Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Resolutions, 2013

After a beautiful Christmas, filled with the joy of family, friends and laughter, it is time to turn the corner. Sharing  my usual, tiresome list of New Year's Resolutions is a task I find a bit embarrassing.  It usually reads something like this:

1. Lose weight.
I believe I am the exact same weight I was last year and the year before.  I am active and I enjoy life.

2.Write every day.
Mission accomplished! I wrote something every day in 2012, kept up with my blog schedule and completed the second draft of my novel in progress, now entitled Four Stanley Cups and a Funeral. 

3. Be grateful for my wonderful life.
In spite of being a terrible complainer, I give thanks for my great, good fortune every day. This category needs improving and this year I will do better.

4. Read incessantly.
I cannot breathe without reading and I believe my hands shake if I am four hours into my day without absorbing something. Perhaps it is not really wise to make my New Year's Resolutions about the things I love best. It stands to reason though, that a reminder about the cherished aspects of my existence will not fall too far off the mark. I would like to get up to reading a book a week, reading more non-fiction, write more non-fiction and expand my reading list. What works best for me is setting aside certain times of the day, getting into my great chair with its comfortable ottoman, putting my feet up and taking an interesting journey, guided by a fine writer. One of the best pieces of advice and this seems to be everywhere, is to give yourself the time to do what you love best.

5. Worship.
The further I go down this list, the more I feel I should reverse it.

6. Begin the year by jumping in the lake.
Once again, I will join friends, neighbors and perfect strangers in the annual Polar Bear Plunge. If you can meet the challenge of running across the snowy sand and into the frigid waters, going under so as to come up with wet hair, and charging to shore without being trampled, means you start the new year with joy and laughter. After receiving a blessing from a tribal elder, I make this a sacred act of reverence for the people who have inhabited these shores since time immemorial. 

In the midst of pondering this annual challenge, my weekly pep talk arrived, thanks to an email list I signed up for and highly recommend you do the same. My old friend Tim Cork takes a new look at the challenge of New Year's Resolutions. This year, my list will not lie buried in a notebook. I will tape it up to something in my line of sight. It won't even be my list! This concept represents one of the greatest feelings of liberation I can possibly imagine. Tim is an expert at this game.  I begin 2013 with a professional look at what will make my year perhaps the best ever. Oh, I feel lighter already!

I will be grateful
I will listen… focus on being present
I will do my best everyday
I will share
I will collaborate
I will compliment people
I will live without regret
I will respect myself at all times
I will forgive and accept myself when I make a mistake
I will read something new every day
I will write in my journals
I will read 40 books this year
I will launch my new book … “G3”
I will speak to over 25,000 people this year
I will listen to self-help audio books in my car … your car is just a University on wheels
I will make those around me feel loved
I will forever pursue happiness regardless of what occurs
I will take responsibility for my actions
I will surround myself with people who inspire me
I will laugh at myself
I will hug my wife and children often
I will help those in need
I will use kind words in difficult situations
I will live with an attitude of gratitude
I will respect others points of view
I will pick myself up when I fall
I will work out every day
I will drink lots of water (and wine)
I will say sorry when I make a mistake and mean it
I will take a break when I need it
I will live every day as if it is the first and the last
I will not be driven by fear
I will find extraordinary in every day
I will enjoy my food
I will be patient
I will get up early
I will teach leaders and learn from leaders through my work
I will read this list every morning
I will not take myself too seriously
I will cry when my emotions tell me to
I will listen to my inner voice
I will focus on the attitude of giving
I will play hockey, golf, tennis, swim and ski regularly in season and stay very active

"Whether you think you can or can't, you are right" - Henry Ford       

I read my list every day when I wake up and it jump starts my day … positive affirmations & repetition creates excellent habits and a life of abundance and success.

Make it Straight A's Week & Year!  
Seasons Greeting and all the best for 2013!

Tim Cork
President, Straight A’s Inc.
An Insight Marketing Company
Are you getting Straight A's in life?
Find out at

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Winter Reflections Writing Contest: We have our winners!

Congratulations to all the winners of the 2012 "Winter Reflections" Holiday Memories Contest! In an unusual twist, all three of our winners actually hail from Idaho (this rarely happens--we've had contest winners from as far away as the U. K., France, Texas, and New Jersey).

First Place goes to Anita Aurit of Sandpoint, ID, for "An Extraordinary, Ordinary Christmas Miracle."

Second Place goes to Wallace Swenson of Shelley, ID, for "Glory In a Meadow."

Third Place goes to Kim Gibson of Hayden, ID, for "Pay It Forward."

All three stories can be read on our Writer Showcase page.

Congratulations to all of our winners, and we wish all of our readers a joyful holiday season.

Friday, December 14, 2012

CHRISTMAS Books, Stories & Poems

     In recent years it seems there's been lots of talk about the meaning of Christmas, and if we should still celebrate Christmas in the traditional way most of us grew up with.  I can tell you right off, I stand on the side of Christmas, spiritually and otherwise. I like Christmas ! Trimming the tree, lighting the house with colored lights, wrapping presents, and Santa; Christmas carols, Christmas cards, Christmas parties; the Nativity scene, and  season of Good Cheer.

     The other day I was thinking about some of the gifts I've received  at Christmas time, and in all the years I can remember,  which are many ,  I couldn't think of one Christmas I didn't receive a book for Christmas -  whether from my mother, grandmother, dad, husband , son or friend. Books make the most wonderful gifts.

     Then I started thinking about books written about Christmas,  and the many authors who  plotted their story around Christmas. I bet there are hundreds. Thousands. Maybe hundreds of thousands.  Romance , mystery, historical, poetry. I'm sure each of you have your own favorites - maybe Charles Dickens'  Christmas Carol, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry or perhaps one  of the more contemporary stories  like The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans , the Polar Bear Express by Chris Van Allsburg or Donna VanLiere's The Christmas Shoes. What most Christmas stories have in common is  they point to something bigger than ourselves. They leave the reader with a feeling of hope.


    On my own shelf is Bess Streeter Aldrich's Journey into Christmas, A Christmas Treasury of Yuletide Stories and Poems, an anthology that includes  The Christmas Dinner by Washington Irving, Christmas at Orchard House by Louisa May Alcott, Han Christian Anderson's Little Match Girl, and A Kidnapped Santa Claus by Frank L. Baum. And just this morning I read from  Christmas Poems (copyright 1999) , a poem by Wendell Berry

Our Christmas Tree

Our Christmas tree is
not electrified, is not
covered with little lights
calling attention to themselves
(we have had enough
of little lights calling attention
to themselves). Our tree
is a cedar cut here, one 
of the fragrance of our place,
hung with painted cones
and paper stars folded
long ago to praise our tree,
Christ come into the world.

     But with all the stories and poems ever  written about Christmas, perhaps the story we know best  is the one first told two thousand years ago:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in  swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 
"Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will"  (Luke 2:8-14)

*** For a list of books with a Christmas theme visit

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Maria von Trapp and The Sound of Music

     I was 14 the summer of 1965 when my brother, Walt and I visited our cousins  Shauna, Kevin and Kim in Seattle. The five of us thought it a special occasion when our  Grandmother Cooney took  us  to a  matinee  one afternoon at a downtown theater to see the movie The Sound of Music . I became  totally immersed in the  story of a young  Postulant who leaves the Abbey to care for a widower's young children, teaches them to sing, falls in love with their father, and together they thwart the Nazi's and escape wartime Austria. To this day The Sound of Music is one of my all time favorite stories.   For years I wanted to emulate  Maria von Trapp, not that I could ever sing a tune, but admired her faith and character.  I already  knew a little about her as my grandmother had shared  what a good storyteller she was after attending  a tea  in her home state of Iowa where Maria von Trapp was the guest speaker. Grandma said Maria was full of joy, a  gifted writer,  and wonderful storyteller.

     It was in  the 1950's Rogers and Hammerstein brought the story of Maria and the von Trapp family   to Broadway with their hit musical The Sound of Music,  based on Maria Augusta Trapp's  memoir of the Trapp Family Singers,   published in 1949.  It was later  adapted for the movie screen ,  starring Julie Andrews as Maria, and became one of the most successful box office musicals of all time. Through the years  The Sound of Music  remains popular with audiences,  as indicated by its DVD sales.

     Who of us can't sing along with at least one of the songs from that great musical score:

Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every byway til you find your dream, or

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings , these are a few of my favorite things

     and  from the title song:

The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years. My heart wants to sing every song it hears. My heart wants to beat like the wings of the  birds that rise from the lake to the trees. My heart wants  to sigh like a chime that flies from a church on a breeze, To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls over stones on its way , To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray. I go to the hills when my heart is lonely. i know I will hear what I've heard before. My heart will be blessed with the sound of music - And I'll sing once more.

     Oh ! to write lyrics like Hammerstein !  That would be grand.


     I wonder though, how many know Maria von Trapp continued to write after the success of her first book. One of my favorites, titled Maria was a Christmas gift to me in 1973 with the inscription, May the pages of your life always unfold moments of truth, love, anger, despair, and reach the heights of Heaven itself. Love, Mother

    I include my mother's inscription because it dawns on me that not only storytelling and lyrics are important to us as writers, but the writing of inscriptions, too. Their meaning,  and what they tell about the person writing the inscription, and to whom they're writing. In 1973 I was a single young woman embarking on my career in the newspaper business, enjoying life but sometimes  confused about the direction I was taking. My  mother's word were to give me hope and encouragement.
    Other titles written by Maria von Trapp are Yesterday, Today, and Forever (copyright 1975) and When the King Was Carpenter (copyright 1976). A favorite of mine this time of the year is the TRAPP Family Book of Christmas Songs (copyright 1955).  Maria von Trapp writes a lengthy introduction where she highlights the importance of Christmas, explaining many of its longtime traditions i.e.  the Advent Wreath, The Creche, Mistletoe and Ivy, and the Christmas Tree. The Christmas Tree she writes, seems like the prophecy of Isaiah come true: The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree,... to beautify the place of my sanctuary (Is 60:13).  It, too is a symbol of Christ as the Tree of Life.

     We know about Maria Augusta Trapp and the von Trapp Singers today  because Maria chose to write about her life and family, their music, and  adventures they shared.  While not all of us can be Maria von Trapp or experience the escapades she and her family entailed , and probably will never have our life portrayed on Broadway or the big screen by the likes of Mary Martin or Julie Andrews we do have our own unique story to tell , so never underestimate the power of your words,  and what they might mean to one who  reads them.

   *** Trailer for The Sound of Music  - Academy Award winner for Best Movie 1965

*** For more information about Maria von Trapp visit

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Bible As Literature

As a Christian who believes the Bible is the inspired word of God, I didn't often look  at Scripture through a writer's eye, even though I've read the stories about Creation, Noah's Ark, Moses and the Ten Commandments numerous times; and  the tale of  a young shepherd named David  who slew an opposing giant with a sling shot. The same shepherd who was son of Jesse, the successor of Saul as King of Israel; The same David  mentioned in the New Testament,  most frequently  in the phrases  "son of David" or "seed of David"  spoken to Jesus, born in Bethlehem,   or about Him.


In recent years I've discovered the Bible  is a writers dream showing many different types of writing - poetry, prose, narrative, allegory , and offers one one of the oldest of literary forms, a form by which moral truth or a practical lesson in everyday wisdom is enforced - the parable, which often appears to be a simple story, but when the reader delves deeper into the parable, hidden lessons can teach profound and important truths.

John L. McKenzie, S.J. writes the parables of the Gospel are a unique development of a literary from which has its roots in the Old Testament and in rabbinic literature. The purpose of these anecdotes is to bring the listener (reader) to concede a point which he does not perceive as applicable to himself. In addition the anecdote whets the curiosity  and attracts attention; to hear how the story comes out.

According to some, including Paula R. Backsheider in her article titled Defoe's Prodigal Son's , Daniel Defoe's reworkings of the biblical parable are evident of the prodigal son in his books The Family Instructor, Memoirs of a  Cavalier, and particularly Robinson Crusoe.  According to Backsheider they  anticipate some of the directions of the major eighteenth century, and development of Defoe's prodigal son stories.

The biblical story of Jonah is also alluded to in the first part of the novel. Like Jonah, Crusoe neglects his duty and is punished at sea.

Leland Ryken , Ph.D University of Oregon writes literary form exists prior to content; no content exists apart from the form in which it is embodied.  The idea of the Bible as literature began with the Bible itself. The writers refer in a whole range of literary genres in which they write : proverb, saying, chronicle, complaint, oracle, apocalypse, parable, song, epistle, and many others. Secondly, some of these forms correspond to the literary forms current in the author's surrounding cultures. For example, Ryken directs us to the Ten Commandments and how they are cast in the form of the suzerainty treaties that ancient Near Eastern kings imposed on their subjects, and the New Testament epistles show many affinities to the structure of Greek and Roman letters of the same era.

Ryken suggests not only should the Bible be read theologically, but also as literature as every page of the Bible is virtually replete with literary technique, and to possess the individual texts fully, we need to read the Bible as literature, just as we need to read it theologically and (in the narrative parts) historically.

As writers I think we can agree with Ryken when he says, any piece of writing needs to be interpreted in terms of the kind of writing that it is. The Bible is a literary book in which theology and history are usually  embodied in literary forms. Those forms include genre, the incarnation of the human experience in concrete form , stylistic  and rhetorical techniques, and artistry. 

*** 5 Strategies for Reading the Bible as Literature

Friday, December 7, 2012

Do You Have THE Passion For Writing?

We are delighted to have as our guest blogger today Faye Higbee. Faye  is retired from the Coeur d’Alene Police Support Services Division in North Idaho. She is the current President of the Coeur d’Alene Chapter of Idaho Writer’s League, and an author of both Christian and secular books and articles. She lives in Post Falls with her husband Myron.

Current  books include: Bobby Convict, School of Hard Knocks with Bobby Wilhelm; Whispers of Heaven, a 90 day devotional with Rosalie Storment; The Dog Paw Chronicles (her autobiography); and Night Games, a novel under her pen name C.J. Ravenscroft. She also has stories in the following anthologies: Guideposts books- “Miracles of Nature,” “Miracles and Animals;” Harrison House books- “Extraordinary Miracles in the Lives of Ordinary People,” and “Miracles Still Happen.” Faye is not only an excellent writer but also a wonderful, enthusiastic person who exhibits passion for life as well as for writing. Thanks, Faye, for writing today's post!

      Faye Higbee and co-author Bobby Wilhelm at a recent book signing.

Do you have hot flashes when you write?  If you don’t, I suggest you might not be writing to your full potential. No, it’s not about menopausal hot flashes. I’m talking about passion and intensity that translates to power in your writing.

Whether we write novels or nonfiction, if we don’t have a depth of feeling about our topics, our batteries run low and barely work at all. We can learn anything, but if we don’t feel anything, nothing exciting or interesting comes out of our fingers. There is no true creativity if our batteries aren’t making connection.

Joanna Penn wrote this in her blog “The Creative Pen” back in August of 2012: 

"Identify your passions

I’m not talking about identifying plain old strengths here. Knowing our strengths and writing to them is beneficial, but going beyond them to what really makes us tick deepens the magic. Often, our strengths and passions intersect, but not always.
With my background in education, I can write out some serious kick-butt lesson plans. I’ve been trained to write them. I’ve practiced writing them. I’ve even taught from them. The problem is I hate writing lesson plans. I’d much rather indulge in the passion that enticed me into the teaching field to begin with: children’s literature.
When I finished college, I was given some really bad advice: hold off on that novel and assemble a portfolio. What followed were some really rotten years. Did I sell some articles? Yes. Did I improve my skills? Yes. Was I using my strengths? Yes. But it was sort of like writing out lesson plans. I wasn’t having any fun. So nine years ago, I scrapped the portfolio and penned my first children’s novel. Wow! Finally, I wanted to write! Lesson learned: Passion fuels our writing.”

People told me there would be no chance whatsoever of me getting published until I “established” myself. I don’t know how to tell those people that I got published numerous times with no portfolio. Then there were the people who told me that I couldn’t write about anything I didn’t know about. But I have always written about things that matter to my heart on a “hot flash” level. Hear this: if you feel strongly about a topic, you can write about it. Research, interviewing, and hard work are the keys: if you have the passion, you can pursue your dream. Whether you self-publish or find a publisher to take your work, you can do it when you write from that intensity of heart.

I recently finished a book with a partner who was once a high level drug kingpin.  Did I know anything about being a drug trafficker? No. I did have some law enforcement background, but nothing that prepared me for the depth of depravity in his life. Did I learn anything? Everything I never wanted to know about the consequences of drugs.

The passion? Interviewing people, touching their lives for good, believing that someone who was once a very bad person had changed his life.  He was no longer a drug dealer, and my own life was transformed by working on his story. Suddenly I felt alive and excited to get out of bed every morning.  I thought, “Who will I meet today?”   “What’s the next chapter?” Like the Eveready Battery Bunny, my own batteries were recharged by the passion of doing something fresh and new. I found “hot flashes” in my writing…the intensity of caring about the subject matter and people involved put power in the words. Like jumper cables attached to my brain, the message suddenly mattered more than the obstacles. Controversy swirls around the book “Bobby Convict,” but whether people don’t believe my partner, or they think I’m wacko for writing the book with him, I had great joy doing it.

Do you have “hot flashes” in your work? Do you get up every day excited to write? Let putting pen to paper be f.u.n. and fill your life with excitement. Don’t let others put you in a box, and write from that place of passion inside your heart. Now grab that pen, plug in your keyboard, get out there and write!

Today, December 7, is recognized in America as Pearl Harbor Day. We remember soldiers and sailors who fought bravely for what they believed in and to protect our freedoms. Today is also national Letter Writing Day. It does not have the status or gravitas of Pearl Harbor Day but it does remind us to take up pen and paper and write to someone who has touched our lives and made it better. It is a time to say thank you or I remember when or recount an activity enjoyed with a family member or friend. You can bring joy into someone's life by remembering to acknowledge a memory shared with another person. Writing a letter will make you both feel good.

Today is also the day to write a story of a holiday that was special to you. Enter Writing North Idaho's Holiday Reflections contest. See the upper left part of this blog page and the article below explaining the submission rules. Come can write 500 words and win a prize!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Query Letters: how to compose winners

Enter Writing North Idaho’s “Winter Reflection” 500 word story contest. Share an interesting tradition, funny experience, best holiday, a skiing experience or some other winter incident that made a lasting impression. Click on “WNI Contest” on the banner above for details. Deadline is Sunday, December 8, 2012. Cash and other prizes are awarded, there is no entry fee and your story will be published on this web site (with your consent). Good luck!

There are no baby steps in writing and getting published. It is not a world for wimps. It is the place for self-starters but procrastination is rampant. The giant steps are:

1.        Write your book, story, article or manual. Before you begin that step, you will benefit if you identify your audience by demographics and identify your markets. Write targeting your specific readers.

2.        Write a book proposal after your book is done.

3.        Select various agents to query.

4.        Write your query letters (plural).

5.        Select an agent and follow his instructions.

6.        Enjoy working with a publisher and follow the advice of your editor.

7.        Reap the rewards be they monetary or self-described.

In this post, we will learn to learn how to write a perfect query letter.

Before you query, do further homework. You know who your readers are likely to be but where are they? Where do they gather? What may be their other interests? Is there a large enough audience for a big publisher to be interested in your book or are you looking for a boutique publisher? Are you experienced and adroit at public speaking? Can you travel for interviews and book signings? Once you have answered those questions, you can write good query letters. Research which agents handle books of your genre. Follow their guidelines explicitly. Some accept email queries while others demand a hard copy.  

Query letters are short: one (1) page regardless of topic, your credentials, or length of the book.

1.     The first paragraph introduces your book. Begin with a “hook” sentence. You have little space in which to catch an agent’s interest. “My book about parenting began when our baby was born in an elevator.” Okay, now you have my attention. Go on to describe your book in 4-5 tightly written sentences. This is your first inroad to an agent unless you know her personally. Make sure your grammar is A+ and there are no errors anywhere in your query. Have 2-3 other people proofread the final copy.
2.      Paragraph two is about you and your writing highlights. Do not include your first grade teacher’s name, how many times you’ve been married or the fact that you were an only child. Do include titles or one word descriptions of prior publishings. “My work has been published in the Spokane Review newspaper, Idaho magazine and various local magazines. Clips available”; contests won; and awards for writing.  If you write a blog, say so. If you do not have any publishing experience, do not say so. Conclude with “A book proposal is available.”
3.      This section is about marketing. Estimate optimistically who and what number of people may be interested in your book. “This book will appeal to women ages___ to__. This is __% of the buying market.” Most agents want to know if you have had speaking or teaching experience, what national organizations you belong to with potential markets, if you are willing to travel (don’t say so if you are not).
4.     In the final paragraph, thank the agent for his time and state you are looking forward to hearing from her.
5.      Sign it “Sincerely”, your name, address, home and cell phone numbers, email address and web site address if you have one.
6.      You must stylize each letter to suit each agent. Mention other authors she has worked with. “My book is similar to xxxx but I wrote it from the perspective of….” Do not blindly blanket the industry with your queries. Word travels and you will be labeled as ignorant. Do not brag. “This is better than ANY of John Grisham’s books. You’ll love it!” is a no-no. Use Arial or Times New Roman, size 12 font with no embellishments like colors, visuals or emoticons. Be succinct, show that you have done your homework and exude enthusiasm. Write a query letter professionally.

This is not a definitive formula for querying but a common one. Other sites may show you a different order of paragraphs or things to include. Do your research so you know you have  extensive knowledge about querying agents and so you can query properly for maximum responses.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Should We Use Foul Language in Our Stories and What is A Grawlix?

The answer to the first question rests solely on you and your conscience. How comfortable are you writing profanity? Is it against your moral principles? Do you use it yourself? Do you include it for “artistic” reasons? Do you think profanity is disrespectful to other people? Also consider this: are we in charge of reflecting the present culture, reporters of fact, or do we want to act as filters for our society? All of these are questions you can answer rather easily.

There is a lot of history for the use of foul language. Shakespeare used it often (“Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!”) The naughty Lady of Bath uttered a very bad word in Canterbury Tales! But, then go back and read books by Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet and see how eruditely they handled it. We understood the characters and scenes without profanity.

After you answer the questions in the first paragraph, the next question to ask is who is your audience? Are you trying to appeal to readers who like Jack Reacher, the ex-solider MP character in Lee Child’s books or Father Kavanagh in Jan Karon’s charming stories set in the small town of Mitford?

The next answer to seek is does it work for your character?  Would your character actually say these things in a scene? Is she or he at a party on the beach with adult friends or is he whispering to his wife in church? Does the situation call for it? Is she angry or upset enough to swear?

There are several ways of handling profanity besides ignoring it. An author can choose to use replacement words like jerk, heck, or gosh. Freakin’ and friggin’ have crept into more common use for the usually abhorred f-word. Or, a scene could read something like
            “The aliens surprised me with the abduction and I silently swore at them as they encapsulated my body.”

Another way is to use a grawlix. A grawlix is a series of typographical marks that represent letters in a profane word.  Mort Walker invented the term in 1964. He is the author of the comic strips Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois. Cartoonists are using grawlixes more frequently than story writers.

Asterisks and disemvoweling are two other methods of using swearing without using the exact words. Asterisks have caught on to suggest the rest of the letters in a profanity---s***---for example. Disemvoweling is a neologism that is defined as removing all the vowels in a word as a measure of censure. It is used most often is texting---Grt 2 c u---but can be used in main stream stories to replace swear words or on car license plate---“PGCME” on an obstetrician’s BMW for instance.

On a final note, swearing is of two natures: religious or vulgarisms. We all have taught our children that certain words are “bathroom” words used only in that context and not in other circumstances or locations. It has always seemed to me to say “Oh my God” or “OMG” is a form of religious swearing, but to a few billion people around the world, it is just another phrase to describe amazement.

Cole Porter wrote in 1934
 “Good authors, too, who once knew better words
Now only use four letter words writing prose.
Anything goes!”

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Writing contest deadline extended

NEWSFLASH! The Winter Reflections Holiday Memories contest has been extended to December 8! That gives you a few extra days in this busy season to craft your prizewinning entry. Get (nut)cracking, scribes!


Ignore for a moment how many shopping days you have left and concentrate on this REALLY important deadline! You have four more days to participate in our "Winter Reflections" Holiday Memories Contest, which closes at midnight on December 5.

To help jog your festive memories, we invite you to "come to your senses." Think of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of the holiday season. Light a bayberry candle. Sniff an evergreen bough. Does a certain song or story invoke a special memory? How about the smell of baking cookies? Is there some ethnic tradition, memorable gift, or reindeer sweater that you remember, fondly or otherwise? Funny, poignant, silly, sentimental, . . . send us your memory in 500 words or less and you could win a prize and publication on Writing North Idaho! Why not set aside a few minutes on this chilly Sunday, take up your pen or keyboard, and take a walk down memory lane? Details here.

National Novel Writing Month: What I learned by losing

So after my big excitement over participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I failed to achieve the required 50,000 words on my new novel by November 30. Pass the humble pie.

I could wallow, but in the spirit of being a glass-half-full kind of person, I'd like to share a few things that I learned through the experience:

(1) My internal editor is one stubborn mule. I have trouble shutting off my editor when I'm in the heat of writing a first draft. At first I was able to blast through my daily word count, but soon found myself back to my old tricks of scratching out, starting over,and second-guessing myself. I do much better when I can send the editor packing and let the writer write, even if it means a substantial rewrite later. 

(2) In the words of John Lennon, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans." The biggest distraction was that my earlier novel came back from the editor, laden with her edits, comments, and suggestions. At the outset, I'd intended to set that novel aside to work on in December, but when I actually had it in my hot little hands, the temptation proved too strong. I could not resist getting back to work on that first novel, neglecting my NaNo novel in the process.Around mid-month I also received some client a$$ignments that needed to take priority.

(3) Any progress is good progress. While that sounds disturbingly like "Every kid deserves a medal," it's true. Even though I didn't achieve the full 50,000 words, I've made a healthy start to a second novel and a road map of how to continue. I probably wouldn't have gotten even that far without the impetus of NaNoWriMo.

(4) I like having a daily word count goal. Sometimes I don't reach it. Sometimes I blast past it.  Either way, a daily word count goal gives an energizing level of challenge and structure to my writing day.

Even though it would have been wonderful to have written a complete novel in November, I got a lot of writing done. In the end, for a working writer, that's what counts.

If you participated in NaNoWriMo, how did it go?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Handwriting's on the Wall: Confessions of a Pen-and-Ink Writer

Recently I learned that some schools are cutting back on teaching handwriting on the theory that children do not need to know cursive anymore in this age of computers. I must admit, this makes some sense. Why teach skills that are no longer needed?

On the other hand, it makes me sad.

Do you ever feel pressure to abandon pen and paper in favor of doing your reading and writing on electronic devices? I do. But I'm resisting.

For me, the pressure started in the early 2000s with a former employer's strong encouragement to switch to a computer-based calendar instead of a paper one. While it did make sense from an office perspective to keep a master electronic calendar of everyone's whereabouts and activities, I could not force myself to abandon my paper calendar entirely. Somehow the act of manually writing down my appointments and to-do lists made them adhere better in my overloaded brain. So I ended up keeping two calendars: one electronic and one paper. This was my first clue that I am a diehard pen-and-paper girl. Now that I'm a freelancer and no longer part of an office team, I've reverted to keeping a paper calendar only, in spite of dire warnings from more technologically-minded friends that Someday I Will Be Sorry.

Fast forward to 2012. I adore my Kindle. I really do. When it comes to convenience, portability, and lack of clutter, it can't be matched. But I still enjoy reading printed books. I love how they smell, love how they feel in my hands. And they beat the Kindle hands down when it comes to reading in the bathtub!

Of course I do a lot of writing on computer, especially anything that has to be sent anywhere or shared with anyone: blog posts, articles for publication, book manuscripts. But I also have shelves of notebooks filled with handwritten scribblings. Often I sketch out a post or a scene on paper first before keying it into the computer. I don't anticipate outgrowing my need for yellow legal pads anytime soon.

In her book on creativity, The Vein of Gold, Julia Cameron writes, "There is an energy to the hand, an energy of blood, of truth, and knowledge that is deeper than skin. . . . Writing by hand is like walking somewhere, instead of whizzing there in the car. . . . But speed is not always desirable. . . . Writing by machine may accumulate pages, but I am not sure if those pages accumulate enough depth. In the end, the pages are better when they are made by hand."

What about you? Do you prefer to write by hand or on computer?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas is for reading . . . and writing!

"It is bad enough to be poor on Christmas eve. But to be poor plus an imagination is to have an excess of poverty. Hardinger, plodding through the snowy streets, could picture mentally all that was going on inside the houses whose illumined windows broke the blackness of the night. Dinners were cooking--the thought of the savory food made his pulses leap as they leap for a man who thinks of his beloved. Hardinger felt that he had indeed reverted to the primitive when hunger swallowed up every other emotion. Food! He wanted it as a wolf wants it in the dead of winter--or a starved cat in an alley. Yet he had not a penny with which to buy bread. And he was not a beggar. He told himself that with an almost frantic emphasis on the negative, as he found himself mounting the steps of a terrace at the top of which was a great house."

Thus begins the short story "Three Who Stole at Christmas Time" by Temple Bailey. It concerns a hungry World War I vet, a grieving family, a kindhearted kitchen maid, a beautiful girl, and . . . well, it always has me sniffling by the end, no matter how many times I've read it.

The story is included in a collection of Christmas stories by Temple Bailey called The Holly Hedge. My copy was published in 1925, and is one of the few items I have left that belonged to an older relative who is long gone. Every December I pull it out, find a cozy spot, and read it cover to cover. After many years of this tradition, it finally dawned on me to find out something about the author.

Temple Bailey started her writing career in 1902 with short stories published in magazines like Collier's, McCall's, and The Saturday Evening Post (oh, for the days when magazines published lots of short fiction!). She went on to write novels and even a screenplay or two for the nascent movie industry. A few of her works are available online through Project Gutenberg, but I wasn't able to locate any stories from The Holly Hedge. However, used copies of The Holly Hedge are available through Amazon and other sellers. It's worth a try if you like old-fashioned, sentimental (okay, maybe a bit corny) stories set at Christmastime during the post-World War I era.

What's your favorite Christmas read? Write up to 500 words about your favorite holiday story (or movie, or activity, or a stirring memory of holidays gone by) and send it to us on or before December 5 for our Winter Reflections Holiday Memories contest. It will help you get in the holiday spirit, and who knows--you might even win cash to help you with your Christmas shopping!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Six-Sentence Mystery

Although our recent "Six-Sentence Mystery Contest" did not receive enough entries to qualify as a contest (hey, it happens!), we were so impressed with the entry from Lila Bolme of Post Falls that we've decided to feature it as a guest post this week. We know you will enjoy it. Thanks, Lila!

Don't miss out on your chance to win our current writing contest, "Winter Reflections," which is open until December 5. If you have some downtime during this festive week, why not write up a favorite holiday memory and send it in? All the details are on our Contests page. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our loyal readers from the Writing North Idaho team. We are very thankful for YOU! We'll be back to our regular posting schedule next week. In the meantime, enjoy this "Six-Sentence Mystery" from Lila.
The Dreaded Edge
by Lila Bolme, Post Falls, Idaho

She hung, fearfully, her head and most of the top half of her body dangling at an angle over the precipice, arms aching, clinging with every bit of strength she could still manage.
With each faint breath, she was losing the ballast of her lower body weight that kept her anchored but she refused to open her eyes for fear that the brain swelling dizziness to follow would propel her exhausted body over the dreaded edge.
Millimeter by millimeter she felt her support giving way and she thought about her misadventure, regretting the lack of foresight which had catapulted her into such a perilous situation.
She tried to remember if anyone else had been with her, anyone who might be aware of her predicament, but no one came to mind and she lost all hope of rescue, resigning herself to her fate by relaxing her grip and letting gravity have its way.
There was no scream on the way down, just a dull moan when she hit face first and hard but there was really no pain and she faded in and out of consciousness, able to open her eyes once, long enough to make out the blurry image of an empty vodka bottle beside her on the floor by the bed.
She had no one to blame but herself.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Joy of Prosody: Syllabic Verse

Elizabeth Mastin, WNI Guest Blogger

Hello fellow poets and all those who just enjoy poetry. As I continue in my fascinating studies, I’ve come upon a generally overlooked verse form called syllabic verse.” In the English language (as opposed to other languages in which it is more widely used), it is very simple: one simply counts the syllables in each line and then forms patterns of equal-syllable lines, regardless of meter or kinds of feet. 

According to Wikipedia, syllabic poetry “is not bound by tradition; even very long lines are not divided into hemistiches, and the verse exhibits none of the markers usually found in other syllabic meters (with the occasional exception of end-rhyme), relying for the measure solely on total count of syllables in the line.” “Syllabic verse, in English, does not convey a metrical rhythm; rather it is a compositional device, often imperceptible to the hearer.”

According to William Baer, in Writing Metrical Poetry, “syllabic verse stems from the French who used syllable-counting extensively, as French is not an accentual language. They formulated their meters with counting of syllables, using rhyme and other sonar devises to structure their poetry.”  Japanese poets use syllabic verse when they write their haikus and tankas.

In An Introduction to Poetry by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Goia, syllabic verse is defined as “A verse form in which the poet establishes a pattern of a certain number of syllables to a line. Syllabic verse is the most common meter in most Romance languages such as Italian, French, and Spanish; it is less common in English.”  

Syllabic poetry was widely used by Lewis Turco and Marianne Moore. It was experimented with by others like John Hollander and Robert Bridges. It seems that Spanish poet George Santayana also used it and I’ll give you some syllabic verse examples. It might be fun to try!!

In My Craft Or Sullen Art
Dylan Thomas

In my craft or sullen art                         7 syllables
Exercised in the still of the night             7 syllables
When only the moon rages                   7 syllables
And the lovers lie abed``                      7 syllables
With all their griefs in their arms,           7 syllables
I labour by singing light                         7 syllables
Not for ambition or bread                    7 syllables
Or the strut and trade of charms                         This pattern continues to the end of the poem.
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their inmost secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

by George Santayana

My heart rebels against my generation,                           11 syllables
That talks of freedom and is slave to riches,                    11 syllables
And, toiling ‘neath each day’s ignoble burden,                11 syllables
Boasts of the morrow.                                                      5 syllables

No space for noonday rest or midnight watches,              11 syllables
No purest joy of breathing under heaven!                        11 syllables
Wretched themselves, they heap, to make them happy,   11 syllables
Many possessions.                                                            5 syllables

But thou, O silent Mother, wise, immortal,                       11 syllables
To whom our toil is laughter, - take, divine one,               11 syllables
This vanity away, and to thy lover                                    11 syllables
Give what is needful:-                                                        5 syllables

A staunch heart, nobly calm, averse to evil,                     11 syllables
The windy sky for breath, the sea, the mountain,             11 syllables
A well-born, gentle friend, his spirit’s brother,                 11 syllables
Ever beside him.                                                               5 syllables

Then I might watch the vessel-bearing waters                  This pattern continues to the poem’s end.
Beat the slow pulses of the life eternal,
Bringing of nature’s universal travail
Infinite echoes;

And there at even I might stand and listen
To thrum of distant lutes and dying voices
Chanting the ditty an Arabian Captive
Sang to Darius.

So would I dream awhile, and ease a little
The soul long stifled and the straightened spirit,
Tasting new pleasures in a far-off country
Sacred to beauty.

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Editing Guide & Proofreading Rules for Freelance Writers

Journalists who work for newspapers or magazines usually have copy editors who scrutinize their work before sending it to a proofreader who will give it a final once over before it hits the printed page.   As a freelance writer, you will sometimes have the luxury of paid staff to fine-tune your words, but often projects you write won't have those safeguards and it will be up to you to do your best to present a polished piece.

That means you really have to do three jobs:
1. Write
2. Edit
3. Proof
Your editing job starts once you reach the point when you are happy with what you have written.  That's when you take out your red pen and get to work.  Oh, and by the way, just hitting "spellchecker" on your computer doesn't cut it.    

According to The Complete Reporter: Fundamentals of News Gathering, Writing, and Editing by Kelly Leiter, Julian Harriss and Stanley Johnson; a copy editor's function is to read the story carefully, eliminate mistakes, improve the language and write the headline.  They say being a copy editor is one of the most important and painstaking jobs on a newspaper because the possibility for errors in a news story is so great.   

A copy editor: 
1. Checks the story for accuracy, checking background information and doubtful statements
2. Makes corrections of grammar
3. Eliminates verbosity, making the writing clean and crisp
4. Eliminates libelous statements  (When in doubt, leave it out.)
5.  Simplifies the story, getting rid of all confusing or ambiguous statements and professional jargon that will not be understood by the layperson
6.  Eliminates editorial opinions 
7.  Checks story for adequacy, making sure all essential facts are included
8. Shortens story if necessary
9. Makes the story conform to the style of the publication
10. Attempts to polish and improve the story
11.  Writes identifying labels and instructional notes for publication purposes
(The above list is from The Complete Reporter.)

Whew!  Although some of these duties are specific to a newspaper, I believe most will benefit any writing you do and the list gives a good idea what an important job editing is to you as a writer.  One famous author acknowledged that importance in his own unique style:

“Write drunk. Edit Sober.” – Ernest Hemmingway

Once you've done all that editing, you still have to proofread your project. I used to spend hours proofing my work. I would read it over and over until I was absolutely POSITIVE there were no mistakes. Then I would send it in for publication. There was only one problem -- there were always mistakes ... sometimes big ones. Since then I've learned some tips that help cut down both the time I spend and the chance of missing mistakes.
Proofreading Rule #1:  Leave time for proofreading.  

Rather than just reading your project over and over again, letting your work sit a week or at least a day or two will enable you to see it with renewed clarity.  If you're like me, you'll undoubtably find some changes or corrections you want to make each time  you read it over.  If  you don't have days or weeks to complete your project, take a short break very now and then to restart your critical eye.

I have made this letter longer because I have not 
had the time to make it shorter. - Blaise 

Proofreading Rule #2: Vary the way you proof your work.
Reading your work aloud, slowly and carefully, will allow you to fine-tune your words and find mistakes.  Read it forward, then read it backward, from last sentence to first.  Try reading the pages or paragraphs out of order.  Proofing out of order interrupts the logical flow of the piece and will help you find additional errors.

To improve is to change; 
to be perfect is to change often. - Winston Churchill 
Proofreading Rule #3: Don't trust numbers.
Just about the time you decide to trust that you remember a date or an address or a telephone number ... you'll get it wrong, or somehow transpose a figure.  Numbers are notorious.  Be sure you double-check the source, then read each number aloud.      

Proofreading Rule #4: Find a second proofreader.  
For several years I helped a nonprofit organization print a year book.  It held mandatory information about meetings, members, protocol and bylaws.  I would have the pages printed, then bound into a booklet with a spiral binder.  One year, after agonizing over the project for days, I finally let it go.  Choosing the color for the pages and the cover were my final duties.  I was satisfied.

The day I got it back from the printer, I took one look at it and stifled a scream.  The cover read: Karneetsa Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 1997.  It was 1998.  My mistake was on the front cover!

I doubt that would have happened had I taken the time to have another member proofread the yearbook instead of just reading it myself over and over.  Somehow, we sometimes see what we think we wrote or meant despite what is a glaring mistake to another reader.  Any project will benefit from being seen by a new set of eyes.  Chances are someone reading your words for the first time will catch something you missed ... like the wrong year on a yearbook.  And if not, think how great you'll feel when they tell you, "Hey, it was perfect.  Couldn't find a thing."

Proofreaders report they find mistakes 90 percent of the time.

Finding another writer interested in reading your work can be challenging, but if you are willing to proofread for others, you'll probably find someone willing to help you when you need it.   One great way to find other writers who might be willing to proof for you is to join a local or online writing group.

Proofreading is really a win-win situation.  By offering to proofread for others, you will have someone to help you proof and the exchange will help you grow as a writer.