Exploring true North in difficult times.

Writing projects take second place during the school year when I teach at Capital University. I often wish for the spaciousness of creative work in the hubbub of the school schedule. Last the spring I applied for a residency, and received the wonderful news “you’re in!” The following day came this caveat: “You’re on the wait list.” Say what? For twenty-four hours I’d been looking forward to total immersion: long days writing, breaks taken up with reading, and listening to other writers read their work at night.

by Cynthia Rosi

The wait-list position never materialized. But, for the first time in 22 years, my kids are both in their own apartments. I had the option of creating a writer’s residency here at home.

You don’t have to create two weeks of calm to get the residency immersion experience — even a dawn-to-dusk Saturday will help to re-charge your creative batteries. While the kids were at home, I would sometimes book myself into cheap accommodation from Friday night to Sunday evening to work on my novel The LightCatcher.

1. Download podcasts. Instead of listening to the radio when I have to run errands, I’m plugging the phone into my car stereo for KCRW’s Bookworm, to Writers and Company from CBC Radio, The New Yorker: Fiction, Poem Talk, and The Moth. I have the ear-buds in when I’m doing housework or gardening, listening to interviews with writers on KCRW or CBC. Their intellectual process and their struggles help me when I face the page.

2. Delete the Facebook app on your phone. It takes a person about 10-15 minutes to drop back into concentration after checking social media, and the temptation to whittle away my time is too great. Sorry dear friends! I’m writing.

3. Order books. Consume the written word. Keep excellent writing nearby, craft books, memoir, fiction, magazines that showcase excellent writers and concepts that stretch you — The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harpers are on my kitchen table, ready to go when I sit down with a sandwich.

4. Bring a journal. I have problems writing, getting started writing, continuing to write. To deal with the internal voices that tell me (essentially) “you’ll never be enough” I write them down in the journal. I’ve acknowledged it, I’ve dealt with it. Then I go back to writing. This is so hard! Looking at my body of work, a person wouldn’t think that sometimes I can spend two hours dealing with those negative voices before I get a word written.

5. Get a writing coach or a writing buddy. I take those negative voices tracked in the little journal to a life coach that I’ve hired for this summer. We’re finding the root of those voices together and setting homework – both emotional and writing goals – for the following week.

6. Approach the juciest piece of writing first. Mark Twain’s method toward memoir was to tackle the most interesting part, leave it when he got bored, and skip to the next most interesting part. Do the same thing. You don’t have a lot of time. The days turn into weeks and months quickly. You’re laying down drafts and crafting. If you keep going, the breakthroughs will happen.

7. At night, when you are alone, pretend you’re at the most fun part of any residency, listening to writers read their work. Turn on your Fiction podcast from The New Yorker and let a writer lull you with an amazing story. Sop up all that language. You have the opportunity to create your dream-writer lineup with those podcasts. Curate the writers that invigorate and inspire your work.

Enjoy your residency! Please leave a comment to let me know what you do in your writer’s retreat to create the residency that nourishes your craft.



Tea connects British people. When the plumber came to fix the pipes in my home in Caddington, Bedfordshire, he would remark that it was “very hot in the house,” and that he’d built up a “powerful thirst.” I finally understood these were polite signals that I should boil the kettle for tea. Then I’d take a break with the plumber, dunk chocolate cookies, and chat.

If a construction crew dug up our road, the stay-at-home mums took trays laden with mugs of tea and biscuits out to the street for the workmen’s breaks.

Once, in London, I saw a man fall out of a second story window onto the pavement below. I stayed with him until the ambulance arrived, and then walked to the office. The first thing my boss offered me was a cup of tea.

Rosi’s The LightCatcher is an Official Selection winner in psychological suspense novels for the New Apple Book Awards.

The Victorian high tea, with its Mary Poppins images of cucumber sandwiches, no longer exists in most homes. If someone invites you to tea, it will be the evening meal at 5 or 6pm. A later, more formal meal is “supper.” The children will have had their “tea” and be dressed for bed.

When I lived in England, high tea was in such decline that china tea services turn up in second-hand shops, along with hand-embroidered linen tea napkins tossed out from grandma’s Welsh dresser.

In mourning for this lost custom I decided to host a “proper” high tea. I invited the village mums to arrive at 3pm for home-made scones, blackcurrant jam, and clotted cream which I made from Joy of Cooking, because my local shops didn’t carry clotted cream.

We sat balancing delicate, gold-rimmed cups on our knees: china for once, instead of our usual mugs. We continually consulted a little book called “The Etiquette of an English Tea” to check our manners. We spoke in pretend posh accents, and asked each other to “please pass,” dissolving into fits of giggles.

I loved tea.

My daughter’s friends, girls under five, played a manners game my mother in Seattle had made up for me when I was a little girl. I’d set the table with the china I’d picked up second hand, and put a cake and a teapot in the middle of a cloth-covered table.

“The Queen,” I announced, “is coming to tea. You mustn’t slurp, or spill, or scrape your spoon in the cup as you stir in your sugar. You must eat your cake with a fork, and wipe your mouth with a napkin.

“If you break the rules,” I said, and made my eyes big and round, “the Queen might not come back.”

I couldn’t tell which the girls loved more – to pretend the Queen was coming, or to slurp so she wouldn’t return!

As a reporter, the first thing I learned in a strange newsroom was how everyone took their tea. Strong with a little milk? Two sugars? Very milky? A finicky editor once led me into a tiny kitchen to make sure I poured water as soon as the electric kettle had boiled.

My editor quickly fished out the teabag with a spoon. “Brew not stew!” he said, and at the first sip happily smacked his lips.

But my strangest encounter with tea came during an assignment to report on a city-wide, dawn police raid. They’d rooted suspected burglars from their beds, and drove them to the station, without cuffs. After the booking sergeant checked in a grumbling crew, the police offered their charges – you’ve got it – cups of tea.

The most enduring memory of a cup of tea, the most delicious? Midwives cheered me on as I gave birth to my 9lb 10oz son with: “when you’re done we will bring you tea!” And they did – milky, with sugar, and a big stack of buttered toast.

The best cuppa ever.


The LightCatcher is an official selection winner in psychological suspense novels for the New Apple Book Awards.

I’m doing the happy dance!

Rosi’s The LightCatcher http://amzn.to/21ALQ5f is an Official Selection winner in psychological suspense novels for the New Apple Book Awards!

When a highly intuitive mother starts getting psychic hits about the kids next door, she thinks she’s going crazy. She’s not, but her doubt doesn’t stop a clock that’s ticking toward disaster.

Check out the full story!



Rocky Adams stood about six-foot-two, with a big belly and grizzled silver and black hair. In his sixties, he’d been through segregation in Alabama where he’d been made to use “colored only” washrooms. He’d run track on the same team as Olympian Jesse Owens, and talked about Jesse like he was just around the corner, or a phone call away.

I went to Middle School and part of High School in Seattle’s south side, bussed into the inner city. In ninth grade I ran track, and received the great gift of a coach I will never forget.

Most of the girls on our team didn’t have a father living at home, including me. Somehow, they’d divorced or died or drifted away. So Rocky became OUR father, the father of every girl on that team.

I remember how we’d meet on that red cinder track after school, and gather in a little cluster around Rocky. Every girl gave him a sideways hug. It wasn’t like Rocky asked for hugs. We just went up to him and put our arms around his big belly and we hugged him for all the father we could get.

Some girls would hang on him, and he’d have to peel them off and before sending us all around the track for a warm-up half mile. “I have a headache Rocky,” we’d complain, buying a rest or a day off, or “I’ve got pains.” He’d get stern: “Your head hurts, your belly hurts, next thing your hair gon’ hurt! When I was guarding them women in Korea, suddenly they’d go off in them bushes, and come back with a baby half an hour later! And you tell me you can’t get round that track?!”

Rocky worked at a sports store, and he never let a girl or boy go without the spiked shoes we needed to run our races. He made it clear, if you didn’t have the money for a bag, or Bengay, or a new set of spikes, you just needed to ask.

Years later I wondered how much of his own money he’d spent on those shoes. At the time I thought they were magical, free, but now I understand he must have sacrificed for us, like a good father. He lectured us tactfully on athletic wear, that a good bra would improve our performance – get your Mom to buy one. He drew the line at supplying those.

With his stories of Jesse Owens, with his chiding, he encouraged the girls to stay in school and the boys to give their best. Don’t get pregnant, he told the girls, but he didn’t shame or shun when one girl did and she had to leave the team.

As a fatherless girl, I counted on my hugs from Rocky. He gave me unconditional love and support for all the years I ran track with him, at school and during club in the summers when I’d take the bus across town to practice, even though I never came in first, not once, although I came in last plenty of times. My legs were too short, my hamstrings too tight, but Rocky said: “You got heart.”

I am grateful to have lived in a window of time when he could hug us like a father, and we could respond like daughters. I am grateful for Rocky Adams stepping up to be my “Dad” and I’m sorry that I moved to another country and then Ohio so I never got to thank him in person as an adult.

So, on throwback Thursday I want you to know that Rocky Adams was a hero, and I’ll always be trying to pay forward what he gave to me.


When a highly intuitive mother starts getting psychic hits about the kids next door, she thinks she’s going crazy. She’s not, but her doubt doesn’t stop a clock that’s ticking toward disaster.

The LightCatcher is available at www.thelightcatchernovel.com

With my two-pump, no-whip mocha sloshing down my hand in foamy dribbles I ran for the 255 bus from Kirkland toward Seattle, trying to make the first Saturday session of the AWP writer’s conference. I fed two dollar bills into the flat slot, dropped my quarter down the neck of the short slot, and took my flimsy transfer ticket from a poker-faced driver. As I licked foam from my fist I chose a seat close to the front of the bus and plonked down ready to caffeinate.

by Cynthia Rosi

There’s a period of adjustment when a new person gets on the bus. Surreptitious glances as I got checked out, and checked out the people around me. To my left was a young man with funky dreads and white earbuds looped to an iPhone; his eyes flicked up and flicked back down. Nearby two women in walking sneakers and matching ash-blonde bobs sat together with capacious handbags on their laps, and they assessed me in a nano-second from the corners of their eyes. I clocked them too, noting that Walking Sneakers closest to me had glittery gold swoops and new black shoelaces.  Very Kirkland, I thought.

Across the aisle from me another young man wore a green down jacket and jeans, with a somber expression on his face. He had a broad, worried forehead, and high cheekbones, and interesting brown eyes. I shifted myself in the seat, and he shifted too. In this moment of unconscious mirroring I felt a ping of curiousity about him.

The bus dipped down into the Kirkland Park and Ride and people got on to fill the seats at the back. As the bus chugged up the hill toward the 520 Freeway entrance, the man in the green down jacket got out of his seat and pulled a bus schedule from the rack by the driver. He sat down, held the schedule in front of his face like a hymn book, and began to read aloud, in a clear, steady voice:

Upon boarding, pay your fare with exact change, tickets or a convenient regional ORCA card. ORCA cards and ticketbooks are sold in downtown Seattle at Metro customer service offices in King Street Center and the Westlake transit tunnel station.

I leaned forward and cocked my head to hear him better. When he finished I asked: “Are you a poet?”

Seattle was awash with writers from the AWP conference, and the day before I’d seen a Human MicroPoet (she had a cardboard sign) wandering through the main floor with a tall, black-clad man who fed her lines from an opened book.

“No,” said the schedule reader. “I read out loud because everyone thinks I’m a retard, and I want to show them I’m not a retard. I usually carry a book that says “NOT A RETARD” on the front, but I left it at home.”

“I thought you were a poet,” I said, trying to digest the idea that anyone would call this young man a retard, digesting the humiliation of that epithet. “I thought you were doing ‘found’ poetry. Like when you circle words at random in a bus schedule and make a poem from it.”

We stared at each other, like we were trying to figure out who moves next in chess, like we’d lost our places and might have to flip a coin.

“Do you have a pen?” he asked me.

I pulled a green highlighter from my bag and handed it over to him. NOT A RETARD, he wrote on the front of the bus schedule.

“Darn. It’s a highlighter. It’s going to smear,” he told me. He held the pamphlet back up in front of his face so I could see his sign as he read:

Night Rider Tip. You can help drivers spot you when it is dark or during times of reduced visibility by wearing light-colored clothing and by standing in the most visible area of the bus stop. We don’t want to miss you!

I listened to his clear tenor voice, the way he read the words with such ease and skill, and I wished for a book of poetry. I am such an idiot, I chastised myself. I’m going to a writer’s conference and I don’t have even a simple chapbook in my bag to read on the bus! At that moment, if someone had tried to sell me a book of the world’s most terrible poetry for $60, I would have paid it. Instead, I pulled out my phone. A poet followed me on Twitter a couple days ago. I waded through a stack of Tweets but I couldn’t find the poet’s name.

Suddenly, the man got up and crossed the aisle with his hand stuck out. “I’m Kenneth,” he said.

“I’m Cynthia,” I said, and shook his hand from my seat, my stubby pale fingers clasped in his long, fine brown fingers, and I could feel the resolve of his grip. I watched the beauty in the contrast of our skins as we shook hands in that moment of palm-to-palm communion.

I opened my dicey browser and hoped for a decent connection. Poetry, I anxiously typed in. Up came the site Poetry Out Loud and mercifully, it loaded. I pulled up a poem at random, and handed my phone across the aisle.

Kenneth read After Apple-Picking by Robert Frost, his level voice scanning the lines. He handed me back the phone, put the schedule with NOT A RETARD in green highlighter back in its rack, and sat down.

“Would you like to read another?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. The second poem was: After working sixty hours again for what reason by Bob Hicock. As Kenneth read the poem I could see his mind opening, layers of it unwinding as Bob’s words – which I had never heard before – rolled from Kenneth’s tongue in mellifluous syllables, stumbling only when the browser timed out, the screen went blank, and I had to press the “refresh” button.

I listened to Kenneth read Bob’s poem about meaningless work, about busy work, and mind-numbingly bad logic, and I thought about my friend Jay who’d told me that when he was homeless, men in trucks used to pick up homeless laborers and refuse to pay them at the end of a working day.

I wondered whether Kenneth had any experiences like that.

“You could be a poet,” I said to Kenneth.

“No,” he told me, and then he tilted his head to one side. “Do they get paid?”

“Yes, if you win a poetry slam, where everyone reads their poems and then votes on them. But you have to get to know the other poets, and work your way up like in other things. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t win the first time.”

By now the bus had come off I-5 and entered downtown Seattle. My stop was next. I handed Kenneth a certificate for $5 off at the University Book Store that I had planned to use that day. I’d written www.cynthiarosi.com on the back of the card. “You can contact me if you want through that. Buy yourself a book of poetry.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I will. But I don’t have Internet access.”

I gathered up my two-pump mocha cup, my bag of pens and notebooks and AWP panel schedules, and put my hand out to Kenneth.

“Good to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand.

“Good to meet you Cynthia,” he replied.

“Be a poet Kenneth,” I said, and released his hand, and got off the bus.

Cynthia Rosi’s The Light Catcher is available through her website The Light Catcher Novel. Her author website is at www.cynthiarosi.com.

It’s deciding to do that thing you’re most afraid of, and discovering you’re not only alright, but better for the experience.

by Cynthia Rosi

Then seeing the next scary thing and saying: “I’m a brave person. I did the last thing that scared me to death. I’m a person of courage and I’m going to do this next thing that scares me to death,” and you do, and it’s ok.

That’s what makes life such an adventure.

You can be Marian the Librarian and lead an adventure-filled life because you’re facing your fears every day. It will look to other people that you’re just an ordinary bod going about ordinary bod things, but you won’t be.

You’ll be an explorer on the edge of your world because you are the bravest person to face the fears that make you the most frightened, and the most courageous to do those things anyway.

Cynthia Rosi’s The LightCatcher is available through her website The Light Catcher Novel. Her author website is at www.cynthiarosi.com.

Corks & Happy Memories

Dinner with Sue

It’s been a lovely party, you’ve eaten a tip-top desert, and drunk an excellent bottle of wine.

But once dishes go into the sink, and the door closes on your friends and family, it’s hard to capture that sensation of ease and happiness again.

Here’s a quick remedy. Take the cork from the wine bottle, write the occasion and the date with a marker, and put the cork in a pretty bowl.

Over the year, your bowl will fill with happy memories. On rainy days, you can trawl through the bowl re-living good times.

If you want to get fancy, write a little note about what you ate, your favorite stories, or what you loved best about your friends and family members. Snap it on with a rubber band, or a little bit of ribbon.

Happy Memories! May the year bring you sweetness in all its tender forms.

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