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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Inspiration for Poems

I've never taken a class on writing poetry nor read a How-To book on poetry either, But every now and then I dabble in that field. My poems would probably send the Poet Laureate of our state or the USA to the nearest bar to drown his sorrows. I probably break a lot of rules, but I write what I feel and if it sounds all right to me, it's a done deal. Most of the poetry I write is free verse as there's more leeway in that than in rhyming, metered poetry.

The bigger question is why I write poetry, or why anyone does. For me, it's usually because something I've seen has inspired me. The picture above was taken in the Flint Hills area just outside our town. When driving through those hills, or on a hike, scenery like this can inspire me to write a poem. I did write one about this area once, sent it to our state authors contest and lo and behold, it won first place in the theme division that year. I knew very little about poetry, but I did know how the hills around us made me feel.

Think of some of the breathtaking scenery you've happened onto when traveling. Didn't it make you wish you were a painter so you could capture the moment? Not everyone can paint a picture, but you can write a poem about it. It doesn't have to be one for publication; keep it for yourself to read and bring back the moment. It might even be one perfect rose in your garden or a bird sitting on a fencepost.

Another time I write poetry is when I'm overwhelmed with emotion. When our oldest granddaughter was a toddler, we had been to Dallas to spend some time with her, our son and his wife. The morning we left, I felt so overwhelmed with the wonder of this sweet child that I felt compelled to put my feelings on paper. The poem that resulted has been published two or three times.

So, you don't have to be a professional poet to be able to write poetry. Do it because you want to or feel the need to. Maybe I should add that along with several successful poems, I've also written some pretty awful ones. Those would be the ones a professional poet might read and begin to rant and rave--or order another drink!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wrting For Chicken Soup For The Soul

I've been very fortunate to have stories in nine Chicken Soup for the Soul books. The very first one "Love In A Box" has been published in other countries and on websites as well as in the Chicken Soup book about Fathers and Daughters. You can read the story at

A lot of writers send stories to the Chicken Soup publishers and then are totally dismayed that they never hear a word from the editors. They may have had a good story, but if it doesn't follow the guidelines, it's not going to make it. The anthology website, at the link above, has a list of guidelines that are quite clear. Find them at    It's  one of the biggest mistakes writers make--not reading the guidelines carefully. Use the checklist provided to determine if your story is meant for Chicken Soup or perhaps for a different market.

Have all the stories I've sent to Chicken Soup been accepted? Not by a longshot! Do I keep submitting to them? Absolutely! In fact, I sent two stories for the new Diet and Fitness book to them last night. And now begins the eternal wait. It can be months, even more than a year, before I will hear if either one is accepted. And if they are not, I will hear nothing. A writer is to assume that the story was not picked when more than a year has gone by with no word. Meanwhile, it's best to put it out of your mind, keep writing and submitting to other places. If a message arrives with a permission release form, it means you're in the running for the final selection, and it'a an exciting moment.

Chicken Soup editors say they receive a thousand or more stories for each book and can select fewer than one hundred. The ones that are published are from writers who followed the Guidelines.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Writing in Hard Times

Last week, I sent a submission to a Senior newspaper published in the Johnson County area of Kansas City. The essay would be appropriate to run in the November issue as it deals with Veterans Day. This morning I had a message from the editor saying she would like to use it but was uncertain at this point that she can accept it. The November issue, she wrote, will be a small one due to low advertising revenue. She'd use my submission if at all possible, however.

So, that leaves me, the writer, hanging. I've not been published in this particular newspaper before and would like to get my foot in the door. But I'd also like to have this essay published so maybe I should send it somewhere else that might be more of a sure thing. Or it might not. I think I'm going to hold on at this first place and hope they sell a few more ads and will be able to include my work.

This little episode appears to be a sign of the times. Low advertising revenue for many publications has caused them to reduce the size of the issues, and for some, it means they must cease publishing completely.
There have been others that have discontinued their printed publication and moved onto an online version.

The poor economy our country is experiencing hits more than the big auto companies, the giants on Wall St. and huge manufacturing companies. Like a row of dominos, when one goes down, a whole lot of others go with it. Publishers and editors are suffering from budget cuts and low advertising revenue, which means writers are knocked down, too.

So, what does it mean for today's writers? It means you work harder to market what you've written. You send to more editors than in the past. You search for lesser-known publications and perhaps are willing to accept less pay. Maybe even no-pay publications for right now. If nothing else, they keep your name floating in the publishing world and add to your clips file. And when the economy looks better, some of those places will start paying again. And guess what? You've got a foot in the door already.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Good Book For Writers

Before I start on today's topic--K-State won the game yesterday 49-7, and the halftime show with 2000 high school band students, the K-State Band and the Ft. Riley Band turned out to be one of the best ever. Lump in the throat, tear in the eye kind.

But today, I'd like to recommend a book that is not new, one that has been on my shelf for quite a few years. Self-Editing For Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King is still one of my favorite books on the craft of writing. The team that collaborated to write this instructional manual for self-editing are both authors and editors. Their combined expertise brought forth a book that fiction writers can refer to over and over again.

Each chapter ends with a checklist and exercises that illustrate whatever point the chapter is making. The first chapter in the book is on the importance of showing rather than telling. It's an obvious but sometimes difficult lesson for fiction writers to learn.

I think that  creative nonfiction writers can gain something from this book, since they personalize nonfiction accounts. So the fiction tools would come into use in their work, too.

I believe the latest edition of this book was published in 2004. Amazon has it in stock. To read the editorial and customer reviews on it, go to  You'll find the reviews toward the bottom of the page.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Game Day

It's Game Day at K-State once again. We've had an unusual schedule this year. First game was here in Manhattan and the next two on the road. It's not a good situation to have to send a youg, inexperienced team on the road two weeks in a row. They don't like it, and neither do the hometown fans. But, it's a done deal, and from those three games, we have only one win. Hoping to beat Tennessee Tech today, but time will tell.

Meanwhile, there is more going on than the game itself. Today is Band Day and Ft. Riley Day. This morning, there's a parade downtown of the many high school bands that have been invited to participate along with the K-State Marching Band and the Ft. Riley Band.

After the parade, the kids will practice on the football field for the halftime show. Every year, the K-State band director sends the music to the various high schools, and the kids work on the music. Then, when they arrive here, they have to all be on the same page, playing the same notes, following a director they've never seen before. Halftime is pretty impressive as the band members spread across the entire field from goal post to goal post. And they play together like they've been doing it forever. The final piece is always The 1812 Overture, including real cannons (borrowed from Ft. Riley) as part of it. Besides being a good show, it's a terrific way to get these high school kids to see K-State and maybe get them to choose KSU as their college of choice.

Ft. Riley Day is more often a separate Saturday, but this year it's combined with Band Day. There will be 1400 Ft. Riley soldiers and families attending the game, and the pre-game and half-time activities will pay tribute to them and their fellow soldiers who serve in various overseas outposts. The army post is only a few miles away from Manhattan, and the people who are stationed there are a big part of our community. We see them all year long, but today we especially salute them and thank them for their service.

Willie the Wildcat, our mascot pictured above, will be part of the game festivities, too. Willie does push-ups every time K-State scores. They're cumulative, so I'm hoping Willie ends up doing a whole lot of push-ups today. That would be the perfect way to end a great day.

Friday, September 25, 2009

An Artist To Admire

Last night, Ken and I attended a piano concert at the arts center of Kansas State University. Only ten minutes from home, we have the opportunity to see top artists and shows, ones that many people must travel long distances to large cities to be entertained.

Jon Nakamatsu played music composed by Clementi, Schumann, and Chopin. His entrance onstage startled me a little, as rather than the formal dress most professional concert pianists wear, he had on black dress pants with an open collar black dress shirt. He sat down at the, also black, piano and raised his hands to begin, playing classical music that is soothing to the soul.

Before the second set, he explained to the audience what the music Schumann wrote personified, how each section was a character sketch of people attending a ball. When he played the entire piece, it was then easy to see the differences of the types of people who had attended the ball. A few words of explanation created a far better appreciation from the audience. Mr. Nakamatsu did the same thing before the final set, mentioning that the music Schumann had created, called Carnivale, was done when only in his teens. "Think about what you were doing in your teens." he commented before he played. Again, the audience appreciation level rose considerably.

The program had pages about the composers but nothing at all about Mr. Nakamatsu, so being the curious person I am, I googled his name when we got home. I learned that he had started playing the piano at age 6. Born in California, he continued playing but went to college and graduate school to become a high school German teacher, not majoring in music or attending a music conservatory.

In 1997 Mr. Nakamatsu won the Gold Medal at the Tenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the first American to win since 1981. The prize was $20,000. It was then that he quit his teaching job and became a classical pianist.
In his remarks to the audience last evening, Mr. Nakamatsu mentioned that he had met the day before with students from the music program at the university. What a fine opportunity for young music students to be exposed to an artist like this, and how wonderful it is for him to share his talent and knowledge with these students.

Mr. Nakamatsu was called back for two encores, and I left the concert with much admiration for him and a soul soothed by the splendid music he played. I am not a music critic, but I know how to enjoy it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Join A Writers Organization

One of the best ways to open up the writing world is to join writers' groups of all kinds. Many states have a state writers organization. I've belonged to the Kansas Authors Club for probably ten years or more.

They meet once a year at convention time, but each of the six districts within the state have more frequent meetings. A dedicated group of people, who serve on the state board and as officers, send notices of interest throughout the year, gather news of writing accomplishments from members and publish it on their website. They sponsor a statewide contest annually with several categories for both prose and poetry. Cash prizes are awarded to winners.

I've met people I might never have had the opportunity to know otherwise. My life is richer because of  knowing these many accomplished writers and yet-to-be published writers. We have a common interest, even though we all come from different paths in life.

At meetings, we swap marketing tips,  listen to speakers of various phases of writing, and have Read-Arounds which affords an opportunity to share stories we've written.

Five years ago, an anthology featuring work from members of the group was published to celebrate the 100 Year Anniversary of Kansas Authors. Must be something right about a group that goes on for so many years. It's called Our Way With Words.

I would urge all writers, published or unpublished, to check out local or state writers organizations and sign up. Doing so will expand your writing world.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shorter Is Better

I'm in the middle of a novel written by a well-known author who has several acclaimed works to his name. When I saw the newest one, I knew I wanted to read it. It's a simple story that could be very interesting, but it goes on and on and .... Well, you get the picture. Halfway through the book, I keep thinking, "Get on with it" I've read the same things over and over with extra little bits of information tossed in to keep me reading. But the whole thing has become tedious enough to have me skipping to the end to see if this man resolves his problem or ends up walking a beach for the rest of his life.

Which brings me to today's topic. When writing a novel, a short story, or a nonfiction piece, shorter is always better. Writers love words but they tend to use too many of them. Editors are constantly harping on cutting X number of words out of a submission. Writers bristle at the thought of cutting those precious words they'd labored over and given birth to.

But the editors are usually right. Tighter writing is far more interesting to read than something long and drawn-out. In my online critique group, one of the criticisms that I see over and over is that the writing needs to be tightened. Make it shorter and stronger. The writer mumbles and grumbles, then goes about cutting those precious words and the usual outcome is a much better piece of writing.

In the writers' world, maybe the acronym KISS stands for Keep It Shorter Stupid!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Finding Stories to Write

I've been working on a couple of stories for a new Chicken Soup for the Soul book. "Where do you find the stories to write about?" a friend asked me.

The stories I'm writing and rewriting right now are on diet and fitness. If you stop and think about it, we've all had a time in our life when diet played a more important part than normal. It may have been last week or twenty years ago. Ask yourself the journalism questions--where, why, who, what and when. Answering that will come up with the facts of the story. Write it, dressing it up with sensory details, and you'll have a story that may sell.

You know that old saying about making lemonade out of the lemons life sends us? The heart attack my husband had a number of years ago gave me material for several stories, one of which is the diet and fitness one I've been working on. I'd much prefer that he hadn't given me that situation to write about, but he did, and maybe writing about it may help others in recovery or prevention of further heart problems.

One place I look for stories is in my memory bank. It's loaded with growing up and school experiences, years and years worth of family members and friends, and great joys and sorrowful events to draw from.

Besides the past, there is the present. When today draws to an end, look back at the places you went, people you saw, and things you did. There will be any number from that list that could be the basis for a story. What about the checker with the bandaged arm and bruised cheek? What happened to her?  Or the man who runs the shoe repair shop who had no smile for you today. He's always smiling and a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. What might have changed his demeanor? Why did it bother you to see his personality change? Maybe your kids set up a howl over a new recipe you tried for dinner. Could be a great story there. Train yourself to look for the everyday stories. They're right in front of you.

The children's department of our public library has a Sunday afternoon "Read To A Dog" ongoing program. That's got to be a great story waiting to be written, and one of these days, I'm going to do it.

I've never had a problem with finding stories to write. More often than not, it's when to write them or how to begin.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The National Quarterly--Fall Issue Online

Fiction, Culture, Politics and Humor--that's what it says on the masthead of a an online magazine that debuted this summer. The fall issue can be read at  Add a little poetry and a bit of entertainment nostalgia, and you have a pleasurable read.

The new issue features a fine fiction story called "The Principal of Rivington Street" by Henry Mazel, who is one of the founding editors at the magazine, or should we say, 'ezine?' I met Henry online at the OurEcho site where we have both posted our work. He and a group of friends started The National Quarterly, hoping to publish an ezine that had something of interest in many areas. It's not a step to be taken lightly. It's hard work and a lot of holding the breath to see how it is received.

Gaining readers for a new publication also takes work. Spread the word is the motto needed, so I'm asking that you take a look at the fall issue at the link above. Besides the fiction story, you'll find an article by me about eating in pubs in the United Kingdom and Ireland, along with some poetry, a piece about Fidel Castro and a restaurant critic in New York, and an article on healthy eating written by a doctor.

I think you'll like what you see. Check the Archives link on the front page to read the earlier issue, too.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Creative Nonfiction Is More Than Only Facts

One of the most daunting aspects of writing nonfiction is that you cannot make it up. You're stuck with the facts of what happened. The fiction writer can live in a land of make-believe, but the nonfiction writer must be true to the events as they happened.

But the writing need not be boring. On the contrary, nonfiction stories can be made interesting and provide emotional appeal as well. They are not only a list of factual reporting of something that occurred. They are about real happenings and real people.

The writer can bring in setting, can create a visual image of the people involved, and can bring many sensory details into the writing of a nonfiction piece. When we do this, we're writing creative nonfiction.

My story, "Squeals and Squeezes" appeared in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. The story relates a simple event I witnessed, something that happened in a matter of a couple of minutes. A soldier home on leave, a toddler, a game of Hide-and-Seek at a country club reception. All facts. When I added some characteristics of the players, the way the dad hugged the child once he'd found him, and my own feelings, this tiny slice of life became a publishable piece of nonfiction--creative nonfiction.

Try taking a factual report from a newspaper and rewriting it as if you had witnessed the event. By using the technique of creative nonfiction, you'll bring a story to life and make it something the reader will remember for a long time.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Little Bit of Disappointment

I've written many times about rejection and all in entails. I've always tried to have an upbeat attitude when a rejction comes sailing my way. Every piece you write is not for every editor, or it doesn't work within that particular editorial calendar. There are lots of reasons an editor rejects some submissions and selects others.
My motto has always been to take a good hard look at the piece of writing, then either revise and send it off to another editor or send as is if satisfied with it.

This morning I received a list of finalists for a new anthology put out by the Cup of Comfort series. This one is Cup of Comfort For A Better World. I'd been happy with the story I'd written and submitted to Colleen Sell, the editor. I thought it had a good chance of being accepted.

The list of 66 finalist stories popped up in my In-box, and I scanned it looking for my name, but no such luck. I must admit that I felt very disappointed. I've set a personal goal of having a story in a Cup of Comfort book and this time I thought I'd do it.

Then I went back and read the editor's message above the list. She wrote that it had been difficult to narrow the choice to 66 stories from the over 2000 that were sent in. 2000? I wondered what the odds were that one story made it out of more than 2000. That means a lot more than 1900 people faced disappointment today just like I did.

Somehow, I didn't feel qute so bad any longer. I still have a finished story that can be marketed to other editors where it may someday find a home. And there's a Cup of Comfort book for golf stories that still has an open submission. I've had a golf story spinning in my head for a few weeks now. This would be the perfect time to write it. Disappointment on its way out....

Friday, September 18, 2009

Staying Motivated

I belong to an online critique group, and over the years, I've noticed that some members have a difficult time staying motivated. They're full of enthusiasm when they first join, and then their interest level slips a little, and before you know it, they either participate only occasionally or drop out.

Sometimes it's because the group takes a lot more time than they realized or are willing to give. And some let their commitment to the group slip way down on their list of priorities in life. Others figure they aren't getting published any faster since being in the group, so why bother? There are many reasons, but there's only one solution.

The solution, of course, is attitude. Toss in a little patience and perseverance, and you've got the perfect formula for staying motivated. It's a formula that works for myriad facets of our lives. It lies within each of us to make something work or lose interest in it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Grandma Duty

My daughter, Karen, is on a business trip this week, and her sitter for Cole must be away on Friday, so it's Grandma to the rescue. I'm going to drive into Kansas City today and will take care of Cole all day tomorrow and Jordan when she gets home from school. I'l fix dinner for Steve and the kids Thursday and Friday and be on my way home Saturday morning.
But first, I'm going to spend a little time out for me by stopping at a few favorite stores on my way today. It's not often I have the time to browse at leisure and I'm looking forward to it.
I'm also looking forward to spending time with my grandchildren. A few days off from the writing world doesn't hurt at all.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Relieving Stress

One sure way to relieve stress for me is to write about whatever is bothering me. It doesn't solve the problem in most cases, but it does help to release inside tensions and is a coping mechanism. A friend is writing a daily blog about a close relative's battle with Alzheimer's. It's a service to others, but it helps her deal with the everyday frustrations, too.

Bad news about a friend this past week has pushed my stress factor up a notch or two, and yesterday when I went for a long walk, I began thinking about her dire health situation. How fragile life is--a common thought expressed time and again, but of course, it hits us harder when that life is one we know. It crossed my mind that our lives are like a spider's web, woven carefully and intricately for many years, and suddenly that spider web is brushed aside with what seems like a  careless swipe of a hand.

When I came home from walking, I went on with my day, doing household tasks, e-mail messages to check and be sent, errands to run, dinner to fix. But the image of the spider's web kept appearing in my mind. After dinner, I wrote a free verse poem using the spider web as a metaphor. After struggling with the first line, the rest poured forth easily, and when I'd finished, I somehow felt better. It didn't change the fact that someone I know was nearing the end of a long and full life, but maybe it left me better able to cope with the idea.

I've written about upsetting things many times, some of them have never been seen by anyone but me, and some of them have turned out to be published more than once. Maybe because when we write with emotion, the writing is strong and visual.

So, the next time a problem or difficult situation invades your mind, try writing a poem or a paragraph or more about it. You don't ever need to show it to anyone. Do it for yourself. It's one reason for keeping a daily journal. Even the little irritations of life seem better when you write about them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Finding the Right Book

My Book Club members each select the book to be read during the month they act as hostess. My turn will be coming up in 3 or 4 months, and I've been having a hard time finding the right book.

It needs to be a book that promotes discussion within the group. We've read a few that didn't do that, and our conversation drifted off into other avenues.

It needs to be a book that is an enjoyable read--one that is informative, fills in a period of history for the reader, or may be nothing more than a darned good story.

It should be a book that the seven members can find in the library or as a paperback in a bookstore, if possible. We've learned recently that, if we ask in advance, the library will find copies in other area libraries for us.

I've considered the book that I wrote about here a couple days ago, The Guernsey Liteary and Potato Peel Pie Society, as I so thoroughly enjoyed it. The only reason I am not selecting it is that we've read a plethora of WWII novels recently. Each one offered a small part of that period few of us were aware of, but it still might be overkill.

I'm leaning now to choosing a classic for us to read, or perhaps re-read, whatever the case may be. The big question is "which one?" Maybe I'll google classic books and see if one on the list calls out to me.

Anyone have any suggestions? I'm listening.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunday Dinner

L to R:  Katarina, Cristina, Chihiro, Nancy, Ken, Adela
Last night our two Czech students, Katarina and Adela came to our home for dinner. We had asked them to invite their roommates. Cristina is also from the Czech Republic, and Chihiro is from Hiroshima, Japan.
Ken picked the girls up at their dorm while I put the finishing touches on an Italian dinner. It has been a full month since these exchange students arrived in Kansas, and in that short time, they've adjusted to a whole new universtiy system, a new country, and new friends. That's one of the positives of youth that I have come to admire.
We enjoyed a glass of wine and appetizers on the patio, taking advantage of a very pleasant evening. The girls told us about their classes, the food service center where they have meals and a week-end trip to Kansas City.
We moved inside for dinner, but the conversation continued nonstop. We learned that Chihiro has been a K-State student for four years and will graduate in December. She has a job in Tokyo waiting for her. We heard about how hard it is to wait for test results and the good and bad of the catering job the three Czech girls have at the Student Union.
I made a pineapple upsidedown cake for our dessert, and the idea of turning the cake upsidedown intrigued them. Being with young people is better than any geriatric tonic on the market.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Good Read

Every now and then, I read a book that reaches out and grabs me. I recently finished one that had me hooked by page 2 and keeps circling through my mind days after completing it.

I'd noted the title a year or so ago when it was on the bestseller lists because it was a bit unusual. I wondered what in the world the story entailed with a title of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I noticed it on the shelf at our local library a couple weeks ago, read the frontispiece and decided to give it a try.

The story is written in a most unusal way. No narrator tells us what is happening. Instead, we read letters, one letter after another. The entire book is nothing but letters. The story bursts forth from these letters written by a variety of people in London and the island of Guernsey in 1946. WWII is finally over, and the island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, has survived German occupation. Dawsey Adamas, an inhabitant of the island, writes a letter to a young woman in London, who has gained fame as a columnist during the war. He has seen her name and adress in a an old book of hers that he now owns. Could she possibly send the name of a bookshop where he might order more of the works of Charles Lamb? He adds a little detail about a pig dinner during German occupation being the beginning of the Guernsey Liteary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet Ashton is so intrigued by his letter that she answers him and begins to ask questions.

From there, the correspondence takes off like greased lightning with letters from these two characters, Juliet's publisher, her close friend, and a variety of other people on the island. The many colorful characters, subtle humor, and fascinating story of the wartime experiences all kept me reading later into the night that I should have. Like many a good old-fashioned melodrama, I found myself cheering for some and wanting to hiss at other characters.

The story also provoked a lot of thought on the lost art of letter writing. In the technological world we live in, fewer and fewer people write personal letters. Send a quick text message, jot a note or two on Facebook and Twitter, or use e-mail for longer messages. Quick and easy--yes, but something wonderful has been lost. The personal letters of many famous people have served to help write their biographies, explain parts of our history to us, and revealed far more about their personality than a tweet does.

If you enjoy historical novels and are curious as to the beginnings of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, pick up a copy at your local library, bookstore, or through an online bookseller. I don't think you'll be disappointed. The authors of the book, Mary Ann Shaffer, and her niece, Annie Barrows have succeeded in giving readers something to remember.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Good Week

Despite my computer woes, this has been a good week in my writing world. I had three submissions accepted. All different genres. One is an article on the Kruger Park Game Reserve in South Africa. We visited it years ago, and it impressed me so much that I have written an article and a children's fiction story based on it. The children's story was the first thing I'd ever had published so is still dear to my heart. The article just accepted is for adults and will be published in a small Canadian magazine along with several pictures. The editor had asked me to send them, so I scanned and sent five of them the night before the computer died. Good thing as that is the one connected to the scanner/printer.

The second acceptance was for a poem written after a dream about gypsies on a train. Don't you wonder where the subject of your dreams comes from? It will be published in a literary ezine next March.

The third is a Thanksgiving memoir esssay that will appear in the same literary ezine in early November. They accept only a small amount of work submitted to them, so color me very pleased about being published there.

There was also an "almost there" message. I'd sent an opinion essay to a national teachers magazine, and they responded that I would hear from them by September 11th if they were interested. If I did not hear by then, it meant they did not want the essay. Yesterday's message was to tell me they still had my submission under consideration and if I did not hear from them by the end of the month to please contact them, give them a nudge on the decision. Not an acceptance but still in the running. Writers appreciate an editor who gives this kind of information, doesn't leave you dangling from a cliff wondering how long you can hold on.

The computer doctor called last night to tell me I can pick my baby up today. It will be sporting a brand new power supply. Happiness!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Saddest Birthday

Today we remember those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attack, and all of the families who suffered personal losses. Other Americans were deeply affected as well. Today I am posting a story I wrote about that day and also a link to a poem I wrote the following day. Tragic as it was, it's a day we must never forget.

The Saddest Birthday

Birthdays are special in our family, celebrated and recognized all the waking hours of the specific day. Not only a cake and gaily wrapped gifts mark the occasion. Extra smiles and hugs come the way of the birthday person, as well. Treasured memories of other birthdays seem to pop up during dinner table conversation. Daily chores might be cancelled for the honoree. In short, the birthday person reigns as the star of the day.

But in recent years, my husband’s birthday has been clouded over with a sense of sadness and grief. His special day happens to be September 11th. Never again will we celebrate without remembering that ill-fated day in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

That morning I’d greeted the birthday boy with a kiss and a hug and presented him with a card and gift. He smiled broadly as he fingered the purple and white shirt with the Kansas State logo gracing it’s front, and I knew thoughts of wearing it to Saturday’s football game ran through his head.

After the gift-giving we settled into our usual routine. Since Ken had retired, we spent our early mornings reading the newspaper from front to back and keeping an occasional eye on the Today show on TV. We both looked up from the newspaper at the urgent sound in the broadcaster’s voice as she narrated film showing a plane flying into a skyscraper in New York City. In less time than it takes to sneeze, the tragedy repeated itself. And we knew immediately that it was no accident.

The remainder of the day found us tuned into further reports of the devastating occurrences which are seared into the memories and hearts of all American citizens. I never made the cake I’d planned on. The birthday greeting calls our children made to their dad were not filled with good wishes and teasing remarks. Instead, these adult children of ours were as overwhelmed with the day’s happenings as we were.

Late in the day, we received word that a baby boy had been born to one of our daughter’s childhood friends. Shadows of grief surrounded the joy we felt for Jen and James and their new son. As evening fell, it occurred to me that the birth of this baby and all the other babies born on this day might be taken as a sign from God that no matter what had happened, life would go on. These new lives became seeds of hope sown in sadness.

The American people banded together on that tragic September 11th. They picked up the shards of their lives and soldiered on. Hearts shattered, but prayerful resolve pieced them together again.

This year we celebrate another birthday for my husband on September 11th. We’re back to those special celebrations once again. I’ve been mulling over cake possibilities and worrying about what to give him to commemorate the day. Even so, we’ll take time to remember the saddest birthday he ever experienced and to honor those who’ll not have an earthly birthday anymore.

Published at and

"Tears In The Water" is a poem also published at and several other places on the web. To read it, go to

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Color Me Frustrated Today

Computer woes foster frustration, and I have Frustration in a big way today with my main computer. The one with a zillion files and pictures saved on it, the one with all my writing records on it, the one that basically holds my life on it. I have a back-up system but I need the computer to access it.

Yesterday, it suddenly started turning itself off after I'd finished working on it and left. I'd turn it back on again, and it would be fine, until I left and off it went. Then this morning, I turned it on and it turned itself off before I could even bring up my e-mail. Do computers get Swine Flu?

I am fortunate to have a laptop as back-up, but it doesn't have all those files on it. I use it mostly when I travel.

Last night I sent an editor a group of pictures I'd scanned to go with an article he is buying. Glad I did it then as I have no idea how to hook up my laptop to the printer.

So, color me frustrated today!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lab Work

This morning I went to my doctor's office before breakfast to have blood drawn. No sun, the sky socked-in with stormy looking clouds--the kind of day you'd like to curl up at home with a good book. But instead, I drove the few minutes to Stonecreek Family Physicians to offer my arm to a lab technician.

Despite the gloomy weather, I enjoyed the short drive over the hills. The tallgrass prairie looks desolate to some, but to those of us who live here, it's a balm to our souls.

My empty stomach growled as I entered the limestone-faced building and headed to the lab. I gave the receptionist my name and my doctor's name, then sat down. A heavyset woman whose breathing appeared labored asked me if Dr. H was my doctor. I replied affirmatively, and she leaned over and said, "Do you like him?" Her question surprised me, but I answered honestly and quickly. "Yes, very much." She nodded her head and sat back again, saying no more.

I picked up a magazine but my mind concentrated more on the woman than on the words in front of me. Was she a new patient of Dr. H's I wondered. Did she fear he might not be the right one for her? Was she worried about whatever test she waited for? I watched as she whipped out a cellphone and made a call. The conversation revolved not around her health but about a dog that kept her awake most of the night. Just then, an x-ray technician escorted a man to the waiting room, and the woman jumped up and grabbed him by the arm. "Are you done?" she said, already halfway out the door.

Things aren't always as they look, the woman wasn't the patient, after all. We jump to conclusions sometimes using only a bit of information available at the time.

By this time, three more people had checked in with the receptionist. A nice looking man in his thirties, a woman studying a textbook, and an older man who looked very tired. Four of us in the lab waiting room, four tests of some kind, four stories. I suppose writers want to know peoples' stories more than most folks do, or is it only my inquisitive nature? As much as I'd like to know each one's story, I haven't resorted to questionning complete strangers yet.

The lab tech called me in, drew two vials of blood and sent me on my way. I left paperwork at the outer office reception desk where three women worked. More stories there, I'm sure. There are stories within each and every person's life. I find it fascinating to learn about some of those stories.

As I drove home, I thought about the young lab technician who'd drawn my blood. She had very little to say, and she seemed preoccupied. There's a story there, most likely--one I'll never know. Instead, I went home to have some breakfast, but I'll think about those people who crossed my path off and on today.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Clubs

Book Clubs have become more popular in the last ten years. The members all read the same book, then meet for a discussion about the book and author. Usually, there is a leader who guides the discussion. Some limit the number of members while others specify women only or men only.

I've been in a Book Club for several years now, and I find it's one of the monthly activities I look forward to.
There are seven of us in my group, all friends for many years. At the first meeting, we made two rules. 1. No food served and 2. Whatever is said at Book Club never leaves the room.

The hostess serves coffee and/or water, no food,  so having the meeting is no strain on anyone. And the second rule provides a platform for some very excellent discussions, since we all fee we can be honest and perhaps even bare our souls now and then.

Even though we have a variety of viewpoints, we do respect the opinions of others. You might not agree with someone, but the very least you can do is to respect their opinion for what it is--'their opinion.'

This month we read Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia. The novel explores the Cuban political situation of the 1970's and 80's as well as the universal mother-daughter relationship. Three generations of Cuban women are featured, two of them still living in Cuba and two in New York City. Add a little of the mystical and supernatural, and it becomes an interesting read. It also led to an informative discussion as members related memories and even one whose husband had met Fidel Castro.

Would I have picked this book to read on my own? Probably not. That's one of the best reasons to belong to a book club. I have read many books that I would not ordianarily have selected on m own. And it's enlarged my world by doing so and hearing the opinions of the six others in the group.

If you aren't already in a Book Club, consider starting one. Look for a few people who like to read, gather them together for the initial meeting and have a book ready to suggest for your first venture. It's not difficult to do and it offers multiple benefits. There are online helps such as and editorial and reader reviews to be found at or as well as author websites.

Monday, September 7, 2009

How I Learned To Love Books

On this Labor Day holiday, I am posting an essay I wrote that details my great love for books. Maybe some of you can relate to this.

How I Learned To Love Books

My earliest memory of a book is a story about Mr. Flibbertyjibbet. Is it any wonder that tongue-twriling name is easily plucked from my memory bank over 65 years later?

My mother reads the Mr. Flibbertyjibbet book to me as we snuggle on the sofa. My father reads the book to me, too. I bring the book out whenever an adult is there, and I hand it to them. My grandmother, every one of my aunts and Mother’s friends—they all read to me.

My kindergarten teacher reads to us, too. She sits on a small chair, and we all gather around her, sitting Indian-fashion on a green carpet. Every day Miss Horst reads a new story and shows us the pictures. Her hair is silver, her lips are cherry red, and her eyes sparkle as she reads. I want to read the book myself, but I don’t know how. Mother makes a promise. “Next year you’ll learn to read.” And I trust her, for she’s never been wrong.

I am six years old and in the first grade. Miss Curto passes out the books, one for each child. “Do not open the books,” she says. My heart beats faster than normal. How can I wait any longer to see if I know how to read now? The teacher shows us the proper way to open a new book—first the front cover, then the back. Then we close it again and she instructs us to open to the first page. There are a few words, but I don’t know what they say. I’m disappointed. I can’t read. Was Mother wrong? But in only a matter of days, I am reading. I read stories about Dick and Jane and Baby Sally. I am one of the first to finish the book. And then there is a new book, and my happiness knows no bounds. This one has the same children in it, and their dog and cat, Spot and Puff, become my friends, and I read more and more books.

At home, I read Mr. Flibbertyjibbet to my mother. I read to my father, my grandmother and my aunts. I bring home books from school and I read them over and over.

One day my mother takes me to a new place. She explains we are going to the library, and by the time we have walked several blocks to the square brick building, I know that the library is full of books that I may borrow. I know that I must be very careful with the books because we must return them for other children to read.

“We would like a library card, please,” my mother tells the woman behind the big desk by the front door.

The woman has white hair that is pulled away from her face and fixed in a bun behind her head. Her cheeks look soft, and she has eyes that are as blue as the summer sky. Rimless glasses rest on her nose. She wears a navy blue dress with a white lace collar, and she is fat like one of my aunts. Her mouth is clamped tight like my grandmother’s when she is angry. Maybe I won’t like this place after all.

Then the lady slides a card across the desk, dips a pen in an inkwell, and hands it to me. “Write your name on this line, please.”

I print my first and last name as neatly as I can and slide the card back to her.

She comes around to the front of the desk. “I am Miss Maze,” she says. “and I will show you where the books for you are kept.” She smiles at me and holds out her hand.

Mother nods when I look at her for direction. I slip my hand into the one Miss Maze has offered. I look down and see she is wearing black oxfords that tie, and the skin around her ankles hangs down over her shoes. I wonder if it hurts.

We walk up two steps into a world of enchantment. Miss Maze patiently shows me row upon row of books, and she shows me how to replace them on the shelf after I look at them. She helps me choose three books to take home, and then it is time to go back to the big desk and learn how to check them out. My library card will be ready for me the next time we visit she tells us.

As the years go on, the library becomes my second home, and Miss Maze becomes my special friend. Her eyes light up, and she smiles whenever I walk in the door. She often shows me new books that have arrived, and I am eager to check them out. I am there winter and summer, in sunshine and thunderstorms.

I learn that if you like a book especially well, you should look for more books by the same author. I read a series of books with titles like Ballet Shoes, Theater Shoes, and Circus Shoes, and I dream about being one of the girls in those books. I read books by Lois Lenski called Strawberry Girl and Blueberry Sal, and I learn about being a child of a migrant worker. I read all the Nancy Drew mystery books, the Bobbsey Twins, the Little House books, and move into a series about a girl named Sue Barton. I follow Sue as she becomes a student nurse, a resident nurse, a visiting nurse and every kind of nursing job there is.

And then I am a teen, and I read young adult books like Bramble Bush, which moves me to tears, ands soon I move on to adult books. All these years in the 1940’s and 50’s, I visit the library on almost a weekly basis. I walk several blocks, taking a shortcut behind the elevated train platform. I carry a stack of books to the library on the cinder path and come back with books piled high in my arms. I read in all my spare time. I leave my everyday existence behind when I am reading. I learn about other cultures, live vicariously through the heroines in the books I devour. I store up a desire to travel so I can see these wondrous places in the books.

My favorite class in college is the literature class. I am the only one who doesn’t groan when the professor tells us we will read one novel every week. We go to the college book store, check out a book on Friday afternoon, and we are to be ready to discuss it on Monday morning. I look forward to Friday morning when the professor gives us the name of the book for the week. My feet fly across campus to the bookstore. I am a fast reader and have no trouble finishing by Monday, while some of the others sit up late on Sunday night trying to finish.

I’m a senior citizen now, but I still love books. I am never without a book to read, and the library still feels like home to me. When I am there surrounded by thousands of books, I feel a sense of peace and contentment that I find in no other place. As I make my selection from the fiction shelves and from the shelf that holds books about writing, I sometimes think of Miss Maze. I learned to read at school, but I learned about the world of books from Miss Maze. I wish I’d thanked her for what she gave me, but as a child and a teen, I was too shy to do that. Perhaps she knew what sharing her treasures meant to me. I’d like to think so.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Did you hate some of the novels that were required reading in high school and college? Maybe it wasn't so much hating them as the fact that you might not have understood some of them. Kind of like when you read Shakespeare's plays. Pretty words but what the heck was he talking about? My suggestion is to read some of them again.

I belong to a Book Club. Seven women, long-time friends, who decided to spend one morning a month discussing a book we've all read. We select the books for several months and read at our own pace. At least once a year, we include a classic of some kind. Books written by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Willa Cather, John Steinbeck and others. For most of us, it was the second time in our lives we'd read these books. The first time as teens or young adults because we had to and the second time as senior citizens because we wanted to.

And guess what? At this end of life, we look at these books in a completely different light. Books that were not high on my reading list of long ago have now become favorites. After years of life experiences, we come to appreciate many things, and the stories these master writers have left for us are certainly one of them. Right now, I'm reading Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather, published in 1927. It's still a good story today.

Next time you go to your library, pick up one of the classics from your teen years and give it another read. I think you'll find a new perspective and an enjoyable read.

And guess what happened?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Game Day

Willie the Wildcat at The Bill Snyder Family Stadium
No writing world for me today as it's the first game of the season for the Kansas State Wildcats. Another first is that the stadium of 50,000 seats will be sold out for a non-conference season opener. Over three years ago, our coach, Bill Snyder, retired. He said later that he felt it was what the administration had wanted. since the season had not been as successful as past ones. A new coach came onboard and the next three years saw a declining program and less fan support. So, mid-season last year, Coach Prince was fired and a search for a new coach began.
Anyone involved with college football knows this happens frequently. Everyone wants a winner, and K-State had one in the Bill Snyder years. We'd once been the worst college team in the nation, but Coach Snyder brought us into the Top Ten over and over again. So, even though he'd been retired for three years, Bill Snyder was offered the job. Urged by his family to go back to the job he loved, he accepted. The fans are behind him. This will be a building year as he inherited a team that had lost cohesiveness, lost morale, and had never come together as a team.
Interviews with team members give the overall impression that these young men have pulled together as a team, they have a feeling of family, and they're going to give their best for the new coach. Today has been designated as The K-State Family Reunion. Nearly 350 former players and their families will be cheering the Cats today along with thousands of other faithful fans, all clad in purple.
Ken and I will be there to tailgate and for the game. Our purple K-State flag is flying in front of our house, and we can hardly wait til late this afternoon when it's time to go. Friends will pick us up, cat decals and flags flying on their car. We'll spend a couple hours tailgating with a horde of others as cheerleaders, Willie the Wildcat and the band march through the parking lot. Purple flags will fly high, charcoal grills will scent the air, and the anticipation will be felt all around us. Pre-game activities will include a fly-over and a parachutist bringing in the game ball. If you hear a great roar between 6 and 10 tonight, it just may be coming from The Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rejection--It's Real and It's Rotten

I sent a query to a magazine editor last week, hoping he'd want to see an essay I'd written. Success on that part, as he answered immediately that he'd like to see it.  I sent it to him and had only days to wait before he sent me a rejection letter. Rejection is the one part of writing that is real and also rotten. But every writer learns to deal with it. I must admit that it bothered me a whole lot more in my beginning years. I've learned that it's not a personal rejection, that maybe my essay or story didn't fit that magazine's immediate editorial needs, or that they'd publishes something similar only a couple months earlier. There are many reasons for rejection, and only one of them is poor writing.

We've all had to deal with rejection of one kind or another nearly all our lives. It started on the playground when a group of girls shuts one girl out. Hurts like crazy, but it happens. A teen-age romance breaks up, and it's big-time rejection. Same when a marriage of either short duration or a good many years breaks up. One member of the couple experiences major rejection. And what about interviewing for a coveted new job? Three guys are finalists, and the two who don't get the job are the ones who deal with rejection. Real? Yes.
Rotten? Yes  And some of these are far more serious than a piece of writing not being accepted.

So, what's the solution? We can either let it drag us down into the depths of despair or pick ourselves up and move on. In my case, with the essay that was rejected, I'll take a good look at it, maybe revise it somewhat and send it off to another editor. I read somewhere years ago that the average for writers is one acceptance for every twelve submissions. That means eleven rejections! I have a plus--I'm not trying to make a living as a writer. I do it because I love it, not to support myself. The writer whose income is completely derived from what he/she writes has a much more difficult time.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pay or No-Pay?

An ongoing argument amongst writers is whether work should be submitted to websites or magazines that do not pay for work they publish. As in all arguments, there are valid points to be made on both sides.

Some who are willing to write for no-pay venues say they do so to help out new or small-budget publications. Others do it because they've had no luck with paying places and find it a little easier to have work accepted. They may be new writers and are out to be published and add clips to their file. It puts their name out where others will see it. And even some very successful professional writers agree to have their work published for no-pay, often as a favor to a friend or to help a fledgling publication.

On the con side you find writers who think it's either criminal or stupid to give away the words that cost them time, effort, and a required skill. If we hire a contractor to build a deck, we wouldn't think of asking him to do it for no-pay. Even if we promise to tell all our friends about his abilities. Writing is hard work, and most writers are in the game to make money. Yes, they love what they do or they wouldn't be trying to make money this way. It's hard work and they feel they deserve to be compensated.

Then you have writers who are sympathetic to both sides. I guess that's where I fit. When I first began writing, I did have a lot of my stories and essays published at no-pay websites, and believe me, I was thrilled to have been accepted. These sites don't take all submissions. They are definitely selective. But I credit them for helping me get started, for giving me a long list of published material that I could add to my submission letters to paying editors. It's the old "getting experience" before you get the good jobs thing. So, I see nothing weong with 'giving' your work away.

On the other hand, I know that writing is a job that requires many tools and a bit of blood, sweat and tears at times, so I also feel writers deserve to be paid. And I must admit, that nearly all of my submissions now are to paying publications.

To me, this is something each writer decides. I only ask that they respect the choice of other writers. The argument has never been concluded, and I doubt it ever will.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Book I Recommend for Fiction Writers

A doctor needs an education before opening a practice. A lawyer, engineer, or contractor all require educating themselves in the chosen field. And a writer is no different. Many new writers dive into the deep end of the literary pool and end up treading water or floundering around for a long time. They may have flashes of brilliant writing, but. some very amateruish bits, as well.. If you can't take a lengthy, expensive course at a noted writing academy, you have the option to self-educate.There are a large number of books that teach different aspects of writing.

Some are excellent and some are nothing but fluff that do little to further your writing abilities. Like anything else, writing has its own set of tools every author needs. So, from time to time, I would like to pass on the names of some books I've found enlightening and have perhaps made me a better writer.

The book I found most helpful in writing fiction is Beginnings, Middles and Ends written by Nancy Kress. It's one in a series of Elements in Fiction, but it's the one that stayed with me long after I read it as being clear, interesting and informative. Ms. Kress writes science fiction novels and books on the writing process. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Miss any one of those, and there is no story.

The book helps a new writer see the importance of hooking a reader and/or editor immediately. No long build-up before the story begins. Some writers have great beginnings and endings but start to sink when the middle has no merit. And who wants a book that has a great beginning, the middle keeps you reading but the endng falls flat? This book cites the problems and offers solutions.

Although the book was published in 1990, it still has value today. It would be great if Ms. Kress would give us an updated version geared toward today's market. Don't let the publishing date scare you away, however, for there is still a whole lot of good information in it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New Yearbook Editor

This is a Proud Grandma Post.
The picture above is of our oldest granddaughter, Alexis, taken on the first day of school this year. Alexis has always been interested in books and all that pertain to them. She wrote stories as soon as she learned to write, and she fills journals with her thoughts. She won an Honorable Mention in a story competition that had entries from a large metro area.
So, it came as little surprise when I learned that she'd been selected to the editor of her middle school yearbook. She'd attended a Yearbook Workshop a couple of weeks before school began, and it seems she'd been sending creative ideas through the summer to the teacher who works with the yearbook staff. Her long-range goal is to become a journalist.
Lexie, I wish you the best this year as you lead the yearbook team. May your literary endeavors continue to grow.