The Writer’s Bio

When asked to create a piece for a website, newspaper, magazine, literary journal, or any other source, I jump right in. Ideas flow freely and with great creative insight. Inspiration is endless.

But in the face of producing a Personal Bio, I freeze up or run, or both. Who am I? What makes me noteworthy? Who’s really gonna care?!

A Universal Curse

You might be surprised to find that numerous other writers have described the same experience. From freelancers to literary scribes, this is a challenge for many. How do we move from sketching out an extraordinary world, created in the mind, to honestly and accurately portraying our skills and experience?

I say, “Briefly.”

As a writer, I look at the bios of my colleagues and classify them thusly:

  1. Bold and grandiose
  2. Meek and boring
  3. Written by a publishing company

I hate them all. But I do read them. Honest.

I might want to know where they live or what else they’ve written, but I don’t want to hear about how much better their credentials are or how many awards they’ve earned. My insecurity about such things can be profound.

Besides, once you have my bio, can the request for a head shot be far behind? Don’t get me started on how the camera loves me…not!

Will You Like Me?

The thing is, once my bio is in print, I’m there for the whole world to see…and criticize. It is  the equivalent of standing on a stage in your underwear. Vulnerable. No more chances to explain or add comments. That’s it, that’s all you know about me. Yikes.

I just submitted my recently revised bio. This one will introduce me at The Midwest Writer’s Institute, in a panel where I will be presenting on the topic, The Benefits of Critique.

Ironic, right?

If nothing  else, the damn thing is short. I can promise the attendees a well thought out, informative presentation and a lively discussion. Plus I think I am moderately entertaining, essential for a nighttime panel where the choice is me or a night out at Madison’s finest brew house.  I’m sure you’ll hear about it if I’m not.

Now that the bio is turned in, I wonder: can I get a Lifestyle Lift before next Thursday?

I sure don’t want to scare anybody.

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My Kind of Fiction: Social Mysteries

When you say, “I’m a writer” to the man or woman on the street, they invariably respond with some version of the query, “What do you write?”

I have tried to respond with the generic, “All types of stuff” or even the more descriptive, but still terribly vague, “Fiction.” Then, in response to the glazed or puzzled look on their face, rush to explain. No matter what I say, they stop listening after the first few “blah, blah, blahs”.

We writers like to ramble.  The first written effort is often an idea dump, a written rendition of “blah, blah, blah.” It really isn’t meant for human consumption. Then that  rambling sentence is sculpted and crafted into a gem, whittling away letters and words until we’ve created a near-perfect expression of our idea.

But talking is different.

Today I am making an effort to communicate more effectively, with the thoughtful crafting of words and ideas I give to my written expression. I have crafted a new response to your question, “What do you write?”

I write Social Mysteries. Unlike an actual Mystery novel, there is no dead body or crime to solve. Instead, my characters must solve the social dilemmas that humans face everyday under stressful and challenging conditions.  It’s real-life stuff, crafted to provoke pondering. Meant to inspires the questions:

  1. What will they do?
  2. What would I do?
  3. What should people do under such circumstances?
  4. Is there always one right thing to do?

That’s the kind of mystery I like to explore, the type that lives in the human psyche. In Social Mysteries, you won’t find a typical villain. No Sherlock and Watson or Castle and Beckett to save the day.

As a result of reading a Social Mystery, I want us to think. And discuss. And change. Maybe grow. Definitely laugh at ourselves.

Someone once suggested I write with more closure, a happy ending with all the problems solved. Wouldn’t that be more commercially successful? Maybe. But I was always the kid who argued for all the answers on a multiple choice test. When you think about life’s possibilities, can’t more than one answer create a solution?

Humans love to live in the black and white: each problem has a right or wrong answer, no gray area, no confusion. But I like options. For that flaw, strength. In a fearful moment, courage. The road, and the road less traveled. Choices.

Options give my characters freedom. More than one  answer/action/choice could be correct, providing a satisfying conclusion. In this way, writing Social Mysteries allows me to be right more often.

And, really, what gal doesn’t like that?

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Word of Art Information and Links

Word of Art Information and Links.

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Authors and Artists Team Up for Word of Art

If you read my last post, you can come hear me speak and count the “um’s”! See you at the Word of Art reception & Exhibit, everyone!

In Print Writers

Small Samples of the Artwork for Word of Art Small Samples of the Artwork

Over a hundred poems, essays and short stories were submitted by more than fifty writers for Word of Art. Artists selected thirty of them to serve as inspiration to create a canvas using the medium of their choice.  The words and artwork will be published in a beautiful hardcover, full-color book.

All lovers or art and the written word are invited to the Word of Art Exhibition and Book Release Reception held Friday, September 5, 2014 from 4:00 to 8:00 pm in the Celebration Room of Emmanuel Lutheran Church (920 Third Avenue, Rockford).  The event is sponsored by In Print with cooperation with the Center for Arts and Spirituality and Art@Emmanuel.

Attendees will have an opportunity to meet authors and artists, see the original artwork on display and listen as the writers read their pieces.  There will be a vote on…

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Sister Mary Catherine was right: diction is important!

Recently, I was volunteering at one of my favorite historical sites, Beckman Mill museum in Rock County, Wisconsin. A TV producer walked in with his camera and assistant, and started filming. Not unusual. Lots of people film this beautiful and historically significant site.


As a docent at the museum, I’m comfortable talking about the place and answering questions about what happened here a hundred years ago. But here’s the rub: the guy says he wants to film me speaking about the mill park, how the site has been restored, who did it, and why people should come there. No question-and-answer session to guide me, just talk off the cuff and he’ll make it sound professional.


Today I watched the final piece they aired, and heard myself say “uh” and “um” in between every sentence. This is why my preferred mode of communication is the written word! I almost never say “um” in writing.


My dad would have stopped me at each lapse, interrupting and parroting my verbal hesitation with: “um, you say?”, “um, what?”, and “what’s that, um?”. This was his way of providing negative reinforcement, a technique that might rival Skinner’s bell in its effectiveness. If you ever said “um” in his presence after one of those sessions, you’d break into a sweat and feel the urge to throw up. Mostly this just stopped us from finishing whatever story we were trying to convey, which was probably preferable to his nine little darlings yammering away and vying for his attention all at once. Anything for peace and quiet.


However, Dad’s been gone awhile now and I see I’ve reverted to childhood habits. I recall Sister Mary Catherine had some good advice during speech class: she would  say, “Slow down, young lady, and think about what you are trying to say! Never hesitate. Proper diction is important if you want people to listen and respect your opinions.”


So, I blew it on local TV. My performance gives credence to the expression: Practice makes perfect. If only I had time to practice! If only I didn’t hesitate! If Sister Cathy was right, then you won’t respect my opinion or listen to the story of Beckman Mill and our Midwestern history.


But I hope you’ll listen anyway, and take the time to visit this or any historical site. Let’s not forget who we are, where we came from, and how those that came before us shaped our lives. Even if I, um, struggle to, uh, express how strongly I feel about it.


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Children’s Book Authors at the In Print Book Fair

Go meet the delightful A. E. Field and other YA authors…

In Print Writers

The In Print World of Words Book Fair on Saturday, October 19th at Barnes and Noble in Cherry Valley will feature a trio of children’s book authors in the Kid’s Section.

Toni Rocha is a retired newspaper reporter with four published books. She is also the medical writer for the Northwest Quarterly magazine.  She will be featured from 10:00 to 12:00 in the children’s section, reading and signing copies of her books.

Lu Clifton’s debut novel, Freaky Fast Frankie Joe, received the following awards: Friends of American Writers Juvenile Award, Best of the Best Books for Great Kids in 2013, Texas Bluebonnet Master List, the Nebraska Juvenile Golden Sower Award, the South Carolina Children’s Book Award, and the Notable Children’s Book award for 2013.  She will read and be available to sign copies of her book from 12:30 to 2:30.

Lucy Rivas-Enriquez has worked in human resources for…

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Mystery Thriller Authors to be at In Print Book Fair

This event is not to be missed!

In Print Writers

Interested in writing thrillers and mysteries?  The In Print World of Words Book Fair will feature four authors whodunit on a panel about writing Mystery-Thrillers on Saturday, October 19th at the Barnes and Noble in Cherry Valley. The foursome will talk about the writing process and take questions from 12:00 – 1:00.

Joann Fastoff Blackman was the publicist for musical group Kool and the Gang.   One of her plays won the Village Gate One-Act Festival Award in 1993.  She is the author of three novels.  She will be available to sign her books from 10:30 to 11:30.

Libby Hellman is the author of ten compulsively readable crime thrillers, plus the Ellie Foreman and George Davis series. She writes short stories and novellas and has lived in Chicago for thirty-five years.  She will autograph her books from 1:30 to 2:30.

M.E. May published her award-winning novel Perfidy and her…

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Don’t Weasel Out – Say What You Mean!

I never heard the expression “weasel word” before but, after some exploration into the meaning, I find I like it very much. A “weasel word” is one that, on the surface, gives a false impression; it may soften a statement or be downright misleading.

The weasel reference implies sucking the meaning out of the word or phrase, the way a weasel sucks the content out of an egg. It is interesting that sources such as Phrase Finder and Wikipedia suggest weasels can’t or don’t suck eggs, but that didn’t stop Shakespeare from sullying the reputation of the poor little beasts:

I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weazel sucks eggs. – As You Like It, 1600

In my own writing, weasel words appear as passive voice: “had been”, “will be”, “somewhat”, “evidently”, “possibly”. Eliminate the passive or soft words and phrases and my writing becomes much stronger.

I am; I act; Done!

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Getting my Garden Ready

What does gardening have to do with writing? I love to take a dirt break from writing, where I dig and plant and weed (well, sometimes I weed!) out in the fresh air. This clears my head, quiets my mind, and helps me reset my brain, so the writing flows more easily.

Gardening is a form of meditation for me. I don’t think when I’m gardening, I just dig around and enjoy the sensory impact: sun on my skin, fresh fragrances, birds singing. Quieting my mind results in consciously redirecting energy away from negative thoughts that do not serve me well, such as “I’m stuck”, “Where do I go from here?”, or “I’ve written myself into a corner and I can’t get out!” Even generalized anxiety over my work can impede me, including the dreaded “I don’t have enough time to write!” Pull my focus, or energy, away from negative thoughts and my brain shifts into a more positive state.

“This has beneficial effects on both the body (lower blood pressure, deeper breathing, relaxation of muscles, healing in cells, lower anxiety levels) and the mind (increased clarity, focus, and concentration, as well as better sleep and improved mood).” 

Many brilliant people have taken a break from their creative thinking to participate in other activities, including the Albert Einstein.  The patent office was his escape from big brain work:

“That secular cloister,” Einstein wrote Besso, “where I hatched my most beautiful ideas and where we had such good times together.”

So take a hint from the yogis and the world’s greatest thinkers: get dirty for better writing!

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