Winnie the Pooh – banned!

pooh“Winnie the Pooh” has been banned in a community in Poland! Why? Because he wears a shirt but no pants. This was on the radio this morning. Winnie the Pooh is a teddy-bear, owned by Christopher Robin in the book “Winnie the Pooh”. Winnie the Pooh’s image is commonly used, so have you been offended? To carry on with the ban that those sensors have imposed on their community, I ask what are they going to do about the pets that are walked in bad weather wearing pet sweaters and rain coats covering only their tops for practical purposes?


I wonder if that same council is banning the book “Hunger Games”? It is read by third graders, I’m informed. Are they only concerned about the sexual innuendoes in their own minds? Why are they not concerned about things that depict and inspire violent behaviour? Why, I want to know, are people so convoluted? Where did common sense go? I want to know.


Publishing 1

As a child, I played “library” and “school” with my dolls. Gramma read to me, and as soon as I could lift a book, I read the pictures to myself.

Pretend playing was complicated, as I made up stories and acted them out. Playing with friends was based on “let’s pretend.” Writing stories was thwarted in school because there was never enough time devoted to the activity, so I gravitated to writing poetry. It’s shorter.

Musical pursuits were satisfying to a point, as I accompanied other musicians and singers, and eventually became a church organist. However, my small hands deterred me from the guitar and pianos and organs were too tough to carry around.


Painting and the arts were also satisfying for a long time. I painted bigger and better and sold a number of paintings, but carrying around easels, canvases, toolboxes full of acrylics (my preferred media) and frames was too much. Studio space and shows and time volunteering in art organizations – all of it was more discouraging than sales could make up for. So I quit that.

And then I started to write those stories that I wanted to write as a kid. All I needed was pen and paper. Bliss!

History – Love it or Hate it!

When I was a kid “social studies” was divided into 3 parts – history, geography, and current events.

History was hateful because it focused largely on battles and wars, dates, and politics. It required a great amount of memory work – not one of my better skills.

Geography was limited to colouring maps, mostly of North America. Other than a few stories I read about children in other lands, I knew little about other countries.

Current Events amounted to listening to a classmate read a newspaper item one morning a week.

This boredom continued until my second year of university. A German professor, educated in England, taught a course in American history at the University of Alberta, Canada. This gave him unique insight, of course. But that wasn’t the fascination. His lectures were stories! Who doesn’t love a good story? Not only did every student, including me, stay awake and listen; we absorbed and we remembered.

This was when I realized that history is just millions and millions of fascinating stories linked together to show the trends, the follies, and the creative progress of man. In the days before TV, there was a radio program called “Grand Central Station,” that stated, “millions of people pass through Grand Central Station every year. This is the story of just one of them.”

Hopefully, in my historical stories, as related by a cat, I can interest a few children in the history of man.


A Teacher’s Rules — The Outline

A good teacher wants to make the curriculum easy for students to learn as efficiently as possible. The easiest way to do this is to set up rules. To write for a teacher, a student must follow:

  • the rules of spelling
  • the rules of grammar
  • the rules of composition, and
  • the rules of writing about the subject chosen by the teacher

All of this must be done within a set time period. And the student must stay away from references to sex, politics, weapons, violence, religion, and school staff (unless said subjects are part of the assignment).

Yes, indeed. It is a fine line a student must follow in order to pass an essay assignment with a decent grade and without any imposed visit to the school’s psychiatrist! Poor kids; I’m glad I’m free from those constraints.

In grade six, I remember the excitement I felt – the free exuberance – when the teacher supplied a mass of magazine picture clippings and gave us a chance to choose a picture to write a story around. There were so many possibilities! It took me so long to choose one that I was probably the last student to return to my desk. Then I sank into creative mode for so long that by the time I excitedly began my story, the teacher called, “time’s up!” – I had written only 2 sentences about a “wicked witch.” I felt so sad and frustrated. I was a complete failure in my own eyes and probably in the eyes of the teacher. But I know even now it takes time to cook a plot.

One rule I had difficulty complying with was the required outline. Nothing before or since has made me quake in my mind as I viewed the blank page. Where does a student begin when forced to write an outline for an essay entitled, “The geo-political ramifications of the cause of World War II.” Studying that history only confused me more as to how many reasons there were, and which were more important, and which happened first. Oh, me!

Anyway, I have happily realised that as far as outlines are concerned, there are no rules except one. If you make an outline, your life does not depend on your stickling to it! Some people “cheat” and write their essay, article, or story first, and then write their outline after.

But I invented the perfect method for outlining when I wrote ­Verity. I thought of what I wanted to write. I created a character upon which the story centred, and then just quickly jotted down “what happens next” in a series of imaginative thoughts. This quickly filled two pages. I set that aside, and closed my eyes. I pictured the first orientating scene, and I began to write. I never looked at the outline again, and the final result was close to, but not an exact outcome of, the outline. However, the outline gave me direction, and I’ve realised that’s all an outline is supposed to do.

Personally, I love outlines now that I know what they’re for, and how to use them. They collect thoughts and help to achieve focus, and I do recommend them.

How I Make Characters Work

Creating characters for a story is such fun that I can’t imagine why anyone would compare it to giving birth! Obviously a story character is born via imagination and doesn’t incur the responsibilities of infant care such as changing diapers and losing sleep. Well, maybe a few winks are sacrificed!

I would guess that some writers have to put in a lot of labor as they have been taught to make arduous lists of their characters’ traits, including physical appearance. What a bore that exercise must be!

My grandmother always said, “Fancy is as fancy does.” You may have heard a version of this as “Handsome is as handsome does.” (This proverb was twisted in Forrest Gump as “Stupid is as stupid does,” but I’m drifting from the point.) This first proverb first appeared in Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale in 1387!

The point is that it doesn’t matter how handsome you are – if you’re mean and nasty, you’re ugly. It follows that we are all judged by our deeds, and so it seems in stories we learn about the characters by what they say and do, and not by boring descriptions. Least of all needed is a physical description. I might picture the old Wizard in my story Verity as looking like Sean Connery, but a meticulous description of the actor would be counterproductive if the reader pictures him as Leonard Nimroy. Unless a physical characteristic is germane to the story, I leave it out.

The Duchess in Verity never needed labeling. She condemned herself with every word and every action. One of Grimm’s tales does this graphically. In the Three Little Men in the Wood, the little men put spells on two girls, so that one kind, generous and beautiful girl becomes more beautiful, and every time she speaks a piece of gold drops from her mouth. The other girl is stingy and haughty, so she becomes uglier every day, and for every word she speaks, a toad springs out of her mouth. As a kid, I loved that!

Now I think of that when at a social occasion a woman – seemingly beautiful and sophisticated – asks another woman, “Does everyone here buy their clothes at the dollar store? Or did they – heaven forbid – make them?” She might as well have toads spring from her mouth.

The villains are easy to write.

For a character to do something “out of character,” it must be for a compelling reason – well depicted. Think of the character who shows up with bombs strapped to his body. He’s shown as a family man, faithful to his wife and satisfied with his job, and yet here he is in a crowded setting ready to blow himself and others to smithereens. It turns out his wife and kids have been kidnapped and the real villain is forcing him to this horrible behaviour. It’s well done on TV shows again, and again, and again, and again.

There are millions and millions of possibilities when one invents characters and their stories. It’s like being in a pastry shop and being allowed to choose six different sweets for free! Purr-sonally, I go more lick-smacking gaga in a stationary store. I wonder why?


How to Plot Fiendishly

I was recently asked about how I come up with the concept for the plot in the stories I write. I thought about that, and realized I have an idea I’d like to portray:

I start with a character. Then I put that character in a place and a reason why he/she is there. What’s happening? The conflict begins. The character is opposed by another character, or by a disturbing situation – natural or otherwise – or by a dilemma within his/her own thinking. That sets the situation as the conflict begins.

The tension builds and alters and builds. Gradually everything worsens the tension until it seems there is no solution at all. The character – hero or heroine – is going to lose everything. The excruciating threat is revealed as the hero/heroine musters all his/her strength to face the inevitable – the climax.

All this struggle changes someone or something never to be the same again, and then all is as it has to be. A conclusion is reached and it must satisfy the reader that it is the only way it could end.

There is no way I could write a tragedy. Having the hero/heroin lose everything even up to his/her life is just not something I’m prepared to read or write. Life is a struggle, but we must carry on somehow and hopefully win at something.

To be sure of continuity, I reread what I wrote during my last work session. It puts me back in the situation and “in the picture.” Then I simply ask myself, “What happens next?”

With or without a segway or omen, the continuity must be consistent and not jump. Always one step at a time.

Thus if an outline has been created it makes it easier to realize that no steps have been omitted.

(1) Setting – orientation

(2) Beginning of conflict

(3) Tension mounts

(4) The worst is realized, there is no hope

(5) Climax of conflicting forces

(6) Something basic changes

(7) Satisfying conclusion

No Excuses

Our poor old Earth is enduring many hardships right now. There are storms, currency wars, struggling in debt families, critical wide-spread health issues, and murderous wars. Desperation rules, and with it comes depression.

These are the times when culture comes to the rescue. Art lovers can receive more solace from a pastoral painting than from Picasso’s scene of a war torn Spanish town. Music lovers are more apt to appreciate a concert of love songs by Andre Bocceli than a discordant modern symphony. And most people (I disregard the teen appetite in this) would rather escape in an adventure novel spiced with a little romance than a gruesome novel of horror.

Recently for me, this generalization became quite personal. Adversity came to me with a fall and a broken arm. Nursing care was a necessity for not only the physical recovery, but also for psychological support. This came about from my nurse’s interest in my writing efforts. Reading my work to her gave me enjoyment, pain relief, encouragement, and incentive. Frustration and depression were subdued. Laughter was spontaneous. This has been and continues to be an amazing road to recovery, and I’m still studying and writing.

Culture can be powerful.


Write, Rewrite, Edit, Polish

When I was a young girl I took piano lessons. I really liked the piano until I was assigned “The Blue Danube.” By that time, I was sight-reading popular music and improvising some of my own touches, and the Blue Danube seemed so boring.

I wasn’t engaged in either its rhythm or its tune. I practiced it the first week and figured I had it nailed (as they say today). However, at the next lesson I made a minor mistake and was told to do it another week without even a chance to correct it. I never practiced it again, and weeks went by as I was stuck with the same piece.

During those weeks I realised the teacher had 2 new students. They were brothers. One had the half-hour before my lesson, and the other the half-hour following mine. The teacher started my lesson late by 5 minutes, as I sat in the hall and watched the clock. At first I was happy to be dismissed 5 minutes early, still stuck on the Blue Danube. Then it dawned on me I was having a 20 minute lesson and Mom was paying full price. I told her.

As a result, Mom asked our church organist to take me on as a student, explaining my fading interest in piano lessons. She suggested I might enjoy the organ, then she warned me I would have to start at the very beginning with scales! Playing scales with my feet? I was enraptured. Playing scales had never been so exciting. Two manuals (keyboards) for my hands and one for my feet. Using stops to change tones? I had oboes and violins and trumpets – oh bliss! A whole orchestra was mine in that pipe organ.

That was a life lesson well learned. It’s deadly boring to repeat the same activity over and over, but it’s bliss when a repeat is reinvented. In writing this is so true. I get a lift of pleasure creating a story in the first place, but then the boost from rewriting takes the pleasure even higher.

As I follow my four steps:

  1. Write
  2. Rewrite
  3. Edit
  4. Polish

I never find a stale moment in the whole process. No Blue Danubes!

At this time I am rewriting stories I wrote in the 1990’s. I am able to expand and change them with no word count restrictions and I am in bliss once again. Luckily there are 40 of them to do, so I’m happy.

p.s. I was a church organist for several years, but life took its turns and I relinquished that pleasure. I still play piano for pleasure.

How I wrote Hippocrates

Let me tell you a little history. I hated studying history in school. I couldn’t remember all those dates and wars were exasperatingly stupid to me. Now I write about history for children and I love doing it. How did that happen?

It started when I took a brief intro course on the use of a computer. Overnight I started writing a series of stories that covered history from ancient times to the mid twentieth century through the eyes of my character Alexander Catt. What fun!

Do you believe in serendipity? My good friend and son-in-law suggested a new series on the history of medicine. From the previous research I knew it would have to begin with ancient Egypt. SHAZAM! I was invited to a museum exhibit on ancient Egypt and there in the gift shop was a book on Medicine in Ancient Egypt! The story wrote itself.

Did you know that the symbol for drugstores came from ancient Egypt?

I was reading a biography of Hippocrates when (SHAZAM!) my daughter gave me a worn ragged old book on the ancient Olympics and the story “Lexi and Hippocrates Find Trouble at the Olympics” wrote itself.

Did you know that Niki was the goddess of victory?

Did you know that those ancient runners ran naked? Now that’s racy!

Did you know that Hippocrates taught medicine under a tree?

So, what’s next in my little history? I let serendipity guide me. Doctors are now required to view a program on washing hands before they renew their licenses to practice medicine. Incredible! Why? The answer begins with Lister. I can’t wait to write this one! Do you know if there is a book about the man?

So far all I know is that he took his new bride on a honeymoon to Europe to visit all the hospitals. Now there’s a story!