Friday, December 16, 2011

Special Effects in Book Publishing

On December 5, 2011, the “New York Times” published an article on how book publishers are trying to jazz up their books in order to improve sales of hard cover books. Publishers are feeling the pinch of e-books, self-publishers, electronic readers and the increasing use of public libraries (the latter due to harder economic times.) “Convenience" aka electronic reading is moving at warp speed. It is anticipated that there will be many more e-readers and gift certificate for e-books under the Christmas tree including the iPad Santa is bringing me than paper books .

I like having a book in my hands; I’ve been reading that way for decades. That is not to say I am not willing to change when there is a choice between publisher-manipulated print books versus less expensive, easy and fun to use, ever evolving e-books.

Julie Bosman in a “New York Times” article, 12/5/2011, titled “Selling Books by Their Gilded Covers” writes “New releases have design elements” that “…push the boundaries of bookmaking.” These are ordinary books with an attitude. Some books on the market now have embossed covers, higher quality paper, deckle edges, colored end papers and silk page markers.

Books by Stephen King, 11/25/63 (about the assassination of JFK), Haruki Murakame’s anticipated 1Q84 and Jay-Z’s memoir Decoded are examples of gilded books. Robert S. Miller, publisher of Workman Publishing states, “It (a special effect book) is like sending a thank-you note written on nice paper when we’re in an era of e-mail correspondence.” A senior VP of Spiegel and Grau was quoted as saying, “We’re rethinking the value in certain cases of special effects and higher production standards. Now in some cases, creating a more beautiful hardcover or paperback object is warranted.” (NYT 12/5/11)

All this means to me is publishing houses are still in the stone tablet-chisel mode of thinking. They do not understanding that e-publishing is the selling mode of the now and increasingly, the future. They continue to protect their monopolized fiefdom. Their answer besides embellished books is to use wide margins, bigger font, shorter chapters, fewer words and more books per season by popular authors. For a run-of-the-mill paperback book the prices have gone from $3.99 to $8.99 or $11.99. We spend more money for less content, plot, ink, and changing covers for the same books so you think you haven't read it.

Evan Schnittman of Bloomsbury publishers states that they hope readers will say, “…well there’s convenience reading and then there’s book owning and reading.” Special effects books like a gilded copy of The Iliad have always been around. Embellished effects books by a rapper or a movie star are not in the same category as a classic or “coffee table” book. Books we want to keep regardless of quality or looks, we keep. We give away, donate or sell at garage sales a greater percentage than we keep.

Publishing houses remain working at their physical desks seemingly sans computers, blinders in place while refusing to acknowledge technology has changed not only the industry but also the reading public. Libraries of the future will be computer inventoried with librarians specializing in information retrieval for the patrons. E-books will evolve into something we cannot imagine. Will traditional publishing houses continue to think “Customers want a print book in their hands” while most of us will be saying, “Did you see the new XYZ book reader that is out?”

Writing North Idaho will be in hiatus for two weeks. We wish you and yours a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, a joyful Kwanzaa, or plenty of time to enjoy the end of the year. We will be back on-line January 2, 2012.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Setting Up A Space for Writing Memoirs

Our guest blogger, Joan Hust, is sharing how to make the ideal setting for writing your memoirs. Her background will make for a best selling memoir. She attended 25 elementary schools by 5th grade, earned university degrees in elementary and secondary education, business administration and library science. She continues to take several classes a year.

Joan's work resume is enviable: taught K-junior college classes, ESL and numerous courses at the Theological College of Central Africa in Ndola, Zambia and led safaris for nine years there. She wrote and produced TV shows for children and women and ran a printing company, "Printing for Jesus". She served as the librarian in DeArmond Library in Coeur d'Alene, ID. She credits her mother who read aloud encyclopedias during car trips, and faith in the Lord. Now Joan travels on missions to start or add to libraries to Guatemala, Cuba, China India and Africa. She lives in Coeur d'Alene with her husband and one of their three children.

Joan is an prolific writer. She has written numerous articles (travel, religious, health oriented, learning in all forms) for a variety of sources. I read her articles frequently in the IWL newsletter and the newspaper "Goodwill." Joan's interesting web site is Writer's Roost (http// Thank you, Joan, for this guest post. Here is Joan when she isn't writing or traveling.

Every writer has a favorite place where they like to write. Some are most fortunate and have a room of their own or a place they have made for themselves under the upstairs steps.
All writing areas should have the basics: thermos of coffee, tea or water, tissues, pens and paper, computer or typewriter, waste paper basket, dictionary and extra cartridge of toner for the printer.

Biography writers will need inspiring memorabilia:

* Photographs, posters or postcard paintings of the subject of the biography.

* Items which relate to the subject such as an elephant wood carving from Africa

* Other biographies on the subject

* Reference guides to the times, cultures or places of the subject

* Newspaper and magazine articles

Autobiography writers will need some more personal items:

* Boxes and albums of family photos

* Contact numbers of relatives for help in remembering names and dates

* A notebook for writing down dates and times

* Diaries or journals

* Autobiography software

* Birth, marriage and death certificates

* Diploma and degree certificates

* Newspaper clippings (birth announcements, etc)

* School photos

* A cork board, push pins and cards to write thoughts and memories on

* Collectables from the life being written about figurines, badges, tickets from events attended

Memoirs often call to mind the exact emotions of the exact time in the individual's life. Photographs of that same time in your life:

* Wedding bouquet, childhood toys

* Pictures and items that bring to mind the emotions most common in the memoir

* Music, Perfumes, Scents to suggest memories

* Books and movies that bring back memories

For the writers that do not have a special writing room or corner it is ok. Here are a few ways to have a practical writing space:

* Have a bag or suitcase to keep your writing materials

* Have a computer desktop that has links to all of your inspiration music, scan in your family photos, use journaling or autobiography software

* Give yourself time every day to browse the internet for information and inspiration.

Limit Distractions

* If it is the internet turn it off. It can be very distracting.

* Don't listen to music if it sidetracks you.

* Get inspired and that

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tips for Writing A Stand-Out Holiday Letter

Jennifer Lamont Leo's post on Friday, December 9, touched on this same subject of writing Christmas tomes. I decided that since most people receive 30-40 Christmas letters during the holidays, two post from WNI bloggers on the same subject would not be too (or two) unwelcoming.

JLL's post had some excellent ideas. Most of you are writers and others expect writers to compose everything well and correctly. Here are more ways to make your letter sparkle and be enjoyed.

1.Keep it short. Most people are not interested in the minutiae of your life.

2. Don’t brag (unless your book was published!)

3. Do talk about the highlights of the year not the lowlights. Avoid whining about illness and injury. People want to hear happy news at this time of year.

4. Avoid regional jargon.

5. If you include pictures, choose a few good ones and make them big enough so people can discern the subject matter. Seven pictures of your daughter’s dance recital are six too many.

6. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly and my pet peeve: do not use more than one (1) exclamation point! Use spell check and grammar check often.

7. Be creative:

  • turn it into a multiple choice quiz.
  • make a crossword puzzle
  • use bullet points
  • follow David Letterman’s example and make a Top Ten List: 10: Terry hit a hole in one at Pebble Beach 9: Sarah learned to barrel race on her horse Magic.
  • use the word C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S to tell about events:

C-California road trip in June was the most fun vacation in years.

H-happily (?) our garden was voted the "most unusual garden" according to my garden club.

R-rescued a puppy now named "Colossus"; he turned out to be a St. Bernard.

8. Read your letter aloud. You will catch grammatical errors and awkward phrasing.

9. Have fun. Your goal is to entertain and inform not B & B (brag and bore.)

10. Add a personal note at the end in your handwriting. It shows you are thinking specifically of the receiver of your letter.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Family Christmas Letter: Your Annual Literary Masterwork

In the age of Facebook and Twitter, it will be interesting to see if the family Christmas* letter--the impersonal kind that's printed in quantity and mailed with (or in place of) greeting cards--will begin to fade away as a tradition.

I hope not. Which may be surprising, coming from someone who has been known to refer to such letters as "Brag-o-Grams." Jokingly, of course. Usually.

I guess I should confess up front that I rarely write them. My husband and I lead a fairly quiet life and figure that those who are truly interested in the details pretty much know them already. Individual, personal letters take care of the rest--no need for a mass mailing.

The exception to this was the year we moved from the suburbs of Illinois to the mountains of Idaho. That year, it took a mass-produced letter to notify people of our new address, share photos of the place, and reassure loved ones that we hadn't completely taken leave of our senses. But for the most part, writing a mass-produced Christmas letter is one holiday task that I happily sidestep.

That doesn't mean, however, that I don't enjoy receiving them, "Brag-o-Gram" remarks aside. Whether snail-mailed or e-mailed, mass-produced letters do make a great deal of sense for those of you with extensive families and wide, far-flung circles of friends--so many that trying to write personal letters would be tedious and wildly inefficient. Believe it or not, not everyone is on Facebook and Twitter. And for those with children and grandchildren who grow and change a great deal from year to year, annual letters are a great way to update people who don't see them regularly. Just be sure that your letter reads like a letter, not like a public relations puff piece or an annual report to shareholders.

Here, then, are a few highly subjective suggestions for writing a lively, fun-to-read, non-cringe-inducing Christmas letter. (Keep in mind that these are simply one reader's observations of what makes a good letter; as with most advice, take it or leave it as you wish.)

Include photos. Digital photography makes this easier than ever before, and the cliche is true: a picture is worth a thousand words.

Be succinct. Try to fit everything onto one or two pages. Stick to the highlights and don't try to chronicle exactly what happened each month of the year.

Keep your audience in mind. The wider circle your letter reaches, the more general it needs to be. Details of a visit to "Mimi and Bobo" will mystify people outside your family, while "the kids enjoyed visiting their grandparents" will be understood by all. Also realize that if you include "insider" jokes without explanation, you've just assigned a segment of your audience to "outsider" status--not the warmest holiday feeling.

Share your happy news in a cheerful, matter-of-fact way. Be appropriately proud, but don't gush or exaggerate. The line between sharing and boasting is a fine one. You want the result to be "Please share in our happiness," not "Be impressed by what great parents we are" or "Be envious of my fabulous life."

Share your not-so-happy news, if you must, briefly and dispassionately. This goes for medical news. "I had gall-bladder surgery in August" is fine. "The doctors found a gall stone the size of a baseball" is not. "And here's a picture" breaks every rule of Christmas-letter etiquette there is, my earlier point about photos notwithstanding.

Make sure the news you share is your news. "We welcomed Aunt Cleta home from rehab. Sure hope third time's the charm" may not be news Aunt Cleta wants shared with the world.

Write naturally, as if you were writing to a friend. After all, you are!(If they're not friends, why are you sending them a letter?) Use words you would normally use. If you're naturally funny, be funny. If you're naturally no-nonsense, be no-nonsense. Let your own voice shine through. That's the voice your family and friends want to hear.

Proofread for spelling and grammar. No, you're not being graded, and it's not the end of the world if you misspell a word. Still, it's easier on your reader, and reflects nicely on you, if you use proper spelling and punctuation.

For more great tips on writing Christmas letters, visit And have yourself a merry little writing session!

*(Substitute late-year observance of your choice.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing for Radio

I'm fascinated by local history and spend a lot of time with the good folks at the Bonner County Historical Society and Museum ( Sometimes I get to write my research up into magazine articles aimed at other folks who care about such things. Recently I've had the opportunity to rework some of this historical research into 60-second radio spots. (This is a great example of repurposing your writing . . . more on that in a future post.)

Writing for radio is very different from writing for print. Since you're writing for listeners rather than readers, a different set of guidelines comes into play. Here are some things I've learned about writing to be heard rather than read:

It's all in the timing. Radio spots are usually 30 or 60 seconds long. Not 32 seconds. Not 55 seconds. 30 or 60 seconds (or whatever the client or station tells you). Know your time limit, read your piece aloud--a gazillion times if necessary-- and tweak it as much as possible to hit that exact length while reading at a natural pace (not super-fast or -slow). Sitting with a microphone in your face and a harried engineer at the controls is no time to be doing edits.

Write for smooth vocal delivery. Because your words will be read aloud, either by you or someone else, avoid tongue-twisters or awkward turns of phrase. These will become apparent soon enough as you read your piece aloud for timing. Take sandpaper to the rough spots.

Write simply. Your radio listener may be driving, working at their desk, washing dishes, or doing any number of things that will cause them to listen with half an ear. If you want your words to be heard, use simple language and a concise, clear message.

Of course, the same rules that make for good writing in print apply to other media as well: clarity, precision, organization. I hope these few simple tips will help you when you're writing specifically for radio (or stage, or any other aural medium).

And if you want to hear some examples of what I'm talking about, tune to KSPT Sandpoint (1400 AM) and listen for the "Bonner County History Mystery." That's yours truly you're hearing!

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Writer's Wish List

By now you've probably let your friends and family know, through hints both subtle and strong, which items you'd most welcome under your Christmas tree: maybe an iPad, a Kindle, a stack of fresh notebooks, refills for your writing implement of choice. (If you can't think of anything writerly to ask for, December issues of writing magazines are replete with suggestions. This year, the Writer's Clock pictured above, available from Linda Rohrbough, is at the top of my list. Just in case you were wondering.)

But sometimes what we writers really want is something that can't be put in a box and wrapped. After all, a tee shirt or mug (or, ahem, a clock) with "Writer" printed on it does not make us a writer. Only writing does that!

With that in mind--and with apologies to Christmas-carol lyricists everywhere--here are some gifts that hardworking writers would really appreciate:

Peace on (at least our little corner of) Earth. Sometimes what we most need is uninterrupted time and a quiet space in which to do our creative work. For example, parent of young children might appreciate a promise of babysitting for a few hours a week so they can devote themselves to writing.

Glad tidings of great joy. Such as, "Your novel has been shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize." Or, perhaps a bit more realistically, "Your informative article, 'Top Ten Reindeer Games for 2011,' has been accepted for publication in Tundra Living."

Deep and dreamless sleep to give our overtaxed brain cells time to recuperate. Or, if we must have dreams, let them plant the seeds of our Next Major Masterpiece. And if that is the case, let us remember them in the morning!

Mercy mild from editors when, despite our best intentions, we miss a deadline or overlook a typo. (Not that you would ever do this. I'm sure I'm the only one.)

What are some other gift ideas--both tangible and intangible--that would help you succeed as a writer?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Meeting of the Mines: Finding the gems in your first draft

WNI Guest Blog by T. Dawn Richard

Not long ago I was struggling with my latest writing project. I knew what I wanted to say, I knew how I wanted my readers to feel while reading each scene, and yet I wasted a lot of time shuffling words, rearranging sentences, and deleting junk that didn’t add anything at all to the story. The task looked like a mountain I didn’t have the strength to climb. To put it mildly, I just wasn’t in love with the monster I’d created. The thoughts that played in my head went something like this: This is awkward, disjointed, fluffy, puffy, and unclear. I’m rambling. I’m not able to find the right words. Will I ever write this book?

So what to do when you can’t find the answers? Speed-dial little sister.

My sister is always good for a story and a laugh. In fact, I’ve never known anyone who has led a more interesting life. There’s never a dull moment in her schedule and I just wanted to let her talk so I didn’t have to think about my problems. Her latest adventure? Hunting sapphires in the mountains near her Montana home.

“What we do,” she said, “Is drive up to this place where they hand you a bucket of dirt.”

“Dirt?” I responded, shaking myself from my depressed fog. “And you pay for this?”

“Yes. Then you pick up a metal tray, but the bottom of the tray is a screen used for sifting the dirt. You dump the dirt in and lower the bottom of the tray into a trough which contains water. You move the dirt around, just letting the water flow through. You turn it, rock it, shake it flat, and then flip the tray upside down. And if you’ve done it right, nestled in the middle of the pile of mud you’ll see these little things that look like small chunks of glass.”

“Glass? And how much do you pay for that?”

“Wait. Not glass; they’re uncut, unpolished sapphires! They’re beautiful!”

“They’re beautiful?”

“Well, it doesn’t end there. After you dig them out, they need to be cut and polished, and then you’ve got some extremely gorgeous gems.”

After that phone call I reflected on what I’d learned about mining for sapphires. The gems are in there, you just have to sift through a lot of dirt to find them. And once you have them in your hand, there’s still work to do. Polish, cut, and voila! Beautiful.

Back to work. Somewhere in that big pile of dirt I called a novel were gems waiting to be mined.

So, fellow writers, when you feel disappointed with a first draft don’t worry about the clutter - that will get sifted out in rewrites. Find the gems, polish them, and cut the facets. See the beauty and shine, and at the end of the day you’ll have something precious in your hands.

And what are these gems we’re looking for in our writing? A brilliant turn of phrase, a sentence that captures a landscape perfectly, a unique metaphor, a spot-on character description. Save what works, toss the rest.

Spokane author T. Dawn Richard is a full time writer and author of the May List Mystery Series. We know how busy she is and appreciate her taking the time to share her writing experiences with us. Her first book in the Amateur Sleuth series, Death for Dessert, was published in 2003, followed byDigging up Otis, and A Wrinkle in Crime. Dawn completed two screenplays in 2009 and has several other projects in the works.

Her books are available on

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Film Festival Magic

In an effort to support a couple of local screenwriters I know, I attended the Sandpoint Film Festival, held at the Panida Little Theater in Sandpoint early in November. I found the film festival, my first, captivating from the minute the lights dimmed.

I was treated to four hours of entertaining short films on every conceivable subject. A few were funny, a couple were charming, several were informative documentaries, one asked us to believe in the existence of faeries, and one (think sitting down at Olive Garden with a room full of Zombies) was downright scary.

Sandpoint Film Festival First Place Winner

Il Remore Della Neve (The Noise of Snow), a beautifully filmed and touching tale about a man who cannot bear the noise of today's society, by Andrea Marini of Italy, took first place. This 9-minute short captured other awards this year, including Best Foreign Film at the California International Shorts Festival in Los Angeles.

First the facts
Short films, often called "shorts" are productions that screen in 40 minutes and under. Films over 40 minutes are considered to be feature films. Contest entries for the Sandpoint festival were required to be 20 minutes and under, and the majority of entries fell in the under 10-minute category.

Filmmakers make shorts to showcase their skills, to inform, to entertain, or to introduce a longer production. Called "trailers" these introduction shorts are the previews of "coming attractions" that you see at movie theaters or on television.

Then the entertainment
The Sandpoint Film Festival premiered 32 films during their day-long event. I attended the afternoon and evening "blocks" of movies, consisting of 18 short films made by many local filmmakers and others from places as far away as Minnesota and Italy. Budding filmmakers of every age entered the contest: teenagers, church groups, music groups, computer animators, retired folks, and many others who just wanted to share their "story."

Before each showing, festival organizer Janice Jarzabek spent a few minutes interviewing representatives of the film, including producers, actors, cameramen, and/or writers. She often asked what the "inspiration" was for the film, or questions about the production. Hearing the motivation behind the films both fascinated and inspired me.

I found the varied subjects the filmmakers had chosen to write about fascinating: suicide prevention; a spoof on serving the waiter's hands to a diner in a turn-of-the-century melodrama; an alcoholic finding redemption; kids who get sucked into a television to join a violent video game; a free spirit dancing in a park; a music video dedicated to those who've lost a loved one; a lambast on women's lib (women playing baseball is sacrilegious); and short documentaries about a women tugboat captain, a chief of police with a cleft palate, and a 50-year old woman who took up ice-climbing.

Juliette Johnson, Sandpoint, created a 2-minute computer-generated animation that offered a humorous look at Idaho stereotypes. "Idaho" won the audience choice award for lines like: "Would you like a free gun with that latte?"

A second entry that tickled everyone's funny bone was "Caffeinated" by Dan Walden, a comedy about a guy who can't get his morning coffee-fix due to a series of unfortunate mishaps. Shot around Sandpoint, this 8-minute film won both an audience choice award and the third-place festival prize.

Sandpoint Film Festival 2nd Place Winner
Ana's Playground

An electrifying tale about children living in a war zone, "Ana's Playground," written and directed by Eric Howell, took second. During the past year, this powerfully written film has won film festivals and awards across the nation and rumor has it that the film is on the short list for an Academy Award in 2012.
The film is an allegory about the moment when a child is forced to choose between ideology and humanity while living and playing in a dangerous war environment. - Eric Howell
Info from Ana's Playground website: Production of this 20-minute film was made possible entirely through charitable donations, and the producers are offering the film as a fundraising and publicity tool free of charge to non-governmental organizations working to improve the lives of war-affected children. The film’s promotional materials and screening events are intended to provide exposure opportunities for these groups. Click here to learn more about Ana's Playground.

Now for the magic
Entertainment magically became inspiration. I attended the film festival in support of others, but, in some mysterious way, I received a gift while watching their cinematic creations. The inspiring, funny, serious, irreverent and touching films shown at the Sandpoint Film Festival revitalized my writing spirit. On the way home I thought of several story ideas that could be made into short films. Probably pie in the sky, but what the heck, watching those amazing and imaginative films got my creative juices flowing again. And, as Martha would say, "That's a good thing."

Check out all the 2011 Sandpoint Film Festival entries.

IWL Book Sale
The Coeur d'Alene Chapter of the Idaho Writer's League annual Christmas Book Fair is coming up on December 15th from 10:00 am - 3:30 pm. It's a great place to look for unique Christmas gifts and support local writers and authors at the same time. I want to add Anna Goodwin's first psychological thriller, "Justice Forbidden," to my collection of books by local authors, so I'll be going. See you there.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The joy of prosody: iambic pentameter

Today we have a guest post from Coeur d'Alene poet Elizabeth Mastin. Elizabeth's passion is learning about the great poets and studying the craft of writing good metrical poetry. For the past several years she has shared her love of all things poetic with the members of the Coeur d'Alene Chapter of the Idaho Writer's League through their monthly newsletter.

Liz has two poems published in an anthology entitled Empty Shoes, a book assembled to raise money for the hungry and homeless in Wisconsin. She also has a poem published in The New England Waldorf School Literary Review, a poem in Parchment and Quill and another in the Montana Writers League’s Holiday Anthology.

The joy of prosody: iambic pentameter
by Liz Mastin

Just what is prosody? "
An interest in metrics is crucial for the conscientious poet": William Bauer

In his book: all the fun’s in how you say a thing, Timothy Steel defines prosody as “the study of meter,” but, he continues, “it also has a broader application than just metrics. The word prosody comes from the Greek word prosoidia, (tone or accent, modulation of voice, song sung to music). The random house dictionary of the English Language describes meter as the science or study of poetic meters and versification. This suggests, says Steele, that prosody not only includes the topic of meter, but also such related topics as stanzaic structure and rhyme.

According to William Bauer in his book writing metrical poetry, “the fundamental nature of every language determines its meter (the underlying rhythmic structure of language). The purpose of meter is to create a comforting sense of structural order and, if possible, a recognizable up-and-down or back-and-forth rhythm or beat. Poets and literary theorists have generally assumed that the natural pleasure derived from this underlying rhythm relates to the rhythms found in the natural world such as waves of the ocean, the in and out of breathing, and, most significantly, the human heartbeat.”

Lub dub, lub dub, lub dub, goes the heart, comforting and steady. It only follows that our language would be highly influenced by this rhythmic beat. Our heart beat could be considered to be a continuous iambic beat. Iamb is the name given to one particular arrangement of soft and hard beats that make up the meter of iambic metered poems. According to William Bauer, the iambic beat is the basis of our language, so the carefully placed iambs within our poems should not prevent the language from sounding natural.

Iambic pentameter is a steady Lub Dub across the line five times, penta meaning five. It is generally notated this way: 1. _ / 2. _ / 3. _ / 4. _ / 5. _ / Each set of lub dubs constitutes one metrical foot. The steady two beat pattern in iambic pentameter goes: 1. short long, 2. short long, 3. short long, 4. short long, 5. Short long --syllabic accents.

An example of the iambic pentameter line could be Shakespeare’s line:

But, soft! What light through yon- der win- dow breaks?
_ / _ / _ / _ / _ /
Notice that the second syllables: soft, light, yon, win and breaks, receive a hard accent. A good practice is to write your own lines trying to stay true to the iambic beat. To demonstrate:

“I’d love / to write / a bright / and thought / ful poem.”
_ / _ / _ / _ / _ /
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.

Her overriding quest is to accurately learn the craft of writing good metrical poetry. Helping her to accomplish this is both her ongoing study of the great metrical poets, and the study of many books on how to write metrical poetry. She advocates gaining a greater proficiency in grammatical skills and encourages vocabulary building and at least a passing knowledge of Greek Mythology.

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.

She looks forward to sharing with others the important rules to proper metrical poetry that some may not have realized. For example, a poet should not rhyme a plural end word (of a line) with a singular end word. Rhyming words may be feminine or masculine. Techniques such as enjambment can add much interest. A good working knowledge of foot and meter is important. Other techniques such as withheld image, similes and metaphors, the importance of the last line, are all a part of writing good 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.

What a Plan
What a plan, that at night,
All grows silent until light,
Then from trees to which they cling,
Birds open their mouths and sing.

Next seabirds, break the peace,
Piping up on gull-white wings.
They’re off to search the rolling seas
For swimming schools of bright sardines.

Soon hearty workmen, tough as nails,
Bring to shipyards gray lunch pails.
They’re thankful for the coming day
And for the work that genders pay.

As bright sun shines, the day moves on.
Congenial workers form a bond:
Talk and laughter is agreed upon,
All begun with birds at dawn.
by Liz Mastin

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving: A Word of Action

Although the approach of the Thanksgiving holiday each year brings reminders of Pilgrims, parades and football, for many the season also brings fond personal memories—those of gathering with others for a Thanksgiving meal. Whether we celebrate with family or friends, it is a time to consider and be thankful for the wonderful people and good fortune in our lives.

Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.  
---W.J. Cameron

Below is a fun poem about Thanksgiving family gatherings written by English born American poet, Edgar Albert Guest. Guest came to America as a boy in the late 1800s and became Poet Laureate of Michigan, and was referred to as the people’s poet for his folksy style. I hope the poem brings you fond memories, as it has done for me.


(Edgar Albert Guest, 1881-1959)

Gettin' together to smile an' rejoice,
An' eatin' an' laughin' with folks of your choice;
An' kissin' the girls an' declarin' that they
Are growin more beautiful day after day;
Chattin' an' braggin' a bit with the men,
Buildin' the old family circle again;
Livin' the wholesome an' old-fashioned cheer,
Just for awhile at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother's a little bit grayer, that's all.
Father's a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an' to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin' our stories as women an men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we're grateful an' glad to be there.
Home from the east land an' home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an' best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We've come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an' be frank,
Forgettin' position an' station an' rank.

Give me the end of the year an' its fun
When most of the plannin' an' toilin' is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin' with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An I'll put soul in my Thanksgivin' prayers.

The Writing North Idaho bloggers are taking Thanksgiving week off. Our next blog entry will be posted Monday, November 28. In the meantime, we wish you all a warm and wonderful…

H A P P Y   T H A N K S G I V I N G  !

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Marking Our Place: Taking Twain’s Words to Heart

My earliest memories with books are those of sitting on my bed in our Oklahoma farmhouse reading The Tall Book of Mother Goose over and over again. I soon knew every poem and every detail of every illustration by heart. I kept the book for years, but over countless moves from one state to another it eventually disappeared. I recently ran across a copy of the original 1942 version by Feodor Rojankovsky for sale on Amazon. I purchased it, wanting to hold it in my hands again and to share it with our grandchildren.

After my Mother Goose days, the The Wizard of Oz thrilled me, Daphne duMaurier’s Rebecca and Don’t Look Now intrigued me, The Grapes of Wrath and The Good Earth fascinated me, I explored the Australian Outback in The Thorn Birds and laughed out loud at Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth. But, although these and other books entertained me, I eventually began to see beyond the surface of the page and understand how books could impact my life in a deeper way. One of the first sparks of this realization was ignited by my Grandmother Viola who, more than thirty years ago, sent me a homemade bookmark.

She had cut a long rectangle from plain white piece of cardboard, punched a hole in one end, threaded a piece of green yarn through the hole, then knotted the ends and added a spidery tassel. Along the length of the bookmark, in aged arthritic jerks, she inked this Mark Twain quote:

Those who do not read have no advantage over those who can’t.

She mailed the bookmark to me in a 35-cent paperback copy of Human Destiny by Pierre Lecomte du Noüy. And like instructions one might leave a house sitter, she had taped a note across its front cover which stated, “Worth reading thoughtfully.”


My grandmother lived her message of the importance of reading. For as long as I can remember she read voraciously, always sitting tall in a hard, straight-backed chair in her living room, reading daily until, eventually, the clouds of cataracts became too dense. As I grew older I enjoyed sitting and talking with her at length because she knew so many things about so many topics. Having come from a time when children were often told not to speak until spoken to, my grandmother had entered the world through books, discovering that books documented life—its mysteries, its dreams, its facts, its ideas.

With the influence of my grandmother, school and others around me, I learned that reading can take us to new horizons and expand our thinking about what is possible in life. It shows us how others live and have lived in other cultures. It takes us to places we may never visit. It exercises our minds and stretches our ideas; improves our vocabulary and creativity. It grows our knowledge base and builds our self-esteem. It improves our memory, writing skills, and allows us to compare our thoughts and ideas with others. It is an excellent, inexpensive, and easily accessible resource for self education as it helps fill in the blanks of the world around us and shows us the possibilities of want we can become.

On his website Natural Bias, lifestyle coach and consultant Vin Miller makes this point about the value of reading in his article titled, How Reading Can Change Your Life:

Many scientists and other types of researchers spend much of their lives chasing down the answer to a single question. If we had to go through this much effort every time we were faced with a significant challenge, chances are that we wouldn’t accomplish much. Fortunately, many of the world’s most intelligent people share their many years of wisdom in books that cost less than what most people earn in a single hour.

Today people experience books in a variety of formts that include print, audio and digital forms. Many public libraries are now lending ebooks. And, thousands of free literature classics and instructional materials are available for downloading and reading from other sources. Some popular resources include:

I keep the bookmark my grandmother made hanging on the wall beside my desk. I don’t pretend to read as much or as consistently as she did, but her memory inspires me to keep moving forward. The bookmark reminds me of her influence and how she has helped me mark my place in life. She understood that books hold the world between their covers and it is ours simply for the taking.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Writing Life: How do I know when my novel is ready to query?

Today we have a guest post from Elizabeth Lyon of Editing International. Elizabeth has been a freelance book editor for over 20 years and is a good friend to Idaho writers, having offered weekend workshops on multiple occasions in Coeur d'Alene. She has helped more than 60 writers to gain mainstream publication and a dozen writers to self-publish e-reader or print-on-demand books.

Lyon has authored five books about publishing and writing, including Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, A Writer’s Guide to Nonfiction, A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, and Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore.

“The Writer” magazine featured Manuscript Makeover as one of the “8 Great Writing Books of 2008,” describing it as “perhaps the most comprehensive book on revising fiction.”


How do I know when my novel is ready to query?

Brace yourself.

Stop sending out queries. Am I serious?

All writers are blinded by subjectivity. Few books are ready for publication but the writer is the last one to know this. What a conundrum!

Let’s assume that you have done everything you’re supposed to in order to have a completed, ready-to-publish manuscript. That means you’ve done several critical actions first:

• Finished your novel,
• Revised it multiple times,
• Gained feedback from a critique group or a circle of readers,
• Read Manuscript Makeover then
• Revise it another 3 or 5 or 12 times.

In addition, to gain marketing savvy you may have boosted your chances of winning in the marketing game by:

• Attending conferences to gain a quantum leap in understanding of the industry,
• Meeting agents or editors and pitched your book (trial runs on marketing),
• Entering contests, and
• Bagging publication of short stories.

You may be thinking, “That’s a huge amount of work. I’d rather be writing.”

Consider this: why should you expect to gain the prize—a contract, money, and recognition, if you have not fully pursued the education and apprenticeship that are prerequisites in other professions such as playing in a symphony, practicing law, or performing brain surgery?

Let’s say you have done most of the above items. You may even match the following demographic profile:

On average, novelists who break in have 4 novels sitting in a drawer.
On average, they have spent 10 years of writing, studying, and marketing.
On average, they have a million words under their belt.

To flip this serious blog around, many writers do see publication of first novels (or memoirs—equally difficult to write and publish), after spending only a few years, and some do nothing that is advised and succeed.

When you’re ready to query, sometimes the only way to find out if your book makes the grade is by jumping in. The proof is in the pudding. Test the market. First, you’ve got to write the query that gains a request to see your pages. Read The Sell Your Novel Toolkit. The query should be 5 to 7 paragraphs, the shorter the better. I’ve seen 3 do the job. If you are sending the query in the mail, your pitch must fit on one page—and don’t forget that SASE. Most agents now want e-mail queries. Some require submission via forms on their websites.

Edit and revise that query till you are sick of it. One writer I know spent 40 hours, literally, on her query. A successful query, in my opinion, gains 3 positive responses out of every 10, and that is what her query produced.

Now, test your query’s effectiveness by sending it to 6 agents via email. If you get rejections, revise your query. Be Teflon coated and let rejections slide away. If you get requests, send exactly what is requested and no more. If you get a request to mail your manuscript or a partial, add a 1- to 3-page synopsis—and an SASE.

Next, send out another batch of 6 or 12 or 30. Revise your query; subject it to scrutiny by critique group members or your resident OCD critical friend. Change the order of paragraphs. Amp it with stronger verbs and a stronger hook. Shorten sentences. Draw your hero in a way that shows original characterization.

Since many agents (or their assistants) read only a few paragraphs of a query or a few pages of a novel before they hit the delete key or slap the form rejection into the SASE, consider hiring a professional editor to do a critical read-through or full editing of 50 pages and a synopsis.

Obviously, I’m a big believer in using professional freelance book editors either prior to querying or after you know that your novel is apparently not making an agent yell “Eureka!”

When have you reached the flick-it-in time? You’ll have to decide. Maybe after 30 rejections. Or after 50. Or when Catnip walks over your keyboard and won’t let you send more.

History is rife with novelists who believed in their work and were soundly rejected only to self-publish, or find that one enthusiastic agent after 400 rejections. Some of these books later became bestsellers or Pulitzer winners. Traditional mainstream publishing is often too elitist, passing up books that deserve publication and are fully professionally written, and simply might not guarantee the bottom line return the publisher is seeking. A plague on all their publishing houses.

So what if your novel is ready to be published?

In that case, make it happen. You deserve to complete the circle from idea to creation to a book you can share. We are artists; we deserve an audience. With print-on-demand and e-book technology, the costs are relatively small (do your Google homework) and the satisfaction immense. With completion, you can move on to your next novel and eat your icing too.


Note: Elizabeth will be monitoring this post over the next couple of days and will be happy to respond to your comments.

To contact Elizabeth go to or e-mail her at

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Guest Post from Kelly Sullivan

What's Inside - Simple Pleasures, #23 of 30

“There must be something in there”, I thought to myself. I turned it all around and admired it. It was simple. It was beautiful. I was intrigued by the thing I could not see; that beautiful thing inside. The one that I was sure existed, but could never see without breaking it apart.

Mystery is a powerful thing. It can motivate us toward an outcome, or it can consume us, thirsty for an answer. How far we go to quench it is what separates us.

Some will bust it open demanding satisfaction. They may reach their goal of knowing, but will likely leave a lot of broken pieces.

Others may pick at it slowly, after careful deliberation and study, until a softening occurs and they can see what has been hiding. Hopefully they find sweetness; something worthy of their effort.

There are also those that would prefer to leave a beautiful thing undisturbed and just appreciate it from a comfortable distance, maintaining its beauty, keeping the mystery folded. This is the safe spot. They will never really know what’s in there, and they will never be disappointed by its content.

In the Buddhist religion, the seeds of the Chinese Lantern are used is an offering to celebrate the greatest mystery of all. This offering is made to honor our ancestors and thank them for their sacrifices. It is intended to guide them through death.

Perhaps we can use a seed or two in life. Just knowing that “there is something in there”, makes me want to see it. Will I bust it open, or pick at it slowly, or just keep it folded?

For now, I will paint.

For more information about Kelly, please visit: 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Plot your Plot

Of all the books I have read about writing, this one tops my charts. As I am a right brained writer, something I have known about myself for quite some time, I found much help, encouragement and yes, sympathy in this marvelous book for those who share my affliction. A right brained writer is one who loves characters, thoughts, whimsy, and thinks their fool heads off, just for fun. Cause, effect, analytical action, and logical sequences are not the stuff of dreams. Not to worry, says Martha Alderson, the author of this wonderful book. The subtitle: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, was enough to activate my inner one click, add to cart, self.

She writes of the Universal Story: "All of us face antagonists and hurdles, hopes and joys, and by meeting these challenges we can transform our lives. I have come to believe that every scene in every book is part of a Universal Story that flows throughout our lives, both in our imaginations and in the reality that surrounds us. "

As you read Martha Alderson's book, a strange phenomenon begins to take place. Perhaps my right brain is in a constant war with the left. For whatever reason, the more she described how to nail down the structure of a novel, the more flooded I became with ideas, snippets of dialogue, important scenes and all kinds of other inspirational brainstorms that I furtively jotted down and scribbled in the margins of this book. Why it served to fire so many synapses, I can only attribute to her skill. For instance, did you know, that the beginning of a book should be one fourth of the story, the middle, one half and the end, one fourth. Does that not sound easy?

Next comes the diagram. It makes me quiver. Geometry? I DON'T GET IT! I have to really counsel myself through this part. However, she has a list of words to go with it. Blessed, blessed words. It is a really complete set of instructions and I vow to tackle this plot beast once and for all. If I can manage it in the most difficult of contexts, that is, my own life, as I am working on a memoir, then it will be a snap into place in the next book which I will plot from the beginning. I guess I have always imagined that there is some inner plot master, or perhaps a heavenly soul who takes my hand and guides me through the swamp of my left brain wherein all my wanderings will somehow fit as pieces do in a complex jigsaw puzzle. Thankfully, my new friend and plot whisperer is about as good as anyone who can talk to horses, or dogs, and somehow manage to coax them out of their bad habits. She has reassured me that my affliction is perfectly common. Left brained writers set out with a plan, but the characters do not come as easily. Their books are everywhere, from the grocery store to the airport. If I can manage this challenge, I can wed my strength to my weakness, and then all my troubles will be over.

"As soon as the plot and the structure work, your focus can turn to making every word, phrase and metaphor perfect."

I'll get right on it!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Present Yourself With Pride

When glancing through the sports page recently, I came across an amazing statistic. Patrick Chan is now in the Guinness Book of World Records.  It happened at the World Championships, 2011, where he received the highest marks ever recorded.  This news is marvelous on many counts, but it personally meaningful to me. This marks a triumph for someone else, someone no longer on this earth, a man who is gone now, but never to be forgotten.  I am recalling my old skating teacher, Osborne Coulson.

To part the mists of time, I return in my mind's eye to Silver Blades skating club, nestled as it was in the borough of Etobicoke, in the west end of Toronto. The rink was absolutely as ordinary as any in existence at the time. The smell of hot dogs, and popcorn would hit full force when we entered the door. The drinks were limited to boiler plate coffee for the Moms and strange tasting soft drinks, with very little ice. The last thing we needed was more cold.

We took to the ice wearing skirts knit by our mothers and grandmothers. In my case, we were lucky enough to have a great aunt who contributed to this effort. Out I went with sweater, skirt, hat and mittens, all fashioned by loving hands. My first coach, in keeping with all efforts to put me on the road to championship, was the best to be had in the entire world. Ellen Burka by name, she had coached her own daughter into landing a perfect triple jump in competition. Petra Burka was the first to accomplish this amazing feat, beating the men and everyone else to the punch, and not only did she do it, she nailed it. Mrs Burka went on to coach many champions, but not yours truly here. At the age of eight, I was quite overcome by a fit of creativity. At center ice, waiting for my music to start, I suddenly got the daft notion to invent my own program. The judges, my parents, and my coach were all horrified with the latter refusing to teach me ever again. In the process of being disciplined for making such a crazy decision, I was told that without Mrs. Burka, I could forget, just abandon, any hope of becoming a Figure Skating Champion in Canada. I had to go down a notch in the coaching field. Due to my odd move, with a championship now out of the running, I had to figure out another way in which to distinguish myself. Without music, or dance lessons, it became a tall order, and the insurmountable problem of my young life. 

Into this sea of trouble skated Ozzie Coulson. I was in the process of working on my school figures, in silence, when he glided over and told me he would be my new coach. He was smoking a cigarette at the time, housed in an elegant gold tipped extender. His hat, a fedora, was enhanced by an extravagant feather sweeping skyward on the side of his head. A cashmere scarf around his neck over a white shirt and tie, an elegant overcoat, and crisp wool pants, he was just unlike most men I knew in my youth. I thought he was great! 

After telling him right off that he was to consider me soft in the head, and stupid on all accounts, he nudged me with his elbow. “You know what” he whispered. “I liked your program!”

I could not believe my ears. Someone was on my side for once? This was too good to be true. That is how my relationship with him began.  At this point in time, I cherish every lesson I had with him, not only for what he taught me about the sport, but what he gave me about life.

“I want you to present yourself to the world with pride,” he said. He would lift his head, smile with a twinkle in his eye, and put his chin up. Sometimes people would make fun of him, or say in their polite way, that he, "certainly was different." Flamboyant was the term most often given to him, but he persisted in walking tall, beautifully and colorfully dressed. He brought a smile to the face of everyone in his midst. He was artistic, creative, and loved that quality in his pupils. He used to laugh his head off at my scathing imitations of others, or of the silly things I said and did.

When I saw him in later years, his eyes filled up with tears as I hugged him. He told me straight away that he was currently coaching a really, really good skater. He referred to Patrick Chan.

When Ozzie lay on his deathbed, Patrick held his hand. A clip shown in the last Olympics featured Ozzie telling Patrick, “I want you to show your pride.”

Any writer attempting to find an agent, or publisher and facing rejection. will be knocked sideways, more than once. It is not uncommon for a young scribe to have a drawer full of verbal assaults and they may start to doubt whether they should pursue this crazy life at all. Bless the people in our midst, the teachers who gave us encouragement, because we can never fully gauge the degree of influence. The meanest letters I ever had to read regarding my work, did not destroy my pride. Just as all those falls, where gravity overcame any efforts to defy it, over and over, and sent me smashing down to the ice, hurting and discouraged, did not stop me from skating. To this day, I still love it, and watching a skater like Patrick Chan who can land not one, but two quadruple jumps, in a short program, one who can make the toughest judges agree that they just saw the best ever, well, that is just as good as it gets. Watching Patrick's record breaking, perfect short program brought me unmistakeably back to the dramatic and jazzy moves, Ozzie taught me as a child. 

Patrick, I congratulate you. Ozzy, I love you and thank you. You had the heart of a champion.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Library, Books & Movies

When I was a little girl a trip to the city library on Saturday afternoon was something I always looked forward to.   The hours passed quickly as I carefully pulled books  from the shelves ,  read their titles and  decided which ones to check out.  I liked taking  my choices to the librarian , showing her my library card ,  then  watching as she  stamped  the return date  on inside  page. 

 The library was orderly and quiet; There was a certain etiquette to be observed. No eating, or  loud talking.  When patrons did speak it was in hushed voices, like in church,   so not to disturb others that were reading, or studying  at the long rectangular table, perhaps doing research for a History or English assignment.

Visiting the library is something I’ve never outgrown, and still think of the library as someplace special.   A place of learning and information; a Community center. 

 According to Wikipedia libraries had often started with donation, an endowment or were bequeathed  to various parishes, churches, schools or towns.  Ben Franklin and friends  are generally considered the first to start a subscription library   in 1731,  allowing members to buy shares . Combined funds were used to buy more books—in return members could borrow books and use the library.   It was Andrew Carnegie, however who had the biggest influence  in financing libraries in the United States.  In the  years between 1900 to 1917, almost 1,700 libraries were constructed by Carnegie’s foundation, insisting that local communities first guarantee tax support of each library built.  In my opinion,   taxes well spent. 

 Most   city and county libraries have reading  programs for citizens of all ages . Coeur d Alene Library  is no exception , offering  Pre-school Story, Book Babies Lap,  Family reading, Lego Club,  a computer workshop and Pageturners  Book Club .

 I was at the library last week searching for  Barbara Belford’s   biography  Oscar Wilde, A Certain Genius,   and the novel the Irish poet and dramatist is  famously known for , The Picture of Dorian Gray.    With books in hand, I  was about  to exit through the center door when   I noticed a flyer posted on the bulletin board :  The Coeur d Alene Public Library Foundation presents Moving Books— The Written  Word Turned Into Film !   Movie’s are scheduled November 2011 thru May  2012.  Jane Eyre, Polar Express, Sophie’s Choice, All the King’s Men , The Lincoln Lawyer, Tangled and Charlie Wilson’s War.  

What a good idea.  Showcasing books turned into film.   I began thinking of other books  made into movies ; Ben Hur,  The Bishops Wife,  Breakfast at Tiffany’s , Gone With the Wind, Wizard of Oz; To Kill A Mockingbird, The Maltese Falcon, East of Eden.  It became a game with me as more and more books into movies came to mind: Little Women, Tom Sawyer, True Grit.  There are hundreds of them.    I then thought how interesting it would be  to  read the book prior to seeing the movie then compare the two by answering a  few  guideline questions;  How well did the movie adaptation follow the author’s story ? Or did the  movie script alter what the author wrote? How are they the same? How did they differ?
The Picture of Dorian Gray, the book I checked out at the library ?   I can't wait to finish reading it , then watch  the movie—  the written word turned into film !  

*** NOTE:  For more information about Moving Books at Coeur d Alene Library call 208 769 2380 or visit their website

*** For a list of books made into movies