Thursday, May 31, 2012

Versatile/Eclectic Blog Award

Irene Latham awarded Swagger and four other blogs her variation of the Versatile Blog award she received. She dubbed it the Eclectic Blog Award. She says "eclectic" seems more "artsy", like it's "getting to the source of things."

Here are her rules:

  •  Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy. 
  •  Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy.
  •  Next, select 5 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. 
  •  Nominate those 5 bloggers for the Eclectic Blogger Award — you might include a link to this site. 
  •  Finally, tell the person who nominated you 5 things about yourself. 
So thank you, Irene. We will play now. For our recently discovered or regularly followed eclectic blogs:

Juliet Bond picked The Debutante Ball. This six-year-old blog is run by a group of debut authors. A recent post by Molly Backes talks about the kinds of mementos she likes to keep, and how those things reveal a lot about her character.

Jon Egan and Kathy Cannon Wiechman both selected Rich Wallace's new family blog Active Happiness. It's a collaboration between Rich, his wife Sandra Neil Wallace, and his sister Lynda Wallace. It came into being after this threesome decided to publicly answer the questions they say they've been receiving for years about how they are all so happy despite: getting divorced, being a single parent or step-parent, losing loved ones, and leaving high profile jobs and living on less.

Regina Gort's eclectic blog pick is WIP because we are all works in progress. Rebecca Grabill is raising four kids and writing. She just finished her MBA at Hamline. Regina enjoys the motherhood stories she shares and the book reviews. She says Rebecca struggles just like the rest of us, but has a voice all her own. 

Kim Van Sickler was turned on to Gypsy Ink by editor friend Kate Kyle Johnsen who referred her to this awesome post. Blogger Leanna Tankersley is married to a Navy Seal. She's an author, mother, and workshop and retreat provider. She's very reflective, no matter what the topic, and that gives Kim lots to chew on. (The fact that Kim's married to a (now retired) Army Ranger makes her feel a special kinship to this fellow military wife.)

Rich Wallace nominates Letters of Note as his eclectic blog choice. This ambitious blog publishes historical postcards, letters, faxes, telegrams, and memos like the heart-felt letter author James Baldwin wrote to his 14-year-old nephew decrying the progress made against prejudice in 1963.

Melissa Kline champions Indiepreneur Power, a blog that bills itself as providing "positivity, inspiration and know-how aimed at empowering you to thrive in your unique, authentic, and  inspired livelihood." Recent blog post: How to Jump Off a Mountain!

To fulfill the last requirement, the Swaggers will reveal one interesting factoid about us:

Juliet Bond once danced naked in front of thousands of people in a college production of the musical "Hair".

Kathy Cannon Wiechman was once babysat by Rod Serling of "Twilight Zone" fame.

Jon Egan is alive today despite dying for more than five minutes when he was a teenager. 

Regina Gort collects vintage cookbooks. Her favorite is "The Husband Holder" and includes a recipe for meat cups.

Kim Van Sickler used to sing with the Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus.

Rich Wallace is the reigning New England 200-meter track and field champion for 50+-year-old athletes.

Melissa Kline is a miniaturist who uses her modeling skill to create tiny replicas of the people and settings she writes about.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Writers and Their Writing Spaces…Or Spaces of Writers…Or Spacey Writers…Oh, Never mind

by Juliet Bond

There are many reasons why novelists write – but they all have one thing in common: a need to create an alternative world.
John Fowles

Most writers try to carve out a space for themselves.  Virginia Woolf, for example, famously insisted that a woman needs money and a room of her own in order to create fiction.  Ms. Woolf hid herself in a nearby shed on the property of Monk’s House when she wanted to write.

Virginia Woolf’s writing shed

Like Woolf, some may prefer one specific room, desk or corner while others may be flexible or even mobile.  My favorite place to write is the living room in my in-law’s vacation house.  I begin at five AM, before everyone wakes up.  Then, if I’ve caught the muse, and the story comes hurtling forth, I carry a purse-sized notebook with me in the car, at restaurants, to parks – wherever my family is going – and I keep writing.  I write between meals, reading stories to my kids, taking a shower, teaching a class; this works for me. 

Jane Austin wrote amidst the chaos of family interaction too (er, not that I am comparing my writing prowess to Jane Austin, just my ideal setting.) 

Jane Austin’s writing desk at Chawton Cottage

One glance at that tiny chair and table and it’s easy to imagine a busy room of women, stitching, reading, laughing and plonking away at the piano.  For many, the distractions would have made it impossible to concentrate.

But I’ve never been very good at total solitude.

The Pulitzer Prize nominated writer Francine du Plessix Gray wrote, "The whole thing about writing is how to be able to withstand solitude."  For me, withstanding the solitude of writing is so much easier when not alone.

Still, every writer is unique.  D.H. Lawrence preferred to write while sitting under a tree.  Toni Morrison had to shell out cash for a hotel room to nurture her muse.  The venerable Audrey Niffenegger enjoys the white noise of a chocolate scented, local cafĂ©.  And rumor has it that Gertrude Stein felt most creative in her car while Ben Franklin composed best in the bathtub.

When I poled the Swagger group, most said that they prefer a messy desk, surrounded by the items that comfort or vex them:

·               A coffee cup, not cleaned for three days
·               Pictures of their children for inspiration
·               Poems, quotations or inspiring images on crumpled paper
·               The books that made them want to be writers in the first place (both comforting and infuriating because they are the tantalizing holiest of grails for each individual writer.)

Kathy Weichman’s writing desk

Other writers need a ritual to get them started, slipping out of bed, brewing a fresh pot of coffee and eating a banana maybe.

And some rely on a time of day.

Simone de Beavoir claimed she got bored if she didn’t begin working right away each day.  She then took a break for lunch and socializing, and would resume writing again at five pm.

The luckiest of writers had the money or resources available to create their own ideal spaces for writing.

George Bernard Shaw’s writing shed

Mark Twain’s writing structure

Linda Aldrich’s tree house

Roald Dahl’s writing shed

And then there are artists who celebrate creative spaces by creating art about creative space.  A 2008, New York Times article features a mural by visual artist Elena Climent depicting the rooms of some of the most famous writers including Edith Wharton, Zora Neal Hurston and Washington Irving.

And true literary junkies, (who have a few thousand dollars burning holes through their golden pockets), can essentially stalk their hero’s creative spaces.  One can take a trip to peer through the windows of Hemmingway’s Florida Spanish Colonial or cavort within the tiny rooms at Shakespeare’s childhood home.

If I had a ticket to England I would hijack my friend Barb and drag her to Greenway, a Georgian Mansion where Agatha Christie commissioned an architect to make sure she had, “…a big bath and a ledge because I like to eat apples.”

In the end I suppose it doesn’t matter where a writer writes as long as they are writing.  The place, as fantastic, messy, quiet or chaotic as it may be, isn’t the point.  Writing is about what is produced not where it was produced.  And where a writer writes is as unique to each writer as their own ache to create.  As Anne Lamott said,

We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little.

So write where you are, wherever that may be.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Come Fly Away

by Kim Van Sickler

The other night I attended a presentation of Twyla Tharp's Frank Sinatra-inspired fusion of modern dance, ballet, and jazz called Come Fly Away. Using twenty-seven of Frank Sinatra's signature songs, Tharp's choreography tells the story of four couples falling in and out of love from the toe-curling moments of a first kiss to the indifferent look of an ex dangling from someone else's arm.

I was inspired. If Twyla can take twenty-seven Frank Sinatra songs and tell a love story in movement, why can't I take one line from each of those songs and create a comprehensive love story in words? Here's what I came up with.

Here's the last toast of the evening, here's to those who still believe:

I've got a little story you ought to know:
Picture a little love nest,
when our love was new.
I'm your big and brave and handsome Romeo.

That sly come hither stare,
my lean baby, tall and thin.
Yes, you're lovely with your smile so warm.
Yes sir, that's my baby now.

Ain't gonna miss a thing, I'm gonna have my fling.
I want to run and play hide-and-seek.

Did you say I've got a lot to learn?
I'm as awkward as a camel.

Yet you're my favorite work of art.

The cigarettes you light one after another.

There may be trouble ahead;
you might refuse to stay.

A little voice keeps talking to me from way down deep inside.
Why be afraid of it?

You are all I long for.
These vagabond shoes are longing to stay.
I'll gladly surrender myself to you body and soul.

I pick myself up and get back in the race.

I'm gonna make a brand new start of it,
until you're in my arms once more.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Blogging about blogging

by Rich Wallace

It took e-mail quite a while to win me over. What was the big deal? My preference was always to type a letter (or better yet, hand-write one in a dark room by candlelight), drop it in the mailbox, and in ten or twenty days, if you’re lucky, you might get a response.

And instant messaging? That was for the young jet-setters! Not me.

When my sons went away to college, I found instant messaging was the best possible way to keep in touch on a near-daily basis. (A couple of days ago my sister, Lynda, gently told me that no one says “instant messaging” anymore. It’s “texting.”)

And I didn’t used to think blogging would amount to anything much. Now I blog in four places, read lots of other people’s blogs, and find it both an interesting and creative thing to do.

I blog on my own website (which is being totally overhauled and will be geared primarily to the kids who read my books); on Goodreads (where I have at least two readers who remind me when I’ve been remiss and haven’t posted anything for a few weeks); here, where I share the forum with several great people, most of whom post a lot more frequently than I do; and starting last week, on a site called Active Happiness (, which I helped create with my sister, Lynda, and my wife, Sandra. We each blog there, we do a (usually) hilarious three-way conversational blog, and we offer lots of other stuff about the science and realities of being happy and staying that way. I hope you’ll visit us there.

The immediacy of blogging and social media took a little getting used to for me, and in recent weeks it has distracted me from the fiction writing that is my bread and butter. I do nearly all of my writing at the computer, but my best ideas have always come while walking by the beach or in the woods, jotting down scattered notes on an index card. The world is moving quickly. It won’t stop to let me off, but I do find myself longing for an oasis. I know my next novel won’t get under way until I find the time to do that.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

If you’ve read several of my blog posts, you know a little about me. Perhaps you know that I’m a history buff, I’m no good at writing nonfiction, and I cry easily. You might know how old I was when I fell in love with writing and what eighth grade sports team I didn’t get on and why. Maybe you know that I’ve done many critiques or that I belong to two critique groups. You probably know that I met the Swaggers at Highlights Foundations workshops, & that I’m a huge fan of those workshops.

If you clicked on my name at the top of the blog, you likely know that I’m one of seven siblings, and perhaps you’ve seen mentions of a couple of them in blog posts (Pete on 3/19/12 and “Mikey” on 12/10/11).

If you read my WHERE I AM FROM poem, you know my parents’ names and what they did for a living.

But could you write a book about me? Not likely. Could you write one from my point of view? Of course not.

To do that, you’d have to know how I feel about things. You’d have to know my strengths and weaknesses. You’d have to know where I was raised, how I was raised, and how that helped to make me the way I am. You’d have to know who my best friend is. (Clue: I’m married to him.) You’d have to know that I usually wear seven rings, and that each one has a story behind it. You’d have to know my hobbies and what is nearly always in my pocket.

Yet, I have done critiques for writers who knew nearly nothing about their main characters’ backgrounds. They plunked them onto Page One without giving them a past. I have asked, “How old is he?” and been told “About eight or nine.” About? Really?

Writers are usually taught to ask: What does the character want more than anything else? And what is she willing to do to get it? These questions are a good way to begin, but they only scratch the surface.

If your character is stubborn and determined, is it in her genes? If so, you’d have to know about her parents. Or perhaps something in her past may have caused her to be that way? What was it? If you don’t know, you’d better find out before you type Chapter One at the top of the page.

When I begin a new story (short story or novel), I have a list of questions I ask about my main character before I start. To tell the story, I need to be inside the protagonist’s head. I have to live inside her skin. I can’t do that without answering those questions.

I also ask questions about other characters that will be in the story. Getting all these answers beforehand helps me to write the story. I often find the characters I create will help me. If I try to make them do something that is out of character for them, they stop me.

Even though I make up a full, rich past for my characters, I don’t put all that information into the story. I have to decide what’s important to move the story along and what isn’t. But I still need to know these things. If I want a story to have heart, then my characters have to seem like real people to the reader. Before I can do that, they have to be real to ME!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The journey of Suzanne Collins

by Kim Van Sickler

As many people did, I inhaled the Hunger Games series. I deemed author Suzanne Collins to be ridiculously brilliant. I put her on a pedestal and aspired to someday being half as good a writer as her.

And then in April 2012, I drove my daughter and her friend on an obnoxiously long car trip (2,780 miles in one week) and decided to make the most of that dead time by listening to Collins' earlier series, "The Underland Chronicles." They are five books about an eleven-year old Overlander (regular human) boy who turns twelve before the series is complete. In Book One he crawls through an air duct in his NYC apartment building to retrieve his two-year-old sister, and finds himself transported on an extraordinary air current to the Underland.

Listening to Gregor's exploits in Gregor the Overlander, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, and Gregor and the Code of Claw, I came to see Suzanne Collins in an entirely different way. I felt like a proud mother watching her child grow up.

The series is good. But it's not brilliant. In so many places I see Suzanne grappling with story arc, pacing, and conflict. Character development of all but a few characters is sketchy. In this series, she spends most of her time wowing us with her gigantic Underworld creatures: fliers (bats), crawlers (cockroaches), gnawers (rats), nibbles (mice), spinners (spiders), cutters (ants), shiners (fireflies), stingers (scorpions), diggers (star-nosed moles), hissers (lizards) and  killers, (humans who are so pale as to be translucent, with silver hair and violet eyes.) Totally appropriate for a middle grade audience, but still, lacking the polish of her later works.

She cut her teeth on this series. She did not spring fully formed into a New York Times best seller and recipient of about twenty-four other prestigious book awards. Rather, she slogged her way through 1,757 pages, developing her trademark style. I got excited whenever I saw a glimpse of the Suzanne Collins to come.

Gregor, her reluctant hero, is endearing because he becomes the caretaker of his two-year-old sister, Boots, while busily trying to fulfill prophecies in the Underland. In Book Two: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, when he is charged with killing the Bane, who turns out to be a baby rat, Gregor struggles to decide what to do. A hero with a big heart. Traces of Katniss.

In Book Three: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Gregor and company travel to The Jungle and the Vineyard of the Eyes where carnivorous plants, sentient plants with eyes, lure them into traps they must band together to fight their way out of. Not so different from the bizarre forces of nature in the Arena.

Solovet is the female commander of the human Underlanders, someone who takes her job so seriously that she crosses some very clear ethical lines. Foreshadowing of President Snow.

Ripred is a battle-scarred rat with a heart buried somewhere underneath all the cynicism. He's a master manipulator and reminds me of Haymitch.

Suzanne Collins didn't get where she was with sheer talent. She practiced her craft and honed it admirably in the Underland Chronicles series. It appears that for most of us, even Suzanne Collins, we must put in the time before we reap the rewards. We've got to keep slogging away.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Fairies in the Garden

One of my favorite places to write is in my own backyard. I am constantly inspired by the colors, smells and sounds of nature. Now that spring has sprung, there are so many new wonders to behold! While frolicking in my garden, I snapped photos of various flowers with a little fairy spirit. I've added quotes for further inspiration and fun. Enjoy! :)

If you see the magic in a fairy tale, you can face the future.
~Danielle Steele 

Buttercups in the sunshine look like little cups of gold.
Perhaps the faeries come to drink the raindrops that they hold.
~Elizabeth Dillingham - "A Faery Song"

I'll seek a four-leaved shamrock in all thy fairy dells, and if I find the charmed leaves, oh, how I'll weave my spells! ~Samuel Lover

The woods are full of fairies! The trees are alive. The river overflows with them. See how they dip and dive! What funny little fellows! What dainty little dears! They dance and leap, and prance and peep, and utter fairy cheers! ~Unknown

Garden fairies come at dawn, bless the flowers, then they're gone ~Unknown 

Each fairy breath of summer, as it blows with loveliness, inspires the blushing rose. ~Unknown 

Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale. ~Hans Christian Anderson


~Melissa Kline

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Has the weather where you live been unusual this past year, maybe even bizarre? My husband recently showed me a magazine article about “The Year Weather Went Wild.” And it certainly has been a wild weather year here in Cincinnati, with record-blasting rainfall for 2011 and several days worth of record high temperatures for March, 2012, as well as three March hailstorms.

But the magazine article was in a “vintage” magazine—and the year was 1977, a year of blizzards, rainstorms, drought, heat waves, and crazy temperature swings. Wild weather is not new.
1977 edition of National Geographic with an article entitled, "The Year the Weather Went Wild."

I remember Cincinnati’s record low temperatures in January, 1977, records that still stand, and that we had a record 82 days straight where the temperature didn’t go above freezing. But I had forgotten about the other worldwide weather incidents the magazine mentioned.

It’s easy to forget things that caught our attention when they occurred, but have since been eclipsed by more recent happenings. Maybe that’s why I’m so fascinated by history, and why I write historical fiction.

We often read about people whose lives have been preserved because they were famous or infamous. Others passed down their stories. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote books about her life and John Ransom kept a diary. But what about those millions of people, whose histories were not preserved—average people who lived everyday lives touched by what happened around them, stories that have faded with the memories of their descendants?

 By writing historical fiction, I can tell their stories. How can I do that without having known these people? That’s where the fiction part comes in. I research a time, a place, an event, the type of people who lived then, and the kinds of things they did. I research real people, and give my imagination freedom to create others who could have lived at the time and what might have happened to them. I often weave in oral family histories from my family or others, and add what I need to flesh out the people and the story.

 Digging into the past usually leads me to a treasure trove of incidents. If I tell people about one of them and they say, “I didn’t know that,” that’s a story I want to tell. Discovering history can shed a light on the past, illuminate the present, and make a brighter future.

Kathy Cannon Wiechman