The different ways that family history and genealogy intersect with other aspects of the culture is growing. But I think this project might be a first for family history. Broad Street Magazine, which publishes nonfiction narratives in a variety of genres, has begun a six-week series of feature articles on six poems from my family history […]
Category Archives: Flash Nonfiction
Today begins the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year. I’m wishing you a good (and sweet) year, whether you celebrate or not.
If you were reading my blog three years ago, you might remember that spring and summer were the seasons of the hummingbird mother and babies, my father’s illness and death, and the passing of my oldest cat Mac.* These events swirled together, as life’s events often do, and I ended up writing a lyrical essay called “Ordering in Four Movements.”
That fall the essay was published in Phoebe (45.1), a beautiful print journal. If I ever put together a collection of prose pieces, maybe this one will find a “book” home. In the meantime, though, I wanted to share it with more readers via an online journal, so I submitted it as a reprint to Ginosko Literary Journal where it was subsequently accepted. This weekend the journal went live. I hope you will enjoy this piece. It means a great deal to me since it covers emotional issues that preoccupied my mind at the time.
Ginosko Literary Journal — “thumb through” to page 33
* The links in the first paragraph are to the original posts I wrote about these events. The one about Mac tells his life story ;).
I’m still working on my gun essay, but I was challenged to try it from a different angle, which has taken me down a muddy and tangled garden path. Oh boy.
May you have a sweet week ahead. And a happy birthday to poet Mary Oliver!
Last week I was in Arkansas. My aunt passed away last month, and the gardener and I went to visit my uncle. He’s my dad’s twin, and it was wonderful to spend time with him. As usual, we did a lot of sightseeing, but I don’t have time to put all that in this post. However, I wanted to share about a restaurant that we went to in rural Arkansas. My uncle gave me the name PJ’s White River Lodge to investigate for gluten-free dining, so I called ahead to check on it. So often, when I call, the person who answers the phone doesn’t even know what gluten-free means. This time, I was immediately told about their gluten-free menu. Plus, it was the owner who answered–and he recognized my cell phone area code, which is still from California. Turns out, he was from the same town in California we lived and where our kids grew up!
Truly, this area of northern Arkansas is very country as in out-in-the-country, except that the restaurant and lodge is on the White River which is a big fishing spot. I didn’t expect such an elegant, though casual (the gardener wore nice shorts and a button down shirt), restaurant. This was the view from our window. You can see the interior light in the reflection.
We ordered the Chilean Sea Bass and the Lobster Ravioli (a special) and the Pan Seared Jumbo Sea Scallops. My sangria was also a special. The gardener was eating the scallops before I could get a pic. The food was so delicious, and because I added in the deep fried potato roll (think twice baked potato meets egg roll–to die for), I had enough food for two meals. Fresh ingredients, well-blended flavors, and unique creations. That’s why I am writing a whole post about the restaurant. What a find for anybody in northern Arkansas (near Bull Shoals, White River, etc.), but for the gluten-free it was heavenly.
I picked up this take-home menu which has a better photo of the deck.
I was sorry to miss my aunt’s funeral, but glad I could spend some quality time with my uncle. Aunt Dolly passed away of leukemia, just as Aunt Jean did last year. I couldn’t make it to Aunt Jean’s funeral last year, but there is much more family around that uncle, including my mom (his sister).
My gratitude to The Disappointed Housewife for publishing my lyrical prose/ flash nonfiction piece, “Multicolored,” last week. I haven’t been able to write much recently (same old complaint) because my daughter has been around and then I was traveling. More travel is coming up, and I am already exhausted!
My uncle regaled me with stories of the old days. I took some notes, just in case ;).
Happy Monday and Happy July!
A big thank you to The Disappointed Housewife for publishing my piece, “Multicolored.”
GREEN surrounds me as I enter the butterfly pavilion. The leaves of the trees and flowers create an oasis in the Sonoran desert. All seems still inside, protected from the dry winds, until I notice the undulant motion of butterflies winging above me, swooping down to sip at the nectar of the blossoms. The guide warns visitors to watch where we step, what we touch. Fragile life whirls around us. After all these years, I think I understand how they feel. One has to go through so many changes to get to full flower. Now is not yet the time to die.
BROWN fur nestles under the leaf. I’m here anew, peeling the caterpillar off the green veins and stem which define the underside. I curl up my fingers, cupping the bug in my palm. It tickles me and then plays dead inside the tent of my hand, as I…
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My maternal grandmother was a good baker and a good cook of meats (usually beef) and vegetables. Her use of Grandpa’s garden vegetables in stews and ratatouilles came from being raised on a farm by a mother who was a good cook. She loved her Club Aluminum pans, and the one I most remember was the Dutch Oven. Since my grandmother’s father and my grandfather (her husband) were Dutch, as a kid, I thought it was a pot that was original to the Netherlands, not realizing that is its official name. Her pots were “silver,” the color of aluminum. My mom had Club Aluminum, too, and as I got a little older I realized that she had probably gotten the pans from her mother. She also thought they were the best type to cook in, but her pans didn’t seem to work as well as Grandma’s ;). Or, at least, more anxiety made its way into those dishes.
When I became engaged at nineteen, I had never thought about a wedding or wedding gifts. The only thing I ever imagined was a white velvet dress with a red hooded coat like Mary wore for her wedding in Babes in Toyland. Instead, to save my parents money, I wore my mother’s wedding dress that my other grandmother had made, but that’s another story. I know it sounds blasphemous to American wedding tradition, but I didn’t even register for gifts.
My bridal shower was a family affair, to which I wore my favorite outfit, a teal corduroy pantsuit. Everyone had a very similar pantsuit, but mine was special because of the color. When I arrived at my aunt’s house, I discovered that the person I most wanted at the shower, Grandma, was home sick. The whole event paled after that news, but I do remember that her gift was the biggest and splashiest–an entire set of Club Aluminum pans in yellow. Instead of a metal handle like my mother and grandmother’s Dutch Ovens had, mine had a plastic knob.
I still have my Dutch Oven and a couple of the other pans with lids.
You can see the yellow exterior is pretty banged up after all these years, but the inside is still pristine. My pot has seen some really yummy dishes, but it also was what I used to make Kraft mac and cheese in (for the kids), too, I’m sorry to admit.
This link has a little history of Club Alumimum. It explains that it is cast, not spun. So it is cast aluminum, kind of like cast iron.
Eventually, a report came out that aluminum is dangerous for cooking. If I remember correctly, it was supposed to cause some sort of brain trouble. I guess that has been mainly proven wrong at this point. But it was asserted so strongly that the gardener bought me a set of Calphalon pans. Gosh, I hate those things. Everything sticks to them. Grandma knew what was a good pot! I’ve since added some All-Clads to the mix, and those are ok. But nothing is as good as Club Aluminum.
Or a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan. Funny how much less expensive ($14.88 at Walmart) those are than all the fancy frying pan brands sold today!
By my current kitchen standards, Grandma’s kitchen was a little too small, with not enough counter space, a small persnickety stove/oven, and a ridiculously crammed smallish fridge. She didn’t have granite counters, hardwood cabinets, or stainless appliances. But to me it was a wonderland of magic commanded by my gentle, smart, warm, and loving grandmother.
More about Grandma in “Grandma and the Purple People Eaters.”
Since my father was a Korean War veteran, I thought I would repost an old blog post I wrote about him five years ago. When you get to the part about him being in the hospital, remember that this first went up in March 2013. He passed away in May 2015.
My father was born in 1928, and the memory of the Depression is imprinted on his decision-making.
When he has a color choice, he goes with “brindle brown” because it’s practical and doesn’t call attention to itself. Until I actually looked up this color, I thought it was a term unique to Dad. And I figured it meant something like “shit brown.” Now I see that it really means spotted or streaked like an animal’s coat or like the word piebald. I suspect that my father’s meaning is closer to what I had originally thought, rather than a dog’s sleek brown fur.
I’ll go a step further and assume Dad probably picked up that term in the Army. Since he was raised by a single mother, Dad’s true “finishing” came from his fellow soldiers in the Korean War.
Dad’s always hated the color black. It’s impractical–shows dust and lint. He doesn’t like lavender either. His mother wore the widow’s weeds of black and lavender, so maybe there is an emotional terrain underneath the practicality.
When I was younger, men owned small leather grooming kits for travel. They were sometimes called Dopp kits, although Dopp was a name like Kleenex, an actual brand name. My father’s was brown, and if somebody gave him a black one as a gift, he wouldn’t use it.
His brief case was brown, not black. So was his squeeze-type coin purse, back in the days when men carried those.
For the past thirty years he’s carried a brown leather magnetic money clip.
His belts are brown and not black. And certainly not khaki canvas or burgundy leather and they don’t have a big turquoise-studded buckle.
My father looks practical and shops with a practicality born out of that Depression upbringing.
But don’t be fooled by how he looks. When a friend or an acquaintance would show up with something to sell, Dad would buy it, no matter how impractical. He bought things like:
- An old non-working violin he was told was a Stradivarius (it was not)
- A silk Oriental rug (beautiful, but impractical)
- An old motorboat much too heavy for the motor that fit the boat (it never worked right, but I was still light enough that I could water-ski slowly off the back of the boat)
- An abacus when I started 4th grade (so I could do division on it)
You get the idea.
Do any of your characters (or real life relatives) contain contradictions?
My dad is sick in the hospital right now, and the doctor isn’t quite sure what’s wrong.
It’s been three years and 14 days now since my father died. I can hardly believe it. He’s buried at a veterans’ cemetery in Michigan, so I can’t be there today. But I’m still thinking about him.
After Monday’s post was published, I learned that Kin Types was a finalist for the prestigious Eric Hoffer Award. It’s in stellar company. This recognition validates the work I did on the book and on my family history blog, too. Best of all, the book gets a gold foil sticker for the cover ;).
It will kind of look like this when the sticker is put on the book (only not such a large sticker).
If you click through the link to the Amazon page, the book can be ordered for a real deal right now; check it out. To order through Barnes & Noble, try this link.
If you want a sticker for your copy, send me a selfie of yourself with Kin Types that I can use on this blog or social media (in case I decide to do that) with your address, and I’ll mail you a sticker when they arrive.
My father passed away three years ago this past Monday. My first book, Doll God, had just been published so he was able to read it (and be very proud) before he died. He never got to see Kin Types, although his mother and grandmother are featured in the book.
I’m closing comments because I don’t want you to feel you need to send me congratulations; I just wanted to let you know about the exciting news!
Remember when I wrote about feeling inspired by Dawn Raffel’s memoir and wanted to write about the “secret life” of objects I hold dear? I wrote about “Magical Bowls” and later about my grandmother’s mailbox sign.
This past week I went through a drawer of old jewelry to photograph it. I like to photograph things that I have packed away and haven’t seen in a long time. That way I can decide what to keep, as well as what to get rid of and just keep the photo. Jewelry was always something that appealed to me. When I was in college, I first worked for a department store in the jewelry department. I even briefly considered becoming a “jeweler.”
I use quotation marks because the definition of jeweler versus jeweller is one of the many things that has shown me how fast our world is changing. When I was in my twenties, there was a difference in the United States between these two professions. Today, the first is American and the second British, but in those days there were American jewelers and jewellers. And one was a more sophisticated job than the other. One actually made jewelry and the other sold it in a store. I’ll be darned if I can remember for sure which was which.
The other happy memory I have about jewelry is that the gardener was even more fond of buying me jewelry for gifts than I was at receiving it. This is what he gave me for high school graduation. It is sterling and onyx and was purchased at a shop on the Kalamazoo mall that specialized in gifts and decorative objects from India.
While I worked in the jewelry department, I managed to purchase a couple of pieces of jewelry with my discount. I thought they were a little better than costume jewelry, almost semi-precious. Today, they have no value as the gold is “gold-filled” and the styles are no longer fashionable. They really are costume jewelry.
But I didn’t stop hanging around jewelry after I quit that job. After I graduated from college, the gardener and I opened a store that sold “accessories.” That included handbags (purses, pocketbooks), billfolds (wallets), jewelry, belts, and gloves. I was always more interested in accessories than in actual articles of clothing, so it was a good fit for me. (Actually, I am not very interested in clothes at all). The gardener worked for Dictaphone as a sales rep, while I ran the store.
Over time, I collected a handful of pieces of “semi-precious” costume jewelry for myself. This is my carnelian Les Bernard necklace. Vintage Les Bernard jewelry is available online at about the same price it sold for originally ;). Carnelian represents passive female energies (whatever that means). Check out its meanings here.
Although I enjoyed the freedom from a corporate job running my own store, I was a little bored. Luckily, there were a few aspects of the job I enjoyed. One of my favorite parts of running the store was “doing” the window displays. I never had a class, a mentor, a single comment from anyone teaching me how to decorate a window, but maybe the proudest part of running the store is feedback I got from others about my windows. (I wish I had photos–maybe one day I will run across a photo!) There was a professor at Western Michigan University who loved my windows and one of her assignments was to send her students to check them out and do a write up about them. I would say that the most engaging part of my style was my use of color. For instance, my favorite window was all in bright red and natural wicker/bone. I didn’t bring in any other colors, and the contrast of those two colors was unique and really drew the eye.
Today my enjoyment of interior design is probably tied to my window design background, but I would never want to design someone else’s home interior (although friends have asked me to do so). I have confidence when it comes to doing what I like for myself, but I don’t want to have to take someone else’s “likes” into it ;).
What I noticed as I went through pieces of costume jewelry from one grandmother, then my other grandmother, then the gardener’s aunt, and a piece from an elderly relative who was cousin to my grandfather was that each piece, even if it is absolute junk from the viewpoint of the world at large, means something to me. Each piece makes me remember something about my past. The clay cross from La Purisima mission brought home by one of my children from a school trip, the kukui nut necklace from my parents’ trip to Hawaii, the hand-beaded bracelet a high school friend made. They all mean something to me. When I die, nobody else will have any connection to this jewelry. It will look like garbage to anyone who goes through my stuff.
Sometimes when I go to an antique mall I look at the vintage jewelry displays and try to imagine the stories behind the jewelry. But, honestly, it looks like shopworn seen-better-days stuff to me. That is a crushing blow, probably related to feelings of mortality. So of course I didn’t get rid of anything. Now I have the stuff in a drawer AND the photographs.
While I’m not a hoarder because (to the gardener’s everlasting annoyance) I like to throw things away (he is a hoarder!), I sure have managed to accumulate a lot of stuff for a thrower-awayer. I surprise myself at how sentimental I am. But then you’re probably not surprised!
On that note, have a great week! (hah)
Today is the last day of #NaPoWriMo and National Poetry Month. I have kept up my share of the bargain (the bargain with myself: I will write some version of a poem each day and in return I will not think I missed a good opportunity). I have one more poem to write today. Then I can relax on that count. I’ll wait a few days before I look at what I have and then start to revise.
Yesterday, I stopped and asked myself what my goals are for May. I can’t keep up the pace of April’s poetry, but certainly I can aim for a few goals. I think I’ll work on creative nonfiction in May, with the idea that I complete at least one short project or do some significant work on my long project. Additionally, I can play around with April’s poems.
I think it helped me not to post my poems every day because rushing to “complete” a poem is not a good idea (something I mentioned last week).
On the cat front, I had to take in a couple of my seniors for checkups. Felix’s heart murmur is stable and his poo is bugless. He continues to have IBS symptoms, but that is probably caused by the parasites he harbored in the past. Eighteen-year-old Pear Blossom’s bloodwork is like that of a “two-year-old cat,” according to the vet, but she has another UTI. Sigh. So tired of her getting those things. I worry about the quantity of antibiotics she has to take.
Tiger will be next. Then Kana. Then Sloopy Anne. Yes, all seniors and all with issues. But I need to wait for another credit card billing cycle :/.
As for Perry, he still does that rapid breathing thing sometimes.
Did anybody try writing a prose poem? I find myself falling more and more in love with the form.
In yesterday’s #NaPoWriMo prompt, you can find an essay about prose poems. Listen to this cool quote:
A prose poem is a poem written in sentences. It appears as a block of text without line breaks. You could think of a prose poem as a bowl or a box with poetry inside.
OK, I can’t help but see a glass fish bowl with a poem inside, pressing it’s wacky little face up against the side of the bowl, its feet and arms all squished in around the face. The poem is confined, but I’m drawn to the bowl and what’s inside as much as the creature inside is wondering what in the world is outside the bowl.
Sorry, but I cannot unsee this image. If it helps, imagine it’s a cat inside the bowl!
I feel as if I am writing more and more prose poems. There are two in Doll God and six in Kin Types.
This poem was originally published in the October 2013 issue of A Narrow Fellow and then included in Doll God.
This is from my copy of the book that I use for readings, so the binding is getting overused!
This past month I’ve written at least six of the poems in prose poem format. There is no telling what will happen to form in the revision stage, but it does show me how useful I find the prose poem.
Go forth and have a productive week! Or, if you prefer, have one where you pamper yourself, even if it’s for fifteen minutes a day. Who am I kidding? Let’s go for both!
Arizona spring means that the saguaro cacti have flowered with bridal wreaths on their crowns.
SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I can’t get a pic just yet, but a mama hummingbird has set up shop in the oleander right outside my door. The gardener saw three eggs in it, and I saw Mama sitting there looking busy.
An excerpt from Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published
Writing short stories and personal essays is a marketable skill in publishing. These types of short pieces are submitted and accepted every week. And the great news about this kind of writing: Writers don’t need a literary agent to participate in the process. We can independently market our prose and land bylines that make us proud. It just takes sending our work to the right editor, at the right time, and in the right way.
In 2009, I founded the Market Coaching for Creative Writers program to help writers get their short stories and personal essays published in magazines. In that program, I teach writers how to create targeted cover letters, professionally format their manuscripts, and find hundreds of perfect markets to match their voice. They study magazine guidelines and submission etiquette, learn the difference between copyright and the rights available to sell, and set up a system for keeping their submissions organized. By the end of a Market Coaching session, writers are not only able to submit their work to viable magazine editors with confidence; they’re able to repeat the process for every piece of short writing they produce in the future.
Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays is going to teach you all of those things, too and more. This book is a complete conversation on the topic of publishing short works.
THE SHORT STORY
A short story is a short work of fiction. Many of the same craft techniques used to write novels are used to write short stories, but the short story stands apart as a separate form of prose—one delivered with concise language. The use of compression and microscopic storytelling makes short stories unique. A short story isn’t a chapter from a book but a complete experience delivered in a small package.
Besides length, short stories are unique because the action usually revolves around a single dramatic event. It is a glimpse of a character’s life—perhaps one year or even one hour. Every moment in the story is a dance between action and reaction that is related to a single dramatic event. These stories begin as close to the main conflict as possible, giving an unmistakable immediacy to the prose.
Short stories can be enjoyed in one sitting, but that time frame varies from story to story. Short stories can be as simple as six words or run eighty pages long. Most short stories published today fall somewhere between one-thousand and seven-thousand words, but longer stories and shorter stories can still find homes. There is no hard rule to follow with word count.
The terms “flash fiction” and “microfiction” refer to the very shortest of stories. Microfiction is a story that tops out at one hundred words. Flash fiction is anything between one-hundred to one-thousand words. Anything above one-thousand words (and up to twenty-thousand words) is simply called a short story.
Well-written short stories are highly desirable pieces of prose. There are plenty of markets to place this type of work. You’ll find short stories in literary magazines (The Literary Review, Black Warrior Review, Passages North, etc.), genre magazines (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Lightspeed, etc.) children’s magazines (Cricket, Highlights, Ladybug, etc.), and commercial magazines (The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, etc.). Some are even sold as digital shorts on Amazon or other digital retailers.
I mention the caveat “well-written short stories” because even though there are many outlets for short stories, the competition to earn a space on the pages of a journal is quite stiff. For any writing project, you must create, revise, and polish your work until it meets the standards of the market to which you’re submitting, and in the world of short stories, that standard is skyscraper tall. Short stories are some of the most clever, experimental, urgent, and fresh prose being written today.
Part of the reason is the long-respected history of great storytellers and their iconic short stories, such as Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf,” and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” I could go on for quite some time before running out of names, but the point I’m making is that short-story writers still aspire to equal the masters. This category’s authors and publishers will always hear the echo of notable writers in the distance. So today, editors search for contemporary yet barrel-aged stories that have been given enough careful crafting to mellow into greatness.
Personal essays are appealing first-person stories often found in magazines and newspapers. They’re true stories told by people willing to share their intimate thoughts and feelings about life. They are incredibly popular to read, with plenty of submission opportunities for writers.
These stories are nonfiction, but they stand apart from other nonfiction pieces because of their purposeful use of storytelling. We’re not talking about self-help, how-to, or informational articles, which all require the writer to slip into an invisible narrator’s voice. Essays bloom well beyond that informational tone. Well-written essays harness cadence, individuality, a narrative arc, and creativity.
Studying the craft of writing is essential to creating publishable personal essays. Writing the truth is important, but great storytelling holds equal weight. Personal essays have rising tension, compelling characters, and mini-plotlines that push the reader toward a conclusion or a realization. A personal essay isn’t simply an anecdote but an in-depth exploration of a subject.
Essay categories include travel, parenting, grief, humor, satire, nostalgia, divorce, friendship, personal growth, and much more. Essays can cover a trip with your mother-in-law to Las Vegas or a midlife moment in the mirror. They can explore the injustice of racism or the beautiful healing nature of butterflies. They can be filled with hope, anger, or angst. Essays have that delicious inclusion factor that grabs readers by the heart and makes them feel something.
Personal essays whose style strongly emphasizes literary elements (symbolism, setting, style, tone, theme, characterization, etc.) find homes in literary magazines like Tin House, The Sun, The Paris Review, etc. Reported essays—an essay that contains a personal narrative with some degree of reporting and statistical analysis—are found in news sources and lifestyle magazines like The Washington Post, Aeon, The Guardian, etc. All other essays, including well-written prose with any degree of literary emphasis, are found in nearly every other print and online publication.
Many places that publish personal essays will state clearly that they are looking for creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is an industry term that includes literary essays along with other creative nonfiction, including travel essays, parenting essays, and pieces of inspired reportage, among other things. Outlets looking to acquire creative nonfiction are advertising, essentially, that they publish personal essays on a variety of topics that contain a large amount of scene development.
The key to well-written creative nonfiction is in the use of scenes to convey the story. Creative nonfiction essays use less narrative and more scene-by-scene storytelling—a technique that pushes the sensory experience for readers. When readers feel the action of an essay, they can make inferences, judgments, and emotional connections. They can experience the events with personal investment. Readers can then examine their own experiences in comparison.
Creative nonfiction is the fastest-growing area of nonfiction, with opportunities for writers in magazines and newspapers across the country. The genre allows for experimentation in a way that appeals to readers of fiction and nonfiction alike. Not every magazine is looking specifically for creative nonfiction, but if that’s the direction your work takes you, know that you will have many opportunities for publication.
Author Susan Pohlman has written creative-nonfiction essays for a variety of print and online outlets. She likens these essays to fiction, in terms of technique: “Creative nonfiction is an umbrella term. It is an easily accessible genre encompassing a multitude of forms such as the personal essay, the profile essay, participatory journalism, memoir, features, travel essays, biography, and inspired reportage on almost any subject. In short, creative nonfiction is the art of applying storytelling techniques to nonfiction prose. They are true stories that read like fiction.”
That’s right—they read like fiction. Don’t let that confuse you. They feel like fiction because they employ such a big dose of scene development, but creative-nonfiction essays are all accurate depictions of people’s lives. They are true stories crafted to elicit an emotional response.
Want to learn more? Grab a copy of Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays, available in bookstores everywhere.
My bio: Windy Lynn Harris is the author of Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published (from Writer’s Digest Books) and the founder of Market Coaching for Creative Writers, a mentoring program that teaches writers how to get their short work published in magazines. She’s a prolific writer, a trusted mentor, and a frequent speaker at literary events. Her long list of short stories and personal essays have been published in literary, trade, and women’s magazines across the U.S. and Canada in places like The Literary Review, The Sunlight Press, and Literary Mama, among many other journals. She is also a developmental editor-for-hire, specializing in short stories and personal essays. She teaches the craft of writing in person and online. More about Windy at her website: www.windylynnharris.com.