Sunday, January 25, 2009

Praise Song

By Lisa Lopez Snyder

The morning began with fierce cold. Nevertheless, people from the world over, bundled up in winter hats and coats, walked along the long stretch of grass from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. They had come to see a president being sworn in.

I was among these more than one million who gathered several days ago to watch history unfold. We were inspired, along with everyone else who watched from television sets, by a man who showed us that we all have something to contribute. That each of us can do something to make the world a better place to live. That we can achieve whatever we put our minds to.

So how does a writer do that? It starts by being you. By listening to your own voice and sharing it with the world. Inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander chose to speak of the every day man and woman, the past, the present. From her “Praise Song for the Day”:
“…A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed…

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing then of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of…

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.”

So, what inspires you today, dear friend? What song will you sing? What story will you write? Praise song, indeed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inner Thoughts and Writing

By Alex Raley

When you are reading an interesting novel, do you wonder what philosophical underpinnings feed the story?

I find myself deeply, perhaps too deeply, involved in the why of what I write: not just the telling of the story but the thinking which lurks behind the words and seems so impossible to put into appropriate dialogue and action. This haunts me even when I am doing expository writing.

Recently I found myself revising the by-laws of a club. Rather straightforward stuff – who, what, when, and how; nevertheless, I found myself dwelling more on the why of a change than on the simple task of rewriting the by-law to reflect the why. Does this make sense to you? Am I the only person who rummages around, hung up in the why process rather than telling the story?

I have just finished reading The Shack by William Paul Young. The book is full of homespun philosophy, or should I say religion? The author avoids the agony of dealing with his “whys” separate from his story by spinning them within the story itself. Although his themes are told in a clever way, his approach is too simplistic. The themes become almost trivial.

I began to wish that he had been able to reveal his thoughts in less overt ways, and I longed for the chance to figure out for myself the meanings. My analysis is that the novel is less interesting for the very reason that the author makes his philosophical thoughts his story. When stripped of the philosophical themes, there really is not very much story. Even the story we find does not rise to the level of writing we expect of published authors. For example, there is one glaring, though brief, change in the point of view of the story.

My inner thoughts will continue to inject themselves into the process of my writing. However, if I can find the way to keep them in the background and reveal them in interesting action and dialogue, there may be an interested publisher. But, there remains the nagging question. How did The Shack get published?

Sunday, January 11, 2009



Well, okay, you probably shouldn’t walk up to just anyone and hug him or her. You might get punched in the face. You can, however, offer a warm handshake, a big smile, and a sincere "thank you." However you choose to do so, you should commend a librarian for his or her assistance. Consider the following story:
* * *
Sally walks into the library full of confidence. She has just finished reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. She enjoyed the story so much that she wants to find a similar book to read. “Welcome to the Children’s Library,” says the librarian. “May I be of assistance?”

“No, thank you,” Sally replies. “I just need to use the computer.” Sally considers herself to be pretty computer savvy. She will simply pull up DiCamillo’s book and search for similar listings. It seems easy enough.

Moments later, Sally walks away from the computer distraught. She drifts toward the assistance desk.

“Do you need help finding something?” asks the same librarian. The calm tone of her voice soothes Sally.

“I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and want to find a similar novel, one with more about the personification of the toy.”

“Have you read The Velveteen Rabbit?” The librarian produces the call number with a few quick taps on the keyboard. “Toys Go Out is another good one.” More clicks produce another call number.

The librarian’s knowledge amazes Sally. Her agonizing search on the computer produced neither of these books. When another librarian retrieves the books, Sally skims the jacket of Toys Go Out and finds it is just what she’s looking for. It would have taken hours of searching the database to find this book. It would have required her to open the summary of each of the 100+ books on her search list of similar subjects.

Having regained her composure from the agitation of her own computer search, Sally decides to test the glorious cataloged mind of the librarian. “My son reads only Captain Underpants or Magic Treehouse novels. He is also into everything science. Can you recommend other books he might enjoy?”

“How about Frannie K. Stein?” offers the omniscient librarian.

Sally would never be able to obtain this kind of information from a computer search. The librarian possesses extensive knowledge about the many books shelved in the library. It is part of the job, right? However, who would expect someone to be able to cite the perfect book at a moment’s notice and off the top of her head? Sally realizes the invaluable service of the librarian and is grateful. She wants to hug the librarian. Instead, she checks out her books and walks out of the library full of gratitude and awe.
* * *
The library is a wonderful place to gain knowledge on a variety of subjects and at relatively low cost. The staff works hard to make the experience as convenient and painless as possible. It is a public service usually offered with a big smile and an eagerness to help. So, the next time you check out the latest book or DVD at your public library, stop to hug a librarian (or at least give a heart-felt “Thank You”).

Sunday, January 4, 2009


By Leigh Stevenson

People often ask writers where they get their inspiration and why they write. I will try to explain what it is for me.

My mother was a poet and a fiction writer. Among many other things, she taught me to see, really see the world in the shape of trees, the color of light, the beauty of the natural world. My earliest attempts as a writer were in the form of somewhat feeble poetry. I tried to capture all of the turbulent emotions and experiences of growing up and put them on the written page. She encouraged my first attempts but was frank in her assessments. She told me that we often think in trite terms, i.e. clear as a bell, high as a kite, red as a rose. Those expressions are what we hear every day and are what immediately come to mind. The challenge of the writer is to see with fresh eyes and to translate your impressions into fresh terms. This seemed an overwhelming task and I became somewhat discouraged. But I couldn’t stop. A Thesaurus became a good friend.

My father taught me a love of music of all kinds: classical, big band, jazz, contemporary. Sometimes just the sound of wind in the trees or moving through tall grass, the swish of water in a fountain or the beat of the ocean is enough. Sound is important to me as a writer. Sometimes a lack of it.

Inspiration almost always comes to me when I’m still, when I can see the natural world. I don’t think I could write in a windowless room and not see the sky. I have always admired those authors who could sit at a kitchen table with their kids running around them and write a novel. I never could. I was always too engaged with them, too in the moment. I need separate time, space and quiet to create.

I believe a writer must write. He/she has no choice. It’s not enough to see and experience; a writer is compelled to put it on paper. It would almost be painful not to.

What inspires me? Nature. Music. Sound. Great literature. Stimulating conversation. People. Life.

Why do I write? I have to.