Thursday, December 31, 2009

Old Year's Night

New Year's Eve today, and I keep wondering how it got here so fast. The months have slipped by on eagles' wings, or so it seems. Our friends in South Africa refer to December 31st as Old Year's Night. There's something about that which is more appealing than New Year's Eve.  Although this is the night before the new year begins, it's still technically the old year--the final day..

Tonight we finish what was begun twelve months ago and look toward the brand new year of 2010. Wasn't it only yesterday that we were all worried about what might happen in our world as we slipped into the twenty-first century on January 1st, 2000?

It's time to set some objectives for this coming year. Note that I didn't use the word resolutions as it seems to be the rule that a resolution made is a resolution soon broken. Maybe if we say objective instead, we can keep working toward it. Whether you're a writer or a reader or neither, make a mental list of the things you'd like to accomplish this next year. Maybe you want to make it a written list so you can refer to it now and then. I think the key to being successful with the list is to keep it short. Make it too long, and you're soon overwhelmed.

I wish you all a Happy Old Year's Night and may 2010 bring you peace within your heart and soul, good health which we must never take for granted, and as much joy as you can handle.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

End of the Year Reflections

This is the time of year when newspapers and TV journalists look back at the events which occurred during the past year. Sometimes it irritates me to be subjected to the constant flow of what happened in the business world, politics, the entertainment industry--even the interior decorating and food world.

I've always been a person who looks forward rather than at what happened in the past. What happened is over, and I'm ready to move on. But in retrospect, I have to admit that there is something beneficial in reflecting on these year's worth of happenings. Mistakes were made, and we should be able to learn from them. That doesn't mean we always come away with the knowledge of how to fix what was broken, but the opportunity is there. It's up to us to make it a positive for the future. It's also a means to realize that maybe we did something right, a time to give ourselves a pat on the back.

Writers should give thought to the writing life and what it brought them over the past year, too. If you're a writer who keeps records of your submissions, rejections or acceptances, and money earned, give yourself a gold star. By looking over the numbers and comparing this year to perhaps the last five, you may find a distinct pattern emerge. Look at the kinds of submissions that were accepted. Were they all memoirs? Or perhaps every one was a non-fiction feature article. Or maybe the only thing you sold was poetry. Doesn't that say something to you?

On the other hand, if you sold all manner of writing, you know you can continue to try different genres and be successful. If you sold only one kind of writing, maybe you should concentrate on it this next year.

Next, ask yourself what new thing you tried in your writing life this year. The most important new venture for me was in starting this blog. I hemmed and hawed over doing so for a long time, and finally decided to give it a try. Worst case scenario was that I'd hate it and would just plain pull the plug on it. So, off I went into the deep, dark waters of something I knew very little about. And guess what? I've enjoyed it tremendously!

Another area to look at is what you did to improve your writing this past year. Did you join any new professional organizations? Did you increase time spent with your critique group? Did you try to read books about writing? Attend a conference? Discuss writing with other writers in a social setting? All of those things can help you become a better writer.

By looking back at what you did in 2009, you can easily create a list of Writer's Resolutions for 2010. If you succeed with even half of them, you'll grow as a writer.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wisdom in Quotes

Gloria Steinem:

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else.

The quote above made me smile and nod my head in agreement, for when I am at my computer writing, I don't worry about other things I should or could be doing. Just the opposite of when I make an attempt at napping.

All my adult life, if I lie down in the afternoon for a short nap, I cannot close my eyes. Napping is something I rarely do, only when extremely tired or not feeling well. When I do, I lie on my bed, close my eyes and my mind turns into a whirlwind of thoughts. I think of what is waiting for me in the laundry room, the kitchen, or the errands that need my attention. It all boils down to one word--Guilt!

I have no guilty feelings whatsoever when I'm writing, even though the kitchen floor needs to be mopped, the ironing is calling me, or dust has built up on the coffee table. Maybe it's because I love what I'm doing, or possibly that my writing is something I hope to share with others. I am in a world all my own, but I've learned that there must be a stopping point, that my real world needs my attention sometimes, too.

Whatever the reason, I am on Gloria Steinem's side 100%.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Gift Books

For the record--we survived the Blizzard that roared through Kansas Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Our town had over 8 inches of snow and drifts ranging from 3 to 6 feet. Today the sun is bright and very welcome, as it will melt some of the snow still packed down on side streets.

Many of you received books as gifts for Hanukah or Christmas. It always kind of amazes me when people select books for others, as tastes in reading vary widely. Often, it's a bestseller that the majority of the recipients are happy to receive, so it usually turns out all right.

This Christmas, a  friend opened a package with four hardback fiction books sent to her by a relative. She's an avid reader, and the sight of the books made her shiver in anticipation of many good evenings curled up with a new story. But guess what? She's read two of the books before. And guess what? They were purchased in a large bookstore in a major city. Even a gift receipt does her no good as our smaller community doesn't have the big name bookstores. Maybe a gift certificate to one of the local bookstores or Amazon.com would have been a better idea.

Writers sometimes give books they've written or have stories in as gifts to family and friends. Last year, I planned to give a Christmas anthology, which included two of my stories, to three of my close friends. But I hesitated. Would they think it was a new form of bragging? Or would they appreciate having some of my work in print? Would they realize I only wanted to share something personal with them? I felt torn and finally decided against it. But this year, I ordered three of the books on Amazon and insribed each one, also signing my name by each of my stories. The recipients reacted favorably, much to my relief.

I received one book as a gift this year. It's called The Gift of Years with a subtitle of  Growing Older Gracefully. Joan Chittister is the author. I'm about halfway through it and find it filled with wisdom and good advice for the senior years and those nearing that stage of life. Too many people read only fiction and thus miss a wonderful world of excellent nonfiction books.

For me, the pros far outshine the cons in giving and receiving books for gifts. I would never discourage spreading print publications far and wide. Reading material, for me, is like manna from Heaven.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Blizzard of 2009



Next year, The Christmas Blizzard of 2009 will be only a memory, a story to tell. But right now, we're living it. Blizzard conditions require lots of wind with the snow, and we certainly did have the winds--35-50 mph last night. It literally howled as it blew through our state. The high winds, of course, create big snowdrifts. The TV weatherpeople were warning motorists last evening to not try to drive through the drifts.

We watched the reports and heard about many accidents involving people who must have felt they absolutely had to get somewhere. I have a feeling they wished they'd stayed home instead. That's what we will be doing today--staying home. We had planned on being with our daughter and her family and her in-laws, but they live 90 miles away, and in this kind of weather, it's insane to even think of going. We'll go tomorrow, or maybe one day next week. We'll have our gift exchange, some food and drink, some chatter and laughs, and it will be just like it might have been today. Just a little delay.

Christmas is being together with those you love, and it doesn't matter what day that happens. We spent last week-end in Dallas with our son's family. It was days before Christmas, but we opened gifts, had a special dinner and enjoyed being with the four people there whom we love dearly. Christmas is in your heart, and it can happen on December 25th or any other day.

We will be thinking of all our family today and wishing a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate the miracle of Christ's birth today.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

One of Many Blessings


Tonight is Christmas Eve, one of the most special days of the year for Christians who celebrate the birth of Jesus that night and on into Christmas Day. The story of Jesus' birth has been written about for centuries, from the biblical stories to those written with great imagination by other authors. Small children learn to sing "Away In A Manger" at an early age, and they know the story about Mary riding a donkey to Bethlehem, Joseph walking by her side. How the very young Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus in a lowly stable behind an inn that was too full. 'No room at the inn' has become a statement used by many these more than two thousand years since it occurred.

The star that guided the shepherds and Wise Men to the stable has also been written about, songs sung each Christmas season about the star, as well.

The characters in the Christmas story are known to all Christians from the landlord of the inn to the youngest shepherd to the animals in the stable. Factual recounts, fables, folklore, pure fantasy--all have used this old and great story. What is fact and what is fiction? They intertwine sometimes, but the basic truth of the story remains. God's son was born.

For Christians, the story never gets old, they hear it every Christmas season and keep it in their hearts all year long. For all who celebrate this blessed event tonight, whether alone or with loved ones--a very Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Christmas Memory Story

In keeping with the Christmas story theme of the past couple weeks, here's another memory from my childhood days in Chicago. Certain things impress us so much as children that we carry them with us forever.

Magical Windows of Christmas
By Nancy Julien Kopp

At least once during the Christmas seasons of my childhood, my mother and I rode the elevated train from our suburban home to downtown Chicago, exiting at the Marshall Field’s station. Pigeons strutted on the wooden walkway and railings, flapping soft gray wings now and then, drawing my attention, but Mother pulled me toward a long flight of steps to the street, leaving the pigeons far above us.

We headed to a special, magical place, the big department store’s Christmas windows. Often, the wind and cold air stung our cheeks. Sometimes snowflakes floated lazily over us, but it didn’t matter. A crowd formed close to the windows of Marshall Field’s, and Mother and I wiggled into the center, moving closer and closer to the front until we stood before Christmas Window #1.

There, before us was a wonderland that brought oohs and ahs from the crowd. “Look, Mommy!” could be heard off and on as well, when excited children pointed out the obvious to their mothers.

Marshall Fields initiated the Christmas window display in 1897. During November, the windows were covered with brown paper and not unveiled until the day after Thanksgiving. For weeks, designers and their staff worked long hours to create a story told in eleven successive windows, using a fairy tale or child’s book theme. Animation came in later years, and the designs grew more and more lifelike. Piles of snow and frost-covered trees looked real enough to touch. A tray of gingerbread men near an oven so perfect, I could almost smell the spicy aroma. A scroll or some other unique prop told part of the story, and the rest came with our imagination.

The earlier windows were toy displays, a marketing scheme that drew thousands of shoppers. Later, in the mid-40’s, the story windows began, and Uncle Mistletoe and Aunt Holly were introduced.

We moved from window to window enjoying the continuing tale. Stories like Snow White and Pinocchio came to life behind the giant windows. They were probably more exciting in the days prior to television, for we had nothing like this anywhere but the movie theaters. By the time we’d walked the entire route, our feet were tingling with the cold, and we headed into the store to warm up.

What better place to thaw out than in the line that ended with a short sit on Santa’s lap. By the time, we reached Santa, we’d shed gloves and hats and unbuttoned our heavy coats. I told Santa my dearest wishes, never doubting that he’d remember and bring at least one of the items I’d requested.

When I grew older and could make the trip downtown to Marshall Field’s with my girlfriends, my excitement stayed at a high pitch. I noticed more details then, and my friends and I giggled and chatted, and pointed things out to one another. With rosy cheeks and numbing toes by the time we’d gotten to the end, we headed into the store. Not to see Santa but to savor a cup of hot chocolate and then spend some time wandering through the massive place looking for Christmas gifts for our family members. We might finish the day with a Frango Mint, the candy made famous by Marshall Field’s.

Today, Field’s is no more. The sign in front now says Macy’s. It was a sad day for me when that happened. A piece of my childhood crumbled, never to be the same. But the memory of the Christmas windows and my visits to Santa remain a treasured memory.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Saddest Christmas

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded of a Christmas long ago that was sad but very special, too. The story posted below has been published several times, including last year in a book called The Big Book of Christmas Joy.

A Christmas for Julie

Painful Christmases etch themselves into our hearts and minds, never to be forgotten. Difficult holiday times, which cut into the soul, linger in our memories and are brought soaring back when we least expect it. A picture, a song, or phrase triggers that which we thought remained locked safely away.

One such Christmas continues to haunt me, while at the same time surrounds me with the love and peace transcended by the Christmas story of Jesus' birth.

Forty-three years ago, we were new parents. Our baby girl was born a few days after Thanksgiving, bringing us both great joy and bottomless sorrow. Unlike today, no sonogram or amniocentesis had prepared us for the news that Julie was a spina bifida baby. Because of a large opening in her spine, she was paralyzed from the waist down—legs, bowel, and bladder. Numb with shock, we agreed to the pediatrician's suggestion to transfer her to a renowned children's hospital in Chicago, an hour from our home.

"You can take her there as soon as we get the paperwork done," he told us.

With heavy hearts, we drove on icy roads from our home in a small Illinois town to the center of the big city on Lake Michigan. I held Julie close and gazed at her sweet face peeking out of a soft pink blanket. When we arrived at the hospital, a paperwork snafu in the Admissions Department gave us four more precious hours to hold and feed her. It turned out to be a most precious gift.

Our footsteps echoed in the wide hallway as we finally carried her to the fourth floor. A nurse with a sympathetic smile gently lifted our tiny daughter from my arms and carried her through the nursery door. I will never forget the ache of my empty arms or the slow cracking of my heart at that moment. My husband's hand clasped mine during our walk downstairs as we prepared to face an uncertain future. I went home to pray for a miracle cure.

It was the first of many trips to the hospital where we spent special moments with our baby girl, consulted with doctors, and attempted to ease our sorrow. We grasped each piece of good news and held on tightly. We crumbled a little more whenever a doctor delivered a grim outlook for our child—multiple surgeries, a life of probable infections, wheelchair, crutches, and other unknowns. Only faith kept us from screaming in denial when hearing the dire predictions. Only faith brought back our strength after discussing the future with Julie’s doctors. Faith and a large dose of hope allowed us to soldier on.

December arrived, and each time we visited, I noted more signs of the season. Garland, ribbons and bows decorated the halls. Table-top Christmas trees adorned the waiting rooms, and some of the nurses wore Christmas pins on their uniforms.

One Sunday afternoon when we arrived at our station outside the nursery window, we could not help but smile. A small doll was tied onto Julie's tiny crib with a cheery red ribbon. No wings, but she reminded me of a guardian angel as she seemed to watch over our child. We questioned the nurse about the doll. Where had it come from? Who gave it to her?

"The auxiliary ladies bring a gift to every child in the hospital at Christmastime," she said. "They're the same wonderful women who come and rock the babies because we don't have time."

Unlike today, hospital rules kept us from being close enough to touch our baby, but a stranger had rocked her in our place, and another had brought her first Christmas gift. I could not help but think of Mary in the stable holding her child close and rocking him in her arms as he received the first Christmas gifts from the Wise Men who had followed the star.

Each time we returned during that December, I checked to be sure Julie's gift remained tied to her crib. Was it my imagination, or did that doll glow? I wondered if angels took on inanimate forms.
We talked to other parents who had children on the same floor. Children with heart problems, severe malformations, muscular weakness and more—our children shared the same home this Christmas. Our hearts were not the only ones breaking during this season of love and joy.

Christmas morning found us on the road to the hospital once more. Again, we stood outside the nursery window adoring our daughter with our eyes, while that empty-arms feeling washed over me again. She’d been placed on her tummy to protect the surgical site on her spine. Christmas music played softly in the background. Julie lifted her silver-blonde head and turned toward us, one eye open, tiny hands clenched into fists. "Merry Christmas Darling Girl," I whispered. My husband's arm slipped around me. Other parents moved through the halls spending Christmas morning with their little ones, too.

It was Julie's only Christmas, but it was one filled with the love of those who cared for her, family and friends in a small community who prayed for her, and the lifetime of love we bestowed on her during her few weeks on earth. To me, that's what Christmas is all about. Love and giving and a special glow from a tiny doll with a red ribbon around her tummy remain a part of my memory of that very special Christmas for Julie.

I’d prayed for a miracle, prayed that my child would live a full life and be as normal as other little girls. That didn’t happen, but we did experience the miracle of God’s love and comfort brought to us in so many small ways during that Christmas season of long ago. Every year as Thanksgiving ends and Christmas approaches, I silently relive those weeks with our firstborn, and I reach out to others who may be experiencing sadness during our most holy season.

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Abundance Of Story Ideas

I so often hear writers say they get stuck for story ideas, both fiction and nonfiction writers. It puzzles me as I seem to find ideas everywhere. Sometimes in great abundance.

Like today for instance. Ken and I ran over to a very nice, upscale outdoor mall in Highland Village, a northern suburb of Dallas. We parked near a Jos. A. Banks store, walked down to a shop where I bought a gift card, the final Christmas gift I had to buy.

Ken said he wanted to take a look in the Banks shop since we were so close.

He found a bargain too good to pass up—a beautiful sport coat for a mere fraction of its regular price. We walked around the store, selected a shirt and tie to go with the coat and wandered over to the check-out counter. We spent about half an hour in the shop, and in that time I witnessed an abundance of stories waiting to be written.

1. The little girl who sat huddled in a corner, playing with a handheld game while her dad stood impatiently in line to pay for the blue and white shirt he held. Dad kept checking on her and asking if she was hungry. He finally tossed the shirt on the counter and said to me, “She’s hungry and I’m starving. I can’t wait any longer.”

2. The short Indian man who had a pile of clothes on the counter and waited patiently as the clerk scanned the prices while the computer had a temper tantrum when he tried to bring up the sale prices. The young man tried again and again, becoming more and more frustrated. The customer never said a word, just watched. When the total came to over $2,800, the man slid one pair of pants out of the pile and softly said, “I don’t need these.” The young clerk threw up his hands and turned for help to the older woman working at another computer.

“Abort the whole thing!” she said to him.

3. The young, blonde woman who was returning a topcoat and getting 2 belts, 2 shirts and 3 sweaters instead. The woman checking her out was also having computer problems, too high a tax and no way to change it. She appeared calm on the outside, but I sensed a great churning on the inside.

4. The two thirty-something women behind us who were aghast at the terrific deal Ken had gotten on his sport coat. Envy is the only word that might describe their faces and actions.

So, look around you. There are story possibilities everywhere!We're rraveling home to Kansas today, We usually make around three short stops along the way, and I've no doubt that I'll run into a few story ideas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

It'll Wait

Writers get ideas at the strangest times.--washing dishes, taking a shower, standing in the grocery check-out line. Thoughts come flooding into your mind and you want to sit down immediately and write the essay, article or story. But besides being writers, we’re wives, mothers, grandmothers, full-time employees and more. The everyday parts of our lives squeeze out the writing thoughts many times.
It’s even more difficult at holiday time. We add  to our already hectic schedules. Take all the normal things you do, then toss in writing Christmas cards and letters, baking, shopping, special parties and programs, and the time for developing those writing thoughts gets smaller and smaller. What to do?

When an idea for a story comes, write it down somewhere. Keep a running tab of ideas in a place where you can add to it as needed. Then, in January when the snow blows and the temps are frigid, you can go down your list and develop the ideas one by one. But do write them down. If you don’t, they may evaporate so fast, you’ll never find them again.

Keep that list of new ideas going all year long. Sometimes you wake up in the morning, remember a dream and it triggers a story idea. Write it down immediately, or it might gly away on angel wings, never to be seen again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another Christmas Memory Story

The Christmas story I am posting today is one that was published in The Big Book of Christmas Joy last year. It's about the year that I and many of my classmates learned the joy in giving that surpasses that of receiving gifts. Sometimes, this lesson is not learned until far into adulthood. I was blessed to have acquired this knowledge at so young an age.


The Best Christmas Present Ever
By Nancy Julien Kopp

In 1949 the twenty-one children in my fifth grade class learned one of life’s greatest lessons. Ten year olds usually care more about the importance of receiving gifts than the considering the joy in giving them. But that year, we found out that giving truly is better than receiving, and it was all because of a special teacher.

Lyle Biddinger served on a navy destroyer during World War II, went to college on the GI Bill and landed in a Chicago suburban grade school teaching fifth grade. We were his first class, and he was the first male teacher in our Kindergarten through eighth grade school. Young, handsome, and an outstanding teacher—he was all any ten year old could ask for.

During family dinners, I talked endlessly about what Mr. Bid had told us that day, what he’d shown us, the games he’d taught us. He may as well have been sitting at our table every night, for his presence was evident Monday through Friday. I hurried through breakfast so I could get to school early, and I offered to stay after classl and do whatever little jobs needed to be done. I wasn’t the only one who acted this way about Mr. Biddinger. Oh no--all of us adored him.

We were so proud to be in his class. We preened our feathers like peacocks around the kids in the other fifth grade. He was all ours, and like kids of that age, we let everyone know it. Our teacher made learning fun, and in the 1940’s this was a new approach. At one point, some of the parents went to the principal and complained that Mr. Biddinger spent too much time playing games during classtime. School should not be fun; it was to be hard work. Somehow Mr. Biddinger and the principal placated the disgruntled parents, and life went on as before in the fifth grade.

December arrived, and the Room Mother contacted the other parents. Each family was asked to give a modest amount of money to be used for a Christmas gift for the teacher. It was not an unusual request in our school. Next she called Mr. Biddinger’s wife to find out what might be the perfect gift for him.

It was to be a secret, of course, but we all knew about it, and whispers and notes flew back and forth. Our class Christmas party would be held the last day before the holiday break. We would have a grab bag gift exchange, punch and cookies and candy. We’d play some games, get out of schoolwork and give Mr. Bid his gift. The days trickled by slower than ever before, and our excitement grew steadily. We looked forward to our school Christmas much more than the one we’d each have at home.

Finally, the big day dawned. Our Room Mother arrived bearing the punch and brightly decorated Christmas cookies and hard candies. But where was the big box Mr. Bid’s present was in? We didn’t see it. We wriggled in our desks and fretted. Whispers sailed around the room until Mr. Bid scolded us. “Settle down,” he said, “or the party’s over as of now.” Quiet reigned. The treats and grab bag gifts were passed out. We munched on our sugar cookies and slurped the red punch. The classroom door opened, and a strange woman walked in. Mr. Biddinger’s looked surprised at first; then a big smile crossed his face. We were soon introduced to his wife. The Room Mother disappeared into the hall but was back in seconds holding a good-sized box wrapped in Christmas paper and tied with a wide red ribbon. The chatter in the room ceased immediately, and all eyes were riveted on that box.

The Room Mother cleared her throat, walked to our teacher and said, “Mr. Biddinger, this gift is from your students. They wanted to show their love and appreciation by giving you something special.” As she handed him the box, the room tingled with an air of excitement.

Mr. Bid seemed excited, and that alone thrilled us. He untied the bow and handed the ribbon to his wife. Next came the wrapping, and we all leaned forward. He opened the box and lifted a hunting jacket from the folds of tissue paper. This had been his fondest wish for Christmas, Mrs. Biddinger had told the Room Mother. He loved to hunt on the week-ends whenever possible, but the special hunting gear was beyond a teacher’s salary at that time.

For the first time, the man who taught us so much became mute, totally speechless. He turned the jacket over and over, looked at the special pockets on the inside and outside. He tried again to say something but couldn’t. But the sparkle in his eyes and the smile on his face said all we needed to know. He finally found his voice and told us over and over how much he loved his new jacket. “It’s probably the finest gift I’ve ever received,” he said. He didn’t say why, but we knew. We had no doubt that the reason was that it came from his first class, the twenty-one ten year olds who adored him.

I don’t remember the gifts I received at home that Christmas, but I’ll never forget the gift we gave Mr. Biddinger. It was the best Christmas present ever.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another Writer I Admire



Wanda Bates is another writer I admire. I had the good fortune to meet her in a Sunday afternoon writers group that I attended a number of years ago. Once a month half a dozen members of the Kansas Authors Club gathered to read their work aloud, discuss writing and enjoy the common bond they shared.

When Wanda read her work to the group, I always paid close attention for her words were simple, but strong. Her essays and memoirs were filled with subtle wit and wonderful glimpses of life as it once was. A friendship grew from those Sunday afternoons. Wanda's one fault is in not tooting her own horn. So I encouraged her to submit some of her work to various online sites where I'd had some success myself. As a result, she has been published many times and even won awards at http://www.ourecho.com/  She has also been published in other print publications through the years.

She wrote an award winning essay called "On Being Ninety" a few years ago. Yes, I did say a few years ago. Wanda will celebrate her 95th birthday in less than a month. She lives in an assisted living facility and is quite frail physically, but her mind is sharp and active, and she continues to write family history after a niece requested that she do so.

She is a stickler for using good grammar, and I admire that, too. In today's world of abbreviating when texting or e-mailing, I fear good grammar may never return.

Her work at OurEcho includes a three part look at war years, called "Wars and Rumors of Wars." Both WWI and WWII are included. "Three Years In A Teacherage" tells of her years living in what was termed a "teacherage" in the 1930's in rural Iowa. A brought-to-life piece of history. She has written of her few months living in a nursing home after an illness forced the decision to give up independent living. Unlike many others, she graduated from Health Care up to Assisted Living.

I am always encouraged after I visit Wanda. She is living proof that a writer doesn't have to give up writing as age creeps up. I know now that I can keep writing as long as my mind is all right and my desire to write still strong. Throw in a continued sense of humor like she has, and it's easy to see why Wanda is still writing at almost-ninety-five.

Read Wanda's essay on achieving the age of ninety at http://www.ourecho.com/story-373-On-Being-90.shtml and then check her other stories listed at http://www.ourecho.com/ I can promise you'll be entertained.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Early Celebration


Adela, Vojta, Tomas, Tyna, Zuzka and Katarina

We are an American Host family for two Czech Exchange students who attend Kansas State University. Last August, Adela  and Katarina (seated) spent a week in our home, then moved to the dorm to begin their studies at an American school. They come to our home for dinner about once a month, and we see them occasionally for other activities and e-mail, too. We invited them for a Christmas dinner and asked them to each invite two friends.

Last night, they arrived in good spirits, despite it being Finals Week. The four friends they brought along were also Czech Exchange students. There were eight of us around our dining room table enjoying dinner and conversation which never seemed to slow down. We all told stories, shared Christmas plans and talked about their next semester.



Adela is returning home on Thursday of this week, and she will not be returning here, like the others, for the second semester. So our evening ended with wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to her, but also a longer hug for a farewell. Not good-bye, only farewell. Many of the students we've hosted over the years have kept in touch with us when they return to their country. Adela, I think, will be one of them.

Some of the students are going home for the Christmas breaktime and will return in mid-January. Katarina and some of the others will spend that time traveling in the USA. She is most excited about a ski trip to Keystone, Colorado in early January. Classes will begin, and we will resume our monthly dinners with her and perhaps a few of her friends.

Christmas is about sharing the love of Christ with others, and we had a wonderful opportunity to do that last night. No sermons or preaching, the love was all around us, and we received as much or more than we gave.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Another Christmas Story



A story I sent to an editor more than two years ago found its way into print this month. Editors keep files of old submissins and search through them when they need to find something to fill the pages of whatever publication they work for. The story is a memoir that tells about my family's traditional visit to find a Christmas tree. Some families trudge through snowy woods looking for a tree to cut down, but those who live in big cities like I did find their own meaningful traditions.






Finding the Right Christmas Tree

In the 1940’s, we city folk didn’t cut down a tree in the fields but kept our own tradition. On a cold December evening, Dad announced that it was time to find a Christmas tree. My two younger brothers and I grabbed heavy coats, hats, gloves and snow boots, and ran to the car. Our excitement bubbled over in giggles and hoots.

The corner lot was normally empty; now in December, dozens of trees magically appeared, lined up like soldiers going into battle

.The proprietors had erected a wooden teepee-like frame to display dead deer and an occasional bear in a prominent corner. Animal rights groups didn’t protest in those days.

My brothers and I marched round and round the frozen animals. “Go ahead, touch it,” Howard dared.

My hand reached within inches of the thick, matted fur, but I quickly drew it back. “You first,” I challenged, but Howard only circled the animals, hands behind him. Meanwhile, Dad walked the rows of trees, pulling a few upright, shaking off snow.

He called to us, and we crunched across the frozen snow-packed ground. “No,” we chorused. “It’s not big enough.” We followed Dad and thumbed our noses at several others. “Not big enough,” we said, stamping cold feet.

The owner ambled over, so bundled up he looked akin to the dead bear. He kept a cigar clamped in his teeth and wore gloves with the fingers cut off, so he could peel off dollar bills from the stack he carried.. Dad shook the man’s hand and said, “OK, let’s see the good trees now.” The burly man moved the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, shook his head and finally gestured for us to follow him.

We moved across the pine-scented lot to a brick building. The man opened a door, and we tromped single-file down a long flight of steps. Dozens of trees leaned against the walls. Dad pulled out one after the other until he found a tree that we three children deemed “big enough.” Silence now, as the serious part of this adventure commenced. Dad and the cigar chomping man dickered about the price. Finally, money changed hands, and Dad hoisted the tree and we jostled one another up the steps to be closer to the green treasure.

Once home, Dad hauled the tree up three flights of stairs to our apartment and put it on our small balcony. I often peered through the glass door to check that no one hadstolen it. Now why I thought someone would climb to the third floor to steal our tree is a wonder.

At last, Dad carried the tree inside and tried to put it in the stand, but it was no use. The tree was too tall. It should have been no surprise, as it happened every year. Dad sawed several inches off the tree. After he strung the lights, Mother helped us hang sparkly ornaments, and we finished with strand upon strand of silver tinsel. Finally, Dad climbed a step-stool and placed the last piece on the top. What joy to see the angel with the pink satin dress and golden wings. There were times I could swear she smiled at me.

That sweet angel got lost somewhere over the years. Most likely, she’d become tattered and torn, and Mother discarded her. How I’d love to have her sitting atop my own tree this year smiling down at me once again. Instead, I’ll put up the angel I bought to replace her. She’s nice but somehow not quite the same.

Friday, December 11, 2009

It's a No-Go!

Yesterday's e-mail brought a message with the subject "A Cup of Comfort For Golfers: Important Notice" and it caught my eye immediately. I'd sent a golf story for the book they were planning several months ago. Mabye this was my acceptance letter, or one saying my story was a finalist. In great anticipation, I opened the message and felt totally deflated when I read it.

They were writing to all the authors of stories submitted for the book to inform us that they were cancelling the whole project. Part of the message read:  "This decision is based on economic conditions and other factors beyond our control that are affecting the book industry at large and that have hit the nonfiction inspirational book category especially hard."

It seems to be happening more and more. Jan Fields writes a monthly newsletter for writers of childrens' stories. One page is devoted to markets. She lists markets that are looking for specific kinds of stories and then markets that are closed. Lately, the list of closed markets has grown longer. One such page can be found at http://www.kidmagwriters.com/market/onemrkt.htm  At http://www.duotrope.com/ you'll find listings of fiction markets. They, too, put out a newsletter, but on a weekly basis. One section is reserved for markets that are no longer open to submissions, and that list grows longer, too.

Yes, it's due to the economic downturn we're sloshing our way through. Will it get better? I certainly hope so. I want to believe that it will. How long it will take is anyone's guess. Meanwhile, getting published will be more and more competitive, so if you do have a story, article or essay published, be extra happy. You did it with the odds against you.

My thoughts today are going to include other places I might send my golf story.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Writing December Stories

In December every magazine, ezine, and newspaper publishes stories dealing with the holidays celebrated during this month--Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza. They're usually emotional, feel-good stories or memories of past years. I wrote earlier about writing these seasonal stories when the mood hits you--mainly during this month. Seeing something in a mall or at church might trigger a memory, and you've suddenly got a story to tell. Tell it now, but don't expect to see it in print until next year. Only once in awhile, an editor needs a last minute filler and will take your story.

Off and on this month, I'm going to post some of the Christmas stories I've written on the blog. Many are childhood memories triggered by various things. The one for today was brought to mind when I ate a piece of very hard fudge one Christmas. Just the opposite of the kind my mother made. I wrote the story, sent it to Chicken Soup for the Soul Chocolate Lovers book editors, and many months later was rewarded with a contract. The book sits on my shelf and the story still brings a smile.

A Spoonful of Fudge

Spiral back in time with me to a mid-December day in 1947 and relive one of my treasured memories. With our teacher’s guidance, my third grade class planned the Christmas party, which would be held on our final day before the holiday break. Our classroom already looked festive thanks to a live Christmas tree decorated with our art work. Cut-out paper snowflakes adorned the tall windows, and in free time we’d made construction paper chains which we used to decorate every available space in the room.

But now the most important part of getting ready was upon us. Miss Marshak asked for volunteers to bring Christmas napkins, cookies, and punch.

“Now what else would be good to have at the party?” she asked.

A boy in the last row hollered, “Fudge!”

At his one-word answer, I sat up straight and waved my hand in the air. When Miss Marshak did not call on me immediately, I bounced up and down in my chair and gestured furiously.

“Yes, Nancy,” she finally said.

“I’ll bring the fudge. My mother makes the best fudge in the world.” My mouth watered at the thought of the creamy, rich chocolate candy my entire family loved.

I could hardly wait to get home and tell my mother that I’d volunteered to bring fudge for the party. She’d be so excited to share her special fudge with all my classmates. I barely felt the cold December air as I hurried along the six blocks from school to our apartment building. My feet scarcely touched the stairs as I sailed up the three flights to our door.

Mother stopped peeling potatoes when I burst into the kitchen. I announced the great news, but I didn’t get the reaction I’d expected. Her face paled. “Fudge? Isn’t there something else you can bring?”

“No. Other people signed up for the rest.” My excitement deflated like a pricked balloon.
What could be wrong?

Mother shrugged, picked up the potato peeler and said, “It’s all right. I’ll make the fudge.”

The December days slid by, one by one. I helped Mother put up our Christmas decorations. Dad took my brothers and me to pick out a tree, and Mother spent her days wrapping packages and baking special cookies and Christmas cakes. At school, we practiced for our part in the all-school musical program, read Christmas stories in reading time and created our own in Language Arts period. Giggles got louder as Christmas surrounded us.

Finally, the day before the party arrived. Our teacher went over a checklist to make sure everyone remembered what they were to bring the next day. How could I forget? I’d thought about the chocolaty, wonderful fudge Mother would make every day. I could almost taste its smoothness and the lingering sweetness it left.

When I got home that afternoon, my baby brother was crying, and Mother looked about to cry along with him. “What’s wrong?” I asked. My worry centered not on the baby or my mother but on the fudge.

Mother sank into a kitchen chair. “I’ve made three batches of fudge today, and none of them worked. They’re all too soft. I can’t send it to school.”

I had no idea why she was so disturbed. Fudge was always soft and gooey. We spooned it up every time we had it. “Why?” was all I could think to say.

“Nancy,” my mother said, “fudge is not meant to be eaten with a spoon. It should be firm enough to pick it up in a piece and pop into your mouth. I beat and beat it, but it’s like it always is when I make it. Too soft. And I made it three times today!”

Tears welled in her eyes, and my baby brother reached up and patted her cheek. Maybe even he knew how bad she felt. How could I bring the fudge to school? I loved my mother’s fudge, but maybe nobody else would. Maybe they’d laugh when they saw it. I worked up my courage and asked, “What are we going to do?”

The next morning, I carried a big pan of fudge and 21 spoons to school.

The soft candy was the hit of the party. After we had our punch and cookies, everyone gathered around the cake pan of fudge, spoon in hand, and dug in. My fears were never realized. One of the boys licked his spoon and said, “You were right. Your mom does make the best fudge in the world.” Echoes of agreement sounded around the circle. We dipped our spoons for more.

Some years later, Mother began to make a new fudge recipe that contained marshmallow crème. The ads promised it was foolproof--firm fudge every time. They were right, but the spoonfuls of soft fudge we’d eaten all those years before remained my favorite, and I never forgot how my mother found a solution to what might have been my biggest third grade disaster. It wasn't only fudge she'd given me that December day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow, Basketball, and a Round Robin

Now what in the world do all the things in my title have to do with one another? Not a whole lot except that they all figured in my day yesterday.

I live in the Flint Hills of Kansas where winter can be very mild and often is, but now and then, we get a big storm blowing across the Plains. We were warned that we might be in for 4-8 inches of snow a couple of days earlier, then it was changed to 6-10 inches for our area, more farther north of us. It started around midnite on Monday and snowed off and on all night and all day yesterday and into the evening. We got all of ten inches, and then the wind picked up and began to blow the snow into deep drifts.
This morning, it's bitterly cold but bright and sunny and schools closed for a second day. Looking at it from my window makes me want to write a poem. There are lots of ways to describe the white stuff piled up out there.

Basketball entered into my day when we went to watch K-State play Xavier in an eight o'clock game last night. Snowing and blowing, but we bundled up and off we went through the unplowed roads of our subdivision out to the only once-plowed main road that leads to the arena parking lot, also unplowed. Happily, we live only five minutes away. Two years ago, K-State lost an embarassing game on New Year's Eve to Xavier on their home court in Cincinnati. The wound had only festered over time, and the guys on that team who still play for us had a score to settle. Xavier had only lost two games so far this season, and they have some good shooters. As I'd feared, there were far fewer fans than usual, but the student section was filled. The game started slowly and sloppily on both sides, but our team played super defense and hit the boards hard, ending up with a win by 15 points. The crowd was a factor, even though about half the numbers normally in attendance. They cheered long and loud. It was a satisfying win, and we were happy fans that walked across a snowy parking lot to our snow-covered car for the short ride home.

My online writers' critique group is writing a Round Robin story this month. One person writes the first paragraph and sends it on the next one on the list. She adds another paragraph, continuing the same storyline. On to number three and so on down the line. Last night, I received the first three paragraphs of what is already a rather riveting story, filled with suspense. In only three paragraphs! I'm number four, and I lay awake a long time trying to decide how to continue this story.

So now you know how snow, basketball and a round robin all figured into my day yesterday. My next job today is to write that paragraph and send it on to the next writer.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bloggers

Since I've started blogging, I've become a regular reader of several other blogs. Like people, no two are alike. Some ramble through a myriad number of subjects, no particular theme to their blog. Others have a set theme such as restaurant reviews or reviewing books or quilting or caregiving.

But the one constant I've seen is that the blogger's personality comes through quite clearly. If you read a blog on a regular basis, you begin to feel that you know the person. You might even classify them among your friends.

This morning I read a new blog at http://littlehousesouthernprairie.wordpress.com/  The blogger, Emily Harris, wrote about finding a stray dog and what she did with it. I learned a lot about Emily even though the story was focused on the a poor, starving dog. Her easy style of writing drew me in, and I'm sure I'll return and read more of her postings.

Ellen Sackett's blog, http://www.goodtastebuds.com/ has me salivating more often than not, as she offers restaurant reviews. I've learned that she and I share much in our culinary outlook and that she appreciates good food and those who create it.

Jennie Helderman has many interests in her life, and her blog offers us views on any number of them. She is not a writer who stays with one subject, preferring to cover many things of interest to her readers. Find her blog at http://www.jenniehelderman.com/  Today, she offers one of her good fiction pieces.

http://www.lgurney.blogspot.com/ is a blog written by Lisa Gurney. She writes about living and caring for her 82 year old mother who has Alzheimer's disease. I've felt Lisa's frustration and admired her kindness and loyalty. Yes, her personality has definitely been on display in her blog, which is on hiatus right now.

These are only a few. You may follow several others, and I bet you have been able to discern a great deal about the blogger.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Writing Seasonal Stories


When the Christmas season rolls around, writers begin to get great story ideas, or a Christmas poem dances in their head until they must get it into print form. The emotion is there, and that's the time to write the story. But if I write a Christmas story on December 7th, where in the world will I get it published with a mere 18 days time until Christmas Day? It's not going to happen. Christmas stories need to be submitted to editors months ahead of time, but guess what? Not many of us are moved to write a Christmas story in June or July.

Nor do we come up with an Easter story in the autumn months, or a Halloween story in April. But that's what a writer needs to do. How do you get the inspiration months ahead of time? It's not easy. For me, the best way is to write the story when the holiday is close, when you're inspired. Then put it away for several months when you can submit it to an editor.

Doing it that way presents its own problem. You must remember that you have written the story and where you've filed it. It's all too easy to put it away and then forget it completely. Go through your files at least once a month. By doing this on a regular basis, the list becomes very familiar and you're not going to miss out completely. You'll be ready to send a seasonal story in plenty of time.

So go ahead and write that Christmas story this month, but save it to submit for next year. Got an Easter story in your file? Send it out now!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Life's Unexpected Turns

Switching from my writing world to my personal world today. Yesterday morning, two of my very closest friends were in an auto accident. A daughter of one of them was flying home after a nice ten day visit with her mother, so they were off to Kansas City to the airport. They had not left our town yet when a truck made a left turn in front of them. The truck driver says he never saw their car. It's possible as it is a silver gray car and the early morning sun may have been reflecting on it. That's of little consequence, however.

My two friends are both in the hospital. One here in our community hospital with a fractured sternum, muscles spasms in her neck and aches and pains from head to toe. Seatbelts save lives but they inflict injuries of their own at times. My other friend, the driver, was airlifted to a Topeka hospital with two fractured vertebrae in her neck and a broken ankle. She was in surgery last night as there was internal bleeding in that same area, and they needed to stop it to relieve pressure on the spinal cord. She is in ICU now. One of her family members who called me said, "She was awake and alert all day and giving orders." That last part left me smiling and breathing a sigh of relief, because that meant she was herself.

The third person in the car, my friend's daughter, had a broken kneecap, but she went to Topeka with a brother to be with her mother yesterday. Each of these women who ended up in hospitals have large families. One has 6 children, the other 5, plus many grandchildren. It was a major production to notify all their family members who are spread around the country. Plus a long list of friends.

Yesterday's plan was that we were all to go out to dinner last night and then to play bridge afterward. Our Christmas celebration for that bridge group. How quickly plans can change, how quickly a life can come perilously close to ending, how quickly we come to realize how very dear someone is to us--all because a truck driver did not see a car and made a turn that has changed many lives.

Be careful when you're out doing all your December shopping and celebrating.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Queen of Unnecessary Words

Once upon a time in the land of writers, there was a Queen of Unnecessary Words, and her name was Nancy. Yep, me! In the early days of my writing world, I joined a critique group I found on the internet. It was a brand new group, looking for members. There were only three in it at the time, and those three were the founders of WriteCraft. I knew I needed other eyes to look at my work, and so I applied for membership.

Needing members to create the group, they readily accepted me and then others began to trickle in, as well. There were no qualifications other than your interest in writing and having work critiqued. It was the single most important decision in helping me as a writer. It turned out that two of the three organizers dropped out, but the one who was left did a terrific job.

Kate Gerard was a Kansas City writer and editor who was willing to give her time and knowledge to other writers. She was the moderator, the Mother Hen, and the one who handed out tough love like a parent of erring teens. She lost some members because of that tough love, but to me, it was their loss, not hers. If a writer listened to Kate as she ranted and raved over the submissions,, she could do nothing but grow as a writer. I listened, I learned, and I loved her for it.

Beginning writers tend to use far too many words. We write like we speak and toss in words that have no bearing on the work, add nothing to it., and would certainly not be missed if they are axed. I used the word just over and over. It might provide a bit of emphasis but not much else. Other words like quite, really, perhaps are all unneeded additions. I added too many adverbs that weren't needed. Adverbs 'tell' the reader what the writer wants her to know. If a sentence is written so that it 'shows' the reader, there is no need for an adverb. Things like sadly, happily, grumpily.

The things above are only a few examples. All writers need to create concise, clear sentences. One by one. String them all together and you'll have a stronger story or essay. I still tend to use some of those unnecessary words now and then, and the critiquers in my current writers group call me on it, but I know it is to help me be a better writer. So I am grateful to them and also to Kate Gerard, who hammered away at me and other members of her group until we corrected the fault and earned her praise. I relinquished my crown and am no longer the Queen of Unnecessary Words.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Do You Have Time To Write?

In a perfect world, a writer would have many hours every day to pound the keyboard and produce story after story. Maybe those  full-time, paid writers who work for newspapers or high-end magazines do that, but those of us who are part-time freelancers don't often have that option.

We constantly find detours in the road as Life keeps putting obstacles in the way. Mundane household tasks need to be done, like it or not. Social obligations must be fulfilled--if you're a social person like I am. Unexpected circumstances arrive in the form of a surprise guest, or a sudden illness or death in your family or network of close friends. All of these things diminish our writing time.

Human beings are also experts in wasting time. Don't shake your head--we all do it. A little bit of it is fine, but when it happens more and more often, it's time to take a good look at how you operate.

So, how do you 'make' time to write? Some writers set a specific time frame in each day as writing time. Maybe 7 to 10 every morning. Or 9 to 11 every night. If it works for you, go for it. I can't seem to operate that way. I've found that some days I have very little time to write, but I try to do at least a few minutes worth. When my day is relatively free of other obligations, I hit it hard. I've learned that if I want writing time, I have to give up something else. For me, that's been evening TV. I rarely ever watch it anymore. I've also had to cut my reading time, and I miss that far more than TV. I readily admit that my housekeeping is not as good as it once was. I get it done, but it might not be as thorough. Since neither of us has contacted a dread disease because of it, I don't worry about it.

Making time to write has no set rules. Every writer has to make her own conditions and do what works best for her. If getting up an hour before everyone else in the house works for you, go for it. As for me--I treasure that extra hour in bed in the early morning. Step back and take a good look at your life. You can find some writing time if the desire to write is strong enough.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chicken Soup Call

Yesterday, I received a call via e-mail from the publishers of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. They have selected 75 stories for a new Thanks, Dad book but need about 30 more to complete the book. They set a deadline only two weeks away. It would have been nice if I was the only one who received this news, but a few thousand other writers got it, too. And, if they're like me, they've been thinking hard about a story they might write.

I checked back in my submissions list for 2009 and discovered that I have already sent them two stories for this book. Either they haven't notified the finalists of those 75 stories already chosen, or neither one of mine made it. I'd like to think the first reason, but will wait and see.

Last night, as I tossed and turned, unable to get to sleep, I thought about something else I could consider a Thanks, Dad story. My dad took me to my very first dance. It was a Father-Daughter Dinner Dance put on by my Girl Scout Troop. Corny? Maybe. But it was really quite special for a girl to have her dad as her first dance date. Yep, that's the story I'll write and send to Chicken Soup. If only it wasn't December and if only the deadline wasn't two weeks away. But I'll move it to the top of my priority list

Go to http://www.chickensoup.com/form.asp?cid=submit_story for the guidelines and submission form.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Pulitzer Prize Novel

Our Book Club is reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay for December. It’s a lengthy book that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001. I’m struggling to read it because it moves so slowly. In the first one hundred pages the reader learns only a few things about the two main characters, and most of it comes through backstory. I’m guessing that maybe three-fourths of that first hundred pages is backstory. It bothers me to be taken away from the active part of the story and thrust back into time to learn things that could be woven into the story itself.

One of the writing tips I’ve come across over and over is to limit backstory—even better if you don’t use it at all. Another is to leave the reader wanting to turn the page when the chapter ends. I haven’t felt that way at all while reading this book. So it seems that the author has broken some of the rules of good writing, but he still managed to win the Pulitzer Prize.

I did a little research to see what qualifications a book should have to be a winner. One thing that surprised me is that the only books considered are those entered into competition with the required $50 fee. Risking $50 might be well worth it if an author ends up winning the certificate and $10,000 prize. Secondly, the Pulitzer Prize goes to a work of distinguished fiction that shows the American way of life.

So, someone entered The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and the committee felt it fit all their criteria. That doesn’t make it a page-turning, fascinating novel. The book became a best-seller, but with only one hundred pages of it read, I can’t recommend it to anyone. Maybe I’ll feel differently once I plow through the remaining 500+ pages.

The story is about two adolescent Jewish boys who come up with a new comic book character and storyline in 1939, New York City. The book moves through the war years and after, so it is a good look at a different time and a history of the comic book era. The premise here is fine, but it seems to me that the author might have easily told the same story in half the number of words he used.

One thing is for certain, all Pulitzer Prize winners do not end up on the “My Favorite Books” list for me and for a lot of other people, as well. It’s why we need so many books as each one appeals to someone, just not all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Countdown To Turkey Day

Is there such a thing as Thanksgiving Eve? If so, this is it! The countdown is almost finished, as tomorrow is the big day for families to watch the Macy's Christmas Parade, eat, watch football, eat, spend time together, eat, reminisce, and eat. Along with all that, most of us will silently count our blessings, or maybe voice them to all.

As for me, many of my blessings will be seated around our table, opened to accomodate all ten of us. But before that happens, I still have some cooking to do and a turkey to pick up. I ordered a fresh turkey so no hassle with wondering if it is really thawed or not. The salads are made, appetizers done, cinnamon rolls raising and soon to go in the oven.

Our family will arrive mid to late afternoon, Our quiet house will burst with activity and chatter the minute they walk in the door amid hugs and kisses and dogs jumping around with the same excitement. I'm looking forward to every minute of the 3+ days they will be here. And giving thanks for having two refrigerators to hold all the soft drinks, adult beverages and food.

One of our Czech exchange students will join us on Thanksgiving Day, and I'm excited to have her experience a truly American holiday.

I'm going to take a break from the blog until the holiday week-end is over. Happy Thanksgiving to all. Remember to write down those family stories you hear around your table.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Thanksgiving Message

The following is a posting I wrote for the Our Echo website this morning, and I decided to use it here today, as well.

It becomes a cliche to say that you have much to be thankful for at Thanksgiving time. But maybe that's all right. After all, isn't Thanksgiving a perfect nudge to our conscience, a time to reflect on all the blessings we do have?


Imagine how difficult it must have been for the Pilgrims to feel grateful after the year of hardship they endured when they arrived in this, then unsettled, country of ours. It might have been easier to list all the rotten things that they'd put up with during that year, but they gathered together to feast and give their thanks to God. Maybe the first thing they were thankful for was that they were still alive. Many had been lost.

It's all too easy to let our trials and tribulations pile up so high that we can't see over them to the things we can and should be grateful for. In the difficult economic times we are in now, with our military fighting wars on foreign soil, and our politicians at war with one another in Washington, our concerns are great. But so are the blessings.

My personal blessings are a loving husband, children and grandchildren whom I'm proud to call my own, a country to live in that has more freedoms than almost any other place on earth. I have never wanted for food, clothing, or shelter. I have friends, both near and far, whom I can count on in good times and bad. I have been able to pursue a freelance writing career/hobby late in life that has been one of the most satisfying things I've ever done. I have health problems but nothing that keeps me from participating in life to the fullest, or keeps me from serving others in various ways.

We humans have perfected whining and complaining to a fine art. I'm no exception. I do my share of it at times, too. But this week, as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, or even alone, set aside the complaints and make a list of the reasons you have to be grateful. Keep adding to it as the week goes on. You'll meet some of those blessings in your daily walk through life. Then give thanks to Him who made them possible.

Monday, November 23, 2009

More Good News in November

November has been a very good month for my writing world. Six of my stories, essays and articles have been published and today, number seven has come out at Long Ridge Writers Newsletter. A banner month!

This new article is on advice to writers, both beginners and those who have been writing for some time. It's to encourage writers to send out their work to an editor. Stories that build up in your file gather dust and mold unless you market them. There's no doubt that it's pretty scary to start sending your work to an editor. You risk rejection which causes frustration and feelings of depression. But it can also reap benefits. You can see your work in print, cash the check, and turn those feelings into ones of satisfaction. Take a chance and send something to an editor today.

I was fortunate to be in a writers group in my early days of writing that had a leader who harped constantly about sending work out. And that is exactly the subject of "It Pays To Listen." You can read it at
http://www.thelongridgewritersgroup.com/T6020/rx/wc01/it__pays_to_listen.shtml

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Thanksgiving Story

LongStoryShort ezine has published my Thanksgiving story in the November issue. It's a true tale of a Thanksgiving of long ago when I miscalculated the time to roast the turkey. Since Thanksgiving is drawing near, I have pasted the story below. A Happy Thanksgiving and Good Cooking to all.

Turkey in the Raw

by Nancy Julien Kopp

One Thanksgiving dinner stands out in neon lights in my memory bank. It can bring a blush to my cheeks, even thirty-seven years after the fact.

My husband’s father passed away in the spring of 1972. I knew the first holiday without him would be difficult for my mother-in-law. She had not been adjusting well to a life without her spouse. What better way to help our children’s grandma through Thanksgiving than to gather her three sons and their families at our house for the day? Five of the seven grandchildren were preschool age, and two were slightly older. The house would be filled with children playing, adults talking and the soothing balm of a turkey dinner. We’d make this a good holiday for Grandma. I issued the invitations via phone and began to plan a special day.

By Thanksgiving Day, I’d baked and done the pre-cooking. Now the turkey, filled with a moist sage stuffing, roasted in the oven. White potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and a green bean casserole were close to being ready. Nutmeg and cloves scented the corner of the counter where the pumpkin pies cooled.

“When do we eat? When do we eat?” the kids pleaded more than once.

I consulted the scrap of paper where I’d jotted down the amount of time the turkey needed. “Pretty soon,” I told them.

The aroma of the roasting meat added to our hunger, and I placated the entire clan with sodas, juice and appetizers and some adult beverages.

Finally, it was time to take the turkey from the oven, and what a beautiful bird it was-- big, browned, and beckoning. I called my brother-in-law, known as “Best Carver in the Family,” to the kitchen. One sister-in-law mashed the potatoes, while the other made the gravy. Toddlers scurried around us yelling, “Is it time now?” My husband and his oldest brother were glued to a football game on TV. Grandma sat stone-faced on the sofa, bent on feeling sorry for herself and being as miserable as she could on this day when we were gathered to count our blessings. Chaos was beginning to form here, and I began to feel a little flustered.

As I was trying to move the little ones into the family room, my brother-in-law uttered words that sent a chill straight to my bones.

“This turkey isn’t done. It’s raw in the middle.”

Silence suddenly reigned. No one said a word, but all eyes were on me. The unspoken question “Well, what you are going to do now?” reverberated in my head.

So what does a person do with a partially cooked turkey, side dishes ready to be put on the table, and a houseful of very hungry people? I flew into action. First, I put the cover on the roaster, popped the bird back into the oven, and turned up the heat. Lids went on the already cooked dishes, and we fixed hot dogs for the children, who probably enjoyed them more than the big dinner anyway.

An hour later, we resurrected the turkey, reheated the side dishes and sat down to eat, minus hot-dog stuffed children. The seven adults gathered around our dining room table ate to satisfaction and then some. The children appeared like magic when the desserts were served. Grandma managed to eat her dinner and join in on the conversation, not exuberant but not crying either. I hoped she counted her blessings, for many of them sat nearby.

I’d sensed complete disaster when I knew the turkey wasn’t cooked through, but in the end the family togetherness took precedence over all other things. I’d planned the day so that Grandma would be surrounded with those she loved, and it didn’t really matter that I’d miscalculated the time for cooking the turkey. But I’ve never forgotten it, and every now and then, the story of turkey in the raw generates laughter and some good-natured teasing—one more bond within our famiy.

Previously published at HeartCatchers ezine a couple years ago (no longer in existance). It is also posted at OurEcho.com, a website where writers can post their work.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

One More Writer I Admire



Meet Maria Harden of Winnipeg, Canada. Maria is another writer I admire, even though she isn't writing a lot right now. Working full-time, caring for house and husband, having. family that lives nearby--all these serve to leave her with very little time for writing.

But a few years ago, when she wasn't working, she hammered out story upon story. Some won contests and many more were published at ezines like 2TheHeart.com and Heartwarmers, also OurEcho.com. An essay and photos of her sister's spectacular garden was published in Canada magazine, and she's had essays published in Canadian newspapers, as well. Maria loves to write, and having little time to devote to it now proves to be most frustrating for her.

As much as I admire Maria as a writer, there is also an admiration for her as a person who has accomplished a lot. She was born in Finland and came to Canada with her family as a very small child, so she considers herself Canadian with Finnish roots. A high school drop-out, a teen-aged marriage, a son born to that union, and a divorce--these things filled her teen and early twenties years. She raised her son, remarried and settled down, but not having her high school degree bothered her.

After her son grew up and was on his own, she decided to finish high school and get that much- longed-for high school diploma. It might make getting a job easier, but mostly it was for her own satisfaction. She accomplished that goal and proudly accepted her diploma, wearing cap and gown. This past spring, the school where she earned her late-in-life diploma contacted her and asked if she would consider being the speaker at the next graduation ceremony. Despite being nervous about standing in front of a crowd to speak, she agreed. We had e-mail chats about what she would tell these new graduates, and when the day came, Maria gave her speech, which I'm told turned out very well. Didn't surprise me one bit, for she has many abilities and she also loves to give to and help others. It's one of the reasons she writes, to share with her readers.

The same qualities that led her to finish her high school education are ones she uses in her writing. I'm confident that she will persevere and continue writing once she retires in a few more years. She is impatient at times, wishing she could stay home and write a story instead of hurrying away in the morning to her job as receptionist in the Winnipeg City Offices. Hang in there, Maria.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Helping Hands

Writers tend to help other writers, and so bloggers do the same for one another. You may remember my post featuring author, Jennie Helderman, which appeared here on October 12.. Jennie has started blogging, and one of the features she is planning to use is to have a Guest Blogger occasionally.

Guess who is her first Guest Blogger? Yep, me. I was very pleased when she asked me to take the lead on this feature of her blog. She gave me three categories to choose from for a topic. I could make comments on anything, something pertaining to writing, or an excerpt from something I'd written. Something about writing seemed the one that reached out to me.

I wrote about writers needing to send their work to an editor if they want to be published. You can read it at http://www.jenniehelderman.com/ at the November 18th posting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Can You Pester An Editor?

In a perfect world, a writer sends a submission to an editor. The editor writes back immediately that she'd love to publish the piece, contract attached, the article is published immediately, and everyone is happy. But sometimes there are glitches in this perfect world. I had one that has lasted nearly a full year.

On December 5th of 2008, I sent an article to an editor of a writing website. She e-mailed me that she'd like to use the article and would probably publish it in January of 2009, but then said she didn't promise it would be January. I happily returned my signed contract to her and began to watch for the article to appear. Months went by and no sign of it, but I wasn't overly concerned.

Finally, in August I e-mailed her asking if she still planned to use the article. My thinking was that if she had decided against it, fine, but I'd like to be released from the contract so that I could market it elsewhere.
No answer.

I waited a couple more months and wrote her again. I didn't want to be a pest and be put on a list of writers editors avoid, but I didn't want the article to lie in her files and grow moldy with age either. No answer.

Last night, I decided to give it one more try. The old "third time's the charm" theory. I wrote a short note and pasted the second letter below that and attached a copy of the article. Within a very short time, I had an answer. She apologized and said that the article would run later this month.

The question is can you pester an editor? And if so, how much? And how? Yes, I think you can make contact with an editor when you're concerned about the status of your work. The most important thing to remember is to do it in a mannerly mode, even if your anger is simmering and nearing the boiling point. Angry letters often receive angry responses. State the situation in a civil way, add any other correspondence at the bottom so the editor doesn't have to go searching through files. For the same reason, attach a copy of the submission you'd sent in the beginning.

When do you become a pest? I'd say you've reached pest level when you send your inquiries too close together. If you send three within one week, the editor will remember your name forever, and it won't be with favor. Use common sense. Give them time to consider the situation, determine if they are still going to use the piece or not. Keep in mind that yours is not the only submission the editor has to deal with. More often than not, if you follow those good manners your mother taught you, you'll come out a winner.

Monday, November 16, 2009

National I Love To Write Day

I feel like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. I'm late, I'm late for a very important date! Yesterday was the eighth National I Love To Write Day, but maybe the day after is still appropriate to recognize this celebration begun by author, John Riddle.

Mr. Riddle is a longtime freelance writer whose work can be found in newspapers and magazines of note. In a recent interview, he said that he has always loved planning events and encouraging others to participate. He decided he needed a website, and when he was making plans for it, he opted to use I Love To Write in the site address. It was the seed of an idea that developed into this national recognition event, which continues to grow each successive year.

Mr. Riddle said his thought was to encourage others to write a poem, an essay, a letter to the editor--anything at all. He felt that many would like to write but think they don't have the time or the skill. By naming one day of the year, November 15th, as I Love To Write Day, it creates a certain freedom for those willing to try. Schools by the thousands have incorporated the day into their curriculum. The children of today who are exposed to this national celebration may find the joy of writing as they progress through the many levels of their education. And for that, I would like to thank Mr. Riddle.

I love to write and now maybe many others who have never made the attempt will also find the satisfaction and pleasure in it. When you get your 2010 calendar, flip the pages to November and put a big red circle around the 15th. Next year, you'll be ready to celebrate by writing something.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Firsts and Lasts

My online critique group, wac, is engaged in a new writing exercise. The results have been interesting, amusing, informative, hilarious, heart-tugging, and more. So what is this exercise?

Make a list of 20 Firsts and 20 Lasts. From that list a writer can find many topics to be used in future writing.
The list of Firsts is far easier to do. Once you begin, your mind reaches back into the netherlands of your youth and many Firsts pop up. The list of Lasts is more difficult. Sometimes, it might not be the last ever but only the last time you did something of a significant nature. Perhaps the last time you smoked a cigarette or had a drink, Then again, it may be a final thing, such as the last time you saw someone no longer living.

Our wac members have been sending their lists in, and I've found them to be a wonderful way to get to know each person a little better. Personality emerges quite clearly through these lists. Some things have been as expected while others have been surprises. One this morning found me giggling all the way through it.

Try making your own Firsts and Lasts lists, then refer to it again when you're searching for a topic for an essay or story. Out of those forty things you've listed, you'll probably find 35 stories to write-- at the least.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Party Time

This morning I'm going to my P.E.O. meeting. This international women's group rasies money to fund six projects that provide scholarships for women. Having always been an advocate of education for women, I am delighted to belong to this worthwhile community of women with a cause.

Each chapter within the larger organization sends money for the individual projects. We all know that it takes a lot of work to have a fundraiser in any organization. For many years, my chapter held an auction at the November meeting. We each purchased and donated an item to be auctioned. Two of our more outgoing members acted as auctioneers and provided a good time for all in attendance. We bid on the items we wanted and ended up making around $1000 at each auction.

Then one year, someone said it was really rather silly to purchase an item to donate so that we could then bid on it and pay way more than its value. Plus one of the good auctioneers had moved away. So, what to do?
We mulled over a good many ideas and finally came up with one that pleased all.

At the November meeting, we each bring a check made out to the chapter, drop it in a decorated basket and then have a Mimosa Party. Orange juice and champagne mixed together slides down quite easily along with the many goodies the hostess provides. Conversation and laughter ring through the air. The Mimosa Party Fundraiser is easy and fun, but best of all, it adds to the scholarship funds which enable other women to fulfill a dream by completing their education.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Steady Anchor

I've mentioned my online critique group here from time to time. It's for women only, international and for serious writers. I could make a long list of reasons I belong to it and what the benefits are. Instead, let me discuss only one here today.

'writersandcritters' (also known as wac) serves as a steady anchor in my life. We ride a roller coaster in our everyday lives with a number of things that we can't always depend on. The fish at the supermarket may or may not be fresh. My hairdresser sometimes can't give me an appointment that fits into my schedule. I might not be able to find a compatible day to get together with a friend for lunch. I'm never sure when my children can come home for a visit. The economy is less and less a dependable in life. The list can go on and on.

The critique group is always there for me. I can depend on the women in the group to give me help with my writing, to share in the pleasure a writing success brings, to give advice on marketing or almost anything else I might ask them for. Maybe 'support group' would be a more fitting title rather than 'critique' for that is what these women who live around the seven seas do for one another.

If my everyday world is topsy-turvy because of illness or some other distress among my family and/or friends, I can still turn to wac for a little time of normalcy and strength gained from all we do there. And these wonderful women are not only there for topics concerned with writing. There have been times when a member has been dealing with a serious illness of a family member, a tragic loss, or a major move from one place to another. wac members support one another through those situations, too.

Occasionally, a member of wac will pose a question concerning some aspect of writing, and before long, several others chime in with opinions or thoughts. The nicest part of that is being able to participate or ignore it if the day is chock full of too many other things. The discussions are filled with wisdom and humor and often plain good sense. If something happens with an editor that bothers me, I know I can turn to the wac ladies to help me sort out my feelings. They can help  me see it more objectively and get me back on track.

Yes, this group is my anchor, strong and sound. Our leader, Joyce Finn, is to be credited for creating and sustaining the steady strength wac has. My thanks to her and to the members of wac who call the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia, Shanghai, China, the Netherlands and England home.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back Roads

We left St. Louis Sunday morning to drive up to Ken’s brother’s home in Macomb, IL. We started out on an interstate and after crossing the Mississippi River found ourselves on some back roads. Not four or six lane highways, but two lanes that wound through the Illinois flatlands, cornfields on both sides of the road. Cornstalks stood at attention like sentries on guard, leaves brown and dryleaves encasing corn cobs waiting to be harvested. The recent rains had kept the farmers out of the fields.

We wended our way through one small town after another, admiring the old homes and downtown areas. We pointed out interesting buildings to one another and commented that the trees here were more bare than in our home state of Kansas. The peace and quiet of these back roads and the communities that dotted them were soothing to the soul No fighting big city traffic hereWriting can be like that, too. Writers start out hoping to hit the big-time. They want those broadway lights in the writing world. Oh, to be published in The Atlantic or New York Times. Or maybe Good Housekeeping magazine or The New Yorker. But to get to those major highways, we have to traverse the back roads first.

We need to start at the beginning. It might be a no-pay place where we are first published. And from there, we go on to low-pay. No-pay to low-pay! It’s the way we begin. We might get 1 cent a word, move on to 5 cents a word. The back roads of publishing move more slowly than we’d like, but they do move us along. And as we traverse farther and farther along in our writing careers, we see the interstate highways, the Autobahns of our field. How far we can go is an unknown, but as long as that big six lane highway is our goal, we’ll keep moving toward it.

Meanwhile, enjoy the back roads of publication. They’re all right, and they’re a means to those expressways of publishing we all aspire to.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Choose One

This past week-end, Ken and I atteneded the annual meeting of the Children's Christian Concern Society.(http://www.cccskids.org/ ). This year the meeting was held in St. Louis at the Lutheran Seminary where board members and many spouses gathered to continue the work of the organization, which supports Christian education in underdeveloped countries around the world. On Friday evening, the Projects Director gave her report. Sandy mentioned writing grants a number of times. I also watched Brenda as her fingers flew across the keys of her laptop recording the minutes.

It struck me that there are so many different kinds of writing. Neither one of these women would claim to be a writer, but they defintiely are. They don't write to have work published in magazines, newspapers or online. But they do write. Sandy's grant writing definitely requires a  skill, as do Brenda's minutes. As I looked around the room, and I noticed Angela, who writes the newsletters the group sends to donors all across the United States. Her talent and skill is evident in the fine publication she creates.

In that meeting,, there were four kinds of writers--me and three others. And the writing we four do is only  part of the writing world. There are people who write advertising copy, newspaper journalists,  greeting card writers, journalists who write copy for news shows on TV, and the many who write newsletters for myriad organizations. Scientists write research papers, educators write textbooks, and professors must write classroom materials. There are comedy writers who keep comedians in business.

Whenever you see a printed word, know that someone wrote it. If you want to be a writer, there are many paths to be taken.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Selling Two Things—Your Manuscript and Yourself

All writers want to see their work published. A manuscript is not going to put itself in a snail mail envelope and dance merrily out the door, down the driveway and jump into the mailbox. A manuscript is not going to magically copy itself into an e-mail and hit Send.
You, the writer, have to make that effort. You need to study markets and select the ones that your work might fit with. And then, you have to do the hard part. You must actually send your work to an editor. You risk rejection but you also might be successful. You’ll never know unless you send your work to an editor.

But along with that manuscript, you need to sell yourself to editors and to the reading public. It’s not easy to constantly promote yourself, especially if you don’t have a balloon-like ego. Our mothers taught us not to brag, didn't they? Quiet, introverted writers find it difficult to sing their own praises, but it’s almost a necessity if you want to make it in the writing world.

When you have something published, don’t hesitate to send it to all your friends and family. They, in turn, will probably share it with others they know, especially if it’s a good story or article. I had a hard time doing so in the early days of my writing life, but I’ve learned that it is a benefit to me and liked by many of those recipients. I try to add an out for them but saying they should hit the delete button if they have no interest. Guilt-free for any who don’t want to read my work.

Join some online writing groups and submit your work to ezines. They often reach thousands of people. Do it often enough, and readers begin to recognize your name.

If you have an opportunity to speak to a small group at your church or a civic organization, accept it. Nerve-wracking at first, but it gets easier each time and more people in your community will label you a writer whenever they see you.

C. Hope Clark has written a book called The Shy Writer. It’s a help to those who like the seclusion of writing but quake at the thought of talking to others about it. Take a look at the explanation and excerpts from Ms Clark’s book at http://www.booklocker.com/books/1746.html

Writing is sometimes the easy part. Selling your work and selling yourself takes time, effort, and a bit of an inflated ego. Go for it!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Not What I Planned For Today

Some days don't turn out as planned. And this has been one of them It's only half over, so I shudder to think what the remainder of the day will bring.

I was working at the computer a little after 9:30 this morning, waiting for a friend to come over. She's having a problem with a brand new washer which is the same brand as my new one. She says it's so noisy she can hardly stand it. She was coming over to have a 'listening' session in my laundry room. Not too many of us entertain in the laundry room, but she wanted to compare the sound before the service people came to her house on Friday.

The phone rang just as I was answering an e-mail regarding a football ticket we are trying to sell. "Where are you?" were the words that met me when I answered? "We're all waiting for you." came next.

I'd forgotten that I was to meet my marathon bridge partner at our opponent's house this morning. No, I didn't really forget. For some reason, my mind told me today was Wednesday, and I knew we played on Thursday morning. I promised I'd be right over. No more time to work on selling that ticket!

But first, I had to call the woman coming over to 'listen' to my washer and cancel. I grabbed a sweater and my purse and flew out the door. Luckily, the house I headed for was only a couple minutes away.

We played our marathon match, and my partner and I lost. Seemed appropriate for this day.

Next on the agenda is working at the hospital gift shop all afternoon, then home to pack for a five day trip we start tomorrow. Are you getting the picture? There is going to be no writing done today. And there may be no lunch as I'm using that time to write the blog entry.

We all have days like this now and then. Days when what you plan on doing somehow never materializes. The best solution is to go to bed that night and start all over again the next morning. I'm hoping tomorrow will be a whole lot better.