Thursday, December 30, 2010

Time Like the Present by Stephanie Anderson Witmer

Tracy Heyman Photography
My house is quiet. Blessedly, gloriously quiet.

It’s four days after Christmas, and I am still in the throes of the four-week winter break (sometimes it’s very good to be a professor). My husband has taken the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, and this morning, he got up with our 19-month-old son and let me sleep the sleep of my former, childless self, unmarred by a to-do list or thoughts of what Benjamin will wear to daycare or the alarm clock of my son’s early-morning calls for me from the confines of his crib.

When I finally do wake up at a luxurious 9:25 a.m., I find the house utterly still. I pad from the bedroom in my new red Christmas slippers, past my son’s closed bedroom door, past the closed guest-room door, and descend the stairs. More quiet. Benjamin had likely just gone down for his morning nap, and my husband and our dog likely did the same in the guest bedroom, so as not to wake me.

In the kitchen, I piece together the clues of the morning I have missed: A container of cinnamon on the counter and an orange bowl on the kitchen table, empty except for the edges, rimed with sticky flecks of oatmeal. A discarded spoon next to it. A sippy cup with a splash of milk still in the bottom. I glance into the living room and see books and trucks strewn across the floor and couch. More toys lined up on the TV stand like a motley train.

There are things I know I should do while I have the chance during Benjamin’s morning nap, like wash the breakfast dishes so that the oatmeal doesn’t form a permanent crust in the bowl or vacuum the rug or put away more of the Christmas gifts. On many days, I would do those things, or I’d decide to grade some papers instead.

But I don’t do any of those things today. Today I pour myself a cup of coffee in the biggest mug I can find, I make myself a bowl of oatmeal with vanilla, maple syrup, raisins and a liberal sprinkling of the cinnamon left on the counter. Mug in one hand and bowl in the other, I make a beeline to my office, and I write.

Sure, today is an example of a day in which I have absolutely nothing planned and can just sort of trot through it without a care. Lunch at our favorite little neighborhood cafe sounds nice … Perhaps I’ll make a cake later … Or soup … I should go for a walk and shoot some photographs with my new camera … Or to the library …

Thoughts like these on days like these warrant the use of the ellipses. But most days aren’t like today, and are punctuated far differently. They are crazy, harried, ultra-planned sorts of days. They are exclamation-point days, and not the good, surprise-party or you’ve-won-the-lottery kind of exclamation points. They are days that are often terse and demanding, like a drill sergeant.

When you’re pregnant and then have a newborn, everyone always talks about sleep: How much sleep are you getting? How is the little one sleeping? Are you sleeping when the baby sleeps? Don’t you miss sleep? Isn’t sleep great? Most definitely, the lack of sleep was a rude awakening for both my husband and me, but it wasn’t that we never slept again—we just didn’t sleep all at one time as long as we wanted to.

But all that talk about sleep somewhat prepared me for the eventual time when I stopped getting it. It was the lack of time that really threw me. I’ve always been one to have lots of projects and ideas living in my head, and some of them would even make their way out of there into actual, physical incarnations of themselves. Now most don’t, and probably won’t.

I have found that after I had a child, I have become much more selfish with my time. First, because I teach three days a week, on the days when I am home with my son, I want to fill every moment with books and walks and adventures and the potential for memory-making, which is my own way of overcompensating for the days he spends with his grandparents or in daycare.  

During the times I have to myself, like right now, I want to fill that space by doing what I want to do. I feared when I first had Benjamin that I’d never read a book or write a sentence for pleasure ever again, but I’ve actually written more regularly since he’s been born than I have since graduate school. I began taking photographs. I started a blog. I don’t cook as much as I’d like, but it’s not uncommon for me to bake muffins or bread on a random Tuesday morning just because I feel like baking. Time has become the most valuable currency in my life.

Part of this is time, but part of it is my fear of losing myself entirely to motherhood and my job. I love both, but they are not the only parts of me. I find myself staying up later than is smart or healthy at night to write, simply because I’d rather forego a bit more sleep than a bit more of myself and my own creative needs. Both of my primary jobs—being a parent and being a professor—require a lot of my time and energy, and both require me to fulfill the needs of others. My son needs me (and his dad) to feed him, dress him, give him a bath, put him to bed, to love him and keep him safe. My students need me to teach them how to write and report accurately and ethically, to grade their work, to give them feedback, and prepare them for the great beyond that is their post-college working life.

Most importantly, both my son and my students need me to show up and be present. So does my husband. So does the rest of my family. So do my friends. And so do I need that of myself. 

Stephanie Anderson Witmer is a freelance writer and an assistant professor in the Communication/Journalism Department at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in national and regional magazines, including Better Homes & Gardens and Susquehanna Style. She has an M.F.A. in creative-nonfiction writing from Penn State University and blogs about parenting and cooking at She lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, with her husband, son and their dog.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tis the Season...Gifts Unseen! By Amanda Thrasher

Tis the Season…Gifts Unseen!
By Amanda M. Thrasher
To say some things are meant to be is an understatement; this past weekend was an example of such for me. It started with a State 4A Championship game at the Dallas Cowboy’s Stadium, in Arlington TX. We sat in front of a lovely young couple, making eye contact and small talk, a time or two. It was an exciting game and the Aledo Bearcats are State Champs again! The following day I had a signing that was very important to me for personal as well as professional reasons. First and foremost it was the official launch of, A Fairy Match in the Mushroom Patch’, it was at my local Barnes & Noble, and as CRM, my Mentor hosted the event and I did not want to disappoint. I also had the privilege of meeting a very special lady, Beverly Hutton.

During a book signing for, Mischief in the Mushroom Patch’, a lady I had never met purchased two copies. I couldn’t recognize her face, or point her out in a crowd.  But, I do know we must have spoken, because I handed her a business card and asked her specifically to let me know what she thought and weeks later she did just that! Her contact came in the form of an email. She introduced herself and described how she had read and enjoyed my book. She went on to say that her daughter would have loved it too. At the end of her beautiful email she made a request; a suggestion if you will. She said, “Amanda if I may ask, could you possibly create a character with a disability? My daughter was bound to a chair and I wasn’t supposed to have her for very long. I was blessed with her for longer than I thought, but she always asked me, ‘mommy where are the fairy tales for me?’  She would have loved this and so would the children from the camps she used to attend.”

I thought about that email before I replied, because it had touched me so. I emailed her back and said, “If you give me just a minute to think, I may be able to do that.” I had two major concerns. First and foremost, I had to be respectful of her request; secondly my mushroom patch and its characters were already in place. I did however manage to create the most beautiful little fairy you can imagine; her name is Pearle. Though Pearle is bound to a wheel chair, I refer to it throughout as her chariot. Although, the reader knows she has no use of her legs, there’s really no need to discuss this, since it’s always understood. All of the fairies know and accept her as is; but more importantly she is comfortable and loves herself too. It slows her down not one little bit and she is loved by all of the others in the patch. Her gift is to fly effortlessly when she is free to do so; it is the perfect trade off. She never complains and is happy all the time, because she knows no other way to be. The other fairies dive in her lap and she gives them rides to the bathing room and often plays her favorite game ‘make a ‘fairling green’, spinning as fast as she can in her chariot while the others try to stay aboard and try desperately not to turn green!

It was the oddest thing; when Beverly walked into Barnes & Noble I recognized her immediately; though I didn’t know her. We embraced and shared a moment only she and I understood. I was stunned when she pulled out the most beautiful photos I had ever seen; they were of course of her daughter, Jeni and she gave them to me! This book is dedicated to Jeni and Beverly bought several copies. As I signed the books, I asked her, “What will you do with all of these books?” Beverly said, “I shall take them to the hospitals that treated Jeni and children like her.” I was so touched that I asked her, “Do you have contacts there still, and if so, may I go with you?” She said, “Would you do that with me?” I assured her not only would I do that, but that would be ‘our thing’, in honor of Jeni from now on. We will visit those hospitals and read and talk about writing; it will bring us all so much joy, will it not!

Which brings me to another beautiful moment that was meant to be; that beautiful young couple at the game was from Aledo, the stadium was in Arlington and the book signing was in Fort Worth. During my signing that couple walked into Barnes & Noble to Christmas shop; we recognized each other immediately. They were as stunned as I was. There had been 27,330 people at the Dallas Cowboy’s Stadium the previous evening and yet, there I was in front of them; the author. They had no one to purchase my book for, but they did! I suggested they donate it to a children’s home or hospital; they named one immediately. “I happen to know for a fact I will be visiting that one,” I said. “When you donate this book, please tell them the author will come and read it. You can tell them that YOU know that for a fact!” 

We are surrounded by beautiful gifts; though often we cannot see them. I choose to take pleasure in the simple things; they bring me the most joy. I can’t hold them in my hands, look at them or touch them; but I can feel them deep within and that’s good enough for me!


My name is Amanda M. Thrasher; writer by heart first and author second to that. I was born in England but moved to Fort Worth, TX, when I was fourteen years old and reside there still. I have been writing stories and poems since I was nine years old. After leaving the corporate world to focus on my family, writing full time became a priority.  The Mischief series is very special to me; a story written for a woman I loved very much. It was my mother who said, “Amanda you write all of the time and yet send nothing in; send your work in, if only for me.”  My mother loved fairies and collected them all over her house and yard and was incredibly ill when she made the request. She never saw “Mischief in the Mushroom Patch” or “A Fairy Match in the Mushroom Patch” in print.  Mischief in the Mushroom Patch was written for her.

The Mischief series is written with the intent to bring back fairy tales in a delightful new way. I hope that I have managed to do this. I would like my little readers to escape momentarily into an unbelievable, believable, place, one filled with adventure. Though the books have gentle life lessons entwined throughout, the children learn them without realizing so. It is written purposely with polite characters, that judge each other not as demonstrated through their love of beautiful little Pearle. The characters are nice and kind because that’s the way it is supposed to be. “There’s a lot to be said for kind.” I personally believe our children are losing these types of classic fairy tales. No scary characters in the mushroom patch or good vs. evil, just whimsical and lovely, that too, specifically written that way.

I love the whole writing and creating process because I simply love words. To me writing is like beautiful art; unique to the writer that crafts them. I love the fairy world I have created and hope my readers do too. My favorite words…“Why not!”

Monday, December 20, 2010

Huffington Post

Good morning everyone: I wanted to share with you some wonderful news. Today, I am on the Huffington Post. If you have a chance, check it out. And thank you, always, for your support. It helps me so much!

With Love from Florida,  Rebecca

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Guest Post by Author Kim Wright

Kim Wright has been a freelance writer for 25 years with a special emphasis on food, wine and travel.  She lives in Charlotte NC and Love in Mid Air is her first novel. You can find her at  and

I teach writing workshops and one of the questions I'm frequently asked is at what point you should solicit feedback from other writers.  My thinking on this has changed over time  - the longer I write, the more eager I've become to get feedback earlier in the process, at least from amateur readers.

By “amateur” I mean people who aren’t agents, editors, or teachers in an MFA program.  It’s up to you who you ask, but it’s worth taking time to consider who might serve best in this crucial role of first readers. 

I only show work in progress to other writers.  A lot of my friends are writers so it’s an easy call to also make them my first readers.  For other people, avid readers work just as well.  And some brave souls use their spouses, lovers, mothers or siblings as first readers.   It’s really a matter of personal preference.  I like using writers because once they tell you what they think isn’t working – the beginning is slow, your narrator is coming off like a shrew, you have too many scenes of people sitting in restaurants talking – they often have suggestions for how you might correct this problem as well.   I appreciate this sort of feedback, but some writers find it oppressive.  They prefer getting raw reactions from people who represent their future readers, i.e., people who love books but aren’t writers, and who thus aren’t apt to offer so damn many suggestions.

But there’s one group you definitely don’t want as first readers:  talented, even brilliant writers who can’t seem to get working on anything of their own.  They’re blocked…they’re torn between two projects….they’re still recovering from the savage rejection they suffered in 1994….they’re waiting until they get their office feng shuied or their eldest son gets out of juvie…..The list of reasons that writers don’t write is endless, but the point is you can’t afford to deal with these people right now.  Yeah, I know they’re smart and I know they have all kinds of time on their hands.  They may even volunteer to read it.  If they do, just mumble something vague about not being quite ready to show your work yet. 

Because blocked writers tend to be bad readers.   They may be unconsciously jealous that you’re actually doing what they’re just talking about doing and be overly critical of your work.  They, again unconsciously, may try to talk you into writing the book they can’t write and will thus come back with extraordinarily unhelpful advice such as “This story would work much better if it was set in Paris on the brink of World War I.”   Or they may be blocked because they’re perfectionists and carry that same perfectionism to their read of your work, giving you a line edit when what you really need is a big-picture analysis of the book. 

 How many first readers do you need?  I’d say the perfect amount is between three and five.  For starters, different people are going to catch different things, so you want some variety in your first reader circle.  If you only have one or two people read it, any comments they make will have too much impact on your thinking.  Let’s say you have a rather graphic sex scene.  If you only had one first reader and she objected to the scene, there’s a chance that she’s coming out of a personal place.  Maybe she simply doesn’t like direct sexuality in books or something about the scene was triggering for her, so cutting that scene based on a single person’s read could well be a mistake.  

But if four people read it and they all thought the scene was too much, you need to consider cutting it.  Note that I said “consider.” You don’t have to cut it.  First readers are just that, readers, not ultimate judges of your work.  But if you show a manuscript to a variety of people and they all stumble over the same scene or dislike the same character, you owe it to yourself to take their comments seriously.  Nothing is more annoying than the writer who solicits feedback and then ignores it.  Most often these people were pretending to want critiques when they really just wanted praise, and serious readers soon tire of working with divas, no matter how talented they might be. 

 At the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want to have too many readers.  If you show work to ten people you’re likely to end up with such a mishmash of opinions that you’ll be confused.  Ellie loved the ending.  Josh felt it faded out.  Caroline felt the dialogue just needed some tweaking, and Mark insists that the real ending of the story is twenty pages earlier and the last chapter is superfluous.   Too much feedback can be paralyzing, worse than none at all.  If you try to incorporate everyone’s suggestions, your book may ended up with that “edited by committee” feeling sometimes seen in books that were spawned in MFA programs and have been subsequently workshopped to death.  These books don’t have any mistakes but they also don’t have any life.  The author listened to everyone, taking out any possibly offensive and therefore any unique parts of the manuscript, and the result was a story with all energy and individuality of a dial tone.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Finding of a Story by Cheryl Greenfield

Walking up the steps to the back door of the Lyon's mansion on a bright sunny autumn day, I thought of the person, “Miss Pat”, whom I would be interviewing for a writing invitation on The Bird Sisters blog -- thinking too of Rebecca Rasmussen who gave me this fantastic opportunity to write in a space designated for writers, novelists, and known authors who have published; moreover, a space for even someone like myself who is unpublished and as yet 'unknown'. So, what will I write about, I thought? It has to be about finding character and story in the impressions and surroundings and in the person I am now approaching. Thus, I spent two delightful and charming hours with an enigma.

She greets me cordially with a smile and her still noticeable southern accent. “Miss Pat” as she calls herself from her southern heritage from Mississippi is everything gracious. Charming and well coiffed and dressed, she smiles and invites me inside. She is wearing a long black dress that looks to be silk and a pink leather jacket along with black, silver, and pink jewelry well arranged. Her black sandals show well-pedicured pink polished toenails.

At this point, I am well aware of wearing denim capris and a purple sweater jacket over a purple tank. However, I do carry a great pewter colored leather bag and at this particular junction I have to say I fit the part of the observer, which a writer has to be. A writer is always on observation assessing, looking for nuance, and in this particular time and moment, I smell a marvelous aroma of some soup on the stove. It smells textural and is some bean soup I later find out in conversation. The parlor is high ceilings and dark forest green with embellishment of a bygone era, that long ago Victorian period when this home was actually built. Graciously she guides me into the parlor with dark woods, autumn decor is around in many ways displayed on round tables and in vases of textured flower arrangements that feel natural and inviting appreciation for in a quiet subdued way that I am aware of. The artist in me comes alive in this respect that I always notice decor and interior design and textural aspects along with the elements of design. Miss Pat has set the stage for a delightful experience.

Thus, I begin asking questions about how she became an innkeeper. Actually, it happened happenstance. She simply fell into this bed and breakfasting occupation while helping another friend who owned such an establishment and who asked for Miss Pat's help for staging mystery parties. That was twenty years ago. The home I found out was also bought happenstance! Now this is beginning not to be surprising from someone who has just told me she walks within 'a bubble' or 'with fairy dust on her shoulder' who just falls into all good things. How interesting this is! Few of us have this easy charming situational thing, and it is exciting to discover more facets of her background and character. As I sit and listen on a red couch in a well-appointed parlor, I think of the romantic dinners she describes she has for a couple. Discreet and romantic meals and times to talk, cherish, or explain between two people. The man rings a bell after the first course is served. What stories linger in my imagination afterward and later while musing on the conversation!

For a fact, I'm learning historical notes and a charming story of a woman who desired to join her husband going home back to Kansas after traveling in the air force and constant change always in this process making a home in moments spent in various homes along the way. However, this home is to be well cherished as the former owners had also done. This is Pat's philosophy: cherish the moments as a caretaker.

So heritage is important as well as making moments for family and friends and eventually for those guests who will reside in her quite elegant charming home that has a sense of quietude and congeniality extended in gracious manners and features that blend old with new. New features are a spa, plasma televisions throughout and computer access for the fast paced world and business guests who happen to find their way into her home and now in the adjoining mansion and restaurant her son is efficiently running. Wonderful menus are described on the up-to-date face book site that extol the homemade foods and entertainments that come into this small community. Surprisingly there are many such events and entertainments.

So a writer's delight is experiencing the feeling of all this activity within the area of these two mansions connected in family. So a writer/observer sees the opportunity for people watching, historical enactments, weddings, engagements, romantic meals, as well as restorative in the aspect of those coming home to have a place to stay or come to during a funeral or sudden illness of a family member, and, lastly, simply 'a place to come to heal after a tragedy or divorce.'

Much more could be said of this conversation and interview with a charming and beautiful southern woman who happenstance came to be an innkeeper and gracious woman found discipline at a door waiting to give house tours come rain or shine dressed in the 1890's fashion costume of a long red dress and draping pearls who has a ready smile waiting! Indeed, the discipline and management skill shines through in the conversation. It has been a stimulating scintillating conversation full of richness and detail.

It provides mental food for much thinking of possible novels and characters. Who lived here? Well, that answer was delightful as well. During one of the usual tours, a man appeared two years ago suddenly and Miss Pat asked him to join the scheduled tour. It so happens he was a descendent of the first owners of the two homes, bankers from Boston, and this is so much more to this story but time and space cannot tell it, here.

Suffice it to say there is much an author can find in such a setting with such an atmosphere and richness. I take my leave from this kind and gracious woman’s environment of subtle hues, subtle textures, rich stories, love of home and hearth, people of all sorts coming and going surround me and my imagination-- a wellspring for writing! For one who loves to write and experience on levels of creativity this is the place to come and be richly embraced within!

Thank you, Miss Pat, for the uniqueness and certain beauty of home and hearth outwardly extended! It was a pleasure to sit with you for a spell smelling wonderful aromas, listening to a vital southern voice telling me a wonderful up to date story with such local history and such vivacious vitality! For a certainty the writer that resides within me wants more! Yes, this is the process and it is the finding of a story in a rich heart, a warming hearth and, lastly, in the inside a lovely woman's heart who is a cherisher of all the elements of heart and who exudes joy in the sharing her own personal story.
Link to The Lyons Twin Mansions:

Cheryl Greenfield is an aspiring writer who has a rich education in the humanities/arts. Currently, Cheryl is working to do professional storytelling events for children using her own stories and that of favored authors to create moments of inspiration for children and adults alike. She is also working on some oil paintings depicting Kansas prairie grass as well as pastoral scenes and working on a grant proposal in conjunction with two storytelling/art projects in KS and MO.

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."