Fun with Instagram! #30DaysShowVSTell (#AtoZChallenge)

Fun with Instagram! #30DaysShowVSTell (#AtoZChallenge)

I was distracted from the #100Words100Days flash fiction challenge on Instagram by the annual A to Z Blogging Challenge; then I was distracted from the #AtoZChallenge by the #OWFI21 Instagram Photo Challenge. I was distracted from all of them by the Toastmasters District 56 International Speech Contest, and the only prize I won all weekend – May 1, 2021 – was First Place in OWFI’s Technical/How-to category. As a retired technical writer, it would have been embarrassing to admit that I hadn’t even placed in that one!

At some slap-happy point in the week leading up to juggling both Toastmasters and OWFI conferences, I discovered that I was far more popular impersonating a sunny yellow slime-mold than I was as an author. In just 24 hours, “Herman,” a boisterous and personality-loaded example of Fuligo Septica, aka “dog-vomit slime mold,” the sentient alien-like creature that came from my compost bin and invaded my veggie patch, had garnered his own fan club and started an Instagram account.

This was all so much crazy fun that I decided to throw you all a new Instagram challenge! But instead of being strictly photos, I thought it might be fun to illustrate writing concepts using visual imagery and words. Feel free to sketch, draw, paint, use photos – go wild! (Well, keep it PG “wild,” please!) I don’t believe in asking people to do anything I’m not willing to do, myself, so I’ll be playing along! Start whenever you start – you don’t have to wait for the first of the month, or a month that has only 30 days in it, or a month with an R in it as if diving for oysters. Start tomorrow. Skip a day if you need to – self-care matters, too! But put some thought and creativity into it and let’s see what we can come up with. They say “show, don’t tell”? Well, let’s show the world what that looks like, while sharing some writing tips or examples! Homeschooling parents: Have the kids join in the fun.

30 day instagram challenge using writing concepts

Be sure to use the hashtag #30DaysShowVSTell – I’ll follow it, and feel free to leave your links in the comments, below.

I also use Instagram to promote Cy-Fair Super Speakers Toastmasters Club and bToasty Toastmasters Club. Both of these clubs welcome visitors during any regular club meeting (we meet online, and Cy-Fair Super Speakers has resumed “hybrid” meetings: both online and in-person, simultaneously).

In case you’re thinking, “Hey, isn’t the A to Z Challenge thingy over already?” Yes. Yes it is. But I signed up, and I’m determined to finish what I start!

I’ll tell you about another “distraction” in an upcoming post! Distractions are better than dogged determination to plod through life without ever veering from the plan. Trust me on this.


Honesty – #AtoZChallenge

Honesty – #AtoZChallenge

Ask my kids, “What’s the one thing that’ll make your mom really angry?” They’ll tell you: Dishonesty.

There are two exceptions to the rule: little white lies and the so-called “sin of omission.” I like to think of the latter in terms of discretion being “the better part of valor.” You don’t owe anyone answers to inappropriate questions, and you don’t need to inflict ruthless honesty on everyone when there’s nothing positive to be gained by it.

“Honey, does this dress make me look fat?” Men recognize this as a trap. But what if she asks this at home, before a party? What if there’s a dress that flatters her figure more, and you see it hanging, clean, in the closet? How about, “No, but I like the burgundy one better – it brings out the color of your eyes”? Of course you wouldn’t say this once you’ve arrived at the party and there’s no alternative to the fat-dress. That’s where the little white lie is fine – just leave it at, “No, honey!” and add a little reassurance, “I think you look beautiful.”

Guys, wouldn’t you want to be told, discretely, if your fly was open? Or if you had toilet paper trailing from a shoe? Little white lies serve no one here. And the “sin of omission” is cruelty, when the flaw is so easily fixed.

Let kindness be your guide.

In my book, A New Leaf for Lyle, poor Lyle’s got a habit of lying over the most trivial things. Sometimes, it’s to stay out of trouble – so why does it seem like lying always gets him into more trouble? Sometimes, a fib just seems to sound better, and less silly, than the truth. But he’s picked up an unflattering nickname: “Lyle the Liar.” And now, even his mom and dad don’t believe him when he’s telling the truth! What’s a kid to do?

Lyle discovers that once you lose someone’s trust, it can be hard to build it back up again. But with enough love and effort, Lyle learns he can turn over a new leaf.

A New Leaf for Lyle is a full-color children’s picture book, available for Kindle or in Paperback.


Genre – #AtoZChallenge

Genre – #AtoZChallenge

“So, what do you write?”

What don’t I write? Porn? Probably not. Annual reports? White papers? Not anymore! I shrug. “Everything? Whatever tickles my fancy?”

“Yes, but what’s your genre?”

I take a good swig of Bourbon and I’m immediately reminded of why I’ll never write like Hemingway. I cringe at the question, fighting the urge to cough as the alcohol fumes travel back up my throat. I want to say, “That’s a stupid question,” but there are no stupid questions. Nearly 30 years after everybody found a way to get online, there are only a devastating slew of stupid answers. I consider giving one. It would be so freeing.

I did used to answer “What do you write?” with “Cue cards for Vanna White,” or “those blurbs on the back of your cereal box – that thing you read when you’ve plowed through all the good books in the house, and it’s raining.”

Genre. Hmm. Technical manuals. That would be an honest, dreary answer.  But really, is “Whatever tickles my fancy” a genre? It might be easier to answer by process of elimination. What doesn’t interest me enough to write, ever?

I’m drawn to fantasy, in part because everyone’s a critic. These days, I can’t fool you if I write about Podunk – someone living in Podunk will get on the Internet and tell the world it’s obvious I’ve never been there. Someone else will rush to my defense, saying the residents of Podunk should just be happy for the good publicity, and glad I didn’t plant a strip club where the local Methodist church actually stands.

In an era where half of all readers want to escape into an alternate reality and the other half insist on scrupulous accuracy, it’s tough to write realistic fiction.

Horror is fun to write, but hits too close to reality, some days. And again, even if you write about vampires, someone’s going to Google “vampire facts” and pick their fangs with the pages of your novel. Fiction’s the one place where it is perfectly acceptable – required, almost – to create a world of “alternative facts.”

But why should anyone choose one genre from such a sumptuous smorgasbord? Just write. Let booksellers figure out where to shelve the thing.

After all, humans can’t be easily shoved into pigeonholes, why should stories be? The most interesting stories are written about humanity – our strengths, our flaws, and our foibles. Genre – if it exists at all, will out itself in time. One may elbow its way past the others to cry out, “I am the beast of Gothic Horror!” as the romantic heroine laughs, muttering, “The creature of comedy, more like…”

As Queen of the No-Niche Niche, I’d rather write “supremely entertaining, genre-bending works of fiction.” That’s it, in a nutshell. That’s my new mission statement, as a writer.

What genre do I write? You figure it out.


Freedom – #AtoZChallenge

Freedom – #AtoZChallenge

“Freedom is a state of mind, I said wondering where I’d heard it before, not a state of being. We are all slaves to gravity and morality and the vicissitudes of nature. Our genes govern us much more than we’d like to think. Our bodies can not know absolute freedom but our minds can, can at least try.”

― Walter Mosley, Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel

To have an active imagination is to always be free. It also enables us to enlarge our happiness and exaggerate our fears. From moment to moment, we make choices – whether to focus on the positive or to dwell on the negative. Both these things are always present, always waiting, always screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!” Never forget the parable of the two wolves. Nourish the good to bring more of it your way.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” My mother once said, “Don’t let your possessions possess you.” Seems to me, that’s what Janis is singing about – and in the end, we can’t “possess” one another, either.

But having said that, it’s not a bad thing to trade a little “freedom” for love, family, and home.

“And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking through this world all alone”

Senseless conventions and expectations of strangers, on the other hand… Let’s just say that this is the only life we’re guaranteed, so we ought to make the most of it and allow others the freedom to do the same. Short of hurting others, we should all want to break free of the traditions that don’t serve us well.

“I want to break free…”

Now, tell me, in the comments – aside from the word freedom, what do these three videos have in common?


Enclave – #AtoZChallenge

Enclave – #AtoZChallenge

Messy deskNeat desk

Spring Cleaning

The external environment isn’t the only one that needs tending. For a long time, I worked downstairs, not bothering to go “up to the office” when working from home. Ironically, I use my home office more, now, in “retirement” but it needed a creative makeover. You can see the “Before” and “After” pictures for yourself – just use the little slider in the center.

I was inspired – to my husband’s delight – by the OWFI Photo Challenge, to declutter and decorate in order to show off “my writing space” on Instagram. God forbid I should skip a day. I mean, there’s a contest. I don’t even know what the prize is, but that just appeals to my “weirdly  competitive” side even more. I say “weirdly competitive” because I’m not at all competitive when the stakes are high. I’m more collaborative, when it really matters. Or, in desperation, I channel my inner drill sergeant to get others to do what they ought to be doing. The inner drill sergeant is a total control freak who tends to slack off until the 11th hour, when the enemy is within sight. He then kills the sleeping sentry, rallies the rest of the troops, and starts barking orders. He shares control with no one, because he thinks no one knows how to do their jobs better than he does. No one wants to rouse the inner drill sergeant. He’s really not “collaborative” at all, and probably not the best of leaders.

My “weirdly competitive” side only kicks in when there’s fun involved.

Who’s Who and What’s What?

My friend Corinne commented, on Instagram: “Lovely! I feel like I want to know the story behind every piece.” I wonder if accountants or engineers ever consider “story” behind the objects on their desks, or if they just appreciate the utility of them? I’m kidding – we all have a little bit of the creative spark, and these folks don’t get credit for it often enough, in my opinion. They are the ones who often gave me credit for intelligence when others didn’t have the imagination to see that a writer or artist could merge the flights of fancy with logic and critical thinking skills. I know what flights of fancy and imagination those accountants and engineers have lurking below the surface! They also have some of the coolest desk toys.

Never mind the “Before” version; in the “After,” we have “The Critters.”

Oh, these are not all of them! Just the original crew. First, there’s Plot Bunny. Plot Bunny joined me after the 2016 OWFI Conference. He had tales to tell! We got acquainted over breakfast, one morning.

Some days, I’m just a little bit afraid of Plot Bunny! But he and Herman Hootabout make great traveling companions.

Herman is a wise little owl, currently on my other desk, playing with more of the critters!

My mom collected owls. The wood block print is one of the bits of artwork and figurines from her collection; I wish I had more, but I think most are gone – probably through various moves over the years, before she died. This one looks over Herman and Fluff Bunny, who are arguing over who makes the best magician’s assistant. The pathetic top hat is a slouchy little dress-up prop I crocheted for them.

Armando the Armadillo came from a trip to San Antonio with several of my March Moms friends. Lloyd the Llama is in another room; he came home with me from the same trip. He likes to reminds me that he ought to be Alfie the Alpaca, technically. But then he gets all philosophical, and starts wondering, “What’s it all about?” and I threaten to send him to London – so he’s Lloyd. Of Houston.

Purple Ninja: He who will not divulge his name likes to lurk in potted plants or play-fight with Papier, the Purple Dragon. I don’t remember where my son got him, but he has vanished and reappeared many times over the past fifteen years or so. He’s mine, now. When my son, who is now 25, went off to college, I couldn’t bear let him toss the Purple Ninja into the trash. Now, the little warrior thinks he can protect the whole menagerie. Here, it looks like Papier has got the better of him, but of course he lets the tiny paper dragon win, sometimes. All writers know that an utterly invincible character would be utterly boring, and wise characters know never to be that, lest they have all their scenes cut. 

Horatio Hootabout, perched next to Papier, came to visit his cousin Herman, and stayed. He’s a bit sterner, less contemplative than Herman. In fact, I think that he conspires, from time to time, with my inner drill sergeant to remind me to apply butt to chair, and write.

RangaRoo was a gift from a former colleague, Tom. He seems to love chocolate, for some reason – especially single-sourced or little airline treats. I can’t quite figure out why, but his fur often smells of it and I know he’s been into the Godiva while I’m sleeping. He likes to pretend he’s the magician – his boomerang is his “wand.”

The iridescent Intel Bunny People are originals from 1997 and the announcement of MMX technology and Pentium II. I was working for Compaq, at the time. Now, they have turned an empty file folder into a jungle gym – which I think is a much better use for that thing than holding dead trees!

There is a 3D acrylic dragon and a little frog my my husband brought me from a business trip to Puerto Rico – he looks like he’s fallen into a butter churn.  There’s a glitter globe full of pink flamingoes that my mom gave me (another thing she collected). It’s from Daytona Beach – my hometown. There’s a Frankoma pottery coaster from The University of Tulsa, where I earned my BA and met my husband. The little Lennox chickadee sits on a nest of Holly, and behind him there’s a pewter box adorned with unicorns. You may have guessed, by now, that I collect dragons and unicorns and other tiny critters. 

On the other side of my writing desk, just below the ring light, there’s Nevermore, the raven, cradling Tiny Yorick’s grinning skull. He’s ready for his close-up!

On the little “bookshelf” behind the monitor, we have the Tripe Marketing Board Diary 2021. Did you know that I am Regional Director, US Southeast, of the Tripe Marketing Board? I was invited to join the Board after they saw my promotional YouTube series, “Adventures in Tripe.” You, too, can join Tripe Club

Next, there is The Deluxe Transitive Vampire; an aspirational copy of the 2020 Writer’s Market (one day, we’ll look back and say, “There was a market for writers, in 2020? What did people do – eat them?”); a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition). The astute viewer will have noticed something about that from the “Before” and “After” photos. There is also a copy of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel; Writing the Novel by Lawrence Block; and How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. 

I haven’t read any of them, of course. 

Perhaps you noticed the National Geographic. I have paper copies going all the way back to 1979; this particular issue was sitting on my desk, and although its main feature is about Mary, mother of Jesus, I leave it here for the subtitle: “The most powerful woman in the world.” I’m not sure I aspired to be so powerful. Not even that famous. Maybe memorable; positive and influential in my own small way. 

It provides food for thought.

The plant is the great grand-child of the first purple zebrina that started my houseplant jungle.

Some of you may recognize The Haunted Photo – now secured, I think, in a bookstand. 

There’s a headset, a small mobile phone tripod, and noisy little fan (also a hand-me-down from my son). A corkboard that needs to be filled with current things and colorful inspiration. A ring light (a gift from my sister-in-law) that I use during Zoom meetings, Toastmasters, mostly, so that I am not subject to the whims of weather and natural light through the two windows nearby, or the ceiling fan that’s in the center of the room. 

That’s it. Now to put it all to good use.

If you think that I used the wrong word, “enclave,” I did not. I share space – a large game room – with my husband. His side of the room is neater, more orderly, filled with useful items and tools (I’m always having to borrow the tape or the scissors or a tiny screwdriver, or something – and he’s always having to remind me to give them back). I must cross into his territory to get to the door. Of course, there’s an easement; he has not walled me in with a cask of Amontillado (or even Armand, the Armadillo), but we are distinctly different – complementary, and it has worked well for us over the years. A year into retirement and the “house arrest” of a pandemic, we still like each other. Love is one thing, and of course we love each other. But you can love someone without liking them very much, and that would not bode well for the next forty years or so. I think that we will make it to our 75th or 80th anniversary, after all.












Speak Truth (Cinq Cinquains) – #AtoZChallenge

Speak Truth (Cinq Cinquains) – #AtoZChallenge

But you hold back –
Scratching the surface, form
Over substance. Superficial.

The beauty of form:
Hold that thought at arm’s length –
Can’t hurt you, dangling, wriggling there.
Can it?

Was that easy,
Breezy. Don’t turn away –
That thing that’s locked inside you can’t.

But then,
Neither can you.
Joined at the hip, limping,
Numb, void of thought, the pristine page
Mocks you.

Nick bone.
Transfuse yourself
With ink and move your hand –
Exhale on paper words unsaid,
Speak truth.