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.

When my children were very young, I set up a tree in the basement that they could decorate with their handmade ornaments and cheap giveaway ornaments I didn't want to use on the main tree. I still have some of them. Now they are sentimental.

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 www.donnadrewsawyer.com.

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 www.nanowrimo.org.

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 parade.com/member/Michele 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.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Elements of Style

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White today is often taken for granted, almost lost in the libraries of most writers, but it still offers specific help and is a helpful reference tool.

William Strunk Jr., an English professor at Cornell University, had the book privately printed in 1918 to help his students with grammar. Often referred to as that “little book,” The Elements of Style originally was 43 pages long and sold for 25 cents. It was published by Harcourt in 1920. 

Later, author E. B. White was commissioned in 1957 by Macmillan Publishing Co. to update the book, so it was available to the general public. It was titled Strunk and White Elements of Style.

He wrote that he could almost hear his professor giving commands about writing, such as “be concise,” omit needless words,” and “use the active voice.”

The elements of style One of Strunk’s former students, White is known for writing Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and a column for The New Yorker. He was commissioned in 1957 by Macmillan Publishing Co. to update the book, so it was available to the general public.
White wrote that he could almost hear his professor giving commands about writing, such as “be concise,” omit needless words,” and “use the active voice.”
In 2011, Time named it one of the 100 best and most influential books written on English.

The Elements of Style offers lots of good advice and is still important today. It offers a good review of basics. Sometimes it is fun to just browse through it and find words misused or unnecessary. It can remind us of little rules we may have forgotten, even after years of writing.

A bit of humor – Dorothy Parker was supposed to have said, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

One of the first blogs I wrote in 2012 was about The Elements of Style. That blog shared information from two books written about that little book. Each author had a different view. You can check out their thoughts in the blog I wrote in 2012.

  • Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style by Mark Garvey. I noted that he might have been slightly obsessed, but agreed that it was a must-have book.
  • Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style, Arthur Plotnik, gives reasons why he thinks Strunk & White is too rigid for today’s changing world.

As I wrote back then: “Isn’t it great that we have access to such variety.” We have more information from which we can make up our own mind about how much we want to use from the various books and other writing advice.

Besides enjoying reading of these two books, I was thrilled to get a comment from Arthur Plotnik saying “It's always inspiriting to know of a balanced, thoughtful reading of my book, especially in relation to the iconic "The Elements of Style." Thank you, Jo. You blog spunkily and with bite. ---Art Plotnik

What an inspiring comment. Whether you ask a question, offer additional information, or just want to keep in touch.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Stephen King's Advice On Writing

Stephen King’s, On Writing, is very different then the three books I mentioned in my previous blog. It is primarily a memoir of the craft and written in a grittier, down to earth style.

In the forward, he states, “What follows is an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done. It’s about the day job; it’s about the language.”

The book starts with information about his childhood and early career. Like most writers, he received plenty of rejection slips. After page 103, he discusses the basic tools of the writing trade.

He states that most books about writing are nonsense. “One notable exception to the bullshit rule is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E. B. White.” His favorite rule from that book is “Omit needless words.”

As a reader, I agree with his following two comments:

  1. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
  2. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”

To him (and to many of us) books are portable magic. Whether you prefer reading or listening, you can take books with you almost anywhere.

About nouns and verbs, he writes, “Take any noun, put it with any verb, and you have a sentence.” Easy, right? But he continues. “We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style … but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.”

Later in the book, he repeats that idea. “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

I have to admit, I am not a fan of books that frighten me and King’s generally do that. I have read a few, besides his writing book. He definitely has a way with words.

I don’t think it is necessary to list Stephen King’s books. More than 350 million copies have been sold. He has written horror, suspense, science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction, as well as approximately 200 short stories. Many of his books have been international best sellers.

He has written under pen names and also plays in a band with other writers.

Again, I will ask if you have any favorite writing books you want to mention, feel free. I love to learn more and may write a blog about recommendations later.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Favorite Books about Writing

Besides reading a wide variety of books, as part of learning their craft, writers also read writing books. This blog and my next include brief information from some of my favorite books about writing.
Anne Lamott
I loved Anne Lamott’s unusual sense of humor and use of personal experiences and embarrassments in her book, Bird by Bird, Instructions on Writing and Life. She said that some of the advantages of being a writer  if you are shy, is that you get to stay home and still be public.

“You don’t have to dress up “and you can’t hear them boo you right away.”
Lamott used the quote, “A critic is someone who comes onto the battlefield after the battle is over and shoots the wounded.” She could not remember right then who said it, but I googled it and the quote was from author Murray Kempton.

This book was written with a casual approach. You feel like she is talking to you, not teaching.
She wrote about her father dying and later her best friend Pam’s losing battle with cancer. She was able to let each of them read the books before they died. They were like love letters, she said, part of their immortality.

Despite the sad subjects of her first books, she sprinkled her advice and opinions with humor.
When looking for help about parenting her son, the only books she could find were “nicey-nice” and rational. They didn’t work for her.

 “Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate, like having Janis Joplin with a bad hangover and PMS come to stay with you,” she said.
Searching for a book that was more realistic, she was discouraged that she couldn’t find one.

“So I went ahead and started writing one myself, as a present, as a kind of road map for other mothers,” she said.
Lamott is the author of seven novels and 10 non fiction books. She received the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985 and was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2010.

 Natalie Goldberg
Another book I enjoyed was Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within, by  Natalie Goldberg

A practitioner of Zen, her writing is low key, yet humorous. She taught seminars on writing as a spiritual practice for several decades. She reminds people that writing is inexpensive. All you need is pen, paper (or computer) and the human mind.
Her short chapters have unusual titles such as Writing is not a MacDonald’s Hamburger, Composting and Don’t Marry the Fly.

Goldberg recommends keeping notebooks and writing every day, especially what she calls “first thoughts.”
“First thoughts have tremendous energy,” she said, suggesting:

·         keep the hand moving 

·         don’t worry about spelling , punctuation, grammar

·          lose control

·         don’t get logical

·         go for the jugular

The book includes lots of good advice, including “practice, practice, practice,” and “just get it on paper.”
I’ve read several of her books. Another one that stood out for me was Long Quiet Highway. I loved the sentence length variations, especially a long road description that made me feel like I was on the trip with her.

“You are alone when writing a book,” she wrote. “Accept that and take in any love and support that is given to you, but don’t have expectations of how it is supposed to be.”
Lynne Truss
Okay, I have to mention one more book, just briefly. Years ago, I read the British bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. Hilarious! It is unusual to find the words proper punctuation and funny in the same description of a book, but this one has both.

Truss showed why the comma is important when she used the title phrase Eats, Shoots & Leaves, There is a big difference between a panda bear that eats shoots and leaves and a bad one who eats, shoots (someone or something) and leaves the area.
She has many other hilarious examples throughout the book, but she is serious about the use of correct punctuation. Keep in mind that this book is British, and may include some punctuation rules that are different from those in the U.S., but most are the same.

What an enjoyable way to remember the importance of correct punctuation.
If you want to recommend a writing book, please do. I enjoy reading different types of books.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


A CURIOUS MIND, The SECRET to a BIGGER LIFE by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman was published in 2015 by Simon & Schuster.

Although, He had always been curious, Glazer said he spent the two years before publication learning more about curiosity.

Curious myself, I was drawn to this book, although I didn’t know anything about Brian Grazer at that time. When I read the list of movies he produced and some of the people he spoke with, I knew I had to read it.

Grazer was planning to go to law school when he learned about a summer job at Warner Bros Studio. He called immediately, joining the world of show business. His first real, full time producing job was with Paramount Studios.

There he met Ron Howard, who had been a famous child actor, but now wanted to be a director. Together the two produced several successful movies, established Imagine Entertainment and produced many more movies. 

Grazer was nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 149 Emmys. He was one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. His films include A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Splash, Friday Night Lights, The Grinch who Stole Christmas, American Gangster, J. Edgar, Frost/Nixon, and Liar, Liar.

He credits his success to curiosity. He also produced television series such as "24."

For 35 years, Grazer had “curiosity conversations” with people in and outside of show business, such as Jonas Salk, Condoleeza Rice, Michael Jackson, John McCain, Amy Tan, Edward Teller, Steve Wozniak, Deepak Chopra, Jeff Bezo, Norman Mailer, Muhammad Ali,  Anderson Cooper, Tommy Hilfiger, Isaac Asimov, Charlie Rose, F. Lee Bailey, Barrack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Andy Warhol.

You can find a list of them and a brief description on pages 231 to 258. I found the variety of people and their interests amazing. He also met Princess Diana, Fidel Castro, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and many others.

“Curiosity is what gives energy and insight to everything else I do,” he wrote. “For me, curiosity infuses everything with a sense of possibility.” He links curiosity with success in business and storytelling.

“We’ve been telling stories for 4,000 years. Every story has been told,” he wrote. “Good storytelling requires creativity and originality; it requires a real spark of inspiration.”

“Where does the spark come from?” he continues. “I think curiosity is the flint from which flies the spark of inspiration.”

Theodor Geisel (Dr Seuss) had his first book rejected by 27 times before published by Vanguard Press. What if he had stopped at the 20th rejection? Today his books are still selling approximately 11,000 each year in the U.S. and many of his 44 books remain best sellers.

Curiosity has to be harnessed to at least two other key traits:

1 – the ability to pay attention to the answers.
2 – the willingness to act.

Grazer said curiosity gave him the dream.  “It quite literally, helped me create the life I imagined back when I was 23 years old,” he wrote. That life has been even more adventurous, interesting & successful than he had hoped.

When you know more you can do more. Besides curiosity, Glazer stressed the importance of discipline, determination and persistence. “Persistence is the drive moving you forward. Curiosity provides the navigation.”

The cover art is by artist Jeff Koons, who first asked what the book was about, Grazer told him it was to inspire people to see how curiosity could make their lives better.

Koons produced and Grazer used “a seemingly simple line drawing of a face that conveys exactly the joy, openheartedness, and excitement that being curious brings.”

Various ways curiosity is useful:

·         As a tool for discovery.
·         As a spark for creativity and inspiration.
·         As a way of motivating yourself.
·         As a tool for independence and self-confidence.
·         As the key to storytelling.
·         As a form of courage.
·         As a way of creating human connections.

I first listened to this book as I drove back and forth to Baltimore, but I was so intrigued that I had to get the printed version and read it again. I think anyone who is curious would enjoy this book.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

So you want to write a book

“So you want to write a book.” That was the title of an interactive workshop I attended recently given by Julie Castillo, author and instructor.

She often is asked by students – Do I have what it takes to write a book?

Of course, you do, is the first answer. You can't know if you have talent until you try. 

But before plunging ahead, she recommends asking yourself other questions, such as:

Should I write that book? Will it hurt me or will it hurt someone else?

Who am I writing for? You should know your audience, but at first, write to please yourself.

Do I have the talent? You don’t know until you try.

How do you know whether your idea will work in the commercial marketplace? She said you need to have something unique and fresh. If you are writing non-fiction, you need to ask, what new information does my book bring to the marketplace that isn’t there?

How do I get started? One way is to write in a journal. Tell your own story. You may find the extraordinary in your every day life. Also, freewrite on a subject, just get your thoughts down on paper. This helps you dig deeper).

How do I get it written? You need structure. Three acts – beginning, middle and end is the basic step. Outlining your idea will help you structure your book or story.

How will you promote your book to ensure its success? There is a lot you can do and you should start early. Your book is only considered new for a year.

Julie speaking at a 2013 meeting of
the Carroll County Chapter MWA.
There were more questions asked. Also, a lot more detail was given for the questions listed above. If you want to learn more about writing, I would recommend taking one of Julie’s classes or another class by an experienced writer. 

I wrote previously about Julie. Check out my August 15, 2013 blog, if you want to see what she discussed at that presentation.

Julie Castillo is a fourteen-year veteran of the publishing and film industries, co-writer of two novels and thirteen nonfiction books—including two New York Times bestsellers, biographer for Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, and chronicler of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! 
A recent book is Eat Local For Less.

She is a college anthropology instructor, writing instructor, enrichment curriculum designer, entrepreneur, writer, and futurist. She holds an MA in sociocultural anthropology from Catholic University with a specialty in gender studies and ethnopsychology.

Julie has taught creative writing and publishing classes at local community colleges since 2007, including Carroll and Frederick county colleges.

There is much more to writing a book than just sitting down and putting pen to paper, or pushing computer keys. Whether you take a college, community college or other class, learn online or through books and writing friends, it is important to continue to learn the craft of writing. That is one of the reasons I am writing this blog, sharing what I learn and learning from others.

I hope you keep learning and keep writing.