Monday, August 22, 2016

Reads for Writers: Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.

          I read three highly recommended novels for my post this week, but two failed to keep my attention and the third was good, but not masterclass good so I searched my bookshelves and decided Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life met all the criteria.

Before you dismiss this as a joke, 32 authors/writers including Ray Bradbury, Sue Grafton, Elizabeth George, A. Scott Berg, and Elmore Leonard penned essays on The Writers’ Life based on their favorite comic strips of Snoopy sitting in front of his Olivetti typewriter on top of his doghouse which illustrate this tribute to writing.

In the Foreword, author Monte Schulz writes about his beloved father, Charles, their relationship as well as how important literature was in their lives.

“When I was young, my father gave me some of his favorite adventure books to read, like Driscoll’s Book of Pirates and Red Rackham’s Treasure. He wanted me to become as entranced by the storyteller’s art as he was…He own reading was astoundingly eclectic. He loved poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction…” (page 3)

“Once I’d reached the age where literary art is appreciated as much as bravado storytelling, my father began recommending literary books for me to read. Years later he told me that one of his fondest wishes had been that one day I’d grow into an appreciation of literature so that he and I could share and discuss the same books, some he would find to read, some I’d share with him. And finally we did…” (page 4)

“…Without a doubt, my father used Snoopy the author to express his own love and frustration with the creative process, to illuminate the writer’s life by poking fun at the often incomprehensible divide between author and publisher while showing the amazing resilience of the everyday writer struggling for acceptance and acknowledgment…” (page 11)

          In his Introduction, Barnaby Conrad gives readers a glimpse into Charles Schulz’s writing life describing his working day, writing space, and some of his habits that he caught while interviewing him for The New York Times Magazine. Schulz shared his views on writing, art, music, and genius as well.

In the 32 essays by other authors/writers, they offer advice, reflections, and warnings that are enlightening. Not every essay appealed to me, one even offended me, but here are a few quotes I loved:

“My biggest piece of advice is don’t use desperately boring description to elaborate on something technical or dole out heavy explanation...The reader will ignore it and be bored. Describe it in dialogue. The vision in the in the mind of the reader flies so much faster, and the reader actually understands and enjoys hearing what the characters say about it.

                                                --Clive Cussler (page 36)

“The rules for writing a best-seller are simple:

·        Take an idea you really, really like.

·        Develop it until it is brilliant.

·        Rewrite it for a year or two, until every word shines.

Then bite your nails, hold your breath, and pray like mad.

                                                --Sidney Sheldon (page 40)

“The joy about writing is that as long as you write from your heart, a thousand English degrees cannot compete with that. And remember, an editor can always correct your spelling and fix your grammar, but only you can tell your story.”

                                                --Fannie Flagg (page 69)

“To me, writing a book is a two-part process. The first part, and probably the toughest, is starting a book…

The second part, which I’ve always considered much easier, is completing the book. It’s much longer than starting, but also considerably easier—because now, momentum is on my side.”

                                                --Jay Conrad Levinson (page 112)

“I always tell my writing students to become completely aware of their bodies as they write. I tell them that their minds will lie to them all the time, but their guts will never lie to them. You know when you are afraid, don’t you? You feel it; you don’t think it. You know when you are excited, too…you have to learn to apply that gut reaction to your writing…”

                                                --Elizabeth George (page 123)

I wish I could reprint Elizabeth George’s entire essay as she gave great advice, but you will have to discover it for yourself. She ends with:

“I think the writing life is the best there is. It’s also the most challenging. It’s filled with a heck of a lot of difficult moments, but overcoming them is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.” (page 124)

          I have to agree.



Monday, August 15, 2016

A Chance to Connect

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Every book I look at on my shelves inspires me. These authors could not know how their work would be received, but they persevered. What if they gave up and didn’t finish their work? How much poorer my life would be without their books.

          We cannot judge how our work will affect others. We can only complete our work and give it a chance to be discovered, a chance to connect with readers.

          Focus on writing even as you take in life around you wherever that may be. Jot down impressions and notes if you can’t stop and write full sentences.

Be persistent.

Writing is an adventure. You can plot where you want to go, but twists and turns appear on the page regardless.

          Writing happens on so many levels: what you see or hear now, what happened in the past, what you imagine—and what you don’t.

          You cannot imagine exactly how your life will be changed when you send your work out into the world, but, for writers, that’s what we do.

          Imagine that. Be inspired by that. Do that.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Reads for Writers: Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion by William Kenower

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          When I started out to become a writer, I didn’t know any writers except the ones I read and loved. I didn’t know how to write an article or a book or what comprised a workday. I only knew I wanted to write, too.

          Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg gave me an on ramp into the writing life. As I have mentioned previously, it was a great help to start a writing career.

Since then, I’ve become a professional writer. I know and edit many writers, but the writing process is different for each one of us. Because I mostly work alone, I’m always looking for writing companions.
I’ve found a few books like: For Writers Only: Inspiring thoughts on the exquisite pain and heady joy of the writing life from its great practitioners by Sophy Burnham; The Writer’s Home Companion by Joan Bolker, Ed.D.; Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury; The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield; The Writing Life by Ellen Gilchrist; Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver; The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron; Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott; and Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. As for blogs, I recommend Writing Wednesdays by Steven Pressfield and Kristin Lamb’s award-winning blog.

While browsing for something to read recently, I came across Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion by William Kenower. In his 80 concise essays about writing, Kenower shares some life stories, beliefs, insights, advice, topics to consider, successes, failures as well as quotes from other writers.

On pages 12 & 13:

Every day when writers sit down to write, they must ask themselves this question of, “What do I most want to say?” over and over again…

…What do I most want?

Life, and well-being, is really as simple as that…that question remains the most courageous , the most meaningful, and also the most frightening  question you will ever answer…as a writer, if you answer authentically you may see a combination of words on the page that you have never read before, which is both exhilarating and frightening…

On page 97:

Through writing you can learn the endlessly practical discipline of trust. You learn to trust because you are forever the judge and jury of all decisions in your life, and writing draws this fact into stark relief. You must trust yourself finally, or nothing will ever get written.

          On page 149:

…I only got to discover that I love to write once. And yet writing, like some marriages, can be a constant discovery. As with writing, love is not some destination but a portal, a window through which to see life as I intend to lead it.

          On page 159:

So do not think about writing beautifully, think only about writing clearly and about what you care the most. Let the words take the shape of whatever your clarity demands, and then let it go. If you manage to say precisely what you mean, you will have provided another person the opportunity to share in what you love, and there is little in the world more beautiful than that.


          Like the other companion books I listed, Write Within Yourself sits on a shelf near my writing desk. I write alone, but I have a support system.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Instant Inspiration

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          This morning, I let the dogs out to play in the yard. The youngest is eight months old and ready for anything. He starts each day racing out the door to scare any birds daring to stand on his lawn. He has no hope of catching them, he just loves the chase.

          When he stopped to watch proudly as the birds flew away, a medium-sized, mostly black butterfly fluttering off to his left caught his attention. Immediately, he gave chase.

          I thought the butterfly would soar away, but it stayed low zigging and zagging. The puppy ran, jumped, then pounced. I held my breath, but the butterfly stayed aloft. When it circled around, the puppy lost sight of it. Again I thought he would fly away, but the butterfly flew back to the puppy engaging him in another chase. He did this over and over again.

Was the butterfly playing or panicking or practicing his flying maneuvers?

For almost five minutes the two were unaware of anything but each other. The butterfly would travel about fifteen feet in one direction, then circle around and go in the opposite direction with the puppy frolicking behind him. The butterfly only flew over the fence when the other dogs tried to join the fun.

Back in the house, the dogs drank water and the puppy settled down for a nap. I settled down in front of my computer inspired to catch this unique interaction on the page.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Reads for Writers: The Golden Theme by Brian McDonald Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…


As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

        Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

          Brian McDonald is the first author to have two Masterclasses in a row. His thoughts on storytelling and writing are just that good.

His first book, Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate was the Masterclass on 6/26/16. If you truly take in what McDonald reveals, your writing will take on new dimensions. A must read!

          In The Golden Theme: How to Make Your Writing Appeal to the Highest Common Denominator, McDonald states: This simple sentence, we are all the same, is the Golden Theme that all stories express. (page 4)

          Why this book is a Masterclass:

Young or inexperienced artist [are told] to find their style, their voice…[not to] “Learn the craft of storytelling.” (page 75)

Telling an artist to express himself or herself only produces self-indulgent, mediocre art. (page 76)

Your job as a storyteller is to tell the truth—the deep truth—the truth as you see it. If you do this even while not trying to have a style, you will have one. (page 77)

…if you…express the Golden Theme as purely as you can…you will reach people—move them. And when people comment on your style, you will have no idea what they are talking about because your work will penetrate so much further below the surface that style will become unimportant to you. (page 77)

          McDonald also shares the importance of storytelling.

                   “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel.

                   But there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

                                                                   Ursula K. LeGuin (page 11)

          …buried within the story is survival information. And this survival information is, I believe, the reason we tell stories. (page 13)

          The stories McDonald repeats may or already have saved lives. For example, he reveals how “hanger flying” stories helped Sully Sullivan land his inoperable plane safely in the Hudson River saving hundreds of lives. (pp. 16-17)

          The knowledge that others have had the same woes can change lives. In…Alcoholics Anonymous, people do little more than share stories, and yet they have a substantial recovery rate. (page 40)

          …We human beings are always looking for connections. This is why it is so important to understand the Golden Theme. (page 41)

          One of my favorite stories tells what happened at meals on the set of Planet of the Apes in 1968 on pages 42 &43. I also enjoyed learning about the brilliance of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone on pages 47 & 48.

          We use the Golden Theme in life to determine who is good and who is not. (page 59)

          Focusing on differences instead of similarities blinds us to the Golden Theme. (page 82)

          Brian McDonald wraps up his book with the importance of storytelling—not just entertaining, but a healing art. Let people know they are not alone. You must make people understand we are all the same. (page 104)

Essential advice for writers and storytellers: Tell the truth—the deep truth—the truth as you see it. Readers and listeners will respond.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Reads for Writers: When We Meet Again by Kristin Harmel

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

I love novels filled with insightful asides. If they also appeal to you, you’ll enjoy When We Meet Again by Kristin Harmel.

Love is the theme of this book. Love at first sight. Eternal love. Love denied. Unrequited love. Love thy neighbor—or not. Familial love—or not—and the patterns that repeat through generations.

It’s the story of Emily Emerson whose father walked out on her and her mother. She should have seen it coming as her paternal grandfather abandoned her grandmother when she was pregnant with Emily’s father, but, at eleven years old, she was shocked, devastated, and enraged.

Only seven years later, her mother died. Her father called. He offered little comfort and no sanctuary. Thankfully, the only grandmother she ever knew took her in, but not before the choices Emily made in her grief had consequences.

Now at thirty-six, Emily’s life is disrupted by the loss of her reporting job just after her grandmother died.

Then, as described on the back cover, “…she receives a beautiful, haunting painting of a young woman standing at the edge of a sugarcane field under a violet sky. That woman is recognizable as her grandmother—and the painting arrives with no identification other than a handwritten note saying, ‘He never stopped loving her.’"

‘Emily is hungry for roots and family, so she begins to dig.’”

          I’m not going to ruin the book for readers with any spoilers so the quotes by characters will be unattributed. I just want to share some of the insights written by Kristin Harmel.


          “I feel more for you now than I ever have for anyone before. How is that possible? We hardly know each other, and yet, I feel like you’re already a permanent piece of my soul.”

“Sometimes, things are simply meant to be.” (page 92)

“Every time someone hurts you, you carry a little piece of that with you. When it’s one of the people who’s supposed to love you most in the world, well, I’d imagine that takes a whole chunk out of your faith in humanity…I don’t want that to be my legacy to you." (page 210)

“When you’re young, you think you’ll have a hundred opportunities to find the kind of love that fills you up, the kind of love that sustains you. But the reality is, you’re lucky to find it even once in a lifetime. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to reality, to make up a fairy tale in your head. But once you’ve felt real love, you know deep down when you are faking it. You know when you are lying to yourself.” (page 237)

“How can two people love each other that much, wind up in the same city, and never see each other? It’s so cruel and senseless. Why do any of us fall in love like that if we aren’t given the chance to find each other again?" (page 303)

“It was inconvenient to love someone who would never love you the same way, because it held you back in life. It tied you to something you could never have." (page 312)

“The story that led us here was written long before you were born…There are different kinds of love in the world, aren’t there?” (page 314)

          This is the first book I’ve read by Kristin Harmel, but it won’t be my last.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Vending Machines for Literature

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          On yesterday's (7/10/16) CBS Sunday Morning show during “The Man in Paris” segment, reporter David Turecamo discussed vending machines for literature spread around Grenoble, France. Patrons can choose free stories that take one, three, or five minutes to read while they are waiting in line. The machines choose the stories randomly based only on the chosen time frame then print them out on long, narrow rolls of paper.

When the inventors of the Short Edition vending machines showed the mayor a prototype, he had the first one placed in Grenoble’s Town Hall. Now there are eight machines in municipal buildings around the city including the Tourist Information Office.

Since word has spread about these machines, the inventors are receiving requests to place them all over the world. Short Edition has ordered 45 machines to start meeting the demand. Hopefully, there will be one near each of us eventually.

In the five years since Short Edition began, there are now 10,000 contributing authors and about 150,000 regular readers. The best of the stories are published in a book each year.

This is great news for writers who want to contribute their work and for anyone stuck in a line without something to read.

For more information, visit the CBS Sunday Morning web site or, if you can read French,