Thursday, April 30, 2009

Meet Versatile Author Carolyn Howard-Johnson

My guest author this month in the VBT group is an exceptionally talented and versatile author. I’d like you to meet Carolyn Howard-Johnson. To get to know Carolyn better, first her bio:


Carolyn Howard-Johnson's first novel, "This Is the Place", won eight awards. Her second book, "Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered", creative nonfiction, won three. Her chapbook of poetry, "Tracings", was named to the Compulsive Reader's Ten Best Reads list and was given the Military Writers' Society of America's Silver Award of Excellence. She just released "She Wore Emerald Then, A Reflections on Motherhood", coauthored with Magdalena Ball and self-published in the time-honored tradition of poets everywhere.

An instructor for UCLA Extension's world-renown Writers' Program, her book "The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won't" is recommended reading for her classes and was named USA Book News' "Best Professional Book 2004." It is also an Irwin Award winner. Her second book in the How To Do It Frugally series is "The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success" is also a USA Book News award-winner, as well as the winner of the Reader View's Literary Award in the publishing category. She is the recipient of both the California Legislature's Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award and the Glendale American Business Women's Association's Woman of the Year award. Her community's Character and Ethics Committee honored her for promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly's list of 14 "San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen." She is a popular speaker and actor.

"Cherished Pulse" is available as an e-chapbook at:

"Tracings" is available at:

"She Wore Emerald Then: Reflections on Motherhood" is available at:

Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s website is:

Come tweet with Carolyn at:

This month, since I am a poet primarily, I thought we’d focus on Carolyn’s poetry achievements and interests. Carolyn has been good enough to provide us with some of her tips to help beginning poets.

Perfecting Poetry: 10 Tips for the Beginner

1. Try free verse (no intentional rhyming).

2. Write dense, poetic prose, then divide it into lines—or not. If you don't, you'll have a prose poem.

3. Break lines after important words. If you scan down the last words in each line of a poem, you should have a good sense of what the poem is about.

4. Eliminate as many adjectives and adverbs as you can and strengthen your verbs. You poem will be more powerful.

5. Eliminate as many of the clutter words as you can. Articles, conjunctions, even some prepositions.

6. Try making different pictures on the page with the words. Your poem can be in triplets, couplets, indented unusually, even be set up in shapes. Try to make the design fit with the subject of your poem.

7. Avoid long, Latinate words.

8. Use images rather than explaining.

9. Know metaphors, similes, assonance and alliteration. Play with them. Don't strain.

10. If you want to rhyme, try to use uncommon ones. No moons and Junes.

11. One extra tip because one should always give a reader a little more than they expect: Try reading and/or writing poetry even if you don't think you want to. You may be surprised at how much you like it. It’s changed a lot since your high school English Lit days.

Here is an example of Carolyn’s poetry:

This is an example of what can be done with simple, everyday subjects that you experience or imagine. I imagined this while riding the wheel on the Santa Monica pier recently with my husband:

Death by Ferris Wheel ©

A woman who might be me, watches
roller bladers with supple bones and toddlers

with careless balloons from her seat in the
gondola. Far, far down on the pier. She opens the doors

--mini saloon doors of purple-- or
she crawls over acrylic barriers. Either way

she hesitates a moment. The lurch
of the wheel as it stops at the top finishes

the job. No scream. Even the plane floating
a campaign trail of plastic behind it, silent. Soundless

waves, too, that far up. She floats as if posing
for her close-up, delicate fingers, poised toes,

her red sunhat a Frisbee against
sky of pulled taffy clouds on blue.

Sea like scallops of Alençon lace below,
sand stretched away toward the Palisades,

the smell of sugary churros her last sensation.

by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, originally published in Pear Noir

To learn more about publishing, writing, promotion, and editing, check out Carolyn's classes at UCLA Extension's Writer's Program: www, or (310) 825-9415. Her next class is August 1, Public Policy Building, UCLA Campus.

Check back in a couple of days to learn about a poetry book that would be a perfect gift for Mother’s Day.



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A poem, "Why Did My Grandmother Have To Die?"

What with Aunt Margie's funeral last Tuesday, I have been pondering over life and death lately and how one best explains death to young children such as some at Margie's funeral. The following poem is the result of my pondering this weighty issue.

Why Did My Grandmother Have To Die?

The funeral over, the girl asked her dad,
"Why did my grandmother have to die?"
"That is just the way of life. I know it's sad,
but Nature demands it. I'll try to explain why.

"If living things remained alive perpetually,
the demand upon the world's resources
would become overwhelming eventually;
so a vital balance our ecosystem enforces."

His explanation given, her scientist father
smiled and asked the girl, "Now do you
understand?" His wife said, "Why bother
answering her if afterwards she hasn't a clue

"what your explanation means? Honey, let
Mommy try to explain it. You know how
our backyard has lots of rose bushes, yet
there is still room for your swing set now?"

"Yes, ma'am," the little girl replies. Her mother
continues, " Well, suppose every rose that bloomed
lived forever so there were new roses one after another
and the bushes expanded until finally they doomed

"everything else in the yard. Roses would take over
the whole yard. You'd have no room to run and play
with your friends. Just roses...and roses. Moreover,
the thorns would scratch you. In the house you'd stay."

The young girl said, "That wouldn't be any good."
"Well," her mother said, "now imagine dogs or cats.
If every one lived forever, the whole world soon would
be overrun. Things living forever would be bad; that's

"the truth for people as well. Each living thing has
its time to blossom, then fade away to make room
for the next generation. Just think of Grandma as
a rose. She had had her time to dazzle as a bloom.

"It was simply time for her to make room for the next
round of beautiful buds to impress the world with their
beauty. Her time on the bush was over. It's not complex,
my dear; we each get our chance to live, knowing there

"will come time when we must die to let the new roses
have their time. For there to be life, there must be death."
The little girl thought, then said, "Before my life closes,
I hope to be like Grandma - a rose in bloom 'til her last breath."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Goodbye, Aunt Margie...

My wife's Aunt Margie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August, 2007. The doctor told her he'd suggest chemotherapy, but he warned the average survival after this diagnosis was in the three to six month range. Margie put up a heroic fight, finally dying on April 11, 2009, some twenty months after her diagnosis. Her funeral was held yesterday. I was one of her pallbearers. Today I wrote this poem:

April 14, 2009

Get out my dark blue suit
and extra-long tie.
I hate dressing up and therefore
do it so seldom, but
today it’s warranted.
Drive to the biggest Baptist
church in Ruston.
Wow, this sanctuary is huge,
with video screens and an
enormous pipe organ – a
truly fancy town church.
The casket sits at the front
surrounded by spray after spray
of gorgeous flower arrangements.
I breathe in the smell of roses.
The casket is covered with a
blanket of red roses, with more
red roses standing at each end.
She did love red roses.

Family and friends fill the room,
a sea of sad faces and wet eyes.
Three hymns and two preachers
later, those assembled now file
by the open casket to pay respect,
followed by her family members.
Many of the women break down
into crying, as the men fight
hard to maintain their composure.
Husband Travis stops and sobs.

Travis now ready, we pallbearers
carry the casket out the front door
to the hearse, waiting with back
standing open to swallow the casket.
A procession many, many cars long
snakes its way slowly along back
country roads, finally arriving at
St. Rest Church’s Cemetery
on White Lightning Road. Her
and Travis’s small country church
sits watching from across the road.
We carry the blue casket up the rise
to the tent-covered, prepared gravesite.
Only the presence of graves with their
monuments distinguishes this country
cemetery from adjacent cow pastures.
Family sit; friends stand; the two
preachers say some final words.
Services done, we pallbearers file past,
laying our rose boutonnieres atop the
casket and comforting poor Travis.

The mourners all walk across the road
to the church, where the good ladies
of the congregation have laid out
tables of ample country-style eats
to feed the entire assemblage.
After second helpings of fried chicken,
deviled eggs, creamed corn, baked beans,
assorted dips, fruit salads, and three
desserts, I drive home to Shreveport
with a heavy heart.

Goodbye, Aunt Margie. You were
well-respected and loved by all who
had the pleasure to know you.
I am glad I was among those so fortunate.
You were a great country lady.

Margie Lea Doss Hood
March 10, 1933 – April 11, 2009

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Liana Metal: Q&A and more

With this post I hope readers learn a lot more about Liana Metal, starting with some Q&A:

Do you consider yourself to be more of a painter or an author?

I would say that, now, I am both of them; but looking back on my childhood,I remember that I started expressing myself through drawing and painting. I was six or seven when I was trying to copy Disney cartoons and other pictures from magazines. The best for me is to write a story and then spend hours illustrating it. I find the whole process very challenging and rewarding in terms of the pleasure it gives me.

What are some of your goals you hope to accomplish with your books?

My main aim is to be able to contribute to organizations that help kids and women around the world. If I can create and sell books for a good reason, I will be happy too. Another aim is to highlight issues that are essential, such as love and friendship, nature awareness, ecology, problems that affect kids and grown-ups alike, such as low self-esteem.

How long have you been writing children's books? What got you started writing children's books?

I have been writing children's stories for as long as I can remember; I was in the primary school when I used to create comics with my own characters. At a time I thought that would be my future career. But I had to work in another field first, as a Language teacher, to find my way back to my first passion. I have never stopped working with kids--a job that I've always enjoyed greatly-- all this time, and they were my inspiration, along with my childhood memories. Working in my own Language school in Corfu, I gradually realized my long-awaited desire: to write children's books. Thus I started creating books more than ten years ago and distributing them to my students. The kids encouraged me and even helped with the activities that I also created for them. My first book was titled: The White Snail activity book. Ten more titles followed and then a lot more. But it was only recently that I finally had a headstart and got my book published by a traditional

Have you traveled in the U.S.A.? If so, where?

No, but I have traveled to Europe, such as UK, Spain, France, and other countries--Middle East too. I had studied English in UK in the 70s and since then I have never lost contact with my friends and the British culture.

What would you like readers to know about you?

Maybe my beliefs about kids; kids are very important since they are the citizens of the future; ultimate care for kids and moms should be top priority of every nation. Also, I am nature aware; that's why I mostly use small, insignificant-for-most-people animals in my stories. I believe that every single live species is worth mentioning and noticing.

Anything else you want to share with the readers?

My enthusiasm for every new creative challenge I encounter. Is there anything better than spending the day in a productive way that gives you joy and satisfaction? For me, there is not! So, let yourself be creative!

Liana’s BOOKS:

The Hostel
Fiction for young adults

Flowers for Women
An anthology for women by women

Achilleas' New Pet
Children's story included in Storytime, at

Storytime (Paperback)
by Liana Metal
Available from
Book’s Details:
Paperback: 34 pages
Publisher: (2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1409224511
ISBN-13: 978-1409224518
Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 7.5 x 0.1 inches
A delightful and thought-provocating children's book:

Liana Metal is a talented writer of children's stories, and it shines in her latest book, Storytime. The book comprises three short stories. The first, The White Snail, is about a happy,lovable white snail who wishes his "home" was brown like all the other snails. He meets a lovely female snail, who admires his beautiful white home, and the white snail realizes that the grass always appears greener on the other side. This basic theme of self-esteem is the major factor in this charming tale.

The next story, Let's Bake a Cake, is about friends who get together to do something nice for their shy friend, Tom. His birthday is the following day, but he is staying with his elderly grandmother who is unable to throw a party for him. His faithful friends come up with an idea so that Tom can have a birthday party and gifts. Loyalty and friendship is the major theme.

The final story, Achilleas' Pet, is about a boy who loves pets. He already had four, but he wants one more, different from all the others. He finds a tortoise and keeps it against his mother's wishes. After Achilleas thinks the tortoise is lost, it eventually turns up with four little ones. Then to his surprise there appears five more, one of them "very big" and he is puzzled at the small miracles of nature.

Children of all ages, including seventy-year-old grandmas, will love these stories of universal themes and truths, and parents will enjoy reading them to their children. The illustrations, done by the author, are cleverly designed. Young children who do not read yet, will easily follow the story, looking at the lovable aninmals and the happy children.

Review by Pauline Hager, author
Memoirs of an American Housewife in Japan

Free showcase for writers and artists


Liana’s OLDER publications (not available):
Bedtime Stories for kids
Writing Basics

Well now, I hope you feel that you know a lot more about Liana Metal and her works!