For some reason I can add sidebars, but not new posts. Please check back later. I have been working on a variety of things including switching my blog soon from this one, which was set up with my now-defunct West Wisconsin Telcom account. I hope to have my new blog through Gmail up soon. I will provide a link and announcement when I've got everything straight. 7/2/11

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book contests for works published in 2007

Winter in Wisconsin

This time of year there are many contests for works published during the calendar year. One such contest is sponsored by the Council for Wisconsin Writers at Entries are due by January 31, 2008. This contest is for writers with connections to Wisconsin, and has a variety of awards available: short fiction, poetry book, short nonfiction, children’s literature, nonfiction book, fiction book, and outdoor writing. Be sure to scroll down to The Money Corner for more contests.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Illustration from

Lately I’ve noticed the term “chapbook” turning up a lot. Being published in one is often part of the prize included with contests, and I didn’t know what type of document this was. So, of course, I looked it up. The term “chapbook” refers to a category of small booklets and has been used since the 16th century. Use of the word died down by the late 19th century, but is turning up again—I would assume the ease of desktop publishing has contributed to its revival. Wikipedia states use of the word probably started because certain traveling sellers were called “chapmen” and it is likely the original “chapbooks” were part of their wares.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Recently read: Elizabeth Ironside’s Death in the Garden

This is an excellent story that examines the complexity of human emotions. Well written and engaging, this is a book that can keep you up late (at least it kept me up late). Elizabeth Ironside is the pen name of Lady Catherine Manning, whose husband was the British Ambassador to the U.S. from 2003 till this year. That adds an extra dash to this story of the British upper classes during and after World War I. The book begins at a birthday celebration at a country manor that ends in a death. Although the victim’s wife, Diana Pollexfen, is acquitted, the 1925 crime was never solved and suspicion continues to swirl around her. Upon Diana’s death 60 years later, Diana’s grand-niece, Helena, reads her aunt’s old journals. Determined to clear her great-aunt’s name, Helena finds out who among the people who attended that fatal party are still alive, and who has left letters and clues. I love these books that float through time, and this is a good one.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas and Yule

The word “Yule” is derived from the various words (geol, jul, jol to name a few) for the pagan Scandinavian winter festivals that occurred during the solstice. The Yule log was gathered and burned in honor of the Norse god Thor. The early Christians adopted many of the rites and times of the pagans—in this case, the Yule log ritual of winter. Nowadays, “Yule” and “Christmas” are pretty much used interchangeably. Regardless of your beliefs or religion, have a happy Yule Day!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ficlets: really really short stories

My collage "Once upon a time," which I created to inspire me to write more short stories.

Want some help starting a writing habit? Want story ideas? Want some incentive for daily creativity? Want to impose some discipline on yourself and your writing? Check out and join in the ficlet-writing brigade. Ficlets are very short stories with a maximum character count of 1,024. Write your ficlet using their suggested topics or using your own, and then submit it. You can read other ficlets and write the sequels, or give someone’s ficlet a new ending. The web site describes ficlets as “literary Legos.” I love the idea!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Erica’s healthy tips for surviving the holidays without having a heart attack

Speaking from experience, it is not a good idea to substitute two egg-nog-and-rums for lunch.

Forget wrapping gifts if you’re pressed for time. Use the store bag and consider it to be recycling. You save time, money, and get to feel like you are a conservationist (this is Carl’s holiday wisdom contribution).

While pretending to be a conservationist, be careful not to turn the thermostat down too much in an effort to save energy costs. Hypothermia is a very real danger.

Remember that walking from store to store is exercise.

Stock up on books you’ve been wanting to read so if you’re snowbound, you’ll be happy about it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dale Carnegie’s legacy

Last night was the final session of the Dale Carnegie class, where I was a coach. Since first taking the course in the fall of 2003, I have coached three times. It’s a great way to spend 12 evenings—in the midst of successful people focused on reaching their goals. Dale Carnegie (the man, not the course) was an excellent writer and historian. His biography of Abraham Lincoln is still considered a definitive work. He taught his first class in New York City in 1912. The classes were for businessmen (they were all men then) and were designed to help them with public speaking. In the nearly 100 years since, Carnegie has changed the way the world speaks by moving the concept of “public speaking” from the florid words and pomposity of the nineteenth century to today’s conversational style. He also was one of the founders of what we call the self-help industry today. What a legacy for a writer to leave.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Recently read: Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages

The subtitle of this book tells it all: “A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.” When this book arrived with my order, I was at first disappointed when I read the back blurb and table of contents. As a seasoned writer, I know not to overuse adjectives or have tons of melodramatic dialogue. However, once I started reading, I was hooked before the end of the first page of the Introduction. This is a very practical book, not only in telling the reader what things are dead giveaways of amateur writers (like tons of adjectives or sappy dialogue), but also in telling the reader what it is that makes an agent read on, or toss aside. Lukeman explains why opening with dialogue isn’t a great idea, how to gauge the “sound” of your writing, and for every problem, offers solutions and exercises. This is a short book and a must-have for every serious writer’s bookshelf. And it is worth the cost of the book just for the rejection letter from a Chinese publisher that prefaces it!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A reading list for the holidays

  • Erica's Suggestions for Holiday Reading, in no particular order:
  • Jean Shepard's Christmas Story, and then watch the movie again

  • Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg

  • Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

  • Any P.G. Wodehouse novel

  • Any Angela Thirkell novel

  • Thunder Bay by William Kent Krueger

  • Shelter for the Spirit by Victoria Moran

  • Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi

  • Desert Queen by Janet Wallach

  • French Ways and their Meaning by Edith Wharton

  • It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys by Marilyn Paul

  • Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan (actually, I don’t have this one on my shelf yet—it’s on my Christmas list)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Be a Master of Words

I like to make up words or create new meanings for words. I also like to play with using a word in a different form, such as “point-at-able” to describe a result. I fully support Humpty Dumpty’s philosophy of words, as told to Alice:

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”
"The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master, that’s all.”
(Through the Looking Glass. Lewis Carroll)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Recently read: Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais

This is the first time I’ve read anything by this American ex-pat in Paris. Unlike many of the other Parisian and other European novels I’ve been reading lately, Black’s book takes place in 1993 and sticks strictly to the contemporary timeline. Set in the ancient Jewish quarter of Paris, even though events are connected to history, especially World War II, we follow the detective, Aimee Leduc, and the other people as they go through today’s world. Leduc specializes in computer forensics and decoding. What seems a simple and lucrative assignment of printing an encrypted photo and delivering it to an elderly woman instead turns into a complex web of long-past motives, hates, old murders, and secrets that are still not dead even though the characters are. This is a fun read for some good atmosphere, good plot, and good writing.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

National Endowment for the Arts: Translation Fellowships due 1/8/08

Because I read a lot of books written in other languages that are translated into English, I have so much respect for translators. Those people with headphones at the U.N., for example, who almost instantly convert someone’s spoken words, amaze me. For the written word, good translators not only have to be fluent in two languages (including each one’s colloquialisms), but also have to be a good writers themselves. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is encouraging people to go into translating the written word through its Translation Fellowships in poetry, prose and drama. The deadline is January 8, 2008. Grants are for $10,000 or $20,000. If you are able to write in two (or more) languages, visit one of these sites for applications at , or NEA’s site at

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Kindle versus the Book: room for both

Printed words and eletronic words are both welcome in my office.

One of Newsweek’s November cover stories was titled “Books Aren’t Dead.” Author Stephen Levy took a close look at “The Future of Reading,” examining the printed word, the electronic word, and Amazon’s new reading device called the Kindle. To keep things in perspective, early printed books were highly technological products of the new-fangled Gutenberg press. Books have always been user-friendly, portable and don’t need batteries. Like most technology, books were expensive at first and the price has come down.

The Kindle is still costly and does require batteries. However, it provides not only the books, but also serves as an interface for searching the Web, interaction between reader and book, and offers a new concept: subscribing to a book, where you get updates as the author changes the story. The device is named “Kindle” to imply the lighting of knowledge.

Hmmmm. My opinion: for those of us who love the feel of a book in our hands and the texture of paper and the scent of ink, we won’t entirely switch, even if the Kindle’s price does go down. We may, however, add the Kindle to our collections. One of the many interesting comments in Levy’s article was that studies show that people who use the Internet a lot also read more books than those who don’t use the Internet as much. Apparently if you love to read, you’ll read—whether it’s web pages, blogs or books. Or on the Kindle.

For Newsweek’s 11/26/07 cover story, see To check out the Kindle, visit

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Do something literary today

Read a poem out loud.

Take some books you won’t ever read again to the library for their Friends of the Library book sales.

Begin a journal.

Listen to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac on your public radio station. Find out where and when here:

(Illustration from Dover Publications at )

Monday, December 3, 2007

Recently read: Robert Wilson’s The Company of Strangers

Wilson takes us to Lisbon for this book, and we once again bounce back in time to the years before and during World War II. Wilson’s deft writing, and his ability to make us enter the lives of his characters and experience history are phenomenal. In this novel, we follow a young English woman turned spy and a German spy turned double agent as they tread the trickery in Portugal and Europe. Their love affair has an impact beyond themselves, while political treachery continues from the Nazis and Salazar’s regime into the Cold War and to the year the Berlin Wall came down. Wilson's grasp of the nuances of history, his ability to breath life into the men and women who people his novels, and his masterly handling of plot are worth every minute of page-turning suspense.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Nia and Tribal Fusion Dancing: keeping the belly at bay

I'm all set to perform at my first belly-dancing recital back in 2005.

This time of year, I always try to master those pounds that have crept up since the last holiday season under the theory—a correct one, I’m sure—that it is better to start lower on the scale than usual before adding those holiday pounds on. This is the seventh year in a row that I have failed to do so. Now, however, I have new ammunition in my battle of the bulge: Nia and Tribal Fusion Dancing on two consecutive weeknights.

Tribal Fusion, or Belly Dancing, is a wonderful way to firm and tone while being a part of a group of women dedicated to enjoying themselves and being comfortable with their bodies. We are so lucky here in the upper Midwest to have access to a wide range of classes and dance troupes. I’ve been shimmy-ing for years at Rebecca Whitman’s classes in Menomonie. Visit her web site at

I’ve recently added another movement form: Nia. This provides a full hour of aerobic movement that each person can adjust to his or her own level. I do “no-impact” at the moment, but I’m confident that I’ll progress to “low-impact” as the winter goes by. For a description and history of this movement program, read my article in the Dunn County News at

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Big Read grants, the NEA, and opportunities for local book-lovers

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) plans on awarding nearly $1,600,000 in grant monies to libraries, municipalities, and various art and education organizations to host Big Read events. Wow. According to an NEA press release, "In just two years, the Big Read has grown from 10 communities to include nearly 200 towns and cities nationwide. Although each of these communities celebrates its Big Read program in its own way, one theme we consistently hear back is that the Big Read is not just bringing citizens back to the joy of reading, but also reinvigorating the very idea of community," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "I am delighted to announce the newest round of Big Read communities in this program, which is about so much more than reading."

Grants will be from $2,500 to $20,000 for community-based programs, printed and audio materials, and hosting local events. This is a perfect way to stir up book-excitement in your community, focus attention on local libraries, and—in my opinion—improve the quality of life now and in the future by encouraging literacy rather than computer-game-induced obesity. Talk to your librarians, members of Friends of the Library, community leaders, and, of course, other writers, about applying for grant monies. Visit the NEA’s Big Read web site at ; or contact Paulette Beete at the NEA directly by phone at 202-682-5601 or via email at

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Vaidhyanathan and the Googlization of everything

Once research took painstaking effort and observation. Now a few clicks and a wealth of information pops up. What if in the future, nothing exists unless it can be Googled?

I discovered this blog through one of my web link adventures. It’s timely, considering how much Google permeates my life lately. (See my 9/20 and 10/26 posts about Google Book Search, and Google and the University of Illinois.) This site, is identified as “a book in progress” by Siva Vaidhyanathan, a historian, author and media scholar at the University of Virginia. Between this web site, and his main one at , there is a lot of good reading and thought-provoking commentary.

Vaidhyanathan’s blog and future book on Googlization looks at the impact of Google on our lives now and in the future. Ultimately, the book will answer the following questions:

  • What does the world look like through the lens of Google?

  • How is Google's ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge?

  • How has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states? (Vaidhyanathan, 2007).

The project is in conjunction with the Institute for the Future of the Book which is another web site that will happily occupy me for hours, and will probably get its own posting later.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Recently read: Janice Taylor’s Our Lady of Weight Loss

This is the most delightful book! It combines many of my favorite themes: collages, self-help, and, of course, advice for losing that extra 20 pounds I’ve had hanging around for years. Yes, I know it would be cheaper and more effective to just eat less and exercise more, but then I might have missed this book. Taylor describes her own pilgrimage to weight loss as she substituted making collages and art for overeating. Each chapter is devoted to one Lady—here are just a few of the 42: Our Lady of the Evelyn Wood School of Label Reading; Our Lady Suffers from Constant Cravings; Our Lady of the Sacred Snooze; Our Lady of Chocolate Dreams, Our Lady of the High-Calorie Burn, and the timely Our Lady of Holiday Madness. Interspersed are charming works of art not only of the various Our Ladies, but inspirational subjects (such as Ms Red Pepper and the Gratitude Girdle), Righteous Recipes, Pious Projects (when purifying your pantry, save the Macaroni and Cheese box—trust me on this), and Prickly Prayers. Visit her web site at and while you’re there, be sure to sign up for the Kick in the Tush Club.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Michael Schein: Poets, poetry readers, and other entrepreneurs

I met the poet Michael Schein at the San Francisco Writers Conference in February. Visit his site at for a good dose of poems. As Executive Director of Tieton Arts & Humanities, Schein is also involved in a broader range of creative endeavors. Visit for inspiration on how a small town can become a center for creativity, and a catalyst for entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Day

As many Americans travel today, I sit snuggly (and smuggly) at home. Tomorrow, Carl will be sitting in his tree stand, celebrating Thanksgiving with the Wisconsin tradition of deer hunting. My father and I will be dining sumptuously at our friends Leslie and Jim's house, giving thanks for our safety, our blessings, our families, our friends, and our community. Let the Holiday Season begin!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Writing the Midwest: Symposium of Scholars, Poets, Writers, & Filmmakers

A 1904 illustration by Arthur Becher, depicting the poem, "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe, the American fiction writer, poet, and literary critic.

Wordsmiths, thinkers, and image-makers will gather in East Lansing, Michigan, on May 10-12, 2008, for the 37th annual Symposium of Scholars, Poets, Writers, & Filmmakers. Hosted by Michigan State University, they are still accepting proposals for poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and films on Midwestern subjects, as well as criticisms. If your proposal is accepted, your work would be presented in a reading, paper, panel, roundtable or screening. I overlooked the due-date for proposals, which are due by December 1, 2007 (sorry for the short turn-around). This would be interesting to attend, and even more exciting to be a presenter. Contact Mary Obuchowski, Program Chair, at for information about submitting a proposal.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A. A. Milne and Brian Jones--linked by a house

Although inspired by Milne's classic character, this book is illustrated by Ernest Shepard and written by Anna Ludlow. For vintage children's books, visit

I love this quote from the creator of Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne: “One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.” That has become my battle cry now that I am about to give up on ever “feng-shui-ing” my office. Of course, maybe I should read the book, Pooh's Little Book of Feng Shui before I totally stop my struggles against encroaching paper, books, and clutter. In light of Milne's wittisism on disorderliness, one wonders what Milne would have thought of the book?

An interesting fact about Milne that you may or may not know is that he wrote an excellent mystery for adult readers in 1921 titled The Red House Mystery. This was one of the early works of the genre, which was still in its infancy and was being shaped and formed by, among others, Agatha Christy and Dorothy L. Sayres. Milne used the house he lived in as the model for the house in the book, as well as for the setting of the Pooh books. The Red House was in reality called Cotchford Farm, located in Sussex, England. Later in the 20th century, it was also the house owned by early Rolling Stone member Brian Jones, who died there under mysterious circumstances during a riotous party at the house in 1969.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Author Smart: Effective book proposals--a six-week course

It used to be much easier to find a publisher for your work back in the "olden days." Now, a writer needs to be a savvy publicist and marketing whiz as well as an author.

YouUniversity, offered through Author Smart ( ), has a six-week course beginning in January on writing your book proposal. Course information begins by saying, “Book publishing is a tough business. It is estimated that from 90% to 98% of book proposals are rejected by publishers.” This dire warning is in line with everything I’ve ever read or heard, and I’ve read and heard a lot. For years, I worked as a consultant writing proposals for health care business. A good proposal—whether for health care, a how-to book, or a memoir—produces results, i.e. a sale.
If you’ve got a well-developed idea, or even a nearly completed book, check out the course at . If you are tired of rejections, this will help. And even if you have never been rejected (I’m talking about book rejections—I don’t know if this course will help with your social life), this will give you that extra edge.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Recently read: Henning Mankell’s The Fifth Woman

I love these police procedurals written by this award-winning Swedish author. His detective, Inspector Kurt Wallander of Skane, is dedicated, likable, intelligent, and fraught with angst. He and his fellow officers must sort through the baffling and gruesome murders of a series of men who appear at first to have no enemies. Clues are sparse at first. We the readers are allowed glimpses into the murderer’s life, but many sleepless nights must pass for Wallander and his team before they can identify and finally capture the murderer. I enjoy all Mankell’s books, which are also translated beautifully. Each novel is worth reading on its own, but if you can start with the first one (Faceless Killers) and proceed chronologically, you can follow Wallander’s personal tribulations more easily. I like having these insights into life in modern Sweden, and the countries that surround it. The only complaint I have about this book—and it isn’t a factor in any of the other five Mankell books I’ve read—is that one series of clues that seems to be a subplot just peters out by the end.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Four easy ways to improve your day

A fifth way would be to spend some time in nature, like strolling along the banks of a creek, listening to the water bubbling over the river stones.

  1. Thank five people. This doesn’t need to be someone significant for doing something significant. Thank the person bagging at the grocery store for not making your bag too heavy. Thank the bank teller for brightening your day with his smile. Thank a veteran for what she's done. Thank your husband for making such a good pot of coffee . . . you get the picture.

  2. Step outside at home or at the office and breathe deeply a couple times. Notice how the air smells, and how it feels—is it crisp or muggy?

  3. Only eat sitting down today. And use a plate and utensils, not your fingers.

  4. Declare today a non-news day. Don’t listen to the radio, TV or Internet news, and don’t read a newspaper today. If that’s too hard for you news junkies, then just catch the news from one source for a limited amount of time.

Friday, November 9, 2007

New books by authors in my writer networks

One can never have enough books! There's still plenty of room left on my bedside bookshelves to stack more.

Some books newly released, or soon to be released, by authors I know through my various writing networks include:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A cold winter due to expensive fuel is possible despite global warming

Carl has been stockpiling wood for this winter since early last spring. We’re lucky because we have an energy efficient house, plus an outside wood boiler and lots of wood on our land. The brand is Central Boiler and that’s the roof of it showing behind the wood stack. (see )

Today’s news headlines on the Minnesota Public Radio station I listen to in the mornings ( see )noted that the cost of oil climbed to more than $98 a barrel today. This is almost twice as much as the cost last January. Between global warming (I’m a Gore-supporter in this issue) and the politics of oil here in America and around the world, we really do need to focus on energy conservation and renewable energy sources. Check out the Focus on Energy web site for useful information on such relevant topics as energy-efficient appliances, fuel assistance, weatherization, and energy education.( )
Want something easy to do right now that will lower your heating costs? Turn your thermostat down two degrees.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Recently acquired (new category—I can’t read all the time): Judy Reeves’ A Creative Writer’s Kit

This delightful little packet isn’t really a book, nor is it a planner. Its subtitle is “A Spirited Companion & Lively Muse for the Writing Life.” A tiny book titled “Prompts and practices” and a collection of large cards with suggestions comes in a small box. Beautifully written and produced, it’s a nice addition to any writer’s repertoire of reference materials. Visit Reeves’ web site at
This will help you as you work on your novel for National Novel Writing month (see my post on October 28).

Friday, November 2, 2007

Participate as a reviewer in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition

So many books, so little time.

Amazon, with Penguin publications and Publishers Weekly, is sponsoring a new contest called their Breakthrough Novel Award. Online readers will participate in the screening and in the judging. Because only 5,000 entries are accepted, the registration limit is closed. You may, however, register by November 5 and be put on a stand-by list.

The editors will review the 5,000 accepted entries, and publish a 1,000 word excerpt online. This excerpt will then be reviewed by Amazon readers. The winner will receive a $25,000 advance (gulp!) and publication by Penguin. This is a great marketing idea on the part of the sponsors, plus it allows them, as one reviewer noted, to “take the pulse” of the reading and online buying public.

Even though I’m not going to submit my novel this year, I’m going to participate in the reader reviews, and you bet I’m going to keep my eye open for it next year (I’ll let you know). When I am signed on to Amazon, I can put Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in the search field and it brings up the competition’s web page. I cannot bring it up unless I’m signed on. So, for more information, go to and sign on.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

November 1

Today is All Soul's Day in English-speaking countries, and Dia de los Muertos in Spanish-speaking ones. This day--like many of our holidays and commemorative days--goes back to pagan times and encompasses most religions. Take a moment to reflect on those who have died, and then, like the Spanish in their Dia de los Muertos two-day festival, celebrate life.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

I loved this day when I was a kid: the costume parade in grade school, walking around the neighborhood with my friends and getting TONS of candy! What could be better? Now, it still serves as a delicious reason for nostaligia for childhood and a time when your parents could make bonfires of leaves in the yards and a child could walk safely in the evening.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Recently read: Barry Maitland’s The Verge Practice

My very favorite type of bedtime reading for many years has been British suspense books. I discovered Maitland within the last year, and find him a satisfying addition to others of this genre. A police procedural, Scotland Yard’s team of Detective Chief Inspector David Brock and Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla are well-developed heroes, with human quirks, yet not as angst-ridden as so many nowadays. In this book, they unravel the questions concerning the disappearance of a prominent architect, Charles Verge. Two of the questions are did Verge murder his nasty young wife before he disappeared, or is he dead, too? Another fun read. This particular book is seventh in the series of “Kathy and Brock” mysteries. My only complaint is that I hate it when a male character is called by his last name and a female character is familiarly called by her first. Give them equal status and call them BOTH by either their first names or their last names. A pet peeve of mine!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

November is National Novel Writing Month

Watch the clock and set your mind to write a certain number of minutes (or hours) a day.

Here’s the challenge—write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November (short month, so you only get 30 days!). Maybe this is the impetus you need to at least get going. You can make the commitment to JUST DO IT at this web site:

According to the web site, this is “a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.
Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.”

Friday, October 26, 2007

Google and the University of Illinois

Photo of the front doors of the main library on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is from the University's web site at

My Fall 2007 Friendscript Newsletter for Friends of the University of Illinois Library had an article that it, and other members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), are working with Google to scan up to 10 million volumes that will then be available to the public. WOW!!! The CIC is a consortium of 12 academic research libraries in the Midwest, including the U of I. The Google Book Search Project will enable massive quantities of books to be searched and in many cases, read online. Descriptions of copyrighted material will be available, including how to buy or borrow the book. Public-domain material will be available to view and download. Information, including FAQ, is at or you can check out the Book Search Project at The web site for the University of Illinois Library is

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Recently Read: Paul Theroux’s Hotel Honolulu

I loved this book set in a Honolulu hotel over several decades. What a fascinating backstage glimpse into the hospitality world, which I know only as a customer. The narrator is a writer who isn’t writing and finds himself convinced he can manage a slightly seedy hotel that’s not quite close enough to the beach. We see through his disillusioned middle-aged eyes all the eccentric guests, the impossible employees, his family, the politics of the islands, and the tourism trade. We see the strict caste system of the Westerners, the Japanese, the Polynesians, and all the other groups who are not yet doing well at blending and melding into one united group of Hawaiians. We see the tourists who come looking for sun, peace, love, hope, and cost-savings. And sometimes we can even see little bits of ourselves in the characters. Each person and each incident are told with humor. The back summary of my edition compares the book to the Canterbury Tales, a description that is as good as one I can think of! A wonderful read, especially for those of us who live in cold northern climates and need some sunshine and warmth to fortify ourselves in the long winters.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Good Advice: Tips for Writing Press Releases

Good press releases will make you and your book "news" and get the media's attention. The goal is to get into a maximum number of publications, kind of like the sampling on my coffee table on a typical day.

Lesson # 26 of Joan Stewart’s “89 Ways to Write Powerful Press Releases” describes how taking a survey, then publishing the results can improve your sales and your visibility. Visit her Web site at and sign up for her tips of the week or press release tips. Stewart’s free emailed tips are slanted toward business, but are also pertinent to writers. We need to publicize ourselves and sell our books. If you are writing nonfiction, take a survey on the subject. For example, if you specialize in articles about computer forensics, take a survey on how many people have firewalls on their wireless computers. If you are writing fiction, take a survey on some aspect of your novel. For my novel The Pine Tap Bar and Bait Shoppe, I could survey people who are concerned about urban sprawl reaching rural areas. I know there is a survey function and instructions on blogspot, and—given how easy it is to blog here—I suspect that the survey function is pretty simple, too. Hmmmm . . . so watch here for upcoming surveys in the future.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Better presentations

Maybe you won't be as entertaining as a Hollywood movie, but you still can be an interesting and informative speaker.

Business writers, technical writers, editors, and freelance writers, even fiction writers, may find themselves having to make presentations to a roomful of people. The experience will be much easier if you have some visual aids prepared. PowerPoint has become the tool of choice for those many businesspersons, educators, and others who speak to groups—at least the choice of those who aren’t professional visual designers and computer gurus. Some tips:

  • Pick a design template that will be easy to read. Avoid dark backgrounds with light lettering. Some good ones in Word 2003 are Profile, Watermark, Pixel, Radial, Balloons, Layers, Axis, Capsules, Studio, Eclipse, Quadrant, Network, Level, Echo, Edge, Blends, and Crayons.

  • Word 2007 has increased graphic capabilities and you’ll have no trouble picking professional-looking styles. Just make sure the style is not too busy or has a dark background.

  • Have an opening slide that introduces you, the topic and the situation (e.g. Erica Hanson, Blogging as a educational tool, proposed article series).

  • Your final slide should act in the same way as the conclusion of a report or essay: summarize and restate the thesis.

  • Each slide should have a maximum number of five items—three are best. If your point has more items, use more slides.

  • Keep each line or item to less than eight words—five are best.

  • Include a photo, image, or artwork where you can.

  • For handouts, select the option to print multiple slides per page. This usually gives enough room for people to write notes relative to each slide. Or you can print out the information on the slides as an outline. No need to create handouts separately.

  • Read from your hardcopy or your computer—don’t keep turning around to read off the projected image.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A national market for young writers

Clip art from Dover publishing at
I get their free weekly sampler.

New Moon magazine for girls has won the Parents’ Choice Gold Award for the best children’s magazine six times. One reason for its success is that it really knows its market. The magazine is edited by the magazine’s Girls Editorial Board, composed of girls aged 8 to 14. Last year, the Girls Editorial Board decided that it would be perfect to have a feature article in the “Feed Me!” issue on chocolate, and who better to write it than 8-year-old resident Belle, whose mother, Kate Hearley, works at Legacy Chocolates in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

“Even though sometimes we search for girls to write particular articles, like we did with Belle, much of the content of the magazine comes from girls’ submissions,” said Catherine Conover, Associate Editor at New Moon. “Girls should send us their artwork, poetry, stories, articles, questions and responses for “Ask a Girl”—an advice column by and for girls—and letters to Luna, who is the spirit of New Moon magazine.”

New Moon magazine is based in Duluth, Minnesota, and for 13 years has been published for girls who want their voices heard and their dreams taken seriously. Adult staff work with the Girls Editorial Board to produce the award-winning magazine. Visit their web site at and encourage any young writer you know to submit their ideas.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Recently read: Robert Wilson’s The Blind Man of Seville

This is the first novel I read by Wilson, and it is responsible for getting me started on the works of this brilliant writer. A gruesome murder of a wealthy businessman sets off the mental disintegration of Inspector Jefe (Chief Inspector) Javier Falcon, of Seville’s homicide unit. This psychological novel carries the Jefe and the reader back and forth in time between the present and the past. The book takes us with the Foreign Legion in the 1930s and early 1940s to fight in Spain’s Civil War and then to Russia. We also find ourselves flitting between the palaces of the rich and the hidden streets of the poor in Tangier in the 1950s.

The present-day murder affects Falcon, forcing him to face his own fears (which he is not very brave about) as he tracks the murderer (which he IS very brave about). Reluctantly, Falcon struggles to confront his own past, particularly the relationship he discovers between his dead father—a world-famous artist who is not so famous in his other role of mercenary—and the dead man.

The vividness of the worlds of the Legion, the jet-set’s art crowd, bullfighters, the shadowy underworld of smugglers and hashish smokers, and modern politics and police in Spain are brilliantly depicted. The reader can see, hear, and smell the details. This is not a typical mystery novel, although the suspense is masterfully brought out page by page. Falcon, through the horrifying revelations of his father’s journal, learns the truth: both about himself, his family, and the murder. Well worth reading.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Critique service for fiction

Writing is a solitary occupation. Online or in-person critique services and workshops help.

In my Written Communications class, one of the things I am constantly preaching is that the more eyes reading, the better. While friends and family are helpful, when you are serious about getting published, nothing beats having a professional do some constructive editing. At the San Francisco Writers Conference in February, I met the Montana author Teresa Bodwell, who was one of the fiction workshop speakers. She is one of the many people with whom I keep in touch. Recently she emailed me that she and several other writers have started a critique group. Be sure to check out the web site at In addition, they hold workshops on writing. There is one starting on Monday (sorry for the late notice) 10/15 through 10/26, titled “Hook’em and Hold’em.” There are a number of other workshops scheduled at

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Help from UW in getting that novel published

The University of Wisconsin’s Liberal Arts & Sciences Writing Program is hosting “A Weekend with your Novel,” the annual fall mini retreat. It will be held November 2 through November 4, 2007, in Madison. Designed for writers who are sick of rejections or who want to accelerate their path to publication, the retreat includes a number of workshops, and a hands-on critique session. Sign up by October 12 for cost savings. See the web site at or call 608-262-7942. You can sign up on the web site for notices about their many online writing workshops as well as other events including conferences.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Recently Read: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love

This book is a treat! Gilbert is a magnificent writer who writes of her metaphysical journey and her physical journey with humor, wisdom, and a lot of chutzpah. With the breakup of her marriage, and then the breakup of her post-marriage love affair, Gilbert finds herself yet again in despair and quivering on a bathroom floor. Gilbert decides enough is enough. She sets off on her journey (financially assisted by an advance on this book, let me point out with envy). First, to Italy to eat, eat, eat. She is drawn there by her sheer love of the sound of Italian with a mission is to learn the language. Her adventures include making a new dear friend, Guilo, who points out that cities, countries, and even people can be identified through a single word. Gilbert decides her word is SEEK. So seek she does, and is off next to India to pray, pray, pray. Her description of her meditations, her friendships, and her thoughts are insightful, inspiring, and sometimes irreverent. Note: her journey is to countries beginning with “I” so it is appropriate that the book also can be described with “I” words.

From India, she heads to Bali in Indonesia to study wisdom at the feet of her next teacher, an elderly medicine man. Again, she shares generously with the reader her thoughts, fears, embarrassments, and all that she learns is also ours. And it is here in Bali that her path crosses a man from Brazil, and she can now express herself through love. Well worth reading for anyone who has engaged in a bit of self-exploration or traveled, or anyone who has ever WANTED to do a little self-exploration or traveling.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The cliché

English writer Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

A while back at our Writers Guild meeting, Vicki read one of her pieces that was, as usual with her writing, filled with poetic, original and evocative phrases and metaphors. And as usual, the rest of us were awestruck by her ability to coin the perfect image from common words (I wish I’d written them down, because I can’t recall them now.) At one point, Raina noted, “In another 20 years, that will be a cliché.” That is so true. A phrase may be a cliché now, but the first few times it was fresh and so apt it ultimately became overused. Vicki’s writing is brilliant, and if a cliché evolves, it is because no one else will be able to say it better.

Clichés can evolve from bad writing, too. Bad writing, however, can have its uses, particularly in the case of Bulwer-Lytton, whose bad writing was nevertheless a foray into what was then still a new art form. Think of him as Picasso in his Blue Period on a very bad art day.

The writers’ joke about bad writing always plays on English writer Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. The first sentence of his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, set today’s standard for bad, clichéd writing:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

What is now the modern novel was still a new form of writing then, and Bulwer-Lytton, for all his faults, was nevertheless a pioneer in a field that has enraptured the public since Defoe’s book Robinson Crusoe was published. No longer were fictional works confined to short pieces, or epics, or tragedies based on Greek stories. Yes, Bulwer-Lytton’s sentence was unintentionally bad to modern readers (and has anyone actually read the rest of the book in the last 160 years?), but so are a lot of other sentences. An INTENTIONALLY bad sentence, however, can be fun. For proof of that, visit to read up on the annual contest for bad sentences.

By the way, the 2007 winner is from my former stomping grounds of Madison, Wisconsin. Jim Gleeson’s winning entry is:

"Gerald began -- but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them "permanently" meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash -- to pee."

Ya gotta love it!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Research, books and intellectual freedom

One of the things I love about the Internet is zeroing in on something unexpected, kind of a sedentary version of the thrill of the chase. By browsing one site, you can click on interesting links, and turn up all sorts of fascinating things. When I was searching for the Web site of the Children’s Book Co-operative, I noticed a link to the American Library Association (ALA). By following that link, I got to the blog created by the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom ( )

The ALA defines intellectual freedom as “the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored” The ALA further states that intellectual freedom is important for the following reasons: “Intellectual freedom is the basis for our democratic system. We expect our people to be self-governors. But to do so responsibly, our citizenry must be well-informed. Libraries provide the ideas and information, in a variety of formats, to allow people to inform themselves. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.” ( from )

As writers and readers, these precepts should be near and dear to our hearts.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Recently Read: Joseph Bruchac’s Foot of the Mountain and other stories.

This book is a combination of Native American folk tales retold by Joseph Bruchac, biographical essays, and selections from his personal journal. I have always been fond of folk tales, and have studied many Greek, Roman, British, French, Celtic, and Scandinavian stories and legends. I have also read a number of Native American tales over the years, but have read very little else about the beliefs and traditions of the many different Indian cultures. Bruchac’s book provides an excellent introductory glimpse into not only the Abenakis, but many of the Native tribes.

His stories dip in and out of various time zones: some are old, some contemporary, and one takes place in 1930. This nebulous relationship with time was hard for me to adjust to at first—I wanted to know when the event was happening, by golly! I wanted to place it in the context of dates and events. After the first several stories, however, I found myself adapting to a less linear context. This urge to have time defined is very WASP of me, and it is a measure of Bruchac’s literary skills that he was able to entice me beyond the European notion of time to one with fewer boundaries, where dates matter less than the eternal passage of the seasons. A fascinating read.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Google book search

A recent article in Artella’s Daily Muse ( ) explained how to use Google Book Search. I wasn’t familiar with this book search function. When I want to read online reviews, I would usually go to Amazon or to . This whole concept of Google’s, however, is pretty interesting. You can browse through which books are most popular, search for specific books or subjects, read reviews, create your own collection, and post reviews. This is a fascinating look into what is being read, and what readers’ reactions are. I think of it as highbrow eavesdropping! To check it out, visit

Friday, September 28, 2007

What worked and what didn't this week

My collage tag holder for "What can I do now."

It's been a while since I've shared one of my weekly "what works and what doesn't" ponderings. For those of you new to the blog, in my June 8 posting, I explained the background and what passes for "rules" in this exercise. This week, what worked is:
  • Focusing on health issues, having a reiki session with Judy Meinen (see )
  • Stepping back from some anger last week at work to deal with it calmly this week
  • Spending a great evening at the Lake Menomin Writers Series listening to Erin Hart talk about archeology and her books while listening to her musician husband, Paddy O'Brien, play traditional Irish music (see )
  • Quickly transfering some insights from my reiki session to collages

What didn't work is:

  • Having no large blocks of non-teaching time from Monday through Thursday
  • Letting some writing projects slide
  • Having my highest priority (finding an agent) be my lowest priority during the week
  • Being careless with book-keeping and finances

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Don't forget to submit your book for a Pulitzer

I'm back after having had a lot of restful sleep yesterday. Be sure to check the many contests, grants, and fellowships in The Money Corner. A number of them are for creative nonfiction and memoirs in addition to poetry, books, and short stories. I had no idea that the Pulitzer Prize is treated (initially at least) just like all the other contests--see the information on submissions. I have to wait a bit, though, before I think my writing is ready to submit the THAT contest!

Recently Read: Philip Kerr’s The Pale Criminal

This book is the second in Kerr’s Trilogy titled Berlin Noir, and picks up a few years after the first book. Set in 1938, as Hitler continues to lay the groundwork for his master plan, Bernie Gunther and other Berliners, like the rest of Europe, wonder when the war will officially begin. At the command of the head of Berlin’s Criminal Police department, and the highest ranks of Nazi government, Gunther reluctantly leaves his thriving private practice to return to the police force. His mission is to find the person who is ritualistically raping and murdering Aryan girls from nice, middle-class families. As he works at solving the murders, he is also finishing up a case from his private practice in which he must retrieve the love letters one rich man wrote to another rich man. As usual, Kerr blends the cases smoothly and adds a good dose of suspense to a dark glimpse into a city and its history.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sick leave

I'm taking this afternoon and tomorrow off for one of the many Dreaded Middle-Age Medical Procedures (DMAMPs). I should be back in fine blogging fettle on Wednesday, at which time I'll do a new post and a new jigsaw.