Archive for July, 2009

Great Reference Books to Keep by your Desk

July 31, 2009

There are certain reference books I would grab quickly if my house was burning! Besides one very good dictionary, the following are my favorites on my bookshelves:
The Synonym Finder J. I. Rodale
Thesaurus of Alternatives to Worn-Out Words and Phrases by Robert Hartwell Fiske
The Persons, Places, and Things Spelling Dictionary by William C. Paxson (I STILL can’t spell the name of our California “governator” . . .)
The Time Life Series (found in most libraries . . . 1900-1910, 1910-1920, etc.)
Any Oxford Dictionary on various any theme is bound to be great.

If these books can’t be found any longer at your neighborhood independent bookstore, I know many of them can be purchased cheaply USED on Amazon or another used bookstore site. (I LOVE to recycle books, and my favorite place to frequent is any good used bookstore.)

What about YOU? What nonfiction helpful book do you frequently turn to during your writing work?

Memorable Books for You?

July 27, 2009

There’s a game on Facebook where you think of 15 books that have “stayed with you” for your life. Which books have had some special meaning for you?

Sometimes books play a part of nostalgia and bring back the wonderful memories of the time when we read them. With writers, these books often have taught us something valuable.

Which books have left an impression upon you?
Of course, it’s usually very difficult to limit it to only fifteen. Here are mine:
1. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. (Read the first sentence. I think it’s the best first sentence! Propels the entire novel forward.)
2. The Borrowers by Mary Norton (Nostalgia for me in my youth. A complete “little” world.)
3. A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz (Great pacing, good “bad” characters!)
4. A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck (Verbs, setting, humor, characters . . . what isn’t to like?)
5. The Moffats by Eleanor Estes (One of the series that I loved as a child)
6. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (Humorous character series)
7. Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles (Should have won the Newbery in my opinion)
8. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen (Poetic picture book)
9. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (Written by a teen that is AMAZING!)
10. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg (Characters AND plot. What more could anyone want?)
11. East of Eden by James Steinbeck (or just about any book by him)
12. Princess Bride by William Goldman (this is so funny I laugh every time)
13. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (obvious classic)
14. The Three Only Things by Robert Moss (for using dreams and creativity)
15. The Ghost Belonged to Me by Richard Peck (the entire series)

What are some of yours?

Writing Fiction

July 27, 2009

From Christine:

I start with people/characters I know, making word sketches. I consider settings with which I am familiar. Then I consider what I want to say about our world – my beliefs, my joys, my sorrows. Next I create a crisis that will reflect this theme, and this will be the hinge of the plotline. Everything before will lead to the crisis, and everything after will be the denouement, epilogue, resolution. With this general outline, I begin to pull my characters through the story, and as they grow the story will change and mature. All the while I’m honing in on detail and pace. And all the while I’m reading good writing, immersing myself in the best of fiction. Ah, such a joy!
Christine Sunderland

Using your dreams to power creativity

July 26, 2009

I’m sharing some information that came across my computer. One of my favorite books of all-time is The Three Only Things by Robert Moss. Now this master of using your dreams to help your creativity will be in the Bay Area. Take a look at his book. If it appeals to you, the event will also speak to your creative soul!

Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and the Imagination
With Robert Moss

At John F Kennedy University
100 Ellinwood Way, Pleasant Hill, CA,
August 14th, 2009, 7:30pm to 9:30pm

In this fun, high-energy program we’ll learn techniques for empowering and healing our lives, every day, through dreams, coincidence and imagination.
Dreaming, we have access to rich sources of healing and creativity. In our dreams, we are coached on how to handle challenges and opportunities that lie in the future; we become time travelers and communicate with spiritual teachers and allies.

Coincidence may be a signal from a deeper world, and a chance encounter may be an amazing opportunity. By monitoring the play of coincidence, we awaken to a hidden logic of events, and gain access to extraordinary counsel. Synchronicity opens paths we never noticed before, and draws new people and events towards us according to our passions and our willingness to go with the flow.

Through the practice of imagination, we can help to heal our bodies and move towards the manifestation of our heart’s desires. As Tagore said with a poet’s insight, “the stronger the imagination, the less imaginary the results.”
Fee: On-site tickets $15. JFKU students $8. Please make checks payable to “Robert Moss”.

Information: email:

Robert Moss is the creator of Active Dreaming, an original synthesis of shamanism and modern dreamwork and leads popular seminars all over the world as well as a lively online dream school. A former professor of ancient history and magazine editor, he is a best-selling novelist, journalist and independent scholar. His seven books on dreaming and imagination include Conscious Dreaming, Dreamgates, The Three “Only” Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination and The Secret History of Dreaming. His website is

Ideas from Beverly, Fatima and Joanne

July 25, 2009

This from Beverly: ” . . . I’m currently reading a book of essays, “This I Believe,” and am intrigued by the editors’ invitation to write on this topic and limit the essay to 500 words. This, of course, is similar to writing a story or article for a contest that is limited by topic, title, or lead sentence. Occasionally when I’m idea-dead, I find such an outside stimulus to be helpful.”

Fabulous idea! It is MUCH more difficult to write “tight” . . . only 500 words than it is to write as it “spews out.” This is one of the best exercises around. That would be a good goal for people. Write 500 words per topic. It SOUNDS easier than it is. But once you get the hang of it, it becomes easier and easier. And fun, too!

From Fatima:
“Thanks for the ideas! I had a really terrible accident. I ended up going to the hospital and getting stitches near my chin. Now I’m really excited to write a story about it.”

You bring up an excellent idea AND a great point. When episodes happen to writers, we always look at the bright side. We can get material out of it. And the more emotion or humor the better. (Hope you have recovered from your accident.)

From Joanne:

Ideas are like people. They come from many different places. Some have a life of their own, insistant, demanding their worth be recognized and allowed to develop. Others need TLC, hard work and constant reinforcement before they can bear close scrutiny.

I recently found myself staring into the main access shaft of the Empire Mine State Park (in California). The dimly lit tunnel with rails disappearing underground at an alarmingly steep angle of descent sparked an idea so fragile, I was almost afraid to consider it. This embyonic idea spent several weeks skulking around the recesses of my mind, barely acknowledged.

Only then, and much to my surprise, did an idea still too weak to survive on its own emerge – much like a new-born marsupial creeping into its mother’s pouch. I spent hours with a friend discussing possible plotlines, character traits, sources of tension and scenes.

Two months passed before I sat down at the computer to put ideas into words. I’m not one to map out an entire story before writing. Rather I feel as though I’m channeling my story, allowing it to surprise me as it twists and turns. Will this idea prove worthwhile? I can’t say. Not yet. But it came from a cool tunnel on a hot day in the motherlode.

It reminds me of what editor said about voice. “I know it when I see it.” That’s exactly like a good idea. You’ll get that tingle. If you write it down and it stays with you months later . . . THAT is a winner.

Thank you Beverly, Fatima, and Joanne for sharing YOUR idea sources! Liz

More on . . . Where do you get your ideas?

July 24, 2009

When authors speak to classrooms and other groups, the idea question is usually one of the first ones. It’s a good question, because as a beginner, I know I always had trouble deciding exactly what to write about.

I know one very talented writer who has a handful of great ideas, but in the many years I’ve known her, she has never been able to decide which one to work on. For fifteen years, NONE of her projects have ever been completed. Actually, they’ve never been started! She’s only read a bit of research here and there, taken a few notes. The rest of the time she’s spent pondering where she should spend her time.

Don’t let this be you!

How can you decide which project YOU should write?
1. Trust your instinct. Do you feel excited about it? Make sure you try it out awhile first. Is it your passion? Do you care about it? If it niggles at your mind and won’t let you go, this is a sign it’s a keeper.
2. Look to serendipity. Have you ever experienced coincidences with your ideas, research, or creativity that you just can’t explain? Sometimes I think the universe WANTS us to write certain projects. If everything is sliding nicely into place for you to write a story about X, then go for it!
3. If you are facing a few roadblocks but still want to write it, don’t worry. You can either keep going, or if your energy isn’t there now, put it aside and revisit the idea later.
4. Is the timing right for this idea? Do you have enough time for this particular story/book/project?
5. “I don’t have time to write.” Hey. We ALL are busy people. Just set aside a certain amount of time. Turn off the phone. Set a timer if that will help you. Write! It’s like exercise. The more you do it, the easier it is to do well and the more you do it, the less it seems like work. Pretty soon you’ll be writing more and more without realizing how fast the time flies by!

Where to get ideas:
1. Your passions. Make a list of your passions/interests. If you can’t think of them right away, don’t worry. Look around your room or your office. What kind of books are around you? Pictures? Decorations? This might tell you more about yourself. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t know themselves.
2. Current events. I’ve written a lot of humor and opinion columns based on what was happening in the news and in my community. Don’t ignore the old dinosaur called the newspaper. (ok – – or online news too, I suppose . . .)
3. Pay attention. Bits of dialogue around you might begin a story, provide conflict to one you already have, or spark another idea.
4. Nostalgia. Use your own life memories. Go through scrapbooks, diaries and photo albums to help your remember your life. Recreate as many sensory details as you can.
5. Writing exercise books are helpful. I use the exercises and apply them to specific scenes and characters in the novel I’m working on at the moment.
6. Pictures in magazines often inspire characters, settings, and themes for stories.
7. Open any book, dictionary or encyclopedia to a random page. There is a subject for you!
8. Join a writing group. They will suggest more ideas for you and will inspire you to keep writing!
9. Read, read, read! Read what you want to write. If I haven’t written fiction in awhile, it’s because I’ve been reading nonfiction. Once I go back to reading novels, then I’m inspired to write them. Make sense?
10. Keep paper with you all the time. Then you’ll never miss those ideas that hit you when you least expect it.

Secret Writing Tips from Published Authors Workshop

July 22, 2009

Writing Workshop for kids ages 12 – 18 FREE!
Secret Writing Tips from Published Authors Workshop
Wednesday, July 29 3 – 5 p.m.
Clayton Library.
6125 Clayton Rd, 925-673-0659

“How to make a good story better. Create suspenseful stories with fabulous characters in settings that make your readers feel like they’re really there.” Discover writing secrets from two professional children’s authors who love writing. You’ll get a chance to ask questions about the publishing world, write, meet other writers, “talk books,” and be inspired to write and publish your own works of prose. Seating is limited.

If you would like to join the members of this workshop, send an email to

Items for you to bring:
1. Lined paper to take notes and write.
2. A clipboard or sturdy notebook.
3. Pens and/or pencils – whichever you like to use.
4. Your questions about writing. (Or if you don’t have any, you may during the course of the class.)
5. Although we won’t have time to share a complete story with the group, you might want to bring a story you’re working on, because you may come up with ideas on how to improve it during the course of the discussion.

We look forward to seeing you on July 29 at 3 pm – 5 pm. Please be prompt.
Thank you!
Sarah and Liz

Great Poetry Site!

July 21, 2009

(Thanks Al!)

For the Kids in Room D-21

July 19, 2009

Thank you so much for your letters. I enjoyed visiting your classroom for the day, and I rate my experience a 10 too! All of your writing ideas are fabulous, and I hope that you are busy working on them now.

Mariah: Although I’ve never been a “real” librarian, my first job in high school was in a library. I loved it. I was a “page” and got to help patrons, file books, go down in the “dungeon” (basement!) of the 1800-something building to find old newspapers and magazines, and help the librarian with the card catalog. Most of all, I enjoyed finding the best books while I was shelving them.

Nicole: Yes, if you are writing about your cat, it would be great to include your dog too. Especially if the two interact. You can give them problems together or with each other. Conflict in stories always makes stories more suspenseful. Yes, you can e-mail me!

Have a great summer and keep reading and writing! Liz


July 19, 2009

Click here:
Watch and listen to the beginning of this video for the very unusual portrayal of a thunderstorm.

Exercise: Use your senses to describe a storm. YOU are in it.