The Blogosphere … A Great Place!

As writers, we’re works in progress, always writing as much as we can. Books about writing fill our book shelves. We’re also always reading as much as we can. Novels and anthologies crowd those same book shelves. We’re always learning, trying to create characters and a story our readers will care about.

The blogosphere is another great place we can go to learn about writing. I’m not talking here about doing internet research on the craft of writing or doing research for a writing project. I am talking about the rich selection of writing on blogs that we just plain enjoy.

It’s the varied voices, tones, and styles. It’s the blogger’s approach, from fun to serious to outrageous to gentle. And as I read, I’m asking myself … what’s attracting me, what’s making the experience so enjoyable?


Definition by Merriam-Webster of blogosphere: all the blogs on the Internet as a collective whole … Wow!

Some sites I enjoy: This blogger gives a saucy and irreverent look at life, teaching, and writing.  I enjoy the tongue-in-cheek style as he describes the adventures of an expat living in Asia who teaches and writes.  This blogger always leaves me thinking. I find the content thought-provoking.  These posts are written with such heart and compassion, I feel touched by the humanity of them.    On the blog called “A Corner of My Mind,” this blogger takes a look at life, sometimes quirky, sometimes heartfelt, sometimes philosophical.

And finally I like   On a feature called Wordless Wednesdays, the writer posts a great picture from her garden. No words. Just a chance to pause, breathe, and enjoy.

While I’m reading these blogs, I’m noting the entire experience. The whole visual and ease of use. The layout. The graphics. The photography. But mostly, the individuality and uniqueness of the writing and of the voice.

All I can say is, Thank you to all the many bloggers out there. You set a bountiful table. I know I’ll continue discovering blogs I enjoy reading. And I’ll continue appreciating the work of the blogger.

Think about it. Do you have a favorite blog(s) you like to visit simply because it gives you pleasure and you enjoy the writing?

Writing, Celebrating, and Cake

What’s not to like about a celebration? Take birthdays, for example. Remember your milestone sixteenth? Your 21st? The Big 4-0 wrapped in black?  Birthdays are big, from the birth of a child to the birth of a nation.

But our love of a celebration doesn’t stop with birthdays. We celebrate when our favorite team wins, when we’re given a promotion. When we marry. When we divorce. Celebrations are held for first communions, confirmations, bar mitzvahs, graduations. At memorial services, we celebrate lives well-lived. What is it about celebrations?

Obviously, they make us feel good, keep us smiling and invigorated. But celebrations do more than that. They reflect our cultural values. Our spiritual beliefs. They help us reach out to friends and into ourselves. They help us affirm life or cope or fill us with pride.

Cake just goes with a celebration!

And what’s a celebration without cake?

Recently, we were invited to celebrate the birth of a family when an adoption became final. An event worthy of champagne and … cake. It was a beautiful afternoon, celebrating a beautiful child.

Celebrations touch something inside us as writers. They nudge our emotions and our words. This piece was written for the adoption party, for the happy mother and her new baby daughter  …

In My Arms

Emma, my sweet little girl, how your
Every breath fills me with joy, with hope.

My heart overflows. I whisper softly,
“May your life ever sing of choices, of dreams.”

“Mama,” you answer, with a clap of your hands.
Many times blessed, I hug you close.

Always I’ll remember the first time I saw you,
A family we became, mother and daughter.

Think of a recent celebration you’ve attended. The events that occurred. The people. The emotion. There may be a story there.  Or a poem. Or a lyric.

“In My Arms” csm©2013

And speaking of celebrations …

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A Very Happy Birthday, America!

Writing that lights your marquee …

884809The house is quiet. I’m reading a really good book. In fact, I’m buried in it. As I read, I come upon a sentence that sends an Oh! to a little niche in my brain. There the sentence lights up like a Broadway marquee. Boom! It’s worthy of having the page corner folded down. I may want to read that sentence again. Later. You never know.

Within a book’s pages, skillfully chosen words blend into sentences designed to create an image, shed light on a character, hone an idea or heighten meaning. As I read Eleanor Morse’s moving story, White Dog Fell from the Sky, I turned down the corner on several pages.

By way of background, the novel is set in Botswana in 1976 near the South African border. Apartheid is law in South Africa. Not in Botswana. You feel the land, learn of the people, experience the upheaval of beliefs as three characters – Isaac Muthethe, Alice Mendelssohn, and Ian Henry – live the times.  (You can read more about the novel by clicking on my Books Page above.)

On page 8, the author  creates this image after Isaac has been smuggled across the border from South Africa into Botswana. The words seem to refer to a truck but enhance the bigger backdrop of dangerous times in both countries; of wounds and beasts in Isaac’s background:

Isaac heard a rumble in the distance, and as he emerged from the bush he was enveloped in the dust of a three-ton truck traveling south in the direction of Lobatse, sliding through the sand like a wounded beast.

Instead of writing that Ian Henry sleeps badly and looks like hell the next morning, Morse writes on page 163:

So he left it and went to his room and thrashed under mosquito netting until the night was used up and its scraps had smudged into dark shadows under his eyes.

As he and Alice begin an affair, Ian Henry thinks about his wife and her problems. On page 242 is this description of depression. It made me ache:

He knew nothing about depression, had never felt that hopeless, subbasement mildew of spirit.

Throughout the book, Morse uses word-paint such as this on page 244:

The sun went down. Deep purple swept over blue, followed by purple charcoal, then black. The night grew cold.

I like and appreciate sentences in a story that resonate and deepen the experience. How about you, in your current reading? Are there any sentences that really light up?

Make it Tense!

Tension in a story is a writer’s best friend. It makes readers and audiences tighten their muscles, feel twists in their stomachs, alter their breathing. It definitely keeps readers attentive and audiences in their seats.

What does “tension” mean to a fiction writer? A screenwriter? A playwright? In a post by Steven James called “Three Secrets to Great Storytelling” is this definition of tension: unmet desire. I’ve added those two little words to the checklist that runs through my head as I’m writing. Things like what does my character want, what are the stakes, are the stakes high enough, and what obstacles can I put in the way to create … that unmet desire?

The writer builds tension through what happens to the characters in the story, what they do and say. If well done, this leads to a feeling of suspense in the readers because, if they care about the characters, they’ll be worried about what’s happening to them next.

When I think about tension, two productions come to mind: the German film Das Boot (The Boat) based on the book of the same name by Lothar-Günther Buchheim and the play Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott, made into a film starring Audrey Hepburn.

Das Boot

Das Boot

Das Boot tells the story of the crew on a German U-boat during WWII as they patrol the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. Wait Until Dark is the story of a blind girl and three con men who want a doll she has. The doll has something valuable hidden in it of which the girl is unaware.

Wait Until Dark

Wait Until Dark

What elements in these two productions helped contribute to the tension?

In the film, tension builds as the submarine crew pursues an enemy ship or is pursued by one. In the play tension builds as the men try to trick the blind girl into giving them the doll until she realizes something is wrong. In each situation, we have a hunter and its prey. And then the reversal of these roles.

The action takes place in a single setting – the inside of a submarine and the inside of an apartment. Characters must rely on their “smarts” and their nerves within a small contained space … while becoming terrified.

The characters function in darkness. The submarine crew works “in the dark” beneath the water, relying on instrumentation and sound to mount an attack or escape. The blind girl moves in real darkness.

Both use foreshadowing. The audience sees what the fate of a submarine can be if it becomes a target or experiences equipment failure. Early in the play we learn the girl has a fear of fire. Later, fire is an integral part of the story’s conclusion.

The crunch of time builds tension. The submarine crew has only so much time before detection or escape.  The girl has only so much time before the con men will play a final and lethal card.

The stories build through rising action as the characters seek what they are after. The action is cranked up, dropped back for a moment (giving audiences or readers a moment of down time), and then cranked up again … higher.

What the characters want is very clear and the stakes are high, as given in the examples. However, what characters want and high stakes are in every good story, whether it’s a literal life and death situation or not. Will the fellow get the girl? Will the team win? Will a woman find her biological child given up for adoption at birth?

My last point is this. I cared about the crew, of what happened to men living in close quarters under high pressure. I cared about the blind girl and what happened to her at the hands of three con men. The writers touched my empathy button. We have to care.

A writer can create tension in a number of ways, such as with a hunter and prey, a small enclosed setting, darkness, foreshadowing, time running out, intensified action, clear character goals, high stakes, and characters we care about. If you haven’t read or seen Das Boot or Wait Until Dark, put them on your list. You’ll have a tension-filled good time!

This Thing Called Longevity

image-e492bb0a0f1d545596f892f7d2e3510a-chinese-symbol-for-longevityThe April 28, 2014 issue of People Magazine has a human interest story called “Unbreakable Bond.” It’s about three sisters, each more than 100 years old, and their reunion – after not seeing each other for more than ten years. These remarkable women made me wonder about this thing we call … longevity.

My parents lived into their late nineties. They were hard working, took care of themselves, and were true to their value systems. It appears the genes are there for me, but I don’t have a guarantee I’ll see those numbers. There’s the chance of accident. Of disease. Of a catastrophe from Mother Nature … or my fellow man. 

Then I wondered about the possibility of living to be a century or more old. It would be exciting to see the steps forward of civilization, to experience the different upcoming “Ages” of progress. It would be fulfilling to watch family grow, multiply, and achieve. New medical advances would continue to extend life and provide cures for previously fatal illnesses.

An article in Huffpost Healthy Living, May 2, 2014 reports that the average U.S. life expectancy ranks 26th in the world – 76 for men and 81 for women. However, people are living longer than this statistic indicates. Recently, Lesley Stahl did a segment on 60 Minutes called “90+” which examined this fast growing segment of our population.

What ever age we live to be, quality of life can’t be ignored. For me, quality is staying independent and living in my own home for as long as possible. It’s having the joy and fun of interacting with family and friends. Next would be having good care when it becomes necessary, either “in a home” or at home. I would pray to keep my faculties. That being said, for when things get dicey, an Advanced Directive is a good idea.

But what keeps people going? We know the will to live can be a driving force. I’m thinking of our nephew, a heart transplant survivor. His inner spirit, his thoughtfulness and kindness to others, the joy he takes in life and in people, keep him looking forward, despite periodic health challenges.

Another trait which keeps people going is having a purpose in life, such as family or achievement of goals. Novelist Nancy Horan tells the story of Robert Louis Stevenson in the book Under the Wide and Starry Sky. Stevenson suffered from life-threatening lung disease, but made himself write even when he was gravely ill. This was well before the ease of writing on a computer.

No matter how we look at it and what we do, our destiny seems to be up to fate, to chance, to God. Genes, life-style, medical advances, quality, will to live, productivity, and attitude all factor in. Some of these items we can do something about. Others we can’t. It comes down to taking care of what we’ve been given and making the most of our moments.

In the magazine article, the sisters share their straight and to the point thoughts on longevity: “Eat healthy. Stay active. Believe in a higher power.” Since an individual’s life span is an unknown, I say to the sisters – to Rose who is 101 and Ruth who is 104 and Rubye who is 110 – thank you for the advice. And thank you for the inspiration.

I’ll just have to let life reveal itself and live everyday to the fullest. To be present in every moment! How about you?

Joy Wallpaper__yvt2

Ah, this is the life!

(Image courtesy of

On the Trail … to Inspiration

Several years ago I met a woman at a friend’s wedding reception, a woman I’ve never forgotten. During our conversation, I learned she had hiked the John Muir Trail located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. The trail is about 210 miles long, beginning in Yosemite National Park and ending at Mt. Whitney, 14,496 feet. What held me was this. She’d done the hike alone.

When I asked her about her decision to do a wilderness hike by herself, she thought a moment and said, “I was at a point where I needed to evaluate my life, redirect, and rebuild my confidence.” I remember feeling very inspired. I also admired her commitment.

Although I’ve never done an extended hike solo, there are two hikes I’ve done I’ll always remember: Mt. Whitney and Grand Canyon.

Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney -14,496 ft.

Starting at Whitney Portal, I hiked up Mt. Whitney twice over a period of several years, once with a hiking companion and once with a small group. I never saw bluer blues or breathed purer air. I heard the sounds of quiet and peace, both outside and inside my head. The stillness made room for new ideas, new thoughts, and an appreciation for the nature unfolding around me. Standing at the summit, I looked out over the unending vista and felt its majesty.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon, 6,000 ft. at its deepest point.

As I hiked into the Grand Canyon, I descended through layers of time into a prehistoric world, with me a small spec in the passage of Earth’s history. My calves ached as we braced our way down the South Kaibab Trail. Occasionally, bats flew nearby. The image of Bright Angel Creek, its water unsullied, meeting the murky and silt-laden Colorado River is unforgettable. Truly the young meeting the old.

A morning or evening walk can clear the head and keep us healthy. But a hike of a day or more seems to allow us to reach deeper inside our psyche and our souls. Inspiration needs that charge – the cleanse, the spark, the renewal, the discovery.

And although I didn’t realize it, I built life-long memories that, when I call on them even today, can re-nourish me.

I’ll leave you with a quote by John Muir I heard recently at a luncheon featuring author/hiking enthusiast Philip Ferranti. For me, it captures the essence of hiking:

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

~John Muir, 1913, in L.M. Wolfe, ed., John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, 1938.

Have you done a hike that inspired and renewed you?

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Philip Ferranti has authored a number of books on hiking. I like these two:  140 Great Hikes in and around Palm Springs and Hiking!: The Ultimate Natural Prescription for Health and Wellness by Philip Ferranti, Cecilia Leyva, Joie Goodkin.

More inspirational quotes about hiking can be found at:

Jotting in a Journal

Do you keep a journal, a place where you can record your thoughts about, well, anything?  Travel, gratitude, observations. Family, love, motherhood, fatherhood memoir. Job or career, school, relationships, story ideas. The topics are endless.

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I bought this journal in a local market.

You may jot down an observation, a word you like, a thought, a saying, a name of someone or something you admire. A poem. These items can trigger new thoughts and ideas.

You may paste in mementos, make drawings, add a photo, add borders and/or background colors to the pages. I have friends whose journals are almost works of art in themselves with streamers, buttons, and baubles dangling from them, with drawings and watercolor pictures inside to accompany their writings.

During a stressful period a few years back, I kept a “WTF Now?” journal. I had moved into a new townhouse besieged by poor workmanship and faulty design that didn’t manifest until the first rain. Leaking roof and leaking windows big time. Within the journal pages, I vented. And vented. Obviously, journal writing can be very therapeutic.

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Journal made from a file folder.

Recently, I took a journal-making class taught by artist Vicki Scudamore. In it, we took a colorful file folder (mine had the Eiffel Tower on it), trimmed a few inches of it here and there, and attached five folded white sheets inside by stitching them onto the folder’s spine. Voila. A ten page journal. The band around the center securing it is called a belly band. The new journal now waits for words on its blank pages.

Darwin speculated on the origin of the species, drawing his first evolutionary tree.

Darwin speculated on the origin of the species, drawing his first evolutionary tree.

It’s interesting to read the journal pages of famous writers, artists, and historical figures. At left is a notebook belonging to Charles Darwin. (Caption paraphrased from website below.)

One journal I use quite often is a small bright-yellow spiral notebook I call “Notes on Writing.” In it I record ideas and discoveries about writing in general – or about a particular piece I’m working on – or ideas for something I’d like to write in the future.

And I find writing in a journal is a great way to write regularly.

Whatever your motivation – to explore, list, create, record, experiment – keeping a journal is a satisfying – and useful – endeavor. However you do it, here’s to the  journaling habit.

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For more on Darwin and 19 other famous journal keepers: