Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Review for Flowing Water, Falling Flowers

     Flowing Water, Falling Flowers by X.H. Collins offers a banquet of the senses for the reader interested in exploring a slice of Chinese life that fits somewhere between Upstairs, Downstairs and The Good Earth. The author uses meticulous attention to details of color, sound, food, and even faith to draw us into the world of a well-off merchant-class family with a large house, beautiful gardens, faithful servants, and a social status that requires conforming to the traditional standards of the time, beginning with the 1890s. We learn the gentle, tranquil surface of their lives hide troubling realities. We feel all the love, conflict, and pain as their world is transformed by the cultural revolution that touches all in different ways. The lessons learned about love and loss are echoed in the lives of the most modern generation of these resilient, unforgettable Chinese women. It’s a deeply personal narrative that has been made available to us all.

     My favorite quote is found in the first chapter:

     “Women are made of water. So says a Chinese proverb. Water is so soft that it changes itself to fit whatever shape it is allowed to be. But water can also turn an angled and rough rock into a round and smooth pebble, erode the mountain that blocks its flow, and capsize a ship it carries.”

     I’m in a unique position for this review as I’ve been involved with a few early stages of the author’s writing career in English. First, as a fellow participant at a David R. Collins Writers’ Conference workshop. I notice her eagerness and drive at the open mic readings at Rozz-Tox cafĂ© in Rock Island where I listened to her read her first short story. I made notes and used them to discuss writing craft with her the next day.

     Second, I was on the MWC Press Pitch Committee the year she presented the manuscript for her first novel: Flowing Water, Falling Flowers. Knowing a writer doesn’t make an automatic pass. MWC Press is a small, no-profit operation with limited resources. Strong writing, potential, and willingness to edit counts big time. I found those qualities in Collins and am pleased to say that they have followed through into the final published work. 

     She has produced a good read.


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Marketing Plans: Part 2


This is the second part of the series on how well I used my 2015 marketing plan.


Publish press Releases, etc.

a.     Galva News

b.    Dispatch & RI Argus

c.     Galesburg and other IL area papers


Those of us who are of the pre-internet era should be familiar with how press releases were once written by hand, typed up, mimeographed, folded, stuffed into hand-addressed envelopes, stamped, and then mailed out to news editors. A snail’s pace would adequately describe the labor-intensive process. Unless, of course, one could organize a crew of helpers.

My writing career began with writing press releases for the Bishop Hill Arts Council. I had been asked if I could help out and was given some old clippings and told to do a rewrite with the current event information. It was fun to see something I wrote be published. I used those new-found skills for my craft business, my children’s 4-H Club, the Galva Arts Council, and for any time something needed to be promoted.


Galva News

My relationship with the Galva News started soon after those first press releases. Doug Boock, managing editor at the time, started giving me assignments as a correspondent. He was my first editor and I learned a lot. I got the front page for the press release for my book. (Okay, it was below the fold, along with GHS homecoming and a Hog Days parade photo. Above the fold was a piece on citywide garage sales, the Bishop Hill Old Settlers reunion, and a bad dog photo. But still….) Doug added a nice introduction to the standard copy I’d sent out to my list of regional newspapers.

I need to take a side trip here and explain how difficult it was, and still is, to write about myself and my work. When I write about other writers/authors I can find the message or the salient point that makes a good review positive and possible. But when it comes to me and mine … I draw a blank. Still, I needed a press release and for this occasion I forced myself into a stranger’s shoes and went for it. The result was better than my usual. I used variations on that copy for my back-cover blurb and other promotional needs. I got a lot of mileage out of that effort.


Dispatch & RI Argus, Galesburg, and other IL area papers

Now back to 2016 where I had discovered the wonders of sending newsy items by email, thus avoiding all the labor and expense of stuffing envelopes. I still had to give the editors, who are always conscious of print space, plenty of lead time for editing. I had about a dozen contacts, largely on the Illinois side of the river, on my list and most did something with my press release.


(In case you ever wondered how all those awkward sentences made it into print—editors cut from the bottom to make things fit into the available space. So always get your important information mentioned early in whatever promotional item you’re writing about. Just to be safe.)

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Prepare to Succeed


Do keep good records of all your book sales both retail and wholesale.

Office supply stores and similar areas of big box stores will have a selection of carbonless pads of receipt forms to choose from.


Retail sales

I have one type of two-part-form receipt pad for retail sales. I use it at book signings, speaking events, or any time I have a sale. Note: Always have books on hand in your vehicle.

Info you will need: date; location of event; name of customer & address/email, if possible; price; type of sale—cash, check, or credit. Location is important because sales tax will vary by city and state. You are responsible for collecting sales tax. I also use these receipt forms for gift, review copies, and donations; any information needed for inventory control.


Wholesale sales

The larger invoice pad is for wholesale book placement in bookstores, gift shops, or anywhere you can work an agreeable percentage deal with the owner/buyer. I have 3-part form pictured. That’s from my days in the craft program in Bishop Hill. A 2-part form should work well and be less expensive. Wholesale customers are responsible for sales tax.


Publisher sales

Publishers will have their own events and sales. They will have their own inventory and be responsible for sales tax. Do show up to sign & date your book. Think about a catchy phase to add. Have your quick-drying gel pens ready.


Do make up your own one-page inventory forms. Most of your regular wholesale customers will have their own, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for the one that doesn’t. Plus, you’ll need something, a spreadsheet perhaps, to track overall sales.


The suitcase

I knew about having a to-go box of books for the car before I went to my first panel discussion, but I was totally amazed when the other authors started rolling in with their to-go suitcases. Basically, it’s your bookshop on wheels. Pack everything you might possibly need to set up a table or booth: cash/change, credit card reader, tape, scissors, price labels, tablecloth, book stands, business cards, promotional anything—collect it all then take it with you. Yes, these days it includes masks.


Do whatever it takes to be prepared to succeed.  

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Research Tidbits


I’ve heard of writerly advice that basically says, “Put some weather in your story.” If that is something you would like to do, and you wish to be totally accurate I have a solution: Weather Underground. There are other weather web sites that allow for searches for historical information, but


is where I go first.


The search results I’ve shown above are for one of my scenes. It is easy to enter date and location information for one’s specific needs. I think it’s a valuable tool no matter how you use it.


Go to:


Find Historical Weather under the “More” heading at the top of the home page.


Sunny days. Rainy days. Sunrise or sunset. It’s a way to add another dimension to your writing.


Or go to:


I’ve used this one for Moonrise/Moonset times and Moon phases. The site has an easy to navigate home page.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Marketing Plans: Part 1


This is the first part of the series on how well I used my 2015 marketing plan.


1.    Make personal Appearances

a.     MWC events

b.    Bishop Hill events

c.     Libraries where possible

d.    Bookstores (Barnes & Noble, local, etc.)


MWC & Bishop Hill Events

My book, Clouds Over Bishop Hill, was uploaded to CreateSpace around noon on Aug. 26, 2016. CreateSpace was a print on demand publishing platform that has since merged with Kindle Direct Publishing, KDP. My publisher, MWC Press, ordered 200 copies that arrived in time for our planned book launch events that began with Bishop Hill’s Ag Days celebration in late September.

I really lucked out with my book launch events, I had three.

The first one came as a surprise and an honor. I was invited into the very museum that is shown in silhouette on the cover of Clouds Over Bishop Hill. It went very well even though a few people straggled in after I’d started my reading. Not that it mattered since I’d started with the first chapter. I learned later it is best to read the more action-packed passages. Yes, Bishop Hill can be exciting.

The second book launch event was held a week later and was hosted by dear friends at the Feathered Nest gift shop. It was well attended.

The third was held at the Midwest Writing Center when their office was still located in the Bucktown Center for the Arts in Davenport. I was still reading that first chapter and explaining how I came up with my composite characters. An important lesson I learned that day was not to be apologetic, to stand up for my work.

I made it part of my schedule to return to Bishop Hill for every major festival. I would set up my table display of books, business cards, brochures, bookmarks, and newspaper clippings at the Colony Store, the Steeple Building, and the Colony Blacksmith Shop for the rest of 2016, all of 2017, and some of 2018.



Early on I made it a point to offer Clouds Over Bishop Hill for placement in regional libraries. Even though my work was fiction, by setting my action in and around Bishop Hill, by using the general outline of its history, I was trying to capture it as another one of my characters. That I believed gave the book added value. I also wanted to reach readers who, for whatever reason, weren’t able to purchase books.

My best attended library event was a Read Local at the Bettendorf Public Library. I still felt new to the Quad Cities and hadn’t expected much of a turnout. I made up flyers that had the book cover and excepts from reviews along with location, date, and logos of the sponsors (MWC & BPL). At that time, I attended three book clubs in Davenport and a grief support group in Moline. They all got flyers. I handed out flyers to my main critique group, Writer’s Studio. I did an old-fashioned mailing to people living in my neighborhood using stamps commemorating the upcoming solar eclipse. I was included in the BPL’s color brochure for Read Local and in other library announcements. On my night I got a few people from each group I’d reached out to. So, instead of getting the usual dozen or so for an average reading we had to keep adding chairs. We ran out of books to sell. It was great!

I did a library reading in Monmouth and one in Kewanee for a genealogical society. I made plans to contact libraries within a 60-mile radius of the Quad Cities but didn’t follow through with the campaign. Traveling costs had become a deterrent by that time.



I approached the Barnes & Noble at North Park Mall, Davenport, about selling my book. I was prepared for failure and was totally astonished when the person I was talking to ordered four copies online. I think I had to promise to be responsible for any unsold books. I soon had my book on their shelf. However, that pleasantness didn’t last long. Landing a reading proved to be very difficult to set up. I managed to be included as one of five MWC authors. As far as I could tell there was little in-store promotion. It turned into one of those shows where vendors were buying from each other. I did get paid for the last book I left on consignment with B&N. They have been restructuring, so, I would go back to B&N again to see what I could arrange for my next book, but I would make sure I knew the exact terms of the deal.

I never tried the Book Rack or the Brewed Book, Davenport bookstores, with the first book. I was trying to be loyal to B&N. I would definitely approach them with the new book. The same with River Lights in Dubuque. Anything within a reasonable driving range is fair game. There is an old adage: The second book helps to sell the first. It will be tested.

Read Local at the Bettendorf Public Library.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Marketing Plan 2015


The following is the Marketing Plan I created when I was scheduled to pitch my first book to MWC Press at the David R. Collins Writers Conference at the end of June 2015. It was one of the requirements asked for by the review committee. I thought it was an excellent excuse to actually think of such things, you know, make a plan, as opposed to finishing the manuscript edits and waiting for its overall brilliance to be discovered. It would have been a long wait.


I sat at my keyboard and typed in whatever came to mind, like free associating with a goal: READERS. Some of this list was based on my prior experience with having a craft business in Bishop Hill and going to Arts Council meetings.  Some ideas came from attending conferences and workshops through the Midwest Writing Center. Some came from going to Writer’s Studio meetings along other critique groups. Listening to and reading about what other writers/authors have done always has value.


I will be going to go over this list and noting what worked, what didn’t, and what I skipped. All this will be prep work for coming up with a new list for promoting my next book; as you know, times have changed.


1.    Make personal Appearances

a.     MWC events

b.    Bishop Hill events

c.     Libraries where possible

d.    Bookstores (Barnes & Noble, local, etc.)

2.    Publish press Releases, etc.

a.     Galva News

b.    Dispatch & RI Argus

c.     Galesburg and other IL area papers

3.    Network with Joe Taylor of the QC Convention & Visitors Bureau

4.    Consign books in Bishop Hill Shops & advertise on BH web sites

5.    Blogger

a.     Create an author/book page

6.    Facebook

a.     Create an author page

b.    Use the list of towns mentioned in the novel

7.    Goodreads

a.     Create an author page

8.    Twitter

a.     Create an author page

9.    Focus on reaching Swedish readers w/eBooks

a.     Use Kindle Direct

b.    Dream of a Swedish book tour


a.     Design an OK T-shirt


a.     Meatball recipes

b.    Decorating T-shirts

12.Free Stuff

a.     Books for reviews & contest winners

b.    Printable bookmark w/map & other info

c.     A virtual signature page for eBook sales

d.    Christina’s meatballs

e.    Coupons for discounts for books & other stuff

13.Mailing Lists

a.     Look for a current Bishop Hill mailing list

14.Bishop Hill tie-ins

a.     Brochures, handouts, and merchandise

15.Buy Amazon Ad words

16.Enter contests

17.Check out what other authors have done

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father’s Day 2020

This Father’s Day has been tainted by the Coronavirus Pandemic … just not in the way you might think. So far, everyone in the immediate family is fine with wearing masks, social distancing, and staying close to home. The snag I experienced happened when I added “Father’s Day card” to the shopping list and didn’t go myself to make the selection for my son. Last year I sent him an “almost” Father’s Day card, so I thought I could trust my better half to make the purchase. Normally he’s good at card shopping, thoughtful and creative.

With Covid-19 in the daily news all our shopping trips have been be-masked with a quickened pace. No more pawing through tomatoes and bananas, no comparison shopping for pasta sauces. It’s been grab-and-go for the most part. Unfortunately, this practice resulted in a Father’s Day card that seemed to be more suited for my son to give to my husband than vice versa. I was left with a conundrum: How can I fix this? I can’t waste an otherwise perfectly good card.

Time to be a writer.

The gist of the card was the Titanic going down with a lone voice balloon saying, “Give me more duct tape. I think I can fix this.” Or words to that affect. At the bottom of the card was, “If only Dad had been there….” Or words to that affect. Inside the card was a reference to the Dad who could fix anything, especially when given an adequate supply of duct tape. Or words to that affect.

Two problems: first, “If Dad had been there” didn’t fit the family dynamics on this occasion; second, I have a wonderful son, don’t get me wrong, he is quite accomplished in his own way, but he’s not a Mr. Fixit type. He’s still young and I have hope, but this card didn’t seem the right fit at all.

Days passed and inspiration failed to visit me with a solution. Then it happened, and I had to give myself the metaphorical head slap while moaning a pathetic, “Doh!” It took that long to remember that my son, while in high school, did indeed go through a phase of constructing wallets made from duct tape. I even went out of my way to purchase different colors of duct tape when I found them. Finally, I used that bit of family history as a plot device in the book I’m working on. How could I forget something so important!

Apparently, it was far too easy for me to misplace the duct tape episode, AND the fact he saw the Titanic movie, like, FOUR times. I’m blaming it all on pandemic brain fog.

As a writer I made one tiny little edit, I masked out “Dad” and wrote in my son’s first name, and presto, it was good to go. His first Father’s Day card was saved. My husband’s card-buying reputation was intact. Sadly, however, my reputation has suffered.

Note: “I still struggle with using effect and affect. If I didn’t use ‘affect’ correctly here, I’m sorry. I’m going to blame that on my psychology degree,” she said, while sitting at her computer with a flat affect on her face.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

On the Hunt for the Right Words

Writing during a pandemic has been difficult for me. I get these cheery emails with writing prompts and seldom open them. Why? Because I don’t want to be uplifted, sidetracked—no, more distractions are not welcome at this point. I have a self-imposed deadline coming up. I must have an ending for my novel. The going has been tough enough as it is. So, sorry guys, I know you all mean well.

I do have something for my ending blocked out. It’s a fine workable ending with the potential to neatly tie up all the loose ends from plot and subplots. But I’m sorry to say my characters aren’t talking to me yet, not giving me the dialog I need.

Plus, everything is taking too much time. For instance, it took two weeks of subconscious stewing over the name of a new festival to come up with an answer that makes sense, that works on more than one level. I spent much of that time walking and thinking and waiting for inspiration. Of course, I’ll have to patch up the text when I do the next full edit, but I needed something solid to begin with.

This second Bishop Hill mystery contains quite a few stories: legends, second-hand accounts, and outright lies. I needed to find a way to draw them all together and I’m hoping the name of the festival that I came up with will do the trick.

The business with using Bishop Hill stories isn’t new. I had some in the first book. I’ve expanded on the theme for the second. My stories could never hold a candle to those of The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow. (I listened to the audio book.) I must rely on my own interpretations of life in a small town—with a few fictionalized nudges of course. One must remember that conflict makes things interesting. One person thinking to themselves is fine; drag in the differing POV of another person and the dramatic happens. That’s why I’m going to call my gathering of historians, artists, and vendors the Bishop Hill Treasure Hunter’s Invitational … for now at least.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

I Must Apologize

I have apologies to make to several people because I have been selfish with my time. I made commitments to help others and couldn’t follow through in a timely manner. I am truly sorry. I had to carve out some space to put me first. Sounds really awful and offending to put it out there like this, but I’ve had so much trouble crafting an ending to the next Bishop Hill mystery that I had to resort to the extreme.

Isolating and focusing on my problems has paid off. I have gotten past the arson scene at the old house. The escape from a park filled with tourists. Figured out how to have a car chase through Henry county backroads. Dealt harshly with my bad guy. Now, I’m ready for the “Final Image” as outlined in Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody.

I was introduced to Save the Cat by Quad Cities Writers Meet Up and their fearless leader, Sandra, when the group worked its way through the whole book last year. I was surprised and pleased when my first novel, Clouds Over Bishop Hill, came out in good shape when compared to the 15 steps. I certainly wasn’t trying. In fact, I was pretty nervous about it all. I’d written my fight scene in the barn thinking it was the end of the book and then discovered that no it wasn’t, too many loose ends needed to be tied up. But I liked that scene. I couldn’t axe it. So, I wrote what I felt like was another ending. I liked that one too. I kept both. It got published and I held my breath (metaphor alert). It confused some readers, but not others. Then I read Save the Cat and found out that it was okay to do such things.

That was the first Bishop Hill book, for the second one I thought I’d be more traditional. Still, writing is hard. Writing can be even harder if you’re a pantser, as in a write-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants type, like I am.

I created a huge diagram of the 15 steps for my wall. Have I filled it in? No. I use the book as a loose guide, a reference, and for inspiration. I still have to take my time to work things out with ideas that please me.

So, I am now encouraged enough with my “final scene” notes to emerge from my writerly time-hoarding isolation and attempt to get caught up with my other projects and commitments.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

David Lagercrantz, who’s taken up Stieg Larson’s Millennium Series, is doing an admirable job. The familiar characters are back. There are interesting new ones. Lisbeth is in good fighting form. One does not get lost in the action. Now, finding my way around Stockholm did get a little dicey as soon as Lagercrantz got away from Gamla Stan. I’m sure it’s manageable if you want to take time away from the story to sort it all out. I did make some side trips with the famous jazz musician, Django. Same with hyperacusis. And mirror image twins. All are interesting facts to sort out and build into a story line.

However, what I really want to know is how did that nice Swedish family with the woodsy home at the edge of the forest, who rescued a main character from the freezing cold, ran him a hot bath, gave him dry clothes, could end up feeding him JANSSON’S TEMPTATION? [Page 320, hardback, near the bottom of the page.]

Surely someone had been to or knew about Bishop Hill, Illinois, USA and the Bishop Hill colony. Who was that person?

That’s a bigger mystery than the evil twin. And probably a good story in its own right.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Dick Stahl, The Forever Poet Laureate

Alma Gaul wrote a touching remembrance for former QC poet laureate DICK STAHL. I knew him through Writer's Studio. He'd come in with three poems and ask us to vote for two. He listened to our comments and was grateful for the feedback. I bought copy #91 of "Bluffing" and visited a few of the sites of his poems. I made it to Dick and Helen's 50th anniversary party held at the Figge. He was kind enough to read aloud the poem I'd written for that occasion. That was so like him. Thanks to Alma's article I now know why.

To Helen and Dick

Two parts of a whole
A pair of individuals
On a journey
Finding a path that follows
The winding Mississippi
Past rocks and sand bars
Minor obstructions
Who climb high to vistas
So near the sky
They can feel
The clouds pass nearby
To Dick and Helen
Two parts of a whole
Joined together 50 years ago
They catch a golden sunrise
Over a river Bluff
Made perfect
By their own design

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Library Book Clubs

Writers must be readers. One hears that quite often.

Writers must “read” like a “writer.” Yes, that is true. There is a difference

Writers must read in their genre, but not exclusively. Also, true.

Reading widely exposes one to different styles, old and new; ideas for punctuation and verb tense; builds vocabulary; and showcases methods for presenting dialog. Most of all, it provides a point of reference for how one is progressing in the writerly craft. Writing at its heart is a craft that improves with practice. What inspires your writing, that slice of life, is uniquely yours.

Book Clubs are great ways to satisfy all these goals. Library book clubs provide resources without a huge personal investment in money and permanent shelf space, should that be a problem, for all those books in your private collection.

My participation in multiple book clubs offered by the Davenport Public Library exposes me to titles and authors I wouldn’t pick for myself. They expanded my world as a reader and a writer. I always learn something new.

When the West End Book Club was in danger of being disbanded, I was loath to let it go. Fortunately, I was not alone. Several avid readers joined me in keeping it going. We scoured the Davenport library’s list of book club kits so we could continue to meet monthly, read new-to-us books without incurring any expense for us or the library. All we needed was a room to come together to talk and share our excitement about books.

As I said, we West Enders are a bunch of avid readers and after a year or so it became difficult to find new titles to fill our needs. What to do? Well, as it so happened, we needed to branch out.

When I walk through the Rock Island Public Library's first floor there’s no way to miss the boxes and boxes of book club kits. I inquired about checking them out and my first response was no because the library systems separated by the Mississippi went their respective ways a few years ago. Quite disappointing, but not terribly unexpected.

A RIPL librarian suggested that I try Bettendorf’s public library. I did and found a treasure trove of book club kits lined up and waiting to be checked out and delivered to any branch of the DPL system. “DIBS” stands for “Discussions in Boxes” and the choosing should be fun and super convenient for us West Enders. Great News!

In the meantime, I heard from RIPL’s Amy Sisul that there is a way for me as a DPL patron to check out up to ten books at a time. Ten books make up your average book club kit. More Great News!

The West End Book Club should be set up nicely for years to come.

The moral of this story is: Whether you are starting a book club, trying to save one like me, or just looking to join, remember the resources are many at our public libraries.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Owls and Iron Pen, part 3

I wrote in my January 17th blog post about MWC’s 24-hour Iron Pen contest and how I’d won a first place, and a nice medal, for my non-fiction entry in 2010. I said, “It was a nice little tale about winter walking in Bishop Hill.”

Well, Alma Gaul’s recent Quad-City Times articles about owls reminded me how a great horned owl was very important to that story. According to the non-fiction judge my entry’s life-and-death theme between the owl and a rabbit set it apart from all the other entries.

The following is an excerpt from “Danger in the Snow”:

     “But what brought me to a standstill was the cold winter morning I discovered the signature of death in the snow. As I walked near my front field, I casually followed a set of rabbit tracks that meandered through it.  I’d already walked well past by the time it dawned on me that something was awry. The oddness tugged at me, made me stop, go back, and look again. Rabbit tracks shouldn’t end suddenly. A closer inspection revealed the scraping claw marks of talons and the indentations of wing tips as something large came down and grabbed that rabbit right off its feet.
     I imagined it was an owl, probably a Great Horned Owl. When you spot them up in a tree your first thought is, “Why is that cat sitting up there?” They are big and they use the largest old trees for their nests. That year they had chosen a tree close to my field. I had the chance to watch well into the spring as the parents raised two owlets.
     Thinking about those babies growing from fuzz to feathers made me reconsider what I saw in the snow, the dichotomy of the drama: death for a rabbit, life for an owl. I’m standing there in the cold, the one who’d never broken a bone, staring at what remained. The last sign of the rabbit that wasn’t so lucky.”

Reprinted from Winter Worlds: Three Stories
Copyright © 2017 by Mary R. Davidsaver

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Life After Iron Pen, part 2

When presented with a blank slate, a gender-neutral script of dialog and a few stage directions, then primed to use their imaginations to create their characters, this first cast of Augie college students came up with impressive results.

Leader: An eccentric retired English professor who felt very qualified to lead

Newbie: Peter Peterson II. Age 22-23. Just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing/English. Dress: Normal. Personality: “Pretty boring.”

#1 Writer: Caroline Carson. Age 27. Considers herself a “modern” writer with many books available online. “None of them are selling well. Do look for my books on Amazon.”

#2 Writer: Kyle Gilligan. Age 33. Former English major. Dropped out. Still living in parent’s basement. “My parents signed me up for this writer’s group to get me out of the house.”

#3 Writer: [Cindy performed #3 and #8]

#4 Writer: Carmen Darling.  Age not given. She has traveled all over the world doing infomercials about her travels. “It’s a good life. I’m only here to help these other unfortunate people. Yeah, thank you.”

#5 Writer: Bethany Long. “Call me Beth.” Age 45. She writes fantasy romance novels. “Even after two divorces, love still drives my writing.”

#6 Writer: Maryanne McGee. Age 65. Housewife with no children. “I spend my days reading murder mystery novels and started writing my own novels five years ago. It’s something to do. Keeps me busy.”

#7 Writer: Louis/Lewis. Age 26. “I’m told I’m a little dark minded. But who isn’t?”

#8 Writer: Lucy McGillicuddy. Age 70. [Retired.] She’s been writing the same novel since she was 17. Has 1,000 pages and wants to add some monsters to it. The printer ran out of paper, so she’ll bring it to the group later. Her passion is directing community theatre.

My resurrection and transformation of a past Iron Pen entry into a play turned into a successful experience for me and the cast. It became an interesting exercise in character development that would be different with each group that performs it.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Life After Iron Pen

I won a first place, and a nice medal, for my non-fiction Iron Pen entry in 2010. It was a nice little tale about winter walking in Bishop Hill. That got me hooked and I’ve returned to Iron Pen’s twenty-four hours of creative challenge almost every year since then. My first place for fiction came in 2012 with a story about a writer’s critique group going seriously off the rails. It was fun to personify that year’s prompt in the chaotic chorus of writers offering advice for a newbie. I threw in everything I’d learned about the craft of writing up to that point. I’d also been influenced by Genesius Guild productions and some one act plays I’d recently seen. According to the judge’s comments I had heavy competition and got the first, and the nifty medal, because I had written about “writing.”

Fast forward to January of this year. I was attending a meeting of Second Avenue Players, a senior acting group that meets at CASI, discussing how to interact with a bunch of Augie students. Plays were needed to show them how our group works. Larry D’Autremont, our resident playwright, was reminiscing about his time with Genesius Guild. Something about that conversation stuck with me. It took some time, how long I will not say, but I was finally reminded of that Iron Pen piece from long ago. How it too was inspired by Genesis performers and how I might turn my short story into the real thing, a fully functioning play, because the need was immediate. Twenty to thirty college students would be on hand in a week’s time and they needed to participate. There’s nothing like a crisis to spur one into action.

My memory was not accurate enough to make my recovery search too easy, but I found my 2012 entry, all 860 words of it. From there I had an enjoyable evening expanding six POVs, points of view, into ten speaking parts. Formatting was not done exactly to industry standards, but I was in a hurry. I needed easy and simple. The next morning, I came back to make things as gender neutral as I could for the actors. Adding flexibility to ease and simplicity seemed like the best way to go. There would be scant time to rehearse. Less time to stage. But in the end, I would have my first play performed by real people. It made for an exciting week waiting to see who would show up. A bonus came my way when a novel idea on how to use this bit of old Iron Pen history in another situation came to me. How practical it would be had to wait until I saw the end results of the first adventure in beginning playacting by amateurs.





Thursday, January 2, 2020

With Sympathy

This verse comes from one of my all-time favorite sympathy cards:

All things in your own time.”
[by an anonymous writer for Hallmark Cards, Inc.]

Another favorite of mine is this one:

“Things I don’t know …
Why bad things happen to good people.
All you’re feeling right now.
Exactly the right words to say.

Things I do know …
You’re cared about more than you realize.
You will get through this.
I’m here for you … no matter what.”
[By another Hallmark, Inc. writer.]

I bought these cards because they meant so much to me when I was dealing with the death of my mother, nine years ago. They touched me so deeply because I believe they embodied the lessons I learned from the grief recovery group I joined soon after my mother’s death. I set them aside to come back to every now and then.

This time when I came across them, I decided to part with the one that might help out a neighbor with the passing of her husband. I will rely on these words to offer comfort and the knowledge that things will improve with time. Or at least change toward a new reality. It’s a journey we all take in our own way.

For Donald Lee Learn.