Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas blogs

I have been a little lax with my blogs in recent months since I spent so much time on my two books – Storm on Savage Mountain and Haunted Station. However, I am back at the keyboard and planning to blog more often during 2019. To end this busy year, I am going to refer to back to Christmas blogs I wrote in the past.

2012 - I had just started writing this blog in February of that year. For December, I decided to write something light around Christmas and chose to discuss Funny Christmas Songs.

 “All I want for Christmas are my two front teeth” had special meaning to my family since it was appropriate for my daughter who knocked her baby teeth up into her gums when she was a toddler. We bought her a red-headed Cabbage Patch doll that was missing its two front teeth.

I still love to listen to David DeBoy’s humorous Christmas album, which includes “The Aluminum Christmas” Tree.” One of my aunts had one. A special light shining on it made it look like it was changing colors. This song brings back those memories of that tree “you might see on Mars.”

One of my favorites on that album is “Crabs for Christmas.” A big fella from Maryland, in his bowling league coat and Orioles cap, tells a Houston Santa that he wants crabs for Christmas. Steamed crabs and a beer “would be like a trip back to ole Balt-i-more.”

2014 - I titled my blog, A Christmas Gift. It was about the anthology Christmas Carroll, published that year by my local writing group. It includes various types of stories, poems and photos from people who live (or previously lived) in Carroll County, Maryland. Brief biographies and photos of the authors and artists make this book special. As it says on the back cover, “…this anthology written by our writing family for yours.” It is still available at Eclecticity in Westminster and on

2016 - Books for Christmas was the subject of a blog based on the annual “Books Sandwiched In” event at McDaniel College, Westminster, MD.  The bookish event celebrated its 25th anniversary that year.

I have gone to McDaniel Books Sandwiched In for years, but a sudden snowstorm closed the college for part of the day this year and the event was cancelled.  Happily the local newspaper, the Carroll County Times, ran an article about the presenter, Jane Sharpe, a retired college librarian who reads many books during the year to choose her favorite 25 to 35 books. The article included the list of her recommended books this year. It was helpful, but I missed her comments about why she chose the books and who may find them interesting.

I love to give books as gifts. Besides books for children (often given with a small toy) I have given books about sports, famous people, history, crafts, “How-to’s” and books by local authors.

2017 - In My Christmas Tree, I mentioned sentimental items that decorate my tree each year. Yes, they are hanging on my tree again this year, joined by some made by my young grandson. Lasr year, I wrote “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.”

I enjoy going to garden centers and visiting the homes of family members and friends during the holiday season to enjoy the wide variety of decorated Christmas trees. However, I love my personal tree. Like my writing, it helps keep family and friends alive.

I hope you enjoyed this little step down memory lane. These full blogs are still available at if you want to read more.

Enjoy your special holiday traditions and have a wonderful Christmas season.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Plotting your book. There is help.

I recently heard author Jeanne Adams speak about Plotting for Success!  How to Plot, even if you hate it. She admitted that she often had trouble in the middle of her books and realized it would help if she developed some sort of plot.

Plotting can keep you from painting yourself into a corner or running into dead ends. It can help you finish your current book instead of moving on to a new one.

Some people told her to use sticky notes. That method did not work for her, so she sought other plotting ideas. She stressed that you have to do it your way. It must feel comfortable or you will not do it.

Plotting helps you know where you are going. It’s like a map. Even if you write by the seat of your pants, a plot can help fill in the gaps. With an outline you can start anywhere in your book, then go back and fill in things you have to do to get there.

The W Plot sounded the easiest to me. You start drawing a line from your inciting incident down to the first black moment, then back up to the midpoint of the story. Then you go back down to the big black moment and then rapidly up to the conclusion and wrap-up.

We worked with a few different stories using this method, choosing events to list along the sides and top of the W, creating a basic plot. You gradually can add more plot points.

If this method doesn’t work for you, Adams suggested Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure with Five Turning Points. More details about that are available at

She also discussed Kurt Vonnegut’s method, the Snowflake method and working backward. Think - If you are stuck, what has to happen before you get to the end?

I have never liked outlining, but the W plot sounds like something I can do. With the basic story pictured, I could make an outline when the W becomes cluttered with my ideas.
Jeanne Adams, front center, with Carroll County writers and guests
She stressed to use whatever method works for you. For more information, check out or

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Promoting books

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I recently self-published my first novel through Kindle Direct Publishing. KDP. Storm on Savage Mountain has been selling and I have been getting royalties, even though I haven't don't too much to promote it yet.

I wouldn't recommend self-publishing to everyone. It takes a lot of learning and a lot of effort, but it worked for me.

I have been  furiously writing a second book that takes place in the same area in the summer instead of in the mountain winter. Since it is titled The Haunted Train Station, I was trying to get it out before Halloween. Time is running out but I am still working hard.

Recently I sold a few of my books at the Open House held by the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers' Association. Below is a photo of me signing one of my books.

I will be selling my books at Author Day, at the Carroll County Agricultural Center on Saturday, November 3rd, Westminster, MD, near the Farm Museum.

Because so much of this is new to me, I may not be doing things the best way to promote my books. I do have a lot more ideas, but worry I am neglecting my blog and duties I have with my writing group and my family.

I was thrilled to have my son and daughter-in-law visiting us from California recently. Writing had to be put on hold.

 It was a good time for a family picnic and other chances to get together.
We even have my son-in-law's parents visiting from Scotland.

So many wonderful things are happening, it is hard to spend as much time as I should at my computer. So I hope you will forgive me for missing a few of my blogs.

I have enjoyed writing my blogs, experimenting and changing as I went along. I am planning to continue to write them. Now, they may have a bit more personal information included, as well as continued advice about writing (from people more expert then I am) and about books worth reading. There are so many wonderful books, just waiting for us.

So if you are in the Westminster area on November 3rd, maybe take a few minutes to visit me and other area writers at Author Day.

If you aren't nearby, see if there is a similar event close to you.

Have fun reading and writing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Books Change Lives

I have often felt that books had the power to change lives. I know when I read, I often feel a connection to what the author is writing about. Sometimes I learn something new that may help change my mind about a certain subject or person.
This spring I read The Books that Changed My Life, Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians, and other Remarkable People, edited by Bethanne Patrick. It was just published in 2016. This book gives us insight into why books mean so much to people.

A few responses are generic, such as “I love all books,” but often still mention a few special books. It includes readers of cookbooks, classics, memoirs, business, poetry, children’s books and more.
It was interesting to see how books I read affected others and what information or insight I may have missed or not have needed at the time. Some are not surprising, others were. It also made me want to read some books I hadn’t read yet.
 It was interesting to see what types of books these people liked and a brief why.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf shows it’s OK to be different.
The Andy Warhol Diaries shows that words can be art supplies.
Steve JobsTommy Hilfiger chose Steve Jobs by Walter Jacobson. He likes to read books about successful individuals, how they think, what makes them think, and show that even brilliant mind like Jobs make a lot of mistakes along the way. Mistakes are almost gifts, a challenge. Jobs was passionate about what he was doing.
For Lisi Lampanetti it was Solemate: Master the art of aloneness and transform your life by Lauren Mackler  “…I learn these life lessons thru books in a way that doesn’t happen with anything else; reading forces you to slow down and focus”

Peter Straub chose Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe “You’re not the same person when you reread a book, he said.”
Al Roker, who said he likes figuring things out, chose The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle..
For Susan Orlean it was The Sound & the Fury,  by Faulkner, “Feeling the transformational power of a book was world changing for me.”

Harriet, the spyLouise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy was about an eleven-year-old girl who was called a spy. What she was really doing as she scribbled in her notebook was learning how to become a writer.
Tony P Hall, who was in congress for 20 years, became U.S. Ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture and director of the Alliance to End Hunger, chose The Bible. “The Bible is clear about how we are meant to deal with the issues of poverty and hunger.”
As Patrick says in the introduction, “Reading has power.”

I agree with her. Books can just be enjoyable diversions or entertainment, but they also make me think, learn, and empathize with others. I would recommend this book to people who love to read, especially if they like variety and are interested in what others enjoy reading. It’s a book you can go back to again and again.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Murder at a Maryland Newspaper

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and reading about on my computer. A gunman had killed five staff members at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.

It wasn’t long before we were hearing about the dead, average men and women who were only doing their job that day as usual. I didn’t know any of them, but I cried for their families, their community and the loss to the newspaper world.

The murdered included Girl Scout leader and mother of four, Wendi Winters, 65, who kept the community informed with columns such as Teen of the Week and Home of the Week.

Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial writers who had been at the paper for 25 years and had worked at the Carroll County Times during the 1980s,

John McNanamara, 56, who had written two books on the university of Maryland during his 20 years at the Gazette. A graduate of UM he also loved to write about the university’s sports.

Rob Hiaasen, 59, assistant editor and features columnist. An article in the July 16 issue of People magazine mentioned that Hiaasen’s wife was celebrating her 58th birthday. She was waiting for him to come home before opening the present he had left for her. Now he would never come home again.

The youngest, Rebecca Smith, 34, was just hired last fall as a sales assistant and was engaged to be married. Little details like this that help us see these are just average people.

Each with their own story, each with a future that was cut short because of a man who hated and saw nothing wrong with taking a weapon and killing whoever he met, at what he considered his enemy, the community newspaper.

News media is our lifeline to what is happening in our world, letting us know things we need to know. Especially community newspapers, who not only let you know if your zoning may be changed, your taxes raised or your school closed (before these things happen so maybe you can do something).  They also run articles on fundraisers for charities, sports groups, medical emergencies, veteran programs, fairs, carnivals and other local events. They cover the graduations, the plays and the games of our children.

I had worked on my high school newspaper and went to work for the Carroll County Times soon after graduation. Since then I have written for other newspapers in Carroll and Alleghany counties and still write articles for non-profit groups.
I’ve always thought of journalism as an honorable profession with such writers as Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allen Poe, Ken Follet, and even Winston Churchill.

Newspapers have been part of American life since before we became a country. Benjamin Franklin, a writer and a newspaper printer, was one of the leaders of American democracy. The Annapolis newspaper reportedly had been published since 1727.

A small way for to help something good come from this tragedy, go to

Donations to the Capital Gazette Families Fund will provide help for the families, victims and survivors of the mass shooting. Also, a Capital Gazette Memorial Scholarship Fund was created to provide an annual award for select students pursuing a degree in Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.

I am proud to have been a journalist and hope young people today continue to want to report the truth to the American people, whether through the written word, radio, television, computers or whatever else might be in our future.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Reviewing my Observations

I have not posted a new blog this month and am upset about that. However, I have been excited about publishing Storm on Savage Mountain and beginning promotional efforts.

I also am writing a non-fiction book that will give information about what lead to the writing of that book. So, although I don't have time to write a new blog, I reviewed my list of partial blogs to finish one, but found this complete book that was written in October 2016 to welcome the new year, but never posted.

So here is reviewing my observations for 2017. (Maybe it is time to do this again)
A new blog, a new year, a new opportunity to write, to learn and hopefully to make a difference.

I originally chose josobservations because I envisioned this blog to be about a wide variety of issues, not just about reading and writing (although those are my favorite subjects).

There are so many things I want to write about and so little time, that I get frustrated. However, when trying to decide what to write about for this blog, I decided to review my past blogging history and see if this was accomplished.

Books: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Tina Sankovitch

The Extreme Novelist by Kathryn Johnson

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

The Great Detective by Zack Dundas

Last One Home by Debbie Macomber

Why We Write, edited by Meredith Maran

Unthink, rediscover your creative genius by erik wahl

Write Small, Stylize: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style by Mark Garvey

Spunk & Bite: A writer’s guide to punchier, more engaging language & style by Arthur Plotnik

Perfect Bound by Katherine Pickett

What Price Eden by Dean Minnich

Christmas Carroll by Carroll County Writers

Writers have featured prominently in my blogs: John Steinbeck, Jeanne Adams, Tom Glenn, Dani Pettrey, Lucia St Clair Robson, Loree Lough, Doug Norton, D L Wilson, Julie Castillo, Lois Szymanski, Laura Bowers, Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski, Mona Kirby, Fernando Quijano, B. Morrison, Jack Downs, Kerry Peresta, P J Wetzel, Betsy Riley, Alix Moore, Ally Machate and others.

Other Topics: I wrote about art featuring Jeffrey Kent, funny Christmas songs, and poetry in a blog about flying and again in my chapbook blog.

My writer friends and I enjoy sharing information and promoting other writers. So, many of my blogs are about communication, such as writing prompts, how to get ideas, publicity and promotion, local, state and national writing groups, writing conferences, book festivals and challenges such as Nanowrimo.

Looking back, there is plenty of variety and there will be more in the future. I plan to discuss more books. This gives me an excuse to read even more. I think my blogs have improved and hopefully that trend will continue.

One of the main reasons I loved being a reporter was because of the variety. Now, this blog gives me the opportunity to write about books, events and interesting people. I hope you will find these interesting and enjoyable.

I welcome questions, comments and suggestions for future blogs.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Published! Me and Michael Downs

Friday, May 11, 2018 was a big day for me and my writing career.  After almost ten years of writing and weeks of studying self-publishing and related topics, I published my book, Storm on Savage Mountain, through Kindle Direct Publishing(KDP).

It is now available at the Kindle Store and on Amazon. I have been working on this book for almost ten years. I was awake until 2:00 A.M. Saturday, trying to complete the KDP process. I also designed and printed a small marketing handout about the ebook  to let people know that a paperback version would be coming soon.

I have been writing all my life and a good part of my career was as a journalist. I also had published a chapbook and taught some classes on writing, but many people don’t think of you as a real writer unless you have written a book. So now I have and was ready to tell people about it.

I was up early Saturday morning to participate in Westminster’s Flower and Jazz Festival with other writers in front of Eclecticity, across from the library. It was a beautiful, sunny day and Main Street was packed. I enjoyed talking to people about books and art available at Eclecticity and especially about my books if they were interested.

I wish I could have stayed longer, but Michael Downs was speaking at the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers’ Association. His topic, History and its Mysteries: How  Fiction’s Imagination Works with History’s Fact, sounded interesting and I didn’t want to miss it.

Like Michael Downs, I was a former newspaper reporter and like him, I like to fill in the gaps between the facts. So far, I am publishing fiction, but also am writing some non-fiction books.

Downs is writing non-fiction. His most recent book is the novel, The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, Surgeon Dentist, about the man credited with discovering anesthesia. He also published The Greatest Show: Stories, inspired by a 1944 circus fire, and House of Good Hope: A Promise for a Broken City, which won the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize.

He discussed his approach to studying history and writing about it. First he looks at what he knows.
When he has found a subject that interests him, he looks into various sources of information. He does remind us that information can still be unreliable. Next, he looks for the mystery or what hasn’t been mentioned, such as the “whys” a person did a certain thing.

Michael Downs
You find the mystery or contradictions in the story and go from there, he said.  Imagination can help you fill in the gaps. You must use reasoned conjectures, seek patterns and consider evidence. He studied 19th century paintings and researched 19th century language so he could better understand their world and their words.

Downs stressed that history isn’t story. A lot more is needed to make that information into an interesting book or story.

He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maryland State Arts Council, and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. Downs is an associate professor of English at Towson University.

For more information, check out

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Flash Fiction

Recently, I have been interested in writing Flash Fiction, often referred to a short, short fiction. It usually is less than 1,000 words. Because of the limited number of words allowed in this type of writing, it is important to begin at a moment of conflict or a major turning point that plunges the reader immediately into the story.
Characters are often shown in one brief moment of time, perhaps in the midst of some physical activity or making a decision. 

This concise type of writing allows for no excess words. Writers must cut everything that isn’t essential to the story. However it is still important to have good flow and rhythm, as well as smooth, logical transitions.
Flash fiction still tells a story with a beginning, middle and end. There is usually a sense of story arc, even if only implied. Flash fiction is written in all genres. Often it ends with a twist or surprise. Endings should have a strong impact, then stop, no tying up loose ends.

Because lengths can vary, it is important to check guidelines before writing and submitting to publications or contests. Writers may enjoy the challenge of squeezing a lot of meaning in a small number of words.
Barbara Westwood Diehl, founder and Senior Editor of The Baltimore Review, defined flash fiction as “Intensity jammed into a small space.”

She mentioned the above suggestions and many more at a recent meeting of the Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Writer’s Association, (MWA). The Chapter is sponsoring a Flash Fiction Contest for residents of Carroll County, offering a $100 prize and a year’s membership In MWA for the best entry this year.
For more details, contact Chapter President at or respond to this blog.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Children and Poetry

I just finished reading The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan. Although I started it last month, it seems appropriate that I finished it during National Poetry Month.
A children’s novel published by Random House Children’s Books in 2016, it will be interesting to anyone who enjoys poetry.

I loved the variety of subjects and styles she used in this book, as she has 18 children express their feeling about their school scheduled for demolition. Some form a “Save Our School” committee. Their teacher, who plans to retire along with the school, has the students write poems. These records of their fifth grade will be included in a time capsule.
The book is divided into the four quarters of the school year. The students write about how things used to be and how everything is changing. Their lives are different and their poems are different.

They tell stories about changes in family and friendships and issues with discrimination, divorce and death. Using many poetic forms, she gives each student a voice. Small illustrations throughout the book add to the sense of the child talking through poetry.

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was a NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the year, and won a Cybils Award for poetry, as well a Nerdy Book Club award.

Shovan wrote the Harriss Poetry Prize-winning chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone. She is a previous editor of the Little Patuxent Review and editor of two poetry anthologies. She taught high school, worked as a freelance journalist, an educational consultant for teens with learning differences and as a longtime poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland Arts Council. Another children's novel, Take Down is about a travel wrestling team.

Laura's author website and blog are at Find her on Twitter
I've loved poetry since I was a child and read poems from my father's copy of Best Loved Poems of the American People (1939 edition.  Although I only dabble in writing poetry when the muse strikes, I admire those who write it regularly and can earn a living writing.

National Poetry Month was started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 and has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s place in our culture. Learn more at

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Writing murder and mayhem

Author Jeanne Adams talked about murder, forensics and investigative procedures that can help mystery writers. I don’t write mysteries (well, maybe a few attempts), but I do enjoy reading a good mystery.

She gave plenty of information mystery writers can use to help your novel flow. Such as, how your victim dies can affect your timeline, as far as the type of autopsy required and police investigation needed.

With a light, yet respectful tone, she talked about what happens to bodies (called remains) in different situations and how writers can use this knowledge to extend the plot timeline and make sure the details in your story are correct.

If the character died of a gunshot, what type and size of gun was used? What type of wound would it leave? Is it a type of gun that your villain or hero could handle?

Can there be delays in the regular procedures? How can someone steal a body or make a murder appear to be a natural death? Does the killer bury the body deep in a forest or have it go through the morgue? To collect life insurance or inherit property, there must be a signed death certificate giving the cause of death. Someone has to determine a cause of death before a body can be released for burial or cremation.

“Funerals are for the living, not the dead,” she said. Despite last requests, the body becomes the property of the next of kin and could be cremated within 48 hours.

Usually a coroner or medical examiner is called for a gunshot wound, even if it appears to be self-inflicted. But different states have different procedures and titles, so check them out.

Procedures are especially different in rural areas where your timeline may be extended if the body has to be taken to a distant location. She said that rural hospitals and morgues can be used to extend the time you have to have your criminal destroy evidence or help police to solve the murder.

Arguments at the funeral home may reveal the personality of different family members and friends and perhaps give readers a new suspect.  Adams discussed types and costs of caskets. I hope you know that they use caskets now, not coffins. Also, there is no longer an undertaker. Remember that if your murder occurred in recent years.
Joelle Jarvis and Jeanne Adams

I’ve often heard, the devil is in the details. Make sure those details are right. For forensics, you can contact people who work in the fields, such as forensic experts, crime scene technicians and morticians. A Public Information Officer can be helpful. Check out the National Funeral Directors’ Association and cemetery searches like Find-a-Grave. There is even a site called  

Some books she mentioned are:

When You are the Only Cop in Town, A Writer’s Guide to Smalltown Law Enforcement by Jack Berry and Debra Dixon. Adams considers it an indispensable guide to facts, procedures, and the how-to’s of small town law enforcement.  Jack Berry has over 30 years in law enforcement, the last 17 as Chief in a small town.

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders.

The Forensic Casebook: The Science of Crime Scene Investigation by Ngaire E. Genge, and The MindHunter book series by Kylie Brant.

“There is always an investigation,” she said, as she discussed what agencies would be involved in situations, such as industrial accidents, natural disasters or terrorist attacks. It is important to know the specifics in your story are correct before you lose credibility and sales.

Adams is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and had worked in the funeral home and cemetery business for 13 years.  Besides mystery and suspense, she writes romance and fantasy. Her blog is

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Girls in the Picture novel

Take a trip back to the early days of Hollywood and the flickers (movies), when you read The Girls in the Picture.
I read the book right after a presentation by Melanie Benjamin about her most recent book. This novel is timely, published just before the Oscars and during the discussions of “me-too” and “women’s voices in Hollywood.”

The title didn’t come from the idea of movie pictures, Melanie said, but from old photos where Mary Pickford and Frances Marion were often the only women in the room (surrounded by men) during important events, such as the founding of United Artists.
Besides giving us a close-up view of the new movie industry, she tells this story through the voices of two powerful women who became friends, during that time, imagining what they were thinking and how the movies changed.

The book is fiction, just as their movies were, but often truth can be revealed through fiction. Each person seeing a movie or reading a book sees it through their eyes.
Silent movie star Mary Pickford and writer Frances Marion met during the confusion that was early Hollywood and became best friends and movers and shakers in that world.

As a writer, I could identify more with Frances and her view of this emerging new method of communication. Some thoughts from the fictional Frances Marion that I could identify with:
”How fun-how freeing- it had been to put myself in other people’s shoes! To imagine their lives, their relationships, what they might say, even if it was merely party chatter. I wasn’t acting only one role, I was acting several—all of them—all intoxicatingly different.”
“This is it, this is what I was looking for, waiting for, all those years. This flowering, this opening of hearts and eyes and minds, great vistas, all through the creation of people like me – people whose imaginations were too big for real life, so we had to build another.”
“Perhaps the simplest formula for a plot is: invent some colorful personalities, involve them in an apparently hopeless complication or predicament, then extricate them in a logical and dramatic way that brings them happiness.”
These two women were very different, but both loved this new world, Hollywood. Mary could bring the emotions alive in front of the camera and was an astute business woman, while Frances was a writer and director.

Mary and Douglas Fairbanks married, became the king and queen of Hollywood during that era. Pickfair was like the Buckingham Palace of California and they entertained royally. Frances and Fred Thompson married and the four honeymooned together.
Both women were far more than just their jobs. Besides their movies, they were instrumental in forming United Artists,   the Screen Writers Guild and the Academy Awards and other Hollywood institutions. Pickford won the second Academy Award and Marion won two Academy Writing Awards.”

I had trouble putting this book down, although I knew it was not going to be a happy story all the way to the end. Life happens to all of us and not necessarily the way we want. I hope you enjoy “The Girls in the Picture” as much as I did. Thanks to Melanie Benjamin for a wonderful story and a good presentation and compliments to Penquin Random House, Carroll Community College and Carroll County Public Library.
I’ve also enjoyed Melanie’s books, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb (which I read in 2012) and The Aviator’s Wife (2015) and look forward to reading more of her books.

You can learn more about the author and books at and on twitter@MelanieBen.
Okay. For those who have stuck with me, here is another quote from Frances Marion who volunteered and went to war (WWI).

“It was odd, I knew; I’d come to war for a lot of reasons, one of which, if I were being honest, was to gain experience; experience to write about. Because that’s what writers did; they lived, then they wrote about that living.”

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Le Guin's Sailing the Sea of Story

I just finished reading another writing book, Steering the Craft, A 21st-century guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. Le Guin. Originally published in 1998, she rewrote the book “from stem to stern”, she said. This edition was published in 2015.
Le Guin writes that all storytellers work pretty much the same way, with the same box of tools. Her book is aimed at storywriters. Like Steven Pinker’s, (see my previous blog) it is not for beginners, but for serious writers wanting to improve.

“Toward the end of the last century, many of our schools all but stopped teaching grammar,” she writes. “Somehow we’re supposed to be able to write without knowing anything about the equipment we’re using.”
“How can a reader trust a writer ignorant of the medium she works in?” she asks.  Writing is “an art, a craft, a making.”

“One of the marvelous things about the novel is “its many-voicedness, its polyphony.” It’s not just impersonation or mimicry. “It’s a willingness to share control with one’s creation.”
Let your characters talk, listen and write. You are in control, she wrote. “You made them up. Let the poor fictive characters have their say - you can hit Delete any time you like.”

Story is change and narrative moves the story forward. Each chapter in this book includes a discussion of a specific topic, examples from good writers and exercises, (which she considers as practice in control).
She defines story as “a narrative of events (external or psychological) that moves through time or implies the passage of time and that involves change.” She defines plot as “a form of story that uses action as its mode, usually in the form of conflict…” But she stresses “the story is not in the plot but in the telling. It is the telling that moves.”

She also gives advice about how peer groups work, whether in person or online.
I found her advice interesting, especially usually the image of steering a ship through the sea; “knowing the craft, so that when the magic boat comes by, you can step into it and guide it where it wants to go, where it ought to go.”

I use many quotes in my blogs, but feel it is important for others to have an idea of how this person writes. Whether a subject is serious and detailed or light, how it’s written makes a difference in whether I want to read their book and to let you know about it.
You can find more about Le Guin at her website

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.