"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Friday, May 7, 2021

Could a Digital Detox Be "Just What the Dr. Ordered"?


There’s no doubt about it. Living in the Digital Age has enhanced and advanced us unlike any generations before.

The Internet and social media apps have allowed us to increase efficiency levels; save time; research without going to the library; work from the confines of home; date and mate; and a host of other awesome things.

And let’s face it: amid the pandemic of 2020/21, it has been crucial in helping us to stay connected and communicate with loved ones near and far, through virtual meetings and themed parties. (Thank God for small blessings.)

Still, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its drawbacks.

Which is why a Digital Detox may be "just what the doctor ordered."
But, before we examine what this entails, a definition here helps to provide greater clarity.


Simply put, a digital detox is when a person commits to going offline and eliminating smart phones, social media apps, etc. for a specified period of time. Often for health, relational and/or quality of life reasons.

According to itstimetologoff.com: “A digital detox is a temporary period of fully disconnecting from all digital devices to focus on social interaction, reduce stress, and be fully present in the world ‘offline’.
The term ‘digital detox’ was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, just six years after the launch of the first iphone (which kicked off the smartphone revolution).”


1. Being connected online for extended periods of time can often cause a "disconnect" in our personal relationships at home.

Excessive usage of Facebook and screen time can contribute to our partners and children feeling neglected and less of a priority. Wikipedia reports that " A 2015 survey conducted by Deloitte found that around 59% of smartphone users check a social media platform in the five minutes prior to going to bed, and within 30 minutes of waking up."

2. "Moderation is key with all things."

Many folks find that daily Internet activities can become somewhat "addictive" and distract from other
important responsibilities and goals. In the words of Dr. Phil. "You can't fix what you don't acknowledge first."

3. To recover and rediscover our social skills.

Being on our cell phones and in front of computer screens excessively can contribute to eye strain, back pain and migraines. It can also cause many of us to feel overwhelmed and constantly "on call", if we're not prudent about how we devote our attention and our limited hours. Not to mention, what it does to diminish our in-person social skills and the art of conversation.


Sometimes, in this fast-paced world we need to "disconnect" to reconnect with greater priorities, things that matter and simple pleasures.

Thoughts here? Have you ever done a digital detox?

Image credits: Pixabay.com

Friday, April 30, 2021

Meet Highland Park Poetry's Founder Jennifer Dotson


Hi, Jennifer.

Thank you so much for joining us here today. Happy National Poetry Month.

Q. Can you tell readers a little about who you are and your professional background?

A. I earned a B.A. in English Literature/Theatre Arts from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and an M.F.A. in Drama from the University of Virginia. I moved from the DC area to Chicago expressly for the vibrant storefront theatre scene. My trajectory in my youth was clear – I wanted to perform on the stage. It wasn’t until marriage and family that my creative direction detoured to writing and poetry.

Q. How long have you been penning poetry?

A. I credit my visual artist friend, Cathi Schwalbe, for nudging me towards poetry in the late 90’s. She was organizing an outdoor art exhibit in the small park across from her home and was inviting poets to write responses to the art work. She contacted me because she knew that I wrote plays. When I explained that I’d never written poetry before, she said, “That’s alright, it’s just word art.” Her invitation and permission to play were just the push I needed. Not long after, there was a horrifying case in the news about a mother who smothered her children. I was a new mother at the time and was very upset by this story. Writing a poem about it helped me process this painful narrative.

Q. How would you describe your writing style?

A. My friend Arlyn Miller is the founder of Poetic License Press and she says that she looks for work that is accessible, honest and engaging. I’ve always liked that statement and hope that my work is all those things with a tendency towards humor.

Q. What prompted you to launch HIGHLAND PARK POETRY? Do you publish the works of non-residents as well?

A. Writing poetry can be a very personal and isolating experience. I started Highland Park Poetry as a way of creating a poetry community.  I launched the website in January 2007 and invited poets I found published in a local journal and by word of mouth to a small series of readings and events for April’s Poetry Month. Since then, it has grown and expanded to a year-round endeavor with events, contests, workshop, publication opportunities and more. Writers from all over the United States and the world are welcome to share poetry. Our recent 2021 Poetry Challenge included many submissions from the United Kingdom, even Australia and Korea.

Q. How would you define good poetry?

A. Someone close to me once took a graduate course in poetry where the professor said that some of the best poetry is when you read it, you feel as though you could have written it yourself. I like that idea that the reader so strongly connects to the words and images that the experience is as if the poem emerged from reader’s own brain. 

Q. What inspires you to write? Do you tend to be more prolific in times of grief or joy?

A. I’m not a particularly prolific poet – I don’t wake up every morning and write a poem. Prompts and deadlines are my biggest motivators. I facilitate poetry writing workshops through the Highland Park Public Library’s Library U! program. I choose exercises, forms and sparks that I would like to try myself. This on-the-spot writing with others and a timer is good generator for me. Later after the session, typing out my handwritten notes is where my work gets polished or set aside.

I know many writers found inspiration during the pandemic – that writing poetry about the experience was enormously helpful and cathartic for them. Oddly enough, I felt rather blocked. Perhaps the fear and anxiety felt too large and too close.  I couldn’t wrap my arms around it.

Q. Do you have a favorite piece or collection of your work thus far? 

A. I have two collections of poetry – Clever Gretel received the Journal of Modern Poetry Book Award and was published by Chicago Poetry Press in 2013. Late Night Talk Show Fantasy and Other Poems was published by Kelsay Books in 2020 – not a very good year to launch a book.  There are pieces in both collections that I feel strongly about but no favorites. I’ve also got poems that are telling me they need their own book, too.

Q. How do you know when a poem is really “finished”?

A. At some point, it feels right. And you take a chance and send it off to a literary journal or online zine.  Even then, you might look at it many months (or more) later and see something that you want to fix or change to make it better.

Q. Who are some of your literary influences?

A. I’m a big fan of Denise Duhamel’s work. I think first stumbling onto her book Kinky Barbie opened my eyes to what was permissible in poetry. Also, I’ve long been an admirer of Kay Ryan. She is definitely the master of creating impact in a compact package. Her poems are like Faberge eggs.

Q. Anything else you’d like to share?

A. Highland Park Poetry is currently accepting poems for our Summer Muses’ Gallery on Shoes. The deadline is May 17. Poems should not exceed 30 lines; previously published is okay with acknowledgment. Send up to 5 poems in an email text to Jennifer @highlandparkpoetry.org. 


With the pandemic, Highland Park Poetry publishes daily poem posts on our Facebook page – these later appear on the website as well. Since last March, we’ve posted poems about the pandemic or poems about endurance or that inspire calm or joy. Send up to 5 poems in an email text to Jennifer @highlandparkpoetry.org. Shorter poems preferred.

Lastly, Highland Park Poetry is always seeking volunteers to read and review poetry books. Reviews are short, 500 – 750 words. Likewise, if you have a collection published within the past two years, I will add your title to my list of books in search of a volunteer reviewer.

Be sure to check out www.HighlandParkPoetry.org. We typically announce our annual poetry challenge contest in October.

It‘s been a pleasure.

Image credit: 

Author photo/Martha Abelson Photography

Book cover: 

Sue Cargill


Saturday, April 24, 2021

Jen's Pandemic Playlist...


Last week, while out shopping for yard landscaping items for spring projects, I ended up picking up a music CD that reminded me of music's "magical" elements and the joy of simple pleasures.

How music can temporarily make bad moods disappear and lift the spirits. How it can transport listeners to different times and past loves. How it can cause us to stop and sing or sway or dance. Forget our worries.

That $7.00 purchase of the Bee Gees' greatest hits definitely hit the spot. In fact "Staying Alive" is blaring in the background as I compose this piece. (No pun intended). 

Lately, with so much tragedy, violence, political upheaval and health issues, being able to find a form of escape that keeps us sane and safe is a definite blessing. Wouldn't you agree?  

But, don't just take my word for it. Here's what the experts and related studies show:

According to Verywellmind.com: " If you like music you probably already know it can affect your mood. Maybe you put on your favorite song to pump yourself up for an important meeting or listen to soothing music when you’re relaxing at home before bed.  Research has demonstrated the benefits of music therapy for people with depression and anxiety. While music therapy is often used to promote mental and emotional health, it may also improve the quality of life for people with physical health problems."

While Harvard healthedu. shares: "How might music enhance cognitive performance? It's not clear, but the researchers speculated that listening to music helps organize the firing of nerve cells in the right half of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher functions. According to this construct, music — or at least some forms of music — acts as an "exercise" that warms up selected brain cells, allowing them to process information more efficiently."  


(You can thank me later.)












What's on your playlist these days? Who did I miss?

Image credits: Pixabay.com

Thursday, April 22, 2021

National Poetry Month Tribute Continues


Levels Of A Cafe Window

Inside the narrow hall I perceive an opening wall

like a 2-D painting with scattered shapes and shadow

real as bricks or a Lasgaux cave

or icons glittering gold mosaic shards across a frieze

atop tall columns Gothic, Romanesque now seized

by black and white Art Deco mirrors, 

vased and architected


Original seeing before the depth of understanding

before the holographic rendering…

where all sides are one,

I face the trunk, then see the tail and convex gut.

All seeing, all knowing in retrospect.

Ah vision, blind illusion is photographically still.

Outside the windowglass, my ears protected

from the sound of sky and wind

and passing flights of geese,

just then, a man walks left to right.

Halfway through the sun’s light he splits in two,

and one beam bounces off his chest

one part hides from view

like a magic trick magician’s use to fool me and you.

But motion makes him more than flat, in fact

he becomes a silent film,

a replication of belief 

in substance

in light

where petty algorithms of slight 



It is a pity that the knowledge came at last

as I gaze upon my distant past.

Earth’s young lined up to come and prosper from the time

when nine-tenths of the population

solidify the lessons learned in half the time.

Like a train from Penn Station’s underground

exiting the tunnel at the speed of sound

they found the key, the we, the profound seeing,

the moving stats from A to B.

What happened to me?

I see a woman sitting in her seat

she seems complete, slender,

tall if on her feet.

Yet as she stands her torso widens

at her hips and thighs,

her legs are shortened and her gait was

forward-leaning from her waistband.

What happened to her?

How did she get to be composite,

not personality, but body parts that seemed as one

but came instead as three?

I marvel at the disarrangement knowing all I see

is just the play of energy for my fun amusement.

Copyright Mary LaForge


Thoughts, readers? 

What's your favorite line, stanza or poem?

Image credits: Pixabay.com

Friday, April 16, 2021

How to Make More Writing Money in 2021!


Want to make more money as a writer in 2021?

Australian editing and proofreading company The Expert Editor have created this great new infographic revealing the best opportunities for writers to find high-paying writing gigs.

Most businesses these days have a website, blog, and social media presence. The one thing they’re all hungry for is new content.

That’s where freelance writers come in.

From sales pages to product descriptions to eBooks and white papers, businesses are spending more money on outsourcing content than ever before. 

If you’re a storyteller at heart, some lifestyle magazines and media websites will also pay top dollar for new articles. Many of these sites publish a dozen articles a day and rely on freelance writers to compete in a crowded marketplace.

Did you know that new digital media websites Hack Spirit and Ideapod pay up $250 for a 2000-word article? 

To learn more about the opportunities available to writers in 2021, including how much you can realistically expect to get paid, check out the infographic below.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Q & A Interview With Author & Poet Mary LaForge

Thank you for joining us today. We appreciate your time, creative input and expertise here at Pen and Prosper.

Thank you for having me.

Can you tell readers a little about your background and how you began your career as a writer, Mary?

Although I've written since childhood, my official career began when I entered a poetry competition, won third prize, and $30. My 30 pieces of silver incentive. I studied writing briefly with Professor William Packard at NYU, had several poetry books published, and recently won the 2021 Literary Titan Silver Book Award. 

What inspired you to write HOW I ESCAPED FROM BLOODY HELL? What do you hope readers will take away from it?

Different forms of creativity provide different joys for me, and at different times during my life. Journaling was not high on my list. I didn’t even write a teenage diary. Mostly cathartic writings were few and far between, and after written,  would be thrown away. One day, however, a splurging of words poured onto a page as the result of some existential question I was wondering about. As I wrote, new questions popped up, and pretty much like a maniac, I kept writing and writing until I exhausted my Q&A reservoir of the moment. Once I had my big revelation, editing and refining brought the content to a readable conclusion. 

I would like this example of self-discovery to be copied. To inspire others to explore their own spiritual universe through writing, and especially through journaling now that I know it can lead to inner growth, is my greatest hope. 

 What challenges you the most about being a scribe? 

Writing itself doesn’t challenge me. I look forward to writing as a leap into my imagination where I can play with the things floating around in my mind. I feel closest to God when creating. Marketing, however, challenges me. Interestingly  I must be improving my marketing skills somewhat because it’s almost fun, sometimes, sort of.

 What would it surprise others to know about you?

I can be a little harsh, as has been pointed out to me in public with extraordinary calm. It took me a while to understand he was talking about me and then I laughed at my aggressive, naive self, a lot. Lesson learned.

 If you could have one literary “super power” what would it be?

To choose the words that most affect positive results for others without losing the child-like writing experience where I really don’t care what effect my writing has on others because I am having fun.

 What philosophy do you live by?

Be creative, and everything else takes care of itself.

 I see you’ve written in multiple genres. What’s your favorite mode of expression?

Poetry when in deep internal moods, non-fiction as philosophical answers to my why's, and speculative fiction to explore how way-out I can get and still make sense.

Can you give me one marketing tip to share with readers here today?

Prioritize your writing as being your first focus even when you aren’t in writing mode.

What passion project or “cause” excites you currently?

I want to donate snack containers to uplift a local child’s spirit. Having something, however small, you can claim as your own may have a powerful and life-affirming effect on a child's mind and spirit to recover from any kind of trauma. Partial proceeds from the sale of this book goes towards my MOO snack container project.


Mary LaForge is a creative non-fiction writer, poet, and author of five books currently living in Tennessee, USA
Visit her site here:


Sunday, March 21, 2021

"Chick-Flicks" to Watch During Women's History Month


Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you‘ve heard that March is Women’s History Month. A time to celebrate, honor, examine and champion our causes, collective contributions and general awesomeness!

What better way to enjoy it than to kick back, pour a glass of your favorite red wine, and unwind to a good chick-flick, darling.

What's a "chick-flick"?

A “chick-flick” by my definition, are movies or programs that are considered tearjerkers, have romantic themes or sensitive subjects, and have little to no fighting or action filled activities. They typically encourage dialogue, introspection or deep reflection from viewers.

So, whether you want to believe in the magic of love again, need to feel empowered, or simply seek a little comic relief, I’ve got you covered here.

These are my recommendations, (some are hits from former decades, while others are more current releases).



Where do I begin? This was such an unexpected pleasure, an unexpected treasure. And to make it even better, I scored this one recently at the thrift store. Sweet! 

ME BEFORE YOU puts a different spin on your typical “boy meets girl” and falls in love story line. In it, Emilia Clarke is hired to provide care for a dashing guy, (Sam Claflin) who as a result of being hit by a motorcyclist becomes wheel-chair bound. Consequently he has to come to terms with a life that darkly contrasts his former life. Make sure to have plenty Kleenex on hand. You’ve been forewarned. 


In this crowd pleaser, Taye Diggs plays a sexy, savvy, commitment phobic author, and the best man at football star, Morris Chestnut’s wedding.  The wedding party reunites college buddies and former lovers, and deals with some pretty relevant relationship and social issues.  

Besides featuring some of the biggest Black sex symbols as “eye candy”, there’s a bachelor party scene that is raunchy, fun, and full of excitement!  

You can thank me later. :-)


Mel Gibson portrays a swinging bachelor and ad executive.  Due to a freak accident with a hair dryer, he gains the ability to read women’s minds, giving him an edge in personal and professional matters.


Julia Roberts realizes that she’s in love with her best friend, who just so happens to be on the verge of marrying someone else.  This picture is hilarious, clever, and full of surprises!


This is an oldie but goodie.  No matter how often I watch it, it never gets boring.  Storyline---Patrick Swayze plays a ghost who teams up with psychic, (Whoopi Goldberg) to reveal the events behind his murder.  It’s also a great love story about a young couple totally into each other and every day relationship issues.

Demi and Patrick have great chemistry in this movie.  Adding to the enjoyment is a well-developed plot, hilarious performances, special effects, and ongoing mystery.  “You’ll fall in love with Ghost,” says Joel Siegel of Good Morning America.


In this film, Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep are said to have “made magic”.  He plays a National Geographic photographer, who by chance, meets a housewife with whom he later has a torrid affair.  It deals with difficult decisions, choices, family, commitment, consequences, and love that spans decades.


Fatal Attraction is as hot as a Jalapeno pepper! This 1987 film is also a movie that provides many teachable moments and take-aways for viewers.

It stars Michael Douglas and Glenn close who cross paths as a result of business dealings. They have a brief fling, yet Glenn Close becomes obsessed with him and won’t let things end easily. The fight scenes are intense, the writing is very clever, and the attention to details is impressive.

Happy viewing!

Your turn.

Agree or disagree? What's your favorite chick flick? Do tell...

Image credits: Pixabay.com