The Polished Paragraph

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July 29, 2014
by Laura S

Summer stock

Summer has just  flown by; I can’t believe that it’s more than half over. So let’s take stock of where we all are these days.

Hold on to summer by writing about it.

Okay, I’ll go first. I admit that I haven’t written much, but I see that changing in a few short days. As many of you know, I’ve been prepping all summer for a big art fair in Connecticut. High On Hooking, my other venture, will be there selling our colorful and handmade wares. There’s been some excitement, too, as the Country Gazette, our local rag featured me as artist of the week earlier in the season. They liked the art so much, they called to see if they can write a feature article. How cool is that?

So, after the art fair and the interview are finally over, I see August as the month to give to writing. I’ve been missing it, which gives me hope that the dry season is ending. And between the food pantry I run, work with contractors as we prepare our house for sale, various social gatherings, the local Market Basket brouhaha, and surviving summer with a bored, almost 17-year old, I’ve been storing up a bit of material to work from.

You’re turn to share. Tell us what you’ve been working on – besides your tan – this summer. And, if you’re like me, remember this encouraging bit:

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.
Vladimir Nabokov






July 20, 2014
by Laura S

Journey of a Book

We have a first for the Polished Paragraph: a guest blogger. Please welcome author Connie Dunn who’s written a book for parents and children investigating gender identity. Here she guides us through the journey she took to bring her book from idea into print. Take it away, Connie…Panda- Cover

When Panda Was a Boy: a Collection of Stories on Gender Identity for K-8 began in my heart about 15 ago, when I met a group of gay, lesbian, trans (transgender, transsexual, and gender neutral), and questioning (GLBTQ) youth, who had all been thrown out of their families. My heart hurt down to my soul for this beautiful, diverse group of teens rejected by their parents, the people who should be there with you no matter what!

It took a few more years and much research to begin writing these stories. I’d write one here and one there. I went through an assortment of illustrators who, for a variety of reasons not related to content, did not follow through. Eventually, I took this as a sign that I was supposed to illustrate this book myself. I chose to create one quilt for each of the 10 stories in the book.

After about eight months of creating the quilts in my spare time, I had them photographed by a professional photographer, Andy Heller of Heller Photography. The photos were high quality digital that allowed me to cut pieces out of the quilts to sprinkle through the corresponding story.

Naturally, editing, beta readers, rewrites, revisions, and more editing followed. Finally, my book was ready to publish. Since I am an Independent (Indie) Publisher, I was able to electronically complete all steps necessary for publishing using an on-demand printer. Indie publishing is not done through a major publishing company like Prentice Hall or Scholastic. These publishers take fewer books each year, their advances are shrinking, and they do little marketing. Therefore, indie publishing can be a good choice for many authors.

I was excited to receive a box of books the day before I headed to a conference where I planned to debut the book. It was time for the last step: marketing. Book marketing has changed in the last couple of decades. There are: fewer big box booksellers; more, small, independent book stores; and the biggest virtual bookseller,, which has affected the approach to book marketing.

The point of marketing your book is to get it in front of potential readers. Since most of us are connected through the Internet, doing a virtual book tour takes precedence over the old-fashioned, cross-country book tour during which you give readings and signings at every book store you could manage.

Today, virtual travel allows you to travel the world without actually leaving the comfort of your home. This blog is one of my stops. I will also visit Australia and California, so you can see how easy it is to travel in the 21st century!

But deciding to do a virtual tour isn’t the end of it. You have to find blogs and platforms appropriate to your subject matter. For instance, the topic of my book is a bit controversial; not everyone wants to discuss gender. And only certain blogs will have an audience that includes parents with young children exploring gender.

Certainly, all kids investigate gender as a natural part of their self-discovery. I also believe that parents should be proactive in teaching diversity. However, when reaching out to potential readers and book buyers, you must narrow down your audience. “All parents” is much too general. Parents with children (K-8) who are exploring GLBTQ issues and gender identity are the exact audience who not only want my book, but need it!

Once you’ve determined your audience, you must find and connect with them. Google Alerts allows one to locate blogs that target your readers. In my case, I used three keywords to search: parents, GLBTQ, and parents of GLBTQ children. In addition, consider contacting friends, colleagues, and other writers you know, especially those who already have blogs or other online platforms. Many, like my friend Laura Salamy at the Polished Paragraph, will be happy to have you write a guest blog.

Your article should be geared toward the blog in which you are appearing. For example, Laura’s blog is about writing, so my guest post is about my journey with this book. Note that I was able to talk about my book within the parameters of talking about “the journey.”

Author Connie Dunn

Author Connie Dunn

Connie Dunn is an author, speaker, and book writing coach. Her book, When Panda Was a Boy: A Collection of Stories on Gender Identity for K-8, is available in paperback and Kindle from Connie also teaches people to write and publish their books. You can find other information about her, her books, and courses at To receive a FREE Parent’s Guide: 10 Tips for Parents on Talking about Gender Identity to Your Children, sign up at



July 4, 2014
by Laura S

Happy summer – hurricane and all!

Stuck in the house, so I decided to do a little catching up. And I mean a very little catching up. It’s the 4th, it’s raining, and, on top of it all, I don’t feel well. Had hoped to swim in the pool (okay, it’s a 10-foot, blue, blow-up pool, but it’s the best my yard can handle), suck up some sun, and grill. Instead, I’ve napped, showered, and have now embarked on Episodes 4-6 of Star Wars. Excellent summer fare. Just like Jaws the other evening. Unfortunately, exhaustion overcame me just after Quint was swallowed whole by the shark. (That could never happen in my pool.)

May the Force of summer be with you. (From the

Hope all are well and writing out there. But don’t forget to enjoy the summer too. It’s much too fleeting in New England, at least where we are. I’m hooking up a storm in preparation for next month’s art show along with gardening, working at the food pantry, and drinking Pinot grigio on the back deck. Meanwhile, I’m writing in my journal and storing up tidbits there and in my brain for some short stories later. (Had to have 4 stitches in my finger the other day – bad knife incident; but hospitals are great places to find ideas!)

What are you up to? The beach? Camping? Travel to new lands? By all means, share your summer stories here. They can be real or not; your choice. Just make them juicy fun. Happy summer adventuring!

(PS – Gotta go. We’ve just arrived in Mos Eisley. These are not the droids you’re looking for. Perhaps they serve Pinot grigio in the cantina.)


June 9, 2014
by Laura S

Why writing is better than brain surgery

Bad writing precedes good writing. This is an infallible rule, so don’t waste time trying to avoid bad writing. (That just slows down the process.) Anything committed to paper can be changed. The idea is to start, and then go from there.
Janet Hulstrand

Dazzle yourself. Write, create something!

Dazzle yourself. Write, create something!

This reminds me of a bit I on saw on Facebook today, essentially that writing is a more lenient career than say, brain surgery, where you only get one chance to do it right. (Make sure your doctor is experienced!)

That’s the beauty of any art, including writing. Do what you love and what works for you. What you create can’t be wrong, though each time you do it, you’ll learn something new.

What have you started?



May 21, 2014
by Laura S

For your consideration…

Spring primroses. (Photo by Hills22 at

I went through a period once when I felt like I was dying. I wasn’t writing any poetry, and I felt that if I couldn’t write I would split. I was recording in my journal, but no poems came. I know now that this period was a transition in my life. The next year, I went back to my journal, and here were these incredible poems I could almost lift out of it. …These poems came right out of the journal. But I didn’t see them as poems then.
Audre Lorde

I’m still here. Still writing…at least in my journal and in my work. Trusting that one day this seemingly fallow period for fiction will show itself to be more like fertilizer for some future endeavor.

Spring came late to New England this year, but, still, it came.



May 7, 2014
by Laura S

Anything of value is going to cost…

A couple of weeks ago, I used a quote by Claire Cook:

I spent time doing lots of things. My becoming a novelist had to do with letting things go.

And them I took a week off from the blog. It was school vacation, and I had things to do. And some thinking too.

Letting things go… (Graphic by groningen at

In a month I turn 50. It’s a number that can give pause even if you don’t have serious issues with aging. I’m actually okay with the aging and dying thing (let’s be honest, dying is what everyone means when they talk about aging) as I’m in decent heath, do yoga, have plenty of friends, feel useful what with running the food pantry, and have a couple of great passions in writing and making rugs.

That being said, there comes a time when you realize that you have to pare down, get closer to your essentials. At 50, I really have to start making choices about how I’d like to live the next half. For instance, though I had lots of potential as a calligrapher once – I even designed and created my own wedding invitations – that ship sailed when I had a kid and put the pens down. I love to cook, but complicated, 85-step recipes are out now. Give me simple, basic, whole food. Nothing that takes hours in the kitchen worrying that a sauce might break.

We’re getting ready to make a move to New Mexico in a year. A cross-country jaunt like that is really expensive when you have no corporate relocation package paying your way. It requires some serious trimming of household items like the fine crystal you barely used – easy dispossession – to clothing that you might fit next year when you lose those 5 pounds to books that you’ve been holding onto since college. Those books, the postcard collection you amassed in grade school, old love letters, they aren’t so easy to discard. They made you you.

New Mexico will bring us new opportunities and memories, if we only make room for them in our home and in our hearts and souls. But new prospects can show themselves at any time. As High on Hooking, my rug hooking business, I’ve been invited to participate in a great art show come August. It’ll require a lot of work ensuring that I have enough inventory by then, but, if I want that business to go anywhere – including New Mexico – I have to start hooking my little fingers to the bone. And doing some marketing-type chores.

I’m only one person, one aging person, apparently, who’s becoming loathe to split her herself into too many personalities thus becoming Sybil. Writing this blog is becoming a bit of a liability for me right now. Between it and other responsibilities, I have little time to write fiction. And you know this makes me cranky. My writing group too, when I’m not ready with a story submission on time.

Ruminating these past weeks, I’ve set my priorities: rugs and writing just for me. This means letting go of the blog for a bit. I’ll still be around if you need some editing and proofreading. And the Polished Paragraph’s Facebook page is definitely up and running. Check there for interesting writing tidbits and advice. But something has to give or I’ll never have the strength to make the next 50 years.

I have no shrewd advice to offer developing writers about this business of snatching time and space to work. I do not have anything profound to offer mother-writers or worker-writers except to say that it will cost you something. Anything of value is going to cost you something.
Toni Cade Bambara


April 30, 2014
by Laura S

Potato-wielding man tried to rob store, dry cleaners

You’re ready to write a story. You’ve actually made time in your day for it. You sit down at your desk or wherever it is that you feel inspired to write. Pencil and paper are at hand. (Or your laptop, if you start there.) And then…absolutely nothing comes into your mind. No character, no plot, nothing.

The potato – plot weapon of choice?  (Photo by lusi at

What’s a writer to do?

You could break out a book of prompts. Or head online for an unlimited supply of them. You can certainly look at a photo or a postcard or a painting and maybe see a story in one of those. There’s another avenue, though, that you might not have considered: finding your story in the insanities, moral ambiguities, and sheer depravities that make up the REAL WORLD around us.

Joybubbles, 58; was one of original phone phreaks

I collect headlines from the Boston Globe I read every morning. And then there are the eye-catching headers on my homepage (which is generated by MSN and personalized by me). Why make shit up when it’s sitting right there in front of you ripe for the picking?

Should prison inmates have the right to masturbate?

One rule: No using rags like the National Inquirer and the Weekly World News. They’re already dealing in fiction, so you’d just be plagiarizing their stuff. Though maybe the FBI did capture a bat child once. And if the jury’s out on Disney’s Mulan being a man, who’s to say that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a woman?

Because I’m nice and like to share with readers, below is a sampling of the news stories I’ve discovered through the years. Feel free to borrow one. Just make sure you share back any story you might write from it.

  • She’s charged in apple attack on spouse – Yes, the wife pelted her beloved with a Granny Smith (okay, I made that detail up) and got caught.
  • Restaurant sues over ‘Carcass Removal’ listing – “A Montana restaurant listed in the phone book under ‘Animal Carcass Removal’ …” Just go from there.
  • Body parts sold to kebab stand, police say – Though that bears more than a passing resemblance to the tales of Sweeney Todd. Don’t eat the pie either.
  • NM man set on fire after losing drinking bet – Actually, his “friends” set his prosthetic leg on fire. He just happened to be wearing it.
  • Train severs limbs of teens sunbathing on railroad trestle – That’s just an example of Darwinism.
  • NY zoo closes reptile house after cobra disappears – Oh, my, check the baby’s diaper bag!
  • 78,000 apply to leave Earth forever to live on Mars – That’s commitment.
  • Disgraced scrapbooking star survives the cruelest cut – Apparently, she cheated in some contest, and “Scrapbooking bloggers compared it to performance-enhancing drug controversies of major league baseball players.”

So, go ahead. Write a story using one of these as your jumping off point. And,  if you see any similarly thought-provoking headlines, please share them with us here. Otherwise, like in the case of the disgraced scrapbooker, we might have to call “foul” for plot-enhancement.





April 22, 2014
by Laura S

Time to rest…

Spring has finally arrived! (Photo by lusi at

I spent time doing lots of things. My becoming a novelist had to do with me letting go of things.
–Claire Cook

Not that I intend to become a novelist (though, who knows?), but I decided to let a few things go this week and recharge the batteries. It’s spring break for my daughter, so I’m taking it too. Hope you have a chance to do the same.

Happy spring! (Finally.)


April 16, 2014
by Laura S
Comments Off on How fast can you read this post?

How fast can you read this post?

Truthfully, I don’t give a damn how fast you read it. I say that even though I used to speed read through the library when I was a kid. Shit, I could plow through one book sitting there in the comfy chairs and AC during a summer morning. Then, in the afternoon, I’d start banging out another one at the town pool.

You’re fast, but do you know where you’re going, what you’ve read? (Photo by socyo of

But all the reading I did then doesn’t compare with what I – and you! – do on a daily basis when we check email, read blogs, follow Tweets, and peruse Facebook and the articles our friends share. According to a Huffington Post article by Alexis Kleinman, Americans spend over five hours each day on digital media via smart phones, tablets, and computers. Damn! And for another four-and-a-half hours we cozy up to TV. No wonder we’re fat! But that’s a topic for another day.

Given the vast amounts of information that pass through my laptop each day, I find myself skimming many of the pieces with interesting headlines. Skimming. That doesn’t mean reading really fast; it means that our eyes pass over the information much in the way lightening flashes. We slow down only when we got to a key word, i.e., something important.

Okay, this appears to work for the crap we look at on the Internet. Sort of. I mean, if there was a pop quiz on the digital stuff you looked at on a given day, could you pass? Bet not. In fact, according to a scary story I read today in the Boston Globe by Michael S. Rosenwald of the Washington Post:

Humans…seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.”

Basically, we’re not really comprehending and processing what we read. Little kids who take to Mom and Dad’s electronic devices so much more quickly than their parents could be “stunt[ing] the development of deep reading skills.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to imagine serious implications for the future. No more rocket scientists or brain surgeons; they need serious reading skills to succeed. Scare yourself silly by reading more about it for yourself at “Online skimming habits alter print-reading abilities” at the Boston Globe.

Apparently, some are calling for a “slow word movement,” you know, like the slow food movement.  Maybe then we can preserve whatever brain reading/comprehension power we have left. I like to slow down and cook, especially on a Sunday. It’s a creativity outlet. And a way to really appreciate the food we eat, how it’s made, what’s in it. Along with good conversation and good books, it’s something that families and friends can sit and share.

So, how fast do you read? Or do you multitask – reading a chapter on your tablet while you’re waiting for the pediatrician to see your sick toddler? Knock off a page or two on your phone in the bathroom? How’s that working for you? Be honest. And what do you think all these electronic devices are doing for our kids? Again, be honest…with yourself. Then drop the device and grab an honest-to-God book.







April 9, 2014
by Laura S

Dancing like no one is looking; writing like no one will read

Painters must want to paint above all else. If the artist in front of the canvas begins to wonder how much he will sell it for, or what the critics will think of it, he won’t be able to pursue original avenues. Creative achievements depend on single-minded immersion.
Mihaly Csikszentmihaly

Dancing – or writing – like no one is watching. (Artwork by duchesssa at

Like I said a couple of weeks ago, every now and again I go back into my old story files. Occasionally, what I find in there is BAD, embarrassing even. Don’t email me now about my negative attitude; that it’s bad just tells me how much I’ve improved as a writer. There’s one story in there, though, that I wrote and shared with an old writing group. I read it to the members, and… silence poured forth. No one even bothered with a platitude like “Good try.” I’ll just say that the story involved belly button lint, a hangover, and sex. Maybe the group was mortified for me, thinking it was autobiographical. It wasn’t. I’ll add that it was an honest writing effort on my part, and I had no thoughts of publishing anything at that time.

BTW, I’m one of those people who dances in my house when no one but the dog is watching. During the recent Sochi Olympics, I even did some figure skating in the family room. The family did NOT award me a medal, though my husband said I had enthusiasm. And heart. And that’s what writing or hooking or painting or any passion you have is about.

Csikszentmihaly (the guy quoted above) is known for his flow theory, which he described as:

…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

While I was probably using my skills to the utmost when I wrote that belly button lint story, I’m glad that I’ve raised that skill bar a LOT HIGHER in the past several years. Because I practiced, because I wanted to become a better writer. Of course, I hope that I publish more stories, but when I start one, all that’s on my mind is trying to find the best words, the most interesting characters, and a viable plot. Reader shmeader. The only person I’m trying to impress at that point is me. When I do that, I’ll be ready to astonish the world with my dancing. I mean, writing.

…It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.

What activities do you lose yourself in? Where can they take you?