Posts Tagged ‘WriteAtHome’

The One Thing Wrong With Your Writing

September 8, 2011

Hello, all! Mr. Brian Wasko, founder of, ran my essay as a guest post on his blog today! If you’re interested, please check it out at:

(If there’s a new post up by the time you get there, just scroll back until you find me.) This will also give you a look at the company I’ve started working for. They provide writing instruction and encouragement to (primarily) homeschooled students. Brian does an incredible job of updating his blog nearly every day. He discusses all sorts of interesting issues related to writing and the use of English — well worth following, even if I weren’t a guest there!


Pittsburgh: New Office of the Blog

August 24, 2011

Hey, everybody! The blog will continue right here, but I wanted to let you know that my web site is under new and exciting construction! Take a look at what’s happening so far at:

I have landed a job with, a company that corrects and comments on papers (essays, stories, research papers, etc.) written by (mostly) homeschooled students. I think it will be a perfect fit for me, but it’s not a full-time livelihood. I’m also gearing up for the school year as a freelance teacher of creative writing, making professional visits to schools and libraries. I’ll be serving as an enthusiastic supporter of Cricket Magazine and doing all I can to help young people discover the joy and excitement of setting their own words purposefully on paper. Hopefully with this two-pronged approach, I’ll make it through the winter! I loved how one Cricket editor described my effort as a “Johnny Appleseed” approach: walking from school to school “planting” Cricket and the celebration of good writing. I’ve had fantastic support from friends — excellent advice, designing skills, endorsements, and encouragement. Thanks to all! You know who you are! It takes a village — a subterranean, haunted village.

So I’m here in Pittsburgh, the city of bridges and wandering stairways . . . the city of three rivers. I won’t try to tell you about the city itself yet; rather, I’ll start on a personal level and let pictures introduce you to my new place. Ready? Here we go:

My new place on Broadway Avenue

Broadway Avenue is a great address, eh? That sounds like where the blog offices should be. Since I’ll be writing at my desk, I’d like you all to know that I’ll be working on Broadway. Yeah, I’m doing some creative stuff on Broadway. You know. I’m up on the third floor. No one lives below me yet. But I’m hoping that nice people will move in, and that they’ll use a lot of heat in the winter, which will rise through their ceilings . . .

My entranceway

My access is in the back. Very Pittsburghy: at the rear, the ground is higher. I go up one flight to the third floor.

My new (highly used) car

I seem destined to drive red cars. This is the third car I’ve owned in life, and like its two predecessors, it is red. I don’t choose them for their color. It just worked out that way. I like this one a lot.

Looking toward Pittsburgh

Isn’t this interesting? This view makes it clear that, although Pittsburgh is a well-known, major U.S. city, it’s nestled among forested hills. You can’t go far in any direction without crossing a ridge, a patch of woods, a brushy ravine. Remember those paintings I did, trying to capture the feel of the city? I’ll stick in a panel here, so you can compare the actual to my rendition:

Detail from The Uncanny City, 2010

A city of rivers and hills

I discovered that you can see my apartment in this view, though the photo isn’t detailed enough to allow it. It’s in the middle distance, toward the left of the picture.

St. Mary's Cemetery

Those previous photos were taken near the feet of this cross. From my front balcony, I can just make out this cross on the horizon!

Sunset from my balcony

And that would be in this view — but again, the photo isn’t sufficiently detailed.

Behind my place, from my doorstep

I like the green spaces so close at hand. Trouble is, there’s a lot of poison ivy along my back fence. Of course, that makes it just like home.

My balcony

My balcony

I brought my bicycle with me from Japan. Several have questioned the wisdom of doing so, but it has great emotional value to me. Unfortunately, the valves on bicycle tubes are different in Japan and the U.S.! I had to acquire American inner tubes.

Summer sunset from my front balcony

I like sitting in a beach chair on my balcony to watch the sun go down.

My neighborhood

This is the view from my balcony in the daytime.

One more balcony shot

That’s a fascinating and picturesque cemetery on that steep, rounded hill nearby. Alas, the signs say it’s private and order you to keep out. (It’s probably prowled by Old Ones or other monsters at night.)

Great lamp

I obtained this floor lamp very inexpensively from a friend-of-a-friend who was clearing out his parents’ house and had a lot of furniture to get rid of. I like it!


Here’s a view of my kitchen. Any members of our old D&D group will recognize that card table! The other one is in my current bedroom.

Mom's buffet

I brought this along from my childhood home, too. If you’re a burglar casing my place on-line, there’s no value to it — Mom got it and a companion table and chairs from the Salvation Army or the Goodwill. But it holds a lot of memories of growing up, and I’m glad to have it out of storage at last!

Dining room table

Here’s the companion dining room table. I used to have a great time making secret bases and hideouts under this table with my nextdoor neighbor, whom I’ll refer to as “Chris” to protect his identity. I believe this was our headquarters when our personal army was at war with Germany and/or Spain. This is only half of the table — three more legs go out in the other direction. I’m glad I was able to bring so much of the old Taylorville house to my new location, linking the present with the past.

Keeping the vigil

I’m delighted to have these old friends with me again, too! They’re from the college years, and they’ve figured into some stories and artwork. For over twenty years they sat atop my rolltop desk in the sealed-off darkness of the storage room, watching and waiting. What is time to a gargoyle?

Table leg

If I’d lived in Victorian times, I couldn’t have posted this picture on my blog. Have you heard how the Victorians designed covers to conceal the limbs of tables and chairs, which would otherwise be exposed and shocking? It’s true!

Dad's painting

This is another old treasure from storage. My dad painted this in 1964. He didn’t have any formal training, but I was in awe of it as a kid, and I still love how it captures the feel of a summer night. I imagine that I could step into its warmth-yet-coolness. In later years, we talked about how the painting is strangely prophetic. What else could that be but a Japanese Shinto torii gate, and what business does it have in the setting?

My homemade shelves

This was an innovation I’m really proud of. I have tons of books, right? TONS. I left many in storage, and only brought to Pittsburgh the ones I absolutely wanted to have with me and the ones I thought I might read sometime soon. But that still means that most of what I brought with me was books. I knew there were no bookcases I could buy that would house them properly. Bookcases can be expensive; they’re bulky, difficult to transport, and consume massive amounts of space. So I had this great idea . . .

Pittsburgh has a wonderful store called Construction Junction, which sells used and surplus building materials as well as used furniture. You can find anything there from desks and file cabinets to plumbing fixtures, church pews, stained-glass windows, and a circular stairway handrail. Some of those grand old things cost thousands of dollars, but some are ridiculously cheap, such as bricks for 35 cents apiece and random boards for about the same.

I bought a carload of odd lumber and bricks for less than $20 in all; I washed them off with a hose at my friends’  house, and when everything was dry, I assembled my own bookshelves!

Shelves for larger books

These can be made to fit the available space you have — corners, hallways, and low sections of wall below windows. They’re easier than pie to take apart and move. And I love how they look — basic, natural, functional, and rustic. Bricks are about the perfect height to accommodate mass-market paperbacks. Larger bricks work well for trade paperbacks and hardbacks!

By the way, on the shelf in the photo above, there are: 1.) Gandalf; 2.) an organ pipe from the old organ at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, which a friend gave me as a housewarming present (the pipe, not the whole organ); 3.) a troll made of moss, brought back by Mom from Norway — he was the model for Crion in The Threshold of Twilight; and 4.) a strange, smooth black stone that Dad found. I’ve never seen any other stone like it. Dad pointed out that it’s shaped like an actual heart. Maybe it’s the dark form of a Star Shard . . .

A castle on the Rhine

This is perhaps my favorite painting anywhere. It hung in our house all the while my parents lived there and I was growing up. Mom bought it from a street artist in Germany, when she taught there at a U.S. military base. The artist, E. Mludek, was painting castles on the Rhine River, and he would do them in any color you requested. Mom asked for blue. E. Mludek’s price was “five Marks [I don’t remember the actual number] and a bottle of [such-and-such] wine.” Mom had to go to a certain store, buy the wine, and bring it back to him at the arranged time. And Herr Mludek painted this wondrous image for her, just as promised.

No other single image had my attention so much as a child. I passed the painting often, and it seemed full of stories. In my imagination, I walked in the dusky forest, explored the ruins, and sat on the cliffs to watch the river and dream of who might be in the distant castle on the other shore. And doesn’t that look like a face in profile on the rocky bank, gazing sternly over the river? Long years and clouds of cigarette smoke have taken their toll, but it’s still quite a painting — a gateway to enchantment, eh?


This is looking from my kitchen into what I’m using as my bedroom. My office is in the largest chamber beyond.

Shelves for very large books

Some friends from church gave me this folding bookshelf, which is ideal for my largest books. Can you glimpse any treasures? They’re there!


Yes, the dictionaries are back in place within easy reach! I got this desk arrangement from Ikea. It’s a corner piece and two straight pieces — very sturdy, and all a person has to do is screw the legs into place. You buy however many surface pieces and however many legs you want, arrange them in the layout you want, and it’s all much cheaper than any comparable L- or U-shaped desk. I also bought those shelves at the back, same grain and color, to use as a hutch. The chair and mat are from

Mom’s bookcases

I’m pretty sure my mom made these bookshelves herself. The three little books between the elephant bookends are Andersen’s fairy tales. The cross is made of materials from our farm: maple twigs from the Glory Day Grove, a spool from Mom’s sewing basket, and a base from a board that was part of the barn. The longsword is from Japan, but it’s Western-style — not a Hanzou sword, heh, heh!

Hall of books

Down at the hall’s far end is a framed Emily Fiegenschuh print, an illustration for “The Star Shard.”

Ikea desk and hutch

I think it’s a good workspace.

Work station again

I’m trying to decide whether I like that chair better, or an old wooden office chair that I got along with the lamp and four little yellow chairs. I may use the wooden chair in the summer and the plush black one in the colder months.

Living room

And when I say “living room,” I mean “office” . . .

What better bookshelves could there be?

Seriously! See how you can do most anything with bricks and boards? See the little extension that rises up beside the window, making use of the space?

Chunks of historic Pittsburgh

As it turned out, I didn’t buy enough bricks. But there were some discarded in my backyard, the remains of an old foundation or sidewalk. I appropriated a few of those to finish the job, and they have great character. I like the fact that my bookshelves are built of fragments of the old city, chunks and planks from diverse places, a part of the human whirl that has struggled and endured here since the days when black smoke obscured the sky.

Tolkien corner

Though most of my Tolkien and Tolkien-related books are here, some are scattered throughout the other shelves, and this space includes a lot of non-Tolkien stuff. The shelves are surprisingly sturdy, because they utilize walls, corners when possible, and gravity. You could knock them over if you really tried, but you could do that with any bookcase. I think Gimli would approve. He’d say, “These bookshelves have good bones.”


Norton Anthologies. Dunsany. Lewis. Do you like the decor? Such is the Fredificium!

More shelves

These are some of my best-loved books from childhood/the teenage years. Just out of the picture is a baseball from the Field of Dreams. The terra-cotta warrior and his horse came from a traveling exhibit of hundreds of actual terra-cotta warriors that I saw in Niigata.

Books, CDs, DVDs

So many books, so little time . . .

Stairway to nowhere

This is an intriguing aspect of the architecture. There’s a tiny bit of the Winchester Mystery House right here! This was a stairway connecting my floor to the one below. But the remodelers boarded it up at the bottom end, so I have a stairway (behind a chain-lock and knob lock) that descends to a blank wall of joists and boards. When I flip on its light switch, I can see a light coming on in the apartment below me, filtering through cracks between the planks. (If people move in downstairs, I can really freak them out!)

Anyway, I have one very small closet in my place, only big enough for my trombone and a couple umbrellas, etc. So I’m using my Stairway to Nowhere as a descending closet. You can see it’s full of (mostly) empty boxes. With that chain lock, I think it will contain the monsters that tend to inhabit closets.

Come and See!

This is the first painting I’ve done since moving here. It was done as a present for a friend’s birthday, and I found it quite therapeutic to be working on it; it helped me to deal with the stress of the waiting game involved in job-hunting. Anyway, the title is “Come and See!” (not to be confused with what I’m told is an excellent movie by that title). As with most of my attempts at painting, your own interpretation of what you see is strongly encouraged. My idea is that the two girls are probably cousins. The darker-haired one wants to show her cousin something out in the moonlit clearing beyond the garden. It has a secret, impulsive, maybe even forbidden aspect, as they’ve sneaked (or wandered) out in their nightgowns. What are they going to see? A moss-bearded herm? A camp of carnival wagons across the meadow, where the fiddles play and fires crackle? A standing stone? A dance of fairy-folk?

Come and See!

Can you see the fireflies?

Well, that’s it for now. Though it pains me to say it, it’s time to think of good books for fall. Well, there’s Dragonfly, of course, and Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and the anthology October Dreams, which is an absolute must for October! Any other good suggestions?

What I most recently listened to is the soundtrack of (the new) True Grit. I was so taken with the soundtrack after seeing the outstanding movie twice that I just had to acquire it. Composed by Carter Burwell, it makes use of 1800s hymns — so much use of them, in fact, that it was knocked out of the running for an Academy Award — not enough “original music” in it. Be that as it may, I cannot imagine a more appropriate and powerful soundtrack for the film.

See the movie. It’s an inspiration. The writing particularly caught my attention, and everything about the film is superb. (And it’s another novel I’d like to read.)

Here’s what Carter Burwell wrote (in part) about his musical choices for this undertaking:

“Mattie Ross drives this story. But her unquestioning determination to go into wild country in pursuit of her father’s killer begs explanation. Where would a 14-year-old girl come by the audacity to browbeat outlaws and lawmen, follow them into the wilderness, correct their spelling? Church, of course.”

That quote runs deep. That’s where the courage and the pluck come from: from belief. From “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms.”

To Unemployment, I say, “Fill your hands, you . . .” and ride forth with the reins in my teeth!