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, June 29, 2008

School of the Arts at Rhinelander

The University of Wisconsin and a number of community partners and donors sponsor this week-long series of workshops in the beautiful north woods at Rhinelander, Wisconsin. It begins July 20 and runs through July 25. Individual workshop enrollment is on a first-come, first-served basis, so it pays to enroll early at or The excellent curricula include classes on Art/Folk Art, Computer Arts, Mind/Body/Spirit, Music, Photography, Theater/Drama, and Writing. Skill levels run from beginner through advanced. A friend of mine is enrolled in the writing series this summer and I am envious. You can earn university credit, network, recharge your creativity, learn new things, and start each day (if you are an early riser—I’m not) with yoga at sunrise. How good is that? This is deep in the pine forests of Wisconsin with lakes and vistas at every turn. For those of you who are trying to find it on a map, it is WAY up north!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Books, blogs and traditional coverage

One of my reading spots: there's never a doubt that books are important at my house.

There was an interesting program recently on public radio about changes in traditional coverage of literature and publishing. Some of the reasons for this include the growth of blogs and web sites that provide reviews and opinions. Yes, my blog would be one of those! Guests on the program included Steve Wasserman: Director of literary agency Kneerim & Williams and former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review; C. Max Magee: Editor of The Millions, a Web site about books, reading, and the book culture; and Chris Lavin: Senior Editor for special sections at the San Diego Union Tribune. Listen to the program on Minnesota Public Radio here Note: when I double-checked this link, I got the MPR web site and a statement that the program was not found. I searched using the agency Kneerim & Williams and got the program and the same link, so it’s still available.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Recently read: Graham Thomas’ Malice on the Moors

This series with London’s Detective-Chief Superintendent Erskine Powell takes us to yet another location in Britain when the locals call in the murder specialists on Powell’s team. This time it is the death by snake of a much-hated landowner. Too many suspects with motives, but how can the fog and a poisonous snake become murder weapons? This series and this book are good, readable British police-procedurals in the category that I think of as the English Copper Cozy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Agents to represent you and your novel or memoir

Although I’ve not (yet) gotten an agent for my novel, The Pine Tap Bar and Bait Shoppe, I’ve had some requests to see more after my initial query, which is a big step. For memoirs, while technically nonfiction (well, that’s debatable given recent news stories about memoirs revealed as fiction), the guidelines for publication are generally the same, unless you are already famous. The best path to have a memoir published is via an agent rather than direct contact with an editor. Here are a few suggestions for those of you who have not yet started your agent-quest, or feel you need some new ideas:

  • Writers Digest, online, in books, courses, and in their monthly publication, is the single best source for ALL a writers needs. See their web site at
  • Agent quest, an online agent search site, makes it easy to narrow your search. I like that I can quickly see what authors and books an agent represents. If I like who is represented, I assume the agent may also like my work. See
  • Keep tabs on agent blogs. Here’s one I just learned about: Note: you should get the blog of a NYC agent who rejects 95% of the submissions she receives—reminds me of the site of Miss Snark who “retired” last year. Beware, however, because I tried three times to get the blog—there is some sort of “adult” web site that can snag you.
  • Plan on attending book events in your area (or farther afield, if you can afford the cost and the time). I post upcoming fairs, conferences, workshops, and other events that offer writers not only advice, but also connect them with agents and publishers. Like most industries and professions today, nothing beats networking. Book events can be the best source for writers to network. Scroll down past the jigsaw puzzle for current ones.

Monday, June 23, 2008

2008 Maui Writers Conference & Retreat

This is the extravaganza sponsored annually by Writers Digest. Is this a dream event for writers or what? Held in Honolulu this year, the retreat is from August 22 to August 28, followed by the conference itself from Friday, August 29 to Monday, September 1. For information, visit You can also sign up for the conference’s online resources for a reasonable price at the same site. I don’t think this particular event is on my horizon in the near future, but I like to visualize being asked to be one of the many extraordinary speakers at some future conference!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blog publications: O Tempora! and Parachute Poetry

Image from Dover Publishing at

There is a new literary magazine slated to come out sometime this year using the blog as its platform. It is looking for poets and writers. It will be published on its blog at which is also where you’ll find the submission guidelines for poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

Parachute Poetry Blog is looking for poems—any subject and any style. You can submit up to six poems a month. Visit to check it out.

I am intrigued by this . . . hmmmm, I like it. Look at the little kids in the illustration . . . instead of a book, picture a laptop!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Recently read: Linda Woods and Karen Dinino’s Journal Revolution

I love the words and pictures by these sisters. I often laugh out loud at their wry comments and witty suggestions. The subtitle of this book not only clarifies the content, but showcases their humor: Rise up and create! Art journals, personal manifestos and other artistic insurrections. The Table of Contents carries on the theme, with chapters titled “Tactical Maneuvers,” “Crack the Code,” and “Take Cover.” You gotta love it! The beautifully illustrated book contains step-by-step details on a variety of techniques to use in your collages, as well as recommendations to increase creativity and productivity.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chasing the elusive agent

There are many books, web sites, workshops, and magazines designed to provide fiction and nonfiction writers with advice and assistance in getting published. I was lucky in that a publisher contacted me to write a book, hence the creation and publication of A Cultural History of the United States through the Decades: The 1920s (Lucent Books, 1998, )

Now, with my novel ready and another history book percolating, I realize just how easy getting that first book in print was. Because Lucent publishes series books for middle and high school children, they will not be interested in my other books. So . . . I’m pounding the keyboard sending agent queries.

In general, for fiction, you will need to have your novel finished. Agents are rarely interested in seeing bits and pieces of an untried (i.e. unpublished) novelist’s book. Don’t query until your novel is done—nothing would be worse than querying an agent who asks to see your book and having to reply, “um. . . I haven’t finished it yet.”

For nonfiction, you can query agents or directly contact editors at publishing or book preparation firms. For these, you will need a book proposal, which presents your justification for why the world needs your book as well as a detailed outline and several finished chapters.

I’ll provide some details for both fiction and nonfiction queries in upcoming posts. I will be focusing on traditional print publishing in these posts. Self-publishing and print-on-demand have different benefits, limitations, and rules. I’ll cover them separately.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Happy Web Site

I love this site: by Dr. Barbara Ann Kipfer. I check in every morning to see what things to be happy about that day. Click on the other links in the delightful drawings on the home page—Wisdom Well is another place I visit often. Oh, and the Karma Cabin, too. And . . . okay, so ALL of them are charming and insightful. Don’t be fooled by the lighthearted artwork or playful attitude—there are some serious things here that provide excellent advice as we struggle with life today. As a happy person myself, I do believe in taking pleasure in the big and small things in life—the momentous occasions, yes—but also the minutia of daily life. Here is my own list for today:

  • Dogs who yawn when humans speak

  • Sun-dried sheets

  • Hummingbirds

  • A new book by a new author

  • A bath in Epsom salts

  • An email from a friend

  • Sun-ripened fruit

  • Kenyan coffee.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Global Voices Advocacy: freedom of expression through a bloggers’ network

Global Voices Advocacy is dedicated to building a network of bloggers and other online folks dedicated to freedom of expression and fighting censorship. Visit

One of their recent projects was aimed at the United Arab Emirates’ recent attempt to block web sites it deems “morally harmful and offensive.” Censorship is a tricky and complex issue, however, and I’m not clear myself on what—if anything—should be restricted and by whom. Somehow, I doubt I would agree with what the UAE deems harmful and offensive and therefore stopping the UAE from censorship is on my “good” list. However, I’m not against all censorship. For example, web sites for pedophiles and violence toward women and children I believe should also be censored, as should hate groups.

It keeps getting trickier. When does freedom of expression, art, and innovation start (good) and the worthy-of-censorship (bad) end? For example, many of Jack London's books were banned in Italy and Yugoslavia between World Wars I and II. In the U.S., a school district in Missouri blithely banned Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in 1980, while J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was banned in certain schools in six states in the 1970s and 80s. Do I even need to mention that I totally disagree with the banning of these books?

Government is not necessarily the best arbitrator—the UAE is a good example of a government that I believe should not be allowed to decide. Closer to home, there was that whole episode when Bush’s original Attorney General John Ashcroft (remember him?) decided a statue of Justice was offensive and the taxpayers had to spend $8,000 to cover it. Again, this was NOT an example of when the government’s censorship was acceptable. On the other hand, I don't really believe that censorship should be based on what the average citizen thinks, either. I have no answers to the question of censorship. This issue, which has been around almost as long as humanity, will continue to be one that has no pat answers.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Recently read: Joanne Harris’ Five Quarters of the Orange

Harris is a novelist and food writer (what a wonderful career combination!) who draws on her French mother’s heritage for both subjects. This book, which has the dreamy vague quality of literary writers like Joyce Carol Oates and Henry James (neither of whom are big favorites of mine), is worth wading through the vagueness. By the time I’d gotten past the first 100 pages, I was captured by the plot and the complex characters, not to mention how it weaves childhood in Nazi-occupied France with the present day.

The narrator returns to her the village where she lived until 1942. Her memories and understanding of what was happening then were limited by the fact she was only nine years old. Now, in her sixties, she comes to grips with a secret she holds, long memories in the country town, and a truly dysfunction family.

Friday, June 13, 2008

National Conference for Media Reform, the Free Press, and the wrath of Murdoch’s Minions

In a posting last week, I noted that thousands of journalists and others interested in media reform were gathering at a conference in Minneapolis. They have now gathered and returned home, but I hope the work they've started will continue. The issues they examined should be central to the hearts of all writers. I hope this movement blossoms into action among all of us who believe in the truth and freedom of the written and spoken word.

The following from the Arkansas Times, 6/11/08, quoted on the Free Press web site, sums up the conference well: ‘Consolidation is the root of media evil,’ Moyers said [Bill Moyers was one of the speakers at the conference]. ‘As conglomerates swallow up newspapers, magazines, publishing houses and broadcast outlets, news organizations are folded into entertainment divisions. The news hole in the print media shrinks to make room for ads, celebrities, nonsense and propaganda, and the news we need to know slips from sight.’ And he cited the placement of government propagandists in mainstream media as a symptom of journalism in crisis. ‘You couldn't find a more revealing measure of the state of the dominant media today than the continuing ubiquitous presence — on the air and in print — of the very pundits and experts, self-selected message multipliers of a disastrous foreign policy, who got it all wrong in the first place.’” (see ).

For additional coverage of the conference as well as more information on the Free Press movement, see You can access videos of many of the program sessions, read articles and blog postings from those attending, as well as video clips and references to the teeth-gnashing done by Rupert Murdoch’s minion, Bill O’Reilly. As one of the bloggers said, “When Bill O'Reilly goes after you, you must be doing something right. So we've decided to return the favor, and tell him two things: (1) Thanks so much for the compliment and (2) please stop pretending to be a journalist.” (see )

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Blogging as a teaching tool: Part 2

(For Part 1, see posting of June 5, 2008)

After six weeks of blogging, the Oral/Interpersonal classes had to give a reflection presentation and the Written class had to write a reflection paper. Only two of the 60+ students were negative. The rest raved. The primary comment was how they enjoyed reading a viewpoint that was miles away from their own. One student said she hated one of the assignments and couldn’t understand it. She kept reading it over and over—and suddenly she "got" it. She beamed as she described what it felt like to her to understand something she thought was beyond her. Other students reported starting their own blogs, subscribing to various feeds from the assigned sites, and said they appreciated that they could now interact professionally on the web.

The reflections also required that they give me suggestions on how to improve the assignments. Once I teach again (probably this fall), I plan on implementing all of their suggestions. These were:

  • They suggested there be two weeks of getting used to signing in, writing comments, and reading BEFORE having graded blog-assignments.
  • I would post the week’s assignment on Sunday morning, and it was due the next Saturday at midnight. Way too generous, and some of them thought they had to do the work just on Sunday (I'm not sure why they figured that). Next time I will have it run from some time on Monday and have the assignment due at 5 p.m. on Friday.
  • My rubrics with my comments and their grades didn’t have the assignment numbers or topic titles, which confused them (and me). This was a problem at the end when they wanted to look back at the assignments and couldn’t tell which was which.
  • They wanted to do it for longer than six weeks—they felt they were just getting going.

In the future, I will expand the blogging aspect of my classrooms to at least 12 weeks. I had an extra credit blogging assignment, but I was not impressed by the results. I probably won’t use it again as a vehicle for extra credit. Although my classes were face-to-face, I think one could use blogging in an online class. This is because the online work is private, so the public presentation of themselves in a professional manner is still valuable through the medium of a blog. One of my professors in graduate school tried using a wiki as an additional tool for the online class, but I think a blog works better. You can visit the two blog sites by going to View my complete profile, scrolling down, and selecting either Erica’s Communication Class or Erica’s Writing Class.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Serious writers spend a lot of time in the prewriting phase

My grandfather made this writing desk and chair. My grandmother wrote letters at it. I've done some prewriting, journaling, and letter-writing while seated there.

There is an excellent essay on the writing process by Deanna Mascle at Note how well Mascle explains the prewriting process—this is a key component for being a successful, serious writer. Here is a quote from her blog:

“The theory of writing process begins with prewriting or invention stage. This is when you may need to do brainstorming, research, and planning to get started with your writing project. This is the stage that struggling writers spend the least time on and experienced writers spend much more time as they know that more attention and thought at this stage can save time and effort later. This stage may have a lot to show for it in terms of prewriting and research or it might take place primarily inside the writer’s brain. This depends on the individual writer, the complexity of the task, and the familiarity of the writer with the task." (Mascle, Renaissance Woman blog)

I am currently in the early prewriting phase of a history book. I’m slowly pondering the outline, drafting a book proposal, querying publications about articles on the subject, working my way through the research, and will soon start scheduling interviews. I am still a long way from starting the writing phase. But—by the time I start, because I’ve invested time in the prewriting stage, the book will practically write itself.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Recently read: Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating

This book is a scholarly treatise by a respected expert in food psychology, well documented, full of facts, and convincing. Having said that, this also a HILARIOUS book that’s well-written and reads as easily as any paperback novel.

Dr. Wansink spent many years in my hometown of Urbana, Illinois, doing research on what makes people eat. Currently, he’s the Director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. He examines how, among other things, marketing, placement, serving size, personality, and our minds make us eat more, eat less, eat snacks, and all the other habits that result in good health, optimum weight, poor health or blubber.

Carl’s nutritionist recommended this book. After he read it, he passed it along to me. We both read a lot of books on healthy lifestyle and diet. Mindless Eating was an eye-opener for both of us. Learning the truth about comfort foods is worth the cost of the book right there and there is so much more. For example, you can learn how the “health halo” results in our eating MORE. Plus, you can hardly read a page without laughing at such experiments as the endless soup bowl that sprayed soup, the date’s reaction to rotgut wine with the high-priced label, the navy cook’s tale of yellow-jello, or—my personal favorite—the Manly Man eating syndrome. Dr. Wansink’s research showed that men rated other men’s manliness by how much they ate. Manly Man eating is summarized at the end of the description of the research by Dr. Wansink this way:

“So does Brad’s Macho-Man-Savage appetite impress the ladies? We did this same study with 140 college women. While the manly eating Brad may have been impressive to his male readers, his charm was lost on the ladies. They didn’t think he was any stronger, more aggressive, or more masculine that the ‘couple handfuls’ version of Brad. He also wasn’t any more of a bench-pressing stud-muffin. There are a lot of things we guys do to impress women. Eating all of our popcorn at the movies is probably one we can cross of our list,” (p. 102).

Friday, June 6, 2008

Media reform

This weekend in Minneapolis there is a conference sponsored by Free Press (see its web site at ). The conference, with speakers that include Dan Rather, Bill Moyers and Arianna Huffington, is focused on media reform, specifically bringing the media from under the control of corporations and back to the people. According to its web site, Free Press is a nonpartisan organization and “[t]hrough education, organization and advocacy, we promote diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal access to communications.” As the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of editors, I think returning to independent ownership and being freed from the big money yoke of corporate agenda is a good thing. I learned of the conference from a friend who is attending the conference. I’ll keep you up-to-date on what happens.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Blogging as a teaching tool: Part 1

Last fall, I had my two Oral/Interpersonal Communications and my Written Communications classes participate in blogging for six weeks. The technical college where I’m a part-time adjunct didn’t need me this spring; otherwise, I would have had my classes blogging again. Recently I received an email from another blogger who also teaches. She wanted to know my thoughts on this, so I’ll share them.

My intent was to have them become used to presenting themselves professionally on the Internet. The reactions were negative at first: what’s a blog? Why can’t we do Facebook? I can’t get logged in. My password doesn’t work. It took about two weeks of coaxing, explaining, and training them how to log in and how to write comments.

Once that phase got handled, I was amazed at how positive everyone became. I had them read a weekly assignment, and then post a comment. The assignments varied between something I wrote, something in another person’s blog, and something in the mainstream media such as a program on NPR or an article in a news magazine. They were graded on how well their comments reflected comprehension of the reading matter, showed original thinking, and how well they wrote. There was a lot of indignation that they couldn’t use text message shortcut words.

At the end of the six weeks, students had to reflect on the blogging assignments. I’ll discuss this in detail, as well as what I learned, in a few days. You can visit the two blog sites by going to View my complete profile, scrolling down, and selecting either Erica’s Communication Class or Erica’s Writing Class (or visit both).

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Copyright—when something is not in the public domain

If something is NOT in the public domain that means the work is subject to copyright according to either the law or the creator’s specified instructions. Sometimes the words or images are in the public domain, but the publisher now has the rights for that format. Be sure to find out what the publisher or copyright owner states regarding usage (the publisher may be the web site or blogger). Then follow those rules.

I look for a statement that indicates the words or images may be used, as long as the source/creator is identified. For my blog, I credit the creator and provide a link to the source. For example, the images I use from Dover Publishing are always credited and linked—this promotes them. Same with the WPA images I used a lot this winter. Some sites state that you are welcome to post their material on your own blog or web site as long as you include the material IN FULL and UNCHANGED and provide the citation. If that’s the case and you want to use the material, that is what you must do.

In my book reviews, or other postings, I sometimes quote from the source and identify it. If it’s a web site or blog, I provide a link. If it’s a book, I include a copy of the cover, but no link. These instances qualify as Fair Use since they are brief, cited, and are “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research” according to Fair Use law.

When I am writing or researching as a student or teacher, I use the institution’s rules. When I quote someone here, I give the citation, usually the author’s name and book title. I don’t adhere to the full source listing that I would in a print publication or academic piece.

Most people are delighted to get free advertising and promotion of their book, company or site. When it is clear that their work is copyrighted and I really really really want to use it, I email or call for permission. I’ve never been denied it.

This concludes the copyright series. If you have questions beyond what I’ve covered, please check with the staff at the Library of Congress at 202-707-3000 or visit its web site at

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Recently read: T. Jefferson Parker’s Storm Runners

Parker is another mass-market thriller writer whom I think produces an excellent read. He doesn’t have a regular protagonist, but does a good job of creating well-rounded characters in the course of one book. In this novel, set in San Diego and various small towns throughout the state, former policeman Matt Stromsoe struggles to recover physically and mentally from the death of his wife and son. Their murderer sits in prison—the head of the Mexican Mafia and Stromsoe’s boyhood best friend.

Now another old friend hires Stromsoe to guard a weatherwoman who is being stalked. Stromsoe, in watching over her, discovers she has a secret life. The stalker turns out not to be what he appears to be—little is what it appears to be. We learn why prison doesn’t deter crime, and we learn about the history of water diversion to the city of Los Angeles in the early 1900s. All these enter into a nicely complicated plot. Oh, and it is confirmed for us that rain happens. A great read for a rainy weekend or when you’re stranded at the airport waiting for a flight.

Monday, June 2, 2008

World Book Day and International Day of Books

April 23 was the traditional World Book Day, although in the United Kingdom, the day was March 6. World Book Day, which is also Copyright Day, was started in 1996 by UNESCO.

To keep the book rolling, so to speak, now we also have July 27 as the International Day of Books. This day is for serious writers who just happen not to be published yet. The goal is to provide a way for authors from all over the world to collaborate over the next few months on publishing and promoting books. Write a book of 12,000 to 15,000 words by July 1, 2008. (Yikes—we have a month!) Then promote the launch of your book and International Day of Books. Lulu is the publisher. As a reader, I’ve ordered books from Lulu a number of times and have been pleased with the professional look, speed, and reasonable cost. This sounds like a fabulous motivator (deadlines always help) and an excellent way to promote books and reading on a worldwide basis. How splendid is that? Visit the web site at

To visit the World Book Day site for the U.K., see For more about UNESCO and its celebrations honoring books, see