Open My Heart

Well, I never imagined I’d be the kind of blogger who posts twice a week (or even twice a month), but as my French maman would say, “Il n’faut pas exagérer quand même!” Translation: “Even so, one mustn’t exaggerate!” When I was 17, I spent a year as an A.F.S. student in France. My French mother was marvelous and forceful. I still hear her voice in my head and see her finger lifted to scold.

It has been two years since I last posted.

Oops. Sorry.

Oops. Sorry.

To be honest, I’ve forgotten how to do it. You’d think I’d give it up entirely, but I find I still have things to say. Not all of them are about writing, at least not directly. But since life choices influence writing choices, then sure–this is about writing also. If nothing else, it’s about ME. 🙂

A couple posts ago I started telling you about the word I focus on each year. I’d like to go back and share that my word for 2014 was


I’ve mentioned briefly that the Bellingham Threshold Singers takes up a large part of my life. In a way I’m in a love affair with them. They are my solace, my addiction, my church of choice. By that I simply mean the choir answers my spiritual needs.

I’ve been singing with them since 2008. BTS is one of many Threshold Choirs spread over the world. Though each chapter is independent and different in many ways, many like ours are a group of volunteer women dedicated to bringing soothing voices to people who are dying or in pain or anxious or in grief—people on some sort of threshold in their lives. Sitting on the stools we bring along, three or four of us join to sing to individuals around a bedside. But we also sing to the family and friends in the room. It’s not a long connection—maybe 10 or 20 minutes.

We mostly sing songs written for us, and the lyrics tend to be simple and repetitive. One of our songs is “Open My Heart.” That’s all it is: “Open my heart, open my heart, open my heart.”

Open My Heart

That’s the essence of the practice. I get to open my heart up at the bedside to witness love and grief, confusion, and sweet surrender. Pain and loss. Loneliness. And some of this hurts. It can be hard. But I also witness enormous generosity and faith and humor and resilience and hope. And that carries so much joy with it. I feel rich.

At rehearsals and trainings and while singing at the bedside, I get to open my heart up to my sisters in song, and to the songs themselves, to their words and the powerful vibration of music. With all this “opening up,” I am learning every single day about the human heart. Being human is an astounding and wondrous thing. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, but the community of our choir helps when I need some heart healing. We are very supportive of each other.

You can probably tell I feel tremendously blessed to have the choir in my life. It helps me feel connected to humanity in a way I can’t begin to express. And being this often this close to death, to its sacred essence, humbles me and makes me appreciate life and nature and the power of deep breath and the energy that connects us all. That’s spiritual.

So now I want to ask you: what do you do to open up to spirit? Please tell me. I want to know. How do you know you’re open? For me it’s that I feel tremendously grounded and at peace.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Open to Success

…and to failure and to mystery and to allure and to…. The point is OPEN.

And behind door number three...


Waffling on the Threshold

Two summers ago I was ready to quit writing entirely. Oh I’d still be a writer (I don’t think you can change a life perspective quite that easily) but I would cease to make it a major part of my life. A focus of dreams. Then–ta-dah!–I won the award from Writer’s Digest (last post) and suddenly I felt that luscious sensation that maybe my writing matters after all. Maybe I’m good enough that someday someone will read my work and it will bring them a gift.


For YOU!


But I got so tired of pursuing this dream on my own. My critique group was wonderful, yet it wasn’t enough to push me off the plateau I’d settled on. I needed a mentor. I needed structure and deadlines and other people’s expectations to kick me off the ledge.

I yearn for people to tell me what to do. Decisions are excruciating for me. Open the door…close the door…go out…come in…. People make jokes about cats, but I’m just as bad. To fight the waffling instinct, I tend to say “yes!” when others offer a solution for me.


Hmmm. I see this thing opens. WHAT'S OUT THERE?

Christine Myers, a writing friend of mine, nagged and nagged about going back to school for an MFA. “This is what you have to do,” she said.

Back to School

So I researched schools and decided to apply to the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (NILA), a low-residency accredited MFA program that is run entirely by writers and not affiliated with any university. It grew out of the Whidbey Island Writers Association and graduated its first candidates in 2007.  Location influenced me enormously (only 90-minutes from my home by car), but I also like that they offer four different genres and encourage cross-training: childrens/young adult, adult fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Even the application taught me a lot. For the first time I had to write down all my publications—every article in print and on line. I impressed myself! I also had to list every workshop, every conference, every class I’d taken on my path as a writer. Wow!  It became clear to me that this writing thing really did hold importance in my life. I wasn’t just kidding myself.  Finally, I had to write an essay explaining why this school was important for me. I ended with this:

Beyond the knowledge, skill base, and relationships Whidbey will bring me, looms the most gut-wrenching draw of attending this MFA program. The tuition and time required for an MFA is a huge investment in my career. By saying “yes” to this opportunity, I am really saying that I believe my writing is worth the sacrifices this will mean to me, my family and the other people I serve.

I hope you will accept my application. I hope I have to face up to this scary and oh-so-alluring challenge of believing in myself and my work.

Well, they accepted me into the program and I’ve been working like crazy since my last post—over a year ago! It’s a wonderfully challenging program. Whenever I find myself pulling out my hair with stress over a deadline, I remind myself that this is EXACTLY what I wanted for myself. What I’m paying the big bucks for, in fact.

All this to explain my word for the year 2013: “OPEN.” It combines my fascination with vulnerability and a need to open myself up to success.

Posted in writing | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

A Salute to Being Vulnerable


A great mentor in my life said, “Run yourself up a flagpole and see who salutes.”

Run her up


That’s energy and power, huh? I need to be who I am and not worry about pleasing others so much. And it works great as long as people do salute. When they mutter and close down and turn away, I want to strip that flag from the pole, stuff it under my shirt, and pretend it never happened.

Being Vulnerable

It’s such a cliche, that nightmare where you’re naked and people you thought were your friends throw rocks at you. But I know that nightmare so well it sits in my gut like one of the rocks, shreds of my skin still clinging to it.


So, I hide away. I wrap myself up in masks and armor — anything so that if people don’t seem to approve, I can think, “It’s not the real me they don’t like. They don’t know the real me.”

I’m not alone. Most people wear masks — symbolic, of course, but powerful nonetheless.

Masks distance us from hurt, but also from closeness.  It is only when we see a person’s vulnerability that we care about them.  “Oh,” we think, “you’re human too!”

To reach people through my writing I need to be vulnerable. I need to open my heart and let people in so they can see how it beats. I cannot afford to protect myself.


Of course I want people to care about me as a person. And as a writer, I want readers to care about my characters. Which means THEY have to be vulnerable.

I’m not saying this right. We’re all vulnerable.  Everything is vulnerable.  The fierce dragon whose scales under the tongue are softer than the others, the building whose ventilation system is big enough to allow a small child to crawl through, the big, tough CEO whose young daughter has just announced she’s going off to live with her mother instead of him.

The issue, then, is not making ourselves vulnerable so much as admitting our vulnerability.  Our characters don’t have to embrace this aspect of themselves. We writers, we creators, must.

How do we embrace vulnerability?

  • We show the underbelly. Maybe it’s yucky. It’s probably darned embarrassing. And the risks are real.

Showing vulnerability is not  the same thing as pointing an arrow at yourself and declaring to the world, “Look at me! I’m such a loser!! Don’t you feel sorry for me?” But it may look like that if we’re not careful.

  • We also have to preen those peacock feathers.

We must share the feelings of success: so proud and touchy, so scared of being scorned, so gloriously happy and embarrassed that maybe no one else thinks this is a big deal.  Hard, hard stuff.

It’s not the same thing as pointing an arrow at yourself and saying, “Aren’t I great? Don’t you wish  you were me?” Pah-lease. But again, it can look like that.

I’m not so good at all this vulnerability stuff. I’m working on it. For such a show-offy kind of gal, you’d think I wouldn’t have so much trouble putting myself out there for the world to see, but I do.


Can you see this? My short story, “Moving On,”  won 7th place in the Children’s/ Young Adult Fiction division for the Writers Digest 80th Short Story Contest last fall. Have I even put this big deal in my life on this blog? NO!  Why not?

Maybe it feels like bragging. Maybe I was afraid of making a bigger deal of it than it deserves. Maybe I just don’t know how to open up and share my total delight that such a thing happened to me. To me! An award! I’ve never won an award before. Is that pathetic?

And really, who cares if it is?

It’s me.

I am my successes and my insecurities.  The ugly belly and the peacock feathers, wild and wonderful.

And so are we all. And so are our characters. Raise ’em up on that flagpole! Salute!! And then maybe we can treat ourselves as proudly as we do our creations.

This is a good space to brag, if not about yourself, then about your characters. How do they make you proud of them?



Posted in Personal, Sharing, writing | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Release into Laughter!

Hello again!  It’s been way too long since I posted here. But I’m going to start anew and release my guilt!

Whoosh — it’s gone.  Now I can celebrate coming back.

Wheeeeeeee! Fireworks! I release them here.

Shabang! For a wild and wonderful 2012


RELEASE is the word I’ve chosen to color my life for the 366 days of 2012.*  I’m excited about it!  It’s a great word for writers. Heck, it’s a great word for anybody. There’s so much we need to let go of: our worries, our guilt, our fears, our inhibitions, our babies (not literally — I mean what we write  or create that needs letting go of to move into the light). There’s a lot to explore and discover in this word.

To begin, I’m tickled to move into the new year exploring this kind of release:


That is so funny! — photo by Zach Carter

Sometimes all I need in life is to LIGHTEN UP — not like shining a light on something (which is also kind of wonderful), but the floaty-uppy kind of light.  Like feathers and balloons and snowflakes that dance around so much they never even touch the ground. Release. Poof.

What’s Funny?

Just hearing laughter can make us laugh!  When I go to a comedy, I always think it’s funnier if others around me are laughing too.  It’s catchy.  If you don’t believe me, check out this youtube video.  I can’t watch it without the chortles coming out of me, too.

Baby Laughing Hysterically at Ripping Paper

Laughter transforms me from a grumpy poop to somebody I want to be around.  I even wrote a story inspired by that idea!


I made this my SELF! I got to dig into a block of linoleum with chisels, carving away what I didn’t want to show. I inked it with a roller and laid the tile upside down on a piece of paper.

When I looked at the result, a picture book manuscript about the power of laughter practically popped onto the computer.  Like an alive kind of surprise present (A good one — not, say, a spider down my back). Maybe the picture will inspire you, too – feel free to use it to make up your own story. (See Using Art to Create Story)

How to Write Funny

Writing about humor is one thing. What about being funny? What makes other people laugh? What makes books like Captain Underpants hysterical to some and agonizingly stupid to others?

Such good questions.  I don’t know.

This blog from (no author listed) describes 12 tips for writing humor. Great advice!

As you research techniques to get funnier, remember that writing is special. Humorists you see or hear perform can throw their arms and bodies around, and make weird faces. They can pause exactly long enough to zing you with the punchline. That funky noise made by blowing a fart sound through your tongue and teeth? How are you supposed to write that?!   The printed word is simply not all that funny to look at.

Throw rocks — from a distance.

You know when a failed joke gets this response: “I guess you had to be there.”  Our job as writers is to make the “there” come alive.  We create the scene. I can’t remember who first said that plot was all about chasing a character up a tree and then throwing rocks at him. The trick is to stand far enough back.

As long as we don’t let the reader get too close to the reality of the misery, wretched life situations can be screamingly funny. For real-life story, the distance usually comes with the passage of time. (The expresssion “you’ll laugh about this later” sounds horribly insensitive at the time of hardship, but it IS those difficult events that give rise to the funniest stories about ourselves.)

With fiction, however, we writers can make terrible, painful, agonizingly embarrassing stuff happen to our characters and it can be funny in the moment. The distance part of humor comes from everyone knowing it’s not true! Although “author” Lemony Snicket narrates the multiple volumes in A Series of Unfortunate Events as if they were true and therefore terribly disturbing treatises on the human condition, readers everywhere acclaim the real author, Daniel Handler, a master of comedy.

Like Handler, it’s vital to keep  emotional distance.  If the misery is too realistic, readers  may start feeling sorry for your character, and that’s not funny!  When humor goes out the window, lots of emotions can come in — especially anger against that mean, manipulative writer.


The Author must hate me!


Don’t laugh at your own jokes

Just don’t. (You can laugh on the inside, just don’t show it). Don’t let your characters laugh either. This is not funny! This is HORRIBLE. You’ll be tempted to be kind to your characters and give them a sense of humor about their lives. No. Stay mean.

Put the uncommon together

Things that don’t normally “fit.” As you may know by now, I love to be in plays, and I even direct sometimes.  I’m a big woman, and get cast as a contrast to other actors because it’s funny. BIG wife, tiny little husband.  When we see the little mouse beat up on the huge cat? It’s funny! Not so much the other way around.

But avoid cliché

A word of caution here: it’s really easy to fall into cliché (like the examples I just gave) and the joke is old before you’ve told it. In the biz, that’s called a cheap laugh. Some people LOVE hearing the same joke over again (and telling it!), but not usually much after the age of six.

It’s ironic. Despite laughter being a huge release and terribly healthy, we  develop a little shell of protection against laughter that builds up with repetition.  Slipping on banana peels, pants falling down: these are very funny things, but so common that you have to treat them with special creativity to make them appear new.

You can get funnier if you practice. Write. Revise. Edit.  But even so … ALAS!

Not Everyone is Going to Get It

We don’t all share the same funny bone. And trying to explain to someone why you think a joke or a situation is funny is a sure way to kill it.

All I know is sharing a sense of humor with someone is one of the best gifts from the universe.  When I find an author who shares my sense of humor, it’s like I’ve found a new and treasured friend. I look forward to spending time with him or her!

Bruce Coville writes books that crack me up — so does Louis Sachar. What about Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad? I bet most of us have our favorite comic strips that we treasure seeing everyday.  (Mine are Zits and Baby Blues and Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes).  I just realized something: these are all men writers! Does that mean that men are funnier than women when they write? What’s THAT all about?! That’s it — I’m complaining to God.

No, wait! Hilary McKay, who wrote Saffy’s Angel and that whole wonderful series about the Casson family, totally cracks me up.  Whew! And of course there’s many many more — who? (All right, here’s a guilty secret: for humorous romance? Jennifer Crusie all the way.  AND the queen of all — Georgette Heyer.)

Really, tell me who your favorite funny authors are!  Release them to me!

*For more on How To Choose a Word for the Year, click here. Theresa Ceniccola explains the concept very well, though you may want to know there is some religious content on this site.





Posted in writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pen!

Rebecca is a young cousin of mine whose mother (so young herself!) battled with cancer for several years and finally died this spring. Her dad shared this poem of Rebecca’s as part of his own grieving process and they both gave permission for me to use it on this site.

The Pen!

You use a pen for feelings
You write it down on paper
People can see you through the pen
You use a pen to show who you really are
When you use a pen the writing is from the heart
You can just scribble and its still from you
When someone dies or is sick write it down with a pen
You are the ink
You lead the pen
Let the pen flow
Put you on the Paper
You can use a pen to talk
You can use a pen to cry
You can use a pen to tell others how you feel
You can use your memories as your ink
You can use
your life as your ink
If you are sad take a pen write your feelings
write your
write your life
Write a story write a poem use the Pen however you want
Show you in the ink use yourself as your writing
If you go through hard times use a pen and go go go!
Use your passion for things
Use your love for things
Take a pen and go leave your life in the ink
Keeps you restored in writing
Keeps you restored in the Pen
Keeps your life going through the Pen
Take a pen and go go go!

–by Rebecca Lytle (age 9)

What a gift of hope this poem is! What a blessing to know that Rebecca has been given the pen (and the wisdom to use it) as an outlet. You know, I can grieve with her for her tragedy but with this poem I can also rejoice with her and in her. So I just want to say “Thank you, Rebecca, for the reminder and the inspiration in the Pen.”

Posted in Personal, writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

How Do You Know You’re a Writer?

It's because I always have a pen, right?

Writers write. Right? If you’re a writer, you have to write, otherwise you’re not a WRITER.


Except I disagree.

You can be a writer even if you never write.


You get pleasure from scratching out words on paper. Maybe you doodle them.

Maybe you play with planting panting “p”s in perfectly predictable places.  It gives you an inner giggle.

Maybe when you see someone unusual – a woman who doesn’t know she’s drooling clutches a copy of OK magazine to her chest as she shuffles down the sidewalk – you create in your head who she is, what she wants, where she’s going.  It amuses you to do this.

"Jacqueline" photo by bboomerindenial

You find yourself anthropomorphizing everything. That house stands squat and bored.  The tree’s fingers flutter a greeting to a cranky crow.  Rocks, animals, jewelry all have personality and a redolent power to you.  It’s the power of potential story. This entertains you.

Sometimes you find yourself wishing everyone would just shut up and leave you alone so you could focus on this new world you’re creating.

Here’s the thing

You don’t even have to put it on paper for me to know you’re a writer.

You are lots of other things also.

Maybe you’re somebody’s child (most of us are), or somebody’s mom or dad.  Or a brother or sister or friend.  Maybe you solve puzzles or fix broken things. Maybe you are a musician or an actor. A doctor. Maybe you’re a leader (an orchestrator). Maybe you’re an astronaut!  If you think like one, then you are one, even if you’ve never had any training and have never even gone up in an airplane.

All these other parts of you color who you are and will color your writing. And being a writer will color the other parts, too. That’s just the way it is.

Are you a writer who writes?

Do you have ambition to shine the light on that part of you who writes? Will you let someone else know about it? Write down your stories, tell them to friends? You don’t have to. You can keep your stories inside, a little treasure of who you are that no one else suspects is there.

Some people say, “Use it or lose it.”  I don’t think that’s true with writing. The writer in you can go into hiding, though, so you  forget that it amuses you to play with words or look at the world as a story waiting to be told.

And you might not get any better if you don’t work at it.  By better I mean the craft of writing, the way a story enfolds to keep someone else riveted.

But you will always have the writer in you, because it’s part of you.

Here’s my guess: if you were ever captured and stuck in a horrid cell, solitary and cold and starving, you would have story to keep you sane. If you’re a writer.

Are you?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Where’s that Time to Write?

A Question of Priorities

In January I read a great post called “The Truth About Finding Time to Write” where Jennifer Blanchard has several practical links about time management. She also makes an excellent point: time is not an elusive creature you can look for under a rock …

Time Hiding Out

… or in some obscure cranny you never noticed before. Time isn’t something you find. Time is something you have to make.

Unless you’re in school and some marvelous teacher requires you to write something creative, don’t expect anyone other than you and maybe some supportive, kind friend to say “Write that story! Write it now!”

I wrote about why I write, and it’s true! But. Wanting to write, believing in writing is still not enough to get me to take the time to do it.  Before I started this blog, I carefully blocked out several hours a day on my new calendar for writing time.  And I’ve ignored every single one of those blocks. Why?

“What is WRONG with me?!”


That’s the question I’ve been exploring.

CREED OF BEHAVIOR – a scientific observation

Why do I do anything? How do I set my priorities? I decided to get scientific and simply observe my actions – trying not to judge! If I’m not writing what AM I doing? Mind you, I set the rules here. I make the decisions (I’m my own boss) and I’m busy, busy, busy.

According to my actions, this is what’s most important to me:

I ALWAYS (every or almost every day):

Charlie -- a happy dog

Walk my dog, write my “morning pages” (a kind of journal from “The Artist’s Way”), read and respond to emails, plan, shop for food, cook dinner, volunteer for the Threshold Singers, play Sudoku, connect with friends and family, and read

I OFTEN (but probably not every day):

Do chores, chauffeur, act as household secretary (make appointments, etc.) and financial guru (pay bills, etc.).


Exercise (wii-fit!), knit, watch a movie or TV show, do a project, host a critique group, play with art, work on my blog, write fiction, garden.

Look how low on the list my writing is! Wow. Why isn’t writing more important to me?  For a while this observation made me depressed.  I used to be a writer.  Now, I don’t know – do I even care any more?

Well, yeah. I do.  Duh.  So… again – why does so much take priority over my writing?

I came up with my Creed of Behavior – I was taught some of this by my parents, some by my sisters, some by life.  Whether it’s “right” or not, I don’t even care at this point.  It’s how I live.  These are the rules that guide my actions without my even thinking about them.


1) Uphold my commitments to others

2) Not burden others

3) Serve to make the world (however large or small) a better place

4) Put myself in the other person’s shoes

5) Nurture myself.

This explains everything. The more categories an action can fit into, the more likely I am to do it! No wonder I spend so much time on relationships – that fits every category! And I spend so much time on Sudoku 

because it’s short and takes zero energy and it’s like a little bit of

chocolate ,

a little bit of Mathilda-nurturing

I can squeeze in (and so I squeeze it in and squeeze it in and soon it’s taken up more time than I want to admit to).

Writing has lousy standing for me because in my gut I don’t feel it fits all my categories:

1) I don’t commit to others with my writing – just to myself, and I don’t count (sad, but true); 2) Here’s an irony – I feel like asking others (like the publishing world) to read my work is burdening them!  In addition, I burden my family and (ack!) 3) the world because choosing to write is choosing not to do something else that would better serve others. 4) This one is complicated. I do put myself in others’ shoes when I write: such is character development! But if we’re not talking character, putting myself in another’s shoes means that I see myself as someone who is really, really lucky to have the opportunity to write. The pressure of this blessing is enormous.

“You’d better take advantage of your opportunity, girlie girl!”



Scary.  That’s a mean person whose shoes I just stepped into.


My conclusion is that, really, 5) I’m only writing to nurture myself.  The thing is, other activities also nurture me: chocolate, Sudoku, crosswords, trashy romance novels, lunch with friends, theater, family time.  These activities are easy to fall into. They don’t require set-up. They don’t require commitment or (often) brain power. They feel thoroughly indulgent, whereas writing feels like an endeavor, like a promise to the universe (see # 4 above).  Don’t I already have enough commitments?

Can this change?  I think I’m stuck with my creed, but I have a strategy to manipulate within it:

1) Nurture an audience for my writing through this blog. At some point I’ll figure out how to allow comments on the posts, and induce some of you to subscribe to my words!  Then I’ll feel like I have a public who depends on me. 2) Heck, reading the blog is voluntary!  No burdens there! 3) Maybe if I help just one other person, or someone finds something that resonates within them…  if I can cast a light on the wonder of all of this humanity stuff,  that serves my deepest sense of purpose. 4) I thumb my nose at mean Mathilda! 5) and yeah, it’s all about me.

In the meantime, I’m seriously dying to hear if anyone else has a Creed of Behavior they’ve figured out.

Posted in Personal, writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment


Still a work in progress, this self-portrait will appear on stage to ilustrate my character ("Big Suzie")'s desire for self-aggrandizement. What a kick to work on this with the help of my art teacher!

I’m in a play. It’s been two years since I’ve been on stage and way longer than that since I’ve had a part that’s demanded I be real. So this is a challenge for me. A big fat pretending challenge.

And I bring it up because no matter how much acting isn’t writing, it sure uses a lot of the same muscles.  The pretending muscle is a big one.  When I act, my goal is to put myself into the skin of someone else and make it real.

Whoa. Same thing with writing!

So I’m going to fess up to why I find this so hard: sometimes I don’t know what real is.  I don’t even know who the real ME is! And I’m 52. You’d think I’d have this figured out by now.

Sometimes I think it’s all real. All true. Whatever is, is right. Somebody famous said something like that*.  But we fake our responses all the time. You know phony people. So do I. It’s a social skill, for heaven’s sake! And it can get so habitual that maybe we don’t even know when we’re being honest and when we’re “putting it on.” We can trick ourselves. So can characters.

How old was I when I first realized that not everyone thought or felt the way they pretended to? 9? Younger? Such a betrayal! Such an awakening to the dark side of human nature.

And such, such, such giddy potential for drama and comedy – conflict and farce and morals and romance. All stemming from pretending to be something other than what we are. Than who we are.

So here’s a writing challenge: what kind of pretending do your characters do? And do they know they are pretending? Why are they pretending – what do they get out it? Does the pretense need to be exposed? (usually this exposure brings about an ending!)

Here’s a famous example: Lots of pretense in Hansel and Gretel.

  • Many versions of this fairy tale begin when the evil stepmother pretends to love the two children, then abandons them in the woods.
  • A witch with her candy house lures them inside with fake hospitality: “Have some treats, my dears!” She shuts the boy in a cage and makes a slave of Gretel.
  • Hansel pretends to be skinny by offering up the chicken bone to be felt instead of his finger.
  • Finally, Gretel saves the day by pretending she can’t light the fire in the oven. When the witch pokes her head in, Gretel slams her inside! The children return home, expose the evil stepmother, and are re-united with the loving father.

In this story, every single bit of pretense works to serve its purpose. And once its purpose has been achieved, the pretense is exposed. The children learn quickly that in order to survive, they need to emulate the adults. What a moral!

For less famous (but hey, written by me) examples of how pretending impacts a scene, click here.

*I just googled it — Alexander Pope, “Essay on Man.” He said exactly that. Gosh, I knew I was educated!

Posted in Personal, writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Using Art to Create Story

"We are Elephants, (bum! bum!) From our backs and fronts (bum! bum!) We are elephants all day long"

One of the things I love about being a Mom is how you do things for your kid and then discover it’s really been for you all along. Like art class.

My daughter was a little shy, so I agreed to take art with her for a year. She stopped after that – but I loved it so much I couldn’t quit. This is my fifth year at BellinghamArt.

Look at the top of this blog. I’m awfully proud of my whale up there in its banner position! The original isn’t so long and skinny, but I think you can still tell that is one amused whale.

Well, my oil painting teacher has now even started giving us homework! This week we’re supposed to write down what makes a great painting. I’m pretty sure she’s looking for “value,” “contrast,” “color,” “composition,” and “theme” (I think we’re supposed to rank these). But for me – it came to me in a flash of light! – for me, it’s story.

I want to be drawn into character, to look at a picture and have my imagination throw me into a scene. Well, duh. As a children’s writer of COURSE I adore illustration.

Doesn't this picture make you think of a story?

Which leads me to the subject of this post: using art to create story. One of my favorite exercises is to have a bunch of pictures – maybe paintings, maybe photos, maybe a combination, in a slurpy pile on a table. You choose one at random and then spend 10 or 20 minutes getting into the head of one of the characters—describing the scene or just talking.

I wish I had the photo the following exercise came from, but I can tell you a friend of mine just cut it from a magazine, maybe even one she got for free at the library. It was a black and white picture of a young girl in pigtails and overalls, sitting on the steps of a front porch with a flower in her hand. The photo took me right into … well, here’s what I wrote:

If I squeeze my eyes tight enough the polkydots inside turn colors – bright yellow and green—and I can see my wishes come true.

I got a wish comin’ to me. Gimpy gave me the first orange rose his garden grew.

“You gotta have it, Shandra Fay,” he said. “It goes too good with your cover-alls to give to someone else, someone—” and he interrupted hisself to look at Googaw and he snorted up a laugh. It was playful. “–someone who got the bad taste to wear lilac on a rose day.”

And Googaw grinned her old white teeth. “You get the wish, Shandra Fay. Don’t waste it, sugar-hon.”

I sure am not gonna waste it.

I see my Daddy in the polkydots, coming down the sidewalk, carrying a silly ol’ kitty cat. It’s crawling up his shoulder, orange like my rose but pink, too. But then the black in my eyes scoots over and the kitty goes.

I don’t care. I really don’t. ‘Cause all I really want is my Daddy home again.

That’s all I wrote! Maybe some day I’ll put Shandra Fay into a book. But even if I don’t, I made her. She’s part of me now. She colors my world. Kind of wonderful!

Hmmm. Here's another good one to start you off!

So you do it. It’s your turn. Find a photo or an illustration in a book. Don’t look at the words! That’s for you to make up. Tell me how it goes. Is it fun?

Posted in Idea Sparkers, Personal, writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

En Avant!

“En avant” means “Onward!”  Since this is my very first post EVER, I thought I’d start with something spiffy. Like a foreign language.

Ooh la la! J'aime bien le francais

Like a foreign language I actually understand, which is French. It’s my way of encouraging myself to go for it.

If you read my  page WHY, you’ll discover that I love words.  Even though I don’t really consider myself a poet, there is a music and a magic in words that both inspires me and feeds me.

Here’s something I’ve noticed: when a word sounds delicious, it’s usually because it has some onomatopoeia ( on-a-mat-a-PEE-a) in it. In other words,  it sounds like its meaning:






People have disagreements over what words have onomatopoeia, so try it out and see what you think. Bulbous. Doesn’t that sound round and maybe a little hard?

Sometimes words alone can inspire ideas for writing.  For me, the word creates a picture in my brain and I voyage on from there.  Sometimes the inspiring word doesn’t even make it into the final draft!  But sometimes the sounds just trip over each other to get out and I end up with something poetic.  With me, it’s often pretty silly, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s one I did called “Ooey-Gooey.”

So here’s my challenge: list out some words you love to say. Pick a few — pick them all! And create a little story or poem.

Tell me how your adventure with words goes. I want to know!

Posted in Idea Sparkers | Tagged , | 5 Comments