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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Writers--Each Day Is A Fresh Beginning

Today's quote works in our writing world as well as our everyday life. If we let them, our cares and woes as writers tend to build as the days go on. If we let them! We are in control even though we need to be reminded of that now and then.

Let's face it. None of us likes it when a story doesn't gel or we get rejections three times in one week. What if we submit a story for a critique and it comes back with red marks slashed in more places than ever before and the remarks from the person who did the critique are crushing blows? We hate that part of our writing life but it IS a part of the world we've chosen. 

We can let these negatives drag us down or we can push those broken pieces of yesterday out the door. Sweep them up in a neat little pile, then dispose of them. We can't forget about all of those problems. Some of them do have to be addressed but we can do that on another day.

Consider each day as a blank sheet of paper. We start fresh but we can begin by taking care of those troublesome things behind us, one at a time. It's not a matter of dragging the bad things along with you. Not at all. Each new day allows you to fix whatever was wrong and then start anew. 

In a perfect world, we'd be able to bandage every wound from our past writing but we know that is not going to happen. Even so, we can repair some of the old problems on a new day. We can also slam the door to yesterday behind us and walk through the portal of today and feel renewed. 

Some nights, when I go to bed, I lie there and think about what I did and did not accomplish that day. I nearly always fill both those columns. I find that the older I get, the more of those 'did not accomplish' things are added to my list. It doesn't mean they will never get done. I don't lose sleep over that part of the list. 

Instead, I know that the morning will come and I have an entirely new day to whittle that to-do list in my writing world. 

Treat each new day as a gift. It's yours to begin all over again. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Guest Blogger: Marlene Cullen, The Writing Prompt Queen

Marlene Cullen

 I have a new writer friend who gives various prompts to help writers get some inspiration to write. I have dubbed her The Writing Prompt Queen. She has also edited three anthologies for writers about writing. See links in Marlene's guest post today. 

Ways To Heal When Writing

You can use the difficulties in your life and represent them in your writing.  Describe the difficulties as if writing a scene in a novel.

Look at your situation from a different point of view – from that of a character in a story.

Take A Break
When your writing becomes too difficult, stop. Take a break. Go for a walk. Treat yourself to a glass of iced tea or hot apple cider. Wash your hands with special scented soap. Do something physical to relax your mind.

Use a focal point as a reminder to relax and breathe deeply. A focal point is anything you like to look at: in your home, your writing environment, or outside.

Have A Plan
Have a plan for when you are feeling overwhelmed and need relief from emotional tension while you are writing.

Prepare a healthy snack before you begin to write. When the writing gets difficult, take a few minutes to nurture yourself, whether it’s food, a soothing drink, or a visual treat. Look at a pleasant picture or a memento that has good memories for you, or get physical. Go for a walk,  stretch, move around.


Writing is a type of self-care that can be very empowering. Writing about emotional situations gives you some control in your present situation and new ways to look at past experiences, where you didn’t have control.

Use your writing to heal, being careful to not re-traumatize yourself.  You might benefit from the healing potential of telling your story.

Practice writing about your past without letting it overwhelm you.

“If we write about our pain, we heal gradually, instead of feeling powerless and confused, and we move to a position of wisdom and power.” — Writing As A Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo

Links to healing through writing on The Write Spot Blog:

How to write without adding trauma.
The Healing Power of Images Prompt #139
Does your heart hurt? Prompt #269

BIO:  Growing up in the Mission District of San Francisco offers a treasure chest of stories for Marlene Cullen to write about. Living in the same Sonoma County farmhouse with her husband since 1977 and raising three wonderful children on this rural property provides a rich bounty of cherished and tender memories to choose from and turn into stories.
Marlene is the editor of The Write Spot series:  The Write Spot to Jumpstart Your WritingDiscoveries, The Write Spot to Jumpstart Your Writing: Connections, The Write Spot: Reflections. These anthologies include entertaining vignettes and writing prompts. Every contributor offers encouragement to writers to keep writing.  Each volume has a resource section, guiding readers to become writers.
Marlene’s blog, The Write Spot Blog, features over 400 writing prompts, places to submit writing, encouragement to write, and techniques to improve writing.
Marlene's short stories and essays have been published in literary journals, anthologies, and newspapers.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The 100 Year Anniversary of Armistice Day--Poems

A field of poppies

Yesterday, we marked the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice of WWI. The famed phrase, ...on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th  month..., is one many who honor the fallen of that war and others find familiar. 

There were myriad poets who wrote about that war, the war that was supposed to be the end of all wars. One of the most famous poems is In Flanders Fields written by John McCrae, a Canadian. He penned the poignant words after conducting the funeral of one of the men in his company who had been killed. 

There are many others with words that were written with swelling emotion in the middle of the conflict and others by someone waiting in fear at home. Why were these poems so acclaimed and remembered? I think one reason is so that we remember the horror war brings and hope to never see it again. Another is that the poets wrote with heartfelt emotion which invoked those emotions in the readers. That so many get resurrected every year on Veterans Day and are used by teachers in schools in present-day shows the lasting quality of the works and our need to remember. 

The National WWI Museum in Kansas City, MO is a must-see if you are in that area. To enter the museum, one crosses over a glass bridge which has a field of poppies beneath it. What a preparation for what the visitor is about to encounter inside. A short video about what they have done to commemorate this anniversary is worth watching.

Here are three poems that evolved from the horrors of that war fought 100+ years ago. The first is one you probably know. The second talks about the regular soldiers and the third shows us a typical morning and a solider who sees a rat that moves from one side of the conflict to the other, a simple observation with great meaning. 

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

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.

by Siegfried Sassoon

Soldiers are citizens of death's grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.

I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.

Break of Day in the Trenches
By Isaac Rosenberg

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver—what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe—
Just a little white with the dust.

Friday, November 9, 2018

How Will You Celebrate I Love To Write Day?

(NOTE: This is a revised post)

November 15, 2018 will be the 16th annual I Love To Write Day. I usually feature it in my post on that mid-November day but am giving you advance notice. It's the one day of the year that everyone is encouraged to write. Doesn't matter what it is--just write! A thank you note qualifies, but so does a poem, a story, a two paragraph description or memory piece. So, mark your calendars now. Save that date!

Personally, I celebrate this day every day because writing is something that satisfies me like nothing else. I'm willing to bet that my blood pressure evens out to normal whenever I write. It pleases me to string words together in hopes that they will touch the heart and soul of at least a few people who read them. Maybe my words will provide pertinent information or entertain someone. When I finish a writing project, no matter how long or short, I have a sense of accomplishment greater than when I do anything else. 

I like words. I like putting words together. I like creating stories and poems from those many words. I enjoy doing crossword puzzles because they are filled with words, unlike those Sudoku puzzles that irritate me to no end. Some people love them. Must depend on whether you're a number person or one addicted to the beauty of words. There is no doubt which category I fall into. I have committed a cardinal sin in the writing world because I used words five times in this paragraph. It's to be excused for this day only!

I've heard far too many people say they hate writing. They offer a number of reasons, but one I hear frequently is that it is because of a teacher (or teachers) who made it a chore instead of pleasure or who ridiculed the results of an assigned essay. Sad that they who should be the greatest proponents of writing for enjoyment sometimes end up being the biggest discouragers. Maybe part of it is because we were often assigned the topic, not left to create our own subject. On the other hand, when the teacher said to write on anything of your choice, we sometimes sat there with a blank slate in our mind. 

I hope that teachers and parents will encourage children to write. We push reading at all levels today, which is wonderful. But I'd like to see more emphasis placed on writing. Mary Lane Kamberg, a Kansas author, has a fine book of tips for young people who want to write. She includes exercises in The I Love To Write Book--Tips and Ideas for Young People.

Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or a grandparent, I hope you will do what you can to promote the joy of writing to the young people you know today. There's plenty of time before November 15th to plan an event or project to celebrate I Love To Write Day 

John Riddle, a Delaware-based writer, is responsible for giving us this one day of the year to celebrate writing. Read about the history of this day here. You have close to a week to think about what you will do to celebrate I Love to Write Day. You can do it on your own or encourage others to write that day, as well. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Writers Need To Let Inner Thoughts Emerge

The poster advice for today sounds so simple, doesn't it? Go ahead, sit at your computer or on your sofa with notebook and pen, then write with all the 'awesome' you can find. 

Too often, we writers keep that 'awesome' stuff on a tight leash. Yes, we try to write with emotion and often succeed but what if we unclipped the leash and let our deepest thoughts emerge into whatever we are writing? 

If we could do that on a regular basis, we'd be writing some terrific pieces. Instead, we let our inhibitions take over and we write as well as we can without unleashing that 'awesome.' I'm not saying none of us ever write good stories and poetry and essays. Not at all. What I am saying is that, if we could let go of our learned-over-a-lifetime hidden feelings, our writing might be even better.

Ernest Hemingway was known to drink heavily. Maybe he was an excellent writer partly because, when he drank, he didn't care what he said or did. His inner-self rose to the surface and poured into his writing. I'm not advocating writing with a bottle sitting next to you. Not at all. 

Why do we keep part of who-we-are buried within? Maybe we're afraid of what others might say if we expose our true selves. We shouldn't be. Perhaps, there is the fear that if we really let the best writing we have emerge, we will have to keep to that standard and that's hard work.

Of course, we are all different people and the reasons we keep the best hidden deep inside are varied, as well. 

One way you can begin to 'unleash your inner awesome' is to do those free-write exercises that I promote and that so many writing books offer as a tool to work your way to good writing. Why? Let's define the freewrite exercise first. Choose a word or a phrase in any way you like. If nothing else, close your eyes and point to a word in a book, then use it for your exercise. Set a timer for ten minutes. Write the word, then start writing without thinking and without stopping. Let your fingers fly across the keys or holding your pen and write whatever comes to mind. It does not have to make sense. Often, it doesn't but many times the bones of a new story or essay will come forth like a butterfly from its cocoon. The best part is that sometimes thoughts from the inner recesses of your mind spew into what you have written and surprise you.

Another help would be to 'give yourself permission' to write whatever lies buried within. Sound silly? It's not. Our human mind is a wonderful but strange part of us. It's perfectly alright to tell yourself to go ahead and open the dam, let the thoughts flow into your writing.

Building your confidence a little at a time is also going to help you unleash that awesomeness.

We do want to put emotion into what we write; we hope that the reader will feel the emotion. The looser that leash on awesomeness becomes, the more we will be able to put into our writing, the better chance we will have to be published and the more satisfied we will feel. 

Regarding the free-write exercise. Marlene Cullen has a blog that offers free-write prompts on a regular basis. You might take a look at she does on her short but sweet blog. She offers prompts that are more than just single words or a simple phrase. What a great practice for all writers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Write About November Memories

November offers a lot to write about. Those who write family stories probably have many happenings to choose from. Choose something from the list below as a topic. Make it an essay, a memoir piece, a personal essay, or a poem. Delve deep and bring your memories to the surface and use them as you write. 

November brings:
  • Elections
  • A Change in weather
  • Veterans Day
  • Family Birthdays
  • Thanksgiving
  • Leaves to rake
  • Winter clothing
  • Christmas decor in stores
You can write about what November was like where you lived during your growing up years. I wrote something along that line several years ago and included it in my Family Stories book. It doesn't tell one particular story but does describe what life was like in November when I was a child and young adult. As always, use sensory details, emotion and descriptive phrases.

Memories of November In Chicago

 The crisp, sunny days of October somehow slid into damp, gray ones during November in the Chicago area where I grew up. The sun played hide-and-seek in the late autumn and winter months, mostly hiding. Harsh winds swept across Lake Michigan, bringing a chill that seeped through warm, woolen jackets and into the bones. Fallen leaves swirled around our feet with each new gust and naked branches dipped and swayed like ballerinas. We walked faster on our way to and from school. Once home, Mother often commented that we had roses in our cheeks, nice way to describe chapped skin. We paid little mind to our rosy cheeks once inside our warm apartment.

Each of the five rooms had a large radiator with an on-off knob on the side, and a deep, narrow pan for water that hooked over the back to increase humidity. We had steam heat, fired by a huge coal furnace in a garden level basement. The coal man inserted a chute  from his truck into a window. He sent the coal rumbling down the chute while several kids gathered around. The apartment janitor stood at the delivery end of the chute in the basement. Once this scary looking, coal-blackened man finished, the kids ran to the basement door to witness the next step in bringing heat to all our apartments. The janitor, grabbed a big shovel and fed the furnace from that huge heap. He let us watch for a few minutes, then snarled at us. “Get out of here now. No place for you kids.” His fierce look sent us scattering. During a coal strike, we wore coats and hats inside, waiting for the hissing sounds of heat coming through the radiators.

We celebrated Armistice Day every November 11th, commemorating the armistice signed to end WWI at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918. Even after WWII, Armistice Day remained as November 11th. Now, we call it Veterans Day and it’s celebrated on the second Monday of November. There are still parades and meals to mark the day but I like the original date best.

At school, we studied the Pilgrims first Thanksgiving—history and art class rolled into one. Some classes had replica feasts.

My Thanksgiving menu now remains the same as when my mother or aunts prepared the dinner—turkey roasted to a golden brown and stuffed with a moist dressing redolent with sage. Aunt Adeline made French dressing, a spicy sausage added to it. We savored mashed potatoes and rich gravy, sweet potato casserole, homemade yeast rolls, cranberry sauce, a salad called Seafoam made with lime jello, cream cheese, mashed pears and whipped cream. Our vegetables were usually green beans. Pumpkin pie with real whipped cream finished the feast.

We alternated the dinner with my dad’s two sisters who lived near us. My five cousins, three brothers and I had a wonderful time together, despite the wide range of ages. After dinner, we were shooed outside to play, even when it was very cold. I suspect the adults sat around and drank more coffee, nibbled on the leftovers and did all they could to put off the dish washing time.

No dishwashers, so all the women cleared the table, washed and dried the dishes with towels made from flour sacks. When my female cousins and I got older, we were drafted  to help. Chattering women and clattering dishes, that’s what was heard in the kitchen after dinner. The men plunked themselves in comfy chairs and listened to the radio and often napped.

Once married, I thought about asking my extended family to our house for Thanksgiving. I hesitated for fear of upsetting my mother who had cooked countless Thanksgiving turkeys. My aunts had passed away, so Mom was always the hostess. One year, I worked up the courage to suggest it, and Mom threw her hands skyward and said, “Finally! I’ve been waiting for someone to invite me for Thanksgiving for years.”

Now, my children sometimes make the trip to Kansas for Thanksgiving. We use a few shortcuts and we load the dishwasher instead of drying dishes with flour sack towels, but the grandchildren revel in being with cousins just as I did all those years ago. The faces around the table may be different, but the same warmth of a family gathering to give thanks and spend time together is there. May it ever be so.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Interview With Author, Grant Overstake

Grant Overstake

Yesterday, I reviewed Grant Overstake's new YA novel The Real Education of TJ Crowley.  Today I am pleased to post an interview with the author. Read it and share with others who are interested in writing a novel, whether for adults or YA. 

Nancy:  You were a newspaper sports writer and editor. When you retired, you started writing YA fiction. What inspired the big change?

Grant:  Becoming a novelist came as an unintended consequence of being unable to find a newspaper job in the same town where my wife could teach middle school science. In 2011, we moved back to Wichita, KS where Claire found a teaching position and I began schooling myself to write fiction. As a newspaper writer, I was a stickler for accuracy and nobody accused me of misquoting them. As a novelist, I get to make up juicy quotes and put in my characters' mouths. It's funny. Everything I write is Fake News.

Nancy:  The first YA novel you wrote, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon, was a real winner in my estimation. A Kirkus Review called it "a fine young adult novel about perseverance in sports and in life." What prompted you to write it? And why feature pole vaulting in the story?

Grant:  Maggie is the story of a gutsy Kansas farm girl who overcomes tragedy and soars to new heights as a pole vaulter. I got the idea while watching former Olympic pole-vaulter, Earl Bell, share his wisdom with youngsters. I asked Earl if he would consider coaching a fictional vaulter to new heights. When he agreed, I knew Maggie was destined for big things. With its ever-rising crossbar, pole-vaulting is a great life metaphor. I vaulted myself and was able to express the thrill of flying so high. It's gratifying that coaches have used the story to inspire their athletes. Maggie is the subject of my school presentation "Don't Quit! Use Grit!" She's a resilient character who gets back up time and again after she fails. She's an inspiration to students who have real-life challenges to overcome.

Nancy:  Did your first novel win any awards?

Grant:  I'm happy that the story was inspirational to readers and that the quality of the writing has also been recognized. The strong Kirkus Review was a big affirmation. Having the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) put Maggie on the cover of its statewide journal was a great tribute. The story was named Book of the Week by BookWorks in 2013 and Publisher's Weekly selected it as one of their "Too Cool for School" reads just this past year. The book was published in 2012 so it's gratifying to know the story is standing the test of time. Another awarding experience was having the story performed by Audie Award-winning voice actress, Tavia Gilbert. She received great reviews for her audiobook production of Maggie Vaults Over the Moon.

Nancy:  Your second YA novel, The Real Education of TJ Crowley, was released yesterday, November 5, 2018. The story is set in a period of great civil unrest in Wichita, KS in 1968-69. Young men being sent to Vietnam was also a part of that era. Thirteen-year-old TJ Crowley receives an education in both race relations and competing with the shot put. Why did you include the sub-plot of TJ learning to compete in Track and Field?

Grant:  It's said that an author should write from their most vivid personal experiences, and as a former decathlete and coach, I know about the subject. The late 1960's was an explosive time in US history and TJ Crowley is an explosive young teen. He needed an event to pursue that would match his temperament. Because the shot put is one of the most explosive events in all of sportr, the shot put ring was the perfect place for TJ to channel his fiery temper.  

Nancy:  Why do you want the young people of today to read and learn about the Civil Rights Movement of years ago?

Grant:  They say that history doesn't always repeat itself but often rhymes. The things we experienced 50 years ago during the Civil Rights era need to be taught to young people so they can separate ongoing racial myths from reality, especially with the resurgence of hate groups in our country today. Experts who've read the manuscript are eager to introduce it to their classrooms so students can address these issues while reading and discussing the novel.

Nancy:  Did you base the story on real people or were the characters entirely made up?

Grant:  This story is realistic, historical fiction for young adults. Which means everything about the story is made up, except for the parts that are real. Or, in reverse, everything is real except for the parts I made up. I grew up in that exact time in Wichita so the setting is real but the storyline is almost entirely fictional. Many of the main characters are real people fictionalized for the story. I had some personal experiences that helped me wake up to being White; I did a lot of research and spent many hours interviewing Black people who lived in that time, trying my best to get it right. I received my "real education" first and then I wrote the story the way TJ Crowley might've learned it himself in that period. 

Nancy:  What is your plan for promoting this newest novel?

Grant:  There are several ways we plan to promote the book, which is being produced and distributed through Ingram. We'll be targeting libraries, bookstores, and schools. The first steps have gone remarkably well with outstanding endorsements and reviews locally and nationally. The best way to promote a book is by word-of-mouth. We want readers to tell others that TJ Crowley is a good read.

Nancy:  Do you have plans for a third book? Possibly a sequel to this one? This reader was left with wanting to know more about TJ.

Grant:  I don't think there will be a sequel but I have a couple of stories that I was working on earlier. Now, I'm not quite sure. My main focus right now is acting as the publisher and marketer for this book, which is going to be a full-time job for the foreseeable future. We are going to republish Maggie Vaults Over The Moon as a hardcover soon. There are people who want to collaborate with me on a sequel to Maggie soon.