Category Archives: Writing

Animal Stories

Blue Mountain Lake in Arkansas is a place to relax, take long walks, and read. While my husband fished, I read three books last year—all relating to animals.

Orphan by Harry Haines, a fellow club member of Panhandle Professional Writers, has been on my reading list for five years. One aspect I found fascinating was how Harry intertwined local history and the business of quarterhorse racing into his novel’s plot. Author Diane Mowery, who home-schooled her youngsters, mentioned a fact not often included in book reviews: although the book is targeted to an adult audience, she can recommend it to teenagers. Here’s a suspense novel free of vulgarity and expressions that offend readers with religious values.


When our precious KittyCat died, my friend Suzi gave me and my husband Aubrey a copy of the book, Dewey: the Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. That same day I gave Aubrey Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz.

I can’t say Going Home met expectations. It has not lifted the grief that lingered for more than a year. But at least Katz’s book helped me understand it.Going Home

You may have heard of Dewey, the library cat. Although he died in 2006, Dewey’s fame continues to flourish through his image on postcards, jigsaw puzzles, and especially sales and circulation of the book, Dewey: the Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. It’s a moving story about a bedraggled kitten, rescued by librarian, Vicki Myron, after being left in the book drop of her town’s library.


Spencer, Iowa, was in the throes of an economic downturn when Dewey, almost dead, arrived on its library scene. Beginning with newspaper coverage of the contest that gave the kitten his official name–Dewey Readmore Books—the orange tabby garnered publicity.

As Dewey’s popularity increased among library patrons, the library evolved from a book warehouse to a community’s gathering place. His entertaining personality helped to revive the spirits of area residents fighting for survival in hard times. Stories about Dewey spread, at first from library newsletters to newspapers to national and then international media.

As an international celebrity, Dewey proved to be an economic asset as well. “When Dewey died in 2006 at the age of 19, his obituary appeared in over 250 newspapers, including the New York Times, USA Today and the Des Moines Register, and was announced on the national television evening news.”—

“We still have 3 people (Kim, Joy and Paula) that worked at the library when Dewey was here. I was actually here the day he came,” said Kim Peterson in an email.

The sale of bookbags and other “Dewey” merchandize helps support library programs. Spencer’s adorable library cat continues to draw interest—daily emails, said Ms. Peterson, and “a few phone calls a month.”

Beach reading season is almost here. You can purchase the books through most book sellers or borrow them from many public libraries. All three books are available for loan from Amarillo’s public library system. Dewey (I give it two thumbs up) is also on a CD.

© 2013, Bernice W. Simpson



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How to Keep Active– Voice, That Is

Passive voice plagues my writing. It creeps into my verbiage and wears away at clarity. I wrestle with alternatives to passive voice daily. I despise those little green squiggly lines that appear from the accusing finger of the grammar police. Passive voice fattens my word count, but it whittles away at the strength of my story.

workout pencil

What exactly is passive voice, and how do I stop it?

I recall Mrs. Whitworth, my fifth/ sixth grade teacher, warning us of the passive verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been. All those years ago I took notes and nodded, unaware of the true danger that lurked in these villains. When I find these words in my stories, I see red flags.

Like saturated fat in food, these words manifest themselves in our sentences and add inches without substance. They waste pages and gray cells.

Observe the differences in these two passages:

She had been walking for nearly an hour before she had discovered that her dog had been left at home. (20 words)

She walked an hour before discovering she left her dog at home. (12 words)

The first sentence is padded and unclear. “She had been walking…” You can trim that statement by fifty percent by changing it to, “She walked…”

Let’s continue. “…for nearly an hour…” Does it make a difference if it was fifty-four minutes or sixty-one? Unless it does, trim it. (This point doesn’t refer to passive voice, but to lean writing.)

“…before she had discovered…” Again, let’s slim the sentence to, “before discovering…” Feel the burn.

“…that her dog had been left at home.” Hmmm, who left her dog at home? We assume that she forgot the pooch, but without context, who knows? Let’s solve this with, “… she left her dog at home.” She executes the action.

Using only seventy percent of the words, we said the same thing, only more clearly. Is seventy percent a big deal? In a two hundred-page book that translates into a sixty page savings. Consider the trees we’ll conserve!

Is using passive voice always bad? Of course it’s not. I’m a big believer in moderation. Those who know say that five to eight percent passive voice is acceptable for most projects, but consult with your publisher. Even at five percent, examine your work to see if those passive terms are necessary.Writing Exercise

How do I train myself not to use passive verse? For a first draft, I don’t worry about voice—I just get the words out! However, when I go back to rewrite and polish, I use the “find” tool in my word processing program, to highlight all the passive verbs listed above, one at a time.

Once I find each occurrence, I look at the passage for a more concise way to word it. The process can be daunting, but investing the effort now could pay with publication later. Isn’t that the goal?

What is active voice? My sons’ elementary teachers called it using “spicy” words. I like that term.

Technically our goal is to construct a sentence in which the subject performs the action in question. They should not be the object (or victim) of the action.

Example: Joe was beaten by Mary in the race. “…was beaten…” is passive. I’ll change it to, “Mary beat Joe in the race.” If I wish to be more precise, I make it, “Mary finished the race before Joe.” In both changes, I cut the length by twenty-five percent. In the second solution, I clarified the statement that Mary ran faster than Joe did, and that she wasn’t hitting him with a bat while they raced.

Active verbs engage the reader. They paint the pictures in our imaginations. A trim, tight story employs verbs that describe the action as it happens. The readers experience the scene. When a writer tickles the reader’s brain, she keeps their attention. The tale becomes more satisfying.

Cut out the fat and you produce a healthier, more interesting story.

by Kimberly Black,

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When Fiction Is Our Reality

What if…

imaginationWe can go to the towns and places imagined in children’s books, where we feel safe, happy, and youthful? Can such places exist in brick and mortar – or only in our mind’s fantasy? Kids’ books take us to such wonderful places.

Just for a day you get to live out the fiction of your choosing – with no repercussions – where the world can blow up, you can travel to far off planets, you can be a superhero, you can kiss the person of your dreams? The next day you would wake up and the world and your life would be as it was prior to your 24-hour fantasy pass.

You could live in the 4th century – or the 24th – -and travel through time? It is possible in a book.

What if you could be one of a hundred other professions or live the life of a thousand different people? You can, with books.

You could alter history or create it? Yes, books are the tools for such things.

You could travel the world –or to other worlds? Space and time are mere constructs of your life in books.

You could fly, or play better than professional athletes, or win beauty contests? What if you could be ten times the person you have been or be the direct opposite of who you are? Anything is possible in the world of books.

We need fiction to help us co-exist with a deformed, insufficient, broken world. We need fiction to be our playground for immortality, immorality, and improbability. It can be a telescope or a microscope to us. It can be a playground for growing useful ideas or a landfill where we can neatly deposit the violent, insane, repressed and unformed sides of ourselves. Fiction is like a Las Vegas of the mind – what happens in fiction, stays in fiction.

Our fiction is becoming the recorded history of the future. Sometimes, fiction mirrors reality or creates it. Fiction plays an important role in not only compensating for life’s shortfalls, but to open us up to the possibilities of new lives to be lived. Novels can lure us to places we would never visit otherwise, including deep within our souls.

Oh, the world of books makes for a beautiful place. For now, we must settle for the life we choose to live but in our minds we can always escape to the best place of all – our fantasies!

Reading is a wonderful way to live.

© June 5, 2012, Brian Feinblum,

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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Writing Full-Bodied Characters

My apologies to the psychologist I’m quoting without attribution. “You insert something of yourself in every character you invent.” The key word here is something. The speaker did not infer that a suspense novelist hid a killer’s temperament. She pointed out that the better you know yourself, the more you can use that knowledge to create believable characters.

In writing workshops we’ve made “people identification” lists: achievements, assets, disappointments, dislikes, dreams, likes, motivators, and so forth. But listing nouns is only a start in your creation of full-bodied characters. Lists, even when expanded to include a person’s pocket contents or household furnishings, are apt to trap an inexperienced writer into telling instead of showing.

Ask questions: Why? What does that mean? How do the items listed under your characters’ names affect the entanglements in their lives?


For practice, examine yourself:

  •  Is it true we use their past performance as a benchmark for judging people? Discuss how your past performance has influenced others’ opinions of you. Be specific. What have you done to cause certain individuals to like or admire you? What have you done to turn people off? How have people reacted? How have you felt about the reaction of others and their treatment of you?
  • What are your dreams—both practical and those that are pie in the sky? Consider how each, if/when actualized, would change your life.
  • List opportunities you’ve missed. Do you plan to make up for them? How? Will the actions you take effect anyone else? How? Do you regret missing certain opportunities? Do you blame anyone for your loss? Describe your feelings.
  • What are those innermost thoughts you’d never express out loud? Can you, using a pseudonym if concerned about exposing secrets, rise to the challenge and let them out on paper? Why are they private?
  • What are your turn-ons? What excites you, elicits laughter, or at least a smile from you, or motivates you to action?


In an effort to understand a particular trait, you can interview friends, but will they be truthful? Talking or writing honestly about yourself, awakens you to emotions and situations you may have forgotten, or perhaps were not consciously aware of. You can trace your personal conversion from who you were in the past to the present.

What happens when novelists probe into their own minds, relive particular emotions, and see how the cause-and-effect relationships affected their lives? They automatically use bits and pieces to enliven their novels’ characters. Try it.

© 2013, Bernice W. Simpson

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The Hybrid Author

You’ve heard the term, but just what does it mean?

Simply put, it is a writer who publishes their work both traditionally and through self-publishing channels. The hybrid chooses her own path and isn’t inhibited by the prejudices of the past in an ever changing publishing industry.

Dianne G SaganDianne G. Sagan, long-time Panhandle Professional Writers member and award winning author, has released a ground breaking and timely book — The Hybrid Author. If you’ve ever asked yourself the question, should I self-publish or traditionally publish, this is the book that will help you make a well informed decision. The Hybrid Author explains in detail what makes a writer a hybrid, examines the pros and cons of the four paths available in the publishing industry, and assists the reader in making career decisions from a neutral position. Bob Rich, international author and editor of the popular Bobbing Around Newsletter, says in his book review:The Hybrid Author

“The Hybrid Author is a treasure house of useful suggestions and resources for any writer, already published or still merely hopeful. While reading, I followed up some of Dianne’s recommendations, particularly in the areas of marketing and publicity, which are my weak points. This useful information is logically organized, clearly presented, and is in a style that is a perfect compromise between being chatty and formal. My only suggestion for improvement is that each resource should have a web link accompany it. I’ve been a hybrid writer for many years, but didn’t know it until I read Dianne’s definition. It is someone who has some books out through royalty-paying publishers, with other books, or other versions of these books, through a less conventional path such as self-publishing. She sets out the advantages and disadvantages of each of four options, and I cannot fault her reasoning. I agree with everything she has stated. A useful feature is Chapter 8, which is a series of interviews with successful authors. I was fascinated by the commonalities and differences in these people’s opinions. Chapter 10 is also particularly useful in a different way: it is an extensive list of questions to an intending author. Thinking about the answer to each will help you to choose the uniquely right path for you.In short, this book is a useful resource for any writer.”

The Hybrid Author can be purchased at: The Hybrid Author Kindle version

The Hybrid Author print version

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The Road to 80 Rejections

My father was an avid fisherman.

hook     Some of my earliest childhood memories were of fishing trips out to the lake. We’d set up shop at the spillway or down on the rocky shore. He’d spend the day catching some of the biggest catfish I’d ever see. Personally, I’d be lucky to land a gar, despite the fact those things were everywhere. You didn’t even have to put any effort into catching gar. They’d slither directly from the gates of Hades to your fishing line, even though your worm had fallen off ten minutes ago and your bobber was only half-on. Yeah, I was lucky to even get one of those. My dad, however, flung fancy tackle around in all sorts of ornate patterns and could catch sharks from a creek bed.
     There were times when I’d get really lucky and could catch a small perch. I’d tie a line to my finger and find a little rocky hole in the water. I’m sure that my success rate was something like 1,594 fishing trips for each silver dollar-sized perch. Suffice it to say, I’m no angler.
     I can remember one fishing trip better than any of the others. My family in Amarillo (where I live now, but didn’t when I was a kid) brought us along for a vacation that spanned from a bear-infested camp in Colorado down to a mecca of all that is good and glorious in New Mexico. Our options were either to fish or to go hiking. My dad chose the former and I was happy to join him. The thing is, he wanted to do some serious fishing. And he knew I didn’t. Ground rules were set that I’d have to actually cast lines and try to catch something.
     About two hours into our mission, I got the first bite on my line. I jerked my pole up in the air the way I saw him do it and reeled my line in. No fish. “Here’s your problem,” Dad told me, “throw a line out all day and if you don’t know how to hook it, it won’t do you any good.”
     I’ve dropped a few figurative lines in the literary lake now. Seven attempts, to be exact. This last week started out with my very first rejection. My line was sent back sans worm, but with a kind note stating that it was them, not me. And then, just two days later, I got my very first nibble. A managing partner liked what she saw and requested my full manuscript and a brief summary of my novel. My first reaction was one of triumph and my second, worry pooling in the bottom of my stomach. I’ve never been any good at setting that hook. I thought back to my dad, and that time at the lake, and him telling me that arms flailing and excited screaming never caught anything at all. I need patience, faith, and one heck of a hook.Meli Landry
By Meli Landry
When Meli Landry isn’t chasing down her children or behemoth boxer, she relaxes with a good book and her blog. Visit her at:
The Road to 80 Rejections is part of a series about Meli’s journey into publication.

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Writing for Newspapers

Local newspaper can be a great first step to publication credits and writing success. Focus on the Section that most fits your interest.  Become familiar with the section read articles regularly.  Reading others articles helps you learn what subjects they prefer.  Reading article titles in each section can familiarize you with the style. Keep informed about local and area issues.  What one of these issues pushes a hot button or gets an emotional reaction, write down some thoughts.  Take a positions on the hot issue, clearly present points in support of that position of the event covered.newspaper

Editorials: The opinion page is a good place to start.  Find out what the newspaper politics are by contacting their website, or call the editorial staff and ask request their guidelines.  Find out how often they accept guest writer’s opinion pieces, word limits and submissions deadlines. For example, the Amarillo Globe-news (website) owned by Morris Communications, has a guest editorial policy of one article per quarter, 600-800 words, due three workings days before publication. Others will have different guidelines.

Letters to the Editor: Letters to the Editor in response to a column are a great way to begin when the competition is stiff to get an op-ed column accepted.  After an editorial page accepts several letters, they will be more likely to print the writer’s editorials.  The editorial staff will feel more confident that it knows the piece will meet their standards, and most editorial pages prefer to print newcomers because it chooses a wider relationship.

newspaperHone Your Writing Skills:  Talk to other writers.  Take a writing class online or at a local college.  Call, or write a letter to local
columnists who appear in the newspaper. Most are happy to help an aspiring writer.  Always have someone else read through work before submitting.  It’s easy for a writer to miss typos or mistakes, even with spell-check and grammar check features on word-processing programs.  Another set of eyes can easily spot holes in argument.

Human Interest and Events:  News stories are generally written by professional journalist working for the newspaper publisher.  Consider other sections of the paper for possible contribution, such as Around Town, Community Activities, the Religion section, recipes, Home and Garden, or other unique sections that are in a local news paper.  Do these sections have reader letters?  Do they take interviews or articles from local guest writers?  These sections are great options to get work published.  They supply a variety of subjects with a broad range of styles to explore.

If local schools, churches, or community organizations are having an event, offer to cover the event for the newspaper as a freelancer.  Keep informed with a community calendar, don’t give up, keep submitting and stay in a “willing to learn” mind-set.  Expand the search to areas or regional newspapers.  Don’t ignore the news paper because it’s too obvious. Try writing something for it anyway.  It could become a base for a lucrative writing career.

By Dianne G. Sagan

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