The Writers' Loop

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Three Writing Insights I Discovered at a Yoga Retreat

By Peggy Morehouse

I had a full day of relaxation and rejuvenation with a good friend this past Saturday at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It’s North America’s largest residential facility for holistic health and education and its 350 acres include forests, lawns, gardens, and a lake. The perfect retreat!

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Kripalu Center

As expected, I improved my Chaturanga, zoned out in meditation, and ate delicious, nutritious meals. What I didn’t expect was to find three writing insights, but there they were like a wonderful gift and I’m sharing them with you.

The first insight came in the morning when I was learning a simple yoga breathing technique called Nadi Shodan Pranayama or alternate nostril breathing. The instructor of the class explained that we alternate between our two nostrils when we breathe. In other words, we don’t use both nostrils when breathing.

I didn’t know that. Did you?

Ideally the breath alternates between nostrils every two hours. Most of us don’t have an “ideal” anatomy or physiology however, and the time period varies between people. According to yogi philosophy, when the breath flows out of one nostril for more than two hours, as with most of us, we may feel stressed and/or fatigued. Practicing Nadi Shodan might take care of those unwelcome feelings. But that’s not all. By balancing our breathing, we’re also balancing the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The result is we optimize creativity and stimulate logical verbal activity.

Could alternate nostril breathing help cure writer’s block? Why not give it a try before your next writing session? I’ve attached an instructional video at the end of the post. Your unbalanced nostril respiration woes are about to be cured.

Nadi-Shodhana

Insight One: Balanced nostril breathing can optimize creativity and help with finding the perfect word. Do this simple exercise before writing.

On to insight number two. Just like writers, yoga instructors like to use metaphors. Some I’ve heard in various classes include:

  • Flower your buttocks.
  • Melt your heart/ Melt from your heart.
  • Imagine your thigh bones are like rainbows, spiraling outwards.
  • Puff out your kidneys.
  • Balloon your belly.
  • Breathe like Darth Vader.
  • Don’t wear your shoulders like earrings.

These statements are meant to clarify and entertain just like in stories. Some work and some don’t, just like in stories. I heard a yoga metaphor during a class at Kripalu, but I took it literally. It was, “Make your collar bone smile wide.” After a few moments of actually trying to shift my collar bone into a happier position, I whispered to my friend, “How do you make your collar bone smile?” She grinned and whispered, “That’s yoga talk for don’t slouch.'”

Lotus-position

Make your collar bone smile wide or shoulders down and back.

Insight Two: Make sure your metaphors work. You never want to embarrass your reader (or your yoga student).

The third insight came when I was browsing in the bookstore with my friend. She said, “I finished reading Wild. I really liked it, but I was hoping for a more inspirational ending.”

We discussed the book for a little while as I thought, Wild is a memoir about a 26-year-old woman who is devastated by her divorce and mother’s untimely death. She turns to heroin and indiscriminate sex to suppress her pain. When she hits bottom, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Southern California to the Bridge of Gods near Portland in order to contemplate, heal, and test her resolve. She meets her goal and in the end is ready to begin a new life.

That’s quite an inspirational story, but if the final paragraph doesn’t wow readers, they’re left feeling shortchanged despite what happened up until that point. That’s a lot of pressure for a writer. Four hundred pages of riveting paragraphs, and if the last one doesn’t dazzle, the reader might close the book and say, “Eh.”

Insight Number Three: “They lived happily ever after,” just doesn’t work anymore. Practicing alternate nostril breathing is a must before writing the final paragraph of a story.

And-they-lived-happily-ever-after

Sorry folks, even with the glitter, this ending won’t work in today’s literary world.

Just for the record, I was inspired by the last few words of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: “…That it was everything. It was my life–like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be.”

Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique (Let me know how you like it.):

 


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Write the First Line of Your Novel Like a Country Song

By Peggy Morehouse

Why is Snoopy working so hard on the first line of his book? Is it really that important?

Here’s how literary agent, Michelle L. Johnson answers that question in an interview on Chasing the Crazies blog, “I can’t stress enough how important it is to give a great first line. A good first line should catch the reader off guard and set up the tone of the book.”

Like Snoopy, writers trying to break into the publishing industry are acutely aware about the significance of an extraordinary beginning to their story. Literary agents receive between 100-to-200 query letters per week from debut authors seeking their representation. Most agents sign-on between two and ten new clients each year, and the vast majority of publishers won’t look at an author’s book without that agent.

Yup! It’s competitive in  the book world. That’s why a writer has to grab an agent’s attention with the first line. Talk about pressure. You could have written the next Gone with the Wind, but without a sizzling opening a potential bestseller could be tossed in a slush pile.

What makes a great first line? Lucy told Snoopy to use, “Once upon a time.”

What does Michelle Johnson say? “The most important thing to me is to connect with the main character. If I care about the character quickly and deeply and that character feels real to me, I will want to read the entire book. If the character is intriguing but the writing not polished, it will quickly eliminate my desire to read on.”

Let’s see how some recent bestsellers from my bookshelf start:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn:   “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.”

Wild by Cheryl Strayed:   “My solo three month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings.”

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline:   “Through her bedroom wall Molly can hear her foster parents talking about her in the living room.”

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce:   “The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday.”

The first thing that came to mind about these beginnings is originality. I haven’t read lines like this before, so I’m assuming the author is creative. The second thing is I find myself asking why.

  • Why does the man (Nick) in Gone Girl think of his wife’s head when he first looks at her?
  • Why did Cheryl Strayed’s trek have many beginnings?
  • Why is Molly in foster care and what are her foster parents saying?
  • Why did the letter change everything for Harold Fry?

These authors have enticed me to move on to line two. Hopefully, the intrigue will continue to the end (and it did for me in all of the above books).

Some of the best beginnings I’ve come across haven’t been in books, however. They’re hiding in country songs. Check out these opening lines:

“In a bar in Toledo, across from the depot, on a bar stool she took off her ring.” from Lucille by Kenny Rogers.

“Fifteen minutes left to throw me together for Mr. Right Now, not Mr. Forever.” from Settlin’ by Surgarland.

“I’m on the side of the road with a car that won’t go and the night won’t even give me a moon.” Brokedown Cadillac by Brokedown Cadillac.

If those lines were written at the start of a book, I’d be instantly hooked. Instead of Lucy telling Snoopy to begin with Once upon a time, she should have advised him to turn on the radio. Lots of powerful examples are just a song away.

What are some of your favorite opening lines from either a book or a song? Did the remainder of the story live up to the expectation?


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Rosemary Christle-Renaud Discusses Her Moving Mother-Daughter Memoir

By Peggy Morehouse

Have you ever considered writing a memoir about a significant time in your life? Rosemary Christle-Renaud not only thought about it, she actually sat down and penned A Slow Slide Into Nothing: A Mother Daughter Journey Through Dementia.

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Published in November 2014, Rosemary says, “Dementia touches so many families. Whether the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body or one of the many varied names dementia goes by, it still affects the same. Memories are lost, loved ones grieve and struggle to face this new reality. My siblings and I were no exception. Out of a family of seven children my mother began calling me for help. I thought my very capable mother was suffering from depression over the loss of my father a few short years before. But, the reality of my mother’s condition and consequently my efforts to help her led to years of sadness, family turmoil, laughter and a relationship that took me by surprise. This book begins with my mother’s life story as a member of the greatest generation and expands to include her last years. It is her story and our story as my mother began and ended her Slow Slide into Nothing.”

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Rosemary and her mom

Rosemary discusses what made her want to write A Slow, Slide Into Nothing and how she acquired the skills to do so.

1.     What made you decide to write a memoir about your mother’s dementia? 

“When my mother came to live with my family, my level of frustration involving her care began to increase. I needed a release. I began to feel the need to put into written word my varied emotions. Strangely, more than one friend mentioned a writing class starting at the now closed East Line Book Store. I felt this couldn’t be a coincidence, so I signed up for the class thinking I would just enjoy the evening out and be able to write what I was feeling. During that class, and the several I took over the following two or three years I met some incredible women, some of whom are part of a writing group of which I am still involved.”

2.     What was the most difficult part about writing this memoir? For example, re-living hard moments, worrying about family reactions, etc.

“The writing of the book wasn’t as difficult as the editing. Because I started this book during a Memoir Essay class, each chapter could virtually stand alone. With the help of a friend and my writing group, I slowly began a months long transformation of the essays into book form. Reliving each essay brought me right back to that time and the emotions I felt. To this day, I struggle to read any of the chapter entitled, “Hospital Nightmare.”

I also realized that publishing this book would put even more of a strain on my relationship with some family members. But, as I stated in the beginning of my book, “I have always believed family dynamics can be difficult…These traits mingled with the emotion of watching one’s mother slowly die, can cause words and actions that in better times most likely would not have surfaced.”

3.     Did you seek input from your sisters when writing “A Slow Slide Into Nothing: A Mother Daughter Journey through Dementia.”? Did you experience any resistance?

“I did some historical research for parts of the early chapters and I interviewed my Aunt Mary Keffaber. I also consulted my sister Rocky to make sure I remembered certain details correctly. However, since this is a memoir, I felt each chapter should be based on my memories and feelings.”

4.    What was your writing experience before you began creating “A Slow Slide Into Nothing”? What tools helped you the most in developing your craft?

“In school, I was the kid who always enjoyed getting a writing assignment. As a child, during the summer months my younger sisters and I would write variety type shows for the neighborhood kids to perform for their parents. Writing has always been a way for me to release thoughts that are streaming through my brain.

Apart from anything I learned in high school English class, my true writing instructor was Robyn Ringler from East Line Books. She was instrumental in my quest to actually turn my thoughts into written words that others could relate to and understand.”

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Robyn Ringler, owner of East Line Bookstore

 

5.     What do you hope the reader takes away with them after reading, A Slow Slide Into Nothing?

“I hope the readers who are or have been caregivers take away the comfort of realizing they are not alone in their feelings of frustration, that the journey is difficult, heart wrenching and stressful. They will experience feelings of guilt over matters totally out of their control. And, that it is okay to want to be anywhere other than taking care of their loved one, because you cannot take one more day of watching them slowly die. Yet, in between these very long days are the moments of closeness and realizing you are doing the right thing that can be rewarding.

I also hope that readers who are not caregivers will be able to understand what their friend or neighbor is going through. I hope readers will find this story about a woman from the greatest generation, her life, and the relationships between mothers, daughters, and in turn, siblings a compelling read.”

6.     To entice readers who haven’t read your moving memoir, please describe a critical point in your book.

I will include a quote from my book:

“When I stepped onto the porch, I expected to see Mom at the door. Instead, I had to let myself in. There she sat in the dark living room… She looked frail, tired and scared. Her clothing was dirty and covered with stains. I was taken aback. How had my mother let herself get to this state?”

You can purchase A Slow Slide Into Nothing at Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Slow-Slide-Into-Nothing-Daughter/dp/0990835804/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418928111&sr=8-1&keywords=a+slow+slide+into+nothing

unnamedRose

Rosemary is a writer, wife, traveling museum presenter, mother, business owner, sister, fabulous cook, devoted daughter and a great, Great-Aunt. Her true stories reflect Rosemary’s multi-faceted life. Rosemary’s essays have been published in local newspapers, on web news and heard on public radio. An empty-nester, she lives in upstate New York with her husband and two cats. You can also find her boating on Lake George, skiing in the Adirondacks, swimming with dolphins in Hawaii, floating on a mountain lake in North Carolina or shouting, “Boiler Up!” in Indiana. You can read more essays by Rosemary on her blog at rosemarychristlerenaud.com.
You can also find her at the following sites:


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Musings on Friendship

By Guest Blogger, STURGIE     (Susanne Marie Poulette)  REPOSTED July 21, 2016

Susanne is taking a short break for the holiday, and I’m filling in for her.  She doesn’t know it, though. december 18 066 I hope she’ll be pleasantly surprised.  I just have to get this past Peggy’s editing, and then we’re home free.

My name is Sturgie, and I’m an adorable mutt, half beagle, half unspecified terrier, and half something else.  I’m a bit unusual looking, but incredibly cute.  Sometimes I sing to people if they deserve a nice song.  Then there’s this friend who knows how to scratch my ear, just so, and I howl like a coyote baying at the moon.  Folks fall in love with me when I do that.

It’s been said, quite fairly, I believe, that a dog is human’s best friend.  It’s true, but sometimes it works the other way around.  As we go ears-perked and tail-wagging into this new year, let’s stop and think about friendship.  It’s easy to take friendship for granted, especially when life is easy, the kibble bowl is full, and you’re surrounded by a family who worship you and indulge you with milk bones.  But, sometimes life isn’t so hunky-dory, and you think your leash on life is almost up.  That’s when I learned who my real friends are.  And I was lucky—I know folks whose friends abandoned them when the going got tough.cb and sn at water jpeg

Friendship rescued me when I was in trouble.  In fact, this old pooch has been rescued four times, and by the same true friend and her family.  We’ll change names to protect the innocent, so let’s just call her Erin.

It all started when I was born into an abusive situation.  My siblings escaped to loving homes, but not me. I was a pup without a prayer until Erin and her family came into my life.  She couldn’t resist me or leave me in those cruel circumstances.  So I went home with Erin to a new identity and a Wonderful Life.  (Eat your heart out, Jimmy Stewart.)  I got two devoted boys to play with, two loving parents, my choice of where I could sleep, lots of good

Me, helping a client wait for his haircut.

ME, HELPING A CLIENT WAIT FOR HIS HAIRCUT

food and treats, space to roam under the pines, and brisk morning walks with Erin.  I can even hang out with Erin in her beauty shop, a source of many treats from admiring clients.

Friendship Rescue Two: Life was good, so I can’t complain about what happened one nice summer day.  I was on my leash, getting some rays, minding my own business when I was attacked by a hoard of white-tailed hornets.  They did a number along my back.  I ran a fever, took antibiotic, lost the hair on my back, and for months I needed regular cleaning and dressings.  Erin was my nurse and she made Florence Nightingale look like a slouch.  She put tee shirts on me to cover my wounds. I was styling in those toddler-sized tees!

After about three months, my back healed but my hair didn’t grow back.  It looks leathery and smooth, but it adds to my cuteness.  All during those months, Erin heard some mean words.  Some folks said they would have “put me down” if I were their dog. Yikes, hearing that was scarier than bees!  Erin got the worst of it all.  She kept me comfortable and she did all the work while I convalesced.  Nobody talked about putting her down!

Erin visiting me during my overnight at pet emergency.

ERIN VISITING ME DURING MY OVERNIGHT AT PET EMERGENCY

Friendship Rescue Three: Life was good and so was my recovery from the stings.  It was another nice day in June and I was tooling along outside, when I got in the way of a fast moving truck.  It hit me hard and sent me rolling underneath it.  Long story short, I spent the night in urgent care.  Poor Erin and her family.  Talk about worried! They were a mess.  I think it hurt Erin more than it did me.  I eventually recovered, but had some problems with a leg, not too bad.  I’m living to enjoy more days!

Friendship Rescue Four: About eight months after my collision with the truck, I went to jump up on a bed. My short legs didn’t make it, and I fell.  Can you say, “herniated disk?  Yup, and it paralyzed my hind quarters. I’ve been in treatment for nearly a year.  I’m pain free, Erin sees to that.  In addition to all her many duties, she’s been carrying me around, keeping my bedding clean, helping me move, taking me to my vet, and giving me the best care in the world.

My wheels!

MY WHEELS!

Last spring, I was fitted with an awesome cart! I can go anywhere with my wheels.  I can run and get around independently.  I’m negotiating for snow tires before our next big winter storm.

Erin keeps track of my progress. I can wag my tail now and I have some feeling in my feet.  I’m definitely improving, thanks to my true friend.

Water therapy, love it.

WATER THERAPY, I LOVE IT!

 

 

 

 

My definition of friendship? Erin.  She is Charlie Brown to my Snoopy:

cb and sn

 

“Are you upset little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don’t worry…I’m here. The flood waters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you.”

My New Year wish for you:  May you give and receive the love and loyalty of true friends, and may you always be present for each other, sharing, supporting, healing, and celebrating Life’s joys.

~ Sturgie

(I’m liking this blogging stuff.  I just hope I’m not in trouble with Susanne. Leave a comment, if you will, and let her know if you like this.)

sur xm hal