It’s All About Meeeeeee


The Marie behind Marie’s Meanderings. Photo by John Steffl.

Arts and culture blogger, Ed Newman, interviewed me recently about writing as a follow up to a panel I was on. Click here to read “Author Marie Zhuikov Talks About Her Life as a Writer.”

We are lucky to have Ed promoting the arts in our community!



Writing for Money (Yes, it is possible!)


I took part in a public panel recently at the Duluth Public Library. The topic was “Writing for Money,” and the panel featured three other local writers besides myself. It was sponsored by Lake Superior Writers, and facilitated by Felicia Schneiderhan, noted writer in her own right.

The audience was comprised of mostly writers who work for “free” and writers who currently receive pay. A few writer-wanna-bes were sprinkled throughout. I suspect everyone walked away with some new ideas to pursue — including me, who has been in this business for way too long.

Local blogger, Ed Newman, wrote this post about the panel in his blog, Ennyman’s Territory. Newman, a former PR man for Amsoil (a synthetic motor oil company), is also an artist, writer and culture buff who gets around to all the local arts events and shares his insights.

Hosting free panels like this are a valuable public service. This is the second of three planned by Lake Superior Writers. The next will focus on arts grant writing.


Author Reading on Wisconsin Public Radio


Writers from Duluth who participated in the “Writers Read” contest reading included (left to right) Lucie Amundsen, Maddie Cohen, Avesa Rockwell, Molly Hoeg, Felicia Schneiderhan, myself and Carol Dunbar. Missing is Liz Minette.

I was one of 19 writers from Duluth and northern Wisconsin who were chosen to read for a contest organized by Northland College around the theme of “gut instinct.” (For details on the contest, please see my previous post.)

My reading of the nonfiction story, “Book Signings can be Hazardous to Your Health,” aired today on Wisconsin Public Radio. You can find the link to the program here. My story starts at the 4:10-minute mark. Apparently, I am such a potty mouth that they had to bleep out one of my words. 🙂


How my Blog Helped me Win a Writing Contest

Gut Instict

Northland College in northern Wisconsin holds an annual writing contest organized around a specific theme. Chosen writers have the opportunity to read their poems, essays or short stories in front of an audience. Plus, for the past couple of years, the readings are broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio.

The theme last year for the Writer’s Read Contest was “The Dark Side.” I wasn’t going to enter because I didn’t feel like I had anything that fit the theme.

That is my strategy – I rarely write anything new for contests. I like to choose from pieces I’ve already written. I guess I’m lazy that way, or efficient. Take your pick!

A nice thing about this contest is that, unlike most writing competitions, they will accept stories that have been previously published. So you can recycle works that have appeared elsewhere or won other contests.

However, a friend encouraged me last year to “add my voice into the mix,” so I entered a couple of stories even though I didn’t think they fit the theme. My stories were not chosen.

This year, after learning that the theme was “Gut Instinct,” I performed a mental inventory of all my short stories, poems, and blog entries to see if I had anything that fit. I have learned from conducting writing contests myself that the nonfiction essay category usually has the fewest entries, so I decided to concentrate on my blog posts to increase my chances of being chosen to read.

A couple of postings came to mind, but one I wrote in 2013 was especially dramatic. It was called “Are Book Signings Worth Risking Your Personal Safety?” It detailed two run-ins I had with a robber when I was in college, and it also dealt with writing, so I hoped it would be appealing to the judges and to the listening audience. How did it fit the theme? My gut told me to run the robber over. My brain told me otherwise. Which one did I listen to?

However, I needed to make the story even more dramatic, so I rewrote the blog post. I also had a writer friend (the same one who encouraged me to enter last year) look at the story and offer comments before I submitted it. She had some good ideas for rearranging the middle and for adding more details, which I heeded. In return, I offered comments on the fiction story she planned to enter.

Lo and behold, both of us were chosen to read! The event is happening later this week and our stories will be broadcast at a later date. (I will be sure to post a link here when that happens.) (Here’s the link! My story starts at the 4:10 minute mark.)

I’ve toyed with the idea of writing my blog for money. But the whole reason I started it was to write for fun, and to try and make sense out of my life — and perhaps share some wisdom. So I have refrained from blog-writing-for-profit. However, now I have discovered that blog writing can also help a person win a writing contest! How cool is that?

The Year in Blogging, 2017


This was my favorite image from 2017. I took it at the beginning of the March for Science, which happened in Duluth, Minn. I call it “Standing Strong for Science.”

My fifth year as a blogger has come to a close. I hear in the blog-o-sphere that such longevity is unusual. Most bloggers only maintain their efforts for a year or two. What can I say?  I keep doing it because I keep coming up with stories to tell and places to visit. I don’t have any goals other than sharing my stories. Well, there might be a bit of book promotion in there, but I try to keep that to a minimum. Oh, and there’s also that time I tried to save my job, but more about that later…

In 2017, my blog saw the most traffic so far. It had over 4,500 visitors and over 6,100 views. I’m sure part of that is because there’s more content so my blog shows up in more searches, but I’d also like to think it’s because people find what I have to say of interest and of use.

I’m sure if I was active on more social media channels, I could up those numbers. But upping numbers is not my goal, it’s just a nice side-benefit of telling stories.

Here are the most popular stories for the year:

# 1 Why Sea Grant is a Kick Ass Program (And Not Just Because I Work There) – This was my plea for people to contact their congressional representatives to save the federal program that employs me. The post got shared widely among my colleagues and friends, and guess what? It worked! We all still have our jobs with an organization that works to study and protect one of our most basic requirements of survival: water.

Not only was this post the most popular for 2017, but for the entire time I’ve been blogging.

Congress ignored the President’s budget cut for us, and even gave us a little bit of a raise. It’s nice to know that your country values you. Alas, the president has zeroed out our budget once again for next year, but I’m not freaking out because the Sea Grant leadership suspects that congress will keep us in the budget as before.

Anyway, thank you for the support you all provided!! It means a lot.

#2 Iams Dog Food Alert!—This story didn’t take off right away like the Sea Grant one did. Its popularity is unfortunately based on the fact that many dogs other than mine have had bad reactions to the sneaky changes this company made in the recipe of their dog food. This is one story I wish wasn’t popular, but more and more people keep finding it though searches. I am glad the story is providing them with answers, but sorry that their dogs are having problems.

#3 Minnesota Singer/Songwriter Jacob Mahon – This is a short post that I whipped out in about 10 minutes after seeing a new Duluth-based musician. I suspect part of its appeal is that it was short and to the point, plus the guy is good! The story was shared by several people, which helped lead to its popularity. Go Jacob!

#4 and #5 The Lake, it is Said, Never Gives Up Her Dead and Remembering Black Sunday in Duluth – I group these two together because they are about the same topic, and because they follow each other in popularity. Fifty years ago, three of my cousins drowned in Lake Superior. The stories are about the incident and a special ceremony that was held on the lake in their honor and to remember the people who tried to rescue them. They serve as a reminder of how powerful this lake can be.

#6 Challenge: Describe Your Community in One Word – This story, which I wrote in 2014, describes the efforts of myself and a friend to find one word that describes the people who make up Duluth, Minnesota. I’ve noticed that this story pops up in a lot of searches, especially from the Philippines. I suspect there’s a school teacher there who is giving his/her students the assignment of coming up with one word for their city or country. My blog has probably been plagiarized for many a school paper, but that’s okay with me!

Thank you for meandering with me, and Happy New Year wherever you may be . . .

A Bunch of Cool Things I Learned at the World Conference of Science Journalists


About a week ago, I returned from the World Conference of Science Journalists, which was held in San Francisco. Although the coolest thing was seeing that there are so many of us doing science journalism in so many countries (more than 1,300 attended from seventy-three countries) — some of whom are the type who wear DNA double helix earrings — I learned many other interesting things during the five days of sessions.

Here are the highlights:

  • In writing a profile about a scientific woman, remember that, “If you wouldn’t say it about a male scientist, don’t say it about a woman scientist.” This applies to factors like cooking prowess, childcare arrangements, familial relationships, etc. This should go without saying, but apparently, some journalists don’t know this yet!
  • The current anti-science political climate makes our profession more important than ever. (Ron Winslow, National Association of Science Writers).
  • The term “climate disruption” is preferable to the term “climate change.” (John Holdren, Harvard).
  • “I love science because it can improve the human condition. The current absence of trust in science threatens this.” (Susan Desomond-Hellmann, Gates Foundation). She also said that skepticism of science is okay. Denialism is not. Science journalists and scientists need to re-establish confidence by being credible.
  • “Our oceans are our lives.” (Rashid Sumaila, University of British Columbia). Sixty percent of the world population lives within sixty km of the coast. Fifty percent of the oxygen we breathe is generated by the ocean.
  • Most of the extra heat generated by climate change is going into the ocean (93%). (Malin Pinsky, Rugters University). He also said that ocean animals are moving ten times faster than land animals to new areas in response to climate changes.
  • Some solutions to overfishing: use algal oil in animal feed instead of fish oil. Consume lower on the food chain. (Julie Thayer, Farallon Institute).
  • The arctic is a hotspot for ocean acidification. Unfortunately, with climate disruption, it’s also where most of the fish are moving in general. (Rashid Sumaila, University of British Columbia).
  • There’s a relationship between climate disruption and human violence. (Solomon Hsiang, Berkeley). It can take fifteen years for economic recovery to start happening after only twelve hours of a hurricane. Hurricane Maria undid twenty-six years of economic development in Puerto Rico. “The only thing more destructive is a nuclear bomb.”
  • It would only take three hours for the water supply for the reservation near Standing Rock in the Dakotas to be impacted by an oil spill, given the current location of the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Phil McKenna, InsideClimate).
  • UC Berkeley has twenty-nine libraries, and some have interesting specialties. There’s a “no-technology” one (put those phones away!) There’s one where it’s okay to talk. There’s one for meditation. There’s even a “food-is-okay” one.
  • There’s a way to verify carbon dioxide emission levels of different countries. It’s called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory. (Inez Fung, UC Berkeley). The levels of U.S. emissions are lower than those of China and Europe.
  • A lack of wild fish can have harmful impacts on us humans, including slavery and an increase in HIV. See the full story on my work blog, here. (Justin Brashares, UC Berkeley).

Louis Jenkins’s Favorite Poem


Louis Jenkins reads at Zenith Book Store in Duluth, Minn.

Laconic prose poet Louis Jenkins gave a reading at a book store last week in Duluth.  He’s one of my favorite local writers (even though he lives in a Minneapolis suburb now instead of Duluth), so I went. I think of him as Duluth’s Earnest Hemingway. He has that larger than life quality and talent. A chance encounter with him once even inspired a poem out of me. (See “Two Poets in the Cereal Aisle.”)

The Poetry Foundation website describes Jenkins’s poems as having “a tight focus on the mundane particularities of ordinary existence, using deliberately flat language to comic and often heartbreaking effect.”

The last time I went to one of his readings years ago, I left my cell phone on. My children were home with a babysitter, and I wanted to be available. I told the sitter only to call me in an emergency. Right when Jenkins was reading a poem, my phone went off. I was in the middle of the crowd and everyone looked at me. I was too mortified even to turn off the sound; I just fled the room with my ringer intermittently blaring.

The call was not an emergency. After mildly chastising the inexperienced babysitter (I am a Minnesotan, after all, we can’t afford to get all riled up), I sheepishly returned to the reading, waiting until the crowd was applauding to cover my entrance.

At last week’s event, you can bet I turned that sucka OFF. Jenkins read from his new book, “In the Sun, Out of the Wind.” Afterward, he took requests for readings from his other books and he answered questions.

One memorable question came from my friend and partner in crime, Sharon. She asked which poem of his was his favorite. His response was, “The next one.” He went on to explain: “Sometimes you think, ‘I got pretty close with that one,’ and those are the good ones. Other times you wonder, ‘Why in the heck did I write that?’ ”

Another person asked him what he thought of living in the Twin Cities. “Bloomington’s a lot like Duluth,” he said. “It’s only got one good restaurant.”

The topic of actor Mark Rylance came up. In case you haven’t seen the Tony awards lately, Rylance is the actor who, for the last two Tonys he’s won, recites a Louis Jenkins poem instead of giving an acceptance speech. Rylance and Jenkins even did a play together based on Jenkins’s book, “Nice Fish.”

Although age has taken its inexorable toll, Jenkins still has a twinkle in his eye when he reads, and his wit is unmistakably intact. I felt privileged to see him once again, and to sit through the entire reading this time.