Monday, December 28, 2015

Reads for Writers: Twenty-seven Women Writers Provide 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.

The essays in Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession edited by Elizabeth Benedict address not only straight and curly, long and short, gray or colored hair, but the cultural and political mores that pressure women to make sometimes uncomfortable choices.

These essays from different points of view are eye-opening. The writers’ descriptions, emotions, and voices are real and universal and passionate.

I loved Maria Hinojosa’s essay “My Wild Hair” on page131 which is as much about her hair as a love story.

“…I let it be as wild, long, and curly as it is.

And yes, I do this for love. Because I love myself more like this and because this way I show my husband my love, not in words or deeds, but in hair.” (page 138)

“Why Mothers and Daughters Tangle Over Hair” by Deborah Tannen on page 105 is a funny tribute to all the “helpful” comments from moms whether their daughters’ hair is on display or hidden under a head scarf.

Serious topics are covered as well:

Baldness due to cancer is addressed on page 9 in “Hair, Interrupted” by Suleika Jaouad. “Chemotherapy is a take-no-prisoners stylist.” (page 13)

On page 19, “My Black Hair” by Marita Golden reveals the pain and struggle Black women deal with when making hairstyle choices as “hair is knotted and gnarled by issues of race, politics, history, and pride.”

A religious tradition of shaving a bride’s head the morning after the wedding is the focus of Deborah Feldman’s essay “The Cutoff” on page 147. “And yet, my shaved head did not buy me full acceptance either, although it purchased a kind of tolerance that, for a while, seemed like it would be enough.” (page 152)

“While it’s easy to make light of our obsession with our hair, very few of the writers in these pages do that. We get that hair is serious. It’s our glory, our nemesis, our history, our sexuality, our religion, our vanity, our joy, and our morality.” (Introduction, page xvii)

Women’s hair means much more than it appears.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Plan Ahead: Instead of Resolutions, Choose a Word for the Year


From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’m a writer so I don’t know why I didn’t think to choose a word to highlight each New Year, but since I heard about this practice on the Pioneer Woman’s Thanksgiving cooking show, I have been considering my options. The man who mentioned this practice chose the word enjoy as he wants to remember to enjoy more things in his life.

          Instead of resolutions this year, I’m choosing a word to filter and focus my life through. One of my favorite words is perspicacious. Definition: acutely discerning (to see differences, make distinctions).

This year, I’m going to concentrate on being a perspicacious person.

          I will not take things for granted. I will examine choices I make and events that occur. I want to see what is revealed.

Habits will not be enough of a reason to do anything. I need to make conscious decisions and follow my intuition which is always perspicacious. I need to pay attention before, during, and after events to see the connections, causes and effects.

Not only will this make life more intriguing, but my writing more authentic. Details are what make my life mine and my writing real.  



Monday, December 14, 2015

Reads for Writers: The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia Scarry

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

           If you celebrate Christmas, what comes to mind when you read that word? Christmas trees? Fresh wreaths? Cookies for Santa? Candy canes? Not just the seasonal objects, but delicious aromas as well.

          As a writer, I learned the aroma lesson early. On Christmas day when I was six, my one-year-younger sister received a book gift entitled The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia Scarry and illustrated by J. P. Miller. Included in the story of Little Bear waiting for Christmas are six pages with scratch and sniff fragrance labels.

The text and illustrations depict a cozy, old-fashioned home where the Bear family prepares for the holiday on Christmas Eve. Little Bear starts the story with: “Something wonderful is going to happen…My nose tells me so.” Each reader’s nose does, too.

I borrowed that book without permission quite often. I just loved the combination of words and aromas. Father Bear and Little Bear went in search of a Christmas tree and I could smell the pine branches. Mother Bear baked a pie and I could smell the apples. I also loved that there was an orange in Little Bear’s stocking as we always had oranges in the toes of ours. However, the hot chocolate shared with the carolers was my favorite scent.

Aromas bring readers deeper into anything they are reading. That’s why it’s important to be specific—not just flowers, but roses; not just dinner, but roasted turkey with cornbread stuffing; not just dessert, but chocolate cake. Readers will add the thick swirls of frosting covering two layers on their own.

Aromas made this book truly memorable. They can make your writing memorable as well by simply adding “invisible scratch and sniff labels” whenever possible—a terrific writing tool.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Finding Time to Write During the Holidays

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          As I have previously mentioned, I’m a procrastinator except for meeting publishing deadlines. I take my writing career seriously so I’m organized and set early deadlines so I don’t miss the actual deadlines.

          When the holiday season nears, I also set early deadlines—really early. I shop year round for Christmas gifts to complete my list by October 1st. Then I put on Christmas music for a day or two sometime during October so I have a festive time getting everything wrapped before Halloween.

          This may sound crazy, but since I edit monthly magazines I start working on the December issues in October so Christmas music fits right in. This makes work and holiday preparations easier as well as fun. In fact, I get to enjoy Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas much more since there is a lot less pressure on me.

         The tricky days are when there are a lot of visitors. Knowing I won’t get much writing done on those days, I write To-Do Lists for blog posts, facebook thoughts, and Viewpoint columns for the magazines then I write them in advance. I write well under pressure so adding a little more writing work to my days isn’t a big deal.

It also helps that I keep a running list of blog post ideas going out three or more months. I can grab an idea and free write for a few minutes or an hour. Whatever time I have, I put to use. The FB and magazines columns are seasonal so also easy to write in advance.

And like all people who write To-Do Lists, I love to cross things off. Every time I complete a writing assignment, I get the satisfaction of marking it done.

Santa may have a Naughty or Nice List, but I have a Completed Assignments So I Can Relax List. It’s a great way to enjoy the season with good cheer!