Thursday, July 25, 2019

Reading & the Other Rs

When my first child came into the world, thankfully my mother was present to help me. In no time, she corrected a major deficiency in my parenting skills.
“Talk to your baby. Don’t be silent. The baby needs to hear your voice.”
From then on, I talked to my baby about everything from bathing and dressing, feeding and what happened in the world. My husband and I soon established a routine at bedtime — another of my mother’s wise suggestions. Regardless of where we were in the world, we stuck to a routine: bath, bedtime, read a book, down for the “night.”
By the time our third baby arrived, bedtime had become an assembly line marathon. No matter how old the child, each had a turn in Daddy’s lap reading a book of their choice while Mommy prepared the next in line for their turn or nursed the newborn.

This summer, my business group promoted the opportunity to participate in an ongoing reading program for children of all ages. “Reading Rocks” is held in the city’s parks, every day over a six-week period.  I volunteered to read with or to a child one day each week in the park closest to my workplace. Literacy is one of the necessary fundamental skills. Reading with my children proved to be essential to their education and future employment.
Today, July 25th, is my last reading session. Most of the children participating in “Reading Rocks” are enrolled in summer daycare programs while their parents are at work. Some of the children have no experience of hearing a story or reading with their parents or other adult.
I gained as much from the program as the children, from encouraging a group of middle school boys to make up their own story based on a title one of the boys had misread, reading to a little girl who was as interested in telling me her story, making the acquaintance of an armadillo from the local zoo and a border collie trained to assist PTSD sufferers.
I was reminded of the many hours I had spent with my children and how rewarding those hours were, especially in terms of the gift of time. 
Thanks to my experienced mother, reading and routine were regularities that established reliability in their young years. There’s more to raising children than reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.
Perhaps one or two of these young readers will become writers. Story-telling certainly came into my life at a very young age from hearing my mother and father read aloud and tell their own tales.

Monday, July 22, 2019


Last Monday I drove two and a half hours to New Jersey for a dentist appointment and a mammogram.  At the imagining center the tech expressed surprise I would go so out of my way for the exam.  
            On the other hand, that doctor, my dentist and my dermatologist, all who are in New Jersey, are not surprised I’m still going to them even though I moved away fifteen and a half years ago.  They have many patients that make the trip back to see them.  I imagine these other patients return for the same reasons I do.  These doctors treat me with respect and not like an old lady who doesn’t have the sense, hearing or wits to come in out of the rain, much less intelligently answer questions at a visit.
            Being an older woman isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with discrimination.  My first go around was as in the work force during the seventies. 
I was a new lawyer in a small law firm in Manhattan and the only female. It was a young office. Most of the associates were my age, my late twenties, and every partner was in his forties.  They were from all appearances a warm and friendly group who took pride in being caring, forthright and good employers at least that’s what the firm’s credo was and I bought into it 100%.  
Therefore when I was assigned cases that seemed so easy I could have handled them before I went to law school, I did my best to see nuances even though there were none.  
When my hours were criticized for being too low and not up to expectations, unable to figure out how to put more time into these very basic cases, I blamed myself.  It had to be me.  
I could see the guys my age all succeeding even when it seemed, when I was covering for them when they were on vacation, that they hadn’t responded to urgent requests from clients and adversaries and had missed court dates, I still assumed, it had to be my fault. I was doing something wrong. 
Even when I returned from lunch one day, by myself, often the case since many of the associates expressed concern that it would look inappropriate to be lunching alone with me, a single woman, to find that all of the partners were out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.  Although I was hurt that I hadn’t been included since I was Irish too, I figured it was my problem.
I wasn’t invited because the private club where these men were having their celebratory lunch did not allow women in the main dining room. They did have a ladies dining room, a small flowered wallpaper spot on the floor above.  But we females were excluded from eating with the men.  It was hard to make that incident of being excluded my fault, but I did.  
For the next fifteen years, I beat myself up for not being as talented a lawyer as I thought I was when I first got out of law school.  I figured I just wasn’t meant for the law.
Ultimately, after raising my children, I returned to practice law.  But it was a different time, the nineties, and a different place, the state’s Attorney General’s office, where women were in the majority.  It was only then that I realized it hadn’t been my fault.  I was a good lawyer who never had a chance.  Only in hindsight did I come to recognize how much sexism went on, not to mention the sexual harassment that affected most of us back then.  
So now when I go to a new doctor and am shouted at because I’m assumed to be deaf, or spoken to as if I were an idiot or might not be able to read, I remember why it’s worth it to drive the two hours to catch up with the doctors who I’ve known since I was in my thirties and forties and who continue to treat me as if I’m still competent.  It’s worth every bit of the extra time it takes.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Dial it Back, Folks

I’m a sucker for a good story.  It’s an occupational hazard for fiction writers, but a great story line wins me over easily. Two of my favorite movies are Moonstruck and As Good as it Gets, both unusual rom-coms, both with Oscars for best scripts. I love a good story in other genres as well.
Designated Survivor seemed like a natural and I loved it—for the first two seasons. Did the show get new writers in Season 3? Or did the producers, seeing their ratings in decline, simply decide it was time to up the ante with saltier language? I put up with it for a couple of episodes. Then, when the F-bomb was dropped four times in the first three minutes, I was done.

Some apologists explained such language was “realistic” in the pressure cooker of the real-life White House. Although I’d love to deny it, I suspect that’s the truth. Who cares? If I wish to be assaulted with obscenity, I’ll take a walk on the campus of our local university. Besides, don’t we all want the people who hold the fate of the world in their hands to be better than that?
To be clear, it isn’t just the language that got me. Characters I had come to care about, even love, were suddenly behaving in uncharacteristic ways, using language we hadn’t heard before, but also changing job titles and love interests, and in one case, moving into a completely new story arc.
Suddenly, instead of watching “people” I cared about, I saw actors reading lines and being moved around on a set. The suspension of disbelief that lets us slide into fictional worlds went out the window. That transition started for me when their version of the White House began sounding like an NFL locker room.
In my first career as an academic, I learned to use ten-penny words when two-penny ones work fine. As a writer of romantic fiction, I’m sometimes tempted to use those words, since they now come fairly naturally. When I catch myself, I deliberately dial it back—not to dumb it down, and not because I don’t respect my readers. I do, very much.

I choose not to use words that draw attention to themselves, words that pull my readers out of the story. I want my characters (and even my narration) to use language that moves the story forward. In effect I’m saying: “Dear Reader, please love my story, not my impressive vocabulary.”
As a consumer of other writers’ fiction, I ask the same when it comes to obscenity. If that’s the natural speech for your characters, I’m not your audience anyway. If you suddenly need to up your ratings, please do so with a fascinating twist in your story line, not with verbal assaults or manipulating your characters. You’ll win me over easily when you do.
Susan Aylworth is the author of 18 novels currently available as e-books. PARIS IN THE SPRINGTIME and SUNNY'S SUMMER, the first two books in the "Seasons of Destiny" series, are also available in paperback. Book Two chronicles the aftermath of the deadly Camp Fire. She lives in northern California with Roger, her husband of 49 years. She loves hearing from readers. Find her at, @SusanAylworth, on Pinterest and Instagram, and at Watch for AMBER IN AUTUMN and WINTER SKYE, both due by year's end. 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The (Literal and Figurative) Weight of History

I’ve just returned from a vacation in Greece. This was the trip of a lifetime, something I didn’t expect to ever happen, but I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity. I experienced so many wonderful things and had great times. I love Greek food, the beautiful country, the colorful souvenirs, and the lively culture.

The Parthenon
Undoubtedly the highlight of the trip, though, was the tour of the Acropolis, followed closely by the visit to Delphi. I’m not a historian, a classicist, or an archaeologist, but all of those fields interest me. My reaction to those places mirrors the way I felt on first viewing Stonehenge and the Colosseum in Rome. Those sites have little in common other than being old and huge building feats for people without access to the power equipment available today.

I’ve heard people say about sites like Stonehenge and Delphi that they’re nothing but a bunch of old stones, sitting in place and doing nothing. Or a group of nice columns from a ruined building. I simply don’t understand that point of view.

What remains of the temple of Apollo at Delphi
I can’t help but see more than stones and mortar when I look at structures like the Parthenon. I see enormous amounts of work from peoples of a past time. I see remarkable ingenuity to manipulate huge objects with unpowered tools. I see amazing feats of mathematics and engineering that’s just as impressive today as it was then. I see an appreciation for symmetry, grace, and beauty that’s built into the human spirit. I swear I sometimes hear echoes of the groans of workers, the yells of the overseers, the crash of blocks as they’re moved into place, discussions of the designers.

I try to feel the depth of the impact these structures must have had on the people who built them. Huge undertakings like monumental buildings require a culture’s commitment and investment so they must have been of incalculable importance to them. We may not always understand why these days, but we can still gape at what has been achieved and marvel at what it took to create them.

Perhaps it’s part of being a writer that when I look at buildings like the Parthenon, my imagination tries to bring them to life, to picture in my head the building process, the culture that spawned the expressed need, and the meaning they brought into the lives of the people of the time.

I prefer to think it’s being human, being much the same as those who actually created these structures. I wonder if any of them could have guessed we’d still be marveling at them thousands of years later?

PS: If anyone is interested in reading a more extensive write-up of my travels, I've been posting a day by day recap (with pictures) on my blog at

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

By the Beautiful Sea

Independence Day week was hot where we live in California's Central Valley. We opted to enjoy cooler weather and different scenery on the coast--an excellent choice. In the lovely villages of Ft. Bragg and Mendocino, we encountered perfect weather, beautiful scenery, and small town Americana. From Mendocino's Volunteer Fire Department doing its annual fund raiser with food for the parade-watchers, to George Washington reading the Declaration of Independence from the steps of the Masonic Hall, to a juvenile gray whale hunting just off-shore at the nearby state park, we spent a refreshing week appreciating the beauty and diversity of our state and nation. In these images, I share some of my favorite memories, hoping you enjoy too.

 Some of the locals posed for us, both in the sea and at the parade in Mendocino.

Everyone flew the flag.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 18 published novels. Her latest is SUNNY'S SUMMER, a novel set in the Sierra foothills near her northern California home which examines the aftermath of the devastating #CampFire. She lives with her husband of 49 years, Roger, and one old, arthritic cat. She loves to hear from readers. Find her at, @SusanAylworth,, or Also on Pinterest and Instagram.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Magic of Good Writing

I remember reading Harry Potter to my kids as each book came out.

I remember closing the first book in the series and thinking, this is something pretty special. When I closed the third book, I felt as if, not only were the characters magical, but that “magic” was a thing! I had just witnessed it. I was holding it in my hands.

And that feeling has visited me on several subsequent occasions with regard to books and a few movies. For years, I’ve been trying to extract the recipe to this secret sauce in writing. How did those writers, actors, directors, make magic?

HARRY POTTER, in particular, book 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban
MARY POPPINS, the latest remake, its ability to transport me to that sense of awe I felt as a child watching the early Disney version
HOLES, by Louis Sachar… and the movie with Shia LaBeouf
And most recently, YESTERDAY.

In this movie, struggling song-writer/musician, Jack Malik, is hit by a bus when the power goes out all over the world for just a few seconds. When he wakes, he discovers that he is the only person who remembers The Beatles.

But there is one scene in this movie, that took me so off guard, (and which I will not divulge in a spoiler fashion) that I felt it again. Zap. The Magic. There was a collective gasp in the theater as the air was sucked out of the room.

For sure, there is magic in the written word. It’s like the almost (now) cliché scene in which a character looks up at the moon from one corner of the world and feels their connection to someone on the other side of the planet who is also looking up at the same moon.

I like a good surprise, but that’s not, in and of itself, the “magic.” A good surprise makes me smile in appreciation, like a hat tip. “Nicely done, writer.”. When it sucks the air out of a packed theater? That’s magic.

(Please send recipes for "Magic Sauce" to

Thursday, July 4, 2019


This is my first post for some time and I am out of sync with any schedule but I wanted to take the opportunity of the 4th of July this year to write on Classic and Cozy Books about this seven-letter word, F-R-E-E-D-O-M.

There are many catchphrases that sum up what we think of our freedoms in America:

  • "Land of the Free Because of the Brave" is one of my favorites. 
  • "Freedom is not free" is another.
  • "The high cost of freedom" another.

We often take these freedoms and rights (which are "self-evident") for granted and allow them to be eroded. As writers, we are the vanguard of the freedom of expression. When our freedom to create is undermined, we are the first to be silenced. 

At our own peril, we forget that the "Pen is mightier than the sword." 

Consider the fate of writers, artists and journalists on April 25, 1915 in Constantinople. 

Consider the years the Russian author, Alekzandr Solzhenitsyn, devoted to criticism of the USSR and communism, later credited with the destruction of the Soviet Empire.

Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, entertainment or education, our freedom to create is always under threat because that freedom is a threat to anyone who wishes to impose their ideas or beliefs with no regard for differences of opinion. 

This 4th of July, we will be celebrating our declaration of independence from a tyrannical, undemocratic government. At the same time, we can also celebrate our personal declaration of independence from artistic/creative censorship. 

Happy Independence Day! 

Monday, July 1, 2019

The View from the Corner

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

There are some days that the words just flow from your fingers to the paper in a wonderful flood, pristine and clear and perfect - paragraphs that are marvels of clarity and inspired writing, the kind of writing that wins awards and tops best seller lists. Okay, it doesn't happen often, but when it does it is wonderful and you know that writing is the absolute best career you could have.

Magical times like this tend to make you forget the hours you have spent dragging out prose word by painful word, and the only thing that stops you from going mad with the delete button (or in particularly bad cases, highlight-and-delete) is the certain knowledge that nothing you could do (at the moment, at least) would be any better. Those are the times you secretly wonder if you would have been better off becoming a plumber.

Even as wonderful as those moments of inspiration are, they can cause a problem. Suddenly you realize you failed to put in an absolutely essential piece of information - but your writing is so tight there's no way you can put it in without having to re-write great chunks of what followed, and that will ruin your beautiful prose - or at the very least necessitate some heavy rewriting. In other words, you have written yourself into a corner.

Decisions, decisions!

Of course you do what is best for your story, whether it is to put the absolutely essential piece of information in and then try to make the rest of scene work, or try to find a place and a logical way later on to put that piece of information.

Neither is going to be easy.

There are other ways to write yourself into a corner. Someone absolutely has to be there in this scene, but you remember he also has to be someplace far away and hard to reach at the exact same time. You have constructed your book based on certain things happening on certain dates, then realize that can't happen because of something historical - and you don't want to be one of those lazy writers who ignores historical fact, do you? (If you are, leave now because I don't want to talk to you.)

See? There are any number of ways to write yourself into a corner... just as there are any number of ways that, with skill and perseverance and hard work, you can't write yourself out of. Of course, it would be much easier to not write yourself into a corner, but sometimes it's so hard not to when the words are flowing and there is that whole air of magic hanging over your work.

And it's not that bad being in the corner. I know, because I spend a lot of time in that corner, so be sure to say hello when you get here.