Ugh, think you have the flu?

December 26th, 2013 by Maryjo Faith Morgan

The Flu I.Q. widget is an interactive quiz to test your flu knowledge.

Hope you don't! It's nasty. Maybe you can prevent getting it by knowing the symptoms.

Be well!

An Astronaut's View

December 18th, 2013 by Maryjo Faith Morgan
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on EarthAll I can think of is those astonishing photos from the ISS (International Space Station). Seems I clicked "like" immediately on visuals posted by Col. Chris Hadfield while he was up there. I watched his YouTube videos, singing with kids, giving science lessons and patiently answering for the hundredth time how astronauts use the bathroom in a weightless environment. (That question must get SO old!)
Space Oddity is bookmarked because I listen to it whenever I need an attitude adjustment. It always works. There is something about music delivered by a floating guitarist while the earth passes by the window that just stirs my imagination, adjusts my focus and makes my heart happy.
Same can be said for reading An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by - you guessed it! - Chris Hadfield. He is a surprisingly modest person, incredibly focused and determined. He says the same about his wife, to whom he gives plenty of credit for his career as an astronaut.
  • When in my life have I ever raced outside to see a celestial body pass by? (Now - I subscribe to Spot The Station - which tracks the ISS!)
  • Why did I find the astronaut evaluation process interesting?
  • What is it about space travel that reels me in?
How did I become so hooked on space? Maybe it was my brother, who taught science, and had his classes create capsule mock-ups to learn astronomy, geography and science all rolled into one fun but painstaking project. Maybe my choice of reading material has something to do with it; I'm racking up these astronauts turned authors:  Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut by Mike Mullane and Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys by Michael Collins.
And just maybe it was Col. Chris Hadfield's frequent Facebook posts (with great photos!) while he was on the ISS that ignited this fascination within me. My friends know I am a hopeless Trekkie, and I've never missed seeing a Star Wars release in the theater.  YouTube is full of astronauts now, and I always have to look. Even the book promos are funny.
Hadfield's book is chock full of his self-depreciating humor, his "don't-do-what-I-did" way of helping adjust a viewpoint and his hard-won ability to encourage those around him. I was encouraged just holding his book in my hands. To be my best self. To work toward my dreams and make them reality. To trust the good and be ready for the worst at the same time. You might be surprised. This book is an enjoyable read.
Don't just take my word for it. See Carolyn Kellog's "Ten Awesome Things List" about it in the LA Times.
Trying to remember the original 1972 Space Oddity by David Bowe? Click here for a refresh.

Giving a good reading

October 6th, 2013 by Shelley Widhalm

For some reason, I’m not nervous when I give a reading, but that doesn’t mean I connect with the audience either.

I gave a reading during the Loveland Loves Literature event Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Loveland Feed and Grain, a depilated monster of a building that will become part of ArtSpace, a live-work center for writers and artists.

More than two dozen literary and performing artists took the stage over two days for half-hour or full-hour slots. My slot was a half-hour, which I shared with a poet friend of mine, Ravitte Kentwortz.

Before I read, I talked with another writer, who recommended grounding my energy by imagining my feet as connected to the floor. She suggested I throw my energy to the back of the room to include everyone in the audience.

But once I was at the microphone, I rambled more than I wanted to about each piece. I read a short story called “Tainted Proposal,” based on a coin toss, as well as three poems and a two-page excerpt from my novel, “The Fire Painter.”

As I read, I kept reminding myself to look at the audience. I forgot to make eye contact, too focused on reading slowly as if I was doing a book-on-tape to add personality to my words.

On hindsight, I wish I had reviewed my collection of articles on giving a gogod reading. Here a few of the suggestions:

  • Vary the pace or content, choosing work that differs in subject matter, length, pacing and tone. Make sure what you choose is not all exposition and includes some dialogue, imagery and a strong story line. Edit out the “he said” and “she said” markers. (I did all of this.)
  • Mark  your text for voice and emphasis. (I highlighted my dialogue blue for the male character and red for the female character.)
  • Think  of your reading as a performance. (My short story character, Jane, was a librarian, so I dressed conservatively, wore glasses and had my hair in an updo.)
  • Select pieces that relate thematically. (Umm, I didn’t do that.)
  • Explain the context of what you’re reading, such as summarizing the plot for an excerpt from a novel, or the inspiration for a poem. Write this out ahead of time.
  • Rehearse, reading the work out loud and enunciating clearly. Practice in front of  friends.
  • Time  yourself. (I never could figure out the length, but somehow I kept my reading to 15 minutes.)
  • Publicize  your reading via social media, Flyers and emailing friend

In the Heat

September 22nd, 2013 by Fay Ulanoff

ghost flame 3

In the Heat


F. Ulanoff

In the heat the devil lives.

Every time a fire burns and destroys Satan has come to visit.

He resides in a dark place with a ghostly image that we only get a glimpse of when we stare at the beginnings of his flame.

All that is malevolent is in between his bright hypnotizing curves and waves.

There is strength and fear within the sharp bright orange edges the blaze.

When a small fire turns into a blaze, it destroys all it can as it creeps faster along its path of doom.

Water may be the cool solvent we need to destroy him, for water is natural and is present in all of us.

So take heed and guard yourself and your loved ones from his hidden ghost within the flame, because it might someday be your demise.

The Benefits of Book Clubs

September 6th, 2013 by Shelley Widhalm

Readers who love books and talking about books join book clubs, but writers who do so can double dip, literally.

They can improve their analytical skills in reading, while also discovering what makes for good writing that appeals to a cross-section of readers.

I discovered this fact after I joined a book club that meets monthly at the Barnes & Noble in Fort   Collins.

We each make a recommendation about what we want to read, and as a result compile a laundry list of titles. Since I’ve joined, we’ve read “The Forgotten Garden,” “Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English,” “The Language of Flowers,” “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” and “Falling Together.”

Book clubs are a way to discover books and authors you wouldn’t find on your own and to sample new genres, particularly if you’re part of a general club that tries to appeal to all of the readers in the group.

In my group, the members ask questions and notice aspects about the book that I didn’t catch, because everyone, of course, has a different perspective and worldview. For instance, one of the members is from England and brought in her own experiences with English tea time when we discussed “The Forgotten Garden,” by Kate Morton.

I’ve seen what life elements, including personal, social and political, readers will bring to a discussion, adding to the background of what I know about the book’s setting and circumstances.

All of this together enriches my reading experience, causing me to look deeper at what I read, as well as pay closer attention to plot and character development, so that I know what the other readers are referring to in the discussion.

In addition to improving reading skills, being part of a book club can help a writer:

  • Learn what readers of different interests like that’s the same or different.
  • Identify the types of characters they like and what, to them, makes for a good character description.
  • Pinpoint where they get bored in the plot.
  • Find out if they like how the dialogue is carried out and if it’s realistic to them.
  • Figure out what they like about each writer’s style and voice.
  • Discover what they first notice about the book.
  • Find out why they dislike certain books and love others.

At the end of each hour-long discussion, the members rate the book on a sale of 1-10. A good book gets mostly 9s and 10s, while a mediocre book gets 4s to 7s. A book also can get mixed reviews.

After the discussion, I like to ponder the ratings to figure out why the book got that rating. This helps me get a peek into the reader’s mind, though, as a writer, I won’t write to that reader unless I’m starting with something already within myself that needs expression.

The advantage of writing groups

August 6th, 2013 by Shelley Widhalm

Joining both a book club and a writer’s group cross pollinates the writing process.

This I have found from my membership in two writer’s groups – Northern Colorado Christian Fiction Writers and Our Weekly Writers’ Workshops meets … Under the Cuckoo Clock – and a book club that holds monthly meetings at Barnes & Noble in Fort Collins.

The Weekly Writers’ Workshop, which I joined in 2008 to get back into writing, starts each meeting with a writing prompt, followed by a group edit of the work we bring in.

From being a part of this group, I learned new concepts, such as the definition for character arc and what is a word echo (the repetition of a word or phrase within the same paragraph or on the same page).

I improved my editing skills by observing how other writers’ edited each other’s work and also by doing the editing, because practice leads to skill improvement.

And I kept to a writing schedule, wanting something to submit each week for our accountability reports.

At the NCCFW group, which meets monthly, we read a chapter or two from a writing book and then the next month bring in a response to a writing assignment related to the book or a few pages from our current project.

Because of the assignments, I’ve written stories that I would not have thought of without the prompt. I’ve seen how other writers interpret the chapters, expanding what I notice and recall from each chapter. And I’ve remembered the material, because learning new facts and ideas is easier through repetition.

By being part of these two groups, I’ve also realized:

  • Words and phrases said out loud read differently than they appear on the page, helping identify where things are stated awkwardly or fail to read      smoothly.
  • Hearing writing read aloud helps catch grammar mistakes and missing words or grammatical marks.
  • Other writers can help point out any weak areas in plot and character      development that you may not notice, as well as problems with pacing. For example, my writers’ groups have helped me tighten dialogue by deleting unnecessary pieces of conversation that don’t move the plot forward.

By joining a writers’ group, you can get help with brainstorming plot or other elements and hear a variety of perspectives on what you’ve written. Each writer notices different things, doubling or tripling your editing effort.

A writers’ group serves as a writing community, providing you with people who care about your successes and commiserate with you when you run into obstacles with the writing and getting-published processes.

The importance of Character Arc

July 6th, 2013 by Shelley Widhalm

After reading “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer, I couldn’t figure out why some of my writer friends called it popcorn, poorly written material.

At a party last month, I asked one of those friends to explain, particularly because I had gotten caught up in the young adult story and liked the characters, though now I can’t remember their names and had to look them up (Bella Swan and Edward Cullen). That should have been a clue right there. Memorable characters have memorable names, like Scarlet O’Hara, Scout, Jay Gatsby, Elizabeth Bennett and the couple Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley.

One writer friend said that the point-of-view character, Bella, who falls in love with Edward, a sexy vampire whose extreme beauty is almost un-human, doesn’t change.

In other words, there is no character arc for her where she undergoes some kind of transition and learns something in the process. She’s just a pretty girl who ends up with the vampire boyfriend.

A character arc demonstrates the point-of-view character’s growth process through the unfolding of the story through beginning, middle and end. Without a character arc, which is graphed as a curve alongside the plot, the story becomes a series of events lacking anything tying them together.

The character has to want something, or she already has what she wants and loses it. She has a certain viewpoint at the onset that changes by the end. She is impacted by the plot, and as a result changes and grows.

The character arc is the line of movement in the story as this character faces her flaws, fears, attitudes and limitations and overcomes them to get what she wants or needs but does not initially recognize or acknowledge. When she faces her flaws, she is forced to face the truth about herself and as she does so, is able to consciously choose to change or not to change.

The inner or outer journey she undergoes from beginning to end causes growth and transformation of who she is. A negative arc will take her from a good place to bad, while a positive one takes her from bad to good. An arc that isn’t so clear cut allows her to achieve some of what she wants or needs, but not everything.

Regardless, she is a different character at the end of the book and not the same old Bella, or beauty, she was at the beginning.

Choosing to Live in Love

July 2nd, 2013 by Phyllis Kennemer

I was exuberant with joy this morning. The Reporter Herald contained a good-sized article about my new life-coaching business – Paths 4 Change. The young reporter had been very attentive during our conversation. He described the role of labyrinths in my work and gave examples of ways that people can use labyrinths in spiritual practices.

I was sitting at my computer around noon when my telephone rang. The caller ID read anonymous, so I figured it was another solicitation call, but I answered anyway. There was silence, so I thought a recording was coming.

Imagine my surprise when the hesitant voice of a woman asked me if I had been the subject of the article in the newspaper today. “Yes!” I responded quickly thinking this sounded like someone sorely in need of my services.

Imagine my greater surprise when the woman said, “What you are doing is New Age. Labyrinths are not in the Bible and I cannot believe that they built one at First Christian Church.” Somewhat flabbergasted, I told her that labyrinths have been used in churches for hundreds of years. The labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral was built in 1200.

She was not convinced. Jesus did not walk labyrinths, and, furthermore, meditation is evil. Just another New Age thing. And you might not think about Jesus when you are meditating.

“I felt sick reading the article,” she said, “I know you are making a lot of money with this New Age stuff. It’s probably paying your rent. I looked up your address and you live in Lincoln Place Apartments, so you’re making a lot of money.”

At the close of the mostly one-sided conversation and when I got my breath back, I tried to understand where this woman is coming from. We make our decisions based on love or fear. I did not detect any love in either her tone of voice or in her words. She is obviously living in fear. I do not know what she is afraid of, but I refuse to be pulled into the depths of her despair.

I am so grateful for the positive, supportive people in my life. I am blessed.



Ignition! Blast off!

June 21st, 2013 by Maryjo Faith Morgan

I love writers' critique groups. Love the synergy, love the connections with others who love the craft of writing the way I do.

I also enjoy getting newsletters from writing coaches, writers markets and publishing companies. Got one this week - an extremely well-written  first person account by Beth Erickson of Filbert Publishing. Knocked my socks off!

She writes.
She was just diagnosed with cancer.
She has a promising prognosis.

Her words reignited my determination to write more. And often. To somehow juggle whatever I must to spill those words out. I've stored them up for so long, there is a torrent barely held back, sloshing, raging, ready to break free.

I love it when writers write!

Read Beth's blog post. See if you aren't reignited, too.

Writing Quality vs. Product Quality

June 6th, 2013 by Shelley Widhalm

As the quality of everything else declines, writing quality remains high for writing contests and publishing houses.
This is an interesting consequence of the Great Recession.
Fewer buyers in the market decreased demand, but companies and CEO’s wanted to retain profitability. Buyers, who are not ignorant though treated as such, were forced to purchase lower-grade items, do without or pay high-end prices for items that also have declined in durability and appearance, but not as much.
This quality has plummeted in two noticeable areas, that of clothing and food. Both have gone up in price, while becoming low-grade.
In the area of clothing, jeans now include 1 or 2 percent spandex, so that they do not have to be cut for each size but can use one pattern. Cotton looks nappy in the store, as if the threads are popping out. And material is thinner, sometimes almost see through, seams are poorly stitched, and zippers and other notions are flimsy.
As for food, portions are smaller, ingredients are cheaper lacking taste, and prices are higher.
We are wearing clothes that look used when just purchased, hang sloppily and don’t fit properly. We’re eating food that’s practically doubled in price. And we’re putting up with this.
Yet, we are the readers who demand high-quality literature from a shrinking publishing market. And we get this quality, because literary agents and publishing houses have more to select from with less room to publish.
Alternatively, retailers, restaurants and grocery stores aren’t catering to anybody but their own bottom line.
So I ask, why the difference?