Showing posts from 2014

December 31st Review

If you live in a country where January 1st begins the New Year, then today is the day for summing up 2014.

Some people will do this mentally, if at all. Some have been making notes on every day in 2014 in a journal, so they can skim the 365 pages and look for highlights.

Some people had so many disappointments and losses in 2014 that they have no interest to look back, and just hope that 2015 will be better.

My husband and I will do as we have done for most of the past 30 years: begin a planning process for 2015. We start by reviewing our 2014 goals and noting what actually happened in the areas specified by the goals.

For example, one goal for 2013 was this "Sell Mechenice for a good price." Mechenice was a property in a village just south of Prague that we co-owned with my husband's brother. '

We didn't use the property enough to justify owning it, and we agreed with his brother to sell it, but only at a fair price. The property was on the market since 2010; we …

They all passed!

This fall I taught a writing course at Seminole State College in Florida. My students were of all ages and levels of ability, with one thing in common: the need to improve their writing skills.

We covered some basic grammar review, the structure of an essay, doing research for a project and how to cite in MLA format--the basics needed to master college-level writing assignments. It was fun and challenging to teach such a diverse group of students, finding ways to connect with each one individually.

Of the students who started the class and kept up with it all the way through, all passed the course. This makes me very happy indeed. What makes me most happy is the knowledge that my students have the tools to succeed in their college writing careers and beyond.

"From too much love of living,  From hope and fear set free,  We thank with brief thanksgiving  Whatever gods may be  That no life lives for ever;  That dead men rise up never;  That even the weariest river  Winds somewhere safe to sea." --Algernon Charles Swinburne

Elizabeth is getting close to her destiny

My novel Prague for Beginners is drawing to a close. Elizabeth has lived through a year of teaching English in Prague and has learned quite a bit along the way. She currently is thrashing through some major life decisions as 1994 draws to a close. I hope to complete this book by the end of this year, and will publish it as an ebook on

Here's an observation that she makes while standing in the Old Town Square, waiting for the Astronomical Clock to strike the hour. Hope you enjoy this excerpt!

"I pause for a moment to look at the crowd and listen to the languages spoken: tourists from Germany, France, Italy, England, Spain, and the US stand shoulder-to-shoulder, with necks craned upward toward the clock face, as anonymous men slip through the packed people, looking for a likely pocket or purse to pick. On the edges of the crowd, people come and go in five or six directions, making for one of the little streets that converge here or walking straight across the big squ…

American Gods

I have a friend at work, Kevin. He spent his younger years having fun, then suddenly fell in love with Philosophy and got a degree in it. We have nice talks about philosophy, which I know next to nothing about, but Kevin is patient, and his love for the subject is infectious.

Kevin has been telling me for some time now that I'd enjoy the Neil Gaiman book, American Gods, and so I bought it in the Orlando airport as we were waiting to fly to Dublin the other day. I am enjoying the book, and have discovered that Neil Gaiman and I are secret writing buddies!!!!!!

1. Neil Gaiman writes a modest number of words each day, slowly and steadily building his novels. He writes in the introduction to this book that when he's working on a novel, he tries to write 2000 words a day, but is happy to write 1000. Me, too!!!

2. Neil Gaiman uses idiosyncratic punctuation. Like me, he writes long, convoluted sentences full of clauses and phrases, necessitating lots of commas. But so many commas can…

Letters of Recommendation, with an example

Today I wrote four letters of recommendation for four colleagues. It was fun to gather my thoughts on the skills and strong points of these friends with whom I work, and I hope my letters will be helpful for each of them. I've written many letters of recommendation over the years, and have some tips for doing them well.

1. Focus on what is special and unique about the person you are writing about (Jan).
2. Use action verbs and avoid passive voice (do not say, "Jan is responsible for teaching"; say "Jan teaches")
3. Focus on what you have observed, not what you may think are Jan's motivations.
4. Keep your comments positive but provide evidence for what you say.

Here's an example of a recommendation letter:

The International Leadership InstituteCompany addressPhone

July 3, 2014Recommendation for Jan NovakIt is my pleasure to write this letter of recommendation for Jan Novak. We have been colleagues as Writing Instructors in English at the …

Little by Little

Since I was a child, I wanted to be a novelist. I also wanted to be an actress, but that's another blog. The problem was that I thought novelists sat down and did not get up again till their novel was complete.

I think I imagined that novelists practiced automatic writing, where the words came to them by supernatural inspiration. Never did it enter my mind that writing is no different, in many ways, from any other activity. That is, it has a beginning, a long middle and an end (like Anne Elk's Brontosaurus theory).

Of course I knew that the papers you write at college are not written in one burst of creativity (unless you've left it till 1 AM of the day it's due, and you write in a hot fever, getting down some words on the page and hoping for the best). I knew that I could write a multi-page research paper a little at a time.

As I got older, I started writing articles for newspapers, blogs and newsletters. All these short pieces might be written in one sitting, but pol…

Plot is not everything!

I have about ten unfinished novels on my computer, some of which I've been working on for a decade or more. Each of them has its own challenges, but all have this is common: I have not written a plot outline for any of them.

My lack of interest in outlining plots used to bother me, leading to an impasse that essentially stopped my writing altogether. I felt guilty to keep writing beyond about 10,000 words without a plot, thinking that I was asking for trouble later on. All those characters and strands of narrative would never amount to a book without a firm plot.

Luckily, Stephen King, in his book On Writing, has set my mind at ease and given me the green light to keep writing the same way I always do--as the characters and situation express themselves to me.

King decrees that plot, as an element of writing a novel, is a bully who will wreck my work if I let him. Plot is not something apart from the narrative, a kind of rigid framework that must be in place to hold it all together…

My newest blog

Since January, I have been preoccupied with settling into our home in Central Florida, going back to my job at Seminole State College, finding a new church and visiting friends and family. But today, I was determined to launch my new career as free-lance writer of short pieces--articles, columns and essays.

I stared a new blog to meet this purpose: Please take a look at it, bookmark it and consider sending me your ideas and opinions on what I'm writing. Thanks!

2014--a new look at writing!

The past year, 2013, was one in which I devoted myself to writing, at least theoretically. I set aside many of my favorite activities, including knitting, so that I'd have more big blocks of uninterrupted time to write.

It was a successful plan in that I did write. For my current book, I just about finished the parts I am writing. My husband will write his parts now and then we'll pull it all together as 21st Century Christianity. This book will be published both as a stand-alone (as an e-book) and as the last part of our Prague trilogy, which already includes Three Things You Can't Do in Prague and Three Things that Last Forever. The trilogy will cover our years of focus on Prague, from 2006-2013.

It was not such a successful plan in regards to my personal satisfaction with what I wrote. The more I wrote, the more I could see that I knew very little about my topic, in spite of being a Christian since age 4 and reading about a gazillion books about it, talking about it to …