Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Writer's Question

Please tell me , all you  inspired writers, what
keeps you focused to write what you write
To create a story, and choose the plot
that captivates the reader , and
holds ‘em  close, like prisoners caught
Is it the sentence you make
or words you spell, perhaps
punctuation—a comma,
the period, or question mark ?

Please tell me ,  all you inspired writers, what
 keeps you going both day
 and night, what keeps you
focused to write what you write;
Your ideas flowing like a
river flowing  toward the sea
about long ago places, and distant land; People
of history, Mystery
Crime fiction, non-fiction, science fiction
of faith, wee faeries, family
and friends

Please tell me, all you inspired writers, what
keeps you focused to write what you write
How  you decide  between dialogue
 and narrative , and
descriptive thought
 And  the story's  beginning,  middle,
and end.   Who is protagonist ?
antagonist? Is your character complex,
or easy to grasp

Please  tell  me, all you inspired writers 
what keeps you focused to write what you write

I believe  that’s the question many of us aspiring writers ponder, and ask , “How do we keep focused on our writing?”  There are a  hundreds , maybe thousands of books and magazine articles to help answer the question, but one I find helpful  is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  In  her chapter, No Hindrances she writes , “when you accept writing  as what you’re supposed to do, after you’ve tried everything else  - marriage, hippiedom, travelling , living in Minnesota or New York, teaching , spiritual practices—finally there’s no place else to go. So no matter how big the resistance, there is one day, there is the next day, and the writing work ahead. You can’t depend on it going smoothly day after day. It won’t be that way. You might have one day when it’s superb, productive, and the next time  you write  you are ready to sign up on a ship headed for Saudi Arabia.  There are no guarantees. You might think you have finally created a rhythm  with three days running, and the next day the needle scratches the record and you squeak through it teeth on edge. 

See the big picture . You are committed to writing or finding out about it. Continue under all circumstances. Don’t be rigid, though. If one day you have to take your kids to the dentist when it is your time to write, write in the dentist’s office or don’t write. Just stay in touch underneath with your commitment  for this wild, silly, and wonderful writing practice.”

Another book I find inspirational, and encouraging   whenever I begin to doubt my writing is Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle .  While L’Engle is author of several books,  including her memoir, A Circle of Quiet, she may be best known for her young adult fantasy, A Wrinkle in Time.   In Walking on Water she  writes, “ Since time was created, had a beginning, and will have an end, it is a creature with whom we can have understandings. All artists ( writers)  know days  when time collaborates with them, and they can do more than they can do in one day. There are other days when they are equally diligent, and yet get little or nothing accomplished.

Perhaps one of he saddest things we can do is waste time, as Shakespeare knew when he had Richard the Second cry out, “I have wasted time, now doth time waste me.”

So there you have it, writers  - those of you just starting out, and those of you who have been writing for years ,  don’t be discouraged when your pen runs dry, persevere.  Grab another one ,  and write  on ! write on !

Monday, June 27, 2011

Poetry Is Story

Poetry looks  both inside
and out,  filled with emotion
and  introspective thought, it
tells a story of nature
and  high adventure,  faith in God,
and ancient  history. It relays a
tale, and helps  one relate ,
contemplate justice versus injustice;
 Romantic  love, parental love,
childhood memory, and hopeful
endeavor.  It can be blank verse,
free verse,  a limerick, sonnet,
allegory, cacophony, ode or
ballad.  And matters not the
type or style  - metaphor, simile,
falling meter, feminine rhyme
poetry can make us laugh, make
us cry , make us think, lift our spirit , and
warm our heart. 

In a  book I purchased last week ,  The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline  Kennedy Onassis , Selected and Introduced by Carolyn Kennedy,   my  spirit was lifted and my heart warmed  by many  of the poems she had chosen  -  some I had read before , and some for the first time ,  like  Mother to Son  by  Langston Hughes:

Well, son, ’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair,
It had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare .
But all the time
I’se been a—climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s ,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you find it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still  goin ‘, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

I  get it that Hughes is writing  from  a black woman’s experience ,  and  about the many  difficult challenges  people of color were subjected too, but I can’t help but think of  his poem in broader  scope,  relating it to all women  in general , and how difficult it once  was for them  before laws changed.    I remember  when my parents divorced in the early 1960’s,  after my father left,  our landlord told mom she would have to move as  they didn’t rent to divorced women.  It was a shock , not only to my mom, but  also to my brother and me , as we had lived in  our duplex for several years. It was  sad thinking we’d have to leave the neighborhood , and friends we  were so familiar with.  When  mom  went house looking, and inquired about another rental ,   she told the landlord   there  would be  three living in the house.  He asked , “ You, your husband, and child ?”   She replied , “No, me and my two children”.  The landlord  didn’t hesitate a minute before saying  , “ I’m sorry  I don’t rent to divorced women. They have wild parties”.     The point I’m trying to make is ,  life can sometimes be hard, and poetry  like  what Hughes writes , speaks for us, and helps us become aware, and by becoming aware, we  begin to understand, and grow , and are encouraged.
In her introduction, Kennedy writes  “ Sometimes, knowing that someone else liked a certain poem can cause us to take another look at it, puzzle over why they might have liked it,  and before we know it, be captivated by  it ourselves. Poems often express  what we believe to be our  thoughts alone, and poets can become our companions as we journey into new worlds   of  imagination, feeling , and possibility.”  How true it is.

** Carolyn Kennedy's latest compilation of poetry  She Walks in Beauty, A Women's Journey Through Poems, can be found at most books store , and on line at

** For more information about Langston Hughes and his poetry visit

Friday, June 24, 2011

Writing Dialects: Not As Easy As It Sounds, Y'All

“Rungway! Rungway!" yelled a man at a person driving down the street. If the tourist had been native to the area, he would have understood “Wrong way!” and realized he was driving the wrong way down a one way street. The first person was speaking a dialect unfamiliar to a visitor.

Not all people speak the same language the same way. Every language has dialects, also accents and idiolects, which are divided by social groups (Valley Girl and Ebonics), class and geographic regions. There are almost no grammatical differences region to region but word pronunciation is frequently markedly different and some words are replaced. A good example: soda versus pop for carbonated soft drinks. Vocabulary is the most fluid aspect of dialects and grammar the least.

Habits of speech become rungs on the ladder of success both in both the social and business arenas. There is no “correct English” as such but most Americans realize a certain set of grammar rules, syntax and pronunciation. American broadcasters in radio and television learn to speak what is now called “TV network American” which is close to the dialect of most Midwesterners. They are easily understood by all Americans. That is the same reason many companies who offer goods via catalogs have based the telephone ordering part of their business in the Midwest. People often speak using their own dialect when in a relaxed and unguarded situation reserving TV network American when the occasion requires it.

Within some dialects, subdialects emerge but usually do not become permanent. Young people parrot the speech of popular singers who in turn are influenced by Southern white or black speech patterns. Youngsters frequently weaken vowels before an “L”: sale = sell, really = rilly, and feel = fill. They also like creating their own dialects to talk more secretly and to define social status among themselves. By the time these words come into general usage, the young people have dropped them and gone on to other words. Today’s rapid development of communications technology will probably slow down the evolution of dialects and languages. For the first time in history, a dialect called Network Standard is being used all across the country without regard to the usual stratifications of speech. Class distinction, race and poverty will slow down this trend but more and more people will be added to the users as they grow up in a computer dominated world. As a sidelight, many children are not being taught cursive writing because teachers say they all will be using personal communication devices and never need to put their thoughts on paper via a pencil or pen.

Try asking someone what those sandwiches with many layers between thick slices of buns are called. In Philadelphia they are hoagies; NY heroes; New Orleans po’ boys; Pittsburgh submarines; Miami Cuban sandwiches; and strangely enough in Wisconsin Garibaldis. A heavy rainstorm is called a dam-buster in AL, hay-rotter in VA, leak-finder in WI, million dollar rain in MS, tree-bender in Maine, ditch-worker in IL, sewer-clogger in MI, mud-sender in CA, and gully washer in 3 dozen other states. Other more localized names are goose-drowners, toad stranglers and duck drenchers. Most of us say “turn off the lights” but in the South is it “cut off the lights” and in the Northeast “shut off the lights”. Floridians “mash” button while the rest of us “push” them to open an elevator door or start the washing machine.

Eighty-two per cent of the people in the United States speak English but we are often separated by different dialects. For writers this presents a dilemma. How much of a dialect do you use in your stories? If your story is set in the South how many local words will add color to your characters versus run the risk of them being misunderstood? Another conundrum for the successful writer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Immersion Writing

Immersion is defined as dunking, marinating, dousing, plunging into, soaking, and drenching. In other words, while using the technique of immersion writing, you saturate yourself within a situation to learn through first-hand experiences about a topic and write about it. I think the more familiar term for this in the international news circuit is embed which is basically the same as immersion unless you are taking one of Lee Gutkind’s (the “godfather of creative nonfiction) seminars.

There are four general types of immersion writing. For most writers, immersion writing is actually living an experience and writing about it from an interactive viewpoint. Popularizing this style, Paris magazine founder and editor George Plimpton wrote about his experiences as a back up quarterback for the Detroit Lions, as a professional hockey goalie with the Boston Bruins and about his time on the pro golf circuit. Lee Gutkind, founder of the literary journal, Creative Nonfiction, wrote Many Sleepless Nights, an inside chronicle of the world of organ transplants written in an immersion style.

When creating the first type of immersion writing, the author examines every detail of an experience from an often participatory viewpoint as well as an observer. George Plimpton actually practiced with the pro football and hockey teams as well as played a few minutes in games. Lee Gutkind did not participate in his first immersion book about the world of organ transplants but he was given access to several patients and donors as well as being in the operating room when a transplant was performed, then interviewing the patients afterwards. In both of these instances, the authors used their five senses to maximize their ability for observation and retention of information. Plimpton described what it feels like to be a pro football player; what it is like to train and the experience the excitement and nervousness of game day; the need to see on all sides of him; the feel of the dimpling on the leather football; the smells of the locker room; the sound as it reverberates on the field with the crowd cheering and even the taste of a new product called Gatorade he drank after a play. He turned all this know-how into several successful, humorous books by writing creative nonfiction stories regarding what he saw, touched, smelled, heard and tasted. Gutkind did the same. They immersed themselves in the subject in order to write a more personalized book on a subject they liked or wanted to know about. What was it really like to be a pro football player? What were the attitudes of teammates upon winning or losing? How is camaraderie built by the team manager? Plimpton reported on the answers to these and many more questions by telling us stories through creative nonfiction.

In order to create a publishable piece out of an immersion research experience, one must plan what he wants to observe but be open to all interpretations by necessity. Research beforehand is necessary in order to ask intelligent questions (what does the doctor do with the diseased kidney after removal, why do I have to have my ankles taped before a scrimmage, what can fail, how much will it hurt, etc.) It can be likened to boot camp for army recruits: every waking moment of how, where and when you sleep, eat and spend your days are defined by the parameters of experience. Each day is setting your mind to something foreign to your usual activities where your mind must concentrate on the tasks continually. Memory is a strong component of this type of research.

The second kind of immersion writing has a shorter period of observation and no participation. Pretend you are developing a villain. Go to the airport and watch people for two hours. Use the five senses and record (written or on a tape recorder) the sights, sounds, smells, mannerisms and voices of people departing or arriving. Jot down all the things you see, smell, taste, hear and feel. Note eyes, body language, what strangers do when they accidentally touch, how a fiancé looks as she says good-bye to her deployed soldier, the spiritedness of bored children, and even how a suitcase sounds as it is rolled along. Immerse yourself in one task: studying people. Do not text or take a coffee break. When you return home, you have a plethora of characteristics from which you can create a realistic character for your book. Flush out your notes and keep them for other stories too.

A third type of immersion writing is enrolling in a weekend course on writing where all you do is write, critique and learn. You leave home for some idyllic, peaceful, quiet setting where you will be inundated with information related to writing. Some people use what they call a fourth style of immersion writing by writing about anything for a twenty minute session every day just to begin the creative process.

Immersion style books by Lee Gutkind -- Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction. An Unspoken relates a profile of veterinary medicine. The University of Southern Illinois Press re-issued Gutkind's best selling book (originally by Dial Press) about major league umpires, The Best Seat In Baseball, But You Have to Stand!

Immersion style books by George Plimpton -- Paper Lion tells about being a backup quarterback during preseason training with the Detroit Lions of the National Football League and a follow-up book titled Mad Ducks and Bears. The Bogey Man chronicles his attempt to play professional golf on the PGA Tour during the Nicklaus and Palmer era. Shadow Boxing chronicles a bout with pro boxer Archie Moore. Open Net details the insider’s view of the fascinating world of pro hockey where he immersed himself with the prohockey team, the Boston Bruins. Plimpton trained then pitched in a baseball game against the National League and wrote about it in Out of My League.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Characters' Names

Can you imagine being God and having to give a name to everything on earth? That daunting task makes naming the few characters in your book easy!

The creator of Harry Potter series had a good time naming her humorous characters using several imaginative methods that bear investigating. Harry was drawn from “every Tom, Dick and Harry” meaning a common name to which children could relate. The villain, Voldemort, besides the alliteration of the “v’s”, is from the French ‘vold’ meaning theft, ‘de’ for of and ‘mort’ for death. Hermione, the smartest girl in the books, means eloquent and bright. Rowlings used alliteration in other names such as Servierius Snapes, Pansy Parkinson, Peter Pettigrew (who grew into a pet rat reiterating the PETer), and Filius Fitzpatrick to help young readers remember so many characters. Dolores Jane Umbridge, the meddling, strict older woman comes from Delores meaning sorrow while umbridge plays on umbrage for offensive, annoyance or displeasure. The Weasley brothers, Bill, Percy, Charles, Fred, George and Ron, are all common, nonthreatening names putting them easily in the “good guy” column. Rowlings lived on the edge of Forest of Dean in England and used it as the setting for Hagrid who turns out to be a good character.

Researching name origins can often give you ideas that match the characters you are developing. Many surnames originate from the occupation of men in the Middle Ages. “Houseman” is a useful man; “Pfeiffer” mean a whistle or pipe player; “Chandler” is one who makes candles; “Albert” means noble, bright or famous; “Peter” can be a stone or rock, thus Peter-son is the male kin of a stone mason. “Gregory” is watchful and vigilant. “Wardell” is one who dwells hear the watch hill, “Truman” is someone who is faithful and loyal, “Christi,” “Christopher” and “Kris”are followers of Christ.

Use the following to help match your protagonists and antagonists to appropriate names:

Top ten baby names of each year (for 2010 boys’ names: Aden, Jacob, Ethan, Michael, Alexander; girls’ names: Ella, Olivia, Emma, Sophia, Ava); popular books and web sites give the meanings of thousands of names and top names for each year and decade.
Phone books
Obituaries and births announcements
➢ Your imagination
Rosters of large organization such as the U.S. Congress, Britain’s Parliament.
Court records

Tips to help you:
Pair a common first name with an uncommon last name or vice versa.
Avoid overly wordy or cute spellings (Genyfer or Mycal for instance.)
Avoid trends. Common names seem to stand better in time.
Trendy names work only if you match the name with the age of the character. Connie is the name of 60-70 year old woman not a girl of 12 if your setting is 2000. Horace is an 1880’s name, not a 1940’s setting name. Also, match ethnicities and settings. Billy Bob is not a common combination in the Midwest.
• Try not to make up surnames such as Adamsley, Smither, or Johnstone. It is too contrived.
• Do not end the first name with the same letter as the beginning of the surname (Tom Minor, Terry Yardley, Pat Tarmage.)
Avoid Bob, Jim, Jane, John and Joe which are too forgettable.
Read aloud the names you have chosen in context. “Rodriquez put on his top hat and cashmere coat and left Marry Poppins in charge.” “ Mary Poppins” is a wonderful name because this magical nanny popped in and out of families’ lives at a whim but Rodriques does not match the persona of an English banker.
• Try not to use apostrophes: d’Blum, d’VanDer Bergen.
• The names should be easy to pronounce or it irritates the reader and makes for confusing conversations with critics, book clubs and reviewers. Radmina Rovanestkeyvitova is a no-no.
Futuristic names can be unusual or weird so go for it if you write fantasy. Be sure to look up abnormal names or definitions of eldritch words to make sure there is nothing in using that as a name that would not match your character or mean of the opposite of the personality of your character.
Siblings’ names should vary. Trace, Trevor, Tim and Ted as well as Sherry, Susan, Sandi and Sarah are too confusing.
• Madison, Connie, Ashley, and Evelyn were at one time male names only so do your research.
Match the country to the name. Andrew is not a good name for a Russian antagonist.
• “T” and “S” are strong consonants and “D’ and “B” have a more pleasant ring.

Several web sites are:;;;

Friday, June 17, 2011

Let's Do the Time Warp Again!

It's a great week to be a writer or reader of history. If you often find yourself writing, researching, or even just wondering about life in earlier eras, check out these literary blasts from the past:

Paul Lindholdt, author of In Earshot of Water, will visit the East Bonner County Library in Sandpoint on Saturday, June 18 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Local history buffs especially will be intrigued by In Earshot of Water, which interweaves passages from the journals of Lewis and Clark, the log of Captain James Cook, the novelized memoir of Theodore Winthrop, and Bureau of Reclamation records to tell ecological and personal histories of the region.

Also on Saturday, local author V. Edward Bates will present his book In Search of Spirit: A Sioux Family Memoir at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane at 12:30 p.m., following the unveiling of a painting by internationally acclaimed artist Marianne Gendron. The painting depicts a young Native American woman in traditional dress who is V. Edward Bates' mother.

On Tuesday, June 21 at 7 p.m. at Auntie's in Spokane, John C. Jackson, author of five books on the history of the Pacific Northwest, will present his latest, By Honor and Right, which describes the life of Captain John C. McClallen, who came to the Northwest after the Lewis and Clark Expedition and was instrumental in keeping the British from claiming territory below the 49th parallel.

Another event of interest to history buffs will take place at on June 22 at Aunties Bookstore in Spokane. A presentation on the late Barbara Cochran's book, Seven Frontier Women and the Founding of Spokane Falls, will highlight the stores of "founding mothers" Carrie Adell Strahorn, physician Mary Latham, Anna Browne, Susan Glover, Jennie Cannon, Alice Ide Houghton, and Clara Gray.

So if the travails of modern life have been getting to you lately, take a dip into these historical waters. You'll get a nice little vacation from the 21st century, and who knows? You might gain a new appreciation of current technology, modern medicine, and indoor plumbing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

7 Reasons to Take Your Laptop on Vacation

Summer's here, and many of us will be heading out on trips of one sort or another: vacations, conferences, business travel, weekend jaunts. You might be tempted to just leave your writing projects at home and get back to them later. That might be the right thing to do if you've been working intensely to meet deadlines or perfect a piece of writing. In that case, you could use a breather. Or if the point of the vacation is to spend time with your family, they may be a little miffed if you bring work with you. Still, as a writer, consider taking your laptop or at least a journal with you on your travels. Here are 7 reasons why:

1. Capture brilliant ideas. Some of the best ideas come to us while we're staring idly out the car window or lying on a deck chair. You may think you'll never forget that great idea for a story or wonderful turn of phrase, but why take a chance? Jot it down while it's fresh in your mind.

2. Eavesdrop. Traveling in a different region or a foreign country is a great way to pick up the cadence of the local dialect and certain words or phrases you don't hear every day. You may never utter the phrase, "Well, that just dills my pickle!" but it might be a perfect line for the Southern belle in your story.

3. Describe the location. What's the weather like where you're going? What kinds of plants grow there? How does the air feel? What do you smell? Is it flat, hilly, mountainous? What do the houses look like? What are people wearing? Driving? Doing? You never know when some of these details might work their way into a story, if you've captured them on paper or on your hard drive.

4. Remember the food. What's the regional cuisine? Are there foods you can't get at home? What's the predominant ethnic influence? Seafood at the beach? Cherries in the fruit belt? Enjoy a succulent regional meal and take notes, right there at the table. (Maybe someone will think you're a restaurant critic and you'll get extra-special VIP treatment!)

5. Pass the time. Travel can involve a lot of waiting in airports, train stations, and hotel lobbies. If you have a writing project with you to work on, you'll never have to be bored.

6. Escape. Sometimes vacations can lead to a little too much family togetherness. Taking some time out to go to a quiet place and write for a while can restore your equilibrium.

7. Read the local press and regional magazines. News items and features about what's going on in other parts of the country or world can be great fodder for stories you might want to pitch to editors back home. Make a note of them.

Bon voyage, and happy writing!

Friday, June 10, 2011

B.J. Campbell & True Tales of Cougar Bob

Post Falls Author B.J. Campbell turned a wealth of stories about her adventurous husband and outdoorsman extraordinaire, Cougar Bob, into an exciting collection of cliff-hanging tales.

Being married to Cougar Bob is a stroke of luck for me as a chronic writer. He has tales to tell. My husband is colorful and doesn't realize it, and his routine adventures give us conversation topics for dinner. Usually at a point in his stories, I say, "You did what?" Then I write the plot on a paper napkin. - BJ
I was bummed last weekend when a family obligation kept me from visiting one of my favorite local authors, B.J. Campbell, when she made an appearance at the Rathdrum Farmer's Market, not far from my home. I regretted missing the chance to visit with her and to hear some snippets from her book.

Here's what she shared with me about her visit to Rathdrum:
For the occasion, I read a very short scene from "Hazard Pay," where Bob volunteers to cut the top out of a fir tree angled over the rim of the Moyie Canyon to make way for a transit shot for the bridge. Then Alex Henkoski, guitar player with the North Idaho Hat Band played a couple sets of great bluegrass at the Market, followed with his reading of excerpts from the "Cougar Bob Review." I can't speak for anyone else, but I had a fine time.
Although I missed B.J. in person, I decided to throw a blog spotlight on her and I'm positive you'll enjoy getting to know both her and Cougar Bob. I suggest you spend some time reading past issues of the "Cougar Bob Review," like I did. You can find them on B.J.'s website at One of my favorites, "Campbell Goes Politically Correct," the lead story in the November 2010 issue, is hilarious; and the supporting photo of Cougar Bob is a hoot.

In the past year and a half, B.J. has scheduled book signings from Spokane to Sandpoint, and all points between; often with the hero of the stories, Bob himself, at her side. Although his health limits his participation, Cougar Bob enjoys signing books and sharing tales of his exploits with old friends and new acquaintances.

A Sandpoint native, Cougar Bob and B.J. are looking forward to their next scheduled book signing at the Corner Book Store in Sandpoint, on Wednesday, July 13.

Close Calls is the perfect book for the outdoor sportsman in your life - or just anyone who enjoys tales of bravery told with humor reminiscent of fellow Sandpoint native, Patrick McManus.
Sit by the fire and enjoy Cougar Bob's Mountain Man stories galore. There'll be plenty of true tales told of deer hunting, whompus cat trapping, raccoon treeing, coursing hound chasing, bloodhounds man-trailing, and predator call practicing before breakfast. - B.J.
In case you can't make it to Sandpoint in July, you can pick up a copy of CLOSE CALLS: True Tales of Cougar Bob at the following local stores:
In Coeur d'Alene: Black Sheep Sporting Goods & Hastings
In Rathdrum: Rathdrum Star Office--8086 Main St
In Spokane: Hastings & Auntie's Book Store

The True Tales of Cougar Bob
By B. J. Campbell
ISBN: 978-1-936178-04-9
Published 2009 by Gray Dog Press
Price: $14.95

Courageous North Idaho long distance runner, Robert L. Campbell, contracts polio in the Navy, right out of High School. Will he ever run again?

In one of the book’s twenty-six short stories, he shows his determination to walk without braces, and once again to work as a hunter/trapper. People who know him, dub him Cougar Bob, because he’s the State & Federal Wildlife agencies’ go-to hunter/trapper of menacing animals. He faces life-threatening blizzards, swims the rivers at ice flow, is dropped into the Moyie Canyon at the end of a rope, tracks an escaped killer with his man-trailing bloodhound, and takes a cougar with his pocket knife.

Those who know him wonder: How does Cougar Bob escape to live another day? A good way to find out is to read CLOSE CALLS: The True Tales of Cougar Bob.

For more information, or to purchase a copy, go to:

To learn more about B.J. herself, be sure to read her interview with Cathy Stucker, below. You'll learn what inspired her, how she found a publisher, and valuable insights from this talented writer.

B.J. Campbell Interview
Author of CLOSE CALLS: The True Tales of Cougar Bob
"The Cougar Bob Review"
by Cathy Stucker

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Close Calls: The True Tales of Cougar Bob is a collection of stories about North Idaho native, Robert L. "Cougar Bob" Campbell. People know Cougar Bob as the man who climbs trees and takes cougar and bear with his pocket knife, if necessary. They might know him as the trapper who, at Idaho Fish and Game's request, caught the Bayview Cougar, after it killed livestock and stalked children at the school bus stop. They may have heard of his swimming the Lochsa River at ice floe to set road survey points on the opposite bank.

Naturally, most of the book's twenty-six stories feature a narrow escape.

All of the stories are true. The book's creative non-fiction format shows the action as close as possible to actual events. Most tales offer readers a chance to laugh, as do "Hound Music," and "The Brush Fit." Other stories carry serious themes, such as Bob's bout with polio in the Navy, "Bracing for Life," and his "Coming Home." Either way, readers of the book will get to know him.

News Flashes from “The Cougar Bob Review,” the twenty-year annual newsletter publication about the man’s adventures and character, appear between the short stories. The Flashes include such scenes as "Bear in Mind," the grizzly riding away in the bed of Bob's pickup after trapping man and dog in the cab. In another, "Tiptoeing Tips," Bob gives advice on how to stalk and pick up porkypines with his bare hands. Yet another, "Ballistics Decision Frozen in Time," features a rare a photograph of hell buried in snow and ice the day he changed his choice of ammunition.

Tell us something about yourself.

I'm an Idahoan and can't think of any reason to leave. Grew up in South Idaho, then migrated to North Idaho after I earned a BA in Biology and English at Northwest Nazarene University and married Cougar Bob. Taught high school English and Public Speaking, and coached Drama for a few years, then took a clinical research job at a pharmaceutical manufacturing company. Finished a Communications Masters at Eastern Washington University during that time. By the end of a long career at the laboratory with varied assignments, I owned my Technical Writing business, Write On, and quite a stack of Cougar Bob stories.

What inspired you to write this book?

Being married to Cougar Bob is a stroke of luck for me as a chronic writer. He has tales to tell. My husband is colorful and doesn't realize it, and his routine adventures give us conversation topics for dinner. Usually at a point in his stories, I say, "You did what?" Then I write the plot on a paper napkin.

The "Cougar Bob Review" evolved from a page-layout course I took at a local college. The course required a project for practice. My dinner napkin collection furnished a never-ending source of stories for the CBR. I recorded Bob's legends and sent the periodic CBR publication to family and five-hundred of my closest friends for about twenty years. I wanted to make certain his family, friends and other readers come to know him better than they might otherwise. I hoped they would see his spirit in the face of great saddness, like realizing after his polio, he probably never would break the World Record for the four-minute mile. But he focused on what he could do, like following jail escapees with his man-trailing bloodhound. His courage underlies every story.

Soon after the "Cougar Bob Review" hit press, I began to flag more news flashes that would furnish fun for the readers if they knew the whole story. Thus the short story collection grew.

How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?

I chose Gray Dog Press with Publisher Russ Davis, whom I heard speak at a writers' group meeting. His attractive published books included a good representation of non-fiction on outdoor topics by Northwest authors. Close Calls: The True Tales of Cougar Bob seemed written for his Booklist. In an e-mail query, I expressed that thought. Publisher Davis agreed and bought my book.

*What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Find a publisher whose Booklist includes books of genre and theme similar to your book. For instance, investigate whether the publisher focuses on Western Novels, or Science Fiction Novels or Non-fiction Self-Help, etc. Your book will have a better chance of seeing print if it fits into a publisher's established plan.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

The thought of publishing stories appealed to me, but for years I did not submit any for publication. I wanted to avoid the agony of the publisher's rejection. I shared the Cougar Bob story, "Licked," with a friend of my husband's. Without telling me, he hand-copied and submitted it to a coursing hound magazine. The magazine published it. It was my first publication. After thus discovering a market for my output, I found renewed purpose in generating all those words.

How do you do research for your books?

Depends on the subject. A forty-minute phone Interview with logger/hunter Sweet gave me all I required for "The Brush Fit" --- definition, history, categories, styles and cures. In other cases, such as "Tanning Hides Requires Brains," in addition to the sixty-minute Interview, I handled leather made by different processes, read a couple of books, articles and information from online searches for a bit of background.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

Treat handwritten notes on dinner napkins with respect. Someday they could become a memorable story.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Acronyms - Initialisms & Abbreviations

With the popularity and rise in real-time text-based communications, such as Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, e-mail, Internet and online gaming services, chat rooms, discussion boards and mobile phone text messaging (SMS), came the emergence of a new language tailored to the immediacy and compactness of these new communication media. -
Until now, I’ve done my best to stay out of this new world. I’ve declined to learn how to text, and I don’t tweet on Twitter. I routinely ignore people who send texts to my cell phone – after all, it costs me 20¢ to read the darn things! I have a tad-bit of knowledge about the language used by texters and tweeters, but after I read FYI, I’m pretty much in the dark.

According to Net Lingua (the language of the Internet), I’m a member of those unenlightened individuals who remain “confused by the baffling symbols and meaningless strings of letters that litter e-mails, chat rooms, and text messages.”

Yup, that’s me, and I’ve come to realize this isolationist policy (82 million Americans do text regularly) is causing me to fall out of sync with the current word usage of my fellow bloggers, my sisters, (not to mention my grandkids) and even the Oxford English Dictionary.

During a Blog-Meister meeting in May, it was suggested we hook up to Twitter and other social networks in order to promote our blog. Yikes! Then a few weeks ago, my sisters declared “Mary Jane needs to learn how to text,” and promptly united in communicating to me only through text messages. Ouch!

And the last straw? Just yesterday I discovered the highly educated folks at the Oxford English Dictionary announced their official acceptance of terms such as OMG (Oh, my God), FYI (for your information), and LOL (laugh out loud), into the lexicon of official English words. They say they’ve become part of our everyday language, so have included them in their latest dictionary. Fiddlesticks!

I guess it's time to figure out what this "slanguage" is all about. TISNF!

It may be JMO, but I found the Internet Language Dictionary at Net Lingo ( to have the most comprehensive list of definitions about computers, the Internet, and the online world of business, technology, and communication. Their lists include thousands of Acronyms & Text Messaging Shorthand Terms, Symbols, and Smileys to help people communicate through the various types of communication media. The following definitions are from this site:
Online Jargon (a.k.a. cyberslang, electronic language, e-mail style, geek-speak, hi-tech lingo, hybrid shorthand, netspeak, slang, slanguage, and textese)

Online jargon is the specialized language, chat acronyms, text message shorthand, and technical lingo that is used while communicating in the online world. Like slang, it can develop as a kind of shorthand, to express ideas that are frequently discussed between members of a group, though it can also be developed deliberately using chosen terms.

Here's an example: "My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :-@ kids FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc." It is translated like this: "My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend, and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It's a great place."

Chat Acronyms (a.k.a. Abbreviations, Initialism, Shorthand, Text Messaging Shorthand)

A nickname for abbreviations of words used primarily in chat rooms and while texting or instant messaging, chat acronyms are popular on the Internet as a modern day type of shorthand for common phrases. This type of shorthand is also seen in e-mail messages, newsgroup postings, discussion boards, and in the media in general.

One reason acronyms and shorthand are used so widely is that it's quicker and easier to type a few letters rather than to type the full expression. They're fun (but they can also be naughty)!

The difference between acronyms and shorthand is that with acronyms, you pronounce the letters as a new word (for example, "NATO" is pronounced "na-toe"). In contrast, shorthand pronunciations are like an initialism (a set of initials) in which you say the letters one-by-one (for example, "ESP" is an initialism for "extra sensory perception."

The online practice is to refer to any online shorthand, initialisms, or abbreviations as acronyms.

Another reason to learn "netspeak"

According to Ammon Shea, consulting editor for Oxford University Press, both acronyms and initialisms are a growing part of our everyday language and “Since it is unlikely that they will go away anytime soon," you might as well learn about them.

Acronym – An abbreviation that forms a new word such as NATO (“Na-toe,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

Initialism – An abbreviation in which each letter is capitalized and in which each letter is pronounced, as in RIP (R-I-P, rest in peace) and TMI (T-M-I, too much information).

These examples led me to think about abbreviations I’m more familiar with. I am a member of DAR, an initialism for Daughters of the American Revolution; and I belong to an organization called kNIFVES, an acronym for Northwest Independent Film & Video Entertainment Society. Oh, and I am also a contributor to a blog called WNI, an initialism for Writing North Idaho. (If it was an acronym, it would sound like “whinny” and everyone would think we’re a group of horse lovers.)

As I continued to scroll through the thousands of acronyms, my cynicism eventually evaporated and my love of words overcame my grudging nature to learn a new language at my stage of life; and I began to find the cryptic language both interesting and fun. IMHO, the biggest advantage to using these abbreviations lies in the time-saving ease they offer when communicating - once you learn the pesky little things.

So, now that I understand cyber-speak a little, I'm considering trying to formulate my first text to my sisters - oh yeah, and adding a texting account to my cellphone.

Most Frightful Initialism
SSEWBA (Someday Soon Everything Will Be Acronyms) – which really is an initialism about writing becoming merely a long list of a abbreviations – a truly scary thought!

NIMBY, TYVM! (Not in my back yard, thank you very much!)

Hey, why don't you send me a cyber message or tell me your favorite chat acronym!!

Helpful Sources


Books To Help Understand Internet & Texting Lingo

Net Lingo The Internet Dictionary
This is NetLingo's guide to jargon, acronyms and silly smileys. Reader's Digest described it as "A comprehensive A-Z of every kind of Internet gibberish you are ever likely to encounter." It contains definitions of all sorts of compute
r and
Internet terminology, as well as hilarious acronyms, and smileys. It may open your eyes on terms you have used incorrectly.

WAN2TLK? By Gabrielle Mancier
This is a must-have for fast, smooth talkers! WAN2TLK?: Ltl bk of txt msgs is the first ever guide to text messaging, the hot new way to communicate using a pager, cell phone, email or instant messaging ("IM"ing). Thousands of abbreviations, emoticons and their meanings are shorthand for irresistible pick-up lines and clever replies, scorching romantic exchanges, and insults.

Super Smileys by Pleasant Company Publications
Smileys are great fun and kids especially love to use them to spice up their e-mails, chat room conversations, and text messages. This book presents a whole range of silly faces children can use. Smileys - both original and standard - add a touch of humor to any written communication.

Just a Few Internet Terms

AFAIK – as far as I know

AFAIR - as far as I remember

AFK – away from keyboard

AIAMU - and I'm a monkey's uncle

ATM – at the moment

b/c - because

BBL – be back later – use when offline for longer time than BRB or AFK

BFN – Bye for now

BIO - bring it on

BR – Best regards

BRB – be right back

BTW – by the way

C4N - Caio for now

CTA - call to action

CX - correction

DAMHIKT - don't as me how I know that

EM - Email

EWI - Emailing while intoxicated

FB - Facebook

FWIW – for what it’s worth

GFTD - gone for the day

HTH – hope that helps

HWGA - here we go again

IBIWISI - I'll believe it when I see it

ICYMI – in case you missed it

IDK – I don’t know

IMHO – in my humble opinion

IMO – in my opinion

IRL – in real life

J/K – just kidding

JMO - just my opinion

JSYK - just so you know

LMK – let me know

MBN – must be nice

MITIN – more information than I need

MOF – matter of fact – but be careful with any word that has an “F” in it.

MOS - mom over shoulder

MUBAR – messed up beyond all recognition

NB - Nota Bene. Make sure to read the comments, where there are many great additions.

N1 - nice one

NBIF – no basis in fact

OBX - old battle axe

Orly, O Rly, Rly ORLY – usually sarcastic “Oh, really.”

PCM - please call me

PEBCAK – problem exists between chair and keyboard

RNN - reply not necessary

RTF – read the FAQ

RTQ – read the question

TISNF - this is so not fair

TL;DR – Too long; didn’t read.

TMI – too much information

TTYL – Talk to you later

W/R/T/ – With regards to

YW – you're welcome

Monday, June 6, 2011

So You Wanna Write a Screenplay?

I met Barb Lund-Gerry when we were both writing as columnists for the Spokesman-Review VOICE about four years ago. We realized right away we were kindred spirits and since that time have become dear friends. This amazing woman celebrated her 80th birthday last year and recently decided to become a screenwriter. To me, her energetic, can-do spirit serves as inspiration; and proof that age is only a state of mind. I am so pleased this lovely, talented woman agreed to share some of her writing thoughts with us. I hope you enjoy her post.

Barb Lund-Gerry
Barb was born Chicago, in the height of the Depression. She worked in the fashion industry in Chicago and in the Dallas-Ft. Worth, area until age 50. She did modeling, platform speaking, fashion show production and even had her own television show on charm and beauty. She retired and moved to California, for R&R; riding her bicycle along the beaches for two years before getting back in the race. She worked as an independent marketer for various industries, a job that demanded she write ad copy, promotional brochures and instruction sheets for fashion programs as well as for biological monitoring programs for industrial doctors. She moved to Coeur d'Alene from California, in 1988. In 2003, she served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for Agency on Aging and began writing a monthly column for them in the Coeur d'Alene Press in 2004. In 2007, she branched out to writing columns for The Spokesman Review’s VOICE and the Panhandle SeniorGazette newspaper. Her latest adventure – a stretch, she says, “like everything else I’ve tackled,” is learning how to write screenplays. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do, but I’m hooked.”

So You Wanna Write a Screenplay?

Yes, I do...or, so I thought.

Gee whiz, I said to myself, when I first read a screenplay. This looks soooo easy…it’s a whole lot easier than writing a book. Just think of it: the movie set, with its décor, lighting, sound effects, and furnishings; and the actors, with their dialogue, facial and body language, their costumes and general personas - they're all doing the (writing) job for you.

Hmmm, I already knew that…and that’s what appealed to my inner lazy bum about screenwriting…it just looked so darned easy. There was no need to struggle with pages and pages of tedious description.

Well then, if it is so all-fired easy, why am I having such a hard time doing it?

The screenwriter’s job is to show not tell the story. And…there’s the rub.

It’s our job to write dialogue, give information on time of day and location of action, and to give the director and actor brief, written instructions to clarify the intent of the scene they’re about to do. But I seem to be trying to cram the story into these lines of instruction that precede the lines of dialogue.

That’s a big no-no.

I’m afraid there’s a lot more to this screenwriting thing than meets the eye, but it’s fascinating, fun and challenging. So, I was delighted with the idea of joining the screenwriting group that Mary Jane is facilitating.

This group’s members run the gamut from novice (me) to people like
Mary Jane herself, whose award winning script is now being readied for actual filming and production; it’s scheduled to start filming this July. (Congratulations, Mary Jane!)

Another group member is Bob, a grandfatherly sort – a film industry professional who has enjoyed a long career in Hollywood, the Mecca of film production. He’s been involved in all phases of film-making – he’s written original screenplays; he’s re-written scripts, he’s produced, directed, and he has acted in films. This easy-going guy knows the ropes – the real “nitty-gritty” of writing a good and saleable script. And, he enthusiastically shares that wealth of knowledge with all of us.

Attending the screenwriter’s group is a real shot in the arm for me at least three reasons. One, it gives me incentive. I don’t need to remind you, my fellow writers, writing is a pretty solitary sport. Not only do we fret about being good enough, but, we have to cleverly head off the dreaded writer’s block.

Two – a productive discussion about our project is of immeasurable value.
No matter how many times we re-read our piece, we can still miss the fact that we have mislead, lost or confused our reader.

We need to know if our work is clear; is it compelling? Are the characters believable, interesting? Do we whet the readers’ appetite for more (so they will turn to the next page?)

The third reason why the group is a shot in the arm is it just feels so good to be in the company of screenwriters.

Last night I went to the workshop with 6 copies of a scene from my screenplay, eager for the groups’ critique. It was with great anticipation that I passed the copies around. As the group read my 7 pages of script, the silence was palpable for me and I nervously searched their faces for some reaction.

Actually, I didn’t know what kind of reaction to expect. Finally they looked up from their reading, exchanged looks with each other and with me. Then, in a very professional manner, each person offered me good, honest, yet kind, suggestions about my script. This evolved into a productive discussion about my script and its story.

Their consensus: I was telling, not showing my story. The group gave me examples of how to “show” my story through the dialogue instead of telling it in the director’s notes. So helpful! I was pleased with their sincere interest in the theme of my story. Best of all, they all agreed it was indeed a tale worth telling.

The take away lesson for me: every word of dialogue is there to advance the theme of the story and unfold the plot. Aye, that is the rub.

This screenwriting thing…it looked so easy…it’s anything but. However, I am hooked.

The screenwriting group Barb refers to is the Screenwriter’s Special Interest Group(SIG) through Northwest Independent Film & Video Entertainment Society (kNIFVES) of which we are both members. The group meets the third Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in Coeur d’Alene. Anyone interested in screenwriting may attend and check us out. Please call me at 208-691-9730 for more information.