Solace & Hope

            On Sunday, August 28, Irene cried on my village, destroying whole sections of it. Gratefully, no life has been lost, but friends’ and neighbors’ homes have been washed away – along with their land and belongings. Roads are gone, bridges broken. I suffered no property damage, but I am changed by the devastation – and I’m not just talking about the inconvenience of closed roads.

Since the storm, I’ve been doing what I can for local relief. As always, in times of crisis I resort to my two mainstays: food and words. By Tuesday, I’d organized potluck dinners at our community hall, where those with power could bring covered dishes and those without power could eat hot food. We held four of these dinners last week. Others have organized a daily hot breakfast at the hall.

           Not only do we feed people at these meals, but we also gather and disseminate information at them. All of us – those who lost nothing, those who lost all and those somewhere in between these extremes – take comfort not just from the food, but also from the fellowship that is part of helping one another in time of need. We need to see and hear and reassure each other that life will go on, we will continue, we’ll get through this – and be stronger for it.

I may have started the potluck dinners, but others have stepped up to do the heavy lifting, from working the phones for food donations to cooking, serving, and washing up after. By Irene-plus-five, it became clear that we were emerging from our shock and starting to adjust to this new normal of a drastically changed landscape and vastly different civic circumstances. By then, I’d already filed a Commentary for Vermont Public Radio. But we needed more. We needed poetry.

I’ve been gathering, printing and posting poems for public consumption. Because we don’t just need food, shelter and clothing. We also need poetry to soothe our souls and give us ‘that thing with feathers’ – what Emily Dickinson called Hope.

Deborah Lee Luskin often writes about Vermont, where she has lived since 1984. She is a commentator for Vermont Public Radio, a Visiting Scholar for the Vermont Humanities Council and the author of the award winning novel, Into The Wilderness. For more information, visit her website at

So much to say

Being a writer means that you constantly wonder about “what happens behind the story?” Instead of taking something at face value you find yourself wondering what on earth could cause certain events to play out the way they do?

I found myself doing this recently when I passed a young couple on the street in front of the coffee shop. The man was obviously trying to comfort the decidedly angry woman. “I’m sorry,” he said to her trying to hold her in an embrace “I’m sorry that I got stomach cancer.” 

Wow. What a story there was in that very short interplay. What, I thought, would cause someone to apologize for having a terminal illness. Rightly or not, I started assigning some pretty selfish characteristics to the woman. She thought only of herself, she was weak and needed to be comforted. She didn’t care about anything but how she would be affected by this event. Soon she would be left alone. Not a comforting situation.

A bit harsh. Well then what if she was a young mother? Perhaps they had just gotten married and she either already had a child or a child was on the way? Maybe that child had a physical disability. Wouldn’t it be conceivable that her anger was for their child, how he would be cared for and what he would miss without his father nearby?

Would that be a sufficient reason for a person with a disease that was surely going to end his life to apologize for having it?

Or maybe it was that the man who was the one who needed the comforting, after all, he’s going to die. Perhaps he was making atonement for his sins of neglect to her apologizing and asking for a do-over? Please?

Or perhaps it was just that next week’s chemo-therapy appointment would mean that they would miss the next Red Socks game down in Boston. Damn, life can sometimes be so unfair.

I entered the coffee shop to get my latte and when I came back out they were both gone. I’m sure that someday I’ll be seeing them again as characters somewhere in my writing.

How could I not? They simply had so much to say.


Photo Credit: bjorn giesenbauer


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens).

And who knows? If I can work a chicken in, maybe someday I’ll write that story about a missed baseball game. 

2011 New Hampshire Literary Awards

From New Hampshire Writers’ Project

2011 New Hampshire Literary Awards
Nominations Now Open
Submission Deadline: June 15, 2011

In recognition of the rich and varied literary talent in the Granite State, the New Hampshire Writers’ Project will present the tenth New Hampshire Literary Awards at a special reception and ceremony on November 4, 2011 in Manchester.

Awards will be given in the following categories:

  • Outstanding Work of Fiction
  • Outstanding Work of Poetry
  • Outstanding Work of Nonfiction
  • Outstanding Work of Children’s Literature
  • Donald M. Murray Outstanding Journalism Award
  • Lifetime Achievement

Nominations are encouraged and welcome from everyone, including writers, publishers, organizations, and the general public. Self-nominations are also welcome. The deadline for submissions is June 15, 2011. An administrative fee of $35 is payable to NHWP for each nomination.

For more information about the New Hampshire Literary Awards and to print a nomination form click here.

Writing book reviews – everyone has an opinion

A book review is part of an author’s marketing and promotion toolkit and if you’re going to write a review, to post on Amazon or any other venue, there are some items you should include in order to make it beneficial to the author and potential readers.

Let me start by saying, before writing a review, read the book. It seems an obvious point, but there are reviewers who do not do this.

After finishing the book, give yourself a day or two before starting the review. Let the story settle in your mind. It’s amazing how many ideas percolate to the surface if you give yourself some breathing room.blank book image

To craft a book review:

  • Have a recommendation. Would you recommend the book to others? Yes or no.
  • Open with a brief (1-3 sentence paragraph) summary that catches a reader’s eye. Don’t give away the climax. You want to entice a reader to read (or not) the book you’ve read.
  • In the next paragraph, expand a bit on the storyline, include blurbs from the story if they help give a feel for the story that you might not be able to articulate. Summarize some main events in the book, but avoid giving away the spoilers.
  • Include a paragraph that talks about the author’s writing style. Comment on what worked and possibly what didn’t. What you liked, or didn’t, and why. Sharing your why is what readers want to know.
  • Depending on where your review will be posted, include a bit about the author’s bio in another paragraph. Mention a previous or upcoming book, and perhaps a couple of personal (non-writing) details to give the reader a feel for the person behind the words.
  • Wrap up your review with your read/don’t read recommendation and a quick description of who the perfect audience for the book might be.

Everyone has an opinion, so if you read a book and have one you want to share, consider crafting a review that includes points you’d want to know if you were considering a particular title.

If you’re a reader and a writer, book reviews are a way to expand your writing experience and could generate some income.

Lisa Jackson is an editor, writer, and chocolate lover. She’s addicted to Sudoku, cafés, and words. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has a blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis — and you can, too! © Lisa J. Jackson, 2011



As if writing weren’t hard enough by itself, producing the work is only part of the challenge: sending it out for publication is yet another full-time job. It’s not one I’ve been particularly good at, but I’m getting better, especially since I’ve started subscribing to CRWROPPS, The Creative Writers Opportunities List, a service provided by The Poetry Resource Page, which is a treasure trove of information for creative writers.

CRWROPPS is an email list-serve designed to provide poets and prose writers with up-to-date information about contests, calls for submissions and deadlines. All you have to do is sign up to receive daily email messages regarding publication opportunities in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. There’s no chat and no discussion: just the latest information on calls for submissions, new publications, contests, anthologies, fellowships and residencies.

It’s a lot of information – more than I can cope with on a daily basis, so I send it to an email account I’ve created for newsletters I’m interested in but don’t need to know about on a daily basis. This helps me from being overwhelmed by too much information, yet still allows me access the information – on my terms – when I’m ready, which is usually Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon.

I do this work in my office, that messy place where I don’t file as often as I’d like to, where I make piles of books and papers for the classes I’m teaching, the essays I’m writing, and the notes related to my current novel. This is not where I write fiction or essays; it’s where I conduct the business of writing. So once a week, I go through the emails listing calls for submissions and contests.

Each email contains information for poets, fiction writers and essayists, both contests (with fees) and open calls for submission. I print out the ones that seem likely, and then I go through my file of unpublished stories that I think are ready to send.

Only recently have I started entering contests, of which there are many. While I will send out simultaneous submissions, I’ll only enter a story into one paid contest at a time. Also, to get my money’s worth, I only enter contests where my submission fee includes at least one copy of the magazine. And to make my life easier, I generally only submit to journals that accept work on-line.

For years, I didn’t send stories out on a regular basis, because it felt too much like inviting rejection into my life. And then I met a writer who made as his goal to collect one hundred rejections in a year. He did it – and in the process, placed eight stories. I’m not gunning for that many rejections, but I’ve changed how I feel about them. I used to see them as a sign of failure; now I see rejections as an indication of my effort in that unpleasant but necessary task of sending work out.

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” between two 64-year-olds, set in Vermont in 1964. Luskin is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio, an editorial columnist, and a free-lance writer. In addition, Luskin teachers literature and writing in prisons, hospitals and libraries; she holds a PhD in English Literature from Columbia University.

Attention Short Story Writers

Do you write short stories? Do you write crime/mystery fiction? Are you from New England? If the answer to all three of these things is “yes!”, then there are a couple of deadlines coming up you should know about.

First, Level Best Books is taking submissions for this year’s anthology, Dead Calm. Submissions are due April 15, and the guidelines are here. This is the 9th anthology published by Level Best Books, the second by this group of editors. True confession time–they published my short story last fall in Thin Ice. And two of the stories are up for awards this spring.

Second, the Al Blanchard contest deadline is April 30. First prize is $100 and being published in Dead Calm. This contest has very similar submission guidelines (5,000 words or less and within the genre, etc.) You can (and should) submit to both if you are ready. Typically I submit last year’s Al Blanchard entry the following year, since I need the other two weeks to get my story ready. Even though I’ve know about both deadlines for a while.

I find short stories to be a very difficult form, but I try with varying degrees of success. I know this is last minute, but it might inspire a few of you to pull out a story, polish it up and submit it. I hope so.

Good luck!

Titillating the muse

Julie’s post yesterday inspired this one. Being fearless is personal to each of us and it can be something small or something large, but no matter what it is, I believe it always excites the Muse – to the point of Muse wanting to wear a party hat and blow on noisemakers.

Here are a few areas of being ‘brave':

Pursuing interests – I’ve always loved learning, no matter what the ‘norm.’ In high school I took “boy” classes – mechanical drawing, small engine repair, and woodworking – not because of the boys (I was too shy to say ‘hi’) – but because those subjects interested me. Girls who settled for the home ec classes called me brave since I stepped out of gender boundaries.

Self-improvement – I needed to be more confident in front of a room for my career. I joined Toastmasters and worked my way up from a mumbling, sweating, uncomfortable read-from-the-typed-speech speaker to confident, able speaker, and Area Governor. I still have butterflies whenever I’m in front of a group, but I know how to control them.

Following a dream – When I walked away from a lucrative corporate job several years ago to pursue freelance writing, all my coworkers called me brave. At the time I insinuated they meant ‘stupid’ or ‘insane’, but I came to realize they consider me brave because I decided to pursue my dream instead of someone else’s.

Pushing the limits – I try to take an adventure vacation each year. Something that truly gets me out of my life for at least a week. My first adventure vacation was a week rafting down the Colorado River. Everything I did that week was beyond my comfort zone. Everything. Some examples: I’d never been out west before. I went alone. Lots of motion (I’m motion sickness personified). It was mid-August, lots of sun (I’m pale, burn easy). I’d never done white water before (I fell out – the raft ended up stuck to a wall, nowhere to go but in the water – and had to be rescued). 5 days without indoor plumbing is nothing to scoff at. I enjoyed every second of that trip.Sheri Griffith Expeditions, raft on river in canyon

It’s amazing how much the world can open up, and how many ideas the muse can find succulent enough to play with, when you step out of your ‘normal’ life and try something completely new and fresh.

My Muse is easy to entertain, though. If I just do my walking route in reverse, for instance, she’s giggling by the time we’re back to writing.

Do you find it true, too? That if you push yourself, even a little bit, that the muse comes alive for you?

Lisa Jackson is an editor, writer, and chocolate lover. She’s addicted to Sudoku, cafés, and words. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has a blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis — and you can too! © Lisa J. Jackson, 2010

Making Luck

Recently a friend paid me a compliment. He called me fearless.

Fearless is not an adjective I would use to describe myself. Sure, I push myself outside my comfort zone and try new things, but discomfort is my companion. But I read a quote once–“fear is excitement without oxygen”–that reframed the idea of fear for me. I began to think that brave, confident people may actually be better breathers than I am, but that maybe discomfort is part of their life too.

And that ties into luck. Contrary to what we would all love to believe, leprechauns aren’t going to hand you a pot of gold and genies aren’t going to grant you three wishes. You need to be present for luck to happen. You need to show up and be open to it. You need to force Lady Luck’s hand.

How? This blog has great suggestions about persistence, networking, creating systems, managing your message, and guerilla marketing. I’ve talked about the power of finding your clan and faking it until you make it. But now I’m going to quote a Nike ad.

Just do it.

Make yourself try a couple of things that scare you, but may offer an opportunity. Claim your ground as a writer, but don’t define what that means with too much rigidity. You may be a poet, but consider writing an essay for a journal. You may write literary fiction, but try your hand a genre for an anthology. Here are some other ideas.

Enter a contest. Be careful of the contest–make sure it is reputable and established. (Here is a blog post with some great tips.) But go ahead and send your work in. If you are a mystery writer, the Al Blanchard contest is open right now. You aren’t a mystery writer? Read the submission guidelines–might your work fit anyway? Are you inspired to try something new? Does that idea scare you? Excellent–start working on the story.

Look at anthologies, magazines, journals, etc.  and their deadlines. My dream of being published was realized last fall when Thin Ice, an anthology by Level Best Books, was published and my short story “Tag, You’re Dead” was included. Two things about this. First, short stories are not my natural writing style. I write novels. But I considered this an opportunity, and I pursued it. And second, I was rejected by Level Best Books several times over the years.

Consider joining or starting a blog with others. I was thrilled when I was able to join this blog last summer. Deadlines and guidelines have really helped me step up my game. And the internet is a great way to start to create a name.

Find a writing conference or class and sign up. The first time I signed up for a conference I was a wreck. I had to call myself out as a writer. I did, I lived, and it was fine.

And finally, be fearless. This week I helped spread the word about a viral video by George Watsky, a recent Emerson graduate I was fortunate to get to know. He did a news interview where he talked about the video, and what he hoped to accomplish. He spoke of a career, and making art. He is talented, but he made this happen. Over 2 million hits and growing. A pale kid who raps fast.

Anything is possible. Just remember to breathe.

Nanowrimo – the triathlon of the literary world

In just a few weeks the bell of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writer’s Month) will ring. At the stroke of midnight on Halloween hundreds of thousands of writers will sit in front of their computers – flying high from far too many Kit Kat bars and will attempt to at least get in a few good paragraphs before they crash.

For the next month, we will wring our hair, yell at our kids, eat far too much sugar, and drink heart-pounding gallons of coffee all so that we can, in the end, say that we did it.

What is it about Nanowrimo? There isn’t a prize involved – if you make the goal of 50,000 words written in 30 days you automatically win.

There isn’t even quality involved – I’ve heard stories where people are blocked in their plots and so decide to kill off their main character by having him get hit by a bus just so that they could begin in a new direction.

You don’t even have to have a good idea to write about. In the past I’ve written a memoir, a children’s story, and a story that even the Disney channel would find too saccharine to consider. Someday I might take another look at those stories but then again maybe I won’t.

Because that’s not the point of Nanowrimo.

The reason so many love this challenge is that it is just that. It’s a challenge. Nanowrimo is the triathlon of the writing world, you either have it in you to compete or you don’t.

Nanowrimo is all about passing over the finish line. Even if you have to crawl over it.

When you cross that literary line, just like in the organized triathlons for beginners you are awarded a medal for your effort. Nanowrimo sends you a certificate suitable for framing. (oh and trust me – you get that baby framed right away) because like the medal from your first triathlon which hangs off a lamp in the corner of your office, you’ll be able to look at that framed award certificate and forever remember that as a writer you are glorious and when you come down to it, you can do anything.

Now go sign up for this year’s challenge.

About the Author:

A  features writer, interviewer, and columnist, Wendy Thomas has been published in national magazines, newspapers, e-zines, and blogs.

Wendy discusses marketing writing at Savvy B2B Marketing.

Her current project is to blog about life living with 6 kids and a flock of chickens.

Writing contests: are they worth the effort? trophy illustration

Writing contests…some folks will say a ‘waste of time,’ others will say ‘worth it.’ I say it depends on what you want to get out of it.

I’ve entered various contests over the past few years and I’ll continue to do so. I won the very first contest I entered. It was a flash fiction contest. The piece had to be between 300 and 500 words and based on a photo prompt.

I have to say I was excited to win. Excited to see the story printed in a newsletter. I still get warm fuzzies when I look at the certificate the publication sent me. It’s on the wall in my office and whenever I’m feeling a bit down I glance at the certificate and it inspires me to continue on. I’ve placed 2nd and 3rd in contests. Have been runner-up and a ‘grab bag winner’ in other contests.

Placing at any level in a contest is like getting a good grade on a paper in school. You can’t help but smile when you know you’ve impressed someone.

I don’t enter many contests that charge a fee, but I’m also not entering novel-length contests where the cash prize is large and part of the prize is a contract and introduction to a publisher. I’m not at that level yet.

Contests push me. They give me a deadline. They let me stretch myself in new directions. I think they can help a writer gain confidence. I wouldn’t recommend entering a contest where the fee is more than 10% of the grand prize total. Writers (generally) need to make money, not spend it, so keeping costs to a minimum is a good thing.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a free writing ‘contest’. You can compare yourself to others or just work against the 30-day clock to see if you can pound out 50,000 words between Nov 1 and Nov 30. If you miss a daily goal/deadline, there are other days in the month to make up the words. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in novel writing. There are other similar contests too: script writing, script frenzy, sci-fi novels, etc.

You can do a Google or Bing search for ‘writing contests’ and narrow down to the type you want. There are numerous contests, and several ways to find them.

Some types of contests:

  • Genre specific
  • With a fee
  • No fee
  • Cash prize
  • Publication and byline as prize
  • Gender specific
  • On-the-spot
  • Deadline specific
  • Members only
  • With feedback
  • Without feedback
  • Short stories
  • Novel length

Have you ever entered a writing contest? What were your reasons for entering? Would you recommend any particular contest to others?

Lisa J. Jackson is an editor, author, book coach, consultant, Big Sister, cat owner, and chocolate lover. She’s addicted to Sudoku, cafés, coffee ice cream, and words. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has a blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to chat with writing professionals on a weekly basis — and you can too! ©Lisa J. Jackson, 2010