Sunday, July 21, 2019

Coach Your Characters to Self-Discovery

By Raegan Teller

In a past work life, I was an executive coach. A coach facilitates discussions with others to help them gain self-awareness, clarify goals, achieve their objectives, and unlock their potential. Rarely does a coach “tell” someone what to do or offer direct advice. Instead, she asks insightful questions that lead to self-discovery. While professional coaching requires many hours of training, any writer can employ simple coaching techniques to develop characters.

I can’t take credit for creating this writing technique, but I have used it for years and can say it’s truly magical. My readers have said things like “your characters literally jump off the page” or “I feel like I know these characters personally.”

What I discovered was that the typical character profile is the equivalent of “telling” characters who they are, what they believe, and how they are supposed to behave. If you have flat characters, it may be because you don’t have enough insight into what drives them to act or react when faced with your plot. Through a coaching-type process, you can gain a deeper understanding of characters than you can with typical writing techniques.

Here’s how it works. If you are further developing an existing character, or creating a new one, as I was this week for the fourth book of my Enid Blackwell series, simply coach that character to self-discover who he or she is. You do so by asking the character a series of questions. For example, ask your character to respond in first person to the questions below. You simply answer as though you are that character. Write stream-of-consciousness style for a full five minutes. If you run out of steam, simply reply, “I don’t know what else to say,” over and over until you can resume. Set a timer on your phone or computer and don’t cheat by stopping early. Some of the most revealing character revelations come near the end of the five-minute session.  

Here are some examples of character-coaching questions:
· How would you finish this sentence: Everything will make sense when . . .?
· What do you see when you look in the mirror?
· What was the most defining moment of your life?
· Who was the most influential person in your life—why?
· What are five things you want to do before you die?

Note that these are “deep” questions, not superficial ones like, “What’s your favorite color?” There’s nothing wrong with asking easy questions, but you won’t learn much from them.
Remember that when you are writing in first person as your character, you must resist the urge to force the answers. You are merely the conduit—the reply should come from your character. While it may seem weird at first, close your eyes and try to hear your characters talking to you. If you can push your preconceived notions about them aside for five minutes and just let them talk, you’ll be amazed at what they have to say. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019


By Kasie Whitener

I’ve been moonlighting with Columbia III, being very strategic about how I get feedback from my two different critique groups. I take half the short story to Cola II on Monday, I fix the story with their feedback and take the updated six pages to Cola III the following Tuesday. I repeat the process for the second half of the story and at the end of the month I have a well-polished short story.

Then I send it to my long-time critique partner, Jodie, and get her take. Then I send it to my publishing friend and get his take. Finally, I fix what Jonathan said was broken and submit the piece for publication.

I speak frequently on the importance of seeking feedback and on how difficult it can be to take criticism on something you are sure is your best work. So when one of our Cola III writers brought romance novel pages that the rest of the group said needed some serious work, I confidently said, “I can fix this.”

Two things about that: 1) I’m a serial romance novel reader, I’ve already finished over 100 romance novels this year and read about 150 last year; I know the genre, know the formula, and generally know what makes a good one and why some of them just stink.

But, 2) no one can “fix” your work for you. Not even me.

I should have said, “You can do these three things which may address the challenges here.” To suggest I can “fix” the work is both arrogant and presumptive. I honestly just got so excited about helping a romance writer.

There are levels to feedback and you should know, as the submitting writer, what level you’re looking for.

Level 1
People who know you and love you and will encourage you to keep going. This is my Cola II group and I frequently bring them stuff that may or may not be a real story.

Level 2
People who don’t know you but do know writing and are willing to tell you (compassionately), “This needs work.” This is my Cola III group and I only bring them the polished stuff.

Level 3
People who may or may not know you but it doesn’t matter because they’re judging the work as professionals. This is Jodie and Jonathan. They have serious writing chops of their own and know I can take the line-by-line “this works” and “this doesn’t” or the overall “this story bored me” or “you really have something here.”

Critique should always, always be about the words on the page.

If you’re new at critique, work with your Level 1 people for as long as it takes to build up the calluses you’ll need at Levels 2 and 3. It’s safe to assume a critique group is not Level 1 unless you’ve been with them a while. And even then, the good ones will push you like a Level 2. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Writing Makes Speech Come to Life

By Nick Rolon

Recently, I was fortunate to attend the graduation ceremonies of two of my wonderful nieces, Nicole and Tori. One ceremony was outside with the sun shining bright and the other inside with university banners hanging from the rafters. As a proud uncle, I sat with family and friends eager to see my nieces receive their diplomas and to experience the planned commencement exercises including the inspiring speeches. Written words now brought to life.
As I listened to the speakers, who ranged from the Valedictorians and Salutatorians to the keynote speaker (who included a state Commissioner of Education), I heard brief comments on what inspired them to write their speeches. Each had put a lot of thought into the writing of their speech, the message, and how they would present it to the audience. The words they spoke were written by them and you could hear the passion in their voices.

There are many types of speeches with some informative (educating a group of medical students on new procedures), persuasive (emphasizing company goals, missions, plans, and expectations), and some for special occasions (recognizing achievements at graduations, wedding toasts). In many cases, particularly graduation ceremonies, the speaker shares experiences, values, and offers advice.  They seek to motivate, recognize, and inspire students.

I reflected on some key points:  

1) Know your audience- take time to understand your listeners.  You can write your notes to have emotional appeal to that specific audience.

2) Know the message that you want to convey to your audience – what will be the takeaway, what is the key point you want to the listeners to know; save the most important message for the end.

3) Begin with an impactful, enthusiastic introductory statement that defines your speech and quickly captures the attention of your audience.  Remember, you want to have fun writing the speech; feel confident.  You Got It!

4) Tell a personal story that engages listeners.  Use storytelling to make your point and let your personality come through.  This will help bring your written words to life.  If the listeners feel comfortable with you, they will listen more closely to your message.

5) Speak Slowly – no need to rush; factor your provided time limit into writing the speech.

6) Speak with feeling – No one likes to be bored; show your passion for your words.

7) Memorize your speech – don’t read unless you must; you may have a copy of your speech but avoid simply reading word for word.

8) Thank someone- recognition is good; it creates a good feeling throughout the audience.

9) Conclude with your most important message – reiterate the key takeaway; we want listeners to walkaway informed, inspired, happier, and healthier.   

10) Thank everyone for listening.

Many of us, have the same fears expressed by one of the student speakers when she said, “My principal told me I have good news and challenging news – the good news is you were selected class valedictorian and the challenging news is now you have to write a speech and give it.”

Have you ever written and then given a speech? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Grammar Precisionism Is a Big Fat Pyramid Scheme Part I

By El Ochiis
     There, I said it. No, actually, another critic in a
literary magazine stated that Grammar was a Ponzi Scheme and I,
not only agreed, but was glad someone else, who already had a
publishing career and contract, finally said that which I’ve
always believed.  Every time I write something, I have imagined
a secret underground bunker in some location in the universe
that houses volumes of Grammar Penal Codes; Therein is a list of
all the things I’d be in error to commit – crap, have I just
violated a grammar tenet of monumental stature? I feel so
bohemian – a rebel with a very valid cause.
     Who is this grammar enforcement and who appointed them said
     Even the Ponzi scheme is a Ponzi scheme.  The original idea
had already been carried out by a woman named Sara Howe, in
Boston in the 1880’s. But, someone, with some concealed regulation book of rules and appointments of history, attributed the concept, renaming it, after an Italian man, named Charles Ponzi, much later, in the 1920’s. The same appointees, who robbed Sara Howe of her rightful authorship of the schematic fortitude to defraud solely female clientele by charging them an eight-percent monthly interest rate, and then stealing the money that the women had invested, could, possibly, be the very ones overseeing grammar guidelines. A scheme in a scheme, I resound. And, yes, the sentence before this short one, as well as others herein, is lengthy; all hail long sentences. Martin Luther King: “A Letter from Birmingham Jail.” 310 words; Marcel Proust: “Remembrance of Things Past.” 958 words; and, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship.” 2,156 words. Go off you scribes of creative fiction, build great and extended sentences. Don’t forget to toss in some necessarily appropriate words ending in “ly”.
     I meant, “ladies and gentlemen of the jury, who really
knows what an infinitive is?”  And having acknowledged this,
what human can actually, decipher when he or she has split one.
An infinitive is the uninflected form of a verb along
with to – to jump; to run; to correct. She urged me to casually walk up and complain,” should be written, instead, as: “She urged me to walk up and casually complain.” Listen you, alleged,
grammar purists, Henry James and Rudyard Kipling split
infinitives and they weren’t detained.
     A dangling participle, you say?  And, which offenders keep
dangling them?  Participles are a type of verbs; they act as
adjectives. See, this is so confusing.  “The filtered water
tastes great.” Filter is an adjective that modifies water and is
derived from the verb: “filter.”  “Sitting on the park bench,
the moon disappeared behind the building.”  “Sitting on the park
bench” has nothing to modify and is just existing there, by
itself, thus, dangling.
Which and what governing body decided that the following sentence is incorrect: “Him wants to eat dinner”. I can hear your imperiously hifalutin tone there, Ms. Prudence Persnickety, when you emphatically replied: “It’s ungrammatical, the pronoun is in the object form instead of the subject form he.” But the rule that says to use a subject pronoun here was not decided by some governing body. It wasn’t an idea someone came up with and then demanded English speakers comply. Instead, this grammar rule is derived from how people actually use the language. Grammar, therefore, is at its heart, a set of standards based on common practice. If suddenly everyone in the English-speaking world started saying him wants instead of he wants, sometime in the next century him would be correct, sanctioned by every grammar authority alive.

Grammar Precisionism Is a Big Fat Pyramid Scheme Part II

By El Ochiis
Oh dear”, admonished Madame Persnickety, with a supercilious sneer: “That’s not JUST non-standard English, it IS complete and utter, savage colloquialism.” Stick a pencil behind your ear, position yourself in a James Dean stance, by folding your arms across your chest, and diplomatically demand: “Tell me the rule I have broken your ladyship?” I’ve refused to capitalize the “L” in protest, that may or may not be entirely due to my intent of a grammar revolt.
Firstly, if Prudence Persnickety began using a phrase and it caught on, everyone else would be using it. Take for example, “currying favor.” It’s “currying Favel”, from a French poem about a horse. “For all intents and purposes,” not, “all intensive purposes”; “A damp squib”, not “squid”.
     If all the people made the same mistake, it could come to
take root in our collective consciousness, sometimes replacing
the original phrases entirely.
If someone was wildly mistaken, would you say they had another thing coming? Well, it’s actually another “think” coming. But, this correct phrase, to most of you, just sounds all kinds of wrong.
     These are the sorts of changes that keeps lexicographers
updating their dictionaries so that they reflect how language is
really being used by people, rather than instruct on how
language should be used.
The grammar enforcement, the screiben das Gefangnis, yes, it’s my opinion they could, most likely, be German. What other language can scare the daylights out of you when vocalized by humans in black uniforms wearing monocles? Your punishment, though, will be British – literature that is – the most insipid English prose. Your reading list will consist of three sleep inducing novels – read one-hundred times each - staying awake is imperative: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Marble Faun”; Spenser’s “Faerie Queene”; and, John Milton’s “Paradise Lost. Quizzes on all things Milton will be given for the sole purpose of driving you to ways to plot your escape. Consequently, the guards will apprehend you and throw you into solitary confinement with a bound copy of George Elliot’s “Silas Marner,” along with, copies of: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors and Publishers; The King’s English; and, The Oxford Style Manual – the guards are, indeed, sadistic.
     Good luck on your appeal to the non-existent, invisible
guardians of the grammar penitentiary system.
Their source, conveniently, is never revealed. They know what’s wrong but they will never tell you how they know – as if they have the only copy, in existence, of the “Grammar Penal Code” and you don’t, so you will forever be at their mercy.
     Be careful what you write in your petition and how you
write it because every word you pen or speak, will put you in
danger of an extended sentence or, re-incarceration for breaking
a rule you never knew even existed.
     However, there is hope, if enough people commit the same
grammar infraction, yours might end up in the dictionary -
paradoxically confusing, isn’t it?  The grammar law universe can
reverse itself.
If, by chance, you do manage to get released from grammar detention, as you exit the gargantuan, iron doors, peer upwards and pay attention to the inscription to your left: “Caesar non supra grammaticos.” After gathering your meager belongings, you should, timidly, ask the release guardian what that quote means? She, most likely, will pull her monocle further down on her nose, contorting her mouth into a smug sneer and reply, in contemptuous condescension, “The Emperor is not above the grammarians.”
     You hang your head and affect an obsequious mannerism – oh
hell, you become a complete sycophant, realizing that
grammarians surely have taken themselves way too seriously. They
not only produced imperative, language usage demands, on mere,
lowly writers like you and me, but on one of the most notable
Emperors of Rome - they be bad. You WILL go forth and continue
to anguish about whether you had dangled a participle or split
an infinitive because the Grammar Ponzi Police still wields the authority to batter ram your mind and force entry into you writing with all intents and purposes of making your writing so much better that you will earn enough money and fame to break their rules without risking arrest.

Monday, June 24, 2019


By Sandra Schmid

My memoir began when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail twenty years ago. Like many memoirs, something extraordinary happened, something so contrary that I had to remember and try to put it into words. I needed to know why hiking in nature for six months, alone, made me so happy.

My search for words started a new journey. When we moved to Maryland, I published my first short story about my trail experience. The thrill of being in print was comparable to standing on Mt. Katahdin all over again.

In Boise, I joined a writer’s group. We shared our deepest stories. Vulnerable, we became friends. My book gave me a home. 

In Tallahassee, writing classes and seminars opened doors to more publications and friends. I had a focus. I would finish my book.

By the time we moved to Asheville after following work with the Forest Service for twenty years, my story went into a suitcase holding candles and incense on the floor. 

Moving to Columbia just last year, poetry sprouted from the musty case. I read one out loud at Kool Beans with Al Black. 

My memoir is my life. I don’t want it to end. Until I find the right words to express my love for the trail, the journey goes on.

Sunday, June 16, 2019


By Kasie Whitener
Jessica was working on the obituary when I arrived Saturday morning. She wouldn’t let me read it or help her wordsmith it at all. She complained it was just another thing to be done on the very long list she’d been working since her mother, Carol, died Monday.

I stayed in Tucson about 24 hours and when I left, I wanted to write. My fingers itched to express all I’d seen, to process how it all felt, to frame it with the right words ordered in the right way. I think I would have been a passionate obituary writer.

What obits say is relatively standard even for extraordinary people. Carol’s brothers and daughter had a tough time summarizing who she was into five paragraphs. And, really, who can blame them? She was clever and ambitious and decisive and direct. She loved to laugh and have a good time. The stories we told all weekend bore witness to her strength, endurance, faithfulness.

Carol was the working mother who had it all: a family who loved her, friends who adored her, a polished and admired career, and the love of her life at her side.

But it’s the subtext of the obituary that really matters. What does it mean to earn the love of your family and friends? It means you were loyal and kind, steadfast and reliable. How does one build a polished and admired career? With dedication, sacrifice, a growth mindset and a willingness to learn.

When do you realize you are on this journey with the love of your life? Tom and Carol would have been married 47 years this week. They were perfect golf partners, had a well-scripted morning routine (he grinds the beans, she makes the coffee), and shared space like two planets orbiting one another.

After a loved one’s death, we all stand united by that person’s influence and value in our lives. The obituary writer’s requirement is to capture that value. It’s such a challenging task that writing instructors sometimes assign it to students: Write your own obituary or write the obituary of one of your characters.

My novel about Brian-whose-best-friend-killed-himself required this exercise. What would Brian put in Tony’s obituary? How would he tell the story of his best friend, dead at 22?

There’s a part of me that wonders how we measure life journeys. Do we record how many miles she traveled, how much money she made, how many things she accumulated, how many people cared for her?

With her life’s ledger finished, the quantity swells but the quality surges back: Show me the love, the ease with which she navigated her life, those smiles and smirks, the pride, the duty, the honor, the loyalty, her own and that which she inspired in others.

It’s the final chapter, the one that summarizes the dash between the year of birth and the year of death. What would your obituary say about you?

Sunday, June 9, 2019


By Ruth Saunders

The quantity and quality of words placed on the page are not determined by the amount of time spent writing. Inventing prose or poetry moves forward in fits and starts interspersed with occasional steps backward. On good days, words flow from the fingertips. On other days, hours of hard work produce one line which is later deleted. The outcome is uncertain each time we write. 

This fickleness is one of the reasons getting started is difficult. Another is the human tendency to continue doing the same thing. Overcoming inertia of rest, or the state of not-writing, takes energy. Writers must negotiate the reality of moment-to-moment uncertainty and the challenge of  inertia. I cannot change the unpredictability of the creative process or human nature, but I can offer some observations about writing as an activity.

First, the process is effective in the long run; one period of writing may not produce much, but consistent writing moves the work forward. Frequent practice alters the beginning state of inertia from not-writing to writing which begets more writing. More frequent sessions lower the stakes of each. Knowing this enables me to be more realistic about a single session and to keep going.

Second, it is easy to get frustrated and fall into the habit of nonproductive self-criticism. Internal dialogue such as “Why do I bother?” and “I am not good at this” tends to shift us toward a state of not-writing. But this thinking is an emotional reaction to a transient situation; it is not a reflection of yourself as a writer. It can be useful to create a positive internal dialogue that recognizes the other side of the coin, tailored to resonate for you. Examples which work for me include, “I love words” and “I am good at reaching my goals.”

Third, not all writing will be at the optimal level. Perhaps some people routinely produce the highest quality work, but most of us write a lot of ordinary lines, paragraphs, and pieces. Realizing this results in “perfectionistic procrastination” and not-writing. I remind myself, as I did when I played basketball in high school, you must shoot to score—but they’re not all going in. This means you need to shoot more, not less. High scorers take risks rather than waiting for the “right moment.” It’s commonplace advice, but you must keep writing.

Our perspective on the creative process of writing affects the way we feel and what we do as writers. Challenging our habits, expectations, and internal dialogue can reduce stress and make it easier to start and maintain frequent writing sessions, and this can enhance work quantity. Seeking and managing feedback from other writers is essential to improving writing quality. But that is the subject of a future blog.

Sunday, June 2, 2019


By Sharon May

Imagine a great story comes to you. The words flow so naturally you finish a draft that week, and over the next few weeks, you tweak it. You have the urge to share your labor of love. The first reader is a relative, who points out the occasional error and brags about that line of dialogue you are so proud of. Emboldened, you begin sharing with others close to you, all of whom encourage you “to do something with it.”

Days later, leaving the library, you notice a flyer for a writer’s group. You debate whether to take your story to the workshop. Finally, you decide to join the group. Your turn to share your work arrives, and you bravely, but nervously, read your story.

One by one, the other writers evaluate your work. “I like how you.… You might try…. This sentence confused me. It would work better if this scene were moved. I’m not sure of the main character’s motivation.” An eternity goes by before they stop. You feel like a Mack truck rear-ended you. And, not a single one of them noticed that great line. Driving home, you replay the experience over and over, doubting your ability to write despite receiving some positive feedback.

Intellectually, we know receiving criticism requires taking the negative with the positive. Yet, negative criticism can cause a knee-jerk emotional reaction, especially the first time we experience it. Or, when we let the writing define us, i.e. “bad writing, bad person,” which is what many inexperienced writers have to unlearn.

If you want to improve as a writer, you will want any and everybody to give feedback. Readers show you what works and doesn’t work. You will see patterns in the comments, which gives you clues on what needs attention. Most importantly, you will get ideas for other ways to tell the story.

Learn how to accept criticism gracefully and how to benefit from it because you may decide to share your work with agents or publishing companies. If you can’t handle negative comments from peers, you certainly aren’t prepared for rejection letters.

Also hire an editor even if you have to save pennies to do so. It is the best monetary investment you can make in your writing. The best independent editors have worked for publishing companies. Do research to find one that specializes in your genre.

Readers’ comments are not about you, but the text, which can always be improved. Writers can lose perspective at times and thus, need a reality check. Criticism helps us distance ourselves from our work and helps us see our words through the eyes of a reader, an experience which leads us become our own best critic.

Remember you don’t have to change a word if you don’t agree with the readers. What you do have to do is respect the feedback and give it serious consideration, or you’ve wasted everyone’s time.

Sunday, May 26, 2019


By Sharon May

So who can call themselves “writer?” Anyone who picks up a pen or sits at a computer and begins to put words on paper? Does one have to be published? Or do the desire and effort define us?

In Freshman Composition, I used a rhetoric entitled, Everyone’s an Author, which approaches writing as something all of us do on a daily basis. Its goal is to help students understand the rhetorical aspects of writing in its various forms as well as pushing them to take writing more seriously and to view themselves as having the ability to write.

While the textbook aims for students to produce “good” writing, there is an underlying assumption that the act of writing is greater than the quality of the writing. In a sense, that is like calling myself an athlete because I try to play a sport, though I may never win a game.

Years ago, I was discussing a piece of my writing with a friend who also writes. He informed me, in a way that might be called condescending, that he writes only for himself as if that should be the goal for everyone.   

If there is no intended audience, is it “real” writing? After a mental breakdown during my Ph.D. program (no cause and effect implied), I couldn’t/wouldn’t finish a dissertation in good faith. Writing it felt like an exercise in mental masturbation, written for no audience beyond a handful of scholars. Except for a few presentations, I quit writing academic papers and turned to creative writing.

As of May, 10th, I began calling myself a writer since that will be my vocation after retiring from teaching. I’ve written for years but only now do I feel comfortable claiming that label, which may surprise people who know me well.

I have won awards for both academic writing and creative writing, but those for academic writing made me feel like a scholar, not a writer. I co-authored and published a college textbook, but that didn’t make me feel like a writer either though I have made more money from that book than I have yet to make from my creative writing. I have always envisioned an isolated author slaving away, so a group effort didn’t qualify me as a writer.

Many of us value fiction and creative non-fiction over college textbooks. Fiction and memoirs are mystical creations, not dry tomes of information or how-to books. Anyone in the field can write those, right?

Being a writer is establishing a mindset about who we are and what we do. Most of my students don’t buy into the theory that they are writers, no matter how many times I or the textbook called them that. They have no intention of writing any more than they have to while I want to do little else now.

So what are your assumptions about writers?  How do they affect your writing?  

Sunday, May 19, 2019


By Nick Rolon

Author, Roy T. Bennett once said, “Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind.  Be led by the dreams in your heart”.  

My parents, Teresa and Nicholas Rolon, met in Brooklyn, NY.  My mother was Irish, and My father was Spanish.  At the time, their parents had opposed the relationship.  They lived in apartment buildings across from each other and would use walkie talkie radios to communicate in secrecy.  Bike rides, talks at the soda shop, walks from school, and trips to Coney Island soon led to this real life “West Side Story” love affair.  They were in fearless love and would lay on their beach blankets dreaming of a future together.  Their love for each other inspired others and acceptance from their parents. They married on Saturday, September 19, 1965 in a Brooklyn church.   Our life would begin above a bakery with the first of five children born and the smell of oven baked bread from the bakery waking us each morning.   On a fall day in 2015, My parents would renew their wedding vows at the same alter; both looking into each other’s teary eyes and saying “I Do” again – 50 years later.    

In the spring of 2016, my mother, Teresa Rolon, was having trouble walking and fell several times including during a doctor visit.  She was taken to a nearby hospital for further evaluation and an MRI was completed to examine her brain.  At 73 years old, she had led a life of relatively good health.  Aside from her hospitals stays during the births of myself and my siblings, she had never been admitted to a hospital.   A biopsy further revealed our worst thoughts – Lymphoma of the brain: a rare cancer that starts in the lymph tissues/blood of the brain.  The most loving, giving, caring person was about to enter the battle for her life.

She experienced the depression, the fear, the pain, the self-doubt and at times the loss of hope.  With the love and support of my father, brothers and sisters, family, friends, she was determined to fight back against the disease in her mind with the power of love in her heart.  During the years of chemotherapy treatments, countless lab works, hospital stays, doctor visits, physical & cognitive therapy, and counseling sessions Mom was gracious and giving.  The hospital hallway walks with the IV drip pole, the therapist chants of “left foot right foot left foot right foot” teaching her to walk again, the loss of appetite, and she persevered.  One day I found her sitting on her hospital bed with my father and both were wearing Red Noses to support Walgreens Red Nose Day campaign to end child poverty and then she was at a Metlife Stadium Cancer Survivor event speaking words of encouragement to survivors.
On Monday, May 20th, 2019 my mother will be celebrating her 76th year birthday thanks to the many nurses, doctors, therapists, family, friends, and her devoted husband, the North Bergen, NJ community and Samuel Singer, M.D. of the John Theurer Cancer Center /Hackensack University Medical Center who has been incredible from day one.  Thanks to her favorite singer – Ed Sheeran who motivated her through his songs while receiving treatment- She attended his concert in 2018.  

Our life experiences can inspire our writing:
· Observing my mother re-learn to write during her rehabilitation inspired me to write again – never take writing for granted.
· I estimate my mother has handwritten over 5,000 cards & letters to family & friends – I learned early in life the power of words and how they can inspire, encourage, and support others.
· I am inspired to write about my parents 54-year romance which began in Brooklyn, NY; A Brooklyn Love Story might be a good book title.
· Writing is therapeutic- Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you”.  
· In February 2019, my mother began writing her own life story with help from her family.  The handwritten words, at times difficult to read, inspired everyone and proved that a setback is not the end of your story. This example motivates me to continue writing no matter the obstacle.  

This year marks the 70th Anniversary of celebrating Mental Health Month in May.  The theme this year is expanding  upon last year’s theme of #4Mind4Body and taking it to the next level exploring the topics of animal companionship (including pets and support animals), spirituality, humor, work-life balance, recreation, and social connections as many ways to boost mental health and general wellness.  Please visit the website below for more information.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741

Sunday, May 12, 2019


By Kasie Whitener

Christine doesn’t remember anything. I’ve just started a new book by a favorite author and the opening chapter is told from the point of view of an amnesia victim. What an incredible lens through which to bring a story.

Without remembering anything, Christine can’t tell us where she is, who she is, or what brought her into these circumstances. She doesn’t know the people who enter the room despite them knowing her. She is relying solely upon what she sees and feels right now. Unclouded by exposition, this narrator is confused and, as a reader, I am too. Moreover, I’m curious.

The unreliable narrator is a first-person account that can’t be trusted. So often we take for granted that the narrator’s point of view is absolute: it’s how the story really unfolded. But the unreliable narrator makes us question if what we’re seeing is true or just her perception.

Faulkner used an unreliable narrator in The Sound and the Fury. Nick Carraway qualifies as an unreliable narrator in The Great Gatsby. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger both build empathy for their narrator before starting to hint there’s something unstable and untrustworthy about them.

Arguably all first-person narrators are unreliable. Anytime we are seeing things only from a single character’s point of view, we are subject to the lens through which that person sees the world. Experience, values, and ambition all cloud a character’s perception and the first-person narrator is an extremely limiting view point because we only get the other characters through the first-person.

Nick Carraway doesn’t know what Gatsby wants or how he feels, he can only report what he sees and make inferences based on Gatsby’s actions. We think Carraway is reasonable, but with all those parties, he may have been drunk more often than not. In The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins makes one of the narrators an alcoholic. Intentionally casting doubt on what that narrator thinks she saw.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson also deals with an amnesia-suffering narrator. The fragments of memory captured in the woman’s journal reveal, slowly, the terrible circumstances in which she finds herself. It’s a compelling thriller made all the more dramatic because for most of the book the reader is as confused as the narrator.

Some dangers to the unreliable narrator are reader confusion and the writer must decide how much confusion she thinks the reader will tolerate before putting the book down. Admittedly, The Girl on the Train had to rely upon a cast of narrators to offset the drunk woman, but it also seemed to turn those other seemingly trustworthy people into unreliables over the course of the novel, too.

Most importantly, the unreliable narrator is both realistic (we are all unreliable because we see things only from our own perspective) and limiting in a way that might frustrate not just the reader, but also the author. But it’s so totally worth it.