Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas blogs

I have been a little lax with my blogs in recent months since I spent so much time on my two books – Storm on Savage Mountain and Haunted Station. However, I am back at the keyboard and planning to blog more often during 2019. To end this busy year, I am going to refer to back to Christmas blogs I wrote in the past.

2012 - I had just started writing this blog in February of that year. For December, I decided to write something light around Christmas and chose to discuss Funny Christmas Songs.

 “All I want for Christmas are my two front teeth” had special meaning to my family since it was appropriate for my daughter who knocked her baby teeth up into her gums when she was a toddler. We bought her a red-headed Cabbage Patch doll that was missing its two front teeth.

I still love to listen to David DeBoy’s humorous Christmas album, which includes “The Aluminum Christmas” Tree.” One of my aunts had one. A special light shining on it made it look like it was changing colors. This song brings back those memories of that tree “you might see on Mars.”

One of my favorites on that album is “Crabs for Christmas.” A big fella from Maryland, in his bowling league coat and Orioles cap, tells a Houston Santa that he wants crabs for Christmas. Steamed crabs and a beer “would be like a trip back to ole Balt-i-more.”

2014 - I titled my blog, A Christmas Gift. It was about the anthology Christmas Carroll, published that year by my local writing group. It includes various types of stories, poems and photos from people who live (or previously lived) in Carroll County, Maryland. Brief biographies and photos of the authors and artists make this book special. As it says on the back cover, “…this anthology written by our writing family for yours.” It is still available at Eclecticity in Westminster and on

2016 - Books for Christmas was the subject of a blog based on the annual “Books Sandwiched In” event at McDaniel College, Westminster, MD.  The bookish event celebrated its 25th anniversary that year.

I have gone to McDaniel Books Sandwiched In for years, but a sudden snowstorm closed the college for part of the day this year and the event was cancelled.  Happily the local newspaper, the Carroll County Times, ran an article about the presenter, Jane Sharpe, a retired college librarian who reads many books during the year to choose her favorite 25 to 35 books. The article included the list of her recommended books this year. It was helpful, but I missed her comments about why she chose the books and who may find them interesting.

I love to give books as gifts. Besides books for children (often given with a small toy) I have given books about sports, famous people, history, crafts, “How-to’s” and books by local authors.

2017 - In My Christmas Tree, I mentioned sentimental items that decorate my tree each year. Yes, they are hanging on my tree again this year, joined by some made by my young grandson. Lasr year, I wrote “Birds sing on my Christmas tree, stars twinkle, friends and family members live on. While decorating my Christmas tree I realized how much my collection of ornaments reflects my life.”

I enjoy going to garden centers and visiting the homes of family members and friends during the holiday season to enjoy the wide variety of decorated Christmas trees. However, I love my personal tree. Like my writing, it helps keep family and friends alive.

I hope you enjoyed this little step down memory lane. These full blogs are still available at if you want to read more.

Enjoy your special holiday traditions and have a wonderful Christmas season.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Plotting your book. There is help.

I recently heard author Jeanne Adams speak about Plotting for Success!  How to Plot, even if you hate it. She admitted that she often had trouble in the middle of her books and realized it would help if she developed some sort of plot.

Plotting can keep you from painting yourself into a corner or running into dead ends. It can help you finish your current book instead of moving on to a new one.

Some people told her to use sticky notes. That method did not work for her, so she sought other plotting ideas. She stressed that you have to do it your way. It must feel comfortable or you will not do it.

Plotting helps you know where you are going. It’s like a map. Even if you write by the seat of your pants, a plot can help fill in the gaps. With an outline you can start anywhere in your book, then go back and fill in things you have to do to get there.

The W Plot sounded the easiest to me. You start drawing a line from your inciting incident down to the first black moment, then back up to the midpoint of the story. Then you go back down to the big black moment and then rapidly up to the conclusion and wrap-up.

We worked with a few different stories using this method, choosing events to list along the sides and top of the W, creating a basic plot. You gradually can add more plot points.

If this method doesn’t work for you, Adams suggested Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure with Five Turning Points. More details about that are available at

She also discussed Kurt Vonnegut’s method, the Snowflake method and working backward. Think - If you are stuck, what has to happen before you get to the end?

I have never liked outlining, but the W plot sounds like something I can do. With the basic story pictured, I could make an outline when the W becomes cluttered with my ideas.
Jeanne Adams, front center, with Carroll County writers and guests
She stressed to use whatever method works for you. For more information, check out or

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Promoting books

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I recently self-published my first novel through Kindle Direct Publishing. KDP. Storm on Savage Mountain has been selling and I have been getting royalties, even though I haven't don't too much to promote it yet.

I wouldn't recommend self-publishing to everyone. It takes a lot of learning and a lot of effort, but it worked for me.

I have been  furiously writing a second book that takes place in the same area in the summer instead of in the mountain winter. Since it is titled The Haunted Train Station, I was trying to get it out before Halloween. Time is running out but I am still working hard.

Recently I sold a few of my books at the Open House held by the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers' Association. Below is a photo of me signing one of my books.

I will be selling my books at Author Day, at the Carroll County Agricultural Center on Saturday, November 3rd, Westminster, MD, near the Farm Museum.

Because so much of this is new to me, I may not be doing things the best way to promote my books. I do have a lot more ideas, but worry I am neglecting my blog and duties I have with my writing group and my family.

I was thrilled to have my son and daughter-in-law visiting us from California recently. Writing had to be put on hold.

 It was a good time for a family picnic and other chances to get together.
We even have my son-in-law's parents visiting from Scotland.

So many wonderful things are happening, it is hard to spend as much time as I should at my computer. So I hope you will forgive me for missing a few of my blogs.

I have enjoyed writing my blogs, experimenting and changing as I went along. I am planning to continue to write them. Now, they may have a bit more personal information included, as well as continued advice about writing (from people more expert then I am) and about books worth reading. There are so many wonderful books, just waiting for us.

So if you are in the Westminster area on November 3rd, maybe take a few minutes to visit me and other area writers at Author Day.

If you aren't nearby, see if there is a similar event close to you.

Have fun reading and writing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Books Change Lives

I have often felt that books had the power to change lives. I know when I read, I often feel a connection to what the author is writing about. Sometimes I learn something new that may help change my mind about a certain subject or person.
This spring I read The Books that Changed My Life, Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians, and other Remarkable People, edited by Bethanne Patrick. It was just published in 2016. This book gives us insight into why books mean so much to people.

A few responses are generic, such as “I love all books,” but often still mention a few special books. It includes readers of cookbooks, classics, memoirs, business, poetry, children’s books and more.
It was interesting to see how books I read affected others and what information or insight I may have missed or not have needed at the time. Some are not surprising, others were. It also made me want to read some books I hadn’t read yet.
 It was interesting to see what types of books these people liked and a brief why.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf shows it’s OK to be different.
The Andy Warhol Diaries shows that words can be art supplies.
Steve JobsTommy Hilfiger chose Steve Jobs by Walter Jacobson. He likes to read books about successful individuals, how they think, what makes them think, and show that even brilliant mind like Jobs make a lot of mistakes along the way. Mistakes are almost gifts, a challenge. Jobs was passionate about what he was doing.
For Lisi Lampanetti it was Solemate: Master the art of aloneness and transform your life by Lauren Mackler  “…I learn these life lessons thru books in a way that doesn’t happen with anything else; reading forces you to slow down and focus”

Peter Straub chose Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe “You’re not the same person when you reread a book, he said.”
Al Roker, who said he likes figuring things out, chose The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle..
For Susan Orlean it was The Sound & the Fury,  by Faulkner, “Feeling the transformational power of a book was world changing for me.”

Harriet, the spyLouise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy was about an eleven-year-old girl who was called a spy. What she was really doing as she scribbled in her notebook was learning how to become a writer.
Tony P Hall, who was in congress for 20 years, became U.S. Ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture and director of the Alliance to End Hunger, chose The Bible. “The Bible is clear about how we are meant to deal with the issues of poverty and hunger.”
As Patrick says in the introduction, “Reading has power.”

I agree with her. Books can just be enjoyable diversions or entertainment, but they also make me think, learn, and empathize with others. I would recommend this book to people who love to read, especially if they like variety and are interested in what others enjoy reading. It’s a book you can go back to again and again.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Murder at a Maryland Newspaper

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and reading about on my computer. A gunman had killed five staff members at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.

It wasn’t long before we were hearing about the dead, average men and women who were only doing their job that day as usual. I didn’t know any of them, but I cried for their families, their community and the loss to the newspaper world.

The murdered included Girl Scout leader and mother of four, Wendi Winters, 65, who kept the community informed with columns such as Teen of the Week and Home of the Week.

Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial writers who had been at the paper for 25 years and had worked at the Carroll County Times during the 1980s,

John McNanamara, 56, who had written two books on the university of Maryland during his 20 years at the Gazette. A graduate of UM he also loved to write about the university’s sports.

Rob Hiaasen, 59, assistant editor and features columnist. An article in the July 16 issue of People magazine mentioned that Hiaasen’s wife was celebrating her 58th birthday. She was waiting for him to come home before opening the present he had left for her. Now he would never come home again.

The youngest, Rebecca Smith, 34, was just hired last fall as a sales assistant and was engaged to be married. Little details like this that help us see these are just average people.

Each with their own story, each with a future that was cut short because of a man who hated and saw nothing wrong with taking a weapon and killing whoever he met, at what he considered his enemy, the community newspaper.

News media is our lifeline to what is happening in our world, letting us know things we need to know. Especially community newspapers, who not only let you know if your zoning may be changed, your taxes raised or your school closed (before these things happen so maybe you can do something).  They also run articles on fundraisers for charities, sports groups, medical emergencies, veteran programs, fairs, carnivals and other local events. They cover the graduations, the plays and the games of our children.

I had worked on my high school newspaper and went to work for the Carroll County Times soon after graduation. Since then I have written for other newspapers in Carroll and Alleghany counties and still write articles for non-profit groups.
I’ve always thought of journalism as an honorable profession with such writers as Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allen Poe, Ken Follet, and even Winston Churchill.

Newspapers have been part of American life since before we became a country. Benjamin Franklin, a writer and a newspaper printer, was one of the leaders of American democracy. The Annapolis newspaper reportedly had been published since 1727.

A small way for to help something good come from this tragedy, go to

Donations to the Capital Gazette Families Fund will provide help for the families, victims and survivors of the mass shooting. Also, a Capital Gazette Memorial Scholarship Fund was created to provide an annual award for select students pursuing a degree in Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.

I am proud to have been a journalist and hope young people today continue to want to report the truth to the American people, whether through the written word, radio, television, computers or whatever else might be in our future.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Reviewing my Observations

I have not posted a new blog this month and am upset about that. However, I have been excited about publishing Storm on Savage Mountain and beginning promotional efforts.

I also am writing a non-fiction book that will give information about what lead to the writing of that book. So, although I don't have time to write a new blog, I reviewed my list of partial blogs to finish one, but found this complete book that was written in October 2016 to welcome the new year, but never posted.

So here is reviewing my observations for 2017. (Maybe it is time to do this again)
A new blog, a new year, a new opportunity to write, to learn and hopefully to make a difference.

I originally chose josobservations because I envisioned this blog to be about a wide variety of issues, not just about reading and writing (although those are my favorite subjects).

There are so many things I want to write about and so little time, that I get frustrated. However, when trying to decide what to write about for this blog, I decided to review my past blogging history and see if this was accomplished.

Books: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Tina Sankovitch

The Extreme Novelist by Kathryn Johnson

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

The Great Detective by Zack Dundas

Last One Home by Debbie Macomber

Why We Write, edited by Meredith Maran

Unthink, rediscover your creative genius by erik wahl

Write Small, Stylize: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style by Mark Garvey

Spunk & Bite: A writer’s guide to punchier, more engaging language & style by Arthur Plotnik

Perfect Bound by Katherine Pickett

What Price Eden by Dean Minnich

Christmas Carroll by Carroll County Writers

Writers have featured prominently in my blogs: John Steinbeck, Jeanne Adams, Tom Glenn, Dani Pettrey, Lucia St Clair Robson, Loree Lough, Doug Norton, D L Wilson, Julie Castillo, Lois Szymanski, Laura Bowers, Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski, Mona Kirby, Fernando Quijano, B. Morrison, Jack Downs, Kerry Peresta, P J Wetzel, Betsy Riley, Alix Moore, Ally Machate and others.

Other Topics: I wrote about art featuring Jeffrey Kent, funny Christmas songs, and poetry in a blog about flying and again in my chapbook blog.

My writer friends and I enjoy sharing information and promoting other writers. So, many of my blogs are about communication, such as writing prompts, how to get ideas, publicity and promotion, local, state and national writing groups, writing conferences, book festivals and challenges such as Nanowrimo.

Looking back, there is plenty of variety and there will be more in the future. I plan to discuss more books. This gives me an excuse to read even more. I think my blogs have improved and hopefully that trend will continue.

One of the main reasons I loved being a reporter was because of the variety. Now, this blog gives me the opportunity to write about books, events and interesting people. I hope you will find these interesting and enjoyable.

I welcome questions, comments and suggestions for future blogs.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Published! Me and Michael Downs

Friday, May 11, 2018 was a big day for me and my writing career.  After almost ten years of writing and weeks of studying self-publishing and related topics, I published my book, Storm on Savage Mountain, through Kindle Direct Publishing(KDP).

It is now available at the Kindle Store and on Amazon. I have been working on this book for almost ten years. I was awake until 2:00 A.M. Saturday, trying to complete the KDP process. I also designed and printed a small marketing handout about the ebook  to let people know that a paperback version would be coming soon.

I have been writing all my life and a good part of my career was as a journalist. I also had published a chapbook and taught some classes on writing, but many people don’t think of you as a real writer unless you have written a book. So now I have and was ready to tell people about it.

I was up early Saturday morning to participate in Westminster’s Flower and Jazz Festival with other writers in front of Eclecticity, across from the library. It was a beautiful, sunny day and Main Street was packed. I enjoyed talking to people about books and art available at Eclecticity and especially about my books if they were interested.

I wish I could have stayed longer, but Michael Downs was speaking at the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers’ Association. His topic, History and its Mysteries: How  Fiction’s Imagination Works with History’s Fact, sounded interesting and I didn’t want to miss it.

Like Michael Downs, I was a former newspaper reporter and like him, I like to fill in the gaps between the facts. So far, I am publishing fiction, but also am writing some non-fiction books.

Downs is writing non-fiction. His most recent book is the novel, The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, Surgeon Dentist, about the man credited with discovering anesthesia. He also published The Greatest Show: Stories, inspired by a 1944 circus fire, and House of Good Hope: A Promise for a Broken City, which won the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize.

He discussed his approach to studying history and writing about it. First he looks at what he knows.
When he has found a subject that interests him, he looks into various sources of information. He does remind us that information can still be unreliable. Next, he looks for the mystery or what hasn’t been mentioned, such as the “whys” a person did a certain thing.

Michael Downs
You find the mystery or contradictions in the story and go from there, he said.  Imagination can help you fill in the gaps. You must use reasoned conjectures, seek patterns and consider evidence. He studied 19th century paintings and researched 19th century language so he could better understand their world and their words.

Downs stressed that history isn’t story. A lot more is needed to make that information into an interesting book or story.

He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maryland State Arts Council, and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. Downs is an associate professor of English at Towson University.

For more information, check out