Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Adirondack Mountain Writers' Retreat, August 20 - 23, 2009

Good news! Plans are set for the Adirondack Mountain Writers' Retreat, and it's time to share the details. I'm so pleased that Irene Sherlock will be back at Beaver Meadow Lodge with us again. This year her three-day workshop will focus on "Creative Writing ~ Fiction, Memoir & Personal Essay." If you are a writer with a work in progress in any of these genres, you are encouraged to consider whether this writing-intensive experience is the catalyst you need to push your work toward completion and make it more publishable. Our time will be divided between blocks of writing, seminars, sessions for workshopping our projects, reading from our work and consulting privately with Irene.

Our group will be limited to ten writers in order to ensure lots of individualized attention for all. Some writers are not "group" people. In fact, I always considered myself a "solo" writer until my first group experience, when I discovered myself leaping over longstanding boundaries, shedding old (bad) writing habits and exploring new territory. The retreat experience works well for me, and Irene is a wonderfully insightful guide. I've become a believer.

If you are the least bit curious about the retreat, visit my web site, www.persisgranger.com, check out the details and see what others have to say about Irene. Feel free to email me from the site if you have questions. And do pass along this information and the URL to other writers you think might be interested.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Getting My Come Up Ants

I've always spelled pretty well. That's not vanity talking; it came easily to me. And I'd be just as willing to tell you how bad I was at math, but why bore you?

I like words and I like spelling them correctly. I grit my teeth a little when I see words spelled incorrectly. When my daughter emailed me a self-test of twenty-seven everyday words commonly misspelled by business writers, I was sure I would coast to a near-perfect finish.

Well, if I had, I wouldn't have anything to write about. I spelled four wrong, giving me a score of 85%. The test-makers called that "good," but I found it humbling. So I'll be boning up on my spelling, and just sitting on the ground beside my pedestal--for a spell.

If you'd like to give it a whirl, visit this site and see how you do:

Have fun--

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where's Stuart Berg Flexner When I Need Him?

Don't you hate it when you can't put your hands on a favorite reference book? As a "snowbird," I'm often in that position. I reach out to the bookshelf, expecting my perfect bound friend to be within grasp, only to realize that it didn't migrate with me. Short of hauling an entire library with me twice a year, I am doomed to making this mistake on a regular basis. I've already bought a duplicate of my favorite dictionary (you know, that five-pound job that says "alright" is not really "all right"), but buying dupes of all of them is out of the question. Sigh.

Tonight I'm missing a couple of gems I own that were written by Stuart Berg Flexner. If you aren't fascinated by words, stop reading here, or you'll think I'm crazy. Flexner has a long list of appealing titles, but the two in my library far away are "Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past," and "I Hear America Talking: An Illustrated Treasury of American Words and Phrases." From the mere length of the titles, one might safely assume that Flexner is fascinated by words, too. Reading the books confirms this. They tell the stories of words, how they evolved from other languages, and then how their usage grew and changed within our own language. The stories tell when and where they first appear in print, and what the contextual meaning was then, and then when it appears later with a newer, different connotation. Call me nuts; I love it. My original excuse for reading the books was to make sure that my historical fiction was written in language correct for its era. I was wondering if my main character would use the words "kids" (to refer to children) and "okay" to mean, um, okay. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. I'll confess that I skimmed over sections having to do with football and boxing, but the rest was great reading.

Now I'm trying to think of an excuse to buy another Flexner book I just spotted on the Internet. It has the longest title I've ever seen, so it must be good: "The Pessimist's Guide to History: An Irresistable Compendium of Catastrophes, Barbarities, Massacres and Mayhem from the Big Bang to the New Millenium." Who could resist this one?!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Good Organizing Means Having a Good Piling System

I read a great book last spring called "Organizing from the Right Side of Your Brain: A Creative Approach to Getting Organized," by Lee Silber. Silber explains that right-brained folks often find conventional organizing methods unworkable. He's quick to say that doesn't mean we don't need to get organized; it just means we need to approach the problem differently. He goes on to offer lots of ideas. A few didn't speak to me, but others had me almost jumping out of my seat, feeling for once as though someone understood the way my brain works (or doesn't). He talked about the tendency of some people to need to see things, and to therefore pile things instead of filing them. Whoo-EEE, is that ever me! He suggested organizing project materials into labeled clear containers, and to make space on horizonal surfaces to neatly organize the project in progress.

This is just one suggesting from a book full of them. It sounds like such a simple, small thing, but just the notion that there are different organizing styles based on the way one's brain works was liberating. Instead of wasting energy feeling guilty for not organizing things conventionally, I was able to focus more on finding creative solutions that matched my own style.

I'm still taking baby steps--and, admittedly, doing a lot of backsliding--but I'm moving in the right direction. If this blog post describes problems that frustrate you, you might enjoy "Organizing from the Right Side of Your Brain," by Lee Silber. You'll feel as though you've found a new friend.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Simplicity: More complicated than it sounds

In my January 9th post I mentioned that I've been reviewing books for BookPleasures.com ( a neat web site, if you enjoy browsing). As a fiction junkie, I feel like a kid in a candy store; every day notices come of new books waiting to be reviewed!

Last week I had the pleasure of reading "The Violin Diary," by Eric Norcross. It's a sad, but uplifting, love story that takes place over a few months time. What's striking about it is the simplicity and straightforwardness with which it is told. A few simple sentences, snippets of dialogue, minimal description - and we know everything. As one who "over-writes" everything (if you've been reading the blog, you already know that), I was so impressed by the power of sparseness of expression. This book will be in the back of my mind as I edit every new piece of work I write for some time to come. I think Eric Norcross' book will do well. It deserves to. If you'd like to see my complete review, visit http://www.bookpleasures.com/websitepublisher/authors/29/Persis-Granger. You'll see a line about the book, and will need to click on a link at the bottom that says "Full Story."

Anyway, back to simplicity. This is more than a talk about writing. My reading of "The Violin Diary" coincides with a crusade my husband launched to clean up our house. Packrats extraordinaire, we have amassed piles of "stuff." I sometimes have nightmares of our being on one of those reality tv shows, where the EMTs burst in to rescue us and someone comments on the squirrely old people who are buried in all this junk.

And we are. It rules our lives. We have no room to breathe. Or think. But knowing we need to change and accomplishing it are two different things. Old habits do die hard. Watch this blog for developments. My next review is going to be on the book titled, "Your Spacious Self," by Stephanie Bennett Vogt. The publicity blurb said it can help readers de-clutter their lives. Its category is designated as "spiritual self-help." I'm ready. As soon as it arrives, I'll be reading, and I'll let you know how it goes. I hope this one is not fiction.

Have a simply wonderful day-

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Learning the Nuts and Bolts of Blogdom: Rookie Posts a Comment

Several readers have contacted me to say that they had tried to leave a comment but had been unable, or were not sure if they had succeeded. In a couple of cases I know they did not succeed. So, as a newcomer to Blogdom, I decided to try commenting myself, to see if I could figure it out and perhaps pass along secrets for success.

First challenge: How to access the option. I clicked on the link that said "(#) Comments."

Second challenge: Select "Post a Comment."

Third challenge: Figure out what they mean by "Comment as." I hit the drop-down menu and had no clue. I finally selected "Name/URL" and entered information in both blanks, but I'll bet I could have just entered my name. Presto! I was in and typing my comment.

Next to preview it to see how many typos there were and correct them. I am such a bad typist.

Next challenge - how to get back to the screen where I could edit. Couldn't find a button there, but the browser back arrow did the trick.

Next - Corrections made, final sentences written, I hit "Post Comment" on the lower left.

Supposedly last - I clicked, and nothing seemed to happen. I did this a couple of times. Finally a security code popped up (the strangely shaped random letters and numbers you have to copy into a window to prove you are a real person, not a SPAM-bot). I had to go through two security codes (as I said, I'm a terrible typist) before I finally got the prize - a message that said I had successfully posted a comment. I'm sure it gets easier over time.... If you've had trouble posting comments, I hope this works for you. I'd enjoy hearing from you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Writing History Using Old Diaries: Roles of Honesty , Respect, and Kindness

I'm mulling over a problem about which I'd value input. The John Thurman Historical Society was given some diaries, which I've been transcribing for possible use somehow in our quarterly magazine, cleverly named The Quarterly. As I read these diaries, which were written in the 1930s by a woman now deceased, I was entranced. I must have a voyeuristic streak (there, I've said it!), but I love peeking into the lives of other people in this way. Tucked into the tedium of entries that typically began, "Home all day..." was tragedy. The woman's life was changing, and not in a way to her liking. The children, despite her efforts to cling to them, were growing up and away. Her parents were aging and becoming more dependent. Her marriage was unraveling,thread by thread. It's a poignant story, one that is not new and will never be old. It has started me thinking a great deal about the lot of women in that diarist's position in eras when women's options were so much more limited. I'd like to use these diaries as a centerpiece in a discussion about that issue. It's believable and dramatic. It would work well.

But what about respect? What about the woman's assumption of privacy as she wrote? What about the feelings of her descendants? What about the fact that this is just her side of the story? As a caring person, I feel the itch to censor, to be selective in what I publish.

What's right? There are no simple answers, but your ideas will help me arrive at a decision I can live with.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

All Right, Already

Do you have to be sixty-something to be jarred by the increasingly frequent appearance of "alright" in writing? Maybe I'm one of a dwindling few still clutching a Perrin-Smith handbook and inwardly screaming, "WRONG! WRONG!" (Actually, I'm trying to learn to inwardly intone, "Nonstandard. Nonstandard.") My favorite dictionary calls the single-word version a "disputed variant" of the two-word original. If you Google the topic of "all right" versus "alright," you'll find that many think the latter is perfectly acceptable. It was a comfort to me to read that Bartleby suggests that writers who relax the standard incur the risk of begin considered incorrect (http://www.bartleby.com/64/C003/023.html). I understand that language is a tool, and eventually is shaped by common usage, but I'm unwilling to see us accept change too quickly and easily.

Now that I've hauled myself up onto this soapbox, let me bring up another pet peeve--the altered usage of such words as "hopefully," "thankfully" and "sadly." We all learned the rules for using words like this. They modify a verb, and, because these particular words connote emotion, there needs to be a subject capable of feeling or showing emotion. "Bowser looked hopefully at the piece of steak dangling from my fork. He wagged his tail thankfully as I let it fall to the floor in front of him and sighed sadly when he realized there would be no more treats that night."

Suddenly common usage allows us to say, "Hopefully, the sun will shine on our picnic. Thankfully, it didn't rain during the parade. Sadly, thunder showers are predicted for evening, when the fireworks are scheduled." This just has to be wro--nonstandard.

All right, I'll climb down now before I fall. Thanks for letting me sound off. As you know, I'm happy to return the favor; just jot a comment and you're in.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Prooofing and Editting

This winter I've enjoyed reviewing some books for BookPleasures.com. Authors and publishers seeking reviews of works can contact Norm Goldman at the web site and request one. He relays the request to his reviewers to see who has time and interest, and the book is sent there. My experience has highlighted a problem - the importance of mechanical correctness.

When I was a student, that was a high priority, and was sometimes emphasized more than literary creativity. So years later, when I became acquainted with the concept of whole language instruction of students and the notion that kids be taught to worry about creative content first and to clean up the mechanics afterward, I applauded the idea. Naysayers said that students had to learn the rules, had to put them first. I argued that a balance was important.

Now I'm seeing material roll off the presses with lots of errors--wrong words, wrong spellings, wrong or missing punctuation, lots of mechanical stuff that should have been caught. As a self-published author, I know how easy it is to let this happen (and have contributed to the pile of "wrongs" myself). Having now reviewed three works that were decent books filled with typos and worse, any ambivalence I've had about the importance of mechanical correctness is gone. I'm rededicated to cleaning up my errors before publication meets public eye. Stumbling across typos in a good read is like biting down on a grain of sand in a great spinach salad. It's bone-jarring and distracts from the content. Creative genius deserves better!

So I'm going out on a limb here. Let me know when you find errors on my blog, and I'll correct them. But feel free, too, to focus on content and add your two cents.

And have a great day.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Getting organized

Deb's comment on yesterday's post reminded me of an interesting book by Phyllis Whitney, an author whose works I read in high school. (Anybody remember "Step to the Music?") In her book "Writing Juvenile Fiction," she tells that, at a young age, she "quit her day job" and found a way to support herself with her writing. She was actively writing almost up until her death last year at the age of 104.

In the book Whitney described how she planned her work, scheduling her most difficult task - book writing - in the morning, when she felt she was at her sharpest and best. She used the afternoons to work on articles, speeches and the like. She also made all of her research do double duty. For instance, if she did a lot of research about the garment industry, she used it as a backdrop for both a young adult novel and an adult work.

We all have to find the system that works for us, but I'm convinced that we are like ships without a rudder until we develop one and discipline ourselves to stick with it, charting our course for better writing. If you have a good system, share it here!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Friendship in the Writing Community

This entry won't tax your brain. Or mine. I've just been reflecting on how many kind and generous people I know. I guess that good people can be found in all walks of life, but it strikes me that members of the writing community skew the average. I count myself fortunate to have met and shared time with so many warm, friendly and creative people. Many of these relationships have blossomed into friendships that I cherish.

It's funny how an acquaintance can become a friend. This past summer an acquaintance and I were reviewing the events of an enjoyable evening together, when something silly overwhelmed us with laughter that sent tears streaming down our faces. Acquaintances became friends.

Let's be open to friendships and hang onto them fiercely.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Blogging, Day Two

Yes, I know that's a lame heading. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm trying to build some discipline, and it's a bit of a struggle for me. Please bear with me. I'm looking at a mound of papers that need to be dealt with, emails to be responded to, lists of writing contests and freelance options to explore, and an old diary to transcribe, and I'm trying to figure out what to do first. Ultimately I will have to decide NOT to do some things--and that's difficult for a semi-manic optimist like me.

In my befuddled mind, all things are possible, and all I have to do is keep plugging away. My sane half knows that would be true if there were unlimited hours in the day and unlimited days in life. There aren't, so I need to prioritize. With a new book that needs to be promoted, a new issue of a historical society magazine to put together, a new writers' retreat to plan, I feel as though I'm standing before a loaded buffet table with a very tiny plate. I want to have it all, but how? It's a nice problem to have. To borrow an expression rapidly becoming trite, life is good.

So what are you working on? Or aren't you? What pushes your choices around? Drop a note here.

To blog or not to blog

Well, I came kicking and screaming into the 20th century just as it ended (picture me clutching my 1962-graduation-present Smith Corona portable typewriter and saying, "I don't NEED one of those computer things!), but, now married to a laptop, I thought I would try to be a bit more gracious (and speedy) about accepting blogging.

I'm a very undisciplined writer/volunteer, my mind always racing off in seven directions at once. I'm hoping this blog will help me build better writing habits. My new year's resolution - come to think of it, it was my old year's resolution, too - is to write more, write more regularly, and write better. Anybody have tips?