Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ghosties, Ghoulies, and Beasties, Oh My!

by Shirley Drew

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…”
 ~Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven

Standing on the deck, I pull my jacket tight around my shoulders. The evenings are chilly now. I gaze out at my butterfly garden, once full of color, now fading. It’s starting to get dark. Walking back inside, I drop my jacket on a chair. I find myself glancing at the fireplace. Should I build a fire? And then I remember…it’s nearly Halloween.

I close the blinds. I check the door locks. I sit in my favorite chair, pull a quilt over my lap, and curl up with one of my favorite scary tales. I love scary stories. Stories that make me pull that quilt up a little higher, almost to my chin. Stories that make me hear every sound the house makes as it settles into the foundation. Stories that make me want to peek carefully around the blind so I can see outside the window to my front porch…is there someone--or something--out there??

As Halloween approaches, I challenge you to to curl up with your favorite scary stories. Just make sure your doors are locked. And close the blinds. What--no favorites? Then perhaps I can interest you in some of mine…

"The Tell-Tale Heart", by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)
     “Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees --very gradually --I made up my  mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.”

Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1897)
     “There was one great tomb more lordly than all the rest; huge it was, and nobly proportioned. On it was but one word, DRACULA.”

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (1959)
     “It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed.”

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote (1966)
     “I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”

The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty (1971)
     “Perhaps evil is the crucible of goodness... and perhaps even Satan - Satan, in spite of himself - somehow serves to work out the will of God.”

 The Shining, by Stephen King (1977)
     “Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”

The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris (1988)
     “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

Enjoy your Halloween. And don’t forget to lock the doors…

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spell It Out

Post by Jenny 

I was almost finished writing this post about acronyms when I read Sarah Sullivan’s Wednesday post about the same topic. First I thought, that's a strange coincidence, but great minds do think alike. Then I thought, whew, I’m not the only one who feels that “today’s language is so littered with acronyms that it’s hard to keep up.” Thank you, Sarah!

Earlier in the year, as international terrorism was again raising its ugly head, I made the whispered, after-dark confession to my husband that I didn’t know what ISIS stood for. As soon as I got straight on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, it became ISIL. Now it is IS. Or maybe it ISn’t. Depends on who you ask. 

Acronyms are nothing new. I grew up with NASA, SCUBA, and ELO. But we’re apparently such busy people now that we’re relying more and more on this shortcut. No one is spared. Though POTUS, FLOTUS, and SCOTUS have been used by Washington insiders for years, they have more recently leaked into the country’s everyday vernacular. But I draw the line. I refuse to refer to some of the world’s most powerful and influential people by acro-names that remind me of a mining byproduct, marine debris, and a canine skin condition, in that order.

The other day, after I ran across two unfamiliar acronyms in quick succession—HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and OIAJ (Oatmeal in a Jar)—I thought, that’s it. I cannot keep up. I don’t want to have to keep guessing whether any seemingly random grouping of letters refers to an organization of global importance, an infectious agent, or a sly teenage code my sons might use in a text.

So, I must respectfully request that more people return to spelling things out. Replacing real words with shortened mash-ups may save time for whoever is writing the magazine article/news copy/Zits comic strip, but it costs me that plus more in internet search time. Because I can’t just let it go. I must know, for example, that PDIC stands for Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation. Or is it Professional Diving Instructors Corporation? (Hint: it’s both.)

When my 8th grade son, who is learning German, rattled off the word for 9,999 (neuntausendneunhundertneunundneunzig), I felt a little giddy. All those letters, and nary a hyphen among them. It made me want to find a way to work antidisestablishmentarianism into this post. And there, I just did.

Are acronyms a help or hindrance to your reading and writing?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mary Shelly and the Gang

by Kelly

In light of the approaching Halloween holiday I’ve dusted off some of my Gothic classics: Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Monk by M. G. Lewis, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. My all time favorite, however, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

One of the things I love about Frankenstein is how it goes beyond being merely a back-tingling spooky story; in this it stands alone among the other Gothic tales. Who is the villain--the creature or Dr. Frankenstein? Which voice do we believe? Is Shelley really talking about  societal constraints on science or women? Is scientific creation without ethics or murder the greater crime?

What’s especially astonishing to me is that the book was written by an eighteen year old girl in 1818. Yes, her parents were both revolutionaries in the fields of politics and feminism, but still, an 18 year old writing this masterpiece? It blows my mind.

The secret, I think, is that she didn’t attempt this alone. Shelley pinned Frankenstein in the creative community of her husband Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori (also, they were all holed up in a villa in Switzerland, which probably didn’t hurt). After spending a few nights reading ghost stories, the friends initiated a challenge: who could write the best horror story. The others in the group had different ideas that were hashed out to various degrees of realization, but Mary Shelley was the only one who completed her book.

Would she have been able to accomplish this groundbreaking literary classic without her community? I don’t think so.

I know I’ve written about community before, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, especially in light of some drama in my own life. I couldn’t have handled my challenges without the community of family and friends who encircled me with love and assistance during this time.

The same is true of writing. We authors seem to vacillate between megalomania (as in, my work is a creative masterpiece, the best  that’s ever existed) and despair (as in, my work is terrible, barely coherent and worthy only to be burned). We need a writing community to bring perspective, constructive criticism and understanding as we struggle through the mountaintop and valley experiences of being an author.

Those of us living along the Front Range are incredibly blessed to have the resources of Northern ColoradoWriters at our disposal: critique groups, classes, networking and social events, conferences, monthly coffees, resources, and, most importantly friendships. Even if you don’t live in the Front Range area, I encourage you to find a writing community. None of us can write effectively in isolation. Supported by a network of mentors and friends, who knows what we can accomplish? Perhaps the next great masterpiece.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


by Sarah Sullivan

imagebase25 82Today’s language is so littered with acronyms it’s hard to keep up! The practice of word cropping that began with e-mails (BFF, LOL, POV, NIMBY, BTW, GR8) has grown right along with communication technology that seems determined to shorten the time it takes us to convey our thoughts and ideas to the world. These same acronyms are now seeping into our speech. Apparently we are all too busy to say “Oh My God!” and now must simply utter OMG! 

There is one acronym in particular that I am hearing a lot of these days andI feel we should talk about, writer to writer. TMI is the acronym for “too much information”. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why your brother-in-law may cringe at hearing the blow by blow of your sexual history and that detailing your birth experience to the mail man might be considered socially inappropriate. But for a writer, is there really such a thing as TMI? 

The notion that over sharing is somehow negative is rarely useful for writers. In fact avoiding TMI can be downright disastrous! Over sharing and TMI are distinct from over writing which burdens the reader with so much superfluous language or useless detail that it dilutes and/or derails the story. But stark uninhibited honesty not only saves a lot of time, but it can also transports a composition from a puff piece or intellectual exercise to a cathartic experience. As a reader, I appreciate an author who takes chances and trusts me to understand the multi-dimensional nature of the human experience which explains why a person or character makes choices that might be considered morally questionable, totally irresponsible or just down right idiotic. 

Cheryl Strayed is a no-holds bar writer who explores her drug use, infidelity and the pain of her mother's death both in her memoir Wild and as advice columnist, Dear Sugar. No one would argue that Louis Zamparini, the focus of the book Unbroken, was an incredible human being who was also a not so nice alcoholic for a time. Sherlock Holmes had his opium, Edward Rochester locked his mentally ill wife in the attic and Bridgette Jones, well...Bridgette Jones is the poster child for over sharing and look where it got Helen Fielding. 

Where as maudlin and cloying are born out of false sentiment and emotional manipulation (think everything Nicholas Sparks has ever written - not that he's complaining!) raw emotion is a different animal all together. Underneath it's ugly surface the warts and all human being is someone we can usually relate to or at the very least learn to understand. One of the great virtues inherent in writing is it's ability to shine the light of truth into an often deluded world. Be brave, writing friends, let us know who you and your characters really are and err on the side of TMI! xoxoxoxoxo

Monday, October 13, 2014

My Creative Origins

By Rich

Sometimes, while I'm walking the streets in an attempt to recruit authors, I'm asked an important question...How does my garden grow? After I tell them it grows with silver bells and cockle shells they ask me another important question...How did I become such a creative, yet egotistically arrogant, writer? Well, it came from many places. Most of them 2,000 miles from where I live now.

I had a chance to visit my creative roots a few weekends ago when I flew out to reunite with old friends, dine on Wawa hoagies, and do some comedic Improv. And as I traveled from my former home state of Delaware -- yes, there are houses there -- to my family home in da state of New Joisey, I realized that I was also revisiting the places that sparked my imagination.

It began with the ladies in the above picture. Even before I started Kindergarten I pretended with these girls, playing Superman and Wonder Woman or Donnie and Marie. I was Superman or Donnie, by the way. On the street where we all lived in the North Jersey town of Bloomingdale, I would spend days riding up and down the concrete, pretending my bike was a spacecraft or the Batmobile.

My creativity moved to this place -- Samuel R. Donald Middle School. It's here my writing career began in Jan Courtney's 3rd grade class. It's also the location where I learned I was an attention hog, soaking in all the accolades from my starring roles in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Do-Nothing Frog. I would have had an audience at my house given the opportunity.

Three uninteresting years in middle school later, I ended up in Butler High School, which seems like a large elementary school compared to the mega high schools in the city where I now live. Here, I continued my love affair with the audience by participating in the annual play competition. Along with some of my pals we dipped our toes into the world of Improv. Well, we basically yelled out insults at each other because we forgot our scripts, but it gave me that taste of improvisational comedy that would bring me to...

...performing with these folks, the members of Delaware Comedy Theatre. Director Dave Warick elevated my performing skills, introduced me to the storytelling concept of C.R.O.W.E, and even let me direct my own troupe. I still perform with the group from time to time and always have a good time.

There's a message to this trip down memory lane, besides the fact my ego is larger than the Internet. Creativity takes time to blossom and, as I mentioned a few weeks back, needs something to ignite it to cause a chain reaction. I wasn't born to theatrical parents or took my first bow while still in diapers. It took time to stoke the flames of creativity to create a truly hot fire. Luckily, thanks to friends, family, and educators, I was able to maintain the embers for decades, leading me up to my current life. To all of you, thanks.

Where do the origins of your creativity come from?

Friday, October 10, 2014

I Am Writer

By Sarah Reichert

How long has it taken you to say the words?  In public, to someone else, when the question "What do you do?" is asked?    

Along with stunning performances of Pat Benatar songs in the mirror, I’ve said them to myself.  But there’s always a caveat attached.  “I’ll be a writer when…” 

When I sell over 1,000 copies.  When I publish three articles.  When I reach 100 shares on a post.  When that book is made into a major motion picture!  When…when…when…

I’ve never told myself that when I've made 2,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or kissed fifty fevered foreheads, that then I’d be a mother.  That would be ridiculous!  Yet, we, as writers and other artists, often base our worth on the monetary or prestige-garnering result of our work.

It isn’t fair.  It’s self-limiting.  It belittles everything you accomplish when you sit down and put pen to paper.  I know there are probably hundreds of you out there, who’s work remains in notebooks and word docs, like little treasure troves, waiting for the perfect moment.  Waiting for your name to establish itself, your platform to be firmly below your feet.  You’re waiting to be a writer until the world says so first.

Poppycock, to that I say!  (Heck yes, I just used the word ‘poppycock’)  Your worth and title as a writer doesn’t come from words others see, or the words that have been whittled away with revision and harsh editing.  Your passion isn’t justified by the public’s knowledge of it.  It’s justified by being.  You write.  You are a writer.  Published or unpublished, struggling on a first draft or shooting off into the world for the 100th time, you are a writer.  Own your craft.  Buy the t-shirt.

We should stand in front others and practice those words.  We should squelch our self-doubt and the worry that our content isn’t smart enough, important enough, or big enough to make a difference in the world.  Human thought, put into words, is a stone thrown into a pond.  It will make ripples.  It will affect.  Your writing, whether it’s a best seller or a file box in the closet, matters.  Your affirmation of what you do is warranted.

So write on.  Don’t stop or pause, and don’t fear that it means too little.  Every word counts.  You’ll be surprised by how good it feels when those four little words spring from your lips.  More surprised perhaps by the encouraging responses you will receive. 

So...What is it that you do? (this is the part where you say "I am a Writer!")
 What's your favorite part about being a writer? 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My Dearest Friend

by Shirley Drew

As I mentioned in my post on June 18, my husband retired last May after many years as a professor of Biology. While his retirement has been busy as ever, he seems to be enjoying it—and that’s the point, right? One of the things he agreed to do for our university was to teach a course in Paraguay as part of our “Partners in Paraguay” program. While I’ve known for several months that he would be taking this on, I have not been happy about the idea of being separated for an entire month. We’ve both been there twice to teach in the last several years, and it was a great experience. But we went there together. The idea of him going without me challenged my normally cheerful nature. So I brooded, complained, and pouted for weeks leading up to the day he left. As he walked to his boarding gate on September 26, we promised that we would take advantage of Skype technology and talk—face to face—every day. And we have. As I walked out of the airport, I was reminded of a book I read several years ago about Abigail and John Adams.

The book, FIRST FAMILY: ABIGAIL & JOHN ADAMS, by Joseph Ellis, was a fascinating read in part because it was primarily a compilation of the letters between the Adamses during the lengthy separations they endured in their marriage. In her letters, Abigail frequently addressed her husband as “My Dearest Friend.” They were both prolific letter writers, though sometimes they had to wait weeks or even months to receive a reply to their correspondences. The letters demonstrate that while they were frustrated with long separations, their relationship was both strong and passionate. The letters also addressed the issues of the day—the war and the independence of this nation. No small concerns. And writing to one another was their only connection. There was no email, no Skype. Perhaps what impressed me most was how beautifully written their letters were, with expressions of deep loneliness as well as affection. Since then, of course, letter writing has become a lost art.

As I thought about what they both endured during these separations—particularly Abigail, I began to feel a little childish about my pouting and complaining. Certainly, if she could tolerate, unhappy as she may have been about it, literally years of separations, with only letters to connect her to John, then I could survive for four weeks with email and Skype as my only connections to my husband Jim. Right?

And, while I'm at it, maybe I should just write a nice long letter.  

How long has it been since you’ve written an actual letter?

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