The Art of Collaboration

I recently was involved co-creating the book All Ways A Woman. It came about through collaboration between a writer (me) and an artist friend. From that experience, I thought more about the collaborative process and realized as writers we may work with another creative in a variety of situations.

First is collaborating on the writing of a book. In my situation, I was the writer and my associate the artist. We each had our own areas and brought them together. However, I have never done a collaborative effort with another writer, but know writers who, for example, have successfully alternated writing the chapters of a work of fiction.

Other collaborating a writer can do is with, say, a cover designer, an illustrator, or an editor. Collaborative skill is important for a writer to have.

Here is what I learned about collaborating from working on a book with a co-creator:

  1. Come prepared to your scheduled meetings.
  2. Meet commitments.
  3. Respect each other’s work and ideas. Couch your words diplomatically. If you are in a critique group, you know what I mean.
  4. Don’t compete with each other. This isn’t a race to see who gets there first. I only compete with myself.
  5. Respect each other’s process. People have different ways of arriving at a mutually agreed upon result. Keep the goal in mental view and let each work toward it.
  6. Negotiate/discuss when visions differ.
  7. Compliment.
  8. Listen. Be non-judgmental and brainstorm.
  9. Stay focused but be flexible. Discoveries may be made. Plans can change.
  10. Recognize that during the creative process, stress and tensions may develop. Review numbers three and five.

Artwork by Jean Metzinger

As I thought more about the process, I took another look at the above list and applied that collaborative effort to working with your biggest collaborator of all – yourself. The list still applies.

  1. Come prepared for meetings. In other words, show up at your writing place ready to write. Author Dennis Lehane says he gets up, grabs a cup of coffee, goes in his office and goes to work. I talked with an author who keeps a scarf on her chair and sometimes has to symbolically tie herself in. Whatever works.
  2. Meet commitments you make to yourself. If your goal is to write 500 words that session, meet your goal. If you plan to submit a story to five different literary magazines, do it.
  3. Respect your work and ideas. We’ve all heard of the nasty self-critic who sits on your shoulder who is an ornery type with a bad attitude. Well, with a small mental switch, a small adjustment of thinking, brush him off and bring on the collaborator who instead of berating your writing, helps you explore and experiment and persevere. Mine kind of lounges there on my shoulder, smoking, like Noel Coward.
  4. Don’t compete with another author. Play your own game.
  5. Respect and observe your own process. Do you write better at night or in the morning? Do you have to go through some rambly stuff before you begin to hit a stride? When getting clogged, do you need to step away to clear the brain? Are you a pantser? Are you a planner? Are you an outliner?
  6. Negotiate with yourself. Maybe life is getting in the way of your writing time and you need to negotiate with yourself to find that time. One day after shopping at Costco, I slipped into their fine dining section and, surrounded by white noise, wrote for about half an hour. Never would have happened at home that day.
  7. Compliment yourself. Tell yourself it was a good session. Tell yourself if you like that paragraph you’ve just completed.
  8. Listen to yourself as you write. I’m always telling myself to keep pushing the story forward.
  9. Be flexible. Your idea may change midstream. Your character may take you down an unexpected path.
  10. When you get stressed and tense, step away. A night’s sleep can clear the airwaves. A walk with the dog can make the world look good again. Respect yourself.

Artwork by Jean Metzinger

Collaborating is an important writer’s skill, whether with an associate or yourself. But a writer has one more collaboration to consider and that is with the reader. The reader arrives ready to have an adventure, meet a character, experience life, cry, or be afraid. We have to write to meet them halfway and make them care about our characters and story. I like these words from playwright Tom Stoppard:

I like trying to create a spark through a collaboration between me and the audience.

As writers, let’s create that collaborative spark with our readers!

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The Garden of Ethos

It’s always a time for congratulations when creative associates receive recognition for their work. A fellow member of the Palm Springs Branch of the National League of American Pen Women was recently recognized by NLAPW on its national website. I send my compliments to colleague and artist Dianne Benanti. Her painting, The Garden of Ethos, is the League’s current featured art piece.

I find the painting’s title The Garden of Ethos provocative. The definition of ethos? From the Google dictionary: the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.

Here I see women becoming … refining their thoughts, defining their identities and contemplating a path forward … a community of women supporting each other.

With her painting, Dianne graciously included a piece I wrote that accompanied her work for an art/poetry event hosted by the Palm Springs Branch a few years ago. Thank you, Dianne.

Following is from the NLAPW page featuring Dianne’s work. Do visit the website to learn more about the art and NLAPW itself by clicking the link.

Featured Art and Poem: Garden of Ethos



Oil on canvas (90 by 50) by Dianne Lynn Benanti, Palm Springs Branch

“Dianne Lynn Benanti is a self-taught artist who creates large scale contemporary works as well as traditional portraits. Besides being an artist, she composes music and has written a children’s book. She highlights NLAPW on her website, and says, “I’m very honored to be a part of such a great organization.” Her art, book, poetry and songs can be viewed at”

“Carol Mann is a poet and author in the Palm Springs Branch. Her poem was inspired by Dianne Benanti’s painting of the same name.”

The Garden of Ethos

 Carol Mann, Palm Springs Branch

together we gather in the garden
worried, contemplative
stoic, sad
our world view guiding our thoughts
our life experience
bonding us

sisters they call us
bearers of the oral story
of man and his tradition
of beliefs in a god or not

teachers they call us
bearers of society’s mores
the written word

mothers they call us
bearers of children
nurturers of body, soul
family guide in crisis and joy

daughters they call us
our mothers’ students
learning ways to cope
to keep dreams alive

wives they call us
joined in ceremony
partners through life’s
trials and uncertainties

but mostly they call us women
governors of our own destiny
strong, problem solvers
ever emerging

they call us women
finding strength in our sisters
in times of sadness
finding strength in our sisters
in times of great happiness
finding ways to go on…


And as often happens, creative pieces grow, morph and evolve. The above poem grew over the span of a few years to become “The Gift of the Gathering” which, in turn, became the finale piece of the book All Ways A Woman, a collection of original poetry and art done in collaboration with artist Lynn Centeno.

Thank you, Dianne, for planting the seed.

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Valet Wisdom & Writing

The other day while waiting for my car to be retrieved by a valet, another valet who was waiting for new arrivals engaged me in conversation. It was one of those quick philosophical talks about life, its whimsies, its tricks, full of platitudes and cliches, but a pleasant exchange. The unpredictable cold weather started the conversation. It ended when he said, “Life is like an onion. We peel away the layers. Sometimes we cry.” With that, he helped my husband into the car.

It was a timely sharing. I’m at a stage in life where I feel life’s layers peeling away more rapidly which leads me into thoughts about fate, destiny and chance. It leads to unsettling questions that begin with, What if?

What if I hadn’t come to California?
What if I hadn’t taken that job?
What if I hadn’t met _______?
What would have happened if?

You can see how that rabbit hole could take a person on a long, thought-provoking journey. How it would make you become reflective, grateful or regretful.

Thinking about fate and its layers flowed into my quest for a title for my short story collection. This is my third quest. I have two other titles I’m thinking about waiting in the wings. Within the collection is a thread that could be identified as fate. Or is it luck? Or is it circumstance? This led me to investigate these enigmatic, over-lapping terms – fate, destiny, luck, chance, circumstance – which in turn re-acquainted me with The Three Fates, the Greek Goddesses known as Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos.



Image courtesy of Fine Art America


Clotho is depicted as The Spinner. She is the Fate who spins the thread of life. Lachesis is the Fate who is the measurer of that Thread of Life. She decides how much life is given to each person and decides a person’s destiny. Atropos is the Fate who makes her sisters’ decisions irreversible. She is the cutter of the Thread of Life. Powerful gals.

One could conclude from The Three Fates that our lives are spun, measured and cut by others. Is that life path, once spun, guided by a supernatural power known as fate? Or is Man the master of his own destiny? Who or what controls the path? This opens the discussion to far-reaching philosophical searches and beliefs that man has pondered for a long time. I certainly don’t have an answer, but the exploration provokes the mind.

Back to my valet. I got to thinking about what he had said. I was familiar with Carl Sandburg’s words, “Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.” I like my philosophical valet’s wording better. “Life is like an onion. We peel away the layers. Sometimes we cry.”

I enjoyed the exchange that day and for the thought exploration it led me on. Grist for thought and food for writing pop up in the most mysterious ways.  Was it luck I ran into that valet? Or fate? A realist would say, “Look, you needed someone to park and retrieve your car.” I’ll leave you to your ponderings.

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Painted Sounds – Writing About Art

Once a year the Palm Springs Branch of the National League of American Pen Women holds its annual program called Painted Sounds. The popular event actually begins several weeks prior when predetermined artists share their paintings online with the Branch membership. Pen Women then select one or more of these paintings to write about … what they see, how it makes them feel, memories the painting evokes.

This year an artists’ group in Desert Hot Springs called the Spa City Paletteers submitted artwork on the Pen Women website, the individual artists’ names anonymous. As a long time NLAPW member, I knew I wanted to participate. I scrolled through the submitted work to make a selection.

img_2163 2

A Blend of Writing and Art

I chose a watercolor by artist Marlis Gray. It reminded me of the first time I saw the Pacific Ocean and how I grew to love the Pacific shore. It reminded me of the times many years ago I swam from a Malibu beach out into the ocean, feeling free, empowered and full of wonder.

A strong swimmer, I often swam out into the sea a good distance. Near a large kelp bed, I’d turn and look back at the land, all the while enjoying the water around me, the breeze on my face, the salty smell of the sea. Mostly, I enjoyed the sense of freedom, the dissolution of boundaries, the joy of adventure in the offing. I admired the rising hills, the beauty of the shoreline and became filled with anticipation about life experiences ahead as a new California transplant from western New York.

Time has passed and, to build on an old adage, I’ve sailed through life’s smooth waters, its turbulent waters and have been becalmed. I no longer swim in the sea nor look back at the shore while treading water near mysterious kelp beds. I look out at the sea from the shore to give myself a different perspective.

Now, when I look out onto the Pacific, I seek its solace. I seek its ability to renew my spirit and clear my head. I welcome the brain space for new thoughts, to solve a problem or make a choice or decision. I savor the sea’s ability to calm my mind, give me peace, renew my sense of wonder.

These thoughts motivated me to choose the watercolor below by Marlis Gray.


The artist titled her work “Join Me by the Sea.”

Join Me by the Sea

Join me by the sea,
spread a blanket among the dunes.
We’ll watch waves unfurl in
rhythmic beats along an endless shore.

Ocean breezes will skim
across the fathoms of sapphire hue,
while along the horizon a
setting sun will tiptoe from our view.

Immeasurable grains of sand will
remind us of ages past,
of explorers cautious but not afraid,
sailing the seas unknown.

We voyage life’s uncharted main
like mariners of old.
Come, take time to fill your soul.
Join me by the sea.

                                                                                      by Carol Mann © 2018

Writing about art, called Ekphrastic writing, dates from the time of the early Greeks. According to the Poetry Foundation, “an ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired or stimulated by a work of art.” You can see more writings based on the Spa City Paletteers on the Pen Woman website. If you haven’t written to a piece of art or want to do it again, select a painting and try your hand.

The book pictured below, which I co-created with artist Lynn Centeno and titled All Ways A Woman, tells the story of women’s lives via original poetry and art as they make their journey through life’s special moments. The content illustrates this ancient ekphrastic concept of writing inspired by art.

0 front cover

All Ways A Woman is available on

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Marketing … And the Book Goes On

My husband created a book of original recipes for making chocolates called Anthony’s Chocolates On-the-Go, Done My Way. He felt making chocolates didn’t have to be a big, scary mystery with fancy, expensive equipment so he developed fail-safe recipes for success. He marketed the book at book expos and fairs, gave talks and demonstrations, and taught classes.


Preparing for a class with one of his helpers for a Valentine’s Day event. Heart dishes made of chocolate are in the foreground and, of course, on the back of the helper’s shirt is the word “chocolate.” The baskets on the rear counter contain samples. The plant on the island is a Valentine’s Day “door prize.”

He also marketed his book with samples, his trademark creation being “The Turtle.”


A popular item!

The book came out in 2009 and debuted at a crowded signing in a friend’s home. After five years or so, he retired from the circuit. (But not from eating chocolates.)


Setting up for a boutique sales event. You can see the book on a stand, another book on the table for people to peruse, posters, ingredients on a tray, his favorite pan, a magazine called Prime Time open to an article about him, business cards in a small white holder, handouts and a basket of wrapped samples.


He liked to wear a chef’s toque and coat and have fun. One of his favorite book inscriptions was “How sweet it is!”

One night recently, our phone rang. The woman identified herself. I didn’t make the connection. Then, to help me out, she said she bought Tony’s book a number of years ago, saved his business card and now wanted a book for her niece. No, wait. She wanted four books … for four nieces.


Happy buyers having fun. Who knew the lady in the center would return after several years for more books?

Now we’ve arrived at the big point. It’s all about marketing your book. You can never underestimate the importance of interacting with buyers and potential buyers, building rapport, and making connections. Talk. Talk. Talk. For example, compliment an interesting piece of clothing a person is wearing or ask the person a question or refer to something of interest in the book.


An animated conversation.

More ideas. Put a book in their hands. Put a bookmark in their hands. Give them a sample. For this book, it’s a piece of chocolate. Take a picture with their permission. Wear something interesting, in this case, the chef’s outfit. In other words, think of the various ways you can make connections with people. Think of actions you can take to make your book an item of interest, whether fiction or nonfiction.


Prepare a basket to donate to a charity auction. This one contains Anthony’s book, a bottle of wine, two glasses, chocolates, etc. Someone was very happy to win this auction basket. Something like this puts your book and name out there.


Anthony’s truffles in individual boxes for wedding favors.

Marketing, marketing, marketing. These are a few ideas used by a retired chocolatier that may help trigger ideas for marketing your book. Think out of the box. Try a word cloud of connected words related to your book. Don’t judge. Just do a word cluster. Items and ideas will pop out that are useful.

The pleasure of someone buying your book is unbeatable and that pleasure can continue. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a repeat customer!

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Kind is a four-letter word

I posted the image below on my facebook page because it spoke to me. I liked its whimsical feel, its innocence, its message. Kind is often used as an adjective to describe a person as in, She is a kind young lady. It may also be a noun as in, What kind of cookie is that? But when you add the word be in front of those four letters, it takes the word into something much more. It becomes an imperative, a call to action.


Image courtesy of 

Kindness inspires writers and artists to create graphics, artwork, stories, essays, and even a haiku.

Please be kind today
Step beyond the manner bound
Do stop someone’s rain 
                                                                        Carol Mann

I became curious about the saying “random acts of kindness” and how it came about. Where and how did the idea get traction? According to The History of Random Acts of Kindness,

It all started in a Sausalito, California, restaurant in 1982 when Anne Herbert scrawled the words “practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a placemat. From there it spread to bumper stickers, quietly at first, but with all the powerful momentum of something important–calling us to lives of caring and compassion.

Shortly after I posted the kindness graphic on my Facebook page, my husband and I experienced our own random act of kindness as we ate dinner at our golf clubhouse. We had an inside window table enabling us to look out through the floor to ceiling windows onto the patio and beyond to the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Part way through dinner, our waiter bent down between us to say in sotto voce, “That man on the patio will be picking up your tab.” He nodded in the direction of a table with three men and a woman.

“What?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard what I thought I’d heard.

“That man on the patio will be picking up your tab,” the waiter repeated.

“Which man?” I asked, perplexed. I looked and didn’t recognize anyone.

“The one in the blue shirt,” he replied.

“Two of the men have on blue shirts.” I gave the waiter a puzzled look.

“Not the one with his back to you. The other one.” The waiter nodded again in the man’s direction.

I relayed the news to my husband who hadn’t heard the exchange due to hearing loss in his right ear. He, too, looked out at the mystery man. We could see him in profile only.

The waiter nodded yet again and left. My husband and I kept glancing out at the man’s table, feeling a bit peculiar, wondering if we looked “down and out.” Why would someone we didn’t know pick up our tab? Twenty minutes later, the four diners stood. The man looked toward our table, smiled, waved and, with his friends, headed toward the patio exit.

Oh, this was too much. We weren’t even going to have the opportunity to speak to him. But due to construction, the patio exit was closed and the four had to exit through the restaurant, right past our table. The man stopped beside us. We blurted out our thank you. He must have seen why written on our faces. He then said, “You two were having such a good time and are such a good looking couple, I knew I wanted to do something for you.”

What? We were considerably older than he and his companions. He asked how long we’d been married. Probably not as long as he thought. Ours is a second marriage for each, coming in at 39 years. He wished us well and was about to leave with his companions when he focused on my husband’s cap. He saw the words WWII, Northern Illinois University, and names of sporting events embroidered on it. The conversation became lively and fun, with the four hovering and kneeling around our table. The interlude ended with, “Thank you for your service.” This made Tony, a former marine (and always a marine) beam.


Here’s our mentor with Tony. I love the man’s smile and treasure his thoughtful gesture. Thank you, Greg, for making our day! We realized you don’t necessarily have to stop the rain. Sometimes a random act of kindness just makes the sun shine brighter.

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I Like Happy Endings

Although I like literary fiction, dark films, and endings that make you catch your breath, there’s much to be said about hope and happy endings. Back on September 28 of this year, I posted a blog called “Layers of Loss.” In it, I lamented losing an earring from a pair my husband had given me many years ago. The post highlighted that ping of sadness a person feels when a sentimental object is suddenly just gone.

Well, a week ago when I was in the garage and about to hop in the Jeep, I heard my name being called from inside the house. Loud. Before I could take but a few steps toward the sound, the door from the house into the garage swung open and a hand emerged holding a small object. I heard the words, “Look, look!” Then the whole person emerged, smiling and waving said object. Our housekeeper had just made my day.

Elvira comes every few weeks to dig my husband and me out from under the clutter of our daily living. She’s been with us a long time and knows how we tick – I’d told her about losing a special earring. She has a cleaning system by which she addresses certain areas of need on a rotating cycle. This particular day was the moving of big furniture in the great room to give a thorough polish to the floors beneath and do a good wipe down of the chairs and couch.

Two pieces of furniture involved are heavy recliners. (I know, I know, we’re debauched – his and hers recliners.) Fortunately, they can be pushed about on the tile floors. The earring emerged from under my chair, having made its way from my earlobe into the creases, crevices and openings of the recliner, propelled in a downward journey as the chair went up and down, eventually landing on the floor beneath. Back on that dreary night when I realized the earring had disappeared from my ear, I’d gone over the chair like Sherlock Holmes. However, the earring was completely out of sight and feel, simply lost somewhere in the chair’s innards.

But now, I bask in this story’s ending, the best of Christmas presents, ever grateful to Elvira, her sharp eye and her thoroughness. And on this happy thought, I’ll call it a wrap. With nine days to Christmas, I wish you and those you love a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Be safe.


The earrings … back together again!

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