Monday, December 31, 2007


It seems every time a new year rolls around, I tend to think back on the past, wishing in a lot of instances that I could have "do-overs." Isn't that what New Years resolutions are all about. We know we can't change what's been done, but it eases our consciences to think we can prevent making the same mistakes again. I've been known to join the tradition of those who write out their list of resolves, thinking that doing so will make this coming year a better one—only to give up on most, if not all of them, by the time the year's half over.

Recently, I've been eating chocolate like crazy. I do it to assuage the guilt that comes from realizing I was going to lay off the sweets a year ago in order to develop a healthier, handsomer body. But my resolve didn't last long, so in the back of my mind, I hear voices saying. "Come New Years day, we are going to quit putting chocolate in our morning coffee. We are going to get more exercise. We will lay off the fudge and ice cream." My answer to those scheming voices? "All righty, then. We've got one more day to down all this scrumptious Christmas candy and birthday cake."

Yep, come January 1—ohmygosh! that's tomorrow—we'll try once again to get back on that diet we started last year. The getting on isn't so hard, but like in bull riding, my trouble is staying on for the 8 second ride (or it's equivalent—8 weeks would be a record, I think.)

So maybe not. I think this year I'll forget all resolutions save one. I resolve to be kinder to myself by putting down the whip of self-flagellation and enjoying life, minute by precious minute. I'll do what I can—what I want to—with love in my heart and laughter in my voice. I'm going to strike certain words from my vocabulary...words those voices in the back of my head tend to harp on, even when I refrain from saying them out loud. "You gotta, you oughta, we should! You should've, could've, if only we would've."

No, I've decided that at my age, it's time to admit I'm fallible, that I won't always do everything perfectly, won't always be on time with all the work I lay out for myself, won't remember everything I'm supposed to remember. Like Al Franken's "Stuart Smally" (remember SNL?) I'll say, "and that's okay."

Life has been very good to me. I am surrounded by loved ones, and new and wonderful people come into my life all the time. I will allow myself to be blessed by them and accept their love and kindness to me with a heart full of gratitude. That is my resolution for 2008. I think it's going to be a very good year.

P.S. I don't mean I'll quit working, because I love what I do, especially the writing. As I come to the closing chapters of the second book of my trilogy, I'm hard to pull away from the keyboard.

I wish a very happy, be-kind-to-yourself New year to all of you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

War and Peace

The many minds of mortal men
Make mutual musing mockery.
Various views and vantage points
Make millions mutter “crockery.”

Though two men see the exact same scene,
Their interpretations differ.
And thus we have a war of minds
Which arguments just make stiffer.

There are those who refuse to change.
There opinions stand for seasons.
And those who curse the stubbornness
Of those who will not reason.

I think I’m right and you are wrong
And you’re sure you are right.
And so we spend our lives apart
Or in a controversial fight.

Is it possible to tolerate
An opposing point of view
And still be friends; negotiate,
And love each other too?

I guess if it were there’d be no war
Yet people keep on killing.
The horror of horrors that promised to end
Are repeated from cold hearts chilling

Will there ever be horrors bad enough
To make us say, “No More!”
To decide to live for once in peace
Because we’ve seen enough of war?

Is it possible to befriend those
Whose convictions disagree?
Bringing hatred to an end?
Must we just wait and see?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Looking at the little picture can result in wrongful judgments.

I promised to expound on my comment about looking at the big picture, when I talked about playing God. I had an e-mail from a friend commenting on a recent blog post. She said, "Your new note on your own divinity, or lack of it, delighted me. Just think what a different world this would be--and what an entirely more positive, productive situation we'd be in--if each of us understood, and operated as though, we are not God!"

That pretty well sums up what I meant in my comments about playing God; about the big versus the little picture. In our humanity, it is not possible to see the "Big Picture" or to know and understand the extent of the far reaching consequences of our words, our actions, or lack thereof, or the words, deeds, and misdeeds of others. The best we can do is to stop thinking we know, behaving as if we understand, and making laws and judgment based on our narrow views and what we as individuals and a society feel sure is right.

Every morning as I start the day, I decode a cryptogram, as my thought for the day. The one this morning is fitting for this discussion, I think. "Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called." (John Stuart Mill 1806-1873) Yet our society, and many other societies in the world are set up to crush individuality. Every faction, religion, institution, and government seem to believe conformity is preferable to individuality, and rules are made for all to follow. People are persecuted, and innocent victims destroyed in the name of righteousness and protection from perceived evil.

"The perfect society" in my limited way of thinking, would be a transparent one where everyone knew what everyone else was doing, communication was open and inclusive of all, and no one tried to control anyone else. Of course this is not a perfect society and some regulations are needed. I realize that. But let me expound on one small example, out of a myriad, where I think that our obsession to regulate has gone too far. Injustice to some is bound to occur when laws rise out of fear and generalizations.

The generalized belief, stemming from the proven reality of a few, has resulted in severely limiting freedom for a lifetime of those who've served time for their crime. I am speaking of convicted sex offenders. "All sex offenders are incurable," is a widely held belief, even though statistics disprove it. You must be wondering why I should care. Let me assure you that the safety of children against sexual predators is of utmost importance to me. Anyone who knows me well will attest that I will do everything in my power to make sure children are never left alone with anyone who has the slightest chance of being a molester. Years ago, when I felt an alleged (never tried nor convicted) perpetrator of sexual abuse was trying to gain unsupervised access to my grandchildren, I did everything in my power to keep it from happening, although it wasn't easy to do. If there is the slightest suspicion that a person poses a danger to a child, the child's safety comes first.

On the flip side, however, I've seen how the present laws inequitably affect those who have been convicted and have served time for sex offenses. Here's why.

1. Sex offenders, which make up from 3% to 11% of the prison population, are the only felons who have to register their physical address within three days of moving. They are the only ones who, in many states, face restrictions on where they can live based on the proximity of children. They cannot go to the beach, a park,  or anywhere children could be present. Not even convicted killers or drug pushers have similar requirements that I've been able to find.

2. Many who've been convicted of sex crimes were not guilty. I have a friend who was falsely accused of molesting an ex-girlfriend's daughter merely because the girlfriend wanted to get even with him for ending the relationship. He served his time and moved to another state, being careful to register his new address when he moved. But it's never over for him, or any other person with a record for a sex-related crime. He was never notified of a change in the law from requiring change of address registration within 3 days rather than the former 10 days. So, when he moved again from one rented house to another, he thought he still had time to register. He was arrested, jailed, and now faces more prison time for this infraction.

I know of two cases in which the alleged child molester ended his life, after being accused and on trial. One shot himself, one stepped in front of a train. In one case the accusers admitted that the man had never touched them. They only said he did because they were mad at him for not allowing them to go out one night.

I read of a school teacher in his early twenties who had a brief consensual affair with a 16-year-old student. He served prison time for statutory rape. He is remorseful about his mistake, but is now happily married and the father of two young children. But the laws do not allow him to take his children to a park, won't allow him to visit their schools or day care in the future. Is this really protecting anyone?

3. Many studies have been done to examine the recidivism of convicted sex offenders. Results of the several I've read range from 3.3% to 10%. Does that sound like "once a sex offender, always a sex offender?

4. Most sex crimes, especially those against children are never reported, so there are far more child molesters walking free than there are known offenders who must have their place of residence publicly reported.

5. These laws, as they are designed, do not protect a child from the most prevalent type of sex offender, which is someone a child knows and trusts, most commonly a relative, close friend or a socially respected adult.

6. Though there are sex-offenders who may never be cured, most are remorseful for their crime. I, who puts children's rights for a safe and healthy environment above all else, will do all I can to see that my grandchildren are never left alone with a person who has been either alleged or convicted of a sex crime. (I have both a friend and a relative in this category. I trust them both.) I take this precaution for two reasons. One is to protect the child. The other is to protect the registered sex-offender from danger of false accusations and suspicions. They walk a very fine line, living in fear that if they make one misstep or omission of a requirement, they'll be back in prison.

Much more could be done in our prison systems to educate and counsel the inmates, thereby decreasing repeat offenses. Such programs would go much farther in making our world a safer place. 

Well, I guess I went off on a tangent and gave more than I promised to discuss, but it all relates to our tendency to make critical judgments based on generalizations,  fear, and narrow views derived from partial facts, i.e. from looking at the little picture.  

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Newton's third law

I promised an explanation for what I said in my last post, As I learned in physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So my wishes are mere fantasies of what I perceive to be better for us—for me—when looking at the little picture.

When I wrote it, I meant that there are two sides to every story, every person, every situation. Newton's third law says, paraphrased, "To every action force there is an equal, but opposite, reaction force," I meant to apply this principle to every aspect of life.

According to Wikipedia, "A more direct translation is: To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts. — Whatever draws or presses another is as much drawn or pressed by that other. If you press a stone with your finger, the finger is also pressed by the stone. If a horse draws a stone tied to a rope, the horse (if I may so say) will be equally drawn back towards the stone: for the distended rope, by the same endeavour to relax or unbend itself, will draw the horse as much towards the stone, as it does the stone towards the horse, and will obstruct the progress of the one as much as it advances that of the other. If a body impinge upon another, and by its force change the motion (momentum) of the other, that body also (because of the equality of the mutual pressure) will undergo an equal change, in its own motion (momentum), toward the contrary part. The changes made by these actions are equal, not in the velocities but in the motions of the bodies."

Similar to the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang, my view is that, for good reason, there are opposite sides to everything: Love vs. Hate, Good vs. Evil, Hot vs. Cold, Dark vs. Light, Old age vs. Youth, Optimism vs. Pessimism, Kindness vs. cruelty, and on and on. Our inclination is to want the good without the evil, the light without the dark. Love without hate. Sunshine without stormy weather. Would we appreciate it if we had it that way? It seems to take one to recognize and appreciate the other. Wikipedia says, Yin (dark) and yang (light) are descriptions of complementary opposites as well as absolutes. Any yin/yang dichotomy can be viewed from another perspective. All forces in nature can be seen as existing in yin or yang states, and two produce constant movement/force of the universe.

I'd like to make the world all peace, love, light, and safety, and I do everything I can to create such an environment for loved ones. Yet, if I had unlimited supernatural powers to make everyone agree with me, would the world be a better place? I don't think so. I also understand that whatever I write on my blog puts me at risk for experiencing an opposing force. And for me, a person who has always shrunk from controversy, that's important to know. Not everyone is going to agree with my words, my premises, my convictions, or my way of expressing myself (all of which are dynamic, subject to revision as I encounter new experiences, listen to opposing views, study new ideas, and interact with people who stimulate thought). By putting my ideas in public view, I become vulnerable to criticism and censor. This is true, not only in posting blogs, but in writing books and articles and in public speaking. However, in order to have a meaningful life and to be able to explore and mold my identity, it's a risk I must take. But isn't that a good thing? I find that it is opposition, questioning, criticism, and censor that makes me look harder at myself, my beliefs, and my writing to help me grow as a person as well as a writer.

Light is meaningful only in relation to darkness, and truth presupposes error. It is these mingled opposites which people our life, which make it pungent, intoxicating. We only exist in terms of this conflict, in the zone where black and white clash. Louis Aragon (1897-1982) French poet, novelist, and essayist.

Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence. William Blake (1757-1827) British poet and painter.

Next time: The big versus the little picture or withholding judgement.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Blogging and life

Life and Blogging

I’ve been asked to explain some of my comments in my last post, the blog tag. The paragraph in question includes my answer to the fourth question. Here is what I wrote. “Worse, though, are the online predators taking advantage of the unsuspecting, especially young people. I wish there were no predators on social sites like My Space and others so that our kids could safely surf the web and enjoy cyber friendships without fear of cruelty and exploitation. I wish that on the internet as well as in real life, we could only find knowledge and wholesome entertainment and interaction. I'd wish away pornography and violence, if I could.”

Yes, there are perversions of all kinds, violence, and exploitation on the internet. This is made painfully clear by news of the teenage girl who committed suicide. I’m not only saddened but enraged that it was a grown woman, posing as a teenage boy, who said such derogatory things, that the girl felt she couldn’t go on living. Adolescence is a turbulent time at best. Teens are vulnerable to suicidal thought when, like Shakespeare’s Ophelia, their affections are toyed with, their hearts won, and then their hopes dashed. This is just one example of how kids, eager to chat with new friends, are misled by predatory adults who pose as teens. Films, TV, and video games seem to promote more and more violence as children and adults alike become so inured they need more and more to elicit an emotional response.

I, a peace loving person, would remove all controversy from the world if I had my way. I would take away all danger to our children, that they might never suffer pain—emotional or physical. “But,” as I said in my blog-tag answers, “of course that is not the way life is, and why I am not God.” What I meant by this is that “my way” would remove individuality and the freedom to be different, which gives life meaning. I would be creating a drab gray “Pleasantville,” or a colorless world like we find in Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver.

Would I sacrifice, for even a moment, the fiery spirit of some of my friends, the complex and varied personalities of loved ones, the opposing views of acquaintances on complex issues? Maybe I’d be tempted when I want everyone to see issues from my point of view. It’s good I’m not God. What a boring world this would be if everyone thought, spoke, and behaved like me… or like any other one person, for that matter.

Even in the novels I write and call “True Fiction” (for reasons I’ve explained in an earlier blog post) there is diversity. My protagonists are never all “good,” and my antagonists aren’t all “bad.” My characters make mistakes; they make poor choices and reap the consequences. Issues are not black and white, in fiction or in life. No one is “good” or “evil.” We are all just human, and yet we are each unique—and that’s the way it should be.

Next time, I’ll explain the next sentence from my previous post: “As I learned in physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction—so my wishes are mere fantasies of what I perceive to be better for us—for me—when looking at the little picture.”

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Me(me) Blog tag: Give me the blogging life

I've been tagged for this meme by Janet Riehl, Riehl Life; Village Wisdom for the 21st Century. and I'm tagging Mary Cunningham;Cynthia's Attic Blog

Here are my answers to the blog tag about the blogging life:

It's All About Me(me) Blog tag questions and answers:

1. How long have you been blogging?

I'm quite new to the world of blogging and learning slowly as I fight for time out of a busy schedule that includes publishing, marketing, and writing new books. I published my first blog post on June 5, 2007 just after returning from PMA's Publishing University and the Book Expo of America in New York.

2. What inspired you to start a blog and who are your mentors?

While in New York, I heard lectures on the value of blogging as a marketing technique. Enthusiastic bloggers convinced me that it is also easy, fun, and a great way to meet people, which has proven to be true. Other bloggers have mentored me, especially Janet Riehl, who has become a great support and encouragement as well as giving me good examples to follow.

3. Are you trying to make money online, or just doing it for fun?

I have to say both. As I've already said, blogging was touted as a way to get myself and my books and even my company more widely known. If it will help sell books, I'm all for it. But the benefits reach far beyond that. It IS fun, and it opens up my world to a whole new community of friends I may never have met otherwise.

4. What 3 things do you struggle with online?

I detest spam, pop ups, and especially those flashing lights and dancing graphics that some sites have. Worse, though are the online predators taking advantage of the unsuspecting, especially young people. I wish there were no predators on social sites like My Space and others so that our kids could safely surf the web and enjoy cyber friendships without fear of cruelty and exploitation. I wish that on the internet as well as in real life, we could only find knowledge and wholesome entertainment and interaction. I'd wish away pornography and violence, if I could, but of course that is not the way life is, and why I am not God. As I learned in physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So my wishes are mere fantasies of what I perceive to be better for us—for me—when looking at the little picture.

5. What 3 things do you love about being online?

I love the new friends and contacts I've made by visiting other people's blogs and from their posts on mine. I love the things I learn from them, from their blogs, and websites. I love the easy access to the world and answers to the questions I pose; answers readily available at my fingertips.

Tag, Mary Cunningham, you're it!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving thanks, Living thanks

The day after Thanksgiving finds me in a contemplative mood, with much for which to express gratitude. Family, friends, shelter, warmth, food, and freedom should never be taken for granted as I tend to do throughout most of the year. An e-mail newsletter from James Ray, speaker and author of The Science of Success stated that gratitude is the mother of creative vibrations, that life is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that "you are the prophet." In other words, we are in charge of our lives, and our gratitude has a lot to do with creating a positive outcome.

I have believed this to be true for a long time, maybe most of my life. Even though I have seen the evidence that it works, it's still easy to let difficulties and set backs spawn negative emotions, doubt, and blame. Thanksgiving is a good time to get me thinking of the many things I have, and to realize that it is in my power to create more good things by living a grateful life. I can walk, I am in good health, I have eyesight, in fact all my senses are still working, and I have the ability to read. For those things I give thanks everyday.

In another e-news letter I received today from Dan Poynter, author and publishing guru, I was made aware of statistics about the decline of reading in today's world. An article in USA Today titled, Americans close the book on recreational reading, gives statistics backing up the claim that Americans of all ages are reading less and less as the years go by. Chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, Dana Gioia is quoted, "We've got a public culture which is almost entirely commercial- and novelty-driven." He calls the decline "probably the single most important social issue in the United States today."

I am concerned. I treasure books as a means to expand my mind and horizons. Those who don't, I believe, are missing something important. The question is, "What can be done?" Gioia suggests that the media has the power to make a difference. He cites cases where a brief mention of a book or a poet in a movie or TV show resulted in a spike in sales of that work. "I guarantee that if we could expand the coverage in the media, you'd immediately see people responding," he says. "People are looking for things to do that aren't dumb. I don't think that Americans are dumber than before, but I do believe our public culture is."

I ask myself what I can do, and in my mind I hear, "Let's write more news items about books and authors. Let's visit our schools and entice students to become readers and writers." Recently, members of two local writers groups got together to present an assembly to our high school students. We were well received and thanked afterward by the kids. Maybe we could do more of these programs. Working with our teachers from elementary through college to conduct presentations and seminars in the classroom might be a small start in the right direction. I'd not only like to see more kids enjoying recreational reading, but also taking an interest in writing. I haven't looked for any studies to prove this suspicion, but it seems to me that a large percentage of authors today are over 50 years of age. It would be great to see more young people joining the ranks.

I'd like to hear more suggestions for what we, the ordinary citizens, might do to increase an interest in books.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Connecting the past to the future

I’m surprised at how long it’s been since I posted anything here. I won’t make excuses, though, as I recently was given sage advice against doing so. “Your friends don’t care, and your enemies won’t believe you.”

It’s been on my mind to expound on the trip my daughter, grandson, and I made to Colorado. I experienced a wonderful blending of generations that long weekend—the end of September – October 1.

It’s sobering to realize that I am now part of the older generation. My parents and all of my aunts and uncles have passed on. At a family reunion on Saturday, us “kids”—my siblings and cousins—enjoyed discussing the old times when our parents were young, hard-working couples who enjoyed getting together, often at our grandparents' home. We reminisced about our school days and our classmates. And of course we shared stories and pictures of our grandchildren, some of whom were present. On Monday, I had the opportunity of speaking with children at one of Loveland’s many elementary schools. Interacting with kids puts a spring in my step and joy in my heart and makes me feel young all over again.

I listened to a videoabout an author, Velda Brotherton, who writes family history and folk lore of the Ozark Mountains where she grew up. I began thinking of the importance of connecting the past with the present, by introducing the elderly to the children, as a way to affect the future. Although I don't write historical fiction or nonfiction, I think those who do provide us a great service as they give us a glimpse into the past. Velda said, "Our old folks are a national treasure, but we don't treat them that way." I agree. She also said, "our past is our future." If we can just connect our youth to the treasury of our seniors, I believe we can enrich the future with lessons from the past.

After listening to Velda's video, I caught up on reading Janet Riehl's blog. She recently interviewed her father, Erwin Thompson, age 92, author, musician, dancer, and brush-clearer. What an inspiration! I was particularly struck by his stories about square dancing. When his wife was a girl scout leader, they often got kids together for dances. It sounds like a great opportunity for the older generation to mentor the younger one. And what fun! Wouldn't it be great to get a group of senior citizens, along with members of younger generations together, with a band, once a month to learn various dances.

I feel like I'm rambling a bit, plus I'm almost late for an engagement, so I'll sign off for now and write more later.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

True Fiction Holds up Ideals Worth Pursuing

As I said in an earlier post regarding writing True Fiction, "Last, but surely not least, are these three related ideals; the author must be true to his or her conscience, purpose, and audience." When I began calling my work "true fiction," I was borrowing from John Gardner as well as Wallace Stegner. Gardner (On Moral Fiction)defines "true art" in which he includes fiction, as art that improves rather than debases the human situation. It "ought to be a force in bringing people together, breaking down barriers of prejudice and ignorance, and holding up ideals worth pursuing."

In an age when reading is becoming a lost art for many of our children, what little they do read ought to have value. There is plenty of what Gardner calls "escapist" fiction available to young readers. Escapist fiction, Gardner says, used to be conservative, but in 1977 when he wrote "On Moral Fiction", he noticed "…signs that things are changing. As cynicism, despair, greed, sadism and nihilism become increasingly chic, more and more meanness creeps into escapist fiction." I wonder what he would say about the video games, movies, and some of the books written especially for children today. Please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying they are all bad, neither am I saying that children should not be allowed to view certain videos or read certain books. Kids must be given credit for their wisdom in sorting out what is of value and what is not. Yet I feel very responsible as I write for kids to give them something worth their time; something that will "hold up ideals worth pursuing."

Gardner took a lot of flack for this book I am citing, for he wasn't above naming contemporaries whose writing he judged to lack morality. He was accused of being "sanctimonious and pedantic." However, I think some, in their furor, may have missed his point. He wasn't promoting religion, didacticism, or even spirituality. He said emphatically, "Didacticism and true art are immiscible." As Wikipedia states his case, "Gardner meant 'moral' not in the sense of narrow religious or cultural 'morality,' but rather that fiction should aspire to discover those human values that are universally sustaining."

Ever keeping in mind my audience—children who are alert, curious, and impressionable—I write with empathy and compassion for what they think, feel, and have to deal with in their everyday lives. I write exciting stuff that will encourage them to keep reading and will also build their confidence in themselves and understanding and tolerance for others. I write what I hope will stimulate their thinking about their situations, their world, and their aspirations. From birth onward, each of us is seeking an answer to the questions "Who am I? and Why am I here?" Everything we read, view, and experience is data to be processed and integrated or discarded in our search for the answer to those two questions.

My goal when I write fiction is to influence by example, never preaching, but contributing positively to this life-long journey.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

True Characters in "True Fiction"

It's been a busy week, with no time to be ill, but somehow, that didn't stop a nasty virus from invading my body. I was pretty unproductive for most of three days of terrible congestion, fever, coughing, and sneezing. With most of my strength back, I'm ready to catch up on a few things. With help from my editor and proofreaders, Florence and Tayla, we have moved closer to finishing Raven Publishing's next offering, The Orange Slipknot, and hope to have it to the printer soon so early orders can be filled in time for Christmas. That and other publishing and marketing chores have left little time for writing, even for this blog. Now I'm ready to get back to my discussion of what it means to write "True Fiction."

In True Fiction, characters, though they may be completely made up, are a reflection of real people, experiencing real emotions, natural reactions, human qualities—frailties as well as strengths. I think we'd be hard pressed to find a fictional character who isn't in some way based on a real person, or, more likely, a composite people the author has known or knows about. Even though my characters are "made up," they inevitably have qualities of people I know intimately, often from my own life or childhood.

Characters carry the story. Characters own the story. Thus it behooves the author to know each character well. What do they want? How badly do they want it? What would they give or give up to get it? How would each one respond to a crisis, to each other, to the roadblocks you throw in their way? Once you have established their personality, convictions, limitations, and capabilities, they become the boss—the storyteller—and you are the scribe.

When I am reading a good book, nothing will make me put it down faster than to have a protagonist act completely out of character without any explanation as to why or how he could have done such a thing. One that stands out in my mind is "The Horse Whisperer" by Nicholas Evans. The ending was so completely out of character, that although I had previously enjoyed "The Loop," after reading "The Horse Whisperer," I have not read anything else by this author. I felt cheated when he created an ending that could not have happened with the characters he had previously portrayed. This book is definitely NOT True Fiction.

An author has to ask of his characters, even the minor ones, at every turn, "Would you really do or say that? If it's not something you would normally do or say, what has changed that would cause you to do or say it now?" If you don't understand your characters' motives, neither will your reader.

Similarly, it is essential that the writer of any genre, but especially "True Fiction," stay true to the premises he has set up. If you establish that a person is blind, for example, and suddenly have him see something, without explanation, your story will immediately be discredited. This is a poor example because it is too obvious, and I'm sure there are many better examples I could cite if I could just think of them, but you get my drift. The same with technicalities. If you are writing a novel and add a scene about wheat farming, for instance, and you mistakenly have your characters combining in the wrong month for the area in which your story is set, there are readers who will immediately see your mistake, and some will toss the book down in disgust and consider the author a charlatan. No matter that your book is fiction, research every aspect you are not sure about to make sure your "facts" are straight.

Next time, I will write about what I consider the most important aspect of "True Fiction."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Art of Writing True Fiction

Where does the truth in "true fiction" lie? Er, I mean, uh, maybe I should say, where doesn't it lie? (I didn't notice the pun until I read the published post, so I've come back to clarify—I think.) This question, however we frame it—and perhaps I'd be better off to say, wherein is True Fiction true?—has a complex answer. To be classified as "true fiction" as I define it requires "truth" on several fronts. It does not, however, require that it be "realistic" fiction, even though that is mainly what I write.

I recently read an interview of Mary Cunningham, whom I interviewed here last month. Reading her answers on a blog called Independent Book Report reinforced my belief that other forms of fiction, including fantasy, scifi, mystery, etc. can have elements of truth as much as realistic fiction can. Mary's "Cynthia's Attic" series which are adventures that are part historical fiction and part time-travel fantasy could be classed as true fiction, too. Maybe you'll see what I'm getting at if I explain what I believe "True Fiction" includes and compare to Mary's interview.

I think that truth in fiction can be met when the author stays true in six ways. I'll discuss them one by one in this and future posts.

First of all, the author must be true to her muse.

Secondly, the author must be true to her characters.

Thirdly, the author must be true to the premises she sets up in the book.

Last, but surely not least, are these three related ideals; the author must be true to his or her conscience, purpose, and audience.

First I'll talk about the often illusive muse. Call it what you want: your inner child, still small voice, imagination, or muse, it comes from deep inside the psyche and can easily be drowned out by the noise and chatter of everyday work and thoughts. To be true to one's muse, a writer must take time to still the busy mind and listen. I find that the best way for me to do this is to get out in nature, in solitude, and walk. Each writer finds his or her own way to invite the muse. Some like nature walks, others meditate, some merely sequester themselves in a room especially set aside for writing. Many combine all three or find some other way to still tumultuous thoughts in order to listen to, or channel, the voice of the muse. However one does it, when the muse is working, the words come, and the writer pens (or types) them. It's almost like taking dictation, wherein the writer, like the reader later, is excited to find out what is going to happen next. At least this is how it is for me as I write fiction.

Self-doubt and negative thinking of any kind, have no place in writing the initial draft of the story or novel. The muse and the inner critic cannot operate at the same time. Let the critic sleep while the muse is frolicking through your mind, giving you great materia, that can later be shaped and polished. As Julia Cameron says in her book, THE RIGHT TO WRITE, "Perfectionism is a primary writer's block." A writer must give herself permission to write badly, I've been told, and I agree. By writing down the ideas as they flow through the unblocked mind, one is being true to the "muse."

I'll be back later to write more about the other aspects of True Fiction.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Art of Criticism

I didn't intend to let so much time lapse before getting back to this blogpost. I took a road trip to Colorado to a reunion where I enjoyed visiting with siblings, nieces and nephews, and cousins, some of whom I hadn't seen since grade school. On the following Monday, I spoke to about 550 Namaqua elementary student in five sessions. I am grateful for the opportunity as interacting with children inspires me. It was my pleasure to accept an invitation to the home of the grandparents of three of the students for a lovely dinner. I feel very blessed that my writing serves as an avenue to make many new friends.

My last post was about how to receive criticsm. I will now take a look at the flip side—how to give it.

Beth Hodder, author of "The Ghost of Shafer Meadows," commented, "I think it may be difficult for some critics to face the author with their criticism if they're a friend or family member." A member of our local writers group expressed similar concerns and asked how one can be encouraging, constructive, and truthful all at the same time; honest without being hurtful. Understanding how sensitive a writer may be, we realize that criticism is an art.

William Zinsser, in his book, "On Writing Well," agrees. "To write about the arts from the inside—to appraise a new work, to evaluate a performance, to recognize what's good and what's bad—calls for a special set of skills and a special body of knowledge." Does the average writer have that? If not, how can we cultivate it to the extent that we can be helpful to other writers when they ask for our opinions? Since I don't have the answers, I read what Zinsser, Wallace Stegner, and John Gardner offer on the subject.

Zinsser gives these criteria for being a good critic.
1. "Critics should like—or better still, love—the medium they are reviewing."
2. When publishing reviews, don't give away too much of the plot.
3. Use specific detail, i.e. avoid generalities. This is equally important in critiquing a work we love as it is in discussing writing in which we see errors or fault.
4. "Avoid ecstatic adjectives."
Finally, remember that all forms of criticism consist of personal opinion. "What is crucial …is to express your opinion firmly. Don't cancel it's strength with last-minute evasions and escapes."

But this brings us back to the problem of ensuring that our words encourage rather than discourage. What if our impression of a work is negative? Do we want our opinion to dash the author's hopes, blocking him or her from writing at all? No, of course not. The only case I can think of where I would consider disparaging a written work is if I felt it had either the aim or potential to demoralize the reader. But that's a discussion for a future post.

I look to Wallace Stegner to solve the issue of giving constructive criticism. This may apply in places like writers clubs, schools, posts on public forums, online stores like Amazon, where customer reviews are encouraged, and in talking to fellow writers who ask us to evaluate their work. In his book, "On Teaching and Writing Fiction," Stegner answers questions of an interviewer. I think his treatment of the writing students in his classes is a good example for all writers, whether in school or not, as we are always seeking to learn more about our craft.

When asked what most needs to be done for his students, Stegner replied, "They need to be taken seriously. They need to be assured that their urge to write is legitimate." He reminds us that "these are hearts you are treading on." Yet he emphasizes the need to be honest. "Every student has a right to be listened to and be told honestly whether what he has written strikes no sparks, or few, or many. Before a teacher tells anyone he is good and has that magical promise, he had better make sure of what he is saying; before he discourages anyone, he had better remember how intimate a thing writing is and how raw the nerves that surround it."

So where has all this led us? It reinforces the quandary we sometimes face, the need to be both firmly honest and at the same time, very kind and supportive. Stegner says it's an attitude more than a technique. And, in spite of Zinsser's advice not to dilute our opinions with evasions and escapes, we must remember that others may have a different opinion and acknowledge that fact. Criticism, done properly, is not only an art, but a juggling act if we find anything offensive in the work we are judging. Stegner says that in his classroom, it is his job to manage the environment as students critique one another's writing, "which may be as hard a job as for God to manage the climate."

My grandma Elkins gave me these words of advice long ago that may be helpful here. "Before you speak, make your words pass through three gates of gold. Are they true? Are they needful? and Are they kind?"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Taking the Sting Out of Criticism’s Bite

(This is a repeat, fleshed out and edited, of some earlier blogposts on the subject. I thought it would bear repeating as some writers have expressed an interest in seeing it again.)

Writers, unless they hide their work in a closet, under the bed, or locked away in journals where it will never be read, will encounter both praise and criticism. When I was a young mother, I told stories to my kids as my mom and sister had told them to me years before. I loved stories of the family traditions and the escapades of ancestors. I wrote them down and submitted them to children’s magazines. I had the unusual fortune of having the first four or five pieces I ever wrote accepted and published. When the next piece was met with a rejection, even though the rejection was accompanied by encouraging words, I let it rock my world, topple my fragile ego, and block my muse. I didn’t write again for publication for a dozen years. Thankfully, I’ve managed to develop a thicker skin.

I don’t think I’m the only writer who has allowed criticism and rejection to stifle their creativity. Why do we do this? I think it’s because writers are a special breed—one with extraordinarily acute vision, talent, and passion—and tender ego. From the writer’s pen flows, not mere words, but an outpouring of the soul, not wholly unlike the travail—and the joy—of giving birth to a child. Inherent in that exposure of our innermost thoughts and insights is vulnerability and defensiveness of our verbal creations.

Blessed is the writer who can emerge undaunted from the paralyzing blow of sharp criticism. Naturally, our tender hearts bleed from the onslaught of arrows shot at our work—our babies. Our tender ego takes the full force of those arrows and is wounded by their sting. If we never toughened our egos, we’d never write another word. And that would be a tragedy, for criticism is not only inevitable, it is valuable, it is not only valuable, it is crucial.

In the years I have been writing, I have learned how useful criticism can be. I seek it as I'm writing. But in order to avoid letting a rejection or negative review bring creativity to a halt, as I've done in the past, I've learned that I must get beyond the defensive feelings and look closely at the criticism, measure it thoughtfully against my purpose, apply what is constructive, discard all that isn’t, and move on to write again.

Criticism has made my writing better. I give a lot of credit for the popularity of my stories to my editor, writers group members, and other critics. They see things I miss. That doesn't mean they are always right. I must keep in mind that no one knows the characters, plot, and purpose as well as I. It’s important to keep my purpose, as well as my audience in mind and gauge suggestions and criticisms against it.

Monica Wood says in her book, The Pocket Muse that “every writer needs two critics, one who gives only praise and another who never ever lies.” I have found that there are other categories of critics a writer must identify and deal with as well.

The love-everything reader is nice to have, and I agree that the encouragement of family and friends who love everything I write goes a long way toward keeping a positive attitude.

The gently discerning listener is, I believe to be the most helpful. In my writers group, I have the support of people who never lie, but they tell the truth in the most gentle and supportive way, qualifying with an “I may be wrong,” so that it hardly feels like criticism at all.

The viewpoint of the blunt but honest stranger, who points out the flaws in my work, may be harder to take, but has sometimes affected improvements in my writing. But don’t confuse them with the next one.

Unfortunately a writer stands a large chance of encountering the nasty and adversarial critic—one who, for reasons we may never know—seems bent on tearing the writer and her work apart, apparently taking personal umbrage.

There is also the clueless critic, who, though he may harbor no malice, just doesn’t get it, but because of their own experiences, beliefs, or biases, finds fault where there is none.

It’s up to the writer to sort it all out. Not quite as easily said as done, especially when our tender egos get in the way of objectivity. It’s hard not to take criticism of our work as an attack on our personhood. Because we pour our souls into our work, we have a hard time separating ourselves from our creations. I remind myself in the face of criticism to tell myself, repeatedly, if necessary, that the critic isn’t saying “You're a horrible person and a terrible writer;” to look instead at what they are saying. (If they are attacking your personhood, the critic along with the critique should be summarily dismissed.)

Then I step away and let it jell for a while. It is much easier to be objective when I come back later to study the critique. Then I review what I know of the characters, the plot, the purpose, and direction of my story and then examine the criticisms and suggestions of the reviewer or editor with an open mind—to see whether they are valid or not. I use what supports and enhances, and disregard what doesn’t fit. Many blunders, long boring passages, and inconsistencies have been pared from my work thanks to the honest and thoughtful critics who care about my writing.

I have come to appreciate and rely on “critics” as I write my stories. It is far better to write and be criticized, than not to write at all—or to write in a closet and never let your words see the light of day, for how can that help the world?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Book Review

Beth Hodder is very familiar with the Flathead National Forest and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. She worked for the forest service for many years conducting plant surveys, planting trees, working on campsite rehabilitation and other related work. It was there that she met her husband who spent 13 years working at the Spotted Bear Ranger Station and living in the ranger's house at Shafer Meadows. She recently retired to pursue other interests which included writing her debut children's novel, "The Ghost of Shafer Meadows."

In this adventure for upper elementary and middle-grade children, 12-year-old Jessie Scott doesn't see how she can ever be happy about the family's move from New Mexico to a remote wilderness area in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. She will not only miss her friends, but television, cell phones, the internet, and even electricity, too. To her surprise, life at the forest service ranger station offers new and exciting adventures that soon connect her to the wild outdoors. Even the mysterious rumors about her new home being haunted—and a visiting apparition intrigue her more than they frighten her. When evidence of theft and vandalism invade her mountain paradise, Jessie and her dog, Oriole, play a part large in solving the mystery.

Author Hodder's first-hand experience and connection with the Montana wilderness is evident as she captures a strong sense of place and takes the reader on a vivid journey. Readers will feel as if they are there, an experience they will want to duplicate in real life. For more about the book and for ordering information visit Grizzly Ridge Publishing.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Foster reading habits by reading aloud to children

"If people want kids to read, they need to read to them." This comment by Clair on a previous post got me to asking, "How can we get more adults to read aloud to children?" A little research showed that there are programs across the country and around the world that foster reading by using volunteers to read to children, either one on one or to groups. The difficulty is in finding people who are willing to donate their time. Anyone who believes in the value of reading to children and who can eke out an our or two a week for this cause, can research your area for programs such as reading fairs, Friends of the Children's Library, Head Start, and Even Start, to name a few, or contact your local schools and library to find out if they have a volunteer reading program. I've read of some who partner retirees with children in a "grandparent" reading program. Both the child and the adult are benefited richly.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Reluctant Readers

A comment I received on yesterday's post got me to thinking again about what makes reluctant readers — and what it takes to transform them into avid readers. I believe Max Elliot Anderson has the right idea. I, too, was a reluctant reader by the time I was in elementary school. I especially remember 5th grade. I question why, for in my preschool days, I was introduced to books by an older sister and a mother who read to me. I loved it then. By the time I was in 4th grade, the assignment to turn in 5 book reports a year was more than I wanted to do. (Like Mr. Anderson says on his website, reading didn't get quite the emphasis then as it does now.) I failed to get the last one done and went to the end of the school year party in fear and trembling, sure that at any moment the teacher was going to single me out for punishment, telling me I could not progress to grade five until I completed the book report. She didn't, and I got by with reading and reporting on just four books that year, for in our limited eight-grade, one-room school library, I couldn't find a single book that interested me.

The inability to find books that were not boring was one factor. Another, I believe, was that I was a "tomboy" who would much rather be playing outdoors, riding horses — and one time a bull (a badly sprained arm ended that aspiration). At that time in my life, I wished I'd been born a boy, and my perception then was that boys didn't read books, they wrangled horses, herded cows, worked on cars, drove tractors, climbed trees and mountains, and performed daring feats like bull riding, jumping off of cliffs or buildings into snow drifts—all things I tried to do as well as or better than my older brother. So socialization, I believe, plays a big part in creating reluctant readers. This was brought home to me a couple of years ago when I showcasing books from my publishing company at a winter fair with a western theme. I engaged a young boy, probably 10 or 11 years old, as he eyed my books with interest as he walked by. I pushed forward one that was written especially with this age boy in mind—a humorous adventure, "Fergus, the Soccer-Playing Colt" by Dan Peterson. Before the boy could look at it or comment, his father came up behind him and said scornfully, as if I'd lost my mind, missing the obvious, "He doesn't read books; he's a boy!"

So getting kids to read for the sheer joy of reading is a huge challenge that may include educating parents of the importance and legitmacy of fostering reading at home. I think schools are doing a better job than they used to, at least from what I've seen, but the busier parents get, and they seem busier than ever in this fast paced 21st century, the easier it is to stick a child in front of a TV set or video game, as they meet demands on their own time. I was grew up before TV came into our house. Indoor entertainment on long winter nights included storytelling and reading books. How nice it would be to see this practice return.

Any suggestions, children's authors?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Interviewing childen's author, Mary Cunningham

Today I am interviewing Mary Cunningham, author of a series of children's fiction stories, for approximately the same age group for which I write—ages 8-14.

JANET: Mary, I am familiar with your Cynthia's Attic series, and I just visited your beautiful
website. I see that your ideas for your series came from a recurring dream and is based on your childhood friendship. What a gift your dreams were! Please tell me more about it. Are many of the elements of Cynthia's Attic directly from your dream?

MARY: Thanks for your kind words about my website, Janet. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit! As for my dream directly impacting Cynthia's Attic, the description of the attic is close to my memories as a child. The mystery staircase was very vivid in my original dream and plays a distinct role in The Missing Locket. I also rely heavily on family stories and family members (mine and Cynthia's). Also, the setting for the stories begins in my hometown in Southern Indiana.

JANET: I see that reading and the love of books was instilled in you by your father. How important do you think that is for a child?

MARY: Hugely important! My dad not only instilled a deep love of reading and the written word, I believe he is directly responsible for my vivid imagination. When we ran out of bedtime stories or books, he'd make one up. He never discouraged my love of fantasy and creativity. I had an imaginary friend, Jimmy, when I was a toddler and both my parents played along. My mother would set an extra place at the table for Jimmy, and my dad would always include my "friend" when we went for car rides...making sure Jimmy was safely in the back seat before the car door was shut.

JANET: My definition of "True Fiction" is fiction that reflects real-life, captures real human emotion, portrays natural reactions and consequences, and teaches important life-lessons in the context of exciting adventure stories. I have often said that it is possible for even scifi and fantasy/adventure novels to do these things. I know you don't classify your books this way, but do you think they meet most if not all of my criteria for true fiction?

MARY: Excellent question! Let's see...I've never classified Cynthia's Attic in the true fantasy genre, but more historical fiction with fantastical elements. Best friends, Cynthia and Gus, behave like any friends would. They fight sometimes, have totally different personalities, but are fiercely loyal to each other and to their families. Even though they travel back in time through a magic trunk, they still encounter many of the same problems and challenges that any twelve-year-old best friends would face.

JANET: What part of writing and being published brings you the greatest joy?

MARY: I love creating! I love writing a really cool sentence, paragraph, or chapter, and then reading it aloud. I also love the interaction with kids who have read the books. Seeing the excitement on their faces when they describe their favorite characters or sequences is priceless.

JANET: What is your main goal in writing these books?

MARY: I can't deny it. I'd love to be nationally recognized as a really good writer. To be validated by your peers is great. To be validated by your readers is phenomenal! I supposed my main goal is reaching out to young readers and capturing their parents and grandparents in the process.

JANET: Do you have any more books planned for the Cynthia's Attic series after the Curse of the Bayou?

MARY: My publisher Quake has requested a fourth book. Quite honestly, I don't have a complete storyline, yet. So Book Four is going to be a challenge. But, I don't think I'm quite ready to let go of Cynthia and Gus, so I'll probably meet the challenge.

JANET: In this modern, fast-paced world of technological, instant gratification, it seems that fewer kids are reading books, and fewer parents are reading with their kids. What do you think we as authors can do, other than creating fun-to-read books, to encourage reading in today's youth.

MARY: We can create young writers. I talk to so many 10-16 year-olds who are writing fantasy/fiction. I'd imagine that J. K. (Rowling) is, in a big way, responsible for spurring this interest. So, to answer your question, I believe that holding workshops for young writers and also creating book clubs are two ways to encourage reading and writing.

JANET: I think workshops for young writers is a great idea. What have you found so far to be the best venues for conducting these?

MARY: The best way I've found to set up workshops is through the Parks and Recreation department in your area. They are always looking for ideas. Also, libraries are very willing to conduct workshops for young and adult writers.

JANET: You have a very impressive line-up of events scheduled, Mary. I would like to encourage anyone who would like to hear you speak or get your books autographed to check out the
events page on your website.

Thank you, Mary, for taking time to chat with me.

MARY: Thanks, Janet, for the invitation. It's been a pleasure.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Separating our personhood from our work.

It is important to remember that the reviewer or editor is speaking of your work—not you. Even if he or she says "the author apparently.... " or "The author.... something else" it is not about you as a person. If they seem to be attacking you unfairly and without basis, you are dealing with the nasty, adversarial critic I spoke of yesterday—the critc with his or her own axe to grind which actually has nothing to do with you. Disregard it. It is your job to put feelings aside and sort through the criticism to find the gems.

To reiterate: remember these two crucial points:
1) You, the writer, must somehow separate yourself from what you have written.
2) The editor or reviewer is analyzing the work, not the writer as a person.

That may seem obvious, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. When we pour heart and soul into our work, we may have a very hard time separating ourselves from our creations.

1) You may have to tell yourself repeatedly that your critics aren’t saying “You're a horrible person or a terrible writer. Look at what they are saying.”
2) (If that isn’t true, then the critic along with the critique should be summarily dismissed.) Dismiss personal attacks.
3) The next step is to let it jell for awhile, then come back and examine it objectively.
4) Rely on your judgment. Remember, you know the characters, the plot, and the purpose and direction of your story better than anyone else.
5) Keeping that in mind, examine the criticisms and suggestions of the reviewer or editor with an open mind to see whether they are valid or not.
6) Use what you need, lose the rest. Employ what it supports and enhances, and disregard what doesn’t fit. Many blunders, long boring passages, and inconsistencies have been pared from my work thanks to the honest and thoughtful critics who care about my writing.

I have come to appreciate and rely on “critics” as I write my stories. It is far better to write and be criticized, than not to write at all—or to write in a closet and never let your words see the light of day.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Overcoming rejection

Overcoming Rejection and the Writing Life.
Monica Wood says in her book, The Pocket Muse that “every writer needs two critics, one who gives only praise and another who never ever lies.”

The love-everything reader: I agree that the encouragement of family and friends who love everything I write goes a long way toward keeping the creative juices flowing.

The gently discerning listener: In my writers group, I have the support of people who never lie, but they tell the truth in the most gentle and supportive way, qualifying with an “I may be wrong,” so that it hardly feels like criticism and is very constructive.

The Nasty and Adversarial Critic: There are other kinds of critics a writer is bound to encounter along the way—one who, for reasons we may never know, seems bent on tearing the writer and her work apart, apparently taking personal umbrage at what has been written and is fighting back.

The Clueless Critic: There is also the critic, who, though he harbors no malice, does not understand your viewpoint, but because of his or her own experiences and beliefs or biases, finds fault where there is none.

It is up to the writer to sort through it all and find her own truth.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

How to take the sting out of criticism

In the years I have been writing, I have found how useful criticism can be. I seek it out as I'm writing. But in order to avoid letting a rejection or negative review bring creativity to a halt, as I've done in the past, I've learned that writers must:

1) Look closely at any criticism of their literary efforts,
2) Measure criticsm thoughtfully against their own purposes,
3) Apply what is constructive,
4) Discard all that isn’t constructive,
5) Move on to write again.

It is far better to have written and be criticized, than never to have written at all.

Of course, like many things in life, deflecting critical darts is easier said than done. It has taken me many years to get to the point that I can quite quickly stop the bleeding, step back, and analyze the criticism objectively. It has made my writing better, and I give a lot of credit for the popularity of my stories to my editors. They see things I miss. That doesn't mean they are always right. No one knows the characters, plot, and purpose as well as the writer does, so it is important to keep that purpose in mind and to guage other suggestions and criticisms against it.


Monday, September 3, 2007

The Sting of Criticism

I have not kept up with my blogs on as regular a basis as I thought I would. I hope to remedy that, and though there might not be a post everyday, I plan at least three or four a week. For the next four posts I'll take not only an example from Janet Grace Riehl, a faithful blogger, but also borrow some of her content. She recently hosted me as guest blogger, posting a short essay of mine on her blog. I will repeat it here. After I wrote comments on criticism, Janet, with my permission and gratitude, divided them into parts with headings and posted them on her blog.

All writers, unless they keep their work in a closet, under the bed, or hidden somewhere so that it will never be read, will encounter both praise and criticism. Like many writers, when I first started submitting my work, years ago, I was rocked by the tiniest criticism and gentle rejection. I let it block my writing muse while I told myself. "See? I can't write!" What a lot of time I wasted by doing that to myself. It was with this in mind that I wrote the short essay which Janet Grace Riehl divided into four parts on her blog ( Here is part one.

I believe the writer is a special breed of person—one with extraordinarily acute vision, talent, and passion. From the writer’s pen flows, not mere words, but an outpouring for the writer’s soul similar to the travail—and the joy—of giving birth to an infant.
A writer may feel a defensiveness of her verbal creations not wholly unlike the maternal protectiveness experienced when someone criticizes or threatens her offspring.

Blessed is the writer who can emerge undaunted from the paralyzing blow of sharp criticism. Naturally, her tender heart bleeds from the onslaught of arrows shot at her work—her babies. A writer’s equally tender ego takes the full force of those arrows and is wounded by their sting.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Introducing Beth Hodder

I was thrilled to receive a new book in the mail yesterday. It came from an author I met when she had some publishing questions to ask me. Her middle-grade fiction, "The Ghost of Shaefer Meadows", is a work of art. The editing, the design and layout, the artwork, the paper and lamination she chose all work together to attract the bookstore browser. Hard to resist, this book cries out, "hold me." I'm taking a few days off this Labor Day weekend and am sure I'll have it read by the time I get back. I'll write a review here on my blog when I return.

This is a book that gives self-publishing prestige. Beth's efforts have produced a publishing company with high standards, practices, and a noble purpose. "Established in 2005, Grizzly Ridge Publishing is dedicated to encouraging young people to read by offering entertaining and exciting contemporary mysteries involving a young girl and her dog who live in a wilderness. Although these books are fictitious, they offer a unique view of life at a remote U.S. Forest Service ranger station, a lifestyle not often experienced by modern youth or adults." See more at

Monday, August 20, 2007

Favorite authors

It seems there is no better way to meet and read new authors than to be an author oneself. We find each other through book events, blogs, and our mutual love of great books. I feel blessed to have met Janet Riehl and many other accomplished writers via the organization called Women Writing the West. I am honored that Janet has invited me to join her blog ( as guest blogger. On her blog, I will be discussing typical writer reponses to rejections and bad reviews.

Another book I read and loved is a historical novel, A Clearing in the Wild, by Jane Kirkpatrick, based on a true story written by Jane Kirkpatrick. You may be interested in the comments, mine included, posted for this novel on

Mary Cunningham is another children's author I can recommend. What she writes is a little different from my true fiction, in that the two young girls in her books have discovered, or more accurately, fallen into a different time period in her Cynthia's Attic series. It is both a fun and educational article. I hope to have Mary as my guest blogger, or at least an interviewee, sometime in the near future.

There is no end to good books, both classics and contemporary with new authors and their fascinating creations emerging all the time. You'll find as I discuss books I love, that I enjoy a large range of genre. Though I normally read fiction for recreation, occasionally I'll read an especially good memoir or biography when it's recommended to me. I recently finished a haunting book by Barbara Richards, called Dancing on His Grave. Normally I find it hard to read books about abuse, even though I think they are very important for opening the eyes of the public to what is a very real and prevalent problem. It's easy for perpetrators of all kinds of abuse to get away with their crimes because people really don't want to have their world rocked with bad news. However, we as a society need to know, so abuse isn't so easily hidden. When I first opened Dancing on His Grave, I didn't think I could handle reading it, but once I got started I was hooked. Ms. Richards is a captivating storyteller, and the chilling accounts she so expertly relays are all the more gripping because we know they really happened. I found it hard to put the book down. I was in suspense to know if and how the wife and daughters of a violent man could survive to adulthood.

Let me know what you are reading, and I'll share some more of my favorites from time to time.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dealing with movie producers

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I have always felt that the "true fiction" books I write and those I also publish for others have a storyline that would make important, entertaining, and wholesome family movies. For this reason, I signed a movie deal with a professed producer who seemed to share my passion. Being very naive at the time, I signed a contract which required the producer to pay me $50,000 for the movie rights and my part in the screenwriting by the "beginning of principle photography." Verbally, I was told I would actually get the money much sooner because I would be the first one paid and because the movie would be made in much less than the time alloted in the contract. He claimed to have investors who'd already promised plenty to get started. (I've since been informed that a legitimate producer customarily pays for the movie rights up front and an author should insist on it.) After nearly four years of working with the producer, when "principle photography" was still an elusive promise, I refused to renew the contract when it came due. This is because he could not show that he had any money set aside for production and still wouldn't pay me. There is evidence, however, that he had actively promoted the movie and sold shares. Just this morning I looked at his website ( and was astonished to find the trailer he made for the Miranda and Starlight movie advertised as the trailer for his "new production" with a different title. Most of the dialog and scenes in the trailer come directly from my books. This makes me suspicious that rather than putting time and money into a new production, he is still using the work done on the Miranda and Starlight movie to collect money from investors, even though he no longer has the rights to make a movie from my work. I am not so much worried that a film, based on my books, will be made since he was unable to do so during he terms of our agreement, but I do worry that new, unwary investors may be putting hard-earned money into something that is not being represented to them accurately.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

New True Fiction coming soon

Not only do I write "True Fiction" for young people, but I publish other author's True Fiction as well. Jan Young's "The Orange Slipknot" falls into this category. It is also a book with a 12-year-old male protagonist. Although we know from experience that girls will read it too, just as they have loved Fergus, the Soccer-Playing-Colt, we are always glad to find material that boys will enjoy. As with all of our True Fiction, this book will build character as boys see themselves in the life of Ben, the protagonist, and will, by proxy, be able to adopt the lessons he learns through his trials and triumphs. See Jan's website for more details about the book.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What Kids Like to Read

Irene Watson raised an interesting point when she said there is something wrong with the way we produce kids' books and then wonder why kids don't read them. Adults write for kids books. Adults review kids books. Adults decide what books kids should read. Times have changed drastically since we were kids, even if it was not so long ago. Are we the best judges of what interests today's youth? No. We've got to let the kids tell us what we want if we expect them to read what we write. Irene, of Reader Views, ( has started having kids review books for kids. She is finding that they are mostly interested in fantasy and science fiction.

I maintain that young girls, and some boys still love horse stories, as well. I hear from a lot of fans who've read Miranda and Starlight and the rest of the books of that series. These books are still selling well, and I hope to get them into the hands of more kids who love reading about horses by combining the series in a six-book set and selling them for a lower price than the sum of each book sold individually.

Of course we are still competing with ipods and video games, so it's up to us to give kids really good books on subjects that interest them, and make them readily available. Any more suggestions on how to do that?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Book Expo of America

My husband and I attended the BEA in New York last week. It was thrilling to see so many people in one place. As author and publishers, we paid close attention to the badges people were wearing. The blue badges were worn by booksellers and librarians. They are the ones we were most interested in talking to. It certainly seemed as if they were in the minority, however. I'd love to see the figures, but it appeared that publishers, distributors, and wholesalers outnumbered them. It reflects a trend we've been seeing: independent bookstores going out of business, distributors going bankrupt. Check out the article on the state of the book industry by Martin Foner of NPL consultants.

My question is, what can we as authors do to entice kids to read. We compete in an age of electronics. Today's children are adept with instant messaging, Ipods, mp3, etc. and are in habit of getting their information and entertainment electronically. But won't it be sad if they never know the joy of curling up in a warm, quiet place with a good book? Our schools still employ wonderful teachers who encourage reading. Perhaps we as authors can do more to help them put books in the hands and hearts of today's youth.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Why I Write True Fiction

Wearing "many hats" as they say (not that I ever wear a hat) has both advantages and downsides. As a publisher—yeah! CEO of my company, small as it is—I have many jobs and have enjoyed learning them all. Tackling so many challenges certainly lends spice and variety to life. It has broadened my perspective, experiences, and acquaintence with more people than I could ever have met otherwise. Yet it's not my first love and often runs counter to my naturally creative side. My first love is storytelling, creating volumes of books that I have dubbed "true fiction," a name derived from quotes by Wallace Stegner and John Gardner. Stegner said in his book, "On Teaching and Writing Fiction, "It is fiction as truth that I am concerned with here, fiction that reflects experience instead of escaping it, that stimulates instead of deadening." And Gardner, in "On Moral Fiction" said, "true art is moral: it seeks to improve life, not debase it."

My books began when a child asked me to tell her a story. From there it was easy sailing because I knew the character, who acquired characteristics and experiences from my own childhood, that of my daughters, and especially, my granddaughter—the child who asked me to tell her the story. Adding her problems—a nontraditional family situation and a new school in which she didn't feel welcome—and her wishes, "a regular family," friends, and "a horse of my very own," the story told itself. The first book, Miranda and Starlight, begged for a sequel. More followed until Miranda, who began as a ten year old turned fourteen at the end of the sixth and final book. Young girls who love horses became avid fans, not just for the horse lore, but for experiences they could relate to. One young lady from Texas told me, "Before I read Miranda and Starlight, I hated reading. Your books have changed my life. Never stop writing books!" (Katherine Wade, age 11) Others have said. Miranda is just like me. I felt like I was there.

I wrote "Danny's Dragon: a story of wartime loss" for all the children in my neighborhood and in the news whose parents (one or both) were sent away from them to fight the war in Iraq. Putting myself in the place of a Montana ranch boy whose father became a casualty, I created ten-year-old Danny to show the devastating affects of such loss, the stages of grief he goes through, and the changes wrought in the family dynamics and even the physical lifestyle as a result of the loss. One child who lost her father read the story and said, "I knew Danny's feeling very well. He acted exactly like I did when I lost my father," Katie Wade, age 13.

Most children find it difficult to talk to a teacher, counselor, or even a parent about their own feelings and problems; the deeper the feeling, the harder it is to talk about. It's much easier to discuss the character in a book and say, for example, "Miranda feels the same way I do." or "The reason I acted like I did is because I was feeling just like Danny felt." This makes true fiction—my own, those I've published for other authors—and many other books that qualify as my definition for true fiction, an effective tool for children to understand and express themselves and for adults to open communication with a child.

Whatever happens with publishing, I know I will continue to write true fiction as long as I am able to sit at a key board or hold a pen in my hand. I can't NOT write. I am currently working on a trilogy about orphan (or semi orphan) twins who were separated at the age of four. Kendall, who lives with his nomadic father, is shy, fearful, and lonely. Kyleah, who lives in a distant foster home, longs to be beautiful so that people will want her, yet she is afraid that if she loves anyone, they will leave her. When a foster brother talks her into running away with him, adventures with important lessons abound.

Well, work calls, and so does Kendall. Must run.