Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Sense of Style

Originally, I  planned to start the year of 2018 out with a blog entitled “A New Year of Writing with a Sense of Style.” I just didn’t have time to finish reading the book mentioned below nor to get my thoughts in order. However, I decided not to keep waiting, so I will start with an introduction. 

Steven Pinker, author of The Sense of Style, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, admits that writing guides are his favorite literary genre. He emphasizes that this book is not a reference manual. It is primarily for people who know how to write and want to write better and write with clarity.

Those who don’t read style books still have learned from other writers. “Good writers are avid readers,” he says.” Reading good prose is a more enjoyable and “effective way to develop a writerly ear than obeying a set of commandments.”

Pinker writes that style still matters for at least three reasons:

  • First, “it ensures that writers will get their messages across…”
  • Second, “style earns trust.”
  • Third, style “adds beauty to the world.”
Personally, he likes to read style manuals for the same reason, “that sends botanists to the garden and chemists to the kitchen: it’s a practical application of our science. I am a psycholinquist and a cognitive scientist and what is style, after all, but the effective use of words to engage the human mind.”

He praises Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, but points out that “for all their intuitive feel for style, had a tenuous grasp of grammar.” I also admire Strunk and White and you can check out my blog of September 10, 2017, and also find mentions of their book in other blogs.  

Pinker says that some classic manuals try to take all the fun out of writing. Many authors of classic manuals wrote as if the language they grew up with was immortal. They failed to cultivate an ear for ongoing change.

He writes that “style mavens throughout the centuries, have written about how young people are degrading the language and taking civilization down with it,” and gives examples from the 1900s, 1800s, 1700s, and even one from 1478.

There are so many kinds of human relationships. Speech and writing differ. Social interaction is instinctively verbal. We can monitor their faces and their posture. But people, who will later read what we have written, “are invisible and inscrutable, he says. “Readers exist only in our imagination.” We have to imagine ourselves in some sort of conversation with them.

A sense of style should be evident in all types of writing, non-fiction as well as fiction.  I love some of the examples he gives in this book, especially the obits on Maurice Sendak, Pauline Phillips (known for her column Dear Abby) and Helen Gurley Brown, written by Margalit Fox. It is hard to capture the life of a complex subject in 8oo words or less, but Fox was exceptional. She captured a person's life in a brief way that had me mourn their loss, but laugh at memories.

There is so much more I want to share, but I have to admit, I borrowed this book from the library and have to return it. It was very interesting and want to delve into his definition of style more deeply. I will purchase a copy for my home library so I can study and enjoy it at a more leisurely pace. If I find the rest of it as amazing as the first part, I will publish another blog about it.

For more information about this author, check out, sapinker@twitter and

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Sometimes the Magic Works

My fantasy and science fiction followers may be interested in this blog on Sometimes the Magic Works, Lessons from a Writing Life, by Terry Brooks, a repeat New York Times bestselling author.

The book caught my attention because of the idea of magic in the writing process, as well as research and lots of hard work. “If you don’t think there is magic in writing, you probably won’t write anything magical,” Brooks said. “Writing is life. Breathe deeply of it.”

As a child and adult, the author of Star Wars- Episode 1, The Phantom Menace, was accused of having his mind in a different world than his body. So, it is no surprise that the first chapter of this book, titled I Am Not All Here, is about writers living in two worlds.

Inspired by other writers and books, he said he discovered his voice through trial and error. Brooks gives three character traits essential for success in writing:


He stresses the importance of organization and thinking ahead about your point of view, story arc, characters and setting. Your writing will flow more easily if you organize chapter by chapter and then pull everything together.

Outlining forces you to think through your story.  It’s a working blueprint, a picture of your story. Having your blueprint also may help prevent writer’s block.

He starts with some basic ideas, then goes through a thinking or dreaming period. Brooks has lots of ideas and writing them down encourages other ideas. 

His basic formula for success is:

Read, Read, Read
Outline, Outline, Outline
            Write, Write, Write

Writers, especially fantasy and science fiction writers, create new worlds. It is important that readers aree able to identify with your world, your characters and your story.

I’ve often heard “write what you know.” But Brooks goes beyond, that recommending us to at least know enough for the story and give people the idea that you know more.

The author of Sometimes the Magic Works, has written more than 20 New York Times bestselling novels. The Shannara Chronicles began showing on MTV in January 2016 and on Spike TV in 2017. The show is based on Brooks epic fantasies.

He also has authored more light-hearted fantasy in The Landover novels, and dark, contemporary fantasy in the Word & Void series. Goodreads offers a chronological listing of the Shannara books.

He also wrote Hook, a tie-in to the Robin Williams movie Hook, based on the idea of Peter Pan grown up. He felt he should write the book because, “Who better to write a sequel to Peter Pan than me, the boy who never grew up.”

I really enjoyed reading Sometimes the Magic Works, so I am ready to read more of Brook’s books. 

If you want to find out more about him and his writing, check out He also is on Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Poetry to reflect in the New Year

Each year, as people around the world ring out the old year and ring in the new, with parties, bonfires, fireworks and singing. We are only moving from one day to the next, for many it offers hope for a new beginning.

Each year, celebrations reach a peak with the singing of Auld Lang Syne, the most famous poem about the new year.


Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

The song that Robert Burns sent to the Scots Musical Museum in 1788 has many more verses. But these are the ones that millions sing this every year as the clock strikes midnight. Based on an ancient drinking song, “Auld Lang Syne” talks about looking back “for old time’s sake” and remembering old friendships.

I started to wonder about other poems written about the New Year’s traditions and went to the internet. Following is just a little of what I found. said about Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s, “THE YEAR,” written in 1910,This short and rhythmical poem sums up everything we experience with the passing of each year and it rolls off the tongue when recited.”

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.

I was surprised by how many famous writers have written poetry about the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. A few are:

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote “The Death Of  The Old Year” in 1842. He also wrote about the new year in “Ring Out, Wild Bells” (from "In Memoriam A.H.H.," 1849). In that poem, he pleads with the "wild bells" to "Ring out" the grief, dying, pride, spite, and many other distasteful traits. As he does this, he asks the bells to ring in the good, the peace, and the noble."

William Cullen Bryant wrote “A Song for New Year’s Eve” in 1859 and recommended that we enjoy life to the last second.

Francis Thompson wrote “New Year’s Chimes” in 1897.

“The Darkling Thrush” by Thomas Hardy was published in 1902 and his “New Year’s Eve” a few years later.

D.H. Lawrence wrote “New Year’s Eve” in 1917.

I enjoyed the following verse I found on, “Happy New Year” by Hope Galaxie.

“Making a difference starts with one step
With one foot, then the next”

You can find the whole poem and others celebrating the new year at:

I look forward to reading and writing and sharing both with you during this year, and maybe a little more poetry also.

Wishing everyone
A Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

O Christmas Tree

Christmas is the time of year when evergreen trees become special. Whether fresh cut, potted or artificial, decorated, they serve a different purpose. Besides making homes cheerier, they provide a festive atmosphere in stores and businesses.

The song, O Christmas Tree (or O Tannenbaum), written by Ernst Anschutz in 1824, praises the tree’s faithfulness for staying green and bringing us so much pleasure. It still does.

Themes, colors, shapes and purpose vary widely. I love the variety - modern, sleek trees, humorous themed trees and candlelit, historic trees. But we each seek our own design for our homes.

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. There are a few things from the tree my parents’ decorated when I was a kid, but they are so fragile, I don’t usually put them up any more.

I purchased many ornaments as souvenirs when my husband and I traveled.  Something small for the Christmas tree was much easier to carry home than a teapot or vase. I have a miniature stained glass of a volcano erupting in Hawaii; a streetcar from San Francisco; a miniature street scene from Charleston, SC;  a miniature beer stein from Germany;  Dutch wooden shoes from Amsterdam; Falling Water from Ohiopyle, PA; and a cowboy boot from Arizona; a ball from Southfork Ranch, Tx (Remember Dallas and Who Shot JR?)and a and ski-lift from Wisp and decorated ball of the historic train station from Garrett County, MD.

Some reflect our average life, such as books, cats, dogs, goats, peacocks, horses, cars airplanes, nativity scenes and picture ornaments. Our children are there as redheaded Cabbage Patch ornaments, Raggedy Ann and Andy, children riding horses, Big Wheels, bicycles, ballet slippers, Barbie, and a computer.

I also honor other people I care about and keep those who are gone alive on my tree. There is a fire truck for Uncle Ted and his family, a sewing machine for Aunt Mil and Aunt Mary, a cake for Aunt Dot, an airplane for Aunt Marty and Uncle Otts, a personalized stork for my niece’s children,  a soldier and patriotic items for Dad and Mom, a rose for my mother-in-law, a guitar and soccer ball for my son-in-law, footballs for my father and brothers, a book and teapot for Betty, a postman for Ron and many more for family and friends.

I still have some handmade ornaments from my children, the Prunty children and Hailey Stivers; painted oyster shells from Leanne Englar and delicate eggshells from my brother John.

I enjoy seeing themed trees in public displays and in other homes, such as all blue and silver ornaments, cartoon characters, ribbons or dolls. If I were wealthy, I would have differently decorated trees in each room. But since I am not, I love my personal tree. Like my writing, it helps keep family and friends alive.

Let me know if you have a special theme for your Christmas tree or an unusual tradition. Enjoy the season and have a wonderful New Year.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Literary Community Wreath

What do reading a non-fiction book and helping to design a wreath have in common? To me, they just happened to come together at the same time.

I was reading The Write Crowd, Literary Citizenship and the Writing Life by Lori A May when my writing group decided to participate in this year’s Festival of Wreaths as a way to give back to the community.

In The Write Crowd, I read that Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman believed it was our duty to engage the public, to help new writers or as we say today, to pay it forward. So, see the connection?
Author Kate Gale writes of being a literary citizen: “It means you are not only working on your own creative intellectual work, you are also doing something for the whole literary world.”

There are usually local and state organizations offering speakers, workshops and contests (which the Maryland Writers Association does). Join writing or reading groups or other organizations, such as City Lit or Lit Pub, to widen your circle of peers. You can make connections with online groups. Literary Journals and small presses often need volunteers. She gives many ways that you can be part of the literary ecosystem?

Some of the book's chapter titles include:
  • What is Literary Citizenship? An introduction
  • Immersion 101: Finding and Creating Opportunities
  • Community (re)defined
  • In Print and Online: Working with Presses and Journals
  • Community Outreach
  • In and Outside Academia
  • The Write Direction
  • The Write Direction: Customizing your Community
Now for my writing group and the wreath. Carroll Arts Center's Festival of Wreaths is one of the largest fundraisers for the County Arts Council.

The Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers Association formed a volunteer committee, which I joined. We held two meetings for discussion and planning. Everyone was assigned a project to do at home, choosing a favorite book and making a small replica of it. At the second meeting we put the garland (in place of a wreath) together. Committee Chair Lona Queen, added finishing touches.

It was on display at Carroll Arts Center. The last time it was checked, bidding was up to $50. All money goes toward center’s art classes and projects. We had to rush this project since so many members were participating in National Novel Writing Month in November and would not have time then to help with the wreath.

The Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers Association has speakers at most of our monthly meetings where we discuss, publication, writing and similar topics. A monthly critique group also helps writers who want some feedback on their works in progress. We have speakers on various writing subjects at most meetings and sponsor some writing contests.

We also work with other writing groups, such as helping with anthologies, That One Left Shoe (which was in the top 100 books on Amazon in the Fiction: Anthologies category in 2011. It also made it to #1 on the "Hot New Releases" list for that category.

Members also worked with another county writing group to publish an anthology, Christmas Carroll, several years ago.  Carroll County residents were invited to send in stories or poems that were vetted and published in the anthology. Local artists also submitted some artwork to give the book more visual appeal. This was an opportunity to help local writers have some publication credit.

This past year, the CCCMWA hosted a Flash Fiction contest and published a booklet that included the best, as voted on by six volunteer judges.

I am proud to be part of such an active group and find it encourages me to write more and sometimes to try my hand at writing in different genres. Everyone’s taste is different so if you want to be part of a writing community, find out what is available in your area and what you would most enjoy.

Feel free to let me know if you have other suggestions or just want to comment on what you are doing.

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.