Friday, August 31, 2012

Guest Post by Karen Smith

Inherited Habits: 
Know When to Honor Thy Father and Mother 

by Karen Smith

We all derive some of our personality from our parents, and some of it from rebelling against them. It’s a healthy, dialectical process: we get to choose which of their beliefs, inclinations, and habits are beneficial to us, and which we can improve on.

Personally, I was raised by a wonderful mother who also happened to be a librarian by trade. Although you would think that this vocation might imply an orderly, organized nature, that part of the job description was not as evident in her own personal life as was the compulsion to hoard.

Admirable enough in the context of a library, where it can be put to use preserving mankind’s knowledge for posterity, this retentive, pack-rat quality made for an unbelievably cluttered house. Kitchenware and other goods, however obsolete or redundant, were never, ever thrown away. Surely, someone will want those someday! Newspapers (remember those?) and magazines were piled and clipped and shredded, and piled again, on any available surface. My sister and I would sometimes joke that our living room looked like a gerbil cage.

My father had the same tendency, though his was mostly confined to the realm of gadgetry and electronics. Boxes of wires that once belonged to God-knows-what. Defunct computers. A whole slew of long-obsolete MiniDisc players, which he had bought in multiples, not because they’d be worth something someday (at least he wasn’t that delusional) but just so he’d never have to buy another one, even if he could find someone still selling them.

Dad also had some bad habits when it came to work. A government attorney, he often found himself working long into the night, due less to any overly onerous caseload than to his own procrastinating ways. He would schmooze and dawdle and not get nearly enough done at work, to the point that it ate into his personal and family life, thus affecting us all.

Unfortunately, as a writer, I find myself replicating this behavior pattern frighteningly faithfully. I’m not in analysis or anything (though maybe I should be!), but I frequently find myself thinking, D’oh! I’m doing exactly what I used to judge Dad for. It’s something I have to actively struggle against.

The hoarding compulsions less so: now don’t get me wrong, I’m no Spartan, but I don’t like clutter. I relish the feeling of control that comes with a well-organized and streamlined household, though without ever being totally anal about it. In other words, I think I’ve found the balance they never did between keeping a sterile and uptight “museum house” and being a complete slob with cars up on cinder blocks in the front yard.

If only I could find that same balance with the productivity issue. Some parental curses are hard to break, as mythology soberly notes. In Christianity we trace this “original sin” all the way back to Adam. But whether you’re religious or not, it’s hard to avoid recognizing that the sins of the father often truly are visited on the son, whether by genetics or environment. We do each have the choice, however -- and the ability -- to be a little bit better than the last generation. We would want the same for our own children. Right?

So think about it: which of your habits constitute a helpful inheritance from your parents? On the other hand, can you recognize places where these ingrained ways of living might be holding you back? Mom and Dad formed you, but it’s your life to live.

BIO: Karen Smith is a versatile freelance writer who often writes for While her writing focus is trends in small business, she also enjoys writing about the challenges of parenting, continuing education, health, and more. Karen welcomes comments below!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Two Poems by Award-Winning Young Writer Adele Carcano


Here we go again.
I heard it,
The deafening sound of sirens.
My second attempt to run away
I groaned,
Wishing I had gone far away.
I hesitated before my run.
After I climbed out my window,
I felt both guilt and freedom.
Then that sound,
It eliminated the freedom feeling,
And the guilt --
it was left in me forever.

Sting Rays 

Somewhere in the middle of the ocean, as we speak, is a vast wet plane of sting rays. Imagine the pure beauty held within them. Layers and layers of graceful bodies pushing their way through the waves. Their aura sends off a feeling that you only feel among the greatest of nature. They make the black water bold and bright.

BIO: Adele Carcano was so eager to explore the world that her mom barely made it to the hospital on December 1, 2001. And explore she does ... from gymnastics and triathlons to artistic endeavors and writing. But writing stands out above all her passions -- she's been penning letters to her mom, lists, poems and stories since she learned to write. She keeps a journal and a blog of her family's travels around the world.  

Adele loves to try new things. At age eight when she found a writing contest going on in the City of Malibu, she pulled an "all nighter" to make the deadline the next day. It was with great joy and surprise that she won the under-15 age group for the Malibu One Book One City contest with her fun story about a precocious dragon titled "To the Top of Malibu." The next year she was featured along with other talented Malibu youth in the Malibu Times Magazine. She's been writing under the tutelage of Dallas Woodburn ever since.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Interview with Erika Dreifus, author of Quiet Americans

I am so excited to have Erika Dreifus as a guest on my blog today! I first discovered Erika through her extremely helpful newsletter The Practicing Writer, and was blown away by her moving and beautifully nuanced collection of short stories Quiet Americans. I am delighted to have her here today to talk more about her fiction and her own writing journey.

Erika is the author of Quiet Americans: Stories (Last Light Studio), which is a 2012 ALA Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title for outstanding Jewish literature. Quiet Americans was also named a Notable Book (The Jewish Journal) and a Top Small-Press Book (Shelf Unbound). Erika is a contributing editor for The Writer magazine and Fiction Writers Review and an advisory board member for J Journal: New Writing on Justice, and she wrote the section on “Choosing a Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing” for the second edition of Tom Kealey’s Creative Writing MFA Handbook (Continuum, 2008). Erika is also the editor/publisher of The Practicing Writer, a free (and popular) e-newsletter featuring advice, opportunities, and resources on the craft and business of writing for fictionists, poets, and writers of creative nonfiction.

Tell us about Quiet Americans. What was your inspiration/motivation behind this book? 

First, Dallas, thanks so much for your interest and for the opportunity to "meet" your readers. Quiet Americans is a collection of short stories. It’s a book of fiction, but most of the stories are inspired in some way by the histories and experiences of my paternal grandparents, German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s, and by my awareness of this legacy.

How did you get started writing? 

I was a reader, first. An early and enthusiastic reader! Words, stories, and books simply grabbed me. My first bylined publications were brief poems that were published in my elementary-school newsletter. I haven’t stopped writing since then.

What is your writing process like? 

My process isn’t fixed. It can vary by genre or assignment, and it has definitely changed over the years that I’ve been writing (computers weren’t always an option!). These days, most of the writing I do these days is, in fact, on a computer. But sometimes I really enjoy returning to a notepad or notebook, especially if I’m working on a shorter piece or just beginning something new.

What are some of your favorite books? 

A few years after those poems were published in my elementary-school newsletter, I read Betty Smith’s classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the first time. That novel became and remains one of my favorite books. And I’ve studied French history and literature fairly extensively, so there are several French books—like Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary—that mean a great to me, too.

What is your biggest advice for young people reaching for their dreams? 

Don’t give up!

Erika has generously offered to give an ebook copy of Quiet Americans away to one lucky blog reader!! All you need to to do enter is leave a comment below. A winner will be chosen at random on Friday, August 17.

(The ebook will be through Kindle, but readers don't need to own a Kindle device to read Kindle e-books!

Connect with Erika:
Erika loves to share writing resources with others. For starters, check out her Practicing Writing blog and Practicing Writer newsletter. Her website also features an extensive resources section. You can follow Erika on Twitter (@erikadreifus) or via Facebook (

Friday, August 10, 2012

Guest Post by Mariana Ashley

Writing about writing: 
The importance of a writing journal 

by Mariana Ashley

At one point I wrote so much I felt as though I was going crazy.

On top of my freelance writing duties, I try to write a little bit of my own fiction on the side every day or at least a few times a week. If I’m really on a roll, I could be writing over 3000 words a day counting my professional writing and the fiction that I do in my spare time. I wish I had more of those days, but sometimes I just don’t have the energy to produce content constantly.

About a year ago, amidst a particularly grueling week of writing, I found read a post from some writing blog (I can’t remember the name for the life of me) that advocated for keeping up a writing journal. Is this person out of their mind? I thought. I’m putting in tons of hours to write for work and for my own personal enjoyment, and now it’s expected that I keep up a journal too? How could a person possibly cope with that much time in front of a page? 

Despite my misgivings, I tried keeping a journal on the side of everything else. The post made it very clear that this writing journal was meant solely for you to express how you were feeling at that moment, no matter what was on your mind. Relationships, writing habits, career ambitions, and general musings were all fair game. The writing journal isn’t about sketching out a new story or figuring out the next plot point in your novel; it’s time for you to reflect on you.

According to the blogger, the point of the writing journal was for you to wrestle with any emotions or troubles that kept you from making progress or breaking through on your other work. Rather than sublimate and dismiss any negative emotions, you could feel free to write them out in full in the journal.

I can’t even begin to articulate what the writing journal did for me. I had been plagued with doubt about so many writing projects at the time that it had seriously affected the quality and quantity of my writing. Once I started working out those doubts and inhibitions on paper, I could see clearly that the things that worried me and kept me up at night had no basis in reality—they were just negative thoughts that kept me from taking serious leaps in my work. I worried too much about how people would receive my writing rather than take the time to actually develop and shape it. Seeing these thoughts splayed out on the journal was like a revelation.

Now I write in my writing journal almost every day. It’s an indispensable tool for keeping my emotions in check and staying level headed when the writing process because particularly grueling and difficult. I recommend a writing journal for any writer, if just to get in touch with your emotions.

Do you keep a journal of any sort? I’d love to hear about it!

BIO: This guest post is brought to you by Mariana Ashley, a prolific blogger who provides web content to a number of blogs and websites. She's most interested in providing guidance to prospective college students who wish to attend online colleges in Montana. When she's not writing or researching online education trends, she enjoys riding her horse, George, and spending quality time with her four nieces. Mariana welcomes your questions and comments at

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Story published in the Nashville Review!

Hi everyone! I'm delighted to share with you that my story "The Stars in Illinois" appears in the Summer 2012 issue of the Nashville Review, a wonderful literary journal out of Vanderbilt University.

Here is an excerpt:

Eleanor gazes out at the pink smear of sunset caught between buildings. “There aren’t really sunsets in L.A.,” she says. “Daylight just… slips away.” She is thinking of Illinois. As a child she would sometimes grow anxious, gazing up at the full expanse of sky, trying to grasp where it ended. Illinois sky isn’t like L.A. sky. Illinois sky doesn’t end. It stretches at the horizons to a blurred uncertain line. So much sky. Two years ago, when she first moved to L.A., Eleanor would sometimes spend hours online, clicking through photographs of cornfields and rivers. But you can’t capture the sky in a photograph, not truly. The sky is what she misses most. 


Monday, August 6, 2012

Poem by Anthony Karambelas

I am delighted to share a fantastic poem with you today written by one of my young writer mentees, Anthony Karambelas. I think it is a perfect tie-in to the Olympics! Enjoy!


by Anthony Karambelas

Is mighty and great,
And uses the pain
To win the game.

The USA lives with hope
And does not mope,
When there is a slope
We don't say nope.

The USA strives for best
And does not rest,
Until we rise from less
And beat the test.

We are okay
With what others say,
Cause we can exclaim
We are USA!

Anthony Karambelas is an enthusiastic young writer, poet, scientist, and explorer. Visit his terrific blog here:

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If you're interested in signing up for one of my Guided Mentorships for young writers, email me at I still have a couple spots open!