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Posts Tagged ‘Harford’s Heart Magazine’

109 For my birthday this spring, I received a most interesting tea-lover’s treat, a Numi Flowering Tea Enchanted Blossoms gift pack. The tea-gift arrived in a small wooden box worthy of treasure. And I had visions of the odds and ends I’d store in it: a small magnifying glass strung on a cord to hang around one’s neck, a pair of fingerless gloves, a tiny container of cicada wings, a book on reading tea leaves – you know, the usual things one finds around the house.

To my delight, besides a small glass teapot and lid, there was a box, thankfully with directions printed on the side, of Enchanted Blossoms – individually wrapped balls of handsewn tea leaves and flowers which bloom when steeped. I immediately heated up some water, selected a ball of compressed plant parts, dropped it in the teapot and set my favorite teacup on the table. With anticipation, I poured the boiling water into the pot and stared at the globe of plant material. As promised, the Flowering Tea opened to reveal a flower of dark pink petals in the center of olive green petals. A fragrant tea bloom of sorts.

The resulting beverage was pale and slightly fruity. The problem was, I had no idea which of the advertized teas I was drinking. Alas, the Flowering Tea balls looked much the same before dropping them into the water, and even when opened, could be easily misidentified. So I sipped a most delightful, but unknown cup of tea. But whether I was drinking Shooting Star, Sunset Oolong, Dragon Lily, Lavender Dream, or one of the other equally exotic flavors –it was delicious!

Which brings me to the issue of books. (You had to know I’d end up here). Sometimes, we readers need to be adventurous: pick a book that is different from our usual fare, a bit mysterious yet filled with promise, and try it.

I have my favorite types of books, as we all do, but I read other books, too. Sometimes, it’s because the column I write for Harford’s Heart Magazine requires that I read books outside of my preferred genres. Other times, a friend or family member recommends a book. And then, there are the books I become curious about because of their title, cover art, or opening sentence. (Note to authors: title, cover art, and opening sentence really do matter).

Do I always like new teas? No. Do I always like the books I read? Again, no. But discovering that satisfying new flavor of tea or that gem of a book make taking chances worthwhile. And so, I urge you to try something different, whether Flowering Tea Enchanted Blossoms or a new book genre or author. Perhaps, you’ll discover a favorite in the process. And maybe, it will even be one of my books: http://tinyurl.com/Vonnie-Winslow-Crist-Amazon or http://tinyurl.com/Vonnie-Winslow-Crist-UK-Amazon

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 I’ve reviewed books, movies, videos, and restaurants over the years for various publications. It’s not an easy job! As a reviewer, your thumbs up or thumbs down can have an impact on whether readers buy or pass up a book. Yikes! That’s a lot of responsibility – which is why I no longer review books.

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “Don’t you write the ‘Writer’s Block’ column for Harford’s Heart Magazine?”

And yes, I do write that column, but I don’t actually review the books presented there. I do interview authors and introduce books which have a local connection. In addition, I occasionally write a book-based column for the Holiday, Pets, or Children’s section of the magazine. But I try to not give my opinion as to the merits of the work.

“Why not?” you might ask.

Firstly, I’m interested in promoting reading, writers, and books – not in telling readers which books are worthy of their attention.

Secondly, as a writer I’ve come to realize a reviewer’s opinion is just what one person thinks of a book (or film or restaurant), and that view can be skewed for any number of reasons. Maybe the reviewer doesn’t care for a particular type of book. Maybe he or she just read a similar book and, consciously or unconsciously, is comparing the two rather than evaluating a book on its own merits. Maybe the reviewer is having a bad day. Or maybe the reviewer is trying to curry favor with someone. This isn’t meant to imply reviewers are dishonest, most are very honest. But reviewers are human.

Leprechaun Cake fc One of the first reviews (and one that still lingers on the internet) I received for my kids’ book, Leprechaun Cake & Other Tales, was a bad review. After the initial sting of the reviewer’s words, I looked more closely at the content. It was evident this person was not someone used to working with kids, had never met a polite child (how sad), and seemed to be a bit of a grump. How unfortunate this one person’s opinion might persuade others not to buy my book. Before you pull your handkerchief out to weep for my misfortune, many more reviews of Leprechaun Cake & Other Tales were published, and they were all positive. But the impact of one nasty review is hard to calculate.

I’ve begun to list books I’ve read on Goodreads, but as of yet, I’ve not posted reviews. I’m planning on posting brief reviews shortly, but I’ll be certain to frame my comments with “in my opinion” rather than stating for a fact that a book is great, mediocre, or awful. Actually, I’m usually generous in my “stars” on Goodreads, and I try to appreciate a book for what it is – meaning I try to rate a children’s book as a children’s book (quality illustrations, age-appropriate text), a non-fiction book as a non-fiction book (adequate references, soundness of research), a fantasy novel as a fantasy novel (good world-building, uniqueness of characters), etc.

Which brings me to another problem for me with reviews: negativity. My mom was a fan of the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” school of thought. And she passed that philosophy on to me. So instead of posting a poor rating on Amazon or Goodreads or elsewhere, I have a tendency to just not review that book. Cowardly? I don’t think so. Rather I remember that misguided review of years ago, and choose not to be unkind.

If you’ve read my books, please post your ratings/reviews on Amazon, Amazon UK, and Goodreads. And don’t forget to give the books a “thumbs up” if you enjoyed the read.

For you cooks out there, look for another easy, delicious recipe on Saturday, Feb.24th – Vonnie

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As 2012 draws to a close, I look back on a year filled with professional highs and lows.

pillywiggins My young adult novel, The Enchanted Skean, once represented by a successful New York literary agent found itself homeless when the agency closed. Due to family obligations, I couldn’t go to a science-fiction/fantasy convention I wanted to attend, and another con didn’t even acknowledge my desire to participate. My 2nd collection of speculative short stories, Owl Light, needed at least 2 more stories and I couldn’t seem to write the right tales. Plus, I had to wait my turn in the publishing schedule (not always easy to do when you’re anxious to see your work in print). A fantasy painting accepted for a magazine cover was not used when the editor left her position. Several stories I thought well-written were rejected from what seemed to me to be perfect markets. And I could go on.

But wait, before I cry in my tea, for every setback, there was something positive in my author-illustrator life.

My young adult novel, The Enchanted Skean, found a home with the wonderful folks at Mockingbird Lane Press, and is due to be published in early 2013. I was able to attend and participate on writer panels at the Library of Congress,  Balticon, and Darkover. And I had several unexpected book signing opportunities at the Bel Air Authors & Artists Holiday Sale and the Carroll County Farmer’s Market Authors’ Day. Ideas for the 2 tales I needed to write for Owl Light sprang into my head like nibble sprites, and my turn to be published by the excellent Cold Moon Press is rapidly drawing near. Though that one painting hasn’t made it to the cover of a magazine yet, 2 others were used for the covers of Bards & Sages Quarterly and Scifikuest. Perfect markets accepted and published several of my stories: Tales of the Talisman, Ocean Stories, and Zombies for a Cure. And I will go on!

Harford’s Heart Magazine featured one of my paintings as a cover and did a feature article on me as an illustrator. Bards & Sages accepted another painting for a 2013 cover. I had 2 ebooks published by Cold Moon Slivers and, yeah!, I got to do the cover art. I had the opportunity to appear as a guest on several blogs. The reviews for my 1st Cold Moon Press book, The Greener Forest, continue to be good. Broad Universe, a fabulous group that supports women who write speculative work, featured me 3 times on their Broadpod podcast, and once on Broadly Speaking. The beginning of an unpublished YA fantasy novel won the Silver Award from Maryland Writers Association. I felt honored to judge both a poetry competition and an art contest.

I’ve gotten to meet many readers and writers in 2012, both in-person and via Facebook, Goodreads, etc. And I was lucky enough to have a poem in the final issue of EMG-Zine, an online speculative magazine. Yes, I said final issue. Though the archives are supposed to remain available, EMG-Zine has closed its doors to new poems, stories, articles, and art work. The editor may be gaining time to work on her own creative endeavors, but readers and writers will surely miss this lovely publication.

And so, 2012 draws to a close. On this last day of the old year, I have an interview up on Highlighted Author- http://highlightedauthor.com/2012/12/welcome-vonnie-winslow-crist/ Thanks, Charlene A. Wilson for allowing me to finish 2012 on a high note. (Okay, that was a little punny.)  I look forward to 2013 with all of its ups and downs, unexpected curves, and joyous surprises. And may 2013 bring good things to each of you.

PS: Though I try to count my blessings accurately, I’m sure I’ve over-looked a publisher or 2 who has used my work. Thanks to them, too.

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I’ve been lucky over the past year to have had several of my paintings selected for cover art for magazines. The nicest part about this wonderful series of acceptances is that multiple editors have chosen my work.

“A cover is a cover,” you might say. “Why does it matter how many editors are involved?”

My response would be the same if it was artwork, stories, articles, or poems: One editor is just one opinion, but a group of unrelated editors brings different backgrounds and preferences to the table. If an artist or writer is able to please several editors, then she is also able to connect with a larger group of readers. And connecting with readers is what writers and illustrators need to do if they hope to build an audience for their work.

 My latest magazine cover is for the October/November 2012 issue of Harford’s Heart Magazine. Not only is one of my paintings on the cover, but there’s an article about me as an illustrator, and several other pieces of my art featured on the inside of the magazine (p.8 and 44-45). Here’s the link to the online version of the current issue: http://www.harfordsheart.com Click on: Current Issue, then flip through the pages to see the article.

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “That painting looks mighty familiar.”

And you’d be right! The artwork is part of a larger painting that will be the wrap-around cover of my next collection of speculative stories, Owl Light, due out from Cold Moon Press in a few weeks. Again, I’m trying to build a group of readers who like the look of my art, and are curious about what sort of tales would fit into a book with a yellow-eyed owl peering from its cover.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you find the barn owl in front of an orange moon with the dark forest and sky an appealing cover? And what sort of stories do you think will be in Owl Light?

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 Sending The Greener Forest out to reviewers wasn’t easy. What if the reviewers hated my beloved child? The Greener Forest is a collection of short stories (with a few fantasy poems & illustrations tossed in for good measure), and it’s therefore harder to find reviewers willing to read the book. What if reviewers begrudgingly skimmed the pages of the collection, then jotted down mean-spirited words? Yikes!

But an author must push aside her doubts, and send review copies out into the big, wide world. If she’s worked hard enough on her craft, edited judiciously, and listened to her editor — maybe, just maybe, the readers and reviewers will say positive things. And if the reviews are dreadful, then she must slip on her rhinoceros skin, ignore the critical jabs, and keep on writing.

Why bother with reviews? Because readers from Amazon to Goodreads to hundreds of other sites look for reviews to help them make their reading choices. And, as much as writers like to deny it, we need to hear from our readers so we can write better.

The Greener Forest has been well-reviewed to date. (She wipes the sweat from her brow and smiles tentatively). Thanks to the reviewers who took the time to read, then write a few words about my book. If you’d like to read a few reviews of The Greener Forest, check out the excerpts below, then follow the links.

Valentina at Carabosse’s Library wrote: “I highly recommend this collection.” http://tinyurl.com/carabosses-library-review-GF

Lindsay of Lindsay & Jane’s Views & Reviews wrote: “5 Stars. This book is filled with beautiful poems, magical fantastical stories and stunning illustrations.” http://tinyurl.com/lindsay-review-greener-forest

Natalie of Besotted with Books wrote: “There are so many great little stories throughout, some stories are beautifully magical and others sent a chill down my spine.” http://tinyurl.com/besotted-with-books-review

Laura Shovan, ed., Little Patuxent Review wrote: “Crist is a master of metaphor. In The Greener Forest her modern fairy tales stand out.” http://tinyurl.com/little-patuxent-rev-review

Fran Johnson, ed., Harford’s Heart Magazine wrote: “Crist has created believable characters, including some who are not-quite-human.” http://tinyurl.com/harfords-heart-review

And remember, after you read The Greener Forest to post on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. your feelings about the book.

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I’m back from a week in the mountains of West Virginia, and I’m filled with both longing for the quiet of the deep forest and eagerness to resume my “normal” life. Coming home after a trip is always like that. I miss the excitement of adventure and travel, but relish the familiarity of Wood’s Edge.

 I think my writing is like that, too. As a writer, I was first a poet. This spring/summer, I worked hard on an essay, “Fairies, Magic & Monsters,” that appears in the latest issue of “Little Patuxent Review,” and on a number of short stories for various magazines and anthologies. By tomorrow noontime, I need to finish my next column for “Harford’s Heart Magazine” and get it emailed to my editor. And before next weekend, I really need to complete an article promised to an editor ages ago. Then, I suppose I’ll write a poem or two. You see, poetry for me is like a faded, well-worn pair of jeans — comfortable and easy to slip into.

 For those who might like to read a couple of my poems, the fabulous new anthology from Maryland Writer’s Association, “Life in Me like Grass on Fire,” contains “Harpers Ferry” and “Venus.” Per usual, I used myth, folklore, and legend in both poems. As a bonus for being part of the book, I got a chance to share “Harpers Ferry” and chat about contributing to anthologies at a meeting of the Howard County Branch of MWA in July. It was lovely to spend an evening with a group of enthusiastic readers & writers.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? Sharing the love of words with like-minded individuals. So thanks, MWA for including my poems and inviting me to participate in several special presentations based on “Life in Me like Grass on Fire.”

Now, back to my column…

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Networking, that ambiguous term that means a friendly chat that may or may not result in a career opportunity, works. I’ll give you a few examples to prove my point.

About 10 years ago, I was selling my books at the now non-existent Bel Air (MD) Book Festival on a sweltering day that ended in a cloud-burst. A woman looked at my illustration & book display, asked for contact information, and said she was thinking about starting a magazine. I smiled, chatted with her briefly, handed her my number, and never gave the conversation a 2nd thought. Several years later, I got a call from that woman, Fran Johnson, who was now editor/publisher of Harford’s Heart Magazine, and she offered me the chance to write the magazine’s book review column. And how I even came to be at that book festival is another tale of a friend of a friend suggesting the festival organizer contact me.

 Nearly 30 years ago (yikes, I’m dating myself here), I was standing next to a woman in an aerobics dance class and she was complaining about the illustrator she was using for a cookbook she’d written. I said I could do the job. She asked to see samples. And that was the start of not only a multiple-book working relationship with Bobbie Hinman & Prima Publishing, but the opening of a door that led me to The Vegetarian Resource Group. And  in addition to doing design & illustration work for VRG books and pamphlets, I’ve been illustrating The Vegetarian Journal for 25 years now. Perhaps most importantly, my children’s book, Leprechaun Cake & Other Tales, was published by the VRG.

 In 2009, as President of the Maryland State National League of American Pen Women, I was putting together an Arts Day. I needed women editors for a literary panel. Fran (see above) was busy, but I called a few women I knew who edited literary magazines and a friend who was working for an e-publisher, and had a wonderful group of women for the panel. (All of whom I met through networking). But I still needed a woman editor from a commercial publication to round-out the panel. I looked at the magazines on my shelf, and with little hope of a “Yes,” called Kim Cross of Faerie Magazine. To my delight, Kim agreed to come to the Arts Day and participate on the Women Editors panel. We amicably chatted that day, and have since developed a friendly relationship.  And because of that networking opportunity, I’ve contributed both fiction and nonfiction to Faerie Magazine.

 Which brings me to the newest bonus of networking. For years, I’ve help lead Balticon’s Poetry Workshop (Balticon is the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s Annual Convention). There, I met author & editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail. Danielle was editing an anthology of short stories about dragons for Dark Quest Books, and agreed to let me submit a story. The story was selected, Dragon’s Lure was published, and then the book was reviewed by Professor C. of BSCReview — now, BoomTron. Professor C. loved my story, so when my new book, The Greener Forest, was published, I asked him if he’d be interested in reviewing it. He said, “Yes.” And the resulting review and interview can be found on the wonderful BoomTron site: http://www.boomtron.com/2011/04/the-greener-forest-by-vonnie-winslow-crist-review/  and http://www.boomtron.com/2011/04/vonnie-winslow-crist-interview/

Would any of these things have happened without networking? Maybe. But I think writers, illustrators, and anyone looking to expand their professional opportunities need to keep their eyes and ears open to networking possibilities. You never know who might be next to you in line at the grocery store or where that conversation at a meeting might lead.

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