A Farewell to Words?

by Mary Frances Erler

I have suspected for a long time that blogs are going the way of landline phones, snail-mail, and even email.  The popular media are now based largely on pictures.  (After all, one picture is worth a thousand words.) And soundbytes.  Instagram, Snapchat, and others are beginning to leave even Facebook in the dust.

It’s ironic to me that one of the first books I wrote, Peaks at the Edge of the World: Finding the Light, begun in the early 1970s but not published until the Twenty-first Century, was a sci-fi story based a thousand years in the future, when written words had become obsolete.  Books, representing “Old Ways” were banned.  Even learning to read the written word was forbidden.  I admit the seed of my idea was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451.

So I find myself, as the coordinator of Montana Women Writers blogposts for the past year and a half, offering up our final blog.  Our farewell to words, at least in this medium.  Though as authors who work almost with daily with words, we hope that this is not a total farewell.

In my first book, there were still a hidden minority who kept illegal books, and shared them with their children as well as they could.  I have a feeling some of us will become one of those “reading renegades.” 

The Truth Behind the Fictionalized Memoir

by Mary Frances Erler

For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to understand the difference between autobiographical fiction and fictionalized memoir.  It seems to me that it’s mostly a matter of how much the author reveals of his or her personal life.  With this is mind, I’ve been laboring on a memoir for the past few years, but to “protect the innocent” I have changed names, settings, and sequences of events.  I guess that means it is a fictionalized memoir.

However, in the interest of being an advocate for mental health, I have realized I need to share my true story, so here it is.

Yes, according to the calendar it’s spring, but all of us in Northwest Montana know that real spring is still a month or more away.  Winter is often a difficult time for people who suffer from depression.  I’m no exception.  For most of my life I tried to hide this behind a shield of pretense, but that took a heavy toll on my physical and mental health.  I was afraid of the stigma attached to mental health issues.

Things really took a nosedive in 2003 with menopause, as anxiety and chronic migraines were added to the mix.  In 2005, after trying herbal remedies for years (St. John’s Wort, Feverfew, Black Cohosh, to name a few), and one antidepressant (Zoloft) that made me violently ill, I finally agreed with my doctor to try Lexapro, and it did help.

But new stresses piled on due to family issues, such as caring for my mother who had Alzheimer’s.  By 2013, I was getting suicidal.  Fortunately, I was directed to an excellent counselor, once I swallowed my pride and admitted I needed help.  It has taken me another eight years to realize (admit?) that having a place where I can let go and truly be myself, where I can say what I really think and feel, is just as important to my treatment as the meds are.

I’m fortunate to be living in a century when some of the stigmas attached to mental illness are lessening and there are treatments available to people like me.  Every person is unique, though, so finding the right combination of treatments can be a long journey.  It has been for me.

As I’ve gone through this, I feel that now is the time to be open and share where I’ve been, hoping this will help someone else out there.

No, the book isn’t published yet.  It still needs to simmer a bit longer.  But I feel the journey is finally reaching some light ahead–at the end of the tunnel.

A Gentleman’s Sport

Photo by Laura Thomas

Sailing is a gentleman’s sport I heard, yet as the time drew near to board the craft, the fear and trepidation mounted. See, I’m a land lover, and while I like the water, it scares me. Sailing had been something I’ve wanted to do, but the fear griped me nonetheless. I climbed aboard to not only overcome my fears, but to stretch my wings, and go on a new adventure.

 Watching the crew work, to put this elegant sailboat out onto the waters, seeing what it takes to make it possible to sail. The captain directing, the crew work in unison, shifting sails to catch the wind. I know nothing of the happenings and feel a bit out of place, like a fish out of water. The sails are heaved to the heavens, catching the winds, moving the boat across the waters of the lake. For as I learned, sailing is as close to walking on water as you can get.

 The day was warm with a good wind, not hot, nor cold, perfect for a day to sail. The captain gives me the rudder–me a land lover–full control of the direction we take, oh the precision, the sensitivity to my guidance. As I guide, I feel elegance in this contrivance, a sense of calmness comes over me. I relax and as I take in the views, I see that this body of water is surrounded by mountains, and the shore line is dotted with homes.

The Captain always directing his crew on the best position of the sail, catching the optimal amount of wind, the breath of the craft. The crew then works the lines, working in unison to move, shift the sails making the boat heel over, as the captain gives orders for tacking, or jibing. As the wind catches the sails the boat is skimming the surface, flying over the top of the waters with an ease. Moving with the whims of the wind, allowing the sails to pull the boat through the waters A peaceful feeling the wind in my face, as it is brushing across the waters, forming ripples of waves that crash against the boat, almost like the sound of breaking glass in my ears. This is the only sound I hear out on the waters, there’s is stillness to the air, a quiet sound.

Looking up to the top of the mast, I watch the sky being swept with the sails; the clouds seem to be keeping pace with the boat. In this sky, the sun is circled by a rainbow, a sun dog I learned it’s called an omen of change, a sight to take your breath away and keep it.

 The waters heave as the winds move across the top, telling the sailors there is a good wind to catch the sails. Stay away from the smooth surfaces of the waters, for in them there is no wind, I am told. I hear the easy chatter of the people on board, they are relaxed and at ease, with each other and the boat.

 From the other side of the lake, another sail boat appears. A race! Each craft playing a cat and mouse game to see who is going to outwit the other. With strategic movements, fluid in motion, precision at its finest. A gentleman’s sport, for really there is no loser that day, it was all in fun and a bit of competition. Let’s raise the spinnaker sail, a question the captain is all too glad to answer, yes with a gleam and a smile. This sail is similar to a half balloon, come sit under it, a billowing motion, catching the wind to pull the craft. This lifts the craft up even higher out of the waters picking up speed, and a sudden rush of wind and adrenaline come upon me. The captain shouts “We won!” and smiles as his boat, the easy winner, pulls ahead–a victory.

 As we are ending our day, (oh what a day), the captain asked me, “Well what did you think?” I smiled and said “I loved it, I would love to come out on the waters again.” I think that made his day, for he also had a big smile.

A Writer’s Entrance Exam

by Bob Hostetler

Copyright Bob Hostetler (www.bobhostetler.com). Used with the permission of the author. 

Say you wanted to enroll in studies at a respected educational institution—let’s call it Wisenheimer Academy for Clever Kids. You might expect to take an entrance exam to determine your degree of fitness for WACK, right? Just as you would to begin training for ministry, law enforcement, or interplanetary space travel.

Oddly, though, there is no entrance exam for writers. Until now.

That’s right. Thanks to this website, you can, with a modest investment of time and effort, determine your fitness to pursue the writing life. The following questions may reinforce your confidence in writing for publication–or save you much time and trouble by steering you away and into an easier, more rewarding line of work, such as lumberjack or Alaskan crab fisherperson.

Simply answer yes or no to the following questions, and calculate the results when you’re done:

Simply answer yes or no to the following questions, and calculate the results when you’re done:

  1. Do you love words? Sentences? Paragraphs?
  2. Do you have a favorite punctuation mark?
  3. Do you drink too much coffee? Or tea? Or wine?
  4. Are you constantly feeling assaulted by spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors in magazines, newspapers, billboards, cereal boxes, and protest signs?
  5. Do you talk back to the television or movie screen to complain about poor characterization, unrealistic dialogue, and plot holes?
  6. Do you sometimes imagine story lines for strangers you see in stores, on the street, or on planes?
  7. Do you sometimes think, in the midst of a great or terrible experience, “I can use this?”
  8. Do you feel a rush when you enter a bookstore or office supply store?
  9. Do you critique birthday, Christmas, and anniversary cards you receive, thinking, I could’ve written a better greeting than that?
  10. Do you lose track of time when you’re on a writing tear?
  11. Does your Amazon delivery driver know your name?
  12. Does a word or idea often keep you awake—or wake you—at night?
  13. Have you cried because of something a character in your story did?
  14. Have you ever used toilet paper or a cash-register receipt as a bookmark?
  15. When you’re writing, do you alternate between “This is the best thing anyone’s ever written” and “This is the worst thing anyone’s ever written?”
  16. Have you ever named a pet after a character in literature?
  17. Have you ever named a child after a character in literature?
  18. Do family members refuse to play with you in Scrabble?
  19. Do you resent your parents for giving you a happy childhood?
  20. Have you ever used laundry, dirty dishes, or alphabetizing your canned goods as a distraction from writing?

Now, total your “yes” answers. How did you do?

5 or less = What kind of monster are you?

6-10 = You’re a writer.

11-15 = You should be in therapy.

16-20 = Forget therapy; it’s too late for you.

The post, A Writer’s Entrance Exam first appeared on:

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Thank you to Carol Buchanan for sharing this and getting Mr. Hostetler’s permission to pass it on.

April Book News


An audio version of my non-fiction Shhhh! It’s a Secret: How to Compete with Walmart and the Internet was just released.

I used a professional reader from Findaway, now bought out by Spotify, and it’s on Amazon.

The experience was almost painless. If you have the time, the right equipment and diction as professional sounding as Susan Purvis, doing your own recording is a great idea. For the rest of us, it is great to learn professional readers are an internet click away.