Archive for February, 2009

Kate Winslet and THE READER

Dear Reader,

When I learned Kate Winslet was cast in The Reader, I wondered if she’d be able to dampen her natural luminosity enough to convincingly portray the part of Hanna Schmitz, a notably unluminous woman in Bernhard Schlink’s novel of the same name.  I knew Winslet’s physical presence could be powdered over with makeup and lighting, but had no clue how she’d powder over her fire, her internal presence, to be less than she is. I imagined this role would tire her, exhaust her, even, like when I ask myself to be quieter, humbler, and more constricted than I am. It’s easier to expand, I think. But I could be wrong.

Does it exhaust writers to mute their natural talents? For, say, florid vocabulary, poetics, or meticulous descriptions to write simpler prose? I think so. It’s hard not to allow their obvious talents to shine, to sacrifice their egos for the good of their characters and stories. Yet when they do, they often create memorable, Oscar-worthy writing. And I’m glad they do, just as I’m glad Winslet creates characters like Hanna Schmitz, a woman I’ll never know or forget. I’m also glad she won the 2009 Oscar for best actress. She earned it!



A Writer’s Thoughts About SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Dear Reader,

(Note: To take in the full magnanimousness of Slumdog Millionaire, see it on a BIG screen.)

Slumdog Millionaire is an oft-told rags-to-riches story, but it’s much more than a story: it’s an experience. It’s pure-eyed Indian children. It’s filth. It’s expansive poverty; orange, red, rust, and turquoise; it’s corrugated steel; breakneck cinematography; claustrophobic population; clangor, crash, and dust. It’s “Ta Ki Di Ma Ta Ki Di Ma…” bols (North India rhythmic mnemonics) machine-gunned out of the soundtrack. And it’s flecks of a orphan boy’s accrued knowledge thrown up to save his life, knowledge not buoyed by fuller knowledge: the name of a poet, the face printed on a particular American currency, a sports figure.

Flecks of knowledge. I recognized “Ta Ki Di Ma” in the soundtrack because when I was a college dance major the department percussionist and professor Tigger Benford taught me the fundamentals of playing the tabla, which included this phrase. Other flecks? I know how to test the moisture content of field corn. Why? When I was 15 years old, I worked in my uncle’s grain elevator, weighing loads of corn and determining and recording its moisture content. I know that spell checked “facial latte” in a text I’m editing should read “facia lata” because I once studied anatomy. That a fleck of Norwegian, potet sekk, means potato sack. My grandfather used to call me this — lovingingly, of course.

Flecks illuminate stories. Illuminate films. Illuminate lives, writers’ lives.


Other-Meaning-Ness and Robert Bly’s Poem “Prophets”

Dear Reader,

Please read the following poem by Robert Bly.


There are fields of white roses

with prophets asleep in them—

I see their long black feet.

Please read it again, this time out loud. Done? Okay. Now, without thinking, tell me what it means. Hey! I said without thinking. Stuck? At a loss for words? If so, I’m pleased. Why? Because “Prophets” means nothing other than what it means: 20 syllables, or 17 words, or 3 lines arranged in a specific order. It means nothing? How is this possible? Because this poem taps readers where words don’t live, where it’s indefinable. It taps imagination or emotions or senses or….

It taps my imagination so I see curvaceously soft whiteness and thickly lopsided exclamation points. I don’t see a field of white roses with prophets asleep in them—but that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried. It also taps my senses/emotions, I’m not sure which it is. I feel its meaning in my chest when the words push against my sternum and expand me. It has “other-meaning-ness.”


Let me explain. I use Bly’s poem and the idea of “other-meaning-ness” not to make another “I-don’t-get-it” exercise, but to encourage you to trust your nonword responses to poems. If you read poems you’re sure you don’t like, I urge you not to try to like them, not to tell yourself that you’d like them if you were smarter. Also, if you read something you think is amazing, please don’t talk yourself out of your opinion. Hold on to your amazement. You’re entitled to it. 

“Prophets” appears in This Tree Will Be Here For A Thousand Years, by Robert Bly, NY: Harper & Row, 1979.


Sweet Beauty: The film THE GROCER’S SON

Dear Reader,

“It is summer, and thirty-year-old Antoine is forced to leave the city [Paris] to return to his family in Provence. His father is sick, so he must assume the lifestyle he thought he had shed—driving the family grocery cart from hamlet to hamlet, delivering supplies to the few remaining inhabitants. Accompanied by Claire, a friend from Paris whom he has a secret crush on, Antoine gradually warms up to his experience in the country and his encounters with the villagers, who initially seem stubborn and gruff, but ultimately prove to be funny and endearing.” (This synopsis is from Film Movement.  Film Movement provides “Early Access to Award-Winning Independent Foreign Film.”)

I don’t mean to lessen the impact of The Grocer’s Son by describing it as a sweet, beautiful film, but it is a sweet, beautiful film. After all, it stars Provence’s bucolic sumptuousness and actor Nicolas Cazale′s boyish-lips-and-all-man seductiveness. But there’s more: it doesn’t force its characters into bloom; it provides the right amount of light, and darkness, to urge each character’s vulnerability—sweetness—to open up and gradually scent his/her and viewers’ understanding. And no character is required to “change” into something s/he hasn’t been all along. Petunias remain petunias, lilies remain lilies, and thistles remain thistles, but all are infused and brightened  by internal and external tenderness. The viewers are also infused and brightened.

So, I suggest you treat your eyes, nose, taste buds, and your writing to The Grocer’s Son. Why? Sweet beauty.



Dear Reader,

In Unpolished Gem, author Alice Pung successfully describes what it means to be sentenced to be a first-generation daughter born to Chinese immigrants in Australia. But, given the similarities of her experiences to, say, the protagonist’s in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, she could just as well been born in the United States. As in The Joy Luck Club, Pung is expected to adhere to traditional Chinese customs without benefit of being surrounded by Chinese culture.  She clearly relates the turmoil, guilt, and depression this causes her.  She also  shares her relatives’ expressions and behavior–endearingly so.

Pung less successfully ties her life to her mother and grandmother’s lives, to their upbringing and experiences in China and war ravaged Cambodia. Her intellectual connection to them comes through, her emotional/heart connection does not. Her youth may be responsible for this lack; she was born in 1980. (Youth is not a criticism.)

I encourage Pang to revisit this story ten years from now. I suspect she will see greater opportunities to polish her story, opportunities she can’t possibly imagine now. I look forward to seeing what she writes then.

Do I suggest you read Unpolished Gem? For entertainment? Sure. As an example of a well developed memoir? No.


What’s Left This Editor’s Desk

Dear Reader,

I wrote my November 25th, 2008 post, entitled “What’s On This Editor’s Desk,” as a way to come to terms with the scary stack of books I’d promised myself to attend to. I write this post to assure myself I’ve “accomplished things” over the last few months. Here’s my updated list:

· Kissing Doorknobs, (1998), a Young Adult book by Terry Spencer Hesser: Read it, reviewed it, posted the review on, returned it to the library.

· A postcard of a black and white photo of a yawning Abyssinian cat sitting on a bookshelf. Found this in a book I was shelving for the Friends of Westminster Library Used Book Shop, where I volunteer and find lots of cool books: Sent card to one or another friend.

· SCBWI 2008 Publication Guide to Writing & Illustrating for Children: Ummm… still on my desk.

· Transcending Grief – A Journal of Love and Healing, (2001), written by Sylvia Browne and Nancy Dufresne. It’s a guided journal for people who are grieving. Note to self: study how they’ve set up the journal. Is it easy to write on its high gloss pages? Will ink easily smear? I thought it contained too much writing by the authors and not enough room for me to write, plus, I didn’t like the glossy paper. Gave to the library used book shop. Got sold to a friend of mine, who is experiencing grief.

· I Found All the Parts: Healing the Soul Through Rock ’n’ Roll (Nov.11, 2008). A spiritual memoir that’s waiting for me to post an review about it: Good book. Review written and posted.

· Course booklet, How to Sell on, by Judy Murdoch and Mary Walewski: I’ve posted my poetry book Scarf Dancer on

· Third Thursday Poetry Open Mic signup sheet with notes scribbled on it: “Get Studs Terkel quote from J.D.” Gotten.

· Backstreet Quarterly, #5, Ray Foreman, Editor. Tell my friend Victoria about it: Done. And she’s already submitted to this journal.

· Grammar Done Right, by Karen L. Reddick, (2008). Never leaves my desk. Still there.

· Colorado Symphony Orchestra program from 11-22-08. I’ve started an article about my minute music listening vocabulary, prompted by the way my attention flickered while I listened to the orchestra perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major, Opus 100. Perhaps there’ll be another article prompted by a post-performance comment made by one of the violinists: “Some of us have decided that if we were going to be stranded on an island and could only take one CD, we’d take Prokofiev.” And maybe another article about how stupid I should feel for never having heard of Prokofiev prior to that night: Not written. Oh well.

· My journal. (Duh, of course) Double duh.

· Never Summer: Poems From Thin Air, by Chris Ransick. (2005) Find out what the Denver Poet Laureate writes about: Still doing this.

· A Dream Decoder: Eight pages with dials to line up 800 keywords and their associations. Why? Because it’s pretty: Plan to use in free writes.

· Notes from Dan Poynter’s October presentation at Colorado Independent Publishers Association: Ideas implemented.

· Field Guide to Gestures: How to Identify and Interpret Virtually Every Gesture Known to Man, (2003), by Nancy Armstrong and Melissa Wagner. I’m wondering if it’s shelved under humor. Read it to find out: Read and reviewed on, blog posted in Letters From the Editor.

· Ticket stub from Secret Life of Bees movie. There’s a note to myself on it: “Owe Krista.” Ticket is taped in my journal.

· Note on paper: “The guy in the real estate office across the hall from me is singing a song about qualifying buyers before selling them a home.” OMG! Same paper: “A squirrel just bumped into my window. Write about the Italian guy and the squirrel in La Crosse, WI. Write about the squirrel on Sherman Terrace in Madison, WI.” Still in my mind.

· Photo: I’m standing at a blackboard in a college chemistry classroom pretending I’ve written all the equations that cover it. I bought a chemistry textbook three days ago.

· The One Minute Manager, (1983), Kenneth Blanchard, Ph.D. and Spencer Johnson, M.D. Find out why this book was a “runaway #1 National Bestseller!” Find out why people still copy its hokey story-telling style. More important, why they read it: Read it. Hated it. Reviewed it. Got rid of it.

· Bipolar Disorder: Insights for Recovery and Beyond Bipolar: 7 Steps to Wellness, both written by Jane Mountain, MD. Read again then post a review about them: Read, reviewed, and given to a psychotherapist who has an office in my building.

· Across the High Divide: Poetry, (2006), Laurie Wagner Buyer. Find the lines I misread while I recorded for RFB&D. I said “incontinent” when the word was “continent,” and it appeared during a love scene. Eww. I reread this four times! Could NOT find “incontinent.” Only “content.” I must have read from an early printing that was later corrected.

· My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile, (2003), Isabel Allende. She talks about testosterone in Chile’s air. Write about that: Read the book, reviewed the book, but haven’t written about testosterone.

· How To Really Know Yourself Through Your Handwriting, (1973), Shirl Solomon. This is the book that will not die. I’m probably its 8th owner. Comment on what she says makes up wit: Not commented on yet, but read and passed off to a friend.

What’s new on my desk?

  • Acres of Diamonds, by Russell H. Conwell. I’m told it’s one of those inspirational books lots of business people read.
  • The Nature of Music: Beauty, Sound, and Healing, by Maureen McCarthy Draper. Explore music versus words.
  • Notes from two teleseminars about web site and Twitter presence. Follow up.
  • Middle grade fantasy manuscript. Waiting for author’s approval so I can start to edit it.
  • A client’s personal narrative about facing the wilds of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Continue to edit it.
  • Oh yeah, a huge box of tissues. Why? My winter cold.



Get More Attention for Your Writing: Boost Depressed Emotional Marketing Values

“Communication is the key of effective marketing. And the key to communication is being able to reach the client at an emotional level, involving them in your copy, and invoking their deeper thoughts.” – The Advanced Marketing Institute

Dear Reader,

Do your titles and marketing headlines to sell your writing receive enough attention? If not, perhaps they lack Emotional Marketing Value (EMV), a problem you can diagnose with the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) Headline Analyzer devised by The Advanced Marketing Institute. Through research, The Institute has assigned emotional value to words and then determined if they incite intellectual, empathetic, and/or spiritual emotions. It’s believed higher EMV stimulate higher reader response.

The Institute has made this analyzer available to everyone; all you have to do is go to, type in your headline, and “pop” you have a score. If you have a low EMV headline, replace a weak word(s)with more potent words, and again put the headline through the analyzer. Continue until you’re satisfied with the score. (Most professional copywriters ―advertising/marketing writers ― tend to write headlines utilizing 30 to 40 percent EMV words. The most gifted copywriters lean toward 50 to 75 percent EMV words.)

I pitted potential headlines/titles for this article against the Headline Analyzer, and here are my EMVs:

  • Writing with Higher Emotional Marketing Values (50%)
  • Bolster Your Emotional Marketing Values (60%)
  • Fire Up Emotional Marketing Values (60%)
  • Beef Up Your Emotional Marketing Values (66.67%)
  • Depressing Emotional Marketing Values? (75%)
  • Depressed Emotional Marketing Values? (75%)
  • Measuring Emotional Marketing Values (75%)
  • Tackle Emotional Marketing Values (75%)
  • Build Emotional Marketing Values (75%)
  • Boost Depressed Emotional Marketing Values (80%)
  • Emotional Marketing Values (100%)

I could have used the 100-percent headline/title, “Emotional Marketing Values,” but I wanted to add movement with a verb, so I picked “Boost Depressed Emotional Marketing Values.” Note: The more descriptive verbs tend to boost the score. I suggest you use this tool to boost your depressed Emotional Marketing Values, and while you’re at it, boost your readers’ attention.