Monday, December 26, 2011

Hey, I just learned something!

In my previous post about the word “it,” I mentioned the first line of A Tale of Two Cities – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, … “. I just learned that there is a name for this type of repetition – anaphora, (pronounced uh-naf-er-uh).  When a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of two or more successive sentences, verses or clauses – the result is an anaphora.  
In oral communications class, we discuss Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech, and the repetition of that same phrase within the speech. When used correctly, repeating a phrase can emphasize an important idea and help people remember what was said. I would argue that Dickens and King used anaphora correctly.
When used incorrectly, however, repetition can become monotonous and annoying. When used incorrectly, however, repetition can become monotonous and annoying. When used incorrectly, however, repetition can become monotonous and annoying.  
Like many other style and grammar rules, there aren’t hard and fast rules for exceptions. Great writers break rules, and the writing works. Not-so-great-writers also break rules, and the writing may not work. Sometimes we just know it when we read it.
Write soon,
 (For those of you who are following along, I just realized that I added the word “just” to the headline today, and I also used it in this sentence. See, I wasn’t just (uh oh, there it goes again!) kidding about using the word “just.”)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writer, edit thyself

Why can’t we write well the first time? There must be some sort of disconnect between what we want to write, and what we actually write, because what sounds good in our brains often shows up on the page as something not-quite-as-wonderful. Last month I gave a presentation on editing at the Ozarks Writers League. I don’t have the space here to include everything I covered, but will concentrate on deleting unnecessary words to strengthen your writing.  
Delete words placed before adjectives and adverbs that attempt to intensify an effect, but accomplish just the opposite. Words like very, so, quite, extremely, really, and absolutely. We're very hungry. Thank you so much. The spaghetti was extremely good, etc. (I used the word “so” four times in the last paragraph before editing. Even as I’m writing about what not to do, I’m still making those errors!)
According to, a qualifier is a word or phrase that precedes an adjective or adverb, increasing or decreasing the quality signified by the word it modifies (adverbs of degree). Common qualifiers include (though some of these words have other functions as well, and overlap into the intensifiers category): completely, quite, rather, somewhat, more, most, less, least, too, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, fairly, really, pretty, even, a bit, a little, a (whole) lot, a good deal, a great deal, kind of, sort of.
I “just” like it
If there were a competition, I would win the “Most Use of the word ‘Just’ in Writing” award. I don’t know what it is about that word, but I just like it. I just can’t help myself. I wish it were easy, but I just can’t stop using it. It’s just a bad habit, and I just wish it would go away.
If you have favorite words like “just,” and “so,” that you overuse, “search” for those words when you’re editing, and delete them. 
There is always a more specific word for "thing" or "things." Dr. Seuss is the only one who can get away with it.
“Cousin It”

Be specific. Name the "it." One of the professors on my thesis committee hated sentences that began with the word “it.” I look for them in my writing, and can’t say I delete of all of them, but I can rewrite most of the sentences to make them stronger.
Like all writing there are exceptions to every rule. This last one, especially, because of the power of the first sentence in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … “. I’m glad my professor didn’t get a hold of that sentence because she probably would have ruined it!
Write soon,

Monday, December 12, 2011

St. Louis Writers Guild Last-Minute Holiday Book Fair

Author T.W. Fendley will sign copies of her book Zero Time at the St. Louis Writers Guild Last-Minute Holiday Book Fair Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Kirkwood Train Station, 101 W. Argonne Dr., Kirkwood.

Contributors of St. Louis Reflections, an anthology to honor St. Louis Writers Guild's 90th Anniversary, will read selections and sign the anthology. Books by other Guild members also will be available, along with wine, cheese, and trains as authors reflect on the city.

Write soon,


Sunday, December 11, 2011

More on procrastination -- the big picture

Remember the “But, first … phenomenon” I wrote about last time? I want to follow up and remind everyone, including me, that we all have many things keeping us from doing what we want or need to do. The key to accomplishing anything is to focus on what is important. Don’t let what is in front of you keep you from getting what you want. Keep your eye on the big picture.

When I was writing my book, “Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing,” I wrote for a very long time before it looked like a book. And every day there was something right in front of me that I wanted or needed to do instead of writing. But I also really wanted to write a book. So if I hadn’t kept that big goal in mind, it would have been easy to do millions of other things instead of writing the book. As it was, I usually wrote late at night because I was doing all that other stuff during the day, and by the time it was finished, everyone else was in bed. That’s when I was able to write, so that’s when I wrote.

I hear excuses from students every day. They tell me they can’t do an assignment because their printers/cars/computers/jump drives/insert any other items here/ broke. Or they have other obligations. I am amazed at how many people rely solely on my students to get medical care. They tell me they had to take their moms/dads/brothers/sisters/aunts/uncles/grandmas/grandpas/cousins/nieces/nephews/neighbors/neighbors’ cats (yes, I heard that excuse) to the doctor or vet (in the case of the cat).

Something came up. I get that. But when that something is finished, why not do it then? Most of them didn’t leave the doctor’s or vet’s office to come to class. They went home, went to bed, took a shower, ate breakfast, and probably a few other things (maybe watched a little TV to relax?) before they drove to school.  

My friend, Robin, told me we all have the same 24 hours in the day, and we get to decide how to use them. Use the time you have to do what you need to do. I’ve graded many papers sitting on bleachers watching my kids practice sports, in the waiting room of a doctor’s office and in the very early or late hours of a day.

Make a daily schedule for writing, and stick to it. If you plug away for an hour, or two pages, or 100 words, or 500 words, then every day you will be closer to your goal. It’s the people who keep the big goals in mind that accomplish big things.

Write soon,

Sunday, December 4, 2011

If it weren't for the last minute, I wouldn't get anything done

When I was in college, my dorm room was cleaned when my roommate and I both had homework or other class projects to work on. We realized this pattern about halfway through our first semester, but we never changed. I called it the “But, first … “ phenomenon.

When you aren’t doing what you should be doing, what are you doing? Nothing? Probably not. If you’re like me, you’re probably doing something else. So let’s stop beating ourselves up about procrastination. Maybe we just need to reorganize our thoughts about it. (I know, I know, isn’t that just one more thing to put on our to-do list?)

It’s not that I’m not the not best at focus and determination. It’s that I always have one little thing to do first before I can begin to do what I should be doing. For instance, I needed to create this blog post, but first, I had to throw in a load of laundry, write out a grocery list, run to the store for just a few things, and grade some papers.

Before I can do that big project that requires creative energy, I will do these little things, but somehow, those little things end up taking a lot of time, and as the deadline nears, I haven’t finished the project that I need to finish.

But those little things that keep life running smoothly have been finished. We have clothes to wear, food in the pantry, and a schedule that we can follow. What can we do? I’ve developed a list of four items to keep in mind when you are overwhelmed with projects.

1)    1) Delegate
2)     2)  Keep a list
3)     3) Limit your to-do list
4)     4) Don’t give up

First, give others the opportunity to be responsible. Everyone wins, especially kids because they learn valuable life skills.

Second, don’t forget the importance of keeping a list. The simple process of writing it down and then crossing it off gives everyone a sense of accomplishment.

Third, I worked with a woman who told me to never put more than three items on your to-do list for any given day. She said there is an unwritten law of the universe that says you can’t accomplish more than three items in a day. (She was correct.)

Fourth, don’t give up, ever. Keep plugging away, and some day, it will all come together. And if it doesn’t, keep working on it anyway. Because there’s always tomorrow, and we all know what a difference a day makes.

Write soon,

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The halo effect

First impressions matter. This idea is relevant to the people we write about, regardless of whether or not they are real.  When you first introduce a character, the words you use to describe him or her affect the way the reader perceives that character. If a character is “good,” then it is hard for readers to undo that goodness. Readers assume that characters that are good at one task, job or responsibility, are good at other tasks, jobs or responsibilities.
According to Wikipedia, the halo effect is a cognitive bias whereby the perception of one trait (i.e. a characteristic of a person or object) is influenced by the perception of another trait (or several traits) of that person or object. Judging an attractive person as smart would be an example of the halo effect. A study by Solomon Asch suggests that attractiveness is a central trait, so we presume all the other traits of an attractive person are just as attractive and sought after.
Is this the reason many protagonists are good looking? If he or she isn’t good looking, which positive qualities do you assign to that person? If you want readers to support the protagonist in your book or story, then he or she needs to have positive qualities that readers find attractive.
Writing about protagonists as outsiders can be difficult. We need to identify with their plight, and understand their inability to fit in while making them heroic in some way. Did the feature character in your novel find homes for stray kittens, or make hysterical comments about the evil boss that have readers laughing out loud? Humor may explain the success of some iconic sad sacks in books and movies.
When characters don’t have looks or humor, assigning traits like drive, empathy and perseverance may get readers to support your protagonist in his or her quest. Readers respond positively to characters who work late into the night because of a need to find a cure for a disease or fix a modern problem that plagues us.
Consider the halo effect when writing your characters. The hope is that readers will READ late into the night when they identify with those characters.

Write soon,

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Adjectives modify nouns.

The dress is red. “Red” is an adjective.

Adverbs modify verbs, or other parts of speech that aren’t nouns. Many end in “ly.”

He ran quickly. “Quickly” is an adverb.


Language has rules, and syntax is the ordered placement of words in a sentence. In English, the order is generally Subject Verb Object (SVO). Adverbs, like all modifiers, should be placed as closely as possible to the words they modify to clarify meaning. But, like ice cream, too much of a good thing can be bad. When writers depend on adverbs to explain character traits or show emotion, their sentences sound weak.

“Hi, honey,” James sweetly intoned. “How was your day?”

Many “ly” verbs also modify the verb “said” because writers want to spice it up. I don’t have a problem with “said,” but some writers do. Read the publication you want to write for, and follow its style guidelines. As a former staff writer for a magazine that used the word “says,” (which I hated) I can tell you that after a while I just read past those “says,” which is also what we do with the word “said.”

Read the following examples, and then rewrite them to make the sentences stronger. Can you show the reader that Laura is tired, and Susan is cold?

 “I am so tired,” Laura said, weakly.

“Where are my gloves?” Susan said, coldly.

Cut back on “ly” words, especially those that assist weak verbs. Don’t let adverbs suck the life out of your content. Rewrite those sentences with “ly” words to strengthen your writing.


Before she opened the door, James had Sheila’s martini on the table next to her favorite chair. (James is sweet, and/or thoughtful.)

Laura yawned more than a dozen times during the seven-minute presentation. (Laura is tired.)

Susan rubbed her hands together, and cupped them in front of her mouth to warm them with her breath. (Susan is cold.)

Write soon,


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

2 Rivers Communications & Design

Dianna Graveman has recently opened 2 Rivers Communications & Design. She provides quality business communications and editorial services for a wide range of projects and clients.
Graveman is a Missouri writer, editor, speaker, and educator who has written for CBS-St. Louis, Suburban JournalsAOL/Patch, St. Anthony Messenger, Teachers of Vision Magazine, and dozens of other publications. She provides workshops on writing, publishing, and social media marketing, and is the current managing editor of the Missouri Writers' Guild newsletter.

A talented writer who gives more than 110 percent to every project, Graveman can help any business meet its communications goals. For more information, contact her through:

Write soon,

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Inspiring interview

Claire Cook, the author of Must Love Dogs and luncheon keynote speaker for the 2012 Missouri Writers Guild Conference, was interviewed recently on the MWG blog

She offers inspiration to writers who struggle with finding time to write and/or finish what they start (I think that covers everyone). You can also enter a drawing to win a copy of her book, Best Staged Plans, by leaving a comment.

Write soon,

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


My friend and unpublished (for now, but not for long) author just suffered through a devastating rejection from an agent at a writing conference. He compared her book (that he hasn’t read) to a book from a Canadian author that was well written, but with a story so bad no one would read or buy it. I gave her some advice I want to share here, because every writer has felt that pain.  
Good news, the worst is over. Rejection has stared you in the face and you survived.

Be sad and feel bad and eat ice cream and then get mad and prove him wrong!  I’ve seen so many students and writers devastated by BAD criticism that they gave up. Don’t give up.

Have you watched Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” online? You can Google/Youtube it. His best piece of advice is “The walls are there to stop the OTHER people.” I love that. You just encountered a wall. Are you going to let it stop you, or are you going to find a way over or around it? He may stop many people this weekend. You are not one of them. Don’t let his negative world affect your world for one more minute. He may even get off on crushing dreams, and sleep with a teddy bear and call it Mommy because he didn’t get enough love as a child.   

How the heck can he compare your situation with a Canadian writer with a bad book. A) You are not Canadian and why does that even matter? And B) Your book is GOOD. Apples and oranges, baby. Fallacious argument. Doesn’t make sense, no logic. Doesn’t follow.

Think about how many bad/uninspired books you’ve read. Somebody published them. Yours is good, so it shouldn’t be hard to get published, but it is. I don’t understand it, either. But the world works in a crazy way sometimes.

You now have a specific goal, to imagine his face when he gets a copy of your published book.

You have work to do, get that book out there.

Write soon,

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Outliners vs. pantsers

The author Kelly O’Connor McNees (The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott) mentioned in her presentation earlier this summer at Saturday Writers the difference between writers who are outliners (those who plan) and pantsers (those who fly by the seat of their pants).

As a writer, I can honestly say that I love outlines. For nonfiction, I use comprehensive outlines. For fiction, I use a variety of methods that run from not much except an idea I have in my brain, to some sort of weird, abbreviated version of a list or plan of how I want to get characters from Point A to Point B.

As a speech teacher, I require students to turn in an outline form that I give them. The top of the sheet requires the student to state the topic and thesis. These items are followed by a standard outline format that lists main points, sub points, introduction, conclusions and transitions. I do this for a couple of reasons – one is that they have an appropriate speech topic with sufficient support for their thesis and main points, and the other is that they don’t wait to the last minute to begin working on the presentation.

Let me tell you about Andrew, a fictional student I just made up who represents several students I have every semester. Andrew usually approaches me right before class begins, or during our break to tell me his outline isn’t finished. He hems and haws around a bit, and sheepishly admits that he can’t seem to settle on a topic.

“I have some ideas,” he says. “But I haven’t written anything.”

I tell Andrew to pick any topic, and go with it. I tell him that I don’t care if it isn’t good. I tell him he doesn’t have to give his speech using that exact topic and main points, and I tell him that something is better than nothing.

What I don’t tell him is that by writing anything, it forces him to develop his ideas. I also don’t tell him that there is power and strength in beginnings, and outlines help us get rid of the fear of not being able to do it.

And Andrew always writes something. And it’s always good.
Write soon,


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book jackets

Writers appreciate interesting visuals, and when the visuals are book covers, well, even better! Grab a cup of coffee and follow the link.

Let me know which ones you like!

Write soon,


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Self-fulfilling prophecy

A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction or statement about ourselves that may or may not be true, but causes us to behave as if the prediction or statement were actually true.

When I was a kid, I struggled with math. It didn’t take me long to go from not understanding certain algebraic concepts to believing that I wasn’t good at math. That’s what I told myself, and I believed it. And because I believed that I wasn’t good at math, I behaved as if it were true, turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Maybe if I had worked a little harder or longer, I would have been able to understand algebra. But I didn't give myself the opportunity to improve. I gave up because I believed I couldn't do it.

What is the little voice in your head telling you? Are you sending yourself positive messages, or negative ones? Are you taking a small setback and letting it turn you into someone who is afraid to proceed because the outcome may not be as great as you think? Or do you give yourself the message that you can do more than you think you can?

Don’t let the negative thoughts in your head determine your reality. We all have disappointments and failures. Look at them for what they are: opportunities to improve.

Write soon,


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Success and failure

Success is never final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts

Winston Churchill

Recently, I haven’t started any new projects, and haven’t finished any old ones. I’m not writing much, and don’t have a routine. I do have a few ideas in the hopper, but nothing is rising to the top. Does that make me a failure? Maybe, but I’m not giving up. I’m just going to start again.

This week the fall semester begins. One thing I like about school is that we get to start over a few times a year, so we have more chances to get it right. I love that. A student or teacher can have the worst semester ever, and in a few months, it doesn’t matter because everything ends, and then we get a chance to begin again. Sounds kinda like life, eh?

At the beginning of every semester, I ask my oral communications students to write down their fears and goals for the class. I stress the part about CLASS, but I get a variety of students who write about other fears like spiders, bugs and heights. (I can relate to the one about heights.)

I save these sheets in my class folder, and return them on the last day of class. On that day, I announce to them that they can see how they have conquered their fears and met their goals. Every time I put a sheet on a desk, I watch the student read it and smile. I love that.

Write down your goals. Write down your fears. Every day, try to do one thing to accomplish your goals, and one thing to eliminate your fears. By the end of the week, or month, or season or year, you will have something – and it may be good. Work toward something bigger than yourself, and you will be able to realize who you are, hiding in plain sight underneath who you think you are. And don’t give up. Ever.

Write soon,


Monday, August 8, 2011

What I want the truth to be vs. the actual truth

I WANT to say that I haven’t posted content lately because I became engrossed in the movie Moby Dick, which turned into an obsession with the book, with which I am almost finished. But, it wouldn’t be true. I tried to watch the movie, I really did, but it just wasn’t for me.

I couldn’t get past William Hurt as Captain Ahab. I like William Hurt, but I kept seeing and hearing him as his character in The Accidental Tourist, and the peg leg just made it more unbelievable. I believed Gary Sinise as Lt. Dan who lost his legs in Forrest Gump, but couldn’t make the same leap with William Hurt in Moby Dick.

And to be completely honest, I had issues with his coat being buttoned/unbuttoned in a scene in which I’m sure they had many takes, and was hard to make it exactly the same every time, and it bugged me. And when I find myself looking for things like buttons on a coat in a movie, then I know the spell is broken. My only reasoning is that sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I CAN honestly say I finished my summer semester, turned in my grades and began preparing for the next semester. Plus we have house guests! Like all writing, blogs take thought, time and effort to produce content, and while most of us have one or two of those things going for us at any one time, it’s hard to have all three at once!

So tell me, how do you motivate yourself to write? Do you have a certain amount of time you set aside, or is it a word count goal every day, or week, or month?

Write soon,


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An interview with author Kelly O'Connor McNees

Last month, Kelly O’Connor McNees spoke at Saturday Writers about her book titled The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. The debut novel presents a fictional account of what might have happened to Louisa May Alcott one summer. In this interview, O’Connor McNees gives some insight into the book, her inspiration and writing process.

Can you give a brief summary, and tell why you decided to write the book?

Millions of readers have fallen in love with Little Women. But how could Louisa May Alcott-who never had a romance-write so convincingly of love and heart-break without experiencing it herself?

I had always loved Little Women but never knew much about Louisa May Alcott herself until I picked up a biography of her a few years ago. I learned that her life was big and complex, and that she had burned some of her letters and journals before she died. I thought those spaces in the historical record offered a great opportunity for fiction.

What was the most surprising piece of information you found out about Alcott?

That she didn't want to write Little Women at all! She thought her own life was very boring.

How did you research the material for the book?

I read most of Louisa's novels and stories, many different biographies of her and some of her family members, as well as her own words in her remaining letters and journals. I spent time too learning about what life was like in 1855, how domestic tasks were performed, what people wore and ate. It was such a pleasure hunting for the perfect details.

You write first, and then revise later. Why does this system work for you?

I think you need to get something on the page to work with. You can't fix what isn't there!

You also outline before you write. Do you have any particular tips, or an outline style that works best for you?

I try to think in scenes rather than chapters. What interactions need to take place between the characters to keep the story moving forward?

What was the most difficult part of writing/publishing this book?

Coming back to the manuscript every day when something is not working. That doesn't change one bit after getting published.

Read more about Kelly and the novel at

Write soon,


Saturday, July 23, 2011

A couple of thoughts that are somewhat related

Remember the episode of Leave it to Beaver when Beaver was supposed to read The Three Musketeers for school, and he saw it at the movies instead? OK, so I was watching television the other day with my son, and I think I may be off the hook (pun intended) about reading Moby Dick this summer because THE MOVIE* is scheduled to be shown on TV Aug 1 and 2!

I’m thinking that if I watch the movie, I can gain insight into the characters, their motivation and goals, and will be inspired to read the book. Wish me luck, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Hey, how about you, did you ever watch the movie (or Wishbone! Hi Melissa!) instead of reading the book?

Write soon,


* This version stars Academy award-nominee Ethan Hawke, Academy award-winner William Hurt and Donald Sutherland. That’s how they said their names in the commercial, in that order. Shouldn’t they start small, and then move up the academy award chain? Do you think Donald Sutherland feels kinda left out? Maybe they could have said “ … and father of Emmy award-winner Keifer Sutherland.” Or something like “humanitarian and all-around good guy.” But no, the sentence just seems to end. He needs a title, or some sort of recognition. I’ll Google him and see if there’s anything there. Hold on a minute, I’ll be right back ...

OK, so I typed in his name, and a bunch of sites came up, but this one

had a preview that make me think there is a Donald Sutherland conspiracy or something, because this is what it said:

The towering presence of this Canadian character actor is not often noticed, but his contributions are legendary. He has been in almost a hundred and fifty different shows and films. He is also the father of renowned actor Kiefer Sutherland.

Do you think there’s someone out there holding a grudge against Donald Sutherland? Why isn’t he noticed, and why is his work played down on a site devoted to him? Why ISN”T he recognized when he’s been in so many great films? Hmmmmm. Makes you wonder, eh? Couldn’t they have said “legendary actor” in the commercial. That would’ve worked.

I wish they would check with me first.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Egads! E-ads!

A recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal explored the potential of advertising in ebooks to offset sagging sales. Is this the future of book publishing?

The practice of selling advertising space in books is not new. I remember seeing ads inserted in paperback books in the 1970s. After the federal government banned tobacco ads on TV and radio in 1969, book and magazine advertising sales increased. At the time, some people argued that ads were aimed at kids, an issue that is still pertinent today

In the late 1950s, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care ran ads, including those from Carnation and Proctor & Gamble. Approximately 100 years earlier, advertisements were placed in a serialized edition of Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield.”

Do you think advertising will show up in ebooks? Or will product placement become the norm like it is in the movies, where the hero drives a certain type of car or drinks a particular brand of beer? Tell me what you think.

Write soon,


Friday, July 8, 2011

Did you read it, really?

I was thinking about picking up a copy of Moby Dick this summer, and trying to read it … again. I read a little of it in college, and a little more of it in a bookstore one day, but have never come close to finishing it. There, I said it.

I’ve always felt that admitting that I haven’t read all the classics could lead to my English degree being revoked at any moment. But I didn’t feel so bad after attending my book club meeting last month, and discovering that a couple of English teachers also had never read it!

Their admission freed me! I realized I wasn't the only one who hadn't read it. I no longer feel the need to change the subject when the book comes up in conversation, pretend to know what everyone is talking about when discussing the massive tome, or excusing myself to go to the bathroom in case someone asks me a difficult question about the novel that I can’t answer.

The Huffington Post last year listed the top 13 books people lie about having read. They include the aforementioned Moby Dick, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Ulysses, As I Lay Dying, War and Peace, The Canterbury Tales, Democracy in America, The Satanic Verses, A Christmas Carol, A Brief History of Time, Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time.

Do you have a list of books you think you should read, but haven’t? Have you ever lied about it? What are you willing to admit? Leave a comment and let me know. Let’s see if our list looks like the one above.

Write soon,


Monday, July 4, 2011

Storm Country anthology accepting submissions

The Joplin (MO) Writers’ Guild, in coordination with the Missouri Writers’ Guild, is seeking fiction, non-fiction and poetry to be included in an anthology, Storm Country, to be published near the end of the summer. All proceeds from book sales will go to the purchase of books for school libraries damaged or destroyed by the May 22 tornado. Midwest writers are encouraged to submit their original work through July 15th.

Submit work with the theme of storms and severe weather in the Midwest. All forms of stormy weather should be considered: ice, floods, tornadoes, wind, and snow. Include name, address, phone number, and email address on first page of submission.

Poetry of any form and up to 30 lines may be submitted. A maximum of three poems from any author will be considered.

Short fiction in any genre, 1,500 words or less, will be considered.

Nonfiction (features, essays, memoirs, etc.) of 1,500 words or less may also be submitted. A maximum of three pieces of prose will be accepted per author.

All submissions must be typed in 12-point Times New Roman. Prose should use three-space paragraph indention and double-spacing. Poetry should be single-spaced. Pages should be numbered. Spelling and grammar must be as the author intends. Author retains all rights. Please include third-person author bios up to 75 words.

Submit your Word documents by July 15th to or mail to Claudia Mundell, 1815 River Street, Carthage, Missouri 64836.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Where'd you go to high school?"

The high school question is popular in St. Louis because it reveals quite a bit of information. You can tell a lot about a person when you learn where he or she went to high school. High schools reveal information about geographical location, income level and religion. It’s so popular that I read that said St. Louisan and John Burroughs-alum John Hamm (star of Mad Men) slipped the question into a SNL skit when he hosted the show!

So, where’d YOU go to high school? What does that tell us about you?

Write a list of three-five things your high school says about you. You can also add the year if you like.

OK, here's my list:

Ft. Zumwalt class of 1977 (How cool was it to go to high school in the 70s? Very!)

1) Rural (at the time, more cows than people)

2)  Public school, no religious affiliation, (although the population was predominantly Catholic, my family wasn’t)

3)  Mostly blue collar working class (although my father had an MBA from Washington University)

4) Majority of graduates didn’t go to college (I did, although I recognized many types of intelligence among my friends who didn’t, and most of them make more money than I do!)

So you can see that I wasn’t quite typical. Many kids feel like outsiders, a common theme in coming-of-age stories, but I never did. I had wonderful friends and a great place to grow up that felt safe. So if I were a character, what would I be like? Why?

You can use this question to strengthen your writing. Think about that question next time you are creating a character, or writing about a real person. What was he or she like in high school, and what did that school say about the people who went there?

Write Soon,


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nonverbal communication

We are always communicating, as are the people we write about. Much of the information we receive comes from nonverbal communication, so writers should use it to help readers identify with and understand who their characters/subjects are.

Nonverbal communication is the ability to send and receive messages without using words. This can include facial expressions, body language, artifacts and paralanguage, which includes the WAY we say something. Paying attention to nonverbal communication can give insight to your readers, and strengthen your writing.

Every gesture, facial expression, detail of clothing and jewelry can bring a character or subject to life. These details can help define our characters or subjects, explain what makes them tick and let us know what’s important to them.

What artifacts does your character or subject have around him or her? What’s on the kitchen counter? Is mail stacked up? Are the canned goods in the pantry alphabetized? What about the car? Is it messy, or does it look like it just rolled off the dealer’s lot? Does she fumble in her purse for her keys? Are clothes neatly pressed, or rumpled? Does he look like John Hamm from Mad Men, or Peter Falk as Columbo?

Writers can set a scene with nonverbal cues. Does the main character silently roll up to the mansion in a silver Mercedes? Or does the missing muffler announce his presence half a mile away? Does the three-carat diamond reflect the light across the room, or does the plain gold band need a good polishing?

How do your characters talk? Does someone shriek, or are words spoken softly and gently? Imagine a doctor using these tones. What would each of these types of paralanguage imply? Did someone whisper your name? Speak with an accent or a lisp? Each of these attributes gives us information.

Some nonverbal cues match the messages they accompany. Smiling while talking about a spouse, or frowning while trying to figure out computer problems are examples of nonverbal and verbal messages matching each other. Other nonverbal cues don’t match the verbal message. When they don’t, we receive mixed messages, and we are more likely to believe the nonverbal cue.

“I’m fine,” she said, between sobs.

Do you really think she’s fine because she says she is fine? Or do you believe the nonverbal cue – sobbing. Blushing would be another example of a nonverbal cue that gives true insight into emotions.

So, the next time you write about someone, think about nonverbal communication to help bring him or her to life.

Talk to you soon,


Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Make Every Word Count," by Gary Provost Book Review, Continued

Part 4 of 4

To go where no one has gone before

In a new twist to understanding writing, the author takes a bold step into the unknown and tries to describe how the reader needs to feel when reading your words. He recognizes the immense responsibility of writing and putting you in the reader’s shoes.

Provost compares the process to casting a spell. Said spell must be durable enough to hold the attention of readers regardless of when it is cast or upon whom. Those black lines of print on white paper may be read by someone who is so unlike the writer that in any other situation the two would probably be at each other’s throats. Therein lies the challenge. Words must transcend time and distance and culture and learned hatred and gender and even death, i.e., that of the writer, naturally. For the most part, the reader is usually alive.

When a successful spell is cast then the reader does not remember to do the dishes or water the lawn or if he or she is married. The reader enters a world the writer created, but proceeds to alter it to fit his or her own experience and needs. It’s a world only the two of you share in your brains, but neither will know or be able to understand the other’s. It’s a connection that can never be seen or felt by an outsider, but it is strong and as powerful as any great work of art. The spell opens a door to a place no one else can go. It is the writer’s job to make that place come alive for the reader.

Words typed on a page can create magic. Suddenly a voice is present as the words are read, as are images and people. When you think about characters in literature who have moved you, it’s difficult to realize that they were never anything other than words on a page. Between you and author, you come up with an image that fit, and it stuck. Fantasy is such a short distance from reality that the two of them may overlap. That explains why television actors often are confused for the characters they play.

It’s a writer’s job to create that magic and hold the reader under the spell for as long as it takes to finish the work. This is the place where style and words work together to capture the reader. If not, then you have lost your reader forever.

Successful writers must learn how to take their readers on a journey. It’s a journey that can’t keep starting and stopping like a cross-town bus. Readers will get off at the first stop and never get back on. Take them instead on a long leisurely drive to the country. Build their interest slowly but surely in the place you are headed. You can always go back to the city later, but first take them to a place they want to discover with you. How will you know where to go? Ask yourself if you want to go there as well.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Trouble with posting comments

I interrupt the four-part book review of “Make Every Word Count” by Gary Provost to bring you the following message.

I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. I guess it’s true, because I’ve had a computer problem that has been slowly driving me crazy.

I’ve recently had difficulty posting comments on blogs, and would do the same thing over and over and hope it would finally “take.” For instance, I would write a comment, try to post it, and would be “sent” to the log in. I would log in, then it would take me back to the post and have me type in a word in a font that only a human could recognize. When I typed in the word, it would take me back to the log in, which I would do again, then send me back to the word in a weird font. I would try several times, thinking I was doing something wrong.

My computer-savvy husband, Randy, told me that when I log in to Blogspot by entering my email address and password, I need to uncheck the box underneath that says “Stay signed in.” I did that, and I was able to post comments on my blog and the blogs of others immediately! Thank you, honey.

I hope this helps anyone else who is having trouble with posting comments.

Talk to you soon,


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review "Make Every Word Count" Continued

“Make Every Word Count” By Gary Provost Book Review, Continued (Part 3 of 4)

Find your own voice, be your own person and listen to your heart

While Provost describes example after example of good writing styles, descriptive writing, scenes, settings, tone and dialogue interspersed with lots of useful hints, one of the most telling passages came in chapter three under the heading “If the Writer is Seen at Work, then the Writing Won’t Work.” Here he takes a step back from the writing process to explain that if the writer works too hard, then he or she may leave too many fingerprints that clouds the meaning and ruins the effect. In other words, don’t try too hard.

The second most important piece of advice (second only because it’s been said many times, many ways) is to find your voice. This usually only happens when a writer begins to relax and enjoy the writing process. The problem is, a lot of writing is strained and complicated and just has too many big words. These problems occur when a writer thinks no one will find him or her the authority necessary to write about migratory birds, or art, or whatever.

Your reader is not an idiot

Readers can usually tell when a thesaurus was consulted, or if you are in “impress the reader” mode. These two situations are recognizable by large, unfamiliar words, and series of long, unfamiliar words. Don’t do it. Don’t get in the way of telling your story. That’s why movies don’t show the cast and crew behind the scenes. Oh sure, sometimes writers/actors will address the camera directly, (can you say postmodernism?) but these must be handled with care. If a writer isn’t sure how to proceed, then it isn’t wise to attempt this type of interpretation.

When a writer starts doubting, then the effort to impress begins. It’s like a white lie that grows all out of proportion because you were ashamed to admit that you didn’t graduate from college, or insanity runs in your family or you are about four years behind on student loan payments.

So instead of admitting you are human you make up this whole story about testifying against an unsavory character and are in the witness protection program. Well, of course no one is supposed to know, so please keep it between us, and the next thing you know your neighbors want to know what you saw and how you came to be here and what is it “really” like being in hiding. You get whispered comments from people in line at the grocery telling you “Your secret is safe with me.”

Well now the whole darn thing is so complicated and the only outcome is for it to explode in your face. The only other option is to move out of town, which isn’t a bad idea because people will just naturally think your cover was blown and you had to leave. Then later they can tell each other they were glad you left because they didn’t really want someone in the witness protection program living next door anyway.

This is how writing works, too. Instead of just admitting you know nothing about migratory birds, as do many readers, you start to fake it with the Conservation Department agent who will start using conservation jargon. When he asks if you are familiar with these types of birds, you don’t want to look stupid so you lie, which is really stupid. So he is talking in language you don’t understand, wasting both his time and yours. What a way to spend the day.

This can lead to a case of the writing working against the writer. No one wins and then your editor thinks the story doesn’t make sense. It’s best to stay true to yourself and your readers. Remember, they have no expectations. If you try to fake them out in the first paragraph, they will stop reading for reasons they may not truly understand, but they will stop reading nonetheless.

To be continued …

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Book Review "Make Every Word Count" Continued

Part 2 of 4

I don’t know anything about writing, but I know what I like

Provost believes every word has a job to do, and it’s up to the writer to find out what that job is, even though it may change from story to story. He wants the writer to think about what he or she is doing and why. By close examination some learning is bound to take place along the way. His book focuses on the words of working writers to exemplify successful writing. His definition of successful writing means only that someone sold a piece and it was published, which is probably a goal of anyone reading the book.

Although he does a great job of explaining the workings of good sentence structure and choosing words wisely, he also digs a little further into the way words work and their interaction with our brains. I haven’t read anything like this before in any of the “why writing works or doesn’t series,” and found his perception insightful.

He mentions only in passing, unfortunately, the difficulty in understanding and interpreting the way the brain perceives letters and words on a page. This also may explain some of the mystery behind successful writing and why there are no certain formulas for success. Psycholinguistics is the science of studying this phenomenon we call language, and apparently there are still quite a few large gaps in the research as to why and how we learn to read, talk and recognize the written word.

I wish he had devoted more time and space to this subject, but alas, he decided to go the route of practicality. And although this is the case, for now we will have to leave it at knowing there are scientists working around the clock to further our knowledge in studying the way our eyes send messages to our brain. Some day we may understand why we recognize and enjoy great phrases like “It was a dark and stormy night.”

It can be useful just to know that psycholinguistics exists because it can explain why our latest novel or story hasn’t sold. No one will quite know what you are talking about, and although I don’t usually advocate trying to deceive (see my example of the witness protection program later in this review) sometimes it just sounds better than “Oh, my publisher just isn’t as trend-conscious as I am.” Yeah, right.

Actually, a psycholinguist sounds like one of those crazy people standing on the corner downtown shouting random words viciously at anyone who will listen. Although we may not know why or how, we can learn which words to use by practice. Maybe that is what our friends on street corners are doing.

Provost referred to this as the job words do, and he likes to consider them as his employees. They all have jobs to do and can vary by looks and meanings. Each word should be chosen with care to ensure it’s pulling its own weight. Deadbeats should be dismissed so the others don’t have to try harder to work around them.

Form and content naturally work together to create a symphony of words that are (preferably) perfect together. There are no rules to follow regarding which style goes with which words, so experimenting is necessary. When it is right, you and your readers will know. The hidden talents of the words will rise to the top when everything comes together. Because once you release them by publishing them, they have to work hard to keep their meanings intact. Readers won’t know what you meant if they can’t understand what you are saying.

To be continued …

Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review "Make Every Word Count"

“Make Every Word Count” Book Review (Part 1 of 3)

Spreading confidence is one of the main purposes of a good teacher, no matter the subject. “Make every word count,” by Gary Provost, (available on does that. It’s not a new book, but it offers timeless advice in a friendly tone in an attempt to guide writers in their craft.

The book doesn’t preach, but offers information and practical examples designed to make the reader/writer think seriously about the process while demystifying story/article development. The process of writing is described in a way I could follow, but offered some surprises that made the book fun to read.

Although there are dozens of good examples of writing styles, I’m going to focus on three areas that were only briefly covered. They each have less to do with good sentences and more to do with thinking about writing and its possibilities. Each one offers guidance on why we do what we do and how we can do it better.

In the beginning

Provost begins by asking the question “Can writing be taught?” His answer is “No. Throw this book away.” He is kidding, of course. I know this because the book in my hand has about 200 more pages of printed information not designed to be tossed in the garbage can. He changes his answer in the next line and says that writing can be taught indeed, and laments that fact that that question keeps popping up and no one ever asks his wife, who plays the guitar, if playing the guitar can be taught. Obviously he’s a bitter, cynical man, and I liked him right away.

He explains that writing is not like learning auto mechanics, in that each part in a car has only one purpose and those purposes are not interchangeable. He does, however, break down the parts of writing into categories in order to explain them. These parts will not fit into the molds other writers may have, but it’s a working description that meets our needs here. We learn that words and sentences and stories all have meanings that can be altered depending on the circumstance.

For instance, he cites two sentences that convey the fact that a man died in a work-related accident. But, by using different words, one makes a reader sad and one makes the reader smile. The first states that a 27-year-old man died in an accident at work, leaving behind three little boys. The second states that “Hubie Humwicker” (a funny name) died from drowning in a 300-gallon vat of chocolate syrup.

Both sentences tell us what happened, but each has a different tone and purpose. Same general information--different means of expressing it. He forces us to look closer at the written word and why some words work more efficiently than others. This also explains why writers should know a story’s purpose before deciding what and how to write.

To be continued …

Saturday, May 28, 2011


In my book “Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing” I wrote about mindfulness, or paying attention to your surroundings. Writers who pay attention to their environment learn a lot just by looking around. But there is another step to mindfulness that writers must embrace for it to be beneficial. Writers need to examine their environment in new ways to make connections and draw conclusions from the information gleaned.

Artists must open up and look at things from another point of view. Good artists usually collect ideas, and instead of just taking the first good one and running with it, mull it over and compare it to others and turn it around and upside down before putting it into action. That way, the idea has had a chance to develop and mature and become something solid and useful.

Using this method, quality (idea, or communication or method) is derived from quantity, or honed from a variety of ideas. Some great thinkers got their best ideas after developing many good ones. The best part about this way of thinking is that the more ideas we seek out and think about, the more creative we become. Ideas can come from anywhere, and should be taken seriously.

In a receptive phase of problem solving, when ideas may come and go, it is important to keep your mind from forming negative thoughts and concerning yourself with specifics and details. Let them go and encourage your mind to consider every aspect of a possibility. Let these ideas be the seeds that may or may not grow flowers

Artists should not hesitate to use the resources of others. Keep your mind open and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talk to people who are doing something similar to what you are doing, and then talk to those who are doing something completely different. Even the most successful artists must still learn in order to stay fresh and in control of his or her craft. Businesses and governments spend time and money on research and consults, which can provide unexpected benefits through the process of looking at a problem from a different viewpoint.

The reason this is so successful is that people on the inside often forget to take a new look at what is going on in their own space. Looking at the same thing in the same way day after day does dull your sense and sensibility to a problem. What’s really fun is to try to find someone with absolutely no experience in your business or with your problem, and find out what that person has to say. Ask a child, or an older relative. The ideas may not be presented in finished form and ready to implement, but some solutions may be found by listening and combining and connecting or prompting other ideas.

Edison believed that “Ideas are in the air,” and if he hadn’t thought of a particular solution to a problem, someone else would have. But in order to catch these airborne ideas we do need to observe and be open to them. Kids go to major league baseball games with their gloves in hopes of catching a fly ball. They are ready and prepared to do just that. They look for them and seek them out. Sometimes they catch one. Often they don’t. But if they do catch one, they hold on to it much more successfully than if they had forgotten to be prepared. If we go to work prepared to challenge old ways of thinking by looking at our environment with fresh eyes, then we are prepared when an idea presents itself.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Searching for Search Engines

Search engines are online services that allow users to scan the contents of the Internet to find Web sites or specific information of interest to them. A user inputs a search term, and the search engine attempts to match this term to categories or keywords in its catalog of World Wide Web sites. The search engine then generates a list of sites that match the search criteria, ranked in order of relevance. Search engines help organize the more than two billion pages of information on the World Wide Web and make them accessible to Internet users.*

I wasn’t sure what to blog about today, but the answer came when I clicked on the Internet Explorer icon, and I was directed to the Bing Search Engine homepage. I use Google on my laptop, but we have Bing on our home computer. I use both computers and search engines frequently, but I must say, I like the layout of the Bing Homepage. Bing always features a wonderful photograph that allows users to get more information by scrolling over the photo. Usually, there are several pieces of information about the photo, along with links to read more. (It’s especially effective for procrastinating.)

In its defense, Google is also very creative in its logo design to reflect a news story. When you scroll over the word “Google,” more information pops up there, as well. I loved the recent Google animation that celebrated the work of Martha Graham.

Finding information on the internet is easy. Finding exactly what you want from credible sources can be more challenging. When you are researching, which search engines do you use? Do you try more than one? If so, which ones? When I have trouble finding what I’m looking for, I’ll try Bing, Google, Yahoo, AltaVista or Dogpile.

Which one do you use?

Talk to you soon,


*From the Gale Encyclopedia of Small Business accessed 5-22-11

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The winners!

Congratulations to Pat W. and Alice M., who each won a copy of my book "Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing." I'll get those out this week, and I hope you both enjoy them!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Last Chance

Don't forget!

Today is the last day to enter to win a copy of my book "Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing." Just become a follower, or leave a comment and you will be entered to win.

Good Luck! I'll let you know who won next week!


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing Giveaway

Don't forget to leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing by next Friday (the 13th)!

Happy Mother's Day!


Friday, May 6, 2011


Last night at dinner with some of my favorite writer friends, (Lou, Dianna and Donna the concept of branding came up. Most writers don’t think of their writing as a product, but it may be beneficial for writers to think like marketers with a product to sell.

Branding is the practice of identifying products while differentiating them from others. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know, I don’t even let my students use it as a source, but I’m going to allow it to make my point here because the definition was clear and concise) a brand identifies a product, service or business. The word “branding” came from the practice of branding cattle so ranchers could identify their own livestock. Without the brands to identify them, the cattle would be indistinguishable from each other. No one would know which cow belonged to which rancher.

When we apply that idea to products in the marketplace, consumers wouldn’t be able to distinguish cars, soap or books from one another without brands (or titles). Early in the 20th century, soap came in big blocks, and when a customer wanted soap, a store clerk would cut off a piece. Once companies began to market their brand of soap to distinguish it from other soap, customers would ask for a particular brand, which increased sales.

“Brand is the personality that identifies a product, service or company (name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or combination of them) and how it relates to key constituencies: customers, staff, partners, investors etc.

“Some people distinguish the psychological aspect, brand associations like thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, experiences, beliefs, attitudes, and so on that become linked to the brand, of a brand from the experiential aspect.”

“Harry Potter,” “Stephanie Meyer” and “Stephen King”

What did you think when you read each of these names?

“Wizards,” “Twilight” and “horror?”

Those are the words I came up with. Successful marketers know how to brand their products so consumers/readers associate their product with certain words or feelings. If they can get us all to think the same thing, then the brand is strong with a clear identity.

When the actor Vincent Price was once asked if he was tired of being typecast as a villain (his “brand”), he said he wasn’t because it made him a very rich man.”

What do you think?


Saturday, April 30, 2011

"Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing" Giveaway

To celebrate the publication of my new book, Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, I'm giving away a copy to one lucky blog follower or visitor who leaves a comment.

To enter:

1. If you are a follower, just leave a comment or question by Friday, May 13.

2. If you not a follower, become a follower and leave a comment or question by Friday, May 13.

3. Any of my followers who post a link about the contest on their blog will have their name entered a second time.

4. Along with your comment be sure to leave an e-mail so I can contact you if you are the lucky winner.

5. I will pick one name at random.

6. Winner's name will be announced by May 15.

Good luck!

Talk to you soon,


Friday, April 29, 2011


An award is something given to a person or a group of people to recognize excellence in a certain field; a certificate of excellence. Awards are often signified by trophies, titles, certificates, commemorative plaques, medals, badges, pins, or ribbons. ...

I’m pleased to announce that I won the Arts & Humanities Division “Adjunct of the Year” award at St. Charles Community College for 2011! I’m not one to win many awards, so this was a pleasant surprise.

I have won a few writing awards, and am proud of all of them. But I want to tell you a story about one award in particular that I will never forget. I wrote articles for a national organization many years ago, and one of my articles won the “Most Informative Article” award from the National Safety Council. To this day, I still don’t know which article won. My boss wouldn’t tell me, said he didn’t know. I called someone else on the committee, who said my boss WAS on the committee that selected the winner. I asked again, he said he didn’t know anything about it.

To say my boss didn’t like me would be an understatement. I was upset and actually cried because he completely denied every aspect of the award. What I remember most from that experience was that he was able to negate every good feeling I had about winning. I would like to tell you I learned a valuable lesson. I didn’t. I would really like to tell you that he learned a valuable lesson. He didn’t.

Some authors win big awards, others don’t. I’ve been introduced to a few books because they’ve won awards, and sometimes I agree with them, and other times I don’t. But for me, I just keep plugging away, hopeful that people will read my work and respond. An award is a response, and that’s a good thing.

The “Adjunct of the Year” award doesn’t have any monetary benefits, but I’m proud of it, and no one can take that feeling away from me.

What awards are you most proud of?

Talk to you soon,