Category Archives: Articles

T is for Theme

T is for Theme

Simply stated, the theme of a story is a universal truth about the human condition that your story illustrates. Your theme may be as general as love, or death, or taxes. Or it could be as specific as think before you speak or be prepared to deal with the consequences of your words. Or try not to buy a house next to a serial killer’s. (This article on the Reedsy blog does a great simple job of defining theme.)

But if simplicity is not your thing, some writers and teachers will tell you that the theme drives the entire story. The theme is what your main character needs and the story relates the journey to achieve it. (See this wonderful article by K.M. Weiland.)

I think a good definition of theme is the message the author is trying to convey through her writing. Even if the message is covert, it underlies the entire story. I dare say it underlies most nonfiction writing as well.


That being said, I’m not always able to articulate the theme of books I’ve read until I speculate about the author’s purpose. For example, I recently read Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. I suspect Thomas wrote Starr’s story to give white people a clue of what it’s like to be a Black person in America. But what’s the theme? Maybe Black lives matter? White people often change that to all lives matter, to which Black people retort, you don’t get it. Thanks to Thomas’ book, I’m beginning to understand.

My ulterior motive for writing The Unicornologist, my YA mystical fantasy work-in-progress, is to encourage my readers to be open to the supernatural. My main character comes face-to-face with Jesus through a centuries-old legend about the unicorn.

Do you have to have a theme in hand before you begin writing your story? Yes. And no. Your story will seem ungrounded and pointless if you try not to have a theme. But sometimes your theme hides from you while you are writing the first draft. Before you start your rewrites, though, it would be beneficial to analyze and identify what your story’s message is and tailor your rewrites so the theme is always just below the surface.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any additional insight into theme? What is the theme of the books you are writing or have written? Please share with us in the comments below.

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R is for Rhiannon Giddens


The March issue of Smithsonian magazine featured an article about banjo-playing singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens, who researches the African roots of America’s musical heritage. Her face seemed familiar to me, but I couldn’t recall where I’d seen her, so I searched YouTube. Her voice sounded familiar, too, but I couldn’t remember when I’d ever heard her.

I am now streaming her on Amazon Prime. Her voice is rich and versatile. Her songs remind me of the songs I grew up on, the protest songs, the folk music, like Joan Baez; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Simon and Garfunkel. Except hers are authentically African American.

In addition to banjo prowess, Giddens has mad fiddlin’ skills.

And here she is singing in Gaelic. (Hey, that’s Chris Thile on mandolin.)

I am so impressed with Rhiannon Giddens–her beautiful voice, the gorgeous songs she writes, and her musicology work. She is my latest musical obsession.

Guest Post: “The Last Supper” by Ugolino di Nerio from Joy of Museums


Thank you to Joy of Museums for this insightful discussion of The Last Supper.

1024px-1г_Ugolino_di_Nerio._The_Last_Supper_Metropolitan_mus._N-Y“The Last Supper” by Ugolino di Nerio

“The Last Supper” by Ugolino di Nerio shows the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, as it is told in the Gospel of John. This painting formed part of the predella, which is the lowermost horizontal part, of a dismembered altarpiece. In this scene, Christ, on the left, informs his disciples that one of them will betray him, a prophecy that was fulfilled by Judas, who is positioned at Christ’s right without a halo. In this painting, we can also see how Ugolino explored how to paint perspective as seen with the ceiling and the table settings. Leonardo da Vinci was born over 100 years after this painting was made in Florence.

To continue reading this article, click here.

N is for North Mountain Park

N is for North Mountain Park

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email:

Hi Andrea,
It’s me, Textile Ranger!  I am going to be in Phoenix the first part of next week, April 8 and 9, staying by North Mountain State Park.  I have stayed there before a few years ago, so you when you wrote about hiking at South Mountain, that registered with me.  It may be very far from your part of Phoenix to where I will be, but I just wanted to check with you about possibly meeting for lunch or an art museum visit or something on one of those days.  If you can’t make it, that is fine, but I didn’t want to come to Phoenix without mentioning it to you.
If you don’t know, Textile Ranger is the blogger behind Deep in the Heart of Textiles. I can’t remember how I stumbled across it, but I love it for the quilts Textile Ranger creates. She’s interested in (and writes about) everything textile, from fibers and dyes to antique clothing. She’s been weaving for decades. (She also has a nature blog, Little Wild Streak.) So, she’s something of a celebrity to me, and I jumped at the chance to meet her in person. And since I’ve been meaning to check out North Mountain Park, I suggested we hike there together before going out to lunch.
We met last Tuesday at the Visitor Center. She gifted me with a nifty water bottle holder that clips on nicely to the shoulder bag I usually carry when I’m hiking. Now I have a free hand!

Textile Ranger

And off we went. Ranger (she spent two summers as a park ranger at Big Bend) suggested a 2 1/2 mile trail that didn’t have any steep elevations. Perfect for walking and talking.
The huge park has breathtaking desert and mountain views. We had some good rains a few weeks ago, and we’ve been rewarded with lovely wildflowers.
Globemallow below:
I want to call these buttercups, but I’m not sure that’s what they are:
These flowers remind me of how little children draw flowers, just circles on a stem; I don’t know what they are–
But there was an area that was literally blanketed with them:
And the palo verde trees are just beginning to bloom:
Closeup of a pale verde blossom:
And the cholla cactus has these beautiful magenta blooms:
Back at the visitor’s center, there is a water fountain that dispenses chilled water. Heavenly! And there are beautiful plantings by the building. Don’t know what this bush is:
I think this is a pink globemallow:
Cool sculptures:
Which are the perfect backdrop for another picture of the Textile Ranger:
I am so thrilled that Textile Ranger is not just a virtual friend any more, but a real friend whom I know face to face. We have lots in common. She’s also a former elementary school teacher, and she loves to read. I’m so touched that she reached out to me. Be sure to check out her blogs, Deep in the Heart of  Textiles and Little Wild StreakShe’s going to post her take on North Mountain Park on Little Wild Streak today.
North Mountain Park is a place I will explore in more detail in the future.

Guest Post: Writers Need An Escape Hatch by Jaye Wells


Thank you to Writers in the Storm and to Jaye Wells for this wonderful article on how to avoid writer burn-out.


When I started writing, I was a stay-at-home mom in need of a hobby. During naptimes and after bed time, I’d run to my laptop and get carried away. It was my escape hatch. Something that was just for me that also provided a creative outlet. But then something miraculous happened–I got published.

For several years, I threw myself into becoming a Real Author. I wrote and wrote and wrote. My vacations were usually spent at conventions.  All of my friends were writers. In my free time, I read to keep up with the market. My dream had come true, but there was this nagging sense that I was missing something.

I burned out in 2014. My new series wasn’t “meeting expectations.” I’d gone back to school to get my MFA in writing popular fiction so I could get more teaching gigs. I wrote a novel and two novellas in four months. I was bitter and exhausted. That’s when I realized I needed to take a step back and figure out what was missing.

As it turned out, I had to face the hard truth that I’d become a workaholic. Every facet of my life revolved around books. I love books. I love writing. I love reading. I love book people. But there’s more to life than all that. In order to figure out what was missing, I had to go back to the beginning and see where I went wrong.

Turns out, I started out right. I found a hobby that was rewarding and fun. It was when I became a pro that I got off track. See, what I figured out is that everyone needs a hobby. We each need something that doesn’t have ego or income tied to it. When my hobby became my job, I lost that safe space where I could create without fear.

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Creative Juice #334

Creative Juice #334

You can’t fail to be inspired by these wonderful articles.



Thank you to Ryan Lanz of A Writer’s Path for this excellent article on your novel’s opening chapter.


You’ve got your idea. Your characters are fleshed out. The setting is crystallized in your mind.

You power up the laptop, and you place your fingers on the keys. Chapter one.

There’s a magic in that. You can practically feel the readers forming an orderly line to purchase your book, even before you finish the first paragraph. But what do you want to accomplish? What are the things to avoid in your first chapter? In this post, we’ll look at the nitty-gritty of a novel’s first chapter.

What are you looking to accomplish?
In a first chapter, you have several things that you want to accomplish and clue the reader on. This is not an exhaustive list, but let’s look at some common items.

  • Identify a protagonist
  • Establish something the protagonist wants
  • Set the tone for the book
  • Make a few promises
  • Indicate what time/place in history
  • Present an immediate conflict/issue

Let’s take a look at each.

To continue reading this article, click here.