Category Archives: Articles

The Taste of Toasted Marshmallows


I’m participating (sporadically) in OctPoWriMo (October Poetry Writing Month). Here are some of my efforts:

hanna-morris-278272Day 3’s prompt was The Taste of Metal. I imagined shish kabob, which led to memories of toasted marshmallows:

The part of the barbecue I like the best.

I select a skinny branch on the tree and snap it off.
I peel off the bark, and I sharpen one end of my stick to a point, rubbing it against the concrete back porch steps.

I stick a marshmallow on my homemade skewer, and hold it over the smoldering coals.
There is an art to this: too close, and it burns; too far away, and it takes forever.
Just right, and the sugary white blob turns brown, like deep suntan, the innards sweet melty goo.

Day 7’s prompt was And Then I Went Too Far, which reminded me of a childhood incident I’d forgotten:

The Day I Ran Away

I can’t remember why I left
Some unbearable grievance no doubt
Running away seemed a reasonable response
And a marvelous adventure

maxi-corrado-140647Without any forethought
Without packing any provisions
I hopped on my bicycle
And pedaled till I grew weary

Two towns away I rode to the hospital
A nurse exited, her shift over
I approached her and said,
“I’m running away from home.
Can you help me?”

I expected she would see what I fine girl I was
And offer to adopt me
Instead, she sighed
And lifted my bike into the trunk of her car

Dashing my hopes, she didn’t
Take me to her home
Opting to drive me to the police station
And hand me over to authorities

Who weren’t interested in where I wanted to go
Or why I left
Only in calling my bewildered parents
To come pick me up.

My father apologized to the cop
And transferred my bike to his trunk
And said nothing to me beyond
“Get in the car.”

At home, my mother berated me
“How could you make us worry so?
What were you thinking?”

How could I tell her
It seemed a reasonable response
And a marvelous adventure

Day 9’s prompt was Tapping the Ash of her Cigarette, which reminded me of an anthropological artifact of my childhood:

The Ashtray

Photo by Amin.

In the 1950s and 60s,
An ashtray was an appreciated gift for a grownup.
We made them for our parents in school and at Girl Scout meetings.
They were ubiquitous.
Families displayed them on coffee- and end-tables.
Children emptied them daily as part of their chores.
(That’s as close to cigarettes as they were allowed to get—
Funny how our parents recognized their “coffin nails” were bad for children.)
My parents both quit smoking, my father only after a heart attack.
My mother-in-law quit the hard way: dying of lung cancer.

None of my friends smokes.
None of us have ashtrays.
It’s funny how times change.

Day 11’s prompt was Dancing. What follows is a true story:

The Epsom Salts Girl

The orchestra’s playing a waltz
And I can’t dance

Two weeks ago I landed on the side of my foot
And heard it crunch

My partner asked if she’d stepped on my foot
I said, “No, it was all me.”

Nothing broken, just badly sprained
My chiropractor said “Soak it in ice water.”

Are you crazy?
I’m a hot water and Epsom salts girl

Day 13’s prompt was Art:


The white canvas jeers
I smother it with inky darkness

Then I take my palette knife and scrape it off
Leaving gray areas behind

To counteract the gloom
I smear on aqua and yellow green
Shock it with pink
Burn it with yellow and orange

My brush blends the colors
As if the canvas were my palette
And a cityscape forms before my eyes
With sidewalk cafes and flower shops
And car headlights reflecting off rain slick streets

I graduate to thinner and thinner brushes
To add the people who live in this city
People with jobs and relationships
People with places to go and people to see
I step back and survey my world
I dip my pinkie in cadmium white
And dab it judiciously where light is needed

It’s not too late to jump in and write some poems of your own! If you’ve posted an OctPoWriMo poem online, share a link in the comments below.




My Introduction to Opera

My Introduction to Opera

When I was in high school, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City hosted special matinees for high school students. My school organized annual field trips to these performances, but I was blissfully unaware of them until my senior year, when the featured opera was La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi (I’ve posted about this before).

It was the perfect introduction to opera. The story is a classic, stolen borrowed from La Dame aux Camélias, a novel by Alexandre Dumas. In a nutshell, courtesan Violetta loves Alfredo, but his parents think she’s not good enough for him, so she breaks it off. At a party, he confronts her and accuses her of loving someone else, but he doesn’t learn the truth until Act III, when she dies of consumption (tuberculosis) in his arms.



Painting of party scene in Act I of La Traviata, by Carl d’Unker, circa 1855.


Verdi’s music is heavenly. Here is the drinking song, Libiamo:

And Violetta’s first reaction to Alfredo’s declaration of love (the voice she hears in the background is Alfredo’s), Sempre Libera (Always Free):



Maria Callas as Violetta in the Royal Opera House production of La Traviata, 1958. Photograph by Houston Rogers.

The version I saw was not quite so contemporary; instead, it was set in the late 1800s.


Soon after the field trip, I bought a record of the opera’s highlights, and wore it out through repeated playings. It remains one of my favorite operas.

When I transferred to Glassboro State College (now called Rowan University) in my junior year, I met a student who had been to that very same performance (also his first opera), and it convinced him he wanted to be a musician. Music has the power to change lives. At very least, it helps us to escape our world and our troubles for a while.

What was the first opera you ever saw? Did you think you’d be bored? Did the experience meet or exceed your expectations? Please share in the comments below.



Creative Juice #63

Creative Juice #63

Sharing twelve artsy articles to juice up your creativity:

  1. Street art.
  2. A sculptor turns a fallen tree into a sculpture.
  3. Super Converse kicks!
  4. The truth about corsets.
  5. What happens when Helen Keller goes to a dance studio? No, I’m not making a tasteless joke. Martha Graham was a friend of Keller’s.
  6. This one might make you cry. It’s about the death of a mother. Skip it if you must.
  7. Amazing award-winning quilts.
  8. If you have the ability to snap a picture of your pet doing something silly, you may want to enter this contest next year. If not, you can still enjoy this year’s finalists.
  9. Pages from a Zentangle sketchbook.
  10. Shipping containers never looked so good.
  11. How a unicorn makes music. (Because I’m dedicated to bringing you all the unicorn stories I can.)
  12. Quirky ceramics and a podcast.

Guest Post: The Apprehension Engine


Thanks to Donna at MyOBT for this guest post. I usually avoid horror movies, but I am so intrigued by this instrument, I may just go see The Witch. Or maybe I’ll just watch these videos again.


apprehension Mark Korven

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Writing Books on my Kindle

Writing Books on my Kindle

I’ve written about the writing books on my bookshelves here and here. But I also have a collection of writing books on my Kindle. I’ve reviewed several of these on ARHtistic License; click the highlighted titles to read.

  1. The Audacity to be a Writer: 50 Inspiring Articles on Writing that Could Change Your Life compiled by Bryan Hutchinson.
  2. Crank it outCrank It Out! The Surefire Way to Become a Super-Productive Writer by C.S. Lakin.
  3. Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development by K.M. Weiland. I haven’t read this yet, but I love this author’s work.
  4. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi. This is one of the best resources a fiction writer can have. It lists the physical manifestations of various emotions which you can use to make your readers viscerally experience what’s going on inside your character. (If you want, you can try out the abbreviated version, Emotional Amplifiers, for free.)
  5. Growing Gills: How to Find Creative Focus when You’re Drowning in your Daily Life by Jessica Abel. I’m reading this now, and it’s excellent, but you really have to do the steps. This is the manual for professional cartoonist and graphic novelist Abel’s Creative Focus Workshop. Not strictly a writing book, it’s useful for all kinds of creative endeavors.
  6. How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good by Bryan Cohen. I haven’t read this yet.
  7. Inspired Writer: How to Create Magic with Your Words by Bryan Hutchinson. I haven’t read this yet.
  8. Jumpstart Your Creativity: 10 Jolts to Get Creative and Stay Creative by Shawn Doyle and Steven Rowell.Outlining
  9. Outlining Your Novel Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises for Planning Your Best Book by K.M. Weiland. I’d recommend getting this in hard copy.
  10. Productivity for Creative People: How to get Creative Work Done in an “Always On” World by Mark McGuiness. I haven’t read this yet.
  11. Publishing Poetry & Prose in Literary Journals by Writer’s Relief, Inc. I haven’t read this yet, but I find lots of good information on their website.
  12. Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pansters, and Everyone in Between Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pansters, and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell. I have to read this—I’ve heard such good things about it.
  13. Writing in Obedience: A Primer for Christian Fiction Writers by Terry Burns and Linda W. Yezak. I think I read this and was underwhelmed. It might be a good place for a beginning Christian writer to start.
  14. Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novels by Rayne Hall. I haven’t read this yet.writing the heart
  15. Writing the Heart of Your Story: The Secret to Crafting an Unforgettable Novel by C.S. Lakin. One of the best books I’ve ever read on the art of the novel, which I will probably reread every year.
  16. You Are a Writer by Jeff Goins. A nice little motivational book when you need a kick to get going.
  17. The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women: A Portable Mentor by Gail McMeekin.
  18. The 15-Minute Writer: How to Write Your Book in Only 15 Minutes a Day by Jennifer Blanchard.
  19. 5 Secrets of Story Structure: How to Write a Novel That Stands Out by K.M. Weiland. I can’t remember if I’ve read this yet. Weiland often gives it away free.

Of all the above books that I’ve already read, my two favorites are #4 and #15.

Did you find this article helpful? Please hit the Like button. Have you read any of these? Or do you have a writing book to recommend? Write your comment below.

Deadly Description


I have a dear friend who begs me to describe my characters when I introduce them, so she can accurately visualize them while she reads.

However, when I read, I picture the heroine as me at that age—that’s how closely I identify with characters. And if the author describes her as tall and blond, it throws me off, until my subconscious figures out how to continue picturing a protagonist who looks just like me.


Pamela Hodges says on The Write Practice that “You do not need to tell your reader everything about your characters. Create a bond with your reader by leaving room for their imagination in your story.”

Among readers and writers there is much controversy about how much description is necessary to visualize a character or a setting. Too much description, and the piece gets boring. Too little description, and readers can’t enter the scene. It all boils down to balance.

K.M. Weiland, on Helping Writers Become Authors, says:

Authors must find the perfect balance of telling readers just enough for the story to make sense and come to life, without sharing so much that readers are crowded right out of the story. Our goal as storytellers should be to create a partnership between our own imaginations and that of our readers’. If we’re describing every little detail—both pertinent and not—what we’re creating instead is an on-the-nose narrative that has literally been described to death.

This is not to say that description has limited value in fiction. Laura Drake, in an article on Writers in the Storm, says, “Descriptions nowadays have to do double, and sometimes, triple duty. Because through it, you can show: worldbuilding, tone, foreshadowing, and most important, emotion.”

How much description is enough? Include only enough details to make the picture come alive for the reader. Employ more than one sense, but you probably don’t need all five. Word your description in such a way that it sets mood as well as establishing the visual. Stephen King says, “Description begins with visualization of what it is you want the reader to experience.”

Need an example of too much description? Old literature is full of it. Here’s an excerpt of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray:

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion. The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.

169 words describing Lord Wotton’s surroundings and what he thought about it. What do we lose if we cut it down to:

From where Lord Henry Wotton lay smoking, through the window he caught the gleam of the honey-coloured laburnum blossoms, whose branches could hardly hold their flaming beauty. The shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long curtains, producing the momentary effect of swift motion, like a Japanese-style painting. The sullen murmur of the bees buzzing through the unmown grass, circling with monotonous insistence, made the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the sustained bass note of a distant organ.

84 words. Does it convey the same image without totally decimating Wilde’s voice? His version sent me running to the dictionary. Here are my reasons for my revisions:

  • 351px-Laburnum_anagyroides_flowering

    Laburnum. Photo by Andrew Dunn.

    To the right is a picture of laburnum. I shortened the description, but left in the essence of it.

  • Tussore is coarse silk from the larvae of the tussore moth and related species. So, it’s redundant, and can be eliminated.
  • Is the description of the faces of painters in Tokyo necessary to the story? I’m guessing no.
  • Woodbine is a climbing plant, like a vine. I don’t understand how it could have dusty horns. Would mentioning it distract the reader? Why risk it?
  • Bourdon is a low-pitched stop in an organ, like a 16’ stopped diapason. Do you really care? I’m a music major and I don’t.

Do you agree that where description is concerned, a few well-chosen words are all that’s needed? Or do you believe description is where the author shows his skill in painting a detailed image, using all the vocabulary at his command? Share your position in the comments below.




Off the Beaten Track

Off the Beaten Track

Today’s post is doing triple duty. On Sunday I mentioned I was at a writers’ retreat, and I’d love to share my experience. Also, I took a lot of pictures while I was there, knowing I could use them for two of my favorite photography challenges.

This was my second year participating in the Arizona Dreamweavers retreat. (I wrote an article about last year’s retreat.) We stayed at the same location, the Breath of Life retreat house up in the mountains of Pine, AZ.

2017-09-30 09.45.41

The grounds have lots of little places to sit and relax, or meditate, or pray (click on the small images to enlarge):

Arrivals started at 3:00 pm, with bunk selection, followed by a craft and optional henna tattoo. Then dinner (the meals were spectacular! I had the shrimp), and a brief introduction meeting, including a 35-word pitch for a current or finished manuscript. The rest of the evening was free so that we could do what we came to do–for most of us, that meant undisturbed writing. Besides a good-sized meeting room, the retreat house has lots of nooks and crannies to write in.


That’s me in the center in the blue jacket.

The rest of the weekend was loosely structured around meals, with a few optional sessions to gather and talk or do stuff with the other writers. While writing Saturday morning, I felt restless, so I went for a walk with my camera and took photos for my two challenges. First, for the A Photo a Week Challenge, in response to the prompt Off the Beaten Track:

There was a walk scheduled for 3:00 that afternoon, and I had been looking forward to it, but my little photography walk convinced me to skip it. One, the roads were very steep. And two, I had to step carefully, because I’d injured my foot last Tuesday folk dancing. I’d have slowed everyone down.

These are my offerings for Tuesdays of Texture:

Another option for the 3:00 break was an idea session about queries, synopses, and any other writing-related topic of interest. I skipped it, because I was struggling with the project I was working on, and I wanted to push through. After dinner (I had the salmon), I participated in the Master Mind session on Building a Brand, then I wrote until 10:00, when I finished the outline of a middle-grade novel idea I’d journaled about in 2005. I was dead tired because I’d written until 11:30 the night before, and then not slept due to being in unfamiliar surroundings. I’m happy to say I slept much better the second night, despite the trumpeting of the local elk.

I got up at 5:00 the next morning, took a shower because nobody else was up, and drank five cups of coffee while checking in on my favorite blogs. (Candy, the owner of the retreat house had already prepared pump-thermoses of six different kinds of coffee!) Then breakfast was served (did I mention that the meals were fabulous?):


Blueberry French toast, with Canadian bacon and boiled egg.

After breakfast we wrote until lunch. I ate way too much lunch. And there was so much dessert left over from the other two days (this decadent thing made out of ice cream sandwiches and pudding; two different kinds of apple pie; muffins; and cake) that I was compelled to choke down a slice of pumpkin spice cheesecake.

After lunch the group convened for debriefing. My take-aways from the group discussions were:

  • An email newsletter is your #1 marketing tool.
  • An author website is more important for a writer than a blog. Hmmm. I have to think about that.
  • Scholastic and other publishers recognize the need for high-interest, low-reading-level books for Middle Grades and Young Adults, due to the large number of English Language Learners in our schools.

I went to the retreat with the intention of spending as much writing as possible. All I had was a title and some 12-year-old notes–and Scrivener, which I am just learning to use. I managed to create a full outline, 23 scene index cards, and the first 221 words of the manuscript. It was hard going, and at one point I thought I was going to have to abandon the project, but I kept working, and the ideas came. Remember: don’t give up.

I also renewed some friendships from last year, and made some new friends, too.

2017 Arizona Dreamweavers

How about you–are you able to get off the beaten track periodically and just work on something you love, whether it’s writing or quilting or scrapbooking or art? Please share your experience below in the comments.

#ALCGC2017 October Check-In

#ALCGC2017 October Check-In

It’s undeniably autumn! The year will be over soon. How are you doing on your creative goals?

I’ve made a few drawings this month, although I didn’t do one every other day as planned. I used photos as references for these (click on the smaller images to enlarge):

And I reinterpreted some of my favorite illustrators’ pictures:

And I entered a few  Zentangle challenges, posted herehere, and here.

I wrote four poems this month, and posted three of them, here, here, and here. (Yes, I know. I’m using the term poetry lightly. A couple of them are kind of prose poems.)

In October, I’m looking forward to participating in Inktober and OctPoWriMo. I know my limitations; I know I won’t make a drawing and write a poem every day. I’ll be happy if I do one or the other.

The last weekend of September I went on a writers’ retreat. (I’m coming home today!) I expect to start (in Scrivener) a project I journaled about twelve years ago.

I’m behind where I want to be on my blog. I have holes starting October 10 (though I have 90 posts scheduled between now and April 2). I keep telling myself the world won’t end just because I miss a day on ARHtistic License. I just like being dependable. I’ve posted daily for about two years.

I’m sending out queries to agents for my picture books. So far no nibbles. Sigh.


I’ve signed up to be a contributor for A Writer’s PathSo far I’ve submitted one post. If you follow me on Twitter and Facebook, I’ll let you know when it goes live.

On recorder, I’m continuing to practice the last 13 pages of the Sweet Pipes Recorder Book. I’m chicken to go on to book 2, because it looks really hard. I have another book that I used with my sixth graders when I was teaching that involved improvisation, but I can’t find the CD that goes with it. And so I’m procrastinating on moving forward.

On guitar, I’m up to page 59 in Essential Elements for Guitar. 


Now it’s your turn. How are you doing with your goals? Don’t be shy! If you’re keeping accountable on your blog, paste a link into the comments below. Or if you don’t have a blog, just tell us your successes and your challenges this past month. And remember to check in on November 1, 2017, to share your progress during October. I created the hashtag #ALCGC2017 for ARHtistic License Creative Goals Challenge for 2017. Feel free to use it to tweet about your goals and your progress.





Guest Post: Sculptor Transformed 100-year-old​ Norway Maple Tree Stump into Revolutionary Wartime Presbyterian Minister


Thank you to Ruth E. Hendricks, a photographer and former art teacher, for sharing this guest post featuring a historic graveyard. For more of Ruth’s work, see her blog.

Ruth E. Hendricks Photography

That lengthy title gives it all away -Another post of last week’s time in Philadelphia -

Sculptor and excellent ice carver,Roger Wing, transformed a 100 year old Norway Maple stump into an impressive likeness of Pastor George Duffield (b.1732-d.1790).

(ClickRoger Wing Sculptorand you can see more examples of his amazing sculpture.)

Walking back to the hotel, I passed byThe Old Pine Street Church Graveyard.

Architect Joseph G. Brin articledetails information about how this Revolutionary War Minister’s sermon inspired John Adams to sign the Declaration of Independence.

The wind made the flags billow and flap, making snapping sounds.
Unlike the Harmonist Cemetery I posted yesterday, these graves are marked.

Well, they were marked.

Years of erosion have made many names difficult to read.

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In Search of the Great Blue Heron, Part II

In Search of the Great Blue Heron, Part II

Eighteen months ago, I posted about a trip I took to the Gilbert Riparian Preserve, hoping to spot a great blue heron. I recently went back to try again.

Last time, I had a severe case of camera envy. I carried my little point-and-shoot camera, while other birders had DSLR jobs with huge telephoto lenses. This time, I brought my Canon EOS Rebel T5 with a big zoom lens, a starter DSLR I’m still learning how to use.


Realize we’re in the Sonoran desert, although I suspect that the saguaro cactuses below were planted by landscapers.


But most of the scenery looks like a forest glade.


The Preserve includes seven small lakes, home to all sorts of aquatic birds, like mallards.


And sandpipers?! I thought sandpipers were ocean beach birds. I guess not necessarily. (Click on the small images to enlarge.)

I think this is a snowy egret:

And I think this might be my great blue heron (or maybe it’s another kind of egret; anybody know?):