Category Archives: Writing


Writers are often asked: “Where do you get your ideas from?”  The answers are myriad: from my imagination; news clips; bits of over-heard conversation; family stories/characters; biographical/historical/political/philosophical tidbits shared; or “I dunno.”   When asked, I have a ready answer for the setting of the Huachuca Trilogy:  “…from visiting and falling in love with the area and from one-liners told by my brother-in-law over a New Year’s Eve fire about his Grandmother Josephine.”

Other questions will center on research: when, where, and how much? I use many tools in researching material: books, the internet, old photos or news stories, interviews and travel. To be in the place has meant travel to Chicago and west across the plains and mountains; time spent in the San Pedro River Valley with Bisbee and Tombstone to the east and the Huachucas to the west; walking the streets of El Paso, Albany, San Francisco and Los Angeles; calling on memories of feelings, experiences and relationships.

One of my favorite methods is to visit museums where I have learned about local characters; clothing, tools and utensils in use at the time; learned about the geology of the area or absorbed quotes from the diaries, letters or notes of those before me.  In my second or third visit to the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, I came upon an amazing exhibit on 19th century farming life. In bold display was a story of the original Josephine as she stopped a Model T from running off with her friend’s children. The 1925 tale is found in HUACHUCA WOMAN, the chapter on Annaliese, The Matron of Bisbee:

“” I was holding Howie, asleep on my shoulder, a sure cure for anyone’s blues.

“Jo, the brakes are gone. I can’t slow her down.”

Quick as that, I shoved Howie to the floorboards and he didn’t even stir. Don’t know what I thought I could do but, with that precious carload of life yet to be lived, I had to do something. I threw open the door and skidded my heels along the roadway, digging my back into the Ford. All the while, I was yelling at Anna, “throw her into reverse, cut the engine.”  The kids held on hard, squealing as we slid down that rocky road.

“Aunt Jo, make it stop!” from Bruce

“I’m scared, Mama!” from Utah.

And, “Help, help!” from Vicky and Franny, a frantic duo.

“Anna, head for that ironwood tree!” I gasped. It surely seemed a long, long while before that machine gave up the fight. We were slowing and the ground was taking a slight upsurge, enough to bring us to a grinding stop against the old tree. In the end, my shoes wore out, my feet and back were all scraped up, but I wasn’t feeling no pain, yet.

“Rah, rah, for Aunty Jo,” a chorus of my favorite little ones let out.

“Oh, Jo, you are my hero, our hero,” from Annaliese. “Let me see your poor feet.”  I’d barely managed to hobble away from the car when the pain took over.  ”

Do museums bring out stories for you?

Does your imagination go to work envisioning a time and life?




I was recently invited to share my experience of moving from dream to reality with a group of Red Hat Society Queens (Not that kind of Queen but like president!)   I turned to my dictionary for help.

Dream: 1.  A succession of images, thoughts or emotions occurring during sleep;2. A daydream or reverie; 3. A goal or aim; 4. A wild fancy; 5. Something of unreal beauty; ….to devise or concoct.

In MAN OF LA MANCHA, we were encouraged to “dream the impossible dream” and some of us were already doing that. Dorothy adventured into Oz knowing that “dreams really do come true.”  I was slow to evolve my dream, to be able to believe and act on my hidden gift with words. Raised in the post WWII 1950’s, I thought my options for a career were to be a secretary, a nurse or a teacher. I found social work at 14 when I read Jane Addams’ TWENTY YEARS AT HULL HOUSE, and went on to gain the necessary education and skills; I worked for forty years as the primary bread-winner for my family of four and felt entrapped.

An avid reader, I was fascinated with the structure of words and sentences turned into poetry and prose which came so hard for me to put down at paper. Finally, at the end of college and in grad school, I could do a first and last draft of a term paper in one swoop.  Still it didn’t occur to me to try my brain and hand at fiction.

By my forties, in the early eighties, I wrote some poetry and short stories, some of which I shared. Short stories were doable in my three day weekends as I balanced the needs of the family, job and housekeeping. I started taking classes and attending conferences to learn my craft. Another trip into Arizona and New Mexico in the late ‘80’s brought the inspiration for the Huachuca Trilogy. While still working at a very demanding job, I began the research and imagining of the characters who would populate my books. I took photos, kept journals, read extensively, and learned my craft.

As I wrote more, I submitted to agents and book publishers as was the method to get to publication at that time. It was a hard, impossible row to hoe! Self-publishing was called Vanity Press for which the author put up considerable funds to have just about anything see the light of day, often unedited, unpolished and, sometimes, unreadable. I investigated and turned away. Still writing and submitting, by now I was a member of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Women Writing the West, and eventually the Historical Novel Society and Redwood Writers chapter of the 100 year old CA Writers Club. I wrote book reviews,chaired or coordinated writing contests, entered contests and anthologies, and have been in a critique group for the last six years. I was paying my dues.

One more rejection from an agent who “loved” my work made me turn to the new self-publishing phenomena called Create Space and Kindle. The first two books are out and the third will see print before much longer.

To go from Dream to Reality, no matter your age or experience, I suggest this path:

  1. Believe in yourself—throw fear and cowardness away; don’t let others or yourself talk you out of the pursuit
  2. Define your goal…whether a small business, an art form, travel or whatever your heart desires…listen to your heart
  3. Seek like-minded people, organizations, classes and explore that dream
  4. Learn your craft, practice it, expose yourself to critique or advice
  5. Refine your dream as you go; be open to new ideas and visions as your dream expands
  6. Dream your next dream…in my case a book of short stories, a return to a WWII novel left  unfinished, a chapbook of poems.


Are you big on entering contests? Dancing the night away? Trying new recipes on your suffering family? Grilling your 5th grader for the spelling bee?  For writers, contests can be doom or bloom exercises in talent, chance or just plain luck. Good or bad. Contests to measure skill, imagination, and creativity result in writers skimming through their pages to see what might meet the requirements, ie fit in. Or, inspired a writer sets out to create a new bit of work to satisfy the rule-keepers.

Rules may dictate theme, genre, age of writer (under 30/over 50,) number of pages, lines or submissions, not previously published or on-line okay.  Sometimes the rules have lives of their own. “You may submit up to X number of poems of no more than Y lines each.”

I’ve been tempted of late to submit to poetry contests. Trying to fit  CLARA’S AIR to the line limit found me submitting a sloppy piece that was further compromised by electronic demons.  Very embarrassing. More recently, I thought I’d work a new poem for yet another contest. This time the limit is two poems, no ore than 32 lines each.

My work refuses to comply. Instead, I have, so far, two poems of 10 lines each. Each can stand alone but are part of a foursome when complete. So, I’ll have one forty line poem which is too long or four  10 liners, much shorter than two 32 word liners.  Have I lost you yet?

Since I have a problem fitting-in the parameters, I won’t be entering this contest. Instead, I’ll subject you to one 10-liner  every so often until the whole piece is out in the world.



The flowers of autumn settle beneath the trees

After filling my soul with wonder and longing.

First, a gradual shift from green to yellow

A bit of orange and red peek thru the limbs,

Where images of lost bouquets reside.

Rakes at work gather the flowering leaves,

With laughing children jumping the piles.

Clouds of smoke climb to my window seat.

Tears creep down my eight-year-old cheeks.

I yearn to be out picking autumn’s flowers.

                  Arletta Dawdy  October 29, 2013

Thanks to Albert Camus: “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”


How do the seasons affect you?

Childhood memories of swimming holes and snowmen?

Impatience for Daylight Savings Time to begin or end?


Remember the bogs of Ireland or those on the moors of England in old romance novels? The one where the heroine comes to the lonesome manor to be a governess, nurse or maid only to fall for the moody master, his neighbor or maybe the groundsman. She’s lost in the mire of boggish emotions until HE comes to her rescue.

Well, I don’t see HIM rescuing this writer from her blogger’s mind-bog. If you noticed, I’ve been absent for, low, these many months and then I thought there might be hope showing on my horizon. Marlene Cullen, my editor and hostess of the Petaluma(CA) Writers’ Forum, invited local heroine/publisher//teacher Susan Bono to inspire the October gathering by “Illuminating The Essay.” Susan has published personal narratives in her famed  journal, Tiny Lights, for nearly twenty years. She is an expert in the form and offers references, stimulation and inspiration freely.

Susan Bono sees five keys to writing the personal essay:

  1. Character: the self
  2. Problem: give yourself a problem
  3. Struggle: Problem creates conflict
  4. Epiphany: after struggle, a flood of new understanding
  5. Resolution: what you do differently as a result.

Teacher Bono calls on the work of many experts including: Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay; Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk and Writing; and Louise Desalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing. Note that many of her references specialize in memoir which Bono finds to be good resources.

As so many good instructors do, Susan had exercises for us to try out. I found them to be great fun and marveled at the variety when students chose to share. These are starter ideas, not quotes, which serve to establish the intent or direction of the essay/narrative.  Here they are with a couple of my answers shared:

  1. I want to tell you how   Steinbeck changed my life (Universal statement) and he did it twice: inspiring me to go into social work to change the world  and to write.
  2. I’m trying to figure out how I feel about______________
  3. I learned about obstinence from my granddaughter-with her threats not to go to sleep, hands on hips, pursed lips…and then dissolving into tears as she gave up.
  4. I never expected to________________
  5. I will always regret not starting to write earlier.
  6. I never thought I’d become a person who_______________________.

I’d like to paraphrase Susan Bono’s “rules made to be broken:”

  1. Reader should know within 3 paragraphs what the essay is about;
  2. Check proportion of scene given over to real action against summary which moves reader thru time rapidly;
  3. Check the frame: sense of being triggered by past (memory of prior beach trip) and ends by bringing back to current event (being at beach now;)
  4. Use of dialogue brings others into the event;
  5. Use restraint when writing difficult themes as with violence, abuse– need not be gory to make point;
  6. End or resolve with action or gesture as opposed to flowery words;
  7. In cover letter, don’t evaluate/praise your own writing nor interpret it.

Challenge yourself

Try answering Susan’s six openers

For more information about Susan Bono and Tiny Lights:

For Marlene Cullen’s many cheerleading efforts on behalf of writers:



The proofs are in the mail…”Oh, my goodness,” said Little Orphan Annie and me.

I began to work on Huachuca Woman over twenty years ago and it will now, finally, see the light of day on paper and epub smaller than 8.5″x11.” Early on and for too long, I took the high road, looking for the power people (read:NYC publishers) and not getting past the gatekeepers (read: agents.) After the first seventy passes, rejections and no replies (a form of rejection,) I began to look at vanity publishing. For a mere $2-5000, I could fill my garage or spare bedroom (assuming I have one) with hundreds of my books to sell at book fairs, conferences, writers’ club meetings, beauty shops, medical offices and captive audiences (read: family and friends.) Did I REALLY want to do this, even if I could afford to? NOPE.

And so, I kept up the search for independent publishers where I passed on them or they passed on me.  And agents, at conferences, classes, forums or wherever I came across their paths. It seemed the personal connection would strengthen my chances and so I kept at it.  Last Fall, I thought I’d found the perfect match…only to have her reader pass. Whether on purpose or by design the reader’s notes were included in the returned manuscript, I was dumfounded. She couldn’t identify with the protagonist “despite the two deaths” in the pages she’d read; I wrote her off as a “22 year old with no life experience” and gave up my search for another agent’s reader.

Sometime ago, a guardian angel tried to convince me to epub and offered to cover the costs. I dithered with the same old fears: inadequate editing, wanting great quality, success/failure and a certain techno phobia. “Get on with it, find someone to do the technical work,” said Angel. And I did.

This was still a complicated process and I can’t imagine doing it all on my own. Writer friends my age have persisted in stretching their minds and joining the 21st century. I’m still very much in the 19th century with occasional adaptations to the 20th. Fortunately, I came upon a gifted man (Blake Webster: to upload my manuscript to CreateSpace and the Kindle and yet another to do my cover design (Kent Sorensen: I feel very fortunate in being able to entrust my dreams to these men.

Where are you in your dream to publish?

What is/was your plan to get there?

What would you suggest to others?