Archives for July 2017

Art of the Week: “Before and After the Drought”

“Before and After”

Textile, 48h x 54w

Bonnie J. Smith

Santa Clara Branch NLAPW






Bonnie Smith tells stories of life through her textile art. Smith created “Before and After,” part of the Drought series, to bring the water issues of California to the attention of the world: water rationing, crop loss, dried-up lakes followed by flooding, more crop loss, damage/destruction of homes and infrastructure.


Smith used photographs of water habitats she took over time to print on cotton fabrics. After cutting the fabrics into large sheets she pieced them into a kimono shape. The style of stitching came to her as she was working. “The work speaks to me, the fabrics let me know what they need to finish telling the story.”


Bonnie Smith’s textile art tells the stories of her life.  “With the ‘Drought’ series I am currently working on it is my goal to bring the water issues we deal with in my state to the world.  First, not enough water and all of the havoc that the drought brought to our everyday lives, the rationing, loss of crops, and with the drying up of lakes and rivers how it simply affected our enjoyment of our local terrain. Then too much water brought flooding, loss again of crops, flooding of homes and destroying our infrastructure.  Always, taking pictures of water habitats around me, I was overwhelmed when I saw how the differences of each environmental system overwhelmed our personal lives.


“In the creating of ‘Before and After the Drought,’ I studied for a long time pictures I had taken of Alviso Salt Marshes which are located in the Northern California Bay Area. Devastated by what I was looking at currently and what I had seen before and then again when the rains started fiercely coming in that region I always knew I needed to create a work to let others see what the drought had done to our preserve.


“My process was to print the photographs onto cotton fabrics. Using two different weights of fabrics gave me the desired effect. Cutting the printed fabrics into large sheets I was able to piece them into a kimono style which gave me the finished textile I had envisioned. The style of stitching came to me while I was creating the artwork.  This always happens to me on all of my  textiles. The work speaks to me, the fabrics let me know what they need to finish telling the story. I do feel the finished textile tells the story of Alviso Salt Marshes. Nature does seem to somehow heal itself but for how long can and under what extreme circumstances can nature keep recreating itself.”


Attention Pen Women! We’d love to see your best work for possible publication as Art of the Week. Please review the general submission guidelines on our web site and send only one work per email as a low resolution file. Put Art of the Week Submission in the subject line and provide the information seen in the posts (title/medium/name/branch). Your submission may then be made to Thank you!

Creative Inspirational Wisdom: It’s the Story that Counts!

This week, Sarah Byrn Rickman discusses the thrills and challenges of adapting her style for the Young Adult market.


B.J. Erickson in the first P-51 she ever flew; June 13, 1943; Palm Springs, California

With seven books aimed at an adult audience, all focused on women in aviation, I should stick with what I know. Right?


“Young girls need to be reading your WASP stories,” two author friends told me over beers at a writers’ conference last fall. “Write for them.”


“But I don’t know how.” Deep down, I knew they were right.


The research for book number eight was done. B.J. Erickson’s story would be my fourth biography and eighth book about the women pilots of World War II.


I got to know B.J. well over her final fifteen years. I visited her frequently, did her oral history, shared a speaking podium with her, and got to know her family. She “flew west” on July 7, 2013. She was 93, a great lady, and I miss her.


If ever there was a story for my fourteen-year-old granddaughter and her contemporaries, B.J.’s was it. A consummate leader at 22, she was a no-nonsense gal with keen insight into what made people tick, as evidenced by the accolades heaped on her by the women in her squadron who flew under her leadership in WWII.


I approached a friend who knows my “adult” work but who publishes for middle-grade readers. I asked if she would a.) be interested in publishing a WASP biography for Y/A and, if so, b.) would she work with me to get it right? She agreed.


Six weeks later, I had the first draft. Something built a fire under me!


My editor sent back her suggestions. I took them to heart and began draft two. My multi-clause sentences painstakingly became two or three stand-alone sentences. I searched for easier-to-understand synonyms—tough for aviation terms that the average adult reader won’t know, let alone a thirteen-year-old. When in doubt, explain.


Oh, yes—I also had a 25,000 word limit. I’m used to 80,000. Focus. I got my 30,000 down to 25,000.


My journalist’s training has taught me to write short paragraphs. That helped. But because we’re dealing with a lot of B.J.’s quotes, I’ve had to alternate them with paraphrasing because of the way the book would be formatted. I never had to worry about that before!


B.J. Erickson, age 19

I removed my proverbial darlings and that pesky dead wood—several times.


There were far too many dates and airplane numbers. Too much for young readers! Historian, ditch your dates. They’re boring!


I submitted draft three. The story was told. I’d tightened the lens. Enough?


No. Don’t start planning the cover yet. Revisions, not major but nevertheless needed, were required.


I thought I could do it in six months, start to finish—November to April. It was not ready in April, nor in May.


On July 11, I handed the finished manuscript—25,745 words—to my editor, Doris Baker of the small Colorado book publisher Filter Press.


The cover is now a go, and it is gorgeous. It is B.J. in the cockpit of a P-51 World War II fighter aircraft.


In all, 63 photos grace this book aimed at eleven to fourteen-year-old girls and, hopefully, boys. Boys do like aviation.


B.J. was 19 when she learned to fly, right before World War II began. She qualified as a flight instructor at age 20 and, after Pearl Harbor, joined the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) to fly small trainer aircraft from the factory to the Army training fields.


These women become known as WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots). At 22, BJ was named the leader of the women’s ferrying squadron in Long Beach, California. She led some 70 other women, many older than she, for the two years the WASP were on active duty.


Her squadron was the one tasked with the delivery of the largest number of P-51 fighter aircraft delivered by the women pilots. The P-51 was THE aircraft—the “Game Changer”—that ultimately sealed our victory over the German Reich in 1945. The P-51 was the aircraft that protected the big bombers from enemy fighters all the way from England to Berlin, then back to England and safety.


It’s the story that counts—and yes, how you tell it. Writing, whether for adults or for children, is all about whether you tell the story in a way that engages your reader, puts her right there in the cockpit with the heroine, and brings both the pilot and the story home.


Sarah Byrn Rickman, Pikes Peak Branch NLAPW, has been writing since she was five. An English major at Vanderbilt University, she began a 20-plus year career in journalism at The Detroit News and concluded it as editor of the Centerville-Bellbrook Times in Ohio. In 1996, she earned an M.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University Midwest. She has since written eight books about the women pilots of World War II, known as WASP.  Her web site is 


Above photos furnished by Sarah Byrn Rickman, author

WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!


Poem of the Week: CAGED

by Jeannie Carlson
Member-At-Large, St. Petersburg, Florida


Soullessly a sleek and sinewy

Striped cat stalks

Too small a cage.

She paces proud protuberant paws

The space of her confinement.

Unresigned to a fettered fate,

Felinity is ever ready

To pounce ferociously to freedom.

Clawing a crevice,

Only her whisker

Can claim bristly visit

The incalculable void.

Undaunted, the direct

But stoic semiprecious eyes

Seductively suggest

One dare approach…

Either to set her free

Or be devoured.


Art of the Week: Monet’s Garden

Artist: Fran Hall, Marin County Golden Gate Branch

Medium: Oil on canvas

Title: Monet’s Garden


For the last 25 years Fran has lived and painted in Spain, Italy, France and other European countries. She paints scenes from places she visited and wishes to commit to permanent memory, especially from California to the Mediterranean. Fran specializes in landscapes, seascapes and florals.


Her style exemplifies a changing perspective of colors and compositions over the years.


Although most of her work are oil paintings, she has recently added watercolor to her portfolio.


A Pen Woman in the Right Place

The National League of American Pen Women was the subject of an interview with President Virginia Franklin Campbell, featured in the latest issue of The Write Place at the Write Time, an online literary journal.

The spirit and legacy of the League came through Virginia’s answers to questions by Nicole M. Bouchard, Editor-in-Chief of the journal and NLAPW member-at-large. Nicole leads with praise for the NLAPW, based on her own vibrant experience as a Pen Woman.

See the whole feature: The Write Place at the Write Time, Q&A with Virginia Franklin Campbell.

“We experience the arts differently than a colleague who isn’t a Pen Woman,” Virginia adds. “Our triple identities in the arts – as artists, musicians and writers – makes the NLAPW unique. The artist comes to understand the writer at a different level, and the musician appreciates the artist. Because we are so intertwined in our disciplines, we have an increased enjoyment of the arts as a whole. Our experience and understanding of the arts is like no other, and we are able to enjoy each other’s art more profoundly.”

Verne and Virginia Campbell with the new member of the family, Dandi.


Art of the Week: Zenith

This week’s selection introduces our new art editor, Darlene Yeager-Torre of Central Ohio Branch. Titled “Zenith” (digital photograph, one exposure painted with light), the image was created using a technique known as light painting.


The flower and vase are the only real objects. All other lines, shapes, textures, and colors were “painted” by using handheld lights in a dark studio.


Many light painting techniques were developed by Darlene through experimentation and are unique to her work.


After retiring from teaching art, Darlene began to pursue her own artistic vision. In 2012, after attending a workshop about painting with light, she began using, experimenting with, and inventing light-painting techniques.


Her luminous works, from landscapes to still life, are made using extremely long exposures (30 seconds to and hour) and handheld lights. To see more images, visit



Attention Pen Women! We’d love to see your best work for possible publication as Art of the Week. Please review the general submission guidelines on our web site and send only one work per email as a low resolution file. Put Art of the Week Submission in the subject line and provide the information seen in the posts (title/medium/name/branch). Your submission may then be made to Thank you!


Creative Inspirational Wisdom: Six Steps for Dealing with Rejections

This week, Publications Chair Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen touches on a subject we’re all painfully familiar with — and one that inevitably comes with being a creative woman.

The worst rejection letter I ever received came from a small Colorado-based “literary” magazine that billed itself as prime literature for the doctor’s office waiting room.


I’m going to let the above line stand alone and sink in. Consider for a moment, if you will, the plight of the writer. Good writing doesn’t just happen; it takes time and effort. Querying literary magazines to get the writing published, thereby validating said expended time and effort, takes even more time and effort. The higher profile publications receive hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stories each month. Competition for placement is fierce, and refusals are many.


Rejection-free indie publishing has removed some of the sting, but even these authors will admit they’d rather have someone accept and publish their work “traditionally,” which is the only reason why we continue to subject ourselves to the often soul-crushing process of querying.


This, of course, brings me back to my opening sentence. The rejecting publication was not The Paris Review. It was something people read while waiting to get their tonsils swabbed for a strep test. Moreover, it was spreading streptococcal bacteria to the next unsuspecting reader/patient, and then to the one after that.


What I’m trying to say here, gently, is that I wasn’t aiming all that high.


Even so, I’d done my homework by reading the publication and developing a feel for what the editors liked. I selected a story that fit their style. After drafting a professional query letter, I mailed out the still-warm manuscript out first class. For a few days, I basked in the pleasant possibility that another one of my stories would be published.


Less than a week later, a S.A.S.E. arrived in my mailbox. At once, I knew that a single sheet of paper was inside—never a good sign.


Sighing, I tore it open, expecting the usual: Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, we do not feel it is right for our publication. We wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere. These form rejection letters are unsigned and grainy from years of having been photocopied off other yellowing photocopies of the first form rejection letter ever written, no doubt penned and printed by Gutenberg himself. Like most professional writers, I’ve received more than my fair share of them.


What I found inside, however, was something altogether different. In my hands was the same query letter I’d mailed out only days earlier. Right underneath my signature, the editor had written in two-inch-tall block letters with a red Sharpie marker: NO!


It’s difficult to describe what went through my mind and in what order. I remember an initial flash of mortification, looking around to see if someone was filming my reaction for an updated Candid Camera series, and finally, righteous indignation. Would it have killed the editor to have been polite? After all, he’d solicited submissions in Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. Why respond like I’d shown up selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door just as dinner was being put on the table?


Rejection sucks in general, but it especially blows when delivered by sucker-punch from a decidedly mediocre publication. My good friend, Erin, a talented poet, shared her own frustration when her work was rejected by another “literary” magazine that was—I kid you not—printed on typing paper and then crookedly stapled with such amateurish aplomb that it made me, a former print production manager for a Fortune 500 company, want to throw its editors into a cage and spray them with a fire hose until they screamed for mercy. At least they’d had the decency, however, to be polite to her.


This is where I (hopefully) impart some creative inspirational wisdom as a takeaway from this mock-horror story. Another good friend and connoisseur of ironic meditations, Tim, posted a meme on Facebook a few months ago containing a variation of the Latin phrase “Illegitimi non carborundum.” Loosely translated, it advises not letting those not-so-nice folks succeed in discouraging one’s efforts—good advice, even if stated in a somewhat mysterious and indelicate way. (Google it for the actual translation, but not in the company of those with fragile sensibilities.)


Here are some practical steps to take with your own rejection letters, based on my ample experience:

  1. Read them.
  2. If they say something useful, consider the advice. Such feedback is rare!
  3. If they don’t say something useful, shred them.
  4. Better yet, line a cage with them and allow a bird to “critique” them.
  5. Or ceremoniously burn them, if you’re into that kind of thing.
  6. Then, for the love of all that’s creative, move on! That’s what I did.


Illegitimi non carborundum, folks. Keep on creating!

Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen, M.F.A., has had work published in several literary magazines and anthologies. Her book, Publicize This! Promoting Your Group or Nonprofit on a Limited or Nonexistent Budget, was published in 2014. An NLAPW member at large, she teaches literature and writing at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island. This post is an adaptation of another published on October 1, 2014, at her author blog.


WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative BusinessPlease visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!

Art of the Week: Brillig


(Oil on canvas, 20″ x 30″)

Catherine Moreno

Golden Gate-Marin County Branch NLAPW



Attention Pen Women! We’d love to see your best work for possible publication as Art of the Week. Please review the general submission guidelines on our web site and send only one work per email as a low resolution file. Put Art of the Week Submission in the subject line and provide the information seen in the posts (title/medium/name/branch). Your submission may then be made to Thank you!

Call for Coloring Book Art Submissions: “Celebrating 120 Years of Pen Women”


Dear Pen Women,


NLAPW is going to publish a coloring book titled “Celebrating 120 Years of Pen Women.” This will be a coloring book for adults familiar with or interested in the Pen Women. We will need up to 32 illustrations, and all should be relevant to Pen Women in some way. Please submit your ideas and drawings!


Here are a few sample ideas:

  • Artist in her studio
  • Theater stage with costumed actors
  • Composer at her piano
  • Famous Pen Women shown in period dress from past to present
  • Collection of instruments
  • Collection of writing implements used from the inception of NLAPW to present
  • Collection of artists’ materials
  • Pen Arts building
  • Vinnie Ream with her sculpture of Lincoln
  • Outline of state regions with branches labeled. Decorate with iconic images of the areas.

 … or any other illustration that fits our theme.


Guidelines for submission:

  • Include a cover letter with a short description of how your illustration fits the theme. You may also choose a title for your piece. Be sure to include your contact information and Pen Women branch
  • Black and white line drawings with very little shading are best
  • Page size is 8.5” wide x 11” high (vertical)
  • Please send .PDF files (.JPG files are not as good, but will be accepted). You may also send your original art or a good copy, but it will not be returned
  • You may submit more than one entry
  • Email entries to or mail to Lucy Arnold, 15 Fairway Drive, Novato, CA 94949


Deadline for submissions is October 12, 2017.


Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I’ll be working closely with Kathleen Vermaelen, NLAPW Publications Chair.


With best wishes,

Lucy Arnold

President, Golden Gate/Marin Branch NLAPW


[Editor’s Note: We will do our best to answer any questions posted in the comments section below (which closes in two weeks), but for a guaranteed answer to your question please email Lucy!]

Poem of the Week: Rain Dance

Shelly Reed Thieman
Letters Member, Treasurer – Des Moines Branch


In mud nest threatened

by black conclave of clouds,

a tiny robin opens its throat

for the reception of earth

worm and Juneberry.


I rain dance in shallow pond

of lush reeds, massage earth

with bare feet. Sweet thunder

is a kettledrum setting

the cadence of evening.


Ponderosa pine prostrate.

A pair of barred owls startle

when their perch snaps

from its trunk like a phantom

femur from its pelvis.


Mottled with rust, ancient

wind chimes surrender

their clapper and three silver

rods to horizontal rain.

Lightning swings her sword.