Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Poetry 101

 Late last fall, I had a fun shopping experience. [To be noted: fun + shopping are never in my realm of existence.] But, this day in Asheville, NC, my son-in-law, three-year old grandson and I went to Bins of Treasure, a huge resale store of Goodwill Industries. It is a last stop before the recycle plant for items that have not sold in the regular Goodwill store. Sounds like it would be terrible? Not so. In the past my son-in-law picked up a well-used Barbie car, refurbished it with paint, decals and imagination for the brand new miniature Land Rover for his son, just like daddy’s car. He has found like new items and interesting cast offs like fishing waders, hundreds of Legos and camping equipment no one else wanted. Items are in waist high, five foot long, plastic bins on tables, mostly sorted by categories such as toys, clothing, books, outdoor equipment, etc. You pay by the pound, $.50/pound except for books which are bargain priced at $.75/pound. The items are clean, “interesting” and a definite bargain.

This day I found the book 100 Best-Loved Poems edited by Philip Smith, 1995 Dover Publications, Inc and previously owned by Sarah. Sarah seems to have been about 12 when she owned the book, not a good speller but an excellent student with a good English teacher. The book is underlined with her personal Cliff Notes written in the white spaces. What a treasure I had found!

Young Sarah had underlined all the alliterations and similes in poems they studied. She noted personifications and defined words or allusions to words she did not understand. Written were explanations that Dylan Thomas did not want his father to die when he wrote the last lines of "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." "The Lamb" by William Blake reintroduced me to to personification. Sometimes I would read "i dont unerstand" and wonder if the teacher explained it to her. I also learned that "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman was about Abraham Lincoln; I don't think I ever knew that. This little gem of a book with 100 well chosen poems will never be recycled but it will remain with me, Sarah's fun, education comments and all. It is Poetry 101.

To quote Winston Churchill (he was talking about Russia), poetry to me is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Enigma defined is a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling or difficult to understand. In my world poetry = enigma. Thanks to Sarah, her teacher, some studying and a blog with no author’s name anywhere with a stamp date of 169 visitors to the site since June 28, 2009 (, I began a journey to better understand the lure of poetry. Re-reading Writing North Idaho’s frequent informed and eloquent guest blogger, Liz Mastin, after reading this book and blog, has given me a refined appreciation of poetry. I still do not have any extended ability to write poetry but I do understand it better.

From the poetry blog site here are some explanations that may help you on your road to discovering poetry too.
In short, poetry is bones, prose is flesh. Prose is a smooth ride, with all of the threads tied up neatly in an adventure, with the reader often left in midair after the last and largest bump. Whereas prose fills in all of the cracks, poetry covers just enough potholes to make the road navigable and get the reader to a destination. Indeed, the bumps along the way are half the fun of poetry.” The author goes on to say that prose has subplots and red herrings while poetry contains only the necessary to delineate the theme.

_____ From the poetry blog one helpful view of the basic elements of poetry may be the five "S's":

Also known as
Alliteration, assonance, consonance, etc.
Concrete images, not abstractions.
Precision, focus and theme.
The Succinct
Economy of language.
The Sempervirent
New, as opposed to clich├ęd.

To further our understanding of poetry on an elemental level, check out this informative power point teaching presentation.
File Format: Microsoft Powerpoint - Quick View
This PowerPoint is designed to help you understand what makes poetry such a creative and wonderful form of self-expression.

“Poets must seek “complex” thoughts and feelings and compress such complexity into a single moment.” –Ezra Pound

Monday, January 28, 2013


It is time to review the newly coined words, neologisms, from 2012. People make up new words out of necessity, because no other word describes the situation, for comic relief, or to shorten a long phrase or name. The Washington Post  sponsors an annual contest and lists the top ten entrants which are mostly funny words, "coughee--one who gets coughed upon" for example.  People spend enormous amounts of time thinking up new words most of which never catch the imagination of others. But, because of the desire to be accepteced socially especially on the Internet by using neologisms and when the words are so clever, neologisms become well known and used by a variety of people over a wide geographic area.

The American Dialectic Society has devised a scale to judge the potential of long lasting success of a new word called the FUDGE scale:
Frequency of use
Unobstrusivenss --is it to "cutesy"
Diversity of users and situations
Generation of other forms word may take like a noun and a verb
Endurance of concept

Here are some examples of neologisms made popular in 2012. It is by no means inclusive.

blognescenti---bloggers who write with class
jigsaw family---a family blend of of children from two or more sets of parents
pentrepreneur---an entrepreneur of pensionable age
autograt---a tip automatically added to your restaurant bill, hotel or bar bill
ego surfer--someone who searches the World Wide Web for his names using Google or some other search engine. (Hmm.)
404--someone who is hopeless; from World Wide Web error message "404 Not Found" meaning the web site you are searching for was not found
fidocam---camera on the head of a police dog
Frankenstorm---devastation brought by storm Sandy (not likely to endure)
pay-neutral---describes a paycheck that only covers expenses after  child-care costs, travel , etc. costs have been deducted
metrosexual--someone who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance
the precariat--new class of people consisting of debt-ridden, educated people looking for jobs but many are not finding jobs so they settle for casual or part-time work
bankster---a banker whose actions are illegal
geobragging---repeated status updates noting your location in order to get attention or to make others jealous
zero-hours---employee contract where an employee has no guarantee of work but who must be available to work and is paid only for hours worked
chilax---being told to calm down, relax when you are getting uptight
Republican'ts---49% of Republicans in a recent survey who did not know what what their "GOP" symbol stood for "Grand Old Party" (not likely to endure)
moon-basing---political candidate's offhanded comment or proposed policy that is so outrageous that it hurts his campaign. EX: "legal rape"
prenopsis---summary of a book movie, TV show or event formed purely on expectation, bias and hope formulated before the object or event has occurred.
tweet cred--social standing on Twitter. Justin Bieber has the most tweet cred
meh---from the writers of "The Simpsons", a shrug of indifference
@---to write a message to or about someone on Twitter
Twisticuffs---an argument conducted on Twitter (Demi Moore and Kim Kardashain, Katy Perry vs. Lady Gaga and Perez Hilton vs almost everybody)
#bashtag---Twitter  account companies created to promote themselves but are then used by others to publicly criticize the company. In a January 25, 2012 article by Jamie Griswold on, Ms Griswold wrote

"A McDonald's social media marketing campaign has gone viral, but not exactly in the way they wanted.
'They decided to start a twitter hashtag, which is a way of organizing tweets about the same subject on twitter, about these great stories about McDonald's,' said 97.3 KIRO FM host Luke Burbank, in a discussion of the campaign on The Ross and Burbank ShowThe LA Times reports McDonald's stopped promoting the campaign two hours after launching it. But as twitter users observed, it's hard to kill a twitter trend. 
The failed hashtag even spawned a new twitter term #bashtag.

"So instead of a hashtag, it's a bashtag. That's when you either start a hashtag just to sort of decry something or you take over someone's hashtag and make it into a negative, that is a bashtag," explains Burbank.

Many twitter users conclude "#McDStories was a #McFail."

symblomatic---coined by Donald Trump and is a combination of symbolic, emblematic and symptomatic
webinar---seminar on the internet or the Web as in a MOOC (massive online open courses)
brain candy---non-intellectual form of entertainment
truthiness---coined by Sephen Colbert to describe a quality characterizing a "truth" that is known intuitively, a gut feeling, without regard to logic, facts, intellectual study or fact supported                                      STEPHEN COLBERT

Tebowing---prayerful stance derived from use by NFL quarterback Tim Tebow after a touchdown

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

'Write Every Day': How's That Working For You?

"Write every day." How many times have you heard that advice? It seems to make the top-ten list of every how-to-succeed-at-writing article ever published.

I've always thought of "write every day" as one of those inviolable rules of writerhood. Adding 500 or 1000 or even 100 new words to a project daily meant I was making progress, moving forward, eating that proverbial elephant one bite at a time. The trouble is, I can only reach that quota for so long before I slip up and miss a day. Then what? Write twice as many words the following day? Fall "behind" and risk sacrificing quality for churning out words? Abandon the whole thing and go and check if there's any Fudge Ripple left in the freezer?

Cal Newport, a computer scientist, is a prolific writer as well as an academic. He writes Study Hacks, an insightful blog on developing peak performance for students and professionals. He's also authored several books, including How to Become a Straight-A Student and his latest, So Good They Can't Ignore You.

In a recent blog post, "'Write Every Day' is Bad Advice," Cal asserts that striving to achieve a daily word count goal is counterproductive, given how the human brain works. He writes,"The problem for the would-be writer is that the brain does not necessarily distinguish between your vague and abstract goal, to write a novel, and the accompanying specific plan, to write every day, which you’re using to accomplish this goal. When the specific plan fails, the resulting lack of motivation infects the general goal as well, and your writing project flounders."

He continues, "When I’m working on a book, I instead approach each week as its own scheduling challenge. I work with the reality of my life that week to squeeze in as much writing as I can get away with, in the most practical manner. Sometimes, this might lead to stretches where I write every morning. But there are other periods where I might balance a busy start to the work week with half days of writing at the end, and so on. The point is that I commit to plans that I know can succeed, and by doing so, I keep my brain’s motivation centers on board with the project."

Read Cal's post and let me know what you think. Does writing to a daily word count goal work well for you? Do you use some other method to measure your writerly productivity? Or do you not worry about measuring progress and just write (perhaps the neatest approach of all)?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Proper spelling: Luv it or h8 it?

Years ago someone (me, perhaps?) gave my husband a sweatshirt that says, "Bad spellers of the world, untie!" On the flip side, this past Christmas I received a tee shirt that announces to the world, "I am silently correcting your grammar." The slogans may be cringe-worthy, but they are also accurate.

Yes, it's true. I'm in a mixed marriage. Can a--um--casual speller and a grammar nerd ever find true love and happiness together?

Since today marks 25 years since the day we met, and we've been together ever since (okay, full disclosure: we did break up once for twenty minutes--the longest twenty minutes of my life-- and that bleak incident had nothing whatsoever to do with spelling), I'd say YES, true love and happiness between grammatical opposites is definitely possible. You just need a sense of humor and a heaping helping of mutual patience and understanding.

Casual Speller recently demonstrated his understanding of my fanatical quest for proper spelling, even though he doesn't happen to share it, by showing me this item in The Week magazine:

"Australia: Where even the teachers can't spell" by Kevin Donnelly was originally published in The Australian. I wasn't able to locate the full original article online, but the digest version is viewable online to subscribers at The Week. In case you're not a subscriber, here is the snippet that caught my eye:

"In a recent survey, more than 40 percent of parents said their kids' teachers had sent home comments or assignments that were misspelled or ungrammatical or, worst of all, written in text-message style, using '18r' for 'later' and 'U' for 'you.' But this appalling state of affairs is not the teachers' fault--nobody ever required them to learn how to spell. They came of age in the 1970s and 1980s, when progressive theorists were [unconcerned about] teaching proper English. The only time they studied the mechanics of language was when they learned a foreign language. Now we are all paying the price. . . . The teaching of English has been 'dumbed down,' and it's making Australia look dumb.'"

(A quick online search revealed that Kevin Donnelly is director of the Education Standards Institute, so naturally he'd take an interest in the subject. I removed a few politically charged sentences so that we could focus on the topic without getting sidetracked into politics.)

What do you think? Have the standards of spelling fallen, and if so, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Does poor spelling make someone look "dumb," as Mr. Donnelly asserts? Or does striving for perfect spelling make someone seem uptight or inflexible or (heaven help us) uncool?

**THIS JUST IN: Writing North Idaho has just exceeded 50,000 page views! We're very excited. Thank you, dear readers!**

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Joy of Prosody: Writing Better Poetry

By Liz Mastin

Happy New Year friends, I would like to share with you my collection of tips for writing better poetry; things to keep in mind which may be of considerable help. I keep these in front of me to remind myself of the many things to consider when writing a poem. I also add new tips to this collection as I come across them. In fact, so I do not misplace them, I framed them. They now stand on my desk in good sight, next to the computer.

I hope these might be of use to you as well as you move into the New Year.

In writing better poetry

1. Use vivid verbs, ones that evoke vivid mental images.

2. Use sparingly: prepositions, adverbs, adjectives and conjunctions.

3. “No good poem makes common sense. The essence of a good poem is the uncommonness of the sense it makes.”

4. Passionate precision inspires readers.

5. Use active adjectives: the “dancing” portraits on the wall, the “staring” ceiling, etc.

6. Use strong words

7. Splash colors, odors, textures

8. Make sure your poem feels right and then polish it.

9. Always have an editor

10. Be bold.

11. The first lines are very important (the leader): “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

12. Poems should surprise!

13. Use hard sounds for hard objects and ideas and soft sounds for soft objects and ideas.

14. Can it be said “a better way

15. A good poem moves in surprising ways, taking us to places we did not expect, avoiding the predictable.

I hope you have a beautiful Christmas. Here is my Christmas gift for you. It is an ode; a form used by many poets including Pablo Neruda. This is in written in free verse, following Neruda’s example (he uses many metaphors) in his collection “Ode to Common Things”

Note: Liz sent this post before Christmas, but due to our schedule, it didn't get posted until today.  My apologies to Liz that we missed you before Christmas, but I'm sure your tips will be just as valuable to our readers today and that they will appreciate your Christmas greetings despite the tardy delivery.  

Ode to Christmas Tree Ornaments
To you, I sing
Oh Christmas tree ornaments
As you tenuously cling
To your tinsel-tossed hooks.
Like golden garlands
You rise and fall.
Like air-show planes
You lift and stall,
And settle down
On fat green boughs.
Your brilliant bellies
Are delicate mirrors
Reflecting minuscule
Christmas lights,
Window panes,
And table lamps.
You are rainbow drops,
You are lollipops,
Carousel animals
Encircling the stalk.
You are hot air balloons
Engaged in a rally
Above the soft rug;
A round lighted valley.
You cranberry strings
Are red salmon eggs
Trapped in towering,
Turbulent seaweed.
And you ornaments of old
Are bold little ghosts:
White bearded Santas,
Tarnished glass cherries,
Yellow-flocked bananas,
And sepia-tinged fairies.
You speak of childhood,
In innocence, you are cast.
You are vibrant reminders
Of Christmases past.

Note: Liz sent this post before Christmas, but due to our schedule, it didn't get posted until today.  My apologies to Liz that we missed you before Christmas, but I'm sure your tips will be just as valuable to our readers today.

Liz Mastin Bio
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, January 16, 2013

Write What You Know vs. Use What You Know to Write

"Write what you know," has long been a principle given aspiring writers.  Today’s bookshelves are crowded with popular medical thrillers written by former medical professionals; psychological thrillers written by former psychologists and crime novels written by former policemen, judges and attorneys. Relying on knowledge accumulated during a former profession gives these novels an authenticity that readers recognize and appreciate because they use the proper terms and know the proper procedures they write about. "Write what you know," works for them.

But what about those of us who don’t have the medical and scientific background of Michael Crichton and lack the legal expertise of John Grisham? What do we write about? How do we gain the expertise or even develop the thought that we have the right stuff to compose a short story, write a novel, or pitch an idea for an article? 

Perhaps it will help you find inspiration if you replace that old adage "write what you know," with "don't write what you know," "write what you want to know," or my favorite, "use what you know to write." 
Bad books on writing and thoughtless English professors solemnly tell beginners to "Write What You Know", which explains why so many mediocre novels are about English professors contemplating adultery. 
- Joe Haldeman, an American science fiction writer
"Writing what you know" is restricting, in essence forcing writers to write only autobiographical material. How does a science fiction writer create a new world or invent a unique creature if he is limited to what he already knows? How does any writer create fiction with that onerous restriction in place?

The following statement appeared in an article titled, "Don't Write What You Know," written by Bret Anthony Johnston for the Atlantic Magazine in August, 2011. Johnston is the author of Corpus Christi: Stories and the editor of Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer. He is the director of creative writing at Harvard University. The full article can be seen at:
To be perfectly clear: I don’t tell students not to ferret through their lives for potential stories. I don’t want, say, a soldier who served in Iraq to shy away from writing war stories. Quite the opposite. I want him to freight his fiction with rich details of combat. I want the story to evoke the texture of the sand and the noise of a Baghdad bazaar, the terrible and beautiful shade of blue smoke ribboning from the barrel of his M-4. His experience should liberate his imagination, not restrict it. Of course I want him to take inspiration where he can find it. What I don’t want—and what’s prone to happen when writers set out to write what they know—is for him to think an imagined story is less urgent, less harrowing or authentic, than a true story.
"Using what you know to write," is what I believe Johnston is talking about when he says experiences should "liberate your imagination, not restrict it."  If you are breathing, you have thoughts, ideas, opinions, hopes, desires, wants, needs, passions, ideals, dreams and nightmares. You have known joy and pain. You've learned about relationships, the weather, the society in which you live, religion and your world. You have likes and dislikes. You have prejudices. You have been a child, a son or daughter, a student; and possibly a spouse, parent and grandparent.

Rather than restrict you to "writing what you know," these realities should expand your options, give you direction and infuse your work with richness.
From all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive. - Ernest Hemingway
So, whether you love dogs, grow sunflowers, suffered a stroke, or know how to whistle through your nose – include it in your writing. Whether you love vampires, hate hot air balloons or have an opinion about botox – choose writing projects that interest you, then liberally sprinkle tidbits of yourself  throughout your work.

What excites you?  What drives you crazy? What idea is festering in the back of your mind? Pick one, do the research, then get to work, "using what you know to write."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Jack London - A Dedicated Writer

In this manner had fought forgotten ancestors. They quickened the old life within him, the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of the breed were his tricks... And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed his nose at a star and howled long and wolflike, it was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and through him. ~Jack London (The Call of the Wild)
A couple of months ago, while visiting my son’s family in Santa Rosa, California, my daughter-in-law asked if I would like to go hiking in a park just down the road near Glen Ellen. I said sure and the next Saturday we drove the few miles to a 1400-acre park. The only thing on my mind -- I hoped I could keep up with my 6- and 4-year old grandsons.  To my amazement, I was treated to a day of delight and wonder as we hiked around the Jack London State Historic Park; seeing firsthand the treasured home and land of one of America’s greatest novelists and short story writers.

  Barns and vineyard at the Jack London Park in Sonoma, California.

Reading about his adventures and seeing artifacts gathered on his world travels, viewing the ruins of the dream home he built to “last a thousand years,” learning about his unorthodox farming and animal husbandry innovations and walking through the woods that he loved was, quite simply, a thrill. No grand tombstone for this daring man who chose to live life to the fullest; merely a simple plaque on a huge rock resting on a hilltop amid the fallen leaves and peaceful Sonoma landscape.

As a writer, this unexpected look into Jack London's world evolved into an inspiring and uplifting journey; a rare glimpse into the soul of a literary giant that I stumbled upon on a lovely November afternoon.  Could immersing myself in the world of one of the first writers who ever touched me with his words give me some insight?  Aid me in my writing in some way?  The thought was fleeting.  But, it was not to be.  Alas, my grandsons were weary of my lingering ere long and I was forced to leave the House of Happy Walls Museum having only breathed in a fraction of the truth and knowledge that tempted me from photos and artifacts lining the walls and the books and papers that beckoned from glass cases.  But not all was lost.

What I learned from Jack London #1: The importance of dedication.
I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.  I shall use my time. ~Jack London
Jack London dedicated himself to writing 1,000 words each day, no matter whether he was at home, traveling or ill.  Following this formula, he wrote 50 fiction and non-fiction books and thousands of short stories and articles from 1900 - 1916 ... that's more than three books each year.  On top of that, during this time he was proofing his stories, maintaining a huge correspondence (he received 10,000 pieces of mail each year), dealing with his agents and publishers, honoring speaking engagements, planning his next adventure, overseeing a 1,000-acre farm, and designing and building both a boat and a magnificent house.

With a hard-knock start in life, London had little education, few opportunities and no mentors.  With nothing more than the determination to make something of himself and a positive attitude, he educated himself and then went to work, writing stories based on the tumultuous and adventurous life he  lived and the views he held.  As he churned out stories that appealed to millions worldwide, his fame grew and he became "... a living symbol of rugged individualism, a man whose fabulous success was not due to special favor of any kind, but to a combination of immense mental ability and vitality."  (Jack London Park website)

Jack London was blessed with the natural talent to tell a good story, but without doubt, it was his nose-to-the-grindstone attitude that led to his worldwide literary success.  The number of books, stories and articles he wrote during his short lifetime (he died at age 40), and the fame he achieved, stand as proof.

What I learned #2: A story well written stands the test of time.

I read my favorite Jack London short story, To Build a Fire, as a teen.  It is a haunting tale of a life and death struggle in Alaska by a man who ignored the advice of an old-timer. To this day I think of that story whenever I head out into the snowy woods … and you better believe I listen attentively to any advice given. How amazing that a simple story written one hundred years ago still carries such a powerful message.  

Today, many of London's stories remain in publication and are considered classics.  His books have been translated into as many as 70 languages. Among the best known are Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea Wolf, Martin Eden and John Barleycorn. The Sea Wolf inspired the first feature-length film to be produced in the United States and other stories have been made into movies.  A series of five White Fang movies were made in the 1990s. 

About Jack London
John "Jack" Griffith Chaney was born in 1876 in San Francisco, California to Flora Wellman and astrologer William Henry Chaney. His mother later married John London and Jack’s name was changed. Poverty forced Jack to help with the family finances, forcing him to quit school at age 14.
“I had no outlook, but an uplook rather. My place in society was at the bottom. Here life offered nothing but sordidness and wretchedness, both of the flesh and the spirit; for here flesh and spirit were alike starved and tormented. ~Jack London
For the next few years he worked menial and demeaning jobs; but rather than destroy him, the drudgery led him to envision a better life for himself. After time spent as an “oyster pirate,” a seaman and a railroad tramp, he determined to become a “brain merchant.” To that end he began spending his spare time devouring literature at a public library and returned to school to earn his high school diploma.
Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes,
of playing a poor hand well.  ~Jack London
A short stint in college didn’t take, but being a writer did. He wrote his first story in 1893 and sold his first book in 1900.  He expressed his love of life, lust for adventure, unconventional outlook and determination to fight for the underdog through the hundreds of stories that he brought to life through his writing.  His stories were based on his exploits as a seaman, his experiences in Alaska, his work as a laborer in the fields and factories of California; and his trips to ports of call that most turn-of-the-century Americans could only dream about: Hawaii, Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Australia and Cape Horn.
Many of his stories are considered classics and have been translated into as many as 70 languages. Among the best known are Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea Wolf, Martin Eden and John Barleycorn. Some remain in publication.  The Sea Wolf inspired the first feature-length film to be produced in the United States.

About Beauty Ranch

I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate.  ~Jack London
Seeking solitude from his hectic life, London found the peace he was looking for on land he purchased in 1905 in Sonoma County, California.  He continued to add property until the ranch that he called "Beauty Ranch," covered 1400-acres.  Between sailing adventures and trips, he would return to his ranch where he spent his time  learning and practicing sustainable agriculture, dabbling in animal husbandry, horseback riding and enjoying the beauty of his land.

The cottage where London and his wife lived. 

Suffering from gastrointestinal complications, Jack London died at the age of forty at his ranch cottage on November 22, 1916. His wife, Charmian continued to live at the ranch, and devoted herself to its preservation.  Both are buried on on the property near the hilltop gravesite of two pioneer children, a place London often visited for solace.

Today visitors to the ranch can join docent-guided walks to view the Jack London Museum and bookshop located in the House of Happy Walls, the ruins of the winery and the Wolf House, the cottage London called home, the Pig Palace and other agricultural sights. The 1400-acre park also offers back-country trails for hikers and those on horseback.

Wolf House
London and wife Charmian began building their dream home in 1911.  Designed by famed San Francisco architect Albert Farr, the residence was designed to provide a meeting place for their adventurous friends.  By August 22, 1913 the magnificent home was ready for the Londons to begin moving in.  With huge fireplaces, spacious rooms and a central reflecting pool, the massive stone and redwood residence was impressive and would stand, said London, "for a thousand years."  That night the home was entirely engulfed in flames, thought to have been sparked by a pile of linseed oil rags.  Although London hoped to rebuild, he never completed the task before his death in 1916.

The above photos are copied and the information is collated from the Jack London Park website.  Learn more about Jack London and the Jack London State Historic Park by visiting their website:    

Friday, January 11, 2013

Writing in the Dark: Learning from Others

On Wednesday I had a speaking engagement with the Idaho Writers League (IWL) in Coeur d’Alene. I had set my alarm for 5:00 am and as soon as my alarm went off and I flipped back the covers to get out of bed, our power went out. Luckily I had printed out the audience handouts and my notes the previous day, but for the next couple of hours I stumbled around our dark house getting ready to head out for my presentation with only the flashlight app on my iphone to guide me.

That’s how it is sometimes. We fumble around and make do until the light shows us the way. This is true in many facets of life, including in our writing life. As beginners we often stumble around in a dark new world full of unknowns, looking for guidance not from an iphone app, but from those who have come before us and left a trail of experience for us to follow. We read books written by authors we admire and try to emulate their writing style, we read books written in genres in which we want to write, we read how-to book after how-to book to learn as much as we can about the craft of writing, all serving to broaden our knowledge base and begin shining a light on our own path towards becoming the writer we hope to become.

I was reminded when talking at the IWL meeting this week what a wonderful way the writers in these groups support each other in their work, experiences, and growth as writers. They are, in broad terms, on the same path. Their energy, excitement and eagerness to learn inspire me. Writers groups are a great way to connect with other writers in your area. If you’ve never attended a writers group, try one out by attending a meeting. You will find friendly faces, new writing contacts, acceptance, encouragement and guidance.

The Coeur d’Alene chapter of the IWL meets the second Wednesday and the third Thursday of each month. For details of meeting places, scheduled events, and membership, visit their website: Idaho Writers League - Coeur d'Alene Chapter. You may also contact the current President of the Coeur d’Alene chapter, Faye Higbee at

Another high-energy, active group in the north Idaho area is the Spokane Authors and Self-Publishers group, which meets the first Thursday of each month in Spokane. For details of meeting places, scheduled events, and membership, visit their website: Spokane Authors and Self Publishers. For additional information, contact Dave McChesney at

You can find information on more local writing groups listed in the right-hand sidebar of this blog.

Connect with your fellow writers and let them and their experiences help light your path, and you theirs.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cater to Your Reader: Create a Linked Table of Contents in Your E-book

To add to the enjoyment of your reader, consider including a linked table of contents in your e-book. Not only does it enhance the professional look of your work, it gives the reader ease of navigation around your book.

Although a linked table of contents is more necessary for nonfiction, it is also useful in fiction, especially if you have descriptive chapter headings. If a reader “leaves” your book for a few days, even though an e-reader device normally opens to the last page read, the reader may want to review areas of the book she has previously read. A linked table of contents allows a reader to click on any chapter heading in the contents list and go directly to that chapter. It also allows them to click on any chapter heading within the narrative and return to the Table of Contents. With a linked table of contents the reader can easily maneuver through your book without having to go page by page. 

For manuscripts created in Microsoft Word, Word has a tool to automatically create a linked table of contents within your document. However, it has not worked smoothly for me. As a matter of fact, some e-book publishers recommend against using Word’s automatic feature because it can cause issues when converting the file into e-book format. I have tried the automatic feature and it looked fine until the file was processed into an e-book, then some of the links no longer worked. I had to revise and re-upload my e-book file three times before I figured out that the manual links work best.

So, hoping to save other e-bookers the same frustrations, I have put together the following step-by-step method for creating a manual linked table of contents in your e-book. Several of these tips originated from the Smashwords publishing guide, and others came from bits and pieces of information I have learned from other e-book publishers, which I have written in the way that makes the most sense to me. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Create Your Contents List

If you haven’t already done so, type your Table of Contents list into your book’s manuscript file near the front of the book, listing the sections and chapter headings that you want to be bookmarked and linked in your book. For demonstration purposes, I’m going to use the following sample list:

Chapter One
Chapter Two

Step 2: Create Bookmarks for Items to be Linked

Once your contents list is in place, begin going through your manuscript and bookmarking each item that is in your contents list. Using the example above, you would first go to the Prologue. When you reach the beginning of the prologue section, highlight the heading, Prologue. Then, on the Microsoft Word tabs at the top of the page, select Insert, then Bookmark.

When you click on the Bookmark button, you will be prompted for the bookmark name.

Hint: You will make it easier on yourself later in the process if you name the bookmark exactly as the chapter heading, as one word with no spaces. For example, if you are bookmarking a chapter titled Chapter One, name the bookmark ChapterOne. Or if your chapter is titled On the Road Again, name the bookmark OntheRoadAgain.

Once you name your bookmark, click Add, then go to the next chapter heading (Chapter One, Chapter Two, Epilogue, etc.) in your manuscript and bookmark it. Continue until all of the items that are listed in your table of contents are bookmarked within your manuscript.

Step 3: Create a Bookmark for your Contents Page

Return to your contents list at the front of the book. Highlight the heading for your contents, such as Table of Contents, or Contents, or whatever you call your contents list. As you did in Step 2, click Insert, Bookmark, and label this bookmark accordingly.

Step 4: Create Hyperlinks to Bookmarked Items

You now need to create hyperlinks to the items you just bookmarked so that a reader can click on a chapter heading in your contents list and be taken directly to that chapter in the book. In the contents list highlight the first item below the contents heading; in this case, Prologue, from our example above. Then, on the Microsoft Word tabs at the top of the page, select Insert, then Hyperlink.

When the Hyperlink menu comes up, click on the Place in This Document button on the left-hand side of the menu. (See below.) You should now see the bookmarks you made earlier listed in the main menu window. Now select Prologue and click OK. Repeat this process for each item in the Contents list.

 Step 5: Link back to the Table of Contents

To allow your readers to return to your Table of Contents from within your book, move through your manuscript and return to each bookmarked chapter heading. Highlight the heading, select Insert, Hyperlink, and Place in This Document on the menu. From the list of bookmarks showing in the main window of the menu, select your Table of Contents bookmark. Do this for every bookmarked heading through your manuscript, selecting the Table of Contents bookmark each time.

Step 6: Test Your Links

After completing Step 5, all of the headings in your contents list, as well as the chapter and section headings that you bookmarked in the manuscript, should appear blue and underlined.

Test your links by clicking (ctrl-click in Word 2007) on the chapter headings in your contents list to make sure they take you to the corresponding chapter heading within in the book. In turn, clicking on a chapter heading within in the book should take you back to the contents list at the front of the book.

If any are not working, check and revise.


(Well, almost.)

Step 7: E-reader Internal Links

Now that you have created a hyperlinked table of contents for your e-book, there are two more small items you should consider doing.

Many e-readers have menus that allow a reader to go directly to an e-book’s table of contents, and to go directly to the beginning of the book where the reader can skip the front matter and begin reading. This is an internal function of some e-readers and you can make sure this option works correctly in your e-book by bookmarking those two places with the two codes the e-reading devices recognize:  toc (for the “go to the table of contents” function) and start (for the “go to the beginning of the book” function).

To do this, go into your manuscript and place your cursor just before your Table of Contents heading. (Don’t highlight the heading because you are only going to bookmark a single point.) Then go to Insert, Bookmark, name the bookmark toc, and click Add. For the "go to the beginning of the book" bookmark, go to where you would want a reader to begin reading if they skipped the front matter. This might be a prologue, the first chapter, etc. Go to that spot and, as before, place the cursor where you want the reader to begin, go to Insert, Bookmark, name the bookmark start, and click Add.

That’s it. The file conversion process should pick up on those two bookmarks and give your reader additional maneuverability within your e-book.


I’ve found that, although it takes extra time, linking the table of contents with your chapter headings in your manuscript manually results in error-free links once your book is converted to e-book format and published.

Plus, having a functional, linked table of contents will make your readers happy.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Trailers: Not Just for Movies Anymore

Lots of authors and publishers now create video trailers for their books. As movie trailers do for movies, these book trailers also serve as promotional tools. They are meant to inform potential readers and encourage them to buy and read the authors’ books. As a short video file, it can be placed on an author’s website, a blog, bookseller sites, and other venues in which the author/publisher wishes.

There are plenty of businesses that will create book trailers for authors, but costs can vary greatly depending on the complexity and length of the video. You can, however, do the work yourself with a couple of computer programs and a few hours of your time.

Basically, all I did for my book trailer was create a slideshow using text and still images, added music to the slideshow, then ran the slideshow through a program that converted it into a mp4 video file. It took me several hours and several drafts before I was satisfied with the finished product, but that is partly because I enjoy tinkering with such things, and because I was learning as I was going.

The Trailer Slideshow:
For the slideshow I used Microsoft PowerPoint because the program was already available on my computer. If you have a Windows based machine with Microsoft Office programs, PowerPoint may also be on your computer. If not, other slideshow programs are available that will work for your trailer.

Many of the images in my book trailer are personal images, but I also found photos through the NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) site, which are free to use as long as you give NOAA credit. I also purchased a few photos from the Bigstock Photos website, which cost $1 to $3 each. Several websites offer free clip art and photo stock, but make sure your anti-virus software is up to date before going to sites you are not familiar with.

The text in my trailer consists of text boxes placed on a slide in the slideshow program.

In my trailer I used royalty-free music. You can search the web to find royalty-free music that is made for this type of use. One example of a royalty-free music site can be found at:

Video Converter:
Once my slideshow was complete, I ran the file through a program called the Moyea PPT to Video Converter that turned the PowerPoint file into a mp4 movie file. The program can be found at:

You Tube:
When your video file is done, post it on You Tube. From there, it is easy to embed the video file on a website, blog, your Author Page on Amazon, and other places, plus your trailer gets views from You Tube visitors.

As examples of book trailers, I have included four below. The first is the trailer I made for my book, South to Alaska, which is nonfiction. I have also included trailers for a historical fiction book, a fiction book, and a children’s book by other authors. Although I’m not sure of what process was used to create the other three trailers, they also appear to have been made using still images and blocks of text, so nothing too fancy here that can’t be done with a slideshow and video converter.

If you are interested in creating a book trailer, go to You Tube and key in "book trailer" to see more examples.


Historical Fiction






I hope this is helpful to some of you who may be considering creating a book trailer as a promotional tool. Having a trailer for your book is useful and fun...and you can do it yourself with a couple of simple programs, plus some time and effort.

Have you thought about making a trailer for your book?