Monday, February 25, 2008

Writing Poetry on a Dreary Winter Day

Today I planned to meet a friend for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, the Signature Room at the top of the John Hancock Center. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate; commuting from the suburbs just for lunch when sleet and snow are forecast didn't seem wise to my friend. I understand. This is a good day to stay indoors.

As I've said before, writing is a great way to brighten dreary days, so I wrote another Rictameter (see my December 17, 2007 post for other examples). I am not a "real" poet, but I like the mental challenge of this restricted form. Why not try writing a poem? Any form, including free verse, will do. Let's keep our brains active

Think and Dream

Think. Dream.
Write your story.
Do it in poems, in verse.
Try rictameters or sonnets,
Quatrains, tercets, octaves, sestets, shaped poems,
Free verse, rhymed or unrhymed, good, bad.
Stretch your brain; flex you mind.
Express yourself.
Think. Dream.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Best Review of this Blog I've Seen!

We bloggers sometimes get the feeling that no one is reading what we write (hint: leave more comments). Today, I happened upon this review from "The Senior Surfer" (, a blog I'd not heard of. There's nothing like a good review or a kind comment to brighten a cold winter day in Chicago!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007:

If You Ever Wanted To Write Your Life...

"Have you always wanted to write a memoir but never quite gotten around to actually starting the darn thing? If one of your New Year's resolutions is to get that memoir out of your head and onto paper, you might want to turn to
Write Your Life, an inspirational blog that just might give you the guidance you need to finally churn out your life's story. Created by senior blogger Marlys Marshall Styne, also a retired English professor and memoirist, Write Your Life is filled with the kind of useful tips and exercises designed to liberate the writer within you. For example, if you're "stuck" creatively or not sure exactly how to start writing about your life, Marlys suggests ten journal assignments to get you going in the right direction.A copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style on your desk and Write Your Life on your desktop might be all you need to get that memoir written in 2008! Best of luck!"

Posted by Aurelio Zucco at
10:33 PM

Thanks, Aurelio. It took me more than two months to discover this, but I appreciate it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

There's an Interesting Writing Challenge Going Around

Here is an idea I found on "Wintersong," previously borrowed from "Grannymar" (an Irish blog), borrowed from . . . . You get the idea. This is one of those memes going around the blogging world. Here are the rules:

* Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
* Find Page 123.

* Find the first 5 sentences.
* Post the next 3 sentences [sentences 6-8]
* Tag 5 people

I'll skip the tagging part; that's too intrusive for me. But I decided to give the rest a try.

The book on top of my "To Review" pile, one of those books sent me by a publisher for review on one of my blogs (I don't get books from the "big guys" in publishing, of course), is Send Yourself Roses, by actress Kathleen Turner, in collaboration with Gloria Feldt (Springboard, 2008).

I'm not a fan of celebrities' or ex-celebrities' books, most of which seem to be ghost-written anyway, but after all, this book does fit my criteria otherwise: it's the life story of an older woman, and it deals, in part, with aging. O.K. The cinching factor was that I happened to see one of Turner's movies, Serial Mom (1994), on TV fairly recently. It's a funny film, but not a great one. Still, I was amazed by Turner's ability to make a monster killer almost sympathetic, in a humorous way. Turner is best known, of course, for her first film, Body Heat (1981). She also had later stage successes in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (2005-2007), as well as many other roles.

Page 123 of Send Yourself Roses comes in the chapter "Hold On to the Power to Say No." She regrets the one time (according to her) that she accepted a role mainly for the money. The film was Switching Channels, 1988. Turner was pregnant at the time, the film was delayed, and "Since Michael Caine couldn't do the film in time, the producer hired Burt Reynolds." As Turner's girth increased, her co-star wasn't very understanding.

Here are sentences six, seven, and eight from page 123:

"For whatever reason, he [Burt Reynolds] immediately said to me, 'I've never taken second billing to a woman.' I excused myself, ran to my room--we were rehearsing in a hotel--and called Jay [her husband], breaking into tears, saying, 'I don't think I can do this.' Burt was just nasty."

I've not finished reading this book, nor have I written my review. I may do so eventually. There is a certain charm in entering a world very alien to my own to encounter a woman whose life has been nothing like mine.

Pick up the nearest book and give this exercise a try.

An update, February 21:

In the interest of fairness, I tried this with my own book Reinventing Myself. Page 123 falls toward the beginning of the chapter entitled "Taking a Walk." This passage is leading up to my explanation of why I prefer outdoor (fair weather) walking to other forms of exercise and to a description of things observed on a neighborhood walk:

"I'm not into suffering. Yes, I can exercise by using my stationary recumbent exercise bike or a treadmill at the local health club (there's one in my building), but that's quite boring. The bike's in my bedroom, so I do try to use it several times a week."

Not only is this one of the duller passages in the book, but it makes me feel guilty that I've not been exercising lately. I guess this writing exercise can be dangerous!

Another Update, March 18:

I finally reviewed Kathleen Turner's book on my other blog, "Never too Late!" Here is a link:

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Journalism: A New World?

Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the Illinois Woman's Press Association. I am not exactly a press woman (my last newspaper "gig" came during college in the early 1950's), but the group includes writers of all kinds now. The speaker was author and Northwestern University Journalism Professor Michele Weldon, and I was fascinated by her speech, "Adapting to a New World in Journalism."

I'll leave the reviews of Weldon's speech to actual journalists, but her message was appropriate for us older "what's the world coming to?" moaners who sometimes lament the decline of the newspaper as we used to know it. Long gone are the days when we eagerly waited for our morning newspaper to catch up on the news of the day. Now, we've seen and heard that news on TV and/or listened to it on the radio and/or followed it on line, so a newspaper holds few surprises.

Take, for example, the tragic shootings at Northern Illinois University. I happened to turn on my TV that afternoon, just after the event, and I watched all the latest developments. Had I watched updates all night, I would probably have been up-to-date on everything from the body count to the ID of the gunman. That's the kind of immediacy we demand these days.

Still, I read the next day's newspaper. There's something comforting about sitting down with a cup of coffee and the Chicago Tribune. Like other newspapers, it no longer dwells for long on the Who-What-When-Where-Why-How basic facts. Now it's in-depth interviews and public reactions and background stories, and I like that. Of course radio and TV do the same to some extent, but somehow, I prefer a well-developed newspaper story to a series of short sound bites.

I hope that printed newspapers never disappear. We'll always need writers to look beyond the facts and concentrate on the "Why" and the effects of news events on those involved, either directly or indirectly. In her newest book, Everyman News: The Changing American Front Page (U. of Missouri Press, 2007), Michele Weldon discusses how "newspapers have carved out a narrative niche that reflects society's fascination with personal stories and readers' demands for diversity in content."

You gave me a lot to think about, Ms. Weldon. Keep up the good work.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Those Feel-Good Moments

Life tends to get a bit dull in the midst of a cold, snowy, dreary winter, but sometimes something that I see gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. It's such things that we should remember to write about.

This time, I happened to see a TV news report on the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Just the sight of that happy little Beagle, Uno, made my day! Somehow, the usual poodles and other more exotic dogs don't impress me very much, but Uno is different.

I'm basically a cat, not a dog, person. I had dogs during childhood, but my later city life has not encouraged me to get a dog. I don't consider a city apartment the best place for a dog. Frankly, I'm too lazy for those outdoor walks, especially in the winter.

Uno reminds me a bit of my father's long-time companion, Bill. I remember Bill best as a fat and ailing older beagle whose decline seemed to parallel my father's (he--my father--died at age 70). Still, I have a picture of my father with a very young Bill, just a puppy, and he was very, very cute then.

The sight of Uno doing his victory walk, tail in the air, strutting happily, brought back fond memories. When something makes you smile, take time to think about it--and write about it, too. I'll have to write more about my father's dog, Bill.

(Happy Valentine's Day to all! Tell that special someone that you love him or her.)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Finally! Archives for my eGenerations Columns

It has bothered me a bit that on those rare occasions when someone asked about one of my past columns, I was not able to help him or her. The current column was always there at the top of the "Connect" page, but earlier ones could only be found when they popped up at random. Now, at last, all the columns can be found at

For anyone who might be interested, here is a list of titles for the columns I've written thus far. I'll try to keep the list updated. You can find them all with the above link.

1. Tell Your Story!
2. Excuses for Not Writing? A Few Reassurances and More about Getting Started
3. Need More Writing Suggestions? Your Life Experiences, Your Special World, Your Legacy
4. Writing to Discover: Who are you? Where have you been? Where are you going?
5. Flexing your "Writing Muscles": Interviewing Others--or Yourself
6. Sharing Your Experiences, Your Memories, Your Stories: Printing, Copying, or Publishing
7. Writing to Heal: Writing as Therapy
8. Expressing Yourself On Line and Off: Journals, Blogs, Books, and Blooks
9. Tell Your Life Story Through Poetry?
10. My Experiences with Print-on-Demand and Online Self-Publishing
11. Does Your Writing Need Improvement? Self-Editing, Copy Editing, and Content Editing
12. In Defense of Old-Fashioned Communication: Writing Holiday Letters
13. Year-end Thoughts and Last-Minute Gift Suggestions
14. Looking Back and Looking Ahead: A New Year of Writing
15. Newspaper Book Reviews: An Endangered Species?
16. The Humorous Side of Book Reviewing, or Is It?
17. Internet Book Reviews
18. Become a Book Reviewer?
19. Fact, Fiction, and Book Scandals
20. Writing Inspirations, Part I: Photographs

Happy reading and writing!

Friday, February 8, 2008

One of Those Ideas I Wish I'd Thought Of Myself

Thanks to Larry Lehmer of "Passing it On"
(, I've just encountered a new book based on a joint Smith Magazine and Twitter Contest. The book is called Not Quite What I was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. I haven't seen the book yet, but go to Larry's blog to read about it, with some samples and some links.

Here's a quote from the web site:

"Surprisingly addictive, Not Quite is both a moving peek at the minutia of humanity and the most literary toilet reading you’ll ever find."

I wish I'd known about this contest; I might have entered it. As it is, I still intend to give the idea a try. Talk about a challenge! Stay tuned; if and when I come up with six golden words about my life, I'll post them here. Meanwhile, give it a try yourself.

Update: 2/09: Here's what I've come up with so far. I'll keep trying.

"Seventy-five, wrinkled, writing, still enjoying life!"

Want to buy the book at

Friday, February 1, 2008

Another Book Reviewing Dilemma

In my November 18, 2007, post "The Truth About (Old-Style) English Teachers and a Book Reviewer's Dilemma" here, I lamented being unable to review an interesting and well-intentioned book because it contained so many elementary writing errors.

As a relentless promoter of life writing and family stories, I hate the disappointment of reading a seriously flawed book, especially one that shows promise. I'm too honest to encourage readers to buy a book that I find hard to get through.

Now I've found a second book I can't review in a positive way. This book was sent to me by the author in good faith, and I have not intention of shattering her dreams with a published review. More writing errors? No. This book is very well written in the technical sense. Its "sins," as I see them, are an unrealized premise or unifying idea, weak organization, trying to cover too much ground, and a strange lack of vivid personal details. There's too much telling and too little showing.

I don't question this book's value to family members and friends. What I question is whether it has value for the wider reading public. The author, who has apparently formed her own publishing company to publish this book (I'm not attacking self-publishing; I've done it myself, although not by forming a company of my own), tried too hard to make her family's story special and unusual, and I didn't see it that way.

I guess my real point is that while I believe everyone has a story to tell, and that family lore should be recorded, not every book deserves general publication and distribution, at least until it has had serious copy and content editing. (See my eGenerations column, "Does Your Writing Need Improvement?" at Be careful!

As for the book in question here, I hope I am wrong, and that the author's dreams will be fulfilled. I still believe in big dreams.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne