Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pastor writes what he knows

Two pieces of advice writers always receive are:
1) write what you know

2) write about what excites you, what you are passionate about.
The Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers’ Association recently hosted John Clark Mayden Jr., a new writer who is following both pieces of advice. He is the author of three spiritual books, including his most recent Breaking the Barriers: Keys to Unlocking Inner Peace.

 Rev. Mayden discussed what you can do after your book is published. First you must determine your goals, the aim of your book and your plans for the book, His goal was to offer strategies that can help people overcome despair and depression.
Breaking the Barriers: Keys to Unlocking Inner Peace is a topical and devotional resource," he writes in his blog. "It is the first of a three-volume series aiming to provide the reader with spiritual keys to help them overcome common barriers that prevent them from experiencing inner peace."

 Next, you need to brainstorm how to promote your book. Starting can be as easy as making a list family members and friends who could let others know about your book and using social media to get the word out.

Rev. Mayden presented
You've Written Your Book,
What's Next?
 Remember to create a budget. How much are you willing to advance for advertising, marketing and purchasing books to sell?

You need to create an awareness of your book, promote interaction and connect with people. Create your own brand. You can use the same text, photos or graphics on posters, flyers, business cards, and your website
Besides knowing your target audience, it is important to know your target area. That is where you want to give talks at schools, send articles to area newspapers and radio shows, produce a book trailer (which he has on his website) and consider other methods of getting information out about your book.

Rev. Mayden talks with members of the
County Chapter of Maryland Writers Assoc.
When speaking in public, have sign in sheets so you can let those interested know about upcoming book signings and when you publish another book. You will want to create a buzz. Also, encourage readers to post reviews at
Rev. Mayden is pastor at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Carroll County, Md.  He also has written Prayers for the People: A Book of Prayers for All People. His books can be purchased at area events or through

For more information check out or email him at

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A book about a book

Occasionally, I am asked where writers get their ideas. There are many answers and I will discuss some of these in future blogs.

However, I learned recently that a friend published a book. It is a non-fiction book about the author (Betty MacDonald) of books she read as a child. Betty, The Story of Betty MacDonald, Author of the Egg and I  is one specific example of where books come from.

Anne had enjoyed the books of Betty MacDonald, who wrote about life in the northwest, particularly in the Seattle/Puget Sound area. Years later, Anne would reread The Egg and I and an idea was born. She decided to look more closely at the writer’s life and a new book was born from that memory.

About Betty MacDonald

In 1932, MacDonald had a story published in the Seattle Town Crier magazine. It would be more than 10 years before her book The Egg and I was published (1945). That book was a lightly fictionalized account of life as the wife of a chicken farmer in the 1920s.

Surprisingly, the book became a success and the story was made into a movie starring Claudette Colbert & Fred Mc Murray. Her Ma and Pa Kettle characters also were used in other movies.

Suddenly the poor, former wife of a chicken farmer and divorced mother of two girls became famous and rich. Her writing continued to provide for a secure life for her and her family. She ran into one problem during this period, because apparently, her portrayal of one set of neighbors hadn't been sufficiently altered and she was sued. However she did win the cases.

With her self-mocking humor, MacDonald wrote about her battle with tuberculosis and life in a sanitarium in The Plague and I, published in 1948. She wrote about job hunting during the depression, (when in Washington state 1 in 4 Americans were out of work). In Anybody Can Do Anything. Her book, Onions In The Stew was about life on Vashon Island during the war years.

Her books give readers a peak into average life during the depression and World War II and vivid descriptions of the northwest.

MacDonald also wrote the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series of children’s books and Nancy and Plum. The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books were illustrated by Hilary Knight and Maurice Sendak.

About Anne Wellman

Anne’s book seemed to start slowly with many details about MacDonald’s early life and that of her unusual family, which I had already read about in The Egg and I. However, the more I read, the more I began to care about these people and the more I became interested in life during those years.

Anne said it took her five years to write “Betty, The Story of Betty MacDonald, Author of the Egg and I.” Her detailed bibliography and references reveal the extensive study she put into this book. She is already working on a book about another author.

Anne has lived in Scotland, Australia, England and the United States of America. She worked for the government for 35 years.This is her first published book, but hopefully not her last. It is available through Amazon.

If you have questions, you can contact Anne at

Books we read as children generally leave an impression and many can remember their favorite books years later. Was it Wind in the Willows, Black Beauty, Harry Potter, Heidi, Treasure Island? Author Lois Szymanski loved Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague and has written a lot of books about ponies, as well as on other subjects. What books made a difference in your life?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Fighting and Writing

Events such as Corbitt’s Charge in Westminster, Maryland help us understand the past. I’ve gone to these events for years, but this year I did more than walk around the Union and Confederate Encampments and watch the skirmishes.

On June 29, 1863, about 100 Union soldiers fought 6,000 of Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. Although the Union troops lost, the Battle of Westminster delayed Stuart’s arrival at Gettysburg.

There were a variety of demonstrations throughout the weekend. From author Scott Mingus I learned about the history of the Northern Central Railroad (NCR) during the Civil War, (from the destruction of bridges and railroad cars after the bombardment of Fort Sumter. The railroad carried supplies and troops during the war and later Lincoln’s funeral train.

I enjoyed hearing General George G. Meade (portrayed by Joe Shafer) explain the importance of the Pipe Creek Line and his decisions during and after the Battle of Gettysburg.

Katie Carroll’s presentation about the work of the Daughters of Charity reminded me of the efforts of author Louisa May Alcott caring for the injured, until she became ill and almost died.

While at the Corbitt’s Charge event, I thought about writers involved in the Civil War A few years ago, I read Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury about literary giants whose lives intersected in Concord, Massachusetts during that time period. The main writers in her book were: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Bronson and Louisa May Alcott and Herman Melville.

Remember Alcott's Little Women, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Melville’s Moby Dick, and Thoreau’s WaldenFuller was the New York Times' first foreign correspondent in Europe, who also published a magazine, "The Dial," that featured many of these authors.

Although introduced to these famous authors in school, I didn’t realize how their lives were so connected. With Emerson’s encouragement and financial assistance, the lives of these writers and many others crossed.

Known as Transcendentalists, they challenged the norms of American society. They also were abolitionists, harboring and helping runaway slaves escape to Canada. Different in many ways, their love of intelligent conversation, public speaking and writing drew them together. They were idealists, but the Civil War had a profound effect on their lives.

After reading American Bloomsbury, I’ve read other books, both fiction and non-fiction, about famous people living during that time period. These include Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and Mrs Lincoln’s Rival (Mrs Jefferson Davis) by Jennifer Chiaverini, March by Geraldine Brooks, Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjaners, Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen, The Fabulous Showman, P. T. Barnum by Irving Wallace and the Jeff Shaara’s Civil War series. It’s fun to view the same people through different eyes.

Did genius attracts genius and did their interactions bring out the best in their writing? The writing profession can be a lonely one, but spending time with others may enrich your writing and your life. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer.  We usually begin the weekend with a picnic for family and friends at my brother’s house, with plenty of food, swimming and games.  The flag is flying, stories are shared, the departed remembered.

The rest of the weekend includes the Memorial Day parade, various veteran’s events and watching special programs on Maryland Public Television.

I’ve had many family members who served their country. My father Joseph A. Farinholt, and one of his brothers received severe wounds that affected them the rest of their lives. His other brothers were luckier.

 He didn’t talk much about the war when we were young, but he always stressed that we remember and honor those who didn’t return. They are the ones who should be honored and remembered, he said.

Among those who lost their life during World War II was my mother’s brother, Robert Henry Marshall. He was still a teen when he joined the Navy

He survived Pearl Harbor, but the ship he was on was sunk in the Pacific Theater. When I was a child, I remember Mom, Agnes Farinholt, used to say that he was just missing, suffering from amnesia and stranded on an island. Someday he would remember his family and come home.
Robert Henry Marshall

I remember wishing that was true and that I could know this ghost uncle, who rode motorcycles and took up for his little sister. Mom only had her memories of her redheaded brother, two letters he wrote during training and an old photo of him as a teenager before he went into the Navy. I still have that picture.

It was only in her later years that she learned more details about what he did. Navy Department files state that he was a Torpedoman’s Mate 3c and was killed in action. His name is listed on a tablet at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.

I cry when I hear bagpipe music or Taps at cemetery ceremonies. I cry for the Uncle Robert I never knew, for lives cut short and for the families of those gave their all.

Memorial Day, which was first called Decoration Day, was established as a national day of remembrance for those who gave their lives during the Civil War. The official proclamation was issued on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan and was first observed on 30 May 1868, by placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

After World War I, the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting the Civil War to honoring all Americans who died fighting in any war and those risking their lives even today. I remember Dad and Mom and other veterans putting flags on the graves of veterans in the Westminster Cemetery.
It is important to honor their service, not just by parades and special services, but by respecting those who are serving their country today, by casting our hard-won voting rights wisely, by treating others with respect, and by doing our best to make this a better community, state and nation.

How lucky we are to be Americans and to be able to take the time to remember.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Libraries, history and mystery

Like many people, I to read and there are so many books available. I can’t afford to buy them all. A solution is the public library. Libraries offer you books, free (as long as you return them in time).
Part of the appeal of public libraries is the wide variety of books and other reading material available. 

We take this privilege for granted, but libraries weren’t always free. Those that did exist were generally subscription libraries, where there was a membership or similar fee required.

It is hard to believe that public libraries didn’t begin to become more common until after the Civil War. Now there are more than 16,000 public libraries in the United States.

Although I am a high-volume library user, I hadn’t given too much thought to the institution until a recent 65th celebration of the opening of the Davis Library in Westminster, MD. It was the predecessor of the Carroll County Public Library system.

Lynne Wheeler, Executive Director of the library, talked about how the county’s library service began in 1863. Previously dues and fines supported a small library, which was only open on Fridays.

In Jan 1949, Mr. and Mrs. Walter H Davis announced that they would give a building to Westminster for a library and would provide an endowment for its support in the future. The small library donated their books and the library system grew from there.

The difference one person can make was stressed often during presentations by Christina Kuntz, Westminster branch manager; Sharon Yingling, Friends of the CCPL; Steve Wantz, president of the County Commissioners; and Caroline Babylon, of Davis Library Inc. Also mentioned was the difference a public library can make to individuals and to a community.

Paul Zimmermann gave a brief performance as Walter L Davis, who opened one of the first car dealerships in the country in 1910, gave the town a public library and ensured that it could continue to operate.

Joyce Muller, of the CCPL Board of Trustees, lived only a few blocks from the Davis Library. She remembered going there about twice a week, beginning when she was and six years old.

The “Remembering Davis Library” video, by Jennifer Boatman featured Jonathan Slade, Elaine Adkins, Barbara Beverungen, Kevin Dayhoff, Jane Sharpe, Sharon Yingling, Caroline Babylon and Mimi Ashcroft. Many others, including me, shared stories as they enjoyed cake and Hoffman’s ice cream.

I remember going to the Davis Library on Main Street. Like many, the dazzling white exterior and cathedral-like atmosphere took me to another world. It was intimidating in some ways, unlike the more people friendly libraries of today. Still the books called people in, to browse and to read.

Libraries are great examples of democracy, open to people of all ages, economic status, race and education; they offer access to all types of material in various types of media.

If you haven’t been to a library recently, I recommend that you go see what is going on now. Rather than becoming outdated, libraries are in the forefront of education. It’s smart for us, our children and grandchildren to take advantage of what they have to offer.
?           ?           ?          ?           ?           ?            
Wait, you ask. Where is the mystery part of this blog? I discussed a particular library and some of its history, but there obviously is no mystery about that.

Well, as I worked on this particular blog during the past several weeks, I kept changing its focus. Finally, during one of those 3:00 a.m. epiphanies, I thought about doing a blog on mystery books that revolve around libraries, book clubs, or book collectors.

It was hard to decide which to finish and publish first. I kept going back and forth and then decided to publish them at the same time – two blogs in one.

To use a cliché (ouch, I knew I shouldn’t do that) but I thought it might be easier to kill two birds with one stone. (Did you get the reference to kill?)

Murder isn’t usually associated with libraries but writers seem to have fun as they combine the usual safe, secure feeling of a library with murder and mayhem.

Once I discovered these books, I couldn’t get enough of them, particularly mystery series where I could follow the main characters through their problems and successes. Most of these are cozies (see – again that safe feeling), murder without a lot of blood and gore.

Some of the series that I am familiar with include:
Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lover’s mysteries; Lorna Barrett’s Booktown mysteries, Ian Sansone’s and  Laurie Cass’ bookmobile mysteries, Ellery Adams Books by the Bay, Victoria Abbot’s and John Dunning’s book collector mysteries, Lucy Arrington’s Novel Idea Literary Agency mysteries, Eva Gates’ Lighthouse Library mysteries, Miranda James’ Cat in the Stacks mysteries; Cate Carlisle’s Bibliophile mysteries, and Ali Brandon’s Black Cat Bookshop mysteries.

Reading these allows me to enter different lifestyles and gives me a puzzle to solve. The characters and I share the same love of books. Fortunately, I haven’t been involved with murder or theft in real life. In most stories, the guilty party is discovered, will pay for his/crime and the world is safe again.

Many  stand-alone mysteries also are set in libraries or other book related venues, as well as non-fiction books, such as Dewey by Vicki Myron. That library cat became famous around the world, although I don’t think he ever solved a mystery.

But whether you like biographies, thrillers, romance, sports, historical fiction or other genres, the library is the place to go. Once you find authors you really like, head to your local bookstore. Whether you prefer the printed word, Nook, Kindle, other e-books or audio, just enjoy the story and remember the library is there if you want to try something different. There is no mystery about that.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Happy 20th to National Poetry Month

Did you know that National Poetry Month is celebrating its 20th year in 2016? According to their website, it is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and poets marking poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives every April.
Although I only write poetry occasionally, I enjoy reading and hearing it. To me, poetry is music with words.
Learning this was National Poetry Month, I began to search the web and found there were many activities. Maybe next year I will do this earlier so we can take part in this celebration.
The Academy of American Poets established National Poetry Month in 1996. National Poetry Month is a registered trademark of the Academy of American Poets.
Working together, poets, booksellers, librarians, and teachers chose April as a month when poetry could be celebrated with high level of participation and “it seemed the best time within the year to turn attention toward the art of poetry—in an ultimate effort to encourage poetry readership year-round,” according to National Poetry Month faq.
Okay, It’s good to have people focus on poetry early in the year, but I also wonder if this could have anything to do with T. S. Eliot poetic statement “April is the cruelest month,” from The Wasteland. Coincidence?
Much of what is written here came from the related poetry websites. Listed goals of National Poetry Month are:
·         highlighting the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
·         encouraging the reading of poems
·         assisting teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms
·         increasing the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
·         encouraging increased publication and distribution of poetry books, and 
·         encouraging support for poets and poetry.
Organizations do not need permission to participate in the celebration and are encouraged to plan their own events. They can use the official National Poetry Month logo, which can be from their website.
There are thousands of ways to celebrate. The website provides a list of 30 ways people and groups can join the celebration.
National Poetry Month is just one of the many programs of the Academy of American Poets. To keep the celebration going, consider becoming a member, which entitles you to special benefits throughout the year. You can also sign up for Poem-a-Day to receive free daily poems by email all year long.

It’s a little late to celebrate this April, but maybe try being a part of this celebration next year.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Book sonograms

As I listened recently to author Lois Szymanski talk to writers  about different ways to get published, I was reminded of an old Frank Sinatra song, “My Way.”

Like Frank, she did it her way.

As an author of 27 books, she was well qualified to discuss publishing, marketing your work without an agent and viable ways to sell your work other than inside the pages of a book.

Perhaps because of the approaching birth of my first grandchild, Lois’ mention of a sonogram of her book caught my attention.

She explained that while she was writing, she told her children that she was pregnant with a book. So when the cover came in the mail her daughter ran in and said “Mom You’ve got a sonogram of your book.” The term was repeated with future book covers.

Book signing at Constellation Books
Lois combined her love of family, horses and writing to form a successful career. She helped build her writing credits with publication in at least 50 magazines, such as Highlights for Children and Weekly Reader.

“I wrote a lot of rebus,” she said. A rebus is a story of 100 words or less with characters, conflict and a resolution.

She started her career by selling nine novels for young readers to Avon Books, a large publishing house. After her editor left the publishing industry, she began self-marketing manuscripts and selling to small presses.

When her first nine books went out of print she resold the rights to those books to HarperFestival - a division of HarperCollins for a series called Charming Ponies. This also led her to sign a contract to do ghostwriting for the HarperCollins group.

Since then she has written picture books and fiction for young and middle grade readers, as well as numerous fiction and nonfiction books for adults.

Her love of horses is reflected in her writing. Her favorite book as a child was Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. Lois’ first published book was Patches by Avon.

The idea for the book Little Icicle, came from a story told by an old man she met at Chincoteaque. A Kindle edition of Little Icicle is now available on Kindle. Westminster artist and author Lona Queen provided the cover art.

“You should build a body of work,” Lois said. “Think about everything in your life and write about it.”

She recommended going to writing conferences and paying extra for a critique, participating in pitch wars, entering publisher contests, and considering small presses. Self-publishing also is fine, she said, but hire an editor.

Catherine Donaldson reading a
Gettysburg Ghost Gang book
After you are published you can promote your books by writing articles, building an author page, or using Twitter, Facebook and other social media. You need to promote yourself and your book.

Lois encouraged writers to think outside the box.  She uses non-book items such as horse note cards, jigsaw puzzles and identification cards.

“Persevere, follow all avenues, do not let your work stay out of print, she said. “Always ask for a reversion of rights in your contract.”

The True Story of Seafeather was edited and published again in 2011. The book tells how she and her husband were able to purchase a pony for their children and about the creation of The Feather Fund, which helps children purchase Chincoteaque pony foals. ( or visit them on Facebook).

I’ve known Lois for about 10 years and have been impressed by her enthusiasm, optimism and easy way of communicating. I look forward to buying more Gettysburg Ghost Gang books co-authored by Lois and Shelly Sykes and many of her other books for my grandson as he grows and learns.

I will always remember his sonograms in connection with Lois' books.

Check out her columns and articles in the Carroll County Times and visit her on the web at If you want to write for children, look into her writing classes at Carroll Community College.

Lois also is a former Regional Advisor and supporter of the MD/DE/WV Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator.