Category Archives: Writing

Flying Across the United States Is A Great Time to Read

I could have watched movies if I had downloaded the United app on my computer or iPhone BEFORE the plane took off. I downloaded it before I boarded to go home, but I was already engaged with Winn-Dixie, and it was more trouble than it was worth to figure out how to use the free movie service.  Books are more accessible.

You  can read Because of Winn-Dixie by Katie DiCamillo in about an hour and a half. Mama Cormier suggested this book because she thought it sounded too similar to the one I am rewriting now. Di Camillo uses a simple style which includes repetition without being unbearable. I enjoyed Opal’s adventures, yet is well-suited to a ten-year old’s reading level. It reminded me of a picture book for younger children only the author used words instead of drawings.

Opal’s mother left her with her preacher-father when she was young. At age ten she and her father moved to a new community.  Opal’s new misfit-type friends made her feel welcome as she introduced them to her new dog found in the grocery store, Winn-Dixie. Opal, in turn, drew these strangers together into her new community, enriching their lives.  I wish I’d written this one!

Because of Winn-Dixie

I finally finished Writing the Breakout Novel by  Donald Maas. I do this every time I sit down to write – read about writing. It makes me indecisive because I start one thing, then hate it, and start over. My manuscript gets chewed up before it even gets halfway done.  Nonetheless, I think it improves some each time. At this point, I haven’t written a good word in a week, which is 1/4th of the time I have to write. I can’t blame that on Donald Maass. This might be a better book to read between writing exercises, rather than during NaNoWriMo. But DO read it.

Writing the Breakout Novel

Finally, Change of Life by Anne Stormont lapsed over into my regular schedule because my iPhone tells me it took five hours to read, and I started it just before we reached San Francisco.

I would have been happy to write this book also. With an enlarged family of characters and only a few outsiders Stormont manages to inflict everything horrible on the heroine that can possibly happen. She does things to that poor woman, that I just couldn’t bear to do in my Girls on Fire novel. She’s not very nice to her husband either. I cried a few tears with her, but I didn’t put the book down until the resolution. I think the worst secret, saved for the last pages might be little overplayed, for today’s reader, but for the time period in which it happened, not so much. Her husband kept the secret until 2009, and by that time, I didn’t think it should have had the painful impact on the heroine that the book seemed to imply that revealing the secret would cause.  I recommend this book, especially for women battling breast cancer. If I  am diagnosed with cancer, I’ll give this book to my husband!

Change of LifeThe other book I started to read, and closed quietly was The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. I thought this book would help me write a successful first page to my new novel, but it drug me all over the writing process.  It would take me an agonizing two hours and fourteen minutes to complete the remaining 81% of the book. Instead I opted to try to sleep my way to Philly with my seatback fully reclined at 89 degrees, every itchy inch of my dry skin making me want to crawl out of it, and shivering in the controlled airplane climate under layers of thermal and flannel wrapped in a down coat.  Sorry Noah.

Did Kids Really Have Problems Growing Up in the 1970s?

Thank you for responding to my NaNoWriMo title poll. Forty-three percent of you had another idea for a title. yeah!!! Debbie Simorte, a friend and fantastic editor you can find on FB, suggested that since the book is about Jenny more than Wynn (the found puppy), maybe she should be in the title as well. Mama Cormier suggested that the Wynn title and the synopsis makes the story sound too much like Because of Winn-Dixie, another girl rescues and loves doggie book. I checked out on Kindle. Chris from The Story Reading Ape suggested Wynn or Wynn Woods for a title.

Because of YOU the new titles I am considering as of today are Winning Jenny’s Smile or Wynn wins Jenny’s Smile, and maybe  Make Jenny Smile, Wynn.

You mean kids had problems like I do clear back in the 1970s?
You mean kids had problems like I do clear back in the 1970s?

Thank you for participating. Your thoughts help me think about the real purpose and goals of the book. Unfortunately they change as I go along. I’m working on a clearer outline tonight and tomorrow. I used to always write an outline when I wrote, and when I sit down to write a novel, I do just that. Sit down and start writing. What am I thinking????

When I revived my twenty-five-year old novel, I started with a series of great stories that I rewrote to take out the boring, and to go deeper.  I learned that all breakout novels have major personal problems and major national problems. I’m struggling to weave them into the descriptions of funny things that happen along the way, which are not as important as the major stakes, but take up more of my thoughts.

Writing the synopsis helped me solidify my boggy plot, but now I need to go back and make sure that the story moves right along and reconsider which stories help move it and how. I’m asking myself, “Are my problems contributing to the plot or just funny or interesting? What will happen if I don’t solve them?”

As it did during the last NaNoWriMo, my brain gets in the way of my writing. :)

If you didn’t get a chance to respond to the poll about your life and opinions in the 1970s here it is again.

Thanks again for all your comments.


Help Me Choose a Title for My NaNoWriMo 2015 Novel

Marsha & Kalev
This is me, not ten-year old Jenny, but I love dogs, especially rescued ones. None of Kalev’s toys provide incentive for trying on a new raincoat and hat.

Ten year-old Jenny Hatfield resents her dad for moving her family to the Southern end of the Willamette Valley to take a new job. She hasn’t lived in Pine Forest, Oregon three days before she detests it. Her friends and family live in Portland, Oregon. The kids in the rural logging town are mean. The dreary November weather overshadows her sunny spirit.

Ongoing family problems crescendo after the move. The love she craves the most, from her father, continues to elude her. Born with a double cleft lip, (yeah, that part is me – only.1% of the U.S. population would know what it’s like.) Jenny confirms her unspoken sense that her father’s disappointment in her imperfection drives his constant criticism of her. After spending her life trying to win his approval, she runs out of ideas.

Riding her bike home from school on windy Millwood Drive, Jenny saves an Airedale/Poodle puppy from certain death. She hopes her life in Pine Forest will take a turn for the better. Her neighbor, son of a logger, Todd Paul, happens along to help her. He seems like a promising friend until the class debate begins and Sandy Lassiter moves into their trailer park.

Always fighting for what seems right, Jenny finds herself scrambling to find someone in her class who wants to join her team in the class debate. When choosing sides, she never considered that anyone in the enlightened era of the 1970s would choose not to protect the environment. In the rural logging town of Pine Forest livelihoods hung in the balance over the national debate between protecting the endangered white spotted owl and the local economics of the logging industry. Emotions sparked flames she had not anticipated.


Not you , Kalev.
Not you , Kalev.

She finds love and acceptance where it is, and stops struggling to produce it where it is not.

So now the title problem remains. Catchy titles help sell books. Will the title A New Home For Wynn work? I brainstormed another, but what you think?

You can always reach me at, or like me on FB, Twitter or LinkedIn. I’m always listening for good vignettes and ideas to use in my  books. Write me your stories. :)

Where Were You in 1976? Whatever Were You Thinking?

I’m only one inconsequential person who lived through the 70s. Many of you were there, too going through some of the major events of the decade with me with the same or different experiences.

oregon trip 201320130914_1106231R

My new book, A New Home for Wynn,or at least that’s what it is now, is shaping up. My ten-year old heroine starts out on all the wrong feet at her new school in the southern Willamette Valley in a fictitious town named Pine Forest, OR just before the 1976 election.

oregon trip 201320130915_0044168R
This picture is located at the mouth of the Klamath River, where they wrestle still with a salmon issue battling it out water rights with the Central Valley of CA, where I live.

I chose this location because twenty-five years ago I wrote my first boring novel about this little girl (me, of course). I had recently moved from Cottage Grove, OR, so my heart still lived there even though I had moved on. On November 1st I resurrected the book that I wrote during summer vacation of one of my first years of teaching. At the time I wrote this I taught fourth grade. Elementary teachers teach writing like we know what we are talking about. The text-book tells us what to say and do,  and I taught writing to kids. As I judged kids essays and graded their journals, I sometimes (not often) wondered if I was legitimately qualified to do so. I wondered if I could stand the scrutiny of publication. Proudly I finished the book, and put it away. Overwhelmed by the edits I knew needed to follow, I decided not to push for publication, but I cherished the experience, and the work itself.

Twenty-five years later it's on it way to PA with me. And yes, it weighs a ton! :)
Twenty-five years later it’s on it way to PA with me. And yes, it weighs a ton! :)

I went on about life, but the book remained clipped to my wooden clipboard, its original floppy disks long gone. When NaNoWriMo came up this year, I decided to participate, in spite of the fact I am traveling twice during the month and will be out of commission along the way. I needed something I thought I could rewrite quickly.


And right, because I had the germ for my story, but not the details that will make the book a breakout novel. Yesterday I figured out how to interject the important issue that was part of my book from its inception, but was overshadowed by the girl’s (my) problems with her (my) father — and husband and any other male that  who happened across my path that and rubbed me the wrong way.

Hal, his granddaughter, Amy, and me sitting in Robert Morris' pew in Philadelphia.
Hal, his granddaughter, Amy, and me sitting in Robert Morris’ pew in Philadelphia.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate men! I had the most wonderful grandfather in the world, who looked something like my mother’s cousin Hal, pictured above. He adored me.  So he’s in there, too, you just wouldn’t recognize him as a grandfather because he’s 11 ish. I think Hal adores me too, but he just met me four years ago, but that’s another story I can tell you more about after I see him for the third time in my life tomorrow morning at 9:00 am PA time.

But here’s what’s missing – YOU!  I need opinions from all over the United States and beyond about what you were doing in the 1970s and what you thought about the Endangered Species Act of 1973. My heroine and her grandfather-type friend are assigned reports, debates and all kinds of assignments to involve them in the white spotted owl issues in Oregon at that time. By the way, those issues were not resolved at the time, but they were quite heated.

Palmer's white spotted owl
David A. Palmer, Easton

People all over the country at that time became involved citizens protecting the earth from industrious invaders. What were your experiences?

Click the express yourself link below and share your thoughts with me.  When the book comes out, (and it will – I guarantee it –  my word is my bond) if I use your name or quote you in any way I will send you a free copy as a thank you gift, unless you’d rather have a check for $1,000. You know I’m kidding don’t you? About the check, I mean. I’m hoping it will cost me thousands just mailing copies of the book because so many of you respond!  :)

Click here to express yourself. 

If you have longer stories, you can reach me at

Also like me on WP, FB, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I rarely check the others, but I do check those.

Books You Must Put Down and Movies That Transport You Out of This World

To be honest, if I’m reading fiction, I can’t put the good books down. If I’m reading non-fiction I have the opposite reaction. The better it is the sooner I put it down and start practicing what I just read.

Because I chose to take part in NaNoWriMo this month, I’ve read non-fiction, how to books to improve my fiction writing as I write.  Along with that I began blogging again, although not at the frantic daily pace I did three years ago when I started.

Writing the Breakout Novel

The first book I began, and hope I’ll finish is Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. If you write seriously, you’ve probably read it, but I’ve done other things. His writing style is professorial with honest suggestions, examples, and a summary at the end of each chapter, so you don’t forget the main points. The problem is that I get a few pages into each chapter and I go to my new novel, and begin revising – from the beginning.  I may never finish either my novel or the book.  The good news is that this book is making a difference in how I write fiction.

Every Writer Needs a Tribe

This morning I just downloaded a free non-fiction book, Every Writer Needs a Tribe, from Jeff Goins who I know from My 500 Words. One of my favorite writing friends, Tonia Hurst, invited me to this writing group on Facebook.  This book is very short, 42 pages, and talks about building a writing platform. As a blogger, I have a platform that is pretty scattered, and Goins advises against that, but as most of what I’ve posted on this site has been about blogging, I think you all should know about this book.

The two movies I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks I recommend that you not get up in the middle and walk out. Both of them are still showing, at least in Visalia, where we get a smattering of the current movies.

The Martian, unbelievable as a science fiction should be, enables you to suspend reality and live on Mars with the astronaut that gets left for dead when the rest of the crew takes off to avoid certain annihilation by a fierce Martian storm. (Whew, try saying that sentence without taking a breath.) The photography and Photoshop tricks used to make this movie are every bit as enjoyable as the plot and the acting, both of which helped capture this movie a 93% approval rating.

The Intern entertains entirely differently. If you love Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, you will already love the film. No man is as perfect and loveable as the senior intern played by De Niro, but every romantic wants to believe in him.  I saw this chick-flick with four other retired, successful, busier than working-women friends for our birthdays.  We all loved the movie. The Rotten Tomato website rates this movie as a 60%, but if you believe chivalry didn’t die with your grandparent’s generation, this movie is for you.

Those are my recommendations for you. What do you recommend for me to make it through NaNoWriMo?

Mapping Back to

Good morning everyone. This is your troubled WP friend, Marsha Lee, streaming thoughts, good and bad for everyone to see.

Streaming or screaming, Marsha? I can't tell.
Streaming or screaming, Marsha? I can’t tell.


I received an answer to my cry for help from the Jonathan S the Happiness Engineer from WP. It looks like with one simple click I am back in business on this site – now that I started a new one. I guess I am happy now.

Honey are we having fun?
Honey are we having fun?

I’ll keep this one going as my fun, social site, so I don’t lose my friends. Thank you Ute, Dianne Gray and Naomi for writing to me on my new site. You made my day!

What are your favorite social activities?
What are your favorite social activities?

The new site,, will be my professional writing site.

How to write and read millions of books in 10 minutes a day.
How to write and read hundreds millions of books in 10 minutes a day. is my site for local history.

Photo courtesy of Ellie Cain
Photo courtesy of Ellie Cain

How many websites have you started either accidentally or on purpose?  Have a great week!

Kind regards,

Marsha Lee :)

Lost in Cyberspace v. Private domain

Where am I?

I seem to have lost my domain name, My account says it is there, but the webpage is not available. So I switched the site back to until I can find myself out there somewhere.

Thank you all for your concern about my web presence. You are BFFs. :)

Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds

Rule of thirds challenges me unless I have a 9 grid overlaying the photo or viewfinder.  Since I’ve never seen a viewfinder like that, I confess that these shots became rule of thirds after the camera lens had long since left the scene.

A bird in the bush is worth two in the hand.
A bird in the bush is worth two in the hand. You wouldn’t want this bird in your hand at any price.

These shots look a little cloudy because dense fog covered the Woodlake Valley floor the day I took them.  I should have had my portrait done out-of-doors that day. This woodpecker may have had trouble finding his worm.  I prefer that he pecks at the ground instead of burying his acorns in my roof or pecking my siding.

Cross-Eyed Kitty hasn't lost the instince of hunting.
Cross-Eyed Kitty hasn’t lost the instinct of hunting.

Out to help me keep my yard bird-free, Cross-Eyed Kitty looks like a fierce hunter.  In reality, this beautiful old feral cat heard me, and came running so I could take him over to my house to eat from Mama and Scardy’s bowl.

Cross-Eyed Kitty poses.
Cross-Eyed Kitty poses.

We know he’s at least fourteen years old, but he may be a lot older. He looks great, but pick him up, and he’s all hair and bones.  He has the most beautiful blue eyes.

Rule of Thirds8

Cross-Eyed Kitty never acted feral.  As soon as he comes near, he rolls over for a rub.  I did not edit this photo as CEK took up exactly two-thirds of the picture if you don’t count his tail, which blends into the ground anyway.

peach blossom
peach blossom

Back home again after rescuing CEK from a hard hunting trip, I walked around the yard admiring the new blooms on the peach trees.  Woodlake Valley boasts hundreds, no thousands, of peach trees which grow in large orchards with military-perfect straight lines. Pink and white blossoms make this valley fit for a  spring festival. My husband’s sinuses do not agree.

Everything's peachy keen with TC History Gal.
Everything’s peachy keen with TC History Gal.

For more Rule of Thirds pictures click the WP icon.


Is Social Media the New Reader, Or Is It Just Laziness?

Don’t get me wrong, I love blogging and love my blogging friends. But I’m frustrated. When I’m busy, I spend my time on quickie social media and not my blog. I take a quick picture when I’m walking or driving, post it on Instagram, and maybe write a caption – BAM gone to all my social media accounts including WP. I don’t bother with my brand, floating like a misshapen cloud above the mountains, or edit, edit and re-edit only to find another error after I’ve posted!

Lazy blogging?
Lazy blogging?

Done.  It takes two hours for me – at a minimum –  to create a blog post – this small – that’s hard! (Granted I’m slow!)

I wish WP had a better way to share blogs, and here’s why.

Cat LoveIn Facebook I browse through the comments, pictures and memes sharing likes or a quick comment.  My wall is as cluttered as my work table, but I love it. If I want to find what you posted yesterday so I can copy it to my blog, I type your name in the search box, and bingo – your wall appears. I scroll through your stuff, take what I want, get to know you a little better, and I’m out.  I’ve joined some groups, become friends with some, and those comments show on my home page. I don’t have to click to find them. For those of us with slow internet, every click means wait, wait, wait.

Max Brooks will speak at the CCSS Conference on March 6th.
Max Brooks will speak at the CCSS Conference on March 6th.

Twitter is Facebook on speed. I meet colleagues, new contacts, and post news. It’s not impolite to follow others first. Many people follow me that I don’t know. I check them out briefly, and speed read through news. I don’t engage much more than a star unless its Rosy, Al or Ann, my blogging friends, or I’m working my California Council for the Social Studies accounts.

Author of Historical Thinking who changed the way we think about teaching history.
Author of Historical Thinking who changed the way we think about teaching history. He’s speaking at the CCSS Conference on March 6th, too.

On LinkedIn people have common professional interests. I like to endorse people I know, just to let them know I still think about them even when I don’t see them. I also post news. Like FB, it doesn’t take much time to browse. If I see something I want to read, I stop and read it.

I share what's in my inner storage shed.
I share what’s in my inner storage shed, but Photoshop out some details.

Blogging, however, is where I get to know people well. We are friends even when we’ve never met. But commenting on blogs is more difficult because I have to click on each blog, and sometimes they don’t load or take my comment. If it takes too long I don’t get it done.

Everyone looks better at the beach!  :)
More time to lay around.

So it is laziness, or do we need all types of social media? So please join me on FB if you consider me a friend @ TC History Gal Productions, or one of the other social media.

Winter in Woodlake Valley

The scenes as I walked along Millwood Drive took my breath away. Maybe if I stayed in shape… Eventually my husband  picked me up and we enjoyed the warm photoshoot together.

original picture

While our eastern friends bury under mountains of snow, in Woodlake Valley we welcome a few inches of water on the valley floor and many feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It rained this weekend, and in December, so while we get the most wonderful winter weather in the world, we wish for more precipitation so our wells won’t run dry. I took these pictures December 27th a day after it rained.  One rain yields instant green fields.

cropped picture in perfect obedience to the Rule of Thirds


The mountains glowed with the snow. Don’t you love snow from a distance? I experimented with composition, and used the trees to frame the picture, but couldn’t get a Rule of Thirds picture that I liked. I cropped it in Photoshop, and I’m still not sure which way I prefer so I’ll let you decide.

Old barn1

I love this old barn. However, beautiful winter weather doesn’t insure eternal life even for barns. I wish I knew an interesting story about it. Maybe someone who reads this post will have some insight that I don’t. Or maybe someone will make up a good story. As we came back from taking the shots of the netted trees which was my goal for the day,  my husband said, “I know the perfect place to take a picture.” We got to the barn, and he said “This is it.” What I had missed being so focused on using my zoom lens was that there was a path with no fence, and I could have walked up to the barn. How did I miss it? I’m so zoned in that I miss the obvious.

fruit tree in a bag2

As the road curves following the sandy bed of Cottonwood Creek, rows and rows of netted trees appear on the east. Slowly the daylight ghouls creep up on a lone kid-tree trapped in the center of the row as he tried to run away. They raise their arms and close in for the big take-down. He should have stayed in line.

in line

Netting provides protection for stone fruit trees from birds. The nets also prevent frost and insect damage. I don’t know how any fruit tree lives without its net. However, trees in most fields don’t have nets.

fruit tree in a bag

I shot this little tree with its see through gown, and thought it looked sexy. Vince disagreed and he thought eerie described it better.

cement buildingFrom a distance smoke seemed to pour out of the top of this building. On closer inspection with a zoom lens, the building grew a tree. Probably if I had climbed over the barbed wire and snuck up behind the structure, the tree would have pretended that it was no where close to that building all along. I staged this picture with these photogenic pieces of dead wood that had nothing more to do than lie there and look pretty.

I wonder if this is the building Bob Hengst built with friends to launch their rockets.


I’ll let you know.




How to Write a Synopsis for Your Next Big Project: A Synopsis

A fallen ego maniac, I had the idea that because I am so old and have written for so long that I must know how to do what I do every day – WRITE — and be pretty good at it.  hahaha Teachers think that, you know. In our defense, we have to or the kids would eat us alive. Frankly, we spend our whole careers learning to teach writing, so we should know something. But the truth is…

BOV 2013 Purple 5

After tackling one new writing project after another….

  1. First a blog, (I’m still learning new things every day.)
  2. I braved a NaNoWriMo novel.
  3. Carol convinced me to take a children’s story class, and I wrote several (almost ready) children’s picture book stories.
  4. Then a local history book for Arcadia Publishing Co.
  5. Now back to my novel.

SFW misc Benches 2

…I admit there are a few many things that  I don’t know. (duh!) Now I’m checking first with other experts to see what they say.  Writing a Synopsis is a link to a Writer’s Digest page – links to several articles about how to write a synopsis. Here is a synopsis of my favorite by Beth Anderson.

Does your writing meander?
Does your writing meander? Writing a synopsis ill help.

Seven  Sentence Synopsis

  1. Write a sentence that tells what your book or article is about, and names the major characters.
  2. Explain the beginning in one sentence.
  3. The third sentence tells the end of the book. Don’t pull any punches here. Spit it out. The boy gets the girl. The gorilla dies. The tooth fairy drops all the children’s teeth into magic water, and they change into dentures.
  4. Write a sentence about each major point of action in the story, and put those between step two and three.

That’s it. Step one, done.

Step Two – Write a One Page Synopsis

  1. Use your same opening sentence, then describe the beginning in a paragraph.
  2. Write two or three paragraphs describing the major points of action.
  3. Finish with a short paragraph about the end of the book.  Again, you don’t try to trick any readers here. A synopsis is to sell your book to a busy agent.

Step Three – Write a Three Page Synopsis

Add more action points and obstacles. Add secondary characters. Tell, don’t show!

Step Four – Write a Six Page Synopsis

Add more action points and obstacles. Add secondary characters. Make sure the road-blocks get more obstacally as the plot thickens. Characters never come out unscathed until the end of the book where they emerge scratched and smiling, prize in hand, and not a hair out-of-place.

Step Five – Write a Twelve Page Synopsis

By the time you add more obstacles and action points, your book is finished. All that remains is to add the dialogue and describe the setting. The best part is you know how it’s going to end.  Those pesky characters can’t sneak up on you and write their own script. Oops. They can?  Yep, these experts say they can, so watch out.  However, you have it pretty much in control.

No David's nose

How to Write Essays to a Prompt for Tests, Work, or School

Sample Prompt: Explain a complicated process that you can do well to someone who doesn’t know how to do it.

If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. Ernest Hemingway

Writing Is a Complicated Process                                         Do you struggle when you have to take a writing test, or write a report? As a teacher/consultant writing essays was my forté, yet writing to a prompt is a complicated task.  When I think about my professional life, I probably spent more time writing than almost any other single activity, either writing or grading essays for over 20 years.  Writing professionals have boiled essay writing down to a few steps which can be easily explained to someone who doesn’t write.  While most people THINK they know how to write if they can put words down on paper, they struggle to write even a simple five paragraph essay to answer a prompt.

Notice the blingy water.
Notice the blingy water.

Definition of an Essay

Commonly essays fall into four categories : expository, descriptive, narrative, and argumentative. Essays  convey information rather than tell a story, although they may use facts or short stories to persuade or convince readers to take action. An essay consists of three parts:  an opening paragraph, the body, and the conclusion.  Many teachers in our county use Step Up to Writing to teach this process to students and teachers alike.
  1. An opening paragraph restates the prompt stating three or more examples or facts.
  2. Body paragraphs expand on the three or four facts, one paragraph per main idea.
  3. The concluding paragraph points back to the opening paragraph and summarizes how the paragraph addressed the stated prompt.
PG and Pie
Ideas Matter: Brainstorm and Analyze  Before Writing 
Step Up to Writing  steps sound simple enough.  However, even though the process is simple, fuzzy ideas swim in the writer’s head and often come out jumbled.  Maybe the writer knows nothing about the prompt. Before I write anything I take a few minutes to ask myself questions about the prompt.  I usually jot down some notes in an informal list or outline.  If I can use the computer during the test or when writing for publication I search for a quotation and a definition or explanation of my topic. Most important: Make sure to answer the prompt.
  1. Analyze the prompt or break it into pieces.  Ask, “What DO I know about the prompt?  OR How can I relate it to something I know better and still answer the prompt?”
  2. Ask, “What can I write in a few paragraphs without repeating myself?”
  3. Consider, “Who is my audience?”
Research , Research, Research
Writing to a prompt is difficult for many reasons.  An author who does not know much about the topic may cut corners and merely copy the prompt word and repeat it multiple times throughout the essay. Unprofessional essays often start and end with the words, “Today I am going to write about (prompt words)”  This might be acceptable in first grade, but beyond that writers need to display more sophistication in their writing.
  1. Wikipedia is fine for quick bits of information partly because each entry has a bibliography which the writer can also check. It is good to have more sources than just Wikipedia. I use Google, but there are other ways of getting information quickly off the internet.
  2. Books and articles provide detailed information. Digitized books allow the writer to mark what he or she wants to remember and to sort out unnecessary information.
  3. If time is not an issue, articles and scanned documents can be processed into searchable PDF documents using inexpensive or free downloadable programs.
  4. When writers don’t have these options, note cards work well. I always note the title, author and page number, so I can go back and check my sketchy notes. I don’t take time to write detailed notes.
  5. Highlighting works well on printed material that the writer can keep.
  6. Post-it notes allow the writer to comment on materials and books he or she needs to return. Writers can color code these by book or article, topic, time period or any category they choose.
writing, blogging, book reviews, New_Office04
Weed Out All But the Most Important Information
Essayists can’t use it all.  According to the brain laboratory at UCLA, people have more than 70,000 thoughts per day. One short essay can’t utilize all these thoughts, so the first step is deciding which thoughts are keepers. When I write under pressure on a topic, use these techniques.
  1. Brainstorm on paper. Lists, webs, and tables all work well.
  2. Move to an outline. Find connections between the list of words. Sort them into categories. Writers may do this mentally, but it is more effective if they write it down. I use the old fashioned outline because it puts my thoughts into a hierarchy, most important first.Manny's Trip to Spain
Match Writing Style and Vocabulary to the Task
Prompt writing is a formal process.  Vocabulary, spelling, and style become issues.  My blogging style is informal, uses simple vocabulary and sentence structure, and I attempt humor. Formal writing style differs in several ways. 
  1. It uses a more academic lexicon or vocabulary.
  2. Sentence structure varies.
  3. The tone is generally, but not always, more serious.
  4. Each sentence starts with different words.  For example, after I have written this essay, I will go back over it and circle all the initial words.  If I have more than two or three of the same beginning word, I will change one of them.  I will look at how many of the same words I use within the sentence as well.  Word processing programs and the internet have dictionaries and a thesaurus at the writer’s fingertips, so there is no excuse for repeating the same word constantly. If the internet is not allowed during an essay, use the scratch paper to free-associate synonyms.
  5. Spelling is most difficult for me if the internet is not an option. When I can’t remember how to spell a word, I substitute a word I can spell.
  6. Punctuation errors show up, and even though there are differences about how to punctuate. Study Strunk and White before you take a test, or take it with you.
Ralph's remodel003
Keep the Conclusion Uncluttered
Students, test takers, or essayists who utilize these tips will have a passable essay for any project, exam, job application, or work-related report, and become an expert in writing to a prompt.
Related articles

Practicing Descriptive Writing Here – Brain Fog? – No, Real Fog!

It is not the clear-sighted who rule the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm fog.


If you can get away from it, fog is beautiful. This week Debbie Simorte, my Girls on Fire editor, asked me how the weather in Visalia could be sunny and foggy at the same time, like that was a Kansas City impossibility. When I drove to Los Angeles this weekend for a meeting, I had to drive almost to Tejon Pass before I found an example of what sunny fog looked like. Visalia had no sun that day, only fog. The freeway, I5 South, split the fog in half as it curled up for a nap against the mountains north of the Grapevine.


As I drove south, the light haze on east side of the freeway foretold of the clear skies awaiting me in Los Angeles. The beauty of the graduated fading fog enticed me off the freeway long enough to snap these pictures before I continued on my trip. I didn’t move much from one spot as I rotated from east to west to capture the entire scene for you.

My favorite feathering of fog

My favorite feathering of fog

Tinkerbell should be in this picture somewhere sprinkling magical fairy dust in the mountain canyons. It seemed unreal to me.

fog3 The arc of fog needed a rainbow marking its border, but none appeared. It remained stark white. Fog tried to bar the sun from entering the valley.  At about two in the afternoon the sun tried to burn a hole in the clouds as it had already done on the east side of the freeway. I couldn’t stay to see if it succeeded.



Not a dense fog
Not a dense fog

I stood behind the tree and tried to shoot up at the sun, but the effect didn’t please me.

foggy night
foggy night

I left the meeting at 4:29 PM the next day in a rush to get over the Grapevine while it was still light. Dropping into the Central Valley, the fog greeted me. It probably had never left. At at night fog no longer felt benign. I took this picture through my dirty windshield as I ripped through the fog approaching Bakersfield, I must have plowed the clouds away. On a closer inspection microdrops of dust on my windshield remained as a calling card of the fleeing mist. I look straight ahead. I could see clearly now. When I looked to my left, there it was. It hovered just off the freeway at a gas station ready to pounce on me again. Once Bakersfield’s lights no longer protected my car and me from the fog, the sky dropped puffs of translucent cotton air onto the road. My car became a vacuum cleaner sucking in white dust bunnies. The stronger the suction, the thicker the fog became. By the time I turned off the freeway onto a country road, I could see only three lines ahead of me. A car passed me going the other direction. I counted to six as I watched him in my rearview mirror, and poof, he was gone. Fog turned the roads I know so well into a strangers.

For those of you who have never experienced Valley fog, this is a taste of what the natives call “Tule fog.” How do you describe the fog in your area?

Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.


Social Mediadizing Social Media: Three Tricks That Didn’t Work – Exactly As Planned

I consider blogging social media. Yet we need to use social media for people to notice our social media. Today I experimented with social mediadizing my social media. I don’t know how it will go, but here’s what I did.


1. I edited my WP page about blogging and added a page, “Marketing Your Blog.”

2. I googled hashtags for Twitter because people told me to include # hashtags after the messages so that they go to more people. Google found several blogs that had already done the work of finding hashtags for authors, bloggers, photographers, editors… I cut and pasted some hashtags onto my new WP page and credited the blogs. Easy peasy.

hashtag tweeting3. Then I told my twitter world all about my new page on WordPress that will help me to market my blog using hashtags. At the end of the link to my tweet, I copied several of the recommended hashtags.  Hold on. I’m going to check my page views. Be right back… I’m back. (… means pause)

twiddle my thumbs

So far no one has noticed my new page, not one click, hashtag or no hashtag.  But my Twitter account buzzed all day. I got 2 new followers, 1 person retweeted a post, two people wrote their own description and referred their followers to my post, and 6 people liked it. That was pretty amazing to me.  Thank you Twitter friends. :)

While I’ve Twittered, I ignored my FB fan page, and I’ve lost one poor soul from my likes. Fell off my wall, like Humpty Dumpty and is probably lying in a broken gooey heap at the bottom of the internet somewhere dark and ignored.

Humpty Dumpty


Social media is like juggling. I get one media up in the air, and the others crash down on my head. It amazes me how many followers some of my Twitter-happy experts have. Into the K’s.

Really? Remember the 1960s ads that promised that you could make $5,000 from home without a high school education just by licking envelopes? I think I sent in a few envelopes when I was 10.



One tweeter published 200 more tweets than I did over the couple of years we’d both been tweeting, but listen to this – He had about 43K followers and I have 415. So I asked myself, am I tweeting too much? The less you tweet the better you feel, so don’t tweet yourself at every meal?

One self-proclaimed twitter expert said, “Tweet your posts two times a day because people might miss them otherwise.”

follow me


But If I do that I’ll end up with twice as many tweets as that 43K guy and have 418 followers, and he will tweet maybe two times and have 86K followers. (Not that I care, really, I think it is an interesting phenomenon.)

cat, pet, writing, blogging

This is pretty boring to most of you, but elementary teachers birdwalk.

writing description.
writing description.

Yesterday, when I wrote the description of the house that I thought I asked you to describe, I obsessed about the angle of the downward slope of the roof.  I drew it on a piece of paper, then I asked Vince to estimate it. Then I measured it with a protractor. He was right, 3 degrees.

Now does anyone honestly care that my fictitious character, Sarah Clay’s house in Girls on Fire has a roof that slopes from east to west by 3 degrees? I doubt it, but I probably spent 10 minutes trying to figure it out.

fingers crossed

By the way. it turned out that the way I posted my pictures yesterday some of you Ralph thought I needed a description of this girl with her fingers crossed. He came up with some creative descriptions.

Brandi Jo Newman, another person who stole Another Day’s picture and photoshopped her out of it. :(


Tell me what you did this weekend.  I hope you did something more useful yesterday than I did.

And how do you mediaize your social media?

Thanks for the pictures, Google.

Writing Description: What Are Your Tips?

Write posts on Word. Save posts often. Will I never learn? I deleted a picture from my blog post, and the entire post disappeared.

writing, fiction, Visalia, Sarah's house, Beverly Glen1

Vince sells real estate. Yesterday I rode to Visalia with him to take pictures of places in my book I couldn’t remember well enough to describe. I am not good at writing riveting descriptions. I get lost on the cracks or shadows in the road, and miss the important details. Or my mind focuses on an imaginary conversation between me and a real person, two imaginary people, or me and someone imaginary, who might be real, but would never talk like we do. This takes so much of my attention that I probably should never drive. Vince asks me if I remember going places. Sometimes I wasn’t with him, so I have a good excuse for not remembering, but just as likely, I sat right next to him having an internal conversation.

blogging, books, Visalia, Tulare County
blogging, books, Visalia, Tulare County

Since I struggle with descriptions I rely on others to help me. George Pilling wrote a great book, A Walk Around Visalia. He’s told me what trees grow where, which neighborhoods my characters would choose, and what’s around them. He had a gorgeous picture of the house I pictured for Sarah. Yesterday Vince and I found it in person.

writing description.
writing description.

I spent about 20 minutes writing a detailed description of this picture. I ignored the cracks in the road.  How would you describe the house picture?

fingers crossed

I promise I won’t copy… OK, not without your permission.

Why It’s a Good Reason to Delete “Shitty Drafts” and a Short List of Tips to Improve Them

writing, fiction
writing, fiction

The naughty words are from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  Anne didn’t write me and tell me to cut my drafts, “shitty” or otherwise. In fact, she gave me permission to write them.  My editor Debbie Simorte told me it was a good idea to delete them from my blog, for the same reason spammers give me.

“Your site is rife with errors.”

Rife with Errors

Excuse me, Ms Spammer, “rife with errors.” I have a few too many, I admit, but I think rife is harsh.

But Debbie agreed, even though she didn’t put it like that.  Editors look at your site. If they see a Work in Progress (WIP), see it even has an acronym, they wonder if the rest of the story will be a WIP.

Internet users
Internet statics users Worldwide



To the 10 faithful Girls on Fire world-wide readers, I apologise, but you’ve already read it anyway. So no apology needed, right? To the 3.05 billion internet users who hadn’t seen it yet, I’m sorry, but you will have to buy the book when it comes out.

Anne Lamott’s Stages of Drafts and Tips to Get Through Them

1. DOWNDRAFT:  First draft – get it down

  • Avoid so much draft three – dental work –  by setting your page the way publishers will want it – even if you are just practicing.
    • double space
    • indent paragraphs
    • use only one space between sentences instead of the old-fashioned two. The best way to do this is to turn on the little button ¶ that hides in various places depending on what program you use. This magic button shows you how many spaces you have everywhere.
  • Write out small numbers.  Just get in the habit while you are putting things down. It makes it easier later and it doesn’t slow down your spontaneity.
  • Sometimes in the middle of your editing you have to draft an entirely new chapter to fill in the holes. I did that today. Forgive yourself and with that chapter you are back to stage one.

    Down Draft - Ger 'er down!
    Down Draft – Ger ‘er down!

2. UPDRAFT:  Second draft – fix it up

  • Ask someone like you husband who never read a romance in his life to read it.  His insight will astound you.  You will learn how men think, and more importantly how he thinks. He will be really honest and say things like, “You can’t wrestle a washer full of water. Have her turn off the water like this. Come here.” Or “This sounds petty like she is making fun of the blind. Pick a different cause. Why did she say something stupid like that?”

    Editing - picky picky
    Editing – picky picky

3. DENTAL DRAFT: Third draft – check each tooth

  • This is a job for another pair of eyes. A very picky pair. This person finds errors that run between chapters like “Ted is 88 in chapter 2 and 89 in chapter 1.” Or  “Why did Vanessa move away from Sarah’s into a hotel.  I like her living with Sarah, but then you have to deal with her comments to Tani in Chapter 2.
  • This is where you also pick up the extra space between sentences, commas on the inside of quotation marks, and misplaced commas in general,
  • Eliminate passive verbs and redundant words

What I realized is that we  weave a net when we birth fiction characters, just like life.  When we edit one thing we may miss the other connections that one statement makes. You need those extra eyes.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for the pictures, Google.

Notes on Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – funniest book ever.  I can hardly get through this.  I’m 17% done.  I have written something since I was old enough to write.  No pressure to publish, just love to write.  Can’t help myself really.  It just flows out. Anne Lamott can tell you exactly what happens.

What should I write today? the autobiography of my childhood, or a book about the history of – oh say – women?


“You sit down to write… what you have in mind is…a history of-oh say- say women. …Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives.  … After a moment I may notice that I’m trying to decide whether or not I am too old for orthodontia, and whether right now would be a good time to make a few calls, and then I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer upper, and then my life would be totally great… Then I think about all the people I should have called back before I sat down to work and how I should probably at least check in with my agent and tell him this great idea I have and see if he thinks it’s a good idea, and see if he thinks I need orthodontia-if that is what he is actually thinking whenever we have lunch together…”

Maybe you will be better at finishing this book than I am so far.  As soon as I start reading, I have to write the same thing that happened to me only in a different way.

So I’m trying to get through at least one more chapter without stopping to write any more of her funniness.

HOWEVER, I’ve been on a writing roll since 12-27, but husband told me yesterday.  I thought he meant 12:27, but that’s another argument. (minor, minor one folks)

The other day after rewriting Girls on Fire for at least four hours, I took a break to take the dog outside.  The good news is that I had dressed.  Many days I don’t change out of pajamas until I know I have to go somewhere, and now I hate to leave the house for any reason.  But that day, I did throw on some jeans and a t-shirt I’d been wearing for a day or two.

Retirement MMP & K

My hair was still rumpled in a way only women with hot flashes understand.  The straight bangs that used to be thin and straight are now fluffy in all directions.  The back of my hair sticks out about an inch from my head then falls limply leaving a huge part the size of my  hand in the back.

bing car

So I walked out on the front porch and waited for the dog, who I’ve ignored all morning, and who drives up but the Bing car.  Maybe you’ve never seen the Bing car.  It’s white with a black sign on the side that says Bing.  On the top is a 5 or 6 foot pole, and on top of the pole is a camera(s).  The Bing car drives down your road at about 30 miles an hour shooting pictures from all angles from the camera(s) perched on top of the car.  The result will be pictures you can zoom down to see your street at any angle.  I’ve always worried that one of these cars will shoot through the fence in the backyard when I’m skinny dipping at midnight so no one will see me.  So far, until last week I’ve been safe, but last week the Bing car drove down my street.

Road Trip
Road Trip Yes, it took plenty of gas.  

I wouldn’t worry as much, but the picture that is up on Google has been there since we had our GMC motor home, which was about 6 years ago.  So I’m obsessing that this horrible series of shots of my bad hair day will be up there for everyone to see for the next 6-7 years. What if I become famous?  Will newspapers pick this up and publish it?

Now do you see why I’ve only read 17% of this wonderful book?  You’d better read it yourself instead of waiting for a book review from me.

How are you today?

Getting More Traffic: How Effective Are Scheduled Topics or Columns for a Blog?

This question stemmed from a conversation I had with Leanne Cole, a blogging friend from Australia.  We both scheduled posts and compared. Her audience grew and mine did not.  I wrote about it in August 2013, and that article drew a large audience. I thought I would repost it, but it rambled. Looking back over the history of my blog gives this post a different perspective.

blogging skills, non-fiction
blogging skills, non-fiction

Over a three-year period my statistics remained consistent when I posted regularly.  “How to” commentaries got the most traffic. However, when I experimented briefly with scheduling columns, the number of visitors dropped.   In spite of the brevity of the trial, there are lessons to learn from my failure to increase traffic.

  1. Weather – I blamed decreased traffic on the weather. Why not?
    • In Northern Hemisphere summers people have time off and are active outside and traveling.
    • In the winter and spring they are busy with holidays.
    • That just left the fall. I am a teacher. School starts in the fall. Teachers look for new ideas. My advice is to schedule topics in the fall.
  2. Consistency – Consistency means that week in and week out the scheduled column appears. Forget what you read in #1, and don’t blame the weather.
    • Realistically scheduled pieces extend beyond a season, and seasons differ with international audiences.
    • Historically newspapers set the journalistic standard when they featured columns each week. Readers came to expect a certain type of writing, humor, or information from a columnist. Click here for a world-wide list of columnists.
    • Consistent blogging about topics requires knowledge, research, and interest. Readers look for fresh information on a topic of interest.
  3. Topics – Topics must interest others as much as they do the writer to increase traffic.
    • Topics that work best stay within subgenres of the blog’s emphasis. In order for one writer to cover five topics credibly, they should relate their column to a theme: travel, photography, writing, book reviews.
    • Column titles need to hook readers yet be reliable and generic.  Post titles with a surprise element generate readers.  But with continuing material readers want to know what to expect such as “Dear Abby” or “The Rest of the Story.”
  4. Writing quality – Writers have one shot at building a lasting audience per reader.
    • Quality writing takes time for 99.9% of writers. Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird gave me courage to fail at writing, and rewriting. Writers need to count in failure time, and match the number of columns they write to the amount of available time they allot to the project.
    • Poor quality writing repels readers, creating long-lasting effects on a blogger’s statistics.
    • It is harder recapture a reader’s interest with the same weekly column if the first one they read was poor. Posts are more forgiving.
  5. Interaction with other blogs – This a necessary element for unknown bloggers, and most of us are unknown.
    • Blogging columns today have a different purpose than newspaper columns used to have because of the writer’s ability to interact with readers. It takes time to comment to readers who visit your blog. It takes more time to reciprocate and visit their blog and respond to their piece.
    • Writers who fail to connect with readers, will get few return visitors unless they are already famous.
    • Return visitors create the genre of blogging, and without them, why blog?

Laurie and Paula copy

My 2013 conclusions:

“The moral of this post is that I will get around to changing my schedule eventually, or rearranging it, but I’m going to keep on and try to lose a few more viewers for a little longer. Then I’m going on a real push to get serious about blogging, and bring my followers up to at least 5,000, and my total views per month to at least 20,000.

However, before I do that, I’ve got to get my best-selling book written and published, and have a showing of my photography at a famous California art gallery.  I’m also thinking about becoming a body-builder and I’m definitely going to start taking Yoga, so I can teach it until I’m 95 years old.

Gosh, I have so much to do before I retire for good.  I’d better get going.  First, I’m going out to lunch and shopping with Paula…”

Blogging is hard

My 2015 Conclusions:

  1. My experiment failed because I did not know enough about five different topics to write off the cuff about them every week. I was unrealistic and narcissistic to think I could do justice to multiple unrelated topics.
  2. My titles were not clear: “Sordid Stories.” The title had alliteration, but it portrayed a foggy idea. Sexy, Criminal, Gossip? My intentions were unclear. I tried to be funny, which did not work over the course of my experiment.
  3. Be happy with the successful goal of going to lunch with Paula, or change your tactics.

Thanks for the images, Google.

What are your conclusions?