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.