by Rita Goldner

The occasion of the third anniversary of the Phoenix Book Publishing & Book Promotion blog prompts me to write a post about milestones. I like the word and the concept Goldner - 17because it measures the passage of time without the stress level I get from the word deadline. Now that I am retired and writing/illustrating as an avocation, my deadlines are self-imposed. Still, they loom on the horizon as a reminder that I’m no longer the old disciplined me. The new procrastinating and daydreaming me much prefers the word milestones. They come and go at their own will, irrespective of what I’ve done, forgot to do, or wished I’d done.

Besides the blog anniversary, I hit another signpost in life today, celebrated this morning by the Beatles shouting “They say it’s your birthday!” on a musical card I received. It inspired me to look backward and forward, especially at my recent adventure in writing/illustrating children’s picture books. A vital part of this journey was joining two critique groups. The coffee-shop one comprises five like-minded writers who meet monthly, are very supportive, and hold each others’ feet to the fire. The cyber one is for illustration, and has expanded my thinking in that facet, too. I endorse this for all my author buddies.

When I joined the Phoenix Book Publishing & Book Promotion Meetup about four years ago, I was clueless about marketing, but knew I had to jump on that train, and fast. Now at this milestone, I see a mountain of knowledge to devour ahead, but I’ve learned enough to be dangerous, and I forge on. Taking free seminars and reading everything they can find on book marketing is also high on my recommendation list for other authors.

Another validating breakthrough for an author is the moment of realization that we’ve created a viable, quality book that can be marketed with pride. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and we’ve all had to do some very scary “hangin’ it out there” to get to this level of polishing the craft. I’ve also reached the milestone of feeling comfortable doing readings. I imagine that children’s book writers do more of this than those with adult audiences, since schools are always clamoring to host author visits. I’m doing two to three readings a week this semester, and have incorporated a lesson on how to write your own story. With third-graders, it’s hilarious. I hope that ticking off the milestones is keeping me young!

Rita Goldner
is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Rita Goldner2Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series. For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water Cycle, The Flying Artist, and Rose ColoredTo view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.

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A Poet’s Inspiration

A Poet’s Inspiration

by C. K. Thomas

While rummaging through my Inspirations folder, I ran across this quote: “When my grandson Billy and I entered our vacation cabin, we kept the lights off until we were inside to keep from attracting pesky insects. Still, a few fireflies followed us in. Noticing them before I did, Billy whispered, ‘It’s no use, Grandpa. The mosquitoes are coming after us with flashlights.’”

Besides getting a good chuckle, the mention of fireflies took me back to the feeling of cool grass between my toes and the sounds of crickets chirping on Indiana summer nights. A jar full of twinkling fireflies on a pitch black night seemed like a grand accomplishment. We called them lightning bugs in those dreamy days, barefoot children staying up late sharing ghost stories on the back porch.

Little Orphant Annie, a favorite scary tale, always put the fear of things that go bump inJames Whitcomb Riley the night into our little noggins just before bedtime. I’m sure our parents could have done without the searching under beds and shining lights into the dark recesses of our bedrooms. Still we loved scaring ourselves. I’m certain James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916), an Indiana poet, had a lot to do with our fondness for scary stories. The poem was first published in 1885 in The Indianapolis Journal. I’m surprised how many people are unfamiliar with this poem! Do you know it?

“Little Orphant Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley*

Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
Ef you

Onst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers, –
An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout –
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
Ef you

An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin;
An’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there,
She mocked ‘em an’ shocked ‘em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
Ef you

An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,–
You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns’ll git you
Ef you

Riley’s inspiration for writing this poem came from his childhood. A young girl came Mary Alice Gray.jpgto stay with the Riley family to help out with the children and the household chores. Her name was Mary Alice Smith.** There are conflicting stories about why she came to live for a brief time with the family. Whatever the case, Smith was fond of telling scary stories to the children as they sat by the fireplace in the evenings. Smith didn’t know she was the inspiration for the poem until much later in her life. Although Riley wrote it in Hoosier dialect, a typographical error resulted in the strange spelling of orphan. Riley decided not to change it, so the extra “t” has remained to this day.

*According to, the above poem is in the public domain.
**Note: Mary’s married name was Mary Alice Smith-Gray

C.K. ThomasC.K. Thomas lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.

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A Boy Called “Bird Legs”

A Boy Called “Bird Legs”

by Mike McNair, as submitted by Mary Ellen (Blevins) Stepanich

Mike McNair is the boyhood friend and neighbor of my brother, Dr. William Blevins. Mike, a retired teacher, now lives in Wisconsin and writes for an online journal. He sent the following article about his parents and my folks for me to share when I participated in Laura Orsini’s “Blog Challenge” last year.


Mom never was much of an outdoors person, but during the late 1960s, when she was in her fifties, she and Dad bought one of those huge, heavy canvas tents, stocked up on supplies, and took up camping. Indiana’s Turkey Run State Park north of Terre Haute, a little over 100 miles from their Fort Branch home, was one of their favorite destinations.

During one stay at Turkey Run, a troop of young Boy Scouts were camping nearby, and took a liking to my folks and their longtime friends, Bud and Edna Blevins, who were camping with them. The boys hung out with the adults the entire weekend and even put on a skit Saturday evening and sat around their campfire for most of the night. Larry, a good-natured boy some of the others called “Bird Legs,” struck Mom as an especially nice boy. She often talked about the weekend the Scout troop “adopted” them, and the boy she loved to talk about the most was Larry.

Bird Legs

Fifteen years later, Bud and Edna stopped by my folks’ home for a visit. Bud pointed to a large picture in the sports section of the Evansville Courier on the coffee table; it showed Larry Bird, then a famous Boston Celtic forward, taking a jump shot.  “I’d say our little Bird Legs has made it big.”

Mom glanced at the picture and nodded. “He certainly has.” She wasn’t a sports fan, but she knew who Larry Bird was, and she knew he was much more than just a basketball superstar. He was the man that the good-natured boy called Bird Legs had become.

I was reminded of my parent’s encounter with young Larry when I read a Jeff Eisenberg article that told of Indiana State University’s plans to erect a 15-foot bronze statue of Larry Bird, their most famous basketball player, on the Terre Haute campus.  Sculptor Bill Wolfe decided to make it taller than the twelve-foot statue of longtime rival Magic Johnson that was erected at Michigan State.

Bud and Mom were right. That nice boy called Bird Legs has, indeed, made it big. A three-time NBA Most Valuable Player, he’s the only person in NBA history to be named Most Valuable Player, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year. And he’ll always be exactly three feet taller than Magic Johnson.

Mary Ellen Stepanich Dr. Stepanich is a retired professor of organizational behavior. She told her students at Purdue, “I’m very organized, but my behavior’s a bit wonky.” Her publications include academic journal articles; stories in Good Old Days magazine; a memoir, D is for Dysfunctional … and Doo-Wop; a novel, The Doo-Wops and the B-Flat Murder; and an award-winning radio play, Voices From the Front. Mary Ellen blogs on her website at, and can be reached via e-mail at

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Longhand or Computer?

Longhand or Computer?

by Barbara Renner

Several authors I know prefer to pen their novels the old-fashioned way, with clipart-computerpaper and pencil, rather than use a computer. In addition, some famous authors write in longhand instead of using a typewriter or laptop. Joyce Carol Oates, author of Blonde and Lovely, Dark, Deep: Stories, writes in longhand from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. every day, and two to three hours in the evening. She also tweets – at age 79. Her infamous tweets have received a lot of attention – you go, girl. Andre Dubus III, author of The Garden of Last Days and House of Sand and Fog, writes his books in longhand using carpenter’s and mechanical pencils. That’s a lot of clicking.

Then there was Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. He wrote while lying down, enjoying cigarettes and coffee while he worked. He wrote the first and second drafts of his novels entirely in pencil, then switched to a typewriter for the third and final drafts. I suppose I’d lie down too if I smoked.

Many excellent reasons can be given for writing in longhand rather than using a computer. It prevents self-editing. (I just spent the last minute-and-a-half revising the first paragraph of this post.) You can take a pad of paper and pencils wherever you go. (I could take my laptop, but my purse isn’t large enough.) You can still read the words if you strike through a sentence. (I can make an entire chunk of text disappear with the delete key.) You can use the margins for notes. (Opening another Word document works for me.) And, a pad of paper doesn’t have a hard drive that can crash.

My Mac and I became best friends when I started writing my picture books. I can search the internet for resources and ideas; I enjoy self-editing as I write; and I can easily move paragraphs and text around with a few keystrokes. Last month, my Mac of seven years began to act up. Internet sites wouldn’t load, my email timed out, and I could prepare dinner and clean up the kitchen in less time than it took the computer to power up. I blamed the new operating system I downloaded last year; I chewed out the internet provider; I cursed Google. I finally called Apple Support. That’s where I discovered that a seven-year old Mac is considered vintage.

A nice young man named Gary guided me through a number of steps to power up the computer. It started out with a simple command/option/escape. When that didn’t work, Gary guided me through five more steps. This eventually lead to holding down more keys than I had fingers, pressing the power button, and holding the phone, all at the same time. I mentally prepared myself for a yoga pose that would guide my big toe to the keyboard. I was on the phone with Gary for more than an hour, waiting for each step to power up the computer. We had a pleasant conversation. I discovered that he lives in Boise, Idaho, and actually fried eggs on the sidewalk when he lived in Phoenix. Then he fled north. When none of the powering up steps worked, he told me I needed to reinstall the operating system. Before loading it, a dialogue box popped up asking me to choose the location for the new install. It was empty. That meant my computer was not recognizing a hard drive. End of call; your vintage computer is toast; thank you very much; nice chatting with you, Gary.

Living in a small resort town for the summer is a challenge at times. I drove to Fargo, North Dakota, the closest “city,” and searched for an Apple store. There are none. I ended up at Best Buy and purchased my new best friend, a Mac laptop with plenty of memory and a fresh new hard drive. That should hold me for another seven years. In the eighth year, I think I’ll stock up on yellow pads of paper, pencils, and a pencil sharpener.

Barbara Renner
and her husband have lived in Phoenix for more than 40 years. As “Sun Barbara RennerBirds,” they fly away to Minnesota to escape the summer heat – and to fish. While in Minnesota, Barbara became fascinated with its state bird, the Common Loon, and was prompted to write four picture books about Lonnie the Loon, because everyone should know about loons. However, books about loons don’t sell very well in the desert, so she is writing a new series of picture books about Quincy the Quail. Barbara visits elementary schools as a guest author to read her books and share interesting facts about loons and quails. She’s working on other children’s books and a special book about her yellow lab, Larry: Larry’s Words of Wisdom. Learn more about Barbara at, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.

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Stop Pushing Your Modifiers Around!

Stop Pushing Your Modifiers Around!

by Kathleen Watson

Modifiers are supposed to add meaning or clarification. A misplaced modifier can do just the opposite.

Consider these differing connotations of often:ONLY

College students who meet often with their advisers make better career choices.
College students who meet with their advisers often make better career choices.

Should you assume that students have to meet frequently with their advisers to make better career choices? Or should you conclude that just one meeting with an adviser is enough to help a student make better choices?

For clarity, a modifier should be placed closest to the word or phrase it is meant to influence or explain.

Consider these differing connotations of almost:

Sam has almost failed every test this semester.
Sam has failed almost every test this semester.

There’s a big difference between almost — but not quite — failing every test and failing almost every — the majority of — tests.

Consider these differing connotations of only:

You only can apply for health insurance online.
You can only apply for health insurance online.
You can apply for health insurance only online.

The first only could modify you, conveying that you are the only person who can apply for health insurance online. A reader probably would not draw that conclusion, but it’s open to that interpretation.

Or only could modify can apply, suggesting that you can apply for health insurance online, but you can do nothing else with it electronically. In other words, you can’t file a claim online, you can’t get responses to questions online, and you can’t set up online payments.

The third only example clearly communicates that online is the only way you can apply for health insurance.

Only is the most abused modifier ever!

Asian businessman singing to the microphone.Among everyday modifiers, I consider only the most abused. From bloggers to reporters, from texters to tweeters, from commentators to those who create headlines, writers and speakers in every medium keep pushing only around.

Consider how these examples show that modifier placement changes meaning:

Only Dan sang at the party. (No one else sang.)
Dan only sang at the party. (He didn’t dance or play the piano.)
Dan sang only at the party. (He didn’t sing elsewhere.)

Don’t push your modifiers around! Have some respect: Place them closest to the word or phrase whose meaning they influence.

kathleen-watsonKathleen Watson has nearly three decades of experience as an independent business writer, serving clients in both corporate and academic settings. Her weekly blog, Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor, offers practical word and punctuation tips, as does her recently published book Grammar For People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips From The Ruthless Editor. Contact her at:

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On Writers’ Critique Groups

On Writers’ Critique Groups

by Vaughn Treude

When novice writers ask their brethren for advice, we frequently recommend joining a writer’s group. Believe me, it can be very helpful. There are two kinds of fiction writers who resist this advice, and they usually happen to be the ones who need it most. The first type is supremely confident, convinced of their own genius. quillUnfortunately, it can be difficult to see one’s own mistakes and flaws, and that is where a constructive critique is essential. The second type of writer is shy and fearful, not wanting to show their work to anyone. For this person, the community of fellow writers is even more essential. If the thought of criticism from a fellow writer is daunting, how much more frightening will it be when your work goes before the public?

Where can a beginning writer locate a critique group? Since the advent of the internet, it’s become easy. Just search on sites like or It pays to be selective, however, because not all critique groups are created equal. It helps to look for like-minded folks who are interested in the same genre. Years ago I joined a group of fellow students from an ASU writing course, and I was the only sci-fi writer there. Though they did their best to give me feedback, it wasn’t nearly as useful as the critiques I’ve received from fellow sci-fi and fantasy writers.

Another very helpful aspect of the internet is that it enables the reading of everyone’s work in advance, which saves resources. I’ve been in groups that insisted on paper printouts and read them for the first time at the meeting. It’s much better to have some time to digest the writing ahead of time. I try to read all submissions at least twice, as subtle issues may not be apparent the first time through.

It’s important to approach critiquing, and being critiqued, with the proper attitude. Some people become defensive and argumentative. Regardless of whether you agree with it or not, one should accept such advice gracefully. You can decide later whether or not you intend to follow it. There are times to stick to your guns and times to defer to consensus. My rule of thumb is that if three people ding my submission on a particular issue, they are most likely correct.

Critiquing is also a fine art. Novice group members are subject to two temptations. The first is to adhere blindly to arbitrary rule of style, such as “all adverbs are bad.” The second is to try to coax others into your own writing style. Some writers like terse, fast-paced prose while others lean toward the more descriptive and flowery. I liken these differences to musical genres, each of which has its time and place. Sometimes you may be in the mood for jazz, and at other times feel like metal.

Critiquers should catch grammatical errors, of course, but an experienced writer should have few of those. Courtesy dictates that we strive to give the group a polished submission. Besides my word processor’s spell and grammar checkers, I use the website as an additional resource. (So far I’m still using Grammarly’s free version.) As for critiquing others’ work, the most useful feedback concerns plot and substance. Does the dialog sound natural? Does the plot make sense? Will readers be interested or bored? Did the author change the spelling of a character’s name halfway through the story?

Writing may be a lonely pursuit, but it can benefit greatly from the advice of other writers. Though some may be able to produce first-rate fiction without help, most of us are not so brilliant. Writers’ groups come in as many types as writers do. It pays to be selective and find one that best fits your genre, personality, and writing style.

vaughntreudeVaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children nearby, made science fiction a welcome escape. After many years in software, he realized that the discipline of engineering could be applied to writing fiction. Find his works on, including two new steampunk novels co-written with this wife, Arlys Holloway.

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Dear Anne

Dear Anne

by Beth Kozan

Note from the author: I wrote to an adoptee whose online column had raised issues about her early life.

foster care for days

Dear Anne,

I’m awake at 3 a.m., unable to sleep. I keep remembering your thoughts as an adoptee about the missing first 10 weeks of your life. “Was I just shoved aside and left to cry myself to sleep?” you wondered.

In 2015, when I wrote my first adoption book, this was the dedication:

This book is dedicated to the many foster homes and receiving home parents I worked with, in Tucson and metro Phoenix, Arizona. Their unsung devotion to the babies and toddlers they kept – for hours, days or months while important decisions were made – are appreciated.

A number of the adults placed as babies had no information about where they were until their parents received them at 10 days old or two months old or six weeks old; even their parents were not told. Without true information about where they were before placement, they conjured up reasons for the delay. They wondered, Did I cry too much? Was I ugly looking and she didn’t want me? What did I do wrong that she didn’t keep me?

I researched their cases, and almost always I learned their relinquishment to the agency was signed at the standard three days (72 hours), as determined by Arizona law. But why had they remained in foster care beyond the relinquishment? I wondered.

It was time to ask Delores Hartman, the foster mom in Tucson who had outlasted all other foster mothers from the olden days, what the reason was that babies placed in the 60s were asking why their placements may have taken differing amounts of time.

Mrs. Hartman told me: “We had to have a medical release from the pediatrician. The doctors wanted the issues with formula worked out. Babies who were ‘spitters’ might need to be on a different formula, so we would try another formula till the baby was satisfied and sleeping through the night. The doctors wanted the newborn baby rash gone, the pimples on their noses cleared up – then the new parents could love them more easily!”

I understood from my current cases that there were sometimes legal issues that delayed never-planneda placement: trying to find a birth father, give him notice that his child was going to be placed for adoption, and receive his input. But what about the children placed before 1979, the year of the Supreme Court case (Stanley v. Illinois) that gave unmarried fathers legal rights to their children?

Sometimes, because of the birth family’s religion, we needed to turn to another agency to find a family that “matched.” When I began adoption work in 1979, one of the relinquishment documents we had mothers sign was a Religious Waiver. Unless she signed this waiver, we had to place her baby with parents of the same religion as she professed: a Catholic baby with a Catholic family; a Protestant baby with a Protestant family; a Jewish baby with a Jewish family. (That was it for the faiths we worked with in 1979 in Arizona.)

Ethnicity was another reason we sometimes needed to reach outside of our pool of families. We thought it best if a Hispanic or Black baby, even mixed race, grew up within a family where they would look as if they “fit in.” We began looking for an ethnically matching family before the baby was born. There were quarterly meetings of all the agencies in Arizona; if we had an ethnically mixed baby, we would start looking for a family outside of the agency at an early stage.

Please don’t think you missed out on love during those 10 weeks!

You were probably in a foster family (also called a cradle family or receiving home). More than likely, there was a big sister who changed a diaper or a daddy who came home from work and took a turn rocking the newest addition to the family. You were taken to church when the family went, and the congregation knew you were the latest in the number of temporary children your receiving home family had. That family grieved when you left.

Another long-term foster family I worked with in the Phoenix area were Nancy and Gary, who spoke openly about the “baby hunger” that could only be filled when a new temporary placement came. Nancy had pictures of the more than 100 babies she raised for whatever time she was needed – a few hours, a few days, a few months – before the permanent family was found. I worked with a baby who had to have surgery for an inguinal hernia before he was discharged from the hospital. Nancy went to the hospital every day and night and fed him and soothed him while he slept. He stayed at their house until his stitches healed and there was less danger of infection.

It wasn’t anything wrong with you or with the agency that acted in (what was believed to be) your best interest. We just didn’t have all the information that we needed to help you grow.

Remember from psychology class the tabula rosa theory? The idea that each baby was a “blank slate” and didn’t know anything and wouldn’t remember? We know better now, but when I started my career in 1979, it was still believed that babies didn’t participate emotionally until they were old enough actively to respond to their environment.

happy children

Ask your agency for missing information. They might not give it to you, but a few details might be available to help you to find out where you were for those 10 ten weeks.


Beth Kozan, author of Adoption: More Than by Chance

Beth Kozan
is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Beth KozanHelping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.

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