Talking about books is one of the greatest joys, and to have a conversation about books with Libby is a treat for all book lovers. In December 2015 Libby was going through a time of intense grief and participating in the POPSUGAR annual reading challenge gave her the joy she needed. To amplify that joy, Libby posted about the challenge on Facebook to see if she could get a few friends to read with her through 2016. That Facebook group, 2022 Reading Challenge, started with a small group of friends and now has grown to almost 500 members in 2022. Anyone and everyone who loves to read books and talk about them is welcome. It’s all online through Facebook with zero pressure and a source of joy for everyone in the group. And yes, you’re invited to join us! We’d love to have you read with us in 2023.
About Libby: Libby Seiter Nelson is a highly skilled and extensively trained certified professional coaching. She is an Executive Coach and Facilitator in an innovative coaching program that helps parents with the critical transition to life as a working parent. Her coaching is especially focused on the return to work — an underestimated challenge that impacts gender equity and inclusion. She facilitates courses and group coaching, and teaches seminars focused on the realities of the current work environment, offering tangible solutions for the challenges of being a working parent. Libby is a Certified Daring Way Facilitator™, a program created and run by Dr. Brené Brown.
Authors of new books rooted in mythology are asking fascinating questions of classic stories and providing provocative answers. Jennifer Saint’s glittering retelling of the classic tale Elektra is a brilliant example.
She showcases forgotten women of Greek mythology, ties that bind them to one another, and betrayals that threaten to sever those ties forever. With alternating chapters from their perspectives, Saint gives us a front row seat to their psyches as they grapple with a family legacy entangled with an ancient curse.
Vivid and evocative descriptions from page one carry us away into their tale of rebellion, revenge, and redemption where no one escapes unscathed and everyone is utterly transformed.
Throughout November, I’ll be posting some thoughts about the book as we read it together over the month. This is a highly interactive experience, and I’m excited to read and learn with all of you.
How forest bathing reduces cancer risk In her talk and her book she advocates for 15 minutes of month forest bathing, particularly near evergreen trees, as a way to reduce cancer risk. As a cancer survivor, I do everything I can to prevent recurrence. Sadly, there’s a lot of nonsense out there and plenty of products that claim to prevent cancer. Most of it is just slick marketing taking advantage of people through scare tactics. But does this recommendation from Dr. Beresford-Kroeger have scientific research to back up the claim? Can 15 minutes a month with trees really help us reduce the risk of cancer? It does and it can.
Numerous scientific studies (here, here, and here to call out just a few) have found that the biochemicals in our immune systems (collectively referred to as Natural Killer (NK) cells such as lymphocytes) are strengthened with even brief 15- to 20-minute visits to wooded areas and the effects can last more than 30 days. These research findings support Dr. Beresford-Kroeger’s recommendation and the ancient wisdom she’s studied and accumulated her entire life.
Combining indigenous knowledge with modern medicine for optimal health Now, does this mean we can substitute forest visits for regular checkups and exams with our doctors or forgo medical treatments if we are diagnosed with cancer? No, I would not recommend that course of action. Modern medicine found and treated my cancer, and I’m forever grateful for the care I received at NYU. But did I also benefit from good nutrition, exercise, my time in nature, and my determination to find joy every day to keep up my spirits during the darkest days of my life? Yes, I did.
Preventing and fighting cancer requires a multi-pronged approach. We can benefit from ancient wisdom and modern technology. I used both to keep myself healthy before, during, and after treatment. I’ll use both for the rest of my life that I’m so fortunate to have.
Why I still got cancer even though I live a healthy lifestyle Now, you might be thinking, “Well, Christa, you go to Central Park every day and you still got cancer. So how do you explain that?”
Yes, that’s true. I did get cancer even though I have no genetic predisposition to any kind of cancer, I eat a healthy plant-based diet, I exercise regularly, I’m a healthy weight, I control my stress levels, I spend a lot of time outside in nature, and I see my doctors regularly. Cancer is a sneaky set of diseases. It wears a lot of costumes and disguises in its attempts to thwart our immune system. Even in the best of circumstances, a cell can get past our immune system, not because we’re weak but because cancer is such a deft and relentless shape-shifter. All it takes is one microscopic cell.
The Hudson Valley is a cancer hotspot We also live in an increasingly toxic world, which can wear us down without our awareness. I grew up on an apple orchard in the Hudson Valley of New York State in the 1980s and 1990s. Sounds bucolic, right? In many ways it was.
But what you may not know is during that time the rampant use of chemical pesticides was practiced all over that area. I have vivid memories of bright red tankers full of pesticides being sprayed in the air on neighboring orchards for months on end to keep the apples pest-free. Those farmers didn’t realize their sprays were poisoning our food, air, soil, and water.
At the same time, General Electric (GE) dumped 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River from its capacitor manufacturing plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, New York. Though they ended that practice in the last 1970s, the PCBs remain in the river sediment to this day. PCBs are known carcinogens (meaning they cause cancer).
These practices of farmers and GE have partially caused the Hudson Valley to become a cancer hotspot. My family had well water. The toxic chemicals from the pesticides and GE’s practices seeped into the water table, not to mention were directly linked to our food and air. The truth is we can do everything right as individuals but collectively, the practices of others can harm us and we are powerless to avoid the impacts once they’ve happened.
So, yes, I live a healthy lifestyle and yes, I still got cancer. But as my doctors always point out, because I was so healthy when I was diagnosed, I was able to withstand intense surgeries and treatments, and emerge on the other side healthier than ever. The combination of my good health, modern medicine, and indigenous knowledge saved me.
Fighting climate change is another way to fight cancer Preserving and expanding natural areas and mitigating the impacts of climate change is another important piece of the puzzle to maintain our health. Said another way, our best defense is a good offense. We need to have nature on our side to maintain our environments, and that means we must care for natural and wild areas.
This is why I advocate for the planting, maintenance, enhanced access, and expansion of forested areas, particularly in cities like New York where I now live and where trees are necessary for our health and wellbeing. Trees save and enhance our lives in so many ways by cleaning our air and water, lowering our stress levels, and enhancing our immune systems.
My forest bathing practice in Central Park I’m fortunate to live near one of New York’s City’s green gems, Central Park. Forest bathing doesn’t mean you need to retreat to the far corners of the wilderness (though if you can, I recommend that kind of trip as well). Urban forest bathing once a month (or more) is highly effective, easy to do, and accessible.
On a sunny Saturday, I went to Central Park with my dog, Phineas. For 15 minutes, we sat near a majestic Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica glauca) that stands near the Reservoir. The effects for both of us were palpable. Phin closed his eyes and went to sleep as I soaked up the sun and clean air, all the time quietly expressing my gratitude to this tree.
When we got up to go home, I bowed to the tree in reverence for what this beautiful being had freely given me. “I’ll see you again soon,” I whispered.
I left with my heart and lungs full with all good things, thankful for what nature offers us if only we will take the time to accept her gifts and wisdom. When we take care of nature, nature can then take care of us. Go sit near a tree for 15 minutes once a month. You’ll be better for it.
(Below are a few photos of me and my dog, Phineas, on our most recent forest bathing trip to Central Park).
“50 years on, my children’s children will sit down to watch these [Harry Potter] films. Sadly, I won’t be here. But Hagrid will.” -Robbie Coltrane, Scottish actor
This is the most true thing I’ve ever read about art and the motivation of artists. It’s our chance to be immortal, to get down stories and put them out into the world. They will be here long after we’re gone. Someone will see them or read them or hear them and a part of us will be there. Our energy, our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our disappointments, our joy.
It will mean something to someone across space and time who we never had the honor to meet on this plane. And maybe they will feel less alone.
They will find in our art someone like them, someone who validates everything they’re feeling, someone who makes them feel seen and heard, who helps them see that they matter. Art is the gift that never stops giving. It becomes our home, in the truest sense of the word, the place where we will always belong.
This week we lost Robbie Coltrane, the actor who immortalized Hagrid, a character who is dear to so many of us. His memory lives on in his work and his art.
If ever there was a television show founded on pure joy, it’s The Great British Bake Off. Professional writer and home baker Abby Anklam joins us on the JoyProject podcast to talk about how she started watching Bake Off and her favorite parts of the show that make it a delight to watch. Abby also shares the bakes she tried at home that were inspired by the show and the bakes she plans to try after everything she’s learned as an avid watcher and fan. We also chat about her job as a writer and illustrator of children’s books.
About Abby: Abigail Anklam is a writer and illustrator who writes books for young readers.
Growing up, she loved reading about fantastic adventures in incredible places and longed to have adventures of her own, just like Lucy in Narnia, Mowgli in the Jungle, or White Fang in the Arctic. So it’s no wonder that she left her Virginia home to find adventure in faraway places, like Arkansas, Italy, Arizona, & China.
During her adventures, Abigail has filled many roles. She has been a student, an actor, a zookeeper, an artist, a teacher, a bookseller, an archer, and more! She loves to learn new skills, visit new places, and try new things. Along the way, she’s experienced different ways of life, met all kinds of wonderful people, and learned about all sorts of fascinating animals. Many of those experiences and interests have found their way into her writing and art.
Right now, Abigail is working on her first children’s novel. It’s a mystery story that involves a bear, an animal trainer, and an escape from the circus. To read a sample of Abigail’s published work, click here. You’ll find an excerpt from According to Their Kinds, a collection of short animal-related stories (for adults).
Topics discussed in this episode:
What makes The Great British Bake Off such a joy to watch
How Bake Off is different (and better!) than U.S.-based competition shows
What fans of Bake Off learn from the show and apply to their own baking
Those adorable illustrations of the bakes that have become a hallmark of the show
Abby’s work as a writer and illustrator of children’s books
The Story community where I met Abby
Junior Bake Off — the newest show in the Bake Off franchise now on Netflix in the U.S.
A quote about joy from Jaiya John sent to me by my wonderful friend, artist Rachael Harms Mahlandt
Writing a book can feel like such a daunting task that you may feel paralyzed before you even begin. Once you talk yourself down off the ledge and actually start writing, the grind can feel slow and painful. It might be such a huge lift that you abandon the project when you hit a rough patch or reach the inevitable messy middle. You run out of steam before you get a first full draft.
This can leave you feeling inadequate and frustrated, as if you’re a failure for not finishing what you started. Then that tiny voice of doubt in your mind becomes a nonstop scream fest. It can become so loud that getting back to writing can feel too difficult.
Then as if on cue, other ideas for other books start to enter your mind, and they start to look like a much better use of your time. Before you know it, you have files of half-started books and not a single finished manuscript.
We’ve all been there. Truly. Every writer has half-finished work sitting on their laptop and in notebooks to get to “someday”. And that’s frustrating for all of us.
Maybe you’re like me and truly dislike first drafts. I can’t stand them. I want to get them done as fast as possible so I can get to editing, refining, adding in details, and making that first awful draft (yes, all first drafts by all writers, even the greatest luminaries, are awful) shine brighter and brighter with every turn.
Now that I’m writing my third book in the Emerson Page series, I’ve finally figured out how to get first drafts done quickly so I can get on with the editing and re-writing I love: I dumped the idea of getting to any specific word count on any day, for any scene, and for the book as a whole.
What? How can I possibly forget about word count when I’m writing a book?
Here’s how—the first draft is about one thing and one thing only: getting from the start of my story to the end, and getting to the end as fast as possible.
Here’s my process for getting a first draft done fast:
First, I’m a cartographer: Outlines are like roadmaps. They tell me where to go next to reach my final destination. They’re functional, not aesthetically pleasing. I write mine first on index cards—one scene per card—and then move them around to create the order of my story. This is my map for my journey.
Second, I’m a painter: Then when I’m happy with the flow on my index cards, I put all of the scenes into Scrivener (the software I use to write my first draft) with some additional details I’ve found in my research. I make notes about who’s in each scene, what the action is, why the scene matters to the story, and what the reader will learn by the end of the chapter that will make them want to turn the page.
A painter starts by sketching on a blank canvas. That’s what I’m doing as a writer when I create this more detailed outline.
Third, I’m a mason: Now I’m ready to write. Once I have the detailed outline sketched out, I start to lay down the foundation of the story, scene by scene, brick by brick. I make tons of notes along the way, highlighted in my manuscript, of more details I eventually want to add.
But those details aren’t my concern right now. I’m just trying to get the most basic text down so I can get to the end of the first draft. I make a note of the details I want to add and then I keep going.
My first draft doesn’t look like much to celebrate except it absolutely is. I turned my outline and notes into prose. I got from the beginning of my story to the end. I got some dialogue down. I wrote the action sequences. Now I have something to work with. Huzzah—time to party!
Now I take a break What? Take a break? Shouldn’t I crank away day after day until my book is a masterpiece? No.
I write the first draft and put it away until I forget what I wrote. For me, that’s about a month. This way I come back to it with fresh eyes, ready to edit, rewrite, and get to the detail work I love. In that time, I may work on another project. Or I might take a break from writing altogether.
Now, I’m a sculptor With that first draft, now I’m ready to add in all those details I love. I’m ready to make that dialogue sing and make it believable. Now is the time for poetry. Now I’m really getting into my craft, and all because I’ve got something functional to work with. The edit and the rewrite (many times over in my case) is where I fix everything and make it better.
I spend the vast majority of my writing time re-writing, and that’s exactly how I like it. I love to take something from awful to something I’m proud of. I love the detail. I love the refinement. I love incorporating all the research I’ve done, and I do plenty more research in the edit. It’s my happy place. But I can’t do any of that if I don’t have a first draft to work with so my goal is to go from idea to draft a fast as I possibly can. Let it be the stinkiest, ugliest, messiest thing I’ve ever created. I don’t care. It just has to exist.
No one has ever read a first draft of my work. And no one ever will. The first draft is for me and only me. And there’s a freedom in that. It took me years to really get this and act on it. It’s really only now, with this third Emerson book, that I’m embracing the hideous first draft and reveling in its creation.
And all those partially finished first drafts I have? Well, after this third Emerson book is done, I’m going to pick up each partially written first draft and get it over the line. They’ll all be the worst thing I’ve ever written, at first, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
A new episode of the JoyProject podcast dropped today—The Joy of Winnie-the-Pooh with Christine Caccipuoti. It’s available at this link and everywhere you get your podcasts. You can also hear it by clicking the YouTube link above.
Childhood joys never leave us. This week, we delve into all things Winnie-the-Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood with podcaster and historian Christine Caccipuoti as our guide. Christine’s loved all things Pooh for her entire life. With a mother and grandmother who loved Winnie-the-Pooh, these stories and characters were her destiny.
As the Co-producer and Co-Host of the incredible Footnoting History podcast, Christine not only delves into why she loves Pooh but also the history of the Milne family, the importance of maintaining the magic we find in childhood wonder as we age, and what may be ahead for Pooh as he and his friends begin to enter the public domain.
At the end of the podcast, I share the final passage of The House at Pooh Corner and how you can see the original Pooh stuff animals on display at the New York Public Library (and online) as part of a fantastic free exhibition going on right now.
Topics discussed in this episode: – Christine’s podcast, Footnoting History – Christine’s Winnie-the-Pooh episode on Footnoting History – How Christine got interested in Winnie-the-Pooh – How her views on the different characters in the Hundred Acre Wood have changed over the years – The importance of maintaining childhood wonder as an adult and why having things that bring you joy in your life are so important – The differences and similarities between the A.A. Milne stories and the Disney Pooh stories – How and why we gravitate to certain stories and certain characters within stories – Why so many people relate to Eeyore and how compassion is a major theme in the Hundred Acre Wood – The history of the Milne family and how Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends came to be – How the Pooh stories are similar to other childhood favorites such as Sesame Street, the Muppet Show, and Charlie Brown – The messages that Milne communicated to all of us about life and friendship through Winnie-the-Pooh – What it means for Pooh to now (sort of) be in the public domain – What might be next for Pooh and Friends in the years ahead – How to see the original Pooh stuffed animals in New York City
About Christine: Christine Caccipuoti is a historian, writer, and co-producer of the long-running podcast Footnoting History, where she regularly shares her love of biography.
Christine proudly co-edited Independent Scholars Meet the World: Expanding Academia beyond the Academy (University Press of Kansas, 2020) and has published / is soon publishing pieces about Blanche Barrow, Jane Manning James, and Elton John.
In addition to dealing with all things historical, Christine likes to spend her time rewatching her favorite television shows and films, learning about elephants, tweeting about musical theater, and planning vacations she may or may not eventually take.
“Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” Julie Andrews, Do-Re-Mi in The Sound of Music
As writers, sometimes we have to start at the end. In my previous books, I started at the beginning and wrote all the way through to the end. It’s how I outline, too. But with this third Emerson Page book, I have to take a different approach.
I started to write the beginning with my trusty outline in-hand and quickly found myself in murky waters. So murky that I was procrastinating, which I never do. I was afraid to sit down and write, and that fear was getting in the way of delivering my draft manuscript to my publisher under a tight deadline.
I have to find another way in. I stopped writing in my usual progression of beginning to end, and flipped it on its head. Today, I’m writing the last chapter of the book, the end of Emerson’s story arc. I know where it needs to take place and what needs to happen there. With that confidence, I’ll walk backward one step, one chapter, at a time.
To be honest, I don’t like that I have to do this. I’m a creature of habit and I like my writing habits. But this leg of Emerson’s journey is the most complicated of the three books. It has many more twists, turns, and surprises. The stakes are higher, and I have to give readers an ending that’s satisfying and true to Emerson’s spirit. To do that, I have to adjust my process.
Maybe you’re facing something similar, in your writing or in your life. Something isn’t progressing as you hoped. A surprise popped up that has thrown you off-track. You’re stuck, disappointed, frustrated, or maybe you’re all of those things.
Back up and look for a different path. How can you adjust what you’re doing? Is there another way forward, even it requires you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable? Maybe like me, you have to put things in reverse. Start with the goal. Then instead of asking, “and then what happened?”, ask “how did I get here? And here? And here?”
It may turn out that the ending is the very best place to start.
First drafts, of writing and any project in life, can be difficult. The proverbial blank page stares at us and we’re so concerned about getting things exactly as we want them to be in the end that we forget all creative acts are a process of becoming. Nothing springs to anyone fully-formed and perfectly-worded.
I’m in the process of writing the first draft of my third novel. You’d think this would get easier with time. It hasn’t for me. I still approach each first draft, each first attempt of all of my creative projects, with trepidation and anxiety. What if this time I’m a total failure? What if what I’m trying to do doesn’t land and I can’t do anything to make it even decent, much less something I’m proud of?
In moments like this that make it difficult for me to even begin, I remind myself that I’m a sculptor. This blank page, this new project idea, is a block of marble. And like the sculptor, I’m taking away tiny bits here and there. It will take many rounds of refining to bring the sculpture to life from this block. It will not happen overnight. It will not happen quickly. My only job is to begin, a tiny tap here, a tiny tap there. Over and over again with intention, curiosity, and openness. I don’t need to be brilliant. I don’t need to be perfect. I just need to show up. What I don’t get right in this round, I can attempt in the next. And on and on it goes.
We consume and admire the work of others at its end stage. All we see and experience in the finished product, not the many long and arduous hours, wrong turns, edits, messiness, doubt, and about-face maneuvers it took to get to that ending when it’s ready for the public. So we compare our work-in-progress to work that has already progressed.
The sculptor’s mindset is the one we need as we begin. Pick up the hammer and chisel and chip away at the smallest task of your grand dream. It’s how all great work starts, and how all great work makes its way, slowly and surely, into the world.
Hello, lovely writers. Do you know Eric Smith, author and agent extraordinaire? If not, please get to know him because he’s a ray of light in the writing community. As both a successful author and agent, he understands both points-of-view and helps demystify a lot of things in the writing and publishing world that many other people don’t.
It’s incredible how much wonderful advice he puts out into the world for authors for FREE! There are a lot of organizations out there who want to charge you a lot of money for this advice—I’ve paid some of them for it and I can promise you I should have just read Eric’s website because the advice I paid for was exactly the same as what Eric offers.
Author and editors whom you can work with If you’ve decided you’re at the point where you need an author or editor to look at your work and offer specific advice on your manuscript, proposal, or query, Eric has a long list of recommendations of people he trusts. He’s used the services of these people himself, as an author and as an agent.
Social media for authors Ah, social media for authors. Do you love it? Do you hate it? It matters, and it doesn’t have to take over your life. Eric offers all kinds of advice on what to share on social media, platforms to use, and how it’s helped him as a writer and as a person.
Building a platform “You have to have a platform.” I have heard this for years and I still hear it all day every day to this day. Platform matters. It can also be fun to build one. There is so much to learn. There are so many people in the world doing really interesting work. While building your platform, you’ll meet and befriend so many terrific people you may not meet otherwise. That’s certainly been my experience and it’s brought me a lot of joy over the years. Eric offers up advice on building a platform as well.
If you’re in need of writing and publishing advice (and who among us isn’t?!), hop over to Eric’s website and use his free resources for writers to the max. Happy writing and I can’t wait to read your stories!