Welcome to The Persnickety Proofreader site!

February 20, 2009

Thanks for stopping by. Here you’ll find useful information to help your writing come alive, make your words leap off the page and dance around with glee. There’s plenty to see and do, so feel free to poke about. The blog is updated regularly – at least weekly – so check back often. Or you can follow us, to be automatically notified of new postings.


Encouragement and Inspiration in the Grocery Store

October 23, 2021

Inspiration and encouragement can come in many forms. From anyone. In any number of places. Both expected and unlikely.

This afternoon, I had occasion to receive enthusiastic encouragement for my writing, as well as to offer inspiration and encouragement to another writer I met in the grocery store.

I was rounding the corner of the meat department of my local Kroger when I spied a familiar face. It was Margaret, a woman from church, who’d recently learned of my secret superpower (being an author) and promptly went out and bought my first novel from a local store. She tore through it and subsequently raved about it, then purchased the other three books from me a couple weeks back.

When I saw her, her face lit up and she hugged me, then immediately effused about how much she’s enjoyed reading the novels, and said she’s only got a little bit left in the fourth book.

I was amazed to hear she’d read volumes two and three so quickly and had made such short work of number four.

“Oh, they’re fantastic!” she exclaimed. “I feel so sorry for poor Gary – and I hate that Jolene. I just want to give her a slap!” (Gary and Jolene are the protagonist and antagonist, respectively, in the fourth novel, Second Chances). Then she said, “Can I ask you a question about your books?”

Seriously, what author doesn’t want to talk about his/her work? I said of course she could, thinking it would be a question about one character or another, or part of the story line.

“Is there going to be another Sheldon book?” Margaret asked eagerly, patting me on the arm.

You’d have thought I’d just said they were giving away sirloin steaks! The elation on her face when I said three more books were in the works astonished me.

I told her I’d just this morning finished a final read-through of my fifth book and I’m nearly ready to send it off to my beta readers. (It comes out next June 21.) She said for me to hurry up with it because she can’t wait to read it.

As we talked, she waved down Herb and Judy, the couple she’d been shopping with, and said, “This is that author I’ve been telling you about, the one with those four books I’m reading.”

Judy’s eyes widened. She said Margaret had related such wonderful things about the books, and when she spoke about them, it sounded like she was talking about real people and situations.

Herb congratulated me for my achievements and reticently mentioned he also does a bit of writing – but not for publication, he was quick to point out (in the way so many new writers do). Rather, he indicated he wanted to put together stories from his life, in book form, as gifts for his wife, kids, grandkids and great grandchildren.

We talked a little bit about the writing process and I mentioned the writers group that meets monthly at the local library, encouraging him to come to the next session and bring a sample of his writing.

Then he mentioned having had one of his one-skillet venison recipes published some time ago in a hunting-magazine’s cookbook.

Herb also told me about some of the poetry he’d written – including one he’d written for one of his daughter’s close friends, after the death of her newborn baby; a piece about a Navy ship; and a silly poem about a deer hunter who goes out on Christmas Eve and finds himself envisioning taking out one of Santa’s reindeer.

There’s an annual online poetry competition that’s open specifically to nonsense or humor poetry – and it’s free to enter. I wrote down “Wergle Flomp poetry contest” on a the unused bottom portion of my shopping list, tore it off, gave it to Herb and urged him to look it up online and enter his Christmas Eve hunter poem.

The way I see it, it’s our duty as writers to encourage other aspiring writers wherever we can. And if chatting in a grocery store with another hopeful writer and offering a tangible next step (even if it’s just a scribbled note at the bottom of a discarded shopping list) can give Herb that little extra push of encouragement he needs to see his project through to completion, then I’m working toward fulfilling my responsibility.

How about you? How have you encouraged other writers in their journeys? What simple steps can you take to be an inspiration to someone else?

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is an international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published four novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero and Second Chances – the first four in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. Her fifth novel, Tender Mercies, is due out next June. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


Does An Abbreviated Stint in Facebook Jail Make Me a Criminal?

October 15, 2021

This week I learned just how dangerous a little supposed knowledge can be. I also learned how moronic Facebook’s language-patrol algorithms are.

Earlier this week, a friend posted a pun about crows. It was about birds of a feather sticking together; the punch line mentioned something about velcrows. Ha ha. Funny stuff. Really clever, actually.

Of course, being the stupendous snark machine I am, I responded to the woman who posted it something to the effect that someone ought to murder her for that pun about a group of crows. It’s a little on the nose for me to point out the pun in my response was that a group of crows is called a murder (but I tell you this in case you weren’t aware of that).

A murder of crows. Amusing if you’ve been around a while and happen to have a certain awareness of the English language.

Easy to take as a threat of violence if you happen to be Facebook.

Which is what they did. I thought it was odd that I could still Like people’s posts, but none of my comments would post. The Facebook Police eventually got around to informing me a comment I’d posted was inappropriate and constituted a threat of violence – one which violated their community standards. So they advised me I’d been tossed into the cyber hoosegow for three days because of my apparent inability to play well with others.

It might not have been so bad if that hadn’t been my <gasp> second strike in three months. Back in July, one of my cousins, responding to someone’s post about not having taken the time to listen to the older generation’s stories back when we were young. She commented, “I could just kick myself for not listening to them back when I was young.”

In an effort to be helpful (or tongue in cheek, as the case may be), I replied, “Don’t do that, Gloria; I’d be happy to kick you.”

Clearly, the Facebots have no sense of humor, artificial or otherwise. They removed my comment because it threatened and incited violence. Sheesh! Can’t these boneheads take a joke? I took a screen shot of it and messaged it to my cousin. She thought it was hilarious and said she wouldn’t have expected anything different from me (she’s known me all my life and knows what a smartass I am).

So after my second offense, I was summarily dumped into a cyber jail cell, left to rattle the bars of my pretend cage for three days. Well, I was banned from posting for a day and from participating in any of the groups I manage (effectively throttling my business).

While perusing their scolding message, I noticed an option to contest their decision – which I did. I didn’t let me present any kind of defense (I didn’t even get to stand up and yell, “I object!”). They just said they’d look into it.

Almost a day later (when my basic “sentence” was almost up anyway), I learned the Language Police had reversed their decision. Of course, they never admitted they were wrong to cast me into Facebook jail; they just said they’d determined I hadn’t violated their community standards after all, and my comment had been put back up where it belonged. How kind of them.

So, dear readers, beware. It’s no longer fiction. The Orwellian Thought Police are out in full force. Beware what you say on Facebook – especially if you happen to be well versed in the English language. Remember: They don’t like it when you’re smarter than they are.

After all, as we all know: Idiom is only one letter removed from Idiot.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is an international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published four novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero and Second Chances – the first four in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. Her fifth novel, Tender Mercies, is due out next June. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


3 Reasons People Don’t Chase Their Dreams

October 8, 2021

You begin to fly when you let go of self-limiting beliefs and allow your mind and aspirations to rise to greater heights.”
– Brian Tracy

Do you still have dreams of a business you’d like to start, or perhaps a book you would like to write? Do you remember how to dream big like our kids do?

As we grow, we often grow into the mindset that we have to work hard and we can’t take chances – or chase dreams – because we have to be responsible, especially if we have a family to support. Mindsets can also be established unconsciously during childhood, when we hear our parents or other adults regularly repeating either positive or negative comments.

Mindset simply refers to “the established set of attitudes held by someone.” Not everyone has the same mindset, and someone who is a risk taker in one aspect of their life might not embrace the same level of risk in another part of their life. Ultimately, your mindset plays a huge role in whether you follow your dreams.

Here are three ways mindset can sabotage your ability to dream big and chase those dreams:

1. You think you’re too old. Age is just a number and, in your mind, if you think you’re too old to do something, you won’t do it. Of course, if you have a physical limitation or could put yourself at risk while doing an activity, it’s wise to err on the side of caution; but if you think you’re too old to start a business, think again.

Need some inspiration? Look up the stories of Ernestine Shepherd and Josefina Monasterio. Both women are grandmothers who have won hundreds of trophies as bodybuilders. They didn’t let a negative mindset get in the way of reaching their goals – they started their training at ages 58 and 59, respectively.

2. You’re afraid to fail. Failing and succeeding are two possible results to everything in life, two opposite ends of a spectrum. If you’re afraid to fail, you’ll never know if your idea was a good one or not. You may be haunted by the “What would have happened if…?” questions for the rest of your life.

As the famous Thomas Edison is quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” Edison is one of the preeminent inventors of our time, and if he hadn’t overcome the mindset of giving up or not being good enough, we probably wouldn’t have the lightbulb, phonograph or motion-picture camera today.

3. You lack confidence. You’ll always have the little devil on your shoulder telling you to give up because you’re not good enough or there’s someone better than you. However, no one is perfect, and competition in business is a sign there’s money to be made in that market. No matter what business you want to start, competition is a good sign; you just have to figure out how to stand out above the other competitors to win your customers.

Did you know Walt Disney was fired from his first animation job at the Kansas City Star newspaper because they said he lacked imagination? Now the Walt Disney Company assets are worth more than $98 billion. So much for “lack of imagination”!

My point is, you are your own worst enemy. If your mindset is holding you back from starting a new business and achieving the lifestyle you want, there are ways to change those negative mindsets into positive ones. As an entrepreneur, or as a book author, it’s important for you to know and understand your mindset about different aspects of your life and business. To help you along with this, be sure to check out parts two and three of this series in my guest posts in December and January.

About the Author:
Linda Berry is the owner, consultant, coach, trainer and reader for the Spiritual Discovery Center in Southern California. She’s an international astrologer, summit & podcast host, and spiritual & inspirational book author. She is also the owner of Book Authors Support Services (BASS), where she guides authors in writing, publishing and marketing their books by developing an author “plan of action” that includes manuscript development and writing, the publishing path and the execution of advertising, public relations and promotion of the book. Contact Linda at 951-665-7600 or lindaberry_@hotmail.com.


And So It Begins… Countdown to the Release of Tender Mercies

October 2, 2021

While the official release date isn’t until June 21, 2022, I’ve already begun the process of marketing my fifth novel, Tender Mercies. Maybe marketing isn’t the right word… perhaps branding. Yeah, that’s it. I’ve begun the branding process. Last night, I started the ball rolling by contacting Al, my amazing cover designer, about artwork for the front cover. I emailed him a synopsis of the story and the sort of image I’ve been envisioning.

Gary Sheldon has taught first-grade CCD (religious education) for the past fifteen years; since the beginning, he’s been a source of emotional support for his former students. Whenever any of them needs an understanding adult to talk to, they know they can always turn to him – to the growing irritation of his longsuffering wife, Michaela. When two former students, now high schoolers, independently turn to him with vastly different life-changing situations, Gary finds himself more deeply involved than he ever anticipated.

During the course of the story, Gary and Michaela find themselves the legal guardians of one of the two, after she’s thrown out of her parents’ home. As they adjust to a new member of the family, the Sheldons and their kids learn to pull together through periods of uncertainty and upheaval. As the story progresses, Gary and Michaela end up taking on more than either of them anticipated as the teen’s home situation takes an abrupt left turn.

I told Al more, but I don’t want to spoil the end for anyone, so I’ll just leave it at that.

The cover image I’d visualized features a dark-haired adult male comforting (perhaps hugging) a crying, long-haired blonde teenager.

Within an hour of his response indicating he would begin working on it, he had a mockup for me that was better than I could have imagined. Of course, the dark-haired adult male I’d envisioned (representing Gary) was clean shaven… and the one in the mockup had a beard and mustache. I’ve got this thing about my protagonists and facial hair. Drove me nuts when Gary was all scruffly for a few weeks in the fourth novel – but he was mired in depression at the time, and personal grooming wasn’t exactly at the top of his priorities list. Marc once kidded that it’s a wonder I allow him to have eyebrows. So snarky, that boy. Really!

With the cover-design ball now in my court, I responded with a request for a “Photoshop shave” for the guy in the picture. When Al replied that might not be possible, I went to the iStock website to search for usable images. By the time I went to bed (way too late last night), I had a list of eight potential images for him to review.

At quarter to 1 in the morning, he replied that he’d work on it.

I know it’ll be awesome, and I know I’m gonna have the Guardians of the Galaxy socks wowed right off my stubby little feet; but in the meantime, I’m afraid Tom Petty was right: The Waiting really is the hardest part.

I suppose while I wait I could do housework (after all, one twelve-pound butterscotch tabby leaves behind an awful lot of fur!)… or I could work on publicity for the rapidly approaching Crossville Oktoberfest.

What do you do while you’re waiting for something to happen?

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is an international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published four novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero and Second Chances – the first four in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. Her fifth novel, Tender Mercies, is due out next June. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


Surviving a Mini Book Tour… or How I Spent My Summer Vacation

September 24, 2021

What started out in July as plans for a trip to Connecticut for my aunt’s birthday party evolved into something vastly different… and altogether fun!

Mom’s kid sister celebrates a milestone birthday September 28. So when my cousin Judy asked if we could come up for her mom’s party, we leapt at the chance to drive there minus any specter of snow (we ordinarily only go back at Christmastime, if then).

With our trip still in its planning stages, I got the idea to arrange library talks in support of my new novel, Second Chances. For sure, I wanted to do one at the Henry Carter Hull Library (in my aunt’s town), because I’d dedicated the book to her in honor of her 90th birthday. (Aunt Jo had adamantly specified no gifts, but how could she refuse a book dedication? It’d barely take up any space and she wouldn’t have to dust it.) I contacted the library director, who put me in touch with the program coordinator, who arranged everything for my author talk the day after Aunt Jo’s party.

I also wanted to speak at the New Britain Public Library. As a native New Britainite, many of my fondest childhood memories involved that library. Mom would take us there at least weekly, and I remember whiling away many a rainy Saturday curled up in a window seat in the Hawley Memorial Children’s Library – when it was separate from the imposing New Britain Institute (a.k.a. the adult library). I emailed the director, who welcomed my offer to present an author talk.

In my email, I mentioned I’d dedicated the first book in the series to my mom – whom the staff at her branch library had long ago dubbed “Mrs. Delicious.” Whenever they’d ask her, “Mary, how was that book?” she’d invariably respond, “Oh, it was delicious!” The library director, Pat, related how, after Mom passed away in 2015, Dad wrote her a lovely letter saying how fond Mom had been of the library and how much it had always meant to her.

I’d also hoped to speak at the Middlebury Public Library (because the Sheldon Family Saga is set in and around Middlebury), but that didn’t work out. Perhaps next time.

Neither talk – Clinton or New Britain – was overwhelmingly attended, but those who came were engaged and enthusiastic. And, because mask mandates were in effect, I did both presentations wearing a golden retriever neck gaiter (hey, what’s life without levity?). Pat and I did remove our respective facial coverings for photos of my presenting a set of books for the library.

I also presented books to the Cora J. Belden Library in Rocky Hill (the town we’d called home for our last 18-plus years in Connecticut) and the Lucy Robbins Welles Library in nearby Newington.

Plus, I made a few book sales. And because a wise man once told me, “You can’t go through life with catcher’s mitts on both hands; you’ve got to be able to throw something back,” I donated 10 percent of gross sales from each event to the respective libraries. I didn’t end up writing any huge checks, but they were grateful for the donations.

After my talk, Pat took my two companions and me on a personal guided library tour. Much had changed in the 25 years since I’d last been there. We toured the new building that houses the teen section and the community room, with its murals depicting ages’ worth of banned books; the stacks; the expanded magazine room; the reference area; the new Makerspace and – my favorite part of the tour – the children’s section, which featured some amazing murals! (Featured photo by Kimberly Dwelley) I even got to sit in the exact window seat I used to sit in as a child, and look out the leaded-glass windows at traffic passing by along High Street.

On Thursday, I visited the Thomas Jefferson Branch. I hadn’t been there in about 45 years… but the instant I walked in, fond memories raced back! I spoke with a delightful librarian; Kathi and I shared some wonderful reminiscences about “Mrs. Delicious,” which made me miss Mom all the more.

This was a fun mini book tour, and I got to meet some new folks along the way, and reconnect with longtime friends I hadn’t seen in years, who came out to support me.

Unfortunately, my Friday-afternoon combined book-signing/wine-tasting event at Premier Wine & Spirits ended up getting canceled, and a substitute book-signing event never quite materialized. Each would have been a fundraiser for an area charity: the Cheshire Community Food Pantry or Coram Deo, which operates five sober houses in the Greater New Britain area. I invite you to look into both organizations; they’re worthy charities and I’m sure they’d appreciate your support.

As for me, I’m packed and ready to go back to Tennessee tomorrow. It was great to visit family and friends – and even dip my toes into Long Island Sound for the first time in over a decade, but it’s time to go home to my husband and my cat… and sleep in my own bed again. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about going out on tour, the best part is coming home.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is an international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published four novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero and Second Chances – the first four in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. Her fifth novel, Tender Mercies, is due out next June. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


National POW/MIA Day – September 17, 2021

September 16, 2021

National POW/MIA Day is so important, as it is a day of solemn remembrance. It is a day to pause and pay homage to all those who remain unaccounted for from WWII to the present. It’s a day of recognition for the families of the missing, the comrades and friends who can never forget all those who have not yet returned home.

A monumental number of POWs/MIAs are still not accounted for – more than 81,600 servicemen still missing from wars and battles dating back to WWII.

I am a niece of Sgt. William Charles Bradley, USA, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd ID, Med Co. He became missing in action in North Korea on December 1, 1950. Eventually his status was changed to POW. It is reported that he died of pneumonia en route to a POW camp called Pukchin Taragol in North Korea. His death in enemy hands devastated my mother and grandmother, forever changing their lives. Mine is one of countless thousands of stories of those whose loved ones were captured or killed in action and never recovered or returned home.

In the U.S., it is imperative that we properly educate our elementary-, middle- and high-school students about those wars fought on foreign soil. They need to understand why the saying “Freedom Isn’t Free” exists. They need to realize the mistakes we’ve made in the past, so we don’t repeat them. They need to know of the heartache and sacrifice these soldiers’ families have made, and their having to conform and adjust to life without those they love. Many questions continue to haunt many families, such as, “Are they still alive and being held and tormented by their captors?” Some of these families’ questions may never be answered.

The majority of us have no place to visit our heroes’ final resting places. No gravestone, no cemetery… nothing. This creates such heartache and pain for Gold Star Families, who continue to wait to hear word of their loved ones’ fate. Bottom line, we want our heroes home so we may honor them with a proper burial, a place to rest their heroic remains, a place to visit and to tell stories, to shed tears and to express how grateful we are that they are finally home. So, on this special day of remembrance, please take a moment to remember all those who served our country but remain unaccounted for.

For the families of the missing, every single day – from the time we awaken in the morning to when we go to sleep at night – we live with the realization that every day is POW/MIA Day.

About the Author:
Robin Piacine is a photojournalist, international photographer, public speaker for POW/MIA issues, interviewer and actress. She also serves as secretary for the Korean War Veterans Plateau Chapter #297 in Crossville, Tennessee. For fun, Robin enjoys practicing her Master Gardener skills on her neighbors.


Twenty Years Since Our World Changed

September 11, 2021

Yesterday I read that virtually all of us over the age of 40 recall with alarming clarity where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001. I know I do.

It was a bright, clear late-summer Tuesday in Southern New England. I’d gathered with my cohorts in the parish center at St. Ann Church in New Britain, Connecticut, to cut out felt components for a banner: brightly colored hand shapes and letters to spell out “We are the Body of Christ… Many Hands, One Heart” for our new stewardship campaign. We planned to work on the banner ’til it was time for us to head across the street to sing at the first of two funerals that morning. In addition to being members of the stewardship committee, we were all part of the parish’s Good Shepherd Funeral Choir… and the social-ministry committee and the parish fun-and-games committee (not its actual title, but I scarcely recall what I had for breakfast yesterday; you think I can remember the name of a committee from twenty years and three parishes ago?). We were also Friday-morning bulletin-insert stuffers, bereavement-group facilitators, Eucharistic ministers, lectors and Vacation Bible School coordinators. It was as common for us to be together at church as to be home with our own families.

When we heard about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, the four or five of us looked around at one another, numb. Initial reports indicated a small, single-engine plane had somehow managed to collide with that great big skyscraper. Shortly afterward, when one of the ladies from the office dashed out to yell that another plane had hit the other tower, we knew what had happened earlier and just now was no accident.

The custodian wheeled out a hulking television on one of those clunky old A/V carts (left over from the days when the church office had been the parish middle school). It didn’t matter which station they turned on – every channel was carrying the same gut-twisting footage of black smoke belching from the towers, against the backdrop of the clearest blue sky imaginable. Some of the TV stations started running a kind of crawling text message down at the bottom of the screen, describing the horror and the mayhem, and starting to identify some of the offices housed in the twin towers.

We watched, transfixed, as the horror unfolded before us – ghastly images of the second plane dive-bombing, over and over, into that second tower; hellish fireballs; thick, choking smoke pouring from the plane-shaped gash in the building. And it got worse… people plummeting from upper floors – exchanging one unthinkable end for another.

Somehow, when ten o’clock neared, we managed to tear ourselves away from the nightmare on that near-square 22″ television screen and troop across the street… to sing hopeful songs of peace and resurrection for the family of the dearly departed.

When the funeral ended, we returned, lemming like, to the parish center, our eyes red and teary from the earlier news, only to learn not only had two additional attacks been perpetrated, on the Pentagon and a field somewhere in Pennsylvania, but both towers in New York had collapsed. The images on the television screen alternated between the collapsing towers and the faces of dozens of screaming, horrorstruck survivors fleeing for their lives, covered in thick layers of fine grey ash. People weren’t white, black or brown that day. Everyone was grey. Grey and terrified. And traumatized.

For days and weeks afterward, no one among us was white or black or brown. Throughout that time, we were Americans. Americans who stood together to weather the storms of foreign terrorism, and support each other through times of anguish and national distress.

And so we did on September 12 and September 13, and for weeks thereafter. It didn’t matter what your skin tone was. It didn’t matter what your faith was – or even if you believed in God; it didn’t matter if you were of Italian or Polish or Norwegian descent; it didn’t matter if you were a CEO, a customer-service representative or a truck driver; it didn’t matter if you were a Yankees, Red Sox or Mets fan (well, maybe that kind of mattered to some folks)… all that really mattered to any of us was this: We were Americans. We all had that in common.

But then something happened. Little by little, we grew complacent, and we grew comfortable again. And we grew apart from one another. Step by step, we inched away, beginning to notice differences more than similarities, focusing on what divided us rather than what brought us together. We began to let our American spirit tarnish, fade and crumble, spalling like old concrete. We began to forget who we were, who we had been to one another not so long ago. And the more distant that sense of national oneness became, the easier it was to let it continue to slip away, until there remained little to unite us to one another.

It’s time for us to remember who we were on that horrible day, that ghastly day, that awful day… that day when no one questioned another’s Americanism. It’s time for us to recall the spirit of oneness that helped knit this country back together after we came under attack from a shadowy enemy. It’s time for us once again to be a united people, the UNITED States of America.

And so, I ask you to take a moment now to reflect on how our nation came together two decades ago, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, to care for friends, neighbors and yes, even strangers. And pray that we can be those people again: concerned for one another, mindful of one another’s fragility and brokenness, willing to help another who may not even know how to reach out in need.

Let’s be those people again.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is an international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published four novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero and Second Chances – the first four in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. Her fifth novel, Tender Mercies, is due out next June. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


What I Learned from My Book Launch Party

September 4, 2021

I hosted my first-ever book-launch party August 28. It’s only been a week, but it feels like months ago. Preparations seemed to take forever – from assembling to-do and things-I-need-to-buy lists to actually crossing off items on said lists.

I had to ensure I had adequate quantities of books – of both the new release and my backlist novels. After much agonizing, I decided my existing supply of previous volumes would suffice. And the 200 copies of Second Chances I picked up from a printer in Nashville would also cover Author Day (this November), several holiday fairs and in-person sales for months to come.

Now that I had books crossed off my list, did I have adequate food to satisfy snacking guests? An appropriate variety of healthful options vs. sweet treats? Did I buy enough veggie trays? Would two gallons each of lemonade, sweet and unsweet iced tea slake their collective thirsts?

What about decorations? Would the tanks I bought contain enough helium for four dozen balloons (red, black and grey)? Had I taken the color scheme too far? Were red tablecloths, red and black snack plates and red cups sufficient? Did the white napkins stick out like a stray mutt at the IABCA International Dog Show? Were those darling red-plastic scoops (for the M&Ms and nuts) necessary? Or did they fall under accessory overkill?

We arrived at the hall early. We moved tables and chairs and I fretted about such colossal decisions as whether the beverage table should sit off to one side or in the back of the room. In the end, we decided it would go beside the bar and we’d situate the two food tables behind the seating area.

When my trusty assistants arrived, they helped arrange chairs, inflate balloons and set out snacks. As the start of the event neared and I grew fretful that we hadn’t yet finished, they paused to convene an impromptu prayer huddle. I can always depend on them to know what I need to re-center me.

As 12:30 approached, we hung the “Book Signing Today” banner, and my official greeter took her place at the door, to welcome guests, invite them to sign the guest book and offer them my carefully constructed ice breaker.

I’d devised a party-guest scavenger hunt with questions designed to prompt conversations. Ideally, as folks chatted and got to know one another, they’d be able to fill in blanks, like: Identify two guests who know Rita from church. Which guest is an elected county official? Name two guests who enjoy working with wood. Which guest is a music teacher? Which guests met Rita at the pool? Identify two other published authors. Name two guests who moved to Tennessee from Pennsylvania.

It worked great in theory. Trouble is, few people filled out the sheet. And the ones who did… well, they wrote in names of people who weren’t even there – it would have been quite a coup if Stephen King and Nicholas Sparks had actually been at my book-launch party. And while I’m confident our county sheriff would have come, had I invited him (we know each other from my radio news days), citing him as the elected official was an incorrect response.

But enough about what I stressed about.

Just before my friend Dee offered the opening prayer, I met in a corner of the room with her and my two other prayer partners for a brief private prayer.

The event was a monumental success! We had nearly four dozen people in attendance and the friend I’d tapped as master of ceremonies did an amazing job! He actually made me sound like someone I’d want to meet.

I prepared a short presentation about how I came upon my lifelong love of words, reading, writing and radio, about how the characters in the Sheldon Family Saga first came to my attention (during my ninth-grade English class) and about the new book itself. To my great relief, everyone laughed at all the right times!

One of the biggest laughs followed a line I nearly cut from my talk. I was telling about how Gary, my protagonist, had a series of dreams. One involved a poker game – with Saint Joseph, Ann Landers, Steven Tyler and God. I guess the notion of Gary engaged in a game of chance with the queen of advice, one of the bad boys of rock and the Supreme Deity proved more amusing than I’d anticipated. I went as far as to say I felt the banter in that particular dream was worth the price of the book. I think that intrigued a few people.

Then, I read the first chapter of Second Chances. Again, to my enormous relief, they all laughed in exactly the right places.

After a brief Q&A session, I thanked everyone again for coming, invited them to mingle and enjoy the snacks, and to see me over at the book-signing table. After that, things were kind of a blur… until the dizzying moment I looked up and saw an actual line of people waiting to buy my books! Let me say that again – only because it still astonishes me: “a line of people waiting to buy my books.” Wowzers! That had to be one of the most amazing parts of the day for me!

So, what have I learned?

I learned it takes a lot of planning – and a lot of help – to pull off a successful book-launch party. I learned to stop worrying and to let things happen organically. I learned if you offer folks a fun, welcoming atmosphere and an interesting blend of people, they’ll enjoy themselves. It doesn’t much matter if you have coordinating partyware, five different kinds of cheese and the most amazing praline pecans on the planet (which we did). You don’t even necessarily need an ice breaker. Success all comes down to what you offer, as their host(ess).

Give folks a fun event to attend; give them something to feel good about (ten percent of gross sales went directly to the church building fund at my parish); and give everyone a takeaway (a Sheldon Family Saga bookmark and a printed recipe card for my cinnamon-walnut cookies – served at the party and featured in Second Chances. Anyone who bought a book also got a one-of-a-kind, handmade silver-plated bookmark).

Then just relax and enjoy yourself and your guests. When they see you having a good time, they’ll enjoy themselves more, too.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is an international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published four novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero and Second Chances – the first four in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. Her fifth novel, Tender Mercies, is due out next June. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


MUST LOVE DOGS – A Nod to National Dog Day (August 26)

August 25, 2021

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself.”
– Josh Billings

Do you feel you’re always being watched? If yes, then you must love dogs.

At all times, I have 12 eyes staring at me from my four-legged terrier-and-Chihuahua-mix family. It all started while I was walking Bailey. A precocious male dog followed us home and decided to hang out. Bailey couldn’t stay away from him and they fell in love through the fence. Forced to move him inside after he parked himself on the window shelf, I named him Cognac.

Bailey would flip her nose to male dogs until Cognac. Soon she was pregnant and three puppies were born on my bed. Kahlua, the eldest, looks like Mom, with signature white front legs. Champagne, with white paws, is my “Dennis the Menace,” getting into every kind of mischief. Their little sister, Tequila, is named for her hot temper – which scares her brothers and dad. Immediately hooked on these wagging-tail, wet-nose bundles of fur, I wouldn’t let them leave my home.

My last addition was a lost dog on the road, desperately looking for a new home, who found it with me. I instantly named him Whiskey and, surprisingly, Tequila fell in love with him.

So, do you think I’m crazy? Maybe I am, but I do love dogs!

About the Author:
Linda Berry is the owner, consultant, coach, trainer and reader for the Spiritual Discovery Center in Southern California. She’s an international astrologer, summit & podcast host, and spiritual & inspirational book author. She is also the owner of Book Authors Support Services (BASS) where she guides authors in writing, publishing and marketing their books by developing an author “plan of action” that includes manuscript development and writing, the publishing path and the execution of advertising, public relations, and promotion of the book. Contact Linda at 951-665-7600 or lindaberry_@hotmail.com.


Three Tips for Writing Compelling Dialogue

August 21, 2021

When folks in the writers group I belong to comment on the work I submit each month, the most frequent comments I hear are how spot-on my dialogue is, how I seem to have captured the essence of each character through his or her words, and how the dialogue really rings true.

I’m often asked how I manage to write such realistic and compelling dialogue. It boils down to a few key elements, which I’ll share with you here.

First, it’s important to realize how real people speak. You probably wouldn’t ever hear anyone have this conversation:

“Where are you going this weekend?”
“I am not sure where I am going this weekend. I think I might go up to the mountains. They are really pretty at this time of year.”
“Yes. I understand the mountains are pretty this time of year.”
“I would also like to stop in to see my cousin. She is going to be having surgery next week and she is pretty nervous. So I thought I would pay her a visit.”
“That is nice of you. You are always so considerate.”

This exchange is stilted and awkward. Folks just don’t talk that way. If you listen to conversations around you, you’ll realize people tend to use contractions – and speak in sentence fragments. A lot. Here’s how this bit of conversation would sound if two real people were having it:

“Where you going this weekend?”
“Dunno. Maybe the mountains – they’re really pretty this time of year.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that.”
“I’ll probably stop in to visit my cousin, too. She’s pretty nervous about her surgery next week.”
“That’s nice of you. You’re always so considerate.”

It’s 50 percent shorter, it’s more direct and it sounds more natural. People rarely reply to questions with full sentences – or by including the wording of the original question; they respond in fragments. I also used contractions. Not including contractions in speech sounds wooden and unnatural.

Second, be aware of what your characters are doing while they’re speaking. Include beats that give readers a visual on what’s happening. Here’s part of an exchange between two characters in my work in progress, Brothers by Betrayal. Gary is talking with Erin, his teenage daughter, who’s been grounded for two weeks (but who wants to go out with her friends for her birthday tomorrow):

Gary leaned against the doorjamb, his arms folded. “Look, Erin, you keep saying you want me to treat you like an adult. Then act like one. Children whine. Grownups accept the consequences of their actions without complaining.”
“But it’s not fair.”
He shook his head. “I’m done discussing this, Erin. I told you no and that’s final.”
“But Daddy…” she whined.
“Punkin, I gotta be up early in the morning. I’m going to bed. Talk to me again on Monday.”
“But the party’s tomorrow night.”
“I’m aware of that. And we’ve already established you’re not going.”
Erin thrust her lower lip out in a pout. She kicked at the leg of her desk. “Then what’s the point of talking on Monday?”
Gary gave a weary sigh and shoved away from the doorjamb. “I’m not having this discussion with you now, Erin. Goodnight.”

Note the absence of “he said” and “she said.” The only attribution is “she whined,” which tells the reader how the line gets delivered. The rest of the excerpt uses beats – snippets of narrative that precede, follow or are interwoven amid dialogue – to clue readers in to action taking place with the dialogue. Sometimes, when action is concurrent with dialogue, the author will interrupt the dialogue with a beat. Like this:

Inside, Gary approached Paula G., the woman who was serving as leader for the meeting. “Hi Paula, I’m Gary” – he laid his hands on the teen’s shoulders – “and this is my daughter Erin. This is her first meeting.”

I tend to get pushback from the writers group denizens about my use of en dashes with spaces to offset beats within dialogue. As it turns out, it’s a U.K. style. U.S. style favors em dashes (—) with no spaces. For a fine discourse on use of the various dashes (en, em and 2em) in your writing, read this blog post.

Third, run your dialogue aloud to hear the cadence of the words instead of simply seeing them in print. Often, we write what we think we want our characters to say, only to find, when reading it aloud, it’s clunky or awkward. And if it sounds off to you, think how it’ll sound in your readers’ heads. And no matter how fond you may be of a bit of dialogue, sometimes it has to go. The difference between a good writer and a great writer is often the willingness to excise those bits of dialogue that don’t sound right or advance the story.

For more tips on ways to improve your dialogue, check out this helpful article from the folks at Writer’s Digest.

When you’re tackling a tough bit of dialogue, what advice do you find works best for you?

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is an international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published four novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero and Second Chances – the first four in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. Her fifth novel, Tender Mercies, is due out next June. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.