Category Archives: community


Gem State Writers began on April 1, 2011. Since then, we have posted 572 blogs. Along the way, our members have been published, been successful in writing contests, and developed their craft.

As with much in life, things change.

As we devote more of our time to writing, the group has decided it’s time to retire Gem State Writers. We all want to making writing the best books we can a priority in our lives. We leave knowing GSW has helped us grow and learn about this time-honored profession. And we’ll miss all of you.

Our members share their thoughts below.

Stephanie Berget: When I was asked to be a contributor to Gem State Writers, I was so excited that this group of talented women considered me good enough to write alongside of them. I was also terribly nervous. I’d never blogged before, had really never written with any kind of deadline, and that scared the crap out of me.
Throughout the last year and a half or so, blogging at Gem State Writers has expanded my knowledge of writing craft, taught me to have the post ready whether I feel like it or not, and how to research topics. I’m thankful for that, but I’m more thankful to have had a great group of writers to learn from. I’m going to miss each and every one of you.

Peggy Staggs: In the short time the group was together, I learned a lot about my fellow bloggers. I’ve enjoyed everyone’s perspectives and techniques. Even when I sometimes struggled for ideas, I still looked forward to stretching my mental muscles. The good news is I have a ton (or at least a few pounds) of blog under my belt. The bad news is I will miss you all.

Janis McCurry: When Gem State Writers began I asked myself what interested me about writing. Language was the answer. I loved researching for the language blogs I wrote. The evolving of the language and the continual change intrigues me. I loved having deadlines to “keep me honest.” I loved getting to know my co-GSW-ers and learned something from every blog. Reader comments were delightful and insightful (how’s that for rhyming?). It was a great 2 ½ years and I don’t regret a minute. Thanks to all of you, both bloggers and readers.

Judy Keim: Blogs are considered a waste of time by a lot of people. In my opinion, some are; some are not.

If one is committed to write blogs to the detriment of writing stories, then it is a waste of time. If one thinks writing blogs is a sure way to get the attention of an editor or an agent, it is a waste of time. If one thinks you can sell a large number of books by blogging on a regular basis, it is, in my opinion, another waste of time. (There are other ways of promoting your work.)

On the other hand, if you are writing or participating in a blog to learn about others (both in your group and those who respond) it can be worthwhile. If you’re blogging as a means of sharing industry information or skills, it also can be valuable.

What I’ve learned by blogging with the Gem State Writers is that we have a group of talented, interesting, knowledgeable people whom I’ve gotten to know a little bit better. That’s been time well spent!

Mary Vine: I’ve enjoyed being a part of Gem State Writers, a shared effort to get our blogs out to the world. I will miss Neysa writing how important it is to go to conferences; I will miss Janis giving us a look at language and sharing about her travels; I really appreciate Peggy’s piece on The Bad Guy Tree for mystery writers; I enjoyed reading about Corina’s life near McCall; Lynn helped me understand trying to write with a tiring, busy schedule; I’ve gotten to know Judith through her move and writing journey; I’ve learned more about the rodeo from Stephanie; Through Jennifer I am reminded what it was like trying to write with children in my home; Meredith gave me a glimpse of living in a faraway place where one can meet up with a wild animal or nearly get snowed in; I’ve already missed MK and her individual pursuit of writing. Yes, every time someone has moved on to other writing pursuits, I regretted seeing them leave. Finally, cheers for Marsha who has stayed with us to the end, to inspire us in our writing, and to share her own journey.

Lynn Mapp: At the inception of Gem State Writers, we blogged every two weeks. I didn’t think I had that many blogs in me. What I learned during my time with the “Gems” is I actually had the ability to write two articles a month. It doesn’t sound earth-shattering, but it was for me.

I also had the opportunity to be with a group of women committed to writing and sharing their journey with other people on the same path.

Someone told me that my blogs tended to be of the “you can do it” nature. I am a cheerleader, a supporter, a believer. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you.

Neysa Jensen: I’ve enjoyed blogging about writing, specifically children’s writing. It helps me put things in perspective when I try to explain it to someone else. Anyone who would like to be with and learn from fellow writers is welcome to join our SCBWI events. You can find out more on

Corina Mallory: Thank you to everyone on this blog for letting me join your ranks. It’s been a real pleasure to read your work and get to know you better through your comments. I’ve learned a lot, not just about my fellow writers, but about myself. You’ve made me think about why I write the way I do, why I love some things and others leave me cold. You’ve helped me become a better writer. I’ll miss coming here and seeing your bright happy faces in your avatar photos and hearing what’s going on in your lives and what topics you’re finding interesting. But the internet is forever, right? We’ll always have pixels.


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208 Words

I read an article the other day about how the most lucrative song ever written is “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett. Quoting from the Bloomberg Businessweek, “To think that all of this poured forth from a goofy, three-chord song—a mere 208 words, roughly half the length of this article—written about being lazy and getting drunk.”

This “most lucrative” title doesn’t stem from the royalties of the song or Buffett’s concerts alone. Margaritaville Enterprises franchises tourist entertainment complexes, sells beachwear, furniture, alcohol, blenders, and more.
While an interesting article, the fact that it all started from 208 words fascinates me. Somehow, the way he put those words together with the melody hooked people and started a financial empire. Was it luck? Or the ability to make listeners feel a certain way. In this case, carefree, relaxed, happy! How many of you can sing a few lines? I can.

BTW, the song’s popular ranking isn’t even in the top 10 richest songs. The two highest-ranking pop songs are You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, by the Righteous Brothers, and Yesterday, by the Beatles. (No. 1 was Happy Birthday to You.) However, as a branding and a lifestyle having most total impact, Margaritaville wins with a couple hundred million dollars.

Another thing adding to this culture happened when Buffett dubbed his diehard fans Parrotheads in 1989. Parrotheads travel to Buffett’s concerts and party, party, party. These fans support the Margaritaville culture. It’s worth noting the Grateful Dead had Deadheads in the ‘70’s and young Justin Bieber has Beliebers, which was started around 2008 by his YouTube fans.

When we write, we spend agonizing days looking for the right words to communicate our work to the readers. It’s not the number of words, it’s how they are on the page and what they convey.

Sometimes, we think we’ll never get it right. Ah, but when we do…it’s worth it.

208 Words


Posted by on May 30, 2013 in artist, community, Theme, writers, writing


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Out of the Closet and Back in the Saddle

So, last I blathered on at you I was getting ready for a trip to Chicago to see a bunch of old friends at my ten-year law school reunion. It was fun, it was exhausting, it was so incredibly different from my current life. I drank a French 75 at a rooftop bar and helped a friend herd her toddlers through a children’s museum. I remembered how insanely frustrating it is to sit in a taxi trying to turn off Michigan Ave as hordes of pedestrians ignore the “Don’t Walk” sign. I sat in the audience for a wide-ranging debate between two of the more well-known of my former professors. (The most well known was apparently too busy being President of the United States to show up. Priorities!) And, strangest and scariest of all, I told person after person that I’m writing a romance novel. I told friends. I told acquaintances. I told my Civ Pro professor! (Pretty sure the open bar encouraged that particular revelation.)

If you’ve been to a reunion you know what it’s like. A few people you’re currently close to, more people you used to be close to, and a whole heck of a lot of people you were never close to to begin with, all asking what you’re up to these days. I didn’t make a conscious decision to blab on and on about writing, but people seemed interested, and well, that’s what I’m up to these days. People were incredibly encouraging and wonderful and while it was scary, saying it over and over again – “I’m writing a book” – it was motivating. There is no way I can see these people again in five years and *still* not have finished a damn book. So, you know, I guess I have to finish the damn book.

I’ve always been the kind of person to hold my ambitions close. I don’t tell people my goals because that way nobody but me will know that I’ve failed when I don’t achieve them. But this whole writing gig … I tell everyone, hoping that the fear of public failure will keep me moving forward. I’ve had a few people say dismissive things about my genre, but not many. I’ve had more offers of help and more encouraging words than I can count. It’s really been wonderful.

For those of you who are unpublished, do you tell people you’re writing a book when they ask what you’re up to? For those of you who are published, did you hold that ambition tight until you’d reached a certain level of accomplishment? Is everyone braver than I am and just don’t think it’s a big deal to tell one’s old Civ Pro professor that one’s writing a romance novel? 


The End of the World and 2013

If you’re reading this the good news is the world didn’t end on 12-21Balloons-12. When I heard about the Mayan calendar ending this year, I wondered how many times in the history of the world prophets have foretold of its end. I began watching a series about the apocalypse. After a few minutes of viewing, I turned it off. We won’t go into the questionable science they used; because I remember in the seventy’s when we were headed for an ice age. By the ninety’s, we were all going to burn up with global warming. Then there was the time when all the planets lined up and we were supposed to go crashing into the center of the galaxy. Seriously?

My channel changing is also linked to the reason I don’t enjoy movies that portray the future in tones of gray.


I can’t believe that things will turn to garbage and we will all live in a dark colorless world.

Yes, yes I confess…I’m a trekkie. I have higher hopes for our future. There are new frontiers out there to be explored. New things to be invented and discoveries to be made. I hold out hope for peace (no one prays harder for peace more than a soldier’s mother). I just know there will come a point when sanity will take root and people will figure out peace is a much better 2013

So here are my New Year’s Resolutions. None of which will bring about world peace, or scientific breakthroughs. But they will—hopefully—make me more productive.

  1. I’m going to make time to take time. I timed it and it takes an average of ten minutes to read a blog and comment. I want to support my fellow bloggers and learn what I can from them.
  2. I’m going to start writing every single day no matter what. And no, I’m not going to grocery lists this year.
  3. I’m going to keep track on my trusty calendar of how many pages I write, revise, and otherwise put to computer.
  4. I’m going to send out my stuff. I’m going to do my best to find an agent this year. Which will probably lead to some mental health issues. But that comes with writing.
  5. I’m going to broaden my horizons. I’ve discovered a new love of science, math, and history.

I would have come up with eight more resolutions to keep pace with the year, but there’s no possible way I could keep track of all thirteen. So I’m going to concentrate on these five.

What are your plans for 2013?


Inside School Walls

I’ve been around for awhile and I’ve seen a lot. Instead of being over the hill, I like to think of myself as stopping on the top and looking out at the view before I move down the hill. When I was a youngster, what really scared me was the witch from The Wizard of Oz. I lived through the killing of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. The moments are still vivid in my mind, yet these incidents didn’t scare me as much as hearing about a twenty-four-year-old man doing the unthinkable in the 1960s.

The first mass random shooting in American history took place on August 1, 1966 at the University of Texas in Austin. From the tall observation deck of University Tower, a man killed 16 people and wounded dozens of others. This horrified me that this could actually happen somewhere in America.

I have worked in the school system since 1988, working with students with all types of disabilities, including mental disorders. I’ve worked with students from four to eighteen years old and have served at many schools. In elementary school, first grade was my favorite age because they seem so eager and ready to learn. Presently, in high school, I find I have a heart for students with emotional disorders, however, I worry about their future.

My first experience with schools and violence came when I was working at a high school in Oregon. This was after Columbine, making all of us in the school system aware that something could happen almost anywhere. I was lucky; our school only experienced bomb threats. But, they were scary enough when the whole school had to leave the building.

It’s a sad thing when you have to pray for your safety and for those around you each day before you go to work/school. Some thought bullying was involved, so we made sure our students knew bullying was not okay. But it is more than bullying and we practice lock downs often in our schools.

This week I am heartbroken that first graders are shot down, as well as school staff at Sandy Hook Elementary. Yes, I feel less safe at school, but I’m not frightened this time, but deeply, disturbingly, sad and grieving. Students of the age I have favored so dearly are leaving this world due to a person with an emotional or mental disorder, another type of student I care about.

This is the first time, I’ve really asked why. Besides the fact that we all have free choice in what we do, I can’t give you a precise answer, but I have learned something through watching.  I’ve learned that the whole nation is suffering, not only the victim’s families. So many of us would do anything to help when there is not much we can do but pray.  I’ve learned that in an era of complaining about schools not doing enough, Sandy Hook’s staff members have given their lives for their students, and our love for our students has been exposed.

As a youngster, I learned to have faith in a higher power and still today I realize I don’t know how to exist without finding comfort there, and finding solace that when I get down this hill I’m traveling and pass on, I will get to move through an often mentioned tunnel of light and see my loved ones waiting for me and some of them will be students.


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Are You Taking Care of YOU?

Baby-20New-20Year-203I’m not one who’s big on ending one stressful season with a bunch of equally stressing demands on myself. So, I typically don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. But after Weight Watchers yesterday, I’m making this year an exception.

One of my friends there (we’ll call her Susie) has been battling breathing problems for over a year. Even with the oxygen system she carries with her at all times, her breathing has worsened. I’ve noticed that in the past few months she has been losing weight, but hey, it’s Weight Watchers and that’s kind of the point. Yesterday another friend mentioned that Susie was sick. With her breathing problems, we were all concerned and asked her what was wrong.


We waited.

With tears threatening she said, “I’ve got lung cancer. I won’t be here for next Christmas.”

This is a woman who never smoked, but her husband and mother did. She’s been at her goal weight since I’ve been at WW and that’s been for five years.

Susie is a very sweet person who never has a cross word for anyone. She’s a hard worker, always out in her garden, or picking fruit, or gathering walnuts—which she shares with all of us.

Susie’s plight brought home that what happens to us isn’t always in our control. However, we can take care of what we can take care of. So—full circle here—I’m going to break my rule and make New Year’s Resolutions this year. As if by plan, the cosmos has presented me with options. I already have a pedometer, a Fitbit ( It provides me with all sorts of helpful information. It automatically down-loads all the info to a website where it keeps track of the number of steps I take, the flights of stairs I climb, the intensity of my activity, how many calories I burn, what I eat, and my sleep patterns. It also provides me the option to have a network of friends who have Fitbits. We compete for who can get the most steps in a day. The competition keeps me going.

Today on FOX News, they featured a guy who had a similar experience to the one I’m having right now. A friend died of cancer—again, full circle—which brought home to him that he needed to get more exercise. He’s in the same predicament that we writers are. In order to do his/our job, we have to sit at a coExercise_-_Treadmill_1mputer for hours on end.

This man wasn’t detoured by the fact that there wasn’t anything out there that would work for him and his office mates. Nope. He decided to invent something. I love American ingenuity. He came up with FitDesk ( You attach your laptop to the stand, then peddle and write away the pounds. They demonstrated it on FOX News this morning and it works. The peddling didn’t jiggle the work station area and they were all able to use their laptops with ease.

I went to the website and the device is $249.00. But, if it will allow me to get exercise while I write, I’m all about that. If all goes as planned, my peddling it will register as steps on my Fitbit and I will be one happy little camper. If the world does come to an end on the 21st , I’ll be able to hook the peddling up to a generator that will run my computer.

What do you do to keep in shape?


Posted by on December 18, 2012 in community, time management, weight loss


By Extension…Office


Have you ever visited your local Cooperative Extension System Office? Most people don’t even know they have one, let alone where it is. Every county has one and it’s tied to your state’s land grant college or university. The good news is it’s a wealth of information that’s tailored to an area.

Years ago, I wanted to know more about gardening so I went to the Extension office to get some information. I discovered they not only had a Master Gardener program, but an Advanced Master Gardener one as well. There were people of all ages taking the classes. Some were there to advance their knowledge so they could further their business. Some were retired and wanted a hobby. And others, like me, wanted to just grow stuff.

In the four years that I was in the class, I learned a lot more than just about plants. For mystery buffs, did you know that the area of your body that absorbs pretty much anything the fastest is the inside of your wrists? Yup. Be careful when you’re using weed killer, bug killer, or household cleaners. I remember a man who moved here from the Midwest and immediately put a soil additive in all his flower beds to raise the pH. He found out in a hurry—when all his plants died—that we have very alkaline soil and his additive made it even worse. He learned in Idaho we have to make our soil. The class was also a study in characters. We had left over hippies, people who wanted to start a gardening business, retired people in search of a hobby, and people like me who just wanted to grow cheap raspberries.

In the most recent extension newsletter, I found a flyer for classes on jams and jellies, canning basics, safe gifts from the kitchen, and more. The classes ranged from twelve to thirty-five dollars. What better way to gain knowledge for historicals or just flavor for your WIP?

If you’re interested in a setting in another state, you can go on the web, type in the state and extension office and you’ll get loads of information about the area.

Your local Extension office is a wealth of information. The Ada County branch is equipped with nutritionists, master gardeners, and all sorts of family and consumer service people. Take advantage of the source and you’ll be richly rewarded.

Where do you go for background information?


Posted by on September 25, 2012 in community, health, research, writing