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Research Can Unearth Some Surprises!

Nazi codes in the hem of a dress?

After reading Susan Elia MacNeal’s Mr. Churchill’s Secretary I was inspired to write a short play about Winston Churchill and hisChurchills.Cat.BookCoverImage cat, Nelson.   Ms. MacNeal referred, in passing, to Mr. Churchill’s pets being allowed free rein to wander the war rooms at #10 Downing Street during Churchill’s time in office.  I could clearly see  the rotund, shambling figure of the Prime Minister with two pugs yapping at his heels while Admiral Nelson, the cat, sat high atop a side table. Silently observing his human and the general hysteria of the dogs.

Churchill was a master not only in crafting the English sentence but also in the coinage of words.  His tongue-in-cheek comment:  “A fanatic is one who won’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” is a favorite of mine.  In a World War I speech, (1914) Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty coined the phase ‘business as usual’.  Saying the maxim of the British people is “business as usual.”  Churchill gave the world the phrase: “Iron Curtain” in his speech in Missouri in 1946 when he said, “…..an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”

Having grown up during the post-war years, I knew something of Mr. Churchill.  A historic figure that was a great statesman, orator and leader.  But I really knew nothing of the man.  And once again, (as I have mentioned before) I began a project and then started my research.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, (which I highly recommend) is fiction but based in fact.  Ms. MacNeal was fortunate enough to have several interviews with Churchill’s private secretary before her death.  The book is about a ‘typist’ who was relegated to a menial job because of her gender.  She was actually educated in mathematics and cryptology and could easily have fitted in with MI-Five (British CIA) but for her being a woman.  The novel’s heroine, Maggie, saves the Prime Minister from certain death by breaking a Nazi code.  And this brings me to the fashion advert that actually ran in the London Times and was full of Nazi messages.  All the stitching (around sleeves and hem) was Morse code for attacks at #10 Downing and St. Paul’s cathedral. 

“German spies hid secret messages in drawings of models wearing the latest fashions in an attempt to outwit Allied censors during World War Two, according to British security service files. Nazi agents relayed sensitive military information using the dots and dashes of Morse code incorporated in the drawings. They posted the letters to their handlers, hoping that counter-espionage experts would be fooled by the seemingly innocent pictures. But British secret service officials were aware of the ruse and issued censors with a code-breaking guide to intercept them.”  (actual advert from the London Times).

If not for my love of reading, my passion for writing, and the need for research, I would never have delved into Churchill’s life and his time in office. (my interests don’t generally take that path).  It’s an unexpected delight to learn more about this amazing statesman.  He was quirky, irritable, brilliant, and very funny.

And all because I had begun writing a short play about Mr. Churchill and his cat!  I love when that happens!!

(Originally published 2013)
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Fresh little nuggets…about writing!

writing, create, write, blog, authorsWrite 50 words; that’s a paragraph.

Write 400 words; that’s a page.

Write 300 pages; that’s a manuscript.

Write Every Day! That’s a habit.

Edit and rewrite; that’s how you get better.

Spread your writing for people to comment. That’s called feedback.

Don’t worry about rejection or publication; that’s being a writer.

When not writing, read. Read from writers better than you. Read and Perceive.
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(Courtesy of  Ajay Ohri. Bio: Ajay Ohri, Manager Data Science comes from a rich background in data science and technology and is passionate about consumer insights, research and strategy. Ajay has – created meaningful impact with data science projects by leading and mentoring data scientists. )

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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!     December: Lauren Willig, January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg, May: Jenny Colgan
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How to be Certain a Director will NOT choose your Play

Recently I was invited to read and review a new collection of three plays. There was so much WRONG with the formatting and the lack of knowledge by the playwright that I couldn’t review it without tearing it all down and asking the playwright to begin anew. But there evolved a constructive critique that might help other new writers. 

Example back cover

Back cover should not be blank with a graphic design. Don’t waste this space.
1. Use this space as an opportunity to grab the buyer/director. List titles and short synopses of your plays. Count gender and following synopsis type this: 1m. 4f. (indicating one male and four females.
2. One line tags
3. A short bio of you

Pg1. First page: Title of play/s
Pg.2: Copyright notice
Pg 3:  list of play titles and Pg # they start on.

In the first few pages you should have a Contents (list) with the tile of each play and the page number it begins. Make it as easy as you can for the director to find the play and the list of characters Because this dictates whether the director can use your play or not depending on age of character and gender. Always keep in mind that men are harder to cast.

On whatever page a new play starts it should begin with the title and the list of characters.

Be certain, you as the playwright, understand what constitutes a full length play. a One Act play, and a Ten Minute Play.  If your plays are preachy and  esoteric it will be a hard sell to a director.

The end of a play is indicated with one word, centered: CURTAIN

Black out‘ and ‘End of Scene‘ are no longer used. The director will understand when a new scene begins. The next page demonstrates to the reader that a new scene is beginning. ‘Act’ and ‘Scene’ should be centered.

CHARACTERS names and blocking should be centered on page; NO underline.

If you find yourself writing a soliloquy or a monologue in a scene, break it up by having other characters insert dialogue in your speech. It then becomes less preachy and more dynamic.

Be certain YOU know the difference between a Ten Minute Play, a Full Length play (with two acts) and a One Act Play. The first act in a full length play is longer than the second act. Full length plays are about 100 pages/minutes. And no one ever uses an Act III unless your plays is over two hours or closer to 3 hours long. Also, a no-no. Remember the rule of thumb is one minute per page. This varies based on how ‘busy’ the blocking is as that takes time too. It is permissible that a 10 minute play might go over but never more than 18 to 20 minutes.

The first few pages of the book should be simple and convey the correct information. Keep it simple.  The title of your book  should be on the 1st page of your book. The next page [on the left] should be your copyright page. On the right should be your table of contents (centered)
Title with page numbers. (justified left)

On the page number of the play, the title should be on the 1st page. (odd numbered page, right side) the next page (odd numbered) should be the list of characters. The blocking and description of how the play should be produced does not need to be too detailed. Remember this is the job of the director to interpret the playwright’s Play.

Examples:
Link, How to Format a play: https://www.writeratplay.com/2018/01/15/how-to-format-your-self-published-stage-play/

When the formatting is not industry-standard, I have seen more than one director throw the book/script into the ’round file’.
Look at other scripts on line for guidance.  
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    November: Ella Quinn, December: Lauren Willig,
January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica  March: Lee Matthew Goldberg
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How to Write A Stage Play: Exercise

In this exercise, featured in my Journal, “How To Write a Play’, I have started a play for you to continue writing. It can be a 10
minute play, a full one act play, or a full length play. I have left the story plot ‘threads’ dangling in order for you to choose where the plot goes.
Tip: If you choose to write a longer play you might want to consider writing something in front of these few lines to get more ‘back story’.
Remember the best plays begin, early on, with some tension. 

 

                                                                    Scene 1  ©

At Rise: A hallway in a high school.

              (JASON and ROBIN stand next to some lockers away from the flow of students
              hurrying to their classes.)

                                                                    ROBIN (Hissing.)

You better not hurt my friend.

                                                                     JASON

What are you talking about?

                                                                ROBIN

I know your rep….luv ‘em and leave ‘em.

                                                                JASON

Naw. Not me.

                                                                ROBIN

Yes, you. Just be careful.  Do not start dating Sara, coming on strong like she’s the only girl in the world. Then dumping her.

                                                                JASON

I wouldn’t.

                                                                ROBIN

You would. I’m just sayin’, if you plan on doing something like that, you’ll have to go through me to get to Sara.  

                                                                JASON  (Smirked.)

What if I’m planning on going through Sara to get to you?

                                                                ROBIN

What? You’re crazy.

                                                                JASON

That doesn’t answer my question.

                                                                ROBIN

You don’t even like me. 

(Now try continue writing this play. Make your own choices about where it goes and who does what.)
Want to read more about Playwriting?
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A Slice of Time….How to Write a Ten Minute Play

I always see the script (for a 10 minute play) as a slice of time. ‘I Can’t Breathe’ was a slice of time before the event that prompted me writing the play. ‘Parkland Requiem’ was during  the event, that is the massacre that happened at Parkland’s high school. We all know what happened immediately after the shooting and not much before the shooting other than it was a normal day of  families getting ready for the day and hopeful young people hurrying off to school. 

For me, the writer, it’s like walking into a room where people are having a conversation (without you) and you are plunged into the story from there.

None of the rules of writing change when writing a ten minute play, just because it’s short. You must still have a beginning, an arc, and an ending(of sorts). You have to introduce the characters through dialogue quickly and concisely. You must attract the empathy of the audience with record speed. Remember, you only have ten minutes.

How do I know when I have ten minutes? Here’s some tips: The typical rule is a page equals one minute.  If a page is heavy with blocking, (movement) it will usually go longer than a minute. If you have a page that is solid with dialogue and movement you can rely on the 1 page = 1 minute. And leave lots of white space; an actor will need some space to write in blocking, from the director, and notes while in rehearsal. 
 

Check out my many “Motivational Moments for Writers” in past posts. 
Want to try your hand at writing a ten minute play? This journal is a great place to start. 
Want to see more of my ten minute plays? Click here 

Do you need help Formatting a Novel? 
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   May:  Joram Piatigorsky, June: Mike Maden writing for TOM CLANCY. July: Guest Blogger Desiree Villena, August: Carolyn Brown
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Guest Blogger, Desiree Villena, Addresses Writer’s Block (conclusion)

The last two steps to combat writer’s block :

…………In a brief, it’s expected that you provide a synopsis of your book, as well as highlight any important visual elements within it. Don’t be afraid to play around with this! For example, if your project involves an epiphany, a revelation, or solution to a mystery, a cryptic cover that features a clue could be a way to “wink” at readers who have read the book and now understand the hint. Similarly, if an object plays an important role in your story (think of the cut-glass bowl in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story ‘The Cut-Glass Bowl’, for example), you should let your designer know about it, as they can brainstorm cover ideas that involve this object.
This is an entertaining and creative exercise to do when facing writer’s block because you’ll see certain aspects of your story in a fresh way after trying to synthesize your plot from a visual perspective. Envisioning a potential book cover for your project is guaranteed to motivate you —
not to mention it’ll probably come in handy later!

“Procrastination is unprofessional and a heinous habit…. If you are not a self starter or you cannot find it in yourself to show up for work on your own and deliver on time you should not pursue a writing career.” ~~Dorothea Benton Frank

#3.    Describe your reader avatar. In marketing lingo, a ‘reader avatar’ is your ideal, perfect reader. It’s a notion that every book marketer will remind you to consider as you narrow down possible target markets. For example, the perfect reader of Roald Dahl’s Matilda could be a bookish, moral, and playful child (just like the protagonist) or an English teacher, parent, or relative who encourages children to read and study hard for school. Once you’ve dreamt up your reader avatar, try experimenting with this “character” in a writing exercise! Narrate an ordinary day in their life, write a dialogue between your reader avatar and a friend, or try some poetry in the form of a dramatic monologue and see what their voice sounds like. Getting to know this avatar is a great chance to practice your characterization and dialogue skills, while also keeping them in mind for when the time comes to reach out to them! 

“Stop procrastinating! Okay, serious answer: Remind yourself that your book isn’t going to write itself. It doesn’t do you any good to sit around dreaming up every single detail of your plot and all the action and every line of dialogue. You’ll forget most of what you dream up, anyway, unless you write it down, and if you’re going to write down notes, you might as well just write the damn story.” ~~ Olivia Hawker 

#4. Write a review for a similar book.
If you really need to escape your project, you might even read another book in your genre and distill your thoughts in a review. You don’t have to publish it if you don’t want to, but do consider making it public since all writers appreciate getting a book review. Reading someone else’s work can be a uniquely revitalizing experience for a tired mind, and if their project is somewhat similar to yours, you might find yourself inspired to return to your work in progress. As for the writing part, it’s one of the best ways to support other writers and still train that word-generating part of your brain! Every piece of writing is an opportunity to structure your thinking with eloquence, so no writing effort ever goes to waste. No matter what you find yourself writing in your attempt to move past writer’s block, as long as you’re producing words, you’ll soon find your way through. Hopefully these four writing tasks can renew your excitement for crafting your book, while also inspiring you to think about its future marketing prospects. The key is to just keep going, one word at a time. Don’t lose hope!

Did you miss part 1?

 More good information, click here
Additional post about writer’s block
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   May:  Joram Piatigorsky, June: Mike Maden writing for TOM CLANCY. July: Guest Blogger Desiree Villena, August: Carolyn Brown
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New Short Play, I Can’t Breathe, for Teens

AVAILABLE NOW! 
I Can’t Breathe  ©

I have just completed writing a new, ten minute play for the classroom and teens about the protests in our streets and the murder of George Floyd. 

Synopsis: Jorge, a young black man is asked to teach a social studies class by his teacher. What it’s like to live the black experience. Only to become a victim, himself, later that same day. Driving home from school he is stopped by cops for a traffic infraction. It quickly turns deadly.

Sample:

At Rise: The interior of a car.

            (JORGE is driving HIS small SUV down a   neighborhood street, at a reasonable speed. Blue lights         erupt in HIS rearview mirror.)

 

                                                    JORGE

Oh crap. (He talks to himself.) I wasn’t speeding….was I?

            (JORGE pulls over and watches in HIS side  mirror as a white COP walks from HIS squad car towards JORGE’s car. JORGE starts  reciting everything his mom told him to do in case HE’s  pulled over.)  

                                                                                                                                                           JORGE

Be polite. ‘Yes, sir’, ‘No, sir’. Don’t argue, don’t resist. Be polite whatever happens.

 

            (The COP arrives at the driver’s side window. HE taps on the closed window.)

 

                                                                                                                                                      JORGE   (Rolling down the window.)

Good afternoon, Officer.

 

                                                                                                                                                       COP

Reason why you didn’t stop when I lit you up?

 

                                                                                                                                                  JORGE

I did….sorry, sir. No reason, sir.

 

                                                                                                                                                    COP
License, registration, proof of insurance. Who’s the vehicle belong to?

 

                                                                          JORGE
                             (Scrambling to get the documents out of the glove box.) 

My mom, sir.

                                                                                                                                                   COP

What are ya?⸺a wise ass⸺with all the ‘sirs’?

 

                                                                                                                                                 JORGE

No, s….no, officer. I’m not.

                                                                                                                                                    COP
                                                                                                                   (Grabbing the door handle. It is locked.) 

Step outta the car.

                                                          JORGE
                       (Getting scared. Forgetting everything HIS mom ever told HIM.)

Why?

                                                                                                                                                  COP

Unlock the door and step out…NOW!
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Available at Amazon.com and all other fine book stores. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Storytelling….. (Nostalgia series)

I was reading a particularly good story (Brave Girl, Quiet Girl by Catherine Ryan Hyde)  the other day and it set me to wondering;  when was my first memory of a story being told to me. The very first one? I must have been three or four when I first heard of Cinderella. Many stories were told orally by my mother.   It’s really amazing how many fairy tales she knew by heart. I believe that began my life-long-love of story telling.  When I got a little older, my mother went on to tell me hundreds of stories about her five sisters and their growing up in the woods of Tumwater, Washington.  (Wild Violets)

At about age eighteen my sister gave me three books by Erich Maria Remarque. I don’t remember why those particular books, or why that author. Arch of Triumph, A Time to Love and A Time to Die, and All Quiet on the Western Front. (First Editions, copyright 1954) I wasn’t a reader of books; a typical teenager who got plenty of assigned reading in high school left no time for pleasure reading. Sigh. I can’t believe I was ever of that mindset!

 I had idolized my big sister since birth and wanted to please her in all things so I began reading the first book. I was enthralled with the writing and the story. Sixty years later I still have those books; From that moment on I have always had a book in my hands. 

There came a time when I felt I should try my hand at ‘storytelling’.  Writing plays at first. Telling a story in less than 100 pages. It came so naturally. Friends who read my plays wanted more of the stories; fleshed out as it were. (What happened to the characters after the play was over; what were their lives like before the play began?) and they insisted I expand the stage play into a full length novel. Which, even though it took me years of labor, I did. 

As I lived my life I was always the one who sought out stories. I never tired of my mother’s tales about her and her sisters and what hellions they were. My own library of books grew and grew.  Walls  of books.

Around 1994, I sat down and wrote my first stage play…and as they say…the rest is history! By this time I had read hundreds of scripts (during my acting career)  so I found it extraordinarily easy to write in that format. It certainly sharpened my skills at writing dialogue. Along the way, I discovered that ten minute plays were very popular and for me, easy and fun to write. 

In another life I must have been a forensics detective because, as a hobby, I love murder, gore, forensics and clues. Characters come first for me when writing and one day Detectives Jack O’Roarke and Stella Garcia popped into my head. They were fully formed and rarin’-ta-go!  (World of Murder).

My advice to writers? If you’re just starting out, tell a story you know . You can always research a topic that you don’t know anything about but your writing will take longer, because you must get it right.  Keep writing!

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky, June: Mike Maden writing for TOM CLANCY
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Look Inside ~~ How.To.Write.A.Play/Journal

                                                                                   Introduction

I created this journal/workbook to encourage other playwrights to pursue their dreams.  It doesn’t matter that you are just beginning your journey as a writer. Whatever your level of writing may be I have tried to create a journal for the playwright inside all of us. Perhaps you have been journaling for years and want to try your hand at a stage script.  Or you are a more experienced writer and need a little inspiration to get you started on your next project. Regardless of your experience, I hope you find this journal encouraging and a safe place to store your characters, your story outlines, and your private ideas for future plays.

Only when I began to write seriously did I come to realize that I had been writing my entire adult life.  But back then I considered it just ‘scribbling’. 

A thought I didn’t want to forget, or a feeling I had to capture.  Or a phrase that I was inspired by. I have written over fifty plays of all lengths. 30 of these are short, often ten minute, plays for teens in the classroom. No sets, no props, no costumes. Being an actor and then a director (in a past life) I have read hundreds of scripts and I urge you to do the same. It’s great research on being a better playwright.

But most important, have fun. Stop to enjoy the process. You will stumble and fall. If you write something that is bad, remember, that’s what re-writes are for!   

                                                              Table of Contents

                          Section 1…How to Begin…                                                           

                          Section 2…How to Write a Play…                                          

                          Section 3…Creating Rich Characters…                             

                         Section 4…Story Telling                                                           

                          Section 5… Protagonist, Antagonist, Conflict  

                          Section 6… How to Block…                                                   

                          Section 7… Snappy Dialogue…                                            

                          Section 8… Set Design…                                                         

                           Section 9… Formatting your Play…                                  

                         Section 10.… Terminology…                                   

 

 

The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug.

Mark Twain

How to Begin

   To stare at a blank page or screen this is the scariest thing of all and sometimes causes a writer to give up before they have begun. Ray Bradbury said, “Writing is supposed to be difficult, agonizing, a dreadful exercise, a terrible occupation.”   Forget for a moment about writing a Tony award winning stage play. Begin with the first outline of your story.  Don’t let people tell you it starts with the first word that’s just silly. Practice writing that first piece of dialogue. For example:

SAM. (Pulling the stranger out of the street.) Watch out! Didn’t you see that bus bearing down on you?

JANE. (Clinging to his arm.) No. I wasn’t thinking I didn’t see thank you.

And…

BILL. (Sitting at the steel table.) What the hell am I doing here? What was I thinking visiting a convicted killer?’

And…

VIOLET. (Laughing and clinging to the hand strap.) Slow down, Al! You’re gonna kill us. BUTCH. Shut your pie-hole, Vi. That Sheriff is hot on my bumper.

And…

BRITTANY. (Sitting in a waiting room and muttering.) My first audition since I hit Hollywood and what if I fail?

BRET. (Standing in the doorway.) Ms. Jones? We’re ready for you.

And…

TONY. (Cringing behind his desk.) Don’t read that, Mr. Nelson. The poem’s not finished. JOANIE. (Sighing, murmurs to herself.) He’s so handsome. He doesn’t even see me. I wish I was as pretty as Mary Jane.

                       ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 You have an idea for a play in your mind.  Write down the first idea.  Write two ideas that are different.  Now choose the one that is your best idea.  Ideally, the first few lines of a play should capture the audience from the first utterance. This will launch your writing and your play. 

 Be certain that the main characters are well developed before you get too far into the dialogue (See Section 3.) 

 This is the chapter for ‘character building and character analysis.   Use this chapter to not only develop your characters but to jot down your observations of real people that you’ve seen and heard.

         Listen to people. Notice how they speak; the cadence of their speech, the slang that they use. 

               I can only tell you how my stories come to me.  I’m certain it’s different for everyone.

An idea will pop into my mind.  For several days it will germinate and then it starts to write itself.  When my brain is full of ideas, dialogue, and people I have to sit down at my keyboard and transfer it.

 Do not feel as though you must have a whole script ready to write.  I’d never get anything written if I put that kind of pressure on myself.   My hope is that you find this work book/ journal helpful in that way.

                    Now, write the first few lines of dialogue for your first or newest script here:

“A will finds a way.” Orison Swett Marden

Following each section are blank, lined pages for you to write on, experiment with ideas, and practice dialogue. Each  blank page is embedded with a famous quote to inspire you on the road to becoming a playwright. 

                                                                                                                                            “When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m  thirsty, I drink.                                                                                                                                                                                   When I feel like  saying something, I say it.” Madonna

                                                                               

“An actor without a playwright is like a hole without a

doughnut.”  George Jean Nathan

 

To See More Pages, Click Here 

 

There’s another journal/handbook for creative writers, covering fiction, playwriting, poetry and much more.

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LOOK Inside

Maybe you journal and are looking for a simple, easy to use journal for your daily entries. Blank, lined pages with inspiring quotes from famous people to keep you writing. 

Look Inside

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky, June: Mike Maden writing for TOM CLANCY
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How To Fill Your Time….Ward Off Cabin Fever (4 of 4)

You’ve been cooped up for weeks now….trying to fight off  ‘cabin fever‘ which is a real thing.  The term originated during the long, confined dark winters in the Yukon and Alaska during the turn of the 19th century.  Gold miners and fur trappers would be confined to their cabins for months on end. Usually with their business partner, another male, (seldom was a woman around during these early days of panning and trapping.) The hardiest of these men would go slightly crazy and had even been known to kill their partner in a fit of crazed rage. 

Another writing exercise I would like to suggest is to write a letter to your dad, mom, your child. Write the truth. It might even spark the beginnings of a story as you remember the good times, the hard times growing up, the view of a new world through your child’s eyes. 
Cabin fever sparked the trivia part of my brain as I remembered this little snippet of fact and started me writing this post.

Did you miss the rest of this series? 
Self-Isolated. What Do You Do with All this Time?
What To Do with Isolated Time. Write a Short Story
What To Do with all Your Isolated Time? Journaling
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer, March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer 
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  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!

 

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  Books by Trisha Sugarek