Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prompt, First Line & Question

With Thanksgiving just around the bend, it is fitting to somehow connect our writing activities with the holiday. So here we go ...

Prompt -

Write about a turkey.  Could be the turkey bird, or someone you consider a turkey.  Have fun!

First line:

"Michel, quit hitting your sister with that turkey drumstick."

Question -

What happens with your writing when the holidays come on the scene?  Does your writing time suffer or do you continue on regardless of the holiday activities?

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I will be spending the day with my family and eating waaaaay too much.  And then I'll be eating waaaaay too many leftovers.  But I'll enjoy every moment.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Interview with Kristina Riggle

Today's author interview is with Kristina Riggle.

Kristina Riggle is a novelist and published short story writer from West Michigan. Her debut novel, REAL LIFE & LIARS, was a Great Lakes, Great Reads selection in 2009. Her latest novel THE LIFE YOU'VE IMAGINED was honored as an IndieNext Notable pick by independent booksellers. 
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you have been writing? 

I'm a recovering journalist and I've been writing as long as I can remember. I started writing fiction seriously with an eye to publication in 2003, and my first book deal was struck in February 2008. 

Do you have a regular writing schedule or place where you write? 

I do my most focused writing four mornings a week, always on my laptop, which is usually in my office, though if the weather is pleasant enough I move out to my deck.

Why did you decide to write your books? 

Any given book has a different motivation, but speaking generally, I write the kinds of books I like to read: stories of complicated personal dynamics with a big cast of colorful characters and a vivid setting.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while writing? 

Same as for any writer: making the time and keeping your back up straight when rejections beat you down. But I carried on so as not to waste all my previous efforts. If I'd have quit, what would it have mattered, all those earlier hours and struggle? 

What was most enjoyable about your writing process?   

Creating fascinating people, putting them through their paces, and watching what unfolds. I basically play Let's Pretend for a living. 

Have you ever received advice from another writer that influenced you or that you still remember? 

My good friend Eliza Graham (a very talented British writer) told me once not to reveal too much, too soon. Now when I'm ready to let the reader in on a secret, I usually make myself wait and it's always an improvement in pacing and tension.

What one piece of advice (or maybe two) would you give to other writers? 

It's a learn-by-doing business, so get writing and keep writing. Learn to take an honest critique without defensiveness. When you get knocked down, wallow for a day but get back up. I have this quote framed on my desk: "A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." Richard Bach.

What are the titles of your books and where can readers find them. 

REAL LIFE & LIARS and THE LIFE YOU'VE IMAGINED are available in bookstores and online. My next novel will be out in June 2011, called THINGS WE DIDN'T SAY. 

Thank you very much for this interview, Kris. Since I've already read your first two books, I'll be looking forward to reading your new book in June of next year.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Prompt, First Line & Question

Is anyone using these prompts and first lines?  Are the questions making you think?  It's lonely here in blog world.  Is anyone out there?

Without further ado:

Today's writing prompt:

You can go back in time.  Where, when and why?

First line:

The cat was peeking through the mail slot.


What do you do to get yourself out of writers block?


Monday, November 15, 2010

To Adverb or Not - a case for, mostly, and against, somewhat

Here is a guest post by my friend and writing group member, Lee.  She is a retired teacher so she knows a thing or two about those rascally adverbs. 

Adverbs are words that add to the meaning of verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. They answer the questions,  how? when? how much? and to what extent?
            The adverb in the sentence He played valiantly would be inappropriate in a sports news article but would be a useful setup for a sports columnist who would then explain the statement with factual back-up. The adverb in the sentence He played yesterday is probably necessary.  The adverb in the following sentence, He played football often in his spare time, lets the reader know that the game was important in the person’s life. 
            In her book Salt, Monique Truong describes the famous Paris apartment of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. She writes dense sentences enhanced by her use of adjectives and adverbs. 
            Paper-white narcissuses, one hundred bulbs in shallow pools, moistened pebbles, their roots exposed, clinging, pale anchors steadying the blooms as they angle toward the sun. The windows are never completely closed because the sweet, powdery scent would be unbearable. In those corners where sunlight is an unfulfilled promise, there are bowls of varying sizes holding hydrangea clusters, dried, the color of barely brewed tea. With no water to weigh them down, the blooms rattle against their china vessels whenever a draft sidles through the garret. The petals scraping lightly against the bone-enriched walls sing the song of a rainfall. I choose to remember these things only. The rest I will discard.
            An argument could be made for the necessity of each of the four adverbs used in this excerpt; although, they could be deleted and the sentences would still be readable. The last adverb needs no such argument.  The last two sentences and the word only  send the reader careening into the next paragraph.
            Don’t forget about conjunctive adverbs, words and phrases that can join two thoughts; such as, such as, for instance, and therefore. They need the help of a semicolon and a comma in order to have the power to join entire sentences.
            On the other hand, are adverbs overused? Definitely.  Certain words become trendy, then overused until they mean next to nothing. That’s why adverbs such as really, truly, and very should be avoided. One more instance of adverb use to be avoided is in the identifying part of dialog. “Shut the door!” she yelled loudly is an instance in which the adverb is unnecessary and redundant. 
            I would go on about adverbs, but I’m finding this topic to be not just boring but very boring; however, I hope that some of this information will be useful to you. Be sure to thoughtfully consider each adverb in your sentences--to adverb or not.

by Lee Bradley

Friday, November 12, 2010



With the birth of my daughter, I received the gift of seeing my child’s nakedness.  There was no shyness, no awkwardness, not even a thought this would change.
Nicole was only a day old when I removed her blanket, booties, diaper and t-shirt and saw her bare little body for the first time.  To say I was awestruck would be an understatement.  I stared at her round tummy, miniature fingers and toes, and a grotesque-looking belly button that had sustained her life for nine months, plus two extra weeks.

I ran my fingers along the curve of her neck, palmed the top of her head, and lifted each tiny foot.  I cradled her in my arms and placed her into her bath, testing the water temperature first with my elbow.   I placed my hand on her chest to comfort her as I wiped the pink terrycloth washcloth over this miracle of life.  Then I wrapped her in a yellow hooded towel and held her to my chest, inhaling the smell of her.

As she grew into her toddler years, her baths became adventures, not just a time to get clean.  And I continued to have the privilege of seeing her nakedness, sometimes as she ran through the house dripping wet and giggling, with me chasing after her with a fluffy towel.

At family picnics, she would go swimming with her cousins and all of them, the boys and the girls, would be bare from the waist up.  There was no shyness, just a child’s innocence and pure enjoyment of the water and other children to play with. 

The years went by and one day, as we were shopping for school clothes, Nicole wouldn’t permit me into the dressing room with her.  I sat on the stool outside the curtained area, tears filling my eyes, acknowledging that one of the gifts I had been given at her birth, she had taken away.  I felt the pangs of being shut out and although I understood the reasons for her shyness, I felt denied. 

I watched as her body began to change into adolescence, but saw it only through the cloak of shirts, jeans or dresses.  We went together to buy her first bra, an intimate passage between a mother and daughter.  She allowed me in the room when she tried it on, but kept her back towards me as I shared directions on how to put it on.

“Put it on backwards, hook it in front and then spin it around,” I said, longing to help her adjust the straps or make sure the fit was good.  She gave me the privilege of seeing it on her body, but only for a moment before she whipped her t-shirt over her head.  Not long enough for a mother to truly take in the beauty of her daughter’s changing shape.

And now she is this 24-year-old woman standing in my bathroom, arm reaching out of the shower to grab a towel.  The opaque glass of the shower door gives me a glimpse of the body that I protected for all these many years with care and joy, and for that, I am grateful.


I wrote today's post as part of the WOW-Women on Writing Blanket Tour for Not Just Spirited: A Mom's Sensational Journey with Sensory Processing Disorder by Chynna Laird. The book is a memoir of a mother fighting for a diagnosis when countless doctor's told her that her daughter was just "spirited". Chynna shares the heartbreaking reality of mothering a child with a severe "No touch" rule. She calls it "Mothering without touch." Although Not Just Spirited is the perfect match
for parents of children with SPD, the determination and victories shown in the book
will encourage anyone parenting a child with special needs or working to overcome an obstacle in their own life.

Chynna has also written a children's book, I'm Not Weird, and resource book about SPD, At-Home Strategies for Managing Sensory Processing Disorder: A Guide for Parents .

She is now working on another book White Elephants. When not writing, Chynna is a mom to her three young children and a student working on her BA in Psychology.

And now the exciting news, if you comment on today's post you'll be entered to win a copy of Not Just Spirited.

To read Chynna's post about parenting and a list of other blogs participating in Chynna's Blanket Tour visit The Muffin .  Chynna's website is

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Prompt, First Line & Question

How did you do with last week's prompt and first line?  Did it kick-start your writing or give you something to play with?

This week's prompt is something I heard on the radio the other day.  I don't remember who used it, but it has stuck with me so I'm sharing it with you.

Write about a button.

Crazy idea, eh?  Try it on.  Sit with it for awhile, or jump right in and start writing.  It may be surprising what will come from writing about a button.

First line:

"Nathaniel, stop biting the dog."


Monday's blog post talked about, what I consider, the dreaded adverb.  And if you read the post, you know that I don't like them ... hate is a strong word ... but, I would say that I hate them.

What about you?  When you are reading, is there anything that stops you?  Something that makes you crazy? An adverb, a misspelled word, a comma in the wrong place? 

This really intrigues me, so please share.


Monday, November 8, 2010

The Dreaded Adverb

"The road to hell is paved with adverbs."  ~Stephen King

Writers I work with are sick of hearing me repeat that quote over and over and over, but I love it.  And I hate adverbs. 

They can be lazy fill-in words that come easily(adverb) when writing.  The trick is in the editing, when the writer can go through the manuscript and get rid of as many of the adverbs as possible.  Deleting these little rascals will clean and tighten the writing. 

My three-step process for eliminating these sluggish words is as follows:

First, get rid of it.  Erase it.  Be gone, adverb.

Don't say "I probably didn't like it."  Either you did or you didn't.  "I didn't like it."

Second, replace it with something else. 

"She was beautifully dressed."  What does that mean?  "She wore a green beaded dress that shimmered in the spotlights."  Now I can see the dress.

Third, if you can't get rid or it or replace it with something else, then (big sigh) keep it.  That pains me to say.

When I am editing a manuscript, I circle all of the "ly" words.  Most writers are amazed by how many adverbs they are using and this is a good way for them to follow the three-step process and eliminate the adverbs. And since I find myself using the little critters, I circle mine during the editing process also.

So why not grab something you're working on and start circling the "ly" words. How many are there?  Does that surprise you?  Now grab your pen or computer keys and get rid of them.


Disclaimer - In the course of writing this blog, I explored the definition of adverbs.  Since I'm not much of a grammarian, a lot of it confused me.  Modifying and qualifying, it all starts sounding like a grammar gremlin after awhile.  I'm not discounting the importance of grammar, but I don't want it to get in the way of my first draft, either.  So, I haven't included the grammar definition and examples of adverbs in this blog.  If you want that info, just Google "adverb."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Applegate Interview

Today's author interview is with Jim and Marion Applegate. They are the authors of Symphony of Spirits and Listen for the Lark.

Jim and Marion Applegate earned their degrees in the Midwest from the University of Dubuque and Rockford College. After retiring in 1998 from a lifetime of teaching writing in public schools, they began a second career as authors, publishing their first novel, Symphony of Spirits, in 2005 and their second novel Listen for the Lark in 2007.

Born and raised in Watchung, New Jersey, they spent their formative years exploring the beauty and mystery of coastal beaches, inland forest, and mountainous regions where the rivers begin their journeys to the sea. Their memories of this territory before it became one of the most populated places in the United States provide the settings for both of their first two novels. The discovery of a heroic ancestor inspired them to begin writing these novels.

While raising their two children in the woodlands and prairies of northern Illinois along the Kinnikinnick Creek, they nourished their children’s love of the outdoors. Both graduate from Rockford College.

After retiring from a life of teaching, they began volunteering for the Natural Land Institute, an organization that preserves and protects the environment. Evidence of Native American villages still exists on some of the land they have helped restore. As chairperson for the Education Committee of the Natural Land Institute, Marion has, with Jim’s help, worked tirelessly to show children and adults the magic of prairies, forests and wetlands. They lead tours of the preserves, create educational activities for classroom teachers and their students, host public celebrations to promote the concept of saving our natural heritage, and donate funds to keep the organization alive.

Jim and Marion sell their novels at charity events and donate all the profit to the Rockford Rescue Mission, an organization that protects and helps homeless women and children.

They have three grandchildren, Julie twenty-four, Bennett twelve, and Aedan six. Julie, a graduate of Benedictine College in Lisle, IL, holds many sports honors, including being the first woman to play professional football, as a kicker, on the Chicago Cardinals indoor football team.

Jim, welcome to A Writing Passage

Can you tell us about yourself and how long you have been writing?

Jim:  I have always enjoyed story telling. I wrote my first novel, No More Pencils, in the 80’s but gave up trying to land a publisher while teaching full time. That novel is now morphing into Accidents Happen, the story of a man trapped in his own body with only the ability to hear and remember.

Our professional writing career began as a direct result of Peninsula Writers. After participating in one of the first writers’ camps at Glen Lake in 1987, Michigan, we came home and established Prairie Writers, a monthly writing group based on the New Jersey Writing Project. From there we joined the Woodstock Troubadours and now the Rockford Writers’ Guild.

Do you have a regular schedule or place where you write?

Writing group meetings have helped us keep a regular schedule because we have to have something to share at the read arounds. Since all the people in our small writing groups are working on novels they want to publish, each person brings a chapter or two to read at each meeting. People have often asked, “How can you write together?” I like to use an analogy to explain. I write the first draft. I think of it as creating a piece of unfinished furniture. Only half the work is done. Marion then joins in the finishing process. Revising and proof reading is a long and tedious process. We have spent a year on each novel preparing it for publication after the first draft was completed. Then each novel has taken between six and nine months of working with the galley proofs and the covers to complete.

Why did you decide to write your books?

Marion’s family history led us to research the Delaware Indians, who saved Penelope Van Princis’s life. Marion, her descendant, would not have been born if Penelope had not lived long enough to bear ten children after facing almost certain death the day she arrived on the beach of New Jersey in 1643. These few remaining facts about our heroine encouraged us to research the Seventh Century Dutch and the Indians of northeast America. Once we understood the environment, we could imagine how she survived and succeeded in building a remarkable life.

We wanted to tell a family story to show our children what their roots were. Penelope Van Princis was a survivor and one of the earliest Dutch settlers in America. Also, we wanted to thank the descendants of Lenni Lenape people for saving Marion’s ancestor by writing historical novels about them. Contrary to what many Europeans believed when they first came to America, the Delaware people placed a premium on family values over and above the importance of masculine prowess. These people fought only to protect their loved ones and were generous to strangers like Penelope.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while writing?

One of the biggest challenges we have faced was eliminating almost two hundred pages of flashback from Listen for the Lark and replacing the necessary details with back-story, a writing technique we learned from Robyn Ford at a Peninsula Writers’ camp. The original draft of Listen for the Lark was 690 pages long, 160,000 words. We reduced it to 396 pages. Here is what we did. We took a whole chapter showing their main character’s escape from a pack of wolves in the Netherlands and reduced it to a few details where she sees a group of renegade Indians running toward her husband on the beach and mistakes them for wolves, like those that stalked her when she was a child.

Facing two different writing groups with a limited understanding of point of view was another challenge. Even though I showed them how many bestselling novels today have multiple points of view, they refused to accept anything other than what they thought they had learned in college.

What was most enjoyable about your writing process?

Writing for us is an adventure. It’s like traveling to a distant land full of wonderful surprises. Once we are into the process, the troubles of the world are left behind or incorporated to show emotion. Writing is playing with words. We love to play with them to see and feel the effect on us and our readers.

Have you ever received advice from another writer that influenced you or that you still remember?

As members of Peninsula Writers of Michigan, the Troubadours Writers group of Woodstock, IL, and the Rockford, IL Writers Guild, we have been the fortunate recipients of encouragement and advice. Learning how to write back-story is something we will always remember.

What one piece of advice (or maybe two) would you give to your readers?

First, the one piece of advice we would give is to join a serious writing group with similar goals. For example, if you want to write poetry, join a group of poets. We like to write novels so we seek groups with similar interests. We left a group that only wrote impromptu pieces.

Second, we suggest that you spend whatever time it takes to find your own voice.

Thank you for this interview, Jim. Please share with my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book. 

Readers can order our books from us at for $19.00 including shipping.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Prompt, First Line & Question

I am loving this prompt and first line series.  When I'm trying to come up with a prompt, I can feel the writing wheels turning.  So without further ado:

Writing Prompt:

Write about a meal.  Where is it?  Who is there?  Is the food important?  Is there conversation or silence?  And when was this meal?

Right before I wrote the above prompt, I dripped ketchup on my keyboard.  Ideas sometimes literally jump right into my lap.

First line:

"You're kidding me, right?"


On Monday's post, I talked about writing groups and the importance of finding a good group.  I attended the Iowa summer writing festival for several years in a row.  I learned a lot and met some great writers.  But one year stands out to me because my group was horrible!  None of their comments were positive towards each other's writing, and their negative comments were personal toward the writer.  Some of the comments I remember are "this is terrible"  and "this person definitely cannot write."  After the first class I walked back to my room ready to quit writing.  The next day was no better and on the third day I asked the professor when we were going to talk about the positives in the writing.  He told me that if I wanted to be a writer I better get a thicker skin.

Wow!  At lunch that day I shared his comment with others at my table (none were in my class).  They were aghast and convinced me that this was terrible advice to give a new writer.  I was buoyed by their reassurances and the next day, surprise, the professor announced to the class that we were to focus on the positive aspects of the pieces.  But by then I was too afraid to open up and share my writing.  It was not a safe environment.  When I look back at this experience, I can see what a bad group looks and sounds like.

What about you?  Are you, or have you ever been, in a writing group?  What were your experiences, both good and bad?  And what do you look for in a group?

I'll be curious to hear your stories.