Friday, July 29, 2016

Writers--Tell Us Your Success Story

This morning, Katie Davis, of the Institute of Children's Literature, posted this on the group facebook page :  Finish Line Friday! The writer's journey is like no other. Share one of your successes here that only fellow writers will understand.

In an instant, one of the successes I am most proud of came to mind. The picture above was taken in a fine art museum in St. Joseph, Mo. a few years ago. Jennifer Rivera, a Kansas City abstract artist put out a call for submissions of poems. She would select a certain number and then create a painting to illustrate each one. I was pleased to have my poem chosen and delighted that my husband and I were invited to the Opening Night of the exhibit. I will never forget the thrill of standing before the painting and my poem. The more I studied the painting, the more I saw the interpretation of my words. 

I'm not sure why this is one of my most treasured successes in my writing journey. Perhaps it is because this is probably the best poem I have written to date and to get further exposure for it was wonderful. Or maybe it was the thrill of watching other people at the exhibit stand before my poem and the largest painting in the exhibit. It would be akin to a novelist watching someone read his/her book. A third possibility is that the artist saw what I tried to portray in Play, Gypsy Girl, Play."  You can read more about the poem and painting in a previous blog.

I think Katie Davis hit on a great suggestion for the members of her facebook group. Note that she asked for "one" success story. Writers sometimes have many successes so it might be difficult to select the very best one. It was interesting to me that I had no problem in selecting the one I wanted to highlight. Maybe a special one will pop right up for you, too.  I'm looking forward to reading some of the other responses on the facebook page.

How about you? What success story comes to mind? Will you share it with us? Do so by making a comment at the bottom of this post. It would be interesting as well as educational for my readers and for me. We have writers of all stages who are readers here. Maybe you're a newbie and you've only had one success story so far. That's the one that is going to be like no other. If you're a seasoned writer, you'll have many success stories to choose from. Which one truly stands out and why? 

We talk quite often about rejection but here's your chance to toot your horn a bit and tell us about one of the good times in your writing journey. Perhaps you were published in a top-rated magazine. Or landed a book contract. Or were hired to write a column based on previous writing. This blog is not just for reading. I love it when readers participate, too. Share with us, please. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Summertime Memories Are Stories To Write

Minnie Minoso--White Sox Player

Do you have special memories of summertime during your growing-up and teen years? I wrote a short piece about mine last year. You can read it here. Hopefully, my memories will trigger some of your own and you can write a memoir piece to submit somewhere or add to your Family Stories book. 

Minnie Minoso and Me, Riverview Too

I recently saw a notice detailing the death of Minnie Minoso, the first black major league baseball player on the Chicago White Sox team. Reading about this Cuban player’s many accomplishments brought back a memory.

When I was growing up, my dad received baseball tickets through his job from vendors he dealt with. Our family had many a nice afternoon watching either the Chicago Cubs or White Sox from box seats near home plate.

One sunny afternoon in the early 1950’s, when I was about 13 years old, we watched the Sox. My cousin, Carole, and I sat in the front row of the box with one of my brothers. Mom, Dad and another brother were behind us. The fans were cheering the home team, men were hawking their wares through the stands. The sun was shining and the sky was blue, not always the case in Chicago.
Carole and I had our sunglasses on, feeling like movie stars of that era.  At our age, we were more interested in people like Betty Grable, Esther Williams and Alan Ladd than baseball players. Even so, we were having fun.

Minnie Minoso came up to bat. He had a bad habit of letting the bat fly after he’d hit the ball. As he ran to first base that day, his bat flew into the air and shot like a missile straight toward me. My dad saw it coming and literally jumped over the seat I was in. The bat hit him on the arm and bounced off to the floor of our box, saving me from a possible head injury.

Ushers came running down the steps to see if anyone was hurt. I was scared but more of the fact that my father had suddenly jumped over me than the bat sailing toward me. Carole and I were probably looking elsewhere and talking so I never saw the bat coming.
An usher questioned us at length, asked for name and address and left once he was assured all was well. Dad’s arm may have been a bit sore but he never complained.

A few days later, we received a letter in the mail signed by Minnie Minoso. He apologized for throwing his bat and the near accident. He ended with saying he was grateful no one had been seriously injured.

The incident became a family story told many times. My mother was not a saver so the letter got tossed out after a reasonable amount of time. How I wish I had that letter signed by one of the most famous baseball players now, some 65 years later.

Summer wasn’t summer without at least one trip to a vast Chicago amusement park called Riverview, which was home to some of the best roller coasters ever. My dad told us that an uncle of his was a ride inspector and often had free tickets for Dad and his friends in the 1920’s. Riverview existed from 1904 to 1967.

Dad paid for our family at the entry gate. My cousin, Carole, often came with us. We rushed inside to go to Aladdin’s Fun House where we looked in mirrors that made us look funny, walked across rolling floors, rode down a moving slide,  navigated a turning barrel, walked in dark halls waiting to be terrified when a corner lit up with a scary scene and lots of noise and more. We rode the famous Bobs roller coaster, the Chute the Chutes boat ride—a thrill as a boat filled with people was hoisted high to the top of a long chute. Down we went into the water, screaming and laughing all the way. Carole and I loved the Parachute ride and the Ferris wheel and, of course, the Tilt-a-Whirl. I think we slept all the way home in the back seat of the car, exhausted from all we’d done.

My last visit to Riverview was with a date the summer after 8th grade graduation. Mike had been my grade school boyfriend since kindergarten. We walked through the gate, holding hands, and headed straight for Aladdin’s Castle. Mike treated me like a queen that day, keeping his arm around me on the rides and I loved that. It stopped when we climbed into a car for two on The Bobs, the scariest, fastest roller coaster at that time. The attendant clamped the safety bar in place and I waited for Mike to put his arm around me. Imagine my surprise, when he grabbed the bar in front of us with a death grip and said, “You’re on your own on this one!” We both screamed all the way through the ride and wobbled when we got off.

I learned that day that perhaps Mike was not husband material. He’d take care of me til the going got tough, and then he’d tell me I was on my own. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Thoughts On Being Rejected

When you receive rejection after rejection, it's pretty hard to think positive like today's poster recommends. With each new disappointing return, we sink a little lower into the muddy puddles of rejectionville. We feel so alone, so abandoned by the world, like no one else has ever been where we are.

But consider the rejections given people other than writers. Look at this list and you might not feel so alone:

  • artists
  • sculptors
  • playwrights
  • architects
  • musicians
  • athletes
  • politicians
  • inventors
  • dancers
  • actors/actresses
  • salespeople
  • job seekers
I'm sure there are others that might be added to the above. Note how many are in the creative arts world. One thing we must keep in mind is that we chose to pursue this field of writing because of several factors--passion for writing, a talent we feel we have, a way to make some money, searching for success. We didn't choose to be writers so that we could be rejected over and over. That little addenda just happens to come with the territory. Nevertheless, we did choose to write.

There is probably no job that is totally free of negatives of some kind. Set your mind to the fact that rejection is a part of a writer's life and you're going to have to deal with it. Plan on how you're going to do so. Make positive thoughts and positive action a part of your plan. 

Note the heart balloon at the bottom of the poster above. Remind yourself that, despite many rejections, there's love from your readers many times, too. Also, know that others do care. Whether you keep those rejections to yourself or tell, even rant and rave, friends and family is another choice. Maybe if you share your disappointment, you'll receive some welcome sympathy. Only another writer can actually empathize; they are the ones who have a better understanding. 

We know that we aren't going to get an acceptance on every submission. We know that and, even so, we experience disappointment each time a sub comes sailing back with a No answer. Just don't let it fester and become a wound that will never heal. Check today's poster often for a good reminder of which is the better direction in your writing life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Truth Tuesday--5 Truths For Writers

Yep! It's Tuesday. Let's call it Truth Tuesday this week. It's time for us all to be true to ourselves as we pursue our writing journey. Do any of the following Truths fit you? Are there others that might be added to this list?

Truth #1:

Do you ever try to fool yourself into thinking you're a good enough writer without continuing to learn more about this business? When I started teaching, I was surprised when I had to attend in-service meetings on a regular basis to continue learning more about my chosen profession. A new college graduate often steps into the first job thinking they are well-trained after 4 years of college. I figured out pretty quickly that those college years gave me a base to build on, no more. It's no different with writers. Learn a little as a base and then keep adding knowledge as you move along. Are you ever finished? I don't think so. We can always learn something new.

Truth #2:

Do you have lots of valid excuses for not submitting your work for publication? Or are you not submitting because you're afraid of rejection? Afraid you might find out you aren't good enough to be a published writer? Or because you know you can do better if you put more effort into your writing? We often make up reasons to avoid doing something--like submitting--because it's easier than admitting to the truth.

Truth #3:

When you get a negative critique of your work, do you become defensive and ignore the suggestions given by the person who did the critique? If you want to succeed in your chosen field of writing, you will need to be open to suggestions from other writers. You don't have to agree with everything they tell you but give real consideration to what they point out. Especially if several people find the same trouble spot. Then you know you must work on that area.

Truth #4:

When there is a deadline to meet, do you procrastinate and then have to do a rush job? If you own up to this one, you are your own worst enemy. In many of my posts here, I urge writing more than one draft and I suggest that you let that first draft simmer a few days before you revise and edit to create another draft. Maybe even a third one. Guess what? That takes time, and if you wait too long, you write in a hurry and it's not going to be your best effort. As a beginning writer, I was always excited when I finished a story and wanted to send it out immediately. I hadn't learned the benefit of taking time and writing more than one draft. When I did, it proved to be beneficial.

Truth #5:

Do you avoid writing groups because they take up too much time? Or do you turn away from them for fear of being judged harshly? Or do you fear that your work might not measure up to others in the group? Maybe several in the group feel the same way you do. What everyone needs to do is to remember that the group purpose is to help one another. It's to continue learning this craft. No one likes to be judged unfairly but when it's done with the spirit of helping you become a better writer, how can you fault it? Take a deep breath and join a writing group. Someday, you'll be glad that you did.

I don't like to say that we lie to ourself but we do tend to avoid the truth sometimes. Be honest in evaluating your working habits. Make a list of places in your writing life where you could use some improvement. Keep it somewhere that is visible so it serves as a regular reminder. It may be more comfortable to avoid the truth in your wriitng life but if you face it head-on, you'll reap the benefits as time goes on.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Critiquing Other Writers Using a Keyword

How many times have we all thought that we'd never, ever say some of the things our mothers said? Next thing you know, you are the parent and those same words slide over your tongue and out your mouth to someone else. When that happens, I sometimes want to bite my tongue. Other times, I suddenly know why my mom said this or that.

One of the standard comments my mother made started this way:  Just a bit of constructive criticism. And then she'd be off and running letting me know what I'd done wrong and how I might correct it.

I remind myself of her good method of correcting me. She let me know that what she was going to say was to help me do something better than I'd done. The keyword, of course, is constructive. Criticism can be rather harsh if we're not careful. Adding that keyword softens the blow a bit and it also teaches us a little something, as well.

All this leads me to discussing critiquing a fellow writer's work. If you've belonged to a writer's group of any kind--face to face, online or email message--you've most likely given critiques to other writers and received some yourself.

When you critique another writer's work:
  • do so only when asked
  • give your overall impression first, then do a line by line within the text
  • start with the positives
  • end with something positive, too
  • remember you are critiquing the writing, not the writer
  • be honest and fair but do so with kindness
  • when you do a line by line critique, mark the things you like as well as those that need work
  • point out areas of repetition
  • do not attempt to do a total rewrite for the writer
  • include punctuation and grammar corrections where needed
  • in your opening remarks, let the writer know if whole areas might be cut or expanded upon
  • remind the writer that your critique is one person's opinion
When you receive a critique:
  • remember to thank the person who did this favor for you (even if you don't like what was said)
  • adopt the attitude that the critique is meant to help you grow as a writer
  • adopt the attitude that the critique is meant to help you polish your piece before submitting
  • if you don't like what you received, set it aside for a few days, then read it again
  • remind yourself that any criticism is meant to be constructive, not destroy you
  • resolve to revise and edit using the suggestions the critiquer gave
  • be aware that, if you disagree with part of the critique, you are in charge and do not need to change it
Beginning writers tend to look for those 'atta girl' critiques when they first get brave enough to submit their writing to the eyes of another writer. That's natural. We all like praise but if we've agreed to have our work critiqued, we need to be able to take the bad along with the good. Darned few of us, whether beginners or seasoned writers, write a perfect piece even though we've done more than one draft. Other eyes see what our own often miss. That is exactly the reason we need to have someone else look at our work. That goes for poetry as well as prose. 

Long before I became a writer, my mom taught me the benefit of constructive criticism. There were times I resented those lessons just like you might resent parts of the critiques you'll receive. Even so, I knew in my heart that my mom was trying to help me learn something and doing it in a kind way. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Character Development Exercise For Writers

 Characterization is a big part of writing fiction, be it a novel or a short story, or even fiction for children. When you begin, you have the main characters in mind but what do you really know about each one? If you're lucky, you'll have this character really defined in your mind and will be able to transfer him/her in print so that your reader can see and know exactly what you see and know.

For most of us, however, we don't have our characters completely defined. The Character Brainstorming chart above would be a good aid in doing so. I'll list the categories below:

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Hometown
  • Age
  • Looks
  • Family
  • Favorite Food
  • Biggest Fear
  • Favorite Activity
  • Least Favorite Activity
  • Best Friend
  • Anything Else
You can jot down words or phrases next to each category, or you can write an entire paragraph or more. Let your imagination take you as far as possible.By the time you get through the entire list, you should have a pretty good idea of who this person is and  how he/she thinks or what motivates him/her.

Do this for each of the main characters in your story. When you know the characters well, you should be able to write your story easily. In fact, the characters may take hold of the story and let you know exactly how to write it. Don't laugh. It can happen that way. 

The longer your story is, or if a novel, the greater character development you'll do. In a middle grade short story, the word count maximum is often so short that the writer doesn't have time to fully develop a character, but write a book for kids of that age, and you can make your characters come alive just as an adult novelist does.

I can hear some of you saying that doing this Character Brainstorming exercise will take up too much time. You'd rather write the story and develop the character as you go. If that works for you, fine. But do give this exercise a try at least for one story or book and see if you think it worth the time and effort. 

I think that you might even use this exercise when writing a memoir piece. Sure, you already know the characters but your reader does not. Much of what you know about each character in a memoir is already-learned knowledge and you might not convey the full character to the reader. 

I would like to credit whoever designed the Character Brainstorming Chart but I found it one day without any name or other identification. I think the person who designed the exercise would be pleased that it is being used. At least, I hope so!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Movie Memories

One of my favorite theaters

I watched a clip of an old movie with Jimmy Cagney and Bob Hope dancing. What memories it brought back. You can all most likely write about your 'movie memories' which would be a great piece to include in your Family Stories book. 

What kind of theater did you go to? What kind of movies did you like? How did they influence you? Was it a family thing or only for the kids? Did you save your nickels and dimes to spend at the movie theater? Who were your favorite stars? Your favorite kind of movie? Did you go back to see any movies twice. 

Living in suburban Chicago, I had a choice of several theaters but two we could walk to were the ones my girlfriends and I frequented most often. What we loved to do on a Saturday morning was ride the 'el' train downtown so we could attend the morning showing at the Chicago Theater. They had a first run movie and a stage show after the movie with top name celebrities. What a thrill it was for teen-aged girls. We moved on from there the short walk to Marshall Field's for shopping and lunch. 

Here's a short essay I wrote about my family and movies. Maybe it will trigger some memories for you. Don't forget that movies had writers and many movies were adapted from books. 

Movies and Me
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 I grew up in pre-television days. Books and movies were our entertainment in the thirties and forties. Oddly enough, books cost more than movies at the time, so my parents chose movies over reading. They took me with them as it was cheaper than paying a babysitter. We lived in a Chicago suburb and had a choice of several theaters in the surrounding area. Later, when my brothers came along, we took turns going to the movies on Sunday afternoon. Mom and I would go while Dad stayed home with the boys, then he and the oldest boy would zip off to the next showing as soon as Mom and I
returned home. We went in stages until all of us were old enough to sit still and watch the screen together. Back home, we discussed the movies we’d seen.
 Movies were shorter in length, but the theaters generally showed two feature films, a cartoon, a newsreel, and previews of coming attractions. We didn’t have the 24/7 new coverage in those days, so the newsreels played to a very attentive audience, particularly during the WWII years. People wanted to see what the newspaper stories had told of the atrocities of war. The cartoons were not Bart Simpson look-alikes. Instead, we watched Donald Duck and Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweety, Heckle and Jeckle, the best known crows of the day. The theaters changed programs two or three times a week, and the star-studded previews assured repeat customers.
I remember a period in the forties when polio loomed as a dreaded and rampant disease. Theaters showed a short documentary about the rehabilitative work of Sister Kenny, an Australian nurse. Scenes of polio victims in iron lungs and clutching crutches to walk touched the hearts of all. The lights came on and collection cans were passed down the rows, coins clinking as they moved to the final row. Each coin brought a vaccine one step closer. That miracle vaccine was finally discovered in the mid-fifties by Jonas Salk.
My parents loved westerns, my dad especially. John Wayne rated number one at our house, along with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and Gary Cooper. When the fifties rolled around, people like Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford starred in westerns. And who can forget Alan Ladd as Shane? I remember my mother coming home disgusted after seeing Jeff Chandler play the part of Geronimo, the infamous
renegade Indian. “Geronimo didn’t have blue eyes like Jeff Chandler,” Mom said. She wanted reality in her movies.

I liked the movies of those earlier years far better than today. They were meant to entertain us, to take us away from our everyday existence for a little while. We rode along with John Wayne, sand and danced with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and we sighed with longing as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford offered melodrama. We attempted to help Charlie Chan solve a crime. Movies now try to frighten, to delve into the depths of psychology, mystify, or to rack up as many foul words as possible in one film along with baring every inch of he human anatomy. I’ll take a Betty Grable musical any day. Corny as they might have been, they were true entertainment.