Read This Book!

meatballs people gary sotomeatballs people gary soto
It’s a fast, pithy read. The book is small enough to carry virtually anywhere: 6” x 4” x 3/8” and 141 pp. and every one of those pages has a lot of white space.


read book meatballs people gary soto
According to Soto, “[Proverbs] don’t take effort to read. They are not riddles or cagey games, but do require an ‘aha’ moment.” Here are some of his proverbs I especially like.


If you plant a garden
Get ready to weed
You become corrupt
In increments
In love with his baritone voice
The politician
Believes what he says
A backbone
Is more useful
Than a wishbone
As Soto so aptly observed in his preface to this book, “Also, proverbs, in all languages and over the centuries, are quips that speak of our human nature.”


Gary Soto is of Mexican-American heritage. His work has taken him from the fields of the San Joaquin Valley to his literary life in Berkeley, California. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley and at University of California, Riverside. You can read about his awards and achievements in Wikipedia and visit his website at


gary soto 2001 national book festival
Gary Soto’s literary oeuvre is as varied as it is extensive, including 14 poetry collections, 21 books for children/young adults, a series of children’s picture books in Spanish and English featuring a cat named Chato, 8 memoirs, 1 play, 2 films, and 4 edited volumes.


gary soto meatballs people
Meatballs for the People: Proverbs to Chew On (Red Hen Press, 2017) can be found in the poetry section.


“You can always spot bright people. They are reading a book.” Gary Soto.

This Just In!

American Dictionary of the English Language front cover
American Dictionary of the English Language
As many of you know, I collect dictionaries. This facsimile edition of the first American Dictionary of the English Language arrived yesterday and I’ve been enjoying it for hours. Who would have thought there could be 58 definitions of pass?
Portrait of Noah Webster, creator of Dictionary of American English
Noah Webster
According to the preface, Webster was being urged to compile such a volume as early as 1783. He was too busy to even think about it till 1801. The work became ever more ambitious, as you can see from the title page.
American Dictionary of the English Language title page
American Dictionary of the English Language
And the rest is history. Webster’s became almost synonymous with dictionary. He predated the Oxford English Dictionary (1933) by more than a hundred years, and I would claim his scholarship (including historical roots and literary examples) inspired those involved in the OED.
A Dictionary of South African English, title page
A Dictionary of South African English
According to Webster, new locations and new governments require the standardization of modified English. Hence, you can also find dictionaries of Australian English, Indian English, etc.
We are not using Webster’s 1828 dictionary today because—ta da!—language evolves. You heard it here first—unless you read Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way.
The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, book cover
The Mother Tongue
The evolution of language comes not only from changing political needs, but also from science, art, technological advances, etc. While some of these changes primarily affect relatively narrow bands of society, others are more pervasive. Based on the sheer variety of offerings, I would argue that slang is one of the most changeable aspects of language, both universal and specialized.
two dictionaries
Mob Speak and Knickers in a Twist
Slang varies by occupation. I have dictionary of carnival slang, for example, as well as several dealing with war.
War Slang by Paul Dickson, cover of dictionary
War Slang
And of course language varies by time period and sub-culture.
Much as I love them, I’m afraid hard-copy dictionaries are becoming extinct. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary claims to be the best available. Given the rapidity of language evolution, online is probably the only way to keep up.
The Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide front cover
The Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide
What’s your newest dictionary? And why do you still have it?

Armchair Tourism Made Easy!

Great books have been set in every state—and the District of Columbia—and there are numerous sites out there that will tell you what they are. I’ve chosen three recent ones and summarized them for you here.


Reader’s Digest sought to identify the most iconic book set in every state. They note that “Literature is often a source of state pride, with a vast array of novels set in and around each of the great 50 states. With this list, you can tour the entire country—without leaving home.” These iconic book choices are indicated in the following list by RD.
Business Insider scoured the internet and surveyed colleagues to round up the most famous book that takes place in each state in America. Their choices are indicated by BI.
Travel & Leisure compiled a list of the best books based in every state and DC. They “selected the best books based in every state by looking for titles that almost use their state as another character. The setting is so deeply entwined with theses texts, the story couldn’t even exist in another place or time. In the listings below, their choices are designated by TL.
to kill a mockingbird harper lee
Alabama: RD, BI, TL all chose To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee.


Alaska: RD, BI, TL all chose Into the Wild, Jon Krakaur


jon krakauer into the wild
Arizona: RD = Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy; BI = The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver; TL = Here and Gone, Haylen Beck


Arkansas: RD & TL = I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou; BI = A Painted House, John Grisham


California: RD & BI = East of Eden, John Steinbeck; TL = Big Sur, Jack Kerouac


stephen king the shining
Colorado: RD, BI, TL all chose The Shining, Stephen King
Connecticut: RD = The Stepford Wives, Ira LevinBI = Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates; TL = White Fur, Jardine Libaire


Delaware: RD = Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk; BI  = The Saint of Lost Things, Christopher Castellani; TL = A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin, Karen Hesse
Florida: RD = Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston; BI = To Have and Have Not, Ernest Hemingway; TL = Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo


gone with the wind margaret mitchell
Georgia: RD, BI, TL all chose Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell


Hawaii: RD & TL = The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings; BI = Hawaii, James Mitchner


Idaho: RD = The Stand, Stephen King; BI = Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson; TL = The Sheep Queen, Thomas Savage


Illinois: BI & TL = The Jungle, Upton Sinclair; RD = Divergent, Veronica Roth


Indiana: RD = The Fault in Our Stars, John Green; BI = The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington; TL = All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven


Iowa: RD & BI = A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley; LT = The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller


Kansas: RD & BI = The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum; TL = In Cold Blood, Truman Capote


Kentucky: BI & TL = Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe; RD = Beloved, Toni Morrison


Louisiana: RD & BI = Interview With the Vampire, Anne Rice; TL = The Awakening, Kate Chopin


Maine: RD & BI = Carrie, Stephen King; TL = The Cider House Rules, John Irving


Maryland: RD = Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ann Brashares; BI = Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler; TL = The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler


Massachusetts: RD & BI = Walden, Henry David Thoreau; TL = The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne


Michigan: RD = Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides; BI = The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides; TL = Once Upon a River, Bonnie Jo Campbell


Minnesota: RD & BI = Main Street, Sinclair Lewis; TL = On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder


Mississippi: RD = The Help, Kathryn Stockett; BI = The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner; TL = Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor


Missouri: RD & BI = The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain; TL = The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain


a river runs trhough it norman maclean
Montana: RD, BI, TL all chose A River Runs Through It and other stories, Norman Maclean


Nebraska: RD & TL = Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell; BI = My Antonia, Willa Cather


fear and loathing in las vegas
Nevada: RD, BI, TL all chose Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson


New Hampshire: RD & BI = The Hotel New Hampshire, John Irving; TL = Frindle, Andrew Clements


New Jersey: RD = Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume; BI = Drown, Junot Diaz; TL = The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz


New Mexico: RD = Brave New World, Aldous Huxley; BI = Red Sky at Morning, Richard Bradford; TL = The Green Sea Glass, Ellen Klages


New York: RD & BI = The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald; TL = A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith


North Carolina: RD & BI = A Walk to Remember, Nicholas Sparks; TL = The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks


North Dakota: RD & BI =The Round House, Louise Erdrich; TL = Beyond the Bedroom Wall, Larry Woiwode


Ohio: RD = Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Small Town Ohio Life, Sherwood Anderson; BI = The Broom of the System, David Foster Wallace; TL = Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng


Oklahoma: RD = The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton; BI = Paradise, Toni Morrison; TL = The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck


Oregon: RD = Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail, Cheryl Strayed; BI = One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey; TL = The Jump-Off Creek, Molly Gloss


Pennsylvania: RD & BI = The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold; TL = Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli


Rhode Island: RD = She’s Come Undone, Wally Lamb; BI = My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult; TL = The Witches of Eastwick, John Updike


South Carolina: RD = Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison; BI = The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd; TL = The Summer Girls, Mary Alice Monroe


South Dakota: RD = Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder; BI = A Long Way From Home, Tom Brokaw; TL = The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, Ann Weisgarber


Tennessee: RD & BI = The Client, John Grisham; TL = The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris


Texas: RD & BI = No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy; TL = Holes, Louise Sachar


Utah: BI & TL = The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff; RD = Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer


Vermont: RD & BI = Pollyanna, Eleanor H. Porter; TL =  All the Best People, Sonja Yoerg


Virginia: BI & TL = Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson; RD = Flowers in the Attic, V. C. Andrews


Washington: RD & BI = Twilight, Stephenie Meyer; TL = Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson


Washington, DC: BI = The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown; TL = Lost in the City, Edward P. Jones; RD did not list DC


West Virginia: RD = Freedom, Jonathan Franzen;  BI = Shiloh, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; TL = The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls


Wisconsin: RD = The Deep End of the Ocean, Jacquelyn Mitchard; BI = Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder; TL = A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick


Wyoming: RD & BI = The Laramie Project, Moisés Kaufman and Members of the Tectonic Theater Project; TL = Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx
armchair tourism made easy
So, what say you? Are these the books you would choose for your state(s)?

Hanahaki and Other Useful Diseases

Hanahaki useful diseases
Hanahaki comes from two Japanese words: hana, which means flower, and hakimasu, which means to throw up. It is a fictitious disease in which the victim coughs up flower petals when suffering from unrequited love. The most common version is when the victim’s lungs fill with flowers and roots grow in the respiratory system. The victim chokes on blood and petals and dies.


Hanahaki useful diseases
In another version, the flowers are surgically removed. The surgery also removes the victim’s feelings of love and s/he can no longer love the person they once loved. Sometimes this also removes the ability to ever love again.


My 13-year-old granddaughter came across hanahaki disease while researching possible diseases for a book she and her friends are writing. Need I say the book is fantasy fiction? She also enjoys special effects makeup, and one evening created three generations suffering from hanahaki disease—me, her mother, and herself.


Hanahaki useful diseases
In researching hanahaki disease, I discovered a whole world of disease and disaster that I was previously unaware of. Wikipedia has 40 pages of fictional diseases in literature, film, TV, video games, and role-playing games, everything from the Andromeda Strain to Cooties.
stephen king
Fictional diseases is probably not the first association you have for Stephen King, but he has created his share, including the superflu in The Stand, the Ripley in Dreamcatcher, and the pulse in Cell. Authors from Edgar Allan Poe to J.K. Rowling have invented fictional diseases. Why not you?
Getting started is easy. If nothing comes to mind immediately, go to and use the Disease Generator.  You can get 25 disease names in an instant.
Hanahaki diseases
And if nothing appeals to you—not ancestral heart or zombie’s malignant lunacy, not seeping sweat or torture itch—just push the button for more diseases.


Hanahaki diseases
Once you have a name, you need to develop the disease, starting with disease type (childhood/common/rare) and moving on to cause (bacteria, virus, parasite, fungus, imbalance of bodily humors, etc.). You need to consider transmission (airborne, body fluids, food or water, touch, etc.) and virulence (how likely a person is to catch the disease after coming into contact with it). How long is the incubation period? A person could be showing symptoms and become infectious almost instantaneously or it could take years. What are the symptoms of this disease? Is it treatable and/or curable? And last but not least, how do people react when they encounter someone with this disease?
Feel free to use symptoms from real diseases, past or present. For example, cholera, dysentery, small pox, consumption, syphilis, the Black Plague, etc. BTW, the Black Plague is a zoonotic disease, meaning it moves from animals to humans—as in bird flue or swine flu.


fictional diseases
The more realistic your story line, the more realistic your disease should be. For inspiration, check out Inverse Culture.


Bottom line: Consider the advantages of deadly diseases. As long as people fear death, they will push protagonists to the edge, and that’s a good thing.


New Genre for the New Year

new genre new year maas

I was about to start this blog by talking about how I’ve never been a big fan of fantasy—but then realized I should say more truthfully that I’ve not been reading fantasy recently.


new genre new year lang book spines
I went through a period some decades ago when I read fairytales. I sought out the non-Disney versions—for example, Cinderella in which the wicked stepsisters cut off their toes or heels in order to try to fit into the glass slipper. Do fairytales count? YES! If you google “fantasy” (besides fantasy football) you’ll get links to science fiction, speculative fiction, fairytales, anime, science fantasy, legend, and horror, animation, myth, manga, cartoon, etc.
new genre new year alices adventures wonderland through looking glass
Fantasy is a genre of fiction set in a fictional universe, often—but not always—without any locations, events, or people referencing the real world. Its roots are in oral traditions, which then developed into literature and drama. There was a time when my husband and I read aloud to each other from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, sometimes laughing so hard we could hardly read.


new genre new year ursula le gun
And Ursula Le Guin counts! She was a favorite during my science fiction phase.


new genre new year harry potter
More recently, I really didn’t appreciate Harry Potter, though recommended by my daughter and granddaughters. (I know: shocking!) However, during a recent visit, these same granddaughters (now 13 and 10) gave me new recommendations.


new genre new year wings books
The younger one has read all ten volumes of  Wings of Fire. This is her favorite series. Dragons are big time. But she also recommends Monstress by Marjorie Liu (author) and Sana Takeda (illustrator).
new genre new year monstress
This is like a hardbound comic book, so quite a fast read. Is this different from a graphic novel? (Kindle references comiXology. Who knew?)


new genre new year
The books in this series are set in 1900s Asia and tells the story of a teenage girl who struggles to survive the trauma of war. She shares a mysterious psychic link with an enormously powerful monster. Both the girl and the monster are transformed by this connection.
new genre new year sara maas throne glass
The 13-year-old’s absolute favorite author is Sarah J. Maas. Maas is a NYT best-selling author of the Thrown of Glass series. In this series, a beautiful young assassin is the protagonist. She’s a bit like a female James Bond in terms of abilities that border on superpowers. She has a tragic past that garners sympathy, beauty and honor that make her appealing, a temper and murders to make her flawed. Maas uses great visual imagery. And the stories involve mysteries of the dark powers and lost magic. Throw in an arch enemy and two love interests, and what’s not to like?


new genre new year maas
mass new genre new year
She currently has 3 books in a second series and at least the beginning of a third series. Catwoman: Soulstealer (DC icon series) is due out in August of this year.


new genre new year catwoman sarah maas
Bottom line: Revisit some version of fantasy in 2018. Whether classic or modern, dipping into an alternate world broadens one’s thinking.

Writing Resolutions for 2018

writing resolutions 2018

 A new year links the past and the future. (You heard it here first!) So it’s your opportunity to wrap up things already started, launch new projects, and and develop (or strengthen) good habits. So here’s the plan.


1a) If you have a project underway, review a hard copy of all writing to date. DO NOT REVISE. Instead, note in the margins things to tend to when you do revise. If you want to make major changes (e.g., add a character, a death, a divorce, etc. that needs to have already happened) note those but don’t go back now. Write going forward as if you’ve already revised.


1b) If you have nothing new in the works, browse your files of old writing. (Of course you have these!) Pick one that strikes your fancy and work on it in the new year. If it’s old, you have grown and developed. You might change POV, add striking details. even use the same material in a different genre. Make use of work you’ve already done.


writing resolution 2018
2) Read current periodicals (at lest one) on a regular basis to see what’s trending. Choose something that you wouldn’t mind reading anyway. It might be Style in Richmond. Any major publication you follow, such as The New Yorker, etc. Who knows when knowing that early teens all across the country are into sexual fluidity and rating their degrees of homo or hetero tendencies might be fruitful.


3) Follow the news of the weird. You can do this online, by searching that phrase. But you also can find tidbits in the daily paper, church news bulletins, etc.


4) Write something every day! Depending on whether you keep a writing journal or something more like a diary, that might suffice. But ideally, it will be something totally creative. Consider any dreams/nightmares so vivid that you woke. If all else fails, start by writing about surviving the holidays.


Bottom line: Keep on truckin’! The only way to write is to do it.


writing 2018

Top Literary Posts About 2017

top literary posts 2017

It’s the end of the year, which means everyone is posting their “Top ___ of 2017” lists. Among them, of course, are the lists for readers. After seeing these posts left and right, I’ve collected a few to make a masterpost. Enjoy!

And, as an added bonus:

Whatever your “reading about reading” preference, make it a goal to make 2018 a great year for reading!

A Writer’s Gift to Self

[Source: AudioFile]
David Morrell is incredible! His debut novel (1972) was First Blood which would later become the Rambo movies. He has published 44 books, including stand-alone novels (17), the Rambo series (4), Brotherhood of the Rose series (4), Cavanaugh/Protector series (3), Creeper & Scavenger series (2), Thomas DeQuincy series (4), comic books (3), and nonfiction (7). He’s also published short fiction, and edited several volumes.


If you go to, you can click on any book cover to get a description of the book plus his comments on why he wrote it. The latter are fascinating. For example, he has this to say about The Brotherhood of the Rose:


writers gift self backstory david morrell
Click to enlarge
So, he’s published impressively, but my focus today is about David Morrell the teacher.  He has a Ph.D. in American literature and was a professor at the University of Iowa for sixteen years. (He is a living contradiction to the adage, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t do, teach.”) In 1998, he decided to share his teaching in print. If you click “On Writing” on his website, you can access Five Rules for Writing Thrillers, What’s In A Name?, and Five Further Concepts. In 2002 he published The Successful Novelist, reissued in 2008.


writers gift self successful novelist david morrell (2)
A friend handed this book to me and said, “It’s great—and a fast read!” It sat around for a long time before I even opened it. I blush to admit that I’d never heard of David Morrell! (In my defense, I’ll only say that thrillers aren’t my usual escapist reading. And there are a lot of writers out there!) But now I am among the throngs who praise him. This book isn’t just helpful, it’s a good read!


Rather than try to describe it or review it further, I refer you to his website section “On Writing,” where you can access a sample chapter. Do it! And then give yourself the gift of David Morrell’s experience and insight.


writers gift self successful novelist david morrell

Reading for the Week Ahead

[Source: Twitter]
In these hectic days, even if you only have minutes, I have reading suggestions!

reading week ahead spongebob theatre

The December 18 & 25 issue of The New Yorker contains a two-column theater review of SpongeBob SquarePants the musical. No kidding: THAT SpongeBob SquarePants, who debuted in 1999 and, as Tommy Smothers might say, took the storm by country.

The play has all the pun-intended characters, from Mr. Krabs to Squidward Q. Tentacles. It has songs by Cindi Lauper, They Might Be Giants, and others.

The review is lively, well-written, and very positive. Read the review even if you have no intention of hieing off to NYC any time soon.

[Source: Academy of American Poets]
If you’re a more literary type, sample a little Charles Simic. Simic immigrated from Belgrade in 1954 and started publishing poetry in his twenties. He’s won tons of awards, including a Pulitzer. He served as Poet Laureate of the United States in 2008 and 2009.

reading week ahead new selected poems charles simic

This book contains nearly 400 poems spanning fifty years, including about three dozen revisions and seventeen previously unpunished poems. Simic is witty, broad-ranging, and fresh. He can enthrall you for as many minutes—or hours—as you can spare.

reading week ahead
What if you have time for nothing but assuring that you acquit yourself well throughout all the celebrations? Sarah Chrisman to the rescue!

reading week ahead true ladies proper gentlemen
Many of the issues people faced in the 1880s and ‘90s are surprisingly modern as well: invasion of privacy, divorce, dealing with people from other places or cultures, technologies developing at mind-boggling speed…

reading week ahead table contents
For your convenience, advice is organized by topic. You will find sound guidance, such as telling husbands to give their wives (one at a time, please) every advantage it is possible to bestow, and—as far as possible—to patronize merchants of their own town.

BONUS: There are watercolors and illustrations throughout.

[Source: Wikipedia]
If you are introspective and/or looking for inspiration, Mark Nepo’s got you covered.

Nepo is a poet and teacher, and—by the way—a New York Times Bestseller.

reading week ahead book awakening mark nepo
Oprah Winfrey, among others, recommends this book. It contains 366 dated entries, including one for February 29th. Each begins with a brief quote, followed by author’s reflections to inspire your own musings.

However, there is also a subject index with multiple entries under such headings as sadnesses, truth, and quiet teachers.

FYI, here is the beginning of the entry for today.

reading week ahead sugar tree

Even though time is short, happy reading!

Notes from the Holidays

notes holidays christmas party
Tis the season! The next three weeks will be tough for many writers. Family, friends, and special events abound. The best first advice is just power through. Protect your writing time and put in your ass-in-chair time no matter how tired, distracted, etc. you are. But if your writing isn’t putting food on the table—or even if you are—that may not be feasible.


So here’s plan B. For this limited time, attend to the demands of the season—but mine it for your writing in the new year. Below I’ve listed several typical holiday scenarios and suggested some things about them that might be noteworthy. These are not exhaustive by any means. Don’t focus on length, just write enough to bring the experience back to you in detail and technicolor.
notes holidays family dinner
After every family gathering take a few minutes to make notes on the emotional tone, with special attention to tensions, unhappiness, and surprises.


notes holidays lots presents
After any exchange of gifts make notes on the focus of those gifts. Was there competition regarding who gave or got the most? Was cost a consideration? Did anyone express disappointment—or envy? Were presents more token or substantial? Were any gifts homemade? Did someone give the same gift as always (e.g., a special ornament)?


notes holidays office party
For every party make notes on the emotional tone. Did anyone seem reluctant to be there? Did anyone drink too much? Was conversation restrained? Flirtatious? Political? Personal? Did anyone misbehave? How did you feel at the party?


notes holidays nutcracker ballet
For any cultural event, such as theater, ballet, musical performance, or special exhibit, start with why you were there. Why were others there? Is attending this event a tradition? A chance to see and be seen? A chore? A pleasure?


notes holidays travel
For holiday travel, note who traveled to whom. Was the traveler affected by work or family commitments? Does this happen every year? Is the trip a joy or a pleasure? During this particular trip, what went right? What went wrong? Was weather a factor?


Bottom line: Be conscious of how you are experiencing the holidays and prepare to jog your memory in the new year when you need specifics to strengthen your writing. You can do this in a matter of minutes.


notes holidays notebook pen
So put aside the guilt, enjoy, and prepare to jump back in!