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RIP Seamus Heaney ~ A View From the Keyboard August 30, 2013

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff, View From the Keyboard.
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“I’ve always associated the moment of writing with a moment of lift, of joy, of unexpected reward.” – Seamus Heaney (13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013)

Writer’s Block? Nothing a Glass of Wine Can’t Cure ~ The View From Samantha Hoffman’s Keyboard April 2, 2013

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff, View From the Keyboard.
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View from the keyboard2


Samantha Hoffman‘s debut novel, What More Could You Wish Foris a delightful, friendly read that tells a story that will be familiar to so many of us of a certain (middle) age. With aging parents, lives filled with responsibilities and long-standing friendships, and the nagging suspicion that maybe there might be something we’ve missed, we baby boomers have hard choices ahead and behind us–just as Libby Carson, WMCYWF’s tough-yet-vulnerable narrator, does. So we (and she) go for a run, eat and drink well, work too hard, and look for solace and escape on the internet. This touching story could be one told to you by a friend; and indeed, you will feel as though Libby Carson is your friend once you’ve spent time with her. And now our friend Samantha Hoffman invites us into her writing space.FC9781250003034

Samantha: Here’s where I write. And procrastinate, and write, and think, and write, and plot, and check eBay auctions, and write. It’s where I find a million diversions (excuses) for not writing.

Could someone just please disable my Internet connection? If only…I’d have finished my new book, The Ones You Left Behind by now

Writer’s block? Nothing a glass of wine can’t cure.

What More Could You Wish For -an excerpt

He kissed me fully on the lips, a long, lingering, head-spinning kiss that made me feel seventeen. I felt the color rise to my cheeks. It reminded me of the excitement I’d felt when he kissed me so many years ago. It had made me tingle with the rightness of it. There was promise in the air back then, a promise unfulfilled. Maybe that was a little of what I was feeling now, even though I knew there was a huge chance it wouldn’t work this time around either. But you never knew, did you?

His hand caressed my cheek as if it were made of the most delicate glass. “Come on,” he said taking the handle of my rolling bag in one hand and draping his other arm across my shoulder. “I promised you soft shell crabs and drinks with umbrellas in them.”

“On the beach?”


There would be waves lapping at the shore and the setting sun painting the sky with shades of orange and red. We would toast to whatever this would be. Right this minute it felt so easy and right, like being on a picnic or playing catch in the backyard. But that could change in an instant. If I hadn’t come to see him, though, I’d never know. And the thing is there’s no rewind button in life. If you don’t take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves they’re lost to you forever.

Photo from author's website

Photo from author’s website


→You can find Chicago writer Samantha Hoffman all over the place: www.samanthahoffman.comhttps://www.facebook.com/SamanthaHoffman.Authorhttps://twitter.com/samanthahoffman. And look for her new book on Pinteresthttp://pinterest.com/samantha0402/my-next-book/. Oh, and if you are reading this today, April 2, you should send Samantha a birthday wish. Happy birthday, Samantha! And thanks for this. And thanks to everyone–as always–for reading. -PMc← 




View From the Keyboard ~ Happy Birthday, Flannery O’Connor March 25, 2013

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff, View From the Keyboard.
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“The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.” ~ Flannery O’Connor: March 25, 1925 – August 3, 1964)



In Total Silence and Usually Alone ~ A View From the Keyboard of Chicago Author Renee James February 26, 2013

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff, View From the Keyboard.
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Today’s View From the Keyboard comes from Chicago author Renee James. I met Renee at the celebratory event for Chicago Writers Association’s 2012 Book of the Year awards. Her debut novel, Coming Out Can be Murder, was named Book of the Year in non-traditionally published fiction. Christine Sneed, author of the newly released and highly praised (think front page, New York Times Book Review, people!) Little Known Facts, was the CWA judge, and her comments on the book will give you some insight of Renee’s well-deserving work: “Coming Out Can Be Murder is a memorable and strong debut novel…In addition to being a thriller set in a vibrant contemporary setting, it is a moving story about sexual identity, loss, and friendship.”

Renee James is a writer to watch, friends. She is funny and smart and absolutely fearless; you’ll see that soon in her work, you’ll discover this if you get the chance to hear her read or speak. (Read her. Listen to her.)

Renee: A little over four years ago I swore off working for large corporations and became a full time free-lance writer. My little office evolved after that decision. I picked up a lot of magazine writing and editing work and filled my spare time working on a novel (Coming Out Can Be Murder, which was released June 12, 2012).   Renee James

In a few months I was developing arthritis-like symptoms in my hands from working on a laptop, so I invested in an ergonomic key board and desktop system to go with it…and had to find a place to park everything.

My little corner in our loft-like second floor landing is the best workspace I’ve ever had. It is quiet and intimate and it has a window with a view. Never mind that the view is of a yuppie suburban subdivision, it has natural light, access to weather, and I get to see neighbors strolling past.

I spend 50 to 60 hours a week in this little nook. Over the four years or so, I’ve written about 50 magazine columns, maybe 20 magazine features (I swore them off in 2011 to spend more time on my book), roughly 140,000 words on my first novel (edited to about 110,000 in several stages as a service to humanity) and about 90,000 on the one currently in progress… not to mention maintaining intimate relationships with 1,000 Facebook friends, trying to understand why anyone finds LinkedIn valuable, and periodically Googling the title of my book to find new reviews of it. I also edit and produce a monthly newsletter for a Chicago transgender organization and occasionally write posts for my blog.

I would not be able to hang out here if my passion was splitting atoms, so I feel lucky.

The photos of this space reveal many truths about me. I am messy—even worse than what you see here because I cleaned off my coffee cup, water bottle and cereal cup before shooting the shot. I’m also lazy—the art behind my computer screen has been waiting to be hanged for months. I love it and I view it often, but I have to stand up to do so. I’m also old—the art above my computer screen is a sunny day/rainbow scene made for me by one of my grandchildren.

Also, I share this space with my wife’s passion—doll houses. Each of them is elaborately assembled and decorated, including lights that work and plumbing that (thankfully) doesn’t. They are almost inhumanly seductive for small children of either gender while my nook is beyond boring for them.

I work here in total silence and I’m usually alone. My dog curls up under the desk when we have thunderstorms and our various guest dogs sometimes lay at my side so as to make sure I remember to take them for a walk in the woods when I get back to earth from my scholarly deliberations. But I’m never lonely here and never aware of the silence because the band is playing in my head.

Excerpt from Quetico, the story of two Vietnam-era lovers who reunite 40 years later on an island deep in Ontario’s Quetico wilderness.

Prologue: February 1, 2009

When his first email popped up in her mail box her jaw dropped in disbelief and her pulse rose. His image projected into her mind, its dazzling colors a blinding contrast to the black mid-winter morning she woke to. She became oblivious to the stillness, to the searing dryness of the air, to the chill that no heating system could remove when winter held the Canadian Shield in the jaws of a thirty-below-zero deep freeze.

She had thought about him many times over the decades, and even more so recently, when the long Ontario winter nights left her restless and feeling empty.

“gabe.pender@aol.com.” She stared at the address line. Then the subject: “Hello from long ago.”

Long ago. Indeed. She could still see his intense schoolboy face, eyes widened, cheeks flushed, as they argued about war and politics, morality, literature. Jesus, they argued about literature.

And as much as she could see his face she could always see him walking away, walking down the sidewalk from her building. After she cast him out. Walking away and not looking back. The crimson of his ratty sweatshirt with cutoff sleeves, the blue of his ratty jeans, the dirty white of his sneakers. Getting in his junk car and not looking back. Rust and yellow on black tires, pulling away from the curb. Driving away and not looking back.

That was 1968. Forty years ago. She blinked in surprise. Where did the time go? Forty years!

She sat back and stared out the window where the opaque blackness of the early morning hid her lake from view.

She was surprised that he remembered her. She no longer thought of herself as a woman a man would remember. Not for years. She thought of him, but that was different. Somewhere along the way when she wondered what he was doing and what life would have been like if she had followed her heart, somewhere in there he became more of a symbol than a person, a way of realizing the disappointments of her life.

Then she smiled. He’s alive. She had always wondered. She had resisted the temptation to find out because it would have been heart-breaking either way. Either he died somewhere in Vietnam, or he made it back, married some bimbo and was now a fat balding insurance salesman.

She almost erased the email unread, just to preserve the fantasy. But in the end, she couldn’t. In the end, she had never loved anyone the way she loved him, young love, so wild, so mindlessly reckless, with such passion. Reading his words now was a prospect far too seductive to ever resist.

Heart pounding, tears welling in her eyes, she clicked on the message, and opened the door to a chapter in her life she could not have imagined five minutes earlier.


Thanks so very much, Renee, for sharing your work and your space with us. Congratulations again on your BoTY Award! … And friends, keep an eye out for Samantha Hoffman‘s (What More Could You Wish For?) View From the Keyboard, coming soon to a blog near you (er, this one, actually.) As always, thanks for reading! -PMc


Today is the Seed Time ~ View From the Keyboard of W. E. B. Du Bois February 24, 2013

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff, View From the Keyboard.
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“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.” -W. E. B. Du Bois (2/23/1868 – 8/27/1963)

The Voices of Those Walking By ~ A View From the Keyboard of David W. Berner February 19, 2013

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff, View From the Keyboard.
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So pleased to have David W. Berner give us a glimpse into his workspace. David is an award-winning journalist, a radio guy, a fiction writer, and a colleague of mine at Columbia College Chicago where he teaches in the Radio Department. Most of all, though, this man is a storyteller. I may be wrong here, but I think story is among those things he values most. In fact, he developed a course at Columbia called “The Radio Narrative – Tell Your Story,” in which he helps students find the best of the stories that have meaning for them and produce them for radio audiences. Story? Yes, please. And pass it on, I say.


The romantic side of me wants a shed, a Dylan Thomas-esque boathouse, some spare spot of fertile ground where wonderful ideas could germinate. But, I don’t have a boathouse, or a boat, or live near water. Truth is, I write in a lot of places: coffee shops, trains, slumped in my living room couch. But one spot is a favorite. It’s a corner of my small dining room near the window where I can hear city noises. I like the soundtrack of traffic, car tires on rain, the bells of the old church across the street, the voices of those walking by. I like being surrounded by books I’m reading and the beloved old ones. Their presence inspires. Coffee is necessary. And behind me are two photographs that have always been special to me. One is of Hemingway’s writing space at his home in Key West and the other is by the famous photographer Zeny Cieslikowski entitled “San Francisco.” It’s an image of the the street outside City Lights Bookstore, one of my favorite literary destinations. Below them is a portable Royal typewriter, circa 1940. I don’t always write in this space, but when I do it may be the best place in the world.

Excerpt from “Over the Edge and Into the Wind”after opium

(First published in Epiphany and then part of After Opium.)

The next day, Michael and Tony traveled 500 miles to San Francisco, drove across the Golden Gate, walked through the Haight, downed late night beers in North Beach, then found a room at the Crystal Hotel – what some called a flophouse on Eddy Street – to sleep away the long ride from Arizona, each taking turns on the floor and the bed. And in the morning, Michael found on the wooden table near the door, a napkin slid under a hard plastic bathroom cup, a crushed cigarette butt still smoking from its bottom. On the napkin was a handwritten note.

I hope you find what you want, and always write what you love.


That fall, Michael found himself back in Las Cruces. He had taken a full time job teaching English at the high school, and each early morning he had made it his routine to steep a pot of tea, sit at his small kitchen table and look out the window toward the Organ Mountain range, and write verse that mattered to him. And sometimes on the weekends, Michael would roll out his sleeping bag on the stony desert ground to sleep under the Southwestern stars and dream of flying.


After Opium is available for purchase through Amazon and at www.davidwberner.com–as are others of David’s books. And to hear this gent read live, why not check out 2nd Story’s “Tough Guys Talk Tough: Stories of Image and Action”, March 10 & 11, 2013 (two shows) at Webster’s Wine Bar in Chicago. Thanks, David, for letting us into your space. And as always, thanks to all for reading! -PMc←

Happy Birthday, Toni Morrison ~ View From the Keyboard February 18, 2013

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff, View From the Keyboard.
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The Daily Miracle ~ A View From the Keyboard of Gertrude Stein February 3, 2013

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff, View From the Keyboard.
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“One of the pleasant things those of us who write or paint do is to have the daily miracle. It does come.” – Gertrude Stein (b. February 3, 1874; d. July 27, 1946)

The Pleasure of Writing ~ A. A. Milne’s View From the Keyboard January 18, 2013

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff, View From the Keyboard.
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A. A. Milne

On the anniversary of A. A. Milne’s birth, this:

“For it was enough for me this morning just to write; with spring coming in through the open windows and my good Canadian quill in my hand, I could have copied out a directory. That is the real pleasure of writing.” –A. A. Milne

And this:

“Tiggers don’t like honey.” -A. A. Milne (18 January 1882 – 31 January 1956)

→As always, thanks for reading! -PMc←

Everything in Life is Writable ~ A View From the Keyboard of Sylvia Plath January 14, 2013

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff, View From the Keyboard.
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sylvia plath

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.  -Sylvia Plath

Fifty years ago today (January 14, 2013) Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was released in London.


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