Saturday, November 18, 2017

Writing advice from Donna Drew Sawyer

Here is another blog especially for my writing and reading friends.

I met author Donna Drew Sawyer last month when she spoke about crafting characters that take on a life of their own. Whether you like them or hate them, her characters in Provenance, A Novel, definitely have distinct personalities.
Donna Drew Sawyer

Provenance was the winner of the Maryland State Writers’ Association 2017 Annual Book Award for Historical Fiction. Provenance also was a finalist for the 2016 Phillis Wheatley
 Award for First Fiction.

It also was been selected for the Go On Girl Book Club reading list in the novel category. The Go On Girl! Book Club, with over 30 chapters in 16 states is one of the largest national organizations dedicated to supporting African-American authors. Every year they choose 12 authors to read, discuss, review and champion. Sawyer’s was chosen for May 2017.

In this blog, I have varied my use of her name, sometimes referring to Sawyer (what my journalism training taught me) and other times as Donna, because she was so friendly and seemed like an instant friend.

She reminded the writers present about never building a character based on a single trait. Ask yourself why they are the way they are. You want to create understanding, she said. Even if your character isn’t nice, you at least might want to create some empathy.
They should make readers feel more than one emotion. They may surprise you while you are writing and surprise your readers.

“No one is any one thing all the time,” she said. “Layer your characters.”

Every character is on a mission of his or her own making. But you have to put the words in your character’s mouth.

Think about what makes a character breathe, including:
  • physical traits
  • emotions
  • secrets, questions and lies
  • engagement with other characters
  • time and place
  • action and reaction
  • thoughts
  • words or deeds
  • beliefs
  • life work or lack of it
Some quick notes mentioned by her are - Read everything, Observe, Empathize, Imagine, Write - Repeat and Live. I took that as meaning it is necessary to get away from your compute occasionally, get out, be with real people and enjoy life.

Our daily activities and personal observations can make a difference in making our books sound authentic, and of course, fiction depends on our imagination. I often set my stories in places where I have been. Although I don’t use real people, I use various characteristics and partial descriptions based on real people.

If you are participating in National Novel Writing Month, great. We need to write! Even if what we are writing is rough. We can edit and make it better later.

I am behind in my writing at slightly less than 26,000 words, but I am usually good under pressure, so there is still hope of reaching the 50,000-word goal by the end of November. Even if I stop today, I have 26,000 words toward my next novel and the basic idea has been moving along better than I expected.

My character has been asking many questions about a murder of someone she knew. Why was he killed? Who did it? Did my argument with him lead to his murder?

I can empathize with her, feel what she might be feeling. Also, I try to make the less-than-perfect victim a fully rounded character.
Donna Drew Sawyer and some of the members
and visitors at the October CCCMWA  meeting.

As I write, I think about some of Donna’s basic suggestions - Observe, Empathize, Imagine, Write. I look forward to reading more of her books and her blog.

She recommended some writing books, such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Brown and Dave King and The Modern Library’s Writer’s Workshop, A guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch.

At our meeting, she said Provenance is about a legacy of lies. It will be followed by Promise in 2018. Check out this author, reader, and ruminator at

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Veterans Day

On November 11, Americans will celebrate Veterans Day  to honor our military veterans.

This observance began in 1919 as Armistice Day to recognize the soldiers of World War I. Fighting during that war had basically ceased seven months before the official Treaty of Versailles was signed. An armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Ted Farinholt

In 1954, Congress changed the word "Armistice" to "Veterans"  to honor our military veterans of all wars.

There are so many excellent books about soldiers and veterans. Some recommended non-fiction books are:

  • Unbroken: a World War II story of Survival Resilience and Redemption  by Laura Hillenbrand
  • Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley
  • D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Battle for the Normandy Beaches by Stephen Ambrose
  • Tough As They Come by Travis Mills
  • No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden by Mark Owen.
  • My Brother and the Lost Dreams of Americas Veterans by Catherine Whitney. In this book she writes about her brother Jim Schuler. A review stated that “He died the day before 9/11 at age
    Merrill Howard
    fifty-three, or, as the author tells us, three years younger than the average life expectancy of a Vietnam veteran.” “The great myth of war is that it can be left behind,” she wrote. 
While his father serves in
Europe young Carroll
Meile prepares for battle
Some picture books for children include:

  • H is for Honor, a military family Alphabet by by Devin Scillian, illustrated by Victor Juhasz
  • Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond Between a Soldier and His Service Dog, by Luis Carlos Montalvan and Bret Witter, photographs by Dan Dion
  • The Poppy Lady by Barbara Walsh, illustrated by Layne Johnson
  • The Wall by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler
  • Rags: Hero Dog of WWII by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Petra Brow.
Joseph Farinholt training in England
 A HuffPost blog By Michael Giltz mentioned books to read for Veterans Day. These included:
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes
  • Willie & Joe: The WW II Years and Willie & Joe Back Home by Bill Mauldin.

My father loved Bill Mauldin’s Willie & Joe cartoons and reporter Ernie Pyle’s newspaper articles on the war. Dad said they gave Americans the true picture of the World War II. He taught us to respect active service members and veterans. 

Bob Farinholt
Frank & Irene Farinholt (Woolsey), first
female Farinholt veteran
Many member of my family served in the armed forces. I’ve included a few of their pictures here. 

A thank you to our veterans and today's
military men and women.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Have a fun Halloween

Next week Halloween will be celebrated by both children and adults with decorations, parties and trick or treating. It can be helpful in some ways to writers and readers, both of whom need a good imagination. Writers need imagination to create new worlds and make what is happening in them believable, and readers to enter and believe those worlds.

It’s a great time for horror writers and suspense writers since you never know who or what might pop out on the other side of that bush?

There are plenty of scary corn mazes, hayrides and other spooky events. Cemeteries and old houses seem much more sinister during the cooler, dark nights near Halloween. Since it is part of Autumn, homes are decorated with pumpkins (and Jack-o’-lanterns), corn stalks and scarecrows.

 I have received decorative ideas and recipes from Pinterest. A friend posted the recipe and picture of a cauldron cheese ball on Facebook (it looks delicious) and there are oodles of suggestions for making snacks for children look festive. And of, course there is pumpkin everything.

Halloween is a fun time for children who don’t question why they can’t be a superhero, werewolf, ghost, ballerina or witch. They think only the right clothes and maybe makeup are needed.

My daughter loved Halloween and her costumes as a child included Raggedy Ann, a butterfly, and grave robber. My son was a cowboy, robot (with blinking lights) and Superman.

Some of our costumes were purchased, but most were homemade. Some difficulties were caused by their desire to be authentic.

A few costumes I think we used bent hangers to have my daughter’s hair look like Pippi Longstocking. She and a friend found their own threadbare clothes and made a lightweight coffin which they carried between them when they were grave robbers.

Superman was not a problem at first since my son had the pajamas and even a cape, but as he was ready to go out, he insisted that superman had to have dark hair. Resourceful Mom used black shoe polish smeared over his thick hair. It was dark and it wasn’t flyaway. However, it was hard to remove.

Some people think months ahead of time about their costume while others buy or make one that day. My daughter usually had her costume plans made by August. Her son went as a turtle for his first Halloween children’s party and was a wolf this year. She said she was making the decision these early years because he would probably choose to be a superhero when he is old enough to choose.

The festivities have been part of the recognition of the end of the harvest season. The basics of Halloween also are thought to date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. People would light bonfires and wear costumes that supposedly would ward off ghosts. Around the 8th century, All Hallows' Day was officially switched to 1 November, the same date as the Celtic Samhain, at the request of Pope Gregory IV. All Hallows’ Day was a special day to honor all saints.

The evening before later became known as All Hallow’s Eve. Later it was called Halloween.

Let your imaginations soar as you are surrounded by fairies, unicorns, superheroes and creatures of the night.

Don’t forget to leave your lights on for the trick or treaters, or make sure they are off if you don’t want to be bothered or won’t be home.

Have a Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 20, 2017

NaNoWriMo Hints

November is important for Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving, but for writers it is important also for National Novel Writing Month, commonly referred to as NaNoWriMo.

Those who attempt the 50,000 words in 30 days, find it challenging to write an average of 1,667 words every day of the month. When there is an opportunity to type more than that, take advantage of it. This challenge is exhausting, but also fun and productive.

Writers in Carroll County, MD gathered
together in Taneytown for a 2016

If you want to try NaNoWriMo this year, you can start planning ahead of time, writing a rough outline, deciding on who your main characters will be, your setting, time frame and main plot. It is also time to do any research that might be necessary for your proposed book. Additional research can wait.

Some writers say you should know your theme before you start writing. Others swear it doesn’t matter. It will develop later as you write.

Do not start actually writing the book until November 1.

Some of my friends, don’t register at the NaNoWriMo site, but still try to write the 50,000 words, because it still challenges them. Some want to continue a story they had already started.

I think it helps if you register, even if you don’t complete the challenge. This gives you a firm commitment. Also, you will be sent motivating messages and hints from famous writers. You do not have to write your novel on their site. I never have. I just update my count periodically. Information about your novel, word counts, etc. can be posted on the NaNoWriMo website at

You just have to post your story on the NaNoWriMo website at the end, so the 50,000 words can be verified. If you don't succeed, you still have that much of a story ready to go, probably a lot more than you normally write.

Don’t worry if your story starts to change as you write. That is all part of the process, the purpose is to just write, as much and as fast as you can. As you write quickly, the story flows. There is time for editing later.

If things changed a lot, you can choose which version you like best or which best fits the action and theme of your novel.

This practice of intense writing is critical to becoming productive writers. It also can help you find your voice. Since you do not change your words constantly, but writing what you are thinking, you can improve upon it later.

Some books I recommended in the past about writing rapidly include:

  • Book in a Month, the fool-proof system for writing a novel in 30 days, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D.
  • If you want a little more time, there is The Extreme Novelist, The No-Time-to-Write Method for Drafting Your Novel in 8 Weeks. She promises “Out of chaos will come beautiful order and an amazing book. But first you have to write rough.
  • No Plot? No Problem!, A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing A Novel in 30 Days was written by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo. He started the program in 1999 with 21 people. By 2004 it was up to 25,000 participants and in 2014 it increased to 325,142 participants. In 2016 the number of people taking part increased to 445,179.
At the end of November, you can have a rough draft of a novel. That is a huge accomplishment. Even if you don’t write 50,000 words, you have the start of a book. After the 30 days, take a break. Let life get back to normal before you start editing.

If you don’t like to be too isolated you could attend some Write-ins. They are held at various locations, times and places during the month, such as at libraries and coffee shops. It is a way for writers to stay in contact with each other, socialize and get more writing done then they possibly would have alone.

I have written other blogs about this month for writers. You can check out:

·         11/27/16          Writing a Book In a Month or Two
·         10/21/15          NaNoWriMo 15, No Plot? No Problem!
·         11/13/12          NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality. This and similar programs that stress output offer us a chance to push yourself. No one is going to criticize you if you do not finish.

I reached the goal three out of six times. One book is almost ready for publication, except for some final editing. Another is more than half finished with a rough outline of the rest of it. I may return to some of the others in the future, as time permits. Each effort has helped me learn to write faster.

By December 1, you will have tried something new and have something tangible for your efforts. Remember, these are your words, your thoughts. Write and have fun.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hints for writers from Wojo

“Ideas are everywhere,” comedian and author Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski, told a group of writers recently. Sometimes it feels like you have nothing to say. It’s time to ignite your writing.

She discussed where she gets ideas and gave a list of hints that can help. “You can use the same hints for fiction and non-fiction and business,” she said.

“Jot down notes, Write it down, you will not remember it,” she said. “Organize your way. Find out what works for you. Otherwise you won’t keep doing it.”

Other hints included:

  • Keep a notebook handy, whatever type works for you. Often something is there to stir your imagination.
  • Look for happenings in your daily life.
  • Maybe have an idea buddy. Someone you trust.
  • Listen and talk to people.
  • Do random searches.
  • Think journals, collections.
  • Write down what she calls fabulous realities. Why is there only one shoe in the road?
  • Use word mapping.
  • Watch social media for ideas and trends.
  • Don’t worry about keeping ideas for a long time.
  • Regain your childlike sense of wonder.

“So many ideas are out there” she said. You have to be alert and keep track of what catches your attention. Above are only some of the hints she gave.
Rebecca Colletti and Wojo 

Michelle Wojciechowski is author of the award winning book, Next Time I Move, They'll Carry Me Out in a Box. She is a freelance writer and her works have appeared in magazines, such as Parade, Reader's Digest, Maryland Life, Family Circle and numerous others magazines, including some scientific and historic magazines.
She performs stand-up comedy and is on the faculty of the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshops. She also writes a blog, Wojo’s world where life is always funny.
You can find out more information about Wojo through her Facebook page, @wojosworldfan page/ or at wojciechowski/ and twitter@themichelewojo.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Creative Confidence

Two brothers, Tom and David Kelley, wrote Creative Confidence, Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, “To give future innovators the opportunity to follow their passions.

They have been working in this field for years and wanted this other way “To help individuals and organizations unleash their full potential – and build their own creative confidence.”

Many people think you are born creative or not. They and others believe this is a myth. Everyone is the creative type. It’s a natural part of human behavior and can be unblocked with new skills and mindsets.
The Kelley brothers give examples of businessmen, soldiers, technicians, developers and others who have used their strategies and developed creative strategies that made money, saved lives or just improved lives.

Their innovation programs stress three overlapping factors:
*             technical factors, including feasibility

*             business factors, such as economic viability,

*             human factors
They believe you can apply creativity to any challenge. Some examples given were of Doug Dietz, and Steve Jobs.

Dietz, a developer of high-tech medical imaging systems, saw that young children were afraid of the large machine and often had to be sedated. He worked to develop a child-friendly Magnetic Resonance Machine (MRI), a prototype of what would become a prototype of the “Adventure Series” scanner. Most hospitals (who use them) are pleased with the new machines and now few children need to be sedated for the procedure.
The authors state that “intentionality” was one of Steve Jobs defining characteristics. “Steve had a deep sense of creative confidence. He believed – he knew – that you can achieve audacious goals if you have the courage and perseverance to pursue them.”
To gain creative confidence, they recommend starting with a growth mindset, “the deep-seated belief that your true potential is still unknown.” You aren’t limited to what you did before. You can expand your capabilities through effort and experience.

I am still reading this book and want to delve more deeply into what they consider creative confidence. So I am limiting the discussion at this point and will probably blog about it again in the future.
In June of this year, I wrote a blog about the book A CURIOUS MIND, The SECRET to a BIGGER LIFE by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman.  Grazer “Good storytelling requires creativity and originality; it requires a real spark of inspiration.” He believed it acted as a spark for creativity and inspiration.

Julia Cameron described herself as a writer-director, who taught creativity workshops. People doubted that you could teach creativity. Her books include The Artist’s Way, A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self and It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again. So don’t think you are not creative. Check out these and other similar books.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Memoir Your Way

Memoir Your Way, Tell Your Story through writing, recipes, quilts, graphic novels and more was written by the Memoir Roundtable.

CHAPTER 1 - "We say scrap it, quilt it, write it or cook it up so the family can have a tangible piece of their heritage," is the basic advice of the Memoir Roundtable, a group of six writers, crafters and workshop leaders. "When we turn memories into memoir, we build the bridge between the past and the future."

They describe the memoir as two stories - what you remember and what it means to you. Each author gives specific steps you can follow.

The book is easy to read and gives lots of information with photos showing what they are describing. It was copyrighted in 2016, so it should contain up-to-date information.

CHAPTER 2 - Five Simple steps to tell a true story was written by Joanne Lozar Glenn, an award-winning writer and memoir workshop leader. She believes in following author Anne LaMotte's advice to write small.

"Show us the moment," she advises. Think of yourself as a camera, focus on your theme, and arrange the scenes in an artful way.

Glenn gives us ideas on how to start, include the smallest details of your life in your own voice when crafting your story. Then treat your writing like play doh and re-shape it as you edit.

CHAPTER 3 - Around the Table: food and cookbook memoirs by Dianne Hennessy King, public television producer, cookbook editor, and cultural anthropologist, includes information on theme and finding your voice.

She offers 10 questions to jog your memory as you put your collection together. She gives various ways to present items that can be used to link the family generations, such as CDs, videos, books, articles or blogs.

CHAPTER 4 - Reinvent your Scrapbook by Katherine Nutt, memoir teacher, educational game inventor, and scrapper. She writes about what future generations may like to know and capturing these life events through photos, drawings and old scrapbook items. This might be a good way for visual thinkers to show and tell their stories. She briefly mentions digital scrapping and that mini memoir scrapbooks make nice gifts.

CHAPTER 5 - Create your Memoir as a Graphic Novel by Natasha Peterson, a content producer, author and graphic novel creator.

This is a fun chapter. She explains elements of graphic novels and stresses that there are no hard and fast rules. Do it your way.

CHAPTER 6 - Memoir Quilts, A Way to Celebrate Lives by Linda Pool, nationally known quilter and American Folk Art Museum winner. She says memory quilts are a lot more than casual quilts we had as children.

I can relate to this as my mother used scraps of old clothing and would embroider dates or short information in the squares. But these were made to be used, not saved, and they did not survive our childhood.

Pool mentions themes for the quilts, such as special moments, pets, trips, careers and many more. Memorial quilts can preserve family history and honor special people.

CHAPTER 7 - In Nuturing the Young Storyteller, Nadine Majette James, (children's literary expert and speaker) recommends involving children in family memoir projects. Help them tell their tales, she writes and gives suggestion for different age groups. Share your memoir projects with them. This gives them a sense of family history.

I now have a young grandson, so I am paying special attention to this chapter.

CHAPTER 8 - You Are the Bridge: Traditions and Heritage by Dianne Hennessy King.

A memoir is simply telling your story. You can start getting more family history by contacting family elders and friends. If you want to go further, this book gives print and digital resources for each type of memoir project.

She stresses that as you honor your ancestors' stories, you need to include your own. "Today is tomorrow's history."

Memoir Your Way includes sample projects, lists of needed supplies, hints and guidelines for each type of memoir. It is definitely a "how-to" book, full of great ideas, yet easy to read and understand.

As a writer, I have been making notes on my family's background and also have kept scrapbooks for years, so I have a start, but I also plan to try some of these different ideas myself.

I also agree with what Glenn writes near the end about getting over your fear of writing. Remember, there is no wrong way to tell your story.