Friday, December 30, 2011

Smoothies Anyone?

The eerie, yet compelling, music of Kitaro fills my ears from headphones purchased at Wal-Mart, music played on a computer bought at Best Buy, while I sit in a rocking chair procured from who-knows-where years ago. My eight-foot counter came from Home Depot and acts as my desk and work space.

Why do I talk about these things? I suppose it comes from the reality that I don’t particularly care where something comes from, how little I paid for it, or how strange it looks so long as it functions in the job I’ve assigned it.

A straight counter top, held up by six long table legs screwed into its underside, is as viable as a desk as it would be to top base cabinets in a kitchen. It cleans up easily and gives ample work room. Uniform file boxes, filled with items not in use, stacked to a convenient height and covered with a tablecloth, functions very well as a table. If I’m going to stack them up anyway, I might as well be able to use them for something.


I think most of us think along these lines at one time or another. I simply prefer thinking like this all the time. And being a writer only encourages the practice.

Why do I say that? Well, examine our daily work for the answer.

We create stories. In other words, we’re cooks disguised as builders. As writers we stake our reputations on our ability to utilize disparate ideas, words, etc. for the purpose of telling stories or relating information. That’s our job in a proverbial nutshell.

Except for the verification of information used within said stories and articles, we don’t care where we got our ideas. We don’t care where they’d been used before for something else. I’m not referring to plagiarism here. I’m talking about taking a bit of information or sparked idea gotten from reading a newspaper, magazine, or another book and putting together our own idea using that information.

An example here is Matthew Bennett’s break-out bestseller for expectant mothers, “The Maternal Journal.” He certainly couldn’t use personal experience for his book since he was male. He could take information found elsewhere, add opinions and insights from obstetric specialists as well as experienced mothers, and tie it all together into an easy-to-follow pregnancy guide. Of course, smart marketing helped sell the book, but the idea was built on a personal question and information gathered from elsewhere.

Writing is hard work within the murky, ever-shifting tides of the publishing industry. There are no clear-cut answers since many of the deciding factors about who’s published and who’s not stems from an editor’s gut reaction upon reading the manuscript.

Yet, above all else, writing is taking tiny particles of dream(s), putting them in a blender half-full with words, adding dashes of character-driven action, a nebulous theme that peaks out at the reader at unexpected points in the story, teasingly rambunctious characters who play with the reader’s mind, and pressing the pulse button until all ingredients are smooth and ready for the palate.

The end result depends on the cook, not on the origins of each ingredient. Like the workability of my office with its countertop, computer, headphones, and workspace, the story has arrived on the reading table because of how I use the makings I can find and how I combine them for that purpose.

How do you cook your stories and serve them up? Care to share? Feel free to tell me how you find your ideas, combine your ingredients, or market your wares. I’m always interested in learning another’s techniques.

Until later,


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Promotions Rethink

Every writer inevitably must turn her mind to promoting her work. That’s something many of us don’t want to think about early in our writing experience. It’s scary, intimidating, and tends to smack of the ego.

Writers talk about publishing and marketing on a regular basis as a rule. Seminars, workshops, and articles instruct writers, regardless of experience level, on the best and easiest ways to pursue this course of necessary work. The stumbling block for some, like me, is when we must take a more intimate role in the process.

For instance, right now I have three poems in an anthology just released this past weekend. “Prompted: An International Collection of Poems” contains 120 poems grouped around ten poetry writing prompts. Forty poets contributed three poems each for this anthology, plus created two strand poems to specific prompts for the book. Our publisher is in England, our poets live around the world, and the Foreword is penned by none other than Robert Brewer of WD’s Poetic Asides fame.

We’ve taken the step to sign over proceeds to the LitWorld charity to promote and develop literacy globally, and we must promote the book. We are proud of our efforts and should be. We have award-winning poets here who are sharing their work.
Something we’re doing must be right. “Prompted…” sits at the top of the New Released Anthologies list on Amazon, and managed to make it there within its first days after release.

You’re probably wondering why I’m concerned about promoting this book. I’m not really concerned about this book’s advertising per se. I don’t mind telling everyone I know about the fascinating choices of poems and the diversity of voices and perspectives on each subject.

The book is a joy to promote, not because my work is in it, but because mine is such a small percentage of the work showcased. For someone in a business rampant with those who seek recognition and fame, I’m one of those who want to have anonymous recognition.

I want my work recognized without having to stand on the corner, hawking my wares. It smacks of insincerity, political arenas, and a snake-oil mentality. Now you see why I didn’t continue to write commercials years ago.

Though I want everyone to buy one of the anthologies to enjoy the work and words of such fine poets as grace its pages, I feel inadequate to the task of promoting it. The worry of whether friends, colleagues, and family will think less of me circle above my head, weighty and menacing.

Is there any real chance that I will lose respect of others? Probably not. Does that answer sooth me. No, it doesn’t, especially right now at the holidays.

However, I will take up the gauntlet, stand on that podium, and say in a loudly ringing voice, “Please show your support for the spread of literacy across the globe, to towns and villages otherwise without a chance, and zip over to and select one copy or more of “Prompted: An International Collection of Poems.”

There! I’ve done it. Now to other networks, other readers, writers, and delvers into the esoteric pages of poetry. Thank you all for listening to one introvert stumble through her first personal book promotion. I’ve met the challenge and come away without any visible wounds. You’ve been most kind to me.

Until later,


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Speed-dating, Christmas Style

The other day while we were doing Christmas decorating, Jo and I were talking about stockings and ones we remembered  from years gone by, whether those we’d received or those we’d stuffed for someone else.

At the time it crossed my mind that Christmas stockings are much like speed dating. You invest a lot of thought, time, and effort into them and come away either feeling good about what you’d done or not, and not having a lot else to show for all your time. It comes down to satisfaction in the end, so to speak.

When I prepare items as stocking stuffers, I wrap them. I know. Call me anal about wrapping presents. I want the receiver to anticipate what the stocking holds for as long as she/he anticipates what’s under the tree.

I also feel that lots of small packages are better than one big package. The only things I don’t wrap are pieces of fruit. Candies are wrapped, too.

Here’s an example. Many years ago my wallet was flatter than Scrooge’s Christmas spirit. Not an unusual occurrence, you understand.

I lived a thousand miles away from my family—also not unusual. That year I really felt the need to send them all something for Christmas. I took what money I could scrape together and went to a discount store, bought a huge three foot stocking and commenced to buying small toys and sample toiletry items that cost anywhere from a dime to a quarter each.

I had three bags full when I finished shopping. I wrapped each one in Christmas wrap I’d saved from previous years. Yes, I was one of those. When I was done, I had that huge stocking bulging at the seams.

I labeled the gifts as either HIS or HERS and wrote a Christmas card to all of the family saying that they could have a free for all with the stocking. I’d put in an equal number of gifts each and for them to choose from the gender appropriate tags.

Shipping that box with its goodies cost almost as much as the contents, but it was worth the sense of satisfaction I’d gained from the exercise.

When Christmas rolled around, I heard from the family and about their appreciation of my stocking. They loved it and still remember it all these years later.

My satisfaction came from giving to them what I could and doing it in a way that was unique. I’d thought hard, worked hard, and invested time and effort in the project because I loved them and wanted to share with them. They were worth my effort.
Now you ask how this was like speed dating. Think about it.

I’d wanted to share myself with someone else for a little while. I’d planned how I would present myself to them on this occasion. I’d spent one afternoon shopping at a discount store, choosing among items on sale, so that I could give all that I could to those whom I’d chosen to receive my gifts, and I’d done it quickly. Getting my gifts to those receivers had cost as much as my gifts in the same way paying for a speed dating event would cost plus the transportation costs to get there.

At the end of the event, I walked away alone, yet satisfied that I had made it through another Christmas, given gifts of my time, thought and self for the appreciation of others.

Isn’t that like speed dating?

Until later,


Tuesday, December 6, 2011


The following is a small digression from the norm found here. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps it was needed more than I realized. Perhaps it was a truth that needed to be shared. Enjoy.

The Blessing

She sat behind her desk, fiddling with the ball point that should be gliding across decorative paper, staring out the window without seeing the scene beyond the pane of frosted glass. The day dragged on as it had since 8 am. Memories held her attention, drawing her back to people and places thirty years before and far away from this cold and dreary place; memories of those gone from this world though never far from daily thought.

Emotional upheaval caught at her throat as she pictured another holiday season, another room, another impending loss. Tears threatened to take permanent possession of her eyes even as swallowing became a challenge. How often did she have to relive those days and nights belonging to the past?

A moment, a day, a lifetime later, the woman turned away from the window to see where she’d left off on her annual Christmas letter to family and friends. In the center of the bright red, beribboned page she saw a portrait; an image she’d not seen smile in so very many years. The sudden appearance of that face broke her resolve to forego crying.

Her mother’s laughing, loving countenance required a release of the building tension that threatened to overtake her again this year.

Had her mother’s spirit found a way to visit long enough to reassure her of the rightness of things? Was this a message instructing her finally to let go? Or, was it merely a sign that her mother was happy where she was?

Did it matter what the exact message was so long as something positive came from it?
The woman found herself smiling at this gift that had been given to her. Whether her subconscious had doodled the portrait or some other means had put the beloved face on the page, the gift was gratefully accepted. She could go on now with the holiday that had become a burden to survive rather than a gift to appreciate and celebrate.

A slow smile began to spread across her face, her throat loosening its muscles and tear ducts turning off their leaks. The time had come to release the unshed grief. Blessings came in myriad packages, she realized.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Double Messages: Fences With Two Sides

Current philosophy regarding economics tells us that less is more. At a time when consumerism leans toward excess, in an environment of unemployment and, in some cases, hunger, the message at the edge of awareness tells us to cut back, tighten our belts, and hunker down until the economic crisis is past.

I’ve watched how others are dealing with this crisis, the messages sent to users from every quarter, the media blitz of advertising, etc. What I’ve seen leads me to believe that messages have blurred the edges of every realm of our lives.

Check me out and see if I’ way off base here. Are we doomed to live in a world of double messages?

1.     Conserve potable water: We’re urged to use more efficient dishwashers, etc. to utilize the least amount of water for effective purposes. Is that why lawn services, especially those in arid climates and drought stricken zones, have sprinklers systems blasting water into the dry air during the middle of the day? This is the worst possible time to water vegetation—it burns/boils the leaves and stems—and the least effective conservation practice. So, who's conserving?

2.     Keep as much out of the landfills in an effort to reduce future problems with ground water pollution, etc. For this to work, we’re encouraged to reduce/avoid use of disposable products like paper plates and diapers. We're encouraged to recycle more. Question: If we’re supposed to conserve water and can use paper plates to reduce water usage, aren’t we ignoring the landfill problem? And what about all of those defunct, yet fixable, appliances littering the landfill landscape?

3.     Auto manufacturers were ordered to make more efficient vehicles. Many 1970’s models, especially those from Japan, got better fuel mileage than the same models coming out this year. How is that efficient and less polluting? Remember, we’re supposed to support the U.S. manufacturers to help the economy.

These are a few examples of double dipping in the message department. Here’s one just for those active and potential writers out there.

Today’s experts in the publishing business have been emphasizing the use of tighter, more efficient writing. Remove those qualifiers, they say. Eliminate all of those adjectives and adverbs and shorten word count. Some editors frown on those who use more than a fifth grade education level of prose to write a story since it requires the reader to think beyond what’s being read.

When I began the writing course “Building Great Sentences,” I had no idea that what comprised those great sentences were not fewer words, but more words that told an effective story. It does counter popular business regimen.

Prof. Brooks Landon of the Univ. of Iowa reminds students of two millennium of memorable and effective writers who used longer and more complex sentences to tell their stories, build their treatises, and write their poetry. He points out that these complex sentences set the tone that helps create punch, surprise, or poignancy for the extremely short sentences that can follow them.

He uses many examples to prove his points and the course is designed to enlighten the student on how to build, one word at a time, the most effective sentence that not only moves the story forward, but which tells its own story within the overall frame work of the larger tale. He shows how one sentence can, in 40 words, give a complete picture of a character, a setting, the plot’s pivot point, etc.

There is no advocacy of irrelevant or unnecessary verbiage, but rather a use of cumulative sentences which act as mini-scenes, each behaving as a mover and shaker within the story. For the first time in years I’ve fallen in love again with language and its power.

In a time when I’m being told to shrink sentences, cut back, use vocabulary for children to talk to adults, I’ve come to appreciate rebellion and have a solid reason to engage in it, at least in this one area.
I no longer have to consign good language use to that word landfill residing within my desktop. I don't have to conserve more precise language for the sake of one person's belief in lesser grade words. I can get more mileage out of ten well-chosen words than a dozen sentences that circle the drain of contemporary writing practice.
I can control this piece of the double message question with my use of language and its place in the world. I don’t have to follow the path set for me by people who change literary tastes as easily as a butterfly moves to another flower’s nectar.

Ratings and sales don’t have to dictate how I function as a writer in this new digital age, except on the internet. Even that venue may come around to insisting on something mature for audiences. Regardless, I’m in a position where I can dictate my own terms within my portion of the industry, an industry which affords me the opportunity to stretch, express myself, and tell stories that can entertain.
I'm ringing this bull's tail regarding double messages and clearing a path for myself.
Tell me how you see our double message state and how you feel about using language. Short or long, we all have our favorites.

Until later,


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gems in Hidden Books

Every writer does research. Whether for non-fiction articles, books, or essays or for marketing that new story that’s hot off the keyboard, we delve into some esoteric corners on the off-chance of finding a gem that can be used as the centerpiece of some new project.

In the past year I’ve managed to dive into fascinating subjects with so much potential that I’m without direction as to the best use for the material.

For instance, there the global warming issue from both the environmental and the political viewpoints. Bits and pieces could be used for great articles with slants not expected by the average reader, or articles for children to help them derive an understanding of the issues involved, or as the basis for sci-fi stories extraordinaire.

Which way should I go? It’s not like the subject is going away soon. It’s around to stay and getting more complex each day, with plenty of twists along the way to create plotlines for sci-fi, YA survivalist faire, a murder mystery surrounding a leading scientist who’s discovered how to help halt the progression of the marching ice fields. You see what I mean.

How about those hidden gems that can be used for a character’s profession or hobby? Here’s one that brought me to a point of practicing an almost lost art: knots and splices.

What are they? Mariners and their land-grubbing laborer cousins have practiced tying knots and splicing ropes together for thousands of years. This was and is a practical knowledge that can be used for many purposes. My “Pocket Guide to Knots & Splices” by Des Pawson sits beside my copy of “Leather Braiding” by Bruce Grant.

You might ask why I’d have such disparate volumes on my reference shelf. I’ll tell you. In the first place, I thoroughly enjoy learning new skills. With each new knot or braiding technique practiced and mastered, I will have a concrete example of the craft involved.

Secondly, I can use this knowledge for any number of characters. I can have one of my mystery characters always craft a Turk knot on a gift package. The knot done in leather, for instance, acts as an additional gift for the receiver. This act of thoughtfulness becomes a trademark for that character. Or, I can write a short story about a fencer who’s just begun work with battle swords instead of epees and has to fashion the grip covering on the hilt of his newly acquired broadsword. It can be done in leather or in flat silk cording, as the Samurai once did. The very act of making that decision could make for a turning point for that particular character.

What if I had a character that made art with decorative knots that behaved as the anchoring point of her textile art that sold for thousands of dollars? Everything from Celtic knots to old sailors knots would work well for the story point.

I could do a character that makes bull whips for sale. Those use both leather braiding of a specialty type and special knotting.

Just these three subjects could keep a person busy with ideas for months or more. I often ask myself if there are dull subjects. I figure there are a few, but only because they don’t catch the imagination of the person looking at them. All subjects, I think, can be used for some form of writing, even if it’s only a silly piece of background business in a manuscript. If the writer is clever, that bit of business can become a telling clue or piece of a puzzle for later in the story.

Now that you’ve seen some of the stuff I’m likely to submerge myself into, look at your own preferences. I dare you. Find three of those esoteric subjects in hidden books and see just how many uses to which you can put the information. Then tell me about it. I’m always willing to learn something new.

Until later,


Thursday, November 10, 2011

One More Silver Lining

For the past two weeks I’ve been dealing with pneumonia and its many twists and turns. Antibiotics make me sleepy, among other things, and this time being sleepy didn’t help matters since coughing and shortness of breath were my main symptoms.

I don’t tell you this for sympathy but, rather, to set the stage for what comes next. If you’ve ever had a respiratory infection or pneumonia to any degree, you know that sleeping on the horizontal isn’t going to happen. The lungs won’t allow for it. Throw in a slight sinus infection, and you’ll really not sleep much.
So, there I was, not sleeping in an upright and locked position, cradled on the corner of my bed, back against three pillows, one of which actually did hold my head up and allow me to turn it from side to side.

While I sat there for hours in the darkness, not sleeping but wallowing in that twilight state of antibiotic-drugged drowsiness, my mind was free to run wild, without destination, purpose, or forethought. The hors d'oeuvres of primitive thought kept floating in front of the mind’s eye, offering up delicacies of unlimited scope in the creative sense.
Entire novels rolled by, pulled onward down an ever-lengthening road by a team of amusing characters that were fit to assemble into something miraculous if I could just hold onto them to write down enough during the day to remember them. Unfortunately, such was not the case. They drove away on their wagonload of plotline and interesting twists before I could fully grasp enough details to hang onto the storyline.

Dragged behind that wagon came another book; I called it “The Book of Notions.” This one stuck with me and expanded with each new consideration. A vision flashed across my inner movie screen; a man dressed in period costume—late nineteenth century—carrying  under one arm a large book, bound in black, thin and mysterious. The title, embossed in gold, was “The Book of Notions.” I never saw the man’s face. It didn’t matter. The title stuck in my mind.
Now I had something to hold onto. Substance couldn’t be too far away. Suddenly that great little story that I’d just written for a competition took on a whole new meaning. It was the first of the “Notions” and would anchor all of the rest. There would be between 15 and 20 Notion stories and they would use the same narrator and all would be slightly quirky, sad or amazing, funny or chilling. I could see the entire project; a project I could do over time and look for just the right subjects to fill the book.

The whole project resided within that black binding with gold lettering. I knew where I’d look for the stories. I knew the approach I would take. I knew it would work.
It isn’t often when I come across something like this that has such a feel of rightness to it. I always hang onto those with both hands, and they’re always worthwhile. And it isn’t as if I don’t have enough projects already on my plate. I have five that I’m working on now. This one, though, is one that haunts, but in a good way; a way that forces me to keep it in mind, forces me to keep thinking about what the stories will be. I won’t neglect this one for long between story installments.

Perhaps this is a true example of inspiration. Perhaps it’s only an example of hallucinations and fevered dreams. Either way, I have a long-term project that will hold my interest in easy installments and that’s something worthwhile.
Here’s hoping that all of you are so fortunate to find a silver lining for yourself. Until later,


Friday, October 21, 2011

Scoring the Right Music

Much has been written of late about music and the writer. I’d never put my mind to the question before this past couple of months. Suddenly everyone wants to know what others listen to when they’re writing. 

Some prefer to hear nothing while their minds struggle to put precise words onto the screen or the paper. I could not do that on a regular basis. I have specific music that I listen to when I need to shut out the world while composing whatever prose or poetry is destined to flow from my fingertips. 

Kitaro's or Deuter's fabulous CDs work well when in that dreamy, contemplative phase of creation strikes. For those lively stories that demand lots of movement, Andes Manta fills the headphones with Ecuadorian life and celebration. I highly recommend this group or ones like them for fast paced writing. For op-ed work, pipes and drums come to mind or something very martial in attitude—one of the classical works, perhaps. Mannheim Steamroller is an impressive incentive type music, too.

I’ve tried music with voices raised in song. I can’t do it—too distracting. I want music, but only instrumentals. Relaxation, meditation, or sound effects CDs will work as well--for poetry, especially. 

When I think about those writers of centuries ago, I wonder what filled their ears while their fingers were busy with quill and parchment or vellum. Did they come to the point of screaming at the distraction of rowdy children squealing and running below their window? I tend to doubt they hired minstrels to come play for them during working hours. 

What did Homer hear while penning his masterpieces? Was it only the surf pounding against the rocky shoreline, or splashing against the sides of ships at anchor? Did Tennyson or Bryon, Melville or Hawthorne wait for the appropriate strains of music before risking their brilliance to the permanence of ink on paper?  

Somehow I doubt it. 

Our times dictate most of what we do and how we do it. Many of us can no longer envision a life without a ready connection to others thousands of miles away that takes less than the flick of a thought to bring into your space. We’re spoiled by our now. 

And yet, I wonder if we recognize our now when we’re in it. How many of us are actually aware of an instant of thought or inspiration? How many take the opportunity to breathe deeply of a rose’s perfume before strolling off to our next encounter? And how many are aware of what they missed today because their chosen writing instruments and music have kept them prisoner behind a screen.

You tell me.

Until later,


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Notes on Writing

Last night Sister Jo and I went to the symphony. We’d lucked out a couple of months back when she won tickets to the first concert of the season of the Glacier Symphony Orchestra and Chorale.

We weren’t disappointed in the performance. It was brilliant. Amit Peled, the renowned cellist, performed to the strains of Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of cellists play, but I’ve never heard one that did multiple harmonic chords simultaneously. That feat sent shivers up my spine. He definitely deserves his acclaim.

Sister Jo, much to her benefit, became overheated during the first movement of the final piece, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G major. She excused herself and headed out to the lobby. It was fortunate for her because while she sat in the comfort of an overstuff couch with plenty of elbow room, Amit Peled joined her. He was cooling off after his performance. I tried not to be jealous later when she told me of this encounter. I’m still not sure if I succeeded.

During the fourth movement of Mahler’s Symphony, guest soprano, Emily Murdock, sand a marvelous rendition of the German solo. For those of us in the audience who didn’t speak German, we made do with following along with the printed lyrics in the program via tiny pen lights.

The oddity of this symphony was that it held many passages in discordance. The glory of it was that though the discordance was held, harmonics surrounded and blended with it so that it was no longer a disruptive element. I’ll come back to this fact in a bit.

I tell you all of this because I have a habit. Maybe all writers have a similar one. I don’t know.

When I’m listening to a symphony like this, where several pieces are brought together for presentation, with each one having a distinct theme and sound, I pay attention to the different mental images evoked. I sit with my eyes closed and allow my mind to create whatever images it wants. If I work it right, I can begin by thinking of an unfinished story project on my desk and watch the rest of the story unfold.

That’s what I did last night. I began by thinking of my YA/Adult fantasy novel, “Wisher’s World: Composing an Apprentice” and slipped the reins on my imagination. By the end of the first musical offering of the evening--Josef Suk’s Scherzo Fantastique, Op. 25--I had the rest of the story, full-blown, complete with plot twists. The music was perfect for my purpose. My job at that point was to remember what I’d seen behind closed eyes.

I enjoyed the cello piece for itself, and then turned to my women’s novel “Dreamie’s Box” for the symphony. I got some great twists during that session. Remember that fact about the discordance? While I listen I realized that for me it symbolized those obstacles that the main character must overcome, solve, utilize to advantage. I began to see the interplay between discordant action and the harmony of other parts in a story as having an intricate relationship, built of both necessity and achievement at the end. They must both be present.

That lesson was an important one for me. I suppose it’s an important one for any writer. Learning from listening to that music brought the lesson home with impact and permanence.

I came away with more than the music ringing in my ears. I had new notes for writing on two novels under construction right now. What more could any writer want? What I wonder is whether other writers do the same thing when they listen to music.

Think about it. Let me know what you think. Until later,


Friday, October 7, 2011

Taking Time

There are times like now when preparations for a short trip, entertaining, etc. begin to pall. That’s when I choose to take my mind completely away from the current time consumers and look for something totally different.

Doing this clears the mind to allow for subtle preparations and mental lists to go on while the body and front brain are engaged elsewhere.

Today, that elsewhere was learning more about how to effectively use Office 2010. Beginning with Word, the process moved me though templates, themes, styles, etc. There was very much to learn and try to keep straight in the mind. Though I used this version of Word for over a year, I’d never gotten to know it and its potential. That oversight is rapidly being corrected.

Suddenly the idea of all of those lovely pages that I saw everyone else put together didn’t intimidate me anymore. For so long I’ve watched from the bleachers while all around me creativity was flaunted with such ease that I felt like a complete idiot.

I know there are books that seemed written just for me. I’ve seen them on the shelves and felt too embarrassed to actually buy one. Way back when I got my Office 2010 software, I went to all the trouble of buying a nice book called “The Ultimate Guide to Microsoft Office 2010.”

I’d refused to take sufficient time or attention to read, absorb and fiddle on the computer to learn anything it might have had to say about my new programs.

Shame should cover me with its scarlet flush. Now it’s possible to create marvelous-looking documents with simple tools. Hope springs up in my heart; hope of learning how to edit with notes in the margins, or that exciting photo modification that’s available—and  dare I think Publishing. Can’t wait to get to that chapter.

Study time has ended for the day. Perhaps this weekend while I’m killing time in a motel room in Washington, I can take on the next phase of this process called “becoming familiar with Office 2010.”

Laptop and book will accompany me on our short trip westward. I’ll keep busy with learning and reading.

Anyone who is only now beginning to take this software seriously should drop by the local chain bookstore. Get yourself a copy of a book like mine that can walk you through the process of learning ribbons, media creation, etc. You don’t have to go online and listen to tutorials unless you want to, or unless you have two computers; one for the tutorial and one for hands-on practice.

Jump in and explore some of the options. If you’re like me and haven’t taken the time to dive deeper than you’ve gone before, strap on the scuba tank and take a gander at what’s on the sea bottom. I’ve found treasure I didn’t know existed. All I have to do is haul it up and cash in on it.

Until later,


Sunday, September 25, 2011

View From the Road

I wanted to show you all the kind of autumn day that comes our way here in northwest Montana. With Jo's permission, I put  this together with a poem I wrote for the occasion. I hope you all enjoy it on this marvelous Sunday afternoon.

Think of this as my little postcard to you all.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Allowing the Story to Grow

A couple of months ago I set about creating a slew of character studies in preparation for work on a new novel-length project. I figured that when the well ran dry at the end of a long writing session on my sister’s and my country tour book, I could work on something totally unrelated. Plus, I could use some of the material gathered from our trip, as well.

A reasonable prospect, don’t you think?

Inspiration to Dilemma

That’s where the problem began. I’d accumulated such diverse material that deciding on a series of plot twists and points of interest evolved into a nightmare.

I first had to decide on voice—poignant or dramatic with mystery. There was always a possibility of putting those two directions together and running them parallel. I hadn’t seen that done often, which helped make that bridge an interesting one. I patted myself on the back and continued.

The MC’s character definition was set. I could go on to build her circumstances into a realistic model. No problem there. Background details sprinkled along the way could create clarity.

Lastly, I needed to decide how far I was willing to take this character and her story. I’m an organic writer and most of what I put down in copy in my first draft is as much a surprise to me as to the reader. As a result, I require a point of exit for the story. That stop sign in my mind helps put my rewind brakes on when I get too enthusiastic with the storyline.

You can see the difficulty. I had a great main character and several feisty and intriguing secondary characters. I had so many who were dying to have their stories shown to readers who hadn’t yet met them. What could a writer to do?

Learning a Lesson

Veteran crime writer, Elmore Leonard teaches that using tiny details about a character creates something memorable for the reader as well as for the other characters. He advocates using major bits of dialogue to drive the story and reveal the secrets. He’s used these techniques to create crime novels that continue to fascinate readers since producing “3:10 To Yuma” back in the pulp fiction days.

I used this lesson and learned about my characters’ tiny details. Those can help drive both dialogue and reveal secrets. I know that my MC despises the married life she’s lived for seventeen years.  I know that she longs to be free and living on her own terms. I also know that she goes to the library twice a week and spends the day there, which her husband allows because he deems the activity harmless and safe from temptation.

Those and more surround the major points in her life. Smaller details include the fact that she wears different clothes to the library than she does at home or to church. She wears a certain scent when she goes to town. She likes hats. Each of these facts assists in the creation of the overall picture of the character’s reality.

Mystery whispers around the base premise. Her friends and other secondary figures also hold secrets. These help move the reader toward discovery at the plot’s conclusion. Without that sense of mystery, that sense of anticipation, the story would fall flat and remain lifeless.

Many of the MC’s personal details are things that would resonate with folks in a Southern location. Ergo, setting made it known and added another dimension to the tale. With all of that worked out, I could move on to plot and setting.

Mapping the Plot

From first page to last, only one serious question required an answer at each juncture along the plotline.

What if? Those two words are drivers of stories. I listened when my MC told me that she had a secret life and that she really didn’t need her husband for any reason. She had her own life. It simply wasn’t as free as she would like it to be.

What if the MC goes to the library one day and is assaulted or raped? How would these actions play out? Would she hide in shame and refuse to tell her husband—a husband who might blame her for the attack? Would the police be brought in? And if the police were involved, who would they find guilty of the crime? Why would the attack happen that day, to that woman?

With that in mind, logical questions would follow. “What if her husband wasn’t around anymore? Would she prefer that he leave her alone but not have a divorce?

Why did her best friend need to be involved and what could she contribute to the MC’s situation. And on and on…

Discovering a Conclusion

Many of those “what ifs” evolve from the story’s regional setting. People behave differently in each region to the same stimuli. Anyone who has traveled around soon comes to that conclusion.

That fact allows me to work with a bit of logic, a bit of intuition, and a listening ear to discover what might be the only proper end to the story. After I have that piece of the puzzle, I can put the chapter outlines together and ready myself for a true beginning to the writing project.

Because I wanted to use material gathered for a different book project, I came away with much more. I came away with a novel, starring a character that previously had remained hidden somewhere inside my mind. In addition, I found a literary use for some of my travel material, which also gave me walk-on characters.

I titled this novel “Dreamie’s Box.” My writing partner told me to set aside the first two chapters for use as bits of backstory later in the story. Beginning with the death of the MC’s husband in Chapter Three will force a much faster pace to the story. It’s a good thing. Thankfully, I have a scrupulously honest writing partner. I may finish this thing long before NaNoWriMo.

Until later,


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Conquering Writer's Guilt

One of the things I’ve been contemplating this past week has centered on why writers can’t stop themselves from writing.

Admit it. If you don’t write on a regular basis, you get cranky, unbalanced, and not pleasant to be around. Little things that have no import begin to tick you off for no real reason. In the end, you must take up paper and pen or keyboard and monitor to put something in writing, whether anyone else will ever read it or not.

Many of you are nodding, thinking back to when you were a youngster and creeping off to a corner where no one would find you for a while, in an effort to put your thoughts, ideas, and ponderings into a more permanent form.

Some of you, like me, were either teased about your use of words or discouraged in a more hurtful way. It wasn’t pleasant. You felt misunderstood, unworthy, and alone in a world that didn’t honor you. I remember those days well. By the time adulthood came along, you probably had no more belief in your abilities or writing dreams than anyone else had shown throughout your life.

I’ve never understood why those who are supposed to love us can’t give encouragement to a child’s dreams and aspirations. I’m at an age now where I know that I’ll never understand a person’s need to berate another rather than move toward understanding.

Whether we still hunker in corners for secret writing sessions or sit at desks and flaunt our right to express ourselves to the world, one aspect of a writer’s life tends to remain true; at least in my experience.

We all tend to feel guilty if we haven’t written anything on any given day. It doesn’t seem to matter how busy and cluttered with errands that day has been. What matters is the reality that we didn’t find at least fifteen minutes to put words down for use later.

Guilt seems to be built into the job description of most writers. You feel guilty if you’re running behind on a timeline, even if you’re the one who created the timeline. Pangs of guilt flutter around your head every time you think you haven’t spent enough time on research, editing, critiquing of other’s work, what-have-you.

Have you kept your presence fluid and immediate on your social networks and the media? Another source of guilt has come to roost on your head. Have you been keeping close enough email ties to your contacts? No? Well, you’d best get cracking. You could lose those contacts. They could be offended and never really be friends with you again.

You see what I’m talking about. Be honest. You’ve felt some, in not all, of these symptoms of a Writer’s Guilt. The cause is unknown. It lies so deep inside the psyche that few, if any, would find it without a bulldozer and other heavy equipment.

The only cure is striving for a regular dose of preventative. Write a long email to someone you’ve not contacted in a while. Apologize for the oversight--make no promises about doing better, since that leads to more guilt later—and be positive in your relating of doings in your life, what you’ve been working on, and how insanely chaotic your personal life has been. That will take care of that problem for now.

Edit an old story and get it submitted anywhere. It doesn’t matter where. It’s the submission that matters. Another symptom will be gone for the moment.

Continue with these types of firebreaks and soon the guilt will be controlled. You will be able to say “See, what I’ve done this week. I’ve gotten all of this done.”

Until the next time I feel guilty about neglecting this blog for another, have a great weekend and week to come.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Family Separation, Disconnection, and Chaos Theory

What happens when you’re suddenly contacted by someone you’ve not seen nor talked to in 26 years? Stick around and let me tell you what happened to me.

Last week when I called my father, who’s recuperating from hip surgery in a convalescent center, I got to talk to my brother who happened to be in the room at the time. He asked me if I wanted the phone number and email addy of my first cousin, Pat. I took up pencil and paper and duly wrote down the information. Color me too  shocked to object or question anything.

It seems that she’d paid a visit to Dad that day while visiting with an old classmate. She even brought along the classmate. She’d been thinking about him recently, had spoken to her friend about not being able to contact him, and this classmate happened to be in Burger King one day to discover someone who knew Dad. In that round-about way, Pat was informed of his stay at the convalescent center.

Talk about your seven degrees of separation!

The upshot was that I now had in my possession the information to make contact possible after 26 years. The oddest part of this story, I suppose, was that this cousin had been on my mind for a couple of weeks. I had no clue why I kept thinking about her, though. Couple that oddity with the fact that all of a sudden I’d been picking up friend requests from writers from Indiana for a solid week, when I had no others before that. Now you can glimpse my need to shiver a bit.

Yep, things aren’t always what they seem on the surface, unless you’re like me, and have dealt with too many coincidences in the past to take them lightly. There is no such thing as a coincidence, in my humble opinion.

I contacted Pat, who now goes by a different nickname, by email. It was short and sweet and inviting. She responded immediately and we’ve been corresponding daily since.

We’re getting reacquainted. As we all know, people change over time. Life does that to a person. I’ve learned some things about this lovely woman that I would never have expected. For instance, she loves poetry and buys books of poetry every time she finds a poet that she can click with. She's happily used her time to garden since she retired a few years ago.

These are the kinds of things that I would have known if we could have communicated over those intervening years. We’ve lost time with each other. We’ve lost our connections. As we grow older, having family contemporaries becomes more difficult.
She is one of only three cousins of my age—within a year or so—on either side of my family. That’s a really small pool to draw from, and she’s the only relative that I know left on my mother’s side of the family. That pool just got dangerously small.

Why am I talking about all of this? It has to do with recognizing how fragile connections and communication really are. It focuses one’s attention on those bits of self that have been left behind; bits that impacted other people that one never expected. And, it allows for more examples of those seven degrees of separation that Chaos Theory is always shoving down our throats.

Remember I said that Pat loves poetry. I sent her a link to some of my published poems on the Soft Whispers site. She came back to me expressing her pleasure in a specific poem and told me how much it reminded her of her favorite poet, Gwen Frostic. She told me that she used to go to Gwen’s studio each year to get any new books of poetry that had come out since the last visit.

Now I’d never heard of that poet, but I remedied that with a Google search. Though deceased now, Gwen became an instant favorite of my own, as well. Look her up and see if you can figure out why. Her books are also still available on Amazon. Somehow I can see an order in my future.

I discovered a new poet, introduced to me by a cousin long estranged, reconnected with a much forgotten past, from a place I hadn’t lived in 26 years. I think that’s a good week’s work, don’t you?

I’m just trying to figure out what I’m going to discover this week. Until I find out, take care, all, and may blessings litter you path through life.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Relatively Speaking

An old adage says “Everything is relative.”

Everyone stumbles across this one truth at some point in their lives. That is, if they’re paying attention.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll remember that to walk into a house heated to 65 degrees from an outside temperature of 32 or less feels like you’re walking into a hot house. Give yourself a couple of hours and the inside temps won’t seem so warm.

Place that same scene in the dog days of summer with outside temps of 100 degrees and walk into that same house set at 65 degrees. Suddenly one has walked into a meat locker.

Someone has undoubtedly thought of the analogy of “How do you boil a live frog?”

The power of relativity has come to bear on our lives so often that we seldom pay attention to it. We make our statements about conditions around us and move on to another distraction. It’s not something that seems terribly pertinent.

Why am I talking about such a petty little observation? Isn’t it the petty little observations to which writers must pay attention?

Whether a writer is dealing in fiction or non-fiction, it’s the details that will either set you free or bury you. If you’re working in non-fiction and you present one of those little observations of relativity incorrectly, credibility will be tainted. Precision of detail is critical in non-fiction. The writer cannot afford to allow relativity to color those details too much. Even memoir has its limits concerning relativity.

If the writer works in fiction, the relativity displayed by character and situation makes or breaks the reality of the story presented. If you have a character who hates feeling cold, who lives in the desert for that reason, for instance, her air conditioning unit won’t be set at 65 degrees in the summer. The character would never stand for a temperature setting that low. Yet, such a situation can be successfully used to further define the character’s individual needs, tastes, backstory, etc.

Some people call this perspective since relativity is reserved for a physics theorem. Regardless, writers deal with the continual relativity/perspective factor every day. Many times we do it unconsciously. Somewhere, on an intuitive level, we understand how critical it is that we appear authentic and accurate.

The genre dictates how we use this factor, as well. Children’s writers must write as adults. Their presentation of material or story, on the other hand, must be from the perspective of the readers’ age for fiction and use appropriate language level, etc. In non-fiction children’s age-appropriate language also holds hands with concept understanding and developmental stages. Targeting the proper age market for one’s work is crucial to success in that genre.

The same holds true for marketing any piece of writing to any audience. Relativity/perspective demands proper marketing for success. The writer of technical journals, for instance, targets only those who need that particular information, written at specific levels of expertise.

As you can see, everything is relative. From the content to the marketing the writer juggles accuracy with approximation every time she sits down at her computer, regardless of what she’s writing.

Maybe that’s a large part of why this industry is so fascinating and frustrating at one and the same time. If anyone has another take on this subject, let me know.  I’m always up for discussion.

Until later,


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Driving Focus Needs the Right Schedule

Spinning one’s wheels without forward movement is a true exercise in frustration. Putting more on one’s plate than can be eaten in a meal is gluttony. And writing without a plan of action is just plan insane.

We all know these truths. If we haven’t learned them within the first few experiences, we don’t deserve to call ourselves intelligent.

I bring all of this up to preface my new beginning. I’ve been stacking so much on my writer’s plate that even Hercules couldn’t have lifted it without a forklift. There are just so many marvelous projects that I must stick my fingers into right now. I know that I have four-ten other projects sitting in the wings looking for a finale. I understand that a new project needs extra time for development, which eliminates time slated for other work.

Yeah, I get it.

Addiction is a terrible thing. This addiction on mine to constantly find new, more fascinating projects to tinker with has got to stop. That’s why I’ve taken today to develop a work schedule for myself that is rigid enough to keep me focused and flexible enough to allow for movement between projects and chores outside of writing.

I’ve done scheduling before without success, I think because too much rigidity and I don’t get along well. We tend to go to war. Blame that on my need for flexibility.

With this new attempt, I’ve built in those non-writing tasks that always stole time I didn’t feel I had before. I built in time for email and social media twice a day. I built in time for reading for review and for pleasure. I built in specific timeframes for writing on different projects on different days of the week.

I even built in time each day for personal home tasks and half an hour of exercise. Believe me, that’s definitely new.

Each week’s schedule will shift just a bit as administration tasks are completed and others take their place. Now I can go to my day’s calendar and see just those things that need my focus, without having to think about those that will come on a different day.

Down the line further, I will build in all of the deadlines for submissions. I’ve already allowed for a few hours each week for marketing research and submissions.

I’m going to try, with determination and focus, to get this new attempt to work for me. Every other one has failed so far in the last two years. I’ve learned a bit about myself since then.

Wish me luck and check in on Monday to see how the work proceeds and how my newest project is coming along. What is that project, you ask. It’s a women’s fiction novel titled “Dreamie’s Box.” I’ve completed the first two chapters and moving forward.

Until next time,