Craft your message by listening. One word can change everything!

Mike Salama promotes his greenhouse by explaining why he is not a salami!

Strangers may be giving you the blueprint to better writing. Just listen.

Humor is a great way to tap into those accidental inspirations.

Enter one greenhouse owner (in Boone, Iowa), someone who pays attention to the simplest things. For example, his name gets mispronounced by many.

What to do? He faced the choice of getting mad or getting noticed. With a straight face and wry smile, Mike Salama made the most of hearing newcomers botch his name as “Mike Salami.”

Mike found a local teammate to create a chuckle-filled commercial. Bill Gebhart Projects collaborated. Bill is a crosstown creative with a national clientele. Mike picked someone with the experience and talent to unite words and images.

Mike and Bill teamed to create an Internet response with viral potential. No one who sees this will forget Mike (or his “growing” business) ever again.


Writers, don’t get derailed

What’s wrong with your writing project? When did it jump the tracks?

Are you trying to save the world, train children or some other lofty dream?

Well, stop it!

Remember when you first started writing? You wanted to tell a story. You wanted to share an idea. I bet you were having fun back then.

Don’t become a trainwreck-in-progress. Write something you’d like to read.


What’s not to love about Darling, I Love You?

Yes, I admire any book that has a subtitle, “Poems from the Hearts of Our Glorious Mutts and All Our Animal Friends.” The paperback’s $17 pricetag is a bit chilling, however.

Yes, I adore the illustrations of Patrick (Mutts) McDonnell. His art breathes life into words.

I had never experienced any of Daniel Ladinsky’s heart-warming poetry. Unfortunately, I read Ladinsky’s acknowledgements, too.

Here, he gives a nod to assistant Melissa LaScaleia. Some of the verses were penned by her alone. Others were collaborations between Ladinsky and LaScaleia. Making this poetry sound more like a science experiment, Ladinsky tells of staging a blind test with illustrator McDonnell.

“…in a blind test we slipped some of her work with haiku and renga into the over 1000 we submitted to Patrick for this volume.”

Sorry, sir. My enjoyment was overshadowed by wishes to see LaScaleia getting a cover credit.

Yes, I enjoyed this book. Meanwhile, I’ll be ready to read any more writing by Melissa LaScaleia. Your day will come!


There Is No Good Card For This provides the perfect plan for comforting our suffering loved ones

There Is No Good Card For This: What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful and Unfair to People You Love

By Kelsey Crowe, Ph.D and Emily McDowell (HarperOne, $25.99)

Don’t be fooled by what might be 2017’s longest book title. There Is No Good Card For This is one of this year’s most useful, uplifting volumes.

Two empathy visionaries make this book sparkle. Dr. Kelsey Crowe founded “Help Each Other Out,” an organization famed for its “Empathy Boot Camps.” She teams with Emily McDowell, an author-artist who fought Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 24. McDowell created “Empathy Cards,” beautiful (often funny!) greeting cards that bring support to those facing death, disease, divorce and other emotional roller-coasters.

Their book begins with one huge lesson for those afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing to someone suffering. “If you’re choosing between saying something and saying nothing, you’re almost always better off saying something.”

In other words, an ill or bereaved person may deem you more insensitive for quietly disappearing and avoiding an uncomfortable issue. Those who show up and sincerely try, are the role models the authors tout. Simply saying “I’m sorry” may work wonders, they note.

This book’s sound advice is wrapped in McDowell’s charming illustrations. Her calligraphy of empathy ideas transforms the book with the feel of a personal letter from the artist.

How about those meddling do-gooders, when their so-called caring does more harm than good? Who wants to be those guys? The authors define the two fingernails-on-chalkboard types as the “foister” or the “fretter.”

The foisters rush into a situation, slinging unrequested advice and unwanted gestures. Fretters are worriers, grabbing all attention away from the afflicted party. Why didn’t the ill person return a phone call? Are they worse? (No. they may just be busy, tired or sad, especially after all the non-stop attention.)

Crowe and McDowell crash through myths and misconceptions, such as “Three Empathy Roadblocks.” Some of us fear saying, or doing, the wrong thing at the wrong time. Others are afraid they have no time. The authors urge us to be honest and authentic with ourselves in difficult situations, instead of expecting perfection.

I’d compare these empathy advocates to Doctor Phil (if he was double-parked with the motor running.) For instance, Crowe and McDowell underscore the importance of empathic listening with the subtitle “Learning to Shut Up.” Bullseye!

Most valuable in this book are cheat-sheet actionable details. The authors created lists of “Go-To Phrases.” For potentially good or bad comments, the two categories are compared in two columns: “Instead of This” and “Try This.”

Scenario encounters allow readers to see social missteps unfold. “Seeing It In Action” provides a post-game recap of what was good (or what could have been done better).

This book is a keeper. Clergy would benefit from observing the straightforward, non-denominational kindness the authors demonstrate. In fact, There Is No Good Card For This is a book anyone can use, share and enjoy. Even in what seems like’s worst times, all of us have the power to make a difference.



Writers: Do you count your failures, or your hits?

Ted Williams, seen on this 1948 Leaf card, set a batting average record in 1941. Nevertheless, he failed more than he succeeded.

Ted Williams, seen on this 1948 Leaf card, set a batting average record in 1941. Nevertheless, he failed more than he succeeded.

Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941, the last hitter to exceed the amazing .400 mark for an entire season.

No one tarnishes this bit of history by noting Williams made an out more than half the time. Translated: he failed more than he succeeded.

In your queries, proposals and submissions, which do you count?

No Valentine’s card yet? Write a do-it-yourself alternative

Andrew Gold needed a whole song. You can produce a hit in just two sentences.

Andrew Gold needed a whole song. You can produce a hit in just two sentences.

There’s no need to stand in line in the greeting card aisle. Let others fight over the last “To Wife” offering.

Who needs a Valentine? Your parent, spouse, offspring?

Go home. Get a piece of paper.

Simply write THANK YOU. Then, add one sentence telling why you are grateful to have that person in your life.

Love is gratitude.

Don’t worry about pink paper or red envelopes. Your one-of-a-kind words will sparkle for untold holidays to come. That’s something Hallmark will never match.

SCRATCH: Brave book attempts to convince authors to discuss the money they make

scratch-bookAuthor-editor Manjula Martin reminds me of an Olympic diver.

Dives get scored on their excellence, as well as their difficulty levels.

Martin should get a medal for her creative courage. In Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, she goes for the gold in attempting to get authors to reveal how they make a living from the written word.

Does she succeed? That depends on who the interviewee is. Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, explains how her seemingly-large book advances seemed smaller when spread out over four years. She reveals that her newfound acclaim was punctuated by credit card debt.

Other authors get sidetracked talking about how it feels to be an author. What does success mean to them? In more than one occasion, Martin wants authors to talk about their social class standing as a working author.

The specifics of money disappear quickly in such cases. Some, like Austin Kleon, flatly refuse to give numerical specifics. In other instances, Martin asks how much an advance was for someone’s best-known book. The occasional figures seem to mean little when tight-lipped subjects won’t offer any other fiscal details of their work.

Martin’s interviews are flanked by numerous essay contributions from authors. Ghostwriter Sari Botton offers an illuminating explanation of how her little-known trade works. Novelist Alexander Chee praises superstar author and teacher Annie Dillard as one of his greatest influences in college. She estimated that nonfiction writers make three to five times the money fiction writers do. Then, Dillard urged students to break into print through essay writing.

In a majority of the essays within Scratch, the writers feel the need to address their pre- and post-emotional states upon finding paying work through writing. These detours make this reader think that Hmmm…How Does It Feel to Be An Author? may have been an alternative title.

Nevertheless, Martin inspires simply through her desire to pull back the curtain upon writing for pay. Once, many authors may have been shamed to admit they took ANY money for their creative endeavors. Keeping pay a secret has aided only publishers, not fellow creatives. Martin is wise in beginning to Scratch the surface upon a once-taboo topic.





That next writing project idea may be in your hands right now

(Photo credit: Jurii/Wikimedia commons)

(Photo credit: Jurii/Wikimedia commons)

You don’t need mentoring.

You don’t need to attend a writing conference.

If you want a clue as to what genre you should be writing, just look at yourself.

Is there a backpack or library bookbag near? Go peek in that. I’ll wait.

Welcome back.

Did you find fiction or non-fiction? How about the age range and reading level?

Stop trying to guess what the market wants. Decide what YOU want.

If you don’t want to read the published cousin of what you’re writing, why should you expect us to?

The ‘war’ on words: does desensitized slang improve writing?




I may be sticking with a limited vocabulary this year.

I can’t subscribe to the “so bad it’s good” school of slang.

As in, “He was great. He killed!”

Or, “Awesome art. Totally sick!”

Let’s not even delve into the “War on Drugs” slogan.

I believe some writers hope for fame by desensitizing readers. These wordsmiths wish that shocking words might be more shocking in a positive context.

I’ll pass. These words have real, original meanings. Pain-filled meanings.  By jumping on the “opposites attract” bandwagon, trendy phrases disrespect what the recipients of these words experienced.

Most of all, I would compare slang to a carton of milk. Both need “best if used by…” dates.

How Harry S. Truman helped one writer

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

— President Harry S. Truman

I put Truman’s words to the test as my first literary workout of 2017.

When I learned that a local young woman had been selected to perform with the Salvation Army Tournament of Roses parade, I wanted to spread the joy.

rose-bowl-paradeSure, the weekly paper ran a feature. However, would anyone else ever know?

I vowed to query the media for a story that wasn’t my own.

I rushed an e-mail to the “news tip” address of the nearest NBC affiliate. The station carried two hours of parade coverage. Why not follow up the special event with an area angle?

I sent the URL link to the weekly newspaper feature. I jotted a couple of sentences about why the story was perfect for this TV station. Then, I included a contact number for the woman’s pastor.

Boom! Reporter Jannay Towne covered the story from three different perspectives. Her fine feature was complete just hours after parade programming ended.

Do you ever catch yourself starting a sentence with “Someone should’ve…”? Or “Why didn’t anyone do…”? Today, I stopped being a backseat driver. I grabbed the wheel.

My motto for 2017 will be “why not?” Try. Try every day.

Worry less. Write more!