Thursday, May 28, 2015

How Common Is Trouble In Writing?

Do you want to bang your head against a wall or your keyboard when whatever you're writing doesn't gel right away? Does your writing leave you feeling frustrated, angry, or disgusted? Guess what? You're not alone.

What Joseph Heller, a satirical novelist, said is right on. All writers encounter trouble when writing at some time or other. It may seem to you that there is little balance to it, that encountering trouble when writing sits on the heavy side of the scales.

I think it feels that way because, when we can sit down and dash off a great story with ease, we don't think much about it. I'm a writer. This is how it is suppose to happen. It's what our inner self might say. But when the story doesn't come together the first time around, or second, or third, then we feel burdened in our chosen profession.

Those who don't write might wonder why in the world, then, do writers continue to write if it gives so much trouble. Why not just quit?

Only the writer knows the satisfaction achieved when a story finally stops giving trouble and feels just right. Only the writer knows the desire someone in their field has to create a readable piece. Only the writer knows the passion within that drives the writer to continue writing, despite the trouble it might be.

Yep, we might have trouble writing a good deal of the time but it's what we've chosen to do, so we keep on putting words together until they make sense and we are satisfied. Maybe it all comes down to this: You have to love writing enough to stay with it despite the trouble you often encounter.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Subconscious Is A Storehouse For Writers

Writing. Almost all of you who read this blog are writers. Writing is what we do. We do it consciously and subconsciously, as well.

Even when we are not sitting in front of our computer, or have pad and pencil in hand, we're thinking about something to write. Again, it might be so far into the recesses of our mind that we are not aware of it. One day, it will surface and you'll be off and running on a new story or poem. 

Everywhere we go, our mind functions as a writer. We observe, we process what we see and file it away in some special compartment of our brain for later use. It's a storehouse for writers.

Ever see a mother and child battling it out in a checkout line? You probably tried to look uninterested, just knew you were glad it was her and not you being totally embarrassed with a screaming child in a busy store. Even so, you filed that scene away and might pull it out a year later to use in a new story you're writing. When it surfaces, you'll most likely remember it in detail so will find it fairly easy to write the scene. 

Think about a holiday dinner with family gathered around the table. What it looks like, the sounds you hear, the aromas, the tastes the touch of hand to flatware and holding water glasses--all of this and more register with you. It's stuffed way back in your mind, ready to pull out when needed. Even bits and pieces of the conversation will come floating back to you. 

Another way we gather information for what we write is in our dreams. Many people claim they don't remember their dreams. Maybe you don't recall them the next morning but some of those dreams remain locked in your mind, ready to pop out when you are writing. 

Take a walk in your neighborhood. Your mind is registering the many things you see along the way. This includes the houses you pass, the condition of the yards, the people who might be outside their home gardening or washing a car or watching children play. Your mind tucks away the natural surroundings you see--the trees, shrubs, flowers, birds or a baby bunny. They are all yours for the taking when you need them while you write. 

Don't say that you write 2 hours a day because you are tapping on a keyboard for that amount of time. Instead, you could claim that you write all the time. You do it whether you're aware of it or not. You're a writer and it's a way of life to process all you see and do as a writer. Kind of neat, don't you think? 

Writing--it's what we do.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Five Stars For This Historical Fiction Novel

I recently finished Kristin Hannah's latest novel, The Nightingale. Author of twenty-two novels, Ms Hannah had been a lawyer before turning to a writing career. Many lawyers who write concentrate on criminal and mystery novels. Kristin Hannah stays with stories about human nature, how events make people do things, and about relationships within families and among friends. Hers are 'people' stories.

The Nightingale has stayed in the top ten on the Bestseller List for weeks. This historical fiction novel pulled me in immediately and kept me reading farther into the night than I'd intended. I found myself picking it up when I had a half hour to read now and then. 

The story centers on two sisters in France during the Nazi Occupation of WWII. Vianne is married and mother to Sophie. They live in a small village where her husband, Antoine, is the postman. Isabelle, the younger sister, lives in Paris and, at eighteen, has been expelled from several schools. The two sisters do not get along nor do they have a good relationship with their father who lives in Paris. 

With the occupation of France by the Germans, life becomes increasingly difficult. Vianne and Isabelle argue about what each should do. Isabelle becomes part of the French Resistance while Vianne stays in her village to raise her child and await her husband's return from the army. As the war goes on, both face hardships and heartbreak over and over, as well as great danger. Isabelle's name within the Resistance movement is The Nightingale. She meets danger head-on again and again. Vianne must give a home to a German officer who is at times kind to her but also the enemy. The hardships of war grow greater with each year for both sisters. They meet occasionally and continue to argue, continue to lament their miserable relationship with their father, and continue to mourn a mother lost to them in childhood. 

At the war's end, the sisters finally reconcile, only after each has experienced the horrors of war and living in an occupied country. 

The story is narrated by one of the sisters in 1995 but the reader does not learn which sister it is until the end of the book. The author kept me guessing as to which sister was telling the story, rich in detail and emotion.

A friend who read the book said she found it depressing. Perhaps one could let that be the overwhelming feeling but, for me, I found it to be encouraging as the spirit of the French people and the will to survive comes through. This book is not only about wartime survival but about a relationship between sisters, the loyalty of friends, the fierce love of a parent for her child, and the mending of a broken father-daughter relationship. The writing flows in such a way as to move the reader seamlessly through the story. Ms Hannah is a master storyteller. Critics of The Nightingale cite it as possibly her best book.

I would give it five stars and recommend it, especially if you like historical fiction as much as I do. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

A One Hundred Year Old Poem Commemorates Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day, 2015, I'd like to share a poem from the WWI era. Short but with a strong message, In Flander's Fields has survived for a full century.The author was a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier who died near the end of WWI of pneumonia.

To visit the National WWI Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, vistors cross a glass bridge which spans a field of poppies below. A moving tribute, to be sure.

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1915.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. 


Friday, May 22, 2015

Memories of Normandy On Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day 2015

We're on the brink of Memorial Day weekend 2015. It's the beginning of summer activities. It once was the signal that we could wear white pants and white shoes. It begins our picnic and pool season. It's a three day weekend for working people. They may choose to travel somewhere or just kick back and loaf. 

Somewhere along the line, many Americans have lost the real meaning of Memorial Day. They don't think about it being a day to remember and honor those who have given their lives in military actions around the world. They sacrificed their lives for our freedom. We fly our flag with pride this entire weekend. I've noticed that fewer and fewer homes have the American flag in front of their homes on patriotic days and that saddens me.

As a child, my family did not fly the flag. We lived in a third floor apartment so there was no place to display it. Even so, my parents did a good job of teaching me and my siblings to value and remember what our forces had done for us. I was a child during WWII so the enormity of the sacrifice made was fresh in the minds of young parents like mine. They knew we must never forget.

A couple of years ago, Ken and I visited the D-Day Beaches in Normandy and the nearby military cemetery. The experience moved me to write a personal essay which was then published in a Kansas City newspaper for seniors. That essay is below for you to read this Memorial Day weekend. Enjoy your activities this next three days but keep the meaning of Memorial Day in mind, as well.

 Remembering D-Day On The Normandy Beaches
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 As we approach the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, our visit there in the spring of 2013 keeps coming to mind.

My husband and I were nearing the end of a river cruise in France which brought us from Paris to Normandy, famed for its Norman cows and fine dairy products as well as being the place where the Allied Invasion began during WWII. Our river ship docked at the final port--Honfleur, a picture postcard kind of town. Now, we were close to the highlight of the two week cruise that had begun in Paris. We’d spend a full day at the D-Day beaches of Normandy, something Ken and I had looked forward to since booking months earlier.

At breakfast in the ship’s dining room that next morning, we sensed an air of anticipation that had not been evident in our other sightseeing tours on this trip. We were not the only ones looking forward to this day when we would view the beaches where the landing took place on June 6, 1944. The ensuing battle resulted in the Allied Forces turning the tide of the long-fought war that threatened so many, not only in France but other countries as well.
Being mostly senior citizens, the people in our tour group knew the history of the battle well. One man had even been there with the British navy shortly after the initial invasion. Only 16, he lied about his age to join the navy and was among the first who arrived after the beaches were taken. This now-elderly gentleman had spoken about his experience one evening on the river ship. That morning, as the bus took us from ship to the beaches, I watched this man who sat silently while we rode through the Normandy countryside. What thoughts were going through his mind, what memories were returning one by one? I wanted to ask but out of respect for what must have been an emotional time for him, I kept my silence.  

We filed quietly off the bus on that cold, wet March morning. There was none of the usual chatter and good-natured teasing on this day. We were a solemn, respectful group as we were introduced to our local tour guide. Her scarf whipped wildly in the strong wind, and like us, she wore hat, gloves and a warm coat. The skies were gray which somehow seemed fitting for this place where the remnants of battle and death remained even these 69 years after the fact.

The pillboxes where the German artillery faced the beaches remain today. I slipped and slid down a muddy incline to see inside one where parts of the big guns remained. Looking out to the beaches, I was immediately struck by the incongruity of those in the pillboxes versus the men on the open beaches on that summer morning so long ago. An old cliché seemed most fitting. They were “sitting ducks.” I shivered with both the thought and the sharp wind that found its way through my warm jacket.

The Allied Forces came to liberate France from German occupation, to push the German forces back to their own country. The Canadians landed at Juno Beach, the British at Sword and Gold Beach. Our American troops came ashore at both Omaha and Utah Beach. Paratroopers landed first followed by amphibious landing craft manned by Navy and Coast Guard personnel. Thousands of men with one goal—take the beaches and move on.

Gnawing fear must have been in the belly of each man but they surged forward with many falling on the beach. More than a thousand died on Omaha Beach alone. Others continued to dodge the constant gunfire and scaled precarious cliffs to reach the German strongholds.

As the tour guide talked, I thought of the men I knew who had fought in this war of so long ago—my uncle who had been an Air Force pilot, my best friend’s uncle who had endured the hardships of a prison camp, and my dad’s cousin whose plane blew to pieces before he could escape. I thought of my father-in-law who served in Paris after the liberation and came home safely thanks to the courage of the men who fought on D-Day, those who carried General Eisenhower’s order with them. “Full victory—nothing else.”

Our tour guide told us of a U.S. Army veteran who had been on another of her tours. On the morning of the invasion, he was in a landing craft that held 32 men. 31 of them were violently seasick. By the time they landed, they were covered in vomit with no choice but to rush the beach and dodge the artillery fire. That was only one of nearly 7,000 boats that hit the five beaches early that morning. I shivered yet again but didn’t know if it was because of the cold misty rain or the stories she related.

Our next stop was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, located not far from the beaches. In gratitude, the government of France granted use of the land, in perpetuity, as a permanent burial ground. We walked through the immaculate grounds, viewing the choppy waters of the English Channel just beyond. Nearly 10,000 American soldiers are buried here, a Latin cross or a Star of David marking each grave.

We gathered in the light rain at the Memorial area which features a 22 foot statue called “The Spirit of American Youth Rising From the Waves.” A representative from the cemetery addressed our group before leading a short ceremony to honor those who had sacrificed so much in this place. Everyone faced the wildly waving American flag, hand on hearts. Cold raindrops mixed with the warm tears that fell as I listened to a recording of our national anthem followed by a volley of gunshots and finally the playing of “Taps.” The lump in my throat would allow me no words, nor were any needed.

As the group dispersed, Ken and I walked to the edge of the cemetery close to the sea. The rain had finally ceased. We gazed at the gray sky and the gray water, empty now save for the ghosts of 69 years earlier. We have heard about the Normandy Beaches and D-Day for most of our lives. We’ve seen pictures, watched movies depicting that day. But being there and hearing the personal stories brought reality like nothing else. What struck me as we walked silently back through the cemetery was that we humans didn’t learn from the horrors of WWII. We’ve continued to send our young men and women to fight in multiple wars since.

At home, we fly our American flag with pride every June 6th to honor those who fought and those who didn’t come home. After visiting Normandy, that day will take on even greater significance. Veterans of the D-Day battle dwindle year by year. Before long, there will be none left, so it will be up to the next generation and the next to keep the memory alive. It is my great hope that this year’s 70th Anniversary will spark some interest among all ages for this commemorated day.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Writing Contests to Enter

Have you ever seen your name listed as a writing contest winner? Have you ever entered a writing contest? If you answered no to both these questions, take a moment and consider why.

1. Do you feel overwhelmed at the thought of competition?

2. Is your self-confidence level lower than you'd like?

3. Are you just plain afraid to enter a writing contest?

4. Do the entry fees hold you back? 

5. Would you like to enter and win?

6. Do you not care about entering writing contests at all? 

If you don't enter, you can't win. Plain and simple. But step 1 is finding writing contests to enter. I can help in that respect. I have three contests for you to consider. 

1. The first one is from Blue Mountain Arts. Every so often, they run a contest looking for verses to use on their line of greeting cards. The present contest has a deadline of June 30th with prizes of $300, $150 and $50. There is no entry fee. Check out the guidelines and submission form page

2. The Northern Colorado Writers have a contest open to Personal Essay/Creative Nonfiction and Poetry with a June 30 deadline. You can be as wordy as you like here as the word count runs all the way to 5,000 words. The entry fee is $20 which seems steep but the prize money warrants it. The three top prizes are $1,000, $250, and $100. Check details here. You do NOT have to be a member of this group to enter.

3.  This one is for Kansas writers only. I'm including it as I have a good many Kansas readers. The Kansas Authors Club has an annual contest for members and nonmembers. Entry fee is slightly higher for nonmembers. Go to the website and click on Contests on left side of Home Page. Be sure to follow guidelines as they are pretty specific. 

I have no affiliation with any of these contests, other than the fact that I am a member of Kansas Authors Club. I am simply giving information on the three contests listed.

Use a search engine like google to find lots of contests. Specify 2015 in your search or else you'll get contest info for ones long done. 

Give yourself enough time to write your entry and edit after it sits a few days. Then a few more days and a final edit. Check and double check the guidelines so your entry counts. It's really not much different from submitting to an editor. 

You have nothing to lose (except perhaps your entry fee, so look for no fee contests if you prefer) and everything to gain. Give serious consideration to entering a writing contest. Your chances of winning are as good as any other writer.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

You Cannot Fly If You Do Not Try

The quote above has gone viral and can be seen in many different photo/poster versions. It's attributed to Erin Hanson, a 19 year old writer from Australia. The young woman seems wise beyond her years with this quote.

It's good advice for those writers, young or not so young, who fear taking a great leap in their writing journey. We think of the negative consequence immediately but it would be so much better if we could put the positive spin first.

The first time a writer makes a submission to an editor can turn into one of two things. It can be heady stuff, bringing dreams of grandeur, or it can be one of the scariest ventures you've ever tried. It's probably more realistic to say that the second choice here, being scared, is more the norm. Most people who try writing are aware that it is a very competitive field and know that first submissions are not going to make you famous. Oh sure, there will always be a handful of writers who score big on their first try. But for most of us, scary as it is, the first time is what gets us started on the submission path.

We know that we are going to fall--translate that to mean getting a rejection--a lot. We know that everything we write is not going to be a winner. But we also know that the possibility of flying is also real. So what if it's your fifth try with the same story or article? Be happy to spread those wings and fly no matter when it happens.

The main thing is that you cannot fly if you do not try. It's as simple as that. Sure, it's still scary but you'll never know what might have happened if you didn't make the effort to become a published writer. I am sure there are some excellent writers who have stacks of stories that they've never shown to anyone, let alone sent to an editor. How sad that is for the writer and the readers who will never have a chance to see them.

What's the worst case scenario if you submit your work and it's rejected? Only that you will have to try again. And maybe again. A fisherman doesn't always catch a fish in the first spot he tries. He may have to move around the lake several times before he hooks one. You, too, may have to try several times before you receive an acceptance. Think how great the elation will be when you've tried multiple times and finally score. You most certainly would be flying high at that point.

Keep in mind that you cannot fly if you do not try. Let that simple statement be your motivation.