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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Perennial Reading: E.F. Benson’s six books in the “Make Way for Lucia” series

E.F. Benson's home in Rye, East Sussex. The house is "Mallards," in Tilling, in the Lucia novels.
These books, written by English author E.F. Benson between the two World Wars, are some of the most delightful novels of the 20th century. That is not a statement that this Constant Reader (that would be me) makes lightly! I discovered E.F. Benson in the late 1980s, and have read and re-read each one, in order, every few years ever since. I’ve just finished Part 4 (in which Mapp and Lucia disappear during the floods, last seen by the anxious residents of Tilling clinging to Lucia’s kitchen table as the tide rushed them into the English Channel) for probably the seventh time, and am about to immerse myself in Part 5. The books, which are still in print and available, often with an introduction written by author Nancy Mitford, consist of the following titles:
Part 1: Queen Lucia
Part 2: Lucia in London
Part 3:Miss Mapp
Part 4: Mapp and Lucia
Part 5: The Worshipful Lucia
Part 6: Trouble for Lucia

The books chronicle the daily lives of the upper-middle class residents of two fictional English towns. The effects of war, politics, economic woes, and other pesky issues that might have bothered other people during those years take a back seat to the truly important mattes like “why does Daisy’s ouidja board always repeat “Lucia is a snob,” will Miss Mapp ever capture Major Flint in matrimony, and will Lucia, whose Machiavellian yet invigorating management of her circle of friends, ever fail at anything she sets her mind to do? These gentle books, whose characters three generations of readers have loved and cheered, are a perfect anodyne to today’s world of speed, sex, and noise.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Grammar Vandal

When I walk upstream from my house in the country, there are no billboards to annoy me--with or without grammatical errors.

When I was in Madison in mid-July, I noticed that the metro bus stops around the Capitol Concourse were each decorated with a different theme . One was whitewashed, with the words, “It’s you’re [sic] stop” painted on it. Of the three words, two are commonly misused. The artist got one hard one right, but wasn’t quite up to writing a three-word English sentence correctly. Someone had scratched at the paint and corrected “you’re” to “your” using proofreader’s marks.

The following week, I was listening to Wisconsin Public Radio as is my wont when driving (no, “wont” is not supposed to have an apostrophe since it is the word meaning “habit,” not the contraction). I heard a wonderful interview with the Grammar Vandal. The Vandal is a young woman who takes the step most of us are too timid to take. She perches on ladders, paint brush in hand, to correct the despicable grammar she sees on billboards, ads, signs, and even graffiti. Check the radio web site at and look for the July 23, 2007 show titled “Grammar Vandal Goes on Vigilante Comma Crusade” in the archives. The Vandal, Kate McCulley, also blogs. Check her out at

Friday, July 27, 2007

When “make collage” IS your “to-do” list

My 7/21/07 collage, "Through the Looking Glass." Stamps are from Talon Art Stamps, the pictures are from Altered Pages, the paper is from a local art supply store, and the blank book is from Flax Art. This is one of my intuitive collages.

At almost the same time that I began this blog, I learned about art collages and the sub-category of self-discovery collages. I’ve been so focused on words all my life. Now, having a visual, pictorial outlet for my thoughts, feelings, and goals, I’ve noticed a surge not only in my creative output of all types, but also in my ability to make things happen. So many people have asked me not only to post photos of some of the collages, but to explain more about them.

I have all the materials I need to create a collage at hand when I sit at my desk: paper, glue, scissors, X-acto blades, pictures, ink, stamps, and Sharpie pens (as opposed to Sharpie, my dog. He is usually in my office, too, but I don't consider him a collage supply). Sometimes I have a specific theme in mind (focus on goals, don’t take things so seriously, etc.). In that case, I select the materials and paste them in one of my altered books, or to small free-standing cards. Other days I use collages as a predicting device or a way to reveal something within. Those times, I blindly select the paper and main picture, and try to intuit what I need to express. It’s a lot of fun, not very costly, and I’ve been amazed at some of the results.

Here are some of the web sites that give me ideas, as well as provide supplies:

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Recently read: Philip Kerr’s March Violets

This book is the first in Kerr’s trilogy titled Berlin Noir. These books are well-researched novels of life in Berlin before World War II. The main character is Bernie Gunther, a former policeman who does not agree with the policies and laws of the powerful dictator, Hitler. As an independent investigator, Gunther is contacted by a wealthy industrialist to find some jewels missing from his daughter and son-in-law’s apartment, where they had been found burned beyond recognition. Gunther is puzzled why the distraught father is not more curious about his only child’s death. He finds he must carefully maneuver the complex and deadly politics of the Nazis, the SS Defense Squads, the SA paramilitary forces, and increasingly frightened citizens to track down missing persons, killers, and the secrets of others. Neither Gunther nor the reader can be sure who are trustworthy and who are operating under their own rules. As we follow Gunther through the dark days of Germany’s first steps into war, we can glimpse what life must have been like for those living in Berlin at that time.

The book’s title refers to a derogatory term coined by Nazis loyal to Hitler before March 1933, when Hitler officially took over as ruler of the German Democratic Republic. After his overwhelming victory by election, thousands of Germans rushed to join the Nazi party. By May, the party froze its membership, and thereafter referred to those members who joined between March and May as March Violets.

This book is a good read for history buffs, especially those interested in European history in the first half of the 20th century. Those who just like a good read regardless of the setting will also enjoy this.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Building your clip file (publishing credits) through local newspaper writing

My collage "Getting Things Done," created on 7/22/07.

It is hard to get paid for writing until you’ve gotten paid for writing, and it is hard to get published until you’ve gotten published—the writer’s conundrum. Whatever type of writing you want to do, even if you’re an experienced writer hoping to break into another field, you have to build up a clip file and publishing credits to show that yes, people (other than your mother) DO want to read what you write.

One way to do this is through articles and essays for local newspapers. If you live in a rural area, you are probably aware of the weekly newspapers, and free shoppers. Even urban areas have similar items. Sometimes these publications pay—sometimes not. Regardless, they are often thirsty for pieces of varying length, or need a writer on call who can write up the emergency town board meeting or interview the new business owner.

I write about 10 to 20 articles a year for a local newspaper. Sometimes I come up with ideas. Sometimes the editor calls me when she needs an extra writer. I am paid for each article—not a lot, but more than my expenses. And I have a nice amount of electronic clips and newspaper cuttings to show the world that I am a professional writer who can meet deadlines and write about a variety of topics. Read a recent article I wrote on horse—yes, HORSE massage at

Look around your area for publications, and make an appointment to talk to the editor. Come prepared with ideas of articles you could write for the paper. I know an editor of a medical journal who used to write an outdoor column four times a year. He had agreements with five weekly newspapers around Wisconsin. They printed his columns, sent him extra copies for his file, he got his name known as an outdoor writer, and they got excellent writing for the cost of some postage.

Be creative about ways to solve that conundrum and ultimately, get paid AND published. Can’t beat that!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Madison and memories

Shown are my altered textbook, Dynamics, turned to the "Lighten Up" page, my pre-trip pages "Going to Madison with my Sweetie," the latest in my series "Always Dance Barefoot," and two small reminder cards. Click on the photo to enlarge.

Last week I went back to Madison for four days of seeing friends, roaming around the marvelous Capitol Square, eating at restaurants that were new since we moved north, and reveling in nostalgia. Being a writer means you can indulge in this and have it be “work-related” since anything you do, see or think is a resource for your writing. Many people keep journals, especially writers. Your journal can help you get through a bout of blankness, document a great idea for a short story or news article, and provide details that are fresh rather than dredged from the back of your mind.

I have had an on-again/off-again relationship with journaling over the course of my life. I always have a notebook with me for ideas, and filled up several pages while perched on a stone bench on the Square. Since June, I’ve been also using art collage as a means of journaling. I find this foray into non-written expressiveness very satisfying. The photo shows some of the collages I did just before my trip down Memory Lane. In fact, now art collageing has become such an integral part of my day that I felt starved by being "collage-less" last week. We returned too tired on Thursday, but by Friday morning I was surrounded by scraps of paper and ink pads, and have created five new collages since the photo was taken.

Friday, July 20, 2007

San Francisco Writers Conference Writing for Change Conference

The following is adapted from an email from the SF Writers Group:

“The San Francisco Writing for Change Conference, August 23-25 at the Wilsey Conference Center in Grace Cathedral, will devote its attention to nonfiction writers who know their writing can make a positive difference. The conference motto is: CHANGING THE WORLD ONE BOOK AT A TIME. However, the impact of writing for magazines, newspapers, the internet and more will also be explored.

Keynoters will be Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom; Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect, How Good People Turn Evil; and Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations. . . .This event allows attendees the all important opportunity to network with these bestselling authors, nonfiction literary agents and eminent editors. Publishing houses (known for publishing important nonfiction works) will be a part of the event including Jossey-Bass, St. Martin’s Press, New World Library, Berrett-Koehler, Ten Speed Press, and more. . . . The SFWFCC begins with a welcome networking reception on Thursday August 23, followed by two full days of classes. The event also includes gourmet breakfasts and lunches prepared with locally grown, mostly organic produce and recyclable serving products! The registration fee of $395 also includes over 40 breakout sessions to choose from; all keynote presentations; and access to agents, editors and publishers. . . .Contact the directors--Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada--at 415-673-0939 or email them at Please visit the website for more information and easy on-line registration at

Monday, July 16, 2007

Recently read: Manuel Vazquez Montalban’s Southern Seas

I’m fond of detective stories set in unusual locations, whether that is a dusty town in West Texas or a city in Sweden. It’s nice to be reminded that there are other places for fiction to occur than New York City and Los Angeles. Through reading other blogs, I recently found an author with a number of books that fit the bill. Montalban’s eccentric detective, Pepe Carvalho, eats and drinks his way through his investigations, in a sensitive and atmospheric way that is reminiscent of some of the early Simenon mysteries. Written in 1979 and set in contemporary Barcelona, the author provides not only a good plot, but provides insight into post-Franco Spanish politics, as well as the ultra-rich and the powerful people who nonetheless have unhappy lives and are touched by crime. In this book, a rich businessman searching to recreate the lifestyle of painter Paul Gauguin disappears for months. Everyone, including his wife, assumes he went off to Tahiti in his hero’s footsteps. This seems to not have been the case, once he turns up dead in a building site he had connections with. I enjoyed this book until the end, when I felt the epilogue added nothing to the story and was merely gratuitous violence.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Start a writers’ group

Original members, left to right: Jon Hove, Erica Hanson, and Raina Clark. Photo by Deb Anderson, Dunn County News

One of the best ways to kick start your writing project—whether it is a specific book or you are changing direction from one form of writing to another—is to join a writers’ group. And if there isn’t one in your area, or it doesn’t fit your needs, then start one.

Several years ago, one of my friends asked me to start a writers’ group to help her get going on the cookbook she wanted to create. I was stalled on my novel, so it sounded like a good idea to me. I talked to the local bookstore owner and a few other book-lovers and writers, we decided on a day of the week (Tuesday), a time (6 p.m.), a place (a cafĂ©), and how often (once a month). I put up a few posters, sent a press release to the local newspaper, and on the second Tuesday of June showed up, looking “writerly,” at 6:00 at the coffeehouse.

It was easy for me to identify who was there for the writers’ group, and it was easy for them, apparently, too. We all looked experienced (read “over 30”), fairly academic, and were the only people with stapled sheets of paper clutched in our hands. By the following winter, we were officially sponsored by the public library and had our own page on its web site ( ). We developed guidelines and our mission, both of which are posted on the site.

Members bring copies of a 3 to 5 page selection, which he or she reads aloud. Each member comments on the piece. We are careful to start with positive feedback, and then offer concrete suggestions, such as, “I liked the way you provided vivid details of the first scene, and if you could add a similar level of detail to the final scene, it would help me visualize it better.”

Many of us are professional writers who are trying out a different type of writing. For example, I’m a technical writer venturing into novel writing, some are journalists working on fiction, one is a University public relations specialist working on her memoirs, a web designer is writing children’s books, and an engineering professor is working on his autobiography.

That first meeting has blossomed through the years into a solid group of close friends, my own completed novel, steady work on another member’s historic novel, progress for a number of people on their memoirs, a growing collection of children’s stories, and many other stories and poems. My friend’s cookbook? Well, so far she’s only been to one meeting, so I can’t include her in my list of successes.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Recently read: Lee Child’s The Hard Way

When you want to read a fast-paced thriller that is hard to put down, you can’t go wrong with one of Child’s Jack Reacher novels. This one is no exception. Even though Reacher is similar to all the other hard-boiled ex-military heroes of action books, Child does a better job of character development both of Reacher and of the various good guys and bad guys that pass through the pages.

In this book, Reacher is hired to find the kidnapped wife of a mercenary who is able to pull millions of dollars in cash from a secret place in his apartment. With every trail Reacher follows, the questions grow and few are answered. He discovers the wife’s small daughter also disappears, but his employer Lane doesn’t seem particularly eager to find the child. The book stretches from New York City across the Atlantic, as the clues pile up and the answers aren’t always the right ones. Where is all that cash coming from? What happened to Lane’s first wife? Why did the kidnapper specify what car should be used to drop off the money? What is so special about the vacant apartment building? It is a lot more fun for the reader to learn the final answers than it was for Reacher to track them down.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Life is a multimedia event

In one of my Master’s classes, we looked at how technology affects the education system now and in the future, and the impact of technology on learning. Education, along with news, politics, entertainment, and selling, can be categorized as “information delivery.” Like many people in their 50s, the rapid changes are both exhilarating and scary to me. I can stand in front of small and large groups of people and talk for hours (the Sage on a Stage system of education), but expect me to work a visual presentation? Create an animated one? Not without much angst. Regardless of personal feelings, there is very little likelihood of going back to the old ways. Some effects of technology on information delivery include:

  • Increased technology and rapid changes across all industries and fields means an increased need for post-secondary education, both initially for those first entering the workforce and recurrently for the rest of the workers. This in turn means teaching at the university and technical college level is becoming even more important.
  • Teaching tools affect the methodology, moving it from a human voice speaking from a warm body to high-tech devices where direct human contact is minimal, if at all.
  • Changes in the delivery of courses mean students can live anywhere—not just near a campus. Distance learning and web-based courses are being offered at an increasing level.

Because I teach multicultural communications as well as business writing, I am collecting a variety of blogs and sites that represent a wide range of media. And, since communications should be enjoyable, I particularly like things that amuse me. These are just a hoot! (now this is a creative medium!) (look for Algorithm March with Ninjas. Two will play—the first one has a translation, the second has Ninjas)

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Earning money while waiting for the world to discover you have written a best seller

In 1990, I was asked to serve on the board of the Council for Wisconsin Writers ( ). The other board members were university faculty, editors, and a literary agent. I was completely intimidated by all these high-powered people, and wondered how I ended up being asked to serve on the Council board with them. At my first board meeting, when I explained that I was a technical writer for the State of Wisconsin, everyone gasped. That made me feel even more intimidated—but just for a moment. Almost immediately, everyone started talking at once, saying things like, “you are so lucky. . . we need someone on the board who actually earns a living writing . . . how did you get your job?”

I have earned a good living as a writer for 30 years. I've written for the private sector as an employee and as a freelance consultant, and also for state government as an employee. And I still am asked how did I get so lucky as to be able to earn a living as a writer, and what is my advice for getting a job as a technical writer?

My first professional job after college was in health insurance. When upper management noticed I could write, I was moved into the Communications Department. The career of Technical Writer did not exist at that time. Now, it is a growing field and covers a wide range of categories. Because I am asked regularly and often about technical writing, I thought I’d include a series of essays on the subject, including discussions of some of the categories such as Grant Writing. Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, July 5, 2007

This moment in life

I have changed the direction of my life at fairly regular intervals during my five decades of living, and many people I know are doing the same. This can happen because of circumstances such as loss of a job, or the desire to do something different with your remaining life. In the early 1990s, I had one of my regular life-crises, in which I examined what I’m doing, assessed how comfortable I was with my life at that moment, and looked at what I wanted. During that particular introspective period, I came up with a tag line to describe how I want my life to be, and it continues to serve me well. It is: “I want a job that I love to get up for in the morning, and that increases my prosperity.” Part of this process is knowing when to take a risk, rather than playing it safe. (Note: use a little bit of caution and make sure you have a safety net of some sort, such as a day-job, sufficient savings or a supportive partner.)

To make life-changes happen, I must be in touch with myself, aware of the present moment, and willing to take a risk. A writer and musician I know, Kenton Whitman, writes about living a life that is rooted in the moment. One of his recent postings expresses this view exactly, “It’s all about discovering this very moment, and finding that if we stop trying to force life into little boxes, it blossoms in infinite perfection. The magic answer is that we don’t have to work hard to live an amazing life – we just have to cease all the habitual effort we usually apply to trying to force life into boxes. In this way, our life becomes amazing when we stop trying so hard. Yes, it sounds like a paradox, but it’s also a truth you can discover for yourself” (Whitman, June 29, 2007). Visit his web site, Zen-Inspired Self Development, at .

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Happy Fourth of July

Other facts about July 4, in addition to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, are:

  • The U.S. Military Academy opened at West Point in 1802
  • Hawaii was declared a republic in 1894
  • The poem “America the Beautiful” by Katherine Lee Bates was published as a hymn in 1895
  • Louis Armstrong was born in 1900
  • The Philippine Islands were declared independent in 1946
  • President Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act in 1966

Facts courtesy of On This Day at

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July. Remember those who came before us, those with us now, and those who will follow us.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Recently read: Iain Pears’ The Last Judgement

I enjoy this series, although if you prefer hard-boiled or intense action, this may not be the book for you. If, on the other hand, you like low-key characters, mainly European settings (Italy in particular), and art and/or art history, Pears’ books will liven some of your summer evenings.

Art historian and sometime art dealer, British Jonathan Argyll lives in Italy with his Italian girl friend, Flavia. Jonathan’s easy-going ways, and his constant bad luck, are kept in line by the masterful Flavia, who also happens to be a police officer in the art squad. Each book in the series revolves around a painting, delving into art techniques, the shady side of the art world, lots of history, and lovely scenery. This one involves a dodgy art sale (of course), an uninspired painting that no one understands why it’s valuable, and the methodical solution by Jonathan, Flavia, and a wealth of international cops and robbers. Fun, frothy conundrum. If you like deeper—and longer—books, pick up his Instance of the Fingerpost set in England in the 1660s. Think of it as an English Name of the Rose.