Month: November 2014

Wednesday Writer's Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AI have a pen pal in Europe, a country where it seems the average job pays higher and offers better vacation days than America. Every letter from her speaks of grand vacations in which she takes in the opera in France, visits the coast in Germany, and shops for her clothes in Sweden. After reading each letter, I pour myself a glass of port and remind myself of my own, less than internationally adventurous, but valuable life. What saddens me most is that her letters lack something the writer in me craves.


I love to hear the stories people tell from their world travels, and I am often let down when what I receive compares to a shopping list.

“Do let me tell you about our most splendid vacation! We traveled to Italy, spent a day in Rome, lunched in Venice, took in the theater in Florence… Blah, blah, blah…”

How am I’m supposed to listen with anything but pretend enthusiasm? What I feel like saying is this…

Stay home! Send me on your vacation. I’ll keep a journal, take pictures, talk to the locals, and enjoy their cuisine. And when I return, I’ll have stories to tell that will captivate, mesmerize, and entertain you. Sadly, roaming the imported food aisle of the grocery store is as close as I come to sampling cuisine from around the world.

When my Dad was alive, we used to talk on the phone every night for an hour or so. He’d share his day, I’d share mine, and often we would laugh at old jokes. Friends would wonder what my Dad and I found to talk about every single day. They’d wonder what sort of amazing life we lived to have so much to share. In return, I wondered in reverse about their daily lives. Frankly, unless one stays in bed all day, staring at the ceiling, I can’t account for a lack of something to say. I think even if I stared at the ceiling all day, I could share the umpteen thoughts I knocked about.

The often ordinary life we live each day is, if we tune in to our five senses, remarkable in its details.

For this Wednesday writer’s prompts and inspirations, I would like you to record in a pocket notebook the details of the typical moments in your day. These are the details, after all, that find their way into our writing.

Suggestions for things to include:

Your thoughts when the phone rings, your thoughts when you see who the caller is on caller ID, your reaction to a conversation you overhear in the post office or at your job, your thoughts about the way someone is dressed, your reaction to the sweet smell in the bakery, describe the texture of something you eat with your hands, describe the flavor of that food, the familiar scent of a perfume you smell as you pass through a crowd of people, an incident that brings back a long forgotten memory, a sudden weather change, the way the weather alters your day, a package you weren’t expecting at your door, etc…

I would love if you shared some of your discoveries.

Writer's Spaces – Creative Places

Last Wednesday for my Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations, I asked you to imagine a secret room you discover in a house you just moved into. The prompt came from one of my most cherished, repeating dreams. Naturally, I put some thought into my own prompt and inspiration. After a brief moment, and I mean brief, I knew exactly what I’d like to find behind the secret, sliding door of my closet.

Wait for it…

Yup, my own writer’s retreat. (which I’ll describe shortly.)

But first, an appropriate movie break…

One of my favorite movies is How To Steal A Million by William Wyler, starring Audry Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. In this 1966 classic, based on George Bradshaw’s short story, Venus Rising, a master painter, Charles Bonnet, played by Hugh Griffith, enjoys the extreme, good life by forging and selling masterpieces of the greatest artists. And where does he accomplish this?

You guessed it.

Behind the secret, movable, back wall of a large wardrobe in his bedroom. Bonnet opens the door, steps inside the wardrobe, opens the secret back wall, closes the front door of the cabinet, and, via a spiral staircase, enters his secret, painting studio. Now that is truly marvelous!

I have longed for such a wardrobe. I often imagine stepping inside my own imaginary wardrobe, closing the doors behind me, and entering my peaceful, phone-free, writer studio equipped with the most comfortable furniture, a thinking sofa good for rejuvenating naps, a roomy table for my computer, a suitable chair with a back-supporting cushion, tea-pot and mini stove, large cork boards, mini fridge, lots of filled bookshelves, another desk…a vintage, roll top filled with stacks of paper and jars, brimming with favorite pens near a window with an inspiring view. Sigh…

Ahhh, but I can’t complain. I write in my comfortable dining room–a room I associate with good meals shared with my family as well as festive, holiday celebrations. I can’t work in my office. I pay bills in the office, and paying bills makes me think of having less money, less money is depressing…see where I’m going with this? Our dining room is the warmest room in our home, which is perfect now that colder days are afoot. Inspiring novels and books on the art of writing fill the bookshelf beside me. If I crave a steamy cup of minty tea with honey, the kitchen is seven feet away. In lieu of a back cushion on my chair, my dog curls behind me, offering warmth and companionship. Here is my writing buddy. His name is Max.Max

Where do you write best?

 A favorite room in your home?

Your neighborhood coffee shop?

Anywhere you can sit with your laptop?

I’d love to hear from you.


It's Wednesday! Writer's Prompts & Inspiration Day.


Before I jump into the Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations, I’d like to share a little background story first.

My mother, prior to married life, studied in Germany as a scientific illustrator. Her talent brought her to America where she worked at the Field Museum in Chicago. Her appreciation and love of scientific/realistic illustration extended to artwork created with a loving hand, such as the highly detailed artwork illustrating certain picture books. Among the many books in her cherished collection, one caught my eye. I lived in the fantasy world of this book, often imagining myself wandering through the intricately illustrated pages, exploring with the characters, and rejoicing with them, too. The children’s book I’m referring to is The Secret Staircase, written and illustrated by Jill Barklem.

Two mice, Primrose and Wilfred, look in the attic of Primrose’s home, (a lovely mansion within the trunk of a large tree) hoping to find costumes to wear to the Midwinter Festival. What they first find is a key. Then they find a door hidden behind heavy drapes. Through the keyhole they see a long stairwell leading…? The key fits, and the two mice discover a world of grandeur far more splendid than their imaginations could conjure.

This leads me to my own life. Okay, my unconscious, dreaming life… Since reading this book thirty years ago, I have had numerous dreams of purchasing a home in which, after I move in with my family, I discover a door I hadn’t noticed before. When I open the door, another world appears. No, not like in the book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis where Lucy backs through the fur coats in the wardrobe and out into the snowy world of Narnia. In my dream, another house awaits me, fully furnished, closets brimming with clothing in my size and style, festive dishes line the cupboards, and windows overlook spectacular views.

So, here is the Wednesday Prompt and Inspiration you’ve been waiting for…

You have purchased and moved into your new home. While in the process of stacking sweaters in your enormous walk-in closet, you discover a latch under one of the shelves. You click the latch, and slowly the back wall of the closet slides to one side.

Keep an open mind for this exercise. Creative, out-of-the-box thinking is what will separate your piece of writing from others. Since this location could find its way into your future writing projects, paint it (write it) rich with details.

1. Could the place behind the closet lead to a dungeon, another dimension, the backstage of a comedy club?

2. What feeling comes over you when the wall moves?

3. Which of your senses are heightened when you get your first look?

4. What is the first thing you notice behind the secret wall?

5. What can you smell in this place?

6. What sounds surround you?

7. Are you comfortable exploring alone?

8. Do you first pack a small bag with a camera, a notepad, a pencil, a snack, a sweater?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations.

The Destructive Power Of A Harsh Critique

But first, the story that leads to the critique…

Since my daughter was a baby, I either read a picture book to her at bedtime or told her a story from my childhood. (These days, she prefers to do the reading herself.) Back when she was four, she asked for an animal story. I recalled a mouse our cat had cornered by the front door when I was ten.

Here is the extremely condensed version. (Please read the opening dramatically.)

Inches from pouncing on a helpless, half-frozen mouse, the wind howled, and the bell, dangling from our cat’s leather collar, rang. Inside our house, my mother heard the faint jingle and opened the front door. With agile speed, she snatched the quivering mouse from our cat, trapping it in her cupped hands. Then, my mother brought in a terrarium from the garage, (Doesn’t everyone keep a glass terrarium in their garage for those “just-in-case” moments?)fashioned a suitable home, and placed the terrarium in the kitchen. A minute later, the cat went bonkers, and my Mom released the mouse to the great outdoors. The End.

“What happened next?” my daughter asked.

I shrugged. “Who knows? My mother opened the door, and the little fellow dashed under a bush. We never saw him again.”

I turned off the light and wished her a good night’s sleep. I wasn’t three feet down the hall when she let out the boom…the question that kept me glued to my computer for the next few years.

“You’re a writer. MAKE SOMETHING UP!”

She can be very persuasive.

As the outline for the story grew to sizable proportions, I decided to enroll in a middle grade writing course (Up to this point, picture books had been my main focus.)

My instructor passed a piece of “writerly” wisdom to me. “It’s obvious how much you care for your main character. Now get back to your computer and let life happen to him. Chase him to the edge of a cliff, throw rocks, give him bad food…just don’t kill him.”

“The writer is both a sadist and a masochist.

We create people we love,

and then we torture them.”

Janet Fitch

My daughter came up to me as I reworked a scene. “WHY are you crying?” She looked at me stunned.

“Mommy is crying because she is challenging the existence of her beloved main character,” I choked out.

“What?” she rightfully questioned for a child of her age.

“You see, sweetheart, Mommy found a way to reach her main character’s heart and hurt him where it really matters.”

“Stop it! she pleaded. “You LOVE him!”

“I’m doing it to improve the story and make it publishable,” I said.

“The don’t do it. Pleeeeeeeeease. Keep the story as it is just for me.”

Well, I kept hurling those rocks, and when I finished the novel, I realized the distance I had grown as a writer.

By the time the course ended, my instructor wrote she was captivated by the tale as well as the development of my characters and encouraged me to get it published. Wanting a second opinion, I researched various copy editors to find a good match to critique my manuscript. Her price seemed high, but I deemed it a good investment.

A month later, I received my manuscript along with the promised forty page critique. The first pages rang of high praise and the rest…. My spirits were crushed, dashed, destroyed, annihilated, terminated, and obliterated. Should I go on, or are you grounded in the picture? (This experience, I am certain, seats me in the same boat with countless other writers.)

I turned my back on my story. (Shame on me.)Today, two years of dust blanket the returned manuscript pages and critique.

Yesterday, while out running errands, my daughter asked me to remind her about the novel.

During the retelling of the adventure, I found myself missing the whole crew of characters I had so carefully created. I missed the swashbuckling adventures and the mishaps. I choked on tears as I told of the near-death moments, and the triumph of survival. It was there, in the car, that I realized the critique I received was one person’s opinion. So, for the first time in two years, I’m going to blow the dust off my story, literally, read it with (extremely) fresh eyes, change what needs changing, and prepare to send my manuscript out into the world.

As I prepare to submerge myself back into my most cherished story, I wish you all happy writing.

Feel like sharing a critique memory of your own? I’d love to hear it. Scroll to the top of this post and click Comment.

A Present For Computer Users (everyone…)

This isn’t my typical sort of blog post, but yesterday as I was stretching, rubbing my neck, and shifting positions while reaching my 1000 word goal, I came across this video by Stephen Watkins which cleverly illustrates simple techniques to lessen body aches while working at a computer.

Some things are so good you have to share them with others.

Here is my gift to you.


The Wednesday Writer's Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AMy subject today is one you’ve seen in countless blog posts. But because it’s such a good one, (oldie but goodie) it will be the inspiration for my Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations.

Drum roll, please….

Show don’t Tell  (With a twist)

I’m going to introduce this topic via the television.

When we’re watching a movie, clues are given to let us know what sort of scene we’re entering into. One of these clues is the music. (Wouldn’t it be great if our novels could come with a built-in sound track?) No dramatic scene was ever accompanied by a soothing, dreamy melody. The music swells as the pounding beat mimics approaching, heavy footsteps. An ominous sensation falls around us. Our pulse quickens as we try to prepare ourselves for a sudden scare.

The way a scene is lit also adds to the feeling being established. (Another movie technique we have limited access to in our writing.) Harsh, contrasty lighting adds drama, while soft, diffused lighting is perceived as feminine and romantic.

But here is something we, as writers, have complete access to…  Grab your remote control and turn off the volume on your imaginary television set–completely.

Dead silence.

Let’s watch the characters interact as we study their facial expressions and analyze their body language to discern which emotions are portrayed.

We watch a man and a woman discuss something. Their faces appear calm. The woman holds a bouquet of roses. She gazes at the red blooms and offers a gentle, thankful smile. Then the man shoves his hands deep in his coat pockets and shifts his feet. While he speaks, his eyes dart everywhere except to the woman he just gave the bouquet to. The woman listens as she studies the man’s face. Her joyous expression is traded for one of contempt. Her eyes narrow, her fingers tighten on the bouquet, and BAM! She strikes the man’s chest with the flowers not once, but twice. A flurry of rose petals shower the air, her tears stream, she drops the flowers, turns, and runs.

And not once did I say she was angry,  nor did I say the man was nervous.

Stepping away from the television, let us suppose we are putting on a play, and the director tells us to be angry when the curtain goes up.

Each and every one of us will bring something unique to that scene. I might stomp my feet and scowl. Someone else might hurl a vase of flowers against the cardboard backdrop, a child might kick and scream. In order for every reader to see the scene the way we envision it, we must show them what we want them to see.

For today’s Prompt’s and Inspiration, watch your favorite DVD with the volume turned off.

Write out a scene without using the words: happy, sad, exhausted, curious, angry, elated, etc…

And, if you feel like “showing” part of what you wrote, scroll to the top of this post and click ‘comment’ to share.


It's Wednesday! Writer's Prompts and Inspirations Day.

chalkboard-3-AMaking friends is the theme of today’s Prompts and Inspirations.

People have craved friendships since the beginning of civilization. For some, the process of making a friend is easy, while for others…it’s a mystery. Children, I have noticed, need only be close in height to start a conversation with another child. Women…. Well, although I am a woman, I am also a writer, which in my case means that my best friends are the characters I create. Men? I’ve never been one, so this is unfamiliar ground. You men out there should feel free to click on Comment under this post’s title and share how you make friends. Frankly, I’d love if everyone reading this post would share their most tried and true methods of making friends.

Here are a handful of ways available to us to start a friendship:

1. Greet and start a conversation with your neighbors. (“Good Morning, Mr. Brown. How many times does this make it that the snow plow has taken out our mailboxes?”)

2. Working on homework with someone from school. (“Didn’t we just have a test last semester?”)

3. Chat with the person in front or behind you while waiting in line at a store. (“Oh, I see you like Hummus, too. Don’t you think it tastes better than it smells?”)

5. Someone next to you on an airplane. (“Are we there yet?”)

6. A misaddressed letter. (This actually happened when I was a child. A letter with the right P.O. Box, the right town, but the wrong state arrived in our mailbox. My mother mailed the letter back with a clever poem, telling of the adventure the letter had. A phone call followed by the family in Vermont. After a couple of hours on the phone, my parents discovered they had scads in common with this lovely couple, so much that we took a vacation to meet them.)

7. Need I mention the internet? (Where do I begin?)

I saw a movie in which a friendship developed when a balloon, with a message tied to the string, drifted into someone’s backyard.

Here is this Wednesday’s prompt and inspiration.

Let’s pretend that tying a message to the string of a balloon is the only way to start a friendship. What message would you write? What do you want the stranger who receives your message to know about you? Will you write a quick sentence, merely asking for friendship? Will you write pages, telling of your likes, loves, dislikes, hardships, wants, needs, colorful past, and dreams for your future? Will you send a list of your hobbies and interests, hoping the one who receives your balloon likes knitting, classic black and white movies, and writing, too?


Suppose a balloon with a message drifted into your window. What message might you respond to? We receive countless e-mails throughout the years. Some e-mails are advertisements, some are Facebook notifications, and updates from friends and family. What causes you to respond to an e-mail? What would the anonymous stranger need to write to get you to write back? Would having a hobby in common be enough? Would simply needing a friend be enough?

As always, I’d love to hear from you! Just under the blog post title you’ll see the word Comment. Please click and share.

Can I Quote Me?

Blog post after blog post, writers (myself included) love to quote the profound musings, thoughts, and philosophies of great writers and other famous individuals.


Because we read those brilliant phrases and think to ourselves, gosh, I can’t believe how much Hemingway and I have in common. Imagine both of us feeling the same way about the writing process…. Sigh.

Don’t we all, in our various professions, (writers included) have thoughts worth sharing? Aren’t we all brimming with quotable feelings on the subjects closest to our hearts–thoughts so profound they deserve to go viral? Okay, I’ll back off a tad…. How about, quotable feelings so profound they deserve to get tweeted a few times?

Today, I have decided to quote someone who isn’t famous. She is a writer like so many other writers in the world. She sits at her computer daily, pouring out her inner most feelings, eats low-prep meals, drinks coffee in excess, dresses frumpy, celebrates the hole in her sweater, labeling it Wabi Sabi (see earlier post) for its natural, imperfect beauty, snarls at the ringing phone for snapping her from her stream of thought, ignores the precarious pile of crusty dishes in the sink, and sprays scented room freshener on the heap of smelly laundry. (Actually, it isn’t quite that bad…)

You’ve waited long enough. Drum roll, please…quote-me

To leave a comment, scroll to the top of this post and click Comment under the title.