Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Open Your Mind

Having trouble with a story element? Open your mind.
For several weeks a member of the Advanced Life Story Writing Group had been struggling with her stories. She felt they weren’t interesting, maybe even weren’t “stories.” Then last week she read a piece about an important event in her childhood. She had detail, a beginning, middle, and end. She had emotion and sensory detail. She had a theme that she carried throughout very nicely. Her listeners were enthralled.
After we had told her all the things we liked about the story, she was unresponsive. No comment. No smile. Finally, I said, “This is good. Your story was good. Why is this your response?”
Long silence. Finally, she said, “Huh.” Another long pause. “I’m just wondering how I can do that again.”
Of course, we all laughed because we have all had that same feeling. Something works. How did we do it?
Here’s what I think happened. Consciously, or unconsciously, she opened her mind. The story was written from a child’s viewpoint instead of from a proper, grammatically correct, composition conscious adult viewpoint. We were seeing events through the eyes of the child. She was right back there in her family home, seeing herself, seeing her brother, seeing household items and how they worked from a child’s perspective.
Don’t get me wrong here. The writing, spelling, punctuation, and grammar were all correct. But the explanation of events was through the sensibility of a child.
My advice to this writer was my favorite advice: try to go again to that place in your brain where you were when you wrote that. Or to put it my even more favorite way – Lose your mind and write as fast as you can.

WRITING PROMPTImagine you are your first grade teacher. Write about Little You. Imagine you are your brother or sister. Write about Little You. Imagine you are Little You. Write about your best friend. Open your mind. (See Quote.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Great -- and Even Greater (flowers, writing, chocolate)

Great -- and Even Greater

These Stella Dora lilies bloomed under the birch tree in my front yard, through no effort on my part. They appeared just weeks after we moved in six years ago. This year, with ample rain and cool weather, they have spread and blossomed even more. How do they look? Good, huh? I am a great gardener. Perhaps even a genius.
Yet something about them reminds me of the first drafts of my writing. It bursts forth in wonderful glory. I love what I have written. It's perfect. I am inspired -- perhaps even a writing genius. Yes, a genius from whose pen (actually keyboard) a literary bouquet has sprung forth in full glory. This piece of writing, I assure myself, is ready for publication.

Look closer at the lilies. Do you see the ugly stuff in the lovely flower photo above? Yep, there it is. Dried, crinkly, used up blooms. Ah, well, they're not so bad are they? Besides, removing the old flowers would require all that bending and reaching and choosing.

In gardening, removing the imperfect flowers is called deadheading. If the plants are not deadheaded, they go to seed and lose vigor. Is it really worth it? Would the plants really look better?

What do you think? The photo above is Stella before deadheading.

Look at Stella after.

But it's writing we're talking about here. Back to the product of my genius -- having embarrassed myself a few times in the past, I wait. I look at the writing again in a few days, and there it is. Ugly stuff. Dead phrases. Limp metaphors. Fading verbs. Cliches. Endless prepositional phrases.
In writing, removing the imperfections is called editing. It's just as necessary in writing as it is in gardening. If the plants are not deadheaded, they go to seed and lose vigor. If the writing isn't edited, it too loses vigor.

No, I am neither a gardening genius nor a writing genius. I am simply an average woman -- so I will labor in the field and at the keyboard in the hope of producing a vigorous bouquet.
As I was working on this post, a writer called and our conversation turned to the creative process. She was feeling guilty for writing without an outline or plan. Sure, I can think of times when an outline is necessary; but mostly my suggestion is -- plant first, deadhead later.

And now -- chocolate: Let's call this recipe


Recently I attended a bridal shower where luscious-looking cupcakes were served. The hostesses, Judy and Brenda, confided their secret. The cupcakes were made with just three ingredients: a box of cake mix, a can of pie filling, and 3 eggs. For the shower, Judy and Brenda used Swiss chocolate cake mix and cherry pie filling. They made the cupcakes in silver foil cupcake "papers." It's what they did next that made the little cakes so appealing. They were frosted with chocolate frosting, from a plastic "can." Then, the tops of half the cupcakes were generously covered with slivered almonds and topped wth a maraschino cherry, with stem. The other half of the cupcakes were embellished with a purchased, foil-wrapped truffle, and for a final touch a pirouette cookie was inserted like a little straw. Super simple yet super attractive.
Judy says the cake mix, pie filling, and eggs are beaten with a hand mixer and can then be baked in a bundt pan, as cupcakes, or whatever strikes your fancy. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes for a bundt cake. Brenda baked the cupcakes in dark pans, at 325 degrees for 22 minutes. Arrange these on a tiered plate as Brenda and Judy did and your guests will be wowed.

For writing tips, writing prompts, fun stuff for writers, resources and life story writing tips, go to my website,

Copyright 2009 Carol Newman

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Day at the Beach

Can it already be three months since my gentleman friend and I took a few days away to La Jolla Cove, just north of San Diego? This little guy must have felt the same urge to get away from it all because he was working his way away from the ocean and up the people steps to the park. I guess a day at the beach isn't always a day at the beach if every day is a day at the beach. You followed that, right?

Variety. That's what we're looking for. Something new and different. That's what we're looking for in life and it's what readers and editors are looking for from writers.

A gentleman in a recent life story class wrote about a family car trip back in the days before automobile air conditioning. He and his siblings were packed into the back seat for what would be a hot, summer trip across several states. Okay, I knew where this was going. The young brothers in the back seat were going to fight their way across the country. But no. That's not what happened at all. It was the two adult brothers in the front who got into the fight and provided a spectacle for the kids. Ah-ha. A fresh approach. Not your usual day at the beach.

If you want to read some fresh writing, read Three Cups of Tea, a nonfiction book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin or Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a novel by Jamie Ford. Three Cups of Tea is about Greg Mortenson, the fellow who became lost after failing to summit K2 in Pakistan and in gratitude to the village that saved him, began building schools in Pakistan and now Afghanistan. Writer David Oliver Relin did a wonderful job of describing all the rugged mountain terrain and the mountain villages and people so they all didn't blend into sameness.

Here is an excerpt: He leaned over the side of the truck . . . and saw . . .straight down fifteen hundred feet to the bottom of a rocky gorge, where a coffee-colored river foamed over boulders. He looked up and saw they were hemmed in hard by granite walls that rose ten thousand feet on both sides of the river. . .Mortenson, . . .could see the truck's rear tires rolling a foot from the edge of the gorge, spitting stones out into the abyss . . .

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a first novel by Jamie Ford, is about the internment of Seattle's Japanese families during World War II. Here the families are being taken away: Trunks, bags, and suitcases stacked almost as high as the roofs of the silvery buses that rolled by. Families were arguing about how much or how little they were allowed to bring. The excess found its way to the top of the ever-growing heap. Next to the mound was a truckload of confiscated radios. Giant Philco consoles and small Zenith portables with bent wave-magnet antennas were piled up in the back like discarded shoes.

Not your same old day at the beach -- or walk in the park -- or any other cliche.

And the little guy on the steps at the beach -- lifeguards blocked off the steps to protect him from the human animals. Animal rescue came and took him away to rejoin his kin -- back to the same old routine he had been trying to escape.

Here is a recipe that is not routine. It is from an ad for this year's Southern Living Christmas Cookbook. Yes, there is chocolate in it. Even though this is from a Christmas cookbook, I think it would be great for summer. Sounds cool and yummy. Why not skip all that mixing and just substitute ice cream?

Turtle Trifle makes 10 servings

8 oz mascarpone cheese, softened -- or 1 (8-oz.) pkg cream cheese, softened

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 (2-lb.) frozen pecan pie, thawed and cut into 1-inch cubes

1/3 cup chocolate fudge topping

1/3 cup caramel topping

1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1. Beat mascarpone cheese, whipping cream, and vanilla extract in a large bowl at medium speed with a heavy-duty stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, 2 to 3 minutes or until smooth and firm. (Oh blah, blah. I think an electric hand mixer would work just fine.)

2. Place half of pie cubes in bottom of a 4-qt. trifle dish or any pretty clear glass bowl. Spread half of whipped cream mixture over pie cubes. Drizzle with half each of chocolate fudge topping and caramel topping. Sprinkle with half of chopped pecans. Repeat layers.

3. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

Eat this while close to a chair, sofa or bed as I think it is likely to render one unconscious.

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copyright2009Carol Newman

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Close Call and Coffee Mug Chocolate Cake

Thank goodness for the newest neighbors on the block. Not the new neighbors from Minnesota, although we are happy they are here, too; but thank goodness from the new-est neighbors -- the ones from the San Francisco area.

When she saw something hazy floating by her kitchen window, she knew it was not San Francisco fog. She investigated and found a blazing bush at the house next door to hers. Then everything happened fast. She called 911. Another neighbor arrived with a fire extinguisher. We returned from church to see red and blue fire truck strobes lighting up the dark street, past our house.

A burning bush? Sure it happened in Biblical times, but now? Ah, seems someone had stepped outside to smoke, and the high winds of the day fanned a spark into a flame. The flame leaped to the new neighbor's bushes, but the firemen knocked it down.

What could have been a disaster turned into a friendly neighborhood visit. We met our new California neighbors, and, of course, instantly liked them.

While this is all true, I think it has potential as a plot for fiction. Or is it unbelievable? How would you make it believable? Are there ideas here for a nonfiction article? Home safety? Sure makes the importance of having a fire extinguisher on hand important. What other items should a home have?
And the photo above? It's fiction. Yes, I took it, and yes, it's fire; but it's one of those fire and water displays outside a hotel. I was just looking for something in my photo catalogue that looked fire-y (no, I don't mean fiery). But -- here's a fiery-fast chocolate recipe.

Remember when we had a recipe for a chocolate cake made in a Crock Pot? Good, huh? Today we have a chocolate cake made in a mug. Yep. This recipe is from Judy who got it from a quilting friend. Neither Judy nor her friend had tried it. (Thanks, Judy.)

Five Minute Chocolate Mug Cake

1 coffee mug
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional) (Are they crazy? "Optional" chocolate chips?)
some nuts (optional)
small splash of vanilla

Add dry ingredients to mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla, and mix again. Put mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes on high. The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be "alarmed."

Allow to cool a little and tip out onto a plate if desired. Eat! This can serve two if you want to share.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Follow the Herd and Chocolate-y Good Carrots

Follow the Herd
Sometimes it's good to follow the herd. This little guy followed the herd out of the mountains right into the parking lot of the Safeway in Estes Park, Colorado, and look what great new adventures he is having. What are other writers doing this year? Get ideas from them. Here are four who have written to me about their projects and one with whom I visited over tea: Marcia Fleischman, Velda Brotherton, Sue Dawes, Donna, and Jan. Congratulations to all! (Yeah, yeah, I know it isn't really that great to have moose in a parking lot. I just wanted to make a point -- and use my elk photo.)

Marcia Fleischman is a pastor and artist who began painting angels after double lung transplant surgery in 2003. Less than a year after her surgery, on a raw winter night she came to a class with no idea who I was -- until I passed out my business cards. An artist who paints angels shows up in a class taught by someone whose writing business is called Angel In Your Inkwell. At first, it was hard for me to understand what she was telling me -- about the surgery and about the paintings. Then she brought some of her angel paintings and explained again about the remarkable surgery. Here is what she recently wrote in an e-mail:

Carol, Happy New Year! I have some news. I have self published a children's book of angels called "Angels Everywhere." You can get them at or I am, of course, selling them myself and want to develop a marketing plan. Soon my second book will be out called "Wild Woman Theology: In the Arms of Loving Mother God" In it I relell the stories of the women of the Bible in rhyme and with a bit of whimsy and a feminist slant. I have done all the illustrations, too. Next, I will write the story of my first having angel visions and painting. Since I have done the illustrations already, I just need to write it. Now I am working on a book called "What Does God Look Like?" I am collecting people's ideas and then painting them. ....So, what does God look like to you, Carol.
Take care of yourself! Marcia Fleischman

I have to admit this email from Sue Dawes has been lost in my "Keep This" file for quite a few months, and as I visited Sue's blog today, it looks as if she hasn't posted in a while. Still, I think it is worth visiting. She has some great ideas on father-daughter activities, and she has written a wonderfully inspirational book titled Run the Race based on advice her father gave her when she was on her high school track team. When Sue's life didn't go quite where she expected or hoped, she tells us how her father's advice carried her through.

Hi Carol,I finally started a blog. It is So I hope to talk with xxx in the next few weeks to get this book moving. I did a radio show over the internet and it is showing up at 4th place on google under Sue Dawes.
Hope all is well with you. Take Care, Sue
(Scroll to the bottom and look for Sue's blog in the Other Favorite Blogs listing.)

Velda Brotherton covers all aspects of being a writer, and, I believe, has information about a free writer's conference in Arkansas in February. I'm not sure about that. Anyone know anything about it? Here's what Velda wrote in her e-mail:

Carol, I too update my writer's blog the first of each week. I hope you're linked to it. I have a link to yours and would appreciate it if you could do the same. I so enjoy reading your posts and the chocolate recipes. Yumm. Thanks, Carol. Velda Brotherton. (Velda's blog is also included in Other Favorite Blogs below.)
After waiting for just the right time and just the right piece, Donna submitted her writing to The Home Forum section of Christian Science Monitor. We had barely hung up from our phone conversation in which she told me about e-mailing it in, when I received her e-mail saying her piece had been accepted. The editor didn't give a publication date, but look for it in spring as it is about robins.

Jan attended the Heart of America Christian Writer's Network writers' conference in Overland Park, Kansas in November, and from a contact she made there, she already has sold a piece and received payment! (You did say you had already been paid, didn't you, Jan?)

And speaking of "favorites," here is a carrot casserole recipe that is as good as chocolate. Ebbie brought it last year to the final meeting pot luck of the life story class that met at the First Baptist Church in Grain Valley, Missouri. It was so good we ate every bit of it and everyone asked for the recipe which Ebbie graciously provided. I hope she doesn't mind that I renamed it.
Carrots as Good as Chocolate

2 lb. carrots, sliced
1/4 tsp. dill weed
1/2 cup butter or margarine, divided
1/2 cup crushed saltines (about 15)
6 0z. Velveeta, cubed

Cook carrots in water in saucepan until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Place in greased 1 1/2 quart baking dish. In a small saucepan, melt 1/4 cup butter and cheese, stirring often. Stir in dill. Pour over carrots. Melt remaining butter. Toss with saltines. Sprinkle over carrots. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbly. Serves 8.

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Stay warm this week. : ) Of course, if you are a Certain Someone in Palm Springs, you already are warm!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Make Your Fiction Meaningful and Chocolate Ritzy Butter Patties

Where Are You Going With Your Writing?

In the past, I may have been reading too much "women's lit-rah-tyer" and "oh god, wasn't it awful"memoirs; but when I recently read two best-selling novels, I was surprised at the subject matter. Current events. World events. Political events. Financial events.

Though the topics were spun in the sugar of sex and violence, I have a feeling the authors were serious about their subjects and were giving them a palatable coating to entice some of us mental lightweights to read the books and maybe begin thinking about and understanding some unpleasant realities. (Note: Now that I have finished the second book, I'm not so sure about my above statement.)

James Patterson, know for his Alex Cross detective series character, as well as his Women's Murder Club series, in his recent book, Cross Country, takes us with Alex Cross on a murderer's trail that leads from Washington, DC to Nigeria where, through the eyes of this character we know and trust, we see the horror of corruption, refugee camps, and young boys trained into killers . It's a novel, right? Exaggerated for effect, right? Yet, maybe not so far off from what is really happening there, seemingly overlooked by the United States and other countries.
Now I am reading One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell. When my library request for it was filled, I looked at the cover and wondered why on earth I had requested this book. When I read the dust cover author bio I was even more puzzled. Candace Bushnell is the author of Sex and the City. I have neither read the book, seen the TV show or the movie. Likewise for her book and TV series, Lipstick Jungle. Nevertheless, I began reading. Ah, now we are in the world of wealthy New York co-op owners, Hamptons weekenders, shoes-collecting-entitlement-demanding-plastic-surgery-perfected-twenty-somethings, and -- best of all (she said sarcastically) -- a genius mathematician hedge fund manager who purchases part of the stock exchange in China. Having finished the book yesterday, I can say I think I have never read a book with such a cast of unlikeable characters. I'm wondering how I am going to make what I thought was my point about writers shining a light on the ills of the world. If there is anyone who is not already fed up with the super rich and super sexed and super excessive, reading this book should take care of that. And that, I guess, was my point. The author has so clearly drawn, and exaggerated, the acquisitive nature of our recent past, that any wannabes surely must see how shallow and morally corrupt that way of life is, instead of wanting to emulate it. Or -- maybe not. The reviews of this book mentioned only that it was "entertaining."

Here's the point: you, like these two authors, can add an extra dimension to your novel by bringing in a social aspect. Create a compelling story and interesting characters propelled by social or world events and you have a potential best seller. It doesn't have to be brutality and sex. Think Grapes of Wrath or To Kill a Mockingbird. Ask yourself, what it is you care about, what riles your righteous indignation? Include that in your writing and readers will be unable to put down a book you have written.

And -- if you create the following recipe, you won't be able to put these yummy little morsels down either -- Chocolate Ritzy Butter Patties.

This recipe comes from Terri Lynn, an excellent cook. However, these little gems were given to Terry Lynn during the holidays. She plans to include them in the gift bag of goodies she gives next year. (Thank goodness I'm on Terry Lynn's gift list.) She didn't know what they are called so let's just name them Chocolate Ritzy Butter Patties.

Chocolate Ritzy Butter Patties

Spread a generous amount of peanut butter between two Ritz crackers. Dip into melted almond bark chocolate (not the white kind). Place on wire racks or waxed paper to harden. Repeat for as many Ritzy Patties as you need/want. Store in airtight container. Will keep for three weeks (unless, of course, you eat them before then).

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You are at the Angel In Your Inkwell blog. For specific tips, resources, and information for writers, go to my website:

The website is updated the first of every month.
The blog is updated the first of every week.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Stop -- Do Something New and Crock Pot Chocolate Cake

A few days ago, a woman called to register for the Beginning Life Story Writing class. She said she is not a writer but is excited about trying it. She went on to say that a few years ago she resolved to try something new every year. Even though we were on the phone and she couldn't see me, I found myself nodding and saying, "Yes, yes, how nice."

She enthusiastically began listing things she had done. "Last year, I had a knee replacement."

Hm. Not what I was expecting to hear.

"And the year before that I took an art class at the Art Institute. Oh, those young people were so nice, and I learned a lot. Now I think I'll try writing. My name is Mary -- so you can remember me when I come."

The week before my conversation with Mary, another woman called. She asked, "What do you do in the class? How much time does it take? What do you cover? How many people are in the class? Do I have to have that workbook?" Then she concluded by saying, "Maybe I'll come and just sit in the first meeting and see if I like it."

I laughed and suggested she call the registration office (City of Mission is sponsoring the class) and see what their policy is on allowing unpaid attendance.

Believe me -- I lunderstand her urge to avoid the unexpected. I love a rut. Give me routine. Give me the expected. Then I am happy. And I'm not a follower of Oprah's message about every experience having a wonderfully enlightening "lesson" for us. But the two conversations definitely gave me something to think about. What if we looked at every event, no matter how good or bad, even a knee replacement, as trying something new?

Highway closed? It's an opportunity to try a new route. Doctor retires? Try a new doctor. The ice cream shop is out of mocha fudge? Try peppermint. Okay, those are the easy ones. What if your events are more serious? Like Mary's knee replacement? What if your whole comfortable way of life suddenly changes? I guess a person could try to apply Mary's philosophy. Hey, I'll try something new. Recently I read a newspaper article about a woman I had met several years ago, at a time when she seemed to have a perfect life: big, beautiful house, successful husband, nice children, a little part-time graphic arts business. Then one day the perfect husband of twenty years abruptly chose to leave the family. I heard from friends that she was devastated, but what did she do? She tried something new and today she has several successful books and websites. I admire her. I admire the Marys of the world. Would I have their courage and the strength? I don't know. But I do know I'll remember Mary's plan: I'll try something new this year.

You know -- it doesn't have to be something huge. It could be just this week's recipe.

Crock Pot Chocolate Fudge Cake from Alissa who received it from a co-worker. Note serving instructions -- you have to love a cake that is served by "spooning" it into a bowl.

1 pkg. plain devil's food cake mix
1 pkg. milk chocolate or chocolate instant pudding
16 oz. container sour cream
4 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 cup water
1 16 oz. pkg semisweet chocolate chips
vegetable oil cooking spray

Put first six ingredients in large mixing bowl. Add the water. Beat with electric mixer on low until blended - 30 seconds. Scrape down side of bowl. Increase speed and mix until well blended - 2 minutes. Fold in chocolate chips.

Spray bottom of Crock Pot with cooking spray (or use a plastic liner). Pour in batter and cook the cake until it begins to pull away from the side of the cooker (31/2 hours on high or 6 1/2 hours on low). May take less time. Spoon the warm cake into bowls and serve with ice cream. Serves 12 happy people. Enjoy!
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You are at the Angel In Your Inkwell blog.
For specific tips, resources, and information for writers, go to my website:

The website is updated the first of every month.
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