Discover Richmond

discover richmond connect
Grab it. Read it! When this RTD insert came with your paper a few days ago, you might have been tempted to pitch it. It’s very heavy on ads, especially in the first half. But take a closer look.
discover richmond amy black tattoo
I found several people, places, and things I can already connect to. For example, Amy Black. When I decided to redecorate rather than repair after breast cancer surgery, my oncologist recommended Amy. You may have read my In My Shoes essay about it in October of last year. I can’t praise Amy too highly. She is tough but gentle, accepting, and truly believes every body is beautiful. We both grew up in Ohio, so there is that cultural connection as well.


Amy is best known, perhaps, for her work with breast cancer patients, but she is an artist beyond that.
discover richmond back tattoo
I can’t appropriately show you what she did with my scars. I can only say that it was so appealing, I decided to have a “wrap-around” including both breasts and my back. And imagine my surprise when I discovered that during the year my youngest daughter (the only one with tattoos) lived in Richmond, on the recommendation of a Colorado tattoo artist, she sought Amy to create the tattoo honoring her daughter’s birth.


Amy is just one of 22 local people highlighted in this issue.


discover richmond hollywood cemetery
A place I particularly connect to is Hollywood Cemetery. I love cemeteries and graveyards. Hollywood is the third oldest garden cemetery in the country, inspired by the first, Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


vivian lawry virginia is for mysteries
I am so taken with Hollywood Cemetery that I set my first short story mystery there (“Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery”).  Brief as it is, the Discover Richmond article manages to mention half a dozen interesting features of Hollywood.


Among the 31 destinations described, some of my favorites are Library of Virginia, the VMFA, and Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. Some of the destination I’d like to visit include Unsung Sites of Black History and Meadow Farm Museum. Numerous neighborhoods are mentioned, including Short Pump and Ashland (The Center of the Universe).


discover richmond local neighborhoods
There is a guide to craft breweries, regional wineries and distilleries, and restaurants, and 15 pages of resources, from museums and historic homes to art galleries, music groups, theater and dance groups, hobby and special interest groups (including James River Writers, Sisters in Crime/Central Virginia, Virginia Romance Writers, Virginia Screenwriters Forum, and Virginia Writers Club).


This compilation does a good job on things I know well, so I trust the info when  learning about the things I don’t know so well. It entices me to explore and to revisit past pleasures. My point here is that you should read—and keep—Discover Richmond

Books into Movies

books into movies raymond chnadler
[Source: Amazon]
Monday night TCM showed the 1946 movie The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. That led me to recall that fifteen Chandler books became movies, including Murder My Sweet, The Blue Dahlia, Strangers on a Train, Lady in the Lake, and Time To Kill. 
So, consider other books that have been famously made into movies.
Add in books that have given rise to TV series.
Which of these book/film pairs are you familiar with? What is your opinion of each? And what can you add to the list?

The Best Soap Opera Ever!

winston graham book series
And you don’t have to take my word for it. Winston Graham’s first four books in the Poldark series were the basis of the BBC series broadcast during 1975 and 1976. The next three books were the basis of a 1977 series. These seven books became a 29-episode drama that was all the rage in Britain and the U.S.


I read the books and followed the series with rapt attention, and for a time took to drinking port on Sunday evenings while watching each episode.


In 2015, I watched the original series again, wiling away the morning hours while encased in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber five days per week, for six weeks. This series was (and no doubt still is) available from the library. (I also watched two versions of Pride and Prejudice during those treatments, but that’s neither here nor there.) Somehow I remained oblivious to the fact that the BBC launched a remake in March of that year.


So, when PBS started airing the new series, I didn’t realize it was new. Having just watched all 29 episodes, I ignored these broadcasts until last Sunday. I immediately realized that the cast, while true to the original characters, was different. Fortunately, I was able to pick up the story line with ease and now I am hooked again.


I decided to reread the books, only to discover that they were jettisoned during our 2013 move, so I went to Amazon and discovered not seven but twelve books! I had been oblivious to the publication of five more books in the series! So now I have a treat in store.


best soap opera ever winston graham book series

What makes the Poldark saga so great? 

First of all, the excellent writing. Winston Graham takes the reader to Cornwall to see and hear the pounding surf. He lets the reader into the minds and hearts of the characters. And his characters are humanly complex—flawed but lovable, even the  villains are understandable. Then there is the action. For me, he has defined page-turner. Graham also taps all the drama available in love, lust, and sex; struggle for survival; competition and grudges; deceit and deception; lies and murder; birth and death.


winston graham book dates
By all means, watch the TV series. But also read the books!

Better Late than Never!

During a recent phone conversation with my youngest daughter, she talked about her current reading, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

She said it is so good that she stays up late to read, even on work nights. She talked about the book so enthusiastically that I downloaded it to my Kindle even as we spoke and started reading it that evening. And she’s right: it’s as compelling as any novel!


This is not a new book. It was published in 2010 and quickly became a NYT bestseller. It won the Pulitzer Prize. It became a PBS documentary by Ken Burns.


emperor all maladies ken burns barak goodman
[Source: Nancy’s Point]
With all of that, still I passed it by. I don’t regularly scarf up bestsellers and prize winning books, choosing things more off-the-beaten-track. And though I am an avid watcher of PBS, somehow this documentary didn’t catch my eye. (I didn’t watch the one on baseball, either. Perhaps I should.) Apparently  I needed to hear a personal endorsement! If you need a personal endorsement to look at this book, here’s mine.
The writing is excellent—vivd and compelling. The information is fascinating: cancer can be tracked back at least five thousand years; tumors have been found in Egyptian mummies; for a period of time, tumors were removed with ever increasing amounts of surrounding body mass on the belief that more was better; and sometimes progress has been hampered by politics and infighting. The science and technical information is presented in understandable language. The historical bits are sandwiched with modern day efforts and current patients. As a “biography” of a disease, it is incredibly personal.


siddhartha mukherjee
[Source: Twitter]
Siddhartha Mukherjee is an oncologist, researcher, and science writer. He’s Indian-American, born in New Delhi, educated at Stanford (BS), Magdalen College, Oxford (DPhil), and Harvard (MD). He published this book at age 37! No doubt we can anticipate much more from him.


More than twenty years ago, Hiram College was at the the forefront of what became a national move toward health humanities programs. They now offer a major in biomedical humanities—but that’s a whole other topic. I mention it because Hiram is where I first recognized what fine writers healthcare professionals can be! So in that vein, I will just mention Cutting For Stone, published in 2009.
cutting for stone abraham verghese
[Source: Amazon]
This novel was written by Ethiopian-born medical doctor Abraham Verghesse. The story is told by the protagonist and until I finished the book, I thought it was memoir! That’s how real it seems. I couldn’t put it down. So here’s another old book to pick up.
BOTTOM LINE: Check out books written by physicians. And don’t limit yourself to the most recent. They go way beyond the Physician’s Desk Reference. You will be amazed.

Read Again

[Source: Amazon]
I recently read a piece in The Flyleaf, a publication of the friends of the Hiram College Library. In it, Ugur Aker, a professor emeritus of economics and management, contributed the inaugural review of work from the past which is worthy of renewed consideration. In his essay, Aker described what he had taken from the book back then, and how different his current take-away is.

your money your life
[Source: FinancingLife]
This made me think of a book read while I was at Hiram. This book essentially encouraged readers to consider what their work produced in terms of money and less tangible benefits compared to how their lives might be enriched by putting less effort into paid employment and focusing more on spending money and time on things that truly bring happiness and satisfaction. Unlike Professor Aker, I find I get the same message from the book today.

My challenge to you is to reread something that really struck you a decade or more ago and consider what you think of it now.

Reading in Bits and Pieces

cave dwelling vegan quaker slavery
I’m always in the midst of one book or another, but I’ve recently come to appreciate all the rich reading out there that comes in small portions.


For example, the September issue of Smithsonian Magazine included an article about Benjamin Lay, “The nation’s first radical abolitionist [who] was one of the most dramatic outspoken figures of the 18th Century.” After I got over my surprise that Quakers ever owned slaves, I was truly impressed by the ways he sought to call attention to the hypocrisy of Christians who embraced the Golden Rule but owned other human beings. He could have put P.T. Barnum to shame for showmanship! Read it if you can.


mystery most historical virginia mysteries
I’ve now published three short-story mysteries set during the (American) Civil War. L—R, The Tredegar Murders, Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery, and War and Murder at Nimrod Hall. So it’s no wonder an article in the summer quarterly issue of Military Images caught my eye.
deaf prince art war
Although the article is primarily a biographical sketch of Prince de Joinville, it also mentions other prominent figures who fought in spite of deafness. “Deafness did not deter men from serving as combatants and noncombatants on both sides of the Civil War.” So, we can often find information on some seldom-considered aspect of a well-known event…
all female motorcycle club mission lynchburg
…or a seldom-considered aspect of a familiar pastime. Such is the case with last Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch article on a current all-female motorcycle club in Lynchburg. Such articles are natural prompts for fiction writers.


Many membership organizations send out periodic newsletters or magazines. The Bath County Historical Society recently printed a copy of a 1916 receipt from The Homestead that puts 100 years of inflation in perspective!


virginia hot springs company
Meanwhile, Intelligence Report  (published by the Southern Poverty Law Center) published articles on racism in the Mormon Church as well as the return of violent black nationalism. Such articles are full of information and examples that can be of use to writers.
The same is true of articles on health care and wellness—and such articles can turn up anywhere, from alumni magazines to The New Yorker!
Did you know that there are dentists who make house calls? Have you ever given a thought to why such a specialist might be needed? Read this article and share my newly acquired enlightenment!
invasion equation
One of the joys of some New Yorker  articles (such as this one from the September ll issue) is that the opening paragraphs give no clue to where the article will end up. “The Invasion Equation” begins with the clarifying of Lake Michigan’s waters and the invasion of two types of mollusks. The tie in between the opening and the discussion of cancer’s metastases is that “An aggressor in one environment is a placid resident in another.” If you’ve had cancer, know someone who has had it, or are just plain curious, this article’s for you.
reading bits pieces how save seeds
BOTTOM LINE: Articles can give quick and easy access to information, ideas, and examples useful to writers—not to mention enhancing dinner table conversation!

National Read a Book Day!

national read book day water your mind read
Tomorrow is National Read a Book Day (annually on Sept. 6). Unlike National Book Lovers Day (August 9), this fun holiday is for everyone.


national read book day
National Read a Book Day is a relatively new unofficial holiday, and its origins are murky. First celebrated around 2010, it was probably started by a librarian, perhaps to encourage children to read. But then again, it could have been any bibliophile wanting to encourage and celebrate reading.
national read book day
In any event, it’s a a day to enjoy reading, to read with children, to donate a book to a children’s school library, or throw a book reading party—whatever takes your fancy.


national read book day book better
The main goal is to encourage reading—fiction, non-fiction, poetry, history, memoir—either physical books or e-books.


national read book day vivian lawry books
In the spirit of the holiday, any book reading counts. You might continue a book in progress, reread a favorite passage from a previous book, or dip into a collection of short stories.
national read book day books helping introverts avoid conversation since 1454
If you aren’t a fast reader but want to read an entire book, go for Dr. Seuss or Beatrix Potter—or any good children’s book. If you don’t have one on your shelves, try any library or bookstore.
national read book day raven used books tote
But if you really like a challenge, follow the tips from  Business Insider and read a book a day everyday!


  • listen to white noise while you read
  • try an audiobook
  • alternate between genres
  • always carry a book with you
  • have your next book ready
national read book day sorry night all booked

So You Think You’re Literate?

You think you’re literate?


So did I until I delved into Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. She’s a long-standing advocate of buying local and cooking seasonal produce. Although I bought the book in 2014, and have cooked from it since then, I only recently started reading it.


so think literate vegetable literacy
If you are interested in botany, gardening, cooking and/or eating, this book’s for you!
The twelve chapters, each devoted to one vegetable family, includes essays, photos, and recipes. Just reading the chapter headings is an education—at least, it was for me.


Chapter One: The Carrot Family. I once felt rather smug, knowing that Queen Anne’s lace is related to carrots. Ha! In this 43-page chapter, Madison introduces the rest of the family: angelica, anise, asafetida, caraway, celery, celery root, chervil, cilantro and coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, hemlock, lovage, osha, parsley, parsley root, parsnips, and wild carrot. Although I’ve grown dill and parsley for decades, I never tumbled to the relationship.
In Chapter Two: The Mint Family, I learned that most staples of my herb garden are relatives: basil, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, and mint are all perennial for me. The problem with mint is that it won’t stay potted! It’s been known to actually cross the patio.
Thanks to this chapter, I now know that anise hyssop, bee balm, catmint, chia seeds, horehound, lemon balm, perilla, and savory are in this family as well. Unfortunately, my hyssop isn’t anise hyssop. Only bees want to sample it.
hyssop bees
I won’t go in depth with chapter contents, for that wouldn’t do the book justice. I’ll just mention selections. Chapter Three: The Sunflower Family,  surprised me by including lettuces and tarragon. The Knotweed Family includes a favorite from childhood, rhubarb. The Cabbage Family includes kale, mustard, radishes, and turnips. Tuscan Kale with Anchovy-Garlic Dressing is a recent favorite.
tomatoes potatoes
By Chapter Six: The Nightshade Family, I stopped being surprised that eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, and tobacco might turn up together—along with miscellaneous other relatives. Chapter Seven (The Goosefoot and Amaranth Families) deals with edible weeds, leaves, and seeds.
fresh chives
Chapter Eight includes the recipes for chives, onions, asparagus, leeks, shallots, etc. Of course there are chapters on squashes, melons, and gourds—which includes cucumbers; grains and cereals (e.g., barley, wild rice, millet, etc.); and legumes (all sorts of beans and peas).
so think literate pantry dried legumes
Chapter 12 is the last—shortest—chapter, on The Morning Glory Family. It’s shortest because the only edible member is the sweet potato.


I LOVE THIS SORT OF INFORMATION! Yes, I could get the botanicals elsewhere. But, as cookbook author Davis Tanis said, “Filled with fascinating botanical notes and inspired recipes that really explore vegetables from the the ground up—it is a pleasure to read.The writing is beautiful and the lessons are astutely down to earth.”

Get into Pictures

Last Saturday, August 19, was World Picture Day—and I missed it! But it’s never to late to recall a good idea.
edward hopper
Those of us who have taken writing workshops know the value of pictures as writing prompts. I’ve been on the receiving end and the giving end of postcards, photos, or paintings as the stimulus for stories. Several of my published stories started with such prompts, including Naked Truth, Love Me Tender, and Pictures Not Displayed (forthcoming).
picture worth 1000 words
Whole books have been published for the specific purpose of prompting stories.  There’s a lot to be said for using such a book for daily—or at least regular—writing exercises, some of which turn into scenes in longer pieces or books. They can add a plot twist that surprises the reader.
talking pictures ransom riggs
Books that aren’t necessarily intended as writing prompts can nevertheless be great resources.
Each picture should lead to a full story, including—at the minimum—who, what, when, where, and why. Never underestimate the importance of why. Rorschach cards are used to elicit such stories for diagnostic purposes. And as with the Rorschach cards, the good writer will consider what led up to the picture, what will happen now, and what is the protagonist thinking and feeling.


But beyond looking at pictures, you should take pictures. This is often easy, given the availability of cell phones with a photo capability. Keeping an eye out for photo opps makes you more sensitive to details of your surroundings—from the color of flowers to found art—to capturing people’s emotions in the moment. Your own pictures are as useful for material as any others. Go for it.



Your Characters’ Secrets

Everyone has secrets. Anything that is known only to oneself (maybe one other person) is a secret. It can be a regret, betrayal, desire, fear, confession, past humiliation—anything unknown.
post secret
Frank Warren tapped into the breadth and depth of secrets when he invited people to return postcards anonymously revealing a secret as part of a group art project. The response was extraordinary, and Post Secret became an international phenomenon—and a book. Here are three randomly selected offerings from this book.


“I can’t think of a secret. Except—I don’t think I’m interesting enough to have a secret.”
“I don’t care about recycling (but I pretend to).”


“I didn’t tell people I was running a marathon for fear they’s be nauseated by visions of my FAT ASS bouncing down the street.”


my secret post secret
The art project ended but the postcards kept coming. In two years he received over 50,000 postcards. This led to a second book, containing many secrets shared by young people. Here are three examples.


“If I charged the people I babysit for by the SCREAM I’d be rich.”


“I’m only friends with rich girls.”


“I told my family, the school nurse, and my optometrist that I couldn’t see the last rows just so that I would get glasses like my friends.”


secret lives men women frank warren
Eventually there were so many postcards that they could be sorted into related themes. The result was The Secret Lives of Men and Women.  The secrets revealed include the following:


“I’ve been with my wife for twenty years and she doesn’t know who I am.”


“I didn’t take a pill last night. Even if you leave me, I’ll have part of you to love forever.

“I have both a wife and a girlfriend and I’ve never been lonelier.”


“All of my exes bat for the other team.”


lifetime secrets frank warren
Many secrets have a hold on a person for years. Many of these are captured in A Lifetime of SecretsFor example,


“I still remember my rapist’s birthday.”


“My best friend slept with the only man I ever loved. Their son is in college now. I still drive by their house.”


“I only allow myself to read your letters once a year (9/17). Then, I let myself fantasize how my life would be different if you were still around. Sometimes I find myself hating you because it’s easier than missing you.”


“Finally I truly wish you well.”


Why give your characters secrets? It adds depth to them, makes them more like real people. In addition, depending on the secret, it can add humor, intra-psychic tension, or the motivation for behavior in various situations. Feel free to give a character a secret of your own. Or make one up. Or consult Frank Warren’s treasure troves!


post secret confessions on life death and god