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

Monday, December 27, 2010

Recently read: John Harvey’s Rough Treatment

I’m working my way through Harvey’s books and enjoying them very much. In this, two bumbling burglars discover a kilo of cocaine in the rented house of a TV director who is filming in Nottingham. Not only did they discover the kilo, but the director’s wife was unexpectedly home. Detective Inspector Resnick has to root around in the seedy world of British TV as well as city crime to find out who has done what to whom.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays

Have a safe and happy holiday weekend! Yesterday Carl and I prepared by stocking up on goodies from Lonardo's Italian Meat Market & Deli, La Dolce Sicilia Italian Bakery, Scandinavian herring and cheeses at Gold's Market, an apple strudel and doggie milk bone from the Rhinelander Bakery, and of course, buying everything else essential to Christmas at our house from Whole Foods. We even have cookies and the traditional Yulekaka baked by our friend Leslie, which arrived in the mail yesterday. We'll worry about calories in 2011. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

National History Day

Image from Dover Publications (see

At the end of November, I was contacted by Taylor Radford, a student at Swansboro High School in North Carolina. She had read my book, A Cultural History of the United States: The 1920s, and wanted to interview me for her National History Day project on women’s fashions during the decade. I was so delighted to help. I provided her with some other references as well as my “take” on the historical significance of clothing in the 1920s. To see the web site she created, go to For more information on the National History Day, see Lots of luck, Taylor!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Recently read: Christi Phillips’ The Rossetti Letter

I love mysteries that bounce between the past and the present, weaving clues and facts and characters. In this one, Phillips provides us with a compelling story of a beautiful (fictional) courtesan whose role in the Spanish plot to overthrow the Republic of Venice in 1618 (fact) has intrigued a PhD candidate, Claire Donovan, whose dissertation attempts to clarify the role of the elusive Alessandra Rossetti. Donovan, meanwhile, has to fight her way through jealous academics and romance in contemporary Venice. Fun to read and well-done.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Western Wisconsin’s Year in Review

My friend Barb, the editor of the Dunn County News, is one of the featured guests on today’s “The West Side,” a call-in radio program on Ideas 88.3, WHWC public radio out of Menomonie-Eau Claire. Dean Kallenbach hosts. Click on this link at 5:00 this afternoon to listen to the show here:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Recently read: Peggy Wynne Borgman’s Four Seasons of Inner and Outer Beauty

Written by the owner of a California spa, Borgman’s book provides exactly what its subtitle states: Rituals and Recipes for Well-Being Throughout the Year. She includes much more than the typical “mash an avocado for a facial” advice; instead drawing on modern and ancient healing arts, including aromatherapy, the ancient traditions of Ayurveda from India, detoxifying baths, massage, and even good old fashioned advice such as walking in the sand during the summer months. I’ve enjoyed picking out some of the seasonal rituals to do for spring (eating arugula, exfoliating) and summer (eating red foods like watermelon and doing the sun salutation), welcomed fall with soups made from root vegetables, and dry brushing and detoxifying for winter.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Leslie Norris—the Foodie Chronicles

Four generations: Marge, Leslie, Heather and Lynne

For a number of years while I lived in Wisconsin, I wrote a variety of articles for the Dunn County News, whose editor is my dear friend Barb. Leslie, another dear friend, has been writing the newspaper’s food column for a while. I was so touched by her Thanksgiving article that I wanted to share it:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Recently read: Louise Penny’s A Rule Against Murder

I’m working my way through these wonderful books sent in the rural countryside in Quebec. The detective, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, reminds me (other than their mutual “Frenchness”) of one of the most compelling detectives of the 20th century: Georges Simeon’s Inspector Maigret. As are all the books in Gamache’s series, this one is takes him to the picturesque village of Three Pines, where a dead body turns up at a family reunion.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Watercolors by Stephen Coates

One of my favorites: Veiled Sunset

My cousin-in-law, Stephen Coates, lives in Chicago, where he has been creating splendid watercolors of peaceful nature scene for years. Now, in addition to public and private showings of his art, he has opened an online gallery. Browse the gallery at I always feel rested and calm after looking at Steve’s paintings. Another one of my favorites is Rising Moon at Sunset.

Friday, December 3, 2010

King Tut Exhibit—a Must See

Today we went to the King Tut exhibit at the Denver Art Museum—an event we have been looking forward to for months. If you can either get to Denver or have the exhibit coming to a city near you, you should see it. Awe-inspiring, informative, and just plain beautiful, you can get a sense of the show at And if you come to the Denver exhibit, have lunch afterwards at the museum’s restaurant: Pallette.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Recently read: Leonardo Padura’s Havana Gold

This is the fourth in Padura’s Havan Quartet series with Lieutenant Mario Conde. I am fascinated with Padura’s descriptions of life in modern Cuba. In this a school teacher is brutally murdered, drugs seem to be involved, as do some of her students. It was interesting how Padura describes the use of marijuana as rare and extremely scandalous among high schoolers—not what we would expect here where even grade school kids seem to have access to a buffet of drugs. Worth reading, yet I wish the translator would not sprinkle the text with outdated British slang words.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I did it!

This afternoon, despite many computer and Internet access problems this weekend, I finished my 50,000 words—50,192, to be exact—for National Novel Writing Month. I entered my completed pages into the NaNoWriMon validator and have officially been declared one of the winners, winning meaning you complete the challenge and crank out 50,000 words before midnight on November 30. This has put me about half way through my new novel. It was an interesting and fun challenge. I plan on continuing to write daily (after a short break this week). And I’ll be doing this again next year!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving! And eat a lot! I plan to.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Job Series: being a writer. Part 4 Corporate and GovernmentWriting

Sharpie is always working!

One of the more profitable forms of writing is to be a staff writer for a corporation, organization, or government agency. These jobs not only come with paychecks, but also usually with health insurance, retirement, and other amenities. Competition is stiff, however, so be sure your resume is not only top-notch (absolutely NO typos), but also includes a clear description of your credentials.
Generally, corporate writing jobs will be one of the following: technical writing, proposal writing, copywriting, customer service, or marketing. A college degree in a related field is almost always required.

Locate corporate or government writing jobs through traditional classified ads in newspapers, job web sites such as career builder or monster, associations you belong to (for instance, I belong to AWP and have access to their job site), or through your college. For government jobs, you can also check the web sites for the units of government or go to

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Recently read: Martin Edwards’ The Cipher Garden

Edwards is a new discovery to me, and a fine one. The books are set in the Lake District of England and are in the manner of the traditional British police procedurals. Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett has been put in charge of the Cold Case Review Team, a position she worries signals her career is stalled. A vicious unsigned note sent to the police ends up triggering a reopening of the unsolved murder of a landscaper and womanizer. One of Scarlett’s team members was on the original investigations, which had too many suspects and not enough proof. Many of the suspects then and now were just as nasty as the murdered man, and all still have strong reasons to have used the scythe to slice the man up. This has a complicated and compelling plot, good character development, well-written and very worth reading.

Monday, November 15, 2010


My 30 days of novel writing for National Novel Writing Month are half over. I cleared more than 25,000 words yesterday, making me ahead of schedule for the total word count of 50,000 by November 30. It has been fun and surprisingly easy to do. My daily goal is 1,700 words, which—depending on if the ideas are flowing, takes me between one and one and a half hours (note I wrote all that out instead of keying 1 or 1.5. That helps pad the word count!). Since I started with a minimal plot and no background material, sometimes I have to pause in my writing to do some research for information or ideas. Right now my protagonist is in England, heading for the Chunnel, so I spent a lot of time yesterday surfing British travel sites.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Recently read: Tim Dorsey’s Atomic Lobster

I continue to LOVE Dorsey’s books, and Serge A. Storms still delights me. Serge and his semi-comatose buddy Coleman, continue to wind their way through Florida’s faded neon past, accompanied this time by a female psycho named Rachael. Characters and events from other books turn up, as families on vacation, government agents, cruise ships, dope deals, smuggled artifacts, and little old ladies having a grand time all merge and diverge in southern Florida. Among them, a vicious murderer is released from prison, bent on revenge—fortunately, Serge is there to protect the innocent and provide his own inimitable form of justice.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Guest Post: Creating Characters for Children's Books by Maria Rainier

As an adult, writing for children may be one of the hardest things you’ll attempt. The idea seems simple enough—use smaller words, add a puppy to the mix, steer clear of racy bits. Still, the old writers’ adage, write what you know, is significantly more difficult when most of us, despite what we may think, have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid.

One of the easiest ways to a reading child’s heart is through a story character. Not all children’s stories are character-driven, but everyone remembers Peter Pan, the cat in a hat, and a certain wizard by the name of Harry. Likeable characters come alive because the reader cares about them, and a living story is the best kind. It’s the kind that gets published, sold, and loved for years to come.

Know Your Audience
Surprisingly enough, some successful children’s book writers don’t have or even like children. If they’re successful, however, it’s at least partly owed to the fact that they know children. They know who to target with their writing and their characters. They know what will grab their audience’s attention, what will lose it.

This tip is an obvious one: get to know a few kids. If you don’t have any of your own, visit a park with your dog and watch children at play. Talk to a few friends and family members with children and listen carefully to their conversations. You can even go to a kid-friendly restaurant like Chuck E. Cheese and observe a birthday party.

Create Active Characters
Active characters are doers—not the likes of Hamlet, who broods around and wins the disapproval of high school students across continents. Children are drawn to doers, someone who doesn’t let someone else tell them what to do. Kids have to listen to their parents, so why would they want to read about someone who has to listen to theirs? The very premise of Where the Wild Things Are is that a child disobeys his mother.

Create Likeable Characters
No matter how active a character, if the reader doesn’t like him or her, the story won’t appeal. Children often get bullied in real life, so if a story is about a mean kid, why would they want to read about him or her unless it was his or her journey to becoming nice?

Neither, however, can main characters be perfect. Kids aren’t dumb, no matter what you’ve been told, and they don’t like being treated like they’re dumb. Nobody is perfect and they know it, so forget the knight in shining armor and make him afraid of sharp objects.

Create Character Through Names
Make characters distinguishable from one another by giving them distinct names—no John and Jake—and backgrounds. Unless you’re going the Dr. Seuss route with rhymes and alliteration, similar names can mildly confuse and even frustrate readers.

Moreover, think about what goes into a name. Many readers pull out baby name books to search for name meanings; others create nicknames, which are especially telling. Make a habit of writing down interesting names in your notes through daily life. Some sources include street and town names, films, religion and mythology, history, and the like.

Create Habits
What makes a character recognizable and real is the tags that the writer gives him or her—things that this character and only this character does, like stammer or chew gum. Showing a character through mannerisms, dress, speech, and actions is much more revealing and interesting to read than simply telling the reader that Sue is a Southern girl or Jack is an avid athlete. A dull character sketch makes for a dull story especially in children’s literature.

Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching areas of online degree programs over at her blog. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Association of Writers & Writing Programs

I have been a member for a number of years of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), which is sponsored by George Mason University. Its mission, as stated by David Fenza, Executive Director, on the web site, is “to foster literary talent and achievement, to advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and to serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing.”

If you are a writer by trade or are serious about becoming one, I recommend joining this organization. The membership fee is reasonable, you will receive their magazine, the Writer’s Chronicle, and are eligible to compete in their contests, as well as a number of other benefits. In addition, you get access to their database and job list. See for more information. If you are interested in going back to school for a degree in a writing program, see for AWP’s free, web-based guide to graduate and undergraduate programs across the country, as well as around the world.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Recently read: Lisa Kettell’s Altered Art Circus!

I am so addicted to beautifully printed books of altered art. This one takes us off the flat page or canvas, and into three dimensions, as described by its subtitle, “Techniques for Journals, Papers Dolls, Art Cards, and Assemblages.” The circus theme provides the background for a variety of artists to express themselves objects ranging from pocket posies to jar fairies to secret lanterns. Kettell also provides a good basic introduction to these art forms.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Clearing the decks before NaNoWriMo

View from Lookout Mountain, CO. Photo by Gale O’Connell
Monday, November 1, marks the start of National Novel Writing Month (affectionately referred to as NaNoWriMo). During this period, writers all over the world focus on putting 50,000 words on paper or in their computers. By not worrying about quality or pausing to find the perfect word, writers can bust through creative blocks and get momentum going.

The web site gives this description: “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. . . . As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.”

One of the friends I made at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ conference encouraged me to join, and we are designated writing buddies for it. I’m really looking forward to the experience. In the meantime, I’ve been busy cleaning up as many tasks I can after a summer of procrastinating. I’ve almost finished my latest polishing of my novel, The Pine Tap Bar & Bait Shoppe, and will put my agent search on hold until after November 30 (the end of NaNoWriMo).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Recently read: John Dunning’s the Sign of the Book

Yet another one of Dunning’s erudite masterpieces featuring Cliff Janeway and plenty of books. Janeway and his lover, attorney Erin D’Angelo, head west from Denver to the tiny backcountry town of Paradise, Colorado. D’Angelo’s old friend, with whom she hasn’t talked since college, is in jail, accused of murdering her husband—who was once D’Angelo’s fiancĂ©. The dead man was a collector with quite a library, and Erin convinces Janeway to suss the situation out as well as to get a sense of the worth of the books. A hometown lawyer provides invaluable assistance, a vicious deputy turns into a loose cannon, a weird preacher and his two redneck assistants seem to be connected to the victim, and the old friend confesses, but no one believes her because wouldn’t a mother confess to save her emotional disturbed son? Hard to put this one down.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

KK Brees’ latest venture

Karen Brees and I met years ago at the San Francisco Writers Conference. At that time, she was primarily writing nonfiction. Her books include a variety of topics ranging from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Preserving Food to The Everything Guide to Depression. I recently got an update from her and she’s now branched out into historical fiction set in the WWII years—one of my favorite eras. In Headwind, Professor Katrin Niessen becomes an OSS agent to stop the Nazis before they reach Norway. Check out her web site for more information on Brees and her books at

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Recently read: Margaret Maron’s Winter’s Child

I first discovered Maron years ago when she was writing her Sigrid Harald books. This one is part of her series featuring Deborah Knott, set in North Carolina. Knott, now married to Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Bryant, finds herself in some troubled circumstances as Bryant tries to cope with his son, his ex-wife who has disappeared leaving their son alone. As they try to find out what happened, family dynamics become increasingly complex. A pleasant read.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The wild whirl of life in the mountains

Couldn’t resist posting this photo of Carl on our patio! The photo was taken by Gale O'Connell.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Recently read: William Lashner’s Bitter Truth

Philadelphia lawyer Victor Carl has a new client. For once, the client, Caroline Shaw, is not a member of the criminal classes. Quite the opposite—Shaw is Main Line Philadelphia with a pristine pedigree. And instead of hiring Carl to prove someone is innocent of a crime, Shaw wants him to prove that her sister did not commit suicide. Carl follows the clues all the way to Belize, discovering along the way that a Main Line family and an organized crime family seem to share some members.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Miami Book Fair International

Image from

One of the bigger book fairs in the country is this 26th annual fair from November 14 through November 21, which calls itself an eight-day literary party. It includes a Street Fair, a Festival of Authors, Comix Galaxy, and Children’s Alley, speakers who range from Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver to Al Gore and Ralph Nader, 250 publishers and booksellers, not to mention lots of BOOKS. For more information, see

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Recently read: Andrea Camilleri’s The Smell of the Night

Another book in my favorite series set in contemporary Sicily, Inspector Salvo Montalbano quietly does his job in the political and Mafioso world of Sicilian law enforcement. Emanuele Gargano, a wealthy financial pundit, has vanished. With him went a lot of money, mainly from retirees who gave Gargano their entire life savings. As Montalbano uncovers the financial scam and searches for both the man and the money, he is going through a rough patch in his personal life. His lover, Livia, continues to be miffed at him and Montalbano’s boss has shut him out of the case. Camilleri is a beautiful writer with a vivid sense of atmosphere, and his books are splendidly translated by poet Stephen Sartarelli.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Job Series: being a writer. Part 3 Grant Writing

A big field now is grant writing. This would be another good avenue if you want to ultimately enter the technical writing field. Non-profit companies, educational institutions, and most corporations have staff positions. In the 12 years I lived in rural Wisconsin, I saw dozens of job openings for Grant Writers, including for employers such as Chippewa Valley Technical College, West CAP, Mayo Health Systems, Globe University, and UW-Stout. I wasn't looking for jobs, so I suspect if I've noticed that many without reading the ads or actively working my networks, then there are probably quite a few out there, especially in more urban parts of the country. Another thing is that if you apply for a nonprofit in a professional position of any kind, the position will include grant writing whether that is part of your title or not.

Again, if you haven’t held a position as a grant writer, you will need to have experience in the field listed on your resume. One way to do this is to do some volunteer (that means unpaid) grant writing. Think of it as a form of apprenticeship.

Even though I have a long list of credentials on my resume for all types of technical writing, including grant writing, I still do regular volunteer grant writing as a way of helping the communities where I live. Recent examples of grants I’ve write as a volunteer include four applications on behalf of the Menomonie Public Library for grants from the Wisconsin Center for the Book as part of their “Wisconsin Authors & Illustrators Speak” program and a grant for a local non-profit to fund a project related to the area farmers’ market.

If you are associated with a group that needs grant money, such as a food pantry, church, performing arts organization, or just about anything else that serves a community, chances are there are grants out there at the local, county, state, and federal level. If your group serves children or a multicultural population, the number of grants available increases tenfold. The group may already know of grants and you may as well be the one to write them. Other places to look are the government portal web site at which not only provides links to federal grants, but if you do some navigation, you can reach state and local sites through as well as grants based on your specific topic (e.g., grants for education, art, music, etc.). And hey, you may even uncover a grant for writers!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Recently read: John Lescroart’s A Plague of Secrets

I’ve been an avid reader of Lescroart’s courtroom thrillers for years, and his books just keep getting better and better. I read this 500-page book in less than 24 hours—I literally couldn’t put it down. The complex plot, richly drawn characters, and perfect pacing are brilliant. In this book, attorney Dismas Hardy, his partners, his best friend, and San Francisco politics are all shielding secrets. The manager of a coffee bar at the corner of Haight and Ashbury is found shot to death with a backpack full of pot. An ambitious detective and special assistant U.S. attorney are sure the murderer is the shop’s owner, who just happens to be the niece of the Democratic mayor and the wife of a prominent liberal builder. A nightmare of legal jousting begins.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Job Series: being a writer. Part 2 Writing credentials

Like any other occupation, you need to have credentials to convince an editor, publisher, or reader that you can deliver that article, that story, or keep their interest. To get writing credentials, you must write. No matter what occupation you have now, including student, start writing. Write a journal, write product reviews for everything you buy, write for your neighborhood association’s newsletter, volunteer to write press releases for your local animal shelter, whatever—just get writing credentials. Contact the editors of online and print media and ask if they need freelancers. Start a blog. Offer to help your friends write resumes. All these will become part of your writing credentials. You may want to collect them (called "clips") into a portfolio (print or electronic). Publish links on your Facebook page or web site or whatever tool you use. And that tool should be professional looking, have NO typos or inappropriate language, and NO party pictures. It will serve as your online Writer Persona for employers, editors, and everyone else.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Digh’s Four-Word Self-Help book is out

Patti Digh’s latest book is available. In this small work, subtitled “Simple Wisdom for Complex Lives,” advice contained in four words accompanied by art is presented on twelve issues: community, love, stress, travel, soul, wellness, success, green, activism, children, generosity and endings. I received my complimentary copy last month, and love it. I got a complimentary copy because I had submitted artwork for it, which wasn’t used (however, my art will be in her next book!). Visit Digh’s blog at You can also buy the book through the site.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Recently read: William Kent Krueger’s The Devil’s Bed

This book features Secret Service Agent Bo Thorsen rather than Krueger’s main detective, Cork O’Connor. Thorsen under Krueger’s masterful control is just as engaging as Cork. In this conspiracy thriller, Former Vice President Jorgenson, retired to his farming estate along the Mississippi outside St. Paul, Minnesota, is injured mysteriously and is in a coma. As his daughter, the First Lady, rushes home from D.C., protective services gather. One of the agents, a friend of the Jorgenson family, starts to wonder if there isn’t more behind the accident than a farming mishap. Another excellent read by Krueger.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Last weekend’s RMFW’s Colorado Gold Conference

I love writers’ conferences! Any environment where you get to spend three days with hundreds of people who all love the written word is inspiring. This conference was particularly well-managed, as was the Renaissance Denver Hotel, which had excellent conference facilities and provided good food quickly and efficiently.

I had submitted ten pages plus an overview ahead of time as a prerequisite for participating in the editor review sessions. As a result, the conference for me started in a meeting room with Amanda Bergeron, editor at Harper Collins and seven other novelists. We had all critiqued each other’s work prior to the conference, and now discussed what we liked best about each piece, where an improvement might be made, and suggestions, if appropriate. It was a valuable three hours.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rumba Lessons

Washington Heights Arts Center at

Carl and I had our second rumba lesson last night. We’re really enjoying the small class at the Washington Heights Arts Center in Lakewood. The old school house is a registered historic landmark, with rooms dedicated to dance, pottery, weaving, and other art forms. A pleasant break toward the end of the week, although we have a ways to go before we’ll remind anyone of Fred & Ginger!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recently read: John Sandford’s Heat Lightening

Another work from this master of thrillers, this one features investigator Virgil Flowers. A murder in Stillwater, Minnesota, seems like a ritual killing. When another man is murdered. Flowers sees a pattern—the hard part is figuring what the pattern means before more men die. Somehow there is a connection between the victims, the scared survivors, and Vietnam. Excellent plot and writing makes this one a keeper (as opposed to going in the give-away box).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Guest Post: Advice for New Freelancers by Angelita Williams

Whether you’d like to make a few dollars on the side or wish to try your hand at freelance writing full time, you’ll want to read over these few bits of advice for new writers. Also, when you’re done reading, consider visiting Freelance Writing at and The Freelance Writing Jobs Network at These sites offer far more resources and help than I can in these few paragraphs.

Although you might pick up your first few gigs through friends and coworkers, eventually you’ll have to strike out on your own. Finding jobs is perhaps the least rewarding aspect of freelancing, because there’s no guarantee that the search will lead to a paycheck.

In order to make this process less time-consuming, I recommend creating a basic gig-seeking routine. Take a day to set up a feed reader that will collect every job posting from sites like the two I’ve linked above as well as Craigslist. That way, you’ll be able to scan these postings once a day and “favorite” any jobs that seem worth your time. Also, you’ll want to have a good idea of how quickly you work and what your rates are for various tasks. If you can establish these early in the process, that will make your bidding less stressful. Then write a basic email template that you can use when introducing yourself and bidding on the job.

Once you do land a gig, be sure to communicate with your clients as clearly as possible. They might know exactly what they want, or they might expect you to show them through the process. If you can determine your client’s expectations quickly, then you can serve them accordingly. Establish deadlines, agree upon rates and a billing schedule, and never hesitate to ask for clarification if you don’t understand an assignment. Finally, be sure to explain to your clients that writing is a process and that they are now a part of that process. I’ve found it is helpful to emphasize this aspect when a client seems worried about an initial draft.

As you work on the project, make sure you are as organized as possible. Know at what points during the day you are most productive and schedule your writing time to take advantage of your productivity. Track the time you devote to certain tasks, either using a writing notebook or task management software. The more detailed your logs, the easier it will be to prepare your invoices. Deliver your invoices as scheduled, and insist upon being paid promptly, just as your client would insist that you submit your work on time. Finally, back up all of your writing and records.

And, of course, write! The more you write, the more income you stand to make, though you’ll want to be careful not to take on too much at one time. Find a level of work at which you are most comfortable writing. The key is to balance all of the above tasks so as to make a decent income without overwhelming yourself.

This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online college courses. Read more of her articles on her blog at She welcomes your comments at her email Id:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Conference, wildfire, and my first guest writer

In an hour, I’m heading to the east side of Denver for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Gold Conference at the Renaissance Hotel. I’ve revised my pitch (think of the blurb on a book’s back cover) and packed my new business cards so I feel as ready as I’ll ever be. Next week I’ll provide news on what I learn from the conference as well as posting an article from my first guest writer, Angelita Williams. A freelance writer, Williams has excellent advice for succeeding in this competitive field, and her article will be Part 2 of my job series on writing.

In the meantime, the wildfire continues to burn outside of Boulder, 20 miles from our house. The smell of smoke is strong as the winds blow from the west with the possibility of the fire reaching Boulder itself.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Creative Competitor

Annette Young, of the Creative Competitor website, is a good source for information for help if you, like me, periodically have a flurry of contest submissions and usually don’t quite make the cut. There are a variety of services including critiques, links, and e-books. Be sure to sign up for the free newsletter. Check it out at Also note the current competitions sponsored by the site listed in this month’s Money Corner (scroll down).

Monday, September 6, 2010

Recently read: M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Gentle Lady

These books set in the Scottish Highlands featuring Constable Hamish MacBeth are always fun. An incomer, an elderly lady named Mrs. Gentle, settles herself and her family into the old mansion perched on the coast. Mrs. Gentle and her money are welcome in the village, from her generous promise of money to the church, to her interest in the town’s doings. Hamish, however, is less welcoming, with his worries about her threats to close the police station. So he is the only one who seems not to be surprised when Mrs. Gentle is found murdered.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Job Series: being a writer. Part 1 Technical Writing

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 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 this job?”

I have earned a good living as a writer for 35 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 becoming a technical writer.

When I was in college in the 1970s, there was no field or education program called “technical writing.” Technical writing as a field evolved from the computer industry, where understandable manuals and instructions were needed so people could use their PCs and Macs. My degree is in English, with a minor in Journalism, which served me well then, and would still serve anyone today. A degree in technical writing is also available now on undergraduate and graduate levels in many universities and colleges. If you have writing credentials and want to branch out into technical writing, taking workshops or college classes on the subject will help as well.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Recently read: David Baldacci’s The Simple Truth

I am getting fonder of this thriller writer with every book of his that I read. As you would expect, this one is a page-turner with plenty of action. What makes it great is that the characters have depth, the plot is complicated and well thought out, and the writing is excellent. In this novel focusing on the processes of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Fiske, a former cop who is now a lawyer, tries to uncover the mysteries behind his brother’s death. The threads unravel as they lead to a prisoner wrongly imprisoned, military powers misused, and too many important people for the truth (and justice) to be safe.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Getting back into the business of writing

My first scanned photo! The happy family unit (Sharpie is 3 months) in November, 1998, five days after he adopted us.

Slowly but steadily, I’m getting my processes and accoutrements set up to get officially back in the business of writing. I picked up my new business cards this morning. And I’ve finally learned to scan items, a necessary new skill needed for art submissions. Now, once I perfect my elevator speech for my novel, I should be all set for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Gold Conference in two weeks (yikes, that is coming up fast)!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Recently read: Arnaldur Indridason’s Jar City

These are good times for books by Scandinavian authors in America (and probably everywhere else as well). This is the first one I’ve read by this Icelandic author, whose work is admirably translated from Icelandic by Bernard Scudder. Set in Reykjavik, the characters, setting and plot are gripping, making the book a hard one to put down. Inspector Erlendur and the rest of the team are puzzled over a three-word note left by the body of a 70-year-old man found dead in his apartment. The dead man kept himself to himself, so little is known of him other than years ago he was accused but not convicted of rape. Erlendur, aided by forensics, uncovers bits and pieces of the mystery surrounding the man’s death and life.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Job Series: being a writer

My collage titled "Show up on the page." Click on the image to enlarge.

I regularly am asked how I got started in writing as a career. It is a line of work with infinite variations, and I have done most of them. As I would tell my classes, I’ve written everything from state legislation to bad poetry. A recent email from a student, plus a barrage of questions from a poll-taker when she learned I was a writer, reminded me this is a subject worth posting about again. Over the upcoming weeks, I’ll discuss specific types of writing, including Grant Writing, Technical Writing, Corporate Writing, and Journalism (print and electronic). You can write for a company, a publication or on your own as a freelancer. I’ll discuss fiction later this fall after I’ve refreshed my credentials at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ annual Gold Writers’ Conference.

First, allow me to rant: being a writer means you WRITE—not that you sit and moan about how one day when you have time you’ll be published and well-known. This maxim is true no matter what type of writing you want to do, whether it is the Great American Novel, a prize-winning essay, a computer manual, a feature article for a business website, or a textbook. This sounds elementary, but it is often overlooked by so many people.

A friend of mine has had a number of novels published. I personally do not care for them, but hey—many people do! Someone who is an aspiring writer who had never written anything brought up the novels and said, “I can’t believe how bad they are. I can write better ones.” My unspoken thought was, “yes, but he has WRITTEN them and seen them through the slow tedious process of finding an agent and a publisher. And how many books have you written?”

Another friend of mine was the editor of a medical journal for the medical association of his state and a published poet. Every evening after dinner he would go to his study and write poetry (his were good poems) for four hours. He wrote, rather than whining about how he’d write poems once he had the time.

So the first thing you need to do if you want to write, whether it is purely for self-expression or as a career, is "show up on the page." Start writing!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Recently read: Tim Dorsey’s Nuclear Jellyfish

I love Dorsey’s books! Again, we are off on a wild ride across Florida, stopping at every site of 20th century kitsch along the way, as Serge A. Storms and his mostly comatose buddy Coleman gather information for Serge’s new Internet travel service. Along the way they collect a gorgeous woman who can definitely take care of herself. Also dogging their heels are a sleazy salesman, a man with a really strange tattoo, and, of course, Agent Mahoney. And a host of other oddities, both human and otherwise.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

This time, it was my computer that was sick

I’m back online after a virus struck my computer. My anti-virus software did its stuff and blocked it, but it also blocked me from accessing the Internet. In the meantime, I was able to struggle through more than a week without email, blogging, or checking the Huffington Post. While offline, we had friends visit from Wisconsin, I reviewed the critiques (one good, one excellent) of my novel from the upcoming Colorado Gold Conference sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and we ate out a lot—including at Joe’s Crab Shack with Pam and Jilli.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Recently read: Jean-Claude Izzo’s Chourmo

This book is part of Izzo’s Marseilles Trilogy and is as gripping as the first. Fabio Montale has quit the police force in disgust at is corruption. Living in the tiny town nearby where he grew up, fishing in the sea, relishing his meals and his wine—Montale is happy to let the crime of the big city pass him by. Crime nevertheless finds him as his cousin turns up at his house and pleads with him to find her missing son. Racial tensions, religion, organized crime, and murder are connected by the frail thread of the missing boy.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My artwork will be in Patti Digh’s next book

Digh’s life is a verb, published in 2008 by skirt!

In April, I wrote about the fun my friend Heidi and I had creating artwork to submit for consideration for Digh’s book, Four Word Self Help, and it was still a wonderful experience even when our art was not accepted. So when we each were contacted to submit artwork for her next book, we did. And BOTH of us were accepted! How great is that? I will post more information, including how to purchase the book, later this year when it is published and available. In the meantime, visit Digh’s web site at

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Enhanced Ebooks WEBcast

Cost is only $39. See

I subscribe to the Writer’s Digest emails about upcoming events, workshops, and courses. This week, I received an announcement of the Enhanced Ebooks for Authors, a live, hour-long WEBcast on August 11. Enhanced ebooks seem to be yet another form of digital media publishing, with even more complications regarding permissions and other legal and financial matters (don’t quote me on that definition—I did a tiny bit of quick research and that seemed to me to be part of it, but I suspect it is much more complex).

If you are currently or planning to produce ebooks, or have traditionally published books and would like to learn more about other opportunities, you may be interested in this WEBcast sponsored by Enhanced Ebook University. For more information on the WEBcast, see The cost is only $39, which strikes me as money well spent if you think you’ll be venturing into this medium in the near future.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Recently read: The Marvelous Album of Madame B

This delightful book, subtitled Being the Handiwork of a Victorian Lady of Considerable Talent, is a recreation, with commentary by Elizabeth Siegel and captions by Martha Packer, of a scrapbook created circa 1870. The Victorian Lady who created the album used formal portraits and photographs which she then decorated with such things as blossoms, branches, garlands, elaborate drawings, paintings, etc, all done by hand. Madame B is thought to be Blanche Fournier, whose husband was a French career diplomat. During the period of the album, they lived in Sweden. Many of the people in the photos have been identified as other diplomats and their families, the Fourniers themselves, and members of the Royal Family of Sweden. Besides being fun to look at, it is inspiring to look into the pages of an early mixed media artist.