A Library By Any Other Name…

by Jackie Houchin

Mention “Valentine’s Day,” and instantly visions of  cute or sentimental greeting cards, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and bouquets of red roses come to mind. You may even dream of romantic dinners or diamond bracelets.

But it was none of these things that Kristin Molloy of Mission Viejo, California, wished for last year for Valentine’s Day.

“I love books and libraries,” she said with a smile. “So do my kids. We love to go to our Mission Viejo library to check out books. Growing up, everyone in my family had a book to read around the dining room table. I wanted my own library!”

From left to right: Jenna Brown, Kaitlyn Schisler and Astha Parmar take a photo with the Little Free Library, a book kiosk at the Lake Forest Sports Park designed by the three from Cadette Girl Scout Troop 1859. Contractor Bradlee Rodecker helped in building the house-like kiosk.

Her husband, Kevin Molloy, a fireman, knew exactly what she meant. Earlier that year while visiting the Lake Forest Sports Park and Rec. Center they spotted an amazing tiny wooden library on a pole. Designed and built by three Girl Scouts with help from the Park staff, the cheery blue and white painted Little Free Library is a house-like box of books. Visible through two Plexiglas doors are perhaps 30-40 books for all ages. Anyone can take a book to read…free. After reading it, they can return it or bring back a different one. The organization’s motto is “Take a Book, Return a Book.”

Kristen thought her own Little Free Library would be great for their neighborhood.

IMG_2702Kevin drew plans and constructed his Valentine’s Day gift, painting it to match their house. He checked with city regulations (though not all the Libraries I visited did) and sunk a post into their front lawn three feet from the side walk and about 24 inches from the ground. Three small flagstone steps invite kids to visit. He attached a mailbox flag which is extended when new books are added.

Kristin loved it!

(The height of the Libraries is a personal preference. I saw ones sitting on a base at 3 and 4 feet high.)

The family says they have quite a few kids & teens stopping to choose books on their way to/from a nearby park. The couple’s children, Georgia and Ryan, enjoy sharing their own books as well.

Check out the organization for information on buying or building your own library, and to see an amazing variety of Little Free Libraries, including some that look like a church, schoolhouse, caboose, or English telephone booth! https://littlefreelibrary.org/faqs/

Of course, right away, I had my hubby build a Little FREE Library for ME for THIS Valentine’s Day, and paint it to match our house. (I’ll let you know how it goes in a later post, if you are interested.)

Other Little Free Libraries in Mission Viejo.

IMG_2676      IMG_2705


Now let me tell you about some other things to LOVE and to GIVE on February 14th, and these are especially meaningful to us writers of books.

I love a libraryThe 14th of February is also LIBRARY LOVERS DAY.

Here are some things you can do to celebrate:

  • Visit your local library and check out a book or film.
  • If you know someone who doesn’t have a library card, encourage/help them to get one.
  • Volunteer time at the library (shelving, tutoring, reading to kids), or donate money and/or a few of your books.

Without the library, you have no civilization.” ― Ray Bradbury

“Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.” ― Jo Walton

“The library is like a candy store where everything is free.” ― Jamie Ford

“Libraries made me – as a reader, as a writer, and as a human being.”  –Laurie R. King


book-giving-day-bookmark-original-copyThe 14th of February is also INTERNATIONAL BOOK GIVING DAY.

Here are some ways to participate:

  • Share your favorite book with a friend.
  • Give books as gifts to your own children or to those of friends.
  • Donate books to children’s libraries, schools or charities.
  • Leave books in places where they’ll be found, such as doctors’ waiting rooms, train or bus stations, or airports.

“Give a Book” is a UK based charity with the sole aim of giving books where they will be of particular benefit including prisons.  http://giveabook.org.uk/

“Give a Book” works with Ellie’s Friends, a charity who helps women who are recovering from Cancer. They send a monthly mixed selection of light reading to be enjoyed. Each bundle contains ten titles and is delivered to a different recipient each month.  https://elliesfriends.org

“Give a Book” also works with First Story, a registered charity which places published authors in schools to hold weekly workshops on creative writing. At the end of the program, the students’ pieces are published in their own anthology.  https://firststory.org.uk/





What else can you do for your Sweetheart on February 14th? (Click to Tweet)

Library Lovers Day & International Book Giving Day share February 14 with Valentine’s Day. (Click to Tweet)

Creating Seasonal Articles*

Christmas sugar plumsby Jackie Houchin

Does reading all those December magazines with their holiday stories, recipes, tips, traditions, and inspirations make visions of sugar plums, er, I mean, ideas for articles to dance on your head?

“Oh dear! I so wanted to write an article about those fun games we play for identifying Grandma’s tag-less gifts under the tree!” (Family Circle Magazine?)

“And how I wished I’d shared my Mom’s Christmas fruitcake recipe from her recipe box (that I inherited this year when she died), and told all who read the article why they really should try fruitcake again.”  (Reminiscence Magazine?)

But, I forgot to write them.

And now it’s too late – WAY too late.

At least for this year.

But not for next year, if I plan ahead.  Many magazines need seasonal articles. But they need them long before the pub date. Articles with a “time-tag” are a good way for new writers to break into print (or seasoned writers to pick up some pocket money).

It’s all in the timing

Start by picking up Chase’s Calendar Of Events and look ahead to see what holidays will be celebrated in six months to a year. Or you can check the guidelines in the new The Writers Market Guide for specific publications you hope to write for.

Send a query letter with your idea ahead of the suggested time. If you get a go-ahead, be sure to deliver your article on time. And be patient. If it isn’t used in 2018, it may be held till 2019.

Low-profile holidays

Brain storm ideas for the less popular holidays, such as Arbor Day, Grandparents’ Day, Flag Day, Patriot Day, Friendship Day, Bastille Day, Poppy Day, or even…. Cookie Baking Day! (December 18)  Also think about back-to-school and summer vacation themes.

Your special “slant”

If those “sugar plum” ideas aren’t already dancing away up there, then:

  • Leaf through old magazines (yours or at the library).
  • Think about experiences you’ve had during holidays.
  • Write a short biography of a person linked to a holiday.
  • Research a holiday custom.
  • Remember anniversaries. (What happened 5, 10, 500 years ago?)
  • Interview a teacher, a parent, a coach, a Macy’s clerk.
  • Write a holiday short story or poem. (Some magazines are still open to them.)

Christmas funny poem

Before and After Tips

Start an idea folder with clipped articles from magazines or newspapers. Jot notes about ideas on each. Not all will be usable, but many will work. When you’re looking for a certain seasonal theme, these may trigger an idea.

After the original-rights sale, look for reprint markets for next season. Make a list of potential ones and their lead times, and keep your original article with them.

Open a new bank account!

Christmas bank accountJust kidding!  You won’t get rich from these sales, but you will get “writing clips.”  And when magazine editors discover your timely, well-written articles/stories etc., they will approach YOU with their needs.

Okay… do you need some ideas for NEXT Christmas?  Check out these:

  • Favorite Christmas books, movies, musicals/plays (pastiche or true likes)
  • Christmas mishaps (humorous, or coping skills)
  • Christmas trees: cutting your own, uniquely decorating (we knew friends who lit live candles on their tree!), a special nostalgia ornament
  • Family traditions (oldies, or how to start your own)
  • How to make homemade gifts (food, ornaments, clothes, home decor)
  • Holiday baking (how-to, tastes & smells, shipping)
  • Holiday traditions from other countries (foods, decorations, activities)
  • Or…. interview someone with over 3,500 Santa Claus decorations (Hint: I can give you her name.)

Take away

After all the gifts are opened, the holiday meal is eaten (and cleaned up), the kids are playing with new toys (or the boxes), and the older “boys” are watching football, go grab a piece of crumpled wrapping paper, smooth it out, flick open that new expensive gold-plated pen, and start writing up your holiday impressions, experiences, and ideas while they are still “dancing in your head.”

Christmas garland

Merry Christmas &  Happy New Year !


*Inspiration for this post came from Jewell Johnson’s article, Writing Seasonal Articles in the Christian Communicator, Nov-Dec, 2017.

Ripped From the Headlines!

The question this week for our WinR’s and readers is: How much do real world events–from natural disasters to political fiascos–impact your writing?


Jackie Houchin

The “real world” has a lot to do with the kind of writing I do, in fact my web site is titled “News & Reviews.” But I tend to go for the softer sort of news, i.e. art gallery openings, classic car shows, author panels at our local library, and interviews with interesting business and career people.

Yep, you got it! I’m a chicken. The two or three investigative stories I’ve written – while providing good “press” – resulted in some nasty backlash for me and even a few threats. Yikes!

I did learn two things however. Confirm EVERY detail you get from your sources no matter how reliable they are, and be sure to cover BOTH sides of the issue thoroughly. Then take your punches like a … woman. (Oh, and be sure your editor doesn’t add his two – unconfirmed – cents to your article!!)

Politics? I avoid discussing them like the plague. Of course when controversial issues appear in the books or plays I review, I address them, but it’s in the context of the story presented. My personal convictions do occasionally leak through, however.

I write more about human-instigated disasters than those presented by nature (God). I interviewed an elderly shop keeper once who had been robbed and beaten by a gang of punk kids for the few bucks in the till. Terrified by the incident, he decided to close the small neighborhood market. You see, he knew the boys; had watched them grow up.

I also chronicled the burglary of a local Catholic Church, where the thieves walked off with the entire safe. The Priest’s pleas that the safe or at least the communion instruments inside it be returned went unheeded even though he promised “no questions asked.”

Another story was about a woman who was injured by an inattentive mechanic while having her car repaired. The owners and employees conspired to make her look the fool. Thank God for a part-time worker in a neighboring business who was willing to come forward.

These are the things that “get my dander up.” But I just report on them. If ever I were to write fiction, the sense of injustice I feel when interviewing these victims would assure a very nasty “reward” for my antagonist. Take that, you scumbag


Bonnie Schroeder

The biggest effect real world events have on my writing is as a sometimes unwelcome distraction. Bad news scares away my muse, so I try not to read the paper or turn on the radio until I’ve done my morning’s writing (easier said than done). It’s hard to write if you’re worried about some unfriendly country launching a nuclear warhead at us. And politics is endlessly fascinating but more of a time-waster than a useful tool for the type of fiction I write.

I have used an occasional local story in my fiction. Key scenes in my recent novel take place during one of Southern California’s notorious October wildfires, the Santa Anas roaring in the background. And I keep a clip file of events that might sometime pop up in a story – a murder or a particularly flagrant white collar criminal, usually. I keep trying to find an irresistible heart-warmer to use, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Since I also publish an online newsletter for the local Red Cross, disasters do have a direct and immediate impact on that side of my writing. Our chapter deploys volunteers to national events like last year’s Gulf Coast hurricanes, and they also come out for local disasters like brush fires or even single-residence fires, to support the victims and the responders. I’m always attuned to news reports because if our chapter volunteers are deployed, I need to know and to report it to our readers.


Jacqueline Vick

As far as story line, real world events don’t really impact my mysteries or children’s books. However, I can’t resist some commentary.

I wrote “Logical Larry” (an early-middle reader) out of disgust for the way children are targeted, whether it’s by commercials luring them with “must have” toys or a rogue teacher forcing young elementary students to wear pink shirts to support the union’s opposition to pink slips, threatening them with “NO PLAYTIME”. Larry attempts to teach children to think for themselves. They need to learn to question things at an early age.

In my mysteries, characters may make comments that address issues rather than actual events, such as when Deanna Wilder, feeling left out, considers calling herself a Euro-American.

Events tend to come out more in my blog, God’s Teeth. This is where I raise issues that drive me nuts and find a way to make them a useful writing exercise. The difficulty is how to make the point without being flat-out mean.


GB Pool

Real life incidents are a great jumping off point for many of my stories. My first novel, Media Justice, was a conglomeration of all the wall-to-wall news accounts of every “trial of the century” last century. It was that super saturation of media frenzy and instant experts that seemed to come out of the woodwork that made for a compelling story.

But I prefer to pick my own villain rather than use the one in those headlines. It makes it far more interesting to develop the character when I can create their personalities. It is the essence I am looking for, not the facts from any particular case.

And what is even more fun is to take a well-worn news story, one of those that the media beats to death, and rework it so the bad guy ends up the victim and the original victim turns out to be the villain. It makes the story fresh and it keeps the reader guessing. Fact is great, but fiction is better. (Sometimes.)

I do have a spy trilogy, as yet unpublished, that follows my father’s military career and actual historical events. Most of the events I depict, at least from my father’s POV, are fictional, but there are many things I don’t know about his career. He was cleared to Top Secret, was a command pilot in the Air Force, and he didn’t talk much about his exploits. He did read the first draft of the first book. He sent me a letter and mentioned a few things that I got wrong. And here I thought I just had a great imagination.

But history and the headlines are a great source of ideas for any writer. I just prefer to rewrite aspects of it for a story. I don’t want to misrepresent history. That happens enough without my help. But I do like to flavor stories with real things so the reader doesn’t know where the facts end and the fiction begins.