Anthony Manna

Children's Books

Author Profile

Anthony  Manna

Anthony L. Manna’s first collaboration with Soula Mitakidou, Mr. Semolina-Semolinus: A Greek Folktale, illustrated by Giselle Potter, was an ALA-ALSC Notable Book, a Marion Vannett Ridgway Award winner, and a New York Public Library Best Book for Children. Another collaboration of theirs, The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece, illustrated by Giselle Potter, was a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of 2012. They also collaborated on Folktales from Greece: A Treasury of Delights. Loukas and the Game of Chance, Anthony’s illustrated fantasy for readers 9 & up, was selected a 2019 Book Excellence Award Finalist. Anthony draws on his experiences and passion as an award-winning educator of fifty years to inspire children and teens to become confident, skilled, and happily motivated readers and writers. He has been an actor, a children’s theater director, and has taught in schools and universities in Turkey, Greece, Albania, and the United States. He divides his time between Ohio and Arizona.


Loukas and the Game of Chance

Children's Books

“Before God, the saints, and the sacred spirits that rule the Universe, I vow to free my family from the curse my madness has inflicted on us all,” Loukas cried out in anguish. While Loukas is playing his flute at the seawall one day, he befriends a mysterious talking, dancing snake that rewards him with fortune and favor, Some years later, tempted by pride, Loukas loses his riches and his family. He must now set off on a treacherous journey through a forest filled with suspense and strange creatures to find Destiny, Sun, and Moon. These celestial guardians will surely allow him to reserve his misfortune, restore his honor, and win back all that he loves and treasures, won’t they? Loukas and the Game of Chance is illuminated with dramatic pen and ink drawings that provide an ideal backdrop for the dark intrigue that fills this haunting tale of human struggle, courage, and resilience.

Book Bubbles from Loukas and the Game of Chance

Identity Mystery

The only evidence my wife and I had was the framed photo of a handsome Italian soldier. The photo was placed on a knicknack-crowded living room mantel in the NJ home I came of age in throughout the 1950s. I don’t recall anyone—mother, father, five siblings—ever identifying the soldier. It just sat there like a mysterious unnamed emblem of some sort. All I hd were two clues on the back of the photo in classic, cursive style: “Vittorio”—a familiar Italian male name—and “Altripalda.” Flash forward to the summer of 1968. The photo had traveled with my wife and me when we took up our teaching posts in Istanbul, Turkey. Our first vacation from teaching took us to Italy with the photo in hand. We traveled from Naples to Altripalda, having learned that Altripalda, was in those days a town in Italy’s Campania region. When we showed a passerby the photo, we were told he was “morto”—dead. The passerby graciously led us to a residence where we met Concetta, the soldier’s wife. Vittorio, we learned from Concetta in our limited Italian, was my mother’s cousin, killed in WWII battle. Ah! Identity solved. And a farm in the countryside was my mother’s residence until she fled to the USA at the age of 18. Fled? Why?

Resilience, Endurance vs. Despair

While playing his flute at the seawall one day, Loukas finds himself startled by the sudden appearance of a snake that dances to his enticingly pleasant music. Over time, the snake—who bestows riches on Loukas and his impoverished family with precious gold coins—joins Loukas to secure one of the most trusting, endearing, and satisfying relationships I have ever crafted. At the center of their supportive bond is Loukas’s vow to honor the snake’s request— expressed in the snake’s gravelly voice when it surprises Loukas with its ability to talk—to give him a proper burial, thus allowing him to pass into the spirit world unharmed by evil beings. Years later, following Loukas’s treacherous journey to seek Destiny, Sun, and Moon’s pardon after pride causes him to lose his riches and his family, Lambros emerges from his grave to offer Loukas the monetary means needed to reverse his misfortune, restore his honor, and win back all that he loves and treasures. I cherish the theme of “Loukas and the Game of Chance,” and I love talking with middle school kids about it, drawing attention to the universal belief that sooner or later, we all make mistakes and experience tough times, but we can find the courage to persevere and turn our life around.

Staying the Writing Course While Ill

Lately, I’ve lost my focus but not my motivation. I’ve developed an illness which requires my undivided attention day and night. Anxiety and deep concern occupy me as I shuttle from one physician’s consultation to another’s. I accept my condition as a fact of life, and I work at avoiding the tendency to punish or blame myself for lacking the fitness of mind and heart to write each and every day. It’s a challenge to get back to the deep revision that was taking me through “The Imposter,” a story I’d been working on for a few labor intensive years. When my limited energy allows, I revisit my story to listen to its language, hang out with its characters, observe the arc of its emerging development, and attempt an honest assessment. To help keep my intentions on my writing, I’ve taken up an early morning yoga routine on YouTube (Sarah Beth Yoga). Yoga postures provide a burst of energy and the positivity that awakens me to hope for improved health. I’m also wending my way slowing through “Living Beyond Your Pain” (Joanne Dahl and Tobias Lundgren), a treasury of wisdom, guidance, and accessible mindfulness activities that offer sustenance and maintenance. I’ll return to full-time writing empowered by reflection. Amen!

Awakened and Watchful

The question asked: “How do you keep your childhood wonder alive?” Let me count two ways. The first that helped me awaken to the textures of experiences—both positive and negative—is my work with a therapist who introduced me to mindfulness precepts and practices with the guidance of “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life,” by Steven Hayes, Ph.D. With my therapist, I experimented with empowering aids that taught me how to face up to emotional pain, free myself from negative thinking and self-judgment, and live in a state of active, open attention to the present. Working at living mindfully opens me to the freshness of each experience—even a painful one—which I’m discovering how to face head on to accept and learn from. Holding fast mindfulness practice, I know I’m much more aware, alive, alert—as a child can be. The second blessing that allows me to maintain childlike wonder is my affiliation with children’s literature—as a university prof and a writer/author. The best children’s books are windows, doors, and mirrors that invite children to explore the world around them and in them as if for the first time. It’s all new and vibrant. Children’s books have become a spiritual guide that keeps me observant, involved, and watchful.

Writers on Writing: Stay the Course

To remain motivated, inspired, and disciplined as a writer, I call on the wisdom of other writers. I search for their words about how they stay the course, keep at honing their craft, and overcome obstacles. Their quotations rest near my desk. I go to them whenever I struggle with self-confidence and lose my sense of purpose. Here are a few writers who help me keep at it. “Writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” - Mary Heaton Vorse “There are evenings when I’m all thumbs and I have to make myself sit there and go over scales and finger exercises before I can play anything. The same thing is true with writing.” -Madeleine L’Engle “It was the persistence and the great love of my craft which finally became a discipline, which finally made me a craftsman and a writer.” -Anaïs Nin “Discipline and constant work are the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed until it becomes sharp enough, hopefully, to cut through even the toughest meat and gristle.” –Stephen King “You have to write whether you feel like it or not.” -Khaled Hosseini “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” -E.B. White

Worldbuilding~A Writer's Toolkit

My friend Nikki, a gifted writer, recently introduced me to an enormously useful and revealing tool for crafting well wrought works across literary genres. She calls the tool “Worldbuiling—a comprehensive checklist of literary elements “…to consider before, during, and after the first draft.” Given the limited space here, I am able to describe only a few of Nikki’s complete considerations. One fascinating element focuses on “Class or Caste: Is there a class system? How much emphasis is placed on your standing in society?” Another explores “Law and Justice: What are the most important rules? What are the punishments for breaking them?” Another helps enlighten “Setting: What is the name of your realm, or universe? What is the geography? Modern, Historical, or Futuristic?” What about your “Inhabitants: What kind of being is your main character? Human? Anthropomorphic? Are there different races and species? Elves? Xenomorphs? Cat people? How does each race or species perceive the other?” And “Government: Monarchy? Democracy? Theocracy? Republic? Empire? Communist? How is the government perceived by its people? Magic included in Government?” Want to learn more? Attend “Worldbuilding 101: A workshop full of imagination,” Nikki’s offering at the LitYoungstown (Ohio) Literary Festival (virtual? in-person?), October 7-9, 2021 ( The conference theme: “Our Shared Story” is about “writing, publishing, community outreach, and literary inclusion.”

Pacing Matters

Consider my story’s pacing—its speed and rhythm. How do I want the story’s tempo in each scene to sustain the reader’s interest? Pondering pacing led me to re-crafting the opening scene in “The Imposter,” my work-in-progress. In an early draft, I described “…a brutal storm that suddenly took hold of the ship and threatened to sink it.” Upon rereading days later, I could see that I had failed to build the drama I had hoped to communicate in this pivotal incident that sets in motion the story’s lingering conflict. The scene didn’t move at the pace I intended. I wanted the reader to feel the storm’s terror among the ship’s crew and the prince the crew served. How to make the ship’s impending doom a fate that would trouble the reader? Enter word choice and the layout—the structure—of my narrative. Very first expression: “Oh, how they prayed God to turn away the Angel of Death.” Second expression: “As the first roar of thunder rumbled across the horizon, shattering the deep night silence, Prince Bardyl felt the crew’s fear send a wave of panic from the ship’s bow to its stern.” A fierce energy was now driving the narrative pace forward.

First Move: Show Don't Tell

Following countless revisions and honest, pointed critiques from my writers group, I was finally tempted to pitch “The Imposter,” my middle grade fantasy about loss and redemption, to indie presses. I wanted to let loose my16,389-word story with its pen and ink illustrations that one meta reader felt “spark creative thought.” Yet, I cautioned myself, “Better take one last look.” Truth to tell, I didn’t move past the first page. I hated the opening. The description was flat. I told readers a storm was battering a ship occupied by a prince and his crew. I told readers, “… a brutal storm suddenly took hold of the ship and threatened to sink it.” I had underplayed a potentially dramatic incident. How might I reveal—show—-the storm’s devastating effects to pique and sustain my reader’s interest? I worked on the prince and crew’s dread, the sea’s terrifying condition, and the premonition of imminent disaster. I now wrote, “Oh, how they prayed God to turn away the Angel of Death. As the first roar of thunder rumbled across the horizon, shattering the deep night silence, Prince Bardyl felt the crew’s fear send a wave of panic from the ship’s bow to its stern.” I liked it, and I relearned a basic lesson: When appropriate, show don’t tell!

A Delicate Balance: Writing Magical Realism

My challenge as a writer is to make stories that transport tweens and teens to the realm of magical realism. I weave into an otherwise realistic story fantastical elements that could not happen in real life, but my objective is to entice my readers into believing they could happen. “Making people believe the unbelievable,” writes Stephen King, “is no trick; it’s work.” I have found through experimenting with tone, point of view and detail, when I add a fantastical element to my story and make of it a natural phenomenon that has always existed, my readers sustain their interest rather than rejecting it as a contrivance too outlandish to believe. When Loukas, the protagonist in “Loukas and the Game of Chance,” my tale of loss and redemption, is visited by a snake while he’s playing his flute at the seawall one day, rather than fleeing or screaming his fear, he cautiously plays on much to the favor of the snake who dances to the music as he does each time he comes by thereafter. Likewise when the snake talks to Loukas the first time: “Loukas smiled to hear Lambros’s gravelly voice. Not only doe this wondrous snake dance, he thought, it also speaks our language.” It’s just the way nature works sometimes, isn’t it?

Love Thy Character

I’m a fantasy reader and writer primarily for kids and tweens. I like to build and inhabit alternate worlds where characters play out their challenges, discoveries, and epiphanies in dreamlike settings. I thrive on stories sustained by a solemn tone that serves like a meditative musical accompaniment to human struggle, revelation, resilience, and survival. My mentors are authors whose narrative technique is best described as “free indirect discourse” (Mike Cadden, Ursula Le Guin Beyond Genre), which makes the story’s narrator close and sympathetic to the protagonist and their allies. This technique, in turn, invites the reader to be compassionate and sympathetic to the protagonist’s conflict and burgeoning enlightenment. Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle is a thrilling six-novel fantasy that explores young Ged’s coming of age journey once he foolishly unleashes an unrelenting shadow creature. Le Guin loves her young man. Despite his flaws and foibles, she cheers him on with great concern for his spiritual and physical well being. I return to Earthsea frequently to learn from Le Guin’s manner of respecting Ged with compassion and empathy while also allowing him the freedom to struggle vulnerably with forces of evil and to gradually gain an enlightened awareness of his honorable power and hard won self-acceptance.

Writer for Writer

Hey there, Chris, I got to thinking about the conversations we’ve been having on zoom about the stories we’ve been working on for what seems like an eternity. You asked me for advice about Jennifer’s Quest, especially abut the hard time you were having with Jennifer’s relationship with her parents and her brother once she outed herself. You want the relationships to ring true, to get your reader—me, this time around—to empathize with Jennifer—which I did, once we worked on her dialogue and her attitude. We’ve had so many great craft talks about Jennifer’s motives and her developing sense of her own worth. You know, my friend, you are just as much of a guide for me as I am for you. You always thank me a lot for listening, suggesting, and encouraging. Well you do the same for me as I work my way through The Imposter. When I’m writing, I think of your ideas about Sebastian’s conflict with Faron, his so-called friend, the guy who cheats him. You told me to make Faron nastier so that he’s much more of a threat. I love that advice. The story is getting stronger because of it. Thank you, my friend and editor, for the support. Let’s keep the zoom calls coming. They help. You help.

Kid Allies

The kids I write for are my writing allies. I often call on them to help me craft a piece I'm working on and to make them aware of what John Irving has called "...the necessity to revise yourself constantly." A delightfully productive process unfolds when I visit young readers and writers in their classroom—in person or virtually—with my manuscript in hand. When I was composing "Loukas and the Game of Chance," my fantasy for kids 8-12 YO, I worked with seventh graders. Each PP slide I projected introduced a brief excerpt from my story in rough draft format. Each excerpt revealed several choices I was considering for improving the storyline. Together, we explored the story elements—character, plot, setting, point-of-view—and decided which were the most interesting, powerful, amusing—whatever intention we considered to be authentic. Volunteers read aloud the revised excerpt to help us think about the value of sound and its fit to the choices. Each time I met up with these same students, my goal was to alert them to the challenge, joy, and wonder of crafting the most entertaining story. Teachers whose classes I visited, told me they use my strategy in their writing workshops. The process supports confidence, a sense of purpose, and writing skill.

COVID Redemption

…And then I tested COVID positive on November 25, 2020…despite my daily regime of multiple immunity supplements…my obsessive commitment to social distancing…mask wearing…hand washing…sanitizing groceries and mail…any object that cleared the threshold of the log cabin I share with my partner. As fate would have it, I was visited by a low-key COVID strain, which meant I was destined to recover at home. Days and nights of a kind of delirium followed. Of course, I was forced to abandon any semblance of thoughtful work. Sadly—angrily—I banished the story I was working on to the farthest recesses of my darkened PC. I self-isolated. My partner steered clear of me except for tracking my persistent fever and urging me—unsuccessfully—to eat lightly and—successfully to drink—by order of my physician—electrolyte water. In my surreal dreams and nebulous consciousness, I raged against the insidiously evil infective agent for which I became a terrified host. Then, one afternoon in late December, I started praying…to the virus itself, welcoming it as a strange visitor and asking it to soon move on. And when I streamed my prayers to every COVID sufferer, I was blessed with overwhelming compassion that opened the way to my steady healing.

From Story Teller to Story Maker

When I ventured into the children’s book world as a writer, I tried my hand at reimagining Greek folktales. At the time, I was living and working in Greece. When documenting literacy events in a Greek kindergarten, I was introduced to the intriguing universe of Greek folk and fairy tales. My fascination with these stories grew full force when I teamed up with a Greek colleague who directed me to raw, rough hewn copyright-free tales transcribed from Greek oral tellers. My colleague and I reshaped, reinterpreted, and translated into English a mix of tales—light- and dark-themed, abstract and transparent, simple and complex, serious and humorous. Eventually, we published a few of the tales in picture book and anthology formats. But then I took a giant step and challenged myself to transition as a writer/author. I drew on the characteristically condensed elements of the tales—conventional stock characters; plain settings; speedy, economical plots; and basic themes—and attempted to craft a full length fantasy with psychologically complex characters; detailed settings; an accumulative storyline; intense themes; and a legacy of lingering memories about the story’s subtexts. Three years of experimental in-depth story making later, Loukas and the Game of Chance, my middle grade fantasy, emerged from The Snake Tree, the Greek tale. Cheers!

In the Wonder of Nature

Early morning. I wander through the woods that reach beyond the log cabin I share with my partner. I go there in every season to seek and find comforting sounds of nature--thrush, warbler, titmouse, sparrow. A breeze rustling lightly through pines and oaks. A scurrying squirrel. Patterns formed by fallen branches resting gently on stalwart poplars, maples, buckeyes. First sun rays spreading fingers of light at lightspeed through openings, crevices, broad scapes, and narrow passages. I stand still a few minutes. I take in the marvel of nature's gifts, Greedy am I to absorb the mystery, surprise, magic. Sustained, inspired, and filled with a wealth of wonder, I make my way back to the cabin and another day of writing "The Imposter," the story I'm summoning today.

Inspired--Old Guy--Runner

The dictionary tells me that inspiration is "the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative." As a writer and educator, I've always been leery of expecting inspiration to come knocking at my mind's door, offering me a startling idea that jolts me forward with, say, a great way to cover content when teaching or a brilliant twist in my story when writing. No, inspiration most often comes my way while I'm racing along paths in local woods on my early morning run. Sunlight streaking through tree branches. Shapes, forms, & patterns laid out like puzzle pieces midst a stand of poplars. Bird trills, cheeps, & strident calls. Musty wood scents. Patches of mists. If I pay attention, mindfully absorbing the sensations that surround me, I am often--no--always the recipient of nature's gifts that provide an abundance of thoughts and feelings that sustain me when I make my way back to teaching and writing. I'm a blessed early morning runner. You, too?

The Writer Released from Fear

I came to a virtual wall when I was radically revising--for about the 30th time--the very first movement of my story-in-progress. The prince and his crew survive a treacherous storm by navigating their ship toward a distant light that they soon discover is a lighthouse's illumination. When the storm subsides as day dawns, the prince and a few crew members leave the ship and make for the shore aboard a skiff in search of the lighthouse. Once there, they express their deepest gratitude to the keeper, his wife, and their son for guiding them to safety. So thankful is the prince, he invites the son to join the courtiers at hs palace when he comes of age. Once the prince and his crew sail off, my brain stopped functioning. Now what? I fretted for more than a few days and nights until I remembered the advice of a mentor a few years back who warned me to step away from the story and take your character on a walk. Talk to the character about what they’d like to do or be, or where they’d like to go next. When I slowly walked through my garden with the son, he told what he desired and where he wanted to go. Eureka!

Island Family Life

A family--mother, father, son--emerges from the very distant past on an ancient island in the restless Aegean Sea. A happy, close-knit family, but poor. Survival depends on the father and son's daily fish catch and the herbs the mother grows and sells at the village marketplace. The son's flue music offers the family solace as does praying at the makeshift altar set in a corner of the family's weathered cottage. Soon, very soon--as fate will have it--the family will witness a sea change in their livelihood, their status, their condition, and their social standing. The son's flute music will lead the way...

Loukas and the Game of Chance

Children's Books

“Before God, the saints, and the sacred spirits that rule the Universe, I vow to free my family from the curse my madness has inflicted on us all,” Loukas cried out in anguish. While Loukas is playing his flute at the seawall one day, he befriends a mysterious talking, dancing snake that rewards him with fortune and favor, Some years later, tempted by pride, Loukas loses his riches and his family. He must now set off on a treacherous journey through a forest filled with suspense and strange creatures to find Destiny, Sun, and Moon. These celestial guardians will surely allow him to reserve his misfortune, restore his honor, and win back all that he loves and treasures, won’t they? Loukas and the Game of Chance is illuminated with dramatic pen and ink drawings that provide an ideal backdrop for the dark intrigue that fills this haunting tale of human struggle, courage, and resilience.

Book Bubbles from Loukas and the Game of Chance

Cinderella Reimagined

One year after our Cinderella's explosive transformation from reviled servant to privileged princess in "The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece," she reappears in our work-in-progress sequel, where we challenge ourselves to write a story that explores the fragility of the traditional happy ending. What if fickle fate intervenes in our tale--as she does in real life--to shatter the security of "ever after" happiness with a surprising conflict? Who best to serve as fate's agent than the heartless stepmother featured in "The Orphan?" In our sequel we disguise her as a traveling merchant who trades in fine fabrics. When she appears at the prince and princess's court seething with jealousy over the princess's success at winning the prince's favor, she conjures black magic to turn the princess into an enchanted sparrow. How will the princess be saved from the bewitchment? How will she restore her true identity?

My Snake Lambros

Of all the characters I have brought forth into the universe of story, Lambros, my dancing, talking snake, remains one of my favorites. He appears mysteriously in "Loukas and the Game of Chance," my fantasy for young readers 8 years old & older. Lambros is a benign, nonvenomous Leopard Snake. As Loukas, a gifted flute player and the snake's faithful companion calls out from the seawall watching Lambros return to his shelter, "From now on, I will call you Lambros ... The name means 'radiant,' and radiant is the kindness you have brought to me and my family." Indeed, Lambros rescues this fisherfolk family from abject poverty by rewarding Loukas with three gold coins each time he dances to Loukas's flute music. When Lambros first appeared to me, he spoke to Loukas in a raspy, barely audible voice. The effort it takes him to express his gratitude deepens an emerging friendship. Lambros is a savior of sorts--he brings salvation to the family, and later, he points Loukas toward his redemption following his fall from grace. I feel nourished by this friendship that thrives on loving kindness.

1942 Redux

In 1942, the year I was born, the US involvement in World War II escalated in many strategic ways. After losing Guam, Hong Kong, and the Philippines, US forces turned around the war with major offenses at Midway and The Coral Sea. Following the deadly attack on US troops at Pearly Harbor, the US Federal Government sent 120,000 people of Japanese descent to internment camps—an order precipitating a long-lasting civil rights controversy (cf George Takei’s “They Called Us Enemy”). Patriotism led American car makers to switch from making cars to making war materials. The minimum draft age was lowered from 21 to 18 (oh, such young warriors). Women’s Coast Guard Auxiliary (WACC) was established. The films “Casablanca” and “Bambi” premiered. The average cost of a new home was $3,770.00. The Declaration of the United Nations was signed by 26 nations, leading the way to the formation of the United Nations Organization and a call for international detente. When I was growing up during post-war years, I heard few stories about the war from family or relatives. Did war fatigue prevent folks from expressing grief over friends and relatives lost or patriotic pride in support of our troops? I now know I’d learn a lot by interviewing and recording relatives’ vivid war time memories.

Word upon Word upon Word

I'm a synonym seeker. I search for strong words of any genre to enliven my story. Not just any word, though. Each word must be chosen to support action, mood, style, characterization, theme, intention, and so forth. That's why it takes so much experimentation to find just the right word, the best fit. Consider a few of the verbs I chose to tell "Loukas and the Game of Chance," my middle grade fantasy. "Loukas stammered" trumped "said" to reveal his shock and surprise. "Loukas staggered" replaced "walked unsteadily" to build up an unfolding drama. "Loukas plodded" versus "walked heavily" to emphasize his growing hopelessness and fatigue. And so goes the gratifying effort to build sentences that /interest?/ /attract?/ /captivate?/ /grip?/ my reader. Your choice.

Learning to be Compassionate

As a student of Buddhism, I'm learning that "Compassions is sympathy for others specifically in the case of their suffering .... [it] means cultivating true and heartfelt concern for others ... based on the accurate wisdom that none of us is alone, we all need each other and are closely related to each other." (Norman Fischer, "Training in Compassion") Not easy. I'm learning that developing a compassionate heart and mind takes practice--daily practice. I am being taught to first breathe in the pain and suffering of others, and then to breathe out the comfort of their healing. The more I meditate on taking in the pain and breathing out the relief, the more I'm gaining--slowly gaining--a compassionate mind- and heartset. Especially timely during this pandemic onslaught.

Moment by Moment

One moment I'm moved to tears learning that my nursing home bound older sister has been diagnosed with the virus the next moment I'm whispering old Catholic rosary prayers with little relief calming my impending despair or is it my frustration that still no vaccine and oh damn why is it taking the white coats so long to come up with a cure that could save my sister and so many, many, many other diseased folks who could very well be other members of my extensive nuclear family including GREAT GREAT nephews and nieces yes I'm that old and then slipping into heavy feelings about the starkness of my own passing to catch up to my sister's should that happen before mine and I pray harder longer wondering if in my shortening life span I will ever witness a world purged of viral suffering knowing as the Buddha taught suffering is inevitable damn damn damn inevitable

Reaping Nature's Rewards

In uncertain, troubling times, our garden is our refuge and hope. Soothed by bird song and awakening to the arresting return of nature's spring radiance, we toil at digging into rich soil and planting in praise of earth's nourishment (Petunias, Million Bells, Portalacka). We welcome our returning hearty plants as though greeting brightly clad dear old friends (Hostas, Ferns, Stephanotis). We lay new plants and herbs gently in plots ready for sun's majestic energy (Fennel, Oregano, Lily). We then draw on patience to sustain us as we watch for signs of new growth to bless our environment, spirits, and lives. In healthy times, we express our gratitude for nature's bounty by inviting friends to visit and savor nature's wonders. The sharing is the best reward for our labor of love.

New Ways, New Days

For me, one effect of the COVID-19 threat is my improved long distance relationship with my adult son. I'm here in NE Ohio; he's out there on a ranch in the glorious mountains of southern Arizona close to the Mexican border. He's a busy medical researcher and a single parent--a part-time caretaker of his two sons. Prior to the hazardous days of the pandemic, our contact had drifted into an occasional cell call. The pandemic changed that. It's not only the frequency of our reaching out that warms my heart; it's the overt intensity of the concern that fills our conversations. 'Midst my fear of the virus, I now feel safe. Protected. Love. Indeed, blessed. I hope he does, as well.

Critter Fears

When it comes to crossing paths with nature's critters, I'm a self-professed W-I-M-P. Now, get this: I live in a 90+ year old log cabin adjacent to eight+ acres of untamed woods.I treasure the deep seclusion and the mystery and wonder conjured by the intricate wildness of towering trees, wily shrubs, and scraggy vegetation--nature's blessings. Enter nature's pests--the ones that roam my domain and fill my nightmares. Weasels, skunks, ground hogs, badgers, and RACCOONS. Persistent, creepy, nasty, audacious RACCOONS. I open the door to the shed, and I'm met with a snarly family of hissing, growling adults tending squeaking babies. I scream. Quaking, I scramble out of there, and vow to return only with a friend as my protector and pest controller. And not too soon, at that. Not too soon will be way too soon. Get it?


During these hazardous days of infection, I turn to poetry for comfort and guidance and the "little alleluias" poet Mary Oliver mines in her poems when she (e)awakens me to the beauty in the world despite the dis-ease I am witnessing. Her "Wild Geese" is a meditation I return to often, saying it aloud like a mantra. I am also enlightened by W.S. Merwin's late poems where he offers me a moving vision of the eternal as he does in "Garden Time." Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet I go to when I need to quiet my mind, observe intentionally, and wonder: Stay with the poems in her "Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners." Robert Frost: "A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom." This I know to be true.

When the Creative Well Runs Dry...

It happens. My mind turns into a blank tablet. I cannot summon my muse, my inspiration, my thoughts about any theme or topic that on a good day lead me to storymaker mode. Panic! Fear! Despair! When I am thrust into this hell of emptiness, I abandon my familiar writing space for the interim and engage in one or more healthy and helpful diversions: ~add seed to the six bird feeders that pleasure my sight and sound ~take a sure and steady power walk of at least five miles to power me up and ease my mind ~read poetry in print books (Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins) to honor gifted language ~practice Thiich Nhat Hanh's breathing exercises to be here now. Revived and relaxed, I free write about anything ...moving toward a story idea.

Hope in a Tragic Time

The more I am drawn to vividly tragic COVID-19 reports and tallies, the deeper I find myself slipping into gnawing despair. As a student of mindfulness, I know that escaping from bad feelings and rank emotions only intensifies them. I am learning that suffering--my own and that of others--is a condition I must face head on, lean into, learn from, while breathing it in and breathing it out to transform it into, say, the white light of hope. Hope! I went in search of words of hope at and found solace there: "Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness." Thank you, Desmond Tutu, who survived hardship sustained by this enduring sentiment. Amen.

Anthony Fauci, M.D.

Dr. Anthony Fauci (b. 1940), an immunologist and director of the U. S. Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has tirelessly pursued cutting-edge research to help prevent, diagnose, and treat HIV/ADS, respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, Ebola, Zika, and other life-threatening maladies. Acknowledged as "America's Doctor," he is the recipient of thirty honorary doctorates and abundant awards and honors. He is a modern-day healer driven by a staunch adherence to facts revealed by painstaking research. We are blessed by his presence and direction. All praise and respect for Dr. Fauci as he confronts COVID-19.

Keeping Watch

The battle rages each day from dawn to dusk. The hellions emerge from the woods surrounding our cabin and mount our deck ready for the heist. Two black squirrels determined to rob us of every morsel of food in the finch feeder that dangles from a hook on a pole several feet from a massive oak tree. I watch as they ascend the oak with lightning flash speed, their bushy tails twitching like electric shocks. Once the intruders reach a height parallel to their desired food source, they pause to ponder the distance from tree to repast with accelerated head turns as though mustering the courage to make the daredevil leap. When they go airborne together, they fly like circus acrobats, legs flared, paws in gripping mode. Once they land posthaste on the feeder to gorge on a tasty breakfast in peace, I navigate a stealthy move onto the deck, and fight off my enemies with shrill whistles that send the culprits scattering. They’ll return soon. They always do. I’ll watch for them on the from line—armed with my whistle.

A Blessed Friendship

Could I make Lambros, the old mystical dancing, talking snake a believable character? From the moment he came to me, I knew the snake was affable, altruistic, goodnatured, nonvenomous--the latter a characteristic of Aegean Island Leopard Snakes, my setting. When Lambros falls in love with Loukas's flute tunes, a nuanced friendship develops that opens the way to themes of loyalty, concern, commitment, & devotion, and the bond I crafted became a stark contrast to the cruel indifference of the merchant to whom Loukas succumbs, losing every meaningful aspect of his life. Thus begins his desperate search for redemption. If only he had held close Lambros's love.

Uncertain Days By the Hour

I'm retired, so working at home is my norm. And yet, the haunting uncertainty that fills my life--as it does yours--invites me to pray more for the safety of my out-of-state adult son, my two grandsons, and my four out-of-state elderly sisters. I'm meditating more, sending out wellness wishes and loving kindness first to myself and then to my partner, my book clubbers, and my CritLit writing groupers. With the gym now closed, I set up a mini gym in my studio--weights, bands, exercise ball, and my yoga DVD--body/mind blessings. Feeling especially vulnerable, I often make my way to the studio on the far side of our cabin to check-up on my partner & to search for hope.

Simple Gifts

As Chaos reigns and "the center will not hold..." I will treasure~~ ~Spring sun ~First garden sprouts ~Male Cardinal at our feeder ~My partner's morning smile ~Rosie's playful bark ~My son's phone call--just because ~Pilates class ~Janet's poem: "Birds." ~Finding my new story, "The Imposter" ~Meditation ~Kindness ~Civility ~Wonder ~My precious golden life. Amen

Diseased Days

These ominous diseased days, who is not concerned--even nearing panic--about this CORONAvirus pandemic that leaves us terrifyingly vulnerable? Who is not lamenting victims whisked away--suddenly, with little warning? Who is not deeply worried about family members and relatives far and near who might be fickle fate's prey of this vicious viral microscopic organism? Who also is not seeking solace in prayer in whatever form, genre, brand to plead for relief, a vaccine, and perhaps Divine Intervention? And so I light a small candle, its flame reaching toward hope. Amen.

Play It Forward

As a writer, I lack confidence in myself. And while I have earned quite a few accolades for my children's books and a distinguished award for my university teaching, I am often stymied by low self-esteem and self-criticism. This foul state of mind is like a vise that tightens its grip on my writing life and suffocates the act of writing. Two remedies continue to rescue me from this darkness. The first is mindfulness meditation with its cleansing breathing. The practice awakens me to my worthiness and my writerly gifts. The second is the critique group I joined. Those folks support with honesty and wit and a sense of craft that make me a writer I can trust and celebrate. Blissful confidence!

Pain O' the Teeth

"Gum surgery," said the oral surgeon. "Gum loss too deep," he opined. The word "surgery" lingered like a knife wound as I prepared myself for the ordeal on Friday one week later. I would let him cut away in time to heal--oh, please, tooth fairy--by the next Tuesday when I'd resume teaching my university lit. classes. Pain medication failed me throughout the weekend. "Agony" is the best word to characterize my condition. Swollen, bruised mouth settled in. Sleeplessness followed. Tears welled. Moaning helped express my dismay. By class time on Tuesday, I staggered in the room, a pained mess of a prof, and told them to read on their own, avoiding me, please.

Unique Character

Keeper of the Forest came to me by way of the book's illustrator. "The wizard you have Loukas meet right before he enters the forest is a stereotype." I was shocked, distraught, discouraged. I had spent many hours drafting my wizard, and now his presence and wisdom had come into question. "Too many fantasy stories feature a wizard," my illustrator said. "Find a unique character." Oh, my. I got to thinking about the forest--enchanted, eerie, mysterious. Who might govern it? Protect it? Watch over its inhabitants? Keeper of the Forest appeared in a dream. He's a steward, writer, protector, environmentalist, and Loukas's part-time sage. He's magical and a magician.


I happened upon an enduring change in my life as a writer the day I joined a local writers' group. It wasn't an easy decision. The thought of sharing my writing-in-progress with other writers summoned my fear of being exposed to criticism so harsh that I would opt to abandon writing altogether. Scared as I was, I took the risk head-on. As it turned out, the writers in this group graciously offered me tons of helpful suggestions that bolstered my confidence and encouraged me to consider scores of strategies for improving my craft. I am deeply grateful.

A Treasured Life

I am a prostate cancer survivor. Having been touched by my own impermanence, I have come to treasure life and living. Now, each day is a gift of life I cherish. And as I grow to love my own life, I find myself growing in my respect for the lives of others--family, friends, acquaintances, whoever I come into contact with in the course of a day. I am happier now that I have been touched by the joy of making each day matter for me and for all the others I happen to meet along the way. I've been blessed with an awareness I strive to honor each day of my treasured life.

Like Father, Like Mother, Like Son

As a student of Buddhism, I am learning that empathy for others begins with empathy for myself. I am being taught to breath in whatever tension, pain, or discomfort I am feeling, and at that moment, to acknowledge that others have felt the same feelings. Recognizing this, I reach out to others with my empathy. I connect with others by opening my heart to their tension, pain, or discomfort, with the intention of comforting them. I am also learning to connect by sending out to others that which is pleasurable, inviting them to enjoy my good feelings. I am awakening--slowly--to unity with community. So be it.

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