Monday, December 31, 2012

Photo-A-Day: December

"How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?" --Dr. Seuss

Not only did December seemingly get here before June this year, so did the new year the way the last twelve months flew by. Was it the same for you?

Yet as this year closes and another begins, milestones are noted and memories are catalogued. And in particular, my photo-a-day challenge comes to an end. Wow. So hard to believe it really got done. I surprised myself, really. Didn't have much confidence going in, I guess. But, the results?

366 days (Leap year, remember?) minus 4 equals 362 pictures. Well, many more than that actually since some days I took multiple pictures and chose one from the lot, but I did it. I only missed those four days total. Two because (ahem) I forgot. And two because I misplaced my camera. It had fallen out of my purse into the backseat of the car, and we couldn't locate it for awhile. Good intentions are good but life happens! Other than that, I looked forward to the moment each day that I picked up the camera. Some days I pocketed it as I went for my walk. Some days I was in the right place at the right time and had it handy. Some days--particularly on our fantastic November trip--I couldn't stop snapping photos. And then there were the late nights, just before going to bed, that I realized I had *almost* forgotten and so hit the deadline just before the night turned to the next day.

I found I loved the challenge. It was a great deal of fun. And as I snapped today's photo, the last of the last, I found myself feeling a bit  nostalgic. "You mean it's over already?"

Well, not really. I have all these things to carry with me from the experience like inspiration on:

Detail. PatternsTexture. ContrastSerendipity. Surprise. Ideas. Visualization. 
Light and Shadow. Wonder. Nuance. The UnexpectedFocal Point. 
Potpourri. Travel and Story. Fairy Tales.

Along the way I learned about nurturing the creative side, waking up to beauty in the simple things, the value of trying something new, perseverance. All lessons that will carry over into a new year's writing projects, too.

I'm still contemplating what might be my challenge for the new year. It will involve writing, of course, and reading. It should incorporate stretching--as in reaching for a new level--and passion. We'll see what ideas gel in the next few days.

In the meantime, here is the final photo-a-day gallery. You'll see that there was much to celebrate this month, including the birth of our second granddaughter, born 12/12/12, and special family time. Hope you enjoy. And thanks for stopping in with wishes to each and everyone for a wonderful, creative, and happy new year!


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Unlock the Story by Asking "What If?"

"You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if...? --Neil Gaiman

We're waiting for grandbaby # 4 around here. By now it's overdue and keeping us guessing. And not only are we wondering about the birth date. We are eagerly anticipating whether it is a boy or a girl. Like their other two pregnancies, the parents (daughter and son-in-law) have opted to let the baby's gender be a surprise.

So we play the what if? game. What if it's a girl? Well, 4-year old Angelica will be thrilled. She wants a baby sister really bad (she already has a younger brother, 2-year old Adrian). When asked, "But what if the baby is another brother?" she answered, "I'm going to be mad."

What if it's a boy? Then hubby and I will have three grandsons (the third being my son and daughter-in-law's little one) under the age of three, a count that will obviously outnumber the child who wants the baby sister. What will she have to say about that when she does the math?

What if? Given time, bunches of stories are sure to pour forth! 

Writers play the what if game, too. It's part of the fun of writing--and contributes in a big way to the journey of discovery in the writing process. It's also helpful when stumped for ideas, trying to generate new ideas, or when struggling with writer's block. Asking what if helps plumb and pump up the plot pool.

Other authors have weighed in on the subject. Some samples:

Mary Higgins Clark. In her acknowledgements in her book Where Are You Now?, Ms. Clark writes: "Perhaps the question I am most frequently asked is, 'Where do you get your ideas?' The answer is simple. I read an article in a newspaper or magazine, and for some reason it sticks in my mind... When a situation intrigues me, I ask myself three questions: Suppose? What if? Why?... And then all the 'supposes' and 'what ifs' and 'whys' start to tumble around in my mind, and a new novel begins."

Neil Gaiman. On his website page Cool Stuff and Things, Mr. Gaiman explores the question he, too, is frequently asked: "Where do you get your ideas?" He starts out by saying, "In the beginning, I used to tell people the not very funny answers, the flip ones: 'From the Idea-of-the-Month Club'...Then I got tired of the not very funny answers, and these days I tell people the truth. 'I make them up,' I tell them. 'Out of my head." And then came a day when he spoke before a classroom of seven-year-olds. Inevitably one asked him where he gets his ideas. "And," he writes, "I realized I owed them an answer...This is what I told them: 'You get ideas from daydreaming... You get ideas from being bored...You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important question is just, What if...?"

Mr. Gaiman continues with other pertinent musings: If only...I wonder...If this goes on...Wouldn't it be interesting if... "All fiction," he continues, "is a process of imagining: Whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new."

Daniel Mega. In his e-book, Writing on the Right Side of the Brain, Mr. Mega challenges the writer to simply start writing down ideas. "Need a kick start?" he asks. "Try doing 'what if'...and just start thinking of interesting what-if scenarios. Or try combining two words together and see if the combination sparks a title for a new book. Try to come up with 50 ideas..." On a personal note, this last one struck a nerve with me, an ah-ha moment. I've picked up the challenge and am determined, as one of my new year's goals, to see what kind of a list of 50 ideas I can come up with. Hopefully a list ready-and-beckoning will emerge as the calendar turns to January, giving me a jump-start for the new year. Stay tuned on that one :-)

Finally, What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. I don't have this book (yet) but I came across the title and I'm intrigued. Amazon's Book Description: "What If? is the first handbook for writers based on the idea that specific exercises are one of the most useful and provocative methods for mastering the art of writing fiction... Bernays and Painter offer more than seventy-five exercises for both beginners and more experienced writers. These exercises are designed to develop and refine two basic skills: writing like a writer and, just as important, thinking like a writer. They deal with such topics as discovering where to start and end a story; learning when to use dialogue and when to use indirect discourse; transforming events into fiction; and finding language that both sings and communicates precisely. What If? will be an essential addition to every writer's library, a welcome and much-used companion, a book that gracefully borrows a whisper from the muse."

What if? Suppose? Why? If only? I wonder? If this goes on? Wouldn't it be interesting if? All questions to post near the computer this year.

One might say developing writing ideas is almost like birthing a baby.

Oops, don't tell my daughter I said that... :-)

p.s. An additional take on the subject of "What If..." can be found over at Fictorian Era where Frank Morin has written "What If?--Two Words to Unlock Inspiration." He contends that you cast  yourself out into the world of limitless possibilities with those two simple words. Great advice.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Photo-A-Day: November

"Travel turns all the fairy tales and stories into reality." --Author Unknown

What a storybook month it's been. I'm still pinching myself. Did I dream this? Was it all a fairy tale? No, the truth is I traveled to Europe for the first time ever--with a heart full of gratitude to our son (and tour guide), daughter-in-law, and two-year old grandson. What fun. What adventure. What an awesome experience.

Keith and family have lived in Spain for almost two years now (link here if you'd like to read their story). So hubby and I jetted off to join them, first for a week in Aguilas on the sea where they live followed by a whirlwind week to other wondrous places: Granada, Spain; Munich, Germany; Salzburg and Velden, Austria; Kranjska Gora, Slovenia; Travisio, Italy. Can you say breathless? More like breathtaking!

Where do I start? The Mediterranean, castles, cathedrals, medieval fortresses. The Alhambra (15th-century Moorish palace and artistic wonder), flamenco dancers, miles and miles of olive trees. Madrid's famous Prado Art Museum and Retiro Park, and Don Quixote-type windmills. Ancient wooden caskets holding the remains of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Christopher Columbus fame. Surfers in Munich (if asked what was the most unexpected thing we saw on our trip, this would get our vote!). Heidi's Alps and a tour of the sites used in filming the classic movie (and one of my all-time favorites) The Sound of Music. Thanksgiving in Italy. Friendly people and great food, languages and culture, history and beauty. Inspiration.

I could go on and on, but instead I'll simply post a smidgen of the volume of photos I took. I sure didn't have any trouble taking a photo-a-day this month!

Who would have known the next-to-the last month of my photo challenge would offer such a fairy tale. Thanks, Keith, Suzan and little Nicholas for the time of our lives.

And thanks to all who stop in to view my November gallery. May fairy tales come true for you, too...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Words, For the Fun of It

My friend here showed up one day tacked on the side of a tree that stands at the foot of the hill along my walking route. I feel like I've got a companion watching over me as I go now. What fun.

And speaking of fun, here are some quotes on the subject of words. Just for the fun of it.

"Words--so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them." --Nathaniel Hawthorne

"Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes." --Theodore Dreiser

"Words set things in motion. I've seen them doing it. Words set up atmospheres, electrical fields, charges." --Toni Cade Bambara

"The words! I collected them in all shapes and sizes and hung them like bangles in my mind." --Hortense Calisher

"Words fascinate me. They always have. For me, browsing in a dictionary is like being turned loose in a bank." --Eddie Cantor

"Wrestling with words gave me my moments of greatest meaning." --Richard Wright

Any *words of wisdom* you might you have to share about words?

Monday, November 5, 2012

With Eyes to See: Inspiration Aplenty

"If a true artist were born in a pigpen and raised in a sty, he would still find 
plenty of inspiration for his work. The only need is for the eye to see." --Willa Cather

We weren't born in a pigpen nor raised in a sty (tho maybe our mothers wondered the way we kept our rooms?) but a recent walk generated thoughts of pigs. And inspiration. As in, where to find it?

Hubby and I participated in a 5K walk a couple of weekends ago, a walk billed as a non-competitive event called a "Volksmarch"--German for people's march--and sponsored by the local Germania Society. The walk "for exercise/health enthusiasts and nature lovers" took us through the Society's park and then out on local roads and back. Though the morning started out gray and raw, the sun soon broke out in full and provided for a gorgeous fall day, brisk and energizing, which was shared with quite a sizable crowd.

Imagine our surprise, however, when we followed a bend in the trail and came upon this lone little creature, snorting and rummaging and scurrying around. Where had he come from? To whom did he belong? Was he wild or a lost pet? Never mind the particulars. What in the world was he doing there?

Ideas began to kick in. "What can I do with this character? What story would he tell?" It wouldn't be the first time a pig figured predominantly in literature. After all there's Wilbur in E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, the endearing Piglet in A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, and Babe in Dick King-Smith's stories. Recent times bring us to Holly Hobbie's Toot and Puddles, Ian Falconer's Olivia, and Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo.

Yes, inspiration can be found anywhere--as long as we keep our eyes open and really see.

btw, it didn't hurt, either, that the Germania Society offered a smorgasboard of food in their Klubhaus following the walkers' return to the starting point. We sampled homemade schnitzel, sauerkraut, wursts, German potato salad, and apple strudel. Talk about inspiration. Imagine a trip to Germany...hmmm.

Any flashes of inspiration for you recently? Where did you "see" them?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Photo-A-Day: October

"Potpourri--(n) a collection of dried flower petals, leaves, herbs, and spices that is used to scent the air; a mixture of miscellaneous things."

Photo courtesy of
Whimsy, beauty, reflection, anticipation. October offered all these things and more, represented in this month's photo-a-day project, a challenge I started--can it be true?--ten months ago. And what a mix of images unfolded from the month's beginning to the end--a potpourri of colors, textures, smells, and surprises. Each day offered something different including walks in the height of autumn, a photography exhibit, a stroll across a university campus, a book fair. New skills to learn, trips to plan, ideas to explore, words to write.  A hodepodge, assortment, collection, odds and ends, miscellany (synonyms for potpourri courtesy of askdefine ); "a combination of incongruous things" (Free Online Dictionary). In other words, random stuff--which is always good for the imagination. Where will it all end up? Who knows. A new story or two? One would hope.

What helped fill your potpourri bowl of experiences/inspiration this past month?

p.s.To those who will embark on Nanowrimo starting tomorrow (the annual "write a novel in a month" challenge), good luck! 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

5 Skills Writers Might Not Know They Possess

"The ability to relate and to connect, sometimes in odd and yet striking fashion, lies at the very heart of any creative use of the mind, no matter in what field or discipline." --George J. Seidel

photo courtesy of
My mom is a quilter. I'm a knitter. Neither of us are welders, electricians, or ditchdiggers. But there's a possibility that writers have similar skills to all of the above. How so? Consider five skills that writers might not know they possess.


1. Quilt. Quilters choose patterns to express their artistic endeavors. Writers seek patterns, too--in words, sentence structure, story flow, insight, and imagination. Bruce Ballenger, author of Discovering the Writer Within, notes: "First there is uncertainty and confusion, and then a pattern emerges that begins to make sense. First we plunge into the sea of experience and then tentatively climb the ziggurat of perception, reflecting on what we have seen, and plunge back in again with our new knowledge to see even more."

2. Knit. Knitters produce a knitted project much like a writer fills a blank page, one stitch/word at a time. Along the way both have to deal with the inevitable tangled threads: "Writing fiction has developed in me an abiding respect for the unknown in a human lifetime and a sense of where to look for the threads, how to follow, how to connect, find in the thick of the tangle what clear line persists." --Eudora Welty

3. Weld. Welders specialize in joining, linking, forging things together--especially metals, plastics, polymers. Writers join, link and forge, too--in their heads and through their keyboards. Marilyn Ferguson inspired this thought with her observations: "Making mental connections is our most crucial learning tool, the essence of human intelligence; to forge links; to go beyond the given; to see patterns, relationships, context."

4. Wire. What do electricians do? Make connections. So do writers. And we have to train ourselves--wire our brains--to see connections and follow them to their conclusions. Right-brain exercises designed to spark creativity help in this way, as does freewriting, journaling, and writing poetry. Dean Kamen reminds us: "Some broad themes brought me where I am today. At a very young age, my hobby became thinking and finding connections."

5. Excavate. Ah, this might be a stretch. I might fall into a hole here. But excavators are ditchdiggers and earth movers who uncover--reveal--that which lies beneath. Writers are word movers, seeking to uncover and reveal a story's meaning. Ballenger again: "Writers do that, moving back and forth between the seeming chaos of information collected and then reflecting on its significance, looking for connections, contradictions, questions, or even specific details...that will reveal meaning."

What's the value in learning all these skills--to be a jack-of-all trades, master of none? On the contrary, these skills help foster a long-term goal, that of enjoying what we do. One more time, Mr. Ballenger: "I find that moment of recognition--of making sense out of something that seemed to make no sense--is one of writing's greatest joys."

Do you find yourself doubting you can take on all five skills? See yourself mastering only one or two? Then consider this. "A typical neuron makes about ten thousand connections to neighboring neurons. Given the billions of neurons, this means there are as many connections in a single cubic centimeter of brain tissue as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy." --David Eagleman

Wow. The brain power is there. All we have to do is tap into it. What other unusual skills do you think a writer possesses--or maybe should develop?

Friday, October 19, 2012

On Beauty, October-Style

as seen on an October walk 2012
"In every man's heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the 
vibration of beauty."--from "A Slice of Sunlight" by Christopher Morley, 1928

How's the autumn color in your neck of the woods?

Hope you're getting some great snapshots :-)

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Gift of a Writer's Eye

I came across the following story in an old Highlights Foundation publication squirreled away in my files from way back in 1996 and, I think, worthy of sharing. It's a quote from Patricia Broderick. It goes like this:

"...I submit to you that writers see differently. They see the everyday world differently than do others...This is a story from the Chicago Daily News:

I've heard of the problems newly retired men and their wives face when confronted by too much togetherness, and I was always amused at the way they so often get on with each other's nerves. I never thought I'd face such a problem, but it's been two months now and matters around here are pretty bad. I ran out of patience that first Monday. There we were, the two of us. Dave busied himself by following me around, inquiring into my household routines. I tried to be pleasant, but my surly nature surfaced when he asked, 'Why don't you vacuum all the way under the bed?'

I've tried to interest him in any number of activities with little success. I've even shouted the merits of daytime TV. 'What you really need is a job,' I told him, knowing he'd never be able to find one at his age. Yesterday was typical. Dave and I spent the morning together as always now. He sat looking out the window for a while, sighing intermittently. Then he came into the kitchen. 'What are we having for lunch?' he wanted to know. This was at 8:30. We went lockstep to the bedrooms, where he watched me make the beds. To his query, 'What should we do now?' I snarled, 'How about a duel with sabers?' A lengthy discussion followed of my system of sorting wash. I don't like to sort wash, much less talk about it. The situation is getting to me. You'd think someone with so much intelligence, someone I truly love, would not be so totally annoying when faced with a change in routine. Oh, well, my problem won't last forever. Next fall Dave will be in kindergarten.

"My wish for each of you is that you view the world with the gift of a writer's eye every day of your life."--Patricia Broderick

Have a great weekend! May we all nurture the gift of the writer's eye as we go...

p.s. Speaking of viewing the world with the gift of a writer's eye, here's a link to a great writing opportunity. Ladies' Home Journal is sponsoring a Personal Essay Contest (here), "Tell Us About The Day That Changed Your Life." They say, "Ladies' Home Journal is a community that shares stories--and we're dying to hear yours. For our second annual Personal Essay Contest, we want to hear about a memorable moment in your life--the day, or the hour, or the second that changed everything. We urge you to be poignant, reflective, funny. Make us howl with laughter. Make us blubber in our cubicles (we can take it!)." Top prize is $3000 and the chance to have your essay published in the Journal. Deadline: Dec. 7, 2012.

(Thanks to my friend Lanita who passed this along.)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Story's Roots

"All of literature comes out of the family--Oedipus, Hamlet--even Genesis is a family story. Storytellers always revert to the family--the people we're born from and the people born to us. It's impossible to exhaust." --Irwin Shaw

I can think of a few families whose life's journey would make a good story, can you?

Do you agree that all of literature comes out of the family? Or might there be other story roots?

Just wonderin'...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Photo-A-Day: September

"There's something like a line of gold thread running through a man's words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself." --John Gregory Brown

Oct.15, 1922--Sept. 25, 2012
Words. We speak them. We write them. Sometimes we weave them like gold threads, and the resulting cloth is a very special thing. This happened at my father's funeral a few days ago.

His death was not unexpected, but a blow none-the-less. Tears mixed with all those things a family must attend to--packing for the trip, gathering photos for a memorial dvd, funeral arrangements themselves, calls and contacts, sorting through necessary forms, sleepless nights.

But then threads emerged. Offers to help. Food trays. Flowers. A hairdresser who wouldn't take payment for doing my  mom's hair. Reunions. Reconciliations. Hugs. Kindnesses. Comforts. Oh, and words.

People began to speak of my dad. Words of memories. Words of respect. Words of love. He endured tough times and the past few years were especially difficult. But those days are now in the past and what threads did people remember most? That he loved his family. That he and his faithful wife were married 66 years. That he could light up on even the worst days at the mention of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And that he warmly accepted those woven into the family by marriages of their own. Truly a cloth that felt like love itself.

Golden threads seemed to run through September's photo-a-day challenge as well, images of beauty, comfort, and specialness as this daughter kept her camera close once again for another month. Along the way she cherished good memories and held close to her heart words her father once spoke to her.

Here's a peek then at September's gallery...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Expression, Expressiveness, and Good Writing Habits

"Expressiveness is the goal. Expression is what we use to get there." --Arthur Plotnik

I've come across another "favorite" book on writing to add to my list: Arthur Plotnik's The Elements of Expression, Putting Thoughts into Words. Are you familiar with it?

From Goodreads: "Whether the subject is love, mortality, or anything in between,putting your thoughts into words that demand attention isn't as easy as pouring water into a pitcher. That's where this book comes in. Written with humor and wit, it offers many engaging examples of adventuresome language that not only get you noticed, but also communicate a wide range of feelings, thoughts, meanings, and experiences vividly and forcefully."

So far I've only progressed through the first five chapters but already I'm hooked. A sample:

"Anyone who has seen Pygmalion or My Fair Lady knows how quickly expressiveness can flower when love and a wager come into play: On a bet, Professor Henry Higgins tutors a Cockney loudmouth named Eliza Doolittle in Snob Speech 101, and Eliza achieves enough courtly elegance to pass muster at a ball. If we ask no more than that of expressiveness, then the Higgins Method will suffice.

"Of course we do ask more, if we hope to engage distracted listeners and readers. And while small steps toward expressiveness yield quick rewards, the quick fix for mush-mouthed language doesn't exist...Instead the fix involves a number of long-term commitments worth keeping in mind:

Read--Listen--Savor--Keep a Journal.

"These are the acts to which expressive people must commit themselves. And if the word commit smacks of twelve-step recovery, think of these acts as acquired habits of highly expressive people."

Ah, long-term commitments. But with an eye toward more vivid, meaningful expressiveness? Worth it. And although the past week was a busy one over this way, I happily discovered upon reflection that I had  been able to continue fostering some of these habits. A short synopsis:

1. Read. Books I enjoyed included Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly (great reading for those interested in all things Civil War), A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (how did I miss this gem when Burnett's The Secret Garden is such a favorite classic on my shelf?! Sweet and endearing, a must-read), and the first few chapters of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts (which is proving to be a beautiful read).

2. Listen. Quite a few opportunities to "listen" presented themselves, including a college reunion around a chilly night's campfire (had a great time, Paula!), an Amish auction benefiting a county home, and a bit of time spent in a Greyhound bus station.

3. Savor. I love how Plotnik describes this: "When a delicious piece of expression comes their way, whether by written or spoken word, expressive people do not simply wolf it down. They chew on it to savor its essence, and thus make it theirs."

An example from my readings this week worthy of savoring includes this: "The English language has a million words, but only one for the two kinds of forgiveness. This is a major failure. The two kinds may be similar at the molecular level but they are far removed in magnitude. Like a candle flame and a volcano, an April shower and a hurricane, a soft tremor beneath your feet and the great San Francisco earthquake..." (Thomas Lake, 'The Boy They Couldn't Kill,' Sports Illustrated, Sept. 17, 2012.) Lake's story, which I recommend reading if you get the chance, is a powerful story of a horrendous tragedy, a grandmother's love, courage and determination--and forgiveness--and speaks for itself. But at the same time the writing is amazing, too.

4. Keep a Journal. I journaled about some of the events of the week. I wrote haiku. I made notes of phrases that struck me, bits of conversation that intrigued me, stories that others related. If we writers accomplish only one thing each day, it would be to journal our thoughts, impressions, and ideas--and with that foster the writing habit and keep the writing wheels oiled.

It turns out that a busy week yielded up valuable writing material--simply because of a commitment to think as a writer as I went. Thank you, Mr. Plotnik.

And that's only part of the book's premise. "Read, listen, savor, keep a journal--these are ongoing habits of expressive people," Mr. Plotnik writes. "The next five apply during acts of expression."

Oooh, there's so much more ahead in this book. I'll keep on reading, digesting, and (hopefully) applying. How about you? What writing book has impacted your writing, writing habits, expression and expressiveness? Are you able to read, listen, savor and journal consistently most of the time, or not?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Kindness Project

Kindness. Something the world needs more of, that's for sure. Elana Johnson, YA author of the Possession series, along with others spread the word today around the blogosphere about the Kindness Project--a linked theme in which the question is asked: "How do you practice kindness?" There are many definitions, I suppose, but to me kindness means sharing a touch of beauty:


a kind word                                                                                                                          compassion
          a smile                                                                                                                        hospitality
               a card                                                                                                               a hug
                    a call                                                                                                       a moment
                         a helping hand                                                                               unhurriedness
                              an encouragement                                                               an "I'm sorry"
                                   a compliment                                                            eye contact
                                        homemade cookies                                         friendship
                                             a story                                                  laughter
                                                  a flower                                      respect
                                                       a positive                          chocolate
                                                           a blessing                 prayer
                                                                a caring          patience
                                                                     a softened heart

Often we talk about those random acts of kindness that come our way. What about the intentional ones? How do you practice kindness?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Madeleine L'Engle's Secret Weapon

"One of the greatest weapons of all is laughter, a gift for fun, a sense of play which is sadly missing from the grownup world. When one of our children got isolated by a fit of sulks, my husband would say very seriously, 'Look at me. Now, don't laugh. Whatever you do, don't laugh.' Nobody could manage to stay long-faced for very long, and communication was reestablished. When Hugh and I are out of sorts with each other, it is always laughter that breaks through the anger and withdrawal. Paradox again: to take ourselves seriously enough to take ourselves lightly." --Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet

Smile. You never know who's watching!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Photo-A-Day: August

"Photographers tend not to photograph what they can't see, which is the very reason one should try to attempt it. Otherwise we're going to go on forever just photographing more faces, more rooms, more places. Photography has to transcend description...go beyond description to bring insight into the subject, or reveal the subject, not as it looks, but how does it feel? --Duane Michals

Photography this month, and my photo-a-day project, turned out to be not only a hobby and a writer's prompt to stimulate observation and description, it also served as a comfort and an encouragement on a personal level. You see, my dad entered long-term nursing care this past month, and no longer lives at home. The transition--and all the myriad details involved to help him settle in--proved to be confusing and complicated. Emotions fluctuated and adjustments had to be made. But as I went about attempting to help my family, I continued to carry my camera. As I went I found myself seeking shots that reflected something about my dad's life--symbols of the past, reminiscences, memories, things that still bring a smile even on the most difficult of days, reflections, wishes for peace and beauty, prayers.

And so this month's project proved to be a personal attempt to "bring insight" into a subject (as Duane Michals says in the above quote), reveal something about that subject, and in my case honor my subject: my dad. One day the overall benefit might be helpful in feeding a writer's soul. At the moment it serves to feed a daughter's heart.

Here's my August gallery. Thanks for stopping by...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On Helen Keller and "Seeing" Color

photo courtesy of
Oh, the treasures we find in unexpected places. I was out of town last week and stopped in the local library on an errand for my mom. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon a used book sale--and my heart skipped a beat. More weight for my luggage (I really need an e-reader for times like these!), but I couldn't resist browsing...and buying. A particular treat I found was One Thousand Beautiful Things, A Collection of Prose and Poetry Chosen from the World's Literature, compiled by Marjorie Barrows, copyrighted 1947. In it I found this:

How Helen Keller Sees Color
by Nella Braddy

"It is annoying to a certain type of mind to have Miss Keller describe something she obviously cannot know through direct sensation. The annoyance is mutual. These sensations, whatever expert opinion on them may be, are as real to her as any others. Her idea of colour, to take only one instance, is built up through association and analogy. Pink is 'like a baby's cheek or a soft Southern breeze.' Gray is 'like a soft shawl around the shoulders.' Yellow is 'like the sun. It means life and is rich in promise.' There are two kinds of brown. 'One is warm and friendly like leaf mould.' The other is 'like the trunks of aged trees with worm holes in them, or like withered hands.' Lilac, which is her Teacher's favourite colour, 'makes her think of faces she has loved and kissed.' The warm sun brings out odours that make her think of red. Coolness brings out odours that make her think of green. A sparkling colour brings to mind soap bubbles quivering under her hand." (from the Preface of Midstream by Helen Keller, copyrighted 1929)

Isn't this a treasure (besides the archaic spellings)--Helen Keller "saw" color through association and analogy--quite the inspiration for those of us who, blessed with sight and hearing, attempt to describe sensory detail and description in our writings. I love stumbling upon such rich troves of insight, don't you?

Other treasures this week--friends and fellow bloggers. With this, I announce the winner of my 200th post milestone give-away, and she is...Peggy! Congratulations, friend--and thanks for being a part of the celebration. The gift card prize will be in the mail to you soon.

And to all who drop in this way, wishing you a wonderfully successful week in adding color (or colour as the case may be) to your writing. Go for it!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Anticipation (and a Milestone Give-Away)

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. ~A. A. Milne

My husband used to be a beekeeper. He suited up, fed the smoker, headed for the hives, withdrew the honey-laden supers. A trip across the backyard with said supers followed, batting away stray honeybees as he went that had not been deterred by the smoke. Inside the house an extractor awaited, a hand-cranked machine that spun the honey out of the comb by centrifugal force and into the barrel. From there, the honey was drained out, set aside, and later strained and bottled to reveal beautiful, gold-laden sweetness. I can identify with dear Pooh's "moment" just before you begin to eat it. I think the word he was looking for was anticipation.

Ah, anticipation. It occurs in the writer's life as well, most times identified at that moment when a response to a query comes in via e-mail or (like happened to me lately) by way of a long white envelope snail-mailed. What will the news be? Oh, that delicious moment when the heart says, maybe...just maybe...

At that moment the feeling of anticipation might be followed by any number of other feelings, also described by words with the -ation suffiix. Words like: hesitation ... palpitation ... perspiration ... vacillation.

After that comes...the revelation, verification, and realization.

Which way will that realization take us? To celebration, appreciation, and fascination?  Or "botheration," vexation, maybe even an ulceration?

Ah, such is the life of a writer, though a beekeeper might be able to give us a few words of advice. After all, he doesn't let a few stings stop him from his goals, does he? So on our way to our destination, keep in mind that part of the writer's life is exploration, imagination, information, and inspiration. Add a sweet spoonful of observation, adaptation, navigation, maturation--maybe even liberation?

Don't give up. And if nothing else, we can have a bit of fun with words along the way, can't we? We call that recreation.

Any words with the -ation suffix you might add to the writer's list?

p.s. This is my 200th post since I started blogging--hard to believe! It's been a rewarding journey, and I look forward to a continuation since I'm learning as I go and meeting lots of great people along the way. In fact, in celebration of the milestone, I'd like to give a lucky reader their own moment of anticipation. So, without trepidation, I announce my 200th post give-away. Just comment to this post by next  Saturday, August 25, and you'll be eligible for a $25 Amazon gift card. I only ask that you leave your email address so that I can contact the winner, whose name will be drawn by a purely random process. See you then!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Haiku, Part Two

" the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what was seen during a moment." --Carl Sandburg

Fellow blogger Cathy (Words, World and Wings) challenged me in my last post, 8 Ways Haiku Helps Fiction Writers.

"Well," she commented, "I think we'd all love to read some of your haiku, so bring it on! :-)"

OK, time to get my feet wet. Although I don't profess to be a poet, this exercise in the past few months has strengthened my writing in various ways, including nudging me to be more observant AND prompting me to write a little each day. It's getting to be (hurray!) a bit of a habit.

And so, because writers need to get their writing out there--and our writing buddies are great support--I'm going to come out of my cave and share.

Samples of what I've written in the past two months:

New Day
Frenzied rain sheets whip.
Stinging pellets strike leaf, limb.
Shiver. Storm passes.

Parched ground laps up rain.
Eddies form, rivulets wash.
Forgiveness quenches.

Hummingbird hovers.
Red blossom dip, shimmer. Gone.
Beauty-blessed moment.

Soft night air. Breezes
float, catching whispers on way.
Kind words make stars shine.

Gossamer threads in
blue-sky bowl. God's filaments
weave fragile hearts strong.

On the Ohio
Lights from coal plant blast
darkness, scattering glass-shard
sparkles downriver.

A Neighbor's Story
German children bike
north into Holland, nineteen
thirties' innocence.

Smiles, everyone! (And thanks, Cathy, for your encouragement :-)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

8 Ways Haiku Helps Fiction Writers

(photo courtesy of
An old silent pond...
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again. 
--Matsuo Basho, translated by Harry Behn

Have you ever tried your hand at haiku, the poetic form of three lines and (traditionally) seventeen syllables? If not, would you? Particularly if you are a fiction writer and don't consider yourself a poet (like me)? Well, I for one have reconsidered...

First a definition:

"Haiku--an unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually five, seven, and five syllables respectively; also: a poem in this form usually having a seasonal reference."--merriam-webster

Secondly, observations on its form:

"Originally a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables in three lines, a haiku juxtaposes seemingly unrelated observations in order to glimpse the hidden connections between things."--John Drury, Creating Poetry

"Technically, a haiku must refer to a season...But for Western poets, the distinction may not be so useful or important. We normally call a haiku any three-line poem, give or take a line, that couples insights or images together in a flash." --John Drury

"Haiku are based on the five senses. They are about things you can experience, not your interpretation or analysis of those things. To do this effectively, it is good to rely on sensory description..." --Wikihow

"Although traditional haiku are often about nature or the changing seasons, they nonetheless manage to convey emotion." --Bruce Lansky

"Haiku teaches the power of observation and the importance of editing. You know you've done a good job of editing when the version with the fewest words makes the strongest impression." --Bruce Lansky

"Haiku will keep you working with words, but it will also help you deal with your stress. And here's the best part: You don't have to wrestle with rhyme!" --Diane Mayr ("Too Busy to Write? Keep in Shape with Rhymes, Limericks and Haiku," The Writer Magazine, October 2002)

So with all this in mind, how might haiku help a fiction writer? Taking from the above quotes and adding a couple of my own favorites, here's a list of eight benefits, all good practice ideas for any writer. Haiku:

1. sharpens observation skills
2. taps into sensory details and imagery potential
3. gives practice in making connections (think plot twists and the unexpected)
4. explores emotions
5. generates words and creativity
6. strengthens editing skills
and--proving to be of particular value to me--
7. fosters a writing habit
8. is portable!

By the way, at least two children's authors have taken the idea and incorporated haiku in their books. Lois Lowry's Gooney Bird is So Absurd has the characters writing haiku, as well as couplets, limericks and line poems. It's a cute book. And then there's Jack Prelutsky and his picture book, If Not for the Cat, Haiku, in which he writes haiku riddles about animals (example: "Boneless, translucent/We undulate, undulate/Gelatinously*) and the reader must guess the identity. Clever idea!

Haiku. It's not just for poets anymore.

(*Answer to Prelutsky's riddle? Jellyfish!)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Photo-A-Day: July

"Character is story." --Elizabeth George

July's photo-a-day project came with a twist, an historical twist that is. My WIP, a middle-grade historical fiction, is set in mid-1800s Ohio. The challenge? Step back in time and attempt to capture images of things my character might have seen, smelled, tasted, touched, or heard. Such an exercise held out the promise of getting to know my character better.

And help bring her to life...

"It takes a long time (to write YA)...I have to let the characters live inside my head awhile. You have to know what's on your character's walls and what's in their closet--even if you're not going to use that in your book. It's a way of bringing your characters to life before they're on paper." --Paula Danzinger

"When characters are really alive, before their author, the latter does nothing but follow them in action." --Luigi Pirandello

"Once we have begun it, we continue reading a novel largely because we care about what happens to the characters. But for us actually to care about these actors in the drama on those printed pages, they must become real people to us. An event alone cannot hold a story together. Nor can a series of events. Only characters effecting events and events effecting characters can do that." --Elizabeth George, Write Away

So without further ado, here's July's photo gallery, sample images of what a young girl might have encountered in a similar month 150 years ago--except that they were captured through the lens of a 21st century camera!
Of course I'd loved to have snapped a slew of others. A mule for instance. A hand-crafted checkerboard. A pontoon bridge and a hollyhock doll or two. But I'll leave that for the imagination--and the finished book :-)


Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Grab Bag, Library-Style

"Asked whether he liked books, Mark Twain said that he liked a thin book because it would steady a table, a leather volume because it would strop a razor, and a heavy book because it could be thrown at a cat." --Author Unknown

Library trips rarely turn out the way they're planned, do they? In a good way, of course. 

My list on a recent excursion to the closest branch included a bunch of historical fiction titles I've been wanting to read (and picture books I thought the little ones might enjoy). A quick search on our library's website had indicated the titles I targeted were on the shelf where I was headed. As so often happens, though, the books were already checked out upon my arrival.

Never fear. It didn't make me want to throw books. On the contrary, there are enough books crying "pick me!" to take their place, new releases, titles I'd never heard of, eye-catching covers, or a title from a familiar author not yet read. I came home with a stuffed bag, including four middle grades, four YAs, five picture books, and two poetry books. I had to pull myself away from the stacks or else I was going to have to find a wheelbarrow to get them to the car. 

In addition to the variety of genres in the pile, there was a wide variety of writing styles,too, including a novel-in-verse, first person POV, third-person past tense, third-person present, and--for the fun-lovin' lyrics--a rhyming book.

Yep, quite the grab bag. And, with all due respect to Mark Twain, I don't expect to use any of these books to steady a table or sharpen a razor. I plan to read them--and then go back for more

Been on any library binges yourself lately? What's in your grab bag of books?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Weekend Trivia

"A question on the run: What's unusual about unquestionably? Answer: It contains all five vowels and the letter y. I leave it to you to discover why facetious, abstemious and abstentious are collector's items." --James J. Kilpatrick

I've added this bit of trivia to my collection of English language absurdities and unusual facts. Find any word-loving tidbits for your collection lately?

p.s. Facetious (adj. "having the habit of joking") I sorta' knew. But abstemious and abstentious? Well, abstentious, it turns out, means the same as...abstemious. And abstemious? It means "sparing in eating and drinking; moderate." Confused yet?

So, are you going to be abstemious and abstentious this weekend? (She asks facetiously.) Hope your weekend is unquestionably super.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

On Leeches and Weasels: The Problem With Qualifiers

"Don't hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident...Every little qualifier whittles away some fraction of the reader's trust. Readers want a writer who believes in himself and in what he is saying. Don't diminish that belief. Don't be kind of bold. Be bold."--William Zinsser    


Sucking leeches. Weasel words. Wishy-washy. Weakling. Flabby. Ooh, fightin' words, yes?

Not when it comes to the writer's world.

While such terms would be insults when speaking about a person, they characterize an important writing principle when applied to qualifiers, those words that "limit or modify the meaning of another word, changing how absolute, certain or generalized it is" (source).

William Strunk of Elements of Style fame makes the point vividly clear: "Avoid the use of qualifiers. Rather, very, little, pretty--these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating..."

Judy Delton, in The Most Common Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) explains: "A qualifier is something that takes a perfectly clear, decisive statement and weakens it. It is a wishy-washy word that drains strong statements of their validity. Qualifiers are words like just, even, like, although, also, besides, almost, maybe, if, but, too, unless, sort of....These weaklings qualify things so that a writer or speaker never has to take a stand, never has to make a decision. He can eat his cake and have it too, pleasing both sides. A new writer who is afraid of risks (anyway) finds them convenient and satisfying (sort of)."

Again, this time from the Writing Center, "Qualifiers and intensifiers are words or phrases that are added to another to modify its meaning, either by limiting it ('he was somewhat busy") or by enhancing it ("the dog was very cute")...Excessive use of qualifiers can make you sound unsure of your facts...writing that contains too many qualifiers can sound unclear and wordy."

Bryan Garner, author of Garner's Modern American Usage, calls the qualifying word "very" a weasel word..."(it) functions as both an adjective and an adverb, surfaces repeatedly in flabby writing. In almost every context in which it appears, its omission would result in at most a negligible loss. And in many contexts the idea would be more powerfully expressed without it."

I find the term "weasel word" particularly descriptive. Turns out it's not new to a writer's vocabulary. According to Wikipedia, the expression derives from the egg-eating habits of weasels. "An egg that a weasel has sucked will look intact to the casual observer, while actually being empty. Similarly, words or claims that turn out to be empty upon analysis are known as 'weasel words.' The expression first appeared in Stewart Chaplin's short story 'Stained Glass Political Platform' (The Century Magazine, 1900), in which they were referred to as 'words that suck the life out of the words next to them, just as weasel sucks the egg and leaves the shell." (More on weasel words here.)

It took me some time to understand how qualifiers negatively affect the impact of writing. But with edits, I've identified my worst culprits: seems, just, about, almost, all.

Ever done a "find" search to see how many qualifiers* you use? If you're like me, you're tired of the wishy-washy, weak words, and don't want your characters to be that way either. I'm all for pulling out those suckers, wrestling the weasels down, and shooting for more vibrant, powerful language. How about you?

*The most common qualifiers according to very, quite, rather, somewhat, more, most, less, least, too, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, fairly, really, pretty, even, a bit, a little, a (whole) lot, a good deal, a great deal, kind of, sort of.