Archive | January, 2012

Journal Writing Tuesday

24 Jan

Who writes letters anymore? A quick email, a text or a phone call is more the way to go these days.

There are two things going on in my life right now that have caused me to think about the slower pace of life in years that have passed not so long ago.

The first is that I have begun corresponding with some older relatives who do not “do email.” A cousin of my dad’s (that would make her my first cousin once removed) has written letters to me several times after she found out that I had written a book. And another cousin on my mom’s side has helped me with a writing project I am working on. She remembers my mom in the years of World War II when my dad was overseas, and my mom wrote to him nearly everyday for three years.

The second factor is the book I finished last night — The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. This novel was written and set in the mid-nineteenth century. I found myself frustrated at the slow pace, and sometimes at the slowness of the characters to move on and solve the crime! Without telephones, even the police had to write notes to be hand delivered, make a special trip by horse-drawn carriage or train, or rely on the mail. However, mail delivery seemed to be much quicker and more reliable than it is today!

As a journal activity, try writing a letter. You can write the first draft in your journal first, and then rewrite on stationery. Remember stationery? Most everyone has an elderly relative or friend who would love receiving a letter. Or send it to a child. Everyone loves opening mail! Who knows? We could start a new trend, and keep the Postal Service in business as well.

Reading Classics

20 Jan

Instead of a traditional book review, I want to write about the book I am reading right now — The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Collins was a good friend of Charles Dickens, and I detect something of Dickens’ style in The Moonstone. Or maybe it is just the dense, complex, descriptive writing that was in vogue in the nineteenth century.

I have progressed about half way through this novel, considered to be one of the first and finest detective novels ever written. The action moves much slower than we twenty-first century readers are accustomed to. But it gives an insight into the class system of Victorian England that can’t be done even the the best historical detective novel written today, but set in that period.

I find it particularly interesting that the detective, Sergeant Cuff, disappears about a third of the way through the story, after he is paid and dismissed by the Lady Verinder. Time passes, Lady Verinder dies, and various other events occur to people who were present when the Moonstone was purportedly stolen from Lady Verinder’s daughter Rachel. But nothing more has happened in locating this gem.

The Moonstone belongs to a slower time, when people did not expect to find answers immediately, and they had time to wait and do move at a slow pace, in their reading and in their life.

How often do you go back and read classics? Have you left them behind with your school books? Is it still valuable to read books written more than a hundred years ago?

Journal Writing Tuesday

17 Jan

One of the main purposes of journal writing for me is clarification. This can take several forms.

1. I may make a traditional “to do” list for the day or the week. This helps me to plan what I intend to do that day and prepare myself mentally. I may prioritize or decide what tasks will be better accomplished at what time of day. And I often include things that I enjoy in my list such as knitting or playing the piano. If I write them down, they are more likely to happen.

2. I may journal about goals. They may be small, easily attainable goals such as “send editing prices to a new client” or large, more general goals like “move to North Carolina” or “find an agent for new book.” Again — just the act of writing down the goal can make it more real to me, and it spurs me to think about what actions I can take to bring my goals into reality.

3. Sometimes I use clarification to discover where I am right now. What are the realities I am dealing with that I might want to change. Am I stuck in a rut? What am I accomplishing at the moment?

In your journal writing today, try writing using one of these points of clarification. Where are you now? What do you want to change? What are you doing today to move yourself, little by little, to where you want to do?



Friday Book Review – Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

13 Jan

In Marcia Clark’s first attempt at fiction, she has produced a well-crafted legal mystery set in the Los Angeles district attorney’s office, a setting Ms. Clark knows well. Protagonist Rachel Knight must deal with her assigned cases as a member of the DA’s Special Trials Unit, which handles high profile cases, as well as the murder of her friend and co-worker, a case she has been specifically told to stay away from.

Although this novel contains all the tension and grittiness one would expect in a story that takes the reader from sleazy motel rooms, to the wealthy Palisades neighborhood, to the turf of rival gangs, I was impressed that Ms. Clark has chosen to make her three main characters female. The women work together, or not, depending on the roles of each, with a smoothness that seems to say, “This is just the way it is.”

The case to which Rachel is officially assigned involves the rape of the fifteen year old daughter of a prominent pediatrician, who just happens to have political connections to the chief DA. As she interviews the family, she discovers discrepancies in their stories as well as prejudices that could lead to the conviction of the wrong person. Rachel balances on the edge between the expectations of her boss and her own hunches as she uses all her skills to get to the bottom of both cases and still keep her job.

Clark has created a character who hurts, celebrates, loves, hates and upsets her superiors and her friends. She breaks rules and asks for favors. But ultimately she puts the pieces together, even as she risks her own life.

Rachel Knight’s appeal is not so much that she is a super crime solver, which she is, but she is so very human. I look forward to more of Rachel Knight in future novels by Marcia Clark.

(Published in Suspense Magazine)

Everyone is a Writer

10 Jan

Writing is not just for writers. Or to reverse that phrase: Everyone is a writer.

I have been journaling for over twenty years, and I do not do it because I am a writer. Most of what I write in my journal is simply me putting down my thoughts, trying to focus for the day, or trying to make sense out of whatever is going on in my life.

I usually write in the morning, and the writing helps clarify my mind for the day ahead. Sometimes it even includes a “to do” list, but more often I just talk to myself about what is important. I work as a substitute teacher, so I usually bring my journal to work with me and find a few minutes to write during the day. When I travel, I am more likely to write in the evening, because I want to record what I have seen and done during the day.

Let’s say you have been thinking about starting a journal. The first thing you need is the right notebook. I would not advise doing it on the computer. You need a real notebook. It is portable, smaller than any device you might carry, and use don’t have to rely on a power source or airplane regulations. And there is something about putting pen to paper. The tactile sensation of writing somehow connects the experience to life in a way a computer keyboard cannot do.

I like using a spiral notebook, and I usually pay the extra money and buy a nice one with a pretty cover. The spiral is important because it will lie flat as you write.

Go buy a notebook, and next week I will write about starting your journal.

Below is my current journal. I have been writing in it for about the last five and a half months.

With my grandson's art work on the front



Missing Book Stores

3 Jan

Yesterday I drove twenty minutes to a “major book store.” There is one that is closer, in the same major chain, but it doesn’t have a coffee shop and is quite small. I made the trek yesterday because I love buying colorful calendars after the first of the year when they go on sale for half price. There may be a little less selection than December, but I can usually find one or two that I enjoy.

Yesterday, January 2,  the racks were almost totally bare. I don’t know if people are buying more calendars, or if the store did not stock as many to begin with, but I was very disappointed.

I took a little walk around the store and realized that it felt more like a typical box store than a book store. The front of the store was crowded with gifts, toys and after Christmas discounts. The store was designed for shoppers, not readers. I suppose that is fine, if that is the kind of store you want, but I felt uncomfortable. I wondered if the employees of the store actually read any of the books.

I support reading in any form. Even though I have not yet purchased an e-reader, if you are reading books electronically — enjoy! I will break down and buy one eventually. But I crave a store where I can go in and ask a question about books, and the clerk will be able to answer me, or find someone who can. I want to go in a book store and feel that I am in the presence of knowledge and ideas. I know such stores exist, and I will find them and support them.

I realize that I said last week that I would be blogging about journal writing. I will get back to it, but I had to get this off my chest.