Category Archives: celebrations

Message to Graduates (and everyone else)

It’s that time of year when people of all ages walk across the stage in cap and gown, ready to take the next step in their lives, whether it’s graduating up to first grade or getting a doctorate. My oldest daughter is graduating with a BA in History from Boise State in just a few weeks, so my mind is hyper focused on this transitional time.

There are some pieces of advice I’d like to pass on to graduates, but they really apply to everyone. They’re just kind of basic rules for living. I feel compelled to share these because so often, people don’t live by these rules and they are not the kind of people I want to be around. So here we go:

Rule #1:

Be nice to others. It’s pretty simple, but lost of many of us. Believe me, I have trouble with this one myself. People can be really irritating a lot of the time, so it’s tempting to want to lash out at them. But don’t. You never know what sort of position you’re going to be in during some future encounter with that person, and chances are they’ll remember if you weren’t nice. Even without such a self-serving reason, it’s just better for everyone if we could all abide by this simple rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated. This applies to small children, animals, coworkers, cashiers in training, and critique group partners.

The little unremembered acts of kindness and love are the best parts of a person’s life.

William Wordsworth 1770-1850, Poet

Rule #2:

Be generous. This is sort of an addendum to rule #1. Most of us have life pretty good. No, we’re probably not rich. I know I don’t drive fancy cars, but at least I have a car. And a home. And the things I need. There are so, so many people in this world, probably in our own neighborhoods, who don’t have a loving family, a warm home, a job, or a friend. Being generous doesn’t have to be monetary, although it certainly can be. It can also mean generous with one’s time and gifts.

Rule #3:

Be persistent. Nothing worth having comes easy, unless you won the lottery or something. Getting a book published requires persistence. So does getting a job. Finishing school. Making a relationship last. So many times in life, we feel like giving up. But you never know how close you might be to success, however you define that.

Don't give up--you're so close

Don’t give up–you’re so close

Rule #4:

Learn to listen. Most of us think we listen, but we don’t. And that’s to our detriment. Listen to the life around you. Nature. Thunder. City sounds. The soft breathing of others. A puppy padding across the floor. But also listen when others talk. I read somewhere recently that studies show most people plan what they will say in response when someone else is talking, rather than truly listening. Imagine how much better we’d be at communicating if we didn’t do that.

Rule #5:

Be yourself. This is a message I proclaim over and over to the young people of today. I feel like they are brainwashed to fit into some societal mold. My Baby Boomer generation was conditioned to break the rules and live in the moment. I think you could do worse. The best, most successful, and happiest people (and I’m not talking about the likes of Oprah, Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, or President Obama, although they may well fit into this category, but not because they’re rich or famous) are living their lives by their own standards and following their own hearts. This may not apply to their job, but it applies somewhere. Which brings me to. . .

Rule #6:

There is more to life than your job. Hopefully most of us find work in a field that fulfills us and makes us smile when we wake up in the morning. Even if that is you, there is still more out there in this world than your paid employment. And this means we’re all on equal footing in our non-job hours. So don’t waste them, you know, sitting in your parents’ basement playing video games. Get out in the world and DO something. Talk to people. Hear their stories. Go outside of yourself. Pay attention. Find a place that needs your gifts, and give them. Volunteer. Mentor. Play. Seek.

Rule #7:

Never stop learning. It’s tempting after graduating to act like you’ve learned what you need. But I’ve got news for you–you haven’t even started yet. And that’s a good thing. Just remember that you don’t know it all, and you’ll be okay. Sure, maybe you studied leper colonies in India for a semester, but don’t pretend you’re some sort of expert. About that or anything else. You’re not. Keep learning. About the lepers, but also about everything else. Life is one giant learning lab, full of things that you never knew you didn’t know. Hunger for it. And be humble about what you may or may not know. Nobody likes a smug, arrogant, know-it-all.

Rule #8:

It is never too late to be what you might have been.

George Eliot (1819 – 1880) English Novelist

Life doesn’t end at graduation or [insert age here]. It’s not like now that you’ve graduated you have to be some boring version of yourself who works 9-5 and settles down with a mortgage and a car loan. If you want those things, great. If not, then do something else. Which leads me to. . .

Rule #9:

Don’t be afraid. To try new things. To laugh at yourself. To do things other people say can’t be done. To make a fool out of yourself. To have to work harder than you ever have before. To be creative. To be daring. Stop worrying and start doing.

And finally. . .

Rule #10:

Be honest. Live with integrity. No matter what you do, this will make your life better in every way. You can make up for lack of learned skills, making mistakes, and inexperience by being a person others can rely on and trust. If you make a mistake and own up to it, you can learn from it and become a better person. If you don’t know something and honestly seek to learn it, you will. If, instead, you are not honest with others or yourself, you live in the dark. Your life becomes dark. Honesty brings you into the light, where you can see what you need to see.


Posted by on May 1, 2013 in celebrations, goals, inspiration


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For as long as I can remember, my father’s family has celebrated Thanksgiving not on Thursday, but on the Saturday after the official holiday. I’ve never asked why, but I assume, my grandparents being the people they are, they just wanted to make sure as many family members as possible could sit around the table. By making it a tradition, they eliminated that every-other-year-with-the-spouse’s-family issue with their kids. This one simple accommodation on their part got almost everyone to show up almost every year.

When I was growing up, this big Saturday family meal was what I thought of as Thanksgiving. I knew Thanksgiving was really on Thursday, but still, I remember being horribly confused the first Thanksgiving I couldn’t make it home as an adult. I was sitting around the T.V. with my fellow Thanksgiving-orphan friends, waiting for the turkey to cook, and wondering why in the world we weren’t watching college football. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that my Thanksgiving tradition, watching college ball with the smell of baking rolls filling the house, was not a tradition anyone I was with shared. College teams don’t play on the third Thursday in November but they do play on the third Saturday.

I’m feeling especially nostalgic this year. My grandparents are increasingly fragile. This will probably be the last time we celebrate the third Saturday in November at the house they’ve lived in for over 40 years. Of my six cousins, only one will be able to make it. Time passes. Old family ties weaken, new families form, and celebrating on a different day is no longer enough to ensure everyone you love will eat at the same table. But no matter where or how I celebrate Thanksgiving in the years to come, it will always feel wrong not to spend a significant chunk of the day watching college football.

Does your family have any quirky holiday traditions? When creating characters, do you try to imagine what their holidays were like and how they might have differed from the norm? Holidays and traditions are important building blocks in our lives, and their presence (or absence) can make a fictional family feel real.


Joys of Writing

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of joy is:

1a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety

2: a state of happiness or felicity: bliss

3: a source or cause of delight

I’ve often thought that the abilities and talents given to human beings are as many as the grains of sand along the sea shore (almost). Many talents, yes, and perhaps just as diverse. With these assorted gifts comes a certain amount of joy and accomplishment, or otherwise we’d not pursue them. I feel honored to have been a creator of sentences and stories as most of you reading are.

I’d have to say that there are many moments of joy in a writer’s life. When a person decides he can compile an essay, poem, song, short story, newspaper or magazine article, is monumental and to actually finish the piece makes for a very rewarding feeling. It is also a joy to learn you have a gift of sorts. It takes some spunk to ask someone to read what you’ve written. When a writer gets encouragement, it causes him to want to show it to someone else, and then finally submit it for publication. Even more, when you write a book length piece you have a sense of achievement in a category all its own.

It’s a joy to find other writers at a writer’s group. It’s amazing to be in a group of people who share the same gift and goals as yourself. It’s a joy to find a critique partner, or two, to help you figure out what your story needs. The rewarding feeling of finishing a work-in-progress transfers into hope as you wait for some sort of word from an editor, if not a sale then an encouraging word to make you write more, work harder.

During July, my dog turns one, my husband and I signed for our house last year at this time, and I got my first call from a publishing company five years ago. My first book Maya’s Gold was sold.

My husband says I make a joyful noise when I make a book sale, a sound that he’s never heard from me before. He said it makes him realize how important writing is to me. Of course a first sell is a happy time, yet it’s mixed with fears for the next steps to be taken, such as sales, marketing, signings, and getting out that next book in a timely matter. It’s hard to hold onto joy amongst all of this.

It’s a joy to see your new cover, usually. It’s downright blissful to see your name on the cover. It’s an unbelievable joy to actually hold the book in your hand, and put it in your book case. It’s a joy when you meet your editor or publisher face to face.  It’s a joy when you meet a fan, especially when they come to your signings and ask for your newest release. It’s a joy to have one of your books chosen for a local book club reading.

Alas there are more joys, too. Joys I know nothing about because my journey is not yet complete. How about a book that really sells and/or your name on the New York Times best seller list? What a joy it would be to sell your work to a big publishing company. Perhaps then and only then you will feel like you’ve really made it. How rewarding that would be.

Shall we all get back to the writing business and take these steps of joy, one at a time. Together, with help and encouragement along the way. Yet, at the same time remember this quote by Ben Sweetland, “Happiness is a journey…not a destination.”


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Happy Birthday, Gem State Writers

On April 1, 2011, Gem State Writers was born. Join us to celebrate our one year anniversary and what it means to us.

Meredith Allen Connor: This is the first time I’ve done a blog. I’ve enjoyed it – the commitment, the different perspectives on writing and the different processes we each have, the comments and most importantly the knowledge that I am not alone in this journey. Writing is so solitary and I live in a very small town. It’s wonderful to be able to connect to other writers. I’ve also found other blogs and authors that I enjoy through this blog – both from our guest bloggers and various comments made. We are a varied group of women writers and we each bring something unique to this blog and I love that.

Peggy Staggs: Gem State Writers is my first blogging experience. I’ve written lots of articles for newsletters, but a blog is different. Not only are others reading it, they’re making comments. I do love the feedback. I enjoy the exercise of coming up with a new topic every other week. Sometimes it’s a challenge and sometimes the topic presents itself. I always worry whether my contribution provides some insight and help to those who drop by.

Having a set day to blog gives me a taste of what it’s like to make a deadline. I’m a stresser. I have to have a month or two in the can or anxiety sets in. A year later, I’m not any less apprehensive, but I am getting better with pumping out the blogs, so the stress balances with productivity.

Speaking of balance, when I’m considering what topic to tackle next, I remember Janis. Her blogs are deep and meaningful and I have to follow that act. I’ve decided to be the fluffy sweet stuff that follows the rich chocolate cake of her blogs. My therapist would be so proud.

Clarissa Southwick: For me, the best part of blogging is the sense of community it builds. I’ve met some fascinating people through the readers and guest bloggers. I love how the GS writers support one another both on and offline.

Mary Vine: I was surprised and honored to be asked to join Gem State Writers last spring. At first, I knew it would be hard to get a blog written every two weeks, but I had a few saved that I could use in a lurch. When I ran out of the extras, I learned that I can write new blog posts every two weeks as the more I created, the more I was able to do (especially if I had my mind on a topic and started a few days ahead). I love the name and have enjoyed getting to know the others in the group through their blog posts. I like reading all of the comments each day, and have met new folks; Florence is one who comes to mind. I’ve learned more about the writing craft from the daily bloggers. I’ve learned that being part of a blogging group is a far less lonely venture and makes for a more interesting site.  I’ve learned that asking a guest blogger is not as simple as one would think as you have less power over getting a blog in a timely manner.  It’s been a great year!

Liz Fredericks: I’ve never participated in a blog before joining Gem State Writers. Heck, I don’t even keep my Facebook page up-to-date (and I hear plenty on that point from my daughters).  I’m fairly reserved and the ‘post everything about your life’ environ is sometimes shocking to me. So, I’ve made an effort to include stuff from my professional life as well as a few personal journeys. Actually, though I hope to have contributed something to others, I’ve probably benefited to an even greater degree.

It’s an injustice to attempt a summary of the depth and variety of my colleagues’ contributions. We’ve had blogs on nearly every aspect of writing and publishing as well as rich content on the region and its history. Each of us contributed a personal take on our physical community as well as the communal genre from which we each draw inspiration and to which we direct our efforts.

I expected to learn from the other GSW folks . . . I was totally overwhelmed and thrilled to learn so much from commenters. We’ve heard from people across the country and built new relationships from their generosity in stopping by and reading the occasional post.

This is my first attempt at blogging and it won’t be my last because it’s kept me writing when it seemed easier (and more politic) to give up. Thank you everyone for this past year.

Lynn Mapp: I can’t believe it’s been a year.

I’m going to be honest.  I reluctantly served as president of a local writers group.  The reluctance stemmed from having to write an article every other month.  That was every other month, stress on every other. With Gem State Writers, I write an article every other week.  I am gritting my teeth.

Writing had fallen off my “to do” list.

Dealing with the grief of my son’s death drained me.  Getting through each day is a task.

It’s simple.

I blog to force myself to write.

During the past year, I’ve learned I can generate an idea and write on the subject.

I take my commitment to the other members of Gem State Writers seriously.  More importantly, I love reading what the members of the group post.  They inspire, motivate, and share.

It’s been a good experience for me.

Johanna Harness: Being part of a group blog is great for me because it holds me accountable.  I’ve blogged for several years, but never on a regular schedule.  Usually I’d blog only when I couldn’t fit my thoughts into a 140-character tweet. If I kept getting asked the same question, I’d blog about it.  My experience was very casual.  Now that there are others expecting a blog post from me every two weeks, my writing is a lot more even and I’m building up a body of essays I can use for other purposes.

I recently used one post as a writing sample and I turned another into a longer essay for a contest.  I’ve also started keeping a file of ideas for blog posts and I use that file for other writing as well.  The biggest reason the experience has been so positive is because the people I’m blogging with are amazing.  I’m so lucky to have been asked to join and I’m looking forward to another year.

Janis McCurry: The first twelve months of Gem State Writers passed so quickly. When Clarissa first broached the subject of a blog group, I thought, “Me? What do I have to say that anyone will be interested in?” You see, I was born in Boise, love it, and I don’t believe the grass is greener anywhere else. But, that means I’m not a world-traveler who has relocated as a military child like at least two of our members. Neither do I speak multiple languages like two of the members. I haven’t lived overseas and been a dog sled driver like one of our members. I’m not a musician or a photographer like two of our members. I don’t have the sacred responsibility of teaching today’s youth like three of our bloggers. I’m not published like three of our bloggers. I’m a writer who hasn’t heard the call.

I like the commitment of blogging every other week. I also like receiving comments about the subjects that fascinate me. Or enrage me. I like the communication and learning from people I may never meet. I always hope my contributions make a reader think just a little more about the topic. It’s important to me that we’re all connected.

Happy Birthday, Gem State Writers!


Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Blogs, celebrations, community, Idaho, writers


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Good News

I often like to point out how the SCBWI helps authors through the many programs and services we offer. Now it’s my turn to be on the receiving end of these benefits.

From May through October this year, I will be participating in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor program. Although this program is operated by the wonderful volunteers of the Nevada SCBWI region, it is open to anyone.

Each year, mentors such as Ellen Hopkins, Kathleen Duey, Emma Dryden, Terri Farley, Abigail Samoun, and many others open their time to help mentor two or three up and coming authors. The authors apply with 20 pages of a manuscript they want to work on, an artist’s statement, and a form application. The select two mentors with whom they’d like to work.

Each mentor then selects the authors/manuscripts that they feel most compelled to work on, and the fun begins.

In May, I and the other mentees will meet at Lake Tahoe with our mentors for a face to face intensive weekend. Then, for six months we will work many hours together through email and postal mail, crafting and learning. At the end, another intensive retreat completes the program.

I’ve known other authors who have participated in past mentor programs, and they all spoke so highly of it, I decided to apply this year.

I am so thrilled to be selected. I will be working with Kathleen Duey, a prolific and fantastic author. I have heard Kathleen speak at several conferences, and I love her quiet wisdom and no-nonsense approach to the business of being an author.

I’ll never forget one of her comments the first time I heard her speak—some 12 or more years ago. She said if we’re going to make a living sitting on our butts, we should make sure to get in some movement each day. She described her several mile long rambling walks. Whenever I think I don’t want to exercise, her words come back to me. While that’s not writing advice per se, it is good life advice.

I will try to share some of what I learn through this process through this blog. No matter how long we’ve been writing, we all can continue to learn. In fact, I have found that the more I write and the better I get, the more I still have to learn, because once you master the basics, you can go deeper and more intensely to the heart of writing.

In other personal news, I will be heading to Spokane early in March for a plot workshop with Cheryl Klein. Cheryl spoke in Boise a couple of years ago, and she is one of the smartest, best editors working today. She can dissect a manuscript and figure out exactly what it needs. And she is fun to hang out with to boot. I can’t wait to work through some of my sagging plot elements. And of course, I’ll share when I get back.

So I’ll be working very hard on two separate manuscripts for the foreseeable future. I hope you are as well.



Announcements, Announcements, Ano-ou-oun-cements!

Did you ever sing that refrain at summer camp? We did. Every meal time, the camp director would have some sort of announcement for us. Crafts in the lodge this afternoon. Baseball on the meadow before dinner. That kind of thing. My post today consists of a few announcements for the writerly community.

  1. No SCBWI meeting in Boise for the month of January, since it is a holiday (and my husband’s 50th birthday!).  We will be sending out a survey to all members about wishes for 2012 meetings, so if you’d like to take part, let me know.
  2. However, great SCBWI news. Debut author Sarah Tregay’s book in verse, Love and Leftovers, is now on sale in hard cover and e-book. A Book L[a]unch celebration will be held at Rediscovered Books in downtown Boise on January 6th. Sarah will be hosting a pizza party from noon to one, and a reading and signing event in the evening at 7 pm.
  3. And if you want some motivation to get your writing jump started in the New Year, join Carol Lynch Williams and her friends for their writing version of Project Runway, which they’re calling Project Writeway. I know Carol, and everything she does has a sense of humor as well as a serious, get-better-as-a-writer attitude. Check her blog for more info:

Winter Solstice Inspiration by Johanna Harness

Winter Solstice always makes me cry before it makes me happy.

I suppose I have my rural roots to blame. Somewhere in my evolutionary DNA is the knowledge that I must work hard at the equinoxes if I intend to live through the solstices.  Establish the crops before the heat of summer. Harvest and preserve food before the winter.  We talk of cycles and seasons, but in my heart I feel the panic.  Even though it’s no longer necessary, I still feel safer after putting up food in my cupboards and stacking wood in the barn. And I still feel relief when the earth tilts once again and the days grow longer.  The solstice always reminds me of the yearly near-miss of death. And the yearly near-miss of death reminds me that life is precious and work is meaningful.

So yes.  Every Winter Solstice, passing through the darkest day, I’m desperately thankful. I remember all we survived in the previous year and I let my heart go out in mourning for all the losses. Then I build a fire and burn my grief and cry.

And then the earth tilts.

And I begin again.

I wish you warmth and food and love this season. I wish you relief from sorrow and illness. I wish you all the things you need, including meaningful work that sustains you.

As you release last season into this, shifting your focus to the horizon of a new year, you might want to consider one of these challenges:

A River of Stones

Fiona Robyn, who began this micro-poetry movement, describes a small stone as “a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment.”  She encourages others to join her in writing a stone a day through January. Need more encouragement?  She offers a lovely ebook at no cost: How To Write Your Way Home. This is truly one of those inspired projects destined to grow.

As a side note:  I learned about River of Stones from Anne Stormont when she participated in 2011.  She is currently writing stones for advent and her descriptions are so beautiful. The River of Stones had slipped my mind in the past year but, because of Anne, I’m seriously considering participating in January.

100 Themes Challenge

The history of The 100 Themes Challenge is well-documented here.  It became really big when Deviant Art became involved.  Basically, it’s a list of themes (Introduction, Love, Light, Dark. . .) that serves as a jumping off point for artists.  I first heard of the challenge in the contexts of writing and photography, but you can apply the list to any creative endeavor.  To share your work, get involved with a community of others working on the same challenge. I know there are groups on,, and LiveJournal and I’m sure there are many more.


This is a fantastic way to share short fiction in a supportive community. Although you don’t have to write a story every week, many of the authors do.

Here’s the brief description: “Friday Flash is an Internet meme designed to increase your visibility as a fiction writer. The idea is simple enough. Write a piece of flash fiction, defined as 1000 words or less, post it to your blog, and then on Friday announce it to the world via Twitter or some other social network along with the link to your post. If you use Twitter be sure to include the hashtag, #fridayflash.”  Find out more on the #fridayflash website:

Flickr 365

You might consider joining any one of the Flickr 365 groups.  The idea?  You choose a theme. You take a photo every day.  The big one, Project 365, has nearly 25,000 members, but there are lots and lots of smaller groups (many of which still number in the hundreds).  Some photographers focus on self-portraiture.  Some focus on their kids.  Some are a bit more obscure.  One of my favorites is bench standing. (There are multiple groups devoted to this:  Bench Monday, Happy Original Bench, Bench Anyday, Bench Monday (Anything Benchlike), and for those not inclined to limit themselves to benches, we have Standing On Stuff.)  If you can imagine it, there very well may be a group devoted to it.

The point?  Creativity.  By looking at the same subject or theme on a daily basis, you begin to stretch.  It’s a gorgeous idea.

Make Something 365

Brought to you by Noah Scalin who made a skull a day for a year, the Make Something 365 website encourages you to pick your own subject and go with it.  One of my favorites is Librarian’s Daughter.


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