Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving, a bird’s eye view

Traditionally, the holiday season is viewed as a time to reflect on ‘thankfulness’ for the general health and welfare of our communities. Nevertheless, a 21st century question is, ‘Are we, as communities, contributing to the eco-health or demise of our urban, suburban as well as rural communities?’

Through participating in a series of community meetings related to the reclassification of wetland areas from ‘flood plain’ to ‘hazard area’, I heard person after person describe significant change in the quantity of their community’s flood waters, areas flooding that had never flood before; and even, not once or twice but numerous times, raw sewage which seeped into surrounding creeks, streams and rivers. So, as the present-day caretaker for a ‘generational family owned property’ once labeled the Bolton Estate located in Henrico County Virginia, I am alarmed.

When stable, this property serves as a host site for a variety of wildlife, ranging from fox to the American eagle. In fact, historical records indicate the central lake to be a natural pool; but overtime, it was extended to first support more than 500 acres of agriculture activity and a second time, to support outdoor active recreation facilities. Nevertheless, due to the impact of surrounding urban/suburban development, the area is no longer usable for fresh-water recreation. So, you see, I share with the wildlife a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the impact of urban/suburban runoff and pollution. I’ve watched a so-to-speak once pristine spring-feed wetland become a dumping ground; yet, it is one of the few remaining community green corridors – habitats.

On the other hand, the area similar to other areas does not have to remain a dumping ground, a hazard area. There are alternative land use strategies which will not only recover but prevent future negative impact. First and foremost, there is – related to this property - a County of Henrico sponsored creek restoration program. Still, for it to effectively work, other strategies need to be implemented; for examples, a rethink of how land is developed, use of ‘green build’ construction alternatives; and perhaps, more importantly, an awareness of the eco-consequences of individual life-style choices.

So, while I cringe at the fact we have labeled 21st century green spaces hazard; perhaps, it is an excellent first step. For, it should be the beginning of an evangelistic awakening: a challenge to focus on implementing forms of green land use that not only lessen the impact of urban/suburban development but recover the eco-health of our Nation’s communities. Individually and collectively we do have a pivotal eco opportunity: the option of choosing to implement green land use strategies which enable eco-healthy community landscapes or continue down a path of present-day life-styles which contribute to the decline of eco-systems.

While many view the holiday season as a time to celebrate family and host feasts, I want be thankful for the world’s natural beauty, focus on the recovery of community eco health. Why? In early 2013, members of the Global and National Climate Change Academies will release eco research compiled by member national and global scientists. Then, our newly elected National representatives are legislatively required to review this research and enable eco regulation.

Recovering ‘hazard areas’ – green space corridors, will require the joint effort of all: elected and appointed representation, land use development professionals, governmental regulation and of course, regional businesses and residential communities. So, together, let’s make a commitment to ‘green’ America’s landscape - move ‘hazard areas’ from eco-weak to eco-chic, create a legacy of eco healthy urban, suburban as well as rural green spaces. And, perhaps one day, the birds will look down and think, ‘Whew, those humans, they had a close call; but, thankfully recognized the error of their ways!’

About the author – Spotlighted by Landscape Architect magazine as an Industry ‘mover & shaker’, Glen Allen VA based The Wright Scoop –Sylvia Hoehns Wright, recipient of the ‘Turning America from Eco-weak to Eco-chic’ award sponsored by Hines Horticulture, Project Evergreen and Today’s Garden Center magazine – challenges all to ‘green’ America’s landscapes, create a legacy of healthier urban/suburban communities. For details of Wright's activities, visit web site 

Pix available on request – Pix caption – Generational-family wetland property provides habitat for Wright’s Glen Allen VA community. 
Sylvia Hoehns Wright

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Get a GRIP: Four steps to good writing

For Writers Get Together, I thought I would share my approach to writing. I developed this approach through my journalistic career and elucidated it as an English Professor at colleges in Ontario.

As the audience of Writers Get Together are writers as well as sophisticated readers, I know that you know the two most important rules of writing, but I will list them here as the foundation of this description:

1.      Know what you want to say. Be able to sum up your main message, your thesis statement, in one clear sentence.

2.      Know your audience. Know whom you’re writing or speaking to. What motivates them? What are they interested in? What will they likely agree with, and what will they argue about? Why should they care about what you have to say? And if you’re writing advertising or sales messages, why should they do what you will ask them to do?

That sounds simple, but answering the questions “what is your message?” and “whom are you saying it to?” clearly and succinctly is very difficult for most people — professional writers as well as anyone else.

Before you write your next letter, or blog post, or proposal, or novel, before you jot down that spectacular opening sentence that came to you in a dream or in the shower, get a GRIP:
·         Goal—a reason to write, a purpose, something you are trying to achieve
·         Readers—know who they are (see rule #2 above)
·         Idea—your message (see rule #1, above)
·         Plan—make an outline.


We write to communicate, to get our ideas from our minds into the minds of our audience. Here’s the theory part: we encode our ideas or our thoughts using language in the form of spoken or written words. We then transmit those words over a medium to an audience.

That’s the basic model of communication I was taught way back in stone college. The model holds up for every form of communication from speaking to one person to broadcasting radio to Twitter. The theory has four key elements:
1.      Source—the encoder of the information
2.      Message—the information that’s encoded and sent
3.      Medium—the way the message is sent: speech, written words on paper, bits over the Internet
4.      Receiver—the computer, the radio player, but ultimately, the mind of the audience.

I tend to focus on elements 2 and 4, and accept elements 1 and 3 as givens. The source of my writing is me, or the subject I am writing about, or the client I am writing for.

As communicators, we have to adapt to the medium — unless you want to create the next Facebook or Twitter. Otherwise, learn to adapt your message to the constraints of the medium.

Elements 2 and 4 are other ways of expressing the two rules.

Enough theory. Let’s get a GRIP.

Before you actually start writing your message, whether it’s a memo to the boss, a sales report, an accident report, a proposal, an advertisement or a novel: get a grip.

Writing your document, whatever it is, is like any other major project. You don’t throw your clothes into the laundry with separating whites and colours, you don’t start cooking pasta without boiling the water first and then adding oil and salt, you don’t paint without at least wiping down the wall.

Before you start that beautiful opening sentence that came to you in the shower, write down the answers to the following questions first. You can write them on the computer, but often I find using a nice pen or fine marker on a good pad of paper is more satisfying.

GRIP: goal, reader, idea, plan.

Goal—why are you writing? You could be drinking beer, making love or sweeping the garage. You better have a good reason for writing! Your writing has to have a concrete goal, an aim, something to achieve. You want to sell something? You want people to vote for your candidate? Maybe you just have a story to tell.

Communication is a tool we use to achieve something. Sometimes, the act itself is very satisfying, but writing for ourselves is not really communicating. It’s like masturbation: it feels good, but it doesn’t accomplish anything, and no one will pay attention for long—and those that will, you don’t want to.

Reader—As I said above, you need to understand whom you are writing to. Once you’ve figured out what you’re trying to achieve with your writing, you need to connect your purpose to your audience. For example, if you’re trying to convince your community to elect a particular candidate, you have to be able to tell your readers what’s in it for them. How will they be better off?

The more you know about your audience, the better you can make your message. Do some research. What interests this audience? What makes them pay attention? What do they need that they don’t have? What do they not want to have? What makes them happy, what makes them mad, what makes them turn and stare, goggle-eyed?

There are some things that all people, everywhere, always, want: food, sex, safety, shelter. But the more specific you are, the more effective you can be.

Idea—the message. After you know your goal and your audience, write down your message as one sentence. In high school, I was told that this was the “thesis statement.” I was impressed at the time. “Thesis” sounded like an impressive word. But all it really means is the main idea.

Before you write your undying prose or poetry, you have to be able to sum it all up in one sentence. If you can’t do that, you haven’t clarified it. And if it’s not clear to you, you cannot make it clear to anyone else. Steve Jobs’ message? “Apple computers are fun and cool.” Obama’s message: “We’re on the right path; I just need four more years to prove it.” See?

This is perhaps the hardest part of all. Don’t be afraid to try several times to summarize your main message. Write it down, change it, cross it out, start over, try it from a different angle. Change the order of your words and phrases. Don’t worry if it’s a long sentence. It can be a complex-compound sentence with subordinate clauses and qualifying phrases, but it has to be a single, grammatically-correct, complete sentence. One thought.

Spend some time on it.

It’s hard. But you can do it.

Plan—Now, the part that all my college students hated the most. After you figure out why you’re writing, whom you’re writing for and what your point is, make an outline.

After all, even though your main message, your thesis, is one sentence, you’ll probably need more than one sentence to convince your readers to achieve your goal. If that weren’t necessary, there Apple wouldn’t have such an extensive website.

An outline is like the frame of a house. I always start with a “scratch outline”—just a list, in no particular order, of all the ideas I want to get into the document to support the main idea. I try to make sure I have all the facts that I have found in my research, all the ideas I had as I was working on the other steps, all the arguments for and against the main idea.

Get them all down on paper or screen, then put them into order. Play the Sesame Street game: “some of these things belong together.” Look for categories and items within categories. Then, put them in a logical order.

What order? Well, that depends on your goal, your idea and your audience. You can use a chronological order if you’re writing an accident report: “I pressed on the brake pedal, but the brake did not engage. The car continued until it hit the wall. Then it stopped.”

A lot of proposals use a problem-solution order: “Do you have bad breath? Use Scope!”

In a future post, I’ll present some exercises to help you with making an outline. But for now, I think that’s enough.

Before you want to write, you have to know what you’re writing and you have to know whom you are writing for.

Before you write the first line, get a GRIP: write down your goal, your reader, your main idea, and your plan.

And when you get stuck (all we writers get stuck from time to time), go back to those first two rules: what am I saying? and whom am I saying it to?

I hope to blog to you again soon! And I hope you’re reading here!
By Scott Bury 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Freedom from Religion Foundation
Calendar graphicFreethought of the Day

November 26, 2012

photoOn this date in 1922, Charles Schulz was born in Minneapolis, Minn. After graduating from high school, Schulz took a correspondence course from Art Instruction Schools, Inc. In 1943, Schulz was drafted into the army, where he served as a staff sergeant in France and Germany until 1945. After the war, Schulz worked as an instructor for Art Instruction Schools and did freelance cartooning. Beginning in 1947, he drew a comic strip, “Li’l Folks,” for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. In 1950, the United Feature Syndicate agreed to distribute the strip, although they renamed it “Peanuts.” By 1953, “Peanuts,” with its now-iconic lead character Charlie Brown, was a hit. Over the years, Schulz received many awards and licensing deals for his work, and wrote several “Peanuts” animated television specials and movies. He had married Joyce Halverson in 1951, and the couple had five children before divorcing in 1972. In 1973, Schulz married his second wife, Jean Forsyth Clyde. In 1999, Schulz was diagnosed with colon cancer, and announced that he was retiring, but new strips would run daily until Jan. 3, 2000 and every Sunday until Feb. 13. (Schulz was able to produce strips very quickly and often worked many weeks ahead.) The night of Feb. 12, Schulz died in his sleep.

Schulz was raised a Lutheran and as an adult served as a Methodist Sunday school teacher for ten years. In the 1980s and 90s, however, Schulz began to describe himself as a “secular humanist.” Schulz’s characters continued to quote the bible, discussing religion’s inconsistencies among their other philosophical musings. Some readers have taken Schulz’s repeated Halloween storyline, of the character Linus’s persistent belief in the Great Pumpkin, who is said to bring toys to the most sincere pumpkin patch, but never shows up, as an allegory on religion, although Schulz did not claim any such thing, and often said of “Peanuts” that he was just trying to write funny strips on time, not to expound any profound philosophical points. D. 2000.
“The best theology is probably no theology; just love one another.”
— Charles Schulz, quoted in his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, Feb. 14, 2000
Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Book Nobody Wanted

Tonight I closed the pages on a book that people said they were looking forward to reading.
After seven months and only three US sales and none in the UK, I bought the book. So that at least it had one sale when the pages shut.
It was a part of the Pat Canella series that started with Dockland murders and was to go on after this book, but there is no point now.
A sad farewell as she sank below the waves.Al           


Chronicles of Mark Johnson
Alan Place, Seal No. 10012208

Mark Johnson one time golden boy of the glamour scene, gets tired of the shallow life. Longing for the real people and photographs he turns his back on the world, his only contact being his long time friend and agent Phil Moore. Like all good photographers it isn't long before the real side of photography leads Mark to start taking a new look at his life, one day he sees a girl at the window of an a derelict house. This leads to the first of many mysteries.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Missing Flowers

During the night, psychic Julie Seer dreams of the murders of missing women while in the day she has visions where she is in the body of a Chinese prostitute in the late 1800s. Frustrated, Julie goes to a press conference at the Vancouver Police Department where she meets Detective Constable, Santoro Ricci. With the help of an East Side prostitute, the psychic and the cop work to find who is victimizing these women.
I have included part of Chapter One as a sample in an attached document.
Missing Flowers will be free from November 23 through November 26. Don’t forget to get your copy. If this sample is interesting to you.
Karen Magill

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving- Anniversary Issue

Time flies...whether you're having fun or not. Cherie coined this phrase in my book Next Time Lucky: Lessons of a Matchmaker . I still find it true and poignant. In this case I'm happy to say I had fun creating this promotional website for writers and bloggers that offers quality content at the same time. I learned a few things along the way not just regarding writing and promoting one's book. There were topics I normally wouldn't care to read up on. Blogs I would never have found. I made a number of connections with other writers around the world.
Our readership is growing all the time. We reached my secret goal for 15,000 however I dreamed up this arbitrary number. Consonantly trying to improve the look of the site and placing info about it on more and more Facebook sites related to writing and otherwise. With the help from out contributors, their friends and Twitter buddies, I trust we'll have an even more successful year with bigger numbers.
I kept the site ads free except for a few promotional free book downloads That I've been doing lately.
I'm always open to new ideas and constructive criticism. Our writers appreciate feedback and comments. So keep it coming, please!
Thanksgiving-- from the Perspective of a “Blow-in”

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American and Canadian tradition. In Germany, where I grew up, I only knew it from that Thanksgiving Sunday in early autumn in the Catholic Church where thanks is given for a good year’s harvest. Some crops are brought in and put on display under the altar to be blessed. Ireland where I also lived hasn’t adopted this American holiday although it tends to follow American trends in many other regards.
So my exposure to American Thanksgiving is fairly new. It was only introduced into my life a few years ago by my new American husband. I read up on it and know that it originates from the first pilgrims. “When Europeans first arrived to the Americas, they brought with them their own harvest festival traditions from Europe, celebrating their safe voyage, peace and good harvest” (Wikipedia) and blended them with Native American harvest traditions.
Having read up on a topic is one thing; living it can be a different matter. Halloween feels equally strange to me. Our whirlwind romance catapulted me into the open arms of a welcoming family. Not being used to a big family, I find the big get togethers and their customs challenging. In Germany, we never ate turkey. I find the food pairings odd and am not aware of their symbolic meanings. Why pickles with turkey and gravy? Bread rolls plus potato mash? The overflowing table and abundance of everything makes the Ex Farmer’s wife in me cringe when I think of all the starving people around the world and millions that go hungry in this country alone. In all fairness, not all left-overs go down the garbage disposal. The turkey will be served again in various forms until everybody is fed up eating it. Why not get a smaller turkey in the first place?
I should still embrace the day as one of purely saying thanks for the good life I’m enjoying. Deep down in my heart of hearts, I am grateful for the privileged life-style I’m enjoying. I’m grateful for the fact that my husband has a job and that he brings home the bacon while I can indulge my hobby, i.e., writing. I’m grateful for all my friends and the encouraging words and responses I’m getting from people who “befriend” me and that I’m “linked” to.
I’m grateful that my daughter started her first paid job and that my son will graduate soon too. I’m grateful that I have lived a life in countries with civil liberties and the freedom to express my convictions without persecution. I’m grateful that I was born into this world at this point in time and place.
Yet, being a person for whom the glass is always half-empty, saying thanks doesn’t come natural. Since I feel the years creeping up on me, the cynic in me wants to inject that what is left in the glass is evaporating fast. I would be more grateful if I saw my children more often than just a few days a year. I would be more grateful if my pain didn’t keep me from working in my job. 
 Having been told to “Count my blessings” by my Irish housekeeper, I try to do that every day. Shouldn’t we all be grateful for what we have all year long, day in, day out? Do we need a specific day in the year to remind us?
I guess we do. Otherwise we would take it all for granted even more.
PS. My American family would find some German traditions strange too, I’m sure.
Please visit my new sites...and maybe subscribe?


Tuesday, November 20, 2012


November 20 and 21 only: 
You can download four fantastic Guild of Dreams fantasy books for FREE!
The Dark Age, eastern Europe: the earth has decided to rid itself of humanity with earthquakes, volcanoes and new plagues. Civilizations, even the mighty Roman Empire, crumble under the pressure of barbarian waves that are fleeing worse terrors.

Rejected by his own people, pursued by a dragon, young Javor heads for Constantinople, the centre of civilization, looking for answers to the puzzle of his great-grandfather's dagger and the murder of his family.

On the ancient, crumbling Roman highway across haunted, deserted Dacia, Javor rescues the beautiful Danisa from a human sacrifice. He cannot help falling in love with her. But Danisa has her own plans, and when she is kidnapped again, Javor has to wonder: what is the connection between his dagger, his lover and his enemies?
By Scott Bury

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 An Icarus Fell Novel

 By Bruce A. Blake

Icarus Fell's life sucked. Then he died and things got really bad.

After muggers killed him, Icarus became a harvester, his job to help souls on their way to Heaven, and it turned out he possessed as little talent for this as he did for every other job he lost. People are dead. The deposed Angel of Death nearly took his teenage son. The Archangel Michael is angry with him and the police think he is a serial killer.

The only one left on his side is his guardian angel, but when he asks her to help him get to Hell to rescue the souls wrongly condemned because of him, she refuses to go against Michael's wishes.

Then another guardian shows up. Piper is beautiful, mysterious, and willing to help. Having her around turns Icarus' afterlife upside down. But knowing how to get to Hell is only half of the problem.

Getting back with your soul is the real challenge.

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by Steven Montano

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In the time after The Black, human survivors of the Southern Claw Alliance clash with vampire legions of the Ebon Cities in a constant war for survival. Earth as we know it has been forever damaged by an arcane storm that fused our world with distant realms of madness and terror. Things that once existed only in our nightmares stalk the earth.

Now, humanity is threatened by one of its own.

Eric Cross, an enlisted warlock in the Southern Claw military, is part of an elite team of soldiers and mages in pursuit of a woman known as Red — a witch whose stolen knowledge threatens the future of the human race. The members of Viper Squad will traverse haunted forests and blighted tundra in their search for the traitor, a journey that ultimately leads them to the necropolis of Koth.

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Experience a dark and deadly new world in the debut novel of the "Blood Skies" series from author Steven Montano.

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By Autumn M. Birt

In the buried archives of the Temple of Dust may lie the secret to defeating the Curse, a creature which seeks to destroy 16 year old Ria for the forbidden gifts she possesses. But it is from among the ranks of those who control the Curse where Ria will find her best chance of success. Only the Priestess Niri can save Ria from the forces that hunt her, if Niri doesn’t betray the girl first. Along with Ria comes Ty and his sister, Lavinia, both bound to defend Ria from the Church of Four Orders and Niri, if they must. However, Ty has been living a life less than honest and keeping it from his sister. To survive a journey that takes them across the breadth of their world, the four must learn to trust each other before pursuit from the Church and Ty’s troubled past find them.

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