Friday, October 21, 2016

Use What You Know

Author Sharon Dobson spoke about National Novel Writing Month and writing about what you know at the October meeting of the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers’ Association.
Sharon used Hershey kisses to illustrate how writers can take a thought and a brief sentence and build on it to create a story.

She gave us a six word sentence. Then used information about how Milton Hershey built his business and about his world-famous candy kisses (which she distributed to entice us more into the story. Yum) and increased it to 130 words and enhanced her story.
Added information helps draw readers into your story, she said. You want to give them something more than quick details.

Using methods like this can help those writers who participate in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) which is in November. Writers try to write an average of 1,667 words a day to reach 50,000 by the end of the month.

Writers can prepare for Nanowrimo ahead of time by deciding on their story, making an outline and a timeline, but shouldn’t start writing. Actual writing of the novel has to start on November 1 and end by November 30.

Sharon said she would encourage writers to participate in Nanowrimo and recommended using methods such as above to expand sentences. Think of connections, she said. When you are painting a picture with words, you need more.
Use day to day experiences. Tell your reader about the blade of grass that you know and feel it under their feet. Have them eat with you. Smell and taste the food.

Develop a personality for your characters. Search for the human aspect of each story and scene. Write in people you know, but first ask them if you can use them.
Don’t edit while you write during Nanowrimo, she said. Just get the words down. The first draft is always bad. Editing comes later, but writing so quickly during November will give you a good start to your novel.

Do the best that you can and have a critique group of someone else read your story, comment on it and then make any last minute changes you feel are necessary before publishing.
“When you push that button to print, you open yourself up to criticism,” she said. “Don’t sweat it.”

Sharon was raised between Monkton, Maryland and Chincoteague, Virginia. She uses details from those locations in her books. Each book addresses a social problem, she said.
Her first novel was Murder at Swan Cove. The fictional murders in this book revolved around child sexual abuse.

The idea for another book, Witness to War, was based on stories her great grandmother used to tell. “I am sorry we caused the Civil War,” Sharon remembered her great grandmother saying.
Years later she discovered that was at least partially true. It started when an escaped slave fled north to Pennsylvania in 1881.That action led to Pennsylvania’s Fugitive Slave Act.
You will have to read her book or do some research to learn more. The social problem in Witness to War is mental illness.

Her newest book, Middle Plantation, will be coming out soon. The social problem in this book is connectiveness and the difficulty of getting unconnected.
You can find more information about Sharon’s books through Goodreads and Facebook. Also, if you are interested in National Novel Writing Month, check out

Friday, October 7, 2016

Autumn Inspiration

Temperatures have dropped, leaves are turning, pumpkin pie and apple cider are on the menu. It is Fall.
Opportunities abound to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and festivals.

I love Westminster’s Fall Fest, the Eldersburg Apple Festival and the Carroll County Farm Museum’s Fall Harvest Days, as well as others. One of my favorites is the Autumn Glory Festival.

Garrett County, Maryland’s fall foliage has been drawing visitors to the area for more than 50 years. I have been to that event numerous times and am never bored.
For locals the festival starts on Wednesday night with a Chamber of Commerce dinner. Other activities begin on Thursday. Chief among these is the Firemen’s parade and Octoberfest in downtown Oakland.

The entire weekend includes musical entertainment, plays, quilt, craft and antique shows, art exhibits, yard sales and turkey dinners. There is something for everyone in this small town of Oakland and surrounding areas.
Saturday afternoon there is another large parade with area marching bands and creative floats. My children marched in this parade carrying wooden leaves to emphasize the autumn theme.

You can enjoy the beauty of Maryland’s mountains and Deep Creek Lake while in the area.

Nearby are other festivals in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. I particularly like the Kingwood, WV Buckwheat Festival. Lots of fun and lots of buckwheat cakes in those wild, wonderful WV mountains.
Friends and family enjoy fall’s corn mazes, pumpkin chuckin and apple dumplings .

If you want to recommend other fall festivals in the surrounding area, please do. I always like to explore.

Below are a few poems I wrote while I lived in the mountains.

(These and others can be found in my chapbook Mountain Musings, available on

by Jo Donaldson

The streets are empty now,
waiting for the rhythm of the marching bands.
The sidewalks soon will have little room
where anyone can stand.

The merchants busily arrange
their seasonal wares,
While the trees flame briefly.
before winter strips them bare.

Jo Donaldson

The mountains are on fire, autumn's fire.
The trees flame with color.
They burn into my soul,
Scorching me with their beauty.


when winter's barren landscape follows,
with snow to soften, or ice to reflect,
that flame will still burn.
Autumn's fire, branded on my memory.

Autumn’s Glory!

By Jo Donaldson

A brilliant flash of color
 before the barren landscape of year’s end.
  Reds, golds, yellow, oranges,
    among the brown and still green garments of mountain life.
     an extravagant coat to catch and please the eye.

The mountain dresses in her finest
  to dance in the cold autumn breezes,
    before winter snow and ice blankets her,
       bidding her  sleep until Spring.