Posts Tagged ‘LinkedIn’

What’s in my Indiana Travel Journal?

August 29, 2015

You may have thought that, after several trips to the Hoosier State, I would have run out of things to share with you about the Midwest. Not so! On our latest trip to drop off our youngest son at Valparaiso, I still managed to find three new things to share with you!

Figure Eight Brewing (Valparaiso, IN)

We met our old friends from Chicago at this small craft brewery. The pub is high-ceilinged, with a light and airy feel and plenty of space between the tables. The waiters and waitresses had personality to spare and the beer is brewed on-site. I had the Snake Pro, a double IPA, which was not only hoppy, but had that citrusy finish that I love. Greg got adventurous and ordered the “Lost Saint”, a Belgian-style Saison with coriander, white pepper, and grains of paradise (whatever those are!) Sadly, he didn’t care for the taste; it was a little too different. Neil tried the Solar Collector, with a touch of dry-hopped Amarillo. Another plus for the brewery is that they have growlers. So be sure to check out this spot next time you’re passing through Valpo.

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Splendor Boats (Silver Lake, IN)

My husband read about this family owned boat company in one of his boating magazines and was enthralled by the boat’s catamaran hull design. Splendor only makes 40-50 boats a year and I’d never seen a motor boat in the various stages of production so I agreed to tag along. It was really cool to see how a mold and some fiberglass evolve into a sleek, powerful motorboat that you would be proud to call your own. The sales manager, Brandon, was personable and answered every single question we asked (and there were lots!) He also trailered one of the boats we were interested in and took us to a local lake so we could test-drive it on the water and see how it handled. I know what I want in my stocking this year!

Bonus-The lake was located in Warsaw, IN, aka the “orthopedic capital”. Who knew?

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The RV/MH Hall of Fame (Elkhart, IN)

I take full credit for this stop. Every time we pass this museum on Rt. 80, I say “I’s really like to go there someday.” This is slightly ironic because I’m a dedicated tent camper and a relentless critic of RV’s. I don’t like the way they hog up the road and the parking lots or the noise their generators make at night. But we stopped and it was well worth it. The ingenuity of the original motor home campers is really something to see. The various RV/MH’s are displayed along a highway, reinforcing the impression of Americans on the move and reminding you of how good it feels to hit the open road in whatever type of vehicle best suits your lifestyle. However, interestingly enough, it was the photo display at the end of the exhibit that made the biggest impression on me. It wasn’t about taking a vacation in a recreational vehicle, it was about the different people who call a mobile home their 24/7 abode. It turns out that people of all ages, races, and income levels choose to live in mobile homes for a variety of reasons.

One man explains that he sold a $300,000 house with a pool to move into his home on wheels. “That place was a task, this is a pleasure,” he says. A young artist claims her mobile home allows her the freedom to express herself in a way that’s both affordable and individualistic. And frequently mobile homes allow families to stay in close proximity to each other. The photos show a retired woman sharing her father’s land, while a young mother and her daughter park their home on her grandparent’s lot.

There are plenty of stories just waiting to be heard in this unusual museum so be sure to stop for an hour or so if you happen to be passing by.

Happy travels!

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Living on the Edge of your Writing Life

August 21, 2015

Last week, in an attempt to read something related to my actual career, I picked up Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life at my local library. I imagined I’d slog through it and then return to my summer diet of mysteries and the latest fiction releases. But, I found myself engaged from the moment I began to read the first chapter and I thought about some of her vivid and absurd prose, long after I reluctantly closed the last page.

Dillard is quirky, engaging, and a hard and insistent worker, a combination of traits I very much identify with. She’s a writer that things happen to, whether because she has an openness that attracts the unusual, or because she is simply more attuned to the life surrounding her than most people. Two of her stories, one about the mysterious midnight chess game she played in the library without ever questioning why, and the other about her brief, but powerful experience in a single-engine Cessna with stunt pilot Dave Rahm, linger with me still. There’s something about these particular experiences that seems to capture the very essence of the writing life, that feeling of sometimes living in a universe separate from the one most people inhabit. Dillard’s world is a magical place where anything can, and often does, happen to those who dare to live at the edge and to push the limits, whenever possible, both in their writing and in their life itself.

Mid-book, Dillard says that every writer must solve two problems before they begin a book. One is “Can it be done?” and the other “Can I do it?” Her answer, “And if it can be done, then he can do it, and only he” cheered me greatly, as did her assertion that, if is just as difficult to write sentences for a recipe than it is to write them for Moby Dick, you might as well write them for Moby Dick!

The Writing Life is a book I believe I’ll read more than once, mostly because it reinforces one of my core beliefs; you must write as you live. If you can’t take risks and try new things and be bold and imaginative and colorful in your day-to-day life than both you and your writing will be only a shadow of what you could have been. And that would be the real tragedy.

Have you read any good craft books this summer? Feel free to share the titles!

What’s On My Summer Reading List?

August 12, 2015

This summer has been a great one for reading! If you’re looking for a good book to relax with in the dog days of August, here are a few suggestions:

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This book has gotten rave reviews and frankly, I couldn’t resist the cover the last time I passed it in the bookstore. The first hint that Rachel isn’t the normal commuter you might be expecting, is when she opens a can of gin and tonic on the commuter rail. “It’s Friday, so I don’t have to feel guilty about drinking on the train,” she explains, not that we were asking. But Rachel’s alcoholic tendencies turn out to be the least of her problems. When the young couple that she’s been watching avidly from the train window every day, is revealed to be less than the perfect lovers she’s created in her mind, she can’t help but throw herself into the middle of the police investigation. Rachel’s unhealthy immersion in Scott and Megan’s lives soon expands to include her ex-husband, his new wife and their baby who (oh so conveniently) live only a few doors down from the objects of her obsession.

The similarities between Rachel and her preferred mode of transportation are undeniable.  She herself is like a train wreck waiting to happen. Yet there is something in her incredibly flawed character that will appeal to most readers, a quality that makes you keep rooting for her to turn herself around and to find the inner strength to reclaim her life. This book is difficult to put down, but luckily its summer so staying up late to finish it shouldn’t be a problem!

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

This is Ms. Flournoy’s first book and I’m enjoying it to no end. I must admit that I felt somewhat alarmed when I turned to the first page, saw the Turner’s extensive family tree, and discovered that the parents had raised thirteen children in the house on Yarrow Street in Detroit. How will I ever keep them all straight? I fretted. But the author has drawn, not only the two parents, but each of the children, so skillfully that you feel like you know each of the family members intimately. And each has their own distinctive personality and role within the family.

Over a fifty year time frame, the old house has survived the gradual disintegration of Detroit’s east side, the wear and tear of all the people who call it home, and a ghost (haint). But, as the story opens, Viola, the widowed matriarch, is losing both her physical strength and her ability to live independently, the children have their own families and homes in other neighborhoods, and the old Turner dwelling is worth only a fraction of its mortgage. The adult children, spouses, and significant others have begun to gather in different combinations to try to decide the fate of the house.

The Turner House offers a tip of the hat to both the strength of African-American family bonds over the generations and to the power of a shared history. Much has been written about the parent/child bond, not so much about the lifelong connections between siblings so I really enjoyed getting to know the thirteen children through their interactions with each other. Their resilience and ingenuity, as well as a genuine love for each other, will stay with you long after you close the last page. This is the author’s first book and I’m already looking forward to the next one!

And-just for the sheer summer psychedelic fun of it!

Sixties People by Jane and Michael Stern

As I passed this book on the library shelf, I found myself wondering exactly what being a Sixties person involved. Born in 1962 myself, I didn’t think I qualified but I decided to check it out anyway. Much to my surprise, the quirky and laugh-out-loud book highlights, not just hippies and protesters, but numerous other groups that defined this constantly seeking era, including groups whose culture I had apparently absorbed as a young child without even being aware of it. Reading this book unleashed recollections from my youth that had apparently been buried years ago and were sitting dormant in my psyche, just waiting to be excavated.

What do I mean by this? Take the Perky Girls, Marlo Thomas, Goldie Hawn, and Gidget. What young girl didn’t want to be like them? They were just so exuberant! Always on the go, always smiling, always finding the frisky, fun fashions and hairdos, exciting new adventures, and cute boys to have them with. Or the Playboys, who were defined by what they wore, ate, drank, smelled like and the daring bachelor pads they called home. I distinctly remember my father (who perhaps envisioned himself as one) drinking only gin and being drenched in aromatic aftershave and my mother being obsessed with flambéing anything in sight during my early childhood. Or the surfers, with their golden tans and bleached blonde hair and amazing ability to ride the waves. Don’t forget the “folkniks”, like Joan Baez, the Madonna on the half shell, who were positive that the songs they sang would eradicate social ills like commercialism, inequality, and hypocrisy.

The very tongue-in-cheek Sterns also deal adeptly with Party Animals, the English, Rebels, Mr. and Mrs. Average, and, last but not least, the Hippies. Not only do they observe society with a keen eye, but the descriptive adjectives they use are a riot. If you ever wanted to get a comprehensive view of the people and social groups that made up the constellations of cultures that were part of the historic decade, this book is for you!

Adult Coloring Channels Creativity at the Canal

August 5, 2015

This spring my friend Deb and I suffered a tremendous loss when her husband, and my good friend, passed away after a heroic battle with cancer. None of my usual coping mechanisms (like journaling) seemed to be working and I felt like I was floundering when suddenly I remembered a blog post by Ajoobacats (http://ajoobacatsblog.com/2015/06/05/a-different-type-of-book-review-millie-marottas-animal-kingdom-a-colouring-book-adventure/) about adult coloring books that had intrigued me. Though I’ve never been artistically inclined, the thought of having something positive to do, rather than just sitting there day after day thinking or trying to write, was appealing. With a coloring book Deb and I wouldn’t have to generate drawings, just color them in. How hard could that be? But before I purchased one, still somewhat skeptical, I consulted my friend Carla Schorr Rose, a Creative Arts Therapist at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, to see if she thought the books actually worked.

Carla told me that she uses them in her work, where she deals daily with loss and illness, and finds them very beneficial for her patients and their families.Here’s why she says adult coloring books have a therapeutic value:

“When you give your mind a task to do that requires focus and concentration, the usual chatter of the ‘monkey mind’ moves to the background, allowing your conscious thoughts to settle. Coloring difficult patterns does this automatically and effortlessly, causing a calming state of mind.”

This sounded exactly like what Deb and I were looking for at the moment; a way to contain racing and repetitive thoughts and bring some order to our worlds. She loved coloring as a child and was enthusiastic. I was less so, having had a traumatic experience with an elementary school art teacher. However, willing to try anything, I went to the local bookstore and purchased an adult coloring book with quotes and intricate drawings (somehow having words accompanying the art made it less scary for me!) and two boxes of colored pencils. We met in Pittsford, NY and set up our small creative station at a picnic table along the Erie Canal. It was a beautiful day and, despite myself, I felt a rush of excitement as I gazed at my pristine Crayola Twistable Colored Pencils. Though I had remembered how much I disliked drawing, I had forgotten the thrill I always got when I realized that I had a plethora of colors to choose from and to put wherever I wanted. Finally I would be in control of what was happening!

ADULT COLORING

Deb and I colored by the canal for almost three hours. In that time we only finished one picture each but the longer we colored the better we felt. What Carla said was absolutely true, as you color, you find yourself beginning to think in the present tense and your various thoughts and worries gradually begin to sort themselves out. Whether you talk intermittently or color in silence, you’re left feeling calm and deeply relaxed, similar to what you’d achieve with other meditative techniques. We felt so good by the end of our artistic experiment that we celebrated with some Chenin Blanc and Herkimer Chocolate Cheese Fudge at a nearby wine bar!

I guess the moral of this story is that sometimes, especially in times of trouble, words will fail even those of us who write for a living. When this happens, don’t despair. Instead, try another artistic medium and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised!

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Mockingbird or Watchman? Why Not Both?

July 30, 2015

July 2015 is rapidly drawing to a close. By now, I’ve had enough time to process some of the ongoing controversy and discussion surrounding the release of Harper Lee’s new-to-us novel, Go Set a Watchman. I have been truly amazed by the variety of reactions voiced or written about this book. They run the gamut from a staunch refusal to even consider reading it to wanting to be the first amongst your family, friends, or book group to dive enthusiastically into it. One comment that made my eyebrows fly towards the heavens was the man who wrote in the Boston Globe’s “Letters to the Editor” section “Harper Lee has drawn a mustache on the Mona Lisa”. Methinks he may have preferred To Kill a Mockingbird! Then, there are the academic and writerly types who focus on the differences in style, characterization, and plot between the two books. And let’s not forget those (particularly in the media) who proclaim triumphantly “See, Atticus Finch wasn’t a real hero. He was as racist as anyone else.”

To me, these assorted reactions bear an uncanny resemblance to how Americans treat the subject of racism in our country. Some people choose to see discrimination only in black and white terms, with no shades of gray. Others frame prejudices in abstract language and concepts, intellectualizing any biases they might have. And there is yet another group, made up of people who continue to believe that America can, and needs to, do better in terms of equal rights and respect for all of our citizens, not just a select few.

Just for the record, I liked both books, for different reasons. As a child and young adult, I was greatly influenced by all the Finch family members’ courage, honesty, and willingness to do what they felt needed to be done, instead of  only what Southern society preferred that they do. Truth be told, I wished I had a father like Atticus who talked to his children like they were intelligent adults, who made them read to the old lady trying to kick her drug habit, who shot the rabid dog before it could harm anyone, and who, not only defended Tom Robinson against the repugnant Bob Ewell, but guarded the Negro man’s jail cell against the local white posse.

As a young person, many of our lifelong heroes come from books. It’s difficult for mere mortals to live up to our lofty standards and expectations. When I was younger I didn’t really have a grasp on many of the intricacies of racism, specifically how the North and South addressed the various aspects of it. Mockingbird introduced the topic of intolerance in a way that was easy for children, and most adults, to understand. It opened a door to conversations that Watchman, which I found much more direct, emotional, and gritty in its presentation of the political, social, and racial turmoil that was sweeping the nation, would not have. In fact, I believe that Lee’s first novel would have probably slammed more doors than it opened, given the time period it was initially published in.

For some readers it will be easy to dismiss Go Set a Watchman as Lee’s amateurish first effort, a place where she vented about injustice and the sense of betrayal she felt upon discovering that both her love interest and her beloved father were members of a local Citizen’s Council and that her small town, and the people who inhabited it, were quite different from the people she’d thought she knew and had become accustomed to up North. However, I believe that it’s more difficult not to acknowledge that certain scenes ring true and add a highly believable dimension to some of the characters.

I hope to talk more about this in future posts and I welcome your comments in the meantime!

Expanding your Horizons in the Longer Summer Days

July 15, 2015

Writers need to have fun in the summer too! Something I’ve discovered over the years is that you don’t have to shut yourself in your office with the blinds drawn every day to get things accomplished in June, July, and August. With a little creativity and a lot of flexibility, it’s possible to enjoy the outdoors, try new things with friends and relatives, and work on your tan, while simultaneously exploring the latest topics and generating new articles for the upcoming year. Let me share my latest adventure with you.

For three years now, I’ve wanted to ride the U.S, Mailboat when it delivers mail to the summer cottages on Skaneateles Lake. Last week I finally got it together, made my reservation for three, and hit the road. I chose my traveling companions carefully, asking my son Cal, a fellow writer and college junior, and my good friend Julie who has worked for the Postal Service for years, to come along for the ride. Both of them like to do unusual things and neither gets seasick so I figured they were a winning combination!

Mailboat friendsMailboat

Dressing in layers, I packed my usual writers kit of a notebook and a few pens, my camera, my cell phone, and a few snacks and drinks. The boat was smaller than we’d expected, but quite comfortable, with indoor and outdoor seating. One of the reasons that I’d wanted to take this trip so badly was that I always remember how exciting it was to get mail at our summer cottage on Keuka Lake. That was back in the day when there were no computers or cell phones, in fact we didn’t even have a regular phone or television at our place. The USPS was our only connection to civilization, the lone link that kept us informed about what drama was unfolding back in Rochester. I was curious to see what type of people rode the Mailboat, who worked on it, and how the recipients felt about the aquatic delivery system. Our fellow passengers ranged in age from 8-80. Among them were two older ladies who celebrate their birthdays with an annual Mailboat cruise, a young man with an international friend visiting the area for the first time, and a family with kids. The boat’s captain had grown up on Skaneateles Lake and was full of interesting facts and impressions that he shared freely with us. It turns out that mail has been delivered by boat to the more remote parts of the lake since the early 1900’s so it’s a real piece of history to be part of the experience in the 21st century!

The mood on board was casual and friendly and all of us enjoyed sharing stories about our past and present experiences in the Finger Lakes. An RIT college student completed the crew and was charged with climbing up in the hull and handing off the mail at the various stops, along wMailboat crewith biscuits for the dogs and Tootsie Rolls for the kids who were waiting patiently for the mailboat’s cheerful toot.

It’s a “three hour tour” (no Gilligan’s Island jokes please!) which was the perfect amount of time to really get a feel for the personality of the lake and the people who call it home. The three of us had been to the Village of Skaneateles several times but had never been to the other end of the lake, where many cottages are still primitive and some are only accessible by boat. At the other end of the spectrum are the mansions on the west side of the lake some of which almost caused our eyes to pop out of our heads! And we discovered that it’s true, seeing things from the water as opposed to the land offers a whole new perspective.

 

Waiting for the daily mail

Riding the Mailboat was inspiring to me on a number of levels. Sometimes we writers forget what’s in our own backyards and sometimes we isolate ourselves for days when we’re writing. Other days we get so caught up in our own thoughts or in our characters’ lives that it’s hard to remember that there’s a real world out there. This summer, make an effort to branch out onto some different paths and see what new directions they take you in.

Any other ideas for other fun Finger Lakes experiences? Let me know!

Thirty Years of Writing Well-Check Out Zinsser

July 2, 2015

I’d like to share my latest discovery, William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, with you. I found his tips on how to improve your basic skills as a writer both practical and helpful, along with his assertion that there’s no excuse for sloppy writing or for failing to master the simple tools that will make your writing easier for your audience to read and understand. Here I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that my long and rambling sentence is one Zinsser would dislike on sight. I imagine he would tell me to stop making it do so much work and to break it into two or three shorter sentences.

Zinsser also dislikes qualifiers like “sort of, quite, and very”. His example of how they dilute the strength of your writing, “Don’t be”kind of” bold; be bold!” made me laugh out loud.

It turns out that starting a sentence with the word “But” is no longer verboten, especially when you’re shifting direction. According to Zinsser, there’s no stronger word to choose when you’re indicating a mood change or contrast. Forget your old middle school English classes and flatly refuse to start sentences with “however”. Instead, embrace the words “but, yet, and (one of my old favorites) nevertheless”.

Keep your paragraphs short. Zinsser explains that writing is visual, catching the eye before it reaches the brain. Given this, he feels the best writers think in paragraph units, rather than in sentence units.

Stay small so you can cover your subject thoroughly. The example he uses is Moby Dick. Melville didn’t write about whaling and seafaring men, Zinsser says. Instead, he chose to focus on one man and one whale.

This is just a taste of what you can expect from On Writing Well. The book is broken into four sections, Principles, Methods, Forms, and Attitudes. Chapters that I particularly enjoyed were those dealing with humor, travel, and memoir writing and the concluding one, “Write as Well as You Can” (ending with a fantastic quote from Joe DiMaggio). It turns out that this book has been around for thirty years and, after devouring it, I can understand why!

Words of Wisdom in the Most Unlikely Places

June 25, 2015

Graffiti is visual pollution, right? Not always. The other day, I was walking along the Erie Canal when I spotted the white-painted words on the underside of a bridge spanning the water that read, “They Say It’s Lonely at the Top”. My first thought was “I’d like the chance to find that out for myself!” But, as I considered it further I realized that, with my seven-year career as a freelance writer, being on top isn’t really an issue for me anymore. Yes, there are times where I mutter and sputter to myself that I will never be a “real” writer, at least not until I publish a book. This most often occurs after a party in which countless people approach me and ask me if I’m “still writing”. The next question is always “What are you writing?” or “Who are you writing for?” and their faces inevitably fall when I name my local newspaper or the regional magazines my articles frequently appear in. It almost seems like if you aren’t writing for Time or Newsweek or on the New York Times Best Seller list, you don’t count as a writer.

In my heart I know that this simply isn’t true. The pieces I write are about people, places, and events that I’m interested in and each one receives the same attention to detail and accuracy and the careful editing as those of the writers who are considered by others to be at the pinnacle of success. The reality is, when all is said and done, would I rather have written hundreds of well-researched, passionate, and thought-provoking pieces for smaller magazines with large readerships or one mediocre novel that barely sells? Where else but in smaller publications with open-minded editors could I immerse myself in topics as diverse as Mormons, a Dairy Cow Birthing Center, local politics, spiedies, or glamping, all in one year?

This isn’t to say that I won’t ever write a book. My point is that it’s important to keep in mind that the writing life is all about the process; the detective-like research, the in-depth interviews, and the endless polishing until you have a piece of writing you can be truly proud of. Why be lonely at the top when you can enjoy humanity in general, and your work in particular, right there in the middle? I don’t know about you but that works just fine for me!

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Different Voices for the Same Change

June 17, 2015

I just returned from a trip to Boston where I had the opportunity to learn more about two influential men, similar in some ways, dissimilar in others. My first stop was the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. I think we all enter places like this with certain preconceptions and expectations. The three things that stood out most in my mind about JFK were “The Camelot Era”, his oft-repeated quote, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country”, and his unexpected and shocking murder in Dallas. The range of exhibits gave my son and me a much broader picture of Kennedy, as a man and a president. What I came away with was that he was also a relentless campaigner and ruthless political adversary, an author and war hero, and a consummate Kennedy family member, with all the required wealth, education, and good looks. He was also wary of civil rights protests and often avoided making public statements that could be perceived as too bold or divisive, expertly deflecting reporters with humor, his endless charm, and pithy rejoinders.

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My next stop was the Museum of African American History, Boston & Nantucket on Joy Street to hear Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, speak at the African Meeting House. Titled, “Growing Up X: Readings and Reflections with the Daughter of Malcolm X.” Shabazz described her father as one of America’s most influential figures, a natural-born leader. Reading from the children’s book she’s written about her father, she explained that Malcolm Little was raised in a household by parents who were socially and politically active in their community which led to them being plagued by intolerance and a series of tragedies. Malcolm had to learn, at a young age, how to be strong and self-reliant. Eventually, as a young man, he joined with the religious leader Elijah Muhammad to become one of the most powerful and charismatic spokespersons for black self-determination during the 1960s. He ultimately became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and made a pilgrimage to Mecca where he came to believe that America’s racist society as a whole was what needed to be addressed, rather than the actions of particular whites. Though his voice was silenced much too soon, his daughter is carrying on his legacy through her various writings.

MAAH

 

 

To some JFK may seem like an expensive, polished gemstone to Malcolm X’s diamond-in-the-rough. However, the unexpected juxtaposition of these two men in my mind that Thursday afternoon caused me to realize that, though the words they chose to use and the way they delivered their ideas to the public may have been different, their ideologies and life trajectories were not dissimilar. Both were articulate, thoughtful, and well-read. Both were strong and inspirational role models for young people. Both believed that Americans need to take charge of their own destinies and work towards the greater good of society, rather than simply for their own individual gains. And, both were ultimately assassinated for daring to speak out and trying to change the status quo. Their means of addressing inequality may have been different but the outcomes were the same.

JFK Museum

Cutting a Few Corners in Pursuit of Good Writing

June 4, 2015

I began my writing career late in life. I’m over fifty and I don’t have an undergraduate degree in English or Creative Writing or an MFA. Maybe that should deter me. Perhaps I should be more sensible and practical and get a job with a regular paycheck and benefits. But that doesn’t really interest me. Instead, I try to find ways to get around my lack of formal education. After all don’t Americans love the idea of self-taught success stories? The underdog rising up?

I’ve already shared my love for library book sales and the hidden treasures they offer up for mere pennies. And, I’ve told you about my trips onto college campuses to attend any and all free writers’ talks. This summer I found yet another way to learn more about the craft of writing from the “experts”. My youngest son just happens to be a Creative Writing major. Instead of moaning and groaning at the two huge boxes of books he insisted on bringing home from college, I gamely stuffed them into our Cruz. When we got home, I dragged them into the living room and what to my wondering eyes did appear but a plethora of books that today’s college professors are assigning their students! Talk about an opportunity to “double dip”!

I’m almost done with my first book, Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern. I wasn’t enthralled with the title of the book or its first section, which often felt contrived to me, with sub-chapter titles bordering on “cutesy”. The second part got better, especially the portion titled, “Don’t Do This: A Short Guide to What Not to Do” which discussed common errors authors can make. The ones that resonated most with me were:

  • Trying to tell too many stories in one novel. Here, Stern wisely notes that complication isn’t necessarily the same as complexity.
  • Becoming moralistic and preachy, rather than allowing readers to draw their own conclusions from how your characters act and feel
  • Thinking “This is fiction so I don’t have to fact-check or do much research”

However, it’s the last chapter, where Stern finally seems to hit his stride, that’s making the book a worthwhile read. “From Accuracy to Zigzag: An Alphabet for Writers of Fiction” offers definitions for common writing terms as well as insightful tips and excellent suggestions. A sampling of concepts you’ll find there includes:

  • Allusion
  • Names of characters and settings
  • Profanity
  • Psychic Distance
  • Resolution

If you want to learn about these and more, you’ll have to read the book yourself! I realize that not everyone has a Creative Writing student or MFA scholar in their family to utilize. But don’t let that stop you. Figure out a way to get ahold of a college writing class syllabus and start working your way through it. This is guaranteed to save you time and energy. Rather than standing in a large, overwhelming bookstore or library wondering where to start, you can confidently stroll to the Reference section and begin to read or make your purchase. You can also keep checking my blog for regular reviews of my summer reading!

Got a favorite writing book? I’d love to hear about it!


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