The Writing Life

Me and Sylvia Beach

Posted by on Aug 28, 2018 in Writing | 2 comments

woman sitting next to mural of Sylvia Beach and James JoyceOf course I’ve never met her in person. But she’s got to be up there on my  list of esteemed literary women- along with Maya Angelou, Margaret Mitchell, Erma Bombeck, Judy Bloome, Sonia Sotomayor, Natalie Goldberg, Georgia Heard, and Ursula Le Guin. Kind of an eclectic list. And Ms. Beach wasn’t known for her writing fame.

She was a small but evidently feisty woman who assisted many emerging writers – James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Andre Gide, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, D. H. Lawrence.

When I was looking for places to visit for my first trip to Paris in 1998, I discovered Shakespeare and Co., the bookshop opened by Sylvia Beach on the Left Bank in 1919. Her motivation – to provide a meeting place and bookshop for English speaking writers, expats, and artists. There was a growing market for English translations. What intrigued me was her personal commitment for two decades to champion new writers. She published James Joyce when he was banned in the US. And her bookshop became a hub for literary events.

Visiting the Paris bookshop in 1998 and then again in 2014, I fell under the spell – the place is stuffed with books, old photos, brochures, a bulletin board overcrowded with notices for rooms, editors, writers and the symbolic single bed up in the garret where a traveling writer could find a bed for a night, or nights. I could imagine the excitement. I would have been one of those college students who vied to work there (often for next to nothing) to be around that talent and energy.

Looking for places to visit on our recent road trip to Oregon, my sister reminded me of the The Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon. The hotel pays homage to Ms. Beach with books, rooms themed to writers, and a third floor reading room which I heard is complete with fireplace, hot cocoa, and books! I have vowed to stay there on my next visit.

Not sure of the nexus for my excitement I just went with it. We had dinner there after a short talk with the charming desk clerk about the hotel’s history. So much so I gushingly gave a copy of my memoir, Thinking of Miller Place, to her for the owners,  and took a cherished photo of me and Sylvia Beach.

A colleague tells me Shakespeare and Co. now has locations on the upper West Side and the Village in NYC. If this is true, I think there’s a trip East on my horizon.

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 3500 Mile Road Trip, and We’re Still Speaking

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

National Treasure and I recently took a road trip to the Oregon coast, then east across Oregon, into Idaho, down through Utah and back to our home in Tucson. Hours of pre-planning, map questing, 3500 miles driving ( he would say 3493, I’m better at rounding off), two weeks, 600 photos later, we’re back. And we both agree it was a great vacation. Not without its tension, but we’ve learned that after  a time out from talking about ‘it, ‘ (whatever the ‘it’ situation was) ranging from 5 minutes to 24 hours, we can see the humor in, not the situation but, how we reacted to it.

view of blue lake thru treesThe Oregon coast is visually and physically beautiful. If you’re driving, most bends in the road elicit an “ooh” either from the dips, curves or elevation, or the view that emerges after the curve. Huge forest green trees, growing thickly together, waves ranging from pale blue to grey, to dark blue roll in onto long wide sandy beaches.

pink orange and purple sunset sky over the Pacific OceanWalking the beach at 7 AM is like being set down in a gauzy setting of misty fog, wind, and later sun peeking through. And a sunset walk with almost flat waves promises a reflection of orange and pink off the water.

Hank had divided up the days needed to get to our coast destination near Newport. The first two days were hours long- about eight hours each day. Not my favorite way to spend time. But we both agreed that would give us more time to meander up the coast.

I was prepared. I had read the manual for our new KIA ( which by the way, is a fantastic ride). Music was ready, AAA maps in glove compartment, Apple CarPlay hooked up to show each exit for Rts. 10, 215, 5, and giving me a heads up on the twists and turns in the road on 101 in Oregon. Our excitement kept the conversation lively for the first four hours. Food, coffee, and bathroom stops broke up the ride.

Around about Hour 5 ½,  I need diversion.

“Hank, how about a game?”

“I don’t like to play games.” Now longevity in a relationship has taught us the nuances and quirks of successful interactions. I know this is the standard response to a game request.

“OK, I’ll do this by myself.” I begin “Stream of Consciousness.” You pick a word and the player says a known phrase, title, or proverb, etc, with the word in it. The next player uses that to respond keeping using the chosen word. To keep the game going and to reduce poor sportsmanship, changing the key word in the phrase was declared legal several years ago during very long road trips. The round continues until someone cannot think of a response.

So, I begin. “The word is cross.” I continue solo play as Ethel 2. ” Red cross.” “Cross my heart.” Cross is a versatile word, wonderful for solo play. Soon Hank cannot resist. His competitive streak kicks in. “Cross-polination.” I’m thrilled. We’re playing. Soon he drops out. “I’m done.”

Not a problem. I can go back to solo play. Ethel 1- word. Ethel 2- word. Ethel 1- word. Ethel 2-  Uh… blank.  Incredible. I’ve lost a game I was playing with me as my opponent.

Next diversion. I text my sister to send me a Combo. Combo is two nouns that must be used to create a name of a fictional person. The bonus is to send a bio along with the combo. Her combo to me- something sweet and something in the kitchen. My response- Honey Mixer, a chef at the little restaurant where we stopped at for coffee. Honey is saving her tips to get out of “this godforsaken town.” You get the idea.

I also read aloud from my iPad about some of the towns we drive through. Or what the states’ names mean. Did you know Oregon has been alternately traced back to Sioux, Shoshone and a French corruption of “ouragan” (hurricane)?

The scenery inspires me to sing about “purple mountains’ majesty” and “she’ll be coming ’round the mountain.”

I take pictures of passing scenery, vista stops, and closeups of Hank’s hands, glasses, and right ear.

As the hours 7 and 9 roll in,  we lapse into contented silence.

I take photo bursts of fields, farms, and creeks in California. Once we hit the Oregon coast, it’s hard not to stop for photos at every vista. What a fantastic trip! And that was just the first three days.view of wide beach through trees



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.

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 | 7 comments

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.