I went to a Holiday Brunch at my alma mater on Sunday to meet the new President of McDaniel College, Roger Casey. The college was named Western Maryland College when I attended, because of the Western Maryland Railroad’s importance in its early development. There always had been a lot of confusion about its location. It is not in the mountains of Western Maryland, but only nestled in the rolling hills of Carroll County.

McDaniel College maintains the same atmosphere it did when I attended. There are plenty of new buildings and apartments, but most were designed to blend in with the architectural styles. A stone bench where I spent time studying and contemplating is still there, as is the gazebo just up the hill. Except for being much older than the current students and taking longer to walk around the campus, I still feel like I belong. There is still a sense of community.

Jim Lightner, 1959, who wrote the book Fearless and Bold, about the college’s past, introduced President Casey, who will lead McDaniel into the future.

President Casey spoke briefly on that future. McDaniel College is going to go global, he said. There already is a campus in Budapest, Hungary, as well as several student exchange and study-abroad opportunities. The use of more technology is also in the President’s plans. I currently am taking a graduate level creative writing course online; finding it challenging and enjoyable. Web-based classes can offer unlimited opportunities.

He shared “McSwagger” with us and he plans on sharing his pride in McDaniel College with others. A swagger shows pride and McDaniel alumni have plenty of that, he said. Each attendee of the brunch received an “I am McDaniel” pin. defines swagger as “How one presents him or her self to the world. Swagger is shown from how the person handles a situation. It can also be shown in a person’s walk.”

The college opened its doors in September of 1867, with 37 men and women enrolled. It was the first coeducational college south of the Mason-Dixon Line and one of the first in the nation. I will discuss more about the college’s accomplishments in a future blog.

President Casey mentioned that many of today’s students will change careers (careers, not just jobs) five times in their lifetime. They need a good solid liberal arts education to prepare them for this kind of change. I only had two major career changes (four, if you count motherhood and caregiver). I held various positions in Human Resources/Personnel and in the field of writing. Iw as a journalist for both weekly and daily newspapers, a freelance writer, press officer and public affairs officer. I enjoyed helping both employees and the business while in Human Resources, but I love writing.

Now, as a caregiver for my mother, I am using this time to improve my writing skills and to try different genres. I credit my ability to write about a wide variety of subjects to my education at McDaniel College. I not only learned what I needed to learn at college, but I developed a love for learning that continues today. I would highly recommend McDaniel College and a liberal arts education. In an earlier interview, President Casey said, “The message is that McDaniel makes a difference. McDaniel matters. We change lives. I eagerly look forward to changing them with you.” I agree wholeheartedly with that statement and look forward to McDaniel’s increased presence in the world of higher education. Following President Casey’s lead, I am proud to say:

“I am McDaniel” and I McSwagger.

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Late Edition

I just finished reading the book Late Edition by Bob Greene. He talks about the newspaper business as it was; as he remembers it, before the advent of television, computers and websites. He starts in the now, reporting from a CNN Election Express on the Barrack Obama campaign. As the bus approaches Columbus, Ohio, he starts to remember scenes from his early years as a reporter. He remembers the sound of laughter and of typewriters banging in the Citizen-Journal’s newsroom. Through most of the book he takes his readers through a time when almost everyone read the daily newspaper.

Many of his memories were my memories. Like Bob Greene, I began as a newspaper reporter while still in college, first with the Carroll County Times, then with the Hanover Evening Sun, Carroll County Edition. I remember paste pots, typewriters, darkrooms and carbon copies. Like him, I loved the excitement of covering a wide variety of events, a new hospital, an archery club, a historical home, visits to our rural community from Senators and Governors and holiday events. It was work, but it was also fun. There was always the anticipation of what you would cover the next day. Like him, I also loved seeing my name in print, carrying my press pass and being thrilled that other people would be reading my words. For a short time, I also did a Man(?)-on- the-Street column, with photos and comments from area citizens. Like him, I also saved copies of many of my articles.

But I worked with mostly small newspapers, where the actual printing was done at a remote location. I seldom saw the papers rolling off the presses. The newsroom at my last reporting job, the Cumberland Times-News, was still very similar to the way he described his, large wooden floors, desks close to each other, news and sports reporters in the same room, the police scanner in the background. We were using computers by this time. But there was still the same sense of camaraderie. Although, I primarily worked in the Garrett County office, I enjoyed the time at the main office with its hustle and bustle, joking and sharing of ideas. I liked the interaction between sports, obits, police, features and general news, with the editors and photographers right there also. By this time, we didn’t need to print out our articles, nor did we need carbon copies. Everything was computerized controlled through a large, confusing (to me) hub. But past newspapers were still stored in the back and there was still a sense of urgency. Deadlines still had to be met.

Like most people, I watch the news on television, listen to it on the radio, and search for specific articles on the computer, but I still look forward to getting my local newspaper in the morning. I relish my memories and experience , and appreciate those who find excitement in bringing us the news of the day.


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Fall and Halloween always seem to inspire writers. We try to capture the sounds of rustling leaves, the smell of smoke, or rotting apples. We see the beauty of the changing leaves, taste the cider and pumpkin pie and feel the coolness of the evening as the changing season also changes our lives.

The poem below was for a writing class I was taking at Carroll Community College, using a definite set of words. Some people wrote about winter or home. I tried to use the words to create a mood and ended up with a Halloween type tale. Editing after class, I dropped one or two words, but kept the basic mood.

All Hallow’s Eve

By Jo Donaldson


She sat quietly, alone, humming a sad song

and watching the flickering purple candle that kept the spirits away.

She heard a whisper and looked out the window.

It was dark, blacker than black.


Did something move, behind that bush near the pumpkin patch?

She leaned closer to the window and stared into the dark.

Suddenly a pumpkin came sailing through the air.

It hit the window with a loud thump.


Then she saw something leap from behind the bush.

It was Jack, leaping, eyes blazing.

He ran up the path and slid across the wet lawn.

He stared, then threw another pumpkin.


“What are you doing Jack?”

“Scaring you.”

“Well, you did, but I see scarier things than you.

Go back to your pumpkin patch.”


She went back to humming and watching the flame

from the purple candle

as it flickered and died.


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It is National Novel Writing Month. I am trying to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. Quite a challenge. It is fun, time consuming and definitely worth it. I have participated three times, only finishing once and that was more semi-autobiographical than a fictional novel. But I have novels started, that I can continue when I am ready.

I know people who have completed their novels and sold them. I just haven’t had the time or determination yet. When I am ready, I can go back and see if I can develop that idea into an entire novel.

In the past, I started cold, with little preparation except a basic idea. This year I have a brief biography of my main characters and a very brief outline. After I started the first day, I was able to expand the outline, so I now know where it is going and what I want to accomplish. I think about my story just before going to bed and often develop ideas about how to make a character more sympathetic, where I can add more detail and how to add extra tension. This is my first attempt at a mystery novel, so I am excited about it. I love to read mysteries, so I hope all that past reading helps with this book.

NaNoWriMo was started in 1999 by Chris Baty and friends. After that he decided to make it an annual event. The month was changed to November to take advantage time spent inside during miserable weather. In his book No Plot? No Problem, Chris said that 140 people signed up for NaNoWriMo in 2000, with 29 winning. With more promotion, the event grew to 5,000 participants in its third year. In 2009 there were 167,150 participants and 32,178 winners.

The website states:

“Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.”

In his book Baty said that writing for quantity rather than quality had the strange effect of bringing about both. I agree. It seems the more I write, the more I want to write and the more my writing improves.

It costs nothing to participate, but donations help support a Young Writers Program. There is so much more so if you haven’t tried something so intensive, why not give it a try. Check out

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A snack and a cup of chai tea at Barnes and Noble surrounded by words. Wonderful! The photos of famous authors, the numberof books and magazines, and the variety of people there looking for books, always makes me feel good. Normally it is a relaxing way to shop.This week’s visit was a little different. I didn’t realize there was a book signing. A line snaked around the front and side of the store. I didn’t stay as long, nor have my usual relaxing chai, because of the crowd, but was trilled with the excitement generated by all those young people waiting to have their book autographed, taking pictures and sharing comments with each other. I’d never heard of, The Tatoo Chronicles, by Kat Von D, but obviously a lot of people were very enthusiatic about it.

I love big bookstores with the rows and rows of books on almost any subject. Barnes and Noble and Borders are the two closest to me. Now it also is easy to order books online. So many options.

But, I encourage you to support your local book store if you are lucky enough to have one. Personal service and access to local books is important. I love The Book Mark’et and Antique Mezzanine in Oakland, MD and miss the recently closed Lotus Books in Westminster. One of my friends said she spends lots of time at The Little Professor in Eldersburg.

Bookstores and libraries are important to a fulfilling life. You want to learn to quilt, they have a book for beginners or experienced quilters. Looking for a good mystery to solve or a romance to dream along with? Such books are abundant. Horror, suspense, travel, biographical, children and young adult books. No problem. Books that can help you with home improvement projects. They have it. They expose us to different lives and offer ideas, entertainment, and access to new worlds.

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Writers’ Groups

You might find it helpful to be part of a writers’ critique group. It offers a chance to meet with others who also are interested in writing. Plus you have the opportunity to have your work read by another set of eyes.

Last week I went to a meeting of my writers’ critique group. This group is still relatively new and still working out details. The basic plan is for members to post their stories or novels for members to critique. Each member should critique works of two other members for each one they post. We meet every four to six weeks to introduce new members and share information.

I only joined last spring and already received several very helpful critiques, as well as critiqued interesting novels by other group members. Since this is all online, we have more time to read, think about the writing and be able to do a more detailed critique.

Before I moved back to Carroll County, I belonged to another writers’ group in Garrett County. This was more traditional. Members would bring in several copies of their writing. We all read from and marked on our copy while someone else read the work aloud. That way you heard if the words sounded the same as they did in your mind. Then members discussed the work, asked questions and made suggestions, notating typos and other notes on the hard copy that was returned to the author.

It is important to remember that a critique is only one person’s opinion and suggestions are only that – suggestions. You may decide to use them or not, depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the work.

Another group I attended once, sends their work to members through email. Then each member brings a printed copy to the meeting with corrections and suggestions already noted. They have a more detailed discussion at the meeting. This gives the members time to think about what is written, instead of needing to react quickly.

All these methods have merit. You should try to find that one that best fits your personality and needs.

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Celebrate Fall

Last weekend a friend and I went to the Autumn Glory Festival in Garrett County, Maryland. We had a wonderful time, from Thursday’s Oktoberfest celebration to Sunday’s Great Pumpkin Race. The four-day celebration of fall, featured two large parades, dinners, musical performances, fine art, craft and quilt shows and much, much more.

I remember, years ago, watching Saturday’s Grand Feature Parade with my son and daughter, standing along Second Street in Oakland. Pulses increased as the sound of the pipes and drums signaled the beginning of the parade. Color guards, bands, Ali Ghan mini-cars and clowns, floats, and much more passed for the next hour. Vendors sold large balloons and light sticks along the parade route, temporary food booths massed along Green Street. Festival events are spread throughout the county, such as the corn maze in Accident, carriage rides and dinners in Mountain Lake Park and a variety of activities at Wisp in McHenry.

I kicked the fallen leaves as I walked down the sidewalks in Oakland. The colors of fall: reds, yellows, and oranges, interweave in my memories of other Autumn Glory festivals. For the past 15 years, the Autumn Glory Festival has been a fall tradition for me. It is a celebration of harvest and change. I love this season.

I also recently went to a local fall festival in Westminster, Maryland and then to one at the Carroll County Farm Museum. What a fun way to enjoy the beauty of fall and the bounty of the land. It’s time to feast on local apples, honey, pumpkins and apple cider, take a hayride or a brisk walk in the park.

After summer’s heat, the cool crisp air is invigorating. I am energized. Now it’s time to use some of that energy in my writing.

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Book Festival

What a wonderful time we had last Saturday, when we attended the National Book Festival in Washington DC. Beautiful weather, (maybe a little warm, a record-tying 93 degrees), on the wide open Mall  (maybe not so wide open that day, with 150,000 people attending), but it still felt like a little bit of heaven on earth – books, authors and lovers of books.

My friend Betty and I took the Metro this year to Washington D.C. After walking to the Mall, we each received our red 10th anniversary bag and started to explore this festival world. This was our fourth year at the National Book Festival and we were happy to help celebrate “A Decade of Words and Wonder.”

Huge tents dotted the Mall. We started with a visit to the Library of Congress tent, picking up material about researching family history, preserving personal collections and the Veterans History. There was access to the World Digital Library, and hands-on activities for children.

Readers walked among tents set up on the mall including Let’s Read America; the Pavilion of the States, Children, Teens & Children, Fiction & Mystery, Poetry & Prose, Contemporary Life, and History & Biography. We also visited the Digital Bookmobile and the C-Span trailer. Borders had a huge tent with books available for sale. Betty took a book she purchased for one of her grandchildren to be signed by Rosemary Wells.

We listened to authors such as Diana Gabaldon, Rosemary Wells, Scott Turow, Olga Grushin, and Wil Haygood.  Ken Follett talked about the need to write characters that people care about. Martha Grimes, whose detective stories are named after pubs in England, dotted her speech with humor.

Also among the more than 70 best-selling authors, poets and illustrators, who gave presentations at the festival included Laura Bush, Isabel Allende, Michele Norris, Suzanne Collins, Jonathan Franzen, Brad Meltzer, Jane Smiley, David Remnick, Craig Robinson, Anchee Min, Gail Godwin, Pat Mora, Jules Feiffer, Elizabeth Kostova, Judith Viorst, Peter Straub, David E. Hoffman,  Gordon S. Wood, Martha Grimes, Timothy Egan, Bruce Feiler, and Spike Mendelsohn.

Charter sponsors of the event are Target and The Washington Post. So many other organizations and businesses are involved including AT&T, PBS Kids Raising Readers, The Penquin Group (USA), Scholastic, Inc. ReadAloud.Org, Borders, the Junior League of Washington, library representatives from the 50 states, plus many, many others. It is wonderful to see so many interested in promoting reading.

Whether you are interested more in reading or writing, this is a festival to consider for next year.  More information is at

Also books and reading are promoted by the Baltimore Book Festival.  Learn more about this weekend at

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More PR Hints

My writers’ group met this week. It’s always stimulating to meet and talk with other writers. I enjoyed reading and sharing comments about individual works among friends at meetings of the Wednesday Writers’ Guild in Garrett County, MD. I still try to attend some meetings and stay in contact with group members. Now I am part of the Eldersburg Novel and Short Story Critique Group in Carroll County. Much of our reading and critiquing is done online. Both groups offer opportunities to try new things, receive feedback and improve my writing.

Well, I said I would talk a little more about writing press releases, so here goes. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, the five W’s are key elements in writing a press release.

What are you writing about? a fundraising event, new officers, an important meeting.

When will it take place? (date and time)

Where will it take place? Location, maybe directions if needed.

Who? Individuals involved. Local newspapers like to run names of local people.

Why? To raise funds, to educate, to provide service.

How? Either how is the event/meeting, etc. happening, or how can the public get involved.

Remember, you are trying to communicate. Avoid jargon. Unless you are writing something departmental, don’t write for your peers. Write clearly and concisely. Many small newspapers do not have clearly defined guidelines, but they still depend on photos and press releases to help fill their pages.

Exposure in a newspaper, on a website, or on the radio can help an organization attract new members, encourage people to attend a fundraiser or donate something, get public support, and make people aware of a problem or issue.

But, what can you write about? Easy topics of course are new officers, fundraisers or special projects. When officers change, that is a good time to send a photo of the new president or chair and a brief article about his/her background and goals of the organization.

If your group really needs more exposure but nothing special is happening, be creative. Members might help clean up a park trail or organize a drive for items for the domestic violence center. If you can, take a photo and send in basic information and names. A picture is still worth a 1000 words. Just remember to include a caption and identify people who are clearly visible. A press release gets exposure for your group. It also might encourage others to help.

Include information in the press release about where the public can get more details, such as a phone number or website. Also, make sure you add contact information for the newspaper, in case they want more information.

If you yearn to write, this is one way to begin. Enjoy.

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Writing a Press Release

A blog. I needed a blog. But what to blog about. It would be easiest to start with what I know and love: reading and writing; oh and food and travel. Well, I like a lot of things.

A few years ago I did a presentation on how to write a press release. Since I still have those notes, I decided to start there and share what I know.

I’ve written press releases for all kinds of organizations through the years, beginning in my teens when my father was a Boy Scout leader. Later, after becoming a newspaper reporter, I found it frustrating, trying to get information about fundraisers from charitable organizations. These people were doing wonderful volunteer work for good causes, but they didn’t know how to get media attention. But it’s so easy.

Newspapers, radio stations and websites are often looking for news. They have reporters covering the government, police, major events, etc. But they also like to include other information of interest to their local readers. That is why they welcome press releases. They can edit it if necessary, but the better prepared it is, the more likely it is to be used.

Press releases reach others who may be interested in your organization or fundraiser. Ads are wonderful and we can discuss them more in another blog, but press releases can provide more detailed information. I worked with press releases as a reporter and sometimes turned the most interesting ones into larger articles or features. Having worked with them from both sides, I can tell you, writing press releases is not all that difficult. I’ll primarily talk about newspapers, but the same principles apply also to other media.

One easy way to remember what newspapers need is to think of poet and author Rudyard Kipling, (who wrote The Jungle Book, Kim, Just So Stories, and The Man who Would be King). A journalist also, he wrote:

“I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all I knew)

Their names are what & why & when and how and where and who.”

All journalists use the 5 W’s and H to make sure they cover the necessary details in an article. Remember to use them when writing a press release. Also important is contact information, whether it is you or an officer in your organization in case more information is needed.

Whether you are a writer and want more experience and to see more of your writing in print or a member of a group who just wants to help more.

Almost all groups can use someone to help with publicity. It is amazing how many organizations, with well-educated members do not receive much publicity because no one is willing or has time to compose and send something to the newspapers.

For those who want to write, composing press releases for different organizations gives you experience, clips and recognition, as well as the opportunity to help organizations or individuals. I’ll give you more hints in future blogs.

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