Friday, February 24, 2017

A Travel Story With A Personal Side

Lahr, Germany

You can combine a travel article with a personal essay that could be part of a memoir collection. Wow, that's covering three areas at one time. Most travel articles give lots of factual information about a specific destination. Add the personal touch and some memories of days long gone, and you may have a publishable piece of writing.

My personal essay about a visit we made to my husband's grandfather's hometown in Germany was published on a travel website. It could have been included in an anthology like Chicken Soup for the Soul if they had a book theme to fit it. Writing a travel piece that has a personal side is a lot more fun to write than a purely factual article, although I am quite certain that kind of travel writer earns more money.

My example is posted below. The photo above is the hotel we finally found after an exhaustive search. Try your hand at writing something like this. Remember to include your feelings, something you learned or a lasting memory.

Grandpa’s Town

My husband wanted to go to Germany, rent a car and travel the scenic southern area. He had a yen to visit small towns and villages instead of big cities, which we’d already seen on earlier trips. Ken planned to drive the secondary roads and stay off the autobahn. For people who had relied on tour guides in the past, this was definitely an adventure.

In January, we started planning. I did multiple google searches on hotels, restaurants, attractions, transatlantic flights and car rentals. Ken’s job was to map out the route. He spread a huge map of Germany across our dining room table, leaving half of it clear for us to eat meals. He agreed to fold  up Germany when company came.

Pointing to the map one morning, he said, “Here’s Lahr, the town where my Grandfather Kopp grew up.” His finger circled the immediate area. “It’s on the edge of the Black Forest. We could stay there for a few days and take in the surrounding area.”  

With that simple statement, our understanding and love for his grandfather grew tenfold, but not until we’d experienced Lahr.

We arrived in Grandpa’s town on a fine June day. We’d had good luck winging it as far as hotels went, but Lahr proved a different story. One hotel didn’t meet our standards. Three others were open but we could never get assistance. They appeared deserted, even though the front doors stood open. We began to wonder what kind of place we’d come to.

We continued to drive up one street and down another. Around a curve, we happened on a place I warmed to immediately. I sent Ken in to look and book. It proved fit for kings and queens, and that’s who could afford to stay there. Ken kept driving, while I had visions of sleeping in the car. Then I grabbed Ken’s arm.

 “There! The Hotel-am-West-End. It looks nice.”

I liked the all-white building and the big, leafy trees that lined the street. The open deck on the second floor, ringed with colorful, overflowing flower boxes beckoned. Ken went in and returned smiling. We had a room.

We climbed to the second floor reception area, and Ken introduced Dirk, the owner. Dirk must have lost his razor—either that or he liked the stubble on his face. His clothes were clean although a bit rumpled, but he gave us an effusive welcome, his smile warm and genuine.

Ken told Dirk that his Grandfather Kopp had grown up in Lahr. Dirk looked at the register where Ken had signed in. “Kopp? Ja, we got lots of them here.” Ken knew of cousins who had moved away but not of any other relations here. Apparently, our last name was a common one in this part of the world.

We ambled down the hall on oriental carpeting, dragging our luggage behind, mouths opened as we tried to take in the amazing antique art and furnishings that lined the walls
We learned later that Dirk ran the small hotel and dealt in antiques on the side.

After a quick look at our pleasant room, we met the Guest Relations Manager in the hotel restaurant. Schef was a short-legged, fat, amiable dog, who plunked himself next to my chair, hoping perhaps for a morsel of my wiener schnitzel to fall his way while we planned our agenda. We’d only been in Lahr for a few hours but already felt warmly welcomed.

Schef, Guest Relations Manager

Lahr was not a tourist stop but had its own charm. The town was surely much smaller in the late nineteenth century when Grandpa lived here--where he went to school, played
games, and maybe gave a wink to a pretty girl now and then. Maybe some of these shops were the same ones where his mother sent him on errands.

Each day, we thought of Grandpa as a little boy, a teen, and then a young man. In this clean, working man’s town, he learned values and formed opinions that lasted a lifetime. His cheerful outlook on life had been cultivated here on these streets. Every letter we’d received from him in our early married years began “I am fine and dandy. How are you?”

We did venture to the surrounding area each day, visiting the Black Forest region and crossing the border into Strasbourg, France. After one of these daylong excursions, Ken went out for a walk by himself. He seemed a bit surprised that he felt so much emotion while visiting his grandfather’s hometown. He wanted to see as much of it as possible in the time we had, and he snapped myriad pictures to show his brothers when we returned home.

Wilhelm Kopf moved away from Lahr at age twenty to try his luck in America. He left mother, father, and baby brother as well as friends. More than fifty years later, he returned for a three-week visit telling Ken’s family in Illinois that he’d see them soon. Three months passed before he journeyed to America again. I have a feeling long-buried memories flooded back as he walked his boyhood paths and visited family and friends. He must have been reluctant to let them go again. But the pull of his family in America proved great enough to make him return.

Our visit to Lahr touched Ken deeply. Even more than a century after his birth, this was still Grandpa’s town, and a part of his own heritage. Ken’s connection may have once been a fragile thread, but by the time we left, it had strengthened considerably and had drawn me in, as well.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Writer Who Practiced Patience and Persistence

Image result for the plum tree by ellen marie wiseman

A friend recommended that I read a WWII themed novel called The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman. The story is about a German family from a small village during the war and immediately after. Heartbreaking but a well-written story which allows a view of what it was like on 'the other side' since we so often read stories of that period that are from the Allied view. I am not going to review the book but you can read the summary and reviews at Amazon should you be interested.

Instead of a review of the book, I want to concentrate on the author and her publication journey, which I read about in a conversation with the author at the conclusion of the novel. I found it fascinating.
Ellen Marie Wiseman is the daughter of a woman who grew up in Germany during WWII. She married an American and lived in the USA. She told story upon story of what life was like during her childhood to her own three children. Ellen, the oldest, was inspired to write a WWII novel told from the viewpoint of a German family after she learned in high school about the Holocaust. Her dreamworld her mother had instilled with her stories caused her to have mixed emotions. She continued to question her mother about this era of life in Germany. Years went by and she felt the need to write the novel about an average German family.

Much of what she wrote is true--mostly the everyday living of the family, the hardships they endured during those years, the Allied bombings and Dachau. The characters are fictional but she based some on the grandparents she visited in Germany with her mother.  

The author attended a small rural school that had no creative writing classes. Besides that, she did not go to college. She worked on her writing on her own for years, then turned to the internet  where she located William Kowalski, an author who became her '...editor, teacher, mentor and friend.' She says his faith in her pushed her to believe in herself.

Over the years, Ellen Wiseman received 72 rejections from agents. Ask yourself right now--Would I have persevered in sending queries of that number to agents? In 2008, she and her husband had to file bankruptcy in a family business. They each had to search for work after 26 years of managing their own business. The time was a difficult one but Wiseman persisted in following her dream about getting her book published. When told the story was too long, she spent months cutting and revising while still fighting financial battles. She began querying again.

In January 2011, she came close to giving up. After all, 72 rejections from agents were not the stuff of encouragement. Trying one more time, she secured an agent who sold her novel in three weeks!

She has had two more novels published and another coming this year. I have written about my two keywords for writers--Patience and Persistence. This author is a perfect example of a writer who practiced both and found success because of it. Ms. Wiseman writing journey should also be encouraging to writers who have not received a degree in creative writing, those who strike out on their own, learning as they travel down their writing path.

When you feel like you are ready to give up in your own journey, think of this woman. I'd like to put her on a pedestal ten feet high as she is definitely someone I would look up to. I enjoyed the book but reading about Ellen Wiseman's writing journey was the icing on the cake.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Writers Learn On Their Journey

Easy enough to say but maybe not a piece of cake to find a lesson when life dishes out seeds of sadness. I do think we can learn from harsh moments in our lives. Also in our writing journey.

As writers, it sometimes feel like we set ourselves up for facing unpleasantness. We are well aware that by submitting our work, we may face rejections more than acceptances. Why in the world would be subject ourselves to the nasty feelings that accompany being told our writing is not worthy of being published? Even if the editor who rejected you did not say so in exact words, that's the message we pull from it.

We've all been there. Our reactions range from disappointment to anger to shedding tears to throwing something across the room. Sounds like a little kid who's been told NO, doesn't it? When we're upset, or hurt, we do seem to revert to childish reactions. If it serves to get the disappointment out of your system, fine. Go ahead and rant to a friend or let a few expletives fly.

Once you've calmed down, it's time to consider if there is a lesson to be learned. If you're lucky, the editor will give a reason that your work was not accepted. That gives you a head start in fixing the piece and submitting it again.

When you work on revising before submitting again, try to use objective eyes. Being too close to what we write is a major sticking point for many of us. Those are our precious words that the stranger didn't want. We toiled over the story, or article, a long time so why was it rejected? Oh, oh, there we go again--reacting like a kid. Step away from your submission for awhile before you start reworking it. You'll do much better if you let it alone for a few days.

There are also lessons to be learned when we're writing a story that doesn't feel right or appears flat when we read it over again. Ask yourself why? What is missing? Try a checklist to see what is or is not there. Use things like sensory detail, active vs passive verbs, too many adjectives etc in your list. Plot, theme, lesson learned--are all these positives or lacking? On occasion, I've written 1500 words and when I read it over, my reaction has been This is boring, drivel, or worthless. Then, I'm disgusted. Not over the story but with myself. Time to go back to square one after going through my mental checklist.

What if we submit a fine piece but don't follow the submission guidelines?  The story might bounce back immediately. One question to ask yourself is Did I follow the guidelines? Your rejection could be because of a simple thing like that.

There are myriad lessons to be learned from those harsh moment in our writing journey. It's up to us to sift and sort and find the lesson, then move on with newly acquired knowledge. The more lesssons we learn, the fewer rejections we'll have.

About the first part of today's quote, where it says When life is good, be grateful, pay close attention to those fine words.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Writer As A Magician

Ever give consideration to the fact that you, the writer, are as creative as the sculptor who takes a lump of clay and comes up with a piece of art. Or the painter who starts with a blank canvas, a brush and a few paints. He finishes with a piece of art.

Perhaps the writer is even more creative. We don't have a lump of clay or a clean canvas. All we begin with is our mind and what it contains. I've thought more than once about my mind being filled with boxes with certain types of information in each little box. Maybe our minds are compartmentalized in some respect.

The older we are, the more we have to draw from. As a young adult in our twenties, we drew from experiences as a small child, then a teen and finally someone in the beginning stages of being an adult. I'm a senior citizen so there are more little boxes in my mind--many, many of them. When I write, I open one or another to use whatever the experience I need to illustrate what I'm writing.

Creating a piece of writing really is a type of magic in some respects while, in others, it's just plain hard work. There have been times when I've gone back through old stories or essays and read them again. Sometimes, I wonder where in the world it came from. How did my mind to fingers produce this particular story?

It makes me realize that our writing process is both conscious and subconscious. The parts that usually surprise me are the ones that have been dredged up from my subconscious.

The magician pulls a rabbit out of his hat while you and I pull stories, essays and poetry from our minds. Start with nothing and come up with something. Our own kind of magic.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Amy Snow--A book Review

Image result for amy snow by tracy rees

I stopped by the library one day last week and checked out 4 books, 3 from the New Books shelf. The first one I started reading was Amy Snow by Welsh author, Tracy Rees. Ms Rees won the "Richard and Judy Search For A Bestseller" competition in the UK with this debut novel.

Historical Romance fiction has always appealed to me and this one definitely did not disappoint. The book is well over 500 pages and I read it in two days, picking it up whenever I had a few free moments, evenings and a Saturday afternoon. I'm a fast reader but more so when a book really intrigues me as this one did.

A newborn baby, left in the snow, is discovered by eight-year-old Aurelia, the only child of wealthy parents. Aurelia convinces her parents to keep the baby and raise her at Hatville, their estate. They reluctantly agree but banish the baby, named Amy Snow by little Aurelia, to the kitchens. Amy grows up as servant, reviled by Aurelia's parents, but loved by Aurelia herself. Amy moves from servant to companion to nursemaid when her beloved friend is dying from a heart problem. Amy has been educated thanks to her mistress and friend's insistence.

She is heartbroken when Aurelia leaves for a short visit which turns into a year. Upon her return home, Aurelia declines over a three year period. After her death, a devastated Amy is turned out by Aurelia's parents. She had been left 10 pounds and a sketchbook of drawings done by her friend. Amy also is given a letter written earlier by Aurelia. It is coded and sends Amy on a treasure hunt in 4 places in England. Aurelia has left another letter in each community with the help of friends. Amy is sent from one unfamiliar town to another as she tries to unravel the mysterious treasure hunt.

She encounters many interesting characters along the way, two men who claim to love her, and more mysteries than answers as she seeks the reason Aurelia has sent her on this quest. Is there really a treasure at the end? Will she ever find out who her parents were? Which one of the men will she end up with? Or with neither? Many questions for the reader to contemplate while turning the pages of this delightful novel.

Beautiful writing makes it a pleasure to read. Historical detail offers the reader a fine view of the early Victorian era, the 1840's-1850's. We are given the story with flashbacks as Amy spends months on the treasure hunt.

A few editorial review comments by others:

"This charming character captured my heart, and her compelling adventure kept me turning the pages. A total delight!" (Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House and Glory over Everything)

"A hugely appealing tale of the endurance of friendship. With the elements of romance, mystery, drama, and history, there's much here to love." (Library Journal, starred review)

"Engrossing...fresh...rife with mysterious clues, intriguing people, and varied settings." (Publishers Weekly)

If you like Historical Romance, do give this one a try. I don't think you will be one bit disappointed.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Thoughts On Handwritten Letters

When is the last time you wrote a personal letter? Or received one delivered by your postman?  It's rapidly become a thing of the past. Stores don't display as much stationery as they once did. I see mostly note cards and thank you cards. Apparently, people do still pen a thank you note or a quick personal note now and then.

Handwritten letters from long ago are sometimes used to show a particular period of history. Love letters written during wartime tell heart wrenching stories of couples separated by miles and circumstances beyond their control. Some people were able to put their feelings in letters when they could not express them aloud. Books have been written using only letters to tell a story. One I particularly liked that used that form was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

A cousin of my husband sent us some letters she'd found. One was written by Ken's mother when he was a very small child. In it, she told her sister something that no one in the immediate family ever knew. Had that letter not been saved, we still would have no knowledge of what Ken's mom had written. The information didn't change anyone's views or hurt the family in any way. Mostly, it was a sliver of information that helped the family know what life was like at a certain time in the parents' lives.

My mother and I wrote to one another once a week during my adult life until she was close to death. In her mind long distance calls were used for relaying bad news, never to just chat like we do today. So, we wrote one another each week with chit-chat. I would tell her of things our children were doing and she'd let me know about other family members. We'd discuss new recipes or old ones. New books or favorite old ones. Current events and more. When I saw her familiar handwriting on the envelope in my mailbox, I was eager to get to the house and read the weekly news. I still miss her letters.

Mom and one of my dad's cousin's daughter had become pen pals, too. When my mother passed away, I started writing to the cousin. I liked her a lot but it also gave me a chance to keep in contact with my father's side of the family.

Perhaps because I am a writer, I have always found writing a letter satisfying and enjoyable. Some people hate to write letters. I'm guessing they don't like to write anything more than a grocery list.

I still write letters to a number of friends and family but the majority of my letters are now email messages. Even so, there are a few people who do not use computers so I still hand write to them.

How do you feel about writing letters and/or receiving a handwritten letter? What about saving letters? I have never saved letters and there are times now when I wish I had. If some of those people in the last century had not saved their letters, we would have missed a lot, especially those written by celebrated figures of the past.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Celebration For A Granddaughter

Alexis at 11

Me at 10

Our oldest granddaughter, Alexis, is celebrating her 21st birthday today. Quite a milestone; it's the birthday many of us remember well. She has brought great joy to her parents and to us as she moved through the stages of childhood. Now, she is a junior at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas where she is pursuing a degree to teach high school English. She is also a writer which pleases me, of course. I thought it might be fun to post pictures of both of us near the same age as there is definitely a family resemblance.

I could write an entire post on this young woman but, instead, I want to urge you to write about a grandchild or a grandparent. Don't just record their physical traits; tell about the kind of person he/she is, what kind of feelings you have for this person, and the influence they may have had on you. It's a perfect addition to your Family Stories book.

A story like this can also be submitted to markets like the following:

There are others that you might find through a search engine.

We reminisce about grandchildren and grandparents when special events come about, like a birthday, a wedding, a funeral or some other family gathering. Write the good things but, if there are tragedies or things that angered you, include them. They are, after all, a part of your family history.