What I am Reading Now

While browsing the shelves of Barnes and Noble in search of books on the topic of writing picture books for children, I found an excellent book written by Ann Whitford Paul. Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication is a good resource for aspiring picture book writers looking to develop their skills in picture book creation.

One technique I find very helpful was how the author presented a topic, then provided a resource in support of the topic. For example, when she talked about giving your character personality, she referred to the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? by Laura Joffe Numeroff.  The author asked how would you define the personality of the mouse in the book. Then she asked you to compare the personality of the mouse with the personality of the character Grace in Karen’s Winnick’s  Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers. When writing for children, she recommended making your characters childlike, like the badger in Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban.

Another helpful technique Ms. Numeroff suggested was to create a study of each main character. The author recommends five items for each of your main characters:

  • Name
  • Birth date and age at time of story
  • Appearance
  • Relationships with others
  • Personality

Refer to your character study often when revising your story. The character study will ensure your character is unique and their speech and behavior are consistent with their personality.

The author also touched on topics such as character development, tone, word count, rhythm, writing groups, publishers, book titles, and much more.

Become a better picture book writer by reading and studying picture books.  But most importantly, get those story ideas out of your head and on to paper.

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The clock is ticking. It’s that time of year again. Time to make your New Year’s resolutions. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has multiple definitions for the word resolution. I am going to just pick two:

“a formal expression of opinion, will, or intent voted by an official body or assembled group.”
“something that is resolved <made a resolution to mend my ways>”

Since Merriam-Webster used resolved in the definition, let’s take it a step further and define resolve:

“to reach a firm decision about <resolve to get more sleep> <resolve disputed points in a text>”

I searched Google for the definition of  resolution and found definitions similar to Merriam-Webster:

“a firm decision to do or not to do something”
“a formal expression of opinion or intention agreed on by a legislative body, committee, or other formal meeting, typically after taking a vote”

Let’s take a look at the term “New Year’s resolution”. Wikipedia defines New Year’s resolution as:

“A tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior.”

Well, that pretty much sums it up, we promise to change our behavior . . . quite smoking, loose weight, exercise more, be a better person, be on time for family gatherings, eat less junk food, be patient with the old uncle who forgets your name. The list goes on and on. I will go out on a limb and commit to only three resolutions for 2017:

  1. Take at least 10,000 steps per day for five or more days per week. (thank you Fitbit)
  2. Write for at least 10 minutes per day. (thank you Shaunta Grimes for tiny goals)
  3. Last but not least, strive to be a better person. (be more tolerant, kind, and patient)

Need inspiration to achieve your resolutions for 2017? Here are 50 ideas.

Happy New Year!

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There is an app for that…

For years I talked of learning sign language to be able to easily communicate with my nephew. Steve is Deaf due to an illness he had when he was a baby. He is an adult now, and I still resort to pen and paper to communicate with him. Sorry Steve, your handwriting is just plain terrible.

While attending a networking session several weeks ago, I met a young lady who knew my nephew. Through her sign language interpreter I learned she had attended the Indiana School for the Deaf at the same time as Steve.

Sign language app for iPhoneShe suggested an app that would help me communicate with Steve. It’s called “ProDeaf Translator” and can be downloaded from iTunes. At the time I downloaded the app it was free.

The American Sign Language (ASL) version is in Beta development, but so far I have not experienced any problems. The app is written in Portuguese but allows you to select English from the menu bar in the upper left hand corner. You can either type or touch the microphone icon to speak what you want signed. Sign language app for iPhone

The translator guy in the app (I’ll call him Marco) does the signing. You can rotate Marco and view him from his left or right side. There is a dictionary that can be downloaded and used without an internet connection.

It won’t take the place of knowing sign language, but for now it beats using pen and paper.

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How to Identify a Writer

An interesting article was written by Jesse DuBose from Nicholls State University. He wrote a few observations on how to identify a writer:

  • They’re readers
  • The grammar police is a real thing
  • They tend to be day dreamers
  • They definitely keep a journal
  • They’re often introverted
  • They have a favorite pen – and don’t touch it

This post was taken from “The Writer’s Circle”, a Facebook writers’ community. Since I aspire to be a writer, I clicked on the link to read the post.

When I reviewed his observations, I found I fell into most of the categories. I like to read, especially science fiction that has a sprinkle of romance thrown in. At times I have to put a muzzle on my inner grammar police. I can’t think of a time where I found myself daydreaming. Are wishful thoughts about winning the lottery considered daydreaming?

Not much into journaling, but keeping a journal is more than writing paragraphs of text about your day. For a writer, a journal can be a place to jot down story ideas, keep character descriptions, or develop scenes for a novel that is waiting to be written. In other words, a journal is a place to keep whatever you need to further your writing experience.

Webster has a number of definitions for an introvert, one simple definition is: “a shy person, a quiet person who does not find it easy to talk to other people.” I enjoy my quiet time, but I also enjoy talking with people.  So according to this definition, I am not an introvert. But I do tend to be more reserved, “not openly expressing feelings or opinions.” Is that a contradiction for a writer?

I don’t have a favorite pen, but I like to use the Papermate brand InkJoy 700. I have three coffee mugs filled with various writing tools (pens, pencils, markers, highlighters), but I always hunt for my InkJoy. I have one InkJoy I carry with me at all times, and one I store in a coffee mug that sits next to my computer. A little over the top perhaps?

Where do you fit? How many of the observations apply to you? Can you spot a writer?

You can read the entire post here:


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Improve your conversation skills

According to Merriam-Webster,

A conversation is:

  1. an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people
  2. an oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas

A conversationalist is:

  1. a person who likes or is good at conversation
  2. one who converses a great deal or who excels in conversation

Looking for ways to improve your conversation skills? At some point in my travels around the internet I received a free “something or other” in exchange for subscribing to a free email newsletter. From time to time I receive emails from Michael Hyatt, author, blogger, speaker and CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company. The upside is the emails usually contain links to useful information and a unsubscribe link at the bottom when you no longer wish to receive the free newsletter.

One such email contained a link to a useful blog post written by Mr. Hyatt.  In his post he outlines strategies on how to become a better conversationalist:

  1. Be aware of how much you are talking.
  2. Hit the ball back over the net.
  3. Ask follow-up questions.
  4. Provide positive feedback.
  5. Listen with your heart.

Points one and four reached out and grabbed my attention. Point one, it’s easy to enthusiastically talk and talk and talk and talk about a subject close to your heart and forget the conversation is a back and forth exchange. Point four brought to mind a recent conversation I had with a friend. In the middle of the conversation I noticed that she was looking at her phone rather than making eye contact. Immediately I found myself withdrawing from the conversation.

To read the entire post go here:

5 Strategies for Becoming a Better Conversationalist

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Green Thumb

Do you have a green thumb – a natural talent for growing plants? Why not try a plant from the Maranta group. While generally not recommended for the beginner, some of the more popular varieties are not difficult to grow.

The genus Maranta is a small, colorful houseplant that is available in several varieties. Foliage color depends on the variety. The tricolor (pictured below) has dark green oval shaped leaves with yellow splotches down the middle and red veins extending outward from the middle vein. Other varieties include plain green leaves with two rows of brown patches or blackish green leaves with silvery veins.

Prayer plantMaranta leuconeura erythrophylla (tricolor), is a low growing plant native to Central and South America and the West Indies. The Maranta is sometimes referred to as the prayer plant due to the way the leaves close (fold) together at night resembling praying hands, then open (unfold) during the day. Plant biologist call the folding and unfolding of the leaves circadian rhythms.The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) defines a circadian rhythm as “the physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment.” According to the NIGMS, “ circadian rhythms are found in most living things, including animals, plants and many tiny microbes.”

Enough of the scientific stuff, on to the fun stuff.

This picture was taken during the day to show the opened position.

Prayer plant Feeling adventurous? Here are a few helpful care tips for the prayer plant if you are ready to take the plunge and become a plant parent:

  • Tolerates low light, but prefers bright, indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight causes the bright leaf color to fade
  • Ideal location is an east or north facing window
  • Keep soil moist but not soggy
  • Feed every two weeks from spring to fall
  • Prefers high humidity and room temperature water
  • Mist leaves during the day to increase humidity

Marantas are beautiful plants with spectacular foliage that thrive best under warm moist conditions.

Check out this nicely done time lapse video on You Tube of the prayer plant going through a circadian rhythm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRToxjXhbso

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A vacation stolen

During the summer of 2005, my cruise to Bermuda was stolen by tropical storm Franklin. Franklin formed over the Bahamas on July 21 and swept northward across the western Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, due to the tropical storm, the Voyager of the Seas cruise ship was diverted to Nova Scotia while on the way to Bermuda. Nova Scotia is located at the extreme southeastern corner of Canada, and at that time the weather there was cold, rainy, foggy, and dreary.
Recently while reminiscing over pictures from my cruise, I became curious about this photo I had taken so many years ago. George's Island Lighthouse in Halifax, Nova Scotia During the tour of the Halifax harbor in Nova Scotia, I snapped a picture of a lighthouse on a small island. Nova Scotia has about 170 lighthouses along its coastline. I researched online for information on lighthouses of Nova Scotia and compared the picture I had taken to pictures I found online. I believe the lighthouse in the picture may be the George’s Island Lighthouse.
Built in 1917, the lighthouse replaced an earlier lighthouse built in 1876. Lighthouses were used to marked dangerous coastlines, entrees to harbors, and sometimes used to assist in aerial navigation. Lighthouse use has declined over time due to costly maintenance and the use of electronic navigational systems.
While diverting to Canada did provide memorable scenery worthy of capturing in pictures, it could not compare to the expectation of seeing the sandy beaches and sunny skies of Bermuda. Someday perhaps I will take another cruise to Bermuda.

Harbour tour boat in Halifax, Nova Scotia Harbour tour boat in Halifax, Nova Scotia George's Island Lighthouse in Halifax, Nova Scotia Tour boat Halifax, Nova Scotia

Moral of this story – don’t book a cruise during the hurricane season. You may be unpleasantly surprised.

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Writing prompts

Writing Prompts

Crossword puzzles are an excellent source for writing material. Crossword clues and answers increase your vocabulary by providing new words that can be used in a story: reave, kiln, gaunt, relic, grog, seedily. They also provide great writing prompts. For example:

Crossword clue: Piece of history

Answer: Relic

Webster’s dictionary defines a relic as:

  1. An object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical or sentimental interest.
  2. An object, custom, or belief that has survived from an earlier time but is now outmoded.

Writing prompt: In a futuristic setting, a Relic is a holographic image or a person that serves as an archive. Relics have vast stores of knowledge including the history of worlds from hundreds of years in the past. Do the Relics hold the key to the salvation of a dying world?

Crossword clue: In an unkempt manner

Answer: Seedily

Webster’s dictionary defines unkempt as:

Deficient in order and neatness. Messy or untidy.

Writing prompt: An unkempt but brilliant scientist working in a hydroponics lab discovers a pestilence resistant seed. The extract from the mature plant slows down or even reverses the aging process. Has the scientist drawn the scrutiny of the massive cosmetic conglomerate Eternal Beauty and placed his family in danger?

What sources do you draw inspiration from?

Feliz escribiendo! (Happy writing!)


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What I am reading now …

Book on creative writingI made another trip to Half Price Books. I purchased the book Creative Writing: Forms and Techniques written by Lavonne Mueller and Jerry D. Reynolds.

One topic of interest was the authors’ suggestion for keeping a writer’s journal. My first thought was why do I need to keep a journal? My idea of a journal is writing about events, thoughts, feelings, or experiences on a particular day. Further reading in the book revealed the concept of keeping a writer’s journal was so much more. “A journal is whatever you say it is”, something to fall back on when you are staring at a blank piece of paper with pen in hand and you have absolutely nothing to write about.

What goes in your journal? Anything …

  • Ideas written on scraps of paper
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Photographs
  • Sketches and doodles
  • Words cut from newspaper headlines
  • Dialogue between characters
  • Dreams
  • Description of objects, places, and people
  • Unfamiliar words
  • Random scenes

The journal is a good place to store up ideas for future use, develop characters, and practice writing.

Pack your journal with things that interest you. At a loss for a story idea? Consult your journal and you may find the bread crumb that will lead you to write that bestselling novel or short story. Struggling with writer’s block? Your journal could be the spark to get you writing again.

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Mall of America

While visiting my brother and his family in Eagan, Minnesota several weeks ago, we went to the Mall of American (MOA). The MOA is located in Bloomington, Minnesota, which is about a ten minute drive from Eagan. I had heard so much about the “Mall” . . . the shopping, the sightseeing, the food.

Well, I have two words to describe the MOA experience . . . absolutely amazing . . . the place is HUGE!

According to the MOA website, the mall is one of the top tourist destinations, has 50 restaurants, and over 520 tax-free clothing and shoe stores. Giant sculptures, live plants, sea life aquarium, movie theatres, so many attractions.

LL Bean boot sculpture Sea Life Aquarium at the Mall of America Indoor garden at Mall of America Movie theatre at the Mall of America

A person could spend several days at MOA and not see or do everything. For out of town visitors there are over 50 hotels within ten minutes of the mall that offer round-trip courtesy service to the mall.

Sponge Bob Square Pants welcomes visitors to the Mall of America Of all the attractions at the MOA I was awestruck by the Nickelodeon Universe theme park. Located in the center of the mall, Sponge Bob Square Pants welcomes visitors to the Nickelodeon Universe theme park. The theme park has something for everyone. There are hair raising rides for the young and the young at heart, special promotions for toddlers and military personnel, retail shops, Nickelodeon character appearances and much more.

Lego Retail Shop at Mall of America Mike & Ike candy store at Mall of America Diego's Rescue Rider amusement park ride at Mall of America View of Nickelodean Universe Amusement Park at the Mall of America Dora the Explorer and Boots ferris wheel Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park at Mall of America Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ride at the Mall of America

Fours hours in and one pair of sunglasses later we had barely scratch the surface. So much to see and so little time, we finally called it a day.

Mall of America fun facts click here

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