Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our Children; Our Future

I can't imagine the Christmas holiday season without children. In our family, this time of year is special for bringing family together, putting aside worries and work, and finding the love and peace that connects us. But it is the children who make it so joyous and promising. 

I was given a bookmark with a most profound message that I wish all of us, including our world leaders would take to heart: "Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents; it was loaned to you by your children." Indian Proverb

If I have been given a job to do on earth, it is to nurture and protect the children who come into my life, and to give them gifts that will bolster their self-esteem and teach them to cope with some of the trials that life brings to them. When I receive letters from young readers across the country, I am humbled with the responsibility of writing books for kids. I take it seriously and strive to follow the commission the children have given to me. 

An eleven year old from Texas wrote, "Before I read Miranda and Starlight, I hated reading. Your books have changed my life. Last night, I read Starlight's Shooting Star for three hours and it felt like five minutes. You have a gift. Never stop writing books." 

An eight year old from Massachusetts wrote, "I got your book, Starlight, Star Bright. It is my favorite so far. My brother doesn't like horses, but he loves your books. I think you made a great accomplishment. Are you working on a fourth book? I hope you write ten billion books."

A thirteen year old from California said, "I loved your books.…I liked specifically how you give Miranda and the characters challenges that don't have very obvious solutions. It's more like real life, not all tied up in a bow. It makes me want to keep reading them." 

A thirteen year old from Utah said, "I can really relate to Miranda. I am going through the same things that she has with friends. I can't wait for more of your books." 

And another thirteen year old from Wyoming, "I liked your book very much. Miranda reminds me of me." 

A twelve year old from Montana wrote, "Starlight Comes Home is the best book in the series. It deals with real problems we kids face. The ending is surprising and very good. This book tells that no matter how bad things get, you can always get through them." 

There are many more, which was a very unexpected and pleasant surprise when I started writing and publishing my books. But more than that, it is a grave challenge, making me realize that none of us was put here on earth to merely bide our time and entertain ourselves.  There is important work to do. The kids have given me mine. And I must get to it. I have a responsibility not only to my grandchildren and great grandchildren, but also to those around the world, now living and yet to come who may read my books. Time wasted on trivia is time robbed from the children who have loaned me a portion of the earth for a while. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Creative writing, both inspiration and perspiration

"Eliminate the time between the idea and the act, and your dreams will become a reality." Jean Jacques Rouseau

Good advice, I think, especially for the writer. Ideas are plentiful enough. It's the act of transferring them to paper (or word processor) before they evaporate that is too often lacking. Writing requires inspiration, but inspiration alone produces nothing if it is not acted upon—and that requires discipline and consistent work. I once read the advice of a famous author—so long ago that I don't remember who it was, but the gist of his comment is this: to be a successful writer, one must have a desk and chair, a writing instrument, and a bathrobe with a long belt. The purpose of the belt is to tie the writer to the chair. 

It is so easy to allow ourselves to be distracted; to decide to wait for inspiration, when nothing immediately comes to mind. However, unless we allow time in our busy lives to be still and listen, our muse hardly stands a chance of getting an idea through to us. And unless we act on the ideas when they come, we may lose our chance forever. 

I like the article Building a Creative Practice, Not for Wimps by Janet Riehl posted on the Story Circle Network, Telling HerStories, the Broad View. She advises, "Don't wait for your muse to show up." According to Janet, we need to decide the best time and place for our regular writing, make a date with our muse, and ink it into our calendar. If you are interested in writing successfully and on a regular basis, you will want to read the full article. 

I would add one thing to Janet's points on creative practice: Always be prepared to entertain the muse should she show up unexpectedly. Keep a note pad and pen close at hand so that when an idea or inspiration strikes, you can write it down before it escapes. Keep writing materials at your bedside, for often the muse visits just as you are awaking, before you have time to fill your head with the chatter of daily tasks and concerns. 

I give many similar pointers and further advice for enhancing writing habits in my fiction writing workshops. Now the trick is to incorporate them fully into my daily life. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hidden Population/Innocent Victims of Social Stigma and Neglect

Imagine you are a child. You wake up one morning to find that your father (or perhaps it's your mother) is gone and won't be coming back. Dead? No, worse. He (or she) is in jail...going to prison. But you are not allowed to talk about it. "Don't tell anyone. They'll hate you if you do."

But kids in school find out. They whisper about you. They point fingers. They stop talking when you enter the room. They don't include you in their games. Teachers don't know what to do with you when your grades start slipping. Society as a whole has abandoned you. The stigma you must live with is only a fraction of the negative affects of parental incarceration on children, the innocent victims.

Why Punish the Children? is the title of two different studies, one from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and the other by The Children's Defense Fund. It is indeed the children who suffer the most when a parent is sent to prison. Statistics gathered in October 2001 shows over 721,500 parents of an estimated 1,324,900 minor children were confined to prisons. When we realize that the prison population grows each year, that number is much larger today. By 2007 the number had grown by a million to an estimated 2.3 million children with a parent in prison in the United States.

What happens to these kids? Who provides for them and how? Unfortunately, little is done to assure that they are given consistent nurturing care. The result? Innocent children suffer extreme traumatic stress. Many will develop criminal tendencies and eventually end up in prison themselves. "NCCD studies found that children of incarcerated parents did not thrive.... but experienced severe problems in school and showed signs of serious mental health and behavioral problems." This link will lead you to many articles that explore the plight of children of prisoners.

Jan Walker, who spent 18 years as an educator in both men's and women's prisons, has a deep concern for the children of prisoners. She developed a curriculum for prisoners called, Parenting from a Distance which provides parenting skills to unite families and gives incarcerated parents the tools to help alleviate some of the trauma their imprisonment has caused. She also wrote a book for the children, An Inmate's Daughter, to let these 2.3 million or more children know that they are not alone and to teach them that they matter; to help them overcome the stigma and the feelings of guilt that they usually feel; to emulate the protagonist in exploring her own feelings and developing self-respect.

As important as this book is, we have run into a wall when it comes to getting it into the hands of these typically impoverished and forgotten children. Society prefers to ignore their existence. Classroom teachers are overburdened and underfunded, limiting time and resources for struggling and often difficult children. Government agencies have ignored them.

If you know of anyone who might benefit from a book like this, please tell them about it. Have them give us a call (866-685-3545) and we'll make the book available at a price they can afford.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Releasing Suppressed Emotions/Healing with True Fiction

Perhaps it's because of a childhood experience that I empathize with a child separated from his or her parents—and why I write and publish books that express the trauma such children experience. It is my hope in publishing these books that readers will understand and accept their own feelings and know they are not alone. Too often, kids think that their feelings are wrong and that they are somehow to blame for the situation that has left them bereft. From the feedback I have received from kids reading these books, I know my hopes are realized. The books touch a sympathetic chord in the reader. The trouble is, these books are not popular with the adults who supply books to their children. They worry that True Fiction books will make kids sad—and that being sad is a bad thing. The truth is that tears are not only healing, but necessary in resolving emotional pain. If you wish to know how this process works see the "path of tears" to "emotional healing" at

Books based on real emotion brought on by situations real kids face, which I call "True Fiction" are designed to help kids break through the blocks that keep painful emotions inside. When I was growing up, emotional blocks were put in place by the grown ups in my life who were given these messages when they were kids: Crying is for sissies, don't get mad, don't scream, and for heaven's sake, don't cry! Though it may not be as commonplace today, I think these messages are still being instilled in some kids.

I was nine years old when I got my first "job." I was thrilled and very proud of my prowess. I got to ride for neighbors, keeping tabs on a herd of dairy cows during the day, so that they could graze the grass growing along the quiet country road that ran by their house. After milking in the morning, Frank would let his cows out. An hour or two later, I'd saddle up one of his horses and ride out to see that they hadn't strayed too far. If they had gone more than 4 or 5 miles from home, I'd get them headed the other direction. I'd get on the horse and go check on them every hour or two.

Even though we lived only five miles from my employer, arrangements had been made for me to stay overnight. That way, no one had to drive over to pick me up and then take me back every day. It made sense, and I was fine with the arrangement—at first. There was one place along the country road that I could look across the river and the railroad tracks to see my home in the distance. As I sat on my horse and looked longingly at home, I wondered what my parents and siblings were doing and whether they missed me, I was overcome with homesickness. I wanted to be with my family. Each day, the sadness grew as I sat on Frank's horse and stared homeward. By the time I'd been away about two weeks, I felt I couldn't stand it anymore. The grief of missing my family overwhelmed me. That night, when the boss's wife, Lois, as was her habit, came into the bedroom I shared with their four-year-old son, to check on us, I produced an audible sob, rather than pretending to be asleep as I usually did. She asked what was wrong, and I told her. She phoned my parents who were already in bed, sleeping. "Tell her to go to sleep. We'll come get her tomorrow." Oh how I wish I'd been satisfied with that, but I thought I'd die of grief if I didn't go home that night. My employer and his wife bundled up their sleeping son, started up their old pickup truck which had no headlights. Lois held a flash light out the window as Frank drove. They saw me to the door where we woke my tired parent's again. The reunion was not the glad welcoming I had envisioned. Mom and Dad were embarrassed and outraged at the trouble I had caused the kind neighbors. I'll never forget the concern in my little sister's voice when she asked, "What's wrong with Janet? Is she sick?" and the scorn and disgust in Mom's when she replied. "No. She's just homesick" and ordered me to bed.

That incident further reinforced what I'd already been taught. Only sissies cry, and selfish feelings are not acceptable, so keep them hidden if you have them at all. What I learned later in life, however, is that emotions suppressed in childhood affected every aspect of my life as an adult. Years of therapy have helped me know intellectually, that permission to feel and express emotion is healing. How I wish every parent would encourage their children's expression of what is going on inside them and let them know something I didn't learn until I took child development in college: that it is okay to cry.

As I said in the beginning of this blog entry, the books I write and publish have a mission. Their purpose is to allow the reader to feel what is inside them by portraying the same feelings through true-to-life characters and events. Tears are healing. Unless children can confront his true feelings they will remain suppressed, and suppressed feelings are the source of inner pain, self abnegation, and a lack of self-esteem that keeps them from realizing their full potential.

The Miranda and Starlight series, through engaging characters, portrays the feelings of loneliness and abandonment of a young girl whose mother has left her to live with grandparents and go to a school where she feels unaccepted.

Through Danny's Dragon, kids relate to the loss of a parent who has died. They experience Danny's feelings as he deals with the denial, guilt, isolation, and anguish that are the natural stages of grief. Kids who have suffered the loss of a parent, close friend or even a pet are comforted to know they are not alone, their feelings are natural, and the loss is not their fault. Kids who haven't yet experienced the death of a loved one are better able to sympathize with those who have and better prepared for it when it does happen. Kids who are holding feelings of loss and grief inside will find a way to let the healing tears flow when they read this book.

Kyleah's Tree and Kendall's Storm (coming next year) bring to life the feelings and hardships associated with separation not only from parents, but from a twin or close sibling. Vicariously, kids who are orphaned or separated from loved ones for any reason will be able to experience and understand their own feelings. Tears will flow, but there will also be joy and satisfaction in the adventures and triumphs of the wisdom and growth they see in Miranda, Danny, Kyleah and Kendall.

Jenna MacDonald, An Inmate's Daughter, and her brother suffer not only the loss of a parent, but also the stigma that hounds them wherever they go, forcing them to keep a guilty secret and feel shame that is not rightfully theirs. With millions of children in the same boat, this book should be flying off the shelves and into the hands of kids who could find comfort in knowing they are not alone and that there is hope for them. Most of these millions, statistics say, will follow their parent's footsteps and become incarcerated themselves later in life. Why? Because no one takes gives them a chance. Intervention, it is shown, can make all the difference. Books like An Inmate's Daughter go a long way in helping. Every school and library should have one. Every child who has a parent in prison should read it. Every child who knows a child with a parent in prison should read it to understand and empathize with those who do.

Children who have read these books report that they love them because they can relate to the characters. They want to read more like them. Adults who think they are protecting their children by only getting them books that help them escape reality may be depriving them of books that will change their lives by evoking healing tears.

If you know of children who could benefit from True Fiction stories like those mentioned here, let them or their parents know about them—or better yet, give them one for Christmas. They may be found in book stores,, or from the publisher. (click here to order.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Present Influences on Our Writing/Writers Block

"The future influences the present just as much as the past." When this quote by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche came up in my cryptoquote for the day, it seemed fitting. Like most working class Americans, my present decisions are being influenced by the forecasts of a future financial recession. I don't know if that is what he meant or whether I agree with him. It seems to me that the future, not having occurred yet, could not possibly affect the present as much as the past does. I guess he means our fear (which may be influenced by the past), our hope, goals, and plans for the future influence what we do now.

An interesting question raised in our writers group last week related this quote to the dreaded writer's block. We were discussing why some authors of one successful book stop writing. "Does success overwhelm the author to the point she is afraid to try again?" Afraid of what? Afraid that she cannot duplicate the former success? Or afraid he won't live up to his fans' expectations? Afraid of the publicity she must face as a successful author? We may never know all the reasons. Even the author may not know why, for the underlying cause may be deeply subconscious.

We wonder why Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) quit writing. I know only what I read in a biography. "Although her first novel gained a huge success, Lee did not continue her career as a writer. She returned from New York to Monroeville, where she has lived avoiding interviews." Other very talented authors I know seem to experience a writer's block after a first very well written and much loved novel. Why? I'd have to ask them, but for this discussion, I'll just surmise the possible reasons, dividing them into influences from the past, the future, and the present.

The fears I spoke of in the preceding paragraph belong to the future. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of the unknown that has us busy with self-preservation. Another future-related reason for not writing may be simply moving on to new interests and goals to fill ones' days and satisfy the soul.

Writer's block that relates to the past include those demons of doubt I talk about in my workshops. Voices instilled by authority figures and peers when we were very young. "You are never going to amount to anything," we may have heard, and when we are very young, we believe everything we hear. "You can't do that." "No one is interested in what you have to say." and my favorite, "Who do you think you are?" with all it's negative implications. Lies all, but somehow they get stuck in our heads, and when we least expect it, whisper their ominous warnings. The voice that says, "It has all been said before. You can't write anything original, so don't waste your time," makes it hard to write anything. Another voice, "If you can't do it right, don't do it at all," creates a perfectionism that keeps us from trying, or causes us to scrap our efforts in frustration, when they don't meet our very high standard of what "should" be.

The present, however, may hold as many blocks to our writing as those related to the past or the future. One may be simply that we have run out of things to say. We've used up our ideas and need to put down the pen to replenish the supply with fresh experiences. A current crisis such as an acute health problem, an accident, a relationship problem, a loved one in trouble, may absorb us completely. When the latter is the case, we may find release in writing about it, or it may be too close to us for writing to be possible at the present time.

If you are experiencing writer's block for any of the present, past, or future reasons, the worst thing you can do is to flagellate yourself. Be kind, give yourself some slack, or you are just exacerbating the problem. Approach the keyboard or the pen with gratitude, the anticipation of pleasure, and the permission to write badly, briefly, and just for your own fulfillment. Remove the censor and the taskmaster. And let yourself know. "If I don't write, it doesn't mean I'm a bad person. If I write, I have the choice of allowing it to be read or not."

"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."– C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The season to write is now, but don't give up on promotion

I have the perfect antidote for the prevailing fear and uncertainty that plagues most of us as a result of the falling stock markets reacting to the mismanagement of our country's financial institutions, the failure of the imprudent government bailout attempt to fix the problem, and the recession in which we find ourselves. The average American is cutting back spending to cover basic needs. Businesses that offer the amenities of life are feeling the crunch. Even publishing guru, Dan Poynter, commented in a recent lecture at the Colorado Independent Publisher's association that this is not the best time to publish new books, but a better time to write in preparation for the next upswing in the economy. It will come, Poynter declared. In the meantime, WRITE!

I welcomed this call to write from Dan Poynter, but I also took to heart his advice about promoting what we have published. His talk on book promotion was an encouragement to the introvert writer who is by nature a reluctant marketer. As I have commented before, the idea of promoting one's self seems counter to the average fiction writer, especially to the author who prefers a pen in private seclusion to a podium before a public audience; especially those whose elders told us, "don't ask for favors" and "don't blow your own horn;" especially to those to whom rejection and criticism is a knife piercing a tender ego.

We don't have to go on the radio or TV if we don't feel like it. We don't have to get out and set up autographing parties in book stores (something that might be hard to arrange today, anyway.) But there is much we can do in the privacy of our homes. The internet offers a wealth of opportunity. John Kremer (1001 Ways to Market Your Book) suggests that you do five promotional projects for you book each day; and, as Poynter said, you can do them from your own home. My suggestion is that you do at least one more each day than you have been doing. It's a good place to start. In my Newsletter to fellow writers, I will make frequent suggestions for doing so. If you'd like to receive my newsletter via e-mail, please request it at

Once I have done my "promoting from home," for my latest published work, Kyleah's Tree, today, I will write more on the third book of my trilogy (working title: Kendall and Kyleah or Twins Again or various other titles I'm toying with.) as well as continuing to edit and polish the second book, Kendall's Storm

When I think of writing and giving myself permission to write daily, there is no end to the possibilities, and I get excited. Please, give yourself permission to write today and everyday. It's a good time to create and perfect our stories.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Battles of Will

"It is a great mistake to command when you are not sure you will be obeyed," said Honere, Compte de Mirabeau

This morning's quote for the day reminded me of Jenny's story. Jenny was a precocious two-year-old, eagerly exploring her world to learn for herself how everything worked. With typical two-year-old zeal, she explored her own independence, as well. Wrapped in love by her parents and two adoring older siblings, and with a gregarious personality spurred by curiosity, she developed a quick wit and larger than usual vocabulary. She had been a sickly baby, and was used to being doted upon; her needs met with anxious concern by her mother.

Alvin, her father, a proud, hard-working man, who loved his children, took his job as head of the household very seriously. He had learned all he knew about parenting from his own mom and dad and the general "wisdom" of the day that said things like, "Children should be seen and not heard." "Parents, train up a child in the way it should go." "Children, obey your parents." "If you spare the rod, you'll spoil the child." "It is the parent's responsibility to break the will of a strong-willed child." What he didn't know is that in a battle of wills between a parent and a child there is no winner. It is a lose-lose situation if ever there was one.

It was dinner time on the ranch, dinner being the noontime meal and the biggest meal of the day for a family that rose early to milk the cows before beginning work in the fields. The family sat around the kitchen table enjoying the pleasant repast—until jenny, in her high chair—said, "I want more milk." Mom replied, "What do you say, Jenny?"
"I want more milk," the two year old repeated. "No, Jenny, I meant you need to say please." A flash of understanding radiated Jenny's face for a split second before it reddened slightly. It was as if she thought. "Oh, yeah. They shouldn't have had to tell me that." But that expression quickly changed to a look of determination as she thought again. "Why should I have to say please to get my milk? I never had to before."

"Jenny, your mother told you to say please, now say it." Alvin ordered, resting his hand on his wife's arm as she reached for the pitcher of milk. He couldn't let this little girl disobey her mother. He'd have a rebellious child on his hand if he didn't nip this problem in the bud.

Jenny shook her head, stubbornly. "Jenny, say please right now, or I will have to spank you," Alvin commanded.
"No!" Jenny said, alarmed at the way her simple request for milk was turning out, but determined not to back down. Didn't they owe her the milk? Wasn't it hers for the asking? She was not going to beg for it.

Alvin rose from his chair, hoping that the motion would be all it would take to put fear into the toddler and evoke the desired response. It didn't. Neither did lifting her from her highchair. "Are you going to say please, or am I going to have to spank you?"
Jenny, wide eyed, refused. Surely her daddy wouldn't hurt her. He never had before. A simple swat didn't elicit the desired, "please." Jenny only cried out in alarm. Alvin was determined. He had gone this far. How could he possibly back down without appearing weak in front of his children; without giving them the upper hand? Letting her win would teach her and her watchful siblings that they didn't have to obey. The blows got harder until Jenny was crying so convulsively that she couldn't have spoken a word if she had wanted to. Defeated and angry, Alvin put her to bed and closed the bedroom door with the futile command to Jenny to "Quit crying!"

"Don't go in there or let her come out until she quits crying and says she's sorry," he told his family as he went outdoors. Back at work, he felt worse about himself and his job as a parent than he ever had before.

Jenny was left to sob convulsively until she fell asleep in exhaustion. When she awoke, she was changed. Her mother would tell her in later years that the difference was night and day. Jenny was no longer outgoing and happy, but subdued, shy, withdrawn and even functionally mute much of the time. "It's as if your spirit was broken that day," her mother said. And indeed, it was; broken beyond repair.

The best lesson we can glean from this true story is to carefully and completely avoid battles of will. There are better ways. Whenever possible, give the child choices. Let her be the one to make the decision. When my grandson refuses to brush his teeth, I ask, do you want to do it by yourself, or do you want me to brush them for you? He will choose one or the other, and either way the result is that his teeth get brushed. The same with washing his face and hands, picking out his clothes for the day. When he refuses to dress himself, his mom might say, "Do you want to get dressed now and eat breakfast with us, or do you want to sit in time out first?" It's his choice, and he usually chooses to dress right away. If not, and his breakfast is late, the consequence is the result of his own choosing. He learns that it is he who controls the outcome, for better or worse.

As adults, we often underestimate our children's ability to understand. If we take the time to explain to them why we are asking them to do something, or why we are refusing a request, they will find it easier to accept. They might tell you, if you listen, where they are coming from on the issue, and at times, you may see that they are right. Communication beats "Because I said so!" at least 95% if not all of the time.

A parent should carefully consider whether an issue is worth a confrontation. In the case of Jenny and the milk, I don't think it was. If the parents had said, "Of course you may have milk, Jenny. But you know what? Big people always say, please, when they ask for something. It's called being polite. You may want to try it next time." Or, better yet, just give her the milk and say nothing. I have observed that children adopt the polite words on their own by observing and imitating the adults around them. It's what kids naturally do.

"With a strong willed child it's more about communication than control. We are all given free will- a strong willed child just seems to have discovered it a bit sooner than we would have liked. When a strong willed child is presented with commands, rather than choices, his default behavior will be to buck authority because he feels like his choices have been taken away. Giving a strong willed child two choices you can live with, works better than a command. 'We need to go, do you want to wear shoes or sandals?' works better than 'Put on your shoes,'" author and America's Nanny, Michelle LaRowe suggests at where you'll find more expert advice on parenting the strong-willed child.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Criticism and Self Esteem

Esteem-building in Children Produces Successful Adults

By Janet Muirhead Hill

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather by ruined by praise than to be saved by criticism. Norman Vincent Peale

Nice outfit, Good thinking, Well done, Beautiful picture! Delicious meal! All are nice words to hear. On the other hand: Your fly is open, You need to brush—your breath is overpowering, or I think you missed the mark with your composition. I found it ambiguous and repetitive, These are comments that are not as easy to hear, but have the potential of saving us.

Constructive criticism is more beneficial to the receiver than all of the platitudes in the world…if they are accepted without umbrage. If you tell me my clothing is undone, my breath stinks, or that my writing lacks focus, I can fix the problem so that I don’t embarrass myself, offend others, or fail in my creative goals. The compliments, on the other hand, do nothing to stimulate change. And change is necessary for personal growth.

Grown ups should be able to absorb criticism and apply it constructively or, if it doesn’t fit, discard it without rancor. Whether or not we can depends largely on our level of self-confidence. An adult who blames others for his or her mistakes and feelings, who takes offense at criticism, and who constantly seeks praise from others are exposing feelings of insecurity. How often do you say things like: How do you like my work? Am I doing okay? Did you like the gift I gave you? Did you see what I did? and Do you love me? Do you turn every subject into a discussion about you? Of course we all do it now and then; often it’s appropriate. Recognizing the extent to which we exhibit egocentric tendencies will help us pinpoint our own insecurities. Pay attention to how much you talk about yourself. Notice your feelings when you receive criticism. Do you verbally or mentally blame others for problems in your life? If so, you may have unresolved issues from childhood that gave you a low self-esteem.

The Child Development Institute declares, “Self-esteem is a major key to success in life.” Here are the differences it can make in a child’s life; differences that acontinue into adulthood..

According to the Child Development Institute’s website, a child with healthy self-esteem will:
• act independently
• assume responsibility
• take pride in his accomplishments
• tolerate frustration
• attempt new tasks and challenges
• handle positive and negative emotions
• offer assistance to others
On the other hand, a child with low self-esteem will:
• avoid trying new things
• feel unloved and unwanted
• blame others for his own shortcomings
• feel, or pretend to feel, emotionally indifferent
• be unable to tolerate a normal level of frustration
• put down his own talents and abilities
• be easily influenced

Parents, teachers, peers and society shape a child’s self-esteem. Of these, parents have the largest influence and the greatest opportunity to foster a healthy self-confidence in their children. As in my case, a child’s parents may be loving and well intentioned, and still foster a low-self esteem through ignorance about healthy child development. (Yes, exhibited symptoms of the second group (above) until years of therapy helped me gain enough self-esteem to manage my crippling inferiority complex.)

Praise is important in early childhood…and so is criticism as long as it does not take the form of shame or ridicule. It is important to target the behavior, not the child’s character in both praise and criticism. I like the way you cleaned your room. You did a great job of putting everything in its place, rather than, You are a good boy for cleaning your room, (implying he would be a bad boy if he hadn’t). I like your room much better when you put your clothes in the hamper instead of leaving them on the floor, rather than, Look at this mess! You drive me crazy when I see what a lazy slob you are.

NEVER label a child, and NEVER blame children (or anyone else) for your feelings. Teach them, instead, that every person is responsible for his or her own feelings, and that “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent,” as Eleanor Roosevelt said.

Children tend to fulfill a parent’s expectations of them. A mother who tells her son that he will never amount to anything because he is a lazy bum is furnishing a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because a child believes what a parent tells him, he will no doubt become a lazy bum. A child who believes, because his parents believe, that he will succeed in whatever avocation he chooses, surely will. A pre-med student I knew in college had no doubt that she would succeed in her chosen profession. Her parents let her know at an early age that she could become whatever she wanted to be. When she chose medicine, they gave her their full support with never the slightest doubt that she would become one of the best doctors in her chosen field. Another self-fulfilling prophecy that came true.

Within safe limits, allow children to experiment, problem solve, and to “do it myself.” That’s how they learn to trust and rely upon their intelligence and capabilities. Hugs, winks, cuddling, talking, sharing story time, listening to, and laughing with children help them to know they are loved and therefore loveable. Children who develop self-love and self-trust will grow up to be responsible, confident adults who accomplish great things. They will neither be devastated by criticism nor ruined by praise.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The joys of Grandchildren

On the 12th of September, a new grandchild was added to our family. Nothing is more exciting than a new baby. I'm in awe of how perfect and precious our little Dawson James Andrews is. Here he is, brand new, with his big brother, Kaden, age 4 and 3/4 years old. Congratulations to the proud parents, Joel and Tayla Andrews.

I'm a happy grandma, and a sober one as I contemplate the future for my grandchildren and my great-granddaughter Jaedyn Alexis, now almost three months old. What can I do to make this world a better place for them? That's a question I must answer to the best of my ability each day. 

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Physical beauty and self-esteem

In my latest novel, Kyleah's Tree, although she doesn't understand it in these terms, Kyleah is looking for herself—a better self than the one she perceives when she looks in the mirror.

"I wished to be pretty so Dad could love me," she told Aunt Jude upon return to her foster home after running away. She was less than 4-years-old when her mother said to her, "Pretty is as pretty does. Don't go thinking you're beautiful. It's what's inside that counts." As is typical of a child that age, she took the comment to heart. As a result, the false belief that she is too ugly to love was instilled. At age eleven, she still avoids getting close to people, sure that they are repulsed by her appearance. Physical beauty has become synonymous, in her mind, with self-worth, and takes on far more importance than it merits. She feels unlovable.

Self-esteem in a child is fragile. It can be shattered with a careless phrase, spoken in anger, in jest, or in a passing comment that is merely misinterpreted by the youngster. The latter is the case of my mother, Dorothy, who spent most of her life thinking she was unnaturally and conspicuously tall. An acquaintance stopped her and her grandmother when they were walking down the street one day. "My how she has grown. Isn't she tall for her age?" the woman asked. From that day on, Dorothy slumped in an effort to look "normal," until she grew old, hump-backed, and too short, even by her own estimation.

Perhaps Kyleah's inaccurate self-image is not the only reason she ran away from home, but it led to the circumstances that sealed the decision. It is too often the case that children who lack self-confidence and feel "ugly' end up as victims if they decide to run away. Such children are in danger of sexual assault or exploitation when they run away from home. Kyleah is no exception, but, thanks to Benjamin's intervention, she was able to escape what could have been much worse than they were.

My hope is that children reading this book will be forewarned; that they will develop a strong enough sense of their own self-worth to make them less vulnerable to inappropriate advances.

I wish for all children of this difficult pre-adolescent age, a strong sense of who they are, love for themselves, and an understanding that "home" begins with knowing and accepting one's self.

(Drawing above is by Pat Lehmkuhl from Miranda and Starlight.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kyleah's Tree is HERE.

I was extremely pleased with the book when it arrived from the printer last week. Herb Leonhard's beautiful cover illustration depicts the story so well. A girl in a tree at sunrise. 

Kyleah, whose tree connects her with all she has lost and hopes to find, reminds me a lot of myself, whose childhood refuge was the tip-top of a tall cottonwood in our backyard. Kyleah, who suffers from a lack of self-esteem, runs away from her dissatisfaction, encounters some narrow escapes and traumatic experiences on the way, only to find—and accept—herself, before returning to her tree. 

Available now at, and many other online and local stores.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

True Fiction for child victims

No matter how one feels about the war in Iraq, all must surely agree that the children who are left behind are the innocent victims. As I watched news clips after the invasion of Iraq, I felt deep empathy and sorrow for the children pulled from the arms of a mom or dad, and in some cases, both, after a prolonged and tearful goodbye. I listened to a mother left behind with three preschool age children who at first missed their father. When he did not return right away, they refused to talk about him, for it was easier to forget him, than to suffer the pain of his "abandonment." When a new boy started school with my grandchildren, I learned that he had come to live with his grandparents when both his parents were deployed to fight in Iraq. 
How does that feel? I asked myself. But I knew, just from agony of homesickness I suffered from a two week separation from my parents when I was nine. And they were not that far away. Just multiply that experience a hundredfold or a thousandfold, and I'd have an idea. What if they never came back? was my next question. How could I know what that was like? I had recently lost my mother and five years before that, my dad. I know the ache of missing them. But I'm an adult. My parents were in their eighties and their deaths were not unexpected. I could only imagine how painful it would be for a nine year old to lose a parent. 
But imagine I did, getting into the heart and mind of Danny, a fictional nine-year-old boy, as best I could. He is a rancher's son, and very close to his father. They worked and played together, and when Danny asked for a horse of his own, his dad could not refuse him. The horse, Dragon, becomes Danny's pride and joy and constant companion until the day his father dies. Then he can't look at him anymore, sure that it was the expense of the horse that forced his dad to join the Air National Guard, go to Iraq, and die in a fiery plane crash. Blaming his horse and himself, he withdraws from everything. 
The story continues as the loss is compounded on his family, (himself, his mother, and older sister) each dealing with his or her grief privately. Financially unable to hold on to the mortgaged cattle ranch, they move to Denver to live with Danny's grandparents. 
Can Danny adapt? Will he survive this additional loss of everything he has ever known. Will he get his "Dragon" back? Will his family, torn apart by deep personal sorrow, ever regain the happy unity they once shared? When Danny confronts the "enemy," an Iraqi classmate in the Denver school, will blame and hatred overwhelm him?   
The answers may be found in "Danny's Dragon" by Janet Muirhead Hill in book stores or online at

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Guidelines for Writing "True Fiction"

Have you ever wondered, "Just what is 'True Fiction?'" When authors ask for guidelines from our publishing company, Raven Publishing, Inc. they receive a pretty fair description. Almost all of the titles we've published constitute what we call "True Fiction."  Here are the guidelines as given by Raven.

"Raven Publishing, Inc. specializes in "True Fiction" for children ages 8-14. Here are the criteria the editors look for in reviewing queries: 

1. a story so interesting that children will prefer reading to watching TV
2. a hook on the first page of the novel that will compel the reader to continue
3. a story that confronts important issues that today's children face
4. a moral, esteem-building, and encouraging lesson or lessons couched in the story—without the slightest hint of didacticism or religiosity.
5. an authentic portrayal of natural human emotion and reactions.
6. no downgrading implications to any culture, lifestyle, or group of people.
7. a story with fully developed characters that today's children will care about
8. a satisfying ending that makes the reader feel good about the book, the characters, and themselves. 
9. concise writing in an active voice with one point of view."

For more instruction on submitting queries see the Raven Publishing website.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Runaway children and another "True Fiction."

In the heat of a childhood argument I was once told that I ought to run away from home. No one would miss me, anyway. The argument was resolved, a truce reached, and we went on to work, play, and fight together as siblings do, but the suggestion provided interesting fodder for my overactive imagination. Yes. I'd show them. I'd just see how much they missed me. Like many kids—maybe even most—the thought of running away from home held exciting possibilities. I dwelt on it often. My imaginary friends were on the other side of the mountain in a nomadic camp, with teepees, campfires, dogs, and horses. I saw myself climbing the mountain, descending to the other side where a girl my age, dressed in buckskin, and wearing long black braids, would run to meet me. Her family would adopt me. In a solemn ceremony in which the Indian girl and I would cut our hands and mix our blood in a firm and loving grasp, we would become true sisters and I'd live happily ever after in their village.  

A lot of satisfaction can be garnered from playing the imagined scenario over and over in the mind without having to act on it. I never did run away. Though the argument was resolved and we were allies once again, I continued to savor the fantasy and visited it whenever I felt slighted or peeved. I went so far as to talk a younger sister into going with me "when the time comes. But first we have to learn to eat tree bark, in case we run out of food." After her first taste, my sister opted out. Staying at home looked pretty good in comparison.

How many kids harbor similar fantasies? How many act upon them? I was surprised to learn that a study in 1999 showed that somewhere near 1.7 million children and teens had run away from home. And those were the ones reported. It was estimated that a relatively small percentage of parents ever report that a child has left home. That is very difficult for me to fathom, but when I see why most of them run away, it makes more sense. 

Although it is difficult to learn the exact reasons kids leave, especially teens, who don't like to talk about it, it's quite certain that most run because the home situation is intolerable. Many, if not most leave to escape verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. Some have been forced out by parents who don't want to deal with them. Many may leave over an argument with a parent, or restrictions they feel are unfair. Some are enticed to leave by predators who offer them a "better" life. A few report that they only wanted to experience something new and exciting. My suspicion is that a lack of self-esteem largely influences the decision. "Nobody loves me, because I'm unlovable." 

That is the underlying factor at the heart of Kyleah's decision to leave a safe environment. Kyleah is the protagonist of my most recent novel, Kyleah's Tree. Had I intended to write a story dealing with the plight of runaways, my story would be much darker and more gruesome than it is. The perils that await a child on the streets are worse than frightening and sometimes fatal. 

What I wanted to convey is the affect of self-abnegation. Kyleah, whose early experience with her mother left her feeling ugly and unwanted, dreams that if only she were beautiful, she would be loved and wanted by her father. This vulnerability leads her to be persuaded to leave her foster home for an exciting series of adventures and narrow escapes that finally lead her to accept herself as she is. The only things that can change a life for the better, really, must begin with self-love. Another "true fiction" novel, Kyleah's Tree portrays real human emotion and natural reaction wrapped in exciting adventure. For more information about this book, see the Raven Publishing website

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New book on the way

My latest book will be available for sale by mid August. The cover and illustrations are by Herb Leonhard. A brief synopsis of Kyleah's Tree, written by editor Florence Ore, follows: 

"Wishing on the sunrise from her treetop refuge, eleven-year-old Kyleah Raltson seeks magic to right all that is wrong in her life. Her twin brother is lost to her, and she believes that her father abandoned her because she isn't pretty enough. To add to her woes, her foster family doesn't understand her. When she is banned from climbing her favorite tree, she agrees to join Benjamin, her older foster-brother in his scheme to run away. 
Kyleah and Benjamin encounter many narrow escapes and breath-taking adventure on their journey from south-east Kansas to Moose Jaw, Canada. Through it all, Kyleah learns self-acceptance. She learns the true meaning of home and that family has more to do with love and respect than with blood." 

The following reviews are by youth who read the galley: 

"Kyleah's Tree is a touching story about a young girl going through the trials of living in a foster home. Her runaway escape with her foster brother, Benjamin, is filled with emotion and suspense. Characters in the story are described in such depth that you feel as if you know them. I loved this book!"  —Ashley Grimes, age 14

"This is the first book I have read by Janet Muirhead Hill, and I enjoyed it immeasurably... You see the characters learning life skills such as trust, determination, and working together.. I give this book a perfect score of five. This book has even taught me some life skills.... It's also a great story that you can read to the family." —Brenna Bales, age 10, Reader Views Kids

Now it's time for me to polish the companion novel, "Kendall's Storm" and get it ready to publish. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Muse Returns to Play Word Games

I've recently returned from a two month stay in Colorado. My sister is well on the road to recovery from lung cancer. She finished radiation, and will have the results in a month. In the meantime she continues to pursue a healthy Ph balanced diet and an easily managed alternative treatment. 

After spending much coveted time with her, I find I miss her terribly. We keep in close communication by phone and e-mail. Having been absorbed with Joan's illness and recovery; first from surgery, then from a very serious case of pneumonia, I found my well for writing and thinking creatively virtually dried up. As I get back into the swing of daily chores, catching up on postponed business, and enjoying family, creative writing still hasn't gained its place at the top of my "tudu" list — but I'm working on it. 

As part of one of the lessons in the writing workshops I give, I introduce a few tricks for awakening the muse or stimulating the imagination. One of them, adapted from an assignment in a creative writing class I took many years ago, is one Joan and I enjoyed doing together. The original assignment was to take five random words (given by the instructor) and working them into a paragraph, and then developing it into a story. 

What fun it is to string five random, unrelated words into a paragraph that makes sense. Or to write a piece of flash-fiction from a descriptive title as a prompt. Another way to stimulate the muse is to look at a picture or photo and write a story about it. During Joan's recovery, she and I took turns picking five random words and then, to make it even more challenging,  wrote a sentence that contained them all. It was so much fun because my sister is a very talented writer. Since I've been home, we've continued the game by giving each other 5 words, then e-mailing back our sentences. 

For example, here is the first word list I gave my sister via e-mail. Hiding, Hostage, Majestic, Suggest, Thousand. 

Here is the sentence she made: The game you suggest sounds like it might be a thousand times more fun than hiding in the majestic mountains where we were taken hostage

Taking time out from working on various workshops I'm presenting in the next two months, I occasionally invite my muse to come and play. For example. Here are five random words I pulled from glancing around the office:  Bunnies, Calendar, Water, Challenge, and Doctor  (try to put them all into an opening sentence.)

Now let's see what my muse can do with that!

The doctor checked his calendar, before accepting the challenge to rescue the water-logged bunnies. 

Now here are five random words (picked from glancing at various papers and brochures near my desk). See what you can do in one sentence... or a paragraph as seed for a story. 

Complete, Saddle, Price, Mission, Soar

Have fun with words. 

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Colorado writing workshop planned.

My sister, Joan, is out of the hospital after a bout of pneumonia. The front range of the Rockies in beautiful Colorado greeted her with an explosion of spring time greenery, flowers, bird song, and blue skies. A new foal awaits our visit at our sister, Shirley's home. Whisper, a buckskin filly was born about the time Joan's cancer announced itself, so Joan hasn't seen her yet.

I will stay with Joan a while longer, as she continues radiation treatment for her lung cancer. In the meantime I have updated my Writer's Workshop work book and set a date for a 3-day event to be held at my sister Sharon's house, (the old Benson homestead) in Loveland in two and a half weeks. For details, see It's a way of getting back to the work I had planned for myself throughout the summer and year. I planned to present several workshops in Montana, this summer, as well as expanding my publishing workshop and offering it as well. That will have to wait until Joan has recovered her health in the remission we expect at the end of radiation. In the meantime, I'll offer my workshop to Colorado residents.

I have no regrets about putting my work on hold for a while, for when your loved ones are in trouble, there is nothing else in the world as important as supporting them in every way you can. Joan has been my idol and inspiration my whole life. She taught me to love books and story-telling from the time I was a preschooler. Both of us authors, we have enjoyed some wonderful times editing and critiquing each other's writing and traveling together on a book and lecture tour. We hope to do so again. As her health improves, we will both work on books in progress as well as creating new ones, continuing to encourage each other in the process.

When I get back to Montana, I will finish preparing my next book, Kyleah's Tree, for publication and get it printed with the beautiful illustrations that Herb Leonhard has already completed. I'll let you know when it's available.

I've learned to enjoy reading and writing Haiku's from my friend and editor, Florence Ore.

Here is one I wrote for Joan while she lay in her hospital bed.

Spring blooms, skies bright blue

Breezes scatter cotton clouds

Windows dim the view.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

First Lines / matching game

I'm still in Colorado on a rainy day. I'll be going to the hospital, where my sister has been admitted once again, this time with pneumonia. Before I leave, I wanted to share a fun exercise we have been doing to pass the time. As most authors know, the first sentence of a book needs to grab the author's interest. For fun, my sister, who is also an author (Absaroka) and I decided to reread the first lines of some of our favorite books.

First lines should arouse curiosity. Here is how a few famous authors have done it. First I'll write the sentence and then the authors in random order to see if you can match the author to the line.

"I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine's father over the Standard Oil sign."

"Novalee Nation, seventeen, seven months pregnant, thirty-seven pounds overweight--and superstitious about sevens--shifted uncomfortably in the seat of the old Plymouth..."

"Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in his own way."

"Buck did not read the newspapers or he would have known trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair from Puget Sound to San Diego."

"The first time Jude Allman died, he was eight years old."

"It wasn't as if he hadn't been warned. He got it straight with no beating around the mesquite."

Answers in random order:

Jack London

Barbara Kingsolver

Billie Letts

Leo Tolstoy

Louis L'Amour

T. L. Hines

If you'd like to e-mail me the answers, send to

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ups and downs; hope and despair--and hope again

I've been absorbed with concern for my sister who recently discovered she has lung cancer, with upheavals of test after test, and anxious waiting for results. After a surgery which turned out to be in vain, as the tumor was inoperable, my sister is faced with decisions while recovering in the hospital from the surgery. She will be released today and will start radiation treatments in about a week to ten days.

Joan is a trouper, in good health otherwise, and has a strong faith. I'm convinced she'll beat this monster that has been stealthily growing in her lung for a long time. She has a wonderful support system with a large family and a church group who think the world of her.

I will stay in Colorado to help her all I can while she continues to recover and to fight the cancer. I don't have daily access to the Internet here, but will post more information as I can.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Life and Death

"Life is too short to be little." Benjamin Disraeli

In the shadow of the threat of death, one begins to look for deeper meanings. Words and platitudes are challenged. Procrastinated intentions ask, "When? If not now, never." Superficiality is exposed as a sham. Denial is questioned. Truth demands a fair hearing.

As a human being, I am more than I become because I hold myself back with assumptions, rules, timidities, and lies. I lie to myself. I listen to formerly instilled inner voices that say, you can't, you shouldn't, you mustn't. You are too weak, too dumb, too busy, too lazy, too small, too broke, too insignificant to make a difference. I don't become all that I am meant to be...because I think I've got all the time I need to be stronger, smarter, more efficient, more ambitious, richer, and more real.

And then a threat of something as natural as death and loss of a loved one slaps me hard where it hurts and says, "Wake up. You have not been given infinity to get your act together. You cannot wait forever to find out who you are and why you are here and what life means to extract from you to share with the world."

Something as prevalent as disease that stems from human disregard for nature, threatens to take someone I love and need and cherish in my life, and I have to recognize that life is "too short to be little." Now, not later, is the time to live. And to live, I must find my center. Life is not physical, nor mental, emotional, or spiritual. Life is all of those things and more. It's a connection to one's soul, to the natural world, and to the universe. Too long I have existed without living fully. How many more wake up calls will I get? If not now, never.

Cancer has invaded my sister's lung. We don't yet know the extent of it's occupation of her body. Our hope today is that her otherwise healthy body has kept it confined to one area and with the surgeon's help will be routed completely. Tests will tell us in a day or two. My supplication today is that coming this close and the sacrifice of one of her lungs will be enough to wake me up to live big, live deeply, and spend life's precious moments on what is important.

I will be away from my office and in Colorado for as long as my sister needs me near and as long as I need to be by her side. She has been my inspiration for as long as I've lived. I will be here as long as she needs me and as long as it takes for this blow to wake me up to the importance of life lived largely. Joan who has inspired my writing and is my inspiration in many other aspects of life as well.

"Life is too short to be little"
Life is too dear to deny.
Life is too precious to squander
by living an emotional lie.

Follow your feelings.
Seek your center and live deep.
Eradicate deadening fear.

Make life count by being real to the core.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tools of the trade

In the March 2nd post, I referred to words as the tools of the writer's trade. That is not the best analogy, however. My husband is a builder, specializing in tile work and remodels, but has done everything from "concrete to cabinets" in both new homes and commercial buildings. 
As I compare my vocation to his, I see my words not as tools, but as building blocks. They are like the tile my husband lays in various designs and configurations. Nouns and verbs are the boards that frame the walls, the concrete that forms the foundation. Conjunctions and prepositions are the nails that link the boards together. Adverbs and adjectives are the trim pieces, the mosaics and design tile. They are the "gingerbread." Some are superfluous while others add interest and emphasis. 
So what are my tools? Well, there are the obvious: the pen and paper, the word processor, the internet and books for research. Less tangible tools are the imagination, voice, language and the rules (or patterns) for organizing the building blocks in a clear, understandable, and interesting design. 
Each writer has his or her own style, method, and voice, just as builders may have their own specialties, methods, and styles. Yet we all use the same building blocks—words, and put them into a creation of our own with the tools in our bags. 

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Write with passion to overcome fear

If an author is not passionate about his or her book or story, people will not be passionate about reading it.  All my favorite books were written by authors with a purpose and a passion for a cause. Khaled Hosseini’s passion for the plight of Afghanistan and compassion for Afghani women  fill his book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and take the reader into the hearts, minds, and  emotional upheaval of the characters. He makes the reader care about them on a gut level. 

Barbara Kingsolver in each of her books, has a cause—and a passion for it—that is conveyed by the characters who lead the author and then us through the African jungle, the Cherokee nation, the Appalachian hills and valleys. In Prodigal Summer, we care about Deanna and the animal predators she wants to protect, about the dying mother, her children, the young widow, and each of the other characters as we learn what it is that drives them to be who they are. 

Marcus Stevens has us caring not only about a young white girl in love with an Indian, but also, the history of the Cheyenne girl whose body is accidentally exhumed in Useful Girl.  

In Jana McBurney-Lin’s My Half of the Sky, we empathize with the young Chinese woman whose life is controlled and mismanaged by her father who arranges a marriage in order to pay off gambling debts that threaten to get him killed.  Millions of books by authors who care about the plight of his or her characters, allow the reader to share their passions and convictions vicariously.

If you grew up in an age and similar culture as I did, you probably achieved the ability to mask and subdue emotions. Keep it all inside. Don’t let anyone see how you feel. Don’t cry. Don’t get mad! Be nice. Always. No matter how you feel. Never ever hurt anyone’s feelings. Feelings? Feelings became so taboo for me, that I grew up without the tools needed to identify any kind of emotion. And without emotion, it was very difficult to know what I wanted, or even who I was. As I grew older, I learned that it was easier for me to get in touch with how I felt about anything, and to express those feelings by writing, than it was by speaking. I was so afraid of emotion, that the more I felt, the less I could speak. The stronger the emotion, the more mute I became. That caused some very embarrassing situations. 

The first date I ever had was to  a hay ride put on by the FHA. Girls had to ask boys. I had a terrible, almost painful crush on a very cute boy in my class named Tad. I admired him from afar, never speaking two words to him. My older brother, determined to “help” me, insisted that I just call the guy and ask if he would go with me. “What’s the worst he can say?”  He initiated the call for me, and as soon as he had Tad on the line, stuck the phone to my ear. I gulped and somehow muttered the question. “Will you go to the FHA hayride with me?”  To my horror, he said, “Yes.” 

I was in no way prepared to deal with this situation. Fear paralyzed my vocal cords for the whole evening. Tad tried to start a few conversations. I wanted to answer but terror kept me from responding with more that a nod, a head-shake, a squeeze of the hand or a hug. Oh, yes. I wasn’t afraid to put my arms around him and hold on tight in a desperate effort to say, I’m sorry I can’t talk, but please love me anyway. 

It was our only date. I still idolized him from afar, knowing I had blown any chance that he would ever want to go out with me again. A few years later, I was informed that a car crash had taken his life. To this day I don’t understand my reaction. I giggled, an embarrassed and uncontrollable giggle. I was sad, shocked——and I laughed——an example of the confused emotional state I lived in then. 

I can think of dozens of other face-burning, spine-crawling, wishing-to-disappear-through-the-cracks-in-the-floor moments throughout my lifetime that resulted from my inability to say the right thing at the right time. The more I admired people, the harder it was to speak to them. The more I hated something, the more I avoided any subject that might require me to speak of it. The sadder I felt, the more I isolated myself. And if I couldn’t physically hide, I mentally withdrew, escaping behind a wall in my mind where no one could peek. 

Written words became a vehicle for me to explore the wilderness of my confused inner life. Words on paper took me places forbidden to my tongue. Through poetry and prose, I could begin to taste and try the suppressed emotions that haunted me. I could begin to find out what I valued; what disturbed me, what was important to me, and what was not. Why do I like to write fiction? I think it’s because a fictional character can take the passions and convictions and emotions that I hold deeply, and portray them in a real and meaningful way— a way in which I am still not capable of verbalizing orally, or fully understanding beyond the written page.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Overcoming fear

When overwhelmed with projects needing attention, and discouraged from not seeing the results one wants, it's easy to feel discouraged. Maybe more than discouraged—depressed and immobilized. When that happens, STOP. Take a look at where you are versus where you want to be. What do you need to do to get there? It could be a new outlook, a change of pace, and an inspiration that you are not going to get sitting in front of the computer monitor, thinking, "what's the use?" Get to the root of the problem; the real cause of the inability to function.   (Please note that I am talking to myself. I don't know if other writers and/or publishers have the same experience, but I do, at times, and breaking out of it is a joyous experience.) 

And how do I break out of it? In trying to pinpoint the moment of Epiphany in recent days, I realize it started with an e-mail I read about fear blocking the way to accomplishment. As I worked through that fear, I experienced the building excitement that comes from believing in oneself. 

"Fear, it paralyzes us. It keeps us from doing the things we dream about. It prevents us from sharing our gifts," said Janet Attwood, author of The Passion Test.  Hmm. Me, Afraid? Well, yes, there is one thing I have always been afraid of. One thing that I have worked hard to overcome. It is the fear of success....No, really. It's a close kin to the fear of failure, probably disguised as such. But why should I fear failure? Through various incidents in my past as a child, some trauma as a teen, and a long and mentally oppressive relationship as an adult, I was conditioned to believe that failure was my lot, and I grew comfortable in that role. 

I was an incorrigible tomboy, growing up. I had no fear of bears, snakes, spiders, or risky adventures. I have, however, for as long as I can remember, had an overwhelming, paralyzing, debilitating fear of speaking in public or even conversing with people I didn't know well. (Especially talking to the male classmates that I really liked.) I was afraid to make phone calls. I was afraid to ask or answer questions in class. I could not without extreme pain, panic, and illness get up in front of an audience. Why? It's hard to analyze, let alone explain, but I believe it is a fear of success. A fear of breaking out of the internally held beliefs and the voices in my head that scold, "You'll make a fool of yourself. You cannot succeed. Do you really think anyone wants to listen to you?" And the most pervasive, "Who do you think you are?" in that scornful accusing tone.  So over and over I proved those voices right. 

In recent years, I've taken steps to prove them wrong. It isn't easy. But gets easier as time goes by, easier with each risk taken, easier when I realize that the fear that keeps me prisoner is unfounded. Then I realize that the biggest fear comes from the question, not "what if I fail?" but "what if I succeed?" There is a certain security in the expectation of failure. If I don't expect myself to succeed in certain areas, I am exempt from responsibility. "Everyone knows I can't do that."  But what if I can? Then I must. I have a responsibility. Now that's scary! 

I have presented seminars and school visits, have read passages from my book to audiences enough that I know that I can. But the old ghost of fear hovers nearby, always ready to take advantage of any personal or financial setback or any other cause for discouragement. How quickly the Old Ghost moves in and takes over, once again paralyzing me, preventing any effort to take back control of my life. He whispers, "Who do you think you are? You know you can't expect success. You are a failure." And I settle back into the familiar zone of inactivity and despair; my good intentions naturally failing, and loathing myself at the end of the day. So, upon reading Janet Attwood's e-mail, I looked at what the Old Ghost of Fear was preventing me from doing. The answer? Things that are very important to me. I have book ideas that need written. I have books written that need published. I have books published that need promotion. 

"But you don't have money to do any of it." 

I have the ability to make money. I have skills and knowledge that I can share. 

"No way!" Old Ghost shouts, "Who do you think you are?" (You see how strong those old, erroneous beliefs are?) 

Yes, they are erroneous. I have proven I can. Just as I proved I could climb the highest tree, jump off the highest point of the roof of the machine shed into the snow, pick up the longest snake, or, without anything to hang onto, attempt to ride a 1000 pound bull. (If you wonder, ask me for my poem about that.) —just as I proved I could do those things when I was a child, just as I completely overcame my fear of the dark by walking through it night after night when I was 11,  so I have proven that I can overcome this "fear of success" as an adult. Yet, because of Old Ghost's persistence, it seems I have to keep proving it over and over. 

"Who do I think I am?" I think I am the lady who wrote and published the books that thousands of children love to read. I think I am the lady of whom students in my seminars and school visits spoke so highly, saying my classes were both enjoyable and helpful. I think I am the poet who perched in front of an audience in front of a Chatauqua, last night. and confidently read her old poems; the one who received many compliments afterward. I think, that like everyone else in the world, I was born with certain gifts; potential talents, and with a purpose for being here. I really shouldn't have to rehearse these accomplishments, which, to those without fear must seem simple, in order to hush the ghost of fear so I can get some work done. Yet, I guess it's okay to think and talk about them, if that's what it takes to send Old Ghost away. 

I've long considered, discussed, and intended to schedule more workshops and seminars. It's even been on by "tudu" list. For far too long, I've avoided doing so. Why? Because Old Ghost whispered, and, unconsciously, I listened. Well, Old Ghost, back off. Realizing what you are up to has allowed me to show you a thing or two. I am not only going to host a workshop, I am going to write a workbook to go with it so that participants can take it home with them and use the exercises again and again, so that they can get the benefit of any lessons we don't have adequate time to cover in class. Take that, Old Ghost. This is just the first of many. With the proceeds, I can better promote the books I have. I can finance the illustration and printing of the books I still need to publish. With this renewed confidence, I can write more, and take on and complete more projects. 

Best of all, with Old Ghost's lies once again rejected, I am no longer prevented from sharing with others the innate talents I never used to allow myself to experience, let alone admit I possess. 

Friday, March 7, 2008

Spreading joy with kindness/ a tribute to my brother on his birthday

As I completed the cryptogram for today, I thought of my "little" brother. Today is his birthday, and this quote from Washington Irving describes him very well. "A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles." 

This is an apt description Larry Muirhead, who is 59 years old today, the youngest in a family of six children. 59? It hardly seems possible. His eternal optimism, adventurous spirit, kind and generous heart, and ever-ready sense of humor make him seem much younger. Yet, he often reveals the wisdom of a much older man. 

A kind heart, indeed. If Larry hears that someone needs help, maybe something heavy that needs moved, a piece of machinery broken down, or a major farming or ranching job scheduled at his brother's place, he will show up, unannounced, with his pickup truck, tools, and muscle power, ready to pitch in and get the job done. He may unexpectedly drop off a load of firewood to a sister who hasn't had a chance to get out and gather her own. He may come by to haul off a load of shingles tossed down from a re-roofing of another sibling's house. 

Whenever and where ever we see him, his bright smile warms our hearts. Together with his wife, Sharon, who is the epitome of kind-heartedness and generosity, they will bring food to the bereaved, fix a meal and share it with the lonely, invite a friend or loved one to share one of their many "road trips" to explore the wonders of the world they live in. 

The proud grandfather of twin girls, Larry dotes on the toddlers with nurturing kindness, showing them the wonders of their world, teaching them new skills, and protecting them from harm. He sets a worthy example in optimism, appreciation, and goodness for old and young alike. 

I was almost seven when Larry was born, and I was thrilled to have this beautiful baby in my life. Now, 59 years later, I realize, more than ever, what a gift to humankind was brought into the world that day, and I'm thankful. 

Larry, you freshen my life with smiles every time I hear from you, receive a picture of new places you've seen, new poses of your granddaughters, and each time I remember all the good times we have shared. I look forward to many more years of the same. 

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Words are tools

Words are our tools, we writers like to say; 
The tools of our trade as we labor every day. 
And certainly that's true, as far as the saying goes,
But we have no monopoly, as everybody knows. 

Not just necessary tools are all the precious words
for the erudite authors and the loquacious nerds,
But necessary, really, to let human life persist,
For without any words, even thoughts cannot exist.
   (Janet Muirhead Hill, 2008)

Words are essential tools indeed. I have a grandson with verbal apraxia, which is a motor speech disorder characterized by inability to plan and produce the specific series of movements of the tongue, lips, jaw, and palate necessary for intelligible speech. The same problems can occur in adults as a result of stroke or other brain injury, but childhood apraxia is present at birth. There is evidence that it is genetic, though the exact cause has not been found. 

Apraxia is terribly frustrating for the affected child, because they're often highly intelligent. They know what they want to say, but cannot communicate it. Uncorrected, it will remain a problem, some sources say, for a lifetime. My grandson, with speech therapy, has made great improvement and no longer suffers from the esteem-crushing defeat he used to feel when he could not make himself understood. I mention this as an example of  how important our words are to life and happiness. 

What if we had no words at all? What if we didn't even know what we wanted to say; had never heard a human voice or any model for expressing thoughts vocally? I recently caught a TV documentary on feral children. Studies show that those who have little or no human contact or interaction in their first few years of life lose the capability to learn to speak. And without speech, they are unable to function independently in society. 

Except for the limited few mentioned above, we all use words everyday. What is important to our personal identity and self-worth is how we choose to use them. Are our words a true reflection of what we believe? Or are they used to deceive and manipulate? Do our words, as John Gardner suggests they should, improve the human situation? Looking at it that way, we see our responsibility to choose words carefully, but even more important, to speak, and not remain silent when we have something to say. As Henry David Thoreau said, "Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe."  

I sincerely invite your comments. 

Friday, February 22, 2008

Writing Freely

"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."
– C.S. Lewis

"Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."
– Cyril Connolly

I like advice like the two quotes above, because creating without worry about who's going to read it makes writing fun, easy, and fresh. The moment I start considering the audience, the market, and the critics, my writing becomes difficult and in danger of sounding forced and contrived. Yet, if one doesn't consider the audience, the market, and the critic, the end result may never be published. So how does one balance the need to retain one's voice, satisfy one's muse, and follow the heart with the desire to be published?

I know of no easy answers, but I choose to write what I know, love, and believe in. Even if it's never read by anyone, I like to get my ideas and convictions on paper as they come to mind. 

As many accomplished authors tell us, writers must give themselves permission to write badly. Julia Cameron, in her book The Right to Write, says "Most of us try to write too carefully....We try to sound smart. We try. Period. Writing goes much better when we don't work at it so much."

William Zinsser in On Writing Well said, "You must write for yourself and not be gnawed by worry over whether the reader is tagging along."  He explains at least one problem that comes from writing with the audience in mind. "You will be impatient to find a 'style'—to embellish the plain words so that readers will recognize you as someone special. You will reach for gaudy similes and tinseled adjectives as if 'style' were something you could buy at the style store and drape onto your words in bright decorator colors.…This is the problem of writers who set out deliberately to garnish their prose. You lose whatever it is that makes you unique."

Anne Lamott tells us in her book, Bird by Bird that good writers write "shitty first drafts." She claims that "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper."

There is plenty of time after you get it down to clean it up. Lamotte calls the first draft the "down draft" because you're getting it down. The second is the "up draft" because you are fixing it up. 

My advice: Write what you enjoy, enjoy what you write, and, as Shakespeare told us, "to thine own self be true."

I just finished, another "true fiction" novel. Through my character, a ten-year-old boy, the story reflects experiences, research, and what was in my  mind and heart as I wrote it. Will there be a market that will justify publication of "Kendall's Storm?" I don't know yet. I've just done the "down draft" and am working on the "up draft." I expect it to undergo many more drafts before it sees publication. 

Thursday, February 7, 2008

One day at a time

My husband, knowing how much I enjoy cryptograms, gave me Cryptogram-a-Day by Louise B. Moll for Christmas. Often the quote for the day is just the reminder I need. This is the case with today's quote by Thomas Carlyle. "Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand."

Much of my time in the past month has been consumed with concern and planning for the future, striving to anticipate and control the outcome on several fronts, so that daily tasks have suffered, putting me farther behind than ever. Of course there is a difference between worrying about the future and planning for it. As a publisher, I must plan far in advance in order to have everything come together for the release of a new title. As an author/presenter, I must plan ahead to schedule events as well as to prepare for them. Proper planning prevents poor performance, as the saying goes. But that is very different from worry and anxiety about what might happen.

For more quotes on the subject of worry, I went to Here are a few of my favorites:

"Worry gives a small thing a big shadow." Swedish Poverb.

"Worry is interest paid by those who borrow trouble." George Washington Lyons

"It ain't no use putting up your umbrella 'til it rains." Alice Caldwell Rice

"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength." Corrie Ten Boom

My goal for today is to replace every inkling of a worry with gratitude, and I have much for which to be thankful. If a concern that requires an action comes to mind, then I will perform the action and then discard the worry.

Just one of the many things for which I'm thankful is the opportunity I had last weekend to go to Billings and meet with students and teachers at Lockwood Elementary school and later visit the Prairie Blossom Gift Shop as their featured artist for the Billings Art Walk. I loved speaking with the fifth-graders at Lockwood. They were attentive and had great questions.

The proprietors at Prairie Blossom are two lovely women who made me feel right at home and special at the same time. Among the many visitors who came into the gift shop, I met a talented artist named Rabbit Knows Gun and was able to sit and visit with him for a while. If all goes well, we may collaborate on a book. If nothing else, I've made another friend—several new friends, in fact, throughout the past two weekends. And every friend I meet is a priceless treasure.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Positive thinking; Believe in your self and your dreams

A whole month has slipped by in silence, as far as my blog is concerned, but much has gone on behind the scenes. I have started, but not finished a few posts, and I will pick up those threads later, or I will discard them.

I have spent a lot of time with grandchildren lately, and I count my blessings for every moment. Each one of them is absolutely precious. They offer fresh eyes with which to view life.

I recently had the privelege of spending a day with students in Ryegate, at a small Montana school. The next day, I met many more kids while signing books at the Montana Winter Fair in Lewistown. I got to spend the night at a friend's house and get better acquainted with her three wonderful kids. She took her horse, "Starlight" to the WinterFair so that kids who came to my table could see him "in person," pet him, and get his "autograph. I witnessed, as I have many time before, the natural bond between child and horse.

Tomorrow, I will visit 130 fifth graders at Lockwood school in Billings and, in the evening, be on hand at a gift shop downtown, to talk to people and sign my books. As I have said many times, children are my first love and my best inspiration. When I talk to them, I often quote Napoleon Hill, who inspired me to go for the career of my choice. In his book, Think and Grow Rich, he said, "Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."

It's easy to allow adversity (or what seems to be adversity) to throw a person off that tract, but I was reminded this morning, as I picked up a copy of Hill's book at my son's house, that positive thinking is the answer to whatever situation in which we find ourselves. In order to think positively, however, it is necessary, as Napoleon Hill says, to prepare the mind by clearing out three impediments to success: indecision, doubt, and fear. "Indecision is the seedling of fear. Indecision crystallizes into doubt, the two blend and become fear."

Hill also mentions an even greater enemy, which, he says, is more deeply seated and more often fatal than all fears. He calls it "susceptibility to neageive influences." As I perused this chapter on fear, this morning, I asked myself just how much negative influences have exacerbated fear in me this past month. Then an even more important question came to mind. "Have I been a negative influence for others, increasing their fear, and thus promulgating negative thinking in them?"

This is the food for thought that I will be chewing on today and the days ahead as I work to replace doubt with hope, fear with courage, and indecision with action.