Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

What’s YOUR List of Best Reads? Here’s Mine.

Monday, December 14th, 2015

What were your favorite reads during this past year? 

In no particular order, here’s my list:



All the Light We cannot See     Anthony Doerr



The Fear Cure: Cultivating Courage as Medicine for the Body, Mind, and Soul      Lissa Rankin, MD



At Home: A Short History of Private Live    Bill Bryson



Echo   Pam Munroz Ryan



Glimpsing Heaven: The Stories and Science of Life After Death      Judy Bachrach



Girl in Hyacinth Blue      Susan Vreeland


Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel     J. Ryan Stradal



Six Essential New Year Resolutions for Writers

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015


How to be the Most Productive and Inspired!

  1. Create a haven for which to write.  It might be in the middle of a busy coffee shop.  It could be in a library or on the subway.  Where do you write best?  Try out various settings.  I know one author who wrote in a closet for fifteen minutes before work.  She wrote several books this way!
  2. Set aside fifteen minutes a day to calm your mind and write.  Tune out list-making procedures and tune in to your intuition.  The best moments to get creative are when you daydream, awake from sleep, or are so relaxed you reach your most inspired moments. Wonder about a character, story, or idea.  Play what if . . .
  3. Notice one new sensory detail each day.  You can be at your desk, in a classroom, on a bus, or lounging in your favorite chair.
  4. Play a simile/metaphor game often. What do you see which reminds you of something else?  Find similarities between two random things.
  5. Read good writing.  Read more than you ever have before.  Keep a reading journal.  Jot down a wonderful word, image, phrase, or character you love from what you’ve read.
  6. Finally, don’t forget to PLAY!  Play in the snow, the sand, and the leaves.  Build with blocks.  Create a puzzle.  Act out charades.  Let go and have fun!

What impresses readers? Analyze your Squirrel!

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Hawk Vs. SquirrelConflict in nature, as shown by this hawk and squirrel behind our house, keeps life dangerous, emotionally driven and exciting. The squirrel hid inside his hole, but used the element of surprise to his advantage.

The hawk waited . . . . waited . . . and . . .


The squirrel’s head burst out of his hole!  The hawk jumped backwards.

Yes, if we had captured a video of this, people would laugh.

Isn’t this what we desire of a good book? Capture readers emotionally, add an element of danger and surprise to create an exciting and humorous story.

 Writing Prompts:

  1. Where in your current writing project or art can you add the element of surprise for humor or shock value . . . or both? Remember, it’s all in the timing. Wait, wait, and boom!
  2. How can you engage your readers emotionally? Build your character’s needs and desires so they are real. Empathy for your squirrel increases the impact.
  3. Develop your antagonist so we see more than a cardboard evil character. What are her needs and desires? Why does this character act the way she does? Add this depth for a well-rounded story.


Attention Readers! Parents! Kids Win Books!

Monday, June 9th, 2014
The Storyteller Bookstore 
Reading for kids ages 5 – 18

What have you been reading?  Enjoying?  What are your passions?  Kids, discover a terrific reading listdesigned especially for you – the BEST BOOKS EVER –  to read over the summer!


Offered with your reading difficulty and breadth of subject in mind.


Every staff member at the Storyteller can personally address your needs. Kids receive postcards of encouragement and reminders about the deadline.
Sign up by visiting the Storyteller during June 2 – June 30, 2014, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.   Kids must sign up in person with an adult. Please allow 20 minutes per individual for registration and book guidance.Cost:  $25

What do you get?  A discount on reading program books!

 Complete the program?  There’s a popular end-of-summer party and a golden Summer Reader Riches certificate worth $15 of store merchandise.

What’s not to love? 
Books you can’t wait to crack open!  Professionals at your service!  Increase your reading skills! 

The Storyteller Bookstore is located at 3506-E Mt. Diablo Blvd, Lafayette, CA  94549.  925-284-3480


Headline Declares: Cameron Diaz Doesn’t Believe in Using Deodorant!

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Internet Headlines:  gotta love ’em.  cameron-diaz-huntington-ny-jan-actress-signs-her-book-body-book-law-hunger-science-strength-other-ways-to-36707407

Although many people enjoy a bit of mindless entertainment, if that’s all we’re choosing, we limiting ourselves.

An aunt of mine chose to read tabloid newspapers from the supermarket.  But when she became ill and needed hours of chemotherapy, people sent her novels.  Discovering reading a different genre, she hungered for more.  When, out of habit, she bought the latest tabloid, she confessed, “I’m tired of those newspapers. Send me more books.”

Years ago as a teacher, I talked to a parent who told me, “Sam read the cereal box this morning.”  She rolled her eyes.  “Strange kid.”

“Fabulous!” I said. “Line cereal boxes up on the table for him to read.  What can he discover about the information on them?”

 “Really?” she said. 

 “All the reading and writing we’ve done in class has carried into his daily life.  Encourage it.”

If we’re reading about Cameron Diaz’s anti-deodorant stance, ask yourself what the take-away is for you.  Humor?  A statement about culture?  Or nothing more than celebrity gossip? 

Writing Prompts

  1. Use titles online, in books, movies, and from the newspaper as a source of creativity.  Write a humorous riff based on the Cameron Diaz headline.
  2. Keep a list of the books you read.  Add comments. Inspiring? Fun? Boring?  Why? 
  3. Is there a genre of material you haven’t read?  Open a well-reviewed/rated book from this category.  If you’re a fiction reader, try a nonfiction book in a subject you love.  Never read a travel book?  Go for it!  There are so many types of books, you’ll experiment for a long time.   
  4. Share your choices and book recommendations with your friends and family. 
  5. Join a reading group or participate in online or library book discussions.


How YOU Can Create Memorable Characters!

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Hollywood Producer/Agent Marilyn Atlas led an excellent writing workshop where focused on character.  She gave a multitude of terrific writing tips and I’ll share one of them.  She discussed three reasons characters resonate with readers or viewers.

The characters are:
1. fascinating or
2. mysterious or
3. relatable 

Writing Prompts:

1. Study a memorable character in literature or film.  Is this person fascinating?  If so, how?  Mysterious?  Explain.  Can you relate with her/him?  What makes him/her relatable?
2. What about the piece you are composing now?  If your protagonist isn’t fascinating, mysterious or relatable, invent back story and layers so he/she will be compelling. 
3. Before you write your project, spend time crafting your characters.  Draft scenes of conflict.  Every page should have tension, which can be done in subtext.
4. What is subtext?  Express characters through dialogue about one thing, while under their words remain an underlying meaning. 


How YOU Can Be A Writer!

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

“Just forty-five minutes a day,” assures the author of a book on meditation.
Of course I begin my day with this, so as not to forget to meditate. It should help me quiet my mind at night so I’ll sleep soundly.

“An hour of aerobic activity each day,” the exercise guru and well-known doctor advises.
Following my brisk walking workout, I shower and condition my hair with coconut oil.

“Leave it in for 15 minutes,” suggests the hairdresser. “Then wash, dry, and style.”
Blow-drying long hair sure takes awhile.

“Vacuum your carpet daily,” says the carpet sales associate. “It will last longer.”
What a lot of carpet we own.
I finish at last.

For breakfast, I add the recommended flax and Chia seeds to the blender with my yogurt.
“Eat this in the morning all the time,” suggests the nutritionist in her popular book for optimum health.

I down the vitamins recommended by my chiropractor.
“Drink lots of water,” he tells me.
With all the water I’m drinking, I spend more time in the bathroom.

Speaking of bathrooms, my seventeen-year-old Yorkie needs a walk and frequent trips out to the backyard. She no longer is able to get down from the chair where she sleeps and cries when she needs “off.” I race up and down stairs at least seventeen times a day.

“Avoid preservatives,” says an organic farmer.
This requires me to make all of our food from scratch, and grow what we can in our backyard.

“Create posts on Facebook, your blog, and social media,” says a well-known book publicist at a writing conference I recently attended. “Update your web site; make book trailers and your own videos.”
I must LEARN how to do these things first, which for me, takes FOREVER.

Then there’s the laundry, errands, housecleaning and gardening I must catch up on since my recent trip to the conference set me back on my multitude of chores.

I turn on the oven and prepare dinner from the basics. No time-saving remedies, as we don’t eat preservatives, remember?

“Write letters to bond with people and brighten an older person’s day,” my mother cemented in my memories and lifestyle.

I owe three elderly women letters, and get well cards to several friends. It’s flu season.
And speaking of writing . . .

“Set goals for your writing,” I read many years ago.
After three pages of those goals, my emotional energy is draining.

“Make writing your primary activity.”
Of course! It’s number one!

But wait.

Darkness settles around me. I yawn and stretch. If I write now, my mind won’t be able to shut down to sleep.
It will make my insomnia worse.

Do I have time to meditate before Zoie needs her evening walk?

<strong>Writing Prompts:</strong>

1. Set YOUR writing goals. If there are too many which may overwhelm you, create a daily or weekly “to do” list.

2. Make your writing a priority. When is your best time to write well? Carve out time within your day or week, which depends upon your goals.

3. Write! Don’t answer the phone or the door. Make sure members of your household know not to interrupt unless the house is on fire.

4. Can’t write?  Relax and wonder (NOT worry) about your project. Let your mind daydream about a character, setting, or plot problem will help you move forward.

5. Don’t be concerned about the number of words, pages, or chapters.  Some projects/chapters/poems take more time than others.

6. Writing not your best?  Rewriting is terrific! 

7. Always take time to write thank you notes. And comments on blogs. They are appreciated.


How YOU can Write a Short Short Story

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Benjamin Franklin says it all: “I have already made this paper too long, for which I must crave pardon, not having now time to make it shorter.” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”

The most common question which pops up in various contests I’ve judged, is: “My story is longer than the guideline’s length. May I submit it all?”

No! Writing short requires a much-needed skill. Revise so your story is written succinctly.

Below is advice on writing a short story of 100 words. It can be applied to all stories.

My favorite tidbit is this: “Think of the story in terms of a question and answer.”

Your answer will become the plot of your story. But brainstorm lots of options! If it’s too easy, your option may be too convenient.

Writing Prompt:
1. Take a story you’ve written and tighten it. Can you cut out 100 words? More? Once you challenge yourself, the process can be fun and addicting!
2. Read your story aloud. Where have you “told” information? Can you show it with an action verb instead?
3. Choose a poem you’ve created and do the process of #1 and #2. Is the end result more vivid?

Cutting out vague words sharpens your writing and respects the reader to make conclusions. Use this new technique with all of your writing!

Deepen Your Writing with Symbols

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

I turned the page of my book, soaking in the story, silence, and reveling in peaceful solitude. Not total solitude, since my Yorkie, Zoie’s rhythmic breathing relaxed me as she slept in my lap.


Straightening up with a jerk, I woke my deaf dog.

What was a mooing cow doing INSIDE this room?

Could it have been from an electronic device? Perhaps my husband neglected to take his phone with him. I smiled at the irony of this sound in my suburban California home. Maybe Dad was saying hello from the other side? He spent the first half of his life farming with dairy cows in southeastern Wisconsin, and as a baby and toddler I lived on that family farm, too. Hi Dad, I thought, glad he’d retained his sense of humor.

As I settled back into my story, Zoie, reassured by my calm demeanor, snoozed again.


The realistic animal sound came from our family room cupboard. I got up to investigate. Nothing in the stacks of paper, pens, and recipes gave a hint to the mystery. Old video tapes didn’t look as though they’d moo, either. But when I reached Zoie’s dog toys, I knew the puzzle’s answer. A black and white fabric ball must contain the noisemaker. Although it hadn’t worked in years, and I didn’t know it had held a noise device when I threw it in the washing machine, that process could have reactivated it.


Dad greeted me.

I prefer this answer.

Whenever we try to make this ball produce sound effects, nothing happens. But on its own . . .


Writing Prompts:

1. What signs or symbols can you discover within the book you’re reading? Through their repetition, what is its underlying meaning?
2. What sign or symbol can you develop within the project you’re writing? Through carefully placed repetition, your motif may strengthen your theme, characters, and/or plot.
3. Create an artistic representation of your symbol. How does it relate to you? Perhaps this may become another layer of its meaning.

What secret elements make a quest/adventure book great?

Monday, November 25th, 2013

If you’d like to read a great new middle grade, choose Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early, a quest adventure story about a boy dealing with his mother’s death after WWII. Sent to a Maine boarding school, protagonist, Jack, is unhappy and feeling friendless until he’s intrigued with Early Arden, a unique character with a fascination about pi, who leads him through Appalachia.

Vanderpool’s poetic style lures the reader forward. Here is a scene where they fish with Gunnar, a minor character they meet on their journey. Gunnar carries an emotional, heart-wrenching past.

“You have a fine cast,” called Gunnar.

“I know. My brother taught me before he went to the war.” Early swished his line back and forth. The motion seemed to take him away somewhere.

Gunnar’s expression registered what he knew, what we all knew, of the fate of so many of those brothers who went to war. He looked at me, asking the question he didn’t want to say out loud. Did Early’s brother make it back?

I shook my head in answer. No, Fisher was dead.

Gunnar allowed the quiet to take over as Early moved farther out into the water and into his own thoughts.

Finally, Gunnar spoke, his voice so fluid and moving, it could have come from the river itself. “I once hear a poem about angling. It say when you send out your line, it is like you cast out your troubles to let the current carry them away. I keep casting.”

I liked the sound of that. The river pressed and nudged, each of us responding to it in different ways, allowing it to move us apart and into our own place within it.

Notice the unique dialogue of Gunnar, creating a fully formed person in just a few lines and a second layer of meaning within the words, so you’re not just reading a scene about fishing.

Another aspect which is fascinating about this book is how this Newbery Medal-winning author broke the rules. (In order to break the rules, you must first establish that you know them.) Although in writing adult novels (and nearly always in the movies), authors (and screenwriters) are allowed to fictionalize history for the sake of character and plot. In children’s books, this has been a distinct no-no. Why? We don’t want to confuse nonfiction facts with untruths for kids. But at the end of this book, Vanderpool has a page: PI: FACT OR FICTION? Here she lists the truths about this captivating number, since she has bent the truth within her story.

Writing Prompts:

1. Write a quest/adventure short story with the above elements in mind. Before you begin, think and wonder about your story, developing the plot and characters within you. Daydream, jot notes, and free write about the back story of each character first.

2. Can you write a quest poem? Any style you choose!

3. Create a piece of art with a quest/adventure theme.

4. As you begin reading a book, use post-it notes to mark the scenes that are evocative. Why do they work so well?