The Writing Life

Writer Platform Response from a Montclair Write Groupie

Posted by on Jul 26, 2018 in Writing | 1 comment


Short, simple, to the point.

July 20, 2018. From Bing Chang:

Hi Ethel, I enjoyed listening to your presentation on “platform” and learned a lot from you.  Also, it was nice to have lunch with you.

May I share my thinking:

Your thoughts qualify you.

Your words identify you.

Your work represents you.

Your relationships connect you.

Your character brands you.

Your soul elevates you.

Your spirit illuminates you.

And, that’s your platform.

Bing Chang is a New Jersey poet whom I met via ballroom dancing. When he started sharing some of his “musings” with me at dance socials, I was struck by the thoughtful concepts as well as his lyrical language. We kept in touch after I moved to Arizona. I’m a fan of his writing, and he is now familiar with the Write Group.

I was so happy to see him again at my Montclair Write Group presentation of “Just What is a Writer Platform?” during my recent East Coast trip.

And now honored and thrilled to have received this piece from him. Simplicity in this explanation. Thank you, Bing!

More about writer platform – Click on “writer platform” in blog tags.

OK, readers, just what is your writer platform?

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.

Sharing with the Write Group of Montclair About a Writer Platform

Posted by on Jul 25, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

Still jazzed about the reception I received on July 17  from the Write Group (Montclair).  Felt like a Homecoming to me. Only an hour to skim the surface of the “Just What is A Writer Platform?” And we did it!


There have been many shifts and changes in how to define this kind of a platform. Jane Friedman has said it’s a difficult concept to explain because everyone defines it a little differently. To that I’d add the shifts and revisions in the last decade that publishing and social media have brought to the “construction” of a writer platform.

Bottom line –  it still needs to be something you (the writer) can figuratively stand on and be visible. It needs to be big enough so stand out. Strong enough hold you up, functional enough be there but not in the way.

You need to know who you are (your platform’s foundation), what you offer your readers (your services), and they have to know you, maybe in person, and via a current online presence and *social media outlets, (the delivery method for your platform, aka Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

So think – strong personal and literary content, usable information, professionally written and designed, and connected with social media networks. It’s organic in that it has to constantly change.


Each person at each venue where I’ve presented this program has had something extra to add or subtract in defining their platform. And that is so cool. Because your platform is about you, what you offer your audience and how they can benefit from what you offer. It’s nails on a chalkboard when a writer offers their book to me for 99¢ and defines that as part of their platform. I’ll go for the book but I want to know more about the author, what else defines them as a qualified writer. If I go to their website and it’s informative, entertaining and grammatically correct, I’ll return for more.

THE WRITE GROUP of Montclair

I could write lots more about a platform, and probably will, but for now let me share the summary my Write Group colleague Karin Abarbanel gleaned from the hour and the extra time ten of us spent at a delicious lunch after the presentation.  Her title: Only Connect.  

Thank you, Karin. Succinct and informative as I’ve come to expect from your newsletters.

And thank you, Write Group members. Sharing is enjoyable. Being in the company of dedicated writers is always powerful and energizing.

More about a writer platform – click on “writer platform” in blog tags.

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.

Cynthia Heimel

Posted by on Jul 8, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

7/13/47- 2/25/18. Cynthia Heimel. I only found this out today. I read and treasured Cynthia Heimel’s columns in The Village Voice (known simple as the Voice) in the ’80s. Her writing was edgy, almost outrageous (if you were born and bred in suburbia), and always truthful.

Book Titles:

The titles of her books alone set off streams of consciousness about life. If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet? (1991). Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I’m Kissing You Good-Bye (1993). A New York Times review of her work said: “Like Dorothy Parker, Ms. Heimel is an urban romantic with a scathing X-ray vision that penetrates her most deeply cherished fantasies.”

Her truths of thirty years ago still have the flavor of freshly made lemonade – a little on the tart side but, oh so refreshing.

Cynthia Heimel quotes:

A sample of some of her words, with thanks to Dr. Mardy’s newsletter, which sends me literary gems every week along with great quotes:

“More than Mallomars, more than hot sex, we want to belong.”

“A sense of humor isn’t everything. It’s only 90 percent of everything.”

“A comedian is not funny unless he is taking his demons out for a walk.”

“Never judge someone by who he’s in love with; judge him by his friends. People fall in love with the most appalling people.”

“Reading is an escape, an education, a delving into the brain of another human being on such an intimate level that every nuance of thought, every snapping of synapse, every slippery desire of the author is laid open before you like, well, a book.”

What writers influence your writing and your life? Tell me about them.

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.

My Mother’s Beauty

Posted by on Jun 21, 2018 in Writing | 1 comment

My mother’s 101 birthday would have been June 22. This is for her.

I don’t think anyone ever said of my mother that she was “a beauty.” A childhood photo when she was nine shows a slender and almost delicate girl on pointe in a perfect ballet tutu and pose. Her face is serious.

Photos from her teen years show a serious pensiveness–no smile, but no frown either. Was she always a serious child? Perhaps this was before the era of family events that are always being marked by photo opps and parents’ admonitions to “smile.”

Photos with my dad before they were married remind me of two kids having fun together- doing acrobatic tricks, or side by side, she smiling and standing tall and straight, feet together, dressed in the over-sized pants of the 1930’s, he with suspenders, and that wide smile that charmed just about everyone.

image of my mother tall proudWhen my mother was raising children in the expected full-time mom era, the words I ascribed to her were very competent, strong, determined. She was determined her three girls would be accomplished, and achieve all she set out for them. The few times I remember her dressed up she was still tall and proud in dresses that swished when she walked.

The day I noticed her beauty was in early winter when I walked into Regency Gardens Nursing Residence in New Jersey. By then her children were grown, even her grandchildren were grown, and she had been an active widow, painting, traveling, and in Toastmasters until a stroke slowed her down in 2001.

Sitting in her wheelchair by the window in her room, both feet, now in permanent retirement, were propped on the footrest. My first glimpse was the back of her head. It was mid-morning.

Winter sunlight coming in a window holds none of the frigidness of a Northeast winter, only a softer light. Her hair was a silver halo. Coming a few steps into her room, my view of her shifted like a camera on a dolly curving around and in on its model. Her stroke-affected right arm curled up and into her chest at the elbow as if her hand were like an infant wanting to be close to its mother. Her left hand supported her chin. Her face was at rest. A small oval face, pale, held up by an arthritic and age-spotted hand.

She turned and a smile, small and slow, embraced her face. She was beautiful. It was almost as if her face got lighter, not more pale, but suffused with a light like when the sun comes from behind a cloud and the shadow it has cast slides away.

Her head tilted a little to the side as she looked at me.  “I didn’t think anyone was coming to visit today.”

And because my heart filled with love, she was even more beautiful.

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.

Raise Your Glass…5 Simple Steps to Deliver a Memorable & Wonderful Toast

Posted by on May 30, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

Raise Your Glass…5 Simple Steps to Deliver a Memorable and Wonderful Toast … And a few “do nots.”

It’s June. It’s getting hotter. Summer is beginning. It also can be the beginning of new things for different people. So folks plan a party, celebration, or a ceremony. We’re all so happy. Perhaps your best friend is getting married, graduating, having a baby, retiring, getting an award, celebrating a milestone anniversary or service to an organization. People will tell funny stories about the bride, groom, grad, parents-to-be, honoree, or retiring colleague. Others will say all the wondrous things they’ve done. And you have been asked to give The Toast.

5-steps to prepare and deliver a toast that will provide a smooth start to the occasion:

Greet the audience, attendees and the honoree.

  1. Why are you gathered?
  2. Who are you honoring?
  3. Why?
  4. What have they accomplished?
  5. What do you wish for them?

Consider your audience when you prepare the speech (for that is what it is). Write out a few sentences about the person(s) and the occasion. What’s funny between you and the honoree may not be funny in front of 200 people. Do not “wing it” because you’ve known the person for 20 years. Find out where your toast will be on the agenda. Know who will introduce you. Know who will take over after the toast.

What to say:

  1. Why: “A wedding is a joyous time and today we are here to celebrate the partnership of …”
  2. Who: Their name, their title, your connection with them. This connects the guests to you. Be brief. This is about the honorees, not you.
  3. Why this person(s): Share positive qualities about the couple.
  4. What they have accomplished: This can be the place for a brief personal anecdote that highlights the positive bond of the honorees. Humor is appropriate if that’s your style. Be different if you can pull it off. Some toasts have been sung, but only if you are really good at singing.
  5. What you wish for them: This is the actual sendoff. To the attendees: “Please stand and raise your glass.” (Make sure everyone has a glass of something even if they do not drink alcohol). Then, facing the honorees, say their name and your wish. Working in 3’s has a nice rhythm. “May  you have …” “Health, happiness, and love.” Or more concrete 3’s. “Words of kindness, days filled with smooth sailing on your beloved lake, and brilliant sunsets as you head home.” Or 2 serious wishes and 1 humorous. “Lots of hugs, shared laughter, and fresh coffee in the morning.”

Then, the simple toast that the guests repeat. “To Dyanne and Jo, I wish you _____” Say something clear and easy for guests to repeat.

Practice your toast numerous times with a smile.

Standing, either holding your glass waist high or having it in front of you on the table, or in your hand if you are at a podium. Say your toast looking at the guests and honorees as appropriate. At the “To ____ and ____”  pick up and raise your glass to the honorees, say your final words. Look at the guests holding your glass up as a hint for them to do the same, they repeat the words. Applaud.

Do not “wing it.” You’ve been chosen to do this as something special. It requires more than a wing.

Do not read your toast. Practice until you know the speech. Keep a small index card with notes if necessary.

Do not tap the mic or ask, “Can you hear me?” Test the mic before the reception. You will be there early, right? At the very most, ask, “If you can hear me, raise your hand in a happy hello to ___ .“ If folks don’t respond, they can’t hear you. Know who can fix the mic. Be prepared to have the mic in one hand and your glass in the other.

Do not apologize for anything. NO “I’ve never done this before.” “I forgot my notes.” “I’m really nervous.”

Do not ramble. 3-5 minutes unless you have a specific skit planned. Then do the skit and the actual toast is still 3-5 minutes. Be prepared. Be brief. Be seated.

These simple guidelines will have the honorees and guests breathing easy, smiling, and ready to enjoy the event.

Need help? Contact Ethel.

Twenty years in Toastmasters International, seven years as a professional speaker and attending “I’ve lost count” number of conferences, dinners, weddings, celebrations of life, and award ceremonies, qualify Ethel Lee-Miller to share these simple steps for giving a toast. Enjoy!

Read Like a Writer, Travel Like a Writer

Posted by on May 28, 2018 in Writing | 4 comments

I’ve consciously and seriously been on the lookout for writing ideas for decades. Even before I considered myself a writer, I’d “see” scenes, overhear conversations, observe body language and immediately go off into creating a silent and soon a written riff about it.

In 2006 Francine Prose’s book Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them came up in discussion at a writing group. YES! was my immediate reaction. Being a lover of reading – for escape, information, affirmation, and communication, my copy of her book soon became dog-eared, underlined, and highlighted with “yes,” “try this,” and “what?”

“Read to savor words, to recognize techniques, to absorb plot, setting, dialogue, format, sentence structure, and plain old punctuation and capitalization.” F. Prose. This blended with observing and writing in my head anywhere.

Early in May my husband and I went on a river cruise. When I travel I take a journal (now iPad) and camera (now iPhone). Sure I still take shots of architecture, gardens, people, flowers, artwork and new friends. With Francine Prose in my head, the perspective is just a bit different.


Who hauled those stones up to the top of the ceiling in St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest? What did Richard the Lionhearted think when he was treated like a king but still a prisoner in Durnstein? Stories set in Budapest, Prague, Regensburg, and Vienna become misty possibilities.



If you are Jewish, how different are your thoughts from mine about the Jewish memorial in Regensburg knowing your ancestors were expelled in the 1500s, came back in the 1600s only to be persecuted again by the Nazis? Is it comforting to see the 2005 memorial to the original synagogue? Or is it a disturbing feeling that here was a place you were not wanted? What if I lived then? I’d probably be going to the Protestant Church near the synagogue.

I’m savoring words from travelers, guides and native residents, absorbing dialogue in accents and cadence different from mine, recognizing the sometimes disturbing concept of how history does repeat itself.

Meeting new people on our ship as we cruised the Danube River holds a more immediate level of connection. We are a floating village, pampered and certainly privileged to travel as we do. With the passenger list of mostly couples I’m in relationship idea heaven. Here are couples together for 2, 10, 20, 30, 56 years (yes 56!). Their body language, eye contact (or lack of it), gestures, physical attributes and partnership habits are grist for the mill of character development in future essays and stories.

Aside: The answer to my question, “To what do you attribute the longevity of your relationship?” usually had to do with having a sense of humor, communicating, and not sweating the small stuff.

It’s a cornucopia of writing ideas for me.

Back in my office here in Tucson, I look through photos and write quick snippets of ideas before the magic of the trip fades. So many stories…

How does travel affect your writing? If you’re not a writer, how does travel affect your sense of who you are? What other awarenesses are awakened from your travels?

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.

The (strange) Power of Words

Posted by on May 27, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

I’ve been a wordsmith for a couple of decades now and my mantra is “Words are powerful.” One word can make me laugh, paint a picture, produce an immediate emotional reaction, or completely stop me in my tracks.

Here’s a different perspective. When people use words in all earnestness and fail quite miserably, after I feel a flush of embarrassment for the speaker, I can usually see some semblance of humor in the misuse. (Just don’t focus on the fact that some misusers have an incredible amount of political or economic power).

That aside, have fun with these. Some folks call ‘em them brain cramps, I like brain naps. It gives a bit of future credence to the speakers when they “wake up.”

“I’ve never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body,” –U of Kentucky player           Now there’s an image.

“That lowdown scoundrel deserves to be kicked to death by a jackass, and I’m just the one to do it,”    –A congressional candidate. Hmm.

 “Half this game is ninety percent mental.” –Sports team manager  But I know this feeling. Math Dyscalculia.

“I love California. I practically grew up in Phoenix.”   –A political candidate. Where was he in third grade geography? Remember filling in the US map? Name the states.

“Your food stamps will be stopped, effective March 1992 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.” –Department of Social Services. Ya gotta love this one!

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.








A Writer’s Tapestry

Posted by on May 26, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

“Tapestry of  a Writer” 

adapted by Ethel Lee-Miller

I am a writer’s tapestry

Weaving all experiences, feelings, encounters.

Discovering, choosing, being shown words, phrases, sentences

Creating images of stories, poetry, essays, and books

To delight, define, confront, and comfort my readers and myself.


With appreciation to Yvonne Kaye. I discovered her poem over five years ago. It was applicable then and continues to be today.

“Tapestry of a Woman”

by Yvonne Kaye

I am an emotional tapestry, created by the gifts of silken feelings

From those who have entered my life

And enriched it.

My core is formed from encounters with people

Who have loved me enough

To rearrange my thoughts

And show them to me.

I have learned from all those

Who have passed my way,

Experiences of all kinds,

Positive, negative, passionate, serene, happy, funny, sad.

None are wasted.

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.


Thanking a Dance Mentor

Posted by on May 3, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

Going to college was a given in our family. Education was the key to dispelling ignorance, opening doors, and self-improvement. I don’t think my parents ever said this in so many words, but the actions were there – reading to us, getting a library card at five years old, setting aside time for homework and reading. Our report cards were always discussed before Mom or Dad approved and signed. Books all over the house. My mom was a teacher. My dad was enormously proud of her.

Going to college near my beloved New York City was also a given for me. The lure of culture, museums, shows, clubs, shopping, diversity, and the buzz of energy on the streets of New York brought my twin sister and me to Wagner College on Grymes Hill, Staten Island, then a 5-cent ferry ride to “the city.”

Jane Gardner maintained the tiny dance studio in a small area of the gymnasium. When I found out dance was an accredited course, I signed up for modern dance every semester I could. I got much more. Jane Gardner was also a tiny woman with long straight brown hair that hugged her back all the way to her waist. She was small, fit, articulate, and kind.

After one semester of barefoot dancing in her studio, we were privy to ‘practice’ there during off hours. Imagine five college co-eds in the mid-60s discovering African, Cuban, classical ballet, modern, or rock music that inspired dance steps and routines they had previously only dreamed of.

Mrs. Gardner, for she was always Mrs. Gardner, nurtured the lifelong habit of caring for your body while having fun. I was in the best shape of my life in body and mind during the semesters she mentored us. For mentor us she did.

Trust: Sure you can use the studio.

Confidence: Improvise, what does the music say to you?

Ambition: Come see Alvin Ailey dance at City Center.

See and inspired we were: Judith Jamison in her early days dancing, with attitude, in “Revelations,” Twyla Tharp and Erik Hawkins master classes. Mrs. Gardner had a dance idea– we followed, and never once was there a misstep.

The seeds of the habit of doing something physical and fun each day, to music, were planted in her tiny studio. The possibility that I could perform in a larger arena became a reality years later dancing with Serena Wilson’s Middle Eastern dance troupe in Central Park and Lincoln Center. Even today, more than fifty years later, whenever I hear music I have to get up and dance.

Thank you, Mrs. Gardner.








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.

Slack Key Love

Posted by on Mar 30, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

Hawaii has always symbolized romantic love for me – walking hand in hand on sunset-lit beaches, gentle waves lapping at our feet. Last fall my husband Hank and I had big plans to go!! As the day came closer for our departure for Kauai, I found myself playing Hawaiian music, slowing my morning walk to a dreamy saunter, and practicing serene, yet alluring smiles. We were to spend two weeks on Kauai, both the North and South shores. Yes, we were going with our neighbor, a seasoned Hawaii traveler, but had all agreed we didn’t have to be together 24-7. This would surely leave time for – Romance.

Days on the South shore went by quickly – hikes, archeology and garden tours, dinners out with the three Musketeers – as I called us. Nary a glimpse on the horizon of my romantic fantasy with Hank. The North shore and town of Hanalei surely would offer fulfillment. Looking at the weekly bulletin board in a café, my romance radar zoomed in on Slack Key Guitar Concert with Sandy and Doug. Sandy and Doug – yes, my sister had told me about them, how lovely their music was. Relaxed and romantic.

The concert was held in the hamlet of Hanalei on the North shore of Kauai “nestled against the emerald green mountains, rich taro fields, incredible rainbows, with soft trade winds carrying the sounds of surf and Hawaii’s birds through the building.” Nice, eh? (Ok… I admit, that was taken from Sandy and Doug’s website).

Our travel companion had “been there, done that” with slack key. Ha, this could be the prelude to our romantic liaison. My sweetheart agreed to go to the concert because he is usually agreeable to all my ideas, earning himself the title National Treasure. That and the caveat of  “Hey, if it’s not good, we can leave.”

Hawaiian slack key guitar is a finger style guitar art form, created by Hawaiian paniolo (cowboys) in the late 1700’s when guitars were first introduced to Hawaii. The traditional form combines altered tunings to make music that is described as “soft, sweet, and very soothing.”

The popular story is that Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) were hired to teach the Hawaiians how to manage cattle. Mexican longhorn cattle had been introduced as a gift to Kamehameha I in the 1700’s. The cowboys taught the Hawaiians and when they returned to their families on the mainland, some gave their guitars to the Hawaiians.

The Hawaiians didn’t know the chord fretting positions on the guitar neck. Their instruments until then had been percussion. They also didn’t know how to tune the strings… so they loosened the tuners until the strings were slack, sounded nice… and strummed.

Our romance providers are tuning up – Doug and Sandy – two renowned slack key guitarists who’ve been together probably since their twenties. They are of the Age of Aquarius, having been together a long time. They remind me of laidback hippies. She in Hawaiian print dress, long braids, flip-flops; he in a more subdued but Hawaiian shirt, long pants and sandals. They moved, talked, and mesmerized me in a mix of hippie/Hawaiian time and motion.

Two folding chairs are up front, in the open air – although humid and rainy – open air building, two floor mics, a very, very  small floor fan to cool the musicians, and a little table between them with extra picks, CDs, and water bottles.

Sandy both collects the money and performs. Concert pricing- if you are between 20-50 years old, you pay full price; if you’re a student – you get a discount price; over 50– you get an even bigger discount.

If someone came in during a song, Sandy would give a nod, keep playing, and go collect the money at song’s end. The room gradually fills up with tourists, local fans, and folks getting out of the rain. Of the forty people making up the audience, there is one couple, that we can see, who are under forty, or perhaps even under thirty.

We ask the youngsters if they had to pay full price since they are the only younger couple in the entire room. “No, in fact we got the student discount… And..we’re on our honeymoon.” Romance…

“You comin’ there, Sand?” Doug asks over his shoulder.

“Yep.” She sways to her chair. Ah, ok, here we go… Just as she is about to sit down, up she rises, and goes over to the fan.

“I did just fix that,” Doug says in a neutral voice.

“But it’s not perfect,” she replies with purpose. She moves it about one inch. “There.”

Doug gives us that look that many couples are familiar with. It’s the look of someone who knows their partner well, knows there is a certain attention to detail that the other partner does not hold to be vital, and an acceptance that this is how their loved one is comfortable.  Back to her chair.

My sweetheart looks at me and is shaking with silent laughter. “Wha’?” I ask. “Nothing,” he says and puts his arm around me.

Sandy has an easy listening voice. I have heard a supposed story of how they met. Doug came to a party, picked up a guitar and started playing. She was smitten. They’ve been together ever since. I’m reminded how I first fell in love with Hank’s voice – deep, measured, kind. I squeeze Hank’s hand. He gives the familiar pat, pat, pat back. Sandy shares about Doug’s talent in learning, exploring, and sharing the tradition of slack key. She looks at him. He nods and begins to play.

And I’m off on a quiet trip of musical notes that kind of hang and shimmer before finding their way to the next note.

Then it’s Doug’s turn to talk. He looks at Sandy and takes an egg timer out of his pocket, and sets it. “She only gives me two minutes to talk.” She gives a Mona Lisa smile. But he talks about her, how she has created a slack key composition that will make us think of birds chirping. When she plays, he accompanies her and occasionally looks at her, and his face is undeniably peaceful and happy. When she finishes, he plucks one string on his guitar – the note of the bird. He looks at us like Didn’t I tell you?

They are a couple. They are individual musicians, and they are each other’s champions.

What is love? It’s more than passion, kisses, and dreamy-eyed sighs. It’s going because ‘she wants to.’ It’s appreciating my National Treasure driving through the afternoon rain, dashing along muddy paths, settling in a one-fan room on a humid day to be treated to 1½ hours of restful music.

Romance is not always as I picture it, but it is always, if I allow it to be, “nahenahe.” Sweet and gentle.

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.