Monday, August 31, 2009

Writer's Math

#1 How many compliments does it take to erase the effects of negative comments and rejections?

"You're a gifted writer!" "I loved this story!" "What a fabulous idea!" "I wish I could write like you!" "Amazing job!" "It was fantastic! I couldn't put it down!" "Thank you! It made me feel so good!"


"your manuscript does not fit our needs" "contains too many problems to be worth fixing" "rarely do we accept unsolicited manuscripts" "too unrealistic and hard to believe" "we receive thousands of manuscripts each year and select only a few brilliant ones; yours was not one of them...."

The life of a writer contains many praises (mainly from friends and family) and many rejections (usually from strangers who have an uncanny ability to devastate our fragile egos). Sometimes those rejections and criticisms can take their toll on us and we stop writing.

So what magical math formula is there? Two positives cancel out one negative? Five positives to one negative?

Unfortunately, there is NO magical math formula. So what are the options? Quit writing? Never submit anything again? You wouldn't be the first writer to follow that plan. You also wouldn't be the first writer to feel frustrated.

Writing and sharing it with the world is like living life standing up tall and straight in a shooting range-- it makes it so much easier to get hit! But it's also easier to see the world around you. And seeing the world and writing about it is what we writers do best-- it's what makes our hearts flourish.

So what can you do to help minimize the criticism and magnify the praise? Here are a few suggestions:

-make the rejections into a joke and laugh about them. Write your own rejection letter using humor and no "politely worded complaints."
-see how many rejections you can collect in a year. Put a sticker on a chart for each one and when you fill the chart, take yourself out for a treat.
-write the compliments you get (even if they are only from your mother) on large pieces of paper and hang them around your work area. Focus on the positives!
-share the criticisms and rejections with a trusted friend; feel the pain and then willfully choose to move on.
-read about the rejections of famous writers. You are definitely NOT alone in being rejected and criticized.

What else? What do you do when you are feeling too much rejection and too little praise?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Setting Up a Windows Desktop Specifically for Writing

by Scott Rhoades

Do you ever wish you could get rid of the clutter on your Windows desktop and turn it into a workspace dedicated only to writing? Few of us have the luxury of having a computer that we use for nothing else. Even if we get the contraption with the idea of building a dedicated writing space, it doesn't usually stay that way. Today I'm going to briefly discuss two free programs that can help you set up that organized writing space without giving up all the other stuff you do on your computer.

Dexpot (

Your desktop most likely contains icons for many of the programs you use, plus others from other family members. You don't want to change that, because all your important stuff is handy. But you still dream of a desktop without the clutter, containing only the icons you need for your writing. You could just set up a different login in Windows, but that requires that you log out and log back in to switch workspaces.

Dexpot lets you turn your desktop into as many as 20 separate virtual desktops, each accessible by a quick keystroke. You probably don't need 20, but even if you only use two--a general space and a writing space, Dexpot will become your best friend. I use four myself, but only two get used regularly.

There are other virtual desktop applications that are simpler, but Dexpot is one of the few free programs that let you give each desktop a unique set of icons and a different wallpaper. And if you trust yourself to delve into the programs many settings (not required), it has a lot power.

If your computer is used by multiple people, you can even protect your writing workspace with a password. This keeps people from invading and messing up your personal writing space.

Linux users already know how valuable separate desktops can be when it comes to staying organized. Dexpot brings that power to Windows.

Fences (

Once you have a dedicated writing space, you might still wish you could organize your icons better. What if you could put them in separate groups, like programs, work folders, documents, reference stuff, or whatever? Or, even if you don't want to set up multiple desktops, maybe you just want to put all your writing eggs in one basket. Fences lets you do just that.

You create areas on your screen (or even on both screens if you're set up with two screens). Each area is "fenced off," so you can place only the icons you want into each fence. You can give each fence different settings, move it and its contents to a new place on your desktop, and get rid of the clutter by organizing your icons your way.

It's easy to set up, easy to use, and comes with a bonus feature: double-click on your desktop and all of your icons disappear, leaving a nice, clean space. Do it again and they're back.

There are so many ways to customize and organize your workspace, many of them free, but these two will get you started. If you want to know about more free apps to organize your writing space and to make your files easier to access, leave a comment to let me know and I'll write again on this topic in the future.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Value of Using a Professional Editing Company

I have to admit that when a publishing company recommended I use a professional editing company to polish off my manuscript, I balked a little at the thought. Part of my manuscript had been through a writer’s critique group, several editors had read it and made suggestions and I’d listened and incorporated them all.

What further value could an editing company offer me?

With a little bit of reluctance, I sent my manuscript off to the editing company and waited several weeks for them to complete a complete their work. They were to give me line-item and content editing suggestions.

I opened up my inbox and found my edited manuscript there last Friday. Eager to find out what else was wrong with my manuscript (hoping secretly to find that nothing was wrong), I scanned through their comments. A half hour later, I was a little depressed. They’d mentioned some deep character flaws, mainly in their motivations-what made them tick. Did that mean I needed to re-create my characters? Should I just re-write the entire thing?

After taking the weekend to ponder the comments, I tackled my manuscript again, adding in some depth to my two main characters. It didn’t turn out to be as hard as I thought and the story began shaping up better than I’d ever imagined it could.

So back to the original question-is a professional editing company worth the money?

In my opinion, absolutely. If I would have submitted my manuscript in its current form (incorporating edits from the editing company) in my query letters, I have no doubt that I would have gotten a much better response. In particular, I believe the agents that requested partials would have given the entire manuscript a chance.

I do believe in the value of a good conference, but the money I’ve spent on the professional edit is one of the best investments I’ve made in my writing career.

Posted by Tiffany Dominguez, freelance writer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mouthwatering Books

By Kiirsi Hellewell



I’ve always loved reading about food in children’s books.  Descriptions of delicious food always get to me.  Why this is, I’m not sure, but I don’t think I’m alone.  Do a search online for “food blogs” and you’ll get thousands of results.  People love to read, write, talk about (and drool over) food talk, recipes, and pictures.  Perhaps it’s only natural that I find books including food descriptions so tantalizing.


I thought it would be fun today to give you a couple of passages about food from children’s novels:


Everything was perfect, except for the food…that was beyond mere words.


Salads of twelve different types, ranging from beetroot to radish, … dandelion, tomato, young onion, carrot, leek, corn… These were backed up with the cheeses, arranged in wedge patterns of red, yellow, and white, studded with nuts, herbs, and apple.  Loaves were everywhere, small brown cobs with seeds on top, long white batons with glazed crusts, … teabread, nutbread, spicebread…. [Drinks of] fresh milk, blackcurrant wine, strawberry cordial, raspberry fizz, damson juice, herb tea and cold cider.


Then there were the cakes, tarts, jellies and sweets.  Raspberry muffins, blueberry scones, redcurrant jelly, fruitcake, iced cake, shortbread biscuits, almond wafers, fresh cream, sweet cream, whipped cream, pouring cream, honeyed cream, custard cream, sweet-meadow custard with honeyglazed pears, wildgrape woodland pie with quince and hazelnut sauce…


--Brian Jacques, Mattimeo, p. 51


Brian Jacques’ exciting tales of good woodland animals fighting off evil animal invaders are full of adventure, comedy, and fun, but most of all, they’re full of descriptions of delicious food.  As a child reading the Redwall books, the food was my favorite part.  Even though it was prepared by and intended for animals, the food sounded so mouth-watering that I wished I were there, sitting down to a wooden table to enjoy it with them.


Here’s another:


Harry’s mouth fell open.  The dishes in front of him were now piled with food.  He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs…. Blocks of ice cream in every flavor you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate ├ęclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries…


--J, K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, p. 123 and 125


What about you?  Do you like to read about food, too?  What are some books you enjoy that feature good food descriptions?  Feel free to share!


Kiirsi Hellewell lives in the Salt Lake valley.  Despite many food challenges in her family, including allergies to corn and wheat, and an aversion to washing dishes, she still usually manages to feed her family…even though sometimes dinner is late and not very exciting.  If you have any good recipe suggestions, feel free to visit her on her blog or Facebook.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Who Are You, and What Have You Done With My Daughter!?

My teen has a very strong controlling personality, and when things don’t quite go her way, she gets angry very easily. All her life she has butted heads with me, but a few months ago, I discovered a little trick to help avoid out and out war . . . when she is irritated about something if I could figure out how to make her laugh before she starts pushing my buttons, (remind me to have surgery to get those removed) then I am usually spared most of the temper tirade. And still we have had many difficult days. Until recently. I suspect the body snatchers, but I’m not sure.

But wait! I am NOT complaining. The body snatchers can keep her for all I care — she has been heaven to be around. She cooks, and does an occasional load of dishes without going nuclear, and she comes in my room and engages in intelligent endearing conversation when I get home from work. She even kissed me on the cheek yesterday.

What a darling adorable girl has taken her place, and it has gone on for nearly three weeks straight.

What have I done? absolutely nothing. But I did learn about a change that she made on her own about three weeks ago that could have a huge part to play in this little drama.

My daughter wants to be a writer when she grows up. She ‘made’ her fist poem when she was barely 4 years old, by grabbing my hand and demanding “Type!” as she dragged me to my computer keyboard. I didn’t mind much, since she didn’t bite me as was her usual approach in those days. She put my fingers on the keyboard and assumed a calm thoughtful pose, and began to recite:

A Tree was in my back yard,
with a yellow leaf that falls down
I went in my house.

I asked her what she wanted to call it. She said “Tree.” and then she ran off.

Of course, a writer myself I was beside myself with giddiness. After that, she would ask me to type every once in a while, and now at age 14 she fills up notebooks all on her own. Sometimes she will be sitting there on the couch staring into space and I used to have to shake her a little to snap her out of it. “What are you doing?!” I asked her once. She said she was making up stories.

So what does all of this have to do with her transfiguration? Well, I learned that she had been given a 20 day challenge by her teacher. 20 days of journal writing. 1 writing prompt a day for 20 days. And she had been doing it. As it turned out, it was exactly what she needed for her emotional constipation. Will it get rid of her temper completely? I doubt it. I think her old self will resurface occasionally, and if she doesn’t I will be pleasantly surprised. At the same time, I am also going to make darned sure she has as many writing prompts as she needs.

This post is the most recent in my series "Raising a Writer" at

P.S. JICYWW, She has already read this, and thought it was funny -- she asked me to blog about her ;)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"It's Coming and Teachers are Excited!!" a book Review by Joanna Posey

It's coming! Teachers and Parents are Excited!
As a special ed teacher, I thought I've seen it all. At least I thought I had until I walked into a Navajo high school and given the task of getting students ready for their graduation writing tests.
It was then that I almost had heart failure. The graduation tests were in six months and my high school students didn't write complete sentences. "What? Five paragraph essays? We can't write!" This was their battle cry for years. These students didn't know success, only repeated failure. Some gave up learning how to write. But graduation was fast approaching.
English as second language learners, they were. Artistic, they were. Highly visual, they were. They needed to see the full picture before dissecting the task. It needed to be simple and easy to do.
With these student attributes in mind, I created a no-frills, bare-bones system of writing for my students so they could graduate from high school. This little system of writing became an instant hit. "Wow, I can really do this!" They remembered how it worked, not only for the state-wide Direct Writing Assessment, but for their graduation writing test, as well.
When they saw that they could write, their entire demeanor changed. No longer did each student say, "I can't!" The buzz words were, "I can!"
Success story after success study can be told. I, eventually, carried my little system into a junior high setting with at-risk students who were also culturally diverse learners residing in a larger city. Again, "I can't" turned into "I can."
Teachers and parents noticed student success in writing. Teachers wanted a copy of this no-frills system. They asked, "How did you do this?" Parents asked, "How did you get my student to write?" Parents wanted to have a copy for their students to practice.
To satisfy teacher and parent requests, "From Struggling Students to Successful Writers in 7 Easy Steps" will be rolling off the press in two small volumes. The first volume is the teacher's instructional guide, complete with lesson plans. The second volume provides actual student examples in using the "7 Easy Steps" model.
Students are being successful. This little system works and works well.It makes a positive difference in the lives of many students. The best kept secret is that it will help all students to achieve their academic goals.
Questions and comments may be addressed to: Joanna D. Posey at

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book Review: "Fanny's Dream" by Caralyn Buehner

Book Review by Taffy Lovell

I just read Fanny's Dream by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner

Fanny's dream is to marry a prince or 'at least the mayor's son'. When the mayor throws a ball, Fanny knows she has to go! She waits in the garden for her fairy godmother. Instead, Heber walks through and asks her to marry him. She has to think about the proposal and her dreams and an hour later she wakens Heber to tell him yes.

3 children later, her fairy godmother shows up. "Sorry I'm late!" she says. But Fanny has a prince. One who loves her and serves her and the children daily.

A great story for anyone who loves a good fairy tale but lives in reality! Life is not perfect or easy. Mostly, it is just normal.

Always enjoy Mark Buehner's art and finding the 'hidden' pictures.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Janette Rallison's Work Space

This is where I work while my stupid laptop is broken. (I broke the screen so my husband attached the laptop computer to a different monitor.
Janette Rallison

Find a little magic. Read My Fair Godmother

The Ghost of Christmas in August

by Scott Rhoades

It's August. Temperatures are rising. A hot wind blows desert dust ahead of the summer thunderstorms that often have trouble materializing into much more than wind and fire. The grass is struggling to stay green.

And so, my thoughts turn to...A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

I think we forget what a marvelous work this is because it’s so familiar. Most of us know the story mainly from one of the kajillions of movie versions. Everybody from Reginald Owen to Mr. Magoo has played Scrooge. This kind of familiarity can make the original book less enjoyable, and it’s probably the reason I don’t read it more often. But dipping into it again has reminded me why it’s such a classic, and I’m not only talking about the all-too-familiar story. I’m talking about the writing. The beginning should be studied by every writer. Just look at the opening line:
Marley was dead: to begin with.

Six words, none particularly strong. Was is about the weakest verb you’re likely to find anywhere. There's only one noun, and it's a name. But the line is pure genius. It’s all about that colon.

When people read that line aloud, they tend to do it like Gonzo in A Muppet Christmas Carol, with a pause that amounts to a comma or, at most, an em dash. That doesn’t do the line justice. You need the full stop and irony that the colon provides. We know this is a ghost story because the chapter title is "Marley's Ghost," but the colon raises doubt about how dead Marley is. It places emphasis on that word, begin. Sure, Marley was dead: to begin with, but that’s not going to keep him away. That colon tells you old Jake’s bound to come 'round.

Know what’s weird about that first paragraph? It really has nothing to do with the main character. Sure, Scrooge is mentioned twice, but both mentions are as a side note. The reader has no idea who this Scrooge person is who signed the burial register that proves Marley is dead as a door-nail.

A modern writer probably wouldn’t be able to get away with an opening that stresses somebody who is already dead and de-emphasizes the story’s main character so much that you don’t even realize he has anything to do with the story if you don’t already know the tale.

Next, Dickens does something else that would would be difficult for a modern writer to get away with: the narrator intrudes on the story, and in a big way. About the time you’ve found out that the person who appears to be the main character is as dead as a door-nail and you’ve worked your way through a fairly lengthy, intrusive digression by the narrator about how it might actually be better to say somebody is as dead as a coffin-nail than a door-nail because a door-nail doesn’t seem to be nearly as dead as a coffin-nail, you don’t have any idea anymore what’s going on, but Dickens has managed to suck you in nevertheless, by the tone of his storytelling and by the mystery of why it matters that Marley has bitten the big one.

The third paragraph finally puts the story into Scrooge’s point of view, even though the narrator still makes his presence known with his own first-person interjections. You find out that Scrooge and Marley were business partners. You don’t really know why that matters, but you’re sure the connection must be more important than the mere fact that Scrooge was at the funeral, and wasn’t “dreadfully cut up by the sad event.”

So what does Dickens do in the next paragraph? He goes back to the beginning. His narrator says that the mention of a funeral reminds him of something important, that Marley was really deceased. He wants to make sure that this fact is “distinctly understood.” Well, it is. We’ve read an entire page letting us know that Marley is quite assuredly not of the living, and after that page we're back where we started.

Look what Dickens has done in that page. He’s created a mystery by giving us the unassailable fact that Marley, whoever he is, is dead, and he’s heightened the mystery by going on about just how dead he is and telling us that it’s really important to know that. But why is it important? He won’t tell us. We’re teetering on the edges of our seats, wondering why we should care that Marley is six feet under. Without any kind of action, Dickens has built suspense and rubbed it in until we’re almost ready to scream and slam the book down if he doesn’t hurry up and tell us why Marley’s demise is significant.

Surely he’s going to tell us now. In my edition, this is where I turn the page, knowing full well that I’m about to get the answers to these questions and go on, quite satisfied, into the story. When it comes down to it, page two isn't that bad a place to start to get into the story.
I turn the page.

What do I get? An allusion to Hamlet. What does that have to do with this story? Is it going to be a tragedy, like Shakespeare’s play, full of intrigue and dirty deeds? More suspense, and still no relief. But surely the mystery is about to be solved, or at least clarified, right?

Wrong. What follows is a lengthy description of Scrooge. It’s another thing that a modern editor might not let a writer get away with. We don’t draw characters in this kind of detail anymore. We work the exposition into the story. But what a shame it would be if this stuff had been cut! This is brilliant. Every detail heightens the mystery, and the description is so well written that a writer can’t help but realize that he’ll never, ever, be this good.

We don’t get Scrooge’s looks, his clothes, and all of that, but we still see him nonetheless. What Dickens gives us is a laundry list of details about how cold Scrooge is. It’s literally a list of compelling adjectives. (Compelling adjectives! Who would have thought that was possible?) “Squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” Adjectives have seldom said so much. He’s as “solitary as an oyster.” That is a genius simile. Not only are oysters loners (I imagine, although they tend to share their beds with many others of their kind, they don’t really have feelings for many of their bedmates), but they’re slimy and icky and ugly. They also happen to taste delicious, but we don’t need to carry the simile quite that far.

Then, we finally get into physical description, after Dickens has set it up with that outstanding sense of what Scrooge is like. The physical description magnifies everything we found out before. He has old features, frozen by his own cheapness, being too stingy even to light a fire to keep himself warm. Because of this self-imposed coldness, which we now know is more than merely weather-related, he has a pointed nose, shriveled cheek, stiff gait, red eyes, thin blue lips, and his voice, which he's not even using, is shrewd and grating. His head is covered with a frosty rime, and so are his brows and chin. And then, Dickens gives me my second favorite line in this whole long opening, driving home the reason why Scrooge looks like this: “He carried his own low temperature always about with him.”

This statement is followed by a series of weather metaphors. This guy is colder than rain, sleet, or snow. In fact, bad weather is often “handsome,” but not old Scrooge. We then get a lengthy description of how people react to him on the street. Or rather, we get a long description of how they don’t react to him. These negatives create a positive that leaves us without any doubt, as if the previous descriptive passages had left any. Scrooge is a Bad Egg.

By now we’ve read more than two and a half pages. We have a mystery that the author apparently isn’t going to enlighten us on, about a guy who is dead. He’s not just dead. He’s very dead. And his former business partner is so abysmally cold and lonely that he might as well be on ice too. We’ve made it through the lengthy description of this walking corpse. So now we’re finally about to find out why it all matters.

What does Dickens give us?

“Once upon a time…” We’re two and a half pages in, and we get “once upon a time”? This signals the start of the actual story, a first scene that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Marley and why it’s important that we know he’s dead. A modern editor would probably demand that everything up to this point be deleted, and the modern reader can understand why. In the hands of most writers, that first two and a half pages with nothing happening and a bunch of description and the dwelling on the fact that an apparently crucial character isn't very lively would be dull and uninteresting, especially since there's a mystery that doesn’t seem to be nearly close to being resolved. In fact, there hasn’t been any progress toward telling us what the mystery even is.

But this is Dickens. A true master. That opening is so brilliantly written, so finely crafted by an author who somehow remains invisible despite numerous narrative intrusions, that we’ve been totally hooked by a bunch of stuff that we’ve been taught is the opposite of a hook.

I love this opening. I can only imagine the grief Dickens would get from my writers group, or just about any writers group, for starting this way, but it’s as close to a perfect beginning as anything I’ve read in quite a while, in spite of itself. I’ve been sucked in by two mysteries, actually: somebody is dead to begin with, which means he’s likely to come around, and his business partner is even worse than dead. Why? What does it matter? How is this going to come together? And where’s that ghost that the chapter title promises? And all of that is wrapped up in a wonderfully dismal tone, presented by an intrusive narrator who, frustratingly, refuses to give any hint of enlightenment.

It’s magnificent.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Five Reasons Why Blogging Leads to Writing Jobs

I found this on The Daily Writing Tips Blog: If you have the time to maintain a regular blog, you can get a real following, earn advertising money and apparently, attract a book deal! I've never been a believer in blogging, but maybe it's time to change my thinking!

1. It’s a free (or very cheap) way to self-publish your writing
Posting your writing on a blog is a form of self-publishing, even if you don’t think of it that way. After all, blogging software uses a Publish button to submit a post, and if you run Google Adsense on your blog, Google refers to you as a Publisher. In the past, to get published you either persuaded an editor to print your work, or you paid to have the piece printed yourself. Blogging allows you to self-publish for free (or at the small cost of hosting and an internet connection). If your blog becomes popular, you could run advertisements to make some money or invite sponsorship from companies – glance over to the right to see some of Daily Writing Tips’s sponsors.

2. Blogging helps you build up a portfolio of pieces
One of the hardest things about getting started as a freelance writer is getting together a portfolio of your writing to show potential clients. Having a blog allows you to build up a sample of published pieces that you can use to show your writing prowess.
If you’re intending to use blogging to start your portfolio, why not write guest posts for other blogs? Editors may take you more seriously if they can see that other people think your writing is good enough to publish.

3. You get to write about topics that you love – and build your expertise and credentials
Much has been said about the need to have a blog on a niche topic – one topic that you write regularly about, rather than trying to include everything that you’re interested in. This makes it much easier to build up an interested readership, but it also helps to build your knowledge about the topic. If you’re reading other blogs and books on your subject and writing original material several times a week, you’ll almost certainly be learning something new.
Having a well-established blog on a particular topic is a great way to demonstrate your expertise. For example, if you want to write movie reviews for a newspaper, pointing to your long-running blog with a weekly round-up of the latest releases could be a great way to prove that you’re up to the job.

4. A popular blog could lead to a book deal
In the offline world, the sale of “blooks” is rising – books based on blogs. Several bloggers who I read have signed book deals: Darren Rowse from Problogger, Shauna Reid from The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl and Jennette Fulda (aka PastaQueen) from Half of Me. And, of course, there are some very famous examples such as Belle de Jour’s The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl. If your blog becomes big, it just might catch the attention of an agent.
And even if the agents aren’t phoning you just yet, a blog could help you sell your own book. Elizabeth Soutter Schwarzer (‘Liz’ or ‘DaMomma’) from Motherhood is Not for Wimps has self-published one book and has another on the way. Collis and Cyan Ta’eed from Freelance Switch self-published How to be a Rockstar Freelancer (in both ebook and printed formats) and have another book on the way, How to be a Rockstar Wordpresser. Many other bloggers offer excellent free articles on their blog but also sell ebooks which go into more depth on the same topics.

5. If you’re a freelancer, a blog is a great marketing tool
Well-known bloggers who publish authoritative and well-written posts can use their blog as a mean of marketing themselves. Skellie does this brilliantly on Skelliewag, with a “Hire me” page and advertisments on the right hand side for her own services. Harry and James from Men with Pens have “Guns for Hire” which explains the writing and design services which they offer.
Make sure your blog tells potential clients how they can get in touch. If someone loves your blog’s style and content, they might well want to hire you. Also, blogs tend to rank well in search engines (due to the amount of content, and because other blogs often want to link to your posts), so you’ll have greater visibility online.

If you have a blog, has it helped you – directly or indirectly – to make money from your writing? If you’re not blogging yet, do you have ideas of how you’d like to use a blog?

Amy White's Work Space

Office space in the morning

Bookshelves in progress

Curtain door

Monday, August 3, 2009

Book Review and Journaling

by Kiirsi Hellewell


I’m currently re-reading one of my very favorite series of books, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.  If you haven’t ever heard of these books, you’re not alone—for some reason they’re not very well-known, even though they are ten wonderful novels by a terrific writer about turn-of-the-century Midwest America.



Maud Hart Lovelace

Every year or two when I read these books again, I’m amazed all over again at how good they are, and also mystified about why they’re not more popular.  I love the Anne of Green Gables series and these books are easily just as good.  What’s more, Ms. Lovelace packs every single chapter with delicious and delightful references to styles, popular songs, slang, and customs, painting such a picture of American life in 1900-Minnesota that leaves you longing to turn back time and go there yourself.


What’s really amazing is that much like Little House on the Prairie, these books were written much later in the author’s life—she published the first one in 1940—and she relied heavily on her copious journals, which she burned after writing the last book.  And also like Laura Ingalls, the books are almost autobiographical—though they are fiction, most of the characters and places in “Deep Valley” are based on actual people Ms. Lovelace knew and loved.  She herself is the protagonist, “Betsy.”  The books start with Betsy at age 5 and grow with her through the years of high school and beyond, all the way to her married life.


The amazing detail would not be possible without her journals.  One reason I love these books so much, I think, is that they are so real.  They are some of the few books I’ve read where historical detail is accomplished not by vast amounts of research, but because the author actually lived in the time period and kept a record of the changing hair and clothing styles, music, games, boys she liked and crowd of friends, and everything else.  This time through the books for me has been really fun because I’ve started researching clothes, hair, and songs from a hundred years ago so I can get an even better picture of life back then.



Cover of the October re-issue

You can even go visit Mankato, Minnesota (the “Deep Valley” of the books) and find “Betsy’s” actual house, along with many more historical landmarks from the book.  The Betsy-Tacy Society is actively restoring and preserving them.


As I’ve read the books this time through I’ve thought a great deal about keeping journals.  I kept a journal every single day while I was a missionary in Texas several years ago, but journal entries before and after that time are hit-and-miss at best.  I know there’s not enough detail in my journals to base a series of historical books on. 


What about you?  Do you keep a journal?  Do you ever use it in your writing?  I think one thing my journals would be good for is not so much the historical side, but more the feelings and emotions I had around certain events in my life. 


If you’re interested in reading these terrific books, try the library; also, Harper Collins is re-issuing the last 6 this fall with the lovely original covers (I failed to mention how sweet and beautiful the inside chapter illustrations are: )


Betsy as a senior in high school

In all the years I’ve loved these books, since I was about 6, I was never lucky enough to have my own copies.  They’ve been in and out of print.  This time I can’t wait to buy them.

Kiirsi Hellewell lives in the Salt Lake valley.  Not content with merely being a hit-and-miss journal-writer, she’s also a hit-and-miss blogger.  You can find her blog here.  She’s currently enjoying author Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Write 15 minutes a day every day in August” challenge.