Look it up!

                              Lost in the Jungle

Do you like to do research when you’re writing? Sometimes, I get so involved in research that I don’t get much writing done. How about you?

I might write something like, “A sharp rap on the door interrupted the silence. Which one was it this time? She raised her hospital bed up.”

“Okay,” I tell myself. Maybe there’s a more specific way to show her raising the hospital bed. So, I stop writing and look up “hospital beds.” Several pictures pop up, showing the wonders of their particular brand of hospital bed.

Hmm. I see some words that I might be able to use –“powered rotor assist bed,” “Gel mattress.” Bed exit position” I tell myself I should look that up and see what I can find out. 

I decide to look up “mechanisms on a hospital bed.”  It says, a mechanism for raising and lowering the height of a patient bed includes a threaded shaft upon which a pulley support is raised and lowered and a chain and pulley system which transfers vertical displacement of the pulley support to the patient support surface.

I never was good in Physics class but I can imagine a pulley system. I’m not sure I will use any of this, but who knows?  On another site, I find out that mattresses are on sale for $899. Interesting, but will I use it in my story? I hold on to the tidbit because I may write something later where this information be useful.

An option I could’ve selected while looking up the mechanisms for the beds dealt with grandfather clocks! Soon, I find myself clicking on various sites to see what other useless information is out there. I’m an optimist and jot down notes “just in case” I want the information later. I’m a hoarder of information.

                                We’re Dying Here!

Meanwhile, my characters are waiting. My story is stagnant, gathering dust. I’m the cheating lover who steps out on his girlfriend. I’ll get back to the story eventually, but for now, I want to play around, checking out sites like guys check out the girls in a bar. Which site do I like best? Does it have words I can use? Or a “friend” I can check out? Will this be a one night stand or am I likely to call on this site again?

                                  Lesson Learned

Research is important. I found that out when I wrote a story with Native American characters. I felt I was fairly familiar with Native culture and customs, having grown up with some Lakota from the Pine Ridge reservation. I wrote a scene that included a powwow. Luckily, I had a colleague who spoke Ponca and Omaha, even though she’s an Italian from New Jersey. She read my story and told me really messed up the powwow scene.

“It’s called ‘regalia’ not ‘costumes! It’s an insult to call what they wear ‘costumes.’ Costumes are what you wear when you’re Batman on Halloween!”

She told me that I had the description of the scene right, but I needed to change the word.

“Every feather, bead and color have meaning,” she said. “Usually related to ancestry or heritage.”

Even though I’d watched You Tube videos of powwows, I still got an important part wrong.

             Even Successful Writers Need to Research

Michael Crichton was one of my favorite authors for years. Loved all his books. I remember reading a medical mystery he wrote. I think it was A Case of Need. I enjoyed reading it for the most part, but I also lost some of my respect for Crichton when I read about a meconium aspiration baby. I’m a former NICU nurse and I took care of many  babies who’d breathed in meconium as they were born,  so I recognized what Crichton wrote about–a critical situation that can take days to resolve. Some babies die.

However, Crichton got the medical part wrong! I was disappointed because it seemed he didn’t do his research or had consulted with a “professional” who knew nothing about babies and the birthing process.

The internet shouldn’t be your sole resource for research. You can start there and get some ideas, even pick up some cool words to use that you hadn’t thought of. But, you need verification from other sources as well. Had Crichton checked with a neonatalogist and/or an obstetrician and then did follow-up, having them read that part to make sure it was accurate, his story would’ve rang true.

So, do your research for a better story. Add details that you discover as your research your setting details, your character details and your action details.

Native American display

Short Stories

Daisy and Mike computer 2006

I am on a roll! I have a couple new short stories out. Two in Chicken Soup for the Soul books and another in Voices from the Plains.

I slogged through NaNoWriMo last month and did better than I have in the past. Didn’t quite reach 50,000 words but came closer than I ever have in the past. I’ve always felt more like a short story writer than a novelist, but I’ve started a novel that my critique group says I should finish.

I like short stories because I find them easy to write. Plus, there’s a fairly strong market  for “shorts” now. Some publishers say, “the shorter the better.” I’ve dabbled in Flash Fiction, but I prefer writing the longer short stories. (Oxymoron?)  

My most recent story was published in Voices from the Plains, an anthology by the Nebraska Writers’ Guild. My story is called “The Gifts” and it’s about two lonely college students who spend Christmas together.

Chicken Soup for the Soul published a couple of my stories this year. One is in “Lessons from the Cat” and is about our ‘Holstein cat’ Daisy. She was quite a character.  Chicken Soup also published my story “Heavenly Connections” in the Amazing Mom book last summer. It’s about how I became a nurse even though I never thought I wanted to be a nurse.

I enjoy writing short stories because I have so many ideas for stories and I can finish one fairly quickly and move on to the next. I think I have WADS (Writers’ Attention Deficit Syndrome) I just made that up. I’m a former pediatric nurse. 

I have stories in nursing anthologies and magazines as well.

There are many opportunities for short stories. Don’t be afraid to try.

I receive an email called “Freedom with Writing.” I’m not sure how I got started with it, but they send a bi-monthly  list of publishers (magazines, anthologies, businesses, etc.) who are looking for authors to write articles or short stories related to specific themes. This month there are requests for stories about snow sports, mining, culture, news, art, and living abroad. They also tell how much publishers will pay if they accept your story.

So, sit down and start writing those short stories and see if you can add to your resume and, with luck, your bank account.


Did you NaNo?

I tried to do NaNoWriMo again this year. I made it further than I did last year, but still not the full 50,000 words! It was good practice in disciple, though. I’d figured out the number of words I’d need to write each day to meet the goal but life got in the way, as it often does. I’ll just have to try again.

One of my problems is I want it to be right the first time and that rarely happens. It’s ironic because I sometimes feel like I’m a better editor than a writer, especially when someone asks me to beta read or critique their work.

I’m really good at seeing how things work in other people’s writing but not in my own. A friend told me I just need to get it down on paper. “Throw up on the page,” she says. But the editor in me kicks in and I have a hard time doing that. I sometimes feel like the adage “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” (Or in my case, “Those who can, write. Those who can’t, edit!”)


Teaching Memoir Class

My friend, Cheryl and I are teaching a non-credit class on Memoir at a community college. This is the third year we’ve done it. We make a good team because she is more left brained and I’m definitely right brained! She has to “herd the cats” once in a while when I go off on a tangent.

Many in the class are older people since it’s noncredit and the college offers a senior discount. Plus, many are interested in memoir since they want to leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren.

This is our 5th week of the 8-week course. Our group is small this time, which makes it fun because we have more time to “free write” from prompts and discuss memoir. Cheryl and I take turns being the “lead” instructor.

This week, I’m the lead, so I’m organizing the material I plan to go over. Having taught it a few semesters, we have our classes pretty well set. It’s good to change some things up now and then, though. The students may be different but Cheryl and I get bored if we do the exact same thing every semester. But, we stick to the same information. We just “color” it a little differently each time.

Tonight I will be talking about research. The reaction of some people is “Augh!” But we have a good time, discussing how to add setting and emotion to your memoir by researching events, trends and styles of the time. The prompt I will have the students do tonight has elicited positive responses in the past.

I have them choose from the following events and write things they remember about that event.

  • The Assassination of John Kennedy
  • The First Moon Landing
  •  The Bombing of the World Trade Center

Then I ask them to write down the answers to these questions from memory:

  1.  What was the date and day of the week of the event?
  2. What time did it happen?
  3. Where did it take place?
  4. What was the weather like?
  5. What were you wearing that day?
  6. How old were you?
  7. How old were your parents?
  8.  Who was the anchorman or reporter who broke the news?

We share the answers and people are usually surprised at what they don’t remember. I make the point that that is why we do research when we write a memoir. It spices up the story if you can add details about world events or tidbits of information instead of writing, “Grandma was born in 1956 in Omaha, Nebraska.” By relating events of the time, it puts the reader in the era that the memoir is taking place.

I will also go over how to interview Grandma or whoever the memoir is about. By asking people to tell their stories, you can add dialogue to the memoir. Written documents, first person interviews or recordings are the gold standard, but if Grandma is dead, what do you do?

You can use representative dialogue if you don’t have access to the actual words. Capturing the “spirit” of what was said and the emotion of the speaker(s), brings color to the memoir.

I remind the students that memoir is in their POV (point of view). It’s their story even if the subject is primarily Grandma. The writer’s POV gives the reader insight into the author’s relationship to the subject.

In the early weeks of the class, we talk about “theme.” Memoir isn’t autobiography where you tell your life’s story from birth to the present. Memoir is a “slice of life” and has a theme. For example, the memoir I am currently working on is about my friend, Mary, who was killed in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. My theme is “dealing with the sudden loss.”

In my memoir, I use backstory to show my relationship with Mary growing up together in small town Nebraska.  I use dialogue that is representative of what we talked about. I don’t have the actual words we said, but I know the “spirit” and the language/slang we used.

We have a lot of fun in the memoir class. Writing seems to create a bond between people. This year, two women returned to take the class again! I joked, saying, “Didn’t you guys learn anything the first time?” They laughed and said they wanted to take the class again because they had so much fun last year. Taking a non-credit class like our memoir class also motivates people to keep writing.

Each week, we cover a different aspect. So far, we’ve talked about journaling (first step in memoir! Get your thoughts down!) Mapping your story, using photographs to elicit memories. (A photograph can give you a lot of information. When you look at a photo, notice not only the people and how they are dressed, but what is the occasion? Does it look like it was summer or winter? Is there wallpaper on the walls. (Describing wall paper or books on a shelf can add to your setting.) Why do you think the picture was taken? Who do you think took the picture? All these things can add to your story.

We usually begin the class with a prompt. The prompts vary so that people can learn different ways of expressing things. In one of the first classes, we do the “Six Word Memoir” based on the legend that Hemingway was challenged to write a memoir in 6 words. He wrote: “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn.”

A later prompt is  “I am from” where we write several lines starting with “I am from…” like “I am from Floyd and Tina who took the train from NYC to North Platte, Nebraska.” “I am from small town Nebraska surrounded by alfalfa fields and the smell of livestock.” “I am from the University nursing program.” etc.

I enjoy teaching the non-credit course. I helps me hone my own writing skills as well as the joy of sharing stories with others.

Memoir is a very popular genre right now. Consider writing yours!


Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what yo have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” Natalie Goldberg

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou

“Pirates were always going around searching for treasure. They never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating.” Humorist Jack Handey


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com







I attended a “Hooley” this afternoon, a sort of pre-St. Patrick’s Day celebration. I met some nice people there and gave them my business card, telling them that the blog link on the back would take them to my Irish music blog. Au contraire! This is where they will end up. So, to my new Irish friends, the link I meant to give you is:  celticomaha.wordpress.com



Writing conferences, retreats and lonely husbands

Last weekend, I attended the Nebraska Writers Guild fall conference in Aurora. This coming weekend, I’m participating in a writers’ retreat with my small “generative” writers’ group. My husband may forget what I look like.

Typically, the NWG organizes a big spring conference in the Omaha-Lincoln area and a fall conference further west, in hopes of reaching more of the writers throughout Nebraska. We’ve gathered in Aurora the past two Octobers. The board brought in national speakers, to small town Nebraska. Several members had the opportunity to pitch their books. (I didn’t because I’m not ready.)

Friday evening began with author readings. Whomever chose to, had five minutes to  read something they’d written. I decided I was going to give it a shot this year. I selected a short story I’d written and spent two hours at home, honing it down to 5 minutes. I arrived in Aurora, one-hundred twenty-three miles away from my home in Omaha and checked my messages. My husband texted that I left my abridged short story at home. I quickly rummaged through the stories I’d brought to give to my non-author librarian sister-in-law. I quickly made scratches and x’s on one of the stories while other readers read. They draw our names so I had no clue when I’d be called to read. Luckily, I had time to figure out which parts of my story I was going to read. Like many writers, I prefer writing over speaking or reading aloud, especially in a large group, so I was nervous. I did okay. My friends said so, anyway.

The next morning, the conference began. It was difficult to get up at 8:00 am and head to the center. I had been “hostess” to an impromptu wine tasting in my room the night before.

An agent from NYC spoke on “Promoting Yourself as an Author Before and After Publication.” A marketer spoke on “Effective Social Media for Busy Authors.” A New York Times Best Selling author enlightened us on Book Bub and an author from Dallas, also a bestseller, spoke on “Lessons from the Self-Taught Path.”

Taylor Stevens, the self-taught author/speaker and bestseller told her story–a child raised in a religious apocalyptic cult. With only a sixth grade education, she faced many challenges when she left the cult as an adult. With no work history or job skills, she struggled to find work. She went to garage sales and bought boxes of used books for $5-10 and resold them individually at a slight profit. She was raising two children at the time. Her life was a lesson to us all who want to give up when we can’t get published. She overcame many difficulties and now writes thrillers. http://www.taylorstevensbooks.com

I would guess there were close to 100 people or so at the conference. We did a lot of networking. Some sold books. Some caught up with old friends. And many came to my room after the Friday evening readings and drank wine until 1:00 am.20151003_151934


This coming weekend, I’m participating in a writers’ retreat at Mahoney State Park. Our small, but mighty generative writing group plan a special gathering each year, usually in the fall. We find a location conducive to writing and make reservations. We each decide a topic we will present to the rest, all six of us. We have done this for over 12 years and look forward in anticipation every time.

When we plan the retreats, we pick a theme. For example, when we met at the Willa Cather home a few years back (see “Bat at Cather Home” story on my home page), our theme had to do with books by Willa Cather. Another retreat featured a movie about Beatrix Potter so our theme was called “Child’s Play.” We followed that retreat with “A Spoonful of Sugar” the next year. We started the evening watching the “Saving Mr. Banks.”

Our retreats are a combination of honing our skills, learning new information and having fun. We allow plenty of time for”free write” when we go off by ourselves and write whatever we please. We typically have at least one session where we write from a prompt and share. The retreat ends with “Bedtime Stories” on the last evening. We gather in a cozy room, bring our hot cocoa or tea, maybe some popcorn or a snack and we read something we’ve written. No critiques, just listen to stories.

This weekend, our theme is “A Recipe for Success in Writing.” The topic was inspired by my recent acceptance into the Nebraska Life cookbook, which I’d hoped would be available in time for the retreat. This time we’ll watch “Julie and Julia” about the person who blogged while cooking from Julia Child’s cookbook.

Our topics include goal setting, writing an author bio, blogging, and memoir cookbooks. I have asked my fellow writers to bring a recipe that is meaningful to them. I’ve planned a prompt for them to use with the recipe–tell the story. Was it a favorite that Grandma cooked? Did the dish or dessert appear on the dining room table every Thanksgiving?

The trees at Mahoney State Park are beginning to change, so it will be beautiful.


Maybe next weekend, I should plan a weekend with my “writer-widower” husband. Maybe we can watch some football together for a change.

Going Batty

It happened again. I was with a group of writers, this time at a cabin by a lake, and a bat appeared.

A few years ago, I was in Red Cloud, Nebraska, home of Willa Cather. My generative writers’ group arranged to have a retreat there. We stayed in the Cather home that is now a “bed and bring-your-own-breakfast.” People can stay there and bring in their own food to prepare. The rooms are all named for Willa Cather’s books and I was lucky enough to draw the bedroom that was Willa’s room. It was all very exciting and interesting.


Me in Willa Cather’s bedroom

The retreat was going well. We were enjoying the camaraderie and writing prompts as planned.

Most of our retreats include “Bedtime Stories.” At the end of the day on Saturday, we gather in our jammies and read stories we’ve written. No critiquing, just listening to the stories. It’s great fun.

So, as we prepared for the stories, one of the writers went upstairs to get her laptop. The rest of us waited in the parlor. A blood-curdling scream echoed through the wall. One of the writers got up to see what was wrong. Soon she was screaming, too. A bat was in the house. It had trapped the writers on the stairs. It flitted back and forth in the hallway. One writer, a farm wife, tried to herd the bat outside, but it kept flying back and forth. The screams sounded like the doppler effect. You could tell the location of the bat by the intensity of the scream. It was an adventure and the full story is on this site. (I mistakenly created it as a permanent story on the main page. Click on the title at the top of the main page.)


The Cather Home in Red Cloud, Nebraska

The recent bat encounter occurred July 10th at 2am. I was with writers, a different group than before. We stayed at a cabin by a lake. Our hostess had warned us that a bat had been sighted the night before but we all opted to come anyway. At dinner, we talked about the bat and made a plan. Since bats are considered endangered, we couldn’t kill it. We would catch and release.Those of us who are less squeamish would capture it, if and when it showed up.

Most of us slept in the loft where four beds were set up, two on each side of a bathroom. The beds were out in the open. The most fearful person got to sleep downstairs in the enclosed bedroom. I lay awake, reading until around 1:30 a.m. I had just drifted off, when I heard a scratching sound. I perked up and listened. The shrill cry of the bat came next and before I could react, it was on my head. I said in a calm, but somewhat loud voice, “The bat is back.” Another gal came over to my bed with a towel, but the bat had disappeared. We couldn’t find it anywhere. So, she returned to her bed and I laid back down in mine. About two minutes later, it was back. Again, I said, “It’s here.” She returned with the towel and we looked for it. It flitted back and forth under my bed and then we lost it. Cathy raised the bed ruffle and there it was, clinging to the material. She threw the towel over it and it stopped moving. Apparently, it thought it was safe with the towel hiding it. Cathy picked up the towel-wrapped bat and took it to the front door, releasing it into the night air.

I thought my head felt strange. I touched my scalp. It was damp. Did the bat bite me and cause bleeding? I went into the bathroom to look, but it wasn’t bleeding. I thought the bat had peed on me. So, I washed my head as best I could. I went back to bed and started thinking about my death. How long did I have before I would show signs of rabies?

I googled “Medical care for bat bites.” I read “Seek medical attention as soon as possible.” What did that mean? Could I wait until tomorrow or did I need to go somewhere now? I called hospital in the nearby small town and they were no help. They told me to call Poison Control. “No, the bat bit me. I didn’t eat the bat.” But they insisted I called Poison Control because “they had all the protocols”and could tell me what to do.

As a nurse, I knew better, but I called anyway. Poison Control sounded irritated over the phone. “Why are you calling us?” So, I was back to square one. I googled “rabies” again, this time asking “when do symptoms occur?” The answer: most of the time 2-4 months after exposure. Maybe I had some time. I wasn’t seeing angels yet. Then I saw the disclaimer. “however in some cases, symptoms begin 2-4 DAYS after exposure. Great. I was going to have to cut the weekend short.

The next morning, I left, driving 70 miles back to Omaha on 4 hours of sleep. I’m not sure how I managed to stay awake, but I did. I went to the Methodist ER and they were wonderful. I had a rabies shot in my right arm, and several gamma globulin shots (to boost immunity). Two in each thigh and one in my left arm. The worst part was the tiny ones in my scalp. Also, there was a small bite I hadn’t noticed in my left thumb, so they injected around that 5 times. It wasn’t as bad as I thought I might be, but I don’t care to ever do that again. I have to have another booster. I had my first booster that Wednesday and then another today. One to go!

The shots are no longer given in the abdomen. That stopped in the 1980’s, thank goodness. People reported they were pretty bad. The ones I got weren’t too bad.

I have decided that, if I’m with a group of writers in an older house or at a cabin, I’m taking a “bat kit” with me that will include a box to put the bat in. (Don’t release the bat. Save it so it can be tested.) We’re pretty sure my bat was rabid because of the moisture on my hair that I thought was pee. The doctor said it was more likely saliva. Also, the bat had been very erratic, like it had an injury. The person who saw it the night before thought it had hit the ceiling fan and broke a wing. But the doctor said it could’ve been acting that way because it was sick. So, always keep the bat after you capture it. Put it in a box or plastic container. Otherwise it’s shot time!BAT

My bat kit will include:

  • gloves. Don’t pick up a bat with your bare hands. Thick gloves should be worn.
  • netting to cover my head in bed in case the bat comes near
  • a butterfly net for capture. Or an old t-shirt. (The Humane Society says not to use a towel because the bat’s wings and claws can get caught in the small loops of fabric)
  • a container to put the bat in like a small cardboard box or food container (without the food!) The Humane Society also recommends a piece of cardboard that might work as a temporary lid or scoop to get the bat in the box.

When my generative group found out about this encounter with the bat, one said, “You know what the common denominator is here, don’t you, Sue.” I said it was hanging out with writers. Their reply, “No. It’s you!”

In my most guttural voice, “I’m Bat Mom!”
Batman and Robin