Monday, November 30, 2015

2015 Gifts for Writers

From Kate’s Writing Crate…


          If you’re looking for some gift suggestions for writers you know or for yourself, here are some of my favorites:


The Writer’s Book of Inspiration: Quotes on Writing and the Literary Life selected and edited by Stephanie Gunning

This book of 270 quotes is elegant. Each page contains only one quote in larger print—suitable for framing if you make copies. It’s easy on the eyes while reading straight through or flipping open to random pages. Two examples:



“I love writing. I love the swirl

and swing of words as they tangle with

human emotions.”

--James A. Michener



“Concentrate on what you want to say

to yourself and your friends. Follow your

inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.

You say what you want to say when you

don’t care who’s listening.”

--Allen Ginsberg



If you are looking for wise words from a favorite writer, there is an alphabetical listing of all contributors on pages 280-287.


Women Who Write by Stefan Bollmann

          In this beautiful oversized book printed and bound in Italy, read about dozens of famous and not-so-famous women who changed cultures and history with their books, letters, and essays. On the glossy pages, each author has her likeness in a painting or photograph followed by one to three pages about her work and background. Photos of handwriting, homes, and offices are also interspersed in the book.

          Bollmann’s accompanying text covers the difficulties and successes of being a woman writer back when it wasn’t accepted through to today.

          “In a certain sense, [this] book…is a gallery and a refuge, made up of stories of women whose urge to be writers drove them to opt for a dangerous life.” (page 41)

          Starting with Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179, Christine de Pisan, 1364-1430, and Madeleine de Scudery (1607-1701), to Toni Morrison, Assia Djebar, Isabel Allende, and Arundhati Roy, Bollman discusses women writers’ lives and their works.

           Many of the women wrote serious books and pieces like Simone de Beauvoir and Marguerite Duras, but woman who wrote about characters that became world-famous like Heidi by Johanna Spyri and Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren are given their due as well.

          This is an inspirational book for all women who write.


Screenplay: Writing the Picture by Robin U. Russin and William Missouri Downs.

Both graduates of UCLA School of Film and Television who wrote every day and eventually sold screenplays, their book is a truly useful and often funny guide that gives you the basics, excellent advice as well as stating mistakes to avoid. The authors give examples of sceenplays, formats, and discuss line by line what should be there and why. They give terrific explanations of what works and what doesn’t. Then they share what readers for production companies are looking for as they read screenplays.

This book is well organized and easy to read. At the end of each chapter are exercises that get you writing the screenplay you’ve dreamed about in the correct format. Russin and Downs cover every genre with their suggestions. They presume you have a story in mind so they want to help you polish it as well as look professional when you send your screenplays out.



2016 Writer’s Market

A perennial choice both for the listings of periodicals and book publishers as well as the helpful articles that make the business side of writing easier.

Is this the year you submit a piece—or more—for publication?


Monday, November 23, 2015

Reads for Writers: On Conan Doyle by Michael Dirda 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.

          On Conan Doyle by Michael Dirda is a two-fer as both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Michael Dirda provide Masterclasses. Dirda’s memoir, from his first reading of a Sherlock Holmes mystery as a fifth grader through to his present day membership in The Baker Street Irregulars, is full of the passion all avid readers feel about literary characters they love.

          Dirda recounts how he waited for a stormy day when he was alone in the house to read The Hound of the Baskervilles he bought through a book club at school. First he rode his bike to the store to buy provisions—candy bars, a box of Cracker Jack, and a cold soda—then climbed into a reclining chair under a blanket.

          “In the louring darkness I turned page after page, more than a little scared, gradually learning the origin of the dreaded curse…I shivered with fearful pleasure, scrunched further down under my thick blanket, and took another bite of my Baby Ruth candy bar, as happy as I will ever be.” (page 6)

          Can’t we all relate to that moment?

          This memoir is filled with the joy of reading, of discovering literary greatness, and of learning about other authors with the same feelings paying homage to Conan Doyle with their books like The Incredible Schlock Homes and its sequels by Robert L. Fish, full of puns and deliberately bad jokes, or The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Vincent Starrett, a most important study of the canon. A great number of these books are discussed in the text and a list is included in the back on pp. 203-206.

          Dirda also quotes Conan Doyle’s advice for novice writers:

          “…he reminds the novice to build up his vocabulary, to adopt a style that doesn’t draw undue attention to itself, to be natural. Above all, he argues that good writing should follow three rules: ‘The first requisite is to be intelligible. The second is to be interesting. The third is to be clever.’” (page 98)

          This is a fabulous book for anyone who loves Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or great writing.

          As Dirda states, “Whether you’re looking for mystery or horror, science fiction or romance, social realism or historical fiction, memoir or essay, Arthur Conan Doyle is the writer for you.” (page 199)

Is there a better recommendation than that?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Writing Longhand vs Keyboard

From Kate’s Writing Crate…


Somewhere long ago I heard someone say the physical act of continuous motion of your pen on paper connects your brain to your heart through your fingertips. You plug in your intuition. So, I write by hand every day. I doodle. I keep lists of ideas, which become a crazy haiku that I can sometimes decipher.

--Suzi Baum


For it would seem…that we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fiber of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver.

 --Virginia Woolf


Writing by hand is also like…"sculpting words with a pen".

I read that phrase recently, but couldn’t find it again so I don’t know who wrote it. Normally I underline phrases, sentences, or passages I like in books or copy them into my notebooks or common books, but this time I only remember reading it so I apologize for having no attribution, but the phrase is so true for me I had to include it.

Since I’ve studied graphology, I’m interested in handwriting. It does look artistic from many angles, but I know it’s a form of sculpture from the solid callous near the top joint of my middle finger  that formed over years of holding a pen firmly while I inscribed my words into paper. Yes, into paper. I write firmly enough to be able to feel the words on the back of pages when I’m scribbling fast and furiously.

I love to write longhand in my favorite 80-page notebooks with my favorite pens—I favor blue ink in the Bic Cristal 1.6mm pen. (Not a paid endorsement.) It’s inexpensive and fast-writing as my hand tries to keep up with my thoughts—the qualities of a useful pen as recommended by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones (page 5). She prefers cheap Schaeffer fountain pens.

The point of being a writer is to write. Before I had any paid assignments, I followed Natalie Goldberg’s advice to fill a notebook a month using fast-writing pens. I wrote about anything and everything to get those pages filled. My ideas and feelings oozed out through my pen mixed with what I had read, heard, and learned along the way. Over time my writing style appeared and shaped my work. I wrote all the time. In short, it’s how I became a writer.

I did this for years while in school, before and after jobs I hated—sometimes during, too—until I started my first magazine staff writing job which I wouldn’t have landed without all the writing practice in notebooks. As I began to write more professionally, I still filled a notebook a month until my writing assignments took up the majority of my time.

Now I spend most of my professional writing time using a keyboard. Writing this way has its charms: easy to do, easy to read, easy to reorganize, easy to delete, and easy to email—which is I why I can work from home.

These are all the reasons I love writing using a keyboard and computer, but I will never give up filling notebooks with my thoughts, ideas, and quotes that appeal to me with attributions because I love the feel of a pen in my hand. I love how intuitive I feel when writing with a pen. I love filling pages with words leaving trails of ink in my unique style.

I also love looking at these notebooks years later. They are proof I have written as opposed to Word docs that were never printed out only emailed to editors to appear in magazine issues. Not only are these pages sculpted by the words I inscribed, but the filled notebooks are also haphazardly-piled colorful sculptures displayed on shelves around my home. I love knowing I’ve created art.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Cookbooks Gifts Written By Kelsey Nixon and Claire Robinson

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          The holiday season is upon us—this means providing feasts and giving gifts. I find that good cookbooks meet both challenges.

          This year, I’m recommending two: Kitchen Confidence: Essential Recipes and Tips That Will Help You Cook Anything by Kelsey Nixon and 5 Ingredient Fix: Easy, Elegant, and Irresistible Recipes by Claire Robinson.

          I discovered Kelsey Nixon on the Cooking Channel hosting Kelsey’s Essentials. The focus of her show was teaching people techniques along with recipes so they could become comfortable with cooking. She makes everything fun and easy. Her new show, Kelsey’s Homemade, begins on November 14th.

          In her cookbook, I enjoyed her introduction explaining how she became a good cook. However, I love her essential lists on pages 12-15. Nixon shares what you should have in your pantry for fresh, frozen, and on-the-shelf ingredients as well as spices. Having your pantry stocked up means quicker meals especially on busy days.

Nixon lists go on to include essential equipment from cookware and cutlery to baking and miscellaneous items. And what makes a good cook? Knowing the ten essential techniques so roasting, pan roasting, stir-frying, grilling, braising, blanching, pickling, baking, frosting, and working with yeast dough are second nature. Once you master these techniques, there’s nothing you cannot create.

Kelsey Nixon gives her readers confidence in the kitchen not only with her recipes and directions, but with personal notes at the top of each page. Her recipes include plenty of comfort foods for every meal—Prosciutto, Mushroom, and Gruyere Strata (page 22); Sloppy Jane Sliders (page 101), Tortellini with Snap Peas and Lemon-Dill Cream (page 129); and Skillet Blueberry and Peach Cobbler (page 211)—as well as some outside my comfort zone—Caramelized Onion-Tomato Jam (page 67), Ratatouille Tart (page 69), and Carnitas Tacos with Pickled Red Onions (page 139).

          I discovered another cook through TV. Claire Robinson’s show and cookbook have an intriguing hook: there are only five ingredients or fewer in every recipe. One caveat: salt, pepper, and water are freebies. How can anyone go wrong with recipes this concise?

          On her show, 5 Ingredient Fix on the Food Network, I’m always amazed at what Robinson can create within this parameter. She makes four dishes on each show including a dessert. 

In her cookbook, Robinson also lists the basics that should be in the kitchen including cooking equipment, small appliances, supplies as well as food pantry items including double-duty ingredients (pages 14-17).

I randomly choose the Ginger and Lemon Roasted Chicken with Braised Fennel recipe from her book. Four ingredients are in the title. The fifth ingredient is butter, plus the three freebies. The key is using ingredients in multiple ways like the lemon. The recipe calls for lemon zest, lemon juice, and lemon slices (page 120).

Fresh Pea Ravioli with Crispy Prosciutto sounds delicious. Lemon-infused olive oil sneaks in another layer of flavor to these ricotta enriched, wanton-wrapped ravioli (page 160).

Millionaire’s Shortbread is a three layer dessert that still uses only five ingredients plus salt. Again, there is a double-duty ingredient. This time it’s butter. (See page 212.)

With each recipe, Robinson notes what really makes it sing as well as listing other ingredients you could add for variations like carrots and celery in the roasting pan with the fennel, mint or basil inside the Pea Ravioli, or finely chopped toasted almonds in the shortbread.

Use your writing talents to add beautiful notes to these cookbooks to make them the perfect gifts.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Write Like a Photographer

From Kate’s Writing Crate...

          In celebration of my father’s birthday, I arranged for a professional photo shoot in the yard to use the bright fall foliage as the backdrop while family members, including the dogs, posed for portraits. As everyone relaxed, candid shots were also taken.

          It’s funny how differently people—and dogs—act when cameras are around. My father’s German shepherd is usually within a few feet of him most of the time. However, when the cameras were turned her way, she knew she was the star of the show. She scampered off with the squeaky ball meant only to make her ears perk up and look at the camera. She sat when asked, but soon was doing her own thing: rolling around in the yellow maple leaves; flopping down with her tongue hanging out; and looking pensively off into the distance instead of at the cameras then racing off to play with the other dogs.

          With digital cameras, photographers can catch all this action by taking thousands of pictures per photo shoot with lots of variations. Subjects in different poses, grouped together and separately. Using close up and wide angle shots. And taking multiples of the same shot to make sure it’s in focus and properly framed.

When we see the proofs, not every photo is going to be perfect. Someone’s eyes will be closed or mouth open. The dogs will be blurry in action. The angle will cut off the top of a head. The wind will have ruffled hair. But some shots taken between these flawed photos will be the gems where the light and shadows are perfect and the subjects are all looking in the right direction with attractive expressions on their faces.

These are the photos worth taking, but they can’t be singled out, only captured among thousands of others.

          Writers have pictures in our heads. We commit them to paper. No pixels, only words. And not just any words, but the right words. It’s an extraordinary endeavor.

This is why we write rough drafts then rewrite pieces repeatedly. Every thoughtful rewrite focuses our writing, develops our style, and sharpens our skills so readers can clearly see our vision.

These are the words worth writing, but they are also only captured among thousands of others.

No one tells photographers every shot has to be perfect. So why does anyone think first drafts have to be perfect?

Write like a photographer. Choose interesting subjects and settings. Group various subjects together and see how they react then rearrange them. Use different perspectives. Try the same perspective, but zoom in for details then out for the overview. Use light and shadow—what needs to be revealed and what can remain a secret? What can be cropped? What’s in focus? Have we framed the piece properly?

Great writing, like great photography, depends on the choices we make.