Friday, September 30, 2011

The Doorway of No Return

James Scott Bell, in his book called, “Plot and Structure,” writes about getting your protagonist through the doorway of no return.

While it is difficult for me to look at literature analytically, to follow charts, graphs, or any kind of set outline, I often think that if I were to wrap my head around such advice, my stories might be the better for it. Yet, when I read some bestsellers, the scaffolding is too visible and the story seems too contrived for my taste. Yet a character on a quest, or at odds with his or her surroundings, hooks me in, just one hundred per cent of the time. When I see that a protagonist has made a decision that sets them inevitably on a course that is going to cause trouble, I have to know how it will turn out. What is the doorway, and why is it one of no return?

Often the fateful decision comes of an obsession which is driving the character's actions and decisions. It can override common sense. When Scarlett O' Hara declares, in “Gone With the Wind,” that Ashley cannot love Melanie, we feel that little prickle on the back of our neck. Why is Scarlett so convinced that Ashley loves her and not Melanie? Would he not be marrying her then instead of Melanie? Folly. That is the stuff of great stories and the sign that may as well hang over the doorway of no return. When Scarlett decides to refuse to accept Ashley's marriage to Melanie, and chooses instead to pursue Ashley relentlessly, we have a story. The war comes along to make it more interesting. Scarlett marries Melanie's brother. We know that she loves Ashley. Folly.

The Webster's definition of obsession is: “the domination of one's thoughts by a persistent idea, or image.” Another description of obsession outlines a broadly compelling motivation. Used as a literary device, it is obvious that it will assist any writer trying to outline a character's desire. The scale is tipped from everyday desire, to obsession when a character begins to behave badly and erratically if any obstacle is put between the character and the object of their stated want. We need be able to accept loss in order to function.

“Life is full of disappointments,” my mother used to tell me. My father would use logic to try to help me look at things differently, in order to chart a new course. A character in the grips of an obsession, may be absolutely unwilling to accept an outcome, to the point of folly. This may be easily flipped to comedy, particularly if the object is ridiculous, or to tragedy if the pursuit of the elusive goal leads to death.

When on a tour of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, there was a saying written over the doorway leading to the prison from which it was believed no one would ever escape. The inscription read, “Abandon Hope all ye who Enter Here.” It struck me, at the time, as a bone chilling doorway of no return.

Can the doorway be good? Absolutely. An unexpected gift, a reprieve, or an act of forgiveness can put a lost soul on the path to redemption. In "Les Miserables," the Bishop chooses not to prosecute Jean Valjean for the theft of his candle sticks. Indeed, he gives him two more, putting Jean squarely on the path to redemption. His journey is full of setbacks, but the Bishop's kindness is never forgotten. It haunts him and drives the immortal story forward.

Whatever doorway a writer chooses, it must be one that alters the course all ensuing events. Therein lies a plot.


If you are of a mind to take some sort of bold leap in regards to your writing, why not consider entering our first line contest? All great stories begin with a noble sentence. Find the details on the upper left hand corner of the home page of this site. Winning this contest could start a chain of events in motion that you may never have imagined. Throw your cap over the wall. Give it a shot. What do you have to lose? It does not cost anything to enter, and it may be the feather in your cap that leads to heights never before imagined.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

No Small Potatoes

There has been a movement afoot in literature to focus on one commodity, and make a book of it. People have written about salt, wine and chocolate. This led me to wonder if anyone has written about what the great state of Idaho is known for, namely, the potato.

How did this come to pass? How is it that when a person from Idaho travels, he or she is inevitably asked about potatoes. It turns out that Idaho was a trail blazer in this regard when in 1937 the Idaho Potato Commission was founded. This body, funded by a tax paid by potato farmers, set out to advertise on radio and later television, to create a brand identity from a single crop. A seal was fashioned and customers were encouraged to look for that mark when purchasing what was to become our famous potatoes. Lots of other states grow the crop, but the affection and identity formed by the commission created a market for thirteen billion pounds of spuds, one third of all those sold in the United States.

On St. Patrick's Day, a dear friend by the name of Mary, told me about a book she had just read by Mary Pat Kelly. Entitled, “Galway Bay,” the novel is an actual oral history passed down from one generation to the next. Told primarily through the women, it is the tale of one immigrant family and their travails from Ireland to Chicago. While it is not about the potato famine, called An Gorda Mor in Gaelic, it is the great catalyst of the tale.
“They tried to kill us, but we didn't die.” This is the thread of the story handed down through the ages; it is one of incredible hardship and then survival.
When I was in school in Toronto, I recall the day the teacher told us that the famine was caused by a lazy population who stupidly lived on one crop because they could not be bothered to grow anything else.
"When that crop suffered a blight they starved," she told us, with the implication that they should have known better hanging in the air.
I remember looking out the window, trying to wed that story with what I knew about my own family, all of whom are avid gardeners and farmers. At home, I asked if the story were true and heard that food was exported to England all through those dark days. Imagine having to take the harvest to market, load a ship and return home to a house of desperate want. As the "croppies" were only given a scant bit of land to cultivate for private use, the "pratties" gave the highest yield and provided the greatest nourishment.

These are the facts: 750,000 were confirmed dead of starvation. Bearing in mind that many more died in the coffin ships landing in Montreal and Boston, this would be a severe underestimation. Without the hospitals, or the man power necessary to deal with the influx, the sick passengers arriving in Quebec were put on an island in the St. Lawrence and left exposed to the elements. Promised, land, cash and food upon arrival, they arrived to find nothing and no way home. The bit of land they left behind on the dear, old sod had been exchanged for the price of their passage. Cecil Woodham Smith reported that during the famine years, 257,000 sheep were exported to England from lands held by absentee landlords. 480,827 swine went over as well as 186,483 head of cattle. Not even mentioning other crops, the picture is clear.

Yet there is a happy ending to this tale. The Irish flourished in both the United States and Canada. Reading “Galway Bay” prompted me to look up the history of my maternal grandmother, Rose Cahill Gaudette. One of ten children in her family, I learned that her mother was the oldest in a family of ten. Going back through the generations, my blood ran cold when I saw the date. In 1848 Thomas Cahill arrived in Montreal. Famine. Coffin ship. Most of the passengers died and their bodies were tossed over. Of the living, it was decided to send the Irish on a barge to Toronto. The sun blazed and the fair skins burned. Once again they were placed on an island off shore. Yet the good people of the city, rowed out in small boats and volunteered to tend the sick, risking their own lives in the process. The Cahills made their way to the gorgeous Ottawa valley, carved a life in the wilderness, and flourished.

Because of “Galway Bay” and in memory of all the times my grandmother served her famous Boxty, the potato pancake, I planted a crop in my garden. Yesterday, I harvested the first of my bounty and served it with dinner. It is true. There is something about Idaho. I am proud to report that the potatoes were entirely delicious. Because of "Galway Bay," I will plant them every year from now on.

From one noun a great story may unfold.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Artistic Temperament

At a recent lunch with the fabulous blogettes, conversation turned to the nature of artistic temperament. We have all read articles about the connection between genius and mental illness. We have also read and heard accounts of profoundly nasty moves made by some who are regarded as innovative, brilliant, immortal and gifted. What is the connection?

The nature of mania can be what is often called a brainstorm. With all circuits firing at breakneck speed, some have harnessed this heightened awareness and let their paint brush, their type writers, or quill pens, take record some of these rapid fire thoughts.

Any state or mood of increased consciousness would never yield great work in and of itself. The initial flow may be prolific and intense, but it could also be a great mess, yielding nothing of use to anyone. The ride on the back of a bucking bronco may be thrilling, but it is altogether too short. So a second talent is needed; one that allows for the discipline of picking oneself up once the inevitable crash follows in its wake. During those days of low energy, slow, painstaking effort and focus is needed to add layers and at the same time, discard all that is superfluous. With great luck, a beautifully crafted work of art may ensue.

What is the artistic temperament? Lord Byron wrote: “We of the craft are all crazy.... all are more or less touched.” Is it a medical condition, a fine madness, or is it something brought on by the nature of the creative process? While most would feel the former is the most likely, I am tending more towards the latter. The forces of the world around us, seem to conspire in every shape and form to pull us away from the solitary work and into what what Virginia Woolf described as the “tramp and trudge of life.”

Who lives on a street where the neighbors would discourage attendance at a pot luck party in favor solitary confinement in a studio? Is the excessive sensitivity and irritability, as one definition stated, a result of what is required to keep the galloping herd at bay? This is what I wonder.

The romantic myth of the suffering artist and its link to creativity as a kind of requirement for genius is, to some extent, a bit overblown. Plenty of successful working artists and writers live a steady and rather quiet life, where family duties are wedded to productivity and acclaim. It is not necessary to have a train wreck of personal relationships followed by an early death in a sad hotel room in order to be declared a genius. Yet, it is often the perception.

Part of the conflict and tension one reads about and is attributed to the artistic temperament, could also be tied to the anxiety inherent in wanting recognition, acclaim and financial security. If it constantly eludes a person who is truly original, sticks their neck out in a dramatic fashion, takes huge risks and displays a lack of restraint in order to do so, and goes completely unrecognized in their lifetime, would not that fear and uncertainty contribute to a less compliant nature?

Lord Byron used the word "touched" do describe his fellow poets. Touched by angels would be my description.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.

Friday, September 23, 2011


It's late and I'm tired, but I have one more blog to write this week  for Writing North Idaho before I can call it a night and get into bed.  It's okay.  I don't mind.  Working with deadlines and writing under pressure reminds me of those long ago days when I was a reporter for the Bellfower Herald-American and came in from an assignment with   only two hours to write my story before having to submit it  to the copy editor.

It's not that I haven't been thinking about what to write. I have. In between scores of  chores, worrying about a hospitalized child of a dear friend, helping my son move into his new apartment, and going to the dentist for a  replacement crown on my back molar. Perhaps some of you writers have had a similar experience of  allowing the cares and  concern of daily living  interrupt your writing time.

I had been mulling over two or three subject matters  when I read an email from  a friend telling me of  a Memorial Service she recently attended where a family member read from several letters the deceased individual had written to his children and grand-children, how very special it was to learn more about him in his own words.

That's what letters do, give an insight about the person.  Sadly, with the new technology - email , texting, twittering -  letter writing is becoming a lost art.  I'm not sure about you, but I  don't copy and save every internet note  I receive. It's so easy to hit the delete button after  I  read and reply.  Whereas, I have a    box full of hand written letters from family and friends sent to me through the years, as well as letters of family members written long before I was born. They are precious to me, not only because the words are written in my loved ones own hand, but because they relay a history of time and place,and connect me to them through the sharing of their written word.

Just  think for a minute about the many books of letters published of famous people; Authors, artists, politicians,  and what they reveal.  So much about their lives, their talent, their torment. Two that come to mind are Henry James and Edith Wharton:  Letters 1900 - 1915,  and The Selected Letters of Ernest Hemingway : 1917 - 1960.  Through their letters they document   their travels and projects, and give an account of the relationships that helped shape their life and work.

I glance at the bookcase nearest where I sit and notice a title I haven't read in a while,  Dearest Mother -  Letters From Famous Sons to Their Mothers, selected and edited by Paul Elbogen. Copyright 1941. I pick it up and browse the table of contents to find  names of poets and composers, prime ministers and presidents.  I open  to page 68 . Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  begins his letter from Munich,  dated January 14, 1775

 My dear Mama,  Thank God! My opera was staged yesterday, the 13th , and turned out so well that I can't possibly describe the noise .  Mama,  in the first place, the whole theater was crammed so full that many people had to take their money back . After each  and every aria  there was always a frightening uproar with clapping and viva maestro shouting.

  Isn't it  wonderful  we  can share  Mozart's detailed account of his triumph,  and know the joy he experienced at his music being so well received because of  a letter he personally  wrote to his mother.

 I turn the  page and   read an excerpt from a letter written by Walt Whitman to his mother dated June 30, 1863. The scene switches from Germany to America and another era.  Whitman, in Washington D.C.  during the Civil War writes   about seeing Mr. Lincoln , He looks more careworn even than usual,his face with deep cut lines, seams, and his complexion gray through very dark skin - a curious looking man, very sad. 

While not all of us may be able to write letters about composing  music, and performing as magnificently  and marvelous as Mozart, or be witness to someone  as monumental to history as Lincoln  and the Civil War, we each have something to express and  share, some observation or thought, a deed well done, or goal we hope to achieve .  We write letters to  correspond  with  those  of  this generation, and very possibly for those in  future generations.

I'm not suggesting to  stop the  email, text, and twitter,  but  once in awhile to pick up pen and paper to write a letter in our  own hand  to parents, grandparents,  aunt, uncle, cousin or friend. By doing so,  we'll be sending a part of our self, and writing a little of our own history.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Writer's Rose

While long time, life long friend Patty and I were visiting my mother this past weekend,  mom in her customary fashion picked up a book of poetry,  Bartlett's Poems For Occasions  and said , " I want to read this to you. It's so lovely."  Mom  carefully opened to the page she had bookmarked  and began reading The Rose by 17th century poet and mystic,  Angelus Silesius

The Rose has no "why",
it blooms because it blooms
it doesn't watch itself
or wonder if anyone see's it

Silence. Is that it, I asked.   "Yes", mom said.

"Please,  read it again".    Mom did. This time I listened not just with my ears, but with heart, too. I understood better, and  agreed the epigram (1)  was lovely, and profound. I related the short poem with  one's  desire to be acknowledged and acclaimed, and  contemplated   how how much better if we could  find solace in accepting     we are because we are. We do because we do. We create because we create, and don't need to plague ourselves with the constant worry,  and wondering   if others see us as talented or beautiful, but for us to proceed and persevere in  simply being .

Angelus Silesius 

A  few days later I found myself thinking  again about The Rose and the line, it blooms because it blooms. But now I translated it blooms because it blooms into I write because I write. I'm guessing many writers feel the same .   Not that many of us will become best selling authors, we just  write because it is part of who we are, a way to express ourselves, to tell a story,  whether fact or fiction. Yes, of course  we write in the hope others might read our words, but  primarily we write because we write, like the rose blooms because it blooms.

Prior to my mother reading  The Rose, I  was not familiar with Angelus Silesius so I  decided to find out more about him.   He was born Johannes Scheffler in 1624 and upon his conversion to the Catholic faith in 1653 chose to be called by his baptismal name, Angelus Silesius. Silesius after the country of his birth.  He was ordained a priest in 1661 and  while he contributed to a considerable body of Lutheran and Catholic hymns,  he his primarily  known for his book of poems, The Cherubinic Wanderer , most recently translated by Maria Shrady in a volume of The Classics of Western Spirituality series from Paulist Press. According to Shrady, Silesius mastered the seventeenth century literary form of the epigram and used it to proclaim the mystical dimensions of Christianity.

Included here  are two examples of a  Silesius' epigrams:

The Silent Prayer

God far exceeds all words that we can here express.
In silence He is heard, in silence worshiped best.

The Sweetest Revelry

Oh, the sweetest revelry ! God has become my wine,
meat, table, serving man, my music when I dine.

The Cherubic Wanderer includes 1,143 verses, mostly couplets ,  together with ten supplementary sonnets and can be ordered on line  at

For more information about Angelus Silesius visit

Whether I read more of Silesius or not, I don't know.  What I do know,  is the next time I sit down to write,  the beautiful image of a rose will come to mind and I'll smile to myself as I 'm reminded,  it blooms because it blooms. 

(1) epigram
witty saying: a concise, witty, and often paradoxical remark or saying
poetry short poem: a short poem, often expressing a single idea, that is usually satirical and has a witty ending
witty form of expression: a witty or concise mode of expression, either written or spoken
[ 15th century. Directly or via French < Latin epigramma < Greek < graphein "write" ]
ep·i·gram·ma·tism NOUN
ep·i·gram·ma·tist NOUN

Monday, September 19, 2011


In choosing to write  memoir,  we write about what we supposedly know best - at least from our point of view.   Like  an astronomer looking through a telescope at a far away star,  we must  hone in on pieces of memory to recall impressions, influence and impact of family, friends, places and events, and why they were important.

When writing memoir and naming others,  how much should we tell ?  Must we consider how our story might effect another if  told in an unflattering light? Especially of friend or family member?   Or should  good be mixed with bad, the delight and pain of being loved,  and loving in return  prevail ? Parent to child, child to parent, husband and wife, friend to friend. Must  memoir always be filled with angst, and the tormented soul to be readable, marketable ?  I hope not. Personally,  I much prefer Clarence Day's Life With Father over Christina Crawford's Mommie Dearest. 

I  had an email this afternoon   from the grand-daughter of my mother's dearest friend, now deceased for many years.  Someone I admired, and  thought a lot of.   Patty  asked   if I would please re-post a blog I had written about her grandmother for  2 Lane Highway  ( )  in January,  2010.  I titled it Patsy and Linda, and  include it now as a small  example of capturing memory to paper,   to encourage all writers interested in  memoir to begin writing  - even if it's something short and simple.

Earlier this week while out taking my afternoon walk with Sam E. Beagle and Missy dog, I thought about a recent email from my childhood friend, Linda. She told me of her New Year's Eve trip to the neighborhood we grew up in ; A quiet, quaint cul de sac in the plain Jane suburb city of Bell. Hers was a bittersweet path to the past, not only because she revisited long gone days of youth, where we spent day after day roller skating, riding matching pink and white Schwinn bikes and playing with baby dolls, paper dolls and Barbie dolls , but because two days later it would mark the 21st anniversary of her mother's death.

We have a long history, Linda and me; Only 4 years old when we met, becoming instant play pals and life long friends.

From the start, our mothers were the very best of friends. In fact, I learned  a lot about the meaning of friendship from observing my mom and Patsy - their joy in being together, their faithfulness and fidelity one to the other: Good times and bad times, through tears and laughter -  no matter what, they stuck like glue .

In her email Linda wrote about turning onto Southhall Court , and for just a moment envisioned her mom standing at the brick wall like she did so many years ago. I recall a similar image of Patsy. It was the late 1950's and my family didn't have a phone, so if someone needed to reach my parents they'd dial Patsy's number. I can still hear Patsy hollering from her driveway, " Lenore , the phone's for you". To some , it may seem quirky and unsophisticated, but in truth it was friendly and familar. Endearing and sweet. A simpler place, and more neighborly time.  

It was sitting on the hard concrete of  Linda's driveway that her mom taught us how to play " Jacks", and the first time I ate a taco was  when Patsy made homemade tacos - long before Taco Bell, Del Taco and a hundrend other taco stands on every southern California corner. To this day, Patsy's perfectly seasoned ground round  taco's are the best I've ever had.

Patsy also  taught me to crochet.  And my brother, Walt remembers she and her husband Lawrance bought him his first pair of cowboy boots when he was only six years old (from those first boots to his present boots, cowboy boots still remain his favorite style of footwear).   Patsy  hosted both  my wedding shower,  and baby shower. It would be impossible to think about  my growing up years, and highlights of my life without including Patsy. She loved me and my family,  and we loved her. It was heartbreaking, and seemed unfair,  unreal when Patsy died at the young age of 55. Younger than Linda and I are now.

As I walked along the wooded trail , I continued to think about Linda and Patsy , wishing Linda was nearby so I could give her a hug . I wanted to tell her how special I think her mother was, and how proud I am of her for carrying on through the challenges of her own life in such a strong, positive way; knowing her mother would be proud of her, too.

No loss ever compares to the loss of a loved one. While it's true the sun will continue to rise each and every morning , just as its done for thousands  of years, nothing is never, ever quite the same after the death of one we loved so dear; A small part of us dies, too. It's only in the remembering we keep them near.

Memoir  is the re-telling of the moments of our life, and the life of others. Sometimes with humor, satire, or sorrow. But always with care, and as much truth as we can give it. 

*** NOTE:  My brother passed away May 30, 2010. Like Patsy,  Walt  was  only 55 years old.  He  was buried with his boots on.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Plagiarism or "Hey, I wrote that"

[Writing North Idaho's Brilliant Beginnings contest is open for submissions. Write a comedic, interesting, arresting, tragic, engaging first line for a short story or book. There is no entry fee. Neither your name nor email address will be known to the judging panel. Quick, fun, and maybe profitable! See more information at upper left corner of this blog page.]

Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work, ideas, thoughts, opinions, theories, statistics, facts, drawings, or paraphrasing the same. There are 5 common forms of plagiarisms:

1. Duplicating another’s words or phrases, etc. without identifying the speaker or author, or not using quotation marks.

2. Same as #1 except including quotation marks.

3. Using another’s ideas by paraphrasing them without noting sources.

4. Submit, enter or sell as your own work by merely rearranging words and/or phrases without footnotes.

5. Intentional or unintentional, ignorance of the law is no defense.

The devil is in the details, however. According to copyright laws established in 1989, works are now protected with or without the copyright symbol; they are considered intellectual property. As long as the material can be shown to belong to someone other than you, even though altered but similar to the original form, without acknowledgement, it is considered plagiarism. Copyright laws do not protect facts considered “common knowledge.” Common knowledge is defined loosely as information generally known or known by a large group of people, e.g.,

Another gray area is “public domain.” This often, but not always, means intellectual property that “belongs” to the public and can therefore be used freely. There are variations of law depending on copyright laws in different countries as well as patents and trademarks. It is best to check with an attorney.

The punishments are of varying degrees often depending upon the venue and the amount of material copied. The greater the amount of material copied the greater the punishment can be. Most cases are considered misdemeanors bringing fines between $100 and $50,000 and can be accompanied by up to one year in jail. Generally, your offense is considered a felony if you earn more than about $2,500. The punishment could be upwards of $250,000 and ten years jail time. In a business situation, the punishment is usually not of the prosecutorial kind (unless sued by the original author). It takes the form of a demotion, denial of promotions, monetary fine or firing. In the academic world, the punishment is often meted out by the professor which can result in a failing grade, failing the course or, under the auspices of the dean’s office, expulsion from the college or university. The easy use of the Internet has increased the instances of plagiarism manyfold in all venues

There are a few ways to protect yourself from prosecution of plagiarism.

** Avoid plagiarizing by understanding what constitutes plagiarism.

**When taking notes from various sources for your writing, clearly identify anything that is not in the public domain or not in your original words and thoughts.

**Keep all your notes, electronic, recorded and penned, in several backups in various venues; back up your computer file each time under a different name, e.g., essay plagerism-1, essay plagerism-2, etc. This will give you a paper and time trail to strengthen your case should you be charged or you wish to charge someone else with plagiarism.

**Check the style manuals for the organization for which you are writing as to how to format your written word. APA is the American Psychological Association used primarily in liberal arts settings, ACS (American Chemical Association) for writing in the science field, AP and Chicago styles for general writing. Publishing houses and business often have in-house guidelines they wish authors to follow.

Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, began his book, “It was the best of times…” If you fail to properly credit your sources in your writing, it could easily become, “…the worst of times."

(Disclaimer: this author does not represent the material in the essay to be thought of as legal knowledge or advice under any terms or conditions.);;

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Common Sayings Rooted in Religion

Many of our sayings are biblical in origin. Has their recent meaning stayed true to their original intent? Most have, but not all.

Salt of the earth: The best people, especially those most dependable. It had a slightly different mean in Matthew 5:13. Jesus describes his apostles as being “the salt of the earth.” In Jesus’ time, salt was used to preserve and purify. Therefore, disciples were to help mortal souls become purified and preserve their religious beliefs.

Seventh heaven: State of blissful happiness. Jews recognize seven heavens; the highest was the seventh and was the home of God. Muslims also believe in seven heavens. Seven is the place of divine light and pure happiness.

Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak: Even though we may want to say no to something tempting, our bodies cannot resist it. Jesus says to the apostles before he goes to the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray you do not enter into temptation: the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41.

Drop in the bucket: A very small portion of the whole. "Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he takes up the isles as a very little thing." Isaiah 40:15

Do not cast pearls before swine: Do not offer something of value to those who cannot appreciate it. “Neither cast you your pearls before swine.” Matthew 7:6. The biblical text is generally interpreted to be a warning by Jesus to his followers that they should not offer doctrine to those who were unable to value and appreciate it.

There is nothing new under the sun: Everything that has been done will be done again; everything that has happened will happen again. "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done. There is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:9

The handwriting is on the wall: Disaster or danger is imminent (without handwriting in modern times.) “In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.” Daniel 5:5-6

Bats in the belfry: Crazy, mentally ill. The upper part of church, the belfry, is often known as the brain of the church. Bats clutter or fly around it when distracted by the bell like confused thoughts in a disorder mind.

Land of Nod: Sleep. People sometimes nod their heads if they drop off to sleep while sitting up. Nod is mythical place but has its origin in Genesis in a much angrier context when God is chastising Cain after Cain kills his brother. “And the Lord said unto him, 'Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.' And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.” Genesis 4:16

In the blink of an eye: When something happens very quickly. In the New Testament, Paul talks about what will happen when Jesus Christ returns to earth, saying, “We shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. The trumpet will sound and the dead rise and we will all be changed.” 1 Corinthians 15:52

Kiss of death: Something that is ultimately ruinous, destructive, or fatal. This is an allusion to the scene where Judas approaches Jesus and tries to give Jesus a kiss to identify him to the Temple guards coming to arrest him. Jesus sees Judas and stops him by asking: "Judas, are you betraying the son of man with a kiss?" Luke 22:47-48

A multitude of sins: A number of undesirable actions. “Above all hold unfailing your love fore one another, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Peter 4:8

Chapter and verse: Detailed information. This refers to the bible as the ultimate authority.

The ends of the earth: A long way away; the farthest one can go. “And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the war horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the nations: and his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 9:10

Monday, September 12, 2011

Words We Choose

The moving commemorations of the disaster of the bombing of the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon and the crash of United Airlines flight 93 in Pennsylvania played out on television yesterday brought back vivid memories of the horror we saw unfolding that terrible day. What will children, not yet born, write 30 years from now about the terrorist acts carried out on 9/11/2001? Will they be able to retell stories of families directly affected by these acts of terror? Will they be able to discern our disgust and fears? Will they understand the rebirth of patriotism that followed? How will they know these things?

Our duty as writers is to write down facts or tell a true story so truthfully and with such erudite choice of words that the reader, who may know nothing about the event, can sense our aching hearts, our anger, disgust, shock, fear, patriotism and incomprehension at what occurred. While writing we need to examine exactly what happened, research the hows and whys, and understand what we want to say when we write. We should think of our potential audience and write in ways that convey the feelings as well as the facts of a particular incident. We need to recreate in the reader’s mind the events as they unfolded, people’s reaction to them at the time and what impact this incident left on our consciousness.

Thesauri are helpful to find the right words; they can tell us synonyms for disgust such as abhor, loathe, and abominate. Do we really mean to write that the actions of the terrorists made us despise or abhor those responsible or do we mean to say that we disliked them or found them intolerable? These words carry slightly different impacts from each other although all are listed in a thesaurus as a synonym for ‘disgust.’ Did I dislike the terrorists? No, I abhorred them! Were their actions intolerable? No, they were repugnant, vile, foul.

Choosing the correct word should tell a future reader exactly what Americans felt during 9/11 or ten years later. The words should tell the readers the awe we all felt when the first person landed on the moon. Did we watch with pleasure, with wonderment, with admiration or with disbelief? Exactly what did we feel? How did we feel and act when the Berlin Wall went down or the polio vaccine was first given? How are people in the future going to know exactly how things were unless we choose our words carefully? The retelling of an event or an experience is sometimes the easy part. The hard part is determining words that elicit the exact feeling or picture we are trying to recreate.


1. Walk the dog.

2. Make coffee.

3. Enter Writing North Idaho's BRILLIANT BEGINNINGS contest (see details in upper left corner of this page.)

4. Write!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Victoriously Persistent

Today's guest post is from Jan Cline. Jan is a freelance writer, aspiring author and speaker from Spokane. She is director of the Inland Northwest Christian Writers Conference held in March each year. She writes Inspirational Historical Romance and non-fiction. Visit her website at The conference website is

My husband and I stayed in Lewiston, Idaho, recently. We drove down the Snake River along the Washington side, heading toward Hell’s Canyon. The farther we traveled, the more interesting the terrain. I couldn’t help but notice the tenaciousness of the river--carving its way through the canyon with determination. There is something about nature that teaches us truths for our lives, our dreams and ambitions, don’t you think?

I was reminded of a quote by Oswald Chambers:

“A river is victoriously persistent, it overcomes all barriers. For a while it goes steadily on its course, then it comes to an obstacle and for a while it is baulked, but it soon makes a pathway round the obstacle. Or a river will drop out of sight for miles, and presently emerge again broader and grander than ever. Never get your eyes on the obstacle or on the difficulty. The obstacle is a matter of indifference to the river . . . .”

Isn’t this true of our writing journey? Our imagination births an idea and we write it. But the path we take after that is sometimes daunting. We flow along, winding down the canyon until we meet an obstacle. It may be a manuscript rejection or a harsh critique, or a disappointing reaction from a loved who read our latest masterpiece. That boulder of discouragement looks like it will block our path-—dam up the whole process.

Then we find a way around the obstruction by learning from the rejections, critiques and emotions. We keep going, making our way to the ocean of our dreams. Our mission is to become like the river—-undaunted by the obstacle. The twists and turns we make are part of the path we are meant to follow, even when we don’t know which direction we’ll go next.

I never could have imagined that I would detour my writing journey to become founder and director of a writers conference. It was a bend in the river that took me by surprise. But I knew it was my chance to facilitate other writers to fulfill their dreams. My personal journey has profited in the process as well.

I hope you’ll imagine yourself to be a river of words and imagination. Don’t let the obstacles become barriers. Just go around them and stay on the journey. The ocean is waiting to be fed.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Review: The Accidental Creative

I stumbled upon an intriguing book recently called The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment's Notice by Todd Henry. How could I pass up something with a title like that?

The book is actually written for creatives who work in a corporate setting, like an advertising agency or the marketing department of a company--people who are expected to produce creative, high quality work on demand, day in and day out, and for those who manage them. However, I found much of the information applicable to those of us who are self-employed or who may not work for a larger organization, but who still want to produce the best-quality writing we can, as often as we can.

Henry's basic premise is that creativity is rhythmic, not a constant stream. We are not machines, and we should respect that rhythm. Just as our creative juices ebb and flow, so should the way we approach our work. After discussing some of the things that interrupt or block our creativity, he presents a fresh approach: literally, F.R.E.S.H., which stands for Focus, Relationships, Energy, Stimuli, and Hours.

Focus is just what it sounds like: concentrated time to establish priorities and focus on what's most important.

Relationships refers to those alliances that support our creativity, purposely forming "circles" and "core teams" for brainstorming and accountability (in our case, a critique partner? a writing group? a reading group?)

Energy means maintaining physical and mental energy. Henry advises us to maximize our natural energy through, among other things, carefully planning and pruning our activities and commitments.

Stimuli includes scheduling regular, purposeful time to absorb books, podcasts, videos, and other media with the stated goal of supporting our creative work, not just being entertained, and

Hours means being wise about scheduling our time, especially making time for things that others might consider wasteful or slacking, like "idea time" and "unnecessary creating."

Henry, of course, does a much better and more thorough job than I do of fleshing all this out in detail. If you struggle at all with maintaining your creative edge, I encourage you to visit the web site and read the book.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day: On Writing About Work

"And the first thing they did was segregate me. They segregated me from the only person in the place I had even a speaking acquaintance with; that was a girl I had met going down the hall who said to me: 'Are you as scared as I am?' And when I said, 'Yes,' she said, 'I'm in lingerie, what are you in?' and I thought for a while and then said, 'Spun glass,' which was as good an answer as I could think of, and she said, 'Oh. Well, I'll meet you here in a sec.' And she went away and was segregated and I never saw her again."

That's the first paragraph of the first short story published by the legendary Shirley Jackson (of "The Lottery" fame). Titled "My Life with R. H. Macy," the story describes in a hilarious way the narrator's first day as a new sales clerk at New York's legendary Macy's department store. You can read the rest of it here.

Why did I begin a post on "Writing North Idaho" with a quote from a solidly East Coast author? Because it is one of the best examples I know of writing about a job, which is what I'd like to encourage all of you writers to tackle this Labor Day: writing about work.

Think back over your own employment history. Surely there's at least one job that would lend itself to a story, be it funny, or poignant, or startling. Draw on all your five senses to put yourself back in that office, or that sawmill, or that greasy spoon where you waitressed in college. What was it like to sell encyclopedias door-to-door, or to work on an assembly line, or to teach fifth-graders? Was there a lesson you learned there, a slice of human drama you witnessed?

Write it down. It doesn't matter whether it's a journal entry or essay or fictionalized as a short story--nobody's going to fact-check, at least not until you publish it and make millions. Just write down what you remember, and see what comes of it. And as you do, take time think about what it has meant to you to be a part of the American labor force.

Can you think of any other literary examples you've appreciated of people writing about their jobs?

While you're at it, what do you think of Jackson's opening line, "And the first thing they did was segregate me"? We bloggers at WNI encourage you to start noticing and paying special attention to first lines, to prepare you to write your own great first lines and submit them to our "Brilliant Beginnings" contest! it's a lot of fun, and prizes are in store for the best first lines. Read all about it here, then send your top 3 sentences to by October 15. Good luck!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Brilliant Beginnings First Line Contest

The first line of a novel is like the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth: everything else follows from it. – Author Crawford Kilian

Every writer knows the importance of that first line. Whether long or short, that first line has a big job to do. It must hook your readers and be powerful enough to tempt an agent or editor to keep reading.

Now is your chance to write that perfect first line. The first place winner will receive a $30 cash prize. The winning entry will also be used as the first line in a story contest at a later date.


2nd & 3rd Place Prizes


Contest Rules

Write the most compelling first line ever then send it to us.

1. This contest is open to all writers and readers except those associated with

2. The contest will end on October 15. Winners will be posted on October 31.

3. You must sign up as a Follower on our blog to enter.

4. Your line must be your original work.

5. You may make up to 3 entries.

6. Your entries should be sent to and must include your name.

7. All entries will be posted.

8. Entries will be posted as verbatim, typos and all.

9. We reserve the right to refuse any entries considered unacceptable to a general audience.

10. Published writers will judge the contest.

Some Great First Lines for Inspiration

Call me Ishmael. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville, 1851.

This is the saddest story I have ever heard. The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford, 1915.

Mother died today. The Stranger, Albert Camus 1942.

Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu. Waiting, Ha Jin, 1999.

They shoot the white girl first. Paradise, Toni Morrison, 1998.

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston, 1937.

I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham, 1944.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. Back When We Were Grownups, Anne Tyler, 2001.

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. The Last Kiss Goodnight, James Crumley, 1978.

Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women. Middle Passage, Charles Johnson, 1990.

The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane, 1895.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen – 1813