Archive for September, 2012

Writing Humor

September 26, 2012

 The author A. J. Jacobs wrote The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World  as he read the entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica.  What’s unusual about this book is the reader gets a look into the factual world with Jacobs’  offbeat sense of humor, as he intermingles it with quirky facts he has learned.    

Wouldn’t it have been great if he could have written those encyclopedias when we were doing our homework?   

Example:  “Elisha Gray filed papers with the patent office on February 14, 1876 for his telephone device – – just a couple of hours after Alexander Graham Bell filed his.  Gray really should have rearranged his schedule:  first, the patent application, then the grocery store.”

How often do you read an article or book and smile or laugh?  Ask yourself, what exactly did the writer do?  How can I try this same technique?  Practice, practice, practice!  And don’t miss Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically:  One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible and Drop Dead Healthy:  One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection.  

He’s covered intellect, body, and soul.  What’s next, A.J. Jacobs?

Writing Prompts

  1. Tell something to your reader and then hit them with an amusing observation or compare what said to something within your own life or culture that is universal and relatable. 
  2. Read humor.  Use the author as a model and write in that style choosing a subject which is your passion. 
  3. Read EVERYTHING you write out loud, as humor depends upon rhythm and pacing. 


Teen Writing Group

September 23, 2012

Break out your pens again! We’re having another teen writing group, and we would love for you to join us.

Writing can be a solitary pursuit… but it doesn’t have to be! Want to meet other enthusiastic teen writers? Come to a teen writing group at the Lafayette Library! We’ll chat, share ideas and experiences about our writing, and — of course — write alongside each other with prompts. We aim to create a fun, welcoming teen community of writers that encourages and supports its members.

This is an open and free group (8th-12th grade preferred). Just bring paper, your favorite writing tool, and enthusiasm! 🙂

Saturday, September 29th
1:30-3:00 PM
In the Willow Room 
(behind the information desk)
Lafayette Library 
3491 Mount Diablo Boulevard
Lafayette, CA 94549

Please reply to if you can make our next meeting. We hope you can join us. If you have any teen writer friends who may be interested in our group, please forward them this announcement. We’re always looking to expand our group!

Workshops to Learn Writing

September 20, 2012

One wanna-be writer asked me why I was attending a poetry workshop if I had no intention of ever becoming a poet.    Writers of all genres have many skills they can impart.

Apply their techniques to your own paragraph/scene/chapter/project.  Ask them probing craft questions.  When you have a thoughtful problem within your own work,  make it into a universal question in which the others in the workshop can benefit from the answer. 

In the case of the author above, I did my own research by typing David Corbett onto Amazon. He received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, not easy to accomplish. 

Are there any spare minutes in the workshop for extra questions? It looks like his books are a master of suspense, so although his workshop focuses on character and plot, I’d ask him a question on his suspense technique, because EVERY book, nonfiction or fiction, requires this important element. 

What do you need to know about plot and character?  How can you be enriched by another author’s take on it?  His advice?  If you are fortunate to be in an area where an author is speaking or teaching, take the opportunity to listen, learn, and write. 

Do you feel like your writing isn’t fresh and unique 100% of the time?   We all feel this way.  Do something about it.  Learn from other authors.

Got Plot? Need Character?

September 20, 2012
Author David Corbett
Deconstructing Chinatown
Master Class in Character and Plot
            October 6, 2012, 9 a.m. to 12 noon             
$50 in advance and $60 on the day of the workshop
Includes continental breakfast
                 Upstairs at the First Street Café                        
Critically acclaimed author David Corbett will lead a writing workshop on October 6, 2012, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Benicia, California, Upstairs at the First Street Café. David notes, “Almost everything you need to know about writing a great story can be learned from wisely analyzing the classic, entertaining film Chinatown — which students will come to recognize as a modern update of Oedipus the King by Sophocles.” David will lead the class in a group analysis of the story to explore such techniques as:
–Understanding how character determines plot.
–Orchestrating the opposition from an offstage opponent.
–Employing “four-corner conflict” to create moral complexity.
–Developing a symbol system to underscore your thematic concerns.
–Using subtext in dialog.
For more information, contact Carolyn Plath at or visit our website at To register by mail, send $50 and your contact information to Benicia Literary Arts, c/o Marc Ethier, the Benicia Herald, 820 First Street, Benicia, CA 94510. Read more about the author at

Chocolate Suspect

September 13, 2012

Today I walked into a candy story to buy a gift and faced a group of employees huddled around their counter.

“Welcome!” said one clerk, rushing over to me with a candy tray.  “Care for a sample?”  She burbled with excess energy.   In contrast, the others seemed grim, frozen in place.

“Thank you,” I said. 

She shoved the tray in front of me.  “Your choice – – choose two!” 

This woman overdosed on cheer and friendliness this morning.  It didn’t feel real.  Why was she working so hard?  Getting an employee evaluation?

As I made my selections and chose my gifts, she prattled on, asking me questions about my life and candy preferences. 

Was this a new corporate policy here?   Best friends buy more?

Making my way to the mix-and match-chocolates, the clerks at the end of the counter asked one young man employee, “Do you want to help her?”

He said, “Will you guard the money?”

I chose my husband’s favorite white chocolate crunch for him and sidled down to the register where the young man rang up my purchases.  The other clerks had all disappeared save one, who stood next to me, her hand firmly on the doorknob leading to the back room.  Her face, planted one inch from mine, was ominous as she glared, fiercely defending her turf.  I wanted to reassure her I really was only there to buy candy, but I held my tongue. 

As I left through the door, I heard a decisive click as she turned her keys in the lock after me. 

 Ah ha.  I had accidentally walked in an unlocked door early, before the store was open and they had their cash out.  They weren’t ready for customers, but were stunned I had gotten inside.   No wonder electricity sparked the air.

Writing Prompts

1.  Every person reacts differently.  Write a backstory and scene about the fun-loving nonstop talking clerk who reacted to stress with friendliness.  Next, write a scene and backstory about the suspicious clerk who acted with intimidation. 

2.  What if?   What if it wasn’t chocoholic me who walked into the store the morning they forgot to lock the door?  Write past the stereotype.  Can you create a scene that isn’t what you would typically expect?  Use humor?  A quirky character?

3.  Use one of these to motivate a story, poem, or personal narrative:  chocolate, doors, locks, being someplace at the wrong time, being someplace at the right time, the clerk at the candy store.

Down Wedding Memory Lane

September 8, 2012

I’ve just arrived home from my niece’s wedding in Utah, where the bride and groom spoke of their love for each other under pine-scented air with majestic  mountains all around us. There were small touches the crowd couldn’t see, such as the tiny framed photos attached to the wedding attendents’ flowers of the grandparents’ marriages, three of them having passed away before this grand day.

This touching celebration made me flashback to her youth and my son’s, their escapades in the sandbox, water rocket bottle launches, Marco Polo water games in the pool. 

Then I flashed back to my own wedding, which didn’t flow as smoothly as this one.   Mine began on a sweltering June day in Fresno (111 degrees)  with the cake lady calling to report the frosting wouldn’t stick on the cake.  What should she do?  Maybe I shouldn’t have saved quite so much money after all, and gone with a professional baker . . . Next, after seeing the priest briefly at the church, my friend who played the piano, asked when she should begin. 

“The wedding starts at ten, so begin at ten,” I said.  Hey.  I’m from the Midwest.  We are prompt.  What I didn’t know is that California time begins much later than universal time. 

The music began and so did we.  And there we stood, at the altar, waiting for the priest to appear.  We waited.  And waited.  Where was he?  In the bathroom?  Ten minutes slowly ticked by.  We thought we’d have to get a friend to be a stand-in when he finally rushed on to the scene.

My Uncle Arnold, a sign-painter by trade, couldn’t travel to the wedding, but he made us a lovely sign which we put in the back of our car’s window.  After the ceremony and on the way to the reception across town, the sign fell down.  At a stoplight, a friend in the car next to us, opened my door to our two-seater car, pushed my seat forward, and leaned over to straighten the sign.  The light turned green and he slammed the door shut.  Problem was, I held on to the door’s frame when he pushed me forward. 

He jumped back into his car before he noticed my hand protruding outside the closed-door, and me with my mouth open, uttering sounds.

“What’s wrong?” asked my new husband.

“Uh, ug, uh,” I said which I thought were intelligible words. 

I cradled my swollen hand and refused the idea of an emergency room visit.  Fortunately, one of my bridesmaids was a nurse and knew my hand wasn’t broken, just bruised.  All the pictures show me with one hand behind my back.

The best man was so nervous he spilled wine on my dress twice – – red and white.  He shook so much before the wedding I promised him he wouldn’t be the one married that day.

And our photographer friend, employed by a newspaper, used different film he had never used before.  Only one photo came out that day.  Fortunately, we had other friends taking pictures so we did have some for our scrapbook.   And we did have memories, didn’t we?  Fortunately, compared to the wedding, the marriage has been a piece of cake. 

Writing Prompts:

1.  Write about a major celebration in your life.  What memories made lasting impressions upon you?  Others?

2.  Using a character from a current writing project, create a wedding scene.  Throw in a major or minor conflict.  What happens?  Make your reader cry or laugh or both.

3.  Use the theme of a wedding to create a poem, song or another work of art. 

4.  Write about your wedding or a wedding you have attended.  What made an impression upon you?