Saturday, January 5, 2019

new year's resolutions


In a talk I made to the Irmo Shepherd’s Center in November, I advised my audience to seek out experiences that take them beyond their comfort zone—not just to enlarge our understanding, but to provide a foundation for our imagination and intellect. This morning I was outside my comfort zone for an hour when I appeared on Kasie Whitener’s radio program WriteOn SC (100.7 FM). It was stressful, but not as difficult as my first time on the program.

We talked about goals for writers. It benefitted me perhaps more than our audience. I had decided to make no New Year's Resolutions this year. I was discouraged that I hadn’t succeeded in keeping my 2018 (and 2017) resolution to complete a manuscript. I have learned that this goal—to complete a manuscript—is a weak, if not ineffective, one. It doesn’t change my behavior in a way that encourages me to achieve the goal. Yes, I want to finish it, but to get there, I need more productive habits not verbalization of the goal. For 2019 I’ve changed my goal to: write (not research nor revise) for an hour each day on the manuscript.

Worse than helping me, the “finish manuscript” goal became an impediment. It caused frustration and disappointment with myself. What we need with goals is incentive. The definition of an incentive differs for different people. This gives rise to a couple of approaches to writing goals. On the one hand, you can make time-defined goals (an hour a day) or, on the other hand, output goals, 200 words a day.

If you are motivated by challenging or hard to achieve goals, you might go for six hours or 1000 words a day. However, not everybody (read Bonnie) is motivated by exhortations such as Steve Jobs’, "We're here to put a dent in the universe."  

Unrealistic expectations make me nervous. To begin with I fret about whether I can reach the goal. Fret turns into anxiety as I try harder and harder. Trying too hard impairs my ability to write. I am better off with targets I feel more confident about.

An important point I learned this morning—I need my written goals pinned in sight of my computer. Last year, the resolutions I made in January were forgotten by February. I have a better chance of reaching the finish line by consistently remembering and sticking to the list.

Some of my friends have given up making New Year’s resolutions, which makes me sad. One reason for making resolutions is to take stock of yourself and aim to be better. I think we’re getting old when we give up trying to better ourselves.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

published poem.American Journal of Poetry


My poem “In the Shade of Cherry Trees” is published online in the current issue of The American Journal Of Poetry. Unlike most of my poems, this one touches on life in Washington, DC. I try to avoid politics and social issues altogether, in part because I don’t like to read such poems. I have yet to read a good poem on social justice (or feminist angst, child abuse, gay rights, etc.). Having said that, several of my poems contradict my intention.

When you think about it, Emily Dickinson lived her adult life during the Civil War, a time of extreme political controversy, but you will be hard pressed to find a reference to the war or slavery in her poems. Somehow they stayed grounded but rose above everyday grappling.

When it comes down it, isn’t poetry more organic than social anyway?

My thanks to Editor Robert Nazarene and his staff for producing The American Journal Of Poetry and for publishing my poem. I’ve received encouraging comments and, of course, I’m delighted with the feedback. Here’s the link to this issue. Scroll down to my name and choose it.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

st. andrews shepherd's center


That was my topic on Tuesday (the 6th) when I spoke to the St. Andrews Shepherd Center’s lunch crowd. I borrowed that quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne who actually said it was “damned hard writing.” There were about 96 people present, having a Thanksgiving lunch of turkey and dressing while I talked. After my presentation, we had a drawing and I gave away a copy of Cat’s Fur.

Thank goodness for a microphone, for it was a large room at Ashland United Methodist Church. I touched on questions writers are often asked. Below I’ll give my answers, but I compared my experience with well known writers such as J.D. Salinger, John Grisham, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Steven King. 

—How long does it take to write a novel? (took me 10 or more years to write Kedzie)
—What experience prepares a person for writing? (I have picked and chopped cotton, retouched negatives, operated a switchboard, been a nurse’s aid and waitress)
—Where do ideas for books come from? (Antebellum diary; stories told by my ancestors; a wish to share my background with my future generations)
—What are the work habits of writers? (I don’t have habits. May write 10 hours one day and none the next)
—What advice for prospective writers? (Don’t listen to advice. Write something and take it to a writers workshop.)
My thanks to Carol McGinnis Kay and the Shepherd's Center for the invitation. The lunch was exciting, the audience most accommodating. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

author events

At Aiken Indie Author Day, all set up and ready

Last night, I was a guest author at Words and Wine in Columbia. Author Pat McNeely paid tribute to the late Rachel Haynie, whose work includes a video she produced that focuses on local artists and their work. She wrote 12 books about South Carolina, such as Myths and Mysteries of SC. Two other authors signed books—poet Al Black and non-fiction writer Sheila Morris

Guitarists, Ken Baldwin and Igo Agafonov play music as background to these events, a talented duo.

COMING UP: Words & Wine's Holiday Book Signing, November 20 at 6:00 PM. The venue is Jubilee Circle, 2627 Millwood Ave. in Columbia, SC.
I won a drawing at Indie Author Day and what a win -- Great basket!

I, along with 30 other authors, participated in the Indie Author Day in Aiken on Saturday, October 13. The Aiken chapter of the SC Writers’ Association and the Aiken Public Library did a great job of organizing this event. I enjoyed meeting other authors.

Programs scheduled throughout the day covered subjects such as marketing techniques and publishing. Raegan Teller a fellow author of the Columbia II workshop was on a panel that discussed the pitfalls of writing a series of novels. The day would have been a great success had there been more traffic.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Indie Author Day 2018, Aiken, SC

Last year, setting up at Indie Author Day 2017


On Saturday, October 13, I’ll be selling and signing books at the Aiken Library from 10 AM until 5:00 PM during Indie Author Day. I attended last year and had a great time. Lots of book lovers wandered in and out. The guest speakers covered various aspects of writing. 

Justin Wheelon discussed script writing at the 2017 Indie Author Day
It’s a good time and place to meet local authors as well discuss the art and craft of writing. I’ll be one of over twenty authors at tables located on the first floor of the library. Last year, I met a number of interesting writers and visitors. 

Will Jones had assistance demonstrating song writing in 2017
Programs about everything from poetry to fiction to marketing techniques will be held in the meeting room throughout the day. Independent publishers will be in the foyer with information about services they offer. During lunch, visitors are invited to try their hand at writing with Ken Doyle’s Writing Sprints. And there will be door prizes.

I hope the speakers this year are as good as the ones last year. If you go, come by my table and say “hello.”

The address of the Library: 314 Chesterfield Street SW Aiken, SC 29801

To my left (in yellow shirt) is Mike Lythgoe, who discussed writing poetry in 2017

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

columbia author event

Last night I attended author A.J. Brown’s presentation at “Words and Wine” held at 2627 Jubilee Circle on Millwood Avenue in Columbia. A.J. has always been fascinated by the dark side of life. Even when he was a child, his mother said, “He’s my dark child.”

Naturally enough, Steven King is an inspiration. A.J.’s research takes him into subjects such as cannibalism, abuse, and racism.

“I don’t believe in plot,” he said to explain that his stories are character driven. He’s a pantser, not a planner. Pantser, which I thought was a term invented by a writer in the Columbia II writers’ workshop, is apparently in more common usage. (I’m not sure of the spelling and it’s not in my dictionary). Anyway, a pantser is a writer who writes without an outline (i.e. writes by the seat of their pants).

Thanks to Chris Maw, “Words and Wine” is a monthly event where writers of central South Carolina promote their books and meet other writers. There’s music and wine and nibbles as well as writers. It takes place every third Tuesday. I hope more readers and writers will become interested and support this effort, which in turn supports us writers.

Would love to see you there Tuesday, October 16. Starts at 6:00 PM.

PS I took photos and accidentally deleted them. Not again!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

WriteOn SC

Another chance at the mic
Last Saturday I was a guest on the radio talk show WriteOn SC along with sci-fi author Rex Hurst. Host Kasie Whitener led our discussion about research and writing. It’s a topic especially germane to historical fiction.

I talked about how I research background information. The main resource I use is writings contemporaneous with the time of my manuscript, in particular diaries, biographies, and autobiographies. You can find titles from indexes of other books on the period.

When it comes to digging for the answer to a specific question (did toothbrushes exist in 1857?) I start with Wikipedia. A Google search is often helpful. And you can find online photos and art of your period with clues to fashion, architecture, and geography.

Though you wouldn’t know it from the paucity of literary events in South Carolina, the state has an enthusiastic community of writers. However, aside from college and religious bookstores, there’s only one bookstore in the city of Columbia — Barnes and Noble. The city of Lexington has one, Books-a-Million. West Columbia has Ed’s Editions, which specializes in collectible books.

That is to say, SC authors in the Columbia area with books to sell won’t find a friendly face at a local bookstore. If you’re already successful, i.e., a name-brand author, our libraries occasionally sponsor guest appearances. They’ve also organized book clubs, but I don’t know of any author who’s been invited to appear at one.

Kasie Whitener’s radio talk show WriteOn SC airs at 9:00 AM Saturday mornings on 100.7 FM The Point. It’s an opportunity for the community to meet and get to know local authors. Kasie is on the lookout for SC authors and publishers to participate in the programs. If you’re interested in being considered for a guest appearance, click on her blog.

Better still, if you’re willing to support the show as a donor, go to the Patreon website.

To inquire about placing an ad on her show, get in touch with her through her blog.

Sunday, August 26, 2018



Last weekend my husband Doug ran the Reykjavik Marathon. I went along to provide a distraction from the rigour he was undertaking. Our son Jason joined us and ran with Doug, a much appreciated source of encouragement.
Doug and typical landscape
 Iceland is hilly and, outside Reykjavik, mountainous. It’s windy. It is a runner’s challenge. For the tourist, it’s a unique natural wonder. And you don’t need a guide to find scenery that will take your breath away.

In the drive from the airport into Reykjavik you’ll look out the window of your car and think you’ve landed on a different planet. What would be fields anywhere else is acres of rocks so rough you can’t just “take a walk.” The island’s volcanic heritage is alive and well in its landscape.


How deep is the water! How high is the rim! We walked around the top, and I worried while two French children, unnoticed by their parents, jumped and played at the edge of the cliff. 

At Kerid volcanic crater
You have to wonder if the geyser is prompted by a time mechanism that transcends our understanding. Picture a group of us tourists standing in anticipation for several minutes, growing restless, wondering...wondering. 
Me at Strokkur Geyser
Then a burst of steam shoots 15 feet into the air for about 20 seconds and disappears. The ground is quiet. Another wait. Waiting. Another shot of steam erupts, this one 30 feet. This one 30 seconds. Ohhhh! A collective gasp.

On the drive to the Blue Lagoon, you see numerous geysers coming from the sides of mountains, some of them little whiffs, some big enough to remind you of a nuclear reactor. We had great weather, about 50 degrees every day. Even at that, walking outside from the locker rooms to the Lagoon in a swimsuit is no fun. 
At the Blue Lagoon
The excitement starts when you stick you foot into the water. Ahhh! Must be 90 degrees! Heaven! And the color suggests you’re entering a magic kingdom. It’s more iridescent than appears in the photo.

Most of the trees appear to be planted, and there aren’t many of those. However, the birches and firs are perfectly formed, as if Photoshopped. Most of the mountains are bare rocks. Water is everywhere, lakes, ponds, streams. The current is so strong the water crashes into rocks in the streams.

Doug at Gullfoss waterfall

The food is about the best you’ll get as a traveler. No fast food chains. We saw one KFC, and it was at a service station along the highway. Many coffee houses. Even at a tourist shop I got soup that puts American imitations to shame. It was broth based, unlike the creamy gruel we get.
Me at Bobby Fischer's grave.
He became the World Chess Champion when he defeated Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972. He lived a tortured life and died in Iceland. His museum is modest. His grave is a lonely one in a small church yard.

Iceland is an expensive vacation. One night after supper Doug got the bill and said, “Only $80.” It was one of the cheapest suppers we had. But the dishes are prepared to order and the vegetables are fresh. With no evidence of farming (except for the rare greenhouse), the country must import its food. There are sheep and on occasion a few cattle. But not enough to put meat on the table.

I’d love to go back to Iceland. It’s the kind of place you wish you could share with your friends.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Mentor Book Club


Now, what did I just say? 

Yesterday Doug and I drove through acres of fields planted with cotton and peanuts before arriving at Elloree and the Mentor Book Club. It was gratifying to see thriving farms, but the small towns we drove through couldn't be described as thriving. 

President Dorothy Anderson introduced me.
My thanks to the Club for their warm reception and special thanks to Linda Burdett who initiated my invitation. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Triggerfish Critical Review #20


I hope you’ll take a look at my poems currently published on Triggerfish Critical Review Issue #20:

Those mists that obscure the hills of Jerusalem
like the ones that confuse the present
teach us a way to endure trivial truths...

2) I Pray

for Sara Lee cakes and a return address
at least until I’m eighty or employed...


Never mind the life I lived
before becoming one with the Truth...

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Farming States 2018


In writing fiction with a farm as a setting, we don’t want to make a mistake like putting a pumpkin farmer in a state that doesn’t produce pumpkins. So, hoping to find such examples among the 10 products/states in the quiz (previous blog), I went online to research which states did not produce which of the crops listed in the quiz.

To my amazement, I could only find one example. Apparently North Dakota does not grow rice. Even desert states like New Mexico and Arizona are capable of producing maple syrup, peaches, rice, and other products (at least that’s the online story). Likewise with cold states such as Maine and Vermont.

We’ll be on solid ground writing about an egg farmer in Indiana, for that state produces more eggs than any other. Here are answers to the quiz:

1. State with the most egg production - Indiana
2. The most sheep and lambs - Wyoming
3. The most turkeys - Minnesota
3. The leading producer of honey – North Dakota
5. Of pumpkins - Illinois
6. Maple syrup - Vermont
7. Sweet Potatoes – North Carolina
8. Produces the most Christmas trees - Oregon
9. The most peaches - California
10. The most rice - Arkansas

As a footnote, when’s the last time you read a contemporary novel that takes place on a farm?


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mentor Book Club


On Monday, August 6, I’ll talk about my novel Dust On the Bible at the Mentor Book Club, which meets at 4:00 PM at the Elloree United Methodist Church, located at 501 W. Barkley Street in Elloree, SC. 

Dust On the Bible recalls a vanished way of life—the small farm where family members worked together to produce crops. We’ll talk about changes in farming since the time of the novel (1944) as well as how I came to write about a rural family during WWII.

Since I want to give away a couple of books, I’ve been working on a quiz for the audience. The questions are about farming in the States today.

1. Which state has the most egg production?
2. Produces the most sheep and lambs?
3. The most turkeys?
3. Which state is the leading producer of honey?
5. Of pumpkins?
6. Maple syrup?
7. Sweet Potatoes? (This state has been the leading producer since 1971.)
8. What state produces the most Christmas trees?
9. The most peaches?
10. The most rice? 
The answers, in no particular order, are: Minnesota, Vermont, Oregon, California, Illinois, Arkansas, Indiana, North Dakota, North Carolina, and Wyoming. Can you figure out which state is the answer for which question?

South Carolina doesn’t make the list as top producer in any of the categories, though we are noted for peaches, peanuts, watermelons, and cantaloupes. I’ve been keeping sliced cantaloupe in my refrigerator for weeks, an easy and quick snack. About the worst time of the year is when cantaloupes disappear from the bins at the grocery store. It means that fall's coming (goodbye shorts and sandals. Hello jeans and sneakers).

My thanks to Linda Burdette who initiated my invitation and to the Mentor Book Club for hosting me.

Information for questions taken from “The United Crops of America” on Monsanto’s web site.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

triggerfish critical review


I’m excited to have three poems published online in the July issue of Triggerfish Critical Review #20. As of today, Issue #19 is still posted, but Editor Dave Mehler will publish Issue #20 next week. I’m proud to be selected to join the quality of work Triggerfish publishes.

My three poems differ from one another in major ways, but there’s a spiritual element to all of them.

1- “Common Story Among Strangers” questions what and how we believe.
2- “I Pray” is a complaint to an impersonal you about one’s intrinsic needs.  
3- “On the Verge of Holy” Will seeking religion give me spiritual life? 
In a critique, Robert Stout wrote about my poems: “Powerful imagery emerging from everyday words and pacing that seems conversational, intimate.”

If you’re interested in poetry, it’s worthwhile to read Editor Dave Mehler’s "Letter To the Editor." Though I write poetry, I’ve had ambivalent feelings about the genre in general. Mehler tells us that we can hate poetry and still need it, using as reference Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry.

I think we all realize there is more to life than what we can say using language. The unseeable, what we know exists but can’t identify, is in many respects un-speakable. This inherent understanding eludes words. Poetry is our effort to express what transcends us.

I hope you’ll take a look at Triggerfish Critical Review. You’ll find interesting writers and poems.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Author's Night, Cola

Author Chuck Walsh talks about his novels.


In talking about his five novels last night, Chuck Walsh mentioned that his inspiration came from his family and friends. In fact, some of his characters are modeled after personal acquaintances, which can get a writer into trouble if not controversy, e.g., Thomas Wolfe, who caused a stir in Asheville by writing thinly disguised autobiography. Walsh gave us a writer’s perspective on what it takes to produce a novel. 
Me with sci-fi author, Dan Mooney aka Rex Hurst
In addition to Walsh, four writers were available to sell and sign their works: Reagan Teller (mysteries), Marv Ward (poetry), Pat McNeely (SC history), and George Long (children’s book).
Reagan Teller makes a sale
The venue at Jubilee Circle on Millwood Avenue is conducive to a cordial get-together. Last night, a combo (didn’t get the name of the musicians) performed. Nibbles added more fun.

Though Columbia doesn’t have an independent bookstore, it has an active writing community. There are few avenues here for local talent to promote their work. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to attend another Author’s Night.

Monday, April 30, 2018

art in Lake City


You never know who you'll meet at an art show.
Last week my sister Nila and I were dashing around shops and restaurants in Lake City, South Carolina looking at paintings and other art. It’s misleading to say ArtFields is just an art show. It’s an adventure. Downtown Main Street becomes a vibrant showplace for a week. You’ll find paintings hanging above racks of blouses or tee shirts or baby clothes. Mixed media in a mattress showroom. Installation art at the barber shop.
Nila with dress made of nitrile gloves, by artist Rebecca Whitson.
It rained for a couple of days, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the townspeople and shopkeepers. Their spirit was infectious and we hardly felt our feet get wet.

A number of the buildings recall the town’s rural past and have been restored, such as the Bean Market, the Jones-CarterGallery (which used to be a feed-and-seed store), and the McClam Livery Stables. About 400 works of art were professionally displayed at over 40 different locations. It took us more than a morning to see the art at the ROB (Ragsdale Old Building). This building was erected in the 1920s and was used as a charcoal briquette warehouse.
I gave this sculpture by Bryan Rapp of Myrtle Beach a score of 10.
Nila also liked Rapp's sculpture.
You can vote for your favorites, so Nila and I gave each work a score from 1-10 (10 the best). A comparison of our scores proved the adage that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” According to the program, winning artists will take home $12,500. 

As a general rule I give low scores to politically explicit art, in part because a judgment on the merit of the art apart from the politics isn't easy to make. However, I was stopped by this text from a mixed media piece: "there are as many kindergartners as there are prisoners in the United States" and "1 in 3 white males in America has a college degree. 1 in 3 black males expected to experience incarceration in their lifetime."

Saturday concluded ArtFields for 2018. The event is a winner, and I look forward to returning next year.
A teapot sculpture by Logan Woodle of Conway. I love the whimsical steam.
Nila at the orange sign that marked the location of art exhibits.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

greensboro, NC conference

NC Writers' Network Conference
JillMcCorkle was the keynote speaker at The North Carolina Writers Network Conference held at Greensboro on Saturday. She stood on a stage removed from the audience, and my seat was at some distance from the front, ergo, a rather fuzzy photo. 
Jill McCorkle
Obviously a well-prepared talk, and what she read to us was useful information despite the monotone presentation. She said that our subconscious is smarter than our consciousness. This is something I can believe. When I’m working on a story, I often come up with fresh ideas early in the morning, after a night of sleep and before I’m fully wake up. I suspect I was working in my sleep.

McCorkle said that writing a poem or story is like building a house, e.g., foundation, doors and windows for looking in or out. Location, location, location. A place where you know all you know. Potential and comfort. Haunted or run down. A fantasy of salvaging.

A useful McCorkle quote: Sometimes we revise too soon before we get to the emotional truth we’re after. Revision is the true art.
Susan Emshwiller
SusanEmshwiller’s enthusiasm for movies translated into helpful information on writing. On dialogue, she reminded us that our characters can call out/play with bad dialogue. Another gem: complex concepts (e.g., collateralized debt obligation, or cognitive neuroscience) need not be explained as long as a character in the story understands it. Using movie clips, she gave us ideas about exposition, setup for chaos, and theme. With “Tell them up front the essentials,” she ended with scenes from Delicatessen and Saving Private Ryan.

David Halperin
In the afternoon, David Halperin’s topic was “Writing the Character you Know Best.” Mostly anecdotal input from the audience. A good reminder that perfection itself is a flaw when it comes to creating characters.

The Greensboro that I saw is a college town with a revitalized downtown of about three blocks where lively pedestrians stroll the restaurants and shops. My sister Nila bought a handmade necklace in one of the shops while I was hanging out with writers.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

historical fantasy


If you encounter in a book or a movie characters and situations such as the following, does it matter to you?

1. Edgar Allen Poe sees a psychiatrist.
2. Emily Brontë buys a notebook for writing.
3. Christopher Marlowe is diagnosed with Aids.
4. Galileo loses a filling in his tooth.
5. Benazir Bhutto sells trinkets on a Karachi street.
6. Mark Twain enrolls his daughter in preschool.
7. Helen Keller is gifted with a seeing-eye dog.
8. Florence Nightingale takes a blood sample for analysis.
9. Harriet Tubman is invited to dinner by a plantation owner.
10. Charles Darwin is admitted to a hospital with abdominal pain.
11. Michelangelo sips champagne.

If you’re not sure of the historical inaccuracy in each sentence, I’ll come back to that in a later blog. For now, I’m working on an idea about the genre of historical fiction and how some writers are revising it into something other than historical fiction (defined as a story with fictional characters and events in an historical setting). This recent trend creates something more like magical history or historical fantasy.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

anthony marra


Since when are authors comedians? We were cackling out loud during Anthony Marra’s presentation at the Univ. of South Carolina yesterday evening. And his book is nothing to laugh about.

He was the guest of The Open Book series, there to talk about his novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. The title comes from a medical dictionary’s definition of the word life. His novel is about life in Chechnya, where a lot of human damage occurs.

When asked about where he writes, Marra said in a coffee shop, away from his house. On my way home, I convinced myself and my friend Carole that I’d be more productive by getting out of my house. However, I’d feel guilty taking up a table in a cafe for chunks of time. I’ve seen too many computers taking up good seats while I’ve had to squeeze into a corner.

Marra hit a home run with his first novel. Also with his USC audience.