Monday, April 30, 2012

Yiddish? Hebrew? Oy vey!

S_L_M by Last-Dino - A quick vectorization of Shalom-Salaam-Peace graphic from Wikimedia en:Image:ShalomSalamPeaceIsraelisPalestinians.png This graphically shows the similarity between Hebrew and Arabic, displaying a shared cultural heritage.We all know that the English language is changing at a faster pace due to the Internet. As more people around the world connect, we pick up words from other languages and soon they become an accepted part of whatever language we speak.
Spanish is most quickly assimilated language in the United States but Yiddish terms have been a part of American English for decades. Being an American English speaking Methodist, I was always confused about the difference between Yiddish and Hebrew.
Hebrew is an ancient Semitic language along with Arabic, Amharic and other sub-African groups. It is from ancient Canaan and spoken and written by various people regionally. It has its own alphabet with no written vowels. The reader supplies the vowels. It has strict rules and is slow to change. It died down but it has emerged especially since the formation of Israel in 1948 and the end of the Holocaust. What is used now, mainly by Jews, is Modern Hebrew and spoken and written in Israel with pockets in the United States.
Yiddish is a non-territorial, High Germanic language originating with Ashkenazi Jews in the 10th century. It is spoken around the world but mainly by Jews in Germany and the United States. It uses a modified Hebrew alphabet with many more casual rules than Hebrew. Both Hebrew and Yiddish are considered official languages of Israel. Hebrew is the designated language for government, education, signs and official speak. More and more signs are being printed in Hebrew, Yiddish and English in Israel but use of Yiddish is dying down in other parts of the world as fewer people speak it.
“Hebrew is not Yiddish just because they use the same letter system. English, Spanish & French all share the same alphabet system yet no one would argue that these three languages are one and the same! The same is the case for Hebrew and Yiddish, they use the same alphabet system but they are two different languages." (
Adaptations of terms from other languages present a problem for the well educated and writers, educated or not. As writers, we need to know how to use them correctly. Here are some Yiddish and Hebrew words and phrases often used or heard by English speaking people.
Aleichem shalom—to you be peace
Shalom (Hebrew), sholom (Yiddish) means completeness, peace, hello or good-bye. The meaning is based on the Jewish belief that we want the best health for people so we wish them that in greeting or closure.
L’chaim—To life!
Zel Gesund—To your health!
Drek—worthless material
Ess—Eat! Eat!
Goyisher maze—good luck
Glick—a piece of good luck
Mensch—decent person
Hamish—down to earth person
Mitzvah—blessing or congratulations
Bobbemyseh—old wives’ tale; nonsense
Nebbish—inadequate or insignificant person
Fe! or Fey!—expression of disgust
Goy—used to mean “nation” in ancient times but now means gentile; can be used disparagingly or with respect
Nudnik—a persistent pest
Bupkes—worth nothing
Handle—to bargain
Kibitz—to offer unwanted advice, especially in a group or game situation
Yutz—a fool
Zaftig—pleasingly plump, buxom woman
Oy! or Oy vey!—exclamation of pain, grief or horror
Shemiel, Schmazel—idiot, jerk; one with consistent bad luck. The difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazl is described through the aphorism, "A shlemiel is somebody who often spills his soup; a shlimazl is the person the soup lands on."
Bubbe, bubbeh—grandmother
Chutpah—daring, audacity, both positive and negative connotations

P. S. Remember that our Can You Haiku? contest starts tomorrow, May 1! 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Can You Haiku? Announcing a new WNI writing contest

We've had so much fun with our first two writing contests, First Line and Short Story, that we're kicking off a new one. Poetry writers, this is your moment to shine! (And we encourage non-poets to have a go at it, too--who knows what latent poet within you is just waiting to come out?)

Japanese in origin,  a haiku is "a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition," according to The most common form of haiku is a poem of seventeen syllables: five in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third, like this:

An old silent pond...
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again. (Basho Matsuo)

and this: 

Whitecaps on the bay:
A broken signboard banging
In the April wind. (Richard Wright)

Traditionally  haiku has a focus on nature and the seasons. For this contest, you are free to write on the topic of your choice, as long as you follow the three-line pattern of five syllables-seven syllables-five syllables. You may enter up to 3 haiku in the contest.

The "Can you Haiku?" contest opens on Tuesday, May 1, and entries will be accepted through June 15. Winners will be announced July 1. The first-place winner will receive $30 cash, and second- and third-place winners receive a prize as well. Check the complete rules and instructions here.

As always, this contest is FREE to enter. So fire up your keyboards and show us what you've got! Best of luck, everybody.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Writing Under the Influence . . . of a Favorite Author

I've been enjoying an old book titled Through Charley's Door, written by a mid-twentieth-century author named Emily Kimbrough. This out-of-print book is an amusing memoir of Kimbrough's fresh-faced career in the 1920s as a copywriter for Chicago's Marshall Field department store. I began reading the book for research for my own work-in-progress, but quickly found myself laughing out loud at some of her descriptions and her winsome way of phrasing things. As one example, book lovers will appreciate her description of the store's book buyer:

"To book salesmen, she was a combination of Simon Legree and Mary Pickford. The people in her own section adored her, respected her, and were scared to a pulp of her. She maintained her absolute sovereignty over publishers by the artful device of selling more of their books than any other retailer even approached. . . . If Mrs. Hahner liked a book she made it a bestseller. Carl Sandburg's The Prairie Years was published in 1926. It was a beautiful book, but it cost $10 [ed. a lot of money in 1926] and its author had not then a following comparable to Zane Grey's. Mrs. Hahner read an advance copy of The Prairie Years, clasped it passionately to her bosom, and placed an initial order for one thousand copies, to the hysterical astonishment of the publishers. . . . As quickly as the publishers had recovered their powers of articulation, the little orders were instantly stepped up proportionately to Marshall Field's, and Mr. Sandburg soared to the financial stratum sparsely populated by Zane Grey and a few other writing inhabitants."  (Through Charley's Door, pp. 191-192).

My point in this post is not so much to promote Emily Kimbrough (although I do recommend her books highly, and the pearls aren't bad either), but to tell you how I've adopted her as a sort of muse on my current WIP. At least on this project, I want to write like Emily Kimbrough! I start every writing session by read a chapter of Through Charley's Door to immerse myself in her voice. I don't slavishly copy her words or phrases (that would be plagiarism), nor am I trying to be a clone. I still want to maintain my own unique voice, but I try to absorb the spirit of her writing and apply it to my own. For example, when stuck for a description, I ask myself, "How would Emily describe this place or this person?" (Yes, we're on a first-name basis.) I try to see the world through her eyes. If someday someone reads my story and says to me, "You write just like Emily Kimbrough," I will consider that a high compliment.

Later on, I might be working on a different project that calls for a different tone, and I will have to choose a different muse to inspire me. But for now, even though Miss Kimbrough died in 1989, she is still "mentoring" me through her books.

Who is your muse? If someone were to say of your writing, "This piece sounds a lot like _________ wrote it," what name would you insert in the blank? Hemingway? Fitzgerald? J. K. Rowling? Consider beginning your writing sessions by reading a few pages of a favorite author's work, until you're steeped in his or her voice. Then write the piece that only you can write.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Is Pinterest of interest?

If you spend much time in the blogosphere, you've probably heard of Pinterest, the social network where people share images, ideas, and visual content collected on various "boards." It's sort of like pinning magazine photos, sketches, and clippings to a bulletin board, only in cyberspace.

 Confused yet? Okay, here's an example. Imagine you're getting ready to remodel your kitchen. You surf the Web to get ideas and inspiration. You start gathering photos: you like this wall color, that refrigerator, this drawer pull, that cabinet style. In the olden days, you might have paged through print magazines and clipped out images you liked and glued them into a paper notebook or dropped them into a folder. Now, with just a click of the mouse, Pinterest gives you a place where you can store all of these photos on a "board" that you have named something creative like "My Kitchen." Now not only is all of this visual input gathered in one convenient place for you to look at at your leisure, but others can see it too, and congratulate you on your excellent taste or add a comment (i.e., "That surface material is a bear to keep clean, and it scratches easily"). They can even "re-pin" the post to their own board to consider for their own kitchen remodel. And you can go around and look at their kitchen pages and steal borrow their ideas.

So how does Pinterest apply to writers? I use Pinterest to help me add historical details and local color to my story. (You can view my boards here.) I'm writing a novel set in the 1920s (have I mentioned that a hundred thousand times yet?). So I've created a board called "1920s and All That Jazz" to inspire me: fashions, cars, hairstyles, celebrities, books, movies. Since my story is set in Chicago, I've also set up a "Sweet Home Chicago" page of historical images of the city. My heroine works at the late, great Marshall Field & Co. department store, so I have a "Marshall Field & Co." page. If I need to describe how a character is dressed, I refer to my 1920s board for inspiration. If I need to describe a certain intersection or building, I refer to my "Chicago" page. If I'm wondering what was new and noteworthy at Field's in 1926, I refer to that page. Meanwhile, other Pinterest users who are interested in these topics can view my board, and I can peek at theirs. It's a form of visual collaboration.

Although I'm using Pinterest for fiction, I imagine it would be similarly useful for nonfiction writers as a place to store research and ideas by topic. But a warning to the distraction-prone: Like most online applications, Pinterest can be lots of fun, but it can also be a major time drain if you find yourself wandering around looking at pretty pictures all day. It's not for everyone, but for those of us who need a little extra help with the "visuals" of our story, it might be worth a try.

Pinterest works by invitation, and sometimes there's a wait to get on it. I'm not sure why that is. But if you're not on Pinterest and you would like to be, let me know in the comments and I will send you an invite. And if you are already on it, I'd be interested to know if you've used it at all in your writing process.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Joy of Prosody: Predomination of the Iamb

By Liz Mastin

As I study poetry, I continue to discover very helpful information I had not previously known. I enjoy sharing these discoveries with you as I believe they can help to remove some of the mystery of writing good metrical poetry.

While reading along in my book Writing Metrical Poetry by William Baer, I chanced upon this bit of knowledge. (on page 20) under the heading “The Iamb” he states “Over 90% of English verse is written in the iambic meter.” This meter consists of feet of two syllables where the strong beat falls on the “second” syllable, or da dum.

While I don’t know the percentage of American poetry written in the iambic meter, it is probably high as well. I do know that other feet can predominate (at least occasionally.) “The Song of Hiawatha,” for instance, by Longfellow, is written in the trochaic meter, with the strong beat on the “first” syllable “Should you/ ask me,/ whence these/ stories,/ Whence these/ legends/ and tra/ ditions, etc. Many American nursery rhymes also use the trochaic meter such as “Peter,/ Peter,/ pumpkin/ eater. But it seems that most metrical poems employ a predominant iambic foot.

I would like to share a few more interesting tidbits concerning poetry:

The writing of a poem
According to British poet Phillip Larken (1922-1985), the writing of a poem begins “when the poet becomes obsessed with a concept or an idea. He then proceeds to construct a verbal device that will re-produce that concept or idea; and finally the reader (as he or she reads) will set off the device, re-creating what the poet felt when he wrote it.”

He goes on to say that if the construction of the verbal device is not well done, the poem will not deliver an impact and will fizzle out in a short time.

According to William Baer, “A poem should move us in some way. It should teach us something and it should entertain!” He stresses the entertainment part by saying that “If one’s work doesn’t entertain its readers in some way, it will soon be unread and forgotten!” This is important for a poet to remember.

In my last column, I noted how the romantic poets stopped using iambic pentameter, except for form poems such as the sonnet and the sestina. They favored shorter lyrical kinds of poems, and used more varieties of feet. The lines grew shorter and substitutions (using other feet to replace the iamb) in iambic lines, became common. The pastoral was especially popular.

However, the short lyrical poem was around long before the Romantic poets. I ran across some very old charming lyrical poems in Seven Centuries of Verse (English and American) assembled by A.J.M. Smith, from Michigan State University. Here are a few verses from an old ballad entitled “JOLLY GOOD ALE AND OLD,” by author unknown, written in the middle ages.

It is written in alternating iambic tetrameter lines (having four feet) and iambic trimeter lines (having three feet) lines. If you study each line you will see that the feet are indeed all iambic as the strong emphasis falls on the second syllable of each foot.

1.I can’ 2.not eat’ 3.but lit’ 4.tle meat’,
1.My sto’ 2.mach is’ 3.not good’;
1.But sure’ 2.I think’ 3.that I’ 4.can drink
With all’ 2.the broth’ hood


I cannot eat but little meat,

My stomach is not good;
but sure I think that I can drink
With all the brotherhood.

Though I go bare, take ye no care,

I nothing am a-cold;
I stuff my skinso full within
Of jolly good ale and old.

I love no roast but a nut-brown toast,
And a crab laid by the fire;
A little bread shall do me stead;
Much bread I don’t desire.

No frost, nor snow, no wind, I vow,
Can hurt me if it would,
I am so enwrapped and thoroughly lapped
With jolly good ale and old.

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

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, April 18, 2012





(Part two of a three-part series)

By T. Dawn Richard

Author of the May List Mystery Series

As the architect of your novel some of the most important things to consider before writing your story are genre, the span of your story in terms of time, the number of characters who will serve your story well, subplots, and setting. Like building a house, having a blueprint to keep you organized and structured will not only guide you but will alleviate frazzled nerves.

In one of my novels I was about 75 pages into the story when I realized I had no idea where the story was going. Delete fifty pages and begin again but this time with a plan. Especially in mysteries, it is paramount to know who did it, how they did it, how to apply misdirection, and how the mystery will be solved. Very difficult to do on the fly. I certainly don’t downplay the value of writing as the inspiration guides you; it can be some of the most beautiful writing you will ever do. It can be soul cleansing and exciting. But like taking a walk through the woods without a compass, while the journey is exhilarating, you may never reach your destination.

Once you have structured your novel in whatever way works for you—with an outline, a synopsis, a timeline, a list of scenes, or a very brief idea of beginning, middle, and end—it’s time to build.

Gather your tools. Some work best with pen and paper, some can’t do without a laptop, others like to speak into a recorder. I learned some time ago that my chicken scratch was almost impossible to read and I couldn’t write fast enough for my thoughts and I learned to use a computer. Today, submitting a handwritten manuscript will quickly be rejected. If you are not comfortable using a computer, find someone who can transcribe your writing before sending to an agent or publisher.

Find a writing space. Don’t apologize if you prefer to sit on your bed (my favorite writing spot) and if that restaurant or coffee joint down the road gets your fingers moving, order some coffee and don’t forget to tip your waitress generously especially if like me, you lose track of time and occupy a space for hours. Music can be wonderful as a background to your story. It can get you in a mood that will mirror the action on the page. If you prefer silence, schedule your writing time accordingly. But do schedule your writing time. Even if you can only manage thirty minutes every day. Write something.

I was reminded the other day that architects aren’t finished when they hand over the plans to the builders; they are available for consultation when the builders need clarification. You will need to refer to your plans, but often something amazing happens. A minor character will become so interesting they will move into a major role. In my own house, the basement wasn’t even finished when we moved in but it’s now where everyone prefers to gather. It’s our favorite space even though it took five years to finish.

During a writing workshop a well-known screenwriter gave me some advice. “Write quickly,” he said. Get the structure of your novel finished as if you’re on a deadline. This will keep you from getting bogged down in the details and it will not allow you to get discouraged. In addition, when your fingers are flying across the keyboard ideas will suddenly come to mind; brilliant ideas that you wouldn’t have found if you were laboring over every sentence. Don’t look back, keep moving.

When the structure is finished, it’s time to go back and edit. This not only means checking for typos, but to add color, texture, and personal flourishes. In a house, you would be decorating—making it livable and all yours.

After your novel is finished the work isn’t done. Now you will need to find a buyer. In the next segment I will describe some of the ways I have sold my novels and, after the novel is sold, ways to market your book. You will become the real estate agent of your story. I love what Gary Provost says in his book Make Every Word Count. “We are writers, you and I. We are writers because we write.”

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

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bypassing the Inner Critic

By Susan Garver

I have a long background with left brain activities which means as a writer I am more comfortable editing and rewriting than creating. I have plenty of ideas, but my inner perfectionist tends to revise soon after if not before I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. This inner critic stymies word flow seeking the best and most efficient way to parlay the thoughts in my mind to written prose. I long to type like no one is looking, but I often find other things to do rather than face my all-seeing critic.

I decided to approach this issue from a new angle. If I keep my inner critic busy left-braining my current book, I can secretly work behind her back creating a new masterpiece. I made no mention of a new work to anyone and began scribbling on a blank page in the notebook for my current memoir. With no expectations for the clandestine project, I could let words stream from my brain to the page without anything hindering the flow. Since the project doesn’t officially exist as a item on my agenda, the inner critic has no reason to interfere.

For this project–that doesn’t exist–I set several parameters to aid my success in keeping the inner judge at bay. The first and possibly most important criteria requires I pen the story by hand in a notebook with no side page margins. Once I write something, the only available whitespace is in the forward direction. No room for the critic to cross out and reword or insert changes.

Each day I continue the narrative. A sentence, a paragraph, or several pages–the amount doesn’t matter as long as I increase the total word count. I reread a bit of what I wrote the previous day to keep the story somewhat on a track, but I don’t rewrite or edit anything. I promised myself I would not read what I wrote or transcribe it to electronic format until I finish the book. It’s too easy for my critic to edit and rewrite with a computer; she’s a quick typist.

I don’t recall on which day I started, because keeping track might rouse my censor as she would say I should have written more by this time. For the same reason I eschewed creating an outline. I need to be writing and not thinking. Too much thinking sends an alert to the critic. I have to keep her in the dark. In addition, an outline could function as a measuring stick for progress or lack thereof.

Since this project does not exist, my inner critic reworks the third major draft of the tale of my first nine months living based from my car. I have to keep her busy with something or she might find my secret notebook. My memoir has been my top burner project for nearly two years although it’s not been cooking that entire time. My inner critic decided it should sit for months at a stretch as she plotted and schemed on how each rewrite should be approached. Outer critics also contributed to the idea of rework but my inner critic is such an exacting taskmaster that she sometimes scares me into inaction, more so than an outside critic.

As the number of handwritten pages increases so does my confidence that the more I write in this non-judgmental manner, the easier it will become for me to do so in the future. I hope to reach the point I can ease my hand cramps by bypassing the initial handwritten draft and typing the first pass at lightening speed. Until then I continue to write in stealth mode on my imaginary project. With each page (I’m not counting so don’t ask me how many I have) I claim success in writing like my inner critic is not looking.

A bit about Susan:

After success in two different career fields Susan stopped for a break in North Idaho where she stumbled upon the Idaho Writer’s League and discovered her interest in writing. Gaining award recognition in IWL contests two years in a row spurred her to accept the challenge of writing a novel. In an effort to find her writing groove in this endeavor she chose an unconventional route to meet the goal. What began as a stopgap measure to jumpstart her life in a new direction became the next passage of her existence. Since September 2008 she has lived based from her oversized suitcase known as her automobile as she travels the country photographing and writing She completed the novel and is currently writing a book about her first nine months on the road–a birthing of sorts. She also works daily at her covert mission of completing a second novel. She shares recent photographs of her travels at and on Facebook.

Susan is currently enjoying the sunshine and warm temps of north Florida after having spent 2.5 months in New York and Pennsylvania.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Winners of Writing North Idaho's Short Story Contest Are......

Writing North Idaho wishes to thank all of you who entered our short story contest using as a first line, the winning entry of our "First Line of Short Story" contest..."Her long journey through pain was almost over." We enjoyed your efforts in creative writing and appreciate your interest in our blog. Congratulations to our winners!

FIRST PLACE ($30): The Golden Veil, Lila Bolme

SECOND PLACE (Starbucks gift card): The Marriage Price, Laura Johnson

THIRD PLACE (Starbucks gift card): Without Thinking of Tomorrow,
Jack Robert Staff

Friday, April 13, 2012

Get Lit! & Online Classes: Happenings and Opportunities

Get Lit! Festival 2012 continues its schedule with a number of authors and speakers, such as Jess Walter presenting his latest novel, Beautiful Ruins, and Kim Barnes discussing her latest novel, In the Kingdom of Men. The schedule of remaining events are shown on the Events page of this blog, as well as a link to the Get Lit! site.

Also, for those writers interested in online writing classes, below is the schedule for a couple of interesting-looking classes I received in my inbox last week from I took a travel writing class through them a few years ago and enjoyed the lessons and valuable feedback.

"Make 'em Laugh, Make 'em Cry, Make 'em Wait"
by Patricia Kay
May 1-25, 2012
$30 at

Great books are about more than good plotting, likable characters, lots of conflict, and skillful writing. For a book to really grab a reader, the author must make an emotional connection with that reader. Otherwise, even though the reader may enjoy the book, it won't be one he'll remember. It won't be one he'll talk about. And it won't be one he'll recommend to others. In this class, you'll learn various dramatic techniques that will help you stir your reader's feelings and make him feel he has an emotional stake in the story's outcome.

* Making your reader care: the dramatic journey
* Crafting powerful scenes that accomplish what you envision
* How sequels help you involve your reader
* Psychic distance: one of your most powerful tools
* Suspense and tension on every page
* Various emotional responses and ways to elicit them
* Building your own emotional palette

Patricia Kay is the USA Today bestselling author of more than 50 novels of romance and women's fiction. An acclaimed teacher, she formerly taught writing classes at the University of Houston and has given workshops all over the country. She now limits her teaching to online classes. You can learn more about her on her website at

~ ~ ~

"Fearless Writing"
by Laura Baker
May 1-31, 2012
$30 at

It all began with Fearless Writing. Writers start with freedom from doubts and just a passion for story. Then all too soon you struggle to overcome weaknesses in your storytelling. But what if the very thing you're muscling into submission is what would empower you? This is the premise of Fearless Writing -- that what you call flaws are what make your stories unique. Packed with exercises and feedback from  award-winning author Laura Baker, this class taps your own dramatic powers, then puts those powers to work, transforming your story concept into a Story Vision empowered with your own strengths.

* Find the story you need to write
* Define your emotional and thematic motivators
* Through writing craft, focus the three underpinnings of great storytelling
* Create your own defining Storytelling Paragraph
* Turn ideas into a story using the Story Box process
* Learn the power of premise
* Bonus special exercise for those with a completed manuscript

With Laura's coaching, many unpublished writers are now published, and the techniques she teaches are used by NY Times bestselling authors. One author said, "Light bulb moments are so common when I'm learning at your side that I spend most of my time in this wild state of enlightenment and excitement. Just incredible." For more information about Laura's coaching classes and critiquing visit her website:


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cats and Dogs: Quiet Companions for Writers

I've been thinking about writers and their pets recently. I've heard that, because writing is such solitary work, many writers like the quiet companionship of a dog or cat.

One of the first writer/dog relationships that came to mind was John Steinbeck and his dog Charley. In his book, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, Steinbeck recounted tales of a 1960 road trip he made with Charley, a French standard poodle, as they traveled in a specially-made camper around the United States.

Maureen Adams wrote a book about authors and their dogs. In her book, Shaggy Muses, she looks at the lives of five women and their dogs, including Virgina Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton, and Emily Bronte.

For fun, take a look at the links below to view several photos of authors and their dogs. The New York Social Diary link contains photos taken by Jill Krementz showing writers such as Amy Tan, Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, and other authors with their dogs. The second link is a photo of William Faulkner and his dogs.

Cats also have established their place as companions to authors. 

The site Writers and Kitties displays page after page of photographs of writers and their cats, such as these photos of Aldous Huxley and William Carlos Williams. Be sure to check out this wonderful site.

Like authors' dogs, the cats of some writers have also found their way into their owner’s work. For example, the cats of T. S. Elliot and his book of light verse, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which in turn, inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats.

Here is the last verse of his poem, The Naming of Cats, which you may also remember from the musical:

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
   The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
   Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
       His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

As a cat lover, I like what Canadian novelist Robertson Davies said about cats:

Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise 
creatures–and cats like authors for the same reasons.

Whether dog or cat, pets can provide a calming effect to some writers. I know I love it when my cat, Midnight, curls up next to me when I am writing. She never worries me with structure, theme, or editing questions; she simply likes to be fed, pet, and to sleep quietly somewhere near.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hey Boo: Unforgettable Book, Unforgettable Author

One of my favorite books turned 52 this year, and the movie made from the book turned 50. Over those years, the compelling story of Atticus, Scout, Tom and Boo has made a deep impression on millions of Americans.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a novel set in a small Alabama town during racial segregation, was published by J. B. Lippencott & Co. in 1960. It is a story of a small-town lawyer defending an unjustly accused man, and the story of a young girl trying to make sense of the world around her.

As someone who also grew up in a small southern community where I was a child during the final years of segregation, I could identify with Scout. Like Scout, I was also somewhat of a tom-boy; had a soft-spoken, gentle father; and like my brothers, kept small, insignificant trinkets in a cigar box.

In 2010, a 50th anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird was published, and a film titled Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird was released. PBS recently aired the film as part of their American Masters program.  As a writer, I was interested in learning more about Lee.

Born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama, Nelle Harper Lee left Alabama for New York in 1950 after completing college. There she spent eight years supporting herself as an airline reservation agent. She became good friends with a couple who had read and loved some of Lee’s essays. One year, knowing Lee was working on a manuscript for a novel, the couple gave Lee a Christmas gift of money with a note that said Lee could take one year off from her work to write whatever she wants.

Lee took her friends up on their offer and completed her manuscript, then titled Atticus, and secured a literary agent who sent the manuscript to several publishers. All of the publishers rejected the work.

Eventually, an editor at J. B. Lipppincott & Co.—even though the editor felt the manuscript was mostly a series of short stories and needed a lot of work—recognized Lee’s talent and the potential of the story, and signed a contract with Lee.

Lee described what happened next as a long and hopeless period of writing the manuscript over and over again. The writer and editor reshaped and worked on the book for the next two years, until it eventually became what we know today as To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was an immediate success and awarded a Pulitzer Prize, among many other awards.

Lee was 34 when the book was published. She gave several interviews about the novel and the movie, and then stopped. She stepped back from the publicity and public life and hasn’t granted an interview in more than 40 years.

Amazingly, Lee grew up only a few doors away from author Truman Capote. They became childhood friends and remained friends for many years, advising each other on writing and publishing. Lee assisted Capote in his research for his book, In Cold Blood. Eventually they grew apart as Capote embraced fame and Lee avoided it.

Even though Harper Lee never wrote another book, Lee remains one of America’s favorite writers. And 50 years and nearly 50 million copies later, To To Kill a Mockingbird remains required reading in schools across America and continues to be enjoyed by both adolescents and adults.

If you would like to watch the documentary, Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, it can be viewed for free at the following PBS link:

You can also check your PBS schedule for future showings.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos

Translated from Latin these words mean: " A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you." Gospel of John 13:34

“Not from earthly riches but from the milk of human kindness comes true beatitude.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa

A mystic who lived in Cappadocia in Asia Minor around 380 AD.

The Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the meek

for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness

for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful

for they shall obtain mercy

Blessed are the pure of heart,

for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they shall be children of God."

Mathew 5 1-12

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Food and Fiction

When faced with the enormous task of writing fiction, of describing an experience through the senses, food can be a terrific resource. The relationship between food and fiction has a rich and satisfying past.

Valentin Louis Georges Eugene Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871 and lived until November 18, 1922. Coming of age in the era of the Third Republic in France, he lived in southern Paris, in an age when the aristocracy was beginning its decline, in favor a rising middle class. While he had a prolific career, he was beset by grief following the death of his beloved mother. In Remembrance of Things Past, he described a momentous event involving a simple little delicacy. This is an excerpt from the famous passage:

The Cookie

“Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theater and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother seeing that I was cold offered me some tea, a thing which I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, I changed my mind. She sent me one of those squat, plump little cakes called 'petites madelines,' which though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised my lips to a spoonful of tea in which I had soaked a morsel of cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no sensation of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disastrous innocuous, its brevity illusory- this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had now ceased to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savors, could, not, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? How could I seize and apprehend it?”

Proust's thoughts on the experience continue on for another two pages. At the end, he speaks of the taste of a madeline dipped in tea, bringing him back in his mind's eye to the house in Combray, to the garden, to the village and to the county and with that memory, to the emotion of being exquisitely happy. The skill with which Proust describes that cookie has been talked and written about for almost one hundred years. It is unarguably the greatest passage about food in all of our vast library of literature.

Lest I give Proust all the credit I can name others whose talent lingered in my mind, and may have more than once sent me in the direction of the kitchen, or a restaurant with the hope of recreating the experience for myself. Ernest Hemingway used a very simple and direct method, in keeping with his personal style that would have me scurrying to recreate the same dish. In A Moveable Feast, he writes:

Wine is the most civilized thing in the world. In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.”

As a young woman I craved the cakes and feasts of the Maritime Provinces described in turn of the century Canada, where as Lucy Maude Montgomery stated, “if you have not set your table with three kinds of cake, you have not done your family proud.”

When I wrote My American Eden, I took on the challenge of discovering what the diet consisted of in seventeenth century New England. I learned that the sky turned black with the plethora of ptarmigan overhead, that streams seamed to boil with the plenitude of fish, and that shooting game was as easy as walking out the door with musket in hand. Flour, on the other hand being scarce and precious, could not be spared for two pie crusts. Only the bottom of the plate would be lined, excepted in the finest houses, where the 'upper crust' found a home.

In my memoir in progress, now called Four Stanley Cups and a Funeral, I sometimes find my mouth watering describing the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding of my youth. If I recall picking apples from the trees in our orchard, I suddenly feel the brisk wind; I can bring to mind my jeans and cowboy boots, and I can hear the sound of the crisp bite into the first, newly ripe, Northern Spy, grown in the hardscrabble soil of Caledon, Ontario. From there, the smell of the barn comes squarely back to me, and I hear the steadying breaths of the horses lined up in their stalls, with inquisitive and friendly heads poking out the top.

Cultures are defined by their various dishes. You only need to let the reader know what your protagonist had for lunch and they will know something of who they are. How they start their day, what they have for breakfast and how they feel about it, will set the stage. Is the main dish fried, boiled, or grilled? Do they cherish fresh fish, or never eat it? Do they have Oysters for lunch on Boxing Day? Is there a large table set outside, or under an arbor, or do they eat in a dining room with starched and spotless linen. Who serves the food? Who prepares it? Do they eat in restaurants, and if so what kind?

More from Proust:

"Undoubtedly what it is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, is trying to follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too confused and chaotic; scarcely can I perceive the neutral glow into which the elusive whirling medley of stirred up colors is fused, and I cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the one possible interpreter to translate for me the evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable paramour, the taste, cannot ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in question, from what period in my past life."

Run, don't walk, to your nearest bakery. I should have included a word of warning at the beginning. Writing will make you very hungry, diets impossible, and cooking the ultimate distraction.


Monday, April 2, 2012

In Memory of Adrienne Rich

At the age of eighty two, one of our most esteemed poets took her leave, in Santa Cruz, on March 27, 2012. Many of us will remember reading the poems of Adrienne Rich in our salad days and there are those who may recall being inspired to write poetry after reading her work. People who are really good at something make it look easy.

Critics will say that great, strong and vivid writing will jump off the page. Unlike so many wonderful poets who toil in obscurity, Ms. Rich was recognized early. A daughter of a renowned pathologist and concert pianist, she was raised as a future progeny. While poetry may not have been the desired aim of her parents, she found a clear and solid voice at Radcliffe College and went on to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship to Oxford.

While her political leanings and feminist causes are well documented, I believe she will be remembered for her poetry above all. Here is an excerpt from What Times are These:

“There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill

and the old revolutionary road breaks off into the shadows,

near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted

who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms

at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled

this isn't a Russian poem this is not somewhere else but here

our country moving closer to its own truth and dread

its own ways of making people disappear.”

For a closer look at the poems of this marvelous woman: