National League of American Pen Women–Denver Branch
May 2, 2015
I. Ruthy Wexler called the meeting to order at 9:38 a.m.
II. Members in attendance were: Juliana Adams, Andrea Antico, Sophia Baldwin, Donna Clark, Kelly Ann Compton, Ruthy Wexler, Sue Luxa, Nancy Peterson, Juanita Pope, Mollie Rue, and Kathleen Visovatti.
III. Guests in attendance were: Lorraine Walker Williams (from Florida branch), and Regina Connors.
IV. Introduction of Guests and members: Guest Regina Connors writes children’s stories and has published a book. All members introduced themselves to Regina and the newer members.
V. Inspirational Reading: Juanita shared information from a blog site about using the setting to show emotion in writing. For more information, read the book notes at the end of these minutes. She left us with a fun writing prompt about having a big belly laugh. We decided to use that in our Pen Women blog.
VI. The April Minutes were approved as written.
VII. The April Treasurer Report was approved. Our current balance is $1,772.20.
VIII. Committee Reports:
A. The Blog Project: Because a few members still want to respond to the prompt “Measuring your life in coffee spoons,” it was voted that the topic will be continued for another week. Our May/June prompt will be “Think of the last thing that gave you a big belly laugh and write its story.” Members were reminded that the story could be shared in any form such as writing, art, and video. We also discussed inviting other branches to comment and blog on our site. Since Lorraine (from Florida) was in attendance, we asked if her branch would be interested. She said if they do participate, it wouldn’t be until January. Mollie suggested inviting the Denver Press Club to participate. Mollie agreed to contact them.
B. Website: No report.
C. Membership: No report.
D. Tapestry: No report.
E. Programs: Our June meeting will be our annual potluck and planning meeting. It will be held at Juliana’s home. For the potluck, each person is to bring a dish assigned by the first letter of her last name. A-C bring a main dish; D-L bring dessert; and M-Z bring a side dish.
1. Sue suggested Connie Shoemaker as a guest speaker. She will try to get her for either October or November. Ms. Shoemaker authored The Good Daughter.
2. September 19th will be our joint meeting with the Pikes Peak Branch.
3. On Tuesday, July 21, Andrea needs volunteers to help reserve rooms at the Eloise May Library. Please contact Andrea if you can help. It is done via computer.
4. Andrea shared that Nick Zellinger, a speaker from several months ago, will send names to Andrea for people who might be willing and able to give us a hands on social media and tech lesson this summer. Ruthy volunteered to contact the people on the list.
F. Outreach Projects: A good discussion took place about working with seniors in getting their life stories down.
1. Sue was enthusiastic about finding ways to record their stories. Kathleen suggested storytelling as a way to draw out stories. It was suggested that we do something, possibly in October, with either Spellbinders or the Rocky Mountain Story Tellers.
2. Lorraine said that we could use our phones to record stories and then make hard copies of the stories for their families.
3.Juliana shared her “Eulies with Julie” where she make a video story that includes pictures, “living eulogies” she calls it.
4.A committee was formed to look into this possible outreach for our branch. The committee members are: Kathleen, Sue, Juliana, Molly, and Ruthy.
IX. Old Business: Ruthy will be having lunch with Virginia of the Pikes Peak Branch on May 18 to discuss our joint meeting in September.
IX. New Business: We discussed inviting the winners of the unknown writers competition to come to a Pen Women meeting.
A. Mollie Rue won 2nd place in the non-fiction category of the Denver Press Club’s unknown writers competition.
B. Nancy Peterson will speak at the Longmont Library on May 7 from 7:00–8:00 p.m.
C. Sophia Baldwin spoke at a group Pat Kennedy is a part of and sold several of her books (Lebanese Immigrant Daughter and Lebanese Immigrant Father and Mother.
D. Lorraine Walker Williams has a weekly column in the Santiva Chronicle. Her column is called “Poetry Place.” She has a video in the column called “Seeking Shells.”
E. Mollie Rue shared that this week’s Stories on Stage will be on the theme of “Life Events that Change Your World.”
XI. The meeting was adjourned at 10:35.
After the meeting, we all shared books that inspired us or helped us with our writing. Notes from these presentations can be seen below. It was a great discussion!
Kelly Ann Compton, Secretary
Favorite Books That Teach and Inspire Our Writing
The Writer’s Craft by Frederic A. Birmingham. A short short story in this book written by Lajos Zilahy inspired Nancy to tell stories in history, especially about women and those who have not received much credit for their accomplishments.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Her copy of the book is over 100 years old and was a birthday gift to her mother when she turned seven. In addition to loving the story, Mollie admires this book for many reasons:
¥ It speaks to a child’s intelligence
¥ The use of humor—even in sad bittersweet stories
¥ Free use of form and style (sort of art work with words)
¥ Use of songs
¥ Discovering that a writer can use all of these things in writing non fiction and that there can be freedom in writing.
¥ Jill Jepson, author of Writing as a Sacred Path: A Practical Guide to Writing with Passion and Purpose posted “Four Compelling Ways to Write Emotion” on her April 23, 2015 blog. Her four suggestions include: 1) Show emotion through action; 2) Use metaphor; 3) Express it through dialogue; and 4) Use setting. For each suggestion, she gives examples from published works.
¥ In Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Kathleen learned to “write stream of consciousness” and if you can’t think of anything to write, write “I can’t think of anything to write” repeatedly until the words start to come.
¥ Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird tells a story about a boy needing to write a report on birds for school, and the boy’s father sits down to help him and says, “Write it bird by bird.” This speaks to how all of us write.
¥ Kathleen challenged everyone to look at any page of Adair Lara’s book You Know You’re a Writer When . . . and you will find something you could relate to.
¥ A Writer by M. B. Goffstein is a children’s book that compares the work of a writer to that of a gardener “whole seeds are ideas that grow into books.”
¥ The Little Black Book of Writers’ Wisdom (edited by Steven D. Price) shares all sorts of inspiring quotes. Kathleen shared this favorite quote from the book: “Truth is so hard to tell. It sometimes takes fiction to make it plausible.”
Lorraine Walker Williams:
¥ Rules of the Dance by Mary Oliver teaches writing metrical poetry and shares the rules for metrical verse. A favored quote from the book is: “True ease in writing comes from art not chance as those move easiest who’ve learned to dance.” For Lorraine, this quote was a message to know your craft, and when you do know the rules of your craft, only then can you break them.
¥ Lorraine also spoke on how breath is a great part of poetry; that it is written into poetry adding meaning.
¥ Rules of the Dance is highly recommended for anyone interested in poetry, in “the music of verse.”
¥ Book: Writers on Writers (Key West)—Lorraine read a bit by Geoff Dyer
¥ Book: The Man Within My Head by Pico Iyer.
¥ Lorraine’s favorite book is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a fiction book very rich in language and story.
Andrea shared how she uses Dr. Seuss’s use of rhyming and style as a model for her own writing. She used Yertle the Turtle as a model for her book Buster the Bully: A Change in the Weather Helps Him Change His Ways, and Oh, the Places You’ll Go for another piece she is working on.
The website Brain Pickings shares book titles and quotes from books on a different topic every month.
While she is a person filled with creativity and creative ideas, the classic The Elements of Style by Strunk and White helps her with structure in her writing.
Kelly Ann Compton:
¥ J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books offer wonderful examples of using detail and description to help the reader see into a made-up world. If you read nothing else in the books, read the chapter of the Quidditch game in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and you will be able to see a game that doesn’t exist. It is because of Rowling’s use of detail and description that the movies were so easy to identify with.
¥ Christy by Catherine Marshall is Kelly Ann’s favorite book. It is a very rich and tightly woven story of a young woman going into the Appalachian Mountains to teach at a mission school.
¥ The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus is a wonderful book. The words are all in alphabetical order with each word labeled with its part of speech and an example of use. There are boxes of extra information given throughout the book and the center of the book contains lists of words based on topic.
¥ The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Strauss is a great book. Not only are grammar rules given, but each section includes quizzes to practice the rules. This book also goes with a website of the same name. Each week, a different rule or change in rules is discussed. More quizzes are available through the website.
¥ “Ignore the doubt and keep going”
¥ Read Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. She is a great writer of prose. She writes that her novels develop in her head to a beautiful delicate butterfly and then she kills it when she brings out pen and paper.
¥ Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is on writing plot. Snyder shares the trail of plot beginning with
¥ Opening Image (as in the title “Save the Cat”)
¥ The Theme is stated—usually spoken to the main character (what the book/movie is about)
¥ Set Up: grabs the readers/viewers attention—Show what needs to be fixed or what is missing from the main character’s life—the world before the adventure starts
¥ Catalyst: the telegram, the knock at the door, the husband leaving—what shakes the character up, and off his/her usual track
¥ Debate: the hero doubting the journey he must make
¥ Break into two: where we leave the “previous” “usual” world behind and enter the upside down world. The hero begins his journey
¥ B–Story: traditionally the love story but also where a discussion of the book/play themes can be found
¥ Fun and Games: doesn’t so much move the plot forward, but provides scenes that reveal character and have fun, talk about theme.
¥ Midpoint: dividing line between the two halves of the play/book—before and now after. Stakes are raised and the hero/heroine must decide, look within himself.
¥ Bad guys close in: internally or externally, real pressure is applied. The forces that are aligned against the hero tighten their grip. Hero/heroine is headed for a huge fall and that brings us to . . .
¥ All is lost: whiff of death. False defeat. Something must die here. A character or a mentor (so the hero can see he had it in him all along)
¥ Dark night of the soul: main character has lost all hope. Oh, Lord, why . . .
¥ Break into three: thanks to a new idea, fresh action, advice from some character, hero can fight back against forces
¥ Finale: synthesis of two worlds. Lessons learned are applied. Not enough to simply succeed or triumph. It’s about change.
Sophia shared what she has learned from people who have read her books. Her story has universality and that she always stayed with the story, stuck to one reality. People really appreciated this in her writing.
¥ Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. Sue has a small-size copy that she keeps in her purse to read whenever and wherever she is.
¥ On Writing—A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King shares King’s life story and how he became a writer and what he has learned about writing.
Of all the books on my shelves that teach me about the art and craft of writing, two stand out. How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One by Stanley Fish, and Writing With Pictures by Uri Shulvitz.
How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One is all about the love of the sentence itself. It’s not about writing stories or the love of unusual words. It’s about constructing a fabulous and memorable sentence and what that entails. In other words, the book is filled with wonderful sentences about sentences. One of my favorites is:
“One day the nouns were clustered in the street.
An adjective walked by with her dark beauty.
The nouns were struck: moved: changed.
The next day a verb drove up, and created the sentence.”
– Kenneth Koch
Fish does not speak too highly of books like the ones by Strunk and White. He says that they don’t tell you what a sentence is. If you read something like “do not join independent clauses with a comma” and you don’t know what an independent clause is, then what good is the book to you?
He gives several exercises that can be fun as well as exasperating. He tells you to look around the room and pick out five objects. Put those objects into a sentence with the correct linking words. He then tells what he did to the sentence and how he did it.
Another exercise is to write a very short sentence: three or four words, then stretch the sentence out to 15, 30, then 100 words while still keeping the original meaning of the sentence. He actually manages to do this.
He says you can write a nonsense sentence that makes sense. He uses Norm Chomsky’s example, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” He of course goes on to tell us why this makes since even though it doesn’t. This reminds me of the famous poem The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.
In talking about form he says you can use a correct formula that results in an awful sentence.
The book is 181 pages, and can be downloaded on Kindle.
Writing With Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books is a big 300 page paperback filled with 600 charming and informative illustrations. Most of the book is black and white but some color is used when necessary. The book is separated into four segments: Telling the story, planning the book, creating the pictures, and preparing for reproduction. The last segment is very out of date. As far as I know, the book has not been updated. But I find the rest of the book invaluable.
The first thing Shulevitz does is tell us the difference between a picture book and a story book. Basically, a picture book tells the main story with illustrations with a few words to emphasize the action. These are usually for very young children. A story book uses words that tell the story with action and dialogue. Illustrations are used to accent or emphasize the text.
The book shows how to sequence the illustrations so they make sense to the reader. He refers to the illustrations as actors, and the page as the stage. He writes about the time frame between pictures. It shouldn’t be too long or too short. Too long and the illustrations don’t make much sense. Too short and the illustrations become boring and redundant. He also writes about consistency, continuity, and rhythm both in the text and the illustrations.
He writes about character design, shading, style, even how light or heavy lines or strokes can be used to make a difference in the story you are telling. Shulevitz uses many illustrations from other artists including Maurice Sendak. He uses his own illustrations to show the creative and thinking process.
He shows you how to plan the book by making a storyboard, a layout, and a book dummy. You are given important information such as; a story always starts on the right side of the two-page spread. There are a certain number of spreads that you use. This all has to do with the physical nature of the book.
Just about everything is covered in this book: perspective, scale, the size and shape of the finished product, pacing, whether to “bleed” the illustrations between pages or have two separate illustrations. There are examples of various mediums. He even talks about how books are bound.
There are exercises showing how to crosshatch or use a wash, for example.
The only part of the book that is woefully out of date as I stated before, is the part about the printing process and preparing for reproduction. We no longer have to think about four color separation or Letterpress. Computers do all of that.
You are however, given information on finding a publisher, meeting with an editor, and given advice on what to include in your portfolio and proposal.
Laurel Jean Becker: Born To Win by Muriel James & Dorothy Jongeward. Born to Win caught my eye in 1972 because of the cover. It featured a little girl–about 3 or 4–with her arms spread wide. She is on a beach and looks as though she is totally open to anything.
The book, purchased because of the cover, turned out to be very influential because it taught Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments. Using the book, I better understood how to deal with relationship through analysis of communication. It was helpful in determining my future life choices of friends and family.