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

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.