Monday, August 21, 2017


From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’m always looking for a new topic to cover in my blog. Yesterday I decided on ekphrasis—writing inspired by art. I read about a Poetry & Art show based on this.

I’ve decided to pick a piece of art and write about it this week. I’m not sure if I will pick a favorite piece or something brand new. I like looking at something familiar with fresh eyes, but something new should really shake me up. I believe I will be inspired when I see the “right” piece.

If this sounds like fun, join me on assignment!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reads for Writers: Award-winning and Bestselling Author Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache Series

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I discovered Louise Penny and her mystery books on the CBS Sunday Morning TV program a few weeks ago. If you like Agatha Christie, you will enjoy Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series that begins with Still Life. To date, there are twelve books in the series.

New York Time's bestselling author Louise Penny has won five Agatha Awards. She certainly has Christie’s ability to see into the hearts and minds of murderers. I have lost count of the universally true Insightful Asides I have underlined while reading about the murders in Three Pines, a small Canadian village near the US border.

“It [Three Pines] had croissants and cafĂ© au lait. It had steak frites and The New York Times. It had a bakery, a bistro, a B. & B., a general store. It had great joy and great sadness and the ability to accept both and be content. It had companionship and kindness. (page 12 in A Fatal Grace, book 2).

Sounds like an idyllic place to live—except for the murders.

Here are a few of my favorite Insightful Asides from the series:

“His [Brother Albert] theory is that life is loss,” said Myrna [bookstore owner] after a moment. “Loss of parents, loss of loves, loss of jobs. So we have to find a higher meaning in our lives than these things and people. Otherwise we’ll lose ourselves.” (page 138 in Still Life, book 1)

“…Murder was deeply human, the murdered and the murderer. To describe the murderer as a monstrosity, a grotesque, was to give him an unfair advantage. No. Murderers were human, and at the root of each murder was an emotion. Warped, no doubt. Twisted and ugly. But an emotion. And one so powerful it had driven a man to make a ghost.” (Chief Inspector Gamache on page 154 of A Fatal Affair, book 2)

“Accepting murder meant accepting there was a murderer. Among them. Close. Someone in that room, almost certainly. One of those smiling, laughing, familiar faces hid thoughts so vile they had to kill.” (Clara Morrow on page 66 of The Cruelest Month, book 3)

“There are four statements that lead to wisdom…You need to learn to say: I don’t know. I’m sorry. I need help and I was wrong.” (Chief Inspector Gamache on page 130 in The Cruelest Month.)

“Hazel Smyth had been off to the funeral home…It was like being kidnapped and taken into a world of hushed words and sympathy for something she couldn’t yet believe had happened.” (page 144 of The Cruelest Month)

“…He saw all the Morrows, trudging along, chained together, weighed down by expectation, disapproval, secrets. Need. Greed. And hate. After years of investigating murders Chief Inspector Gamache knew one thing about hate. It bound you forever to the person you hated. Murder wasn’t committed out of hate, it was done as a terrible act of freedom. To finally rid yourself of the burden.” (page 205 in A Rule Against Murder, book 4)

“Grief was dagger-shaped and sharp and pointed inward. It was made of fresh loss and old sorrow.” (Inspector Gamache on page 262 in A Rule Against Murder)

          Poetry plays a big role in Louise Penny’s books and in her writing. Chief Inspector Gamache reads and quotes poems in these books and there is a poet who lives in Three Pines.

          Louise Penny thinks reading poetry is essential for writers. As she states in her Acknowledgments on page ix of The Brutal Telling (book 5):

…I actually need to thank the wonderful poets who’ve allowed me to use their works and words. I adore poetry, as you can tell. Indeed it inspires me—with words and emotions. I tell aspiring writers to read poetry, which I think for them is often the literary equivalent of being told to eat Brussels sprouts. They’re none too enthusiastic. But what a shame if a writer doesn’t at least try to find poems that speak to him or her. Poets manage to get into a couplet what I struggle to achieve in an entire book.

          I, too, think poetry is essential as does author Ray Bradbury. See posts dated March 9, 2015; March 21, 2016; and April 4, 2016.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Summer Dream Vacation

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          If I could plan a summer vacation just for me, it would be a nine-day staycation of nothing but reading.

I’d sort out books I can’t wait to read and stack them in my reading nook.

          Every morning, I would choose a book on my way to breakfast. I’d read while crunching on toast. When finished, I would lounge on the couch or the deck depending on the heat and humidity or rain while turning pages at a steady pace with a cool drink of sweet tea on the table.

          I would read though all my meals—so many books to get through—and I would end the uninterrupted days reading in bed. I’d finish two or three books a day as I’m a fast reader.

          I would also jot in my notebook and even write a bit when inspired, but, mostly, I would just read.

          I know this is an impossible dream as there are other people to consider and other things that need doing—feed and walk the dogs, cook, laundry, etc.—but a reader can dream.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Motivation by Deadline

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’m a big believer in motivation by deadline. I have paying deadlines for the magazines I write for—both in print and online. I also have fun deadlines I assign myself—fill a notebook a month which keeps me writing almost daily and projects like Backpack Literature, a textbook by X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, which I love because it requires reading, learning, and writing. I can choose to complete a chapter a week or a month.

          Because writing is hard work, writers need to keep their skills sharp by reading, learning, and writing. I love books that combine the three.

          While browsing at a bookstore yesterday, I discovered two more books I’d like to set up as personal writing classes: The Jane Austen Writers’ Club: Inspiration and Advice from the World’s Best-Loved Novelist by Rebecca Smith and The Writer’s Devotional: 365 Inspirational Exercises, Ideas, Tips & Motivation on Writing by Amy Peters.

          I don’t know about Austen being the best-loved novelist in the world, but I do enjoy her work so I’m intrigued by The Jane Austen Writers’ Club. With chapters like “A Fine Pair of Eyes: Point of view,” In Jane Austen’s Pocket: Techniques and devices of the great author as well as “And What is Fifty Miles of Good Road? Making use of journeys (and staying at home) in your work” I believe I will have fun studying her work and incorporating her techniques into some of my work.

          I’m even more intrigued by The Writer’s Devotional. This is not a flimsy list of writing prompts, but a disciplined writing course. Mondays:  Writers on Writing; Tuesdays: Motivation—tips and tricks; Wednesdays:  Writing Class; Thursdays: Editing; Fridays: Biography; Saturdays: Books Writers Should Read; and Sundays: Writing Prompts.

          In the first week, the Writers on Writing section starts with a quote by Anais Nin then Amy Peters discusses The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Persepolis by Marjane Sattapi, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Authors discussed on other Mondays include: Anne Lamott, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Stephen King, George Moore, Anne Rice, John Hersey, W. D. Wetherell, Mickey Spillane, J. K. Rowling, and many more.

          Tuesdays start with a quote by a writer followed by an essay on motivation—sometimes facts and figures about a writers’ work is listed, sometimes you just need to make a decision about your work or goals, sometimes you just need to read some advice.

          Wednesdays are writing classes. Week 1—write a short bio of your best friend. Week 3—write a blog post about a recently released movie. Week 11—write a haiku about your favorite season. Week 36—record your family history of an event you did NOT attend.

          Thursday are about editing. Learn how to edit your dialogue, delete all versions of “to be” from your work, when to use italics, colons, and semicolons among many other editing tips.

          Fridays are short inspiring biographies of writers like George Orwell, Stephenie Meyer, John Grisham, Marvin Neil Simon, James Baldwin, Rick Riordan, Mary Higgins Clark, and 45 others are highlighted on Fridays.

Saturdays give readers more than 52 book recommendations especially for writers.

Sundays are writing prompts which can lead to the completion of a sentence, a paragraph, or an essay if you want to spend the time.

There is also a list of resources and references in the back along with two indexes—one of literary figures and works as well as one of daily activities. The second index is very useful as it lists all the biographies of writers, books to read, editing by topic, motivations, writing on writing topics, writing classes, and writing prompts.

I like the look of The Writer’s Devotional so it will be my next motivational personal writing class. Now I just need to find the time!

My word count for the week of July 23-29 was 5,598.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Working Writers: Songwriting With Soldiers

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Don’t ever doubt the power of words—the power to hurt; the power to help; and the power to heal.

          Most of us have heard, said, written, and read words that hurt. We know that power. No need to dwell on it.

But what about the words which help and heal? We should dwell on them.

Several songwriters donate their time to soldiers, mostly with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as part of a healing program called Songwriting With Soldiers. It’s also a PBS show entitled In Their Own Words: Songwritering With Soldiers.

Over 2.5 million soldiers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. One in five suffers from PTSD.

To help these soldiers, songwriter and singer Darden Smith founded this program several years ago. He wanted to help soldiers tell their stories and, since he is a songwriter, turn those stories into songs.

In this program, soldiers and their spouses go to a weekend retreat. The soldiers meet with the songwriters in the great room with a huge fireplace or at picnic tables outside or even walking through the woods.

Smith said that the most important thing is to listen to the soldiers. Ask questions, but let them tell their stories in their own words. At some point the songwriter picks up on a theme or a phrase. The two then start collaborating on a song.

In 48 hours, 12 songs were recorded and then played for the group along with their spouses. In this event, the wives of the soldiers also wrote a song with a songwriter about having different husbands come home than the ones that left.

People were crying as the songs were played. Smith watched the face of the soldier as he sang their song. He saw a burden lift off the man as he sang. When he finished, the Smith burst into tears knowing he had helped change this brave soldier’s life.

The power of words in action. Amazing!

My word count for the week of July 16-22 was 8,939.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reads for Writers: Updates to My Summer Reading List

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Hectic week at the magazine. Deadline was moved from the 18th back to the 16th so I’ve had a lot less time to write. For this post, I’ve decided to continue with my Summer Reading List as some readers may be looking for something to read.

          I did read Hunger by Roxane Gay which is a painful memoir, but well-written. Books about trauma are hard to recommend because readers with similar traumas will have totally different and valid takes on it.

          I also completed On Wonder and Other Survival Skills. The essays didn’t all appeal to me so a mixed review. I’m glad I read it, but not a high recommendation.

          I’m partway through Arthur & Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes by Michael Sims which is an informative read. Fans will enjoy it. I’ve already added two of the author’s other books to my reading list: The Adventures of Henry Thoreau: A Young Man’s Unlikely Journey to Walden Pond and Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic.

          I also read chapter one in Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I learned a great deal about what happened in the first five minutes of the Big Bang. I like the book so far.

          A friend recommended Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series set in Canada. I like to read books in order so Still Life is in my reading pile now.

          Another friend loaned me My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul. Bob is a journal where Paul lists every book she’s read. More than a list, she shares her thoughts and parts of her life. Looks good. I’ll let you know.

Word count for the week of July 9-15 was 8,089. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reading is Writing Vicariously

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I have filled six monthly notebooks successfully so far this year. June was in doubt as I fell far behind when visitors were here, but wrote 7,471 words on 21 pages on June 30 to meet the deadline. It wasn’t fun, but I didn’t fail.

          However, my life is a bit out of balance right now. I’m meeting all my writing deadlines—monthly notebooks, magazine assignments, and Facebook essays—although sometimes rushed, but I am not reading enough. I have completed two of the twelve books on my summer reading list. I’ve started another, but I’m a fast reader. I used to read four books a week. Now I’m lucky if it’s two.

          I have been working on a big home improvement project while also entertaining visiting friends and relatives. That does lessen the amount of time I have to read, but I guess I’m too tired to disappear into books and use my imagination to flesh out the characters. I find myself watching more movies and TV shows. This is not a terrible thing except that reading uses different parts of the brain and inspires me to write.

I need to allot more time to reading because it is writing vicariously. The words are there—the rhythm; the style; the themes; the facts or the imagination. They are not my words, but, if the writing is good, I appreciate and enjoy the words. They make me think. They invite me to meld with them. They change me. And, best of all, they inspire me.

I just read a piece where the writer (I can’t find name) noted that words were her toys and she loved playing with them. That sums it up nicely. Words, whether I read them or write them, are fun to play with—and I need to schedule a reading and a writing playdate every day.

My word count for the week of July 2-8 was 10,072.