Posted in Craft of writing



Revision is the only way to improve our writing. — Rhonda Wiley-Jones

The only kind of writing is rewriting. — Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast 

Hopefully you saw the first version of this scene in the previous blog post, Drafting a Scene for my Novel. (If not, review it to get the most out of this post.) After taking it to my writers’ critique group yesterday, see my revisions below in red. They represent changes I made as a result of their comments and from my own need to clarify what I wanted to say. (NOTE: I use the word, Moslem instead of Muslim, because in 1906 that was the preferred word.)


Pastor John led the way out of Ramita’s front garden, leaving the sweet smells of flowers. John opened the gate for Fiona to the street and the offensive odors that would come. He stepped behind her and then to the street side of the path. Fiona followed his chivalrous behavior wondering what he was doing, until she recalled Ramita’s words, “Pastor John needs a wife.”

Awkward and uncertain about how to behave around this attentive man of God, Fiona attempted to make casual conversation. Her innate curiosity helped. “I see different kinds of lettering on shop doors. At first I thought them all the same, but after a few days of observing them, I think they are different languages.”

“You have a keen eye.” He pointed to a small sweetmeats shop and said, “That is run by a Moslem. The lettering is Urdu, one of several major languages and the language of Moslem speakers.”

Fiona tried the word on her tongue, “Ur-du. Right? That feels funny in my mouth.

He laughed at her reaction and said, “You would like the taste of these sweets in your mouth as well. Bengal is known as the sweet tooth of India.”

Now standing in front of the bakery, he pointed out the wonders displayed. “That is called pathishapta. It’s a rolled pancake stuffed with a cream of coconut, milk, cream, and an ingredient from the date palm, jaggery. My boys love it.Image result for sweets in indian culture

“See those ball-shaped treats? They are made from a condensed milk and coconut, and often made to celebrate Lakshmi Puja.”

“What’s that?”

“A prayer ritual, usually performed during Diwali, a major Indian festival. The third day of Diwali is considered auspicious and set to greet the god Lakshmi. They believe that the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, comes to bestow gifts and blessings. She is thought to revere cleanliness, so devotees clean their houses and decorate with lights, and prepare delicacies as offerings. The more satisfied she is with the visit the greater the blessings, wealth and prosperity the household will attract during the next year.”

“Do they celebrate once a year or more often?”

“Only during the Diwali festival. But there are many festivals throughout the year. Unfortunately, there are no festivals while you are here. And that’s a shame. I wish you could experience one of them.”

“Yeah, me, too. And what is that?” Fiona said, pointing to another round treat.

“That’s a rasgulla. Of all things, it is a ball of unripened cheese soaked in sugar syrup. Actually, it’s pretty good.” He pointed to another item. “The malpoa has different versions. The one made in here in Bengal is a cream pancake deep fried with raisins and syrup applied later. That was Martha’s … ”

He stopped himself abruptly and then apologized. “I shouldn’t speak of my wife to you.  It’s not my place to burden you with my memories.”

“No, no, that’s okay. You will always remember her fondly and why wouldn’t you?”

He pointed to a tobacco shop across the street and said, “Now see that smoke shop over there? That is run by a Hindu, because the lettering is Hindi. In missionary language school before getting Calcutta I learned that Hindustani is the mother language of Urdu and Hindi.”

Fiona tried to walk in the crowded streets without touching John’s shoulder, but she felt the moist skin from his arm from time to time. She stiffened when he reached for her hand. In tight places he slid his arm behind her and nudged her forward. She took measured steps.

“Ironically though, Urdu is written from right to left; and Hindi, from left to right, like we write. Hindi takes many words and expressions from the Sanskrit and Urdu more from Persian.”

“It looks nothing like our alphabet. How many letters does it have?”

“In Urdu, over thirty consonants and at least twenty vowels. Then in Hindi about twenty-eight consonants and thirty-five vowels. Of course, then there are exceptions and combination of letters, much like we have the “oy” sound for the words joy or voice. The written script may be different in the two; but if you speak one, you understand the other when it is spoken.”

“That doesn’t make sense to me. They seem…”


“Yes, even paradoxical. Do you speak either?”

“I studied Hindi, but can’t say I’m fluent; I stumble along if a native speaker is patient.”

They stepped prudently around a Brahma bull lazily chewing its cud and ignoring them. Fiona from the top of the ghat, man-made stone steps from the upper street level down to the river, looked down to see women washing clothes, while locals and pilgrims bathed before prayers. The wide passageway led down to the Ganges, the holiest of all rivers, or in this case the Hooghly, a diversion from the mother of all Indian rivers.

“I’m so tall and white; so out of place, like a pot roast at a bake sale. What’s the word for foreigner?”

Pardesi, which is Hindi. Though this is the Indian continent, did you know there is no such thing as an Indian race?”

Fiona cocked her head, puzzled. “But they are all dark skinned.”

“Yes, more than you and me, but the range of color is golden to mahogany to black. The Aryans are fair-skinned, more like us; while the Dravidians are Negroid typed.” He saw her perplexed face. “It is believed that Dravidians from the South invaded the North and then integrated, marrying lighter-skinned Aryans;  creating many skin tones.”

“And those two strains of people have inter-married with Mongolians from north of India. When you take into account all these factors, you will see why Indian complexions vary widely.”

Avoiding the marriage subject, she said. “I suppose sun exposure deepens the skin tone, as well.” Then she sniffed the air, like a dog and asked, “What is that  strange scent? I see men smoking pipes and dipping snuff from gourds or pouches, but this scent is unfamiliar.”

He looked about and then pointed to an old gentleman pulling a long drag from an elaborate silver hookah. The device, elegant and expensive, sat in stark contrast to the man with tattered clothes. His only other possession appeared to be an amulet pouch on his belt. The turbaned man with eyes closed sucked on a tube from the instrument.

John said, “That’s called a hookah,  a smoking machine used for opium.”

“Hook-ah, you call it. What is opium, like tobacco?”

“Similar, but more potent. Historically it may have been used by priests or healers to produce effects that made them seem like men with special powers. Today it’s used by pilgrims and priests to attain a meditative state.”

He guided her closer to the contemplative. “In addition to its prevailing use as anesthesia and a painkiller, doctors use it to treat respiratory and stomach ailments.”

Fiona  pointed to the man. “He seems to be lost in thought. Why do you think he is using the hookah?”

“He might say he’s trying to get closer to God.” He chuckled and then sobered.  “I would say there is only one way to God through Jesus Christ. Prayer also helps.”

Fiona  fought her discomfort fueled by his closeness and attention. She fiddled with the compass in her pocket that she found after thinking she had lost it on ship. The compass had been Uncle Louis’  parting gift  to Will. And he  left it with her so she could find her way in the world without him.

The compass reminded Fiona of how much she had wanted to make this trip with Will. It provided the only certainty she had about anything right now. North was always north.


Can you see the improvement in the second version of the scene, especially the added paragraphs of new content the group wanted to see in the scene?

  1. When you return to the first post, you see “Stepping a Character” aids any writer in developing a scene that is lively with action, dialogue, and utilizes more of the senses. I didn’t use all the elements I anticipated, but it gave me ready-made content to work with as I drafted the scene.
  2. Next, you see the value of a good critique group in this post and how it improves our writing (my writing especially). Never shy away from getting feedback from other writers and/or readers and for heaven’s sake don’t ignore it. Weigh to see if it fits what you want to accomplish in the writing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I make changes.

What is your experience working with a feedback from other writers or readers?


Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Workshops, Writing Workshops

“To live a life well traveled”

Staff participants at Schreiner University’s Lunch and Learn workshop entitled, “Travel Journal Writing” took note of how important it is to travel thoughtfully. Below are four comments from the post assessment, including the title to the blog post.

“I wish I had known that a trip is not just a trip.”

Early on in the workshop we consider different kinds of travel. Some of us travel as The Way of the Traveler Book.tourists or to visit friends and family. Some of us are more into learning trips, such as the Roads Scholars program. Others may be into ‘adventuring’ like camping, fishing, hiking while others enjoy extreme adventuring, such as skydiving or mountain biking. Then there are the more serious kinds of travel that might be for business purposes or on a pilgrimage for personal insight, or traveling with a mission group to help others. Any of these trips can be an outward journey into the world and/or an inward journey into ourselves.

“The workshop can start one’s imagination in motion for traveling to other places.” 

The group members, using exercise prompts, wrote what they could expect about future travels. Prompts included things like, ‘What makes you shake, rattle and roll?’

  • What makes you shake (or tremble, good or bad)?
  • What rattles or upsets you?
  • What calms you down so you can roll with the punches?

“Loved the connection to prepare students traveling.”

Globejotting.Being on a college campus, I pointed out how valuable these kinds of questions can be for students who will study abroad, work through an internship abroad, or travel in any kind of experiential learning globally. If we as adults and seasoned professionals are unlikely to travel thoughtfully, why would we think students would do so without some prompting.


“I have more to learn about the ‘art’ of preflection about travel, as opposed to ‘worrying’.”

‘Preflection’ is the anticipation of what one wants from a travel experience, what one can expect from the place andArt of Pilgrimage Book.1 its conditions, and how one might approach the experience with an open mind. This heightens our awareness and raises our expectations while traveling and when we arrive. Journal writing before we leave about what could be and what we want creates a radar within us to extract more from the experience, making it deeper and richer. Preflection may include what could go wrong, but it will be followed with how one will choose to react and make the most of the experience. This is the beauty of preflection.

Tools, Techniques, & Topics 

In the beginning of the workshop we discuss the reasons or purposes for travel and the place and conditions of travel. These factors influence the supplies one will choose to use while traveling. For example, you may want notecards to stash in your purse or pocket. While others may prefer a beautifully covered notebook, lined or unlined, to motivate them to write. Yet other travelers may prefer a small, plastic covered notebook with pockets in which to tuck tickets or brochures. Those who travel in rough terrain or in rainy weather may need special pencils that write even in the rain.

2015-11-17 15.40.12Where you went, what you saw, and what you ate are not the only topics of traveling journal writing. 

In addition, we discuss tools or supplies, journaling techniques that make for more interesting and challenging journal writing. And then we list topics that one might select to write about. Leaving ready with anticipated topics keeps one from saying, “I don’t know what to write about.”

What books on journal writing can your recommend? What have you learned from your own travel journal writing experience?

Posted in Craft of writing, Travel Writing, Writing

Writing dialogue using colorful, old sayings

Breakfast on the Porch this Morning

I recalled one of my current writing projects this morning. Our neighbor Niel (yes, that’s how he spells it) stopped by with his standard poodle Maggie on their walk while Lynn and I were having breakfast on the back porch.

As we discussed places we have lived before Lynn described to Niel that Madison, Wisconsin, the state’s capitol and home of the Badgers at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1980s was known as “ten-square miles surrounded by reality.”

Niel followed with his experience in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Raleigh was referred to as the pat of butter on top of a bowl of grits.”

Old sayings or saws are colorful and useful in dialogue of specific periods of time and with specific trades or types of people.

Why am I collecting old sayings?

I set the historical romance that I am writing in the year 1906, the year of the San Francisco earthquake. My protagonist, Fiona Weston, travels on ship from San Francisco to India to sell her uncle’s remaining nine broodmares to the British/Indian military to breed with the their Manipuri horse for selective polo ponies in cavalry training.

I am collecting sayings that might have been used during that era and particularly by horsemen, and sailors, or old salts, as they called themselves. When using familiar adages or maxims, they bring dialogue to life, make people sound natural, and offer clues to the setting or era in which the story is written without having to state them explicitly.

How can you help? 

I’m asking you to submit old saws (or sayings) that you think might be useful in delivering dynamic dialogue in the novel, true to the period and a seafaring crew.


My dad was a colorful and humorous storyteller. (I got the story writing from him, but the humorous part–not so much.) Here are example of my favorites I remember from him, because of the image they sear into the imagination.

  • Giving that speech, Mama was as nervous as a cow on skates. 
  • Miss Blixen barely took a breath between sentences; her mouth ran like a babbling brook. 
  • When Buddy was around a girl he could be as skittish as a cat in a room full of rockin’ chairs.

Here’s how you can help!

Please add one or two favorite old sayings of yours below in the comments section, especially one for sailors or seafaring crew members. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. I’m indebted to you.

Posted in Travel

Medical Emergencies while Traveling

Yes, I know that we can be over prepared for many things because of our fears of being unprepared. Here is one area for which you cannot be over prepared.

Carry a list of our medications (both prescription and over-the-counter kind). 

Last year while in Mexico a friend fainted and lost consciousness for a moment. The Emergency Medical Service was called. When they arrived, they needed to know what medications she was taking. Her partner ran to get the ziplock bag of her meds, as she laid on the concrete floor coming around. The EMS workers then tried with the help of two tourists, who were nurses to determine what each pill was named and what it treated.

A list of meds would have been an easy solution to the problem.

I carry a list of my medications, vitamins and minerals,and over-the-counter meds. Next to each I indicate how often I take them on a regular basis and which ones I take PRN which means “taken as needed” by the medical profession.

I also state my blood type, allergies, and my medical insurance account number and how to reach them. In addition to these things, I offer a listing of the people who should be notified in case of an emergency with phone numbers.

I label it ICE (in case of emergency) and craft it so it is small enough to fit in my billfold. It takes up a half-page, folded in thirds, and stores in a small jewelry-sized ziplock bag. I have it with me at all times.

I use this when I go to a doctor’s office at home and the office asks for my medications. They copy it and place it in my file. I update it when it changes in any way, then record the date of the most recent changes.

Be prepared with a list of your medications before leaving on your next trip.


Have you had an emergency and learned what you needed that you did not have? Share your own experiences with me and other readers.


Posted in Craft of writing, Travel, Travel Writing, Writing

THE HERO’S JOURNEY–The Path & Encounter (Step#3)

Raul and Patricia’ hometown, Lima, Peru, houses 11 million people—an urban environment by anyone’s definition. They and their three children have lived in multiple locations and cultures in the United States, Puerto Rico and Peru. For the Raul and Patricia it is a return home. The entire family returns as fluent bi-lingual, global citizens.Raul&Patricia

A surprise when I arrive—Lima is a desert location, recording an average of 1 and 1/2 inch of rain a year. It is not apparent, until we drive out of the built-environment (city) and into the natural-environment (mountainous countryside), what the desert actually looks like. It appears as moonscape, barren of any vegetation, except where someone had planted a green living thing and watered it.

PiscoSour&WineOur trip to visit them is a challenge for me, less so for Lynn. We have avoided urban areas as a deliberate choice to miss out on traffic, smog and big-city stress. We have each studied Spanish, but unfortunately have not mastered it. On the other hand, we have put ourselves in the world again and again to explore and meet others. We choose to do that again by visiting Raul and Patricia’s family, whom we met in Iowa years ago, now in Peru.

We celebrate our arrival with a Pisco Sour, Peru’s national cocktail. But Lynn cannot decide between it and a glass of wine. He has his own challenges.

A refresher on the Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell introduced the world to The Hero’s Journey. He discovered similarities of what happened in stories, fables, and fairy tales after years of study. He called these similar steps The Hero’s Journey. There are many ways to explain this layered epic journey; one way is to outline five stages, as Joseph Dispenza had done in The Way of the Traveler: Making Every Trip a Journey to Self-Discovery (2002):

  • the call to journey;
  • preparation for the journey;
  • the path and encounter;
  • the return;
  • and finally reflection in telling the tale to others at home.

HERO is meant, not as a male model; but an inclusive, universal archetype.

Archetype = a classic prototype

I have previously covered: Step 1: The Call and Step 2: The Preparation. Now, I introduce  Step 3: The Path and Encounter through our trip to Lima, Peru.

Our path took us from the airport to their home, to the university where Raul works, to their Regatta Club, to a full-service grocery store and local open market, to their church, and to the sights of the city and their favorite haunts (restaurants, bistros, and bars).

Our purpose for this trip was not so much to play tourist, but to become a part of the family for ten days and experience their life as much as possible in ten days. They allowed us to share their life, specifically asking us to come when their youngest would celebrate her first communion. Wow, what an invitation to a significant part of their life!


All3KidsEach of the three kids included us in their life in different ways. I’ll share our encounters with the two adult children Daniela, 25 and Ian, 20 at the time.

Daniela, the young professional working a day job, while creating her own business with a friend and earning a second bachelor’s degree in Business. She and her friend invite us to the garment market district, where they seek manufacturers of production for their beachwear line. They need fabric to make sample designs for a market fair. This includes a pattern designer, a seamstress, and the product finisher. They prefer to find all steps of manufacturing within one family, so they do not have to move their sample product from one manufacturer to the next.

With travel instruction from Daniela to look “local,” I tag along without purse, keys, money, except for a phone to take photos. Lynn and I need some soles (Peru’s currency) and ask Daniela if she can take us to a bank to get money exchanged. “Sure, we will do that on our way to the market district.”

We arrived in the market district and are looking for parking, when Daniela stops in the middle of a street. A man runs over to her car and she turns to us and says, “Where are your dollars?” Lynn pulls out a fifty dollar bill. She hands it to the man through her window. He exchanges the money, hands her the soles, then she gives them to Lynn. Both stunned, Lynn and I don’t even know how to ask, “What just happened?”

Daniela (far left) and her friend, Claudia negotiates with one of the manufacturers.


We learned from Daniela her take on the Peruvian economy. “The way we are going to grow the economy is not like most countries by building big companies; but we are a country of entrepreneurs, people starting small businesses online, out of their homes or cars. We are the future of Peru.”

On most days Daniela spends time with us before work over our mutual love of coffee and after work at a bistro or pub with a drink and/or supper. Once upon a time with our own daughter, we established “porch talks” when we discussed the mundane and the mandated parts of her life growing up. We found ourselves on the patio at their apartment discussing life, economics, politics, culture, work and college. Our “porch talks” became special time with each member of the family.

Ian, a typical college sophomore student, feels a bit insecure about college, his major, and even whether Peru is the place for him. You see, he is more an American than all the rest of the family, due to circumstances and perhaps his personality. Because Lynn and I have just recently retired from working with college students, we had several conversations about college course work, departmental requirements, peers and fitting in.Ian

Ian is studying architecture at a local university and feels his creativity is stymied by academic professors (like many other students perhaps). He feels like an outsider in a new university with his peers, left out of cliques and circles. We discussed who he is and what he wants to do.

Lynn discusses the cultures Ian has lived in and why he thinks he is more American. Ian thinks out loud, “I’ve lived more of my life in the United States than in Peru. My first language is English, not Spanish. I’m part of this family, but everyone else feels more Peruvian than I do. And I feel excluded by classmates at college.”

Lynn asks, “Does you want to be included?”


“Then why let it bother you?”

Ian’s brow furrows. “I’ll have to think about that.” He is the kind to think hard and long about it. He is a soulful kind of person.

I visit with him about being a global citizen, like I did with my students previous.

“Because you have seen and experienced things that most Americans have not, this will make you an asset to employers and architectural design companies in the U.S.”

“Like what kind of things do you mean?” he asked.

“I have noticed several elements of design since arriving in Peru that I’ve never seen. And I’ve experienced things I never have before.”

“Like what?” Ian wants to know.

  • The toothbrush holder in the girls bathroom. (photo at bottom)
  • Daniela’s exchange of our $50 for 158 soles (their currency) from a man on the street from her car.
  • An appetizer of french fries with 2 sunny-side-up eggs and prosciutto
  • Another, mashed potatoes shaped into tiny square with tuna salad on top.
  • Experienced my first all “raw” meal at Punto Organico Restaurant.
  • Learned a new slogan, “PPP or the political power of products.”
  • Eaten a root vegetable, “olluco,”  similar to a potato, carrot and turnip, but not.
  • Men with mobile washing equipment cleaning cars in parking lot at the Regatta Club
  • Toilets have paper by the sink, not in stalls; I must get it before going into a stall.
  • An hour and a half out of the city the air turns to dust—no vegetation.
  • In a restaurant seats have a “purse clasp” I looped my purse strap through for security (photo below)
  • Vertical gardens  growing up the sides of apartment buildings 5+ stories high
  • Street signs for “telepizza” (pizza by phone) and “sofa cafe” (only sofas in cafe)
  • The buffet table setting with forks laid out with knives on their edge nested in the tines of forks. (photo below)
Purse on Chair
Toothbrush Holder
Knifes sitting in fork tines

Ian’s head begins to nod, when he realizes he too sees the world in general, as well as specifically architecture, buildings and structures in different ways. All this because of opportunity to view  different things in his world than many of his peers (and perhaps his professors, too).

College seems dull, not motivating at all. But he can see that his lack of fitting what the professor wants may be a lack on the part of the professor, not his.


Often the landscape and/or experiences of our travel offers metaphors to our inner lives. As an example, the desert territory I found in Lima. When my life feels dry and lifeless, I can remember the Peruvian ecosystem in coastal Lima and nearby mountains where citizens plant and water greenery to add life-giving lushness in the city or countryside. Meaning of metaphor: I can create my life and the things I want in it.

In another attempt to find metaphor from my travel for my own inner life, I can recall Daniela’s attempts to start a new business to add interest, motivation, and richness to her dull job. When I suggest to Ian that he use what he has experienced as a global citizen to create his own mark on the world, I can apply that advice to myself. Meaning of metaphor: I can use my unique travel experiences to understand characters in my novel to help me write them as well-rounded characters with inconsistencies and paradoxical behaviors.

As Dispenza states in The Way of the Traveler (page 83), “Travel transforms us … At the heart of that journey ‘out,’ we happen upon the deepest mysteries ‘within.” With the help of Daniela and Ian, I’m am being transformed.


QUESTION: What metaphors for your inner life have you encountered in your outward life of travel (whether to Timbuktu or to town meeting)?