All posts for the month June, 2012

Poets and Novelists

Published June 29, 2012 by Ms. Nine

Have you ever considered infusing your novel or short story with a splash of poetry?  I’m mostly a prose writer, but the value of dropping a poem in your prose cannot be underestimated (think Hunger Games).   A poem can break up the visual monotony of paragraphs and thread a recurring theme.

Yesterday I spent most of my blog time visiting other writers’ blogs and making comments (what fun!).  In the process, I discovered a writer of uncommon talent.  Her many modes of artistic expression include art, photography, and poetry.  I was particularly moved by her poems.  Her poetry resounds with raw rectitude.  Rousing and provocative, her verse wraps the reader in layers of meaning that break and reshape into loops of creative thought.   Stimulating!  Check her out at Perle’s Ink.

Drawing inspiration from my feedback tour, I’m posting a poem about writers.

Hey, Writer, What do Your Words Do?

Do they…

build up

unbind, obey


brown nose

rebuke, rebuff

bleed, blunder

roar like thunder

say enough?

Thanks for stopping by!

Next week – summer shorts

Enjoy your weekend and happy writing.



Published June 28, 2012 by Ms. Nine

How important is feedback?  If you’re a teacher, you know that feedback is on the short list of factors that increase student achievement.  If you’re a writer, sometimes feedback is like ants on a picnic blanket, something to shake off.  Let’s be honest; we need feedback just as much as students do.

For me, feedback is an ‘A’ written on the top margin, something to tack on the fridge.  It means a reader had responded to my words.  Yippee!

For the fun of it, today I’ll spend my blog time making comments on other writers’ blogs.  It’ll feel like old times as I don my teacher hat and dole out some old fashion feedback.

Thanks for stopping by!

Mixing Business With Pleasure

Published June 27, 2012 by Ms. Nine


If you’re a writer not concerned about earning money, you’re a true artist.  Who cares if anyone buys you’re creative works?  You do it because you love it.  When you write, you don’t think about life’s minutia.

In truth, there’s a gnawing inside your brain.  You hear the hamsters chewing the cage bars.  When you’re writing, you’re the hamster on the wheel.  Where are you going?  Like the hamster, you don’t care.  You’re moving.  You’re writing.  The wheel is spinning.  It’s fun.

For decades you paid your own way doing something else.  Now, you don’t even see the bills coming in.  Someone else is funding your fun.  You’re the gnawing hamster, chewing into your guilt.  The fact that someone else enjoys supporting your endeavor doesn’t stop the gnawing.

You put it out of your mind.  It’s easy when you’re writing.

Your writing time ends at five when the expectation is family time.  Writing is your job, you’re not getting paid, and your happiness is diminished a little.  You’ve been spinning along with the planet for hours.  All you’ve gained are pounds on your derrière and black marks on a white background.   Right now, no one is asking how much money you made today.   Are you the only one concerned?  You tell yourself that you’re too selfish, too self-absorbed, and too self-indulgent.  Your valuable brain time is being wasted seeking  justification, affirmation. Stop it!

Go ahead – chase your dreams.  You’re not getting any younger.  Write on!

Writing Historical Fiction

Published June 26, 2012 by Ms. Nine

I hesitated to visit the setting of my WIP.    After all, the trip was expensive, and I had gone into “early retirement” to pursue writing.  My husband agreed to fund it as a vacation with the implied expectation that I would be doing research while he would be fishing.   Work for me, fun for him.  As a writer, I could conjure up the whole historic premise, craft a plausible conflict, and whittle a doozy of a storyline.  Okay, so that much hasn’t changed.  What, then, did I gain from my trip?

Months ago, I began writing a story about the fall of innocence.  My protagonist is a young boy whose wishes, like dazzling diamonds, attract him to an evil entity that blinds him from seeing the truth.

As I fleshed out my characters and wrote a few scenes, I noticed thematic parallels in American history like the McCarthy/Cold War era of the 50s.  This, and other elements, led me to a hamlet in the Adirondacks.  Aha!  Like a rabbit from a magician’s hat, out popped my setting – the Village of Saranac Lake in the 1950s.

For months, the bulk of my research was online sifting through databases of government documents and Google images of cure cottages.   I realized I needed research of a more tangible sort.  I needed to experience the setting with all of my senses.

Last week, I explored Saranac Lake and saw it though the eyes of my characters.  As I snapped pictures of a park by the Saranac River, I was Caleb running home through a short cut.   At the Trudeau Institute, I became Dr. Stone examining my conscience, troubled by the deal I made with the CIA.  Driving the main streets and nearby neighborhoods, I was David making my last fateful delivery.   Touring the Saranac Laboratory Museum, the twisted thoughts of Agent Mallory followed me up the spiral stairs to the upper room.  As luck would have it, the present-day caretakers lovingly restored it to its original state.  Wonderful!

My camera is loaded with images of the village.  When I review them, my handle of the setting is clear: goodness and wickedness at play.   The place is real to me now.  I will, in turn, make it real to my readers.


Back to Blogging

Published June 25, 2012 by Ms. Nine

Where have you been?

I’ve been away, far away and unable to post due to circumstances beyond my control.  However, my experiences zapped me with more fodder for posting than I ever imagined.  I sketched them out in my notebook.  Here’s one.

I drove along a stretch of a wilderness road in the Adirondacks and side-glanced a sign that read “fishing access”.   Those simple words straightened my bent sense of what-am-I-doing-here.  I’m adventuring, right?  So I ask you, is there a better reason for banking a hard right onto that narrow dirt road?   Take a risk, I told myself.

The loose gravel crackled under the tires.  On both sides dense woods lined its meandering miles.   I couldn’t deny the isolated feeling that crept into my soul.  Boulders of morbid thoughts rolled into my brain. What a perfect place to dump a bodyWhat if I have a heart attack or stroke?  No one would ever find me here.  Suddenly, the sense of aloneness that usually brought me peace and solace now frightened me into a conniption fit.

In a thumping heart beat, I braked, fumbled for my cell phone, and punched the navigation button.  It beeped an apology.  No service area.  I forced myself to breath, steady and slow, a rhythm that relaxed and calmed my frayed nerves.  You’re okay, I told myself, just pay attention to where you are.  I stepped out of the car to observe the strange milieu.

The lack of human debris – no empty McDonald’s sack, beer cans, or cigarette butts – reinforced my feeling of isolation.  The pristine wilderness, untamed and unbound, intimidates the cultivated and constrained.   Gazing into the dark forest, I realized that my feral self doesn’t exist.  I am not in these woods.  I wanted to exit, but the road was too narrow, the edges too embanked, that I couldn’t turn the car around; my only choice was to forge ahead and find the “fishing access”.

I drove slowly.  A dead branch blocked the road.  Once more I faced the wilderness, a void I didn’t understand.  I dragged the branch to the edge of the road leaving a scrape mark in the dirt, an act that changed how I felt.  Like a conqueror placing a flag on vanquished soil, I made my mark, an I-was-here billboard.  With increased confidence, I drove on.

The road ended in a clearing by a lake, a simple parking area marked off with timber.  There was a cork board nailed on a tree.  The papers that were pegged on it and covered in Plexiglas shouted out like a town crier.  Hear ye! Hear ye! People do come here!  I read the fishing regulations and a handwritten sign that said “privy across bridge”.

Off to the side of the clearing, I noticed a foot bridge suspended over a swamp.  The bridge extended about fifty feet across the water and into a wooded area.  Anyone with an ounce of curiosity would be compelled to cross it.  Naturally, I started across the bridge.

The planks were worn and loose, but I was not deterred.  The swaying and the creaking merely annoyed me.  Once on the other side, two paths split in opposite directions, both equally treaded.  Two roads diverged in the shadowy woods.  I’m not Robert Frost.  If one of them had looked well travelled, that’s the one I would have taken.

I followed the path on the left which led nowhere, a foray into the deep woods for nothing.  The privy?  I didn’t want to believe that “privy” meant a squatting place in the woods.  I backtracked.  The other path must lead to a more civilized notion of “privy”.

The path on the right promised little more than its twin.  Undaunted, I decided to be fair and give it an equal amount of distance as I gave to its sister.  Then I hit pay dirt.  Score! Up ahead on a hill, I spied a tiny wooden structure.

I marched up the hill to inspect it.  Constructed with rough planks and slightly listing, it stood seven feet tall.  Even though no one was around, I knocked on the door, a natural act, like scratching when someone mentions head lice.  Inside the dark three by three foot space was the squatting hole, the primitive privy.  Yuck!

I fled like Alice, cured of curiosity by a malicious Queen of Hearts snapping at my head.  No more rabbit holes; no more weird paths through the woods.

My next wild adventure would include a scotch and water at a hotel bar.  And make it a double.

Going Home

Published June 19, 2012 by Ms. Nine

I visited my hometown, a place I haven’t seen in years, to attend a wedding.  A day before the wedding, my feelings of nostalgia led me to the old neighborhood where I grew up.   How differerent it looked from the days of my youth!  It took days to untangle my emotions and wrap them up in words.

Here’s what I told myself:

What did you expect?  When you walked away thirty years ago, did you think you were the only one who would leave?  You thought home would always be there, didn’t you?  Well, things change.

Where you once lived, the new owners have installed wrought iron stairs leading to your old room on the second floor.  At the top of the stairs is a door instead of a window.  Two familites live there now.

As you walk the streets of your childhood memories, you notice the sidewalks where you learned to ride a bicycle are less shady.  You can’t recall their exact location, but you know there are trees missing.  Wasn’t there a willow tree here?

The neighborhood has changed, too.    Houses now occupy the fields where you played hide and seek.  You’re bewildered.  You remember slinging your ice skates over your shoulder to join a dozen others on a frozen pond.  Where’s the pond?  That too, has morphed into an unrecognizable cluster of track houses.

You wonder if your mind is playing tricks on you.    Back yards that once blended in congenial fraternity are now partitioned in stockade fencing.  You’re saddened by the thought that your idea of “neighborhood” is as obsolete as a game of jacks.

Is there a constant in the universe of your memory, a single element that grounds you to the place you called home?   You yearn for the elusive anchor that will moor you to the past, if only for a moment.  If you don’t find a familiar marker, you’re certain your heart will float away, adrift and alone.

Then you remember the poultry farm and its garage style store  where your brothers earned their first paychecks.   Even though you haven’t seen it yet, you know it’s still there, right around the corner.   You approach on foot and notice that the gravel parking lot is now paved and larger than you remembered.  Inside, the gleaming glass cases stock the same stuff, only there’s more of it – chicken pot pie, chicken salad, chicken croquettes, eggs – just like you remembered.   You buy the chicken salad and taste it.

Suddenly, for one tangy and sweet moment you’re back home.

Thanks for stopping by!

Next post: research in the Adirondacks on June 21st.

Published June 14, 2012 by Ms. Nine

Amy, thanks for writing this. I’m reposting it.

Amy McNulty

One of my favorite books, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, has a few jarring moments when the author speaks to the reader outside of the plot of the book. When I first read the book in high school and again in college, I was especially drawn to Fowles’ explanation of how the characters seem to write themselves without his conscious input:

“It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.” (Fowles, ch. 13)

He also mentions how the novelist cannot plan the worlds that they create through fiction, and goes as far as to say “a planned world… is a dead world.” Non-writers in the classes thought it silly, but this seemed to perfectly sum up how I write: sit down with a few ideas germinating and just write with no specific plan of where you’re going–more likely than not, the ideas…

View original post 389 more words

What Would Abigail Van Buren Do?

Published June 13, 2012 by Ms. Nine

A long time ago in a newspaper spread on your table, your grandparents, parents, or you read the syndicated advice column, Dear Abby.   Letters that exposed outlandish tales of woe, social faux pas, and family issues were juxtaposed with extraordinary common-sense responses from Abigail Van Buren.  Nearly sixty years later, her column is universally syndicated and the most widely read column in the world, hard copy or e-copy.  Doesn’t that wow you?  Who knew common sense could be so popular?

I’m not a journalist, but I have to wonder, what’s the story here.  How did she do it?

Is it the quintessential connection between reader and writer?   The letters that appear in her column are everyday concerns, universal and apropos.  And if those letters don’t depict a problem we’ve had ourselves, then we eagerly read Dear Abby’s response to calibrate our own sagacity.  We want to know what would Abby do.  If her answers jive with ours, we know we have common sense too.

Who is Dear Abby? That’s the real story, the back story I don’t have.   Pauline Phillips, the creator of Dear Abby, has Alzheimer’s.  Her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, owns the legal rights to the pen name Abigail Van Buren and writes the column now.

How did Pauline Philips become Abigail Van Buren?  What’s the story of her writing life?

Here’s my Dear Abby letter:

Dear Abby,

As a writer, I’m curious about your writing life.  Even though two biographers have told it, there are some questions I would like to ask you.

First of all, you were in your late thirties and never wrote professionally when you landed that interview in 1956 with the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.  How did you do it?  When your column syndicated after only two months, what did you think?   How did your life change when Pauline Phillips became known as Abigail Van Buren?  What impact did your writing life have on your family life?

Your column capitalized on the engaging quality of everyday problems.  When you wrote your column did you understand the universal appeal of common sense?

Why do you think your column endures?

Thanks for entertaining these questions.  There are more questions I’d like to ask, but they’re more personal.  If you’d let me, I would like to write your real story.


Ms. Nine

Thanks for stopping by! Happy writing.

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