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Monday, August 31, 2009

Time for Your Mammogram? Do It!

It seems like the year between mammorgrams has put on speed, kind of like the year between birthdays. But a year of turning the monthly calendar pages has slipped right past me, and today is the day I zip over to the Medical  Center and pose for the mammo machine. I'm a firm believer in preventative medicine. I'd hate to say "I wish I had gotten an annual mammogram."

I've had friends who had to battle breast cancer, even one going through it right now. I'm happy to say that all survived, and each one of them will urge female friends and family to keep the appointment for the annual test. No two people deal with a serious disease in the same way. I watched one close friend go through the battle using negative emotions. She impressed me so much in the year of treatment she went through that I wrote a story about her which has been published twice. The story is below. After you read it, make yourself a promise to have a mammogram this year.

Healing


Love, prayer, and a positive attitude have all been proven to aid the healing process, but I was surprised last year to learn about the power of a negative emotion—one I wouldn’t list as necessary for conquering a life-threatening disease.

Life dealt my close friend, Barbara, a double whammy at the beginning of January 2006. First came a diabetes diagnosis, and within only a few more weeks, she learned she had cancer in her left breast. After many tests and consults with a few doctors, both in and out of the town we live in, she suffered yet another blow. Both breasts held malignancies, one more advanced than the other.

I accompanied her as she consulted two doctors. One was a local oncologist, and the other a cancer specialist at a university research hospital two hours away. Barbara knew that two sets of ears were of value when important words were being tossed her way like darts at a target board. The doctors have limited time, and they spout information at a rapid pace, so it’s easy to miss something. We both asked questions. The subject of her diabetes had not been addressed by these doctors, so I asked the specialist if chemo would have any effect on this other serious condition. Nonchalantly, he said, “Of course. It will make the diabetes go wild.” Barbara and I both bristled at his casual, uncaring comment. We left each appointment silently, heads whirling with information. On the way home, we stopped for dinner and discussed the options that had been presented. I felt as if we spoke about some unknown person, not the woman across from me whose friendship I’d treasured for thirty years. We weren’t ready to bare our emotions quite yet, even to each other.

Barbara’s life became a series of medical tests, reams of literature to read, and doctors who offered clinical information but little comfort. She no longer had a husband to help make those all-important decisions regarding treatment, so she turned to her adult children and a few close friends who might act as sounding boards. Our phone conversations became more frequent than usual. Barbara is a strong person, and finally, she felt ready for the treatment agreed upon. There would be several months of chemo, then a double mastectomy, followed by a series of radiation treatments. It was not a program for sissies.

One morning in March, I called her and near the end of our conversation, I asked her if she’d cried yet. Her answer surprised me.

“No, I haven’t cried,” she said. “I’m not sad. I’m mad! In fact, I’m furious that this has happened.”

I had shed tears more than once. The sadness was mine, not hers. How could I feel otherwise as I watched my good friend prepare to meet the challenge of her life? Not only did she have all the cancer treatment to come, but she still needed to spend time learning more about living with diabetes, which she dealt with, not once in awhile, but on a daily basis. Maybe I should be angry like Barbara I told myself. But anger never swam to the surface for me. Love and support were foremost in my mind, and anger didn’t fit into that plan. Instead, fear became my frequent and silent companion, walking beside my every day.

Barbara started chemo treatments during the chill of early spring. Friends took turns driving her to and from the hospital a hundred miles away. She hated depending on others, as she’d always been the one to help anyone in need. “It makes me so mad to have to ask people to do this,” she told me over coffee one morning. As the treatments continued, she came to accept the fact that she needed to rely on her friends.

She faced the side effects of the chemo with spirit and funny remarks that helped put her support group at ease on more than one occasion. Her hair fell out, and fatigue moved in. She continued to play bridge every week, showing up with a different wig each time. Her bridge partners graded the wigs and then voted on the very best style for her. The winning wig, ash blond, short and framing her face, became the one she finally wore every day. She played cards, went out to eat, attended concerts and art showings while her hands shook with tremors, and exhaustion left her weak. She didn’t talk about her anger, but it simmered below the surface all through the chemo. Her clipped words and a hardness in her eyes belied the smile she wore in public. I believe her anger became her driving force to get through the three-fold treatment.

A double mastectomy interrupted summer, but in record time, Barbara took up her active social life once more. Humor served her well in this phase, too, as boob jokes popped into conversations frequently. The months slid by, and I felt hopeful that she’d beat this life-threatening disease as she moved into the third part of her treatment. My sadness and fear lessened considerably, while my admiration for her only increased.

She didn’t verbally express anger, but I thought often of the comment she’d made to me months earlier. I think that powerful emotion gave her the energy needed to go through the seven weeks of radiation treatments, the final part of her treatment. She insisted on driving herself to the appointments, remaining the independent widow she’d been for several years. Her hair began to grow back, but she was reluctant to discard her wig. ”I look like a porcupine,” she said. The wig had become a security blanket of sorts. Finally one day in late autumn, she tossed it aside and faced the world with the shortest hairstyle she’d ever worn. “Here I am, World. Like it or not.” She looked more like the Barbara we all knew and loved.

When the new year rolled around, Barbara greeted it cancer-free, had her diabetes under control, and a smile on her face that showed in her eyes, as well. I’ve never been a proponent of using rage as a solution to anything. Not until I watched Barbara harness anger into a positive force that surely aided in her healing.



© 2007

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Students Are Back!

     The picture above is Hale Library located in the heart of the Kansas State University campus. It's the way Hale looked during the summer, beautiful but with no life around it. "Life" on a unversity campus means students, thousands of them.
     Summer school classes bring around 4,000 for June and early July, but then those students head home for some R & R or to work and spend family time. Our town is quiet, the traffic lessens considerably, and Aggieville restaurants are filled with townfolk rather than students. It's nice, but something is missing.
Then about the third week in August, the students return in droves, thousands of them until all 23,000+ are back in dorms and near-campus rentals. The stores are filled with students buying supplies, from food to furniture to beer. Traffic increases to teeth-gnashing proportions, and dinner in an Aggieville restaurant is put on hold til next summer. The students are everywhere!
     And I love it. There is something magical about being surrounded with young people with their enthusiasm and laughter. I like shopping for groceries when they are in the store. They provide many amusing moments as they pace the aisles looking for items easy to cook. I like seeing them on the walkways between campus buildings when classes change as I drive through campus.
     One thought I always have is that each and every one of these young people have a story. Some come from western Kansas ranch life, while others are Kansas City kids. Still others are International students from myriad nations around the globe. Athletes recruited by K-State coaches hail from various parts of the country. Sometimes their story includes being homesick. Some have backgrounds that are unheard of in our agricultural state, a family history that would provide enough material for a book. But the stories are there, inside the indivdual students, and if we're lucky, we'll hear some of those stories before next summer.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Bit About Poetry

     I've always enjoyed reading poetry, and in grade school we frequently used it to sign autograph books the other kids had with that well-known little ditty:

         Roses are red,
        Violets are blue,
        Sugar is sweet,
       And so are you!

     In 8th grade we read a long narrative poem that our teacher felt we needed to round out our education . I loved Evangeline written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a tragic tale of a lost love and lost homeland. It's one that I've never forgotten and as an adult made visits to Nova Scotia where the story began to a small town in Louisiana where it ended. I have a copy of the poem in book form, and every once in awhile, I read it again.
     High school students bemoan the many poems they were forced to memorize. But I bet they still remember opening lines of some of them. I know I do.
     What brought memories of poetry to mind today is that I received notice from an editor of a well-known ezine that she wants to publish a poem I had submitted. "Poignant but lovely poem" is the way she described it. Music to my ears! I have never had any training in writing poetry, but I've written a lot of poems using one guideline--the way they sound to me.
     At a writers' conference last fall, a woman who writes and understands poetry well spoke to our group. She shed a lot of light on how and why poetry is written, showing examples through her own poems. One of the things she suggested was to write a poem based on something in a dream. So one morning I woke up mystified by my dream--a train speeding through the night with old gypsy women sewing while the young girls danced and played. It had been so vivid and alive. I wrote the first line and the words kept coming until I had a fairly lengthy poem. I put it away, then reworked it later and sent it to my online critique group. I had some positive feedback so felt encouraged to send it to an editor. The first one rejected it, but the second one sent me that nice note yesterday. "play, gypsy girl, play" will be published in March of 2010.
     Have you ever tried writing poetry? Free verse is the easiest way to begin. Find an opening line and freewrite. You might be surprised at what you come up with.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Talents Are Not To Be Taken Lightly

     My daughter ordered the birthday cake for Cole's third birthday from a friend. Kami is starting a new business of made-to-order cakes for special occasions. The picture above will testify to this woman's talent. I can add that besides being an expert at decorating, Kami makes a delectably delicious cake, as well.
Her website is http://www.kamiscakes.net/  She lives in Louisburg, just south of Kansas City.
What talent! was my first thought when Cole brought me into the dining room last Saturday to see his Curious George cake. And I've been thinking about talents off and on ever since. If you lined up twenty people on stage, each would have a talent all their own. We often envy people who have a talent we don't have. I am musically inept, can't sing or play a musical instrument or read music either. But I have a deep admiration for those who possess such talent.
I watch college athletes at football and basketball games on a regular basis, and I marvel at the skill and ability these young people have in their chosen sport. Again, I have no athletic abilities. Guess who was always the last one picked when grade school team captains selected players for their side?
There are people who are skilled in working with others, which is never more evident than when you end up dealing with someone who is not. Episodes with these folks often end up in anger and frustration on both sides. Next time you have a good experience with someone in charge, step back and appreciate the skill they have in making it a good experience.
My own talent lies in the written word. English classes were always my favorite in school from early grades all the way through college days. I've been blessed with the ability to put words together that people will pay for and that others will read. I waited a long time to nurture that talent, but I'm glad I did. I've also found that a talent is like a new seedling that must be watered and fed consistantly. Let it sit alone too long, and it will wither and die.
What's your talent? Oh come on, you have one,  Have you buried it or used it? If it lies buried deep within, bring it out and use a little TLC with it. If it's already available for the world to see, keep it fed and watered and use it. Take pride in your abilities, no matter what they are. Talents are not to be taken lightly.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Color Me Happy

I had some good news yesterday. My mailbox had a large envelope in it addressed to me. I looked at the return address label and smiled. The envelope was from an editor for a small Canadian magazine called Horizon. I've had my work published there a couple times.

Inside the envelope I found two copies of the most recent issue and a check made out to me. Color me happy! It came as a surprise since I had never heard from the editor regarding two stories I'd submitted in the first week of December, 2008. In early May, I dropped him a note asking if the submissions were still under consideration or had he decided against publishing them. I received an answer right away saying he'd been busy but he'd take a look at them soon. Then, nothing all summer, so of course, I had written them off as a no-go. This particular editor has been one to let writers know if he can or cannot use the work submitted, so this approach was out of character for him.

Horizon is a low-budget magazine with a circulation of 10,000 households in the Ontario area. Translation: low-budget magazine means low pay. But it's a nice little magazine, and I'm happy to have my work published there.

The story in the present issue is fiction titled "Crime and Punishment." I wrote the story from a prompt exercise in my former online critique group. The line given was "A six foot plastic chicken dominated Harry's front porch."  I wrote the story using that line as an opening. It was a fun little story to write, and I'm pleased it found a home. I had posted it long ago at OurEcho.com but had not sold it to any publication. If you have any interest in reading about Harry's six foot chicken, go to http://www.ourecho.com/story-323-Crime-and-Punishment.shtml

Remember the Patience keyword I wrote about yesterday? Patience is what will be needed as I wait to see if the other submission I sent last December sees the light of day in a future issue of Horizon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

P Words

Being a writer, I am a conoisseur of words. There are so many of them that I like to see, write, or say. Maybe it's the internal alliteration of some, the rolling syllables, the way the letters look--who knows why some words appeal more than others? But today, let's look at two words that begin with the letter P that are of utmost importance to all writers who are aiming for publication.

Patience and Perseverance are keywords for a lot of things, but especially so for writers.

Let's look at Patience first. You finish a story or essay that you're satisfied with, maybe even deleriously happy about. The next step is to find a market which takes some time and effort. Once you decide on a place to submit this piece de resistance and send it flying across cyberspace or through the snail mail avenue, the first P comes into the picture. Rarely does an editor respond in a hurry. Not unless they're desparate to fill a few pages of their publication and your story arrives at the exact moment they need it. Odds are that's going to happen once or twice in a career. Waiting to hear from an editor feels to me like a test for my Patience level. Believe me, I've scored very low on some of them, as I use to get pretty antsy waiting to hear if my story was accepted or rejected.

The best thing to do is send it and forget it. Maybe not really forget it, but put it in the back file drawer of your mind and move on to the next project. Eventually, you'll hear from most editors. There are always a few who never contact you or wait two years to do so, as just happened to a writer friend recently. I've always been a rather impatient person. I like to have things done and tied up neatly, but in my writing world, that seldom happens. The positive spin I put on this is that I've learned to be more patient since becoming a writer.

The other keyword is Perseverance. In a perfect world, we would write a story, send it to one editor, and cash the check she sends the next week. In the real world, a story might be sent to editors of several publications before it's purchased for publication. If your submission comes flying back to you with a form rejection letter, forget the pity party. Send it to the next one on your list. (You do have a list of places to submit to, don't you?) If it comes back three times, take a good, hard look at the piece and ask yourself what you can do to improve it? Then send it to the fourth place on your list. Odds are that you'll eventually find an editor who wants your story, and if not, you know you've persisted until there are no more options. Time to move on to another story or essay and begin the process all over again. Sound like work? It definitely is, but the rewards are great when you see your words in print.

When discouragement threatens to take over your writing life, keep the keywords in mind--Patience and Persevrance.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is It Too Late?

I wrote an article some time ago about people who started their writing careers past the age of fifty. Many people think about writing but might sigh and push the thought aside. Maybe I'm too old to start writing now is their reasoning. Read the article about several people, including Kathe Campbell featured here yesterday, who didn't push the thought aside.

Is It Too Late?


By Nancy Julien Kopp

     "I'd love to write, but I'm too old now." Have you thought or said something like that aloud? Is it too late once you've passed through your forties? Can you learn a new craft later in life? Come along with me and meet several writers who took the first step when well into, or past, middle age.
     Tragedy turned Kathe Campbell into a writer at the age of sixty-two. A wretched accident at her Montana ranch resulted in the loss of her right arm. Still in shock and feeling useless, Kathe held many a pity party. No one showed up but the Guest of Honor. Her son built a computer and urged her to practice using the keyboard with her left hand. Once a 120 words a minute typist, she played with the keyboard a little, finding it difficult but challenging. Kathe says "If any old broad ever needed confidence during this settling and coping time of life, I did. I discovered several writing e-zines on the internet and unabashedly submitted the wrenching story of my loss at the age of 62. The entire effort served as mental and physical therapy, jolting me right back into allowing my thoughts to spill over pages once again." Only a few years earlier Kathe had written her first story detailing a journey through her mother's Alzheimer's Disease. Cosmopolitan magazine published it. She never wrote another until after her accident. Now, at seventy-two, she turns out story upon story bringing folksy humor and touching warmth to readers at several website e-zines. Chicken Soup For The Grandparent's Soul recently published one of Kathe's true life tales.
     Did Kathe Campbell start a writing career too late in life? She waited until she harbored a lifetime of experiences to draw from, until the goal of succeeding seemed less important than the fact that she enjoyed writing with every fiber of her being. In her own words, "Writing is such a lot of fun." Her accident became the catalyst for a part time career she'd never considered in her younger years.
     Hollywood portrays young men writing the great American novel in garrets, outdoor cafes, or even at a kitchen table. They sweat, they agonize, they labor long into the night until that magical first sale turns them into Pulitzer Prize winners in a flash. Oh, that it might be that easy. Have you ever seen a film that portrays someone over the age of forty-five writing their first story? They don’t fit the stereotype Hollywood has invented, do they?
     More than a few writers launch freelance careers in mid-life and beyond. Madge Walls, author of Hawaii Real Estate Exam Book, tried to write in her thirties but found the distractions of young children overwhelming. She shelved the writing itself but attended every workshop on the subject of writing that came to Maui where she lived. "I knew I would write seriously some day and wanted to absorb all I could while waiting to get the little distractions grown up" Madge says. She feels the older you are the more wisdom and experience you have accumulated. At sixty-one, she believes her writing to be much richer now than it might have been years earlier. Madge is currently working on a historical fiction novel and has completed another novel based on her experiences selling real estate in Hawaii
     A woman in her sixties, who prefers to remain anonymous, entered the writing world partly because of being a copious letter writer all her life. Letters filled with mini-stories were a medium of self-expression which, over the years, evolved into writing short stories and novels. She enrolled in a correspondence course to learn the basics, writing many articles and stories that never reached publication. Rather than give up, she signed up for several writing courses found on the internet. Many were excellent but left her searching for more. She needed feedback and interaction, which these courses did not offer. She wrote five adult novels, one for teens and two for middle grade children. An online critique group became an eye-opener, teaching her more than all the previous period. Nearing seventy, she is an active person who still works to support herself but also writes four hours each day. Her positive attitude and consistent hard work aid this writer on her journey to publication.
     Dick Dunlap creates stories that bring both laughter and an occasional tear to the reader. Dick says that anything he wrote in high school was overlooked because of poor spelling and bad handwriting. In spite of that, he won second prize in a Woman's Club essay contest in his teen years. It was the first time he received recognition for his writing, and the excitement was never forgotten. Dick avoided writing through the majority of his life, being ashamed of its appearance. When over sixty, he submitted a poem to a newspaper. A Writer's Guild member contacted him, and he took a big step by attending meetings. Soon, he bought a word processor and signed up for a writing course for Seniors. He created a fictitious family called "The Nevers", writing story upon story about the folks who make up this bumbling family. Dick says, "I like what I write. I laugh, I get a tear in my eye, I live my plots."
     "Will the Boots and Saddles Club please come to order?" That was the first line of a novel Molly Samuels penned at the age of 8. Molly says, "That was so horrible, I put my writing skills to work elsewhere for the next forty-four years. I never lost that desire to write a book, even though it was one of those "someday" dreams. I'm fifty-eight now and have been seriously focused on writing for only four years." At fifty-two Molly came to a cross-roads in her career. She realized that everything she enjoyed throughout her career related to writing, and a new door opened for her. She spends her free time turning out chapter upon chapter of a historical novel that has captured the interest of her online critique group.
     Molly states her thoughts on writers who jump into the writing game at a later stage of life. "I really think we need to age a bit to get experiences, things to fill those wrinkles in our brain for our sub consciences to ferret out, for our writing to glow. I don't think the first fifty-two years of my life were wasted, even though I never wrote anything more scintillating than a survey analysis."
     A teacher's criticism douses the spark of creativity in many cases. Shirley Letcher had an interest in writing all through her high school years. A creative writing teacher criticized her work mercilessly, adding a massive dose of sarcasm. Shirley did not write again for more than twenty years when she returned to college to pursue a master's degree. Professors complimented her on weekly essays she submitted. It wasn't long before she was publishing articles and getting paid. She writes in her free time and finds it exhilarating.
     Leela Devi Panikar operated a lucrative pub/restaurant business in Hong Kong. At the age of sixty-six, her life moved in a different direction. She found it necessary to bring her elderly wheelchair bound mother to live with her. Leela's care-taking duties are time consuming, but she is well aware that she needs something else in her life, too. In her precious spare time, she works on a novel set in Hong Kong.
     I have a personal interest in the topic at hand. A desire to write occupied the recesses of my mind all through my growing-up years, college, career, and raising children. Too busy now I told myself, until, at the age of fifty-three, I landed in a small town that did not accept new people very readily. I was lonely and homesick for all we left behind when my husband made a job change. I plunged in head-first by enrolling in a correspondence course that promised to teach me how to write for children. I was hooked after Lesson One, and I've never looked back in the fourteen years since.
     Middle-aged and older people who have never written before can learn the craft. Bumps and bruises await along the road to a writing career, but if desire is strong, and you practice patience and perseverance, satisfaction and success lie within reach. Draw from your wealth of experience to write that first story soon.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Own Writers Hall of Fame

Occasionally, I'd like to highlight a writer I know personally and also admire. Maybe it will help my readers to find some new writers to follow on the web and elsewehre. I've selected a woman today for My Own Writers Hall of Fame who is unique. But read on to learn all about her.

Kathe Campbell lived on a small ranch atop a mountain outside of Butte, Montana with her husband, Ken. Their three children were grown and out raising families of their own, also providing the Campbell's with much-loved grandchildren. Kathe and Ken raised show donkeys, ran an insurance adjusting business, and reveled in the beauty of nature that surrounded the log home they lived in. All was well until Kathe had a tragic accident involving a donkey who for some unknown reason went beserk and pinned her up against a fence. It ended with Kathe losing her right arm. Depressed and fighting phantom pain, she began to write.

It wasn't her choice to begin with. Son, Tim, built her a computer and urged her to learn to use it. The one hand she still had was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. He must be crazy, she thought, but she learned step by step, slowly and painfully, how to type with one hand. Years earlier, she'd written an article about her mother's Alzheimer's that was published in a major magazine. It had been her only venture into writing, but now she started writing tales about life on the ranch with Ken, their pets, the good years of their youth when they were active in so many things in the Butte area, politics, scouts, and school activities as well as showing their prize donkeys.

She found a website that published inspirational stories. Just about every story Kathe submitted got snapped up by the editor, and before long she had a following of readers, eager to read more of her stories. She wrote with a folksy humor, added a lot of heart-tugging thoughts, and managed to get a message across, as well. She highlighted her handicap rather than hiding it. She wrote about it over and over, sent pictures of herself wearing her prosthesis. I would imagine it served to encourage others who had some type of handicap.

Kathe started submitting her work to other websites and then to anthologies, where the vast majority were accepted and published. Her coffee table has stacks of books in which her stories are published. Among them are more than a dozen Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Cup of Comfort series and others. She's contributed to ezines at medical websites, written for newspapers and magazines.

Now alone on the ranch and in her mid-seventies, Kathe continues to write stories. Her memories provide material that seems never-ending. She's in my Hall of Fame, not only for her talent, but for the perseverance she's shown, the handicap she's learned to overcome, and the warm, wonderful person she is. Still a redhead, of Scots heritage, and wise as the proverbial owl--you'd love to spend a day with her. You can read a sample of Kathe's work at http://www.ourecho.com/story-5204-The-Plumber-s-Helper.shtml and 
http://www.ourecho.com/story-1867-My-Saving-Grace.shtml  or google her name to see more of her work.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Family Storytellers

Yesterday I wrote urging all who read this to get those family stories written. Have them in black and white for future generations to read and learn about the family history, the characters who were part of the family. It brought to mind some storytellers in my own family.

My Aunt Vivienne couldn't reach the five foot mark if she streteched on tiptoe. She was about four feet ten but a bundle of energy. She had dark eyes that snapped with liveliness, and she was always running somewhere. Never one to take life slowly, she moved the energy level up a notch or two wherever she went. After she'd come for a visit, my mother would often remark that having Vivienne drop by was like a tornado whirling through the house.

But Aunt Vee, as she was sometimes called, told great stories. My dad was her younger brother, and we always begged for a story about Junior, as he was called in his childhood days. Many years later, I learned that the Junior stories were entertaining but not always completely true. Oh, there was an element of truth in them, but Aunt Vivienne had a way of embellishing a story to make it far more exciting than it really was. We kids all loved her for it.

My dad often told us stories about his mother and father, both of whom had passed away before my brothers and I were born. We never knew our grandparents other than through those stories Dad told. About the special little piecrust leftovers his mother always made, sprinkling sugar and cinnamon on them before baking. About how our grandfather was one of the first auto mechanics in the Chicago area. About the summer cottage they bult so the family could get out of the hot Chicago summers. About the day his dad died in his arms, victim of a heart attack while washing the family car in the driveway. Dad was only 14 at the time, and every time he told the story, it hurt me deeply to know what he'd gone through in losing his father.

My mother was also a great storyteller, but her stories invovled her growing up years in a small Iowa coal mining town, coming to Chicago at age 11 and learning the ways of life in a city, so different from her happy existance in Iowa. We learned so much about her dad's life as a coal miner, her mother's bakery in Chicago which she started to support my mother and herself during Depression years. So many stories told again and again at out dinner table while my parents had coffee.

Think about some of the storytellers in your own family. Do you remember some of the stories?
Tell them to your own kids and grandkids, write them down to be saved forever. Be the family storyteller.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Put Those Family Stories in Writing

Family dinners often end up with people sitting around the table long after the plates are empty to talk about the 'good old days' of times past. Story after story is related, mostly because one tale triggers memories of another. But then everyone goes home, and the stories are buried until another time when the family gathers.

There's often one family member who is the main storyteller, someone who has a knack at making a simple little episode become alive. But what happens when that person is no longer able to attend the family gatherings or passes on? Something special has been lost. If only Aunt Hester had put some of those stories on paper. Right? If not Aunt Hester, then somebody in your family should start writing the stories and putting them in a booklet so that they can be read again and again.

I know what you're thinking--I don't have time to do that. I'm not really a writer. Maybe somebody else can do it. If you want your family history to be passed on to future generations, then someone needs to take responsiblity and do it. You don't have to be a professional writer. The important thing is to get the story written. Kids in 2009 should hear about the time Great-Grandpa Jones got lost in a snowstorm trying to get home from his one room country school, or maybe how Great-Great Grandma Kramer crossed the Atlantic searchng for a better life in America. Our heritage is an important part of us, and we deserve to know about it.

But family stories get lost over the years when only passed on verbally. If one person in a family is reluctant to do the job, form a committee to work on the project. The stories can be assembled into a simple notebook or done in a more professional form if you like. Nothing is all right or all wrong. Your choice. Do it any way you want to but please do it! Do it for your kids, your grandkids and their kids.

Write the stories, Keep your family alive forever.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Writing Isn't So Easy

Writing Isn't So Easy Many times I've heard beginning writers, sometimes known as wannabe-writers, declare that they've decided to supplement family income by writing. Or some even naively decide they will 'support' themselves by writing articles for major magazines. So, they quit their jobs or set aside other things and spend a great deal of time writing. Then they begin the marketing process, and before long, their balloon of great dreams bursts.Until you actually try writing and getting your work published, you have little idea as to what is involved, how much real work it takes. Pick up any magazine and read a feature article. It flows, is smooth and polished, keeps your interest and may be entertaining. The person who wrote that article did not sit down at the computer, dash out a couple thousand words and send it to the editor of a top magazine.Instead, she (or he) wrote a first draft and then revised it several times. Some might then run it through a critique group to get professional eyes to look at it, eyes that can be objective and pick up glaring problems. Only after even further revision does the writer send the article or a query to an editor.Some magazines require a query letter first. They want to know what kind of article you want to send them, what qualifies you to be the one to write it, how many words it contains, and how soon you can have it in final form. If they're interested, they'll ask for the article to be sent. If not, they will either send a rejection letter or ignore the whole thing and leave the writer hanging.If the editor likes what she reads in your query, she'll look at the article and may very well send it back saying she loves the whole idea, how great it is but....and that 'but' is the size of an elephant. Why? Because after the 'but' the editor will list all the changes she wants to see. So, what is the writer going to do now? If she wants to sell the article, she'll bend over backwards to make the changes. Should the changes be major ones that the writer can't agree with, she has to argue her point and hope she wins the editor over to her side. And so it goes on until both make a few compromises and the article is purchased, or if they are still locking horns, the editor drops it and moves on.That's only a small part of deciding to be a professional writer. It's not as easy as some people think. You have to love to write to put yourself in the position of being rejected as well as having work accepted. You must thrive on being challenged, and you've got to work hard. Most of all, you've got to love writing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Being on TV and Happy Birthday


Yesterday I mentioned that I didn't get really nervous when I'd been a guest on the news show previous times. No sweaty palms or palpitations, and that was true. But late yesterday morning a little pink butterfly started chasing a blue butterfly in my stomach. Round and round they went, and I couldn't quite figure out why. They'd quiet down for a little while, then rev up and swirl madly for a couple of minutes. Once I'd gotten ready and in the car, the butterflies flew right out the window, and I felt fine.


Ralph Hipp has a gift. He is able to put guests at ease. I felt like I was talking only to him, never conscious of the cameraman. Ralph asked me a few questions about my own teaching career and my writing. One thing he wanted to know was how long it was between the time I taught and when I began writing. I taught third and fourth grades and emotionally disturbed children in my twenties but quit when my own children came along. The writing didn't begin until I reached my mid-fifties, so there was a long stretch in-between. Did I think about writing during those years? You bet I did. It was something I always wanted to do but kept putting off because I allowed Life to get in the way. And yes, I do wish I'd started writing earlier.


I read the story, "To Touch A Child" and summarized the other one, "The Promise" When the camera cut away and a commercial came on, Ralph bade me farewell and said he'd look forward to my returning for another visit. So, maybe I need to get busy and sell some more stories to anthologies so I'll get invited back.


The Happy Birthday part of today's post is for our only grandson, Cole. Cole blessed our family with his presence three years ago today. That's Cole in the picture above. He looks so much like Ken at the same age. As his mom says, "It's almost scary!" Nothing scary about the sweet little boy though. Saturday we will gather with his other grandparents and godparents at his house to celebrate his special day with balloons, cake, and presents. I can see his eyes shining now. Happy, Happy Birthday Cole from Grandma and Poppy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

TV Time

Writers are urged to self-promote whenever they can. I've heard it over and over at writers conferences and read the same in many articles geared toward those who write for publication. It makes sense, doesn't it? How are you going to make a name for yourself unless you promote yourself? How are editors going to recognize your name unless you promote yourself?

That's one of the reasons I've started this blog. And it's also the reason I'm going to appear on a TV show this afternoon to read two of my stories from an anthology on teachers. Anthology editors send press releases to TV and radio stations in the general area where their authors live, but it's up to the individual TV or radio personalities to approach the author with an opportunity to appear. I've been most fortunate in that respect. Ralph Hipp, news anchor at WIBW in Topeka, Kansas invited me to be on his 4 p.m. news show one afternoon almost two years ago. He interviewed me about my work in two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. One about Tea and one on Chocolate. Ralph read excerpts from my stories. Several months later, he invited me to come back and read a Mothers Day story from another Chicken Soup for the Soul book on Moms. This was followed by a visit several weeks later to read a story from a book on Fathers and Sons.

A couple days after the Mother's Day story was read on air, a woman called me to tell me she'd lost her own mother recently. The story I'd read dealt with the first Mother's Day after my mother had passed away, and the woman wanted to thank me for helping her deal with the same. She said, "After hearing your story, I think I can get through this first Mother's Day very well, and I wanted to thank you." To know I'd touched someone with my words meant a great deal to me. It's what writing is all about--sharing your words with others.

I have enjoyed reading the stories on TV. Ralph Hipp is very good at putting his guests at ease , so there has been no sweaty palms or palpitations of the heart prior to or during the appearances. It's been interesting and an educating experience to witness a live TV show, to learn how it's done, how the teleprompter helps those delivering the news. My husband, Ken, has gone with me each time, and he and I were both surprised at how few people it takes to put on a professional looking news program. Many behind the scenes people did a lot of work prior to showtime, but the actual show requires the cameraperson and one other plus the news anchor and weather and sports people.

On today's show, I'll read "The Promise" and "To Touch A Child" which are both stories in an anthology released in April of 2009. The book is HCI The Ultimate Teacher. Some of the Chicken Soup for the Soul editors have been producing the Ultimate series. Unlike the Chicken Soup books, these include lovely color photographs and also a section written by experts on whatever subject the book is promoting. The first story is about an experience I had with a college professor who offered me a way out of a frustrating situation, and the second one concerns a very special teacher from my fifth and sixth grade years. It's a pretty painless way to promote both the book and me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kindergarten Kid


Today is Jordan's first day of 'real school' as averse to the daycare 'school' she's attended for a long time. Jordan is granddaughter number three, and she's been waiting impatiently for months to begin kindergarten. As fate would have it, she missed it last year by only six weeks. The powers that be in our state say that you must be five by September 1st, but her birthday is October 15th, so that meant one more year of daycare.


Daycare is fine. In fact, they have a structured program that teaches the pre-schoolers a whole lot. Far more than if they were parked in front of a TV all day. They also learn how to get along with other kids in a group situation, form friendships, and figure out how to be mischief-makers now and then.


When Jordan came to stay with us for a few days last month, we went to the mall to find something new to wear to school. She chose a Hello Kitty denim skirt which made the perfect complement to the Hello Kitty shirt we'd bought her in Strasbourg, France earlier in the summer. Since pink is her favorite color, I picked that color for her shirt, and she and her mom found a pink backpack and pink shoes, too.


Her daddy sent a picture this morning of our schoolgirl all decked out in her new denim and pink outfit. I flashed back to so many other pictures he's sent over the years from the time she was only a cuddly infant to a toddler to a pre-schooler and now our Kindergarten Kid. I hope we have a long time before the prom picture arrives.


Happy first day of real school, Jordan. Love from Grandma and Poppy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Students From Across The Sea



To digress a bit from my writing life into the personal, I’d like to tell you about two new students at Kansas State University. Adela and Katarina are Exchnage students from Czech Tech University in Prague. Ken and I will be their American Host family for the time they spend at Kansas State.

Last Wednesday, we met their flights in Kansas City. They came in about forty minutes apart, both having been on three planes and airport waits that took many hours. Any fatigue vanished as they saw us holding a sign with their name on it, and each came immediately with a big smile and a hand stretched out to greet us.

We spent the next few days squiring them around the campus and helping them learn about our community. “Where is Walmart?” they wanted to know. So, I gave them a tour of both Walmart and Target, the mall, a brand new grocery store, Radio Shack and the campus. They purchased sim cards for their cellphones, and Adela found out that her company at home had blocked her from having any other card in her phone. So, a new phone had to be bought, too. Radio Shack provided an American plug to use with their European appliances which made them both happy.

We spent hours talking and getting to know one another. They sailed through jet lag and made us envious. Youth handles many things better than senior citizens, even though I hate to admit it.

Friday evening, we invited another American Host family and their two Czech students tp join us. It turned out to be a festive occasion with many stories from both the Americans and the Czechs as we shared a meal together and finished with a small glass of a tasty Czech liqueur called Becherovka.

Saturday, they met several other exchange students for a swim and then later in the evening, a group of them went to Aggieville, the shopping-restaurant-bar area near campus to see what it had to offer. They were home early but felt better about knowing what kind of entertainment it promised for another time.

Like other Czech students we’ve hosted, Adela and Katarina were friendly, helpful and considerate house guests--truly a pleasure to have in our home. Sunday afternoon we helped them move into a dorm on campus. It brought back memories of when our own children did the same their first year of college. I hugged each girl and said, “I think I’m suppose to say ‘Study hard’ now” And Ken added “And behave yourself.” It made them laugh as we left them on their own. Part of them probably welcomed the independence but maybe another part felt a bit lonely so very far from home. We hope we helped make the transition a little easier.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Increasing My World

One of the best things about the years in which I have been writing is the increasing numbers of friends I've made. I say 'increasing' because it seems to go on at a regular pace. Thanks to the tremendous technology we have today, it's possible for me to get to know other writers around the globe.

It's surprising how very well you can know someone without ever having met them face to face. My online writers group is for women only, and besides many in the USA has members who live in Australia, Canada, Ireland, England, Shanghai, Italy and Norway. All from different countries but all with the same goal in mind--to write and publish. A variety of personalities, as well, which adds to the critique group, for each of us looks at a piece of writing from different perspectives.

Submitting and critiquing is the main aim of this group, whose membership is by invitation only, but one of the side benefits are the many friendships that develope along the way. There have been two conferences that a good many of the members have attended, and those in-person meetings have only made he bonds stronger.

Had it not been for my writing, I'd never have met any of these women. They've enriched my writing world and my personal one, too.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Writing Name

When I first began writing, I used the name Nancy Kopp. Why not? It's my name, and I was proud to have it on my work. Some writers choose to use only initials and last name, others use both names and still others might choose to use a pseudonym. I've always thought they did it if they weren't proud of their work, or perhaps they wanted anonymity only for privacy sake. If I spend hours writing an article, story or poem, I'd like my real name on it.

One day I was walking through Walmart and passed by the book section. It's hard for me to ignore a book browsing spot, so I turned around and went back to scan the shelves. My eyes moved from one shelf to another until one book stopped me cold. I couldn't tell you the title today, but in big letters under the name of the book was the author's name NANCY KOPP. I grabbed the book and started checking the back cover, frontispiece and inside to see who this imposter was. Turned out that this Nancy Kopp works at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and writes mystery novels on the side. What are the odds of having two Nancy Kopps who are both writers?

The only thing I could do was to change my writing name somehow to differentiate between the two. The simplest solution was to add my maiden name, so I typed it to see how it looked, and I rather liked it. It looked professional and rather nice, so my new writing name came into being. I've used it for a good number of years now, and it feels comfortable. It's especially comfortable when an envelope arrives by Snail Mail addressed to Nancy Julien Kopp with a check inside in payment for something I've written and sold.

If you want to write, give some serious thought to the name you want to use and be consistent in using it. The nurse in the doctor's office may know you by one name and your readers by quite another. Pick a name you feel good about. I share the Julien part of mine with my oldest granddaughter. Her name is Alexis Julien Kopp, and believe it or not, she'd like to become a journalist someday.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Writer Granny's World

I'm starting a new adventure, becoming a blogger. At age 70, I'm not about to let the world pass me by. I intend for this blog to be concerned with the writing world and also my personal world, now and then. Maybe others can learn something here, find a subject that they can relate to, or just enjoy getting away for a short visit.

Writing For Anthologies:
Much of my writing ends up in anthologies like Chicken Soup for the Soul. I'm proud to claim a spot in nine of those as well as a couple of Guideposts anthologies and the Ultimate series. It takes patience to submit to these places, for speed is not their strong point. It can be months, even more than a year, before there is a response from an editor. And those responses arrive only if a story makes the finals. That still doesn't guarantee publication. More waiting. More wondering. If the story makes the final cut, a congratulations notice and contract/permission release agreement is sent. If not, you never hear a word. That's the part I really, really hate. Hey, I can take rejection, so send me a message saying something like "So sorry, but your fine story didn't make the final cut." That way, I know and can move on. But please, please, please tell me!