The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 42

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 42

Tragedies Help the Writer

Bad things happen to all of us. No one’s life is perfect and if your life is wonderful today, trust me, it won’t last forever. We, as human beings living in an imperfect word, will experience illness, loss, betrayal, accidents, and death.

How we deal with these set-backs and tragedies is important. Often, we survive and become stronger. We accept and move forward. We become wiser.

Tragedies on the road of life are a blessing to writers. They open doors to empathy and understanding. We know what something feels like, because we’ve been there.

Let me tell you about one of these awful moments that grew me as a person and a writer.

My mother was the dearest, sweetest, most caring woman in the world. I grew up on a chicken farm on the end of dirt road in North East, Maryland, the only child of Finnish immigrants. We didn’t have much money, but my mother did her best to give me the finer things in life. She sold cracked eggs to pay for my piano and voice lessons. She taught me now to cook and clean and to be a responsible, hard-working citizen. She made birthdays and holidays special for everyone around her.

After my father died and she was in her late 70’s, she moved to a senior residence about 10 minutes from where my husband and I lived in New Jersey. One of her favorite things was to go for a ride with me, particularly along the Jersey Shore. She really liked the Atlantic Highlands and the wonderful views of the ocean there.

One Tuesday afternoon, planned to pick up my new car, a wonderful little aqua-colored convertible. I called my mother the night before and invited her to go for a ride with me the next day. She was very excited.

I picked up my fabulous little car the next afternoon and drove to my mother’s apartment, planning which scenic routes we would take.

I rang the doorbell. No answer. I rang again, several times.

My mother was never late for anything and I had just spoken with her the night before. Something was terribly wrong. I felt a chill.

At my request, the superintendent of the building, unlocked the door. She was lying there, unmoving, seemingly asleep. I touched her shoulder. It was cold and hard. She had been dead for several hours.

The emotions that ran through me are hard to describe, even for a writer. Horror, grief, sadness, regret, nostalgia, love. Memories of a warm kitchen and her pulling out a fresh-baked apple pie made with apples I had picked myself. Her wonderful flower gardens with gladiolas and tulips and daffodils. Her voice, singing old Finnish folk songs as she gathered eggs. She and my father dancing the polka at a Scandinavian dance party.

Taking care of me when I was sick. Cheering me on when my grades were good or I won an award in school.

All of it gone.

I got over it and moved on with my life, raising four daughters and writing magazine and newspaper article, children’s stories, poetry and novels. But this (and other sad and terrible moments) have impacted my thoughts and how I put words on paper.

I don’t have to imagine sadness and loss. I’ve been there. And today, I am a caring and empathetic person because of my experiences with loss and tragedy.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 41

Writers bloc?  Get a Dog!

One of the true blessing in my life is my sweet dog Roxie.  She’s a rescue, as were all but one of our previous dogs.  She weighs 70 pounds, is a husky mix, and has the most adorable face.

Energetic is the best word to describe Roxie, and the thing she loves best is going for a walk.  We live in a gated community with strict leash laws so I can’t just turn her loose.  I must put a leash on her, grab a poopy bag, jacket and/or raincoat and umbrella (if needed) and go out the door.

Roxie and I usually walk a mile or more each morning and another mile or more in the afternoon and WE BOTH LOVE IT!

Walking Roxie gets me away from my computer and outdoors at least twice a day.  I feel energetic most of the time and don’t have any weight or back problems because I walk regularly.  Owning a dog is better than joining Weight Watchers or a gym.

Sometimes, I’m busy with a project and just don’t feel like walking, but then Roxie prances into my office.  She pants, nudges me, waggles her whole body and before I know it, I’m out the door.

Sometimes when I walk, new perspectives and ideas come to me.  Sometimes, the walk simply refreshes me, calms me down, relaxes both my body and my brain.  It’s a real catharsis.

Most mornings at 7:30, I walk with my friend Cathy and her husky, Codie.  Somedays we talk a lot, other times, we stroll and simply enjoy the fresh sea air, the beautiful sky and blossoming flowers.  We greet other walkers and enjoy our beautiful neighborhood.

If you’re alone and would like to meet new friends, get a dog!  It’s one of the best ways to meet other people.

If you’re a writer and suffer from writer’s bloc, get a dog!  It’s a sure cure.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 40

Stimulation Through Travel

I love to write and can easily spend 8 hours or more each day, creating stories on my computer.  Time flies when I write.  I’m never bored and thus far, I have never experienced writer’s block. On the contrary, I probably suffer from writer’s release.

I am fortunate to work at something I love.  Writing a 350-page book is more like fun than work.

Despite the fact that I love what I do (newspaper articles, novels, children’s stories, and poetry) it is important to get away once in a while and do something totally different, to have an adventure that immerses me in a new world.


My husband and I did just that last month.  He had always wanted to see the Panama Canal and, by God, we did.  We took our very first big boat cruise on a Holland-Ameica ship to the Caribbean.  We left Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and in 10 days, visited several islands and Panama.  We saw Half Moon Cay, Curacao, Cartagena, and Costa Rica.

The trip through the Panama Canal and up to Lake Gatun (the middle point before turning back to Colon) was amazing.  We marveled at the effort that it took to build the locks that take the big ships up and over the mountain range that runs through the middle of Central America.  Our cruise only went half-way through, other cruise ships will take you all the way to the Pacific. It was astonishing and the views were breathtaking.


The second most exciting part of the trip was going through the rain forest of Costa Rica.  We took a bus ride to the top, toured around for a while with a guide, and took the elevated tram ride back.  It was so beautiful, that (even as a writer) words fail me.  Leaves a big as me, hundreds of different kinds of plants.  Butterflies as big as my hand.  The Costa Rican Rain Forest has more different plants and animals than any other place in the world. Scientists from all over the world come there to do research.

Now I’m back at my computer, totally energized and feeling very creative!  I truly believe that getting away once in a while is important for everyone, whether you ae a teacher, a CPA, a nurse, a lawyer, or a stay-at-home mom.  You can sit on a beach, hike a mountain trail, camp in Yellowstone Park or go to New York City and see a play.  It doesn’t have to be 10 days; it doesn’t have be a cruise.

It just needs to be different from your everyday life.  If it’s educational and you learn something new about our world, all the better!


The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 39

Describing Life (making a connection with others)

As a journalist, novelist and poet, I have written in many forms. A newspaper article has just the facts, mam. A column gives the writer more freedom to express his opinions.

A children’s story has to stay within the parameters of that particular age group. A picture book for preschoolers must be simple, amusing, and exciting. For middle grades, the plot and concepts can be more complicated. It is good to challenge the reader, but not to the point where they lose interest.

Novels are still another challenge. You want to keep the reader moving forward. A professor at Syracuse once told me that a good story teller is like a pretty lady standing by the door beckoning, inviting the reader to come in, see more, experience more. That sounds a bit tacky today, but we get the point: LURE THE READER FORWARD.

Poetry is different in that it shows the reader a slice of life, or a concept, a moment in time, an awakening. Ordinary words work for me. Some of the more beautiful poems are simple. Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe all wrote simply and understandably, but they moved us all with their words.

To me, poems are “Word Pictures of a Life” and I have a collection of my poems by that name.

On November 27, the online journal, Rue Scribe, published a poem of mine called “Evening”.
It is about a night years ago when my husband and I had a group of friends over for dinner. We laughed and talked and when it was over, and the dishes were done, I simply had to write it down. Check our Rue Scribe. They have great short stories and poems. A good quick read.


There was a night when friends were near
and, Oh Christ, we laughed as the jokes were told.
Funny quick lines of turned-around wit,
long rambling stories of salesmen weary and maidens willing. 

We drank beers and smoked cigarettes, one after another
and the laughs were like that, easy, one after another. 

Later, the talk turned sad, someone would lose a mother,
a child was ill and the Flanagans would be transferred to Saudi Arabia. 

When the evening was over, we remarked upon the fun.
Nothing was done or undone, the world remained the same,
but God, did we laugh that night. 

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 38

Two Movies to See

I love going to the movies, I mean going to a real movie theater with popcorn, soda, surround sound, and a big huge screen.  I get totally lost in the film and for that two hours (more or less) I am not of this world.

The big sounds, the close-ups of weeping or smiling faces, planes lunging through the air, cars racing, lovers kissing….it’s a totally engrossing experience.  Why anyone would want to see a really great movie on their home TV, laptop, or even cell-phone is beyond me.  It’s just not the same.

My husband and I saw two totally wonderful movies this past week.  We watched Midway first.

What a great movie.  Gene has read the book and, over the years, many more about World War II.  Midway was a huge turning point and without a win there, who knows how much longer the war would have continued?  After the victory in Hawaii, and with our navy disabled, the Japanese had plans to invade Alaska and the northeast coast of the United States.  Our win at Midway stopped those plans.  We should be eternally grateful to our brave service men and women who fought and died there.

The movie shows us Destroyers and Aircraft Carriers.  We meet pilots and support staff and follow them in one of the greatest air and sea battles of modern warfare.  It’s exciting and tragic, happy and sad, and informative.  I loved it!

The second movie we saw was Ford vs. Ferrari, a true story of how the Americans created a racing car that finally beat the always-winning Ferrari at the famous Le Mans race in France in 1966.  There’s a lot of corporate maneuvering just to get the car made, but the most exciting part of the movie is the 24-hour race.  Imagine: driving a race car over a twisting track at speeds over 200 miles per house for 24 hours.  Crazy!

We loved both movies and learned a lot.  Go see them while they’re still on the big screen.


The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 37

Veteran’s Day 2019

As a child of Finnish immigrants, I love all our Patriotic Holidays: July 4th, Veteran’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day and the rest. This country is soooo special to me, unlike any other place in the world.

Here in America, we can say what we want, befriend who we want, attend religious services or not, work and live where we want, and with whom we want.

Plus, we vote for our leaders and put our trust in them to govern wisely. Amazing!

My parents came to America in the middle of the Great Depression. There was no welfare or free food or medical care. They made their own way through hard work and perseverance. My father became a citizen early on because he had a college degree and knew English. During World War II, he was exempted from military service because he was performing an essential job: welding Liberty Ships in Baltimore Harbor. My mother said he worked double and triple shifts.

My mother was a farmer’s daughter and had only an 8th grade education, so obtaining her citizenship took a little more time. She was determined to do it and when we were living in Cecil County, Maryland, she took courses. I helped her study and finally when I was in 5th grade, she passed the exam.

I remember coming home from school and to find her crying and laughing and holding up the papers. “I’m an American!” she exclaimed over and over again with tears of joy in her eyes.

I had voice lesson early on and did a fair amount of singing at weddings, funerals, church services and the monthly gatherings of the Scandinavian Community by us. The best thing I ever did was sing the Star-Spangled Banner at the University of Maryland Women’s Gymnastics Meets when my daughter was on the team there. It was such an honor and doubly so because of my background.

So today, I praise and honor all of our military who keep us safe by serving here and around the world. They are the essence of our life and enable people like me and you to sleep safe at night.

God Bless Our Veterans! And God Bless the United States of America!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 36

I belong to a terrific writer’s group called “WRITER’S BLOC”. We meet every other week and it is both fun and inspirational.

For the first few minutes, we catch up on what we’re doing in our writing careers, then each member has an allotted time to read their work out loud to the group. Members are able to send their chapters, short stories, or whatever early so members can preview it before we meet.

Some of us write fantasy, others write mysteries, romances, historical fiction, whatever. I love to hear and read the rough drafts of my writer friends’ projects no matter what the genre.

Reading out loud is crucial. You hear flaws and inconsistencies; you hear the use of too many similar words. Reading out loud makes errors much more apparent.

Sometimes reading out loud amplifies that excellence of the words. Descriptions resonate. Today one of our members read a chapter that takes place in the Rocky Mountains. I’ve been out west several times and I could see and feel and smell the area. She did a great job and reading it out loud made it even more apparent.

Dialogue that is stilted or contrived becomes apparent when reading out loud. Would someone really say that? Would they use those long words, those endless adjectives? People use short answers or phrases.

Next time you’re writing dialogue, read it out loud. Take the man’s and the woman’s parts and pretend you’re on the stage or bus or walking in a garden or in bed. You’ll see what I mean in a minute. You want the reader to hear a real conversation or expletive or confession. Reading out loud will help you achieve that.

Also, you want to show the readers a scene, not tell them about it. Let’s say that it is a dark and stormy night. (pardon the cliché). You could describe the night like this:

The storm clouds gathered over the tiny building and the sky darkened. Soon rain started pouring down on the roof. Where was Matthew?

Or you could write:

Tracy was scared. The night got darker and darker and soon she heard rumbles overhead. The wind kicked up and rain pelted the window next to her with such force she thought the glass would break. A simultaneous blast of lightning and thunder shook the tiny house. Where was Matthew?

Which is more compelling? You need the reader to hear and feel and smell and see and use all his senses as he reads your story.

My advice? Join a writer’s group. If there is none nearby, create one. You don’t have to be professional published writers. Everyone has a story to tell and often the beginning writers have the best insights.

Meet regularly and critique each other’s work. Do it with honesty and love and you’ll achieve great things. If it wasn’t for the Writer’s Bloc and their comments and encouragement, I would not be a published author today.

Thanks, guys.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 35

The Other Arts are Important

Last week, my husband and I traveled to the Berkshires in Massachusetts for our annual visit. We have friends who summer up there and they invite us up each year.

Theater and music are always part of the scheme. As a writer, I deeply appreciate the arts. I have no skills in drawing, painting or sculpture, so I’m thrilled to visit art museums and galleries and the region abounds with them. The joke in our family is, “Show Mom a teacup and she’ll write a thousand words about it, but don’t ask her to draw it.”

The Berkshires are also filled with music. We usually go to one or two concerts at Tanglewood. The Boston Symphony Orchestra summers there and provides outdoor concerts all summer long, plus you can attend rehearsals and watch musicians as they prepare on oboes, flutes, trumpets, violins, drums, and dozens of musical instruments. We were privileged to attend both the practice and the formal concert of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

It was totally thrilling and a moment I’ll never forget. When the chorus at the end sang the final movement, it brought tears to my eyes.

We also saw a premiere of a comedy by Kathleen Clark called “What We May Be”. It was amusing, yet deep and made me think, which is what theater is all about.

There is nothing like a live performance. The actor, comedienne, singer, violinist or conductor is out there in front of you doing his thing, making you laugh, making you cry, bringing out emotions and feelings that you never realized you had.

Writers should make a point of attending live performances, whether it’s a country-western singer in your local bar or a symphony in a large amphitheater. These artists will inspire and amaze you.

If you’re a writer, you generally work alone, typing, correcting, re-reading, and editing until you have a finished product. A friend, family member or co-worker may proof your product. A book publisher will edit it and make changes, but all this is happening behind the scenes. You are not in front of a thousand people performing and hoping they like your work.

Attending and appreciating other art forms will inspire you and make you a better writer. Do it!

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 34

Poetry Makes Life and Writing Sing

I’ve been writing poems since I was six years old.  Growing up, as an only child on a rural Maryland farm, I read Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare and many others.  The worlds comforted me and helped interpret the world around me.

Poetry used to be more prevalent.  Good Housekeeping and many women’s and general interest magazines featured poems in each issue.  I often read the poems before the articles on child-rearing, cooking and decorating.

I have nearly 400 poems in my files.  I didn’t write them to be famous or to make tons of money.  I wrote my “word pictures” to record, explain and enjoy the world around me.

Children are a large part of my life (I have four daughters) and I wrote many poems about childbirth, toddlers, teens and the adventures of being a parent.  Over the years, I sent out a few and occasionally, I got an acceptance.

Recently I have been sending more of my poetry out into the world.  One publisher was impressed with my words and send me several suggestions for of literary magazines who would fit well with what I wrote.

I sent out my poems and within couple of days, had an acceptance from WestWard Quarterly.  Their summer issue just came out and my poem, “To Jessica” right there on page 15.  Jessica is my grandniece and I wrote it when she was born and I first saw her beautiful face.  She’s a young lady now, a college graduate, living on her own, but I preserved that feeling I had when she was brand new.

To Jessica

Baby, sweet baby,
nestling here sleeping,
I yearn to keep you
here in my arms.
Protect you, enfold you,
safe from all harm.

I will teach you to fly
with soft wings of love,
teach you to wonder
at stars far above,
whisk you to places
under the moon
where pale mists of eiderdown
dapple and swoon.

Where flowers grow trumpets
and fat kittens play,
scamp’ring near bushels
of soft golden hay.
Streaking along
past white clouds and whistles,
crystal clear raindrops
and pink fluffy thistles.

Near clean rushing streams
great trees gather moss,
as bluebells grow tall
and fair pixies toss
jingling white balls
of fine shiny silver.

Their bubbles of laughter
in soft summer air
will crowd ‘round you, sweet baby
protect you from care.

To my writer and non-writer friends.  Try writing some poems, they will relieve stress and bring you joy.  Don’t worry about form or spelling or punctuation.  No one else needs to see them, but they will heal your heart as you make up your own “word pictures”.

The Adventure of Writing a Book, Part 33

Growing Up Poor Can Help Your Writing

I grew up on a chicken farm five miles out of town at the end of dirt road in Cecil County, Maryland.  I was an only child. My parents were Finnish immigrants who had come to this country during the Great Depression.

We didn’t have much materially.  We had a cow, drank the milk and churned our own butter (I helped).  We had a big vegetable garden and fruit trees.  We ate out own fruits and vegetables and canned the extras for the winter months.  We had an outhouse until I was 12 years old and my father put an addition onto our tiny home with a real tub and shower.

Our friends were mostly from Scandinavia and we lived similar lives.  There was no TV when I cam home from school, there was work to be done, grading and packing eggs, cutting the grass with a push mower, painting chicken coops and outbuildings, picking apples, pulling weeds.

On Saturdays, I cleaned the house because my mother was too busy with farm chores, and it had better be done right!

Our friends lived similar lives.  They were mostly Scandinavian immigrants:  Swedes, Finns, Danes.  For amusement, my friends and I hiked in the woods, fished in the creeks, and swam in the Chesapeake Bay.

The adults had dinners at each other’s houses, simple food, homemade and delicious.  There were periodic Finnish Dances where an accordion player played waltzes and polkas and various folk dances. I watched my parents dance and laugh among the other couples swirling around.

Today, my humbles beginnings don’t seem humble anymore and they gave me a great understanding of different people.  You don’t have to live in big house to be happy.  You don’t need country club memberships, fancy cars and designer clothing.

Today, I write about many different people in my magazine articles and books.  I have empathy because of my upbringing.  I understand what it’s like to be poor and to count every penny.  I understand immigrants and language barriers, and the worth of hard work because you’re your own bottom line.

I know what it’s like to be teased because your parents have an accent and you wear hand-made dresses and have only one pair of shoes.

My advice?  Use your past experiences to flavor your writing.  And, enjoy the ride.  To this day, I get a thrill whenever I push the lever and hear the toilet flush!

The picture is be at the age of 15 with chicken coops in the background.  Love it!