Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous Thoughts’ Category

Pocket Museum Prompt

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

The Table Post-Prompt

I was at an estate sale this morning. I go to these from time to time, always on the lookout for that odd thing, that strange piece no one wants except me and the person who has now passed on to a realm where they can’t take it with them. I particularly like things with a flavor of a bygone era (“vintage” being so overused and misapplied these days – or maybe I just don’t want to admit that items familiar to me in childhood are now considered vintage).

Here we all were, pawing through the detritus of someone’s life, looking for bargains all the while commenting on their taste as if we were rude guests at a dinner party where the hosts are in the kitchen. Sometimes, I just walk out, but sometimes I find a few things, usually small and odd things, that I feel compelled to have, even if their functional value is nil. I can’t help but think of all the stuff I have collected over the years, including my treasured finds from these estate sales, which will one day recycle into yet another estate sale, mine. I will be glad if someone finds a small box of small things and thinks, “This is coming home to live with me.”

That also got me thinking of Walter Mosley’s commentary about pocket art. He said we should each carry a piece of art with us, pocket-sized, to both fight against the malaise of everyday life but also to be both our own curator and critic, thus taking control of one part of the creative for ourselves and away from Critics and Curators who tell us what to think of art. He also talked about how your pocket museum might be a collection of strange little things that get you thinking: a seashell that evokes images of strange creatures, a leaf in red glory, anything. (My studio is chockful of these.) Then, he exhorted us then to pull out that piece of artwork and start a dialogue with someone, even strangers.

So, on to the prompt(s):

1) If your character had a pocket museum, what would be in it?

2) Children always have stuff in their pockets, sometimes apparently meaningless, but what would the things they carry around tell about them? Say a bloodied old bandage? A perfectly round quartz pebble? A charm from a favorite aunt? An ant?

3) What if your character was in an awkward situation, grasping for something to say or give someone and

The contents of one pocket museum

they put their hand in their pocket? What would they pull out? How would they present it?

4) I’ve made up some pocket museums in envelopes as visual prompts. (See picture.)

5) For the truly adventurous, consider this: Mr. Mosley’s words inspired Robert Harrington to create the Museum of Pocket Art: One exhibit is called All Business All the Time: all the art is on business cards. I am bringing some business cards today, and challenge you to write a short story or essay on them that we will staple together to make your own pocket book.

Side note: Also, you artists and writers, please consider this:

These are folks who recycle cigarette vending machines for a much more beautiful purpose: vending art at $5 a pop. Check out the gallery. Think about it joining in, either by submitting something (and I did see a handcrafted book amongst the offerings) or by going to the machine nearest you. Sadly, the one nearest me is about 600 miles away, but it sure got me thinking…

 Postscript: I’ve included some photos below of outcomes from the prompt, each using the business cards:

I too ended up with a short story – on 20 business cards front and back.  You can download it if you wish and make your own tiny book here:   I warn you, it’s setup to be printed on the front and back of a ten-card tear away set of business cards.  There are guidelines if you want to print this out yourself and cut along the lines.  There are 4 sheets, paired as follows:  bus card short story   Page 1 & 3 (1 is the front, 3 is the back), and  2 & 4 (2 is the front, 4 is the back).  Your printer will have its own logic in terms of printing front and back, but you’re only dealing with 2 sheets.  Each business card-sized page is numbered, so you can read it — but it’s a little wacky to follow if you don’t cut it out.  It’s a new voice for me, a departure from the usual.  Enjoy!



Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Nora Ephron credited her mom for saying everything that happens to you or around you is writing fodder. This rhymes with ‘Write what you know’, one of fiction’s oldest adages, and one I used to think of in large terms, such as location. You write about the South, for example, only if you lived there or if you know it well.

The other day, I realized even the most mundane events can be copy. While juggling keys, purse and groceries, I stuck my hand into the flower container by the door to feel if it needed water. A wasp must have thought he’d never experienced anything so rude as this intrusive thumb poking at his back because he gave me what-for in the best way he knew how and then flew off, presumably in a huff.

Groceries, keys & purse dropped to the ground as I stared at the tiny, red zone of rebuke on my thumb, awed by how so much pain can spread so fast across the entire hand. And all the while thinking, ‘get to the hose, cool water should help, and isn’t soil supposed to soothe,’ one defiant thought à la Nora charged forward, ‘I’m going to use this!’

A few days later, while stumped trying to wrap up my latest picture book story: ‘Aunt Mordina Goes to the Beach’, I looked at my thumb and remembered. And now, not one, but two wasps are whizzing around that story book beach. Kinda makes the pain almost worth it.




Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

SNOW, a picture book by Uri Shulevitz, is so good you can enjoy it year ’round. It’s a Caldecott Honor Book and my guess is this choice was a no-brainer decision by the Caldecott committee if there ever was one. The illustrations are gorgeous, a whimsical take on the days of Charles Dickens, you think-until radio and tv playfully twist with the visual feast.

The story is simple-the best always are, seems like. A boy and his dog see the first signs of snow with promise and optimism but everyone they encounter poo-poo it away. The joke’s on them and the story shows us all, be us 3 or 103, the power of positive thinking.


To review or not to review

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Lately I’ve been trying to broaden the pool of authors I read.   In part it’s because I tend to read voraciously through the series of an author I like and inevitably end up bereft and drifting yet again when done, but in part, I consider trying new authors good karma:  if I try out them, somebodysomeday will give me a chance too.

So, Kindle app in hand, I follow the winding trail of searches and suggestions to try to find new people to read.  More karma-inducing reasoning ensues:   I justify spending anywhere from $.99 to $13.99 per book to “research” the authors that float to the top since soon I hope to be one of those.    (And yes, for this particular post  I’m focusing on Amazon and Kindle, though there’s a reference to also.)  I have now learned from a series of frustrations to always, always check out the sample chapters and lately, I always, always check out the two star reviews.

Why the two star reviews?  Because that’s where I know I’ll find the comments on the quality of the writing and grammar that a persnickety reader like me should take into account.  It’s these reviews that influence me to go on to either the higher or lower ratings.

Recently I ignored my own advice.  I googled “If you like Joan Hess”, and obliged with a recommendation.  I glanced at the ratings for the first book by this author which were heavily skewed to four stars and above.  The plot involved a premise I knew I’d love (history professor solves old and new crimes via digging into the past).  It won the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Award.  It was about midnight and I wanted something to read me to sleep.  I bought it.

I wanted to like this book.  I really, really wanted to, even though it was absolutely nothing like Joan Hess except it was set in the south.  Overall, the plot itself was okay.   It was the writing which became so irritating I just began skipping to the end to see if I guessed whodunit right (I had).

Jennifer, our old writing teacher, used to dun into us one of the prime rules of writing:  Show, don’t tell.  That can be a hard lesson:  Why can’t I drone on for five pages about the history of my fictional town starting on page 2?  Why can’t I use an adverb in every other sentence?   The writing issues didn’t stop there, though this was the worst problem.  Point of view changes were abrupt and disorienting.  I enjoy tagless dialogue as much as the next person, but often there were no paragraph breaks between quotes from different speakers.   Tense and subject-verb agreement problems kept cropping up.  The prose was often stilted, the phrasing awkward.  At the end of the book, it was as though the writer just decided she’d stop typing.  I ended up frustrated, even more when I skimmed the plot descriptions of her other books, which I thought sounded great, but I knew I couldn’t make it through another book with this author’s way of writing.

In the Kindle Store, there was only one each of the one and two star reviews.  I still should have read them (one frankly wondered how this book had won the prize it did).  So now, the question arises:  should I add to them?  The idea of karma immediately returns to haunt me, which is the very nature of karma, of course.  Do I weigh in at two stars and say exactly what I think?  Or was my grandmother right when she said that if I didn’t have anything good to say I shouldn’t say anything at all?

Will I hurt this author’s feelings?  Am I just trying to make a deal with the universe that if I don’t hurt her feelings with a bad review it will keep the bad reviews from my book?  After all, I’ve dragged my feet forever about getting my work out there, and she actually had a book published (and seven others too).   Do I have any right to criticize her?  I mean, what if I’m being blind about my own work?

I invite you to chime in on my existential angst on this topic.




A prompt in homage to Mr. Bradbury

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Ray Bradbury died on Wednesday at the age of 91.

“His influence is astonishing. Why? Because Ray Bradbury wrote like Monet painted. He strung words into melodies worthy of Bach. He envisioned the future better than Nostradamus ever did. Ray Bradbury was a writer who wrote from the heart, stories drenched in compassion. Stories that were often melancholy and celebratory all at once. He had the ability to give voice to the human soul.”
–Sam Weller, biographer, The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury

(Also, see the great eulogy at, which also is the source of the picture to the left)

If Ursula LeGuinn was my writing-mother, Ray Bradbury was my writing-father. He wrote my favorite beginning of any-book-ever, which is appended to this page as part of my personal tribute to him. About himself he said that “By staying true to my own sense of the poetic… the influence of Shakespeare on my life and the influence of the Bible which I raised on, by staying true to my love of poetry and my love of metaphor, which you learn from the Old Testament and the New Testament and you learn from Shakespeare — to speak in tongues which are so vivid that people remember the metaphor.”

The other part of my tribute is to use something he said in a 1988 interview with Terri Gross as our prompt today:

“It’s the lack of something that gives us inspiration.”

He explained that we don’t stop in the middle of being with a beloved, for instance, and write a poem about it:

“We don’t write love poetry in the middle of the affair. We write love poetry when we are away from our loved one, or when we anticipate a loved one.”

Here’s the rest of the above quote:

“It’s not fullness…Occasionally fullness can do that…Not ever having driven, I can write better about automobiles than the people who drive them. I have a distance here. … Space travel is another good example. I’m never going to go to Mars but I’ve helped inspire, thank goodness, the people who built the rockets and sent our photographic equipment off to Mars. So it’s always a lack that causes you to write that type of story.”

So…lack as inspiration. This is interesting, because I think the natural tendency is to think our writing must be full of action and/or things to say. But he’s right. Stories are driven by need, absence, deficiency, dearth, decrease, default, defects, deficits, deprivation, distress, destitution and other such words that don’t begin with d.

What does your character think is lacking? Maybe your whole book is about some obvious lack of something, but is there a hidden lack of something that would deepen your story? (i.e., Malky Joe needs a more stable situation in terms of food, but is he really on a quest to remember/reconnect with his lost father? Prudy is bored with her life pre-Iptweet, which is another form of “lack.”

This whole idea of lacking has so much possibilities – how much are we (in the form of our characters) driven solely by what we perceive as a lack of something? Is the lack real or merely perceived? How much narcissism does this involve? Or – how bone-deep does the feeling of lack go? Is this the true root of severe depression?

Or can lack even be joyous, as in missing someone we love so much our hearts burst into poetry? Is happiness the state of being, for a time, not lacking anything? A core tenet of Buddhism is to be without desire, a state which they believe results in permanent contentment and happiness.

But if we’d all been good Buddhists forever, would we, for example, have central heating?

Anyway, on and on…

So, use the idea of lack to emphasize something you may already have put into your work, to bring an idea into sharper focus, or use it to deepen an aspect of your story or your character him or herself.




Interviews in Progress

Monday, July 16th, 2012

We have just sent off our first batch of author interview questions to our very own Lizzie K. Foley, author of REMARKABLE… soon as they come back from Ms.Lizzie, we will post her riveting answers.

Remarkable, by Lizzie Foley

Remarkable, by Lizzie Foley


Writing at The Hummingbird Cafe, Pecos NM

Thursday, June 28th, 2012
Land of Enchantment

Land of Enchantment

Hey Writer Pals Worldwide,

Next time you are moseying around the Santa Fe area, I suggest you take a drive east, through the Glorieta Pass, down Route 50 to the Village of Pecos, where there is a honest-to-goodness river, AND the Hummingbird Cafe.

When you get to the Pecos intersection – you’ll know when you are there – turn left. The cafe is across from St. Anthony’s Church. You’ll find it. Cafe is open Thursday through Monday 9 til 3.

It is a throwback, the real deal. Say Hi to Tess and Nancy, eat some food, hang out, buy some local art and crafts. Write a scene in your novel, while sitting at one of the funky tables. I like the one with the carrot-print tablecloth.

Last Saturday, the marvelous Tess put together an Author’s Night – the first time this cultural experience happened in Pecos, as far as we know. Four authors read for 30 enthusiastic locals. I was glad to lead the program by reading the first chapter of The Magical Mrs. Iptweet and Me. I gotta thank the sound guy – his microphone was so good, none of my P’s popped. It was brilliant.

And books were sold that night. Thanks, Pecos!

I love the Hummingbird Cafe vibe. Writing and Storytelling groups are forming, planning to meet there. Artists are everywhere.

Will try to get a photo of the Hummingbird to post soon.

Write on!


Carl Sagan and book magic

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012
Oh this is so heartening to me.   Carl Sagan on the magic of books

Carl Sagan on the magic of books


Character Development Prompt

Monday, May 14th, 2012

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”
― Anne Lamott

Character Development

Novelist Elizabeth George describes in Write Away, (Harper Collins, 2004) how she creates characters. For part of her process, she uses a prompt sheet. She posts the prompt sheet in the vicinity of her computer to glance at as she free writes about the character. She does not fill in the prompt sheet. She writes:
“Single-word descriptions will never stimulate the right side of anyone’s brain, and it’s only through getting into the right side of the brain that I know I can be in full creative mode, allowing my stream-of-consciousness writing to tell me what each character is like. But I use the prompt sheet to remind me of things I might forget. I generally don’t use every one of the categories on the sheet, by the way. They’re merely devices to keep me going in my rapid, free-writing analysis about the character, like a psychiatrist, autobiographer, and analyst, you’ll remember.”

“Allow yourself the freedom of writing from the top of your head. Clear your mind right on the page if necessary. But give your characters a chance to tell you what part they’re going to play in your novel. Believe me. They will.”


Color hair/eyes
Physical peculiarities
Educational background
Best friend
Family (mother, father, siblings, etc.)
Core need:
Pathological maneuver
Ambition in life
Gestures when talking
Strongest character trait
Weakest character trait
Laughs or jeers at
Political leaning
What others notice first about him/her
What character does alone
One-line characterization (actual line from a narrative)
Will the reader like/dislike character
Does he/she change in story? How
Significant event that molded the character
Significant event that illustrates the character’s personality

Ms. George follows this list with an example from her work. Her analysis runs to eight pages and was written about a main character “long before she put in an appearance on the pages of my rough draft.”


Writing Classes and Workshops in New Mexico

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

We’ve had a few inquiries from our beloved blog readers asking about finding writing groups. I must tell you that our group started out as a class, and morphed into a “group”. I recommend attending classes, workshops and conferences, and joining writing organizations in order to connect with one’s peers or ilk, depending on your POV. Before you know it, you will be in a writer’s group.




SATURDAY, APRIL 7, 10:00 a.m. to noon – The Top 10 Worst Mistakes a Writer Can Make with Shirley Raye Redmond

Using practical examples from the 1955 film classic To Catch a Thief, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, Shirley Raye will reveal what successful writers should have in common with successful cat burglars–but too often don’t. An award-winning nonfiction writer and
former columnist for The Santa Fe New Mexican, Shirley Raye Redmond has sold 27 books and over 450 articles to a variety of publications.

SWW programs are held at the New Life Presbyterian Church, 5540 Eubank NE in Albuquerque. You can park on the dirt hill directly east of New Life Church for additional parking spots. Meetings are free for SWW members, $5 for nonmembers.



Mining Memories: Turning The Seed of Your HisStory Into Children’s Books (Weekend – Level: All)

Have you always wanted to write for children but don’t know how to get started? This weekend seminar will explore the process of children’s book writing: from mining your own memories, development of age appropriate topics, characters and themes, to finding a publisher and marketing your work to parents, teachers and children. Ana Baca’s most recent children’s picture book Tia’s Tamales (UNM Press, 2011) was honored with the New Mexico Book Award for “Best Children’s Picture Book” in 2011.

July 21-22, Taos Summer Writing Conference