Friday, March 30, 2012

Porgy and Bess and a Country Bunny

Yesterday afternoon I spent some time browsing the internet for an Easter book to buy for three year old Josie, my friend Sandy’s sweet grand-daughter.  Josie delights in sitting on her grandma’s lap while Sandy reads to her. The Olivia stories are her favorite.   While looking for an Easter tale about Olivia pig and her adventures,  I was surprised to find so many Easter books for children.  I bet there are several hundred!  

Some were familiar stories  I read to my son, Gavin when he was a toddler – The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter), The Run Away Bunny (Margaret Wise Brown), The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams). Others are newer titles, Max’s Chocolate Chicken (Rosemary Wells), The Easter Story (Brian Wildsmith), The Easter Egg (Jan Brett) and The Easter Swallow (Vickie Howie).  

Then I came across a book I remember from my own childhood, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Dubose Heyward (1885 -1940).  It is a charming story about not just one Easter bunny, but five.  Young bunnies are taught if they are to be chosen by Grandfather Rabbit to be one of the five Easter bunnies, they must learn to be wise, kind and swift.  At the center of the story is a  little brown haired country bunny. Because she looks  different  from the white citified bunnies  she is   set apart from the others.   She becomes mother to 21 baby bunnies,  and it  seems her dream of ever  being chosen one of the five Easter bunnies is gone.  But Grandfather Rabbit has watched as  she lovingly raised her babies to productive, happy lives and eventually  chooses Country Bunny  to be one of the five Easter bunnies.  There's a challenge to overcome, but   ultimately Country Bunny  will hand  out the best Easter egg of all.

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes was first published in 1939, and in a subtle way Dubose spoke to both discrimination, and the lofty achievement of women.

But there is much more about Heyward.  As readers and writers we are always learning something new. So it was for me  yesterday when for the first time I connected that  the author of a  book I read as a child is the same author whose book Porgy ,   a premier  major southern novel to portray blacks without dissension, was the basis for the great Gershwin musical, Porgy and Bess.   Dubose Heyward  also wrote the lyrics to the show’s renowned songs  Summertime ,  My Man's Gone Now,  Bess, You Is My Woman Now, and half the arias.

Heyward, according to University Press of Mississippi, was as a young man immersed in the Gullah culture of his city. Especially through his mother, a performer and interpreter of Gullah life in folktale and song, he discovered the gateway into the fascinating world he would immortalize in the characters of Porgy, Bess, Maria, and other denizens of Charleston’s Catfish Row. In Heyward’s biography, DUBOSE HEYWARD A Charleston Gentleman and the World of Porgy and Bess by James M. Hutchisson ,   he is seen as a southerner who overcame social restrictions  to perceive humanity beyond  the class and color lines.  

Known as the author of Porgy, and the only children’s book he wrote, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, Heyward was  co-founder of the Poetry Society of South Carolina, the first regional poetry circle in America.  To read Heyward's  poem DUSK visit

And for dear Josie, well, I’ve decided to save Olivia for another time, and give her a book for Easter about a faithful country bunny  who is  brave and true. 

*** For more about Dubose Heyward  (poet, playwright, lyricist, novelist and author of  a book for children) visit

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Value of a Letter

    Anyone who has read my blog posts  knows I value the importance of letters, and the  art of letter writing, and about the large box of letters I have saved over the years from my mother, brother, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.  Like this one from my life long  friend, Manya who wrote this letter to me November 19, 1969   while I was away at college, and very  homesick :

Hi Kathy!
    Before I begin my letter I would like to have you read the following lines from my book of Happiness - “Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life ; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens. Circumstances and situations do color life, but you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be.”   That is one of my favorite quotes, but I like this one, too." Happier is he who believes that tomorrow will ease all pain and take all sorrow. Happiest he who on earthy sod has faith in himself, his friends , his God" .  There! I hope my words of wisdom have given you a happier outlook . Manya went on to tell me she had visited my mother Monday night, and my boyfriend (at the time) missed me and would pick me up at the airport when I came home for Thanksgiving. 

    Or this letter from my cousin Shauna , several months after her wedding

Dear Kathy,
    Just a note to see how you are, and let you know we’re thinking about you all. Getting married is a wonderful experience but it sure keeps me busy! We are very happy and everyone is well. And how about you… how are you feeling? I was amazed at how agile you were last August. I realize there is still some pain & discomfort but I admire you so much for your patience &strength. Forgive me for not writing. With school and being married and things like cooking (I am horrible), the laundry (everything comes out the wrong color), and general clean-up, (have you ever put liquid soap in a dishwasher?  Don’t. Bubbles everywhere), it seems time flies. 

    While neither of these   personal examples may be as intriguing as letters written by the famously renowned -   Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 when Einstein warned of the possibility of Germany building an atomic bomb or   the letters of Hemingway, Virginia Woolf or C.S. Lewis, they do present a time and place in the history of both letter writer, and recipient.  They also tell a lot about the individuals who wrote the letters,  and  relate attitude, activity, compassion, environment, humor. Isn't that why biographers search for  letters of famed authors, poets, politicians , and find them so interesting?  Those letters  give us an up close and personal look at their lives at a given moment, a certain age.  Through their letters we come to know them better, and the age they lived in. 

    It's  the same with most of us, the not so famed.   The letters we write can provide an insight about our life - family, friends, first time experiences and youthful exploits; Adult endeavors, politics, faith, the decisions we make.  Letters are autobiographical.

    Letter writing encompasses a broad range.   There are letters of recommendation, resignation, friendship letters, love letters; Letters of condolence, of good cheer, cover letters, rejection letters; Query letters, letters to the editor and a letter to the  Board of Directors. 

    How well I remember being in grade school and the good nuns teaching the proper way to write a letter. At the time I was in school all English books devoted a complete chapter to letter writing – friendly and formal , and an outline as to the proper way to write a letter.

Your address
Salutation or greeting
Body of letter

    I wish I could say I still write letters like I once did, but I don’t. I have given way to the quick email and short worded text, but I do believe in the tradition and importance of letter writing, and how letters tell a story all their own, and present  a style and permanence high tech doesn't quite provide. 

*** Letters of Note  Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience
is a wonderful site dedicated to gathering all sorts of fascinating letters, including one from  author Sherwood Anderson while he was still a copy writer for an ad agency in 1918. One of my favorites is a letter humorist James Thurber wrote to a school boy in 1959 titled You children write illiterate letters in response to the boys letter to him. It's worth the read ! 

Monday, March 26, 2012


There are many types  and styles of writing, and most of us have a favorite genre: Fiction, non-fiction, mystery, horror, romance  or poetry. But there is also, script writing, letter writing, business writing, writing copy for  ad campaigns, and writing a homily. 

Paul Schwerdt is an ordained Deacon in the Catholic church who knows a lot about writing a homily,  he has been doing so for the past 17 years . I welcome Paul as guest blogger for Writing North Idaho, and  find   his process for writing a Sunday homily  not  much different  from any other type of writing , which is to  write and re-write.


I am delighted  to be a guest blogger on a website for writers. The closest I’ve come to being published is the acceptance of my letters by the editor of our local newspaper. But I preach in my role as a deacon in the Catholic Church, and I believe preachers should be writers. The output of a preacher doesn’t usually get published, but we do speak in public, which means we communicate with words.

My instructors who trained me may not think of their students as writers. They taught us that our congregations would get more from our homilies if we spoke them from our hearts, not from a piece of paper. But the words I spoke from my heart when we were being trained in homiletics (the art of preaching) were not my greatest masterpieces. I cannot choose my words carefully when speaking extemporaneously. 
Perhaps I should differentiate between homilies and sermons.

 The Random House Webster’s Dictionary program on my computer defines a sermon as “a discourse for the purpose of religious instruction or exhortation, usually delivered by a cleric during religious services.” It defines a homily as “a sermon typically on a scriptural topic.” I preach homilies. A homily’s purpose is to draw out some idea from that day’s bible readings and put it into practical terms that will help the listeners to live better lives. I see no reason why this cannot be accomplished from a printed text, provided the speaker looks at the congregation the majority of the time. 

When I prepare to preach I approach the task the same way as if I were writing a magazine article for a religious magazine. In the Catholic Mass, there are three bible readings on Sundays. The first is from the Old Testament, the second from the New Testament letters of Paul or another writer, and the third is from one of the four gospels.

To prepare to preach I begin by reading all three, letting them simmer in my mind for a day or two. Quite frequently I write down my ideas using the technique called clustering, a term coined by Gabriel Lusser Rico in her book Writing the Natural Way. I write down key words and try to find a pattern or an idea that I can develop. I almost always use some non-biblical story or movie scene to get my ideas across to my listeners. One powerful scene is the close of the movie Saving Private Ryan, where Captain John Miller, before he dies, says to Private James Ryan, “earn this,”  that is, live a life worthy of the sacrifice these men made to deliver you from this war.

Then I write my homily in words suitable for speaking. I give myself a page limit, going no more than four pages double-spaced. I don’t like to speak more than ten minutes. In the past I have observed congregations when long-winded preachers ramble on; they begin to move and shuffle in their seats, their body language saying, “You’ve made your point. Stop already”. I may go longer if I think I’m on a roll and will be able to hold their attention for the extra time.

I have gotten great ideas that I like but that don’t fit the particular direction I’m going. Then I resort to the term Stephen King uses in On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft: “kill your darlings.” Omit the cute story that just doesn’t seem to work. Sometimes that’s hard to do. But it’s a necessary ingredient in rewriting.
I finish the first draft, take a break and do something else, laundry, lunch, or playing my guitar. If this has been an easy homily to write, I might get lucky and finish on a Friday, not having to rewrite until Saturday. A fresh reading after a night’s sleep can uncover a multitude of glitches, faulty word order or a phrase that looks good on paper but will sound terrible when spoken. I pity the poor lector who has to read this tongue-twister from the Catholic bible translation of Isaiah: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.”

When I am satisfied, only then do I turn on my printer. I have to be extra diligent in my writing and rewriting, because what emerges from my printer will not be seen first by an editor or agent, but will be heard first by its intended audience. I see myself more as a homily writer than a preacher, choosing my words carefully. I take that role very seriously.

*** Paul Schwerdt graduated from St. John’s Seminary College in Camarillo, California with a degree in Philosophy, but did not become a priest. He is married, lives with his wife Nancy in Lancaster, California, and is  an ordained Roman Catholic deacon for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  About twenty years ago, after the birth of his son,  he took the course “Writing for Children and Teenagers” from the Institute of Children’s Literature in West Redding, Connecticut  hoping to pursue a professional writing career, but as Paul states, " God had something else, another type of writing  in store for me ".     

His day job is as a computer helpdesk technician .  His  interests away from work are playing guitar, cooking, and  of course, writing - especially preparing, and writing  the Sunday homily

Friday, March 23, 2012

Selling Your Books at a Booth

While doing one my favorite things, research, I came across two informative articles on selling your books at booths by Belea T. Keeney. I found them so informative that I asked permission to encapsulate them for you with notes on where to read the complete articles.

“Selling books directly tor readers via an event is a very personal, hands-on approach to marketing your titles,” begins Keeney's two part article on twenty great tips on how to effectively market your books.

1-2. Evaluate your genre and market, then decide which events will be right for you and your book. Keeney says to begin with local and regional events to get a feel for your market and if you are pitching your book to the right audience. She gives several good examples of potential local venues emphasizing the area places: street fairs, Saturday markets, and local groups that may have an interest in your theme. She suggests trying genre specific places such as garden clubs if you mystery is set in a garden or state fairs or horse shows if your novel is about horses.

3-4. Start small and local to test the market and get a sense of cost vs. return. Local events will have a lower booth cost rental fee and you will not incur large travel expenses. You may be able to obtain a write-up in the local or neighborhood newspaper, newsletters of groups to which you belong or special interest newsletters that relate to your subject. You may be able to rent a booth for one to three days. Large festivals often will not let you break down your booth early. There are always your local bookstores that will advertise your book signing free on their web sites. Think about pairing with another local author to draw more people and share expenses.

5. Register [to rent space] online or by mail. Keeney recommends you read the information forms carefully and do exactly as the form says. Keep hard copies of all correspondence and receipts and bring them with you the day(s) of the event.

6. If you are lucky enough to have multiple [book] titles, decide which one(s) you will take with you and how many copies. Place an order with your publisher. If your publisher offers other authors’ books on somewhat the same subject, take a few of those along to draw in more people.

7-8-9. The week before the event, confirm your vendor status by contacting the festival organizers, write up your packing list, and recruit a helper. Keeney has a number of suggestions of items to draw people into your booth like posters, bookmarks, banners, a pen for autographs, as well as items for your personal comfort. The day before pack up your items using your packing list. Most events provide an unloading area. Even if you hire help or ask a friend to help for an hour, your task will be easier and safer.

10. How many books can you sell? She says that zero-thirty has been her experience with an attendance of less than 10,000. She lists many other ideas to try if you have only one title.

Part ii: Working the Booth

1-2, 4. Make contact and break the ice. The first goal is to get people to stop. Stand up and put on a smile. Ask open-ended questions such as, “What do you like to read?” Shyness is a problem for some people. If this a trouble area for you, Kenney suggests starting out by greeting every tenth person, then every fifth, and then every person who walks by. Many will not stop so do not take it personally. Practice not being “in their faces.” Stand slightly away from the front and do not crowd them when they are browsing.

3, 5, 7. Steer them towards your books! Once you know their interests, put a book in their hands. After you give them a one sentence synopsis of the book, "watch their eyes.” Promote your co-booth vendor's books a little too. It good business to make friends with the vendors next to you. You never know where a kind word, compliment or helping hand will lead. If you do not make a sale, do not worry. You have made contact and given them your information on a bookmark, flyer or mini poster of your book cover, and your web site information. It is a beginning.

8. Eat away from the booth or at least out of sight. Hide your food and take small bites that you can swallow quickly if a passer-by shows interest. Eat at the back of the booth if you cannot leave the site unattended.

9. Make notes about who buys the book. Write down what you know about the person who bought your book: age, gender, children, and their interests. If you have autographed books, try to remember their names and thank them in your blog (make sure you tuck a book mark with blog address and all titles of your books printed on it into the signed book.) Keeney says this is good way to get a feel for your market and if you are marketing to the right audience in the right way.

10. Try to enjoy yourself! One excellent use of time Belea Keeny recommends is to make observations and time spent at the booth work for you. Use a notebook to quickly jot down ideas, conversation topics, snatches of dialogue, and descriptions of people who walk by or buy your book to use in future stories.

This has been synopsis of a wonderful two-part article by Belea T. Keeney, Author. Editor. Wordsmith. She has written seven books. Her URL is These articles can be seen in their complete form at and Permission was given by the author to give this synopsis. Many thanks for Belea Keeney's generosity in sharing her wisdom with other writers!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012



WNI Free Short Story Contest

Contest begins: February 15. Contest ends: March 30. Winners announced: April 15, 2012.

Write a 1,000 word short story that begins with this first line:

“Her long journey through pain was almost over.”

$30 CASH PRIZE TO FIRST PLACE WINNER; 2nd & 3rd Place Prizes


Winning entries will be posted on our website at See our Contest page (access through information in upper left hand corner side bar.

Contest Rules

1. Write a 1,000-word short story opening with the line, “Her long journey through pain was almost over.” Entries over 1,000 words will be disqualified.

2. This contest is open to all writers and readers except those associated with (Writers who have written guest-posts for WNI are eligible.)

3. The contest will end on March 30. Winners will be posted on April 15.

4. The story must be your original work.

5. You may submit up to 2 entries.

6. Send entries to Your entry must include your name and location. You will be notified that we have received your entry.

_ * _ * _ * _ * _* _ * _ * _ * _ *_ * _ * _ * _ * _ * _ * _ * _ * _ * _ * _ * _ * _


The Coeur d’Alene Public Library hosts and annual story writing contest for children through adults. The deadline is March 31, 2012. for details.

Here is an appeal for volunteer judges from David Townsend, Contest Coordinator at the library.

“This is my annual request for judges for the Writers Competition at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library. You have been contacted because you are a regional writer, editor, published author or educator. The Writers Competition is for fiction and nonfiction prose up to 2,000 words. In order to have each of the entries reviewed by at least three judges I will need at least 27 judges. Ages categories are 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-18 and 19-plus. (The fiction and nonfiction categories in the 6-8 age group are normally combined because there are normally the least number of entries at that age level.) This is my annual request for judges for the Writers Competition at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library. You have been contacted because you are a regional writer, editor, published author or educator. The Writers Competition is for fiction and nonfiction prose up to 2,000 words. In order to have each of the entries reviewed by at least three judges I will need at least 27 judges. Ages categories are 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-18 and 19-plus. (The fiction and nonfiction categories in the 6-8 age group are normally combined because there are normally the least number of entries at that age level.)

If you can be a judge, please respond with your choice of age group and category (fiction or nonfiction). Please let me know if you prefer to pick up your packet or to have it mailed. Even if you are picking up a packet at the library please send me your mailing address. If there is a group of judges in one building – a newspaper, for example – packets will be hand delivered.

You may enter the contest and be a judge. Let me know in which adult categories you are entering and I will assign you a different category. See for entry rules.

Thank you for considering this request. Let me know if I can answer any questions.

DAVID TOWNSEND, Coeur d’Alene Public Library

208) 762-2315, ext. 426, DTOWNSEND@CDALIBRARY.ORG

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I have both entered and judged the public library contest. Judging is simple. There is a form to follow and the reading is fascinating. David allows plenty of time to read and score the competitions. I have judged all age groups and categories except for 19+ nonfiction (the category I usually enter) and always find some excellent writers in all categories which is exciting.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Verbification . . . to be or not to be

The English language (both British English and American English) is always in flux. The speed of change is directly related to technology. Stone tablets, clay tablets, papyrus, parchment, vellum, wood based paper, Marco Polo's travels coupled with Chinese inventions, the Silk Road, literacy for the masses, break down of classes in society, moveable type, daily newspapers, telephones, computers, and increased speed of communication all influenced these changes.

Today English language changes are picked up faster due to international chat rooms, message texting, computer availability, iPads, e-books and more leisure time for writing and reading. Chat rooms are big contributors because people from many nations are using one room where English is the common language but the odd foreign word inevitably slides in. Many words are assimilated much to the displeasure of the French who want to keep their language pure. Words like ballet, croissant, glastnost, ramen, safari, tycoon, Zen, futon, blitz, ennui, bikini, incommunicado, angst, armoire, and gestalt are among the thousands of words whose origin is other than English.

The English language structure makes it easy for changes to develop. The Germanic, Chinese and Arabic languages have strict structures that allow little change with the exception of technical words and phrases. These languages have many words which when used as a noun mean one thing but as a verb are different. English has few of these inflections.

One trend in English, verbification, is of great controversy more so now than ten years ago. Sentences like, "I officed him on the second floor," " He podiumed at the Olympics," "Charlie tasked me to garbage this project," "My ask is that you make this change on line two," and "Hollywood farewelled Michael Jackson" are coming under fire. One derogatory or alternately feared term depending upon your stance is "handbagged." It is a reference to the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. She entered a room, set her Verragamo handbag on the cabinet and one person remarked, "The handbag is here. Let's start the meeting." It now means a tough female negotiator or business woman.

Verbification has been used for centuries. Shakespeare in Richard II, has the Duke of York saying, "Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle." Verbs like armed, painted, questioned, shouldered, faced, emailed, trained, stated, sanded, objected, cooked and kissed all started out as nouns. Now they are common verbs accepted by even those who hold English to the highest standards.

Users of the terms and phrases such as journaling, trending, bookmarking, texting, friending or defriending, golfers paring a hole, or race care drivers pitting, lawyering up/out, tasking, or heirlooming a possession have experienced a lack of acceptance in the business and writing world. People who use them are considered, especially if you are a writer, to be lazy, ignorant or pretentious. Ben Franklin agreed saying verification was "abominable and awkward." Some grammar sites condone using nouns as verbs as a sign of a vibrant linguistic culture while other decry their use. Possibly some of the vogue terms will become so accepted where no thought will be given to them being anything other than verbs. Others may go the wayside just like, "I took a meeting."

Digital photo by anakkmi

Friday, March 16, 2012

When we fall short of our writing goals...

Well, friends, I didn't quite make it.

Today was the date I'd set as a personal deadline to finish my novel, but I'm still about three chapters shy of typing "The End," mostly due to a new plot twist that I couldn't convince myself to ignore. I need to stop writing now in order to pack my suitcase and head over to the Inland Northwest Christian Writer's Conference in Spokane Valley. But first I thought I'd write a few words about falling short of a writing goal.

First of all, failing to meet a personal deadline, while disappointing, is not nearly as serious as blowing past a contractual deadline set by a publisher. The latter is serious business--at worst a breach of contract, at best a snafu that could have an unpleasant domino effect on editors, designers, proofreaders, printers, marketers, and so on down the line, who have set their own schedules based on receiving your manuscript in time. So for today, at least, I can honestly say that I'm pleased NOT to be working under a publisher's contract (although I'll feel quite differently when the manuscript is done--dare I say, in a week or so?)

Second, it's unproductive to moan and groan and feel bad about missing a personal goal (for more than a few minutes, anyway). It happened. It's done. Time to move on and set the next goal.

Third, when a goal is missed, it presents a good opportunity to step back for a moment, take stock, and analyze what happened. In my case, I added something to the outline, a plot twist that I hadn't planned on. I could have ignored this new development and pushed on, which is what some writing teachers would advise. But this particular twist affects the rest of the story that follows, so I felt I needed to put it in right then and there. I also didn't want to forget it! So it set me back a bit. While we don't want to get too loosey-goosey with our plans, there should be some room for flexibility, particularly if it results in a better story.

Fourth, it's tempting to think that if a goal is missed, it was too ambitious in the first place. While that could be true, I think there's something to be said for reaching high. So I will continue to set ambitious writing goals, even if I sometimes let myself down.

"Shoot for the moon," said some wise person*. "Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

*(An online search for the source of this quote turned up all sorts of attributions, from W. Clement Stone to Les Brown to Brian Littell of the Backstreet Boys! If anyone has a for-sure source for this quote, please share it in the comments.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

More contest news, The Moral Premise, and going the last mile

Good news! The entry deadline for the Writing North Idaho Short Story Contest has been extended to Friday, March 30. That's an extra couple of weeks to write your story, so warm up that keyboard and get your creative motor running. Details here.

The Inland Northwest Christian Writers Conference in Spokane Valley and the Idahope Writers Conference in Boise are taking place this weekend. Who's planning to attend one of these? (Waving! I'll be at INCWC. Hope to see some of you there.) I understand that both conferences still have a few spaces available for walk-ins, if you haven't registered but find that you're able to attend. Check the websites for details.

I'm finally getting around to reading a book that's been on my nightstand since last fall, and now I'm sorry I didn't pick it up sooner. It's The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue & Vice for Box Office Success by Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D. The author, a veteran filmmaker, directs his attention primarily to filmwriters, but his insights into elements like story structure, cause-and-effect, and character motivation will prove useful for storytellers of all genres. Peppered throughout with examples from familiar movies, this is an eye-opening book for novelists, playwrights, short-story writers, and other yarn-spinners, in addition to screenwriters.

What's on my desk today: I'm in the home stretch of my novel, a romantic comedy set in 1920s Chicago. I had set a personal goal of finishing it before attending the Inland Northwest Christian Writers Conference, which starts in--oh, let's see--two days. Yikes! I don't know if I'll make it all the way to "The End" by Friday, but I'll be awfully close--much closer than I'd be if I didn't have a deadline to work toward. Between now and then, caffeine is my friend and Facebook is my enemy!

What's on YOUR desk?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Writing contest update: Down to the wire!

Just a quick reminder that March 15 (UPDATE: NOW MARCH 30) is the deadline for the Writing North Idaho Short Story Contest! Details are here, and rest assured that you DON'T have to live in North Idaho to win (the winner of our last contest was from New Jersey)!

Still on the fence about entering? Here are four solid reasons to enter a writing contest:

1) Rise to the challenge. Can you write an intriguing story that begins with a particular opening sentence? Can you stay within the word limit, making every word count? Can you meet a deadline? Do you dare to take the emotional risk pitting your "baby" against others in the race? You'll never know until you try! These are all qualities that serve any writer well, and entering a contest is one way build them. Think of it as strengthening your writerly muscles!

2) Practice putting your work "out there." Some of us--experienced writers as well as fledglings--are averse to showing our work to anyone. The upside to this reluctance (or fear of judgment, or overdeveloped sense of modesty . . . call it what you will) is that we get to stay safe. The downside is that the world is poorer for not getting to read our work. If we want to participate in the "great conversation," we need to share our work with the world. Submitting to a contest is a great warm-up to submitting to a publisher. Try it; you'll like it!

3) Build your portfolio. The story you write for a contest, whether or not it's declared a winner in that particular competition, could be the start of something big. You might end up submitting it for publication elsewhere, or it could be the spark of something even greater--a completely different story, a novel, a screenplay, an essay, or some other as-yet-unimagined project. Composing a simple contest entry is only the beginning!

4) Did we mention prizes? Contest winners receive prizes, online publication on Writing North Idaho, and a sparkling addition to their writing credentials.

So what are you waiting for? Enter the short story contest today!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Reading Tips and Upcoming North Idaho Events

Michael Fogus posted an interesting article on his blog, Lifehacker, recently. Titled, Reading for the Rushed, he gives pointers on how he manages to maximize his motivation and reading time. They include:

Read only what you find interesting
Be willing to abandon bad books
Read in context
The more you read the faster you’ll read
Keep a reading log

Fogus expands on these principles in his article, which you can find Here.

Upcoming Events

The Coeur d’Alene Library has a number of writing-related events coming up this month. Here are the highlights:

Photo Safari from South African Park

COEUR d’ALENE – Writer and photographer Joan Budai will share her photos from South Africa as part of the Novel Destinations series at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library, 702 E. Front Ave., on Thursday, March 15, at 7 p.m. The free program on the big screen in the Community Room features wildlife photos from the Kruger National Park.

Reception at Library for Author/Volunteer

COEUR d’ALENE – For many years Dorothea Maley has volunteered at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library surrounded by books. Now she has written a book herself.

The Friends of the Library will host a reception for the author Thursday, March 22, at 7 p.m. where she will read from and sign copies of her book, “In the Shadow of Rainbows.”

A longtime North Idaho resident, Maley achieved success in the fields of graphic arts and publishing. This is her first full-length book. “In the Shadow of Rainbows” is a fictional adaptation of a true story. The central character, Ann Marie Duvall, is determined to visit Egypt and its historic sites. But with cancer spreading through her body it appears unlikely she will be able to fulfill her dream. But with courage, faith, and laughter she fights to overcome the challenge.

Writers Competition is 24th for Library

COEUR d’ALENE – The 24th annual Writers Competition at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library has begun.

Writers ages 6 to adult can submit up to two entries of fiction and nonfiction prose (no poetry please) – two fiction pieces, two nonfiction or one in each category – up to 2,000 words.

Entry forms and rules are available at the library, 702 E. Front Ave., beginning Jan. 31 or can be downloaded from the library website, The web entry forms can be found under the “About Us” and click on “Annual Events.” You can receive entry forms/rules by mail by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Writers Competition, Cd’A Public Library, 702 E. Front Ave., Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814. The deadline for entries is March 31. Entries mailed to the library should be postmarked no later than March 30.

North Idaho Reads Grant Approved for Film Festival

 North Idaho Reads – a cooperative reading and discussion project by regional libraries – has been approved by the Idaho Humanities Council to receive a grant of $1,882 in support of a film festival as part of the group’s programs.

The project – previously called Our Region Reads – selects a book each year for the regional community to share and to discuss during a series of programs. This year’s title is the classic “Fahrenheit 451,” by Ray Bradbury. Programs will be scheduled from Sept. 30 to Nov. 11. The Humanities grant will fund “The Future is Yours – Join the Fahrenheit 451 Conversation” a movie series looking a films with different interpretations what the future may hold.

Planning is currently underway for other programs as part of North Idaho Reads at libraries that include Coeur d’Alene Public Library, the Community Library Network, the West Bonner Library District and the East Bonner County Library District as well as other nonlibrary venues. Humanities grants are funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the “We the People Initiative.”

Additional information about North Idaho Reads is available at


For details about these and other North Idaho events, check out the Events page of this blog.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Movies about Writers and the Writing Life: Sit Back, Relax, Learn.

I recently ran across the movie, Sylvia, on Netflix instant video. Sylvia focuses on the story of the relationship between American poet Sylvia Plath and her husband, the English poet Ted Hughes. I was intrigued and decided to watch the film because Plath was the first poet I studied years ago in my first poetry class. I still have her book of poetry, Colossus, on my shelf, which was the first book of poetry she published in the United States.

I had also read her book, The Bell Jar, which was an autobiographical novel that paralleled her life in many ways as it followed the life of a magazine editor who felt hemmed in by social conventions and was slowly taken over by mental illness. A movie based on The Bell Jar was released in 1979, and a new version is currently in pre-production to be released sometime in 2012.

Left: Sylvia Plath. Right: Gweneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath.

The Plath story is a sad one. It is the story of a talented poet and writer who suffered severe bouts of depression and, tragically, ended her own life at the age of 30.

In watching this movie I realized that, although we know filmmakers add drama and story elements to make movies more appealing and exciting to audiences, if we can look past the added drama and beyond our curiosity of the individual’s life, we can take away important truths from these stories of well-known writers about the writing life. They will show us that, no matter what an individual’s life is like, if they are a serious writer, their writing life becomes an important overlay to their reality. From this, certain themes filter through that can be true, and helpful, in the lives of other writers.

For instance, as writers we can understand how everyday life can get in the way of the time we want to spend writing. We understand that we sometimes have to balance and adjust the distractions of keeping the home together, holding down a job, paying bills, cooking meals, taking care of our families, etc., in order to keep our writing projects going.  We can also understand how jealousy between writers could arise when two talented poets such as Plath and Hughes are married and one receives more acclaim than the other. We can understand how frustration and insecurity can overtake a writer in that desperate wait to hear back from a publisher, an agent, or reviewer.

These are recurring themes in the lives of many writers, and watching Sylvia showed me that these glimpses of the writing life of other writers can be useful to help us understand that we are not alone in our range of struggles and efforts to become writers.

Seeing the movie inspired me to look for other movies that might be helpful to writers. As a result, I have added two new pages to this blog for you to check out. One is a list of "Movies About Writing" and the second is a list of "Movies Based on Well-Known Authors."

These movies aren’t listed because of cinema quality, but because of their focus on writers and the writing life. I have not seen all of the movies myself, but have pulled the list together by researching Amazon movie lists, Internet Movie Database (IMDB) movie lists, and recommendations from other sites.

I imagine you will have ideas of other movies that would be useful to writers and should be added to the lists. If so, leave a comment with your recommendation(s) and we’ll add them to the list.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Pseudonyms: A Guest Post by a "Frugal" Author

Today I am pleased to share a guest post from Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi-award-winning "How to Do It Frugally" series of books and booklets for writers and retailers. USA Book News awarded Howard-Johnson the Best Book Award for The Frugal Book Promoter (2004) and The Frugal Editor (2008) and the Second Edition of The Frugal Book Promoter (2011). Her blog, Sharing With Writers, was also included in the Writers Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers.


To Pseudonym or Not to Pseudonym

by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Nora Roberts, the author of more than 150 romance novels, was asked why she writes romantic suspense novels under a pen name. Here is her answer:

"It's marketing."

She says because she writes quickly that makes it difficult for her publisher to publish all of her work with an appropriate amount of time between each of them. So she writes works which are “edgier” than her romance novels under the pseudonym J. D. Robb. She says, "Putting it under a pseudonym helps brand it for the reader." Children’s writers often separate their real names or their “other” writing names from their children’s work to keep work intended for children untainted.

Writers will find information on the concept of branding in the second edition of The Frugal Book Promoter ( including some of the reasons why you shouldn’t use a pen name. You will, of course, have to weigh the pros and cons, but keep in mind that Ms. Roberts has a powerhouse publisher and its marketing department to help her navigate the difficulties inherent in using a pseudonym. If you are considering using a pen name here's what you should know:

1. It is very hard to keep a pen name secret. Everyone knows who Kristie Leigh Maguire is, as an example, but most know that it is a pen name. If people didn't know that Robb was Nora Roberts' pen name, most of them will now that Time magazine let the cat out of the bag in a featured interview. The magazine also revealed (big time) that Nora Roberts is also a pen name!

2. It is very hard to promote a book in person when you use a pen name—especially if you choose an opposite-sex pen name. In fact, promotion of all kinds can become touchy if you use a pen name because you are intent upon keeping your real identity a secret.

3. Using a pen name isn't necessarily an effective barrier against law suits.

Read more about Roberts in Time magazine's "10 Questions" feature, page 6 of the Dec. 10, 2007, issue.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson, an instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program, is a multi award-winning novelist and poet and author of the "How To Do It Frugally" series of books.

Learn more about Carolyn and her books at her websites and blogs:

Blogs:  &
The Frugal Book Promoter:

Carolyn's books are available in both paperback and digital formats at Amazon.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Structuring your novel: Be the architect, builder, and real estate agent of your novel

Part one of a three-part series
By T. Dawn Richard
Author of the May List Mystery Series

While writing is a creative, right-brain activity in many respects, writing an interesting, cohesive, novel is in great part a left-brain venture. One way to think your way through the process of writing your novel is to compare it to building a house. At first it seems that writing a novel and building a house have nothing in common but used as an illustration, it can be helpful during those times you are struggling with your story. Designing, building, and selling your novel will be presented in three parts.


Before having my house built, I had to decide what type of house I wanted. In the world of the novelist, this would be the same as deciding a genre. Would I live in a farmhouse, a Victorian, a haunted house, a tree house, a log home, an apartment complex, or a even a fun house? (Translation: western, historical, horror/mystery/thriller, outdoor adventure, short story compilation, comedy, etc.) Establish your genre early. This will keep you on track.

Brilliant and world renowned architects are known by name because of their buildings’ unique qualities. Like well-known authors whose work you can recognize in the first couple of pages, you can look at certain structures and know who designed them. But these architects have a drafted plan to present to the builders. Blue prints—instructions the builders will follow in order to complete the task. As a novelist, you too should have a plan before beginning your novel. Some writers work well with brief outlines, some prefer detailed and specific outlines and some writers prefer to use a list of scenes or a synopsis. Whatever works for you is fine, but having a plan will keep you on track, and will lead you to the end of the story. Avoid writing yourself into corners, designing stairways that lead to nowhere, or having a “house” difficult to navigate because of narrow hallways or unfinished rooms (or rooms with no doors!)

Don’t worry about dressing up your house while designing it, the paint and furnishings will come later. Just concentrate on the basic structure, form, size, and style. Does the story have many rooms (plot points) corners (twists) and a lot of outbuildings (subplots)? Or is it a simple tale, told mainly in the cozy great room? How many people will live in your house? Is it suitable for a couple or a whole fraternity? Are we interested in meeting the neighbors? Will your house be in the suburbs or in the middle of a teeming city or way out in the middle of a vast wilderness? Is it a modern, newfangled house or a rickety old drafty structure with creaking doors and hidden crawl spaces?

By taking the time to consider the particulars of your novel before beginning to write, you will be well on your way when typing out that first sentence. You will have a plan to keep you moving forward. The genius is often in the design.

In the next article, The Writer as Builder, learn about going from the planning and design stage to the building stage. With blueprints in hand you will be able to smoothly move through your plot points. You have no limits to options when designing your novel, your plans can be as grandiose as you’d like, or as simple as they can be, but they will be uniquely yours. Once your novel is finished, it will be time to put on your business hat. In The Writer as Real Estate Agent I’ll give some examples of ways to present and to sell your novel.

On a personal note—my favorite part of writing a novel is structuring the storyline. Plotting, in whatever way is useful for you, can be extremely fun and exciting.

See you next time when we discuss building that novel.

Spokane author T. Dawn Richard is a full time writer and author of the May List Mystery Series. Her first book, Death for Dessert, was published in 2003, followed by Digging up Otis, and A Wrinkle in Crime. She completed her fourth book in the series, Par for the Corpse, in 2009. Kirkus Reviews called her "A kind of geriatric Janet Evanovich" because of her quirky senior citizen characters. Richard has recently completed two screenplays and has several other projects in the works. Her books are available on