Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Bug Ate My Work, Don't Let It Eat Yours

The other day I was happily typing away, making great progress on a side-story that I had been working on intermittently for months. In the midst of typing, the entire document suddenly turned into asterisks. Every single word magically poofed into an asterisk before my eyes! My story was completely destroyed within a millisecond.

I tried everything I could possibly think of to bring it back, but the document had already been auto-saved and my attempts were useless. Unfortunately, I had not saved this particular story on my trusty flash drive (which I normally do, but since it was a side-story, I didn't bother) and was not connected to my Apple Time Capsule, so all of my hard work is literally gone forever.

My world is crushed. :( I'd gotten way more attached to this side story than expected.

The program I was using is the 2011 Microsoft Word, which I chose to use because it is practical and efficient for my business as an author. Upon doing research, I found that the mysterious "asterisk attack" was a bug within the MS Word application. Supposedly, the bug has been fixed and can now be prevented with a simple software update. I am skeptical.

The good news is that I have found an awesome program called, Scrivener - a word processing program made specifically for writers by Apple. I may just have to give all of my stories a new home. :)

I am sharing this with you as a reminder to always back up and save your work in multiple formats, regardless of how big, small, or seemingly unimportant. Technology is wonderful, but it can seriously backfire on you.

Lesson of the day: Never forget to back up your work!!!

Here are 6 ways to protect your precious documents:

1. Frequently save to a flash drive

2. Print hard copies

3. E-mail document to self or someone trustworthy

4. Back up on an external hard drive, Time Capsule, etc.

5. Create multiple saved versions on your computer

6. Regularly update software

Have you ever had technology backfire on you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Melissa Kline

Monday, March 26, 2012

Craptastic Reads

By Juliet C. Bond

One significant drawback to becoming a better writer is the development of what I want to call a “writer’s palette.”  Like a diner’s palette, the seasoned writer can taste bad writing almost as soon as the first morsel meets his or her mouth. 

This totally blows for the reader within the writer.

This is also why so many writing instructors will tell you to read great writing while you are engrossed in the construction of a novel.

Bad writing will climb under your skin, crawl through your tendons and scar your bones.

Good writing will lift your artistic soul. 

But it will also betray you.

Last week, after a lengthy tousle with my library homepage, I successfully figured out how to download library loans to my Kindle. 

(That’s right, I said it.  KINDLE, paper-lovers!  I feel like a turncoat every time I flick the switch to “on” instead of cracking open a book but let me make my puny defense here…I love a good story.  And the thrill of carrying around 200 good stories with me feels a lot like when I bought my first home – a place to live forever – a place of contentment, companionship and soft pajamas with fuzzy socks.  That is how much I love my Kindle…I am so sorry.)

Anyway, the sad climax to this story is that every one of the five library books I chose were total farts-in-the-room.  I couldn’t fan the stench away fast enough.

I blame this on the last book I read, The Language of Flowers, by VanessaDiffenbaugh

            Fragrant flawlessness.

After a searing upbringing in a variety of abusive foster homes, the main character of this delectable read has become fiercely protective of her emotions.  Throughout the story, she struggles to trust and to forgive herself through the secret meanings behind flowers;

            Camelia = My Destiny is in your hands
            Ivy = Fidelity
            Purple Hyacinth = Please forgive me

When a young man who understands her private language pursues her, the feelings that are stirred up threaten her carefully constructed layers of safety.  In my favorite scene, the main character, under the unaccustomed attention of the young man, withdraws a leafy stem from her backpack and hands it to him with a glare.

Rhododendron = Beware

Days later, she arrives at the market and, in passing; he presses a green, spindly clipping into her hand.

Mistletoe = I surmount all obstacles

Soooo delicious!

And, to add to the perfection of this book, the author has set up an advocacy group for children adjusting after aging out of foster care called the Camellia Network.

I highly recommend this perfect book, but I do so with a big fat warning.  If you are any kind of writer, this book will make your next read a miserable soul-crushing, bitter experience.

As Francis Bacon said (and isn’t it appropriate that this last name was bacon), “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few are to be chewed and digested.”

Monday, March 19, 2012


Two years ago, as my birthday approached (one where the number of years makes my family plan a party to remind me I’m no spring chicken), I knew party ideas were being tossed about. I begged my family, “Please, no party. It’s not a birthday I want to celebrate.”

“But why?”

“Because I thought by the time I reached this age, I’d have a lot more to show for all my years of writing.” But there I was, with no published book, not even a contract for one. For me, the birthday would be a reminder of my failures.

My sister Pete (yes, Pete is my sister’s name) said, “But look at everything your writing has given you. You love it, and you’ve made a lot of friends through your writing.”

She was right, but at the time, all I could see was my lack of success. I’d been through revisions for a couple editors who liked my writing, but in the end, did not offer a contract. And my tunnel vision wasn’t ready to see the whole picture. I stuck to my guns. No party.
File:Birthday decoration.jpg
But last year I finally thought seriously about Pete’s words. I DO love writing. It’s as much a part of me as my crooked teeth and hammer toes. And I’ve critiqued a number of books that went on to be published.

And I thought about those friends:
-critique partners & critique group friends
-successful author friends (Kathy Erskine “liked” my facebook post yesterday!)
-editor friends and friends in the publishing business (One of them is now my husband’s fishing buddy.)
-friends who extend hospitality and the warmth of their homes to me & Jim when we’re away from ours
-the friend who asked my daughter to illustrate his book
-the friend who dedicated one of her books to me
-friends who have mentioned me in their acknowledgements
-friends who respect my writing ability enough to want me to teach them how I do what I do
-the friend who reaches out a financial hand when I’m scraping up funds for a workshop
-friends who come over to play Balderdash every Christmas (I met them in critique group.)
-the friend who made sure I got my muzzleloader question answered (see AUTHENTICITY post, 1/5/12)
-and the friend who showed up, muzzleloader in hand, to teach me how to use it
-the long-distance friend who believes in the art of letter writing & makes me eager for the mailman’s visit
-the friend who urged me to attend a writers' retreat with her in February
-and the new friends at that retreat who welcomed me as one of them
-the friends who shore me up when the rejections come, and encourage me to keep plugging away
-one of my dearest friends who I’ll have dinner with tomorrow (I met her in critique group.)
-And of course, the Swaggers, that close group, whose love & friendship reaches across miles.

This blog was the brainchild of Kim, who returned from an October walk and said, “We could do a blog.” Kim recently forwarded an e-mail from an old friend of mine who’d seen my name on the blog & wanted to get in touch again after more than 30 years. One more plus garnered through writer friends.
 Paperback book black gal.svg

Last year I reconsidered Pete’s words and asked myself, if I had the choice between a published book & the friends I’ve made through writing, which would I rather have? An easy decision. I’d choose the friends.
Of course, I still hope I can have both, but in the meantime, I’m a happy writer—and I’m ready for that party!

Kathy (far right, back row) with new friends at Carolyn Yoder's Highlight's retreat in February 2012

Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Under the Tuscan Sun--Graziella remembers: Carnevale

World War II had left much poverty and destruction, but it had not erased the natural beauty and the rich culture of the land. People were thankful and happy to be alive, and were eager to rebuild a new and better life.

Massarosa, a small agricultural town in Tuscany, was the center of my world. It boasted an active theater, talented painters, authors, and a famous songwriter.
I remember many celebrations. We had national holidays, with brass band concerts in the main piazza; wonderful winter holy days that lasted two weeks. There were the local feasts honoring the patron Saints with long processions. One of my favorite times was the crazy, month-long Carnevale (Mardi Gras), when young and old alike wore colorful home-made costumes, put on masks, and danced in barns, halls, or streets, during chilly February/March nights. 
In Viareggio, a sea resort eight kilometers away, every Sunday during Carnevale, there were huge parades along the promenade, with mechanized floats, carrying live musicians, dancers, and huge papier mache caricatures representing famous personalities from the world of sports, cinema, heads of states, etc. People came from many parts of Italy to watch and take part in the festivities. (It was not quite as wild as the one in VeniceNew Orleans, and Rio, but just as famous in Europe.)

When I was eight or nine years old, I finally convinced my mother to let me go to Viareggio, to see the Carnevale with my best friend Mariana and her family. I was so excited. I thoroughly loved the parade, the music, and the confetti, until in the midst of all the confusion and the huge crowd, I was temporarily separated from my company. I do not think I have ever been more frightened in my entire life.

Graziella Pacini Buonanno

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hang Gliding on a Dorito

My family loves to laugh. And when we find something that cracks all of us up, we go on and on about it like little kids. We impersonate the character in all types of situations. We become as versatile as Kristen Wiig on Saturday Night Live without nearly being as good.

Our latest craze: Marcel the Shell, co-created and performed by former SNL actress Jenny Slate. Our fifteen-year-old introduced him(?) to us. Marcel hooked us immediately. His voice. His deadpan delivery.  He's a memorable character that keeps resurfacing to make us chuckle. On our latest family road trip, hubby reverted to delivering his comments Marcel-style during our two five-hour car drives. Heck, we showed the You Tube video to my octogenarian parents and they came on board the Marcel train too. "How cute!" my mom said. My mom hasn't "gotten" any of her kids' humor for the past thirty years.

Marcel The Shell with Shoes on
Marcel posing with his dog (made out of lint.)

How about you? Do you think Marcel is adorable too? With a series of Marcel books, iPad and iPhone app, and16,686,731 hits on You Tube, my family must not be the only one who's fallen for that little shell.

Kim Van Sickler

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Revolution From Within

The year was 1994, and I was visiting my Mom for the summer.  Working in picturesque La Jolla, California, my office a stone’s throw from the crashing blue waves of the Pacific Ocean.  Perched at the edge of a cliff, curled up on a beach-towel, munching on a fat turkey and avocado sandwich, I spent my lunchtimes pouring over Gloria Steinem’s book, Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. 

(Me at twenty-four)
Back then, the term “self-esteem” was on the tongue of every clinical expert, new age theorist and Oprah enthusiast.  The irony, of course, was that while I was voraciously devouring the book, my fiancé was abroad messing around with some broad and my chiropractor was groping me in places that didn’t make a whole lot of sense considering that it was my back that hurt. 
Was I able to embrace Ms. Steinem’s pearls of wisdom, dump the chump and at least tell someone about the chiropractor? 
I was only twenty-four years old.  Insecure and afraid to attract any blame, I quietly stopped attending my appointments, flew back home to face my second year of graduate school and hoped my fiancé would beg my forgiveness.  He didn’t.
Thank goodness, because I would have absolved him.  And then I would have married him. 
Puke in my mouth.
Confucius says, “Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner and it is for you to find the other three.”  In the book Revolution from Within, Gloria Steinem gave me one corner. It took me the next (almost) twenty years to find two more.  I’m still looking for the fourth.
Because how does one take good advice and turn it into good personal choices?  I think it’s a matter of timing.  The receiver has to be ready and listening to get it.  Often, we are most open to wisdom when we’ve been beaten down in some way.  It’s then that we look for sense in the tangle and we’re quiet enough to consider what others have to share. 
A tragedy can beat us down but age does it too.  Our shoulders droop (along with other parts) and the confident bravado of youth is worn away by experience, after experience.  I’ve decided that age is nature’s tool to ensure that we all take in truths and lessons along the way. 

(Me and Gloria)
This month, I had the unbelievable pleasure of meeting Ms. Steinem.  Ms. Gloria Steinem!  And I’ll share with you a few corners I gained from listening to her in person:
·                         My favorite moment was when a student asked for her advice on some large, life-altering theme and Ms. Steinem answered, “Oh that one is easy!  My advice is, don’t take my advice or anyone else’s.  Trust yourself.”
·                         She said that, because women were largely left out of the history books, we are still uncovering the kinds of contributions that women have made throughout history.  One new thing she’d learned was that the suffragettes and the Native American women worked together on some issues and that Native American women shared their wisdom with our early women’s rights advocates, contributing to some of their hard-won successes. 
·                         She talked about our online culture, the good and the bad.  As an example of the good, she pointed out the recent outrage by American women at the Komen Foundation’s decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthoods and the quick decision Komen made not to go ahead with that plan (which would have deprived poor women of ultrasounds, prenatal care and breast exams.)  As an example of the bad, she said that one couldn’t incur sympathy online the way we do when we really spend time with another person.
·                         She said, because the phrase “self-esteem” has been so maligned, she now uses the term “self-authority.”
·                         She pointed out that Hollywood has spent more money on WWII movies than America ever spent on WWII and she believes this is because WWII was the last war that we could really feel confident we were right to have taken part in.
·                         On women in the media, she talked about the “Name it Change it” campaign as a way to combat the negative portrayal of women, especially women with political power. 
·                         She said that Hollywood differentiates between “chick flicks,” that have more focus on relationships than on special effects, and “prick flicks,” which focus more on car chases and body count – more on how people die than how they live.
·                         She reminded us that women are 80% of the purchasing power in this country and what we buy matters.  In fact, she said, “Behave as if everything you do matters.”
·                         And she left myself and my students with this empowering message, “You can change the way women are treated in the world.  You have dollar power, voting power and the power of example.”
Surely, Gloria Steinem is an unadulterated paradigm of example.  And maybe some of her lessons are the ones you need to hear right now.  For me, it was the first one that resonated best.  In the end, trusting myself is what I needed to have done in 1994.
What are some of the lessons or wisdom that you heard when you were young and then understood when you were older?

Monday, March 5, 2012

It's Enough

Sometimes it feels like I have no time. And though I think about writing constantly, I am not always writing. And it's not that I have writer's block. I have four projects that I could be actively working on. I try to keep thoughts in my journal. Sometimes I need to know that it's o.k. That what I am accomplishing in very small increments is enough. That's when I turn to this poem by David Whyte.


Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.
Until now.

-David Whyte, Where many rivers meet

Gina Gort

Thursday, March 1, 2012


I just got home from a five day trip to Australia... WOW!

Not WOW! I got to go to Australia, or WOW! long way for five days, but WOW! “I just got HOME.”

Twenty-three years ago I flew out to the States for a “Holiday,” a short little four and a half week holiday. I know what you’re thinking, just four and a half weeks to come all the way over here? I would have booked for longer, but I had stuff that needed doing back in Oz.

I remember clear as smog the first steps I took outside Tom Bradley International: noisy, warm, and bustling. Cliche, huh? But that's what it was: buses honking, taxis fighting for fares, cops blowing whistles, excited greeters hugging...crying...screaming, hawkers trying to take your luggage cart so they could return it for the fifty-cent refund.

Thirty-two hours in transit: from Perth, to Auckland, to Honolulu, and finally to LAX. I was tired, sore, smelly, and had a total lack of enthusiasm for the ride with my five-year-old nephew to Anaheim on a Grey Lines Hotel bus, but here I stood in the center island of suitcases with the kid pulled so close to me I could pass for a new Transformer.

There’s a smell about America, a smell I immediately identify with: gasoline. In Bahrain: sweat; Singapore: soy sauce; Seoul: prawn crackers; London: cut grass; Venice: swimming pools; Hong Kong: diesel fuel; Sydney: custard pies! It’s a sensory impact for me every time I walk out the sliding glass doors up that little ramp to the street level at Tom Bradley. Nowadays it’s a signal I’m home, but it used to be a signal that I was on holidays.

That trip twenty-three years ago with my five-year-old nephew was supposed to be a trip for just me and him, he was my best mate, the first-born child to any of my siblings. It was also a way for me not to end up in any trouble; I was, after all, responsible for the well-being of a child. However, I met a girl, immediately fell in love, and my life has never been the same since, but thats another story!

There’s two points to this story, the first being that every time I flew out of LAX back to Australia (and that's been many times) I felt like I was flying home, even on this last short trip. But for some reason when I landed last Friday morning and walked up the ramp to the parking lot bus, my nose filling with gasoline fumes, my eyes burning with smog, tired and badly in need of a shower, I felt like I was home. I became an American Citizen eight years ago, but Friday, for the first time, I became an American.

This piece of writing is pretty disjointed I know, but for me it’s the beginning of a journey. I have been a member of the Swaggers and participated fully when we first started, but I’ve been sick, not physically, but mentally. I’ve been dealing with depression and it hasn’t been fun. Those that know me, know me as a jovial funny bugga, who pretty much takes life as it comes and I typically don’t just make lemonade, I make LEMONADE! But this thing threw me a knuckle-ball. I could see it coming. I thought I could handle it. So I swung for the fences and struck out. Three weeks ago I said, "Bugger this!" and removed myself from the drugs I’d been prescribed. It wasn’t a great two weeks, but I think I’m back on a normal path now.

Kim sent me an e-mail a couple of days ago asking for a piece of writing if or when I felt up to it. I have pondered the e-mail she sent me for two days, and here’s the result. Like a very good friend of mine tells me constantly, “There’s only one way to be a writer. Ass in Chair, Words on Paper.” This may be a piece of disjointed, rambling words on paper, but it feels like a victory!
(Kim's note: No, that's not Jon. Not even close. His work-space is much more muse-inspiring.)
Jon Egan