Technical writers or non fiction writers scribble to pay the bills and for the love of the analytical or the exercise of truth or deception.

Fiction authors write to illuminate their world or escape it.

Whichever kind of writer, it's all about staying alive and helping or entertaining others.

The Writing Life

Like most writers, I have a love of reading and the power of words. When I was younger, I read everything I could get my hands on, but I don’t consider myself well read. I consumed books like a starved person, so quickly I hardly knew what I had read. By some strange process of osmosis, I learned from everything I read, but I cannot give you an erudite discussion of characters, plots, or authors. I can only tell you it’s lodged some where in the core of my being and informs my writing.

In addition to reading, I’ve spent a life time writing---from that first elementary school composition to my college days when I studied French literature and wrote explications de texte. Along the way, I fell into technical writing--to put food on the table and pay bills. In the 90s, I had the good fortune to take a dialog class with Sol Stein, former owner of Stein & Day publishers in New York and a prolific author. That led to his California-based writers’ group, Chapter One. It was a rigorous, ego-bruising experience, but I was intent on learning everything I could about fiction writing. A few years ago, I also had the good fortune to study with another writer, Louella Nelson, an experienced romance writer and teacher of fiction writing. She provided a different perspective and balance to my writing.

My novel, DREAMING OF LAUGHING HAWK, a mainstream, Sixties era novel, is available on Amazon in print and ebook (also available in Canada, Europe, Japan, and Brazil). Download a free sample. If you like it, I hope you'll download the book and post a review on Amazon.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Short Fiction: The Seer

I have an ordinary name: Celia. And while I lead an ordinary life, if there truly is such a thing, I must admit to an extraordinary profession. Some might call me a psychic, but I like the term seer better. I see what my clients prefer not to see.

When a client walks into my place of business, they are left to idle in the reception area for a few minutes to contemplate the paintings on the wall and the sculptures and ceramics on the tables. There is soft background music and comfy chairs. I want to take down that wall that keeps them from seeing.

People come to me for various reasons—for help in finding something or someone, to seek guidance about career or relationships, or to make me look like a fool.

Today, into my office strolls a tall willowy young woman. In her early forties, I guess. Her attire is expensively simple: blue jeans; a loose, lacy white blouse; and knee-high leather boots. She could be a star on Housewives of Orange County. I note her long, polished finger nails; the tawny-streaked hair artfully tousled; and the bangle earrings. She has a cool, dry handshake that has no more strength than the fluttering of butterfly wings. A deep breath could blow her away if her over-sized breasts did not anchor her to the earth.

“My friends and I were at lunch,” she explains, pulling out a chair next to my claw-foot table. “We thought it would be fun to go to a psychic.” Her eyes settle on the candles, the crystal ball, and the deck of Tarot cards and her idea of fun and games seems to wane. I am aware of her chattering friends in the reception area and I realize she would not be here sitting before me if they had not pushed her into coming.

“These are just tools.” I seat myself across from her. “There is no magic or anything to fear in them. They merely act as triggers for the sixth sense, which we all possess if we choose to use it. Sometimes I hear a voice, sometimes I see an image, other times I have a feeling in my gut.”

She folds her hands in her lap and looks down.

“I usually start with a few moments of silent meditation and then you can tell me how I can be of service to you.”

I close my eyes. “Divine Spirit show us your love and wisdom. Open our hearts and minds to your truth.” I bow my head and pray to see this woman and her life. Already I know I must tread carefully because she is a fragile soul. I listen to her soft breathing. She is nervous, troubled.

When I finally open my eyes, I reach for the Tarot deck.

“Do you read palms?”

“Sometimes,” I reply, “but I usually prefer Tarot. It is easier for the spirits to communicate with me through the cards.”

I place the deck in her hands and tell her to shuffle them several times.

I take the deck back when she is through. “What would you like to know?”

“Well, I guess I’d like to know where I go from here. I’m feeling kind of lost and I can’t seem to focus on anything. My doctor prescribed Paxil for me, but it makes me feel emotionally numb. Like my feet are stuck in quicksand.”

“Let’s begin with a Celtic spread to orient myself.” I shuffle through the cards until one by one, they present themselves to me and I lay them out. I stare at the cards for some time. I point out each card and the meaning of its placement in the spread and its relationship to other cards. She nods but seems confused. “All these cards have a very important message for you.”

She is listening.

“You must find your purpose in life. Embrace the discipline of doing something meaningful and challenging.”

“What should I do? I don’t seem to have enough time as it is to take care of my family and home.”

I hear the hollow echo of untruth in her words. “No, you must go deep into your heart and ask yourself what you can give to the world. You will be unhappy until you can answer that question. Also, you need to learn to be more organized.”

She gives me this helpless look. This is not what she was expecting from a reading.

“I know this is not an easy task for you, but you must do it for your happiness and for the happiness of your family. Get a job or go back to school. Learn to meditate. Learn to schedule your activities and responsibilities.”

“My husband is so stressed out. What should I do about that?”

“Learn to be more independent. Again, find your purpose.”

“What kind of lives will my children have?”

I close my eyes. I am seeing too much. “Provide them with love and the discipline of a well-run household. But most of all find your purpose. You must find yourself first in order to be the best wife and mother.”

She sighs. She does not like the homework assignment I have given her. She is afraid of the world. It is a hard journey to embark on when you’ve neglected your soul for so long. I look into her clear blue eyes and I know she will lose her husband if she cannot change. I cannot tell her she risks losing the respect of her children.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” she asks.

“Yes, although I don’t give it much thought. My focus is on the here and now, but truly it seems to me the past, the present, and the future are all happening at the same time.”

She frowns. “Do you do past life readings?”

“Not usually. It takes a lot of energy—yours, mine. What would you do with the information if you had it?”

She gives me a blank look.

“Through prayer and love, you can break the bonds of any karmic debt. Keep your focus on the here and now and the discipline your soul must exercise.” I am not reaching her.

She fidgets in her chair.

“Start by learning to meditate and asking your spirit guides for their help.” Before my eyes, I see a man who has grown weary and impatient. Her neediness has exhausted him.

“Your husband is tall and dark, yes? Handsome?”

She blushes.

“I see that he is standing on the threshold waiting for you. If you love him, you will make the necessary changes in your self. You have beautiful children that require the strength and wisdom of your guidance.”

She shrugs and smiles sheepishly.

“Do not fail in the task before you.” I feel the weight of the anguish and despair that is going to be hers if she cannot see the man standing on the threshold of decision.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Short Fiction: Prince Charming

My cousin Mariah and I share the same birthday. A month before we both turn 30, she rings me up and says we should celebrate. I hesitate. What does she mean by celebrate? Our lives are so different from one another. Mariah is an entrepreneur of some sort, married to a real estate developer with beaucoup bucks. I think she owns an exclusive dress shop on Rodeo. I don’t know who I am—just an unmarried paralegal with dreams of going to medical school.

“Fly out to L.A.” she says.

“Well, I don’t know if I can.”

“You can. I already bought you a ticket. I’ll email you the confirmation.”

“But . . .”

“No buts. The only thing you have to worry about is a nice dress for a spectacular evening out. I’m sure you can find something in my shop.”

“I’m stunned,” I say.

“You will be when I introduce you to this fantastic guy. He owns casinos, hotels, and . . .”

“Don’t,” I reply. “Prince Charming never works out.” I doubt we have the same idea of charming.

Mariah tosses her long blond locks and laughs. “It will be a small group of friends. We will be celebrating on Donnie’s yacht. You’re going to love this guy.”

I almost say it sounds like you love this guy, but I don’t. My cousin means well.

And so a month later I find myself on Donnie’s yacht with Mariah, her husband Mike, and a small group of their friends. We’re sailing to Catalina. The music is playing a little too loud and the champagne is flowing. I feel a little queasy and ask the bartender for scotch. I can’t stand the champagne bubbles bursting up my nose. I’m dressed in a sleek black dress. I have to admit it’s a nice dress, but it was way beyond my budget. Still it makes me feel as neat as the scotch in my glass. I’ve pulled by blond hair back into a chignon and the only jewelry I have is a pair of bangle earrings and my grandmother’s platinum cocktail ring set with a large pink topaz. This is as good as I get.

I glance out at the beauty of the ocean and then back at the cluster of people dressed for an elegant dinner party. I try my best to participate in the conversation. Clearly, I’m hanging out with the wrong crowd. They look expensive, they talk money, and they must spend it faster than they can talk. God, I’m such a bumpkin and a poor one at that. I know what my cousin Mariah is thinking--if I was half smart, I’d be figuring out how I could get my hooks into this Donnie fellow that she’s been raving about.

A few couples are dancing, but most are sitting around and sipping champagne and talking about their important jobs, their investments, politics, travel, and religion. Although most are young professionals (and you would think they might be liberal), I’m guessing there are a few conservative Republicans in this group because they talk disparagingly of welfare moms, illegal immigrants, and lazy unemployed people. I resolve to keep my mouth shut, but the scotch is beginning to erode my carefully composed demeanor.

Donnie offers a toast to us birthday girls and gives me a sly wink as everyone clinks glasses. He thinks he’s irresistible. I smile as sweetly as I can. Mariah flashes a big toothy grin at me—teeth so white and perfect that I catch myself wondering how much that mouth cost.

Donnie likes to talk about himself a lot. Every so often he glances over as if to assess the effect of his performance. He has opinions about everything and his is the only opinion that matters. I expect if you disagreed with him, he might throw you overboard. He’s got to be 40 or so, not that that matters, but right now I’d settle for an uncomplicated boy with no pretensions to greatness. My eyes wander to the cute bartender. He catches me looking at him and I quickly glance away.

“So Miss Shawna,” Donnie says with a sigh as he settles on the seat next to me. “Tell me a little about yourself. You’ve been sitting here looking all quiet and mysterious. I mean, that always works on me, but Mariah tells me you are a fascinating girl.”

“Really?” I manage a cynical huff. “I’m pretty simple. “

“You’re beautiful.” His eyes look me up and down. “As beautiful as any of the actresses and models I know. If you need an entrée, I know everyone in the business on both coasts.”

I smile and look into his eyes, feeling a little nauseous. This is where I’m supposed to bat my lashes, exclaim ‘really?’ and pant with excitement. He’s handsome, but I don’t like him.

“Mariah tells me you work in a law office.”

“Yes, I’m a paralegal for the time being. I’m hoping to go back to school.”

“Law school? I can always use a good lawyer.”

“No, med school.”

“Hmmm.”

“Guess you have no use for doctors, huh?”

He laughs. “No, I’m healthy as a bull.”

We engage in this teeter-totter conversation. He’s trying to charm me. I’m trying to behave myself and conceal my unkind thoughts. I think he’s a little puzzled about why his usual song and dance is not working on me. I don’t know. His ego sucks all the oxygen out of the atmosphere. I am not stupid. I know all these other women here think he’s wonderful. They would understand if he ignored me, but they would not understand why I would like to dismiss him. He’s a boring blast of hot air and what saves him from anonymity is flash and cash. I sneak a look at the bartender. I wonder if he can carry on an intelligent conversation about something other than himself.

Suddenly, a sharp, sickening pain hits my stomach and my scotch and appetizers are propelled out of my mouth. I can’t move to the edge of the boat fast enough. I hang my head over the side and heave uncontrollably. Mariah is at my side offering me a cocktail napkin. I want to die of humiliation. As I raise my head and look back at Donnie, he is wiping off his pant leg and shoe, a look of complete disgust on his face.

When we finally arrive in Catalina, I beg to remain on the boat while Donnie and his guests take the shore boat in for dinner. They leave me lying on a bed below. Once they are gone I come up on deck and find a comfortable place to sit and observe the harbor. The bartender brings me a glass of ginger ale to settle my stomach.

“Thank you. . .”

“Name’s Jim.” He leans against the railing and lights up a cigarette.

“Shawna.”

A comfortable silence settles in around us. We watch the slow descent of the sun. I sip the ginger ale. Then I hear his soft, low chuckle and he turns to look over his shoulder at me. His grin is broad and mischievous.

I understand and roll my eyes. That is how we begin.



Monday, June 29, 2015

Social Media: The Double-Edged Sword

I don't know about you, but some days I feel overwhelmed by the amount of "stuff" that ends up in my email accounts and flows through all the social media accounts I have. Yesterday I did something that felt great: I killed an account--LinkedIn. Let me tell you that it felt good. I maintained this account when I was working full time as it provided a basic networking service. (Yes, if you want a useful, fully functional experience, you have to pay a monthly fee.) Later I adapted my account to serve my writing interests and book promotion. But LinkedIn didn't serve me in a way that engaged. I no longer cared about maintaining business contacts, and no matter how I tried to inform people in my profile that I no longer was a technical writer, people kept sending me job offers or other information that clearly didn't match my revised profile. So I hit the Delete button and it's gone baby, gone. I feel a little freer.

Then there's the infamous Facebook. I admit it is a convenient way to keep tabs on family and friends and communicate with them. But then maybe I should pick up the phone or hop on a plane or just sit down and write them a real letter. Facebook gets junked up with ads and things I find annoying so I have to spend time filtering them out. It becomes an obsessive and mostly boring compulsion. How many videos of cute dogs and little kids do you have to see? How many selfies from a bar across town? How many obnoxious postings about politics and religion? I don't know but it just seems like Facebook is sometimes a dumping ground for all the stupid stuff you can accumulate in a day. I hang in there because every now and then I can glean a useful piece of information from the mess that is Facebook. Another annoying thing is that Facebook is always changing its complex privacy settings. It makes you feel like you're traversing a mine field.

Twitter? Meeh. It's a good mental challenge, I guess, to see if you can concisely convey something in 140 characters or less, but why? I do use Twitter occasionally and I try to embrace it, but once again I find it annoying and another garbage heap of information that you have to wade through no matter how carefully you set up your filters. I do not use Twitter for family or friends. It's strictly for hanging out with strangers with similar interests as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, there are all kinds of social media you can sign up for out there in cyberspace, but my favorite so far is Pinterest. First of all, it's visual. I've collected catalogs of images of things that interest me, truly  interest me--photography, cuisine, watercolor, ceramics, gardening, writing, foreign languages, and on and on. The focus of Pinterest is sharing information and ideas. You can link a visual you post with information you want to share--a technique, an idea, a recipe, etc. You can pin items from other users to your personal bulletin boards and you can share you're bulletin boards with your followers--or not. What I like about Pinterest is that it makes your brain work and it gives you a forum for sharing information without all the stupidity that seems to attend so much of social media. So here I am embracing information overload, but it's beautiful. It's information my visually-oriented brain can process. (Yes, I must have that recipe. No, I don't want to implement that landscape design.)

These days I'm thinking how I can make social media work for me rather than be something I want to stab with a steely knife. I don't want to drift into traffic reading my email on my iPhone and get run over. I don't want to spend hours involved in clicking on meaningless videos or quizzes and games. I don't want to deal with all the ego, venom, and misinformation that passes for communication. I just want to find a useful way to communicate that doesn't feel like a burden. What about you?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Where are We Going?


We are all creatures who seek joy and comfort—a beautiful place in the world, the company of someone we love, a good meal, shelter, health, freedom and peace. But the world is a troubled place. It has always been troubled but perhaps now it is far more so as we have overpopulated the world and our sins are finally catching up with us. Mother Earth is in a rage. She storms and shakes. She curses us with erratic weather, fire, floods, famine, disease and drought. We live shoulder to shoulder and the effects of our individual actions are felt by one another. Those-that-have try to insulate themselves and protect what they claim for themselves, cursing the have-nots. We close our eyes to the poverty, disease, and moral corruption surrounding us or we write a check and pray it all goes away. We squabble about God and do evil in His name. Some, however, understand that God is love and that he created the earth beneath our feet and the stars and planets in the heavens. A few understand that a blade of grass is a miracle and the earth is a living, breathing entity. She is our mother. We cannot live without her. Before we sever the umbilical cord, we had better find another place to live.





There are two good men in recent news who are warning us against our complacence: Pope Francis and Barack Obama. They have both made enemies by speaking the truth.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Definition of a Princess








If you are born healthy in mind and body, if you have the love and the good care of family, then you are royalty in every sense of the word.

To be four years old and to live such a life is magical, even in the face of future misfortune because once a princess, always a princess. It is a blessing that can carry one through even a difficult life. (Of course this theory also applies to princes, but that is a story for another day.)

Princess Kylie is an old soul--confident, happy, clever, wily, strong-willed, sensitive to the feelings of others, and perceptive. She engages easily with others but just as easily drifts off into a world of her own imagination. She can be a rowdy comrade to her brother or a fairy silently tripping through the woods in pursuit of butterflies.

I often wonder how this granddaughter of mine will turn out. She has clearly been blessed. How will she wield her magic wand before the weight of the world comes down on her shoulders? Will she stand strong and wise?

In the meantime, I am growing and storing a supply of chamomile because my little lady always demands chamomile tea with milk and sugar when she visits.



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Movie Review: Far from the Madding Crowd

It was a Friday night and I needed some escapist mind candy so I talked my husband into going to the movies.

There was a huge crowd of teenagers queued up at the ticket counters. I don't know what action-adventure or fantasy their minds craved, but mine needed something peaceful and far away in time--neither here and now nor impending sci-fi doom and gloom.

We checked into the nearly empty theater that was showing Far from the Madding Crowd based on Thomas Hardy's classic novel set in Victorian England. I've never read the novel so I wasn't quite sure what I was in for except some mindless romance.

The story is simple: a beautiful spirited young woman (Bethsheba Everdene) inherits a large, run-down country estate and sets off to become the new owner/manager. In this new life, she encounters three men: Gabriel Oak, the sheepherder who works for her; Mr. Boldwood, a well-to-do bachelor and neighbor; and Sergeant Frank Troy, a dashing soldier. The story revolves around the hardships she encounters and the men who want to win her affections. It is a romance and a study in relationships and personalities, but I have to say I found the characters somewhat two-dimensional. The dashing soldier was clearly cut from cardboard and neither his character nor his actions added up. Nor did it make any sense why Bethsheba would be interested in him except that he was handsome. Mr. Boldwood's character also seemed a bit disconnected from normal motivations.

All in all, it was pleasing mind candy, but it left you scratching your head in wonderment at the plausability of some of the characters' actions and the absence of adequate motivation. It was too much melodrama for me although I enjoyed the pastoral scenery and being removed from the realities of 2015.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

On the Way to Chernobyl


I have only a few more radiation treatments to go and it won't be soon enough. The other patients on the shuttle bus to the radiology center are also anxious to be finished with this phase of their treatment. The newcomers are just plain anxious and afraid.

We have all developed a gallows sense of humor over the last few weeks. We call the radiology center Chernobyl. The inept male nurse who administers chemo treatments is tagged Vlad the Impaler. And yet strangely enough we profusely thank the bus driver every day for safely getting us to the treatment center and bringing us back home. The future with a cancer diagnosis is uncertain but we all want to be home for dinner.

In my mind, I have worked my way through this disease. Cancer bores me. I can't live in fear. Whatever the outcome, I intend to live my life until I drop. I choose not to paint myself a gloom and doom prognosis and live within the confines of that belief. Somehow one has to allow the mind and body to push through disease and affliction.

And so I go about my life, engaging with all that I care about--family, writing, gardening, painting, cooking a good meal, travel and so on. There is much to celebrate in life and much to nurture and protect.


Watercolor Can Be Challenging & Relaxing


Nature is Full of Beautiful Forms and Colors

Food is Always Comfort (I love quiche)

Family is Best of All