselves as writers even if we are not published or under contract. This wise woman had me at the edge of my seat telling us how she had been birthed twice. Once on the day of her actual birth and again when her mother told her she was a writer. I also was blessed to hear her on the panel discussing memoir.
Marita shared that sometimes you need to write the memoir to free yourself to write fiction. The vulnerability in memoir panel impacted me emotionally the most. I love how they brought three writers with wildly different tales to share their points of view. I wish I could take classes regularly from Marita Golden (Migrations of the Heart), Mary Bonina (My Father’s Eyes) and Jon Pineda (Sleep in Me).
A special note about this year’s conference: It was beautiful to see the level of cultural diversity this year. James River Writers Conference has come light years in this respect, especially since my first year as an attendee in 2016. Thanks to the chair, Robin Farmer and co-chair Sonia Johnston for not only creating a conference that ignited my fire to devote more time to my craft but for creating an experience where I had the distinct pleasure of seeing faces that reflected the real world around us.
Last weekend, I made my way to Columbus, Ohio for The Summit of Greatness hosted by Lewis Howes. This was my third time in attendance (had to miss last year due to The Digital Storytelling Workshop at the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa).
And it was my best time.
Not because any of the other speakers weren’t impactful or powerful (they absolutely were) or that I didn’t make beautiful connections (without a doubt I did). It’s because I could truly enjoy the experience by myself. No one has ever held me back but I did hold myself back when I attended with others.
Even when I had a couple of pangs of loneliness, they quickly went away because I knew it would be just a matter of time before I would strike up a conversation with a stranger who would soon become a friend.
The Summit started with a welcome party at the Columbus Commons. I got to reunite with old friends and meet a few new ones. One of the more notable parts was a tent devoted to crafting instant poems based on the word of intention for the weekend.
A group of amazing drummers led by Elec Simon opened the conference. The energy was electric and instantly reminded me why I come here.
The first speaker was renowned singer Leann Rimes. Apparently, it was her first speaking engagement and her vulnerability was palpable. She spoke about the isolation of fame and her growth. She sang a beautiful song and led us all in a chant:
I am human.
I am holy.
Grace renews me.
It’s love that guides me.
The vibration and the spirit in the theater left many in tears including me.
The next speaker was Ed Mylett. His idea of hell: meeting the person you could have become at the end of your life. This concept is not a new one to me but his phrasing was exceptional. He called it “chasing his twin.” He was unapologetic about his faith but at the same time inclusive of everyone and exuded humility. He seemed to be the perfect person to seek advice from for my future students at the nonprofit I work for. I took a chance and sent him a message. I was right! He sent me a voice message with wonderful recommendations and I will be eternally grateful for the time he took to send it.
Kyle Cease was up next. He had a few messages that resonated with me but his emphasis of staying in the now was particularly impactful for me. Learning to embrace it is a non-negotiable for me as Hubby and I navigate life post health scares.
Jesse Itzler, former rapper, serial entrepreneur and endurance athlete delivered an impassioned speech urging us to inject more adventure into our lives. He compared life to a bus that never stops and does not go in reverse. At 51, he completely rejects the notion of being “too old” and is smart about the risks he takes.
Day 1 was great but I needed to take a minute to power down afterwards before heading to North Market for the Friday social. I loved on old friends I only get to see at Summit and was inspired by new ones. There was even a mural by Ruben Rojas painted representing our community.
Day 2 proved to be massively inspirational and incredibly fun! Marisa Peer’s message of “I am enough” and teaching us not to criticize ourselves was powerful. Our thoughts listen and execute the stories we tell about ourselves.
The R&B group Final Draft performed for us. They were amazing and had great command of the stage. Dr. Alaa Murabit was incredibly impressive. She is a UN Commissioner, a doctor changing the world with her peacekeeping efforts. She graduated high school at 15, medical school at 21 and is only 29!I loved how she stressed that we should listen to all leaders of all ages. Heed the wisdom of those that came before us. Figure out what went wrong before, what was missing and execute from there. She said that a leader is not someone with a lot of followers. It’s someone who creates other leaders.
Stephan speaks offered us sage advice about relationships. I agreed we should be telling each other what we want and need specifically and the power of a written letter. Also, we are not responsible for anyone else’s healing. It was wonderful to see Lewis honor his team, volunteers and highlight Pencils of Promise and the hundreds of schools built all over the world.
In-Q closed out the conference with his soul stirring poetry. There was also a special video from Sean Stephenson. He recently passed and his message to love our bodies, love ourselves was the perfect note to end on. The closing party was a blast and the return of DJ Irie did not disappoint. I danced until I ached. I wouldn’t have it any other way. After a couple of hours of sleep, I was at the airport, reeling from the weekend. On my layover in Philly, I ran into Elec Simon who was just as gracious and personable as he seemed on stage.
It’s all over until 2020.
So what now?
I found that when I was the most engaged, it was with people who travel, seek adventure, take action and are creative. In addition to hitting my fitness and writing/teaching goals, I want to create my own (mostly) solo adventures.
That part of myself has been slightly repressed over the years due to letting myself become distracted with work, relationships and a bit of good old-fashioned laziness. Realizing it was painful but it is a box I don’t have to stay in.
I can tell myself a new story.
Special thanks to my friend, Gina Molinari for graciously hosting me at her home and surprising me with a stay in the hotel.
This weekend, Hubby and I attended the Heart Festival at a local meditation center. Earlier that week, I saw two lectures that seemed interesting: The Science of Meditation and Meditation as Medication.
Due to driving and walking a bit further than anticipated, we were a little late but came in on the tail end of the first portion before the introduction of the meditation. I wished I could have heard what she had to say. However, we did get a chance to participate in the meditation which lasted much longer than I expected–at least a half hour.
The chairs were comfy, the room darkened and my feet were bare– a seemingly perfect recipe for a successful meditation. However, my mind and heart raced. I wondered why I didn’t hear more about the science, how long would it actually last and then hoped I would eventually drift off to sleep to tame the pace of my thoughts.
I never did but it got me thinking about being in the moment. During the second presentation, Dr. Dilip Sarkar addressed our short attention spans, the benefits of yoga therapy and shared concrete evidence of improved health of his students and patients. I could have stayed another hour. One thing that stuck with me is his emphasis on achieving a meditative state all of the time. It reminded me of 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Pray without ceasing.
I understand the spirit of the verse and Dr. Sarkar were asking for the same thing: peace and contentment without the oppression of anxiety and the illusion of control.
After the Heart Festival, we went to a local bookstore for a poetry reading to support my friend Hope’s book “Traveling the River.” It was followed by an open mic where I was encouraged to read a couple of pieces. Normally, if I were to read I would have chosen to wear something different, pieces would have been printed out and read aloud to myself a couple of times.
Last Thursday I went to a book launch for “Traveling the River” a moving book of poetry by my good (and wildly talented friend) Hope Whitby.
After congratulating her and taking pictures as if I was a proud mama, I took my seat and waited for the reading portion of the evening to begin.
A word kept coming to mind as I waited and persisted as Hope told stories of what inspired certain pieces and as she read her work to us. A word kept coming to mind as I took in the beauty of the Japanese artwork around me. A word kept coming to mind as I watched her supporters fill the seats, ready to toast her with cake and champagne.
I have spent many evenings in writing classes with her, around a table in reserved library spaces and cafes listening to her stories and poems and sharing literary dreams. She gave me my first book about haikus and was one of the first people to buy my E-book last year. When I heard she was asked to write this book, the first book by Valley Haggard’s Life in 10 Minutes press, it came as no shock at all. It felt right. It felt as if my friend’s time has come.
When your friend or family’s time has come, you stop and celebrate. You plunk down your money and buy. You gift it.
Wedding season is officially here! As many of you know, I released my E-book journal “What I Love About You: A Guided Journal to Writing Your Proposal and Vows” to help people express themselves on the day they decide to propose, get married or even on an anniversary!
I had so much fun pondering over the prompts, finding inspiring quotes, writing poetry and recalling my own fond memories of the proposal and writing my vows that I wanted to share 3 prompts from my E-book you may enjoy:
1. What did he/she introduce to you? (A new hobby, special vacation spot, favorite book or movie, spiritual practice or sport etc.)
I included this prompt (and accompanying questions) because what your partner introduced you to may have changed not only who you are but may have changed the course of your relationship. It may have brought you closer together and that can definitely be worth including in your vows.
2. What is the most impactful thing they have ever done for you?
I encourage the reader to go deeper, beyond the physical with this one. Your partner wants to know the effect you have had on their life. Never underestimate the power of acknowledgement.
3. What are you looking forward to experiencing as a married couple?
This can be as simple as trips you plan to take, as challenging as the fears you plan to conquer or as life-affirming as the family you plan to expand.
I hope you enjoyed reading these tips. There are more accompanying questions and 12 other prompts you can use in “What I Love About You: A Guided Journal to Writing Your Proposal and Vows” available right here or at https://www.etsy.com/shop/WhatILoveAboutYou?ref=pr_shop_more
The final spotlight for Haitian Heritage Month is on Michele Voltaire Marcelin. She is a poet, painter and writer. Her work has been published in French, English, Spanish and Kreyol. She also writes in three languages. Her artwork has been exhibited at the Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States in D.C., the Cork Gallery at Lincoln Center and at the National Museum in Haiti. I saved her for last because Hubby and I chose her poetry to be featured at our wedding reception in 2012.
Here is one of our favorites:
what magic names of places
shall i whisper in the dark
while you hold me
so we travel at least through the night
what sweet syllables of cities
ancient or new
what bird-laden trees
in what gardens
shall i offer you
so that at last i see the world with you
walk with me
through streets i have loved
in buenos aires, aix, lisbon, jacmel
keep your steps aligned with mine
walk with me
there is an alleyway called paradiso i want you to kiss me there
a church of holy wisdom
where we will on the altar light candles
there is somewhere in port-au-prince
a crumbling wall fired with hibiscus
where blossoms wait to be chosen by you
to flower my hair
or shall we go off on a barge
floating on the seine
when the city darkens and the bridges spread
across the silent river
will we be drunk with each other
or will it be the boat dancing on the water
there is a stretch of sand i remember
crusted with salt from the waves
we will leave our footprints there
drink pisco in a secluded bar in santiago
sit in pelhourino square in salvador
later i will giggle as you carry me
on the stairs to the capri grotto
somewhere there is a bed unmade
in a new york hotel
where we’ll return at dawn to make love
as sleepwalkers do
after seeing the ghosts of jazz musicians
at the blue note
somewhere someday we’ll go away
but tonight let’s recite as we would poems
names of places
that await our pleasure
hold my hands my beloved
look in my eyes
tonight let’s travel in our dreams
while we remain immobile in the dark
I hope featuring Haitian poets this month has opened you up to writers that you may have never had the pleasure of discovering on your own. I know choosing to celebrate my heritage this way has been a wonderful and educational experience for me.
Today’s feature is Kettly Mars, an award-winning Haitian poet and novelist. I wanted to feature her for a very specific reason, besides her talent. She worked as a administrative assistant for several years and didn’t begin to pursue her writing until she was in her 30’s. I love that she knew it wasn’t over because she started down one path and had the courage to go down another. She has written seven novels and several poetry and short story collections including young adult. She writes in French but her work has been translated into Kreyol, English, Italian, Dutch and Japanese.
My hand and the stone (as translated by Alexander Best)
My second feature for Haitian Heritage Month is poet, novelist and politician Jacques (Jean Baptiste) Roumain. Born in 1907 in Port-au-Prince, Roumain was one of eleven children and became one of Haiti’s most prominent figures until his untimely death in August of 1944.
In the late 1920’s, he founded two literary newspapers La Trouee and La Revue Indigene and a political newspaper, Le Petit Impartial, to protest the presidency of Louis Borno for working with the U.S. government during the American occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934. He was even arrested at one point for “violating press laws.”
Later on in his career (and after Borno’s presidency), he was appointed to Ministry of the Interior. Roumain even traveled to the United States to study economics but while here, suspicions were aroused he joined the American Communist Party. Because of fear of arrest. he returned home and was convicted for conspiracy and treason and three years in prison. In 1936, he was freed and moved to Belgium.
In 1938, he moved to Paris where he wrote several articles chastising the Haitian political elite. Over the next several years, Roumain was arrested for “mounting an affront” against a foreign head of state in France, fled because of World War II, spent time in Havana, Cuba and eventually returned to Haiti in 1941. He was a diplomat of the Haitian embassy to Mexico City and returned to Haiti in 1943 because he had fallen ill.
A notable literary connection was his meeting with famed poet Langston Hughes on his one and only trip to Haiti. Hughes even translated some of Roumain’s works, included Gouverneurs de la Rosee (Masters of the Dew).
While researching Roumain, what impressed me most, was whether you agreed with his political beliefs or not, one cannot deny his passion to stand up for them. He has been described as a poet, novelist, politician, ethnologist and revolutionary. And it all ended at the age of 37.
Here is one of his most famous poems:
When the Tom-Tom Beats
our heart trembles in the shadows, like a face reflected in troubled water
The old mirage rises from the pit of the night
You sense the sweet sorcery of the past:
A river carries you far away from the banks,
Carries you toward the ancestral landscape.
Listen to those voices singing the sadness of love
And in the mountain, hear that tom-tom panting like the breast of a young black girl
Your soul is this image in the whispering water where your fathers bent their dark faces
Its hidden movements blend you with the waves
And the white that made you a mulatto is this bit of foam cast up, like spit, upon the shore
I spent the weekend at the 15th Annual James River Writers Conference 2017 which started with Master Classes held on Friday, October 13th. I did not attend the master classes but I was there on Saturday and Sunday. The conference offered one-on-one meetings with an agent or an editor, panels on writing (both the business and the craft), Library of Virginia Literary Luncheon featuring an interview with honoree and Richmond native David Baldacci, an opportunity to play the Agent Dating Game and First Pages panel.
Day 1, ready to connect with my fellow writers!
James RIver Writers Conference celebrating 15 years!
There were several sessions running concurrently so I could only go to three each day. The first session was a panel of agents answering questions about paths to publication. One agent, Cherise Fisher, made a striking point that as writers, that we should understand our dreams. The consistent message was that we should be self-aware. We should know our genre, be able to name realistic but comparable titles and take time to research the agents-their Twitter, other authors they represent and books they have sold. Ms. Fisher from Wendy Sherman Associates, Inc. also reminded us not to forget about the smaller publishing houses. I particularly enjoyed the tip that we should write such a dynamic query letter that they should have to do little else before sending it to a publishing house/editor.
The social media panel gave insight into how authors Sadeqa Johnson, Sonia Yoerg and Panio Gianopoulos manage their social media. They covered topics such as when to post, scheduling apps used, blogging and the major importance of a newsletter in reaching your audience. I admired how they didn’t pretend to have it all figured out and advised if you don’t, then seek counsel! A solid piece of advice given by Sadeqa was to know your lane and build from there when posting on your media sites. For example, if you like gardening, post pictures and video of yourself doing things related to that along with content about your writing. They all acknowledged that readers like to feel as if they know you, not just your work.
The Literary Luncheon was fun and the food was tasty. I was grateful they had a real vegetarian option (a flavorful Portobello mushroom and peppers dish). It gave us the opportunity to reflect on the first half of the day with friends (my awesome writing tribe!) and meet new ones. David Baldacci’s interview was engaging and although emerging authors like myself can’t relate to his meteoric rise, I believe it gave us all a dream to aspire to.
The third panel was moderated by a local writer friend of mine, David Streever. It featured Library of Virginia Nonfiction Award Finalists Belle Boggs, Patrick O’ Donnell and Annette Gordon-Reed. Belle Boggs recited a quote I liked: “Writing won’t make you a living but it will make you a life.” They shed light on what it is like to devote copious amounts of time to research, interviewing and unearthing untold stories that were long overdue for its place in the sun.
The end of Day 1 was fascinating: an interview with “Hidden Figures” author Margot Lee Shetterly. Getting to hear how she grew up in a neighborhood full of engineers, professors and mathematicians in Hampton and had no idea the greatness she was in the presence of astounded me. I loved hearing about her professional background which included founding an expatriate magazine in Mexico with her husband and working on Wall Street. I believe we all gasped about how quickly the book and the movie deal came together after the book proposal was accepted. Listening to this woman was a sonic delight I will not soon forget.
The second day was introduced by highlighting Richmond Young Writers’ books. I was inspired by the literary talent of Richmond’s youth led by Bird Cox. After the opening ceremonies, the First Pages panel began. I commend all of these people who submitted their first pages and were willing to be judged. I submitted my first page last year. Although it did not get selected for reading, I remember the anxiety I felt waiting to hear my words read in front of a crowd of strangers.
There was a Lunch and Learn session. I attended the one about content marketing. Phaedra Hise of Legacy Navigator explained in detail what it takes to succeed in that field. She was blunt in what we should expect and be asking for with content marketing. The session was a welcome departure from the long form writing heavily discussed throughout the conference. It opened my eyes to revenue streams with writing that do not get enough attention at events like these.
One of the more notable panels was Sexy Narratives moderated by co-chair Robin Farmer with authors Sadeqa Johnson, Tia Williams and Marguerite Bennett. The way writers describe flirtation, sex and the buildup between two people is more than titillating conversation. Tia Williams referred to it as a “careful, slow manipulation.” I love this advice! We all had a good laugh at their blanket condemnation of clichéd scenes with heaving bosoms and throbbing body parts.
My last panel before the Agent Dating Game was Family Stories: For Your Family or the World? My book draws so much from both mine and my grandmother’s life that I knew I needed to hear whatever the panel had to say about this subject matter. I did come to a realization that since there are many details about my grandmother’s life in Haiti that I cannot corroborate, it is best to keep my work as fiction.
The final event was the Agent Dating Game. It was a rendition of the throwback TV show. This time an agent asks his/her bachelors (or writers in this case) the same three questions about themselves, story lines or characters and based on their answers, determines which author they want to learn more about. The segment even had a corny but hilarious host.
I need to say a few words about this year compared to last year. Outside of the crowd being bigger (they sold out this year!), it was much more diverse. The authors were more of a representation of what I like to see, which is a healthy sprinkling of what this world already has to offer. I hope they continue this inclusion for years to come. No one likes to feel like they are the only, or one of a few.
All in all, I am excited about returning next year. I will definitely be ready to pitch my novel and get to know more of the smiling, nervous, pensive, curious faces I see roaming the Greater Richmond Convention Center in 2018.
Tonight, during my writing group, my friend and talented poet Hope, brought a green pen. She explained that the legendary poet Pablo Neruda only wrote with green pens because green is the universal color for hope. She went on to talk about how he was deemed the people’s poet and how he wept when his fans recited his poetry back to him.
It could have been a combination of her delivery of the story and my excitement of being with my writing tribe, but my synapses were firing. What must that be like? To write so passionately that you inspire nations, millions? To value hope so much that you cling to its symbolic color?
I may never have the impact of a Neruda but I can have the passion and the love of the written word of a Kristina. I cannot control impact. I cannot control who chooses to support or love me in my quest to fully devote myself to a life as a writer.
But I can control what I choose to acknowledge. I acknowledge the moments I had tonight with a group of women listening intently, brewing up ideas of collaboration with one another, expressing support and validation of our ideas.
This is what I have to offer this evening. All of my other goals talk can wait for next Tuesday. I know I have workouts to do, water to drink, essays to write and a submission to send off.