Writing Wooly Mammoths.

Snow day cave drawings

Snow day cave drawings

The lights kept flickering. Outdoors the winds howled, occasionally whistling down through the chimney where they rattled the fireplace damper. Occasionally we lost sight of our neighbor’s house through the trees . . .

This sounds a lot like “It was a dark and stormy night . . .” doesn’t it. ;-D

These frozen snow-glob critters appeared on our screen during the first winter blow this past December, clinging like leeches and daring my imagination to come out and play. The minute I noticed them I knew what I was seeing.

Pictographs like the kind discovered on the walls of the ancient cave dwellers.

Do you see the large buffalo butting heads with a smaller one on the screen? (I admit he was the first I picked out.) There are furry mammoths and brontosauruses as well. What else can you pick out?

The thing I love about stormy snow days—and as evidenced out on the Facebook postings—is that people use these days to back away from regular life. They stay in and take overdue naps or make hot chocolate, clean closets, wrap gifts, bake—and indulge in the much ignored activity of getting quiet while they step away from the everyday jungle.

I’m always in favor of humanity being afforded the opportunity for stepping down for a while.

You can’t pick up a health magazine or newspaper today, but that experts—even the ol’ “we’ve got a pill for that” Western medicine docs (finally)—are spouting the advantages of slowing down, disconnecting and getting quiet once in a while for improved mental and physical health.

We don’t do it enough, even though we know we should. It takes a ravaging storm such as a blizzard, a devastating disease or the death of a loved one to bring us around.

We always need the reminder every now and then to say to ourselves: yeah, today I’m going to step back and do something a little different; maybe something lighter—more fun—more unusual.

When the winds howl and the snow flies, my fingers itch until I pull out the laptop, park my rear on the sofa and free write until I’m tired of it.

Healing days. That’s what such days are.

Mother Nature has my eternal gratitude for sending raging, vicious snow storms every once in a while.

NaNoWriMo vs. ReNoReMo

“Doing” who he is.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is hovering. 

Started in 1999 with something like 21 actual participants, it’s become a tradition in its own right with nearly 200,000 people taking the challenge last year. 

The challenge: Participants register for this internet-based creative writing bit of insanity, committing themselves to try writing 50,000 words of a new novel (or something) between November 1 and November 30. 

I’ve taken the challenge three times, and finished. You submit your collected words to a word counting system on their website to be confirmed. This constitutes you being classified as a “winner.” 

The first time I did it was 2004. I was pretty washed-out by November 30, but I was also thrilled beyond definition. I’d proven to myself that I could write 50,000 words within a 30-day period. Actually–(I kept my writing calendar from that year)–I accomplished the challenge in 24 days as there were 6 days I didn’t put any words in at all. ☺ 

But I’m not going to do it this year. 

This year I’m going to do: ReNoReMo — Rebecca’s Novel Revision Month. (Kudos for this acronym goes to my youngest daughter, Jennifer.) 

My task list for November is long what with a historical play I’m rehearsing for, new writing assignments recently accepted in addition to the regular column expectations. I promised to sew the period costume I’ll wear for the play presentation later on in November and we will be traveling for Thanksgiving. We have two grandbabies on the way and two baby quilt projects await me down the hall in my sewing room. So . . . I feel I need to sit out any new novel writing, but I want to participate in the month somehow, thus: ReNoReMo. 

I plan to devote time every day to working on the line edits that have been glaring at me for the past few months. I’ll have to hold myself accountable, something akin to weighing oneself once a week, but not telling anyone what the scale registered. (Hell has a better chance of freezing and thawing ten times in the next century than me revealing weekly weigh-in results.) 

Possibly you are not up to taking the 50,000 word challenge yet. That’s okay. 

How about picking out one project, writing or otherwise, that’s been dogging you for a while and setting your sites on completing it during the month of November? 

Decide on what that project is and then take the first two letters of your name, the project, the type of work you will do and finish with “Mo” denoting month. 

GeorgeAnn finish short story – GeFiSsMo

Robert clean basement – RoCleBaMo

Jenna write thank yous – JeWriThuMo

Brenda bake fruitcakes – BreBaFruMo 

It might sound like gibberish, but if it gives you a goal—or a challenge—what do you care what it sounds like? Write your acronym for the month on a sticky note and put it on your refrigerator where you’ll see it every day and then dig in. 

You will be very proud of yourself come November 30 when you realize what you accomplished. 

Borrow the impetus of NaNoWriMo to be different to get what you want — or need — done this month. 

Writing fraud.


Definition: An often public dispute marked by the expression of opposing views.

An argument. 


Definition: A succession of events with the dramatic progression or emotional content typical of a play. 

As I mentioned in my post of two days ago, I read and researched a lot last summer about this new writing-world-art-form called blogging before I set up this one. 

One bit of advice that I kept running into—and one that just kept irritating the crap out of me, was—‘The more controversial your blog and your writing, the better.’ 

I consulted with a real live dictionary to see which direction they go with defining controversy—which then lead me to think of the word drama, because I see the two as (stopping to lean over and gag here) intertwined kissing cousins

It would appear the invisible “they” people want us to bombard humanity with even more pissing contest opportunities through blogging. 


As if this world is going to run into a shortage of one more thing to bitch, holler, scream and beat on each other about. Isn’t that what those one-hour news shows along with the choosing-my-man-of-the-month, or I-can-eat-my-worm-faster-than-you-can reality shows on TV are supposed to help us with?

In the immortal words of Dr. Evil from the tremendously funny Austin Powers’ movies, I have to ask: 

“Will somebody please throw me a friggin’ bone here!” 

Is anybody else out there sick and tired of all the on-the-surface-is-all-that-anybody-cares-about-anymore train to cerebral hell? 

The phrase dumbed-down hasn’t made it into the dictionary yet, from what I can tell, but I believe it will have to before long because it seems to be such a burgeoning commodity for the human race. 

If you are only writing ‘stuff’ to start a fight, sling mud at some group you feel like picking on hoping to set off a viral chain reaction on the web, or just to please your MBA-degreed PR/Marketing people so they will write you a nice big check, you are, in my personal opinion, a fraud. 

Unless you are writing what rips out of the center of YOU, forget it. 

I’m damn picky about what I read, and if I think I’m reading some wanna-be-cute-and-clever, but-isn’t-cutting-it fraud, I stop reading. 

There are still actually people in this world who want to think—for real—about things that still go on below the surface. 

If you want to be a writer—give them something worthwhile to think about. 

Leave the faked controversy and drama to those folks on the reality shows. 

Yeah,  yeah, yeah—I know. They get paid a lot more than you do. 

I guess you have to decide which side of hell you want to stand on.

A re-e-eally big pile of —!


Lots and lots of words. 

50,160 of them to be exact. 

Last night I finished my novel writing month challenge for 2010. 

Residing on my hard drive now is: 

An insanely large amount of exposition. 

A couple of pretty good analogies that just came out of my mind and fingers—from—Divine Intervention, perhaps? 

Maybe twelve good sentences, if I’m really, really lucky . . . 

The hint of this becoming a mystery.

A sense of the deep sadness and fear that does reside in people from time to time, and last but not least,

a revealing, humorous rant with leading lady Margarite after she’d had way too much wine to drink and flew into a raging, profane tirade against life and anything else that got in her way one evening. (I had no idea she would talk like that.) She came up with a naughty acronym for the new school for young girls that she threatens to open . . . Ohhhhh, Margarite–tsk, tsk, tsk. 

I sat on the sofa at night with the TV going in the background and typed. The laptop was up and running on our kitchen table during the days, and in between other tasks like lining up article interviews, baking for upcoming parties, paying bills, etc. I’d sit down and tap in the words or sentences that sprung up. Some nights I didn’t allow myself to go to bed until I had met my quota of words for the day. 

That’s how the big things get done. And now it’s time to haul out Christmas decorations and make some more phone calls. 🙂

Third Midwest Stories Anthology, AMBER WAVES OF GRAIN, has arrived.


Shapato Publishing notified me this week that the newest book is now available!

Former First Lady of Iowa, Christie Vilsack wrote of Amber Waves of Grain:

“I laughed out loud. I got misty-eyed and continually marveled at how the Midwestern rural experience transcends generations.”

Copies are available at: www.Amazon.com, www.ShapatoPublishing.com.

Copies are also available through me. Cost is $14.00 per book.

If you would like a copy mailed to you, please add $3.00 for S/H.

The Means For Sharing

Author Margaret Atwood’s wise words say it all:

   “Anybody who writes a book is an optimist.

    First of all, they think they’re going to finish it.

    Second, they think somebody’s going to publish it.

   Third, they think somebody’s going to read it.

    Fourth, they think somebody’s going to like it.

    How optimistic is that?”

        Seven years ago I took a week-long novel writing class through the Iowa Summer Writing Festival hosted by The Iowa Writer’s Workshop every summer. The topic of the week-long session was: The First 10 pages of Your Novel. I was excited. I had about 40 pages of my first-ever novel manuscript in the works and I’d been enjoying the road to discovery with it.

        After our group had gathered into the classroom that we’d share for the week and gone around the table introducing ourselves to each other, the instructor asked—what to this day I consider the most important question any writer should ask themselves–“Do you know why you want to write your novel?”      

     And then we went around the table again sharing our answers. Not one person said anything about becoming rich and famous. One person said she enjoyed light mystery and simply wanted to try and write one. Another was exploring the depths of a character that was stuck in her head, and she needed to see where that was going to lead.

     I knew the minute the question was out in the room what my answer would be. “I simply want to give people a break.” He nodded at me, listening. “There’s so much crap going on all the time in this world, and I think people need something to escape with,” I remember explaining. (So terribly gallant and optimistic sounding, don’t you think? But I still believe it.)

     I’m drafting a new novel during this National Novel Writing Month Challenge this November. By November 30 I will have 50,000 words in place. I have no idea what the heart of the story is about yet.

     One of my protags, a lady named Margarite, in this November writing is a woman who has received some disquieting medical news. This was her closing thought before I shut the computer off Saturday night:

     “She didn’t want to give up—dry up—and be blown away like this. Alone, sick—maybe dying—and be tossed out like some crumpled up candy wrapper whose contents had been savored and devoured, and was now supposed to just disappear quietly into the trash bin.”

       Something tells me there might be plenty of people who could identify with Margarite.

        If I could be lucky enough to write something that allowed someone to step away from some of their daily pandemonium, and maybe—just maybe—find a bit of common ground through some of the non-fiction stories, or even a fictional character’s thoughts—for even a little while—I will have done my job as a writer.     

Show up, Shut up and Put Out


National Novel Writing Month Challenge



The title of this post is not about what you might think.

Last week I signed on—once again—to take on the National Novel Writing Month (www.NaNoWriMo.org) challenge that takes place every November, and has since 1999.

In order to “win,” you have to input 50,000 new words of a novel draft between November 1st and November 30th.  I’ve participated and won twice now—the first time in 2004 and again in 2007. The novel I drafted in 2004 I have finished, and revised, and edited, and re-finished and revised and edited (you get the idea-right?) to the point that the novel is the current one that I am hunting for an agent and/or publisher for these days.

I entered that particular manuscript in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Competition in 2008, and out of the 5,000 entries, it survived the first round of cuts to be among the 800 semifinalists that were chosen. The manuscript that finally took first prize that year featured a protagonist who sprayed the “f-bomb” in the opening pages like it was pigeon feed. Shows you what I know—right?

I have two other writing friends who are going to take on this craziness this month as well, along with literally thousands of writers around the world. And the only way we’ll be able to crawl through the finish line at midnight on November 30th is if we show up, shut up and put out—lots and lots and lots of words. Not perfect words; just words.

It really can be done. We’ll tell the critical self-editor-demon nagging at us behind our chairs to take a hike and we’ll support each other on the NaNoWriMo forums and in coffee shops, and through emails.

I’ve got the laundry done, the bills are paid, the house is clean and the yard work caught up for this week. I have to conduct an interview tomorrow for a last-minute paying gig that came in—that article will be due on the editor’s desk by Wednesday night. I’ll make it. I tutor on Tuesday afternoons. We do not live on take-out food. I have no idea what else life will toss in to complicate the month, but I know one thing: I Will Write.

I’ll post my progress as the month goes.

Wish me well? Or–join me? It’s not too late!  ;-}

Novel Reality.

My own caption for the writer sitting in this cartoon would have been:

“Is that window behind you open?”

I love cartoonist Dave Coverly’s Speed Bump comic strip.

When I saw this one in PARADE Magazine some time back I practically tripped over the cat trying to get to my scissors so I could cut it out and hang it on our refrigerator.

I’m always looking for cartoons or bits and pieces of writer-themed humor to hang on our fridge. They help me maintain my sense of humor as I continue to venture further into the Publishing Zoo. They also keep me realistic. You need both of those assets if you want to write for the public eye, but I can’t stress the humor one strongly enough to you because:

You will revise your manuscripts many times.

They will be rejected.

They will be called something they are not.

You will consider taking the whole stack of pages out to the burn pile at some point, but you won’t; because you know they don’t make a tranquilizer pill big enough to help you afterwards.

And you’ll promise yourself you’ll just keep at it.

             Author Note: Special word of thanks to Mr. Coverly for granting me permission to use his work on my blog site, and thanks also for his astute and talented insight that make the rest of us laugh–or think.

Rainbow Living

I have the following poster by Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy framed and hanging in my office.

I don’t care if you are a writer, CEO, lawyer or garbage collector; SARK’s advice in this collection isn’t lost on any of us.

I hope your writing, creative or otherwise, is going well for you today.




By ©SARK90


Stay loose.

Learn to watch snails.

Plant impossible gardens.

Invite someone dangerous to tea.

Make little signs that say Yes! And post them all over your house.

Make friends with Freedom and uncertainty.

Look forward to dreams.

Cry during movies.

Swing as high as you can on a swing set, by moonlight.

Cultivate moods.

Refuse to “be responsible.”

Do it for love.

Take lots of naps.

Give money away. Do it now. The money will follow.

Believe in magic. Laugh a lot.

Celebrate every gorgeous moment. Take moonbaths.

Have wild imaginings, transformative dreams, and perfect calm.

Draw on the walls. Read every day. Imagine yourself magic.

Giggle with children. Listen to old people. Open up. Dive in. Be free. Bless yourself. Drive away fear. Play with everything. Entertain your inner child. You are innocent. Build a fort with blankets. Get wet. Hug trees.

Write love letters.


SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy) is a best-selling author who offers inspiration and guidance to people for living more authentically, and being actively creative on a daily basis.

True Grit


I came downstairs one morning this past summer to discover this spider web in progress across our patio doors. I watched that little spider work methodically to spread the web over the expanses from one side across to the other. Spider had to spin some far-reaching strands to secure the thing and it seemed such a monumental task, and I wondered why the little critter didn’t pick a smaller, more convenient area for its necessary creation. It struck me as a fitting metaphor for trying to finish a novel and find a market for it.

Two years ago today my writing friend Linda died from cervical cancer. She and I used to meet once a week for what we called writer’s luncheon. We’d discuss (and whine) about our novels, revisions in progress and all that jazz that goes with writing for publication/sale. We’d also exchange calls for submissions and other publishing/marketing stuff. These weekly luncheons were tremendously helpful for keeping the writing energy bolstered.

Every January we chose a word to keep us writing-goal-focused. The last year of her life she’d chosen “persevere” and I’d chosen “believe.”

Linda mailed my birthday gift to me early that year. It was a Christmas table runner with a large picture of St. Nicholas in the center with the word “Believe” bordering the four sides. She died two weeks later.

When a person works from home as a freelance writer, novelist, poet, whatever—it’s hard at times to keep hunkered down into the work. You wonder if anyone is reading what you’ve published—or if what you do with your life matters. Deep down you know it matters to you, but once in a while you need some outside validation—just because you’re as pathetically human as the next guy.

Linda had finished a couple of children’s picture books, one YA novel and one adult fiction novel, but she never found a literary agent who was willing to take her on. It wasn’t for lack of trying either.

Trust me when I say that Lin’s and my writing friendship was pretty candid at times, and it was she who got in my face several years back challenging me to “stop taking on more church committee work, planning more redecorating projects and house parties just so you don’t have to finish your book.” (She told me later she thought I might hit her.) I bought her a dozen roses the following week because she’d nailed it on the head. That’s what real friends do.

I told her I thought she held back too much in her fiction writing; that she needed to inject more of herself into it to make it more tangible. She agreed with me, but she wouldn’t go there. Said she couldn’t. We had to leave it at that.

The “Believe” gel gems that you see in the picture went up in December 2007, the last time Lin visited in my home. They’ve been up ever since.

In memory of Linda Lee Hanson (November 5, 1953 – October 9, 2008)