So, we are in our homes. There’s no getting around that. While going outside in the sunshine is great, and I definitely enjoy a long, leisurely afternoon walk, a new free-time inspired exercise regime is unlikely to happen in my world. I much prefer to curl up in a cozy sweater on a soft bank of pillows with a cup of tea and a good book. I don’t often get a chance to do this, as many of us don’t. Our lives are busy, and reading for pleasure can become a luxury which falls by the wayside.
Right now, many of us are being given a moment of pause from the to and fro of our normal lives. While this can be scary and intimidating, it can also be a time for us to reconnect. We have a moment to rediscover those things about which we are passionate. For us bibliophiles and lovers of literature, that is books and anything to do with the books. With many bookstores and libraries closed, the normal venues where we get our fix seem out of reach. To remedy this situation, authors, publishers, and book lovers the world over are uniting to establish a strong online literary community.
Many bookstores are providing curbside and online shopping via web stores or social media. Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe and Phoenix will assemble a custom book care package tailored just for you or someone you love. This is just one of the many offerings being made by local bookstores—so be sure to check your local listings and see what’s available near you. Although live, in-person events have been canceled or postponed, book tours and public literary lectures are being moved to web-based platforms for home viewing. Libraries and online magazines are offering their archives for free. A simple web search will bring you hundreds of resources, at your fingertips, for your reading pleasure. Use this time of interlude and rekindle your fire for the written word! Here are a few links to get you started:
https://www.quarantinebookclub.com/ – The Quarantine Book Club is a Zoom-based platform which hosts weekly author events. Their tag-line, “You’re stuck at home. Chat with an author,” pretty much sums up how it works. In the meetings, authors discuss their work and answer audience questions.
http://www.gutenberg.org/ – Project Gutenberg is an online library with over 60,000 books in a wide-range of subjects. These books are free for download or online viewing.
https://electricliterature.com/ – Electric Literature is a nonprofit digital publisher whose website contains essays, criticism, and literary news. Along with this content, Electric Lit’s digital magazines, Recommended Reading and The Commuter offer short stories, novel excerpts, poetry, flash fiction, and graphic narrative.
For the Kids
https://www.storylineonline.net/ – Storyline Online is a streaming platform which hosts celebrity actors reading children’s books aloud alongside colorful illustrations. Readers such as Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, James Earl Jones, and Betty White bring children’s stories to life. The site also offers supplemental educational curriculum developed by educators with each book.
https://www.weareteachers.com/virtual-author-activities/ – We Are Teachers virtual community has gathered its “Big List of Children’s Authors Doing Online Read-Alouds & Activities” here. Many of these events are available via social media, and accessible using your smartphone or other mobile device.
It’s likely that your daily life has been affected by the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. News sources and social media are constantly being inundated with updates on cases, school closures, and panic buying. Amidst the chaos, it’s important to help one another in these tremulous times.
While everyone’s lives are being affected by this pandemic, some suffer more than others. Across the U.S., millions of children depend on schools to provide them not only to learn, but also to eat. In light of nationwide school closures, Jennifer Garner and Amy Adams have teamed up with Save the Children and No Kid Hungry to create #savewithstories. Celebrities across the nation are reading children’s stories through Instagram and Facebook, as well as collecting donations to ensure that school and community programs are well-equipped to keep kids fed and learning.
For more information about this program, and to donate, click here, and be sure to follow this initiative on Instagram at @savewithstories.
The moon cut the night sky, a razor-sharp glint casting only enough light to throw all into shadow. Pools of light cut feebly into the night, outlining the figures that moved swiftly through them, in and out of darkness. The figures hastened towards a brightly lit building in the distance as if pulled there by some unseen force. There was a metallic taste to the air, and the girl breathed in deeply, sucking the hint of electrical current deep into her lungs.
Tonight was the night of the gathering. Her pulse quickened as she took her first step through the maze of shadows. Perhaps she would be met by only whispers and furtive glances, huddled figures gathered closely in dim corners. The fabrics of their elegant clothes swishing softly, the deep folds capable of hiding any number of perilous items. Instruments edged with the same precision as the neatly honed words of the authors of mystery and suspense who collected inside. Fear mingled with excitement, and her curiosity drove her onward towards the distant glow which broke the darkness.
My Night at Croak & Dagger
Though this may be a highly romanticized version of the night I visited with the New Mexico chapter of the Sisters in Crime organization, neatly titled Croak & Dagger, my excitement was no less palpable. I was elated at the idea of a network of women writers who share my love of characters that cannot be trusted, moonless nights whispering the promise of death and betrayal, and the thrill of the hunt. I knew upon learning of this society that here I would find kindred spirits, here I would find women laced together in ink and blood.
The Sisters in Crime is a world-wide network of writers and bibliophiles boasting more than 60 chapters with over 4000 members. Self-described on their website as “authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by our affection for the genre and our support of women crime writers.” With more than 50 chapters existing in the United States, the syndicate’s wide-spread reach is indicative of the enthusiasm which permeates its meetings.
I arrived with notebook hand, armed with the name Charlene Dietz, president of the local chapter with whom I had corresponded. The room itself was in stark contrast with my gloomy musings, brightly lit and inviting, packed with chairs in neat rows. There was a colorful array of scarves, jewelry and cozy sweaters to stave off the chill of the late winter air outside. A buzz filled the room, people happily chatting, leaning close in to each other in their excitement. I was greeted at once by a warm smile by a woman who introduced herself as Ann, and gently pulled me into the fold. We were greeted, in turn, by a tall woman with perfectly bobbed, silvery hair and an equally gentle look. As she introduced herself, this was Madame President, she welcomed me with a hug and I felt immediately at ease.
I took my place in the front row as the meeting commenced with a jovial feeling. There was light banter back and forth between the speakers and crowd. A change in future meeting venue was being discussed, and as one speaker stated, “I cannot stress to you how hard it is to find a parking spot,” she was answered with a mischievous “How hard is it?”, the company bubbling with laughter. This was the business portion of the evening, and topics ranged from upcoming meetings to community events were discussed. The line-up of speakers for the next few months included a court reporter, a fellow author, and a neurologist. Each of these presenters selected for the knowledge they could impart which was relevant to the crime genre. The members discussed an upcoming “speed dating” event which would consist of a conversation between one writer and one reader for three minute increments in several rounds.
The members enthusiastically planned for events such as a library tour in Albuquerque and the surrounding area, as well as celebrating each other’s publishing and writing successes. One author was scheduled as a panelist for a literary conference in California, another had just gotten his 600th Amazon review. Yes, there were also a few men sprinkled throughout the meeting, illustrating the inclusivity which I had already felt. Perhaps the greatest excitement in the room came when the premiere event of 2020 was reviewed. Having a submitted a request to the national syndicate, Croak & Dagger was proud to announce that it had been given permission to have an event with best-selling mystery author Rhys Bowen. With discussion of sister chapters and the appearance of a nationally known writer, it was apparent that while this chapter was local, the interest and the network itself was ubiquitous. I got the feeling that no matter where a person might visit the Sisters in Crime, they would be greeted with as much warmth and literary fervor as I had been.
The latter half of the meeting consisted of a panel discussion, consisting of the voices of readers, the subject of which was “What Do Readers Want Authors to Know?”. Introductions of the panelists were made by Charlene, prefaced with the statement “this may or may not be true.” Some of the biographical information she shared was fictional, and everyone present was delighted by the creative energy. After being asked what they looked for in covers when choosing a book, ideas such as “interesting details” and “what other authors have blurbed about the book” on the back cover were mentioned. One panelist looked for an interesting font on the spine of a book when choosing. The members of the crowd paid close attention, each visibly storing away the information for future perusal. Some plot dos and don’ts were also brought up, such as not killing off an important character, or not allowing for a character to betray the reader by acting against their nature.
The final question of the night was, “What happens when you close a book?” A panelist replied simply, “If you’ve created a world that I can inhabit, I will remember.” This heady idea was agreed on by all the panelists and the discussion closed with all present reminded of the reason that we all love the written word. The panelists were each given an engraved silver-toned letter opener, marked S in C (Sisters in Crime) Croak & Dagger to mark the occasion.
As the meeting ended, the chatter crested throughout the room once again, this time filled excitement for the future and abuzz with fresh ideas. Members dwindled out, heading to the nearby coffee shop to continue the lively exchange. I hung back taking it all in. Several members spoke to me and expressed their pleasure at my presence and encouragement to me as a writer. Ann even shared with me some of her own story, telling me about her days writing as a both a student and teacher. I left with a feeling of deep satisfaction. I had not only found a meeting of like minds, I had found a sisterhood (ahem, and brotherhood) of kind and creative souls.
The Tucson Festival of Books takes place next Saturday and Sunday, March 14 and 15, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. This event includes panels from over 350 visiting authors, as well as countless activities and performances. If you are interested in attending but want to avoid a cumbersome drive, Changing Hands Bookstore is offering a bus ride to the festival on Saturday, March 14!
Tickets can be purchased any time from March 1–14 for $65 per person. Those looking to attend this event should arrive at either Changing Hand’s Phoenix location at 6:45 a.m. or the Tempe location at 7:15 a.m. Tickets also include a continental breakfast, coffee, water, and a goodie bag with advanced reader copies of books! Participants will arrive in time for the festival’s opening and will be able to spend the day as they please, reconvening with the bookstore group at 5:45 p.m.
For more information about this event, and to purchase tickets, click here, and to learn more about the Tucson Festival of Books, click here.
Are you interested in getting published in a literary magazine? Are you looking for information about what editors are looking to publish? Head over to Desert Nights, Rising Stars Literary Fair for more information!
From 2:15 to 2:45 p.m. on February 22, editors from Superstition Review and Hayden’s Ferry Review (two ASU-based literary organizations) will provide helpful tips about submitting to literary journals. Editors in attendance include Rachel Hagerman (The Spellbinding Shelf‘s very own editor-in-chief!), Tess Prendergast, Lucas Selby, and Scott Daughtridge DeMer. They will share advice about contributing to the publishing world, and will also be available for questions and an individual follow-up at the conclusion of the panel.
For more information about this event, and to RSVP, click here.
Location: Front Lawn, Old Main, Arizona State University, 400 E. Tyler Mall, Tempe
Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2014 Genre: Contemporary Fiction Format: Audiobook Time Length: 7 hours, 2 minutes Narrated by Scott Brick Buy Book My Rating: 5/5 stars
With pitiful book sales, the theft of his most prized rare book, and the loss of his beloved wife, irritable A.J. Fikry begins to dread his life as the sole bookstore owner of Alice Island.
Soon though, a mysterious woman leaves a toddler in Fikry’s bookstore with a simple note: “I want Maya to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about such kinds of things. I love her very much, but I can no longer take care of her.”
As A.J. searches for Maya’s mother, befriends a local cop, and reaches out for childcare help, Fikry begins a journey of transformation that catches the attention of his local book readers as well as the eccentric Knightley Press sale rep, Amelia Loman.
I picked up an audiobook version of this novel after a good friend from our Spellbinding team recommended it to me. (Thank you, Payton, our lovely Managing Editor!)
Listening to this audiobook during my long commutes made me excited to drive to and from school. If you are not a local reader, I can assure you that traffic in the Phoenix area isn’t exactly a pleasant experience. Side effects include grumpiness, checking the time incessantly, boredom, and annoyance. While I might be dramatizing the state of Phoenix’s rush hour traffic, claiming that The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry made my commute enjoyable is, without a doubt, some high literary praise.
Aside from the immediate entertainment value, I adored this book for its narrator’s unabashed quirkiness and love for books. I felt as if I could befriend both A.J. and the book’s narrator, and I could see them fitting in well with the college and literary community here in Phoenix. There were murmurs of bookish preferences throughout the entire novel, from small praises of authors like Flannery O’Connor to an abrupt and hilarious quip about a well-known thriller author using a ghostwriter. Zevin is even comfortable and masterful enough to playfully poke fun at her story’s own intentional cliches.
On top of winning me over for its clear focus on books and the reading life, I easily fell in love with the novel’s main characters. When lovable characters were in pain, my heart sank; and when they triumphed, my heart soared.
I will say, some of the plot was fairly predictable, but certainly not in a disappointing way. It was more a mark of good craftsmanship, as Fikry might suggest.
This book is absolutely perfect for any bookworm with a hunger for literary references and a good story. Any book lover will feel right at home in the cozy bookstore of A.J. Fikry with its stacks of ARCs, Moby Dick-themed restaurant, and both disastrous and successful literary events.
And since I can only imagine A.J. Fikry himself would be appalled at my choice to include an audiobook (Heavens! At least I didn’t include information for an ebook!), I’ll include a link to a locally-sold paperback as well.
Are you hungry for the avant-garde of the literary world? Do you find yourself seeking out the newest, previously undiscovered works of up-and-coming authors? Are you the first one of your friends to ask “have you read this yet?” If so, then be sure not to miss out on The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing annual student showcase.
Creative writing students from all walks of life will be presenting their original works in an evening of story, poetry, and literary celebration. Included will be works of of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, food writing, science fiction, historical fiction, and more. The evening will also feature writing from several published and award-winning authors.
This marvelous event is sure to be filled with the creative outpourings of burgeoning artists, plenty of twists and turns, perhaps some surprising reveals, and most certainly some ground-breaking and thought-provoking word play!
The Piper Writers Studio is “committed to supporting writers in every stage of their development” with “challenging and diverse educational opportunities.” Anyone, not just ASU students, can attend the not-for-credit classes held in this division of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. The studio welcomes writers of all levels of experience and seeks to help them grow from the point they are at, be that novice or seasoned professional. Class sizes are small, and are taught by local and visiting faculty. Please visit piper.asu.edu/classes/about for more information about classes, instructors, etc.
For those of you who don’t know, National Novel Writing Month is the world’s largest creative writing event. During the month of November, writers of all experience levels are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days!
Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month this November? Head over to Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix on Saturday, November 30th for hours of writing time amidst fellow writers looking to finish their novels! Interested writers only need to bring their preferred writing tool and their wonderful selves! This event will start at 2pm—get excited!
For more information about this event, click here.
Are you an aspiring writer or storyteller looking to have your work heard? If so, “Cold Turkey” is the event for you. Ten storytellers will have only six minutes to tell a story based on the theme of “Cold Turkey.” Eight of these people will be chosen on November 17, and two more will be chosen the night of the event. Five members from the audience will also be chosen as judges—so no matter what your style is, there are plenty of ways to get involved.
The event will be held on Friday, November 29 at Changing Hands in Phoenix. So, whether you’re looking to be one of the lucky storytellers, a judge, or just a member of the audience looking for a laugh, this event will most certainly be a good time.
Oh, and did I mention the winner gets a $30 cash prize? Just one more reason to check out this installment of Storyline Slam.
Are you a writer looking to take your craft to the next level? Then look no further than “Write Here, Write Now,” a pop-up writing workshop hosted on the fourth Monday of every month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Changing Hands Phoenix.
This month, acclaimed author Tom Leveen will be hosting a workshop focused on dialogue, making your characters stand out, as well as first and third person narration. For more information, click here.