Making Merry on National Puzzle Day

Clue: What is a six-letter word for a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma?

"Candy Galore," a 1000 piece puzzle by Springbok.

They are often baffling, frequently infuriating, and mostly fun.

They are:
Zen-like (sometimes)
Acrostic (like this clue).

They come in forms as varied as crosswords, jigsaws, search-a-words, Tangrams, anagrams, cryptograms, Sudoku, spot the difference, and connect the dots.  They can be logical, lateral, mathematical, or mechanical.  They come in books, boxes, cubes, newspapers, on boards, online, or on paper.

Did you guess it yet?

In the spirit of “the holiday,” I’ll give the answer.  It’s a PUZZLE!  And the holiday is today, National Puzzle Day, a day to celebrate all things solvable.

Puzzles are popular around the world.  I don’t know what the attraction is for everyone else, but I love the challenge of figuring out a solution that’s not immediately obvious.  Sometimes it feels like my brain is being ratcheted up; the cogs and wheels that haven’t moved in a while creak and groan into action again.

Working out a puzzle brings me into a meditative mindset similar to the creative zen I experience when I’m engrossed in writing or painting.  It’s not always quite that peaceful, though.  I have thrown crossword puzzle books across the room, (Drama queen? Me? No!) but my obsessive nature rarely allows me to walk away from an unfinished puzzle.  There’s a benefit to that persistence, though.  The joy of finishing a tough puzzle, crossword, jigsaw, Sudoku, even the Hidden Pictures puzzles from Highlights magazine (which I just found out is now available free online!!) is wonderfully satisfying.

In honor of National Puzzle Day, here are two offerings in my favorite puzzle formats:

  1. A huge archive of Literary crossword puzzles from
  2. A link to Springbok Puzzles, my favorite puzzle maker, which is offering a 15% coupon to celebrate the holiday.  There is also a Springbok puzzle giveaway at A Frugal Friend.

Now it’s time for me to make merry.  I’m heading over to  Oh, Hidden Pictures, how you taunt me!

Resources: The American Jigsaw Puzzle Society, The Official UK Puzzle Club, Springbok, A Frugal Friend, The Daily Post.

99 Y.O. Self-Published Poet’s Mega-Bestseller

Japan’s Toyo Shibata was 92 when she started writing poetry.  Her self-published anthology, “Kujikenaide,” (Don’t Lose Heart) has sold 1.5 million copies in Japan since its publication in 2009.  With sales like that, I’m sure American publishers will take note.  Now that her story has been published in Reuters and is being picked up by mainstream media around the world,  I’m hopeful that it’s only a matter of time before her book hits the shelves in the U.S.  I definitely plan to be in line to buy it.

For more information, here’s “A Little Encouragement” from the blog, From Tokyo to the World.

A Little Encouragement Few people can say they’ve lived as long as Toyo Shibata [柴田トヨ]. At 99, she has seen two world wars, four emperors and 81 prime ministers. Over the span of such a long life, one would hope to acquire valuable wisdom about the world and how to be happy. Ms. Shibata has. She is the author of a bestselling anthology of poetry published early last year with the title “くじけないで,” or “Don’t Be Frustrated” [though I would translate it as more like “Hang i … Read More

Resources: The Daily Post, The Book Bench, From Tokyo to the World

New Hope Comes in a Literary Package

There’s something very exciting about the debut of a literary journal.

All the tension and turmoil bubbling around the publishing world these days can leave those of us who are in love with words feeling sad, worried, and a little bit hopeless.  Enter a new lit mag and our hope is renewed … The word lives.  The word thrives.  Hooray for the word!

And three cheers for the debut of The Literarian, an online journal from The Center for Fiction.

We’re here to celebrate and support the extraordinary breadth of literary fiction in the U.S. and around the world,” writes editor Dawn Raffel in the welcome letter.

The first issue includes six short stories, interviews with Cynthia Ozick, Yiyun Li, a video of Sam Lipsyte reading from his novel “The Ask,” and an essay by Martha McPhee about her five favorite novels with women behaving badly.  Each issue takes a world view, too, by publishing highlights from international literary magazines.  This issue showcases Wet Ink from Australia and the St. Petersburg Review. Future issues promise a venue for emerging writers.

It’s not all storm and stress in the world of words.  At least I don’t think so, and neither does The Center for Fiction.  That’s good news for writers, readers, and everyone else in love with words.

PS:  I would be remiss in my devotion to Philip Roth if I missed this opportunity to mention his upcoming visit to The Center for Fiction on February 24 at 7 pm. Oh, to live in New York again!!

Resources: The Center for Fiction, The Daily Post

Depth and Focus Straighten Tangled Plots

At The Book Deal, publishing veteran Alan Rinzler offers an insider’s look at the new world of publishing.  With more than 40 years experience at some of the top houses, his insights and opinions are an incredible resource for writers trying to break into the business.

His latest post, Ask the editor:  How to untangle a plot, gives specific and directed advice on:

  • Pruning overcomplicated plots
  • Best practices for storytelling
  • DIY Plot Pruning
  • Developing your rhythm

Mr. Rinzler ends the post with an invitation to send questions.

After spending the better part of the morning (and probably most of the coming afternoon) clicking and reading through this blog, I knew I had to share it here.


Resources: The Book Deal, The Daily Post

Better Him Than Me! A Silent Writers’ Prompt

Tonight at 9 EST and PST, the Silent Writers Collective holds its weekly online writing retreat.  All writers are welcome to join in and be quiet.

You can work on your own project or use the writing exercise provided below.  For those participating in the Post A Day challenge, it’s a great time to stockpile a post or two.  For those who aren’t sure what they want to work on, here is an interesting exercise for fiction writers from Poets & Writers’ new series, “The Time is Now.”



… “impending doom arrives.”     Oops! Sorry, the last line was cut.

For poets:

Resources: Silent Writers Collective,, Post A Day.

Monday Motivator: Virginia Woolf’s Wild Horses

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“Blame it or praise it, there is no denying the wild horse in us.”
— Virginia Woolf
from “Jacob’s Room”

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I chose this quote in honor of Virginia Woolf’s 129th birthday, tomorrow, January 25.  What do the words evoke in you?

The Monday Motivator is a weekly quote posted to encourage, inspire, and motivate writers of all skill levels and across genres. If you have a favorite quote to share, I’d love to include it.  Click here to see past Monday Motivators.

Resources:  The International Virginia Woolf Society, The Daily Post

A Thousand Words: The Sound of Laughter

Image courtesy of lolololori on Flickr.  Some rights reserved.


A Thousand Words is a weekly photo prompt posted every Sunday.  Maybe the images will inspire you to write a short story, a haiku, a blog post, a love note.  Maybe you’ll just sit back and enjoy the photo.   Whatever your response, I hope you enjoy the picture and that it inspires you to creative zen.

If you write something based on the image, feel free to share a link in the comments section.   Also feel free to use the photo on your blog, just be sure to give proper credit, which I will always include in the post or the caption.

Resources: Creative Commons, Flickr, The Daily Post

Get Your Über On, and Other Irritating Idioms

I got an e-mail yesterday from a company that sells craft supplies.  The subject line read:

“Get Your Craft On.”

I deleted the e-mail with quick contempt because it reminded me of how very much I dislike the overused call to action to “get my (fill-in-the-blank) on.”   Part of the problem is that there are so many activities one can “get on.”

I'm all about* earth-friendly, it's the expression I can do without.

Get your groove on
Get your freak on
Get your game on
Get your geek on
Get your praise on
Get your blaze on
Get your funk on
Get your green on

It’s everywhere, and I’m sure you could add to the list.  Hey, I could ask you to “Get your list on,” or “Get your get on … on.”  Hmm, maybe not.

At first I didn’t mind the expression.  It was cute and a little bit funky, but driving past a store-front church one day, the message-bearing roadside marquee read, “Come in and Get your God on.”  Without passing judgment, I can say that one ruined it for me.

It’s not just the getting on of things that bothers me.  Über bothers me, too.  In fact, it über bothers me.  I stopped subscribing to Entertainment Weekly because they über-use it at least once in every issue.  I grind my teeth when I hear it, but I’m not gonna go there, which is another idiom to add to the list.

My friend Keith hates the expression, “It is what it is,”  and I agree with him on that.  That’s the thing about Keith, he’s good people.  Oh! I don’t like that one either.  How can one person be good people?  It just doesn’t make sense!

Seriously, though, it’s all good.  Ouch, that’s another stinker.

The more I think about it, the more I come up with:

  • Good to go
  • Git r done
  • Have a good one
  • Not so much (Loved that when I first heard it, but now … not so much)

I’m giving myself a headache with all these cliches, and there’s only one thing that takes care of headaches: Retail therapy, (yep, that’s one), so, I’m going to go get my shop on, but first, I’m going to go get my shoes on.

Grammar Watch is an occasional series about grammar peeves, abuses, giggles, and rants.  Email me with any topics you’d like to see included here.

Resources:  The Daily Post.

* That’s another one

Robert Frost Does it Right at JFK’s Inauguration

John F. Kennedy and Robert Frost blowing in the wind at JFK's Inauguration. Photo by Life

Fifty years ago today, Robert Frost made literary history by being the first poet to read at a Presidential Inauguration.

John F. Kennedy asked Mr. Frost to read a piece of his work.  As the Inauguration Ceremony approached, the poet understood the importance of the moment and decided to recite “Dedication,” a poem he wrote specifically for the occasion.

A full-fledged blizzard the night before, left the city frozen in a blanket of white.  Although the sun was shining on Inauguration Day, sub-zero temperatures and whipping winds stayed on, causing delay after delay.

When it was finally time to recite his poems, Mr. Frost took the podium.  Bundled in a long wool coat and thick scarf,  the wind blew his hair in every direction.  He began reciting “Dedication” but stumbled and stopped.  The sun’s glare reflecting off the snow made it impossible to read his new poem.

Rather than falter through a botched recitation, Mr. Frost changed direction.  He put his plan and his poetry aside, and recited “The Gift Outright” from memory.

Reading the words of “The Gift Outright,” I’m excited and astonished, again, at the inherent genius of art.  How appropos those words are for the occasion.  I’m also inspired by Mr. Frost’s action.  He knew what was most important. He put his ego and his poetry aside and did what should have been done for the occasion.

I’m sure I would have done the same on the spot.  It’s afterward that I wonder about.  Would I have pouted, whined? “Waaaa, I put a lot of work into that poem.  Stupid snow ruined everything.  My life suuuuuckkkkks!”

Past experience tells me I would be whining.  It’s a character flaw I need to work on.  A lot of artists and writers I know would whine; we’re a needy neurotic bunch. (Kanye West keeps coming to mind.)  Robert Frost didn’t whine though.  He took the road not taken and that made all the difference.

Resources: John F. Kennedy Inaugural Ceremony, Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” The Daily Post

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

“Words have no power to impress the mind
without the exquisite horror of their reality.”
— Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death
Image by ProfessorMortis via Flickr

Mention his name and goth girls swoon, black cats hiss, and the timid turn away.  Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809.  More than 200 years after his birth, cities still fight for ownership of the dead writer’s corpse, whose tortured life and mysterious death were as strange as the tales he told.  Tales like “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Masque of the Red Death” still have the power to shock and enthrall readers all these years later.

In pop culture, Mr. Poe is most often revered as the master of the macabre, but his pen and his influence reach far beyond that.  He and Nathaniel Hawthorne are credited as the fathers of the American short story.  “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was the first detective story and created the genre.  “The Balloon Hoax” was an early form of science fiction and was an inspiration for Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.”  His poem, “The Raven” is still one of the most famous poems ever written.

He was born in Boston, was orphaned at age three, and taken in by the Allen family of Richmond, Virginia.  His older brother Henry died young and his sister Rosalie went insane.  He lived in Philadelphia with his wife and mother-in-law, before moving with them to the Bronx, New York.  He was married only once, to his 13-year old cousin Virginia Clemm, who died at age 24 of tuberculosis.  He was an alcoholic and a drug addict and was labeled paranoid and perverse.  The day before he died, he was found on a Baltimore street, delirious, incoherent and wearing clothes that weren’t his.

All five cities have landmarks or museums dedicated to him and the Poe Wars over who gets his corpse (Baltimore has it now) aren’t cold yet.

edgar-allan-poeIn honor of his birthday, I’m happy to share this fantastic party favor, a make-your-own Edgar Allan Poe doll, courtesy of the Toy-A-Day blog. (Caveat: Lots of pop-ups, but definitely worth it.) Mr. Poe might roll his eyes at the frivolity of the gesture, but I like to think it would make him crack a smile.

Resources: Post A Day, Edgar Allan Poe Museum/Richmond, Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Sity/Philadelphia, Edgar Allen Poe Cottage/The Bronx, Edgar Allan Poe Society/Baltimore.