Writers & Painters Unite!

Below is one of the Genn letters. They are always informative, challenging and progressive. There’s an analogy between writing and painting. I say that because I am both, writers work from a blank page, artists from a blank canvas. The current letter is unchanged from their posting. As a writer, at the moment, I’m rewriting my second book. The Unforgettable Miss Baldwin.
From the Genn family:

Like the novel or memoir many of us feel we have lurking inside but will probably never put to paper, there is undoubtedly a painting or two that simmers in the arm and hand of all creative beings. More primal than writing, mark-making begins in early childhood, to be perverted later into a messy and inconvenient activity where the exception to do it in adulthood is made only when it serves an industry. A lawyer friend once invited me to his basement to show me an appealing, sort-of pointillist portrait in cheery colours. “Can you help me get a show?” he asked. An unfinished second one was leaning in the corner. “Was it fun?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “How much did you enjoy the second painting?” I inquired. He replied, “Not as much as the first.”

Caspar-David-Friedrich_Abby_in_the-Oak-Wood-300x192The Abbey in the Oak Wood” 1808-10
oil on canvas
by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)

In her 2001 lecture series at Cambridge University, Margaret Atwood explained the difference between writing and being a writer: “Everyone can dig a hole in a cemetery, but not everyone is a grave digger,” she said. “The latter takes a good deal more stamina and persistence. It is also, because of the nature of the activity, a deeply symbolic role. As a grave digger, you are not just a person who excavates. You carry upon your shoulders the weight of other people’s projections, of their fears and fantasies and anxieties and superstitions.”


“Wanderer above a Sea of Fog”
oil painting
by Caspar David Friedrich

I drove home from the studio visit and picked up my brush, thinking it was perhaps easier to be certifiably unemployable than to have a choice about being a painter. Enjoyable or not, the digging would continue until I became a grave digger. I remembered my parents discussing whether we, their children, should have something to fall back on, should we fail as artists. My mum insisted we all take a turn at summer work. I was, for three weeks, the dessert-cart-girl at the Black Forest Restaurant. Soon, the manager relegated me to drawing on the specials board. My dad, as if he knew the secret to never holding a real job, suggested we spend our summers daydreaming and sticking to independent projects.

Atwood recalled, “There were no films or theatres in the North, and the radio didn’t work very well. But there were always books.” She said she became a writer one day when she wrote a poem in her head, while walking across a field. “I didn’t know that this poem of mine wasn’t at all good, and if I had known, I probably wouldn’t have cared. It wasn’t the result but the experience that had hooked me: it was the electricity. My transition from not being a writer to being one was instantaneous, like the change from docile bank clerk to fanged monster in ‘B’ movies.”


“Monastery Graveyard in the Snow” 1817-19
oil painting
by Caspar David Friedrich



PS: “Any form of human creativity is a process of doing it and getting better at it. You become a writer by writing, there is no other way. So do it, do it more, do it better. Fail. Fail better.” (Margaret Atwood)

Esoterica: Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, Ontario to a forest entomologist father and a mother who had been a dietician. Because of her father’s research, Atwood spent her childhood commuting with her family between Toronto, Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie and the Quebec wilderness. She didn’t enroll in full-time school until she was eight and read Grimm’s fairytales and Dell pocketbook mysteries, animal stories and comic books. “I learned to read early, was an avid reader and read everything I could get my hands on — no one ever told me I couldn’t read a book. My mother liked quietness in children, and a child who is reading is very quiet.”


Thank you to Sara Genn. www.painterskeys.com

Gail Ingis Claus is an author, artist/painter and interior designer. Her upcoming romance The Unforgettable Miss Baldwin is in revision. Her current historical romance, Indigo Sky can be purchased on amazon.

A work of art



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Top Five Reasons Why I Don’t Hate Being A Hunting Widow Anymore

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I loathed deer hunting week. Hated it with every fiber in my being. And it all boiled down to the fact that I did not sign up for single parenthood, not even for a single week of the year. Because raising kids is hard, and when they’re little, it’s physically and mentally hard.

Today, it’s a different picture. Of course, a lot has changed in my life, so those changes are really why I’ve had a, well, change of heart. But I don’t want to get into the changes; I want to list the reasons why it’s not such a bad gig anymore.

That’s way more fun.

So here we go…

  1. Space

We live in a small house. It’s fine for the three of us plus the dog, but it’s admittedly cozy at times. Our garage just barely fits our two vehicles. (In fact, when we were considering buying my husband’s truck, we had to drive it home and check to make sure it actually fit into the garage, because my dad’s truck, which is similar to the one my husband ultimately bought, doesn’t. It’s about three inches too long.) So when it’s just my cute little black Malibu, that baby gets parked right smack in the middle. Swing those car doors all the way open. Don’t bother checking to make sure the door isn’t going to scrape the back bumper because I didn’t pull it far enough in again. Walk all the way around the car without having to turn sideways and balance my laptop on my head. Yeah, baby.

Oh, and then there’s the bathroom. We have one-and-a-half baths. All my “stuff” is in the half bath because that way I don’t have to fight with anyone for personal space. Until recently. My daughter, who isn’t a fan of mornings, has for some reason adjusted her wakeup schedule so that it basically coincides with my husband, who upon waking, has a morning ritual that involves locking himself in the bathroom for at minimum, thirty minutes. So my little half bath has gotten even smaller, now that I’m sharing it with my daughter. But not this week, baby!

And then there’s the bed. Yes, I love my husband. Yes, I actually do enjoying sleeping with him. But, true confession; I’m a bed hog. I’m that person who lays in the middle, spread eagle, and falls asleep with a smile on her face. My husband jokes that he gets approximately a sliver of bed space, and to make matters worse, apparently, when he comes to bed after I’m already asleep, I like to cuddle up to him, thus shrinking that tiny bit of space even more. This is all, of course, a lie, since, when he’s gone, it feels like I’m sleeping in the world’s largest bed and it’s the greatest feeling in the world. I sort of wish I could stay awake to enjoy it, but having the bed all to myself creates an instant snoozefest for yours truly.

  1. Cleanliness

I’m not saying my husband is a slob. I’m just saying that I clean my house when he leaves for deer camp, and it doesn’t need to be cleaned again until five minutes after he comes back home. You decide if that’s a coincidence.

  1. Breakfast for Dinner

Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner? My husband, that’s who. Yeah, I know; he’s probably the only person on the face of the planet. (Don’t ask; I gave up trying to understand him a long time ago.) So yeah, whenever he’s away, my daughter and I do what comes natural: eat French toast and bacon and fruit. Or maybe scrambled eggs and sausage and hashbrowns. Or… maybe we need to eat breakfast for dinner more than once this week. Heck, why not?

  1. The Commute

Sadly, writing books does not pay my bills, so yes, I have a day job. And five years ago, the company moved to the other side of the world—or, in the world of Detroit traffic, the western suburbs. Where there are too many drivers and apparently not enough roads and the ratio of asshole drivers is seven hundred times that of any other place I’ve ever experienced.

On a decent day, it takes me an hour to get to, and then from, the day job. And as I live in Michigan, if there isn’t snow on the ground, there are construction barrels blocking my lane. So yeah, I hate my commute. No, I don’t think you understand: I loathe it.

Except during the opening week of deer hunting season. As all the hunters flock north in search of Bambi, I get on those nice, quiet roads and get to work—and home—in a relatively reasonable amount of time.

(Side note – hunting is sadly in decline in the state of Michigan—check out this article in the Detroit Free Press—and in an effort to improve my commute for a single week of each year, I strongly suggest you decide to pick up a new hobby. Go hunt Bambi!)

  1. Quality Time With the Kid

Despite all the above pros to deer hunting week, the best, by far, is hanging with my daughter. You see, she and I love comic books-turned-to-movies. We love animated shows. We love cheesy chick flicks. My daughter especially loves anything with Zac Efron in it. (Can’t say I blame her.) So during the weekend while my husband is sitting his ass in the middle of the woods in subzero weather, we’re curled up on the couch in our PJs bing-watching all those movies he bitches and whines about if we watch them while he’s anywhere in the vicinity. It’s heaven.

So yeah, I’m over hating hunting season now. In fact, go ahead and extend it, DNR. Feel free. I won’t stop you. In fact, I’m your biggest advocate.

Now, I wonder if wine tastes good with eggs…

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By Rote with Ryan: The Importance of Pre-Writing Exercises

The mind is a muscle, and like any muscle before a work out, you want to warm it up a little. And like any muscle, if we don’t exercise and use our writing muscles regularly, we lose that creativity we authors are so famous for.

photo of a woman lifting a barbell

Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

Sometimes I am forced to go for periods of time (days or weeks) without actual working on my works-in-progress. I am still bending the creative muscles, but I’m doing it through promotional exercises, edits, or just life matters. So the WIP’s are shoved into a back seat for a short time. It happens to all of us at some point.

What I have learned from those absences and when I return to the keyboard intending to pound away eagerly at my beloved WIP, is to pause first for some work out stretches beforehand. They help warm up my brain so I can get maximum mileage for my computer time. Here are some pre-writing exercises to get your brain muscle engaged:

healthy person woman sport

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

1– Describe the current weather in detail. Write either a 200-250 word narrative describing it or a first person meteorologist accounting.

2– Work a word puzzle- think cross word, word find puzzle, on line game, Suduko, or Scrabble. Something with words and letters. Or even a good strategy game like Chess or Mah Jongg to engage the thinking skills.

close up of gameboard

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

3– Listen to a song and write a short story (flash fiction is fine) about the characters or feelings of the song.

4– Describe your morning or evening before, which ever fits into your time frame, in vivid detail by using the same POV and voice as your current POV.

5– Read the news headlines and write a short story from 1 or 2 POV’s about the headline in the genre of your WIP. Like # 4, word count isn’t important.

6– Look at a house or building that interests you and write about who lives there or works there, when it was built, its history, or what about it is unique. Why does it appeal to you?

7– Think of your favorite party, anniversary, wedding, celebration, or letter or gift. Write a short story (under 500 words) of why it was so special to you. Or conversely, why it wasn’t so special after all.

8– Pick a vehicle or mode of transportation and describe how it feels to drive it. It could be a sports car, motorcycle, boat, monster truck, unicycle, plane, Rolls Royce, limo, 18-wheeler, jet pack, skateboard, whatever you’ve never driven before but would like to try at least once.

9– Write a sentence using each letter of the alphabet. Bonus points for using alliteration. Examples are : An apple is always red or green. Boys buy buckets of baseballs. Cats consistently caterwaul and come only when they want to. You get the idea. See how far down the alphabet you can get.

alphabet letter text on black background

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

10– Visit a coffee shop or restaurant and write your waiter/waitress/ barista’s story in under 1000 words. Then leave a large imaginary tip and write their reaction in  another 200-250 words.

11– Go for a drive. Get out and look around you. Put the road names you pass into a story. Write down what you see. Describe in detail the weather, the roads, the sights. Interestingly, this entire list was composed while I was out driving around.

12– Now you are ready to start your long-awaited Work-in-progress with a warmed up brain. Good luck!

person typing on typewriter

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May We Never Forget

Several years ago on November 11th, singer/songwriter Terry Kelly visited a drug store in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. At 10:55, he heard an announcement over the store’s public address system asking customers to give two minutes of silence at eleven o’clock.

Impressed by the store’s decision to honor veterans who had served in wars, Terry and most of the customers decided to linger. At 11:00, the announcement was repeated, indicating the beginning of the two minutes of silence.

All customers, with the exception of a man who was accompanied by his young child, showed their respect. Ignoring the angry looks of the other customers and his child’s pleas, the man continued to shop and then tried to engage the store clerk in conversation.

Enraged by the poor example set by this man, Terry Kelly channeled his anger into a song that he called “A Pittance of Time.” He later included the song on his album, The Power of the Dream.


Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

Website | Amazon | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Goodreads | Pinterest

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Writing Through Stress…The Daily Grind

Howdy, Peeps!

Things have further calmed here. When I re-read my earlier posts on this subject, I’m amazed at how different things are around here now. I no longer have the stress ball at the pit of my stomach constantly and am not dodging other people’s stuff in my home, or dealing with messes I didn’t make.

Lots of stressful things still going on though. Both good and bad. Drunk drivers taking out our daughters car and all of the stress that goes with that. Luckily, no one was hurt, not even the driver. Of course, it happened at 6:30am on a Sunday morning, so…

We’ve got two brand new grand babies coming – within four days of each other – or at least that’s the due dates. We’ve already had a false alarm with the new grandson. The new granddaughter will likely be close to her due date.

We won’t talk about the day job or the issues with the replacement car we bought for our daughter. Ha!

And now we’re heading into the holidays, which brings it’s own kind of stress.

It is what it is. The daily grind…

What has continued to change is my attitude and my focus. I’m even more committed to my writing career. I also went to an event and spoke on a panel for the first time ever. It’s been about five years since I went to any kind of conference. This was the perfect way to ease back into conferences and author events.

My writing group does a 50/50 challenge twice a year. You commit to writing at least fifty words a day for fifty days. You can miss two days a week, but you have to make your words up. We report our numbers to our 50/50 wrangler, who totals them up at the end. This time our goal is to hit a million words and I really feel like I’m doing my part to help that.

Continue to hang in there! You’ve got this!





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The Series Bible

On top of creating stories, authors of fiction build worlds, settings for our characters to act out their stories. And if we’re writing series fiction, those worlds tend to grow, and get more complex over time. As the proud owner of 4 different insane asylums…that is series, I’ve recently found myself scrounging for information I once knew about my worlds and thought I would remember.

For my first series I didn’t take notes, and while I do plan on going back to write in that world some day, it will be a real pain to do so. Where did I put the library with the secret basement? And how close was it to Anna’s cabin in the woods? And how did they create that magical portal to another dimension? Ugh. Easier to write something new.

On my second series (Heavenly Wars) I did take some notes. Anytime I wrote something I thought I’d need again, I’d copy and paste it into another document, that became my series bible. It’s disjointed. Characters, places, and notes are all jumbled together, and over the course of 4 stories, it’s grown into a long, complicated mess. I have at least one more book I want to write in that series. but…Ugh. Easier to write something new.


3rd series (Hearts in orbit): Not content with creating a world, I created a whole galaxy, new technologies (Is gandasol blue or green?), multiple planets (Blarmlings live on Blarm, but who lives on Xio?), and a host of fun characters. Then when one galaxy wasn’t big enough, I expanded into a second, with new aliens (The Kratzen), planets, and technologies. I have at least three more books I want to write in that series, but I’ve been away from it for a while, and the series bible, while much more organized, is huge. Ugh. Easier…well, you know.

My new Xi force series is a bit smaller in scope. Its series bible is better organized. I can actually find stuff in it. I’m writing book 4 right now, and it’s a lot easier. So I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re writing a series, make a series bible, and make it easy to navigate.

…or just write something new.

* * *

Along with writing book 4 of the Xi Force series, S. C. Mitchell is also writing something new. Yes a new series. Because his muse is a nasty, mean, crazy elf that lives in that empty space between his ears.

His new Series Bible is even more organized and looks like this:

Screenshot 2018-11-06 15.04.59.png

And he even has maps to remind him where he put things:

Harth (north).jpg

(Map was created with Fractal Mapper 8.0: http://www.nbos.com/products/fractal-mapper)

Do you use a series bible, or have some other magical way to keep things organized in your books?

Let me know in the comments down below.

And Write On!


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Show Don’t Tell … And Do It With Bugs by Catherine Castle


As writers we often talk about show don’t tell. It’s a concept newbies have trouble with. So, here’s a little piece that I think will help illustrate the point of how and why we should Show Don’t Tell … and in this case Do It With Bugs.

Have you ever eaten a bug?

I’ve never eaten a bug, intentionally that is, but my heroine, in The Nun and the Narc, Sister Margaret Mary has. Sure, the odd gnat has flown in my mouth while gardening, and nearly gagged me to death, but I’m not counting that. Nor am I counting the fair number of insects that crawl in our mouths while we sleep, according to one source I’ve read. That’s why I cover my mouth with the sheet at night, although on the nights I’ve awakened gagging I have wondered what tiny creature I might have swallowed. So, I have to say, “More power to anyone brave enough to chomp down on the insects that other countries consider delicacies.”

So why, you ask, did I make Sister Margaret Mary eat bugs?

Because I wanted to show and not tell. Showing and not telling puts the reader in the action. When they are invested in your story it becomes harder for readers to put your book down.

I could have said, “Sister Margaret Mary had an adventurous spirit. She likes to eat unusual things.” What kind of picture would that have painted? Bland, if you ask me. But a skewer of some exotic, or not so exotic bug, heading for the nun’s mouth seemed a lot more descriptive than “eating unusual things.” So, I decided to show her doing something adventurous and outside the norm.

Upon discovering chapulines (deep fried, chile powder coated grasshoppers) are delicacy of the Oacaxa Mexico area where the story is set, I decided to have her munch down a skewer of the crispy critters.

Chapulines are eaten fried in tacos, or fried and dipped in chile powder and threaded on skewers. Put enough chile powder on anything to disguise the taste and deep fry it, (who doesn’t like greasy, spicy food, I thought) and it might be palatable. Described as crunchy, high in protein and very low in fat, they seemed like the perfect snack for an adventurous heroine who is health conscious and taking care of the Lord’s temple (her body). So, when she’d skipped breakfast and found herself getting hungry at the village marketplace, Sister Margaret chowed down on a skewer of deep fried, chile powder-coated grasshoppers.

Here are a few other delicacies I could have had the sister chow down on.

  • Tecole—red segmented maguey worms, the larvae of the Hypopta agavis moth. They made me too squeamish to even consider letting poor Sister Margaret chomp on them, even though they are usually toasted or fried and served in a taco. She wouldn’t be seeing the bugs as she dined, but my stomach rebelled at the mere thought. Adventurous only goes so far, even vicariously for me.
  • Escamole—sometimes called “insect caviar”. Escamoles are ant larvae harvested from the roots of the agave tequila or mezcal plant in Mexico. I didn’t think the good sister could keep these down either. I know I couldn’t.
  • Huitlacoche, or corn fungus—which was described as having an earthy, mushroomy flavor. Not a bad option, I thought, because I love mushrooms. Then I saw a picture of the corn smut. It was off the table, too.


What about you? Have you ever made your characters do something adventurous to Show, Not Tell? If so what?


Multi-award winning author Catherine Castle loves writing, reading, traveling, singing, theatre, quilting and gardening. She’s a passionate gardener whose garden won a “Best Hillside Garden” award from the local gardening club. She writes sweet and inspirational romances. You can find her award-winning Soul Mate books The Nun and the Narc and A Groom for Mama, on Amazon





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