Wednesday, December 25, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

 We writers understand that we need to be able to put ourselves into the minds of our characters to tell their stories authentically. Those of us who write for children have to be able to think like a child.

At workshops with Joy Cowley and Rich Wallace, they led us through writing exercises designed to help us get in touch with that child we used to be.

But there is another sure-fire method that will transport me back to my childhood in an instant. Christmas music.

Just a few bars of  "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" or "Frosty The Snowman", and I am in nursery school, sitting cross-legged on the floor waiting for a visit from Santa Claus. "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" will also take me back to those early years. Did you ever hear the flip-side: "Are My Ears on Straight"?
Kathy with Santa (front row, far left)

"O Christmas Tree" puts me at Grandma’s house, hearing her sing the words in German ("O Tannenbaum").

The music of  "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" or "O Come All Ye Faithful" (in English or the Latin version: "Adeste Fidelis"), and I am surrounded by my grade-school friends, wearing my blue-jumper uniform with a crisp white blouse, standing around the Nativity scene in front of St Ignatius School.

Alvin and the Chipmunks’ "The Christmas Song" reminds me of my brothers playing all our Christmas records on the wrong speed to make them sound like chipmunks, too.

"Winter Wonderland" will land teen-age me in the front seat of a Pontiac Bonneville on a date with a boy who can’t believe I never heard that song before.

And "Silver Bells" might find me at any age (child or adult), with my sister Reene, laughing and singing its verses in our not-close-to-melodic voices. The song has made us think of one another for so many years that whichever of us hears it first each holiday season will call the other so we can “sing” it together. This year we were together the first time we heard it. A special moment of sisterly sharing.

Kathy, right, with her sister Reene.

There’s another song that runs through my mind every year, though I don’t ever hear it on the radio, and it isn’t on any of my CD’s. It was an old British rhyme that someone recorded in the 50’s, and my mother had the record. I still know most of the words.

     Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat.
     Won’t you please put a penny in the old man’s hat?
     If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do.
     If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you.

     Christmas is coming, lights are on the tree.
     Hang up your stocking for Santa Claus to see.
     If you haven’t got a stocking, a little sock will do.
     If you haven’t got a little sock, God bless you.

There’s another verse about singing carols. If you haven’t got a carol, a little song will do. If you haven’t got a little song, God bless you.

And now from me to you, no matter what you have or don’t have, no matter how you celebrate or don’t celebrate, no matter whether you believe in Him or not, God bless you!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Playing the Past

by Kim Van Sickler
Juniors at a Playing the Past badge event.

My daughter, Claire, is about an eyelash short of snagging her Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can earn. It's roughly equivalent to the Eagle Award in Boy Scouts, but having assisted my son in earning his Eagle and my daughter in earning her Gold, I will say it is harder to earn the Gold. However, most people have never heard of the Gold Award.

We could get into a discussion about why that is, but that's for another post.

Claire just turned in her final paperwork for her project, which was restoring a community building, built in 1896, that was originally used by a local Grange organization, otherwise known as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. As part of her project, she compiled a brief, reader-friendly fact sheet about the Maplegrove Grange and the building that used to be its meeting house. She also threw two community events: one was a Girl Scout badge-earning activity, the other an open house.

Her favorite part of the project was the badge workshop we held for Junior girls to earn the Playing the Past badge.

Girls had to attend, dressed as they might have looked in 1896. Some of us even came up with alter egos.
Girl Scouts dressed as our alter egos.

(From right to left) Claire was Samantha Johnson, a seamstress with a husband  in the Army. She helped sew Army uniforms as well as anything the town's residents needed mended.

Megan was Meg Winston, a single farm owner, ever since her dad passed away.

Carli was Cecil. Her parents were Italian immigrants. She helped her mother run the house, but dreamed of more for herself. She courted a man named Tim and was adamantly opposed to arranged marriages.

Nicole was Sarah Lee. Her father came from a long line of tailors. She grew up in Maine and lived in her beautiful family home until a year ago. It was then that she moved to Ohio with her soon-to-be husband, William James Tabin, a traveling salesman she met in Maine. For the last six months she has been working as a governess.

Nancy was Nora Nash, the local schoolteacher. Her parents were fruit farmers.

Tina (arrived after the picture was taken) helped Nora at the schoolhouse.

And the girls decided that I would be the local newspaper reporter.

It was an afternoon with a decidedly different feel to it. The girls baked Apple Brown Betty.
Preparing Apple Brown Betty.

They braided handkerchiefs out of strips of old fabric and made dolls out of yarn.
Making braided handkerchiefs and yarn dolls.

They played parlour games like "Button, Button" (The It person tries to figure out who is holding onto the button as the players continue to pass it around the circle behind their backs.)
Playing "Button, Button".
And all the while, songs like "Stars and Stripes Forever", "Yankee Doodle Dandy", and "Zacatecas March" played in the background.
This is the badge the Juniors earned.
It's fun to read about times gone by. We discovered it's also fun to try and re-enact them.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Tradition has always been a part of my life. My family had holiday traditions, vacation traditions, and even a lunch-with-my-siblings-every-week tradition.

One tradition which began even before I was born was the baptism dress. Ninety-seven years ago last summer, when my grandma was pregnant with her firstborn—my father, she made a baptism dress for the child she expected.

After my father was baptized in the dress, it was put away for his first sibling. Aunt Rita was the second baby baptized in that dress and a tradition was born. Dad ended up having eight younger siblings, and all of them were baptized in the dress. One of his cousins was also baptized in it.

That made a total of ten babies baptized in the family baptism dress. Until the next generation came along. Aunt Rita’s children, my brothers, Aunt Ruth’s first son, and then ME! I was the 18th baby to be baptized in the same dress my father wore.
Kathy in "the dress".

The list of my cousins and siblings grew and grew. After each baptism, Grandma’s instructions were to return the dress to her unwashed. She trusted only herself with the care of the garment that had carried a tradition through two generations of Cannons (41 babies). In the 1950’s, she re-enforced the dress’s yoke.

When I gave birth to my first child, my daughter became the second member of a third generation (Baby #43) to be baptized in the family dress worn by both my father and me. Grandma mailed me the dress with a letter telling me of its history and those instructions to return it unwashed.

When Grandma died, Aunt Rita took over the care of the dress. She also kept a list of every baby who wore it. The list grew longer and longer. My second daughter was baby #48, and my sons were #52 and #55.

My parents had seven children, and by the time we were having our own children, the dress seemed to spend much of its time in Cincinnati. At one point, when Rita sent me the dress for a Cincinnati family baptism, she included the list, written in her beautiful handwriting, and the washing instructions. “Don’t send it back,” she wrote. I had been made the new custodian of a valued—and fragile—family tradition.

I called for a vote at a family reunion about the future of the dress. Should we have it refurbished to keep it usable or put it away under glass? We were one vote shy of unanimous to keep using it.

When MY first grandchild was born, she became Baby #91 to wear the dress. It was recently refurbished again, and now in more than 97 years, it has been worn by 106 babies.

In a first for the dress, Babies #104 and #105 were baptized on the same day. Emma wore it for an 11:30AM baptism before the dress was handed off to her cousin Paige for an afternoon baptism in the same church.

I could tell you stories about the dress. There was the time a mail delay held it up and it didn’t arrive in time for the baptism. Or the time we felt fortunate that it was out of town for a baptism when we had a house fire. Or the time it appeared to be lost for several months before it was finally located.

But for now, I’ll just say I love traditions! And my big wonderful family, many of whom I still lunch with once a week. Because, after all, traditions are a part of my life.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dream Destination Blog-Hop

Lexa and Julie are celebrating the launch of their books Soul Cutter and The Ghosts of Aquinnah with this blog-hop
and 19 prizes to give away.
by Kim Van Sickler

Ever since I was a little girl I've dreamt of one particular destination over all others. Throughout the years it's been that prize that I was going to treat myself to when the time was right. I've always shied away from doing it before because I was waiting to grow up and celebrate something monumental.

Then I grew up, but as far as I could see, I hadn't done anything incredible enough to earn the dream vacation.

And then a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I decided it was finally time to do it. We've travelled to some pretty amazing places already, but why were we putting off my dream vacation any longer?

I mean, really! Wasn't it possible that if we wait much longer we'll never get there?

Spring 2015. That's when we plan to go. The only scary part is coordinating our trip with Mother Nature.

You see my dream trip is to bike along the canals and throughout the city and countryside of Amsterdam while the tulips are in bloom.

Pretty amazing, huh?

Where is your dream destination? Have you been there yet? If not, what are you waiting for?

If you haven't already, hop on over to Lexa's blog and Julie's blog for their generous prize giveaways!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Celebrating the Journey

by Kim Van Sickler

I'm thrilled to co-host Alex Cavanaugh's brainchild blogfest this month. There are far too many excellent blogs out there that I haven't seen yet, but I'm on my way!

During NaNoWriMo, while many of you were pounding out your 50,000 words, I wrote two short stories instead.

So I only wrote 6,800 words.

But as Lynda Young reminds us in her IWSG post of 12/2/13, completing those stories, and then submitting them to two contests, is still something to celebrate.

I went on a hike to celebrate getting my work done. (And then I celebrated finishing my 12-mile hike with some wine and pumpkin pie!)
During November we also had a major milestone to revel in here at Swagger Writers when Kathy Cannon Wiechman announced that her latest manuscript, Like a River, was accepted for publication by Calkins Creek! I do believe she's still celebrating!

Here's hoping that whatever writing journey you're on right now: whether it be cleaning up NaNoWriMo vomit, crafting short stories or poetry, or angling for an agent or publisher, that you are taking time to appreciate how far you've come. Commemorate reaching those milestones you set for yourself. And then brag to me about what you've accomplished in the comments below. I want to celebrate with you!

Alex wants us to remind you that the next IWSG post is 1/8/14 and that he's running a contest with awesome prizes this month, so hop on over here to enter.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


   by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

If you have followed this blog, you know that I have been writing since I was a child. I loved it then. I love it still.

In one recent post, called THE SPIDER, I talked about persistence and vowed to never give up. I have never been tempted to give up writing because I write for the love of it. However, I have often threatened to give up submitting my work. Rejection hurts!

I rarely mention how many years I have been submitting, because I feel it makes me sound like such a failure. Would someone say, “If she hasn’t been published in all that time, she must not be very good.”? Today I confess. Earlier this year I marked 39 years since I first submitted a novel manuscript to an editor. 39 years of submitting and 39 years of the pain of rejection. But I refused to give up. And after all, I love to write.

I received some consolation. A few of my poems were published, and I won prizes with some of my short stories. And many of you have read my blog posts and left encouraging comments. But a novel contract remained out of reach.

Until now!

Last week, Calkins Creek (American history imprint of Highlights/Boyds Mills Press) offered me a contract on Novel #11, titled LIKE A RIVER. It was worth the wait! A novel I wrote for young readers will finally be available to be read by them. It’s what I dreamed of for almost 40 years. I’m still pinching myself.

I’ll keep you posted here on LIKE A RIVER’s progress toward publication. I hope you all will read it when it launches.

But when I begin the next novel and the one after that, it will be for the love of it. After all, that’s the real reason I write.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

E-mail submissions

by Kim Van Sickler

So I've started floating e-mail submissions into Agentland again. And I feel like I'm wasting precious time reformatting my text.

It's not that it's all that time-consuming per submittal, but it's wasted time because I have to reformat for every submittal, so it adds up.

And it's tedious.

Does anyone else have issues with their e-mail wreaking havoc on the text you cut and paste into the e-mail body?

I use Gmail. Maybe that's the problem. But the problems are different depending on which computer I use. That really confuses me. When I cut and paste text into the body of my e-mail from my desktop, all of my italicized words return to normal type and I lose my double-spacing. Used to be I could eliminate formatting problems by sending from my laptop. But just recently, whenever I paste into Gmail on my laptop, I've encountered a new wrinkle. The text automatically switches to Very Large and I have to highlight and switch the text size, but the glitch has already wreaked havoc with my contact information in the upper left corner of my query letter, due to my phone number bleeding onto the next line. I have to play around with getting my contact information to line up again. I manipulate it until it looks how it should, except that I know I probably didn't get it right for the recipient. (I know because once I reformatted this way and sent the e-mail to me and my phone number was on the middle of the page.) I'm pretty sure that since nothing's changed in how I handle this bug that I haven't fixed my problem. What I see on my screen isn't really what's happened to my text.
Very large print on my laptop throws my phone number on to the next line, and my realigning attempts may not be working.

My desktop eliminates all of my double spacing and italics.
But I don't know what else to do to ensure it stays put. So I'm pretty sure I'm sending out unaligned query letters from my laptop.

How do I handle this dilemna? If I'm allowed to send sample pages as an attachment, I send from my desktop and re-italicize everything. If sample pages have to be stuck in the body of the e-mail I send from my laptop since that is the only way I can maintain my double-spacing, and hope the recipient doesn't notice the unaligned phone number in the query.

I don't know what else to do. Any suggestions?

Do you have any issues with your e-mail formatting?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ode to a slam poet and a folk-rock icon

by Rich Wallace

Had two opportunities this week to reflect on the power of words from genres I don’t happen to write in. At a coffee-house open mic that’s dominated by young folk singers and rockers, a slam poet stood up toward the end, walked to the front of the space, and went right into a lengthy spoken-word/rant about the decades-long decline of MTV. He followed it with a moving piece about his gruff old father-in-law.

A couple of nights later we drove down to the Berkshires for a show by iconic Canadian Gordon Lightfoot. Fifty years after his first songs were released, he’s still in fine form. He was among a small handful of singers whose lyrics I actually listened to (and tried to figure out) when I first started paying attention to the radio back in high school. I listened to lots of music with my friends, but most of it just washed over me in a flood of Led Zeppelin or the Velvet Underground. At home, listening to quieter stuff like Gordon Lightfoot or Harry Chapin forced me into introspection. I needed both things at that point – unconscious release and focused inward thinking. Guess which style had the bigger influence?
Gordon Lightfoot
I read very few books in high school, but I read the liner notes of many dozen album covers. Seeing words in print solidified them for me. Even after hearing songs like "If You Could Read My Mind" a hundred times on the radio, the internalization of a line like And if you read between the lines, you'll know that I'm just tryin' to understand wasn’t complete until I read it.

Some nights when I have trouble writing, I just go to YouTube and seek out songs I love but haven’t heard in a while. It invariably inspires me and gets me ready to write. I have no musical ability myself, but it’s funny that music, especially the lyrics, always helps me in writing prose.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Today's post is part of the

by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

One day last summer when I walked out to my front porch to water my flowers, I walked through a spider web—a sticky, cling-to-my-face spider web. I knocked down the entire web.

The next day, it was back. This time the sun caught on its threads and I saw it before I walked into it. Again, I knocked it down.

Day after day, it happened again. And day after day, I knocked it down. I knew to get rid of it once and for all, I had to catch the culprit. Yes, I know that spiders kill harmful insects. And yes, I read CHARLOTTE’S WEB. But this was no Charlotte, and I was getting annoyed.

I wound the web around a stick, spider and all, and relocated it away from my yard.

I no longer walk through a spider web to water my flowers (which have finished out their season now). I don’t know if the spider spins its webs in my neighbor’s yard. But that spider was a lesson in persistence for me. It kept spinning webs even though it had to spin a new one every day. It never gave up.

As a writer, I have to persist as well. After each rejection, I have to go over my work, fix what can be fixed and try again. Sometimes I have to start all over from the beginning. But I’m a writer. I keep spinning those stories and shaping those words. I’ll never give up.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Frights!

by Swagger Writers

It's Halloween week! Time to frighten ourselves silly. Add your favorites to our mix.

Rich Wallace...

My favorite scary story is definitely The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Perfect mix of humor and real fright.
The TV show Sleepy Hollow features lots of sinister Headless Horseman.

When I was little I loved to stay up really late and watch old Boris Karloff movies on TV with my oldest brother, Bobby. Dracula and Frankenstein were the best.

My favorite scary place is the Wyman Tavern right up the block from where we live in Keene, NH. It was built before the Revolutionary War and functioned as a tavern for several decades, then was in the hands of only two or three families for about 200 years. The Cheshire County Historical Society took it over and brought back all the original charms. We go to talks and other events there all the time, and a while back a staff member let us roam the basement and the attic. I set one of the creepy stories in Wicked Cruel in there. I don't know if the place is really haunted, but it should be.
The Wyman Tavern, Keene, NH
Wyman Tavern in Keen, NH

Graziella Pacini Buonanno...

[Who happens to live in Sleepy Hollow, NY.] I would have to say The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is my favorite scary story. I can see the bridge where the Headless Horseman lobbed a pumpkin at Ichabod Crane from my house. Every year Sleepy Hollow celebrates Halloween in style with festivals, parades, and horse-drawn hayrides through the cemetery. It's a marvelous time. 
The bridge doesn't look like this anymore, and this bridge is older, but the bridge where Washington Irving's Headless Horseman liked to frequent probably looked very similar to this.

Kathy Cannon Wiechman...

I'm not a fan of slasher movies or the gory movies that pass for horror movies. I like a good scary, suspense thriller like some of the old B&W (and well before my time) flicks like GASLIGHT. What I find the scariest are the ones that are close enough to reality for the this-could-happen-to-you factor to kick in.

But I love a good ghost story. My favorite in Rich Wallace's WICKED CRUEL book was the one about Chase Tavern and Charity's ghost. A favorite from a few decades back is STONE WORDS by Pam Conrad. It's a ghost story with time travel thrown in (two of my favorite genres together).

Spookiest place from my childhood was our basement after dark. Dad had a workshop off the main room at the foot of the stairs. He had put up a grillwork wall and gate to keep the kids out, and that made it resemble a jail or...a cage. Gave me all sorts of images of wild animals or monsters I might encounter there. You had to go into the dark, spooky workshop at least five or six feet to reach the pull-string light. If you went through the workshop to the room behind it (a former coal room under the front porch), you'd find the "fruit cellar," where Mom stored canned goods until needed. So if Mom said, "Hey, Kathy, run down to the fruit cellar and get me a can of peaches," I had to screw up a whole lot of courage to complete that task. And don't even make me recall the night the light in the workshop burned out.
Kathy's childhood basement scared the snot out of her.

Scariest music is still the music from JAWS.

 Melissa Kline...

Books: I just read World War Z, which was a great book! My favorite spooky books as a kid was the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series by Alvin Schwartz, which my son currently loves! He also enjoys the Goosebumps series for kids. 

TV/Movies: The Walking Dead is my most recently watched scary TV show. I also liked the movie World War Z, although I didn't think it was half as good as the book, (isn't that the way it usually goes?) :)

Places: When I was a teenager, I was brave enough to explore an old shut down insane asylum - I'd say that was one of the scariest places I've ever been to. Alcatraz is another place that left me spooked.

Music: The eerie sounds of Trent Reznor's instrumental music always has a spooky vibe that I love. I especially enjoy listening to The Social Network soundtrack and the Ghosts I-IV album when I am writing post-apocalyptic stories. It always gets me in the perfect mood for dark writing!

Kim Van Sickler...

I will never forget how horrified I was as a sophomore in high school at the turn of events in Lord of the Flies. That book kept me up nights. In honor of Halloween this year, I read two books: Rich Wallace's Wicked Cruel and Maureen Johnson's The Madness Underneath. I love the way Rich wove urban legends into the fabric of the ordinary lives of his middle-grade characters. He made the mystical and magical seem real. And Maureen has such a gift for creating characters with attitude. Even her ghosts.

The scariest Halloween music for me, by far, is the theme music for Halloween. I know it is what makes the movie Halloween I (forget those others, number one rules) so suspenseful. Every time I watch this movie, I'm STILL on the edge of my seat.
Jamie Lee Curtis fighting for her life again and again in Halloween I.
Favorite spooky show right now is American Horror Story. Honestly, this show is so scary and graphic, I can't believe it's on television.

A week ago, a bunch of older Girl Scouts went on a late night ghost hunt at The Willoughby Coal Company, erected on the site of an old tavern, and said by ghost hunters to be the most haunted spot in Willoughby. Our ghost hunter guides put on a good show with equipment that "picked up" disembodied human voices and flashlights that turned on and off. The old building oozed history, and I loved sitting on the third-floor listening to the wind rattling the windows, and seeing how transfixed the audience was. It was good, old-fashioned fun.
A popular haunted spot in Willoughby, OH.

What are some of your favorite spooky things?