Monday, September 1, 2014

A Simile is Like A...really hard thing to write


A  simile is a literary device that shows the comparison between two different things. It uses the words "like" or "as" and is therefore a direct comparison. "Ben is as wise as an owl" says that someone or something is as wise as an owl. An owl is traditionally thought of in literature as being intelligent. "Agile as a monkey" is another example of a simile.

The challenge to a writer is to think of similes that are not cliches and to compare the two things you want. A good simile makes it easier to understand your text because it draws a visual picture. The reader can use several of his senses to interpret what you mean. Often he can visualize your image (oceans and spilled water, pumpkins and an orange sunset). Sometimes the reader can smell your simile. There is a children's book whose title is My Dog Smells Like Dirty Socks that illustrates that the reader uses his sense of smell to relate to what you are comparing.

A trite simile makes you sound lazy and is boring to the reader. "Her temper is like a volcano." "...hungry as a lion," "...eyes as big as dinner plates. Often a simile is funny:"Her new hire was as useful as a chocolate teapot."  

Recently I read two books where the authors had a remarkable talent for writing similes. The first book is All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

"The people in Berlin believed in them [the German army] like a nun believes in God. (pg. 102)
"Blood that had spread across the table thickens like cooling wax." (338)
"The Pyrenees gleam. A pitted moon stands on their crests as if impaled." (349)
"...veins that climb in Volkheimer's arm like vines." (152)
"Her skin was as pale as cream and as thin as a blade of grass." (137)
"When he stand up his knees crack like twigs." ((158)
"von Rumple climbs the ladder, his weight like a rag on the rungs." (201)
" easy as trying to pick feathers out of molasses." (126)
"Sleep falls over the child like a shadow."

The second book was a summer beach read by Elin Hilderbrandt.

"...plans falling together as neatly as bricks in a garden path."
"She was perpetually moving like a girl on amphetamines."
"Snoring like the old man who bumped his head..."

Many songs have similes. "It's A Hard Day's Night" by the Beetles. Bob Dylan's "Like a rolling stone" and Jon Bon Jovi's "My heart is like an open highway".

You will be in good company if your simile is as good as Shakespeare's:

"All the world's a stage
And all men and women are merely players,
They have their exits and their entrances."

Put your imagination to work and think up good similes. It will enhance your writing, make the reader smile, cry or shake his head and an editor think he has a new best seller on his desk.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Take a Drive Through North Idaho's Past

by Jennifer Lamont Leo

A new book by North Idaho author and professional historian Nancy Foster Renk is a treasure not only for residents and visitors to northern Idaho, but for anyone interested in how the American Northwest developed in the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries, particularly the logging and railroad industries, but also the daily lives of ordinary people making a living and raising families in this beautiful, rugged terrain.

Driving Past: Tours of Historical Sites in Bonner County, Idaho is a collection of turn-by-turn driving tours to sites that have played important roles in North Idaho's past and present, along with gems of local lore and old photographs to accompany each tour. Topics include:

  • The historic railways: Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and Spokane International
  • Explorer David Thompson and the trading post he established near present-day Hope
  • The development of Sandpoint from a collection of ramshackle shacks along Sand Creek to today's thriving and beautiful metropolis
  • The majestic Albeni Falls Dam
  • Farragut Naval Training Station, once a thriving military center, now an attractive park
  • Nell Shipman's silent-film-era movie studio at Lionhead Lodge
  • and much, much more.

So whether you hop in your car for a leisurely jaunt (and on a beautiful long weekend like this one, who wouldn't want to?), or simply enjoy browsing the stories and photos from your favorite sofa,I hope you'll give Driving Past a try. (I love that cover, the old image superimposed over the new.)  You can order a copy from the Bonner County Historical Society at 208-263-2344 or, or pick it up at the Bonner County Museum gift shop, Vanderford's, Common Knowledge, and the Corner Bookstore in Sandpoint, Hastings in Coeur d'Alene, or Bonners Books in Bonners Ferry. (Support your local bookseller!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Freelancers: Where do you get your ideas?

A day without fresh ideas feels like an endless desert highway.
If you're a freelancer who writes articles, essays, blog posts, or website content on a regular basis, you know how challenging it can be to come up with fresh ideas all the time, especially on demand. Sometimes the well is dry, and the harder I try to conjure something up, the more panicky I feel, especially when deadlines loom.

This article from prolific freelancer Nicole Dieker (who says she writes an astonishing 20 to 30 new pieces a week) offers several useful tips for generating a consistent flow of ideas. My favorite: The List, an ongoing list of ideas I'd like to write about someday. I keep mine in a small spiral-bound notebook on my desk, but I should probably start carrying it around with me, as I seem to get my best ideas when I'm away from home. I never know when inspiration will strike.

One of my writer friends says she has a terrible time keeping track of paper lists, so she speaks her ideas into a small, hand-held recorder that she carries with her at all times.

But both the notebook and the recording device merely record ideas . . . they don't generate them.

In her classic book on creativity The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron recommends a weekly Artist Date, where you take yourself to an unfamiliar environment or try out a new activity for the express purpose of "filling the well" to stimulate creativity, from visiting a new-to-you section of your city, to browsing a gallery, to spending time out in nature, to trying out a new tool or technique. I think her suggestion makes a lot of sense, but I've not yet been able to discipline myself to take myself on a regular Artist Date. They tend to happen at random.

As a writer, how much pressure do you feel to come up with new ideas? What are some of your favorite tips and tricks for generating fresh ones?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Code Blue! Ways to keep a medical story off life support

by Jennifer Lamont Leo

The main character of my work-in-progress works as a nurse . . . in modern, up-to-date hospital . . . in 1944. Clearly I've set myself up for a major research challenge! How can I assure that my scenes and characters are realistic and accurate? That no reader who was a nurse (or a daughter or granddaughter of a nurse) in the 1940s will throw my book across the room in frustration with its research gaffes?

First, I have to consider the hospital environment in general, where I've never worked or (thankfully) spent significant time as a patient. What goes on there, when, and why? Who are the major and minor players? Do hospitals bear even a passing resemblance to the way they're portrayed on TV?

Second, I must take that hospital environment and shift it back seventy years. What technology and procedures were available then? How was the nursing profession different then than it is now? What would a typical day in the life of a nurse in a busy hospital back in 1944 look like? And so on.

Here, then, are some research techniques I've been exploring so far. 

1) To get a bead on the nursing profession in general, I've talked with nurses and spent time perusing nursing blogs and websites. That's a good start, of course, but obviously many aspects of the nursing life are very different nowadays than they were back in 1944. Starched white uniforms and stiff little caps, anyone?

2) I've also made liberal use of a book called Code Blue: A writer's guide to hospitals, including the ER, OR, and ICE by Drs. Keith Wilson and David Page. In the introduction, Dr. Michael Palmer writes, ""Nothing is more unsatisfying for me than to be yanked from the world in which I have chosen to immerse myself by a 'fact' I know is simply not so. The head-injured victim is rushed to the emergency ward and given a shot of painkiller. Next book, please! No ER doc in his right mind would ever administer a drug that might alter the consciousness of such a patient. If the author...was going to deal with something as arcane to most writers as emergency medicine, why couldn't she have asked a doc to check her accuracy?" Touche. (Note: Published in 2000, my copy of Code Blue needs to be updated to keep pace with current technology and procedures. Nonetheless, since I write historical fiction and therefore don't need to portray the very latest cutting-edge techniques and equipment, it's been a great resource for identifying the players, principles, and procedures of a typical hospital.)

3) I got my mitts on an old nursing-school textbook from 1956. Although written twelve years later than my story's setting, many of the basic procedures and philosophy it describes would still be accurate. To my delight, I also found that many articles from the archives of The American Journal of Nursing (which has been around since 1900) can be found online.

5) I researched the history of hospitals--and especially the history of the real-life hospital that my fictional facility is based on--with a keen eye toward what life was like for the nurses.

4) I read Cherry Ames: Student Nurse published in 1943. Don't laugh! Cherry may have been too angelic for words, but the story presents a glimpse (if idealized) of hospital life through the eyes of a nurse in the correct historical time period.

So how about it, readers? What research gems am I missing? What stones of 1944 nursing life have I left unturned? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Memoir Writers: Don't Ignore The Ticking Clock

 By Mary Jane Honegger

Brother Mike Graham (right) on 5th Birthday
1953 Victory Village, Moses Lake, WA
I’ve long contemplated writing a memoir about the neighborhood in which I grew up. Although I’ve talked about, planned, researched, and outlined the project, I’ve procrastinated for one reason and another. The problem is, while I've muddled around, ignoring the ticking clock, many of the voices I planned to include in the memoir have been lost.
In an airport, sports stadium, or mall surrounded by tens of thousands of nameless people, you might think that you are just one of a crowd. So it’s natural to wonder “why should anyone read about my life?” And that’s the best reason to write it. As you tease out the details of your actual path, and look for what makes your journey worth reading, you will incidentally also reveal what makes it worth living. - Memoir Author Jerry Waxler

Victory Village: A Moment in Time

Growth Comes to the Columbia Basin
On July 27, 1933 the Public Works Administration allocated $63 million to start work on Grand Coulee Dam. Work began in 1934, bringing as many as 7,000 workers to the area. With the dam completed, in 1943 thousands of additional workers disbursed throughout the area to begin building the irrigation distribution system for the Columbia Basin. During the same period, the U.S. Government chose Moses Lake, a small town in the Columbia Basin, as the location for an air force base, causing additional demands on housing.

Victory Village
Buildings line the lake shore to the left of the photo
Government Housing 
In response, government housing projects in Moses Lake and nearby Ephrata, O'Sullivan Dam, and Larson Air Force Base were created to provide temporary housing facilities. For a couple of years small trailers and then barracks-style buildings eased the shortage. But following World War II, work on the canals in the Columbia Basin began in earnest. Turning thousands of acres of barren land into fertile farmland with irrigation water from the Grand Coulee Dam required hundreds of miles of canals. As word spread, an army of men and their families moved to the area, increasing the population of Moses Lake by 700-percent in less than ten years.

Our home 1950 - 1955
208 Victory Village
Victory Village - Moses Lake
In 1943 the Housing Authority of Moses Lake began construction of Victory Village. This temporary housing project eventually grew to include 42 buildings (172 units) scattered along the shores of Moses Lake on 31 bare acres behind the high school. The development looked more like barracks on a military base than civilian housing; in fact a few of the buildings were relocated to Moses Lake from the Farragut Naval Station after its deactivation in 1950. With housing, not amenities being the goal, the plain one-story wooden buildings held little charm. 

Our Family - 1953 - Victory Village
Mike, Mary Jane, Keith, Debby & Jane
My family moved there in the spring of 1950 after having waited just a few months to get in.  We were given preference because my father was a veteran, having served in the Army Air Force during WWII.  Within two years, three of my father's siblings and their families followed us to the Columbia Basin from Boise, Idaho, attracted by the promise of good paying jobs.  Some of them joined us in Victory Village.

We bought our own home and moved out of the place we affectionately called "the housing" in August of 1955. With its dirt roads, scraggly grass, and few trees, Victory Village was a hot and dusty place to live. But during those halcyon years following the war, we all thought it was the best place in the world … and fighting the tumbleweeds made us all strong.

Keith and Jane Graham with Mary Jane (in ruffled dress)
Uncle Kenny & Aunt Jean Graham with cousin Kathy
Victory Village - 1951
The years we lived in the housing was the happiest time of my life. - Jean Graham 

Gone But Not Forgotten
Today, Victory Village is nothing but a memory. The dilapidated buildings disappeared one by one as the town grew. New housing developments popped up and families moved away. By the early 70s, the last of the buildings were removed. Today those same 31 acres are in the center of town and home to a tree-filled park, swimming pool, and water park. The area is still in the heart of the community, but no evidence remains of the first home of many early Moses Lake residents and the happy place of my early childhood.

The Ticking Clock
In the past few years I’ve lost my mother, an aunt, and several former neighbors who lived in Victory Village. My mother was excited about the project. She did some research for me, and worked on her own memories. However, I guess we both dropped the ball. Much to my dismay, she never finished her own story. I would ask her once in awhile and she would assure me she was “coming along.” Well, “coming along,” meant the file I found on her computer, entitled “My Life,” ended when she was still a teenager.

Debby, Mary Jane and Mike Graham
Ready for Grant County Fair & Rodeo - 1954

I haven’t been even that successful with my dad. He is a wealth of knowledge. Being a retired CPA, he is a numbers guy and knows the facts and figures about everything and everyone in Moses Lake. First I purchased a cool journal for him to write in, but no action. Then a few years ago, my mom provided him with a typewriter when he complained of the writing. A couple of weeks ago I asked him how it was coming along.

“I’m up to age 14,” he replied with a challenging glint in his eye. My father is 84 years old. He has lived in Moses Lake for 70 of those years – that means his story ends the year he moved to town. Crikey!

I dropped the ball .. but no more. No more procrastination. No more losses.

My advice … if you are thinking of writing a memoir, write it now.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Joy of "The Making Of A Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms"

Post by Liz Mastin
With the overwhelming prevalence of free verse today, I believe many poets have so distanced themselves from “formal” poetry, that they assume structured poetry is just not “today.”They often imagine it is old-fashioned, outdated and even boring. But this is not true! Poetry forms can add a delightful quirkiness and freshness to “today’s” poetry. Forms give a poem an almost “physical” quality and they are an enjoyable challenge.

I must plug a wonderful book called “The making Of A Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms.” To me, it is invaluable, so easy to read and understand, with an interesting variety of the most used poetic forms. A short history and instructions are given for each form type, along with great examples of poems written in each of those forms. Some of the example poems in the book are old and some are new, but they are all good, and all in all, make for a very enjoyable and educational study.

The forms featured in this excellent book are The Villanelle, The Sestina, The Pantoum, The Sonnet, The Ballad, Blank Verse, The Heroic Couplet, The Stanza, The Elegy, The Pastoral, The Ode and Open Forms.

As a reminder of how enjoyable formal poems can be, I thought I’d jot down portions of some of the wide variety of poems to be found in this book:

The Villanelle
The Waking
By Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

The Sestina
The Book of Yolek
By Anthony Hecht

The dowsed coals fume and hiss after your meal
Of grilled trout, and you saunter off for a walk
Down the fern trail, it doesn’t matter where to,
Just so you’re weeks and worlds away from home,
And among midsummer hills have set up camp
In the deep bronze glories of declining day.

You remember, peacefully, an earlier day
In childhood, remember a quite specific meal:
A corn roast and bonfire in summer camp.
That summer you got lost on a nature Walk;
More than you dared admit, you thought of home;
No one else knows where the mind wanders to.

The Pantoum
Parents’ Pantoum
By Carolyn Kizwer

Where did these enormous children come from,
More ladylike than we have ever been?
Some of ours look older than we feel.
How did they appear in their long dresses

More ladylike than we have ever been?
But they moan about their aging more than we do,
In their heels and long black dresses.
They say they admire our youthful spontaneity.

The Sonnet
To My Mother
By George Barker

Most near, most dear, most loved and most far,
Under the window where I often found her
Sitting as huge as Asia, seismic with laughter,
Gin and chicken helpless in her Irish hand,
Irresistible as Rabelais, but most tender for
The lame dogs and hurt birds that surround her –
She is a procession no one can follow after
But be like a little dog following a brass band.

The Ballad
The Tale of Custard the Dragon
By Ogden Nash

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

It would take up much space to include short examples from all the forms in the book, but here is a Sestina I wrote about “The Making Of A Poem.”

Norton’s Poetic Forms Anthology
By Liz Mastin

I’m sitting by the sea
With my forms anthology
And I hate to put it down.
Though it’s late, think I’ll go swimming.
Remember one thing should I drown,
“Bury this book with me!”

Bury this book with me
If they drag me from the sea,
I don’t mind that I should drown:
Save my forms anthology!
I’m almost happy I went swimming;
Please be glad and don’t be down.

And when they lower me down,
Place the book atop of me
And be careful when you’re swimming
In the dangerous riptide sea.
Guard your anthology!
Though I’m sure that you won’t drown.

In a place where no one drowns,
Charming heaven of angel down
With my great anthology
Resting gently right on me,
I’ll enjoy a glassy sea
Where a sign says – “No Swimming!”

It’s just fine I can’t go swimming,
Only once I care to drown.
I only wish to see the sea;
No more struggling going down,

Yes dry and safe with me
In a different kind of sea,
“In” my forms anthology

I’ll be swimming.

Liz Mastin Bio                                                          
Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead City, Arizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.

While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry.

Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed this winter. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

For Robin

The year was 1976. The nightclub in Aspen where I worked had booked a two week gig with comedians from The Comedy Store. Steve Martin had been our guest a few weeks prior and I thought whoever was sent from L.A. could not come within a hundred miles of his rising star. Since I would be hearing the show night after night, I thought I would be in for a big snooze.

On the night I met Robin Williams, I arrived at the club early and checked in with my friend who worked in the office. He said the guys were setting up backstage. Remembering I had left my black, high-heeled boots there earlier in the day, I thought I could sneak in unobserved and retrieve them. I pushed the curtain aside and reached down to pick them up, almost bumping in to a handsome young man  wearing a long sleeved tee shirt, suspenders and khakis.

“I'm sorry to disturb you. I just came to get my boots.” I put out my hand and introduced myself.

“I'm Robin,” he replied. “I was going to use those in my act.” He took one boot from my hand and put it on like and evening glove. As soon as he started making jokes, I thought the week might be looking up after all.

Being that I was the lowly coatroom girl, I was free to watch the show. I stood in the back when he took the stage introducing himself as “Russia's only comedian.” After the show, we all gathered for our one free drink, sponsored by the owner, and then went out on the town after that. Word spread like wildfire and the crowds grew larger every night.

Robin came back in the summer to open for a band that ended up canceling at the last minute. It was like a classic movie scene where we learned the business would fold if we couldn't come up with some wild scheme to fill the place. The idea of asking Robin to do the whole show was absolutely preposterous, but knowing we would all be out of work if he failed to save the day, we persuaded him to say yes. He didn't know if he would be able to do it, to go from fifteen minutes of comedy to performing a one man show. He wasn't sure if he had enough material from what seemed to stem from a stream of consciousness. We offered all the help and encouragement we could. He asked me to come onstage with him, doing a few bits when he lost his train of thought, or came to a dead end. While I watched for those times when he might need a new direction, I realized that he had a far greater wealth of material than we knew. He had characters and voices, he had skits, and bits, like one of his favorites, “Attack of the killer chairs.” Observing him made me stand back in wonder. He killed it, night after night. He had the quickest wit I had ever encountered in my life. His gift was staggering, yet he bore it with humility. Some nights he would stay “on” for an hour or two after the show, but once done it would all close, just as if someone drew a curtain across his eyes. Then he would be quiet.

We all knew that someone would discover him soon and it was only a matter of time before he would go on to far greater heights. The privilege of watching his career unfold, seeing him live up to his full potential, thrilled me over and over. I knew his offstage persona, his sweet, shy manner, his dazzling intellect, his moral compass, his gentlemanly sensibility and his heart. I can honestly say that I truly admired the man, and had a fondness for him that never wavered. Under what lucky star was I born that I would bump into someone like him?

We saw him when he came through Spokane in the spring of 2013, to do a retrospective show with David Steinberg. In the car on the way home, I expressed a thousand concerns and worries about Robin. That night while cheerful, generous and friendly, I sensed an overall exhaustion setting in that troubled me.

The news of his death and the manner of his demise shocked us all. He will be deeply and profoundly missed. Sometimes we forget that we are mortal. Perhaps genius at that level, comes along once in a hundred years. He inspired me, every step of the way. I have never stopped believing in the power of the imagination. He reminded me of a young colt that prances and dances as he is let out of the stall. A thoroughbred with the bloodlines of a true champion, Robin took comedy in a new direction. He knew we had more in common than we realized. His peers spoke of his generosity. He touched an entire generation of children.

We don't have the answers. We don't even know the right questions. After watching The Birdcage last night, I felt guilty for laughing. My ribcage hurts today, and my face aches. All those years ago in Aspen, one of our friends remembered the old English nursery rhyme and recited it as we gathered for our free drink.  It was not familiar to most, but it was to me, as it was to him. These are the last lines:

"All the birds of the air
fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
when they heard the bell toll
for poor Cock Robin."