And you write because?

And you write because? A good question. Have you thought about what compels you to write?

Writing seems to be something I have to do, like eating. I grow unhappy or unsettled if I don’t have the opportunity to write regularly. What is it that lures me? It’s an odd combination: work and excitement. As to where the ideas come from? I don’t know. The seed is just there.

Whenever I’m writing, I seem to do four things:


I explore a thought, an idea, or a feeling whether for an essay, a story, a scene, a situation, or a character. This involves investigating the possible directions an idea could go. Sometimes it’s organic and just arrives. Sometimes it’s work. It’s using the “what if ….” idea as I look at options. It’s brainstorming with yourself and jotting down the ideas in a nonjudgmental way. I do this until I find a path.


Then I hike down that writing path and slip into the caves along the way to discover the secrets. As I explore, I discover layers within an idea or a feeling or a plot or a character. Once the path is open, I follow it, knowing full well a discovery may take place which leads to a new path that veers off to the left or right, a path I didn’t see coming.


Next I experiment with how to arrange the thoughts and ideas. I experiment with the best way to put the piece and the words together to give maximum effect. Long sentences, short sentences. Word choice. I want the reader to see the image, feel the emotion or tension, understand the idea, be touched. I’ll move sentences and sentence parts around because when they are born, they’re a little unruly.


Lastly, I hope I’ve expressed something deeper about life, a universal truth or feeling, that talks to the reader, that talks to me. The final step is to see if I’ve expressed myself with clarity and honesty. I like knowing I’ve worked my way through a puzzle of ideas, sifted and weighed them, discarded and added as needed, and created a whole entity.

The art of expression is defined as “the process of making known one’s thoughts or feelings.” I enjoy entering the maze to see where it leads. I enjoy the writing journey.

Posted in Authors, Creativity, fiction writing, Finding Ideas: The Creative Process, Inspiration, memoir, poetry, Reading, short story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

So how messy is your desk?

My desktop is cluttered. I don’t mean my physical desktop. It’s sort of sane. I mean the computer one. You can see the clutter in the photo. Files and word docs all over. It’s starting to get out of hand. You can barely see part of Edward Hopper’s great painting “Nighthawks.” The best thing I can say about my organizational scheme is that my computer desktop has “regions.”

In the bottom right are photos for bios, Facebook, and WordPress. Above them are files of stories and essays, files of submission letters and bios, and poetry files. There’s an Important Documents file. In the upper right is my husband’s chocolate book. Bottom left are paintings of women’s faces that might be useful. Upper left are pieces I’m working on. I mean, can you imagine if all this stuff sat around in hard copy? This is bad enough.

IMG_2559 (1)

So, what am I doing about it? Enter “Operation Clean-up.” File and/or consolidate. The photos in the bottom right are now in a folder called Bio Pix. Easy peasy. I can grab an active photo or add one quickly. All poetry documents are now in two folders. One has my work, plus a subfile for the work of poets I’ve used in readings. The other has some of my poems I’m thinking about for inclusion in a book. Of course, with all of this poetry rearranging, I found myself reading every piece, remembering, feeling, growing quiet, changing a word, a comma, moving on. It took time. I should have been dispassionate and simply dropped the pieces into where they needed to be. But.

It’s much easier and faster to clean up the physical desk top. On my desk to the left of the screen are several small books  – poetry, essays, short stories, a journal – for when I need a time out or motivation. A friend just gave me the journal. It has this quote from Isabel Allende on the cover: Write what should not be forgotten.

Behind these books is a three tier file. In it is a notebook from a recent class that has material I’m using. There’s another notebook called “Record of Submissions” in which I note the date of a submission, the publication title, the title of the story or poem(s) or essay, whether it’s accepted or declined, and the date I felt joy or rejection. On the top tier is a hard copy of an essay I’m editing for a reading and a small calendar done by an artist friend of mine featuring her paintings. Oh, and a Beanie Baby named “Nanook.”

To the right of the screen is another three tier file containing journals, a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a little notebook with info about the iMac. I call it the iMac bible. Serial number, etc. Scattered about on the desktop are paper clips in a container, a stapler, and a ceramic piece called “Picasso’s Nose” used for holding pens, pencils, and glasses. Add a lamp and a coaster for the resident bottle of water or occasional root beer. It’s basic desk. Stack, straighten, and dust.

Now back to the computer screen. I have to organize the stories and essays in their respective files. I’m going to try to be dispassionate and simply file. But first, coward that I am, I’m going to drop the paintings of ladies’ faces into a new file. Then I’ll refile miscellaneous documents and pix from my husband’s book that have been pulled for various reasons. Another easy peasy.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to be a nighthawk to accomplish the rest. Baby steps, I always say. Or bird by bird – thanks to Anne Lamott. Or maybe this clutter is just part of my work style? If you have any computer desktop/filing tips, would love to hear them!


Posted in Creativity, fiction writing, Finding Ideas: The Creative Process, Looking for Inspiration, memoir, poetry, Reading, short story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

What a Difference a Line Makes

Are you a poetry reader? I am. And, when I read it, I often find a feeling of peace and calm.  Poetry takes us places –into our feelings, our thoughts, our memories. Into our joys, our sorrows. Into other cultures and ways of life. A piece of poetry talks to each of us differently.

Poetry gives me a physical and mental reaction. A feeling may surge through my body in a rush or  creep in slowly. I may smile or feel sad or cry or be quiet. My mind brings it to my life, to my heart, and extends it into the human experience, the universal.

Some people don’t care for poetry, find it enigmatic. I like what T.S. Eliot said about this: A poem is something that can be appreciated and enjoyed before it is understood.

What do you experience from a piece of poetry? Poets through the years have weighed in on this:

Poet Emily Dickinson said: If I read a piece of poetry, and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.

Poet Dylan Thomas said: If you want a definition of poetry, say, ‘Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing,’ and let it go at that.”

The poet can take the reader to an inner physical and mental place within a few lines with carefully chosen words, placed in the right sequence. I enjoyed writing this piece during a poetry workshop a few years ago.







White Paper

blue dollops and green
spread slick on pristine white

fingers slide across the sleekness
swish backward, wiggle forward
ovals, circles, a swirling whirlpool

ocean waves meld to rugged peaks
distort to a monster’s face
evolve to a giant rayed sun

a smile brightens into giggles
finger paint
on a little boy’s hands, cheek

Think about how the poem makes you feel. What it makes you remember or experience. What images it creates. Now let’s take that same poem to a different place by adding just a line or two.








White Paper

blue dollops and green
spread slick on pristine white

fingers slide across the sleekness
swish backward, wiggle forward
ovals, circles, a swirling whirlpool

ocean waves become rugged peaks
distort to a monster’s face
evolve to a giant rayed sun

a smile brightens into giggles
finger paint
on a little boy’s hands, cheek

Oh, you’re making a mess
the mother says

Did your feeling change? What about the image in your mind? Oh, what lines can do.

Anthologist Ruth Gordon says: Poetry is the onion of readers. It can cause tears, be peeled layer by layer, or be replanted to grow into new ideas. And it adds taste, zest, and a sharp but sweet quality that enriches our lives.

Which poem do you like better? If at all. In a collection, should I use the first version or the second version?

Posted in Creativity, Finding Ideas: The Creative Process, Inspiration, Looking for Inspiration, poetry, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Have you figured out your writing process?

Out of curiosity, I’ve been trying to understand my writing process, particularly for the short story. I seem to do one of two things. Either I jot down a brief outline or list and start writing or I just start writing. Often inspiration comes from a photograph, a painting, a magazine image, an object, or an experience. These motivators tap into a feeling or an emotion or they spark an idea or character.

Other times an idea comes from nowhere. It may evolve slowly or it may hit with a jolt. I’ll jot down notes while sitting with a piece of pizza or waiting for a friend for coffee. How very unscientific this writing, inspiration, creativity thing turns out to be. I’ve learned to keep myself open to all the potential constantly on my radar.

This pre-writing tip from author Joe Bunting is useful no matter your style and helps keep a focus: Before beginning to write, try a screenwriting trick known as a logline. A logline is a one-sentence summary of your short story, its core, its essence. For example, here’s a logline for “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner: A lonely, Southern woman is found dead and decaying in her home after being abandoned by her lover. The formula is your character + a descriptor (e.g., lonely, Southern woman) followed by an event (e.g., found dead) and followed by a conflict (abandoned by her lover).

The idea and the story begin to flow, meeting rapids and dams and whirlpools and quicksand in the thought river, but I keep going, allowing for change and discovery. Writing craft kicks in while putting the words onto the page and keeping “in flow.” If I can, I’ll write through to the story’s end. The result is the epitome of a rough, rough draft.

The rough draft is a skeleton on which to hang muscles that you sculpt, shape, stretch, and massage. The real fun begins. I start checking for and adding more muscle. The use of the senses. The weaving of description, setting, flashbacks (if any), and character description within the story flow rather than dropping these ingredients in as chunks here and there. I rearrange sentences and paragraphs. I look at the realness of the dialogue, the pace of the rising action, the varying of sentence length and rhythm, and word choice. I try to stay close to my main character and be in the character’s head. I look at what the character wants, the obstacles in the way, the tension, the conflict.

As I’m writing, I’ll do nuts and bolts research when necessary, keeping the Google page open next to the developing manuscript, as well as a dictionary/thesaurus open in the lower right hand corner of the screen.

I’ll experiment, writing a few sentences in present tense or past, using first person POV or third, trying sentences on to see how they feel and assess how I can best tell the story. All the while I’m keeping the reader in mind. Will the reader care about the character, will the reader empathize? I’ve discovered the character also has to touch me.

At some point I step away. For me, a story needs time to percolate so I understand it more.

When the story feels good, I’ll bring out the magnifying glass, looking at individual  parts and sentences. Have I strung a bunch of prepositional phrases together? Have I switched tense? Have I written sentences with economy and truth. For example, I had this sentence in a recent story: Henry shifted his gaze to me. Say what? Shifted his gaze? I changed it to read: Henry turned to me. I make sure each sentence reveals character or pushes the story forward.

Finally, there’s all that stuff about punctuation and spelling and final proof reading. A recent teacher of mine, Maggie Downs (UC Riverside Palm Desert), suggested putting the manuscript into a different font. Suddenly, a story you’ve been reading and rereading and can sing in three languages looks different and something you’ve missed will stand out. From a period to a nuance. For example, I had this sentence and didn’t see the error and spell check couldn’t make the distinction: He messaged her hand. Whoops. It should read: He massaged her hand. The font change helped me see the word. Lastly, I check for word repetition. On my Mac, under View, I click Sidebar and then Search Pane. I might do a search for the word as and watch the word pop up highlighted in yellow. Or I’ll type in “ly” to search for adverbs.

At some point, when I feel a cohesiveness, although I know I could keep diddling with the story forever, I call said story d-o-n-e. F-i-n-i-s-h-e-d. Whew!

Then I submit it, and wait – for “Declined” or “Accepted,” always hoping to see this on a submission control panel:

309~1409081599~dcm-logoYou are logged in as Carol Mann.
Welcome to your control panel.
“French Pastry” Status:
Changed From Pending to Accepted.

Feel like sharing any tips about your writing process? Love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by.

P.S. I like a short story by Thomas E. Kennedy called “The Author of Things” found in his collection Getting Lucky. In the story we enter the head of fictional author Tom Dunne, who then proceeds to take us on his story writing journey. Writers, I think you will relate.

Posted in Creativity, fiction writing, Finding Ideas: The Creative Process, Inspiration, Looking for Inspiration, Reading, short story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Books, Shakespeare, Cats, and Lithia Water

images-3The small city of Ashland, Oregon, located just north of the California/Oregon border near Interstate 5, is known for its Shakespeare Festival. I haven’t been there for a few years but have great memories of the place. My parents lived in Ashland in the hills behind Southern Oregon University. I’d visit them in the summer and, during one of my stays, I walked down the hill to work in the university library. I was studying for my Master’s Degree in theatre and attended plays almost daily. For a theatre major, Ashland was and is a feast. While at the library, I looked out on flowers, pine trees, and green mountains. Quite a change from southern California and the desert. 

I enjoy most of the small city of Ashland. I haven’t quite decided on the natural springs of lithia water bubbling from the public drinking fountains in The Plaza at the center of town.

The water is best described as odd tasting, odiferous stuff.  Many people drink the mineral water and local lore celebrates its health benefits. My visits, I confess, include a hasty gulp or two – just to hedge my bets.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has something for everyone: classic, traditional, and experimental theatre. Whether on the boards of the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre, on the proscenium stage of the Angus Bowmer Theatre, or in the experimental arena of the Thomas Theatre, the plays provide audiences with some of the finest regional theatre in the country.

One of the most stunning productions I’ve seen there is the Jacobean tragedy ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore” by John Ford, first published in 1633.  Each scene formed a tableau. The acting was stellar.

IMG_2541During one of my first trips to Ashland, I discovered Bloomsbury Books on E. Main Street. The bookstore bears the name inspired by the Bloomsbury group – intellectuals, writers and artists who gathered in Bloomsbury, England, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These colleagues, surrounded by family, lovers and friends, met to discuss their work, their ideas. E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf were among the participants.

Printed on one of the store’s bookmarks is a quote by Virginia Woolf: “I have sometimes dreamt that when the Day of Judgment dawns – the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading.'”

The store, nestled in a narrow portion of an historic building on Ashland’s main street, bears no trappings of chain booksellers or corporate promotions. Instead, hand-printed 3×5 cards thumbtacked to the shelves highlight the notables or “Good Reads.”

Open daily, the shop lured me to its door on each of my arrivals in Ashland. In the literature section, I lingered over the notables and checked my wish list. Oregon is a great place to stock up on books. No sales tax. From there I wandered to the art and photography section. Next to the theatre section for scripts of current Ashland productions, books on acting, make-up, set design, lighting. Then into the poetry section. I would add a current magazine on writing, the local Ashland Daily Tidings newspaper, and several birthday cards from the card racks. I was ready, arms loaded, to check out.           

With books bagged and wallet lighter, I wandered upstairs to The Coffee House. My goal was a comfortable couch by the fireplace or an orphaned café table with mismatched chairs where I could enjoy a tall latte, decaf, nonfat. (I know, I know. My drink of choice is often called “A Why Bother” or “A Waste of Time.) I dug into my bag of books and indulged a reader’s lust – the launch of a new read while drinking a latte and noshing on a large chocolate chip cookie. (Vacation meant no diet police.)

Orlando the Cat, now gone to cat heaven, once lived in the store. He was an immense, long-haired gray feline. He looked like he should be called Smoky or maybe Chester, but his name was Orlando. A nonchalant charmer, showing the disdain common to the species, he lounged among the contents of Bloomsbury Books. The owner rescued him from the pound. I wondered at the source of his auspicious name.

Perhaps it was for Orlando Coolidge, an 1862 Ashland pioneer, who prospered as a commercial nurseryman. His restored Victorian home became a bed and breakfast. The Coolidge House, located on Main Street, commands a view of the town.

Maybe he was named after Orlando of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. That Orlando liked to slip into the forest to look for his true love Rosalind. The play has a noble and happy ending. I suspect Orlando the cat was noble and happy, too. He didn’t harass the clientele and I didn’t see any mice.

A book by Virginia Woolf bears the same name. Her Orlando lived a varied and colorful life, which covered several hundred years. Orlando the cat possessed nine lives and lived a rather extraordinary life among bulging bookshelves, piles of newspapers, and the busy feet of book-seeking humans.

UnknownOrlando used to recline in the narrow aisles or by the front door, oblivious to traffic flow, unperturbed, adding instant atmosphere and panache to what became my favorite bookstore. A sign hung on the door offering a gentle reminder – Don’t Let the Cat Out. I don’t know if the owners have replaced Orlando.

A quick aside. My parents chose Ashland for their retirement and are now at rest in Scenic Hills Cemetery on the outskirts of the city. On one visit, my sister and I took my then 87 year old father to see an uncut production of Hamlet at the Angus Bowmer Theatre. We smugly joked he would fall asleep during the evening production. Earlier in the day, my sister and I went antiquing and toured a few wineries. Guess who fought sleep that evening? Yep, my sister and I. At one point I looked at my father and his lips were moving as he silently recited the lines along with the actors on stage. He didn’t miss a beat.

If you’ve been to Ashland, would love to know your thoughts. If you go to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I suggest stopping at Bloomsbury Books. I also suggest a sip or two of Lithia Water, done quickly.

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In the News

NewsImageAt times I think men have gone mad. At other times I think men are behaving in a way that is innate and can’t be helped. Both thoughts unsettle me. Watching the news makes me want to weep.

A little girl is left in a black trash bag on a rocky Deer Island shore near Boston. The issues of missing children, exploited children, and child abandonment jump to mind.

A young woman walks with her father along a San Francisco city pier and is shot dead by a gun in the hands of a man in the country illegally. Issues about illegal immigration flood the news.

A Detroit area doctor diagnoses his patients as having cancer and prescribes lengthy debilitating treatments. Except the patients don’t have cancer. Issues of medical malpractice, insurance fraud, and ethics shock us.

Nine members of Emanuel  A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, are shot to death at Bible study by a malcontent. Racism rears its ugly head. Gun control plagues us. Enough.

These actions are within our country. Actions in foreign lands are horrific and bleed to our shores. I’m exhausted, heartsick. Sad.

Unknown-1Aristotle believed that seeing actors portray a tragedy on stage could be beneficial. Their pity and fear aroused, an audience could then envision themselves in the tragic circumstances and leave the theater purged of doing such actions. A catharsis.

UnknownOn the other hand, Plato argued the opposite. Actions on the stage, and by extension to today in our entertainment media, can influence what a person does in real life. These can have an immoral and negative effect.

I’m with Aristotle on the nobility of his view and the need for empathy in our daily lives and law making. Sadly, I’m with Plato on entertainment media and its potential to desensitize us, making us unempathic and numbed to others.

And then I see South Carolina House member Jenny Horne address the state assembly on the issue of removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds in Charlotte and displaying it in a nearby museum. Such an impassioned plea. A plea based on empathy and understanding about the subtext of that flag. Click here to view. Empathy is a distinctly human trait, the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Some claim that removing a symbol such as the Confederate flag is practicing revisionist history or trying to rewrite history. To me, the removal represents positive change. It represents learning from historical acts which is the reason we study history.

I hope our leaders will continue to dig at the ills and issues in our society and arrive at decisions that promote the greater good. I like the American flag waving on official government grounds. I like being united under one flag. I like positive change and progress. Most of all I like empathy, man’s saving grace.

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World Poetry

As life moves along, horizons widen. New people, new experiences, new ideas. Sometimes there’s even a win in a contest. My contest winnings have included a trip from Buffalo to Cleveland. (Heart be still.) A gift basket during a luncheon raffle. A floral centerpiece, also at a luncheon. Enjoyable, fun. I know, I know. A million dollars would have been better. Such is life.

Then, recently, I won a collection of books. For a writer and reader, this is kind of neat. It came about when I joined Pen Center USA, and I got lucky in their membership drawing.

I joined the organization because of a class I took on the personal essay taught by journalist and UC Riverside instructor Maggie Downs. PEN sponsored the class and the Palm Springs Writers Guild coordinated it.

PEN Center USA’s mission (quoted from their website) is to “stimulate and maintain interest in the written word, to foster a vital literary culture, and to defend freedom of expression domestically and internationally.” “PEN Center USA is a branch of PEN International, the world’s leading international literary and human rights organization.” Its broad goals are to foster world literature and protect writers and the written word, writers who are jailed, exiled, in hiding, whose lives are threatened. Sadly, some have lost their lives. In the USA, we have freedom of speech. As we know, that is not true around the world. I like and believe in their mission.

What I didn’t know was this. With these books, I’d be taken quickly into the realm of current world literature: three books of poetry, one of short stories , and one novella – by authors from around the world. Brazil, Russia, Uyghurland, and two from Mexico.


The three books of poetry I received offer a departure from the canon of works often written by American poets. While the genesis or content may be different due to cultural and geographical differences, I found the poetry generates a similar emotional impact and truth.

The first book is Rilke Shake by Brazilian Angelica Freitas; translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan. Some of the pieces were very light hearted such as “perfect teeth, listen up” which I sent to my dentist nephew in Oklahoma, or “i enter the idiot’s bookstore.” The poet does like to shake things up.

what passed through the head of the violinist
as he hurled toward his death
pale against his black hair
clutching his stradivarius
in yesterday’s great air disaster

I think of bela bartok
I think of rita lee
I think of the stradivarius
and the sundry and various
jobs I held
to get here
and now the turbine fails
and now the cabin breaks in two
and now the whole kit and caboodle
tumbles from the overhead compartments
and I plummet too
beautiful and pale my black head of hair
my violin against my chest
a passenger up ahead prays
I just think
I think about stravinski
and the beard of klaus kinksi
and the nose of karabtchevsky
and a poem by joseph brodsky
I once read
intact ladies, unfasten your seatbelts
cause here comes the earth


Uyghurland, the Farthest Exile by Ahmatjan Osman is translated by Jeffrey Yang. The first thing I had to do was find out about Uyghurland. The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group living today primarily in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, in the Tarim Basin, bordered by Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Tibet. This all can be shortened to the oppressive region called East Turkistan (Xinjiang province.)

Uyghurland, the Farthest Exile is the first book by a Uyghur poet to be published in English translation according to Jeffrey Yang, translator. Poet Ahmatjan Osman, a Muslim,  now lives in exile in Canada for his own safety.  Although his place of origin may be remote to us, he captures the poet’s universal mission in the poem below.

My Share of the Night 

Ephemeral as a falling star, evanescent as twilight
and this old, old world
is like mellow tobacco. . .
I rip off a corner of the sky and roll it up
I, the most familiar the most strange
more concerned with tobacco than death

I walk along the streets of my imagination
poems falling from my autumn mouth
with flecks of tobacco
The starlight picks them up with slender fingers
the whole of my life
the whole of my death
my share of the night


Diorama by Rocio Ceron is translated from Spanish by Anna Rosenwong. Ceron’s poetry is experimental, impressionistic, and lends itself to performance, incorporating the spoken word, art, music, and video. In Diorama she explores Mexican history, language, sounds, and images. Below is an excerpt from “13 Ways to Inhabit a Corner,” the thirteenth stanza.

13 Ways to Inhabit a Corner

Cars circulate in an inch and a half. A dog barks in the distance.
Tinsel. Blueberry-chocolate chip muffin. Synthetic happiness pill. It wasn’t
just the swinging of cumber salsa samba. Hinge between realities, “look at
your iridescent body, iridescent bluegreenpurple.” Language. Territory for
the emergence of parks cityscapes rehabilitated hillsides of houses with met-
al roofs nucleic stones sacrificial spaces. Boxes and wrapping, vital space
inch and a half. Nation.

On youtube, Ceron offers Diorama in both Spanish and English. You can get a feel of the rhythm and tone and drama of her work through this link. I feel the work is meant to be heard and seen.


IMG_2490 (2)

Bessarabia Stamps (16 short stories) by Oleg Woolf and Jacob the Mutant (a novella) by Mario Bellatin are the other two books.

Poets take us into lives, thoughts and surroundings, in an extraordinary way. No matter where they are in the world, they do this with well chosen words. Thank you, PEN, for acquainting me with these works and these poets.

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