Creative Inspirational Wisdom: From Where or What Do You Draw Inspiration?

This week, Lois Batchelor Howard personifies poetic inspiration in a rural location.


I am blessed or cursed.  I don’t know which.  Perhaps both.  If I describe my living on a farm, that will possibly explain why or how I write.  I’ll give it a go.


Every time I look behind the house or the barn, for that matter, I see them there or I see them coming.  Actually, they’ve been coming for a long time.  They’re odd things: sometimes strange, always different, fascinating somehow. They’re always there, it seems. Grandma Bryce might have called them “wonderful pains,” like she described the aches in her legs that would not go away.


They have me caught; I know that.


When I’ve had the courage, I’ve asked my neighbors. Funny… they don’t see them, and they give me looks like I give a field of corn that for no reason I can figure out has suddenly stopped growing. Or is it the look I feel when it’s harvest time and the combine has broken down? Maybe it’s more like I’m asking ’em to an opera and they know that I know, more than the smell of bundled hay in the early dew of dawn, that they love country music. Whatever. I can’t pinpoint the look, but I’ve felt it before; it’s not a stranger to me. It’s kind of “puttin’ up with,” and it unsettles me some, but not enough to stop seeing those things.


They sit atop the trees on the horizon by Nelson Rathbun’s place, and they often shoot right out of the setting sun or the rising sun. I see lots of both, but there are more chores in the mornings.  They ride the backs of cows. Sometimes they get the chickens clucking and squawking, and the hogs squalling and the dogs barking, runnin’ around in frenzied circles, the horses bolting their heads sideways, restlessly shifting their weight back and forth in closed stalls.


Yes, these things have found me. They are powerful things, I tell you. I know I said it before, but it seems they are always here. Sometimes they’re in my boots when I go to put ’em on in the morning or they stick to my high-tops after a heavy rain, when I’ve had to gluck trough-deep in mud.  At times, they even leap out in the black of night. They’re here, all right, and—how does the expression go?  They must have seen me coming!  Or I, them.


I could use a lot of fancy words, maybe. Straight of it is, we get along. Oh, sometimes I put ‘em off, but mostly I grin and welcome them in. You don’t get that much company with all this land around and the houses so far apart. I don’t even always treat them to electricity; sometimes I light an old oil lamp and over the oilcloth table cover, shadows visiting on the walls, we sit down together. I rustle up some hot tea and biscuits and blank papers, set the ink jar down, and dip my quill into the ink that somehow reminds me of the clear spring water trickling down near the pond at the top of the hill. But I’m getting’ off the subject, in a way, and I’m repeatin’ myself. I tend to do that. My listeners keep reminding me that I do, but you do what ya gotta do.


“Friend-Things,” I say, “What poems do you have for me today?” and as they keep prattling on, which is our way when we’re together, I write. Oh, sometimes we take a break and check the larder or the root cellar. They tell me that’s why they come, and sometimes we gaze out over the acres and know there’s a lot of promise in that old Spring earth, buds of words and greens sproutin’ up all over… Why, those things now, out there again, dancin’, like they own the place.


They’ve been lookin’ over my shoulder, and they say they like readin’, that I draw inspiration from livin’ here on the farm and listenin’ to them. Gotta’ give credit where credit is due.


Like many of you, Lois Batchelor Howard likes to write. She admits she is possessed! She graduated from the University of Michigan in Music (pipe organ) and through years of rich musical experiences, the music of words became her favorite music. Gratefully, she is a much-published and award-winning author, and she loves being a Pen Woman.  A longtime member of La Jolla Branch, she served as its president for five years.  After moving to Desert Hot Springs, Lois now enjoys being a member of the Palm Springs Branch NLAPW. 


“Working Barn” by Maggie Smith /


OUR GUEST BLOGGING SERIES IS ENDING SOON: Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts or artwork for our two series, Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business, up until Thursday, August 31st, 2017. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!


Creative Inspirational Wisdom: Season to Season

This week, Sara Etgen-Baker reflects on the inspiration to be found in nature and solitude.


When the alarm sounded, I wanted to continue sleeping.  Instead, I slid out of the warm sheets away from the comfort of my husband’s body; peeked through the Venetian blinds; and noticed graceful flakes of pearly-white lace had dusted the tree-lined trails adjacent to my home.  Even though the mercury hovered just below freezing, I knew today was the perfect day for a solitary winter run.  So, I quietly donned my winter running clothes and headed downstairs.


Daylight had not yet turned the slumberous, dark blue clouds to their morning gray, and—for a moment—I hesitated at my front door not wanting to disturb winter’s peaceful silence.  When I stepped outside, my warm breath mingled with the crisp, cold air as it stung my cheeks.  As I began to run, my stiff legs begged me to turnaround; I ignored their cries knowing they would soon stop complaining.  Only my footfalls broke the silence as the gentle snow crunched under my feet.


As I ran through the woods that morning, nary an animal crossed my path; their tracks in the snow indicated that they had been here before me though.  The nippy air frosted my breath, and soon my breathing mixed with my footfalls creating a rhythm.  I ran effortlessly past fallen trees along the creek side with no thought of time or distance.  I wasn’t aware of speed either—just movement.


I ran past an icy pond cloaked by barren, frost-covered trees trembling like skeletons in the brisk wind.  Snow began falling around me making me feel as if I was running in a snow globe.  Soon, winter’s tranquility and purity enveloped me; time and distance became meaningless, and I imagined that the woods looked as it once did 100 years ago. I gazed into the distance; and for a brief moment, I thought I saw Henry David Thoreau standing outside his cabin near Walden Pond.  He was not there, of course; and there was no one and nothing except for what was right in front of me—miles of glorious solitude.


For years I’ve run alone along these trails in the woods—a quiet, almost sacred place every bit as wondrous as Walden Pond.  Generally, the only sounds I regularly hear on these solitary runs are birds chirping; small animals collecting nuts; and my feet as they gently land on leaves, pine straws, or snow.  I occasionally hear the pitter-patter of rain drops as they hit leaves and fall onto the underbrush and forest floor.  Sometimes a light rain cools my perspiring body and soothes my spirit.  Frequently, I immerse myself in my thoughts and dreams and feel invigorated.  Other times, the solitude nourishes the seeds of stories germinating in my head.


Here in the woods, though, solitude—as silent and powerful as light itself—forces introspection.  So, I linger in the solitude emptying and quieting my mind; then, I let go of the world and my ego—journeying inwards.  Here, I sometimes hear my inner voice whispering to me; I occasionally meet myself face-to-face and find the being within—the true self—that has been waiting patiently to be discovered.  I continue running—grateful for the solitude and the balance I now feel.  But at some point, I must turn around; follow my footprints; and return in the direction from whence I came.  Reluctantly, I approach the end of my solitary run—not wanting it to be over.


From season to season, I’ve run alone along the quiet trails in the nearby woods; and I’ve taken great pleasure in the solitude it offers.  And to quote Thoreau, “I have an immense appetite for solitude, like an infant for sleep…” I discovered long ago that solitude is necessary for me, for that’s where my creativity dwells.  And I can no more live without creativity than I can live without sleep.


Sara’s love for words began when her mother read the dictionary to her every night. Her manuscripts have been published in various anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Wisdom Has A Voice, My Heroic Journey, Times They Were A Changing: Women Remember the 60s and 70s, and The Santa Claus Project. When not writing, Sara spends time with her husband of 34 years, Bill. Sara has been a member of the Dallas Branch NLAPW since 2014.  She enjoys the support and fellowship her affiliation with NLAPW brings into her writing life.  She may be contacted via email at:

“Snowy Forest” by dan /


WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts (or artwork) for our two series, Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business, up until Thursday, August 31st, 2017. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!


Art of the Week: “Roots and Wings”

Roots and Wings

Bronze, life-size

Renate Burgyan Fackler

Central Ohio Branch



Roots and Wings, a life-size bronze sculpture by artist Renate Burgyan Fackler, was inspired by a poem of the same title. In this sculpture, a young girl is releasing a bird encouraging it to embrace life. She is both grounded and suspended at the same time. “I strive to bring my sculptures to life, engaging my audience in an emotionally uplifting experience,” Fackler said.


This sculpture, like many of her works, was created using the complex method of lost wax bronze casting.


A member of the Central Ohio Branch, Fackler’s works are found in the collections of The Museum of Women in the Arts, The White House, John Glen International Airport, The Ohio State University, and private individuals.


To learn more about Renate Fackler, her studio, and her work visit her website at


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 Darlene Yeager-Torre at Thank you!

LAST CALL FOR CREATIVE WISDOM (Art Submissions Now Welcome, Too!)

All good things must come to an end, and our Creative blogging series is no exception to that rule. We presently have 68 pages in the Creative Genius at Work: The Inspirational Wisdom of Pen Women book manuscript, but we can add more! Pen Women who wish to be part of this blog-to-book project should submit work for consideration before the preliminary deadline date of August 31st, 2017.


Creative Inspirational Wisdom posts focus on all aspects of the creative process: brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing and publishing. Possible topics include:

  • From where or what do you draw inspiration?
  • How do you generate ideas for your work?
  • What is your creative workspace like?
  • How do you tackle “blocks”?
  • What steps do you take when revising your work?
  • What other helpful tips can you share with your fellow creatives?


It’s a Creative Business shares advice about making your passion your livelihood. Possible topics include:

  • What do you wish someone had told you before you started out as a creative professional?
  • Where did you learn how to run your business?
  • How do you make the perfect pitch to magazines, galleries, etc.?
  • What business practices lead to success?
  • How do you market yourself and your work?
  • What other practical advice can you offer about taxes, licensing, insurance, and so forth?


Submit today and share your discoveries, insights, and professional expertise with your fellow Pen Women! Posts should be 150 – 500 words on average, although longer pieces will be considered. New posts are preferred; reposts from your creative blog also will be considered. Additionally, we now invite Pen Women to submit artistic works that fit the theme of this series. Accepted pieces would appear both on the blog and in the book manuscript.



  • You must be a current NLAPW member and the original creator of your submission
  • If you’re submitting a post, please write a cover letter in your submission email that indicates whether your submission qualifies as inspiration or business. (If your submission is a repost, include the original link and permission to reprint in your cover letter.) Attach your .DOCX or .PDF file to the email, or copy/paste the text into the body of the email below your cover letter
  • If you’re submitting artwork, please write a cover letter in your submission email that includes a statement as to how your work fits the theme of the series. Attach your work to the email as a .JPG or .GIF file, or place the image inside the body of the email below the cover letter
  • Send all series submissions to with “CREATIVE SERIES SUBMISSION.” We look forward to reading/seeing your work by August 31st!


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!


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!


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!]

Creative Inspirational Wisdom: The Written Words of Women

This week, Connie Spittler encourages women to crack open their worlds—on paper.


The poet Muriel Rukeyser asked, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?” Her answer: “The world would split open.”


We hold a universal knowledge within us. Telling it, sharing it, writing it down sets the commotion in motion. Like a breakfast egg, we crack open the sphere that is our world and find our truth, the simple wisdom that comes from our life stories.


We belong to an ancient tribe of storytellers, a long line of ancestors who washed clothes down by the river and remembered, who sewed at quilting bees and talked of the past, who cooked for harvesters and shared stories, who held children on warm laps and whispered true tales. Today in shopping malls and beauty shops, on cell phones and during coffee breaks, women talk of life’s unfolding events. No matter where it happens, this is storytelling, one of our oldest traditions. Our stories become a lasting tribute to the fact that we were here.


Since time eternal, women have told and retold family stories while we stir soup, wipe little noses, and comfort oldsters. We’ve accomplished great things, led countries, discovered radium, protected the environment, founded colleges, crusaded against birth defects. Think Indira Gandhi, Marie Curie, Rachel Carson, Mary McLeod Bethune and Virginia Apgar, M.D.


Closer at hand, we soothe teething babies and clean mineral deposits off faucets, make paste from flour and water in the morning and gravy thickener from water and flour in the afternoon. We know facts and events unknown by scholars and historians, possessing a tantalizing mix of information to offer others; family stories and heartbreaking secrets, like the reason cousin Maria doesn’t talk to cousin Edith, the medical history of miscarriage in our family, the reasons I was beaten as a child by my daddy.


Whether we’re thirty or 100, passing on the story of our lives—the wisdom we’ve discovered—is important. Remember Muriel Rukeyser’s question, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?” I visualize the earth reacting gently to one woman’s story, unfolding her reality. Then the world reverberates to the buzzing of hundreds—why not millions of women?—telling the truth of their lives. The globe moves to the magnificent hubbub of happiness, sadness, love, laughter, grieving and anger as women’s words sing out, each story separate, yet connected. I imagine their words on paper, the sphere trembling in anticipation as pages go flying faster and faster, spinning and turning, cream into butter, straw into gold, life into stories, until Mother Earth splits open from the pure joy of it all.


Take up your pencil and paper. Turn on your computer. Crack open your world. When the writing is finished, say, “Yes, I was here.” Your stories can last as long as the paper that holds them and as long as the people read them. Long live this endless paper trail of women’s wisdom.


Connie Spittler’s literary mystery The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies won 2nd Place in The Eudora Welty Memorial Award in NLAPW’s Biennial Letters Competition 2016. She also has received recognition from The Chanticleer International Mystery and Mayhem Contest and Wishing Shelf Book Clubs in Great Britain and Sweden. Her essays appear in twenty anthologies alongside The Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Desmond Tutu, Barbara Kingsolver, and Terry Tempest Williams. The video series that she wrote/produced is archived in Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. She is a member of Omaha Branch NLAPW.


“Abstract Colour Pencil” image by tigger11th/


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!