The Writing Life

D.E.A.R. Time 4/4/17

Posted by on Apr 4, 2017 in Writing | 0 comments

Time to Drop Everything and Read. It’s here. I have no big presentations to plan. I have no speeches to write. My clients’ folders and notes are in order. But now that it’s here–in abundance–I’m stuck. How can I be stuck? I love to read. I have the latter part of the afternoon to read, to skim, to dabble, or to dive in. And yet I am not reading. It’s not like I don’t have any choices. We have over 500 books on shelves in our house. If I want to hold a book, or inhale the musty odor of older books, the library is a mere six miles away. And then of course there’s my kindle, which now offers over 5 million eBooks.

Maybe that’s it. Too many choices. And just what is the best choice? Wait, this is starting to hold undertones of my old nemesis–perfectionism. Is this the best you can do? I won’t tell you whose voice I’m channeling here.

Five minutes ago I put The Liar’s Club and The Kiss on my iPad. I love memoir and have not read either of these. Oldies, both of them. Liars Club was first published in 1995 and The Kiss in 1998. Both caused some pretty big waves in the literary review circles. I can only imagine the chilling silence that might have settled over dining room tables had the designated Family Truthsayer answered the casual conversation starter, “Read any good books lately?” with one of those titles. I can certainly relate to both with personal experience with alcohol “influenced” behavior, and family secrets.

Okay, I’m digressing. If you hesitate or procrastinate when D.E.A.R. time comes, might I suggest, be your own parent, or kindly teacher, or compassionate friend. Be true to yourself.

My path? First I go to Chunk It Down. Too many choices? Look at that list on my iPad. These are books that people have recommended. Pick ten. Don’t think. This is a time to react. What do you really, really want to read – right now? Pick one. Sit. Open. Read.

        Or do a NIKE. (Yes, I’m using NIKE as a verb) JUST DO IT. Grab book. Go to comfy chair. Read. Whatever you choose is okay, right for you. Enjoy!!


Yesterday I finished When Breath Becomes Air and then reread the last section that Paul Kalinithi wrote. I am inspired.


Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships

Drop Everything and Read

Posted by on Apr 3, 2017 in Writing | 2 comments

Whether you’re 5, 15, 35, 55 or beyond, D.E.A.R. Drop Everything and Read. (Yes, another acronym – the key to salvaging my memory) I love to read, yet find other ‘things’ get in the way of my personal reading.
April is D.E.A.R. month. I did it when I was a teacher. I’m doing it this month too.
The DROP website celebrates Beverly Cleary’s books to motivate kids. All we have to do as adults is pick up one of the books we’ve accumulated that are lying on the kitchen/bedside/dining room table. You know the ones you’ve been meaning to read. Sponsored by Harper Collins and Walden Media to name a few, this program has been in existence since Beverly Cleary first mentioned D.E.A.R. in Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and schools picked it up. When we did it in my school in West Caldwell, New Jersey, the kids loved it. We had D.E.A.R. time in the classroom. I challenged my second graders to have their parents join them at home at night.
Why let the kids have all the fun? D.E.A.R. Promise yourself 20 minutes and watch it morph into 40 or more.
Once I committed to the idea of doing a D.E.A.R. for myself,  I first thought I’d lay out a curriculum for the month. This was my usual teacher planning method. Old habits die hard. But then I let it go and decided I’d see what happened as long as I read every day–for myself.
From Ramona Quimby to When Breath Becomes Air
I had When Breath Becomes Air on my Kindle for a few days. Started it Friday evening and kept eyeing the Kindle each afternoon to claim time to read it. A moving, informative, beautifully written book of Paul Kalinithi’s internal and external struggle with cancer.  The emotional shock of his cancer diagnosis is lined up parallel to the medical knowledge and past experiences he had in treating cancer patients. And then his experience of being the patient. It’s more than narrative. His own questioning of life and death firmly invited me to look at my own.
What will be next?  D.E.A.R.                                   
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships

Paris, Bookstores, & Sylvia Beach

Posted by on Mar 14, 2017 in Writing | 0 comments

Sometimes you just have to travel to learn new things. I had to go to Paris to find out about Sylvia Beach. When we were planning our first trip to Paris in 1998, a writing colleague told us go to Shakespeare and Co., a bookstore in Paris that has books in English. Not only did it have a warren of rooms crammed with books, but newspapers, posters, postcards, and a community  bulletin board that reminded me of the East Village in the ’60s and ’70s. Looking for a room? Looking for Dr. Seuss in English? And the icing on the bookstore cake–a garret room with a single bed with rumpled sheets and an empty wine bottle on the floor.  Who started this wonderful place? An American woman named Sylvia Beach.

Born in Maryland on this day in 1887,  Sylvia Beach went to Paris as a young girl, but returned and lived there for the rest of her life. And what a life it was. She was a “quietly radical” woman, opening a bookstore in 1919 across the street from Adrienne Monnier’s, who became her lifelong friend and lover. Sylvia “carried pollen like a bee… cross-fertilizing these writers” … Hemingway, Joyce, TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and French artists. She was at the center of avant-garde literature offering tea and sometimes lodging for artists.

Wandering through the aisles, I had the desire to step back in time and meet this incredible woman. The most I can do is visit Paris which we did again in 2010, read about her, and ask, “Anyone know more about her, tell me. “

The Hemingway Project offers an appetizer of information about this fascinating woman.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life.


Posted by on Feb 28, 2017 in Writing | 0 comments

As this month of extra special kindness closes, I thought again of when my husband went on his ‘Be Kind’ campaign. The beauty of it was he didn’t announce it beforehand. He just did it. The outcome was both funny and touching since I first interpreted it as a personal declaration of his love for me. But there are so many ways to be kind. And kindness is universal whether it comes from your life partner or the Dali Lama who has said, “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.”

Be kind.

Thank you and gratitude to folks who purchased, read, and wrote to me about Seedlings, and their “Kind” experiences. The doctor who made a “house call.” The friend who brought flowers. The neighbor who dropped off a small book. The “grown-ups” who share special time with a small boy. The driver who let me “cut” and gave me a thumbs-up after.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life.

Loving Kindness

Posted by on Feb 14, 2017 in Writing | 1 comment

Flowers, chocolate, jewelry. Some traditional tokens of Valentine’s Day. The last three months of my life have been
marked by reduced social interaction and home-bound activities. So there were no wrapped presents, no boxes of chocolates this morning. The reason why  is not the core of my thoughts on this Valentine’s Day. Being home with my husband 24/7 has had its challenges. It also provided time to take out, look at, and reaffirm the reasons and behaviors we chose to be with each other. Out of our 27 years of marriage, and the recent three months of being in each other’s company, what we’ve decided to focus on is the cultivation of simple graciousness- “thank you,” “please,”  “I appreciate…”, “I love you,” along with “I’m going off for some alone time.” Out of some slightly stormy exchanges, this has been the pearl in the oyster.

The true essence of humankind is kindness. There are  other qualities which come from education or knowledge, but it is essential, if one wishes to be a genuine human being and impart satisfying meaning to one’s existence, to have a good heart. ~ The 14th Dali Lama

Peace of mind is rooted in affection and compassion.- The
14th Dali Lama

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. ~ The 14th Dali Lama

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people and writing, and the wonderful place they both hold in her life.

A Month for Kindness

Posted by on Feb 8, 2017 in Writing | 0 comments

I’m reading The Education of the Heart. I have ‘read’ it three times already, each reading at a time in my life when I claimed, or was forced to claim, intimate time for myself. Edited by Thomas Moore, his professional listing is American psychotherapist, former monk, and writer of popular spiritual books. I would add he’s a poet and philosopher, a combination which makes for writing that is both instructive and compassionate. The readings he chose range from two lines to two pages.

This month I’m focusing on love, kindness, friendship, and caring, a pretty neat potpourri of topics and emotions that can easily set me up for quite a nice day. Education of the Heart is a good starting point.

“Care of the soul asks for the cultivation of intimate ways of being in the world, … for a set of standards and customs that give the heart the emotional affinity it requires and the skin the brush with real things it craves … To know things in this friendly way we have to hold them close, visit them in their flesh, become familiar with their past, and hear about them from those who have know the over time.”

When I began my month of expanding intimacy, I started with myself. Spending time watching the sunrise with horizontal strips of grays turning to pinks and blues, I realized I was breathing softly, and focusing on nothing but looking at the colors. “give the heart the emotional affinity it requires”

“If you move into a neighborhood … you can walk the streets, become acquainted with the shopkeepers, and be visible and available to your new neighbors.”

Aha! When we moved to Tucson that was one of the first things I noticed that other people did. The guy who came to install the locks, having finished his job leaned up against the side of his pickup, looked up at our endless Tucson blue sky and said, “Well I think you’re gonna like it here.” An opening to a fifteen-minute conversation about places we’ve lived.

Taking a walk in my community means adding in time to stop and have some kind of exchange with every person we pass along the route. This same “emotional affinity” is available in taking a course, reading a book, or simply sitting on our front patio and noticing the doves who have managed to build a nest in our oak tree from about fourteen twigs. “to know things in this friendly way”

“He who is our Grandfather and Father has established a relationship with people, the Sioux. It is our duty to make a rite which should extend this relationship to the different people of different nations. ~ John G Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks

 Sounds good to me.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people and writing, and the wonderful place they both hold in her life.

Why I Edit the Writing of “Strangers”

Posted by on Feb 6, 2017 in Writing | 2 comments

I recently opened an attachment of a manuscript sample and it hit me again. There’s just something about this story. This is what often influences me to take on a new client to edit a short story, or a manuscript, or help someone shift from I’m not really a writer, but I’ve got this idea to Yes, I am a writer.

My original reason for editing writing came out of a pet peeve. I was really bothered, I mean really bothered, by the impulsively mobile and ubiquitous apostrophes, quotation marks, and capital letters, and their equally grating underuse that I saw in meeting minutes, lesson plans, books, proposals, and articles.

Menus in restaurants held the longest-running record for personal teeth-grinding, and not because of the food. Plurals were sprinkled with apostrophes. menu’s, potato’s, Egg’s for sale. Quotation marks and capital letters hop-scotched along in sentences calling out the writer’s knowledge that quotation marks existed but unfortunately not knowing why or where to place them. Maxes Restaurant “says Come Here for the Best food”. Aargh!

Uppercase confusion abounded in this next one. I knew my Sister was really angry when she threw the food tray to the floor. The reader can get the anger idea from the action. But was this a religious person losing it or a family member?

To appease my husband, I put away my thick red marker that I used to slash across words in menus. Now I quietly offer my business card as we pay our bill. “I loved your food. Should you ever want to have the next menu you print up have no spelling or punctuation errors, I will edit it and proofread it for free.” It’s worth it just to be able to read the menu without irritation.

Word gradually spread. “I never know where to put the quotes.”

“I can’t think of a better word.”

“What’s a story arc?”

“Can you help me?”

As I wrote more of my own stories and gave more helpful feedback in writing groups, I realized I liked helping writers get a clean, correct look to their work, what I call the polished, pristine copy. When I started asking for a story synopsis for potential projects, my love of a good story kicked in along with the desire to teach, to help, to assist.

Colleagues and strangers became valued and appreciated clients. I’ve been privileged to help many clients get that final manuscript ready to go, or to edit and format that professional report or query letter. I’ve been blessed to be working with clients who are just as jazzed about writing as I am, who want their antagonist to leap off the page and annoy the hell out of the reader, or have the hero slide off the page and into the heart of the reader, or at least onto their admiration list.

One of my earliest edits was with a writing colleague who had a rich imagination, a loving and adventurous childhood on a farm, and dyslexia. We did it! Got her manuscript ready to go to the publisher with nary a copy edit needed. And we added a glossary of terms.

Dyslexia again is a presenting factor with a current client. I know we can accomplish the job. The plot is still under wraps, but the storyline amazed me even more when I heard of the writer’s tenacity to triumph over dyslexia. Of course, I had to take this one on.

Then there’s the client whose background seems similar to mine. The introspective challenges of the protagonist seem to parallel mine, plus the author’s a helluva writer.

Finally a mention of a very talented new writer, Chris Richards. Chris is currently on the final edits for a parallel narrative story of triumph, a story of two childhood friends whose lives ebb and flow, and blend as they help each other deal with disabilities that bring about huge life changes. I can only say I’m a fan of The Sidelines.

You’ll hear more about each of these.

From pet peeve editing to love of stories editing. I’m one lucky writer and editor.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about words, the writing life, people who write, and is always on the lookout for seedling ideas for stories.

Books Saved Me

Posted by on Feb 3, 2017 in Writing | 0 comments

“Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books” The NYT article title captured my attention. I admire Obama, know he is an avid reader, and was curious what books he’d recommend. Works by Lincoln, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired him.

Check √  They go on my list to be read or reread.

Wherever I’ve lived I’ve had books around me–old favorites, library books, both current and overdue. Today our collection includes exchange books from our community center and books on Kindle. But imagine having a copy of the Gettysburg address in your house? Obama could wander into the Lincoln Bedroom to read it.

Taking time to just sit and let ideas filter up about this love of reading, I’m caught in a memory. It’s 6:00 am. In my childhood home, kids don’t get up until one of the parents is up. The little girl reaches down to the foot of her bed for a well-worn picture book, The Funny Bunny. She can’t really read like grownups but her reading is good enough for her. Besides the pictures of a sweet bunny hopping through the underbrush, sniffing flowers, and looking at clouds is enough to have her be so absorbed that she doesn’t shift from lying down until the bustle of energy that is her father comes into the room, rolls up the shades, and says, “Okay, uppa-doo.”

The little girl was me and books were a way to enter a day, or leave where I was, and travel just about anywhere. Funny Bunny was the favorite when I was five; Trixie Belden led the way in my preteens. Then when I was just thirteen an event occurred that opened up hours of learning, escape, and solitary adventure through books.

I had been sick for several days–feeling really tired, hurt all over, sore throat. Plain old yucky. When the visit to the doctor resulted in a diagnosis of mononucleosis, it was still a puzzle. What the heck was mononucleosis? But it gave some small credence to my drama of feeling just awful. I was hospitalized for what seemed like forever. Then home recuperation for months.

I confess that after I felt better but still had no energy, I loved it. The house was quiet and still. Mom and Dad at work, sisters at school. I made pancakes for breakfast, watched every black-and-white movie on TV – think Laura, Meet Me in St. Louis, The River of No Return, Rear Window, and Miranda (from 1948, for goodness sake).

Those were movies that planted the seeds for appreciating snappy dialogue, meaningful glances, and over-the-top drama. Television did not have 24-hour programming. In fact, it was pretty sporadic programming, with zigzag lines or a circular target signifying no shows at all.

Then I wandered the house and discovered the lure and magic of words. Anna Karenina, War and Peace (yes, I had lots of hours). I pored over the words and woodblock illustrations in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Looking back I have to think that my months of home education started me on the path to being a writer. How did Daphne du Maurier think up the plot ideas for Rebecca or Jamaica Inn? Just who was Daphne du Maurier? How did the books get filled with such beautiful sentences? “I wish I was a woman of about thirty-six dressed in black satin with a string of pearls.” Imagine how that got the attention of a thirteen-year-old curled with the book, still in her pj’s, and hair in braids. This curiosity captures my attention today. When we sit down for our almost nightly movie, my iPad is right by me to Google the screenwriters, trace the story back to the original authors, check out the films locations (Vancouver seems to be pretty popular).

I’m sure my hours of reading not only taught facts and information, but also helped me become a fast reader, and an intuitive speller. You may have this too. It’s the I’ve read this word before and know how to spell it feeling. Reading made me a lover of crisp dialogue and visual cues in writing.

And still books save me.

The last two months I’ve been humbled by shingles and its subsequent nerve pain. The activities of the first month consisted of crying, taking hot baths, cold baths, sitting up to sleep, and accepting hot drinks and meds from my husband, aka the temporary nurse, cook, caregiver, and chauffeur.

Once I could focus and yet not be active, I reached for words. Our house is a stockpile of books–favorites, classics we’ve collected, new additions–A Man Called Ove, The Breakthrough by Gwen Ifill, Lean In, and Alan Brennert’s latest, Honolulu.

I’m apt to pick up any book Alan Brennert writes because he was born in New Jersey and I lived in New Jersey for thirty-five years. His Palisades Park evoked so many aspects of my adopted state and caused me to split my love of NYC with a kinship as a “Jersey girl.” This year we’re finally going to Hawaii. And that’s just the personal stuff. His characters capture my attention and heart. His heroines are believable and admirable.

In the New York Times interview Mr. Obama stated he used books to shift gears “to get out of my own head.” What books help you shift gears?

Reading Lean In while recuperating has brought more than one new aha, such as the possibility that couples can have more cultural acceptance of a significant other to take care of the newborn while she works, and a new generation can also find viable answers to the question, What would do if you were not afraid?

Books are sharpening my writing tools for better sentence structure and vocabulary. Along those lines, I’ve got a brand new word. Bildungsroman. What a great word! It means a coming of age novel. Sure you could say, “I’m writing a coming of age novel.” But come on, just once, let bildungsroman roll off your tongue. What a trip!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about words, the writing life, people who write, and is always on the lookout for seedling ideas for stories.

Photo: thanks again to Samantha and Charlie

Seeing Yourself in Your Writing

Posted by on Feb 2, 2017 in Writing | 0 comments

In mid-January Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times chief book critic, interviewed President Obama to discuss the books and writers that have influenced his life and presidency.

The interview became an article for NYT. Reading the transcript of that interview was a gemstone for me. My admiration for President Obama has led me to read his books, listen to him speak not only for content, but also for context and his personal attitude, and how all the facets of his speechmaking become congruent.

The interview turned to writing and its personal benefits for President Obama. Aha. Anything about writing is an added bonus for me. I found the answer to this question both inspiring and timely for any phase of life.

“MK: Was writing partly a way to figure out your identity?

Pres. Obama: Yes, I think so. For me, particularly at that time, writing was the way I sorted through a lot of crosscurrents in my life — race, class, and family. And I genuinely believe that it was part of the way in which I was able to integrate all these pieces of myself into something relatively whole.”

I got to thinking about what writing has been for me. When I wrote my first book, Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort, it was my homage to my twinship and gave me a sense of integration with my childhood. When I reread it today I see the literary gaps, the places where it could be so much better. Yet I also see the girl I was at six, eight, and ten. I see more clearly the influences in those years that molded the woman I became at twenty, thirty, forty, and even now looking at the travels I’ll take along the road into my seventies.

Would that everyone would play with words, lay out sentences and sit back and see the colorful scenes that came off the palette of their lives. How do you see yourself in your writing?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about words, the writing life, people who write, and is always on the lookout for seedling ideas for stories.

It’s Gonna Be a Magnificent Year

Posted by on Jan 20, 2017 in Writing | 2 comments

I’m greeting 2017 with a huge grin on my face, and gratitude in my heart. Sappy, yeah. A bit. But words are powerful and grins and gratitude are two loaded words for me. If I’m taking any baggage with me from 2016 to 2017, they are it. And the special word for 2017 is magnificent. Whoa! That’s big. Well, why not? A year of magnificence too much for you? Imagine a day. Just 24 hours. Fun, eh?

I’ve been writing, seriously writing, for thirteen years, and this is the first year I don’t have a Grand Plan. In the fall I made a decision to ease up on many of my writing events and had visions of musing on my patio, coffee mug at my side while I scripted snippets, maybe even in longhand, for some days on end.

I shivered with delight as creative thoughts drifted across my ever-inventive mental landscape. The fates had other plans and I was visited by an unwelcome guest in the form of shingles. If ever there is a humbling virus, this is it. What about my strong tolerance for pain, robust immune system, mental control, and the ability to just “suck it up”? Gone, all gone, banished within a week of possession by the incredible bizarre pain that lingers long after you think It’s done. ‘Nuff said. Multiple weeks later, I am weak as a kitten, sleeping (finally) my way through the days and focused enough to write this very late holiday or very early February newsletter.

For 2017 I have made a commitment to my life partner Hank, my writing life, and the writing life of clients. The rest is wide open. Family, friends–old and undiscovered, here we go!

How does that feel? How would that feel for you? To have most of the 24/7 of your life – open, simply open. For me, it’s going to be freeing, exhilarating. and a little bit of that “butterflies in the stomach” feeling.

Writers Lunch continues under the able facilitating of Linda Biuso and Joan Lisi. The first Writers Lunch of 2017 was January 9, and February 27 is up next at our hosting site at Fronimo’s. Writers Read continues with Elaine A. Powers holding the mic at our “home” base of BREWD. The date is March 23. More info for both on my Events page.

2016 was packed with writing events, goals accomplished, and new horizons opening.

Thanks, appreciation, and kudos are in order for writers all over Tucson, in Green Valley, Phoenix, Marana, Oracle and in organizations such as Story Circle Network, Int’l Women’s Writing Guild, Atria Bell Court Gardens Writing Group, Write Group of Montclair NJ, Sunset Writers, and the Eastside Writing Room, Stories at Rail Yard, AZ Mystery Writers, Wheatmark, Odyssey Storytelling, places likes Fronimo’s, BREWD, Roadrunners and Epicurious Toastmasters, and the District 3 Toastmasters in Tucson. I am truly grateful to folks who share funny, poignant, dramatic and heartwarming stories. Thank you, family and friends who support my writing life, clients who trust their treasured manuscripts with me, and readers who buy, share, and write to me.

Who says writing is a solitary endeavor? Have a magnificent year!