I am a guest blogger today!



This year, as before, I attended the Hippocamp Writers Conference in Lancaster, Pa and met some wonderful authors and fellow writers. Lisa Romeo is a workshop leader whose program I was most interested in attending because she spoke about using essays and other short works to create a longer piece such as a novel or memoir. She did not disappoint as she walked us through her method of opening up and stretching out essays to insert more story and create longer and more compelling drama.

We ended up at lunch together and I told her about my job at the high school coaching students on their writing. She invited me to write a guest post for her blog, Lisa Romeo Writes, and it appears today at http://lisaromeo.blogspot.com/2018/11/guest-blogger-jane-paffenbarger-butler.html.

Take a look!


Hippocamp 2018 Writer’s Conference thrilled me


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This year’s creative nonfiction writer’s conference, Hippocamp 2018, in Lancaster, PA was wonderful. I was particularly delighted with two contacts I made, both offering future collaboration on projects I am thrilled about. This doesn’t even cover the many other writers I met who were fun, inspiring, and helpful, the great speakers, and finding some wonderful books for sale at the book table.

One of the notable speakers was Lisa Romeo, who gave a talk titled, “Reconstruction: Transforming Essays into a Narrative Memoir Manuscript.” I’ve attended her workshops before and always, she had plenty of very useful information to share. This year’s topic, well it is precisely what I need to know right now: how to use what I have already written to recraft the story I want to tell. After the talk I spoke with her further, then ended up at a lunch table with her later in the day. We hit it off so well that she asked me to write a guest blog post for her blog, Lisa Romeo Writes (http://lisaromeo.blogspot.com/) about my job as a theme reader at the local high school. I am thrilled to tell people about the cool job I get to do as a writing coach to young people, that also supports my own interest in writing.

The second wonderful encounter I had was with Alexander Monelli who held a session titled, “Call the Doc: How Documentary Filmaking Can Help Creative Writing.” Well, I love documentaries, so sitting in a class where we discussed their structure was fascinating. It was actually a bit frustrating, though, because the instructor kept stopping the video to make a point about how the narrative was developed just as the story was most compelling! Got to watch those online to see how they end up!  (https://www.monellifilms.com/) During the course of a Q&A I realized he might be the perfect person to talk to about producing a short book trailer for my memoir. My book proposal, which goes to various editors, promises that I will put a book trailer on my website once the book is published. Yikes! What was I thinking! No problem, Alex told me, he’d be willing to work with me to put it together. Yay! This story will be continued…

Books matter

When I was in third grade my teacher gave me this 525-page book as a gift. It’s tattered and broken now because I’ve read it many times and because it’s followed me through my life. I thought it was too hard to read and too long at first. I was only eight. But now I see that I loved it so much because it gave me hope and because it showed me how to have a voice.

I was afraid of Mrs. Rarick at the time, but now I wonder if she knew I needed this book, and was being especially kind. Maybe. Thank you, Mrs. Rarick.

Loved being in the New York Times last Monday

Considering the lousy reason I am mentioned in this article, it all worked out pretty well. Wells Fargo gave me back the money a fraudster tricked me out of, I experienced what it is like to be interviewed by a New York Times reporter, and I had the fun of working with a very cool photographer.

Stacy Cowley, the reporter, was so easy to work with, actually sending me a draft of her story about a week beforehand and asking for corrections which she actually took. Take a look, she’s a creative writer too. http://stacycowley.com/

Then they sent a photographer from two hours away, to my house, to take about a hundred pictures of me, suddenly, two days before the story was to run. I essentially had a professional portrait shoot without the fee, and have access to some pretty terrific photos for my someday book jacket. Here’s his website. The unusually great shots he took made perfect sense when I discovered he’d done photos for Newsweek, Time and Teen Vogue to name a few.


My former (and true) very weird job

Sometimes you just have to balance out the difficulties of being a grown up human being with a look at the absurdity of it all. Here’s a story I told recently at the West Chester Story Slam for the evening titled “It’s My Job.” Mine is about the time I worked as a research monitor for herpes studies. Watch out, it’s gets a little saucy in spots. See more of my stories on the video tab above.

Too bad I’ll be published in the New York Times soon


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One of these days shortly I’ll be showing up in the New York Times in a story about bank scams. Yes, I made some mistakes and landed at the local branch of my bank looking for help getting my account resecured. It was my son’s money that was taken and when he tweeted about it, a New York Times reporter, Stacy Cowley, who likes to write about Wells Fargo, contacted us and did an interview. Should show up in the financial section soon.

Turns out I’m on the cutting edge of scams relating to the latest banking feature, Zelle. It’s supposed to make it easy to move money out of your account, a bit like venmo or paypal, and I can tell you for sure, it was easy.

After failing to log into my bank account one day because I kept putting in the wrong password I got an email indicating the online access had been shut down due to too many false tries. If you want to reinstate your account click here and log in again, it said. I did that and thought nothing of it since I obviously was the one who had tried the multiple erroneous passwords. In my defense, I was trying to talk and enter my super-secure-confusing-and-difficult-to-remember password at the same time.

This alone was not enough to get me in trouble since there is a two step process to sending money through Zelle. The next day I got seven calls (!) from the same 800 number, all of which I ignored. It continued to the point, though, that we felt compelled to do a google search. That indicated it was my bank’s fraud detection unit so I answered. A wire transfer was supposedly in progress and we could intercept it by blah blah blah. I was texted, from the fraudster via my account and the Zelle function, a code number which I gave them. That was the second mistake. Then he siphoned off dollars as we spoke, but promised to reinstate my account with new credentials he’d fedex in 24 hours.

As soon as I hung up, a gentleman from the bank’s real fraud detection center called, but there was no way to recognize him as real. He was not as friendly, or as easy to talk to as the kindly fellow who had just bilked me, mostly because he wouldn’t even give me his name or the reason for his call, except to say he thought my account was under attack. Same as the first guy. He gave me some unlikely information that sounded suspect about how to be in touch with the fraud detection unit (call between 4:30am and 6:00pm Pacific Standard Time even though we live in the east and I was already on the phone with them right?, for instance), but he did urge me to go into the bank right away. It was unclear whether either of these calls was legit or not. Even the banker was confused once we explained it to her.

Three hours later and after speaking to a Wells Fargo representative at the fraud detection unit I could barely understand due to his accent, and who would not discuss certain elements with me because they had to do with my son’s account (which I have full access to), and after mistakes he made were corrected, we felt secure again. The bad guys sure were easier to deal with, though!

In the end, the bank returned our money in just days.

I want to be in the New York Times but I was thinking it would be for a book review or some other literary accomplishment some day. For now, I am going to bask in the glory of this tangential event and the happy ending Wells Fargo was able to secure.

A win at the Philadelphia Writers Conference!

I found a suspicious envelope in my mailbox Friday that threatened to be exceedingly convincing junk mail. It looked eerily authentic as something personal, but I’ve gotten this stuff before and I was not expecting much.

When I opened it, here’s what I found!

I attended the Philadelphia Writers Conference in June but left before the awards ceremony. Ah well! Foolish me.

Regrettfully, I missed the chance to hear my name called, hear a smattering of applause, hear anything they might have said about my writing, and missed the joy I might have felt for the past few weeks knowing I’d won a prize.

Happily though, it is here now!


LOST – Another win at the West Chester Story Slam!

“So even though it doesn’t sound likely, you can be lost and alone and not even know it”. That’s how I started my story Tuesday night when I stepped back up to the microphone at the West Chester Story Slam. The topic, LOST, was perfect for me, because I recounted growing up on an isolated estate just outside of NYC where it seemed no one was ever home, and I ended up arriving at adulthood unaware of just how lost I was.

As I told the crowd gathered at the Side Bar Restaurant, I love telling stories about my life because it helps me connect with people. Despite my unique circumstances, listeners relate to the depiction of isolation and insular thinking that was the hallmark of my childhood. I know because some stepped up to me afterwards to say they appreciated hearing my story. As they did I thought to myself wait, didn’t you hear me….I grew up surrounded by thousands of acres of trees. How can you relate to this?? But that’s what I’m talking about, sharing my stories has the power to connect me with people even though on the surface you might not think we had much in common.

Thanks to everyone there Tuesday night, but especially to Diane Yannick with whom I tied for first place. Because of this win we are both now slated to tell stories at the Grand Slam on November 1!

Thank you to my first beta reader!


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A few weeks ago I met with a woman I did not know, my first beta-reader for my manuscript of You’ll Get Over It, Jane Ellen, specifically to get her reaction. She, of course, knew all about my life and had opinions on it, and that was a shock. It was a surreal experience. Because I grew up in isolation one of my childhood dreams had been to have a witness, someone there to see it all unfold, so I wouldn’t have to live it alone. I used to tell the stories of my life to the trees, to the air, to no one, pretending there was someone there, and practicing in case someday someone would be there. Now that I have done that, told the stories to that nebulous someone out there, it feels pretty crazy.

She called the book “compelling” and “honest”. I was aiming for that! She said that the characters were living in her head even when she wasn’t reading the book. She even put in writing on my feedback questionnaire this: “It was also a powerful reminder of the importance of staying in touch with one’s feelings. From the standpoint of a writer, it was a strong example of powerful writing techniques.” When I asked what the theme was she wrote, “Finding one’s own voice, self, and sense of purpose in spite of great family challenges.”

She is a co-director at the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project whom I’d met at a writing workshop two years ago where I got her name and email address. So glad I dared to contact her recently asking if she’d be up for reading my story. I could not have asked for a better first beta-reader experience. Many thanks, Janice.

My winning story published! Yay!

The text of my winning story from the West Chester Story Slam, told in January 2014, was recently published in this anthology of stories. This is when I stood at a microphone in front of a live audience at Ryan’s Pub and told the silly account of how I explained to my son how babies are made after it became evident he wasn’t clear on some of the facts.

Some say it’s about how sex education differs by generations, but I say it’s about showing respect to your kids even when you must embarrass yourself. It’s about sacrificing for kids because you’re a parent. Either way, I am quite happy it was selected to appear in this anthology.

Here’s a link to the video of me telling the story.

WC Story Slam book cover