Three Monday Poems…

Today I am sharing three poems with you.  They are short and they don’t rhyme but I consider them word poems and I chose each word carefully.  Enjoy!


I set a cookie in my heart for you.

Yes, I said to the Powers That Be,

I will receive any message

That you want to send me.

I will accept any terms and conditions

Relating to this cookie,

Because your message is important to me.

And I know how you love cookies!

So how can I deny you mine?

And now, we’ll see.

Are you a good cookie, soft and sweet?

Or are you a real cookie monster?


Whenever I come to see you

We have to talk

Through the screen door.

There’s a lock on your side – the inside –

And no one comes in

Unless you say so.

We can talk through the screen door,

And I can see you,

But I can’t touch you.

And that makes me sad…

I want to come in

And stand close to you,

And feel the warmth of your body

As we stand together

With nothing between us.

I want to come in

And touch your shoulder or

Move a curl of your hair

Out of your eyes.

I want to come in

And look into your eyes,

And see what I could not see

Behind the screen door.

Let me come in…please?


Horses stand together

In a field

Close to each other.

One moves to another

And just stands,

Side by side.

Nostrils flare, gently…

Hooves paw the ground, softly…

It is a peaceful moment.

They are observing their world,

Just looking around,

Just being horses.


One horse will lay its neck

Flat against another horse’s neck

And gently rub

And make little noises…

Wanna Neck?


Three Musings on Love…

Ah, Love!

It ain’t what it used to be…

The impression I get of today’s love relationships is that they are chosen by chance (Internet dating), nourished through opinions of our peers (people who serve as soundboards about how we should feel), evaluated through the cloud of mood elevators, all through a short term lens. We feel that we can return everything to square one if things don’t work out to our liking. We “love” for the entertainment value of it; the truth of love requires long-term commitment to find out who we are through the eyes of another.

Very moderne, and very 1920’s at the same time.

We have not been trained in how to create, deepen, grow and manage long-term relationships. Our pattern for relationships tends to be what’s on TV or on Broadway or in Hollywood. But our emotions didn’t get the memo that we are so strong that we are unable to feel pain.  We soldier on, damaged by emotional encounters.  We have no universal guidebook for how to recover from rejection, how to re-define our own very personal parameters or – for that matter – how to enjoy those few “perfect” moments that we only realize are perfect in retrospect.

Maybe you elicit the behavior – you are dominant, he/she is submissive. And not in a “fun” way…) Maybe one of you is childish; the other is an old soul.  One of you is the introvert; the other an extrovert. Opposites may attract, but very seldom is it the “glue” that sticks us together.

The ability to step back and view a relationship objectively helps us to see if we will be  able to grow into our own skin with this person or if we are just repeating the same pattern, which inhibits growth, or if we will have to be less of ourselves and more of them.  We don’t know how to discuss – and so we argue. Instead of working things out, one draws a (metaphorical) line in the sand and dares the other to step over it. We have no resources with which to deal with conflict, no way to effect conflict resolution.

In my marriage, I have been through more stages than you can imagine; my husband has more or less remained “himself”.  This huge dichotomy within our marriage is what enables me to relate to many situations and enjoy many different types of people. Yet at our collective hearts, we have the same values. We come from the same social and educational and family backgrounds. And so, we understand each other. And together we make a whole person. And if I have issues, I write them out.

And so, here are three poems.


We’ll get through this, you used to say.

And we would.

It might be tough, but we faced it together.

And we won.

We would hold hands, facing each other,

Hearing with our eyes what our hearts were saying.

“There is nothing we can’t do – together.”

“There is no obstacle we can’t overcome – together.”

Well, now we aren’t together…

I can’t get through this by myself!

It is so tough!

It hurts!

I can’t do this … alone.

I look in the mirror and see a broken person.

A hopeless, helpless, sad, angry, desperate person.

And so I cry…

And then I rage!

I want to die…

Or kill…

What if I come back?

What if I say I’m sorry?

What if I tell you I will do anything – be anyone – endure any trial – try anything new…?

Will that be enough?

Will you forgive me?

Will you take me back?

Can we be together again?

Because I can’t do this alone…


You can’t take back Love!

Love can grow


Love can die.

But it can’t be taken back.

You can care for it and nurture it,


You can rip it from the ground, roots hanging.

But it can’t be taken back.

You said “When I told you ‘I love you’,

I didn’t really mean



I take it back.”

But you can’t do that.

Love has all the tenacity of an unborn fetus.

And it will cling to the wall of the heart


allowed to grow,

something awesome is born!


It will cling to the lining of the heart


some deadly device sucks the life out of it.

But you can’t take it back.


I am forever marked by you…

Your look, your smile, your touch!

I never knew I could begin anew –

Never knew Life could mean so much!

I am newly born, brand new!

The “me” I always knew I could be

Is here, right now, on cue!

Through my brand new heart, I see

That so many things were untrue.

Not lies, so much as ignorance.

I’ve learned so much because of you

By Divine Design, not through chance…

I am male or female, any shape, any age –

Where once I was boxed in!

I now can write a book, or craft a page –

I’ve learned to worship… and to sin.

These are my thoughts, my feelings, too.

But now I think you should know this:

Let me adventure into the real You

I want to give you my virginal kiss…

Reach out and wrap me in your arms

Use me to rejuvenate, unwind!

Show me your passion – I know your charms…

See the real Me with your mind!

We don’t have the luxury of Time

Circumstance will force us to part.

Love me now and please be kind

With me, and my newborn heart…

What’s Missing?

I must tell you that, as a reader, I would be disappointed at this point in the storyline of An Agreeable Man. The characters don’t add up to a full deck, so how will the game play out? We have an idea of what Merlie is like, and almost of what she looks like (overweight? thin?), but frankly I see the dog Lucky Charm more fully drawn than Merlie is.  We know there is a nosey take-charge neighbor but we don’t know her name or what she looks like, and we certainly don’t know who Merlie’s friends are, or if she even has friends. Remember, Jack is a very controlling man, and he has total control over a very timid wife. They don’t have children of their own, although we will learn that Jack worked with and donated money to children’s programs in town. We get the impression that Jack is a wealthy man, but Merlie seems almost dirt poor. She’s a prisoner in their house, can’t go anywhere or do anything unless Jack says so or takes her. Jack has a job – he goes to work every weekday. Jack has friends; he goes hunting and fishing with them. Who are they? What are they like? What do they look like? There are collateral characters. Mr. Simmons, owner of Simmons Fine Furnishings, and the minister, nameless and a bit boring.

So…When do we introduce and develop these characters?

One reader suggested that the after-funeral gathering at Merlie’s house would have been a great time to let us know who the circle of friends are. And the minister’s eulogy at Jack’s funeral would have told us a lot of specific information about Jack. Comments made to Merlie at church, the actual burial site, and at Merlie’s home would have widened the plot possibilities even more.

Now I, as the writer, know how the storyline develops. I know the characters and the conflict among the characters. I know the resolution of that conflict. So from now until next Wednesday, I will be writing these down and inserting them into the storyline, but I want you to be thinking about the possibilities that come to your mind.

Remember: this book is based on a true story, and I will keep to the facts of that story until I plot the end of the book.

Okay!  Here’s a poem I wrote many years ago, and I think on some level it sums up how Merlie must be feeling upon reflection of her changed status.

I Hate Being Poor

All my life I’ve had to count pennies, and I’m tired of it.

Sometimes it amuses me when I think of how mismatched is my talent for spending with my small budget.

At other times, I am bitter.

I look around and see other people with bigger houses, more furniture, pets, habits which require money like boats, several cars, exotic vacations, elegant clothes.

I covet possessions!

I want things!

I even envy people their parents, their hometowns, the kids they grew up with.

The things I loved innocently were taken away from me when I was very young.

First my daddy, then our home, then my mother.

We moved around, and for years I lived in other people’s houses,

wore hand-me-down clothes,

took and made use of things other people threw away,

ate food other people selected and cooked.

Consequently, I developed no sense of taste or style.

Why dream of,

or plan for,

things I might want,

when I knew I would take what was given to me?

It doesn’t bother me so much now.

For I m daring to want again,

daring to select and go after the things I want,

and the people I want,

and make them mine.

Being poor doesn’t have to impoverish.

I intend to be rich in the things that mean more than wealth to me.

So I give  you warning:

I see riches in you I will possess,

For I hate being poor.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name … at Cracker Barrel

I live near Lebanon, TN, the Mecca of the Cracker Barrel organization. With over 600 stores in 42 states, this is no small chain of comfort food stores, but it is unique in that its customers come back again and again for the home-cooked food, the service, reasonable prices, the country store,  the come-on-in-and-set-awhile ambience – and something else.  That something else is the bond between the people who work in the restaurant and the shop and the people who keep coming back as customers.

I love our local Cracker Barrel for all these reasons and for one more very important reason – it’s a place where I can write.

Sure, it can be noisy there, but that makes me focus on my writing.  Or it can be having a short lull – which gives me the opportunity to look around and see the salt-of-the-Earth people that come in. Cracker Barrel stores were originally built to serve the highway/interstate transient population, and I think it was a bit of a surprise when it became THE place for the locals to come, some every day, to visit with friends (meet me at the Cracker Barrel!), try out a new dish (the Chicken Pot Pie is incredible!), talk business (I’ve heard many an interview that went well because the Cracker Barrel is a very comfortable place to be) and form relationships with the servers and the people who work in the store.

In fact, one of the servers actually encouraged me to publish the myriad of poems I had written at the Cracker Barrel.  Every time I went in, purse and notebook in tow, she would ask me how the book was coming along. Gentle pressure, but I knew she cared, and I figured if she cared, others might care, too.

Most of the servers have been there awhile, so I get to enjoy their company, and sometimes their comments.  But they are among the most focussed-on-service people you will ever meet!  Each customer’s needs are anticipated and the goal is to get the product to the customer almost before they know what they want!   I have told my husband more than once that I think the tables are bugged because all I have to do is say “Ya know, I could use a refill of coffee/iced tea…” and my server will be setting the cup/glass down before me.  The service really is remarkable…

You will love the celebrations going on in the shop as the seasons are highlighted!  Even though they do put up their Christmas trees a bit early for me, it sure makes you feel warm and happy when you come in the store!  My very favorite time to go to Cracker Barrel is not a holiday but a season.  I truly love Winter there because the huge fireplace is filled with real wood, which is lighted early and is kept glowing through the late evening.  I always ask for (and will wait for) a table closest to the fireplace, and maybe this most recent poem will show you why.


I watch the fire go from new logs,

with flames spitting blue and yellow,

To the dull red and gold

of pulsating embers…

Someone stirs the new logs,

repositioning them for maximum burn,

and the flames

perform a lively dance!


as the fire dies down,

and burning bits of wood drop into the ashes,

I watch

the constant irregularity of it,

and I am fascinated…

And now

I am watching the embers glow

less brightly,

still pulsating,

still full of fire,

their impact diminished only by Time…

Long ago, someone came

And moved me

So that I could

Burn properly.

Then you came,

Not so long ago,

And stirred me

So that flames leaped up,

like so…

And bits of fire

Filled with the hotness of desire,

Fell down into the ashes

of my first love…

And now I pulsate

And I glow

 Remembering the fire

And the desire

That you both

stirred in me.


I like to have a schedule to do almost everything – except when I write! I do need certain things to be in place when I write, such as special “mood” music, and a large beaker of sweet ice tea with lemon that I will sip on until a refill is needed. And I go into an almost hypnotic state where what and whom I am writing about are more real to me than being at the computer in my home. But for your sake, according to your feedback (“Now just what day do you post to your blog?”), I will be featuring poetry and short pieces of writing on Mondays and Fridays, and on Wednesdays I will be asking you to TRULY “watch me write” An Agreeable Man, my latest work-in-progress.

I have mentioned this book as being the one that I got so much help with from that third writers’ group. I will need help from you as well, so read with a critical eye and let me have your feedback.

First, though, a little background. I was moved to write this book several years ago after reading a particularly shocking news story which became the subject of several television news programs. I knew what I wanted to say about the subject matter and I could see the end as well as the beginning of the book. The characters just popped out to me, fully formed.  I knew who they were, inside and out. So, as usual, I did my research on the key topics I would be dealing with and I sat down to write. After repeated attempts failed, (and I am never at a loss for words!) I sat back and said out loud: “What do you want me to write?” And I got directions, almost at the level of a whisper, but more like an understanding of the minds. I swear to you, I felt the presence of this woman behind my right shoulder who assumed the persona of Merlie, my main character. From this vantage point, she alternately scolded me (“I would never say THAT!”) and praised me, putting both her hands on my upper arms as she rejoiced that I had “finally got it right!” She was not scary, just THERE, and when I argued with her, things would happen to my computer or my phone would begin to ring incessantly or someone would email me – and I couldn’t progress until I wrote it HER way. So I guess this is a collaboration of a sort. It is certainly NOT the way I have begun my other 11 books!

My plan is to begin writing, using the three rough drafts that I have, and add in bits of information as I find them (remember those pieces of paper I write notes on?). There are a few plot lines I have not yet developed and you will see how I do that. I already know that this is a story based on fact that I have fictionalized because this is my writing modus operandi, my M.O. – it’s how I do it. In order to let the early writing introduce the emotional maturity – or lack thereof – of my main characters, this first writing will be very simplistic in nature, almost childish. As the plot thickens and more characters are introduced, the chapters will be longer than the Introductory Chapter 1.

So here we go!

Meet Merle Evans, wife of AN AGREEABLE MAN, Chapter 1.

On the way home from the funeral, Merle Evans stopped by the pet store and bought a dog. He was a Scottie puppy, no more than eight inches from his jet black nose to his tiny little tail. The pet store owner said he had papers, but that his long ears would make him unsuitable for show to prospective owners.

“Unsuitable for show – indeed!” thought Merle. She loved his long ears, and the way his hair parted down the middle of his back, and the way his beady little black eyes stared straight at her, as if awaiting orders.

The clerk packed up the dog bed and the puppy food and toys while Merle held the puppy. She handed the clerk a credit card (which Mr. Evans would not have approved of), shifting the sleeping ball of fur to her left arm while she signed the credit slip with her right hand.

As the clerk loaded the packages into her car, she wondered what she would tell the relatives and friends at home. She couldn’t tell them she had bought a dog; that seemed callous, even to her. The truth was, she had grown tired of sitting on the couch at the funeral home before the service while people filed by her, making remarks intended to be kind, but which came off as kind of banal. She didn’t relish the thought of sitting on her own couch at home and hearing the same kind of remarks, while trying to remember who made them. She was in no mood to think of Mr. Evans’ death right now. She would do that later, when she was in a better frame of mind.

She needed something to cheer her up, to make her happy, to take her mind off of Mr. Evans’ death. It was then that she thought of the puppy. Yesterday, she had passed the pet shop on her way to the funeral home to finalize arrangements and saw him in the window. He had cocked his head to one side and put his chin on his paws, sphinx-like, and looked calmly at her, as if he knew she would come back to get him. But she was just as surprised as anything to hear herself say, just as the funeral was over, “Why wait until tomorrow?”

The funeral had been grim. First of all, while she was used to going to church on Sundays, she had never attended a funeral in all her life.  Jack went to those with his friends, Tom Watkins, Dan Newsome and Bob Roberts. Those four went everywhere together – hunting, fishing, golfing, ball games – and each supported the other when their various charities had events. 

Jack was a banker, a founding member and one of the senior employees in the bank. Tom was in insurance – the one-stop-insurance agent, he liked to say. Dan was in alumni relations for the local college and traveled a lot. Bob was the president of a small company that had international ties to China. He traveled as well. But they were all here today to honor their friend Jack. 

Bob had been chosen to represent the three friends and he was to speak to the assembled crowd that overflowed into the church’s outer rooms, where the attendees would watch the service on closed caption TV.  It had taken 63 cars to bring them all to the church and the Highway Patrol was out in full force for the trip to the burial plot.

Merle had been seated at the front and felt the full force aura of the assembled crowd. It pulsated down from the back rows to the front pews and broke over her like crashing waves at a surfboarding event. It numbed her. If only she could close her eyes and sleep through it…

But no. Bob got up with a few papers in his hands and laid them on the pulpit. 

“Hi. My name is Bob Roberts and…I have been asked to say a few words on behalf of my friend Jack Evans who died last Saturday.  Suddenly.” At this point, the suave world traveler gulped for breath and tried to regain his composure.

“I’m sorry. I really don’t know where to begin to tell you what Jack meant to me as my best friend…” He trailed off again, looking down at his notes.

“This is hard. Honestly, I don’t know how to tell you how intertwined our lives were. Like, you know, that cartoon character – a rabbit, I think or maybe the Roadrunner – you know how his long ears wound around each other until it looked like one big tall rabbit ear..?” Now the tears started and his face screwed up in a grimace.

He grabbed his notes and said “I can’t do this! Tom, you and Dan will have to take over.”

And he sat down, face in his handkerchief, shoulders heaving.

Tom stood up and walked purposefully to the podium. He had no pages in his hand. He faced the packed worship hall. “Jack Evans was my best friend. And I’ll bet you will hear that over and over today. Because if Jack took you as a friend, you became like family. Jack had a lot of friends. And there was nothing that Jack wouldn’t do for any one of us. He was loyal to a fault. He was the type of man who would give to those less fortunate than he was without even thinking about it. He always counted his blessings, and encouraged us to look at what we had going for us instead of what we lacked. He changed me from a borderline depressed person into an optimistic person who now tries to find the positive in every person and every situation.  Thank you, Jack.”

He walked back to his seat, grim-faced.

Dan got up and slowly walked to the podium. Tall, lanky, with a burst of reddish hair that looked like it had been slept on, he turned to face the crowd. “Well, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Thank you all for coming to honor our friend, Jack Evans. Jack would probably be embarrassed.  I loved a good crowd when I played basketball, and later when the joints began to act up a bit, the four of us would play “touch” basketball. I remember the first time we played. What should have been an easy win for me, being a foot taller than Jack, turned into the hardest game of my life. He was determined to give me a run for my money!  Jack was never afraid to go after what he wanted no matter how hard he had to work for it. I racked up the most points, but Jack taught me how to win in the Game of Life.” 

He started to say something else, but thought better of it and silently ambled back to his seat.

Then it was the minister’s turn to talk about Jack. How he contributed to so many charities – not only money but volunteer work, inspiring others to volunteer as well. How he helped build the new hospital, and a kitchen/sleep wing in the Family Activities section of the church to feed and care for the homeless; and how you could always count on Jack Evans for advice, money, people or whatever was needed to enrich the town he so loved.

Merle was not mentioned once.  For all the world knew, Jack Evans was a bachelor.

She did not recognize the man whose funeral she had attended by the words she had heard spoken.  Could there have been two funerals at the same time for two men named Jack Evans? I am losing my mind, she thought. That would have given her cause to panic, if she hadn’t been so very tired.  She needed to get out of here before the crush of people came over to her to offer condolences. But since she had not even been acknowledged as Jack’s wife in the funeral eulogies, why should she stay?

It made perfect sense to her to stand up at the end of the funeral and walk out, announcing to no one in particular “Go on to the house – I’ll be there shortly.” Everyone nodded and whispered “Poor thing, it’s just beginning to sink in…” and “She needs to grieve in private…” and “Some fresh air is just what she needs…” (Actually, it never occurred to her that she should be grieving. She felt a cautious sense of freedom, as if a prison door had been carelessly left open. Should she make a run for it? Hurry, before they come back and close the door!)

So, now what? Here she was, back from who knows where, with a puppy in her arms. How would she smuggle the puppy into the house? She had to think, to make a plan. Mr. Evans usually made all the plans, but he wasn’t here now, was he? It was up to her to work this out.

End of Chapter 1.


The book was finally published in 2016 and is available at AMAZON:

If you like Murder Mysteries, this book will take you on some amazing twists and turns and really surprise you with where the story goes!

Check out the preview of the book on Amazon.  Buy this book either in a paperback or digital form and please leave a review!

Words Have Power…

What a week it has been for WORDS!  I am talking about the one word that brought down a marketing empire, destroyed major product endorsements and threatened to undo all that its Queen – Paula Deen – had built up.  That word is the N-word.

Out of respect for anyone who is offended by the N-word, I will not spell it out in this post. I have no desire to stir the pot of rancor that this word elicits.  I do not know anything specific about the current controversy regarding Ms Deen, nor do I need to. (Google Paula Deen and see how much she has accomplished and you will understand why I respect her as a person because of the enormous odds she has overcome.) It is painful to watch all the hurt that the media has caused Ms Deen by reporting in minute detail every facet of this controversy. But I do understand exactly what Ms Deen meant when she said (and I paraphrase), Anyone over 60 who grew up in the South has said that word as a noun without thinking about it, and especially without intending disrespect. 

First, a little background. I was a Sociology student at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi when it came to our attention that the N-word was offensive to some of our people.  I remember all the discussion that this engendered.  If they didn’t want to be called by that name, what would be acceptable?  Negro/Negra, African-American – what? Finally many of us decided that “black person” or simply “black” might do, since we did not find it offensive to be called “white person” or “white”.  Unfortunately, none of us bothered to check our choice with an actual person of the offended demographic. When I went home after this buzzstorm had hit the papers, I asked the lady who worked in my aunt’s house (where I lived) what she would prefer to be called.  She said: “Julia”.

Lesson learnedInteract with people by their name, not their race…

I am fascinated by the power of this word. Nowhere else have I heard about a word with so much actual power except the word Yahweh, which we were told had the power to strike one dead, if he/she were so callous as to take the name of God in vain, unless the name of God was being invoked to actually curse someone.  Well, we all know how that worked out.  “Curse” words have now become reduced to “cuss” words, and we don’t give a thought to uttering God’s name in any string of words, for any reason. (Well, some of us do, but that’s another story.)

As always when a certain word intrigues me, I have to research it.  And so today I googled the N-word and got Kevin Cato: Intertext. (I am probably on a list now for googling the N-word itself, but no substitutes would do in a precise search.) I read about the background of the N-word with great interest. Please read it completely through to the end, as it is a bit wordy, but well worth the trip.

No one owns individual words.  We don’t even own our own names. We can trademark all we want, but someone else could use that name as well, no problem.  So to that extent, ALL words have power. On the back of my business card, I wrote the following:

I write.  You read.  I speak.  You listen.  Together we learn… Words Change Lives!

When writing fiction, it is interesting to see all the possibilities raised when you name your characters. Research the meanings of their names  and work those meanings into your characters as their personas develop throughout your work.

What is your name? Who chose it for you? Were you baptized with a long name, such as the the string of names to be given to the forthcoming British heir? What does your name mean? If you were allowed to re-name yourself, what would you name YOU?

Birds of a feather…

Several years ago, I asked my husband “What do you think?” regarding a segment of a book I was writing, An Agreeable Man. Instead of his opinion – a man’s opinion, which I desperately needed – I got this: “Why would you want to write about that?!!” (I realize that he’s an engineer and can write excellent reports, but he isn’t exactly gifted in the flights of fancy that I take when I write.  Also he kept seeing himself in my description of the lead character which was devastating to his ego since the leading character was also the villain.)

This was the last straw after several months of finally being able to get back to writing this off-and-on again book.  I knew there were areas that needed working on, but honestly I couldn’t see them. So I decided to look for and join a writers group.

The first one I found met in a library and there were several people there, a nice mix of ages, and a good ratio of men to women.  I especially liked the fact that time would be allotted to read a snippet of our work in progress and that people would follow along on copies provided by each reader and write their comments in the margins.  Instant feedback! Just what I needed…Until the copies of the RULES were handed out.  Page after page after page of rules.

After attending a couple of times, a future meeting was cancelled because the two women who started the group were attending a Writer’s Conference – on behalf of our group.  We were asked to donate to their travel expenses. They would come back and tell us all about it, they promised. Meanwhile, no meetings would be held until they got back.  I declined to donate, but I did go to the next meeting.  Information was exchanged between the two women with lots of insider jokes, rolling of eyes, nudging of elbows and other signs of a VERY good time – but sadly, nothing of value was shared with those of us who stayed behind.

When it came time to read my current work, I was last by (my) design.  It was a poem about my mother and her declining health. I did not give out any copies.  I knew it was good because I wrote it from the heart, and delivered it from the gut. Of the twelve writers there, none had dry eyes when I finished reading my work.  When I stopped, there was silence – and then they clapped enthusiastically and asked me questions and cried some more. It was perfect, they said, no help needed. The two women asked if they could have a copy “for the records”, but I declined, especially since they had told us that the next event they would go to “representing us” would be a writing contest that had a $1500 prize, which no doubt would go to their “travel expenses.”

So I went next to a writers group that met in a bookstore. Again, a good mix of writer types; but also “again”, there were those “rules”. This time, the structure caused the group to divide in half, with some coming during the noon hour and some coming in the evening. The best thing about the group was the critique sheets, which we used to give feedback as each writer read his/her work.

I attended 3 or 4 meetings until one evening, the organizer of that group told us we would be participating in a writing exercise. She gave us a few particulars about a story idea and asked us to write the introductory paragraphs for it.  We dashed these off and turned them in.  Turns out, she, too, was going to enter the best one in a contest for which she would be paid.

So I left and went to my third – and last – writers group. This one met at a Starbucks. We had only 8 people, but they were feisty and opinionated! And kind. And just decent people. There wasn’t a Diva in the bunch! We listened to each other as we read our works, and noted our comments on copies provided by each other.  Here’s an example of the kind of help I got:

In An Agreeable Man, I used as my opening sentence a sentence that I had carried around with me for years, handwritten on a small piece of paper. “On the way home from the funeral, Mrs. Evans stopped by the pet store and bought a puppy. She had been visiting the pet store every day on the way back from seeing Mr. Evans at the hospital.”  Ten pages later, it was revealed that Mr. Evans died in his den, in his comfy chair, in front of the fireplace AT HOME! If there was no event sending Mr. Evans to the hospital, how could Mrs. Evans visit her husband there, much less pass by the pet store?

I never saw this discrepancy because I was too busy carefully crafting the next chapter where the central plot and characters of this thriller are laid out.  (Beginner’s mistake…!) It didn’t take those writers two minutes to figure it out.  And they all caught it immediately!  And they all agreed that I would have to choose between my beloved opening sentence and the scene of the crime, both of which were necessary to the outcome of the storyline.

And the one thing they did NOT do was try to tell me how to do this. “You’ll figure it out,” they said.  Oh, how I hated to leave that group!  But our meeting place was jeopardized when the Starbucks had to move.

So listen: Is anyone out there willing to start up a writers group with me? It will be a Read Aloud and Critique Workshop. We will be each other’s audience as we read our works to each other. If you are interested, I will be glad to share some emails with you and maybe we can come up with something fun as well as something that helps us write and get published! ( Are you in?




Holidays are fun to write about…unless they aren’t.

So…Happy Father’s Day! Right? It occurred to me yesterday, Father’s Day, that I had never said those words to my father because he died before I was three. Growing up, Hallmark card holidays had not been hyped to the extent they are now, so thoughts or memories of one’s father did not attach to one particular day. I was the one in a large extended family who did not have a father, but it did not matter then. Also, I was raised in a matriarchal family where the women were the breadwinners, owned the businesses and ran the households with a little help from the help. Our business as children was  not to speak until we were spoken to, always be polite to our elders, do not cry, never ask “why?”, and stay out of sight when the elders gather, except at mealtimes.  Being on time was a really big thing with punishment attached if we were late. Not big punishment; things like “we had dessert first tonight and you missed it.”

But as I got older, I began to realize the function of a father. He stood up for you; he provided for you; he taught you things like how to drive and how to camp; and above all, he taught you how to size up people and situations. He seemed to know when someone was teasing you, and when they were verbally hurting your feelings.  His arms were strong. His hugs felt safe. He knew how to make you laugh, even when you felt like crying. And he showed you all the different ways to love each other. I never quite got the concept of romantic love because I had never seen it in my home. But there was respectful love, brotherly love, love of work, love of learning, love of country, love of God.  I saw this through the actions of all the men in my family and the warm way my aunts and grandmother talked about their ‘menfolk.’ And I saw husbands and wives who were each other’s best friends.

It never occurred to me that fathers might not be considered as necessary as mothers are to a family. Who in their right mind would choose NOT to have a father, given that they were good people? And who in their right mind would choose to be a single parent, a single mother? I knew how hard that road was. My mother raised two children in the homes of various relatives, and even though she had a good job and a support group, it was not the same as having a husband and it certainly wasn’t easy.

As advertising and marketing began to mold and shape us far more than family influences, we learned that credit was easy and facilitated our wants.  And we were encouraged to “want” any and everything because we were ‘worth it’. The focus of the family slowly turned inward to the children.  Whatever WE didn’t have as children, we were determined to give to our children as their “right.” Divas were cute and tantrums were in. Putting one’s self first was not considered selfish, but an art form to be cultivated.

And when the entertainment industry decided in its infinite wisdom to schedule programs that promote and reward people in situations where the wedding is planned and the baby is planned but the father is jettisoned after the stud service is over, well, I decided to write about it.

I researched the topic. (Google the stats on single mothers.) Yes, good men are hard to find. Yes, women are too picky because they base their requirements on tinseltown values. Yes, the hard-working single moms are to be admired, but learning how to grow within the yin and yang of male/female relationships is mainly learned in the day-to-day ebb and flow of family life. Something is lacking in our children when that element is gone. We have failed to prepare them for the outside world.

One of my friends had 3 sons who were young adults. The previous year one of her sons chose to leave the family and set up housekeeping with his girlfriend. That caused a lot of unhappiness, but not to the extent that the latest problem did. The couple had come to my friend and her husband and told them that they were expecting a baby. And they had no plans to get married. My friend, who was happily looking forward to being a grandmother someday, now saw a situation develop where she might not be able to enjoy the situation they proposed.

My advice to her was to write out her problems in a letter to the one who is causing you the problems. Write it out and take as many pages as you want. Use words you can’t say in public or maybe words you can’t even say in the dark.  Get it all out. And then put it in a drawer or on a shelf overnight. Re-read the letter. Then distill the essence of the letter into a single sentence. When you are satisfied that this is THE definitive sentence, take the letter outside and burn it.  (Just be sure NOT to mail the letter. ) Here is her sentence:

The best thing you can do for that baby you want so much is to love its daddy more than anything else in the world, including yourself.

The takeaway from writing about an emotion-flled topic is to not get caught up in the emotion. That takes mental discipline and if it doesn’t come out right the first time, if it doesn’t say exactly what you want it to say, keep writing and re-writing until it does. Distill your comments until their meaning is so pointed it cannot be missed or misunderstood. Or put it on the shelf. The day will come when you are in control enough that the message can come through you – as the facilitator – loud and clear.

When Do I Use a Pen Name (Pseudonym, Assumed Name, Nom de Plume)?

Using a fictitious name to conceal one’s identity as a writer is a time-honored tradition. I don’t know that there are actual rules for doing this, but one needs to think long and hard before anything that you write is published or distributed to others without being attributed to you. Personally, I feel that using a pen name has its purposes. Agatha Christie used the pen name Mary Westmacott when she wrote outside her murder mystery genre because she felt that writing intuitive romances might negatively impact the sales of her mystery books. She was correct. She wrote them anyway, and published them, because she had something important to say that she wanted to share. Her publishers convinced her that sales would go down, but since she didn’t write them for economic reasons, she used a pen name, Mary Westmacott. By the time her cover was blown, so to speak, she could have sold paper napkins as long as her name was written on them.

I have all of Agatha Christie’s published works and I read and re-read them many times each year.  I like that her murders have just enough violence, blood and gore to establish that a real murder has occurred. Figuring out “who done it” is interesting because I couldn’t have figured out her twisting and turning plots by myself. And Justice is always served. But it is her ability to create meaningful characters with a few well-chosen words that intrigues me the most. Christie leaves no loose ends.  That is why I frequently use her murder mysteries to put me to sleep. It is the satisfaction of a job well done and I can breathe a sigh of relief as I turn out the light and turn off the worries of my day. On the other hand, her romance novels, which are filled with suppressed emotion and the irrevocable results of bad choices, do not interest me other than as being other books written by Agatha Christie, using a pen name.

I wrote a book titled Touchpoints and published it in 2011 under the pen name Sally Shirley.  I chose the title because certain events occurred to me and several women I knew many years ago which affected us all – they were in fact points in time that touched us all. I wrote them down on those bits of paper and saved them, packrat that I am. Early in 2011, I found enough of these disparate pages to realize that I had a book about women of a certain age and time of life going through rough times – and good times.  I chose the pen name Sally Shirley because my aunt called me “Sally” when I was a little girl.  “Shirley” is my mother’s maiden name and my middle name.

I chiefly write about relationships in a diary style, as if I am chronicling my own life, which is unnerving to some of my readers because it is so intensely personal. For example, this poem struck a nerve with several of my readers:


I need a hug, I said.

I’m always available for a hug, you said.

And then you went to sleep,

Your hand on my shoulder.


You could go down to the funeral home

and lie down beside the corpses there

And be ‘available’…


The computer expert,

Should know the meaning

of the word


And I,

The computer user,

Am considering

Whether to hit the “esc” key


Just “delete” you.

Snatches of Conversations

A couple of years ago, we were in New York at Christmastime. Our hotel was beautifully decorated; holiday music was piped in; shoppers were loaded down with packages – and smiles! Two couches were aligned back to back in front of a gigantic fireplace in an alcove just off the lobby.  A middle aged couple was sitting on the back couch, having an intense conversation. So I took the front couch where I could see our family members come through the revolving door. The doorman in his white uniform with gold braid looked like a tall toy soldier. Shimmering to my left was a huge Christmas tree, laden with balls and tinsel and ornaments. Ah, Christmas!

As I focused on people coming through the door, my mind wandered to the couple and I tuned in on this vignette:

“Well, all I know is you weren’t like this before you got the sentence.” The woman clutched her purse to her stomach as she spoke, looking straight ahead.

“What sentence?” The man slumped on the couch asked.

“The Death Sentence. You know, you got Cancer.” She spoke angrily as she turned to look at him.


The man looked to his left, away from her.  “Well, yes. It made me feel…shell-shocked.”

She began rummaging around in her purse. “You act differently. You seem more…feminine, crying and all.”

Triumphantly, she pulled out her lighter and a cigarette, and began the ritualistic lighting up ceremony. “I don’t like it…”

His head slumped further down on his chest. “I can’t help it! I have no control. It just happens.”

She blew smoke in his direction as she turned towards him.”Oh, please! Decide what to do and do it.”

He tried to process this and finally said: “Deciding what to do is hard but it’s harder to decide what NOT to do.”

“Is that a riddle?” she snapped. “Because all of a sudden I don’t know who you are any more.  I can’t live like this.”

“Like what?”

“All you talk about is dying. Or what treatments you might have to take.”

Slowly, he spoke. “Well, there’s lots of things to think about. Lots of decisions to be made. It’s hard to do.”

Harshly, she spoke. “Well, I don’t want any part of it, so keep away from me…”

Suddenly, she half-rose. “I need a drink.”

As she started towards the bar, she turned to look at him. “Well, are you coming?”

He hadn’t moved. “Well, I don’t know. Am I supposed to drink now? Not drink? I don’t know how to think about things…”

He raised his head to look in her direction. “What do you think I should do?”

She practically yelled at him. “I think you should leave me out of it!!”

His face crumpled. “But I need your help…”

She stood twisted, body half turned to the bar, her purse dangling. “I have no help to give you so don’t bother me about it.”

The man hunched forward on the couch, in the midst of getting up. “About what?”

“You know, about your cancer, about your dying. About all of it. Just leave me out of it!”

She waited on him to complete his laborious rise from the couch. “I’m going to the bar now. Are you coming?”

Halfway up, yet still halfway down, he mused more to himself than to her. “I don’t know. Should I drink anything? What should I drink? I could use a drink, but I don’t know. What do you think?”

Mercifully, my family showed up at this point, but I almost begged them to wait so that I could get some more of this fascinating conversation. God only knows what delicious words angst plus alcohol would spew out of their mouths! I already had the characters pegged as to looks, and had decided that a play was the best vehicle for their story. The disconnect between the characters was so palpable that they needed that audience interaction to feel people lining up behind them, taking his or her side and flinging it back to the other side with the force of a battering ram. It hurt to watch them interact, and I knew that further words would hurt even more. There was no pity here, no love, no compassion, and certainly no offer of help. Now that I knew WHO the characters were, all I needed to do was to go up and down their timelines to flesh out their individual and combined stories.


(I am going to pause here to tell you that this sounded very familiar to me and I had to identify when and where I had experienced it before developing my characters further. Finally it came to me.  It was another winter but not in New York. It was at Lake Tahoe and I had gone with my husband on a business trip. I was behind closed doors in the ladies room when two women came in. As they washed their hands, the following conversation ensued – and I will tell you if you haven’t already guessed that this exchange was taken down verbatim with lipstick on toilet paper. I felt like I was in Dolly Partin’s 9 to 5 movie!)

“She did what?!”

“Honey, she hauled him out of the nursing home and made him come on this trip!”

“She did NOT!”

“Yes, she did! It was a couples tour and you can’t come if you aren’t a couple.”

“Well, couldn’t she have asked a friend…?”

“Martha, you know the woman.  Do you think a friend would come with her? I mean, I don’t even think she has any friends…”

“You’re right. Someone told me they thought her husband faked his dementia symptoms just to get put in a place where she couldn’t get at him…”

“Well, it didn’t work. She got him out two days ago and he’s been on the bus obviously sick and upset every day since.”

“Poor man. All he wanted was just to live out his life in peace…”

“Well, she can’t get to him any more. When she got up this morning, she started shaking him to get him up so they wouldn’t be late for the free breakfast…and he was DEAD! The couple in the room next door said that she screamed and yelled at him, ‘You sorry bastard! Now I’m going to have to cancel my trip!”

(Years have passed since then and I am sorry to say that I have seen this type of couple several times. Sad, but true…)

Okay. Now I am ready to place this real couple in a scene I have made up to see if I have, in fact, “nailed” their characters…

The scene is a doctor’s office. The man is on the examination table; the woman sits forward on a chair, clutching her purse with both hands, in her lap.  The doctor enters and (reading from a chart) says:

“Well, Mr. Abramson, we have your test results back and…”

“How long do you think he has? How long does it take to die from this type of cancer? Will he be done by Spring? I could go to my sister’s by Spring cause her kids are out of school…”  The wife stands up, pulling her skirts out of the back of her legs with one hand, holding the ever-present purse in the other.

The doctor nods in her direction, then turns to face his patient. “Before I get into the technical part, do you have any questions for me?”

“Yes, I do, Dr. Wenn, and thank you for asking. I do have questions, but I can’t keep them in my mind long enough to ask them.  It’s like a movie marquee in there, in my mind. And on the marquee it says ‘It’s all over, Sol.  You’re dying…Prepare to meet your maker’…It’s scary, doc.”


“Sorry. What did you ask me, Doctor?”

The Doctor pushes his glasses up his nose says, “Well, Sol, I asked if you had any questions…”

Sol:  “Oh, right. Well, yes.  Is this a death sentence?  Are you certain I will die?  Is there anything that can be done here?”

Dr. Wenn: “Before I answer those questions, let me tell you what helps most of my patients.  You can go online and look it up. I have suggested some medical sites here which will work with the patient; in fact, a couple are interactive. Here’s a summary of my diagnosis and the medical terms are highlighted.  Those are the ones you will want to look up. You know how you are feeling, so look for those symptoms. And remember not to believe the worst – or the best – advice you are given.

Now for your diagnosis…”

AT THIS POINT, I usually try to identify at least two scenarios that the play can take, and develop the plots accordingly. I would probably go to a medical blog and read patient reviews of how they were treated personally and chemically with this same condition. There’s a wealth of conversation on blog sites!

And this is a good time to flesh out your main characters by imagining how and where they live. Go there, if possible, and walk their neighborhoods, talk/listen to their “imaginary” neighbors. What habits are they defined by? What speech patterns make their conversations predictable?  Do they have a pet? If not, why not? Children? Grandchildren? Do/Did they work? At what? Where? Church? Synagogue? Politics? Read the demographics on their age group. Did they travel? What was their proudest moment? Their biggest disappointment? Any lost loves? Close friends?  The more you can dig up about these imaginary people, the more your characters will shimmer and shine as REAL people to your readers.