Creative Characterization at The Writer’s Garret

What makes a story memorable to you? For me, it’s the character, and I love discovering writers’ characters in my Creative Characterization workshops.

This four-week workshop at The Writer’s Garret will cover several of the methods I’ve used to create multi-dimensional characters.

Here are the covers to my PowerPoint presentations to give you an idea of the topics that will be covered over four weeks:




If past workshops are an indicator, I’m pretty sure you’ll discover reasons to love. maybe hate, understand, and empathize with your characters. And isn’t that what you hope your readers will experience, too?

I hope to see you there!

Click HERE to register.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Commonality of Totality

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. Why? Because lately it seems what most inspires me to write has to do with what divides us.

But over the last few days, and especially today, as Americans talked about the eclipse with varying degrees of excitement, I found myself wondering why it was such a big deal.

Why did people travel from all over the country to the “Path of Totality?”

Even in places that wouldn’t experience totality, the atmosphere this morning buzzed with excitement.

“Do you have your glasses?”

“Are you going to go outside to watch?”

Our office even encouraged everyone to take a few minutes to leave the office to go outside to watch.

I’ll admit, I hadn’t motivated myself enough to go out to search for ISO-certified glasses with which to watch the eclipse, though I was lucky to have a couple of co-worker friends who shared theirs.

But, it didn’t matter that I didn’t have glasses, because I found myself almost more interested in the crowd of people outside our office building than the sun playing hide-and-seek.

Pinhole Eclipse

So many smiling people. Some wore funny glasses. Some, like me, carried pieces of paper with pinholes. A few had cardboard boxes. Everyone shared whatever viewing instrument they had, with anyone who needed it. We shared stories of previous eclipses, shared our double shadows, took pictures of strangers.

Double Shadows

I continued to think about this event, even after the moon had given way to let the sun shine again. Why such a big deal?

Sure, it’s a rare and awesome event. Yes, it makes us think about our relative insignificance in the universe, and how little control we have over so much of what happens in our lives.

But I decided this was “an event” because in an age of growing division, this eclipse gave us commonality–something we could share.

It felt good to focus on what we have in common instead of what divides us, even if it was only for a few minutes.

Even Allie and Tommy got into the excitement!

Posted in Life | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Slippery Slope of Passivity and Prejudice

Memorial Day. A day we honor our fallen soldiers for their bravery and sacrifice.

I tend to be a relatively passive person. I could attribute this to a philosophy of “Live and let live,” or “To each his own,” a belief that everyone is entitled to his opinion, even if I disagree.

But, it would be more accurate to say I hate conflict and will usually avoid it at all costs.

Some might call the first “excuse” commendable. But, the second–and probably more accurate reason–is cowardice or at least, a lack of bravery.

But today, I’m speaking up, because passivity only serves to grease the slippery slope of prejudice.

This morning started off like any other weekend morning–sipping coffee as I perused the news. I’d already read two of the stories in the past few days–the tragic stabbings of two Portland men who stood up to hate, and the story about the Denver Post sportswriter’s tweet about the Japanese winner of the Indy 500. Both stories angered me–obviously in varying degrees–but upon first reading, for a dozen different reasons, I passively “let it go.” Why?

  • It was easier to let it go than say or do anything about it.
  • Besides, what can I do?
  • I’m tired of anger and hatred.
  • I don’t want to offend friends and family.
  • Is it possible I’m numbing to the frequency of prejudice?

But this morning, I mentioned Terry Frei’s tweet to Steve.

The more I talked about this tweet, the louder and faster I spoke:

“Can you believe that after more than 75 years since Pearl Harbor was attacked, this man, this educated journalist, still doesn’t think it’s appropriate for a Japanese man to win the Indy 500 on Memorial Day? What did this race car driver have to do with the attack on Pearl Harbor? And what did those Muslim girls on the train have to do with terrorism? You know, prejudice is a slippery slope, and in my opinion, Terry Frei is only slightly higher on that slippery slope than the ignorant bastard who stabbed those two men on the train.”

I was surprised at anger that practically spewed. I thought I’d “compartmentalized” it, shoved it into the faraway recesses of my mind.

Still, as I hung my flag outside, made a smoothie for breakfast, planted some flowers in the backyard, I continued to try to shove my anger aside. But I couldn’t stop thinking about these two stories, until I realized they’re bound with the same ugly string of prejudice. Only then did I understand my anger, and as I thought about the the abundance of anti-Muslim comments I see on Facebook and how similar some of them are to comments I read from Jeremy Joseph Christian, my anger was fueled.

Prejudice is a slippery slope.

I’m not saying Terry Frei’s tweet about being “uncomfortable” that a Japanese man, Takuma Sato, won the Indy 500 on Memorial Day is comparable to the horrific stabbings of two men by a white supremacist. But the thought that a Japanese race car driver should be resented for winning a race more than 75 years after Pearl Harbor is a result of the same ignorant mindset as those who would believe two young Muslim women should be lumped in with all other Muslims as possible terrorists.

Japanese people are not, 75 years later, connected to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Not all Muslims are terrorists and not all terrorists are Muslim. Not all Christians are white supremacists and not all white supremacists are Christian.

Today, we remember our fallen heroes. I also honor the three men who, on a train in Portland, Oregon on May 26, stood up against hatred. Two lost their lives–Ricky John Best, 53, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23. Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, was also stabbed and is in serious condition.

The least I can do to honor the courage and sacrifice of all of our heroes is to speak up against prejudice. To honor the three Portland heroes, I also contributed to a GoFundMe account.

Click HERE if you’d like to contribute to Tri Met Heroes. According to the Washington Post:

A GoFundMe spokesman confirmed to The Post that the company would ensure funds are sent to the victim’s families.

God bless all of our heroes.

# # #

A few of my past blog posts on prejudice’s slippery slope:

Fear of the Huddled Masses

A Way of Life

Unhyphenated Patriots, Part 2


Posted in hate, prejudice, racism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Celebrate National Poetry Month

Join me in writing a haiku each day to celebrate National Poetry Month! Every haiku enters you in a chance to win a copy of my book, Life: Haiku by Haiku.

Life: Haiku by Haiku

April is National Poetry Month! lists “30 Ways to Celebrate.” My favorite on the list is:

Put a poem in a letter.

But, I modified it a bit. During the month of April, instead of putting a poem in a letter, I’ll write haiku every day on my blog.

As a reminder, here’s a definition of haiku:

I invite you to join me beginning April 1. Below I’ve posted a theme for each day in April.

April 1 – spring
April 2 – colors
April 3 – dogs
April 4 – cats
April 5 – life
April 6 – love
April 7 – flowers
April 8 – trees
April 9 – school
April 10 – books
April 11 – clouds
April 12 – water
April 13 – summer
April 14 – ocean
April 15 – children
April 16 -snow
April 17 – rain
April 18 -writing

View original post 193 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Baby Steps

I’ve started a new website for my young reader books: Hope you’ll follow along!

JM Vanek

Today, a new author is born–J.M. Vanek. That’s me!

Actually, I’ve been around for awhile, but as Jan Morrill, author of The Red Kimono and a few other books. But I’m preparing to start a new path–writing books for children, middle grade and young adult.

My middle grade book, Mo’s Shadow, will be released by Birdsong Publishing, June 2017. This is a story very close to my heart. It’s about a young girl named Mo, who befriends an alcoholic neighbor after her own parents divorce because her father drinks too much. It’s based on my own experiences of finding my way to love, from loss and back to love again.

My picture book, Magical Red Kimono, will be released by 4RV Publishing, Fall 2017. This book, too, is close to my heart–well, aren’t they all? 🙂

It is based on the characters, Sachi and Jubie from…

View original post 116 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments