A Writer's Quarterly Review

May 6th, 2012 by Shelley Widhalm

Businesses do it for survival, but I figured as a writer, I could glean my own form of a quarterly review.

I’ve just finished month four of my yearlong blog of 52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty.

A little late, my review is three months, plus one.

Each week, I am tackling a writing topic, starting with the basics of Plot, Setting, Character, Dialogue and Pacing to fire up the big guns in my writer’s toolbox.
The BIG guns, you ask.

Before opening the toolbox, I want to key in on the essentials of writing a story or novel.

There has to be a hook in the beginning that contains a strong inciting incident. This incident triggers the main character’s problem or submerges him or her into trouble. She wants something but has to face obstacles that block the path to obtaining her goals and desires.

The telling of her story begins in the middle of the action to achieve a level of pacing that draws in the reader. The exciting moment is what gets readers turning the page, which likely won’t happen if the telling is bogged down with back story or has to start at the beginning without anything interesting happening.

Wherever they appear in a story, flashbacks should retell what happened before the story’s action begins and are triggered by something specific, such as a character seeing an object and remembering something because of it.

The story unfolds as a series of scenes strung together with a beginning, middle and end, or the arc of the entire telling. The outcome of each scene is what moves the plot forward.

What the story is about and why it matters is the theme, which offers insights or comments about the human experience.

The setting grounds the character in his or her reality without drawing too much attention to the words.

Voice comes through word choice and how words are put together to describe things.

Unlike that of the author, a character’s voice is revealed in her behaviors and attitudes to those around her. Her dialogue is reduced to the essentials, leaving out the normal repetitions, tangents and diversions that occur in regular conversation.

The elements of fiction are just one aspect of my toolbox, as are my hammer, nails, screwdriver and pliers that represent my paper, pen, laptop, journals and the other things I need to do the writing.

The specifics of what is in a writer’s toolbox will be continued to next week, because my quarterly review has two parts. Like some CEOs, I need lots of paper to make a point.

Does the media shape our society?

April 25th, 2012 by Maryjo Morgan

Did you know that at the present time, 51% of our population is female? And did you know young girls' interest in careers depends heavily on their role models? Although these YouTube.com clips have been up for some time, they only recently came to my attention. It is worth every minute to watch both the short and longer versions!

After watching these, it made me wonder at the mixed message our youth are getting about who has power and who must submit. The affects of a mindset like that can have devastating results. I am all for promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses in our schools as EARLY as possible.

I am grateful to have had teachers who told me it was OK - as a girl - to be smart, OK - as a girl - to lead, OK - as a girl - to win in competitions with the guys. I hope our youth have similar teachers!

And ... I hope after watching these videos we all will be more aware. We can write letters, vote by withholding and spending our dollars accordingly. Most of all, we can open our eyes and refuse to allow media to strategically dictate our society's parameters to fit their own agendas.

Girls have the right to succeed in their chosen careers. Let's support them as they dive into STEM studies, politics and unconventional arenas.


1311 Causeway Drive

April 20th, 2012 by Fay Ulanoff

1311   Causeway Drive

What if you found out that nobody liked you; that all the laughing at your jokes and compliments were bunk.

And if this were true what would you do?

Would you ignore it and go on or write in your journal or just cry yourself to sleep each night. But what if it wasn’t the real you they despised and put up with but a person who looked like you and was you in every reasonable way, except for your most important part, your heart, with a goodness and kindness that emitted but was rebuffed by anyone who did not look deeper into your soul where you were sensitive and thoughtful, but would only see you as a phony and a put on.

What if that was the only way your personality could be and there was no way to change it, until now; right now; this minute and the true meaning of goodness was buried deep within you and no one recognized it, until today, when all hell broke lose in the world and you were its only salvation.

The End

Oliver stood on the top step of the front entrance to his home.

Home to him and fourteen other people who inhabited the small apartment building of which each one of them called home.

But how could everyone’s home be at 1311 Causeway Drive. It was, after all, this was not a group home, even though each apartment was in close enough in proximity to warrant it.

The air at eight in the morning was thick from smog and humidity and the sky was beginning to unfold from blue to a soft grey, then to blackness, almost night.

A crackling sound erupted from what seemed to be beneath Oliver, which made him place his hands over his ears to blot it out.

The clouds were gone and darkness covered the sky.

The other tenants from the building piled out of their only elevator then shuffled down the stairs from their home and stood with Oliver on the steps, then eventually made their way to the sidewalk.

“What’s going on,” Ellie said holding her hands together in prayer. “Sweet Jesus, it’s the end of the world.”

Ellie was a hold over from the sixties, hippie era. She believed that one day the earth would give up and be enveloped in some sort of apocalyptic hiccup and this was it.

“Calm down. Calm down,”  said Norton Penzer , a literary professor in his mid-fifties who taught at one of the universities uptown.

Oliver looked down his street only to see phantom groups of people hovering under street lights. Many of them were on their knees praying, while others stood erect with their hands waving in the air shouting “Save us. Oh my God. This is it. It ‘s finally happened.”

A Pumpkin Tale

April 6th, 2012 by Shelley Widhalm

Here is a 200-word story I wrote in 2000 that I like for its simplicity and the story it tells:

A Pumpkin Tale

I live on 5th Avenue next to a rotting pumpkin patch. The smell of old pie, raw and sticky, reminds me of walks Pa and I took in the late summers. He knotted his fingers over my hand, engulfing it in his strength. I was his toy pulled along by stringy arms. If I stumbled, I had to be the one to balance while running to make up for lost steps.

I grew. My gangly limbs gained strength as my body expanded. My pa did not explain to me why my body changed.

I became tall, taller than he, and on our walks, he stopped holding my hand.

But he still talked.

“God damn corn this year. I aint gonna get a crop.”

“What about the pumpkins?” I asked, breathless as I ran.

He walked steadily.

“They are weeds,” he said. “They were here when I got this here farm.”

What about me? I wanted to ask.

In my house on 5th Avenue, I paste photos of Pa and me in my album. I close the book and look out the window. My husband is outside pulling a dandelion out of the ground, engulfing it in his strength.

A Kiss Away

March 21st, 2012 by Fay Ulanoff

A Kiss Away

I love the medium strength toothbrush I have, it gets to the places that need it.

But my dentist said it is best for my teeth to use the soft one.

Now that I have it and am using it every day, the head is beginning to fall apart. And I know it is only a mater of time before its demise.

What to do?

Well experts, who are really dentists in disguise, say that you’re supposed to change your brush every two weeks. Even if they don’t show any wear. How are we supposed to remember? Are they time sensitive?

I’ll miss my little red brush, with its bearded exterior and balding head.

Yes mine was the dark red one just as my mates is somewhat kind of blue, well at least in that family of colors.

In this way, and I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, there is no way for mistaken toothbrush borrowing.

But even if there was, after all they are sitting together day after day and they are really just a kiss away.

The Art of Finding Friends

March 6th, 2012 by Shelley Widhalm

I’m not alpha dog, my nearly two-year-old miniature dachshund taught me. She rules the roost, is queen of the castle and has me wrapped around her paw. I’ve read dog training books, books about dog behavior and even one about “How Dogs Think.”

At the pet store, she seemed shy, just like me, as she shook and cuddled against my chest. I took her home and at bedtime put her in her kennel, but she made this pitiful crying, abused sound. I turned on the light and warned her that this was the only night we would share a bed. Her sad sounds got to me the next night and the third night, and that was that, I became her sleep buddy.

During the daytime, our relationship wasn’t so easy.

My first dog wasn’t a Marley, but Zoey liked being naughty and disliked the word “no.” She chewed on furniture, barked like a 100-pound dog and wanted to go in and out, in and out all day long, as if the grass were greener on whichever side of the fence she did not dominate.

When she was naughty, Zoey would not stop if I told her “no” and was even more determined to continue. If I ignored her or she wanted my attention, she would become even more mischievous. She was stubborn, manipulative and wanted her own way.

I considered throwing in the towel, selling her, returning her, taking her to the pound. I tried ignoring her, squirting her with a water gun, lightly spanking her behind and putting her in time-outs. Nothing seemed to work, except time and waiting for her to learn and to grow up. And I, too, had to learn how to not give up.

I was rewarded walking in the door after each day at work.

Zoey greeted me with wiggles starting with her tail that moved her whole body into alarcity. She leaped off the chair and ran circles around the coffee table, stopping for a pet before running more circles.

From Zoey, I learned what friendship means in simple language and how to give my heart to a dog. Usually, I am guarded when it comes to making friends. I was teased as a child for being shy and did not learn essential social skills, such as reading facial expressions and gestures. I carried this insecurity into my adulthood.

I lose my inhibitions with Zoey. She kisses me, lets me hug her for 30 seconds and invites me to play, play, play. At night, she snuggles smack against me leaning into my stomach, giving me a nightlong cuddle. I tell her that I love her and I know in her dog language, she says I love you back. I found the cliché to be true – my best friend is a dog.

Memories Are Personal

March 1st, 2012 by Phyllis Kennemer

Memory is strange. Thinking logically, it would seem that people sharing the same life experiences would share the same memories, but that is rarely the case. I remember chuckling to myself as a teenager whenever my grandmother and her sister, Aunt Jeanie, would have conversations about their childhood inOhio. They both had crystal clear recollections of their home and neighborhood – and these memories were totally different. They talked about the corner grocery store, but they each placed it on a different corner. When they discussed their older brother, Uncle Bill, as child, he came across as two people or one with a split-personality.

That suppressed laughter came back to haunt me a few years ago in discussions about my childhood with the brother and sister closest in age to me. After awhile I began to wonder if we had lived in the same house during those early years – and whether we had actually grown up with the same parents!

These thoughts came to mind today when I attended a session at the library. Charlotte Hinger(www.charlottehinger.com), author of numerous books and articles, talked about the unreliability of family stories. A native ofKansas, she was involved in writing a book of family histories for the county she lived in. She discovered that no family has one history. Each family member has a personal history – and as I had discovered for myself – these histories seldom agree.

Charlottealso talked about family stories that have been passed on through generations that have been proved to be factually false, but the tales continue to be passed on. Amazingly, these fabricated family legends are most treasured.

Sometimes families keep secrets through tacit agreements for many years. Then when the people involved get into their 70s and 80s, they begin to talk. Such was the case inCharlotte’s family. One day a cousin approached her with a question for her then elderly mother. WouldCharlotteplease ask her if Aunt Margaret really did kill Aunt Mattie? ThusCharlottewas thrust into research into her own family history.

Consider your childhood memories. Are these recollections shared with anyone else or are they unique for you?

Cooking from Scratch

February 26th, 2012 by Maryjo Morgan


Aunt Isabelle as painted by her niece Mary Benedetto

Aunt Isabelle

Weekends. They are a great time to sleep late, work on things I need to do without interruption, and cook up a few meals for the week. Yesterday it was Herb Bread (this time I added millet, garlic and fresh rosemary and parsley.). Good loaf. Also tried Borscht for the first time from my new favorite cookbook, "Twelve Months of Monastary Soups" by Brother Victor.

Today, though, I was digging through the pantry and found some pinto beans. Hmmm. A green chili and pinto bean stew sounded good, but of course, since I'd just found them, the beans were not soaked. Thank goodness it only takes a minute googling to find out how to use the pressure cooker to cook unsoaked beans! Jill McKeever  mentioned using a Presto 6 qt. pressure cooker - same as mine - I decided to give her recipe "How to Cook Pinto Beans in a Pressure Cooker" a try. She said to  cook the beans longer than my Presto instructions indicated, but I tried it her way. Success. 🙂

Seems I have been cooking from scratch since forever. Actually, I remember exactly when, if I am honest. In her later years, my father's Aunt Isabelle used to take turns staying with relatives for a week or two at a time. We all loved her and would argue whose turn it was next to have her stay.

Stout and shorter than me, she wore her grey hair in long plaits wound like a crown atop her head. She taught me how to braid on her own hair, how to knit, crochet, mend and cook. I never did learn how to turn collar and cuffs to extend a shirt's life, but I did learn about nutrition.

My siblings and I were always thrilled when she came to stay. Aunt Isabelle was a great cook, would help with homework and mending and anything else around the house. Most of all, she brought a sense of happiness where ever she went, so our home felt even more full - in a good way - when she was with us.

When my mother died, Aunt Isabelle came to stay and help us sort out our lives. She emptied the kitchen cupboards onto the counter one by one and went through everything. She had the trash can by her side and quickly filled it despite my protests. Jello. Pudding. Cake Mix. Any foodstuffs in a box. In her Italian accent she explained, shaking her head, "That's-a not-a real food, Honey. I'm-a sorry but you canna-not eat-a that stuff. It's-a bad for you health. I'm-a gonna show you how to cook it right."

And she did. Breads. Cakes. Manicotti. Soup.  Between Aunt Isabelle, Aunt Carol and Aunt Mary, I learned how to cook from scratch. Scratch cooking does not really take that much longer, the fresh ingredients pack flavor like nothing ever could coming from a box, and it makes a house smell like home.


Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty

February 6th, 2012 by Shelley Widhalm

As a self-proclaimed word junkie, I get frustrated when I face the blank page.

When I told my friend about my blogging challenge for the year – 52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty – he asked, “How do you write a great opening scene?”

Understanding plot is an essential start, just as having a blueprint is necessary to build a house or an outline to write a college essay.

Without plot, there is no story, but unconnected moments of time like a broken string of pearls scattered on the ground. Stories follow a structure or framework called the narrative arc, which, simply put, is the story’s beginning, middle and end.

The opening scene needs a hook, or the inciting incident that gets the story moving. There should be some action, a character or two and a setting, which is the time and place where the action is occurring.

Readers will turn to page 2 and on to 3 and 4 if they care about the main character, whose actions drive the plot. The character has to have a goal or desire, whether it is romantic, emotional or practical.

This desire is what drives the character to act; otherwise the character would be just as happy watching TV or reading a book.

As the character goes for what she wants, she will face challenges, or obstacles, that become increasingly more difficult to overcome as the arc of the story rises upward.

The conflicts, whether internal or external, represent what the character is trying to resolve and are what creates these obstacles. The climax offers up the largest obstacle and determines whether the character actually gets what she wants.

The structure or framework, once in place, requires that everything in the story work together to tell the tale.

The other side of the arc, or the falling action to the story’s end, is where the character experiences some kind of revelation. Does she meet her goal? Or does her goal even matter anymore? Did she get something better (or worse) in her search to obtain her desires?

The resolution is where these revelations occur and where any loose ends are tied up, so that the strand of pearls becomes a full circle.

Living in the Land of Love

February 1st, 2012 by Phyllis Kennemer

When I moved toLoveland,Colorado, about 15 years ago, I did not give much thought to the name of the city. It was the location near my brothers and the home on the lake that appealed to me.

I read about the Valentine remailing program in the newspaper during my first year here. What a great idea! I bought Valentines for my grandchildren, my brothers, my sister, my aunts, my uncles, my nieces, my nephews, and a good number of friends. I deposited them in one of the red mailboxes at the post office and enjoyed hearing from people who had received them. I have continued to do this every year since.

This year has a new twist, however. This time I purchased the “official” Valentines distributed by the Chamber of Commerce. A bit of ego is involved here. My name is printed on the back of the card informing the world that I wrote the winning cachet that appears on every envelope. I learned at the press conference that about 160,000 Valentines are remailed here each year. They have gone to all 50 states and to 110 countries. Wow! What a privilege to have a part in this enterprise! What a joy!

The Valentine remailing program began in 1946, so it has been going on for 65 years. In 1962, the city began the selection of a Miss Loveland Valentine. This young woman must be a senior in one of theLovelandhigh schools, have good grades, poise, and speaking abilities. She receives scholarship grants for college and represents the community for a year spreading the word about the delights of ourSweetheartCity.

During the month of February, the Thompson Valley Rotary Club places red, wooden hearts on lampposts along our two major highways. Citizens may compose words of affection, devotion, and admiration in 25 letters or fewer and have these messages seen by thousands of people as they drive through town. Proceeds from this project help children locally and abroad.

This year we have lights of red and white strung across our main downtown street. Hearts, roses, and cupids abound at business locations and around some private residences. We are fortunate to live in theLandofLove.