Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Voices From the Past -- Voices You Never Want to Hush

Do you have memories of sitting around a picnic table on the Fourth of July? The little kids are throwing Frisbees and the bigger kids (write men in here) are tossing a football and challenging their brothers and cousins to impossible feats. It's hot and the women of the family are sitting in the shade. How often have you heard the phrase, "Remember when…" and the memories begin to flow as if the gates to the dam have been opened? These are voices from the past.

Do you remember holidays where a crowded, hot kitchen was filled with delicious scents? Women in aprons bantered across a flour covered table and laughter filled the air. The counters were covered with pies and Aunt Alice's special veggie casserole was just coming out of the oven.

How about running barefoot across the damp lawn as the sun slid below the horizon, chasing fireflies, carrying mason jars with holes punched in the lids. There are cousins everywhere and the older folks are relaxing in rocking chairs on porches that don't have screens.

Have you ever stood around a dining room table while thirty relatives sang Happy Birthday to you and there are not many dry eyes because another family milestone has been reached? Do you remember your first date with the man/woman you married? Is there one Christmas that is so special you can rerun it minute by minute?

This is the stuff of Memoirs. These are the stories that are the fabric of Family History. And, every day Family History is being lost because those memories are just that…they are hidden in the hearts and minds of a family and unless they are preserved they will disappear generation by generation.

I don't usually get up on a soapbox but there is one subject near and dear to my heart and it's Family History. I know many of you are doing the genealogy thing these days and that's great. But in the end it's just a list of names and dates. The true value of a family is not there. The true value are memories future generations won't know about; the stories that set the pace for the future, and they will disappear and that's a terrible shame.

Maybe what influenced me to become so engrossed in getting everyone to write a Memoir is my own family. I had great parents and a loving sister but that was all the family in America. No grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. My parents came to this country in 1930 and never looked back. They were the most gung-ho citizens I've ever run into. But, sitting down to dinner was the only family reunion we knew and after my parents died there was no one to ask about what happened 'way back then'. So, being an author, I thought it would be a good idea to write down whatever I could remember. Not just a list of things but a running story about our lives and it was fun. Once the first chapter (on my father teaching my mother to drive) was written the memories rushed back. I didn't really think of it as a 'book', just a record for the children. When I sent it to them their first comment was, "I never knew Grandma and Grandpa did any of that stuff," I did get it published (see Following Daddy in my list of published books).

But, what I preach and teach is not that everyone should write a book. It should be a written personal account of every good, bad, emotional, silly, interesting and memorable thing that you and your family did together. If you are fortunate enough to have relatives that remember 'back when' you have an asset I didn't have but the stories are there and they must be preserved.

Today my goal is to help anyone interested in writing a Memoir do so. It doesn't have to be a piece of literary excellence, just a collection of stories remembered.

Every day precious Family History is being lost. Your family now and in the future will thank you. It isn't difficult, after all you have the entire cast of characters and the plot lines right there in your heart and head.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Accolades from South Florida Community College

This week I was surprised with a letter of recommendation from South Florida Community College in Avon Park, Florida and I want to share it. Actually I'd like to shout it from the housetops but that wouldn't be half as effective as sharing it with all of you.

I don't think there's anything more gratifying than getting a good report card from those you have worked with. Getting a "job well done" mark is music to the ears. My efforts to continually open new doors by helping others is one thing I really value and helping aspiring writers tops the list of those endeavors.

Here's the letter:

"One of the goals that wise people often aspire to is that of continuous improvement—the process of always seeking to refine one's accomplishments, to stretch oneself and to reach new heights. Sunny Serafino is one of those achievers, a true "lifelong learner."

In the past five years she has been a presenter in the SFCC Lifetime Learners Institute several times, and each time the reviews get more enthusiastic. She has taught three Creative Writing classes for Community Education, sharing her skills, talents and dreams so that others can follow in her footsteps. Her students are proud of her accomplishments as a writer, and relate to her as a woman and teacher.

Sunny speaks from her heart and touches her audience.


Rebecca Rousch, Director
Community Education"

I'm still blushing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Clubs - Who Knew?

Who knew book clubs would make such an impact on the reading population? The advent of book clubs is nothing new—they've been around for many, many years. But, they really became popular about twenty years ago. I know of one book club right here in Florida that is celebrating over 60 years.

In the past ten years I have been an enthusiastic participant in several book clubs and the rewards have been eye-opening. Readers, true lovers of books, now have a real outlet to discuss what they like, love or hate. Thousands of readers meet every month, in living rooms, on porches, in libraries and clubhouses. They have found a way to not only enjoy books themselves but to share their feelings with other readers. Witnessing the lively discussions about the latest book is an experience. By choosing venues that might not have been selected by the individual members, book clubs open up doors to more genres than one would expect. I had my own comfort zone, a list of authors who wrote things I wanted to read. But, because of a book club association I've read books I would never have picked up. I've been introduced to new authors and, much to my surprise, I often add that author to my 'must read' list. Books that might never have been explored have become favorites.

If you love to read and you haven't joined a local book club, you should. If there aren't any local book clubs then start one, it isn't all that difficult. If you don't already know, find out who among your friends enjoys reading. Search outside your own group for other readers. Most book clubs are small, a dozen or less members who meet once a month. Usually the book chosen for that month is selected by mutual agreement after several suggestions are made. Some clubs assign one person each time to be the moderator, arranging a list of questions for the group to discuss after reading the selected book. Some review suggestions can be found on line. I know of a couple of book clubs who even rate the book on a scale of 2 to 5, 5 being excellent and the others…well you get the picture. Others just have each member give an opinion of the book; for instance how the author handled the plot, characters, whether they were enthralled by the book, was the message conveyed in a believable and interesting manner. The conversations are exciting, thought provoking and just plain fun.

As a child I was fascinated by books, first as my mother read to me, her voice changing from hushed with awe to feverish with excitement. She made the words on the pages become visual. I was transported to magical places, learned wonderful things and felt as if I had become part of the plot and kin to the characters. Even reading fiction you learn things that might not have been made clear any other way and visited places you might never in your lifetime get to see. I couldn't wait to read on my own and then as the years went by I knew that some day I wanted to be the one who put those magical words between the covers of a book. I think reading opens the windows of the world. Between the front and back covers you can find a world of excitement, humor, pathos, love and hate and life that is beyond your realm of reality.

Not a member of a book club? If you're a reader you're missing out on a great experience.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How to Become a Publishing Success

When I first decided that what I wanted to do most was to write a book and get it published, I had no idea of the procedures needed to accomplish that goal.

After a few trials and errors I completed the first part of that goal, my first novel. But, achieving the next part—getting it published—I found was like running full blast into a solid brick wall. I did all the research, poured through the Writer's Market and Literary Marketplace in the library. I studied other author's suggestions and delved into every possible nook and cranny of the publishing business. What I found was that you couldn't even approach a publisher except through an agent and that getting an agent was not easy. Still I tried the prescribed method, writing a creative query letter, preparing a scintillating synopsis scripted to exactly what the publisher's or agent's guidelines prescribed and, of course, always including the ever-important SASE.

As the rejections began to roll in, there went the daydream of writing, publishing and then sitting back and collecting royalties. It wasn't so much the fact that my efforts were being rejected that bothered me, but the methods agents used to let you know they weren't interested. I received form letters or post cards with no reason for the rejection and no hint at what that agent didn't like. One agent actually tore off the top of my letter, scribbled 'not for us' on it and sent it back in my SASE. No reason, no suggestion for improvement, just 'not for us'. I found that most traditional publishers would not even consider my work unless I was a well known author. Hello? That's like saying to the new graduate, "We'd love to hire you but you need experience first." How do you become a well known author if no one looks at your work?

After a year of no success with this method I began to explore another avenue. With the rapid growth of Internet and web-based publishing, the process of publishing a book has changed dramatically. The need for a "Manhattan publishing house" has all but disappeared. Now I can successfully use my computer to create my book. By using an online POD (Publish on Demand) an author has complete control over all aspects of the book. Of course, I didn't know that it would mean I would wear several hats—writer, editor, publisher, promotional/publicity manager and sales distribution manager. It's a one-woman show but I love it.

I have published ten books over the past twelve years, nine novels and one humorous memoir. During this time three of my novels have received literary awards. I've become an accomplished speaker, addressing women's groups, civic organizations, churches, schools and universities. Our local community college has invited me to give several classes on creative writing.

My use of the POD method of publishing has made it possible for my dreams to come true. What are you waiting for?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Welcome to My Blog

I'm so excited - entering the world of cyberspace is new for me but I'm loving it already. I hope you will enjoy reading what I write as much as I enjoy writing it.

I'm a very fortunate gal -- not only am I doing what I dreamed of most of my adult life, but I'm loving every minute of it. Twelve years ago I began to write - not just letters or dreary things that are necessary but BOOKS -- NOVELS. It was a dream come true and I didn't even envision just how wonderful it would be. During this time I've published nine novels and one humorous memoir. And, three of the novels have won literary awards!

My novels are all about courageous women because I happen to think that every woman is courageous at some time and in some way in her life. I've gone through some periods of time that definitely took courage. Each book is a separate story, Each main character faces a real-life experience -- like something you never expected and it's suddenly thrust in your face, knocking your knees out from under you but you have to go on.

In writing these books I hope to inspire other women to find the courage they might need; to support and understand that life often hands us more than just a bunch of lemons and it takes more than lemonade to get through them.

I look forward to interacting with other courageous ladies and in letting them know that they are never alone and there are others who love and support them.