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Friday, December 31, 2010

Make It Goals, Not Resolutions

It's the last day of the year, and millions of people will make a list of New Year's Resolutions. Their intent is perfectly fine, but before a full month is gone, most resolutions are broken. They lay by the side of the road getting trampled and torn until they fly away on a winter wind. They'll never be seen again.

I prefer setting goals rather than making resolutions. Goals are something we can work toward a little at a time all through 2011. Goals are almost always positive whereas resolutions don't always come under that category.

You don't need to make a list of 25 goals for this year. Try one or two or even three, but keep the number achievable. Anyone who creates a lengthy list of goals is going to feel overwhelmed before they even begin. Whether the goals are about your personal world or your writing world, you won't want to make the goals so difficult to reach that you feel defeated before you get started. There are many steps in every stairway. Take your goals as you do the steps--one at a time.

When the first of each new month arrives, make a quick assessment of those goals. What did you do the previous month toward each one? Then ask yourself what you would like to do, or need to do, in the new month. It's better to do this monthly than wait until next December 31st and ask yourself if your goal(s) was achieved.

Scratch the resolutions this year. Make it goals instead.

Happy New Year to all!.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stringing Pearls

We do not remember days,
we remember moments

I read the quote above at the bottom of a Happy New Year greeting someone sent me this morning. It fit perfectly with the topic I'd selected for today's post. I wish that the person who wrote this quote had been named. Sadly, it is anonymous.

We do remember the special moments in our lives with a clarity that I find amazing. I've had special moments that have stayed with me for the many decades I've walked this earth, and it's been those moments that have created those memoir stories that seem to be perfect for many anthologies. 

Each one of those special moments is like a pearl, and as writers, we can string them together to create a memoir of our lives. The individual moments shine in our memory bank like the pearls on a necklace. They shine and step forth clearly so we can write about them. 

One of my favorite pearls is a story I wrote for a Chicken Soup Tea Lovers book. My grandmother and I had afternoon tea at the famous Walnut Room at Marshall Field's department store in Chicago when I was four years old. Only a young child, I still remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. Because the memory remained vividly in my mind, I found I could recreate the event well enough to have the story published. Read it at  http://www.ourecho.com/story-1093-Everyday-Tea.shtml

Another is a story about a valentine box my dad made for me during my second grade year. I remember it so well, I think, because a revelation hit me while Dad and I spent time together making the box. You can listen to or read the story at http://www.ourecho.com/story-168-Love-In-A-Box.shtml


Yet a third special moment memory that produced a publishable story is about the first time I had surgery. I was four and staying in the hospital proved frightening until a beautiful and compassionate nurse eased the experience for me. She set me on a path of service to others for the rest of my life. Read it at http://www.ourecho.com/story-4423-The-Paths-We-Walk.shtml

When an event occurs in our life that has some importance in shaping our character or signifies love and family, the memory becomes more important than the mundane things in our days. The memories are stored until we pluck them out and add one more pearl to our life'sl necklace. All it takes is a little trigger to bring the memory forth. Once it's there, it's up to you to write the story. 


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Here, Christmas Gone? Maybe Not

Yesterday, I put all the Christmas decorations away. We didn't put up a tree this year because our family wasn't coming home. We were celebrating at our daughter's home instead. I did put out a lot of decorations in the living room, dining room and kitchen, and yes, even the guest bathroom. I'm a sucker for Christmas, no doubt about it.

Normally, we undecorate on New Year's Day or the day after. But this week, we weren't entertaining anyone and I suddenly felt a real urge to put it all away. Ken left shortly before 1 p.m. to play golf since the temps were to hit mid-forties, so there I was, surrounded with Christmas and trying to quell the urge to remove all the cheerful decorations. I gave in and started moving things from our main floor to the lower level where we store those off-season items.

As I worked, I thought about the treasures I was packing away for one more year. The vast majority of them were given to me as gifts, and I remember the occasion every time I arrange the figurines and candles and ornaments. Not only the occasion--I remember the person who gave the gift to me. Sometimes, there's a story that comes to mind.

While I unwound the battery-operated string of lights on the mantel greenery, I thought about Ken chasing all over town looking for the lights just before Christmas last year. The stores were literally wiped out, so this year, he went early and bought the lights. When he had the mantel greenery and lights all set, he switched on the battery pack and we had a major surprise. The lights were blue! Not what we expected, but we decided it was kind of pretty, so blue lights we'll have for years to come, I'm sure.

Today, Christmas is nowhere to be seen in our house. At least, the decorations are gone, but the glow remains. I gave several close friends a Christmas anthology book last year that had two of my stories in it. Inside the cover, I wrote Keep Christmas in your heart all year long  Months after the decorations are gone, we can reach into our hearts and find the spirit of Christmas, just as it was intended to be. The Christmas story of Jesus' birth is not one for a few weeks like the decorations. It's meant to stay with us every day of the year. It's not gone, just tucked safely away.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Clean Up Your Writing World

It's nearly the end of the year which many of us use to clean out files and drawers, closets and desks. Others wait until January makes its appearance to take on those cleaning chores. Whichever time you choose to do it, there's one more place in your life that needs tidying up. If you're a writer, that is.

In my kitchen, I sort out, rearrange and toss out things I use in my everyday cooking. In my closet, I organize some of my clothes and shoes and toss out others. The pile for the Thrift Shop I donate to grows ever bigger. My writing life needs some of the same, and I imagine yours does, as well. Hey--it's human nature to let things pile up. We all do it.

Here's a list of things you can do to organize your writing life.

1. Go through My Documents files in your computer and see which ones can be eliminated. Delete like crazy. Keep the important ones that might be of use to you for a reprint sale. Get rid of the ones you know are going nowhere. You might want to make a hard copy before you delete, keep them in a folder and mark it To Be Worked On.

2.Look over your marketing log for 2010. Try to use an objective eye. Did you send something out at least every month? How many sales did you make versus the number of submissions? If you're happy with the numbers, keep doing the same thing. If you're not, it's time to make an assessment of your marketing plan. Do you even have a plan? Or is it an As-the-mood-hits kind of thing? This is a big item in organizing your writing life.

3.  Get your income and expense records in order. Time for filing tax returns is not far away. It will make life much easier if you've kept good records all year. If not, you're going to spend a lot of precious writing time working on this.

4. Do you have a pile of writing-related stuff on your computer desk, bookcase, floor or some other part of your office? Or all of the above? Attack them one at a time and save what's worthwhile. Dump the rest.

5.  Have you started a notebook of hard copies of all of your writing? Computers crash, lose things mysteriously, so it's nice to have a back-up if a technological disaster occurs.It's also nice for your family to have those notebooks filled with your words that can be kept and passed on in your family for generations to come. (That may be wishful thinking on my part, but I still think it's a good idea!)

6.  It doesn't hurt to get your computer running in top-notch condition either. It's going to make your writing life run far more smoothly. Nothing worse than being in the middle of a story and your computer suddenly has a temper tantrum or runs so slowly, you want to pound on it in frustration.

Once you've accomplished the above (and please don't try to do it all in one day), you can give your attention to writing something new, something very 2011, something you'll be proud to submit to a selected editor. Besides which, you'll enjoy working in an organized, cleaned-up writing world.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pictures Tell A Story


The picture above is of my three youngest grandchildren, taken Christmas Day. Each of them is trying out a Christmas gift. The two kid guitars are pretty self-explanatory, but Gracen's microphone needs a few words of explanation. It's called Rock and Style, and since it was on her Wish List, I started searching for it. Nowhere to be found until I turned to Amazon.com. Success! It's a hairbrush that is a microphone that also records what you sing to it. Who thinks these things up? These three kids had a good time entertaining the rest of us. The picture doesn't reveal the fact that the guitars were both belting out different songs and Gracen singing yet a third. 

Have you ever tried writing a story from a picture prompt? My critique group has done them in the past and they were great fun. The best part was seeing the many different interpretations of one picture. Needless to say, we each get something different from a picture. The best way to write a story using a picture prompt is to  spend a little time studying it. A first glance gives you the overall picture, but once you take some time, the details begin to emerge. Perhaps the light shows you what part of the day it is, or a facial expression on a figure lets you know if it is a sad or joyous time for that person. You might depict the season if it's an outdoor picture.

Even my family photo above can be used to write a story. Maybe these three kids are going to be the first contestants on a brand new American Idol for Kids show. Or maybe the three kids have to go on stage to earn money to help their family. It can go any number of directions.

Find a picture in your house or one in a magazine, even one in a museum. Study it and create a story that comes from what you've observed in the picture. 

We had a really fine family Christmas. Being a guest instead of hostess left me stress-free. Try it, you'll like it!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Another Christmas Memory

May those of you who celebrate Christmas gather together with the spirit of this sacred holiday foremost in your minds. Embrace the warmth of family and memories of Christmases long ago. Below is one of my memories of nearly sixty years ago.

A Wish, An Angel and A Big Baby Doll'
by Nancy Julien Kopp

My bottom lip quivered when my mother laughed and said, “You’re too old for baby dolls.”

I didn’t think twelve was too old to play with dolls. My cousin, Carole, had the most wonderful baby doll, one the size of an actual infant. She wore real baby clothes. I coveted that doll more than anything I’d seen in my entire life. The one time of the year we got new toys was Christmas, so this was the perfect time to ask for one.

I took a deep breath. “Carole has one, so why shouldn’t I?”

This time my mother didn’t laugh at me. She stopped rolling the pie crust dough. “Girls who are twelve and in sixth grade don’t play with dolls. Carole’s only eleven and in the fifth grade.” She started rolling the dough again.

Why did a year make such a difference? I only had one doll, a Shirley Temple look-alike given to me six years earlier. At twelve, I had perfected sulking, and so I proceeded to do so. I watched while my two younger brothers turned the pages in the Sears catalog writing their initials next to the toys they wanted. The catalog filled quickly with the letters H and P. It probably wasn’t worth putting any N’s there. I only wanted one thing, and it looked like I wasn’t going to get it.

Even so, I harbored a twinge of hope all through the weeks that led up to the big day. We lived in a small apartment with little storage space, so my mother wrapped the gifts she purchased immediately and stacked them on the dressers in my parents’ bedroom. She delighted in sending us in there on made-up errands so we could watch the piles grow. I didn’t see a box that might hold a life-size baby doll. Maybe tomorrow….

Signs of Christmas were all around us. We listened to an episode of the The Cinnamon Bear on the radio every day after school. The same story about two children and a stuffed bear searching for a special star ran every year in December, and despite knowing the ending, I listened every afternoon after school while I snacked on the latest Christmas cookies that appeared daily, washing them down with cold milk. But I thought about the big baby doll.

Mom baked many kinds of cookies, storing them in gaily patterned tins. I helped frost the sugar cookies and sampled the others that came out of the oven as soon as they cooled. Tiny rolled-up rugelach, powdered-sugar-coated crescents, and of course, chocolate chip. Cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, and frosted layer cakes made our holiday special. We had fudge every Christmas—so soft and gooey, it had to be eaten with a spoon. While the spicy smells of the holiday filled the air, I thought about the doll.

A few days before Christmas, Dad put up the tree and strung the colored lights. Next, we three kids hung the ornaments. Being oldest, I was in charge of the upper branches. Howard worked on the next tier, and Paul, who was only four, put ornaments on the bottom branches. We finished with silver tinsel that shimmered in the Christmas tree lights. Christmas music played on our big console radio in the living room. If I got my doll Christmas morning, it would be a perfect holiday.

A special angel adorned every tree of my growing-up years. Mom pressed the angel’s pink satin dress, smoothed out her gold wings, and fluffed up her hair so she was ready to stand on top of our tree, watching over us. Dad waited until we decorated the entire tree, then he put the angel on the highest point. That year—1951-- I wondered if angels could grant special Christmas wishes. Just in case, I silently told her mine. She didn’t laugh or scold, just smiled sweetly while I inhaled the special aroma of the fir tree.

On Christmas Eve, we kids brought one of our everyday socks to the living room and Mom pinned them onto the back of an overstuffed chair since we had no fireplace with a mantel. We knew Santa would fill them with an orange, walnuts still in the shells and a few pieces of candy. Before we went to bed, Howard, Paul and I brought out all the colorful packages from the bedroom and watched as Dad arranged them under the tree.

It seemed almost magical with the lights, ornaments and the packages filled with secrets underneath, all watched over by the sweet pink angel on the top. All too soon, we were shooed off to bed with the annual reminder that the sooner we went to sleep, the sooner Christmas would arrive.

In the morning, my brothers found the special gifts Santa brought them next to the tree, for Santa never wrapped his gifts. The boys knew immediately who they were from. Each of them received one of the items they’d marked in the Sears catalog weeks earlier. No Santa gift for me. Twelve year old girls didn’t play with dolls and they didn’t get gifts from Santa either. I swallowed my disappointment and settled down on the sofa waiting for Dad to pass out the wrapped packages, one by one.

We opened many packages that held practical items like new socks or pajamas and others that had small toys and comic books, some jewelry for me. I noticed a good-sized box in the corner that I hadn’t seen the night before. When we’d opened all the others, Dad handed me the big box. I looked at him and Mom, then at the angel on the tree. Could it possibly be?

“Open it,” Dad said.

I ripped the paper off and removed the lid, and gazed down on the face of the big baby doll I’d hoped for. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or hug my parents. Instead, I lifted the doll carefully out of the box and cradled her against me.

I looked at my mother still in her bathrobe and slippers on this holiday morning. My bottom lip quivered once again, but I finally got the words out. “But you said I was too old for dolls.”

“Sometimes mothers are wrong. Daddy and I decided that if it was something you wanted so very much, you should have it. You’ve never had a lot of dolls like some girls.”

I laid my treasure on the sofa and rushed to my mother’s side. I hugged her and thanked her and then put my arms around my dad and squeezed hard, whispering my thanks in his ear.

Everyone moved to the kitchen to eat breakfast, but before I joined them, I stopped to say a silent thank you to the pink angel on the treetop. I picked up my special Christmas gift thinking about the fun Carole and I would have later in the day when her family joined ours for dinner.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Crazy Coffeecake and Other Baking Disasters

Two days in a row this week I've had baking disasters. In a hurry while making shortbread cookies, I inadvertently grabbed a half cup measure instead of a full cup when adding flour. I finished mixing the dough and put it in the fridge to chill. When I tried rolling the dough into balls a couple hours later, the dough felt kind of greasy to me. Halfway finished, it hit me what I'd done. My dough was about 80% butter and 20% flour. Ooops!

I tried baking one tray to see what happened, and the cookies that should bake into nice rounded top gems came out of the oven flat as a French crepe. In the trash with them and back to the drawing board. I made the the correct way that evening.

As if that wasn't enough, another baking disaster hit yesterday. I made a sour cream coffeecake in a bundt pan. I'd planned to use my angel-food cake tube pan, but the recipe called for the bundt pan. It would look nice that way, I thought, so I greased it well with Crisco and popped it into the oven to bake. This particular recipe is from the Silver Palate cookbook of some fame a number of years ago, so I knew it would be good.

Took it out of the oven and let it sit the suggested ten minutes before turning it out of the pan. I loosened the edges with a knife and then turned it over. Out came the cake. Oooops, not the cake, 2/3 of the cake only. The rest remained in the pan. I mumbled and grumbled and loosened the remaining cake from the pan, then tried to remove it piece by piece. I plopped it on top of the cake on the cooling rack and stepped back to see how it looked. A disaster! It looked like a bomb had hit it. It looked like one crazy coffeecake. I nibbled a piece that had fallen off and it tasted great. What to do? Decided to keep it for us and put it in the freezer, I just could not bring myself to take it to our daughter's house.

This morning, Ken and I had a piece with our scrambled eggs, and it tasted soooo good. I looked at my cake, then at my husband and asked him--"What if I take this cake with me and tell the kids it's called a crazy coffeecake?" We both smiled and the decision was made.

I have a feeling my baking disasters of this year will be a story next year and the year after. It's these little things that happen in our lives that create the memories from which stories are born. So, if you have a baking or cooking disaster, don't despair. Just write a story about it.

For the record, I have a reputation as a pretty good baker. Maybe not after the Christmas of 2010!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Surprise On My Porch

When I went out to get the mail yesterday, I found a small box on my porch, left by the UPS man. A Christmas gift? Something one of us had ordered? When I looked at the return address, it made me smile, and I knew immediately what it was.

The box was sent by the Guideposts publishers. Inside were two copies of the most recent book in their Extraordinary Answers To Prayer series. This particular anthology is titled In Times Of Change. My story "The Right Prayer" is in the book and is also referred to on the back cover.

The book has an eye-pleasing hard cover. It's done in shades of soft greens and has a picture of a colorful butterfly on what appears to be a wheat stalk. All the stories in the book are about turning to God when we face transitions in our lives. They have not received the wide attention that the Chicken Soup anthologies garner, but they are every bit as well done. The Guideposts name is one recognized in the Christian world, and that alone would draw readers.

I know that some browsers in a bookstore might pass right by. If they do, they are missing an opportunity to read true stories about how other people handle changes that afflict so many of us. Along with the prayer factor, I think there are many good messages for readers in these books.

My story is about our first baby who was born with a serious birth defect. Her birth changed our lives in more ways than I could ever imagine. Other stories in the book deal with addiction, job loss, even a hostage situation. After browsing through the book, I'm looking forward to reading it.

If you're looking for one more Christmas gift, you might consider this book. Or maybe make a gift of it to yourself. For me, finding the book on my porch was an early Christmas gift.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Movie Remakes--More Thoughts

Several weeks ago, I wrote about being aggravated at the thought of the Coen brothers remaking a wonderful old movie. Many years ago, John Wayne starred in True Grit which became a classic. Maybe because it was one of Wayne's last movies and his thousands of fans wanted to hold on to it. Why mess with success? was my take on remaking the film.Leave my pleasant memories alone.

But this morning's newspaper had a review of the Coen's True Grit. They gave it four stars. Rarely does a film critic award four stars, so when I saw those four sharp-pointed symbols, I decided I'd better read the review.The headline on the review also drew me in. True Excellence was printed in very large and bold letters. I've written often enough about the importance of titles, and here was a perfect example. There was no way I could ignore it.

The original movie script was based on Charles Portis' novel of the same name, published in 1968. That's nearly 43 years ago. Wouldn't any novelist be pleased to have a story that was still in the public eye that far down the line?

The movie debuts at midnight tonight. Since there were no Christmas movies made for this holiday season of 2010 (most unusual), maybe you'd like to go see True Grit this week. If you do, while you watch the movie, think of the man who wrote the story so many years ago. It's his story you're watching, even if a different adaptation by the outstanding brother team of Ethan and Joel Coen.

If you'd like to read the sparkling review from the Kansas City Star, go to  http://www.kansascity.com/2010/12/20/2533429/true-grit-true-excellence-4-stars.html

I'm intrigued enough by the review that I am considering going to see the movie. I may have to retract all I said in that first posting about remakes of old films.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Write Christmas Stories NOW

Christmas stories! They're loved by so many and therefore published by myriad numbers of magazines, websites, newspapers and book publishers. They need to be marketed months and months ahead of the Christmas season. Think of how many editors are reading Christmas stories as air-conditioners keep their offices cool on a hot summer day.

Should you write a Christmas story in Apirl or June so you can send it out in July? Some writers can do it, but for me, my best Christmas stories have been written during the Christmas season. The simple reason is that during December, when we're surrounded by Christmas and all that it involves--from the religious to the commercial side--we have more emotion to spread through our story. We feel the story inside so strongly that we can write it easily.It's a time when so many memories are triggered. It's now that we need to write our Christmas stories.

I hear your question loud and clear Doesn't that mean my story won't have a chance of being seen until next Christmas?. You're right. Unless you send to a website that publishes instantly, it probably will not find a home for about a year. But that's okay. Your aim is to publish your work, no matter how long it takes. Remember that one of the keywords for all writers is patience.

Write your Christmas story now. Write it while the scents of this beloved holiday are wafting through your home and other places you go. Write it while the sights and happenings of Christmas touch your heart. Write it while you hear the sounds of Christmas--the bells, the carolers, the commercial songs. Write it while you care about it. Don't wait until March and hope you can dredge up those Christmas emotions while drinking green beer on St. Pat's Day.

Write it now, then put it in a file marked "Christmas Stories" and keep that file somewhere that you'll see it occasionally. Come spring, go through the stories in that file and study market guides to see where you might submit your work.

You're busy with Christmas preparations. We who celebrate this holiday are all in the same boat, different paddle. Make writing your Christmas story a part of your Christmas tasks. Write it NOW!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Making Time

How often have you said "I don't have time to _______." Fill in the blank for yourself. Anyone who writes is going to use write the blank. This month, those of us preparing for Christmas could put that in capital letters. The  shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking, partying, cards all demand our attention during December.

Besides that, the laundry still calls to us, meals need to be cooked, groceries bought, tables dusted occasionally, All the routine things need to be fitted in around the holiday chores and pleasures. So where does that leave our writing?

Sounds like it may be pretty much put out in the closest snowbank and left there.Time is precious, more so this month. But it's the old story. You can make  time to write. Somehow, we always seem to find, or make, time for the things we like to do. Don't shake your head. You know it's true. It's quite easy to use time as an excuse for the things we don't enjoy doing.

Maybe you need to ask yourself how much you enjoy writing. If it's a real chore, it will be easy to claim the 'no time' excuse. But, if you love to write, you'll find those extra minutes in the day. Nothing says you have to be at your computer to write. You can write in your head while you fold laundry or fill the dishwasher. Of course, you'll want to write down keywords or phrases so you don't lose those little gems. You can get up a little bit earlier than usual and write, or you can stay up a tad later and write. You can write with a pad and pen while waiting in the dentist's office.

You can find time to write if you truly want to and if you're a little bit creative. If it isn't going to happen this month, make it happen in January for sure.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Title Talk

Earlier this fall, I revised an old story about our family excursions to a Christmas Tree lot back in the 1940's. I sent it to Heartwarmer's com and forgot about it. Heartwarmers doesn't let writers know their work was accepted or rejected. They say they're too busy. OK.

But, if and when, a submission is posted on the site, it's a nice surprise. I saw that Heartwarmers newsletter had arrived in in inbox yesterday, but the title of the story meant nothing to me, so I moved on to other more important messages, intending to come back to this one later. Before I could do so, I got a message from a friend who said she'd really enjoyed my story at Heartwarmers story today. More than surprise, it was a shock.

So, I quickly opened Heartwarmers and scrolled down to see my story about Christmas trees. The editors had changed the original title, which is why I didn't recognize it when I saw it. The title I'd used was pretty generic. In fact, it was a working title which never got changed. I'd called "Finding The Right Christmas Tree" which is not a title to draw a reader in very quickly.

The editor at Heartwarmers changed it to "A Pink Dress and Golden Wings" which was a reference  the part of the story that tells of an angel that sat atop our family tree year after year. It's a title that would hook a reader far better than the one I'd given it originally. Sometimes, when editors change things in our work, we cringe, we rage, we feel deflated, but this time it was an excellent change. I was most happy with it and I plan to write to the editor to say so.

It shows what importance a title has. It's the title that first draws a reader, so writers need to pay careful attention to what they select. As I said, the original was a working title. I told myself I'd find a better title later on, but I never did. Seeing the difference between these two titles was an eye-opening experience for me yesterday.

Take a look at some of the stories you haven't been able to sell and consider a title change. Make it a memorable title and the piece just might sell.

If you'd like to read the story, go to http://www.ourecho.com/story-6603-A-Pink-Dress-and-Golden-Wings.shtml  I posted the story at Our Echo because the Heartwarmers newsletter is available only to those who subscribe to it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Liz, Richard and the Book Club Discussion

I told you awhile back about the book that I started and refused to finish for my Book Club. Yesterday was our meeting. After coffee was poured, a little chit-chat, and settling into comfortable chairs, we began the discussion with a question for the hostess.

"Why," asked one member, "did you select this book about celebrities of long ago?"

Our hostess said that when she was a teen-ager, she devoured movie magazines and this book was like reading them all over again. To learn all about the love life, the highs and lows of the Taylor-Burton romance/tragedy.

Of seven people there, four didn't like the book, one was on the fence and two adored it. But, as the discussion moved on, we were all engrossed in dredging up memories of movie stars from fifty or more years ago. Names like Eddie Fischer, Debbie Reynolds, Ingrid Bergman, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney popped up. We all agreed that these stars were manipulated by the studios who owned them and hounded by the press while being embraced by the public. They were the days when people who made movies were 'stars' in every sense of the word. And they lasted for a good many years. It seems the movie people of today are here one day and gone the next, except for a few.

Even though I didn't finish the book and I didn't like it, I have to admit that I definitely enjoyed the discussion we had yesterday. It was lively and interesting from start to finish.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Nice Feeling

Last night, a story appeared on the front page of our local newspaper in the Neighbors section. Once a week, someone in our town of 52,000 people is featured, and this week it was me. A reporter contacted me a couple of weeks ago after she received a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic book from the publicity department of the publisher. They often send a book to local media for each author.

She asked if I'd consider doing an interview and being featured. All writers today are pushed to build a platform, and being publicized in all forms is important. That, plus the fact that I felt flattered, brought a positive answer from me.

Two weeks ago, I met Kimber Wallace, the reporter at the newspaper office and we had a nice visit. At least, that's what it seemed like. Not an interview but one writer visiting with another. She had a tape recorder going and used it plus notes she took to write the article. A few days ago, a photographer came to my home and took about twenty pictures.  The one they used is of me sitting at the computer, elbow on a stack of my books and hand on cheek. A pensive image. I'm not the world's most photogenic person so I was pleased with the picture as it captured me pretty well.

Kimber's approach to the article was to feature an ex-teacher who has become a hobbyist writer and been successful at it. She featured my blog and the anthologies I've had stories in. I liked very much the way she summed it up with a final quote from me. It's interesting to read your own quote and be happy about it!

The final paragraph was:

"I'm not a career writer," Kopp said. "But as long as I have a mind, I'll be writing. I'm sure I will. It's just something that's very satisfying, and it's who I am now."

The final phrase--it's who I am now--pretty well covers it all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Chicken Soup Christmas Story


Several weeks ago, I received my copies of this year's Christmas Chicken Soup for the Soul book. My story, "My Special Christmas Doll," is in the book. Part of the story was eliminated by the editors because they deemed it would not make the story 'Santa Safe." I understood that, but I also felt like a special part of the story was missing. So, here is the story, as I wrote it originally. The part that my mother and grandmother played is not in the book version. 

 My Special Christmas Doll

By Nancy Julien Kopp

 A special doll named Katherine lives in my four-year-old granddaughter’s room. The doll perches on the window seat, arms out and head cocked a bit. Muted red polish covers her fingernails, and a few of her fingers and toes are chipped. The doll’s dark blonde hair could use a bit of attention, for it looks limp and badly in need of a stylist.

 “This was my mommy’s doll,” Jordan tells me.

I pick up the doll, smooth the flower-print flannel gown she wears. “A long time ago, she belonged to me.”  I give Katherine a little hug and place her on the window seat again.

Jordan grasps my hand.  “I know that, Grandma. Will you tell me about her?”

I scoop Jordan into my arms. “Time for bed now, but maybe tomorrow we’ll talk about Katherine.” I tuck her into bed and kiss her twice.

Later that evening, I sip a cup of tea and think about the doll Santa brought me more than sixty years ago. The decades slip away like quicksilver, and I am six years old again. My parents and little brother are asleep, still snuggled under warm comforters, but I’m tip-toeing down the hallway early on Christmas morning. It’s so quiet and very dark in the hallway, but I know my destination and continue on.

When I reach the living room, the early morning light filters through the windows. I kneel in front of the decorated Christmas tree, and a little shiver runs up my spine. It’s cold in our apartment, but the shiver comes from what I spy next to the gaily wrapped packages. Santa left me a beautiful doll looking very much like Shirley Temple. She’s dressed in a bridal gown made of a snowy, gossamer material. Tiny satin rosettes run from waist to hem, and lace adorns the neckline and sleeves. The matching veil, trimmed in lace, surrounds her head like a billowy cloud. A white nightgown and soft blue robe lie beside her. It’s the kind seen only in the movies. So pretty! Her dark blonde hair curls to perfection, and her eyes appear to glow. I inch as close as I dare, for I know I should not touch her yet, not until Mommy and Daddy wake up. For now, the anticipation of holding her seems to be enough. I name her Katherine while I wait for my family to wake up.

Years later, I learned that my mother had made the bridal gown and night clothes for the doll in the late hours on December nights. My grandmother was the one who took
hair she’d saved from my mother’s first haircut to a specialty shop where they created a wig for my doll. Hearts and hands joined in this special gift.

I played with Katherine for many years, then saved her in hopes I might pass my special doll to a daughter someday. My daughter, Karen, loved the doll too, even though she no longer had the original clothes. Once again, Katherine made a little girl happy. Karen secreted the doll away in hopes that she, too, could pass her on to her own child someday. Now, Karen’s daughter, Jordan, is the keeper of the doll. Though a bit tattered, Katherine’s smile is just as sweet, and her blue eyes still appear to shine. Even her wilted curls are precious to me and to Karen.

I think one day Jordan will feel the same, for she is our special family doll and always will be. I will tell my granddaughter about the Christmas I found Katherine under the tree, and later, when she’s older, I will relate the part of the story about Jordan’s great-grandmother who made special clothes for Katherine, and about her great-great grandmother who saved her child’s hair to make into a wig for a doll.

This one cherished doll holds five generations of my family within her heart. Two created her, three have played with her, and all have loved her. I hope Jordan will have a daughter one day so that this chain of love might continue.

  

Friday, December 10, 2010

Czech Christmas Party

Tonight we will be attending a Christmas party for the Czech Exchange students at Kansas State University. Since we're an American Host Family for one or two of the students every year, we help with the food at this party. There'll be big pots of Vegetable Soup and Chili, cheese and relish trays and an assortment of Christmas cookies which I have baked this week.

Most of the Czech students have little or no religious background, so their Christmas celebrations are strictly commercial. But they have told us of some of their traditions at Christmas, and many extend back generations when the Czech people were a mostly Christian nation. And they know the Christmas Nativity story, but most of them consider it just that --a story. Sometimes seeds are planted when a story is told and retold.

We'll sing American Christmas carols after dinner.The one carol the students are familiar with is "Silent Night" which seems to be the universal Christmas song. They hear it more often in the original German, however. In past years, the students have gathered together and sung several Czech Christmas songs for us. It's then that the spirit of Christmas is so evident. The love and the giving that personifies the story of Christ's birth surround us, and another memory is made for these young people spending a year of their life in our country.

Every year, as I listen to them and watch their faces, it makes me wonder how many of them suddenly experience a little homesickness upon singing words so wrapped in their family and country tradition. There's no age limit on being homesick. Most of the students are 21 to 24 years old, not little kids, but I'm guessing they miss their families at this time of year a great deal. Many will not fly home for Christmas. Instead, they'll stay here in the USA and travel during the university break time. So tonight may be the only Christmas some of them have.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

When Freedom Goes Too Far

A facebook friend has a plea posted to stop the attack on the wikileaks people. Her reasoning (and that of the many others who are signing up for the page) is that attacking wikileaks is attacking freedom of speech. As dear as this friend is to me, I was pretty turned off by the fact that there is a groundswell out there of people who are championing a man who has put other lives in danger.

Much of the stuff leaked would not do that, but some of it does, and if one life is put on the line because of this man's giant ego trip, then I feel freedom has gone too far.

I most definitely believe in freedom of speech. To writers and TV journalists, it probably takes a jump high on the list of important things in life. Words, after all, are their livelihood, and they want to be free to say what they believe. But rest assured, if some TV journalist exposed secrets of a country which put lives in danger, he'd be off the air in a hurry.

Freedom of speech is one of our rights, but we need to balance it with some common sense. I mean that in all our writing, not just referring to Julian Assange. Common sense seems to be seen less and less in today's world. People on the left want it all their way and people on the right the same. I see selfishness in places where common sense should prevail. I see ego trips where humility would be the better choice.

I have the right to freely express my opinion, which I've just done here, but I also have the responsibility to not put others in danger when I exercise my right to free speech. And my friend has the right to exercise her opinion defending Julian Assange's attack on the world. We all have that right, but we also have the right to disagree.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Cookie Stories

I started baking Christmas cookies yesterday as I have to bring an assortment to our Czech Exchange student party Friday evening. I decided to make three kinds on Tuesday, three more on Wednesday and maybe one other on Friday to have a nice variety for the party with some left over for our freezer. 

As I assembled ingredients, pulled out cookie sheets, bowls and cooling racks, I thought about a friend of mine who baked dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies with another woman every December. Mary Helen and her friend, Ellen, spent an entire day creating delectable cookies. All Mary Helen's friends knew not to bother her on that busy day. Just once, I stopped by to drop something off and I have never forgotten the fantastic aroma that greeted me as I walked in. Butter, cinnamon, vanilla and chocolate all mingled into one glorious cloud that met my nose. Every counter, every tabletop held baked cookies, ready to be put into tins. Ellen took hers home and Mary Helen stacked hers in a place that was known to her family but off-limits until she gave the OK to open the tins and eat the cookies. Had she not enforced her rule, there would have been no cookies left by Christmas week with four children and a hungry husband dipping into the stash. That annual cookie making extravaganza was a part of my friend's personality. The baking and decorating of special treats for people she loved showed the world how much she cared about others. My dear friend has been gone for many years, but I think her youngest daughter carries on the Christmas cookie tradition. Maybe not quite like her mom did, because Amy is a teacher and mother of two whose time is more limited. Still, I'm sure she spends some December Saturdays baking cookies for her family and friends.

Every family probably has a story about special cookies their mother or grandmother always made for Christmas. My mother made Crescent Cookies every December. Today, the same recipe is called Mexican Wedding Cakes, but they're made into round balls instead of the crescent shape. Filled with finely chopped nuts and dusted with layers of powdered sugar, these small cookies melted in your mouth. One of my brothers loved them so much, he asked his wife to make them for him. And I believe she still does. My daughter loves them, too. Maybe I need to make some this year for her, and I'll snatch a few myself.

 Toffee Bars always showed up on my mother's Christmas cookie plate. An easy bar cookie made in two three steps, these are still a favorite of mine. The brown sugar based cookie layer is baked in a 9 x 13 pan, then a bag of chocolate chips are put on top and, after melting, are spread over the baked layer. Step three is to scatter finely chopped walnuts over the soft chocolate, then cut into bars. Every time I eat them, I am transported back to our gray formica kitchen table in our small third floor apartment where I often sat with one of these satisfying cookies and a glass of milk after school.

No doubt you all have cookie stories that you can write about. Maybe there is a favorite that is made every year, carrying on a tradition. Or maybe you have a story about a disaster in the kitchen when making Christmas cookies. Perhaps, your family made the cookies to give to those who had none. Whatever your story is, write it down and share it this Christmas with others.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Small Steps

We had the car radio on as we drove to the K-State basketball game last night. The announcer was talking about one of the newer players on the team. "He has to take it in small steps," he said. The thought flashed through my mind that the same is true for writers.

When we begin writing, we dream of being published in major magazines or having a blockbuster first novel. That would be great, but it really is a dream. It's rare that somebody hits the bigtime right out of the gate. Even moving along the writing path in leaps and bounds is not the usual way a write moves.

Instead, the vast majority of us take small steps, one at a time. Those small steps add up as time goes on, and we draw closer and closer to our goals. We hit a few bumps in the road along the way. Too many rejections shower us with disappointment, maybe a bit of anger, and definitely some doubt.

Believe in yourself and keep taking those small steps. You can move around those bumps in the road with some patience and perseverance. Both are key to reaching that dream.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Must I Finish?

My Book Club is reading a nonfiction book this month. It's called Furious Love and is about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's love affair and marriages. I figured it was an old book and something the person who selected it had read before. Not so!

It was published this year. Why dredge all this stuff up now, I wondered. I was reading another book so didn't get to this one as soon as I hoped. I knew I needed to as it is nearly 500 pages. So, one night I sat down and began to read. After one chapter, I knew I'd learned all I ever needed to know about these two stars of yesterday. And I was there reading all about it as these things happened. The making of the budget-breaking movie, Cleopatra, was in the news all the time while it was being filmed. I finished the chapter and went to bed.

The next morning, I made a monumental decision. No way was I going to suffer through the remainder of the book. I say that the decision was monumental because it's very hard for me not to finish something I've started. I was raised by very strict parents who demanded that anything begun was to come full circle to the conclusion. No matter how painful it might be. This included household chores, schoolwork, activities and groups we kids joined and others. It didn't take too long for finishing things to become ingrained into our personalities.

But at the age I've reached, it's perfectly alright for me to decide whether to finish a book or not. Yes, I'll have to admit it at Book Club next week, and I won't feel too good about that. It may hurt the feelings of the person who selected the book, but there's no reason to read something that I consider drivel.

After I put the book aside, I mentioned it to two other members of our group, and one said, "I got through two or three chapters and decided it was enough!" The other one told me she'd only scanned it after reading the first few pages. So, I'll have company in my confession.

I'd like to know what age group of people are buying and reading this book. I think seniors like me have had enough of the lives of celebrities. I must add that there is nothing wrong with the writing. The author did a fine job in what she set out to do. It's the subject matter that turned me off.

Now that I haven't finished this book, maybe there will be others in the future. From now on, if I don't like what I'm reading, I'm done! And I will have no guilt. Not all books are meant for all people. Time is precious. Read only the things you really like.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Christmas Card List

I've been addressing Christmas cards off and on for the past week. It's a chore so many people dread at holiday time, but there's something about it that I've always enjoyed. My list is far too long, and every year I plan to cut a few people. After all, many are ones I only correspond with once a year.

But that's exactly why I can never take their name off my list. At one time in my life (or Ken's) they meant something to us and still do. Each name I come to brings back a memory of some kind. I still hear from a couple of my friends I knew while growing-up in suburban Chicago. We share many years of childhood memories. Then there are college friends for both Ken and me. We've stayed in touch with several of them, and even though we live far from one another, I still care about them. I still treasure the memories of those four years we spent as close pals.

We've lived in five communities in the forty-six years we've been married, and there are several people in each town that we exchange cards with. Once again, they were a part of our lives and people we've cared enough about to keep in touch.

Family members are on the list, too, for how could we forget them? Siblings, our children, even many cousins.Those ties are hard to break, nor do I want to.

We meet a lot of people in a lifetime, but there are some that we click with and want to continue friendships. What better way to do that than exchange Christmas cards with personal notes on them? Or even the one- letter-fits-all kind of note. I like to know what is going on with these people, what new babies have come into the family, what happy things have occurred, and yes, even what health issues or sad events have taken place.

So, I'll keep my list the length it is and make it a priority for my Christmas preparations. I look forward to hearing the mailman's truck during December as he brings us wonderful cards and notes from so many parts of our country and even from overseas.

Each one of those cards has a history for me. I could probably sit down and write a story about each and every sender, but other Christmas chores demand my attention now, and once Christmas is over, the thought goes on the back burner. It would be nice, though, to have a booklet of stories about people on my Christmas card list.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December Memories

Yesterday, I gave you some questions to trigger your memories of December from long ago. Today, I'm posting one I wrote about December of my Chicago suburban childhood awhile back. These monthly memory pieces will give your family an excellent picture of what your life was like back in the "olden days" as our kids think of our childhood.


December Thoughts

By Nancy Julien Kopp

When I was growing up, on December first my mother turned to the last page on the calendar and planted the seed of anticipation of what was to come. “Oh look, it’s December,” she’d often remark. And immediately, my brothers and I started thinking about what we wanted Santa to leave under our tree. Our excitement grew day by day.

We turned the pages in the toy section of the Sears catalog over and over again, and we marked the initial of our first name by the items we wanted most, confident that Santa would bring at least one of our heart’s desires.

I looked forward to the time right after school in December because a Chicago radio station ran a serialized children’s story called “The Cinnamon Bear” which became a real part of Christmas for me over the years. The adventures of the two children and the Cinnamon Bear never changed, it was the same story every year, but that didn’t matter. I listened to each episode as if it were brand new and thrilled to the happy ending each year.

After a long, cold walk at the end of school on December days, the smell of Christmas greeted me the moment I reached home. I’d open the door to the pine scent of the Christmas tree mingled with the many delicacies Mother baked. She made an assortment of cookies that pleased every palate. Cinnamon rolls with icing drizzled over the top tasted so good straight from the oven. Coffeecakes, muffins, homemade bread and even her fudge, that never did get firm enough to pick up, graced our December table. Memories of a warm kitchen, the air filled with spicy aromas, and an after-school cup of hot chocolate and a fresh-baked treat remain with me these many years later.

Because our apartment had little storage space, Mother wrapped the gifts as she bought them and then stacked them up on the dressers in her bedroom. All through December, she would send my brothers and me on little errands to that bedroom. “Bring my pincushion,” she’d say, and off I’d go to the bedroom to get it. The sight of the stack of gaily wrapped packages made me unbearably curious, but I knew better than to shake the packages. All I did was look and wonder which ones were mine.

I enjoyed buying gifts for my family almost as much as receiving them. I babysat neighborhood children from the time I was about ten for 25 cents an hour, and I saved some of that hard-earned cash all year for Christmas purchases. I bought gifts for each member of my family and also for some of the children I took care of. At our school parties we were to bring a grab bag gift with a limited dollar amount. It was to be marked whether for a boy or a girl. They were always small things, but I looked forward to getting that grab bag gift every year. It was the highlight of our class party, always held on the final day before the Christmas break.

Close to Christmas, the postman delivered a big box filled with packages from my aunt and uncle who lived in far-away Phoenix. Aunt Jane wrapped her gifts fancier than my mother did, and seeing them each year was sheer pleasure. I’d check all of them to see which one was mine and wonder if I could wait until Christmas morning to open it. But wait I did, as there was never any opening of gifts until the specified time. On Christmas Eve Mother would send us into the bedroom to bring the stacked packages out to the living room and we watched as my dad placed them around the tree. Oh, what a glittering array it was by the time he’d finished. All evening I kept my eye on those packages, while little shivers of excitement ran up and down my spine. Mother shooed us to bed early, but not until we’d pinned one of our everyday socks to the back of a chair. “The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner Santa will come.” It was her Christmas Eve mantra.

In the morning, we children tumbled out of bed and rushed to the living room to see what Santa had left us. Santa’s gifts were never wrapped but sitting somewhere near the tree. We all knew which one was ours, for hadn’t we marked our wishes in the Sears catalog? After the excitement of seeing the surprises from Santa and checking our stockings, which always held an orange and walnuts in the shell, we opened the gifts one by one, as Dad passed them out. Often, the packages held little things or something to wear, but a few had new toys that thrilled us.

After we opened our gifts, we had a big breakfast, and it was the one day of the year I was allowed to eat fudge early in the morning, a Christmas treat. The rest of the day we played with our new toys and I helped Mother in the kitchen with a special Christmas dinner. Often it was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, a special dish my grandmother passed down. Sometimes my Aunt Vivienne and Uncle Jimmy came for Christmas dinner. Their daughter, Carol, was my age and an only child. She always got many more gifts than I did, but it never seemed to bother me. I accepted the fact that she didn’t have brothers to share with like I did.

December holds many happy family memories. Our Christmases today are somewhat different than those of long ago, as we’ve made our own traditions with our children, as they are doing with theirs now, too. But the warmth of a family celebrating together remains constant, and I pray it always will.



Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It's December!

Have you turned the page on your 2010 calendar? There it is, the final month of the year. It's December, filled with holiday must-do activities and fun social event along with the routine things.. December also brings a lot of memories. I's the perfect time for writing down your childhood memories of this last month of the year.. They'll be decidedly different from your adult December days, I'm sure.

Here are a few questions to trigger those December memories:

1.  What did you do in your classroom this month?

2.  What changes took place at home?

3.  What differences did you see in your neighborhood shops?

4.  What kind of foods did your mom make only in December?

5.  Were church services and children's programs part of your December?

6.  Were the days longer or shorter for you this month?

7.. What special programs did you listen to on radio or watch on TV?

8.  When did you learn that giving was as gratifying as receiving?

9.  What's your favorite holiday family story?

I'll post my December memories tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Non-Fiction--Which Kind Do You Like To Write?

Yesterday, Ken and I went to the Landon Lecture on the K-State campus. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health in President Obama's cabinet, presented an overview of public health issues facing our country and the positive aspects of the new healthcare reform bill. Ms. Sebelius served almost two terms as governor of our state of Kansas before being tapped for this Washington, DC position eighteen months ago.

There was a question and answer period following the speech, and I found it quite interesting--not because of the questions but because of those asking the questions. Normally, students ask the majority of questions, but this time only one student presented a question, and the others were all well-established, older people who had professional careers. Perhaps the students don't see health issues and healthcare as a burning interest for them. Youth tends to think they will never get sick or incapacitated, nor are they paying healthcare premiums. Mom and Dad usually take care of that while they're in school.

After the lecture concluded, those who are patrons of the Lecture Series attended a luncheon and then listened to Ms. Sebelius again, but this time her remarks were quite different. In the first speech, she presented facts and figures such as would be found in a purely nonfiction article. Had she been writing for a magazine, she'd have had side bars with graphs and statistics sprinkled throughout the text. Readers receive information in the most basic way in this type of article.

Her talk after the luncheon could be compared to creative non-fiction. She related many anecdotes that gave listeners a picture of how her life has changed since being governor of our state. We learned some more facts, but we learned it in a personal, creative way. Had she been writing for a magazine, her work would be a personal essay. It had the human element that the first speech did not.

Many writers make a good living writing non-fiction that gives information and nothing more, but writing creative non-fiction is the choice of many other writers. It's the type of non-fiction I prefer to write because people and the human element are very important to me. There's a market for both kinds of non-fiction, and myriad writing instructors and writing books will tell you that selling non-fiction is easier than fiction. If you're a frustrated fiction writer, give creative non-fiction a try. Tell a true story but give it that 'good fiction story' slant and you may find a new niche for yourself.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Anthology Week

Besides a nice Thanksgiving, last week was Anthology Week for me.I received a contract from one, sent a story to another, and found a copy of another with my work in it waiting for me in the mailbox.

The contract came from Silver Boomer Books. My story, "My Path To Books," will be included in their latest anthology book, Flashlight Memories. The book's theme is reading in our growing-up years. It should have some interesting tales. The original title of my story was "How I Learned To Love Books" but the publishers changed it. I had no problem with what they chose, so it wasn't an issue. What is an issue is the small amount they pay authors in comparison to other anthologies. I shouldn't have a problem with it since I knew when I submitted my story what they were going to pay. I knew, and I accept it, but it still irritates me as I spent as much time and effort for this story as I do on ones that land in much higher paying books. As long as writers are willing to submit to low-paying publishers, it will not change.

I submitted a story to a Holiday Memories Contest sponsored by Cup of Comfort, one of the better known anthologies. You can enter, too, at http://www.cupofcomfort.com/story-submission/call-for-submissions

The anthology in my mailbox was one called Thin Threads with a subtitle of more real stories of life-changing moments. "College Isn't For Girls" is a story that definitely fits that theme. This is the first time I've had anything in a Thin Threads book. It's a nicely done large paperback with a glossy cover.

Have you got any stories to send to anthologies? If so, they won't get published unless you submit them. Be prepared for a long wait, but you might have a good anthology week just like I did.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Thoughts

Thanksgiving is now yesterday's memory, and thousands of people are celebrating the next holiday--Black Friday! Promoted mercilessly by retailers, this is the shoppers paradise, the day when Christmas shoppers show up in dark parking lots in the wee hours of the morning. All to get in line for the major bargains being offered.

My personal reaction to doing this is "No Way--Ever!" I can't imagine tip-toeing out of my bedroom and into the cold garage at 4 a.m or earlier. If I was in the car headed to the mall, I'd keep asking myself foolish questions which have even more foolish answers. And then I'd have to fight crowds and maybe even fight another woman who claimed the same item I wanted. Manners go out the door on a day like this, it's every woman for herself. And a few men, as well.

No, it's not my cup of tea, but I know people who look forward to this day all year. I think it's more of a game to them than about saving money. Not for all, of course, but for many.

My writer mind got to thinking about writing a short fiction piece about a Black Friday encounter. It might end up being a romance. Imagine telling your children years later that you met while racing through a department store aisle trying to get the last electronic whatever. Or it could easily become a mystery. How many people stepped over the dead body in aisle 16 in Walmart? How about a spy chase through Best Buy on Black Friday? Something in the paranormal or horror genre perhaps? Black Friday might be the perfect setting for any number of fiction stories.

It's late morning and the initial madness of the day is past, so I think I'll head out and see what things on my Christmas List I might find. Might be a few leftovers for the faint of heart like me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful? You Bet!

This is the day to count our blessings, and mine are many. Besides those that involve family and friends, I have many things to be thankful for in my writing world. 

I have connected with so many people because of my writing. They are ones whom I probably would never have met if I hadn't started writing, and I'm richer for having met them. Many are now close friends.

My writing has brought me knowledge of an industry that I knew little about in my non-writing, only-reader, days.

Writing has given me great joy and confidence in myself.

I've become a public speaker and a TV program guest since I started writing.

I've learned to read with greater appreciation for what the writer did to gain publication of a book.

Writing has taught me how to accept disappointment and move on.

I wish all my American readers a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Travel Times Two

Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel times in the USA. Airports are swelled to capacity numbers today through Sunday, and I have to admit I'm grateful not to be among those waiting in the long, and now even longer, security lines.

The above brings to mind travel articles. Armchair travelers and those planning trips are people who read them. Only a few who travel actually write about it. I usually write something for our family and friends when we return from an overseas trip, and I've written several travel pieces which have been published.

There are two kinds of travel articles, so if you're inclined to try writing for this category, decide which type you will write.

First, there is the basic information travel piece which tells everything you need to know when planning a trip. Included here might be cost, hotel and restaurant information, attractions for adults, kids or family, climate, and historical significance. Pictures that entice readers to visit might be included with the article.

The second kind is the personal essay travel article. This one allows the reader to see a city or country through the eyes of a traveler who uses emotion and personal thoughts throughout. It might read more like a story than a factual article.

One of the writers in my wac critique group is working on a travel piece of the personal kind. She and her husband flew from the northwest part of the USA to Ghana in Africa to visit a son who is in the Peace Corps. Through her eyes, we are given a view of the country and its people. We are also treated to seeing a mother reuniting with a son she hasn't seen in many months. We learn about the son's job in the Peace Corps, how he interacts with the people of Ghana. It's a travel essay and it's a mother's story.

Of the two types of travel articles, I much prefer the personal type such as my friend has written. I would rather read this kind and also write one this way. How about you?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Are Your November Memories?

Last month, I urged readers to think about the things they did in October during their growing-up years. If you do this for every month of the year, think of the treasure chest you'll have to put in your family memories book. The one you're assembling for your children and grandchildren. If you don't have one yet, get started now.

Ask yourself some of the questions I offered in the October post--things like what your schoolroom looked like in November, what your town's retailers did in November, the weather in your area in November, or what kinds of foods your mother prepared in November. Thanksgiving will loom large for all Americans. Was it a small gathering or a big affair? Did your mom do all the cooking or did relatives bring food with them? Did you go shopping the day after? Answering these questions will trigger a lot of memories for you.

My childhood November memories are pasted below in a piece I wrote last year for Our Echo.


November In Chicago


The crisp, sunny days of October somehow slid into damp, gray ones during November in the Chicago area where I grew up. For some reason unknown to most of its inhabitants, the sun played hide-and-seek in the late autumn and winter months, mostly hiding. Wind swept across Lake Michigan, bringing a chill that seeped through warm, woolen jackets and into the bones of both young and old. Leaves which had fallen and not been raked yet, swirled around our feet with each new gust of wind, and naked tree branches dipped and swayed like ballerinas announcing that winter would soon begin. We walked faster on our way to and from school, and Mother often commented that we had roses in our cheeks when we arrived home, nice way to describe chapped skin. We paid little mind to our rosy cheeks once inside our warm apartment.

Each of the five rooms in our apartment had a large radiator with an on-off knob on the side, and a narrow deep pan that hooked over the back which Mother filled with water to bring the humidity levels up. Our large building had steam heat, fired by a huge coal furnace in a garden level basement. I guess you’d call it a half-basement. There was a window in the furnace room where the coal man inserted a chute from his truck and soon sent the coal rumbling down the chute while a group of us kids gathered around to watch. The coal man stood guard outside, and the apartment janitor stood at the delivery end of the chute in the basement. The coal man’s face matched the product he delivered making the whites of his eyes stand out prominently. Once this scary looking man finished, the kids ran around to the basement door to witness the next step in bringing heat to all our apartments. John, the janitor, grabbed a big shovel and fed the furnace from that huge heap of coal. He let us watch for a few minutes, then snarled at us. “Get out of here now. No place for you kids.” And his fierce look sent us scattering. Once, there was a coal strike, and we had very little heat for several days. We wore our coats and hats and even gloves inside until we heard the blessed sound of pipes rattling and radiators hissing once again.

We celebrated Armistice Day every November 11th, commemorating the armistice signed to end WWI at the 11th hour on the 11th day of November, 1918. Even after WWII, Armistice Day remained as November 11th. Now, we call it Veterans Day and it’s celebrated the second Monday of November. There are still parades and speeches, breakfasts and lunches served in places like the American Legion Hall, but somehow it doesn’t have the same meaning as it did when I was a child, and the date remained constant.

The next big event in November was Thanksgiving. We celebrate now much as we did then. The menu remains the same as it was when my mother and my aunts prepared the dinner—turkey roasted to a golden brown and stuffed with a moist dressing redolent with sage. One of my aunts made an additional stuffing that she baked alongside the turkey. This one was a family recipe from the French side. Sausage added to it gave it a spicier taste. We had mashed potatoes and rich gravy made from the turkey drippings, sweet potato casserole with a marshmallow topping, homemade yeast rolls, cranberry sauce, a salad called Seafoam made with lime jello, cream cheese, mashed pears and whipped cream. Our vegetables were usually green beans. Pumpkin pie and apple pie finished off our feast. Real whipped cream topped the spicy pumpkin pie, and vanilla ice cream and perhaps a piece of cheddar cheese graced the plate with the apple pie on it.

My father had two older sisters who lived in the Chicago area with their families, so we usually celebrated Thanksgiving with one or both of them, trading homes from year to year. My five cousins, my three brothers and I had a wonderful time together, despite the wide range of ages. After dinner, we were shooed outside to play, even when it was very cold. I suspect the adults sat around and drank more coffee, nibbled on the leftovers and did all they could to put off the dishwashing time.

No dishwashers in those days, so all the women pitched in and cleared the table, washed and dried the dishes, often with towels made from flour sacks. When my female cousins and I got older, we were drafted into the kitchen to help. Chattering women and clattering dishes, that’s what was heard in the kitchen after dinner. We were probably better off, as we got some exercise after eating so much, while the men plunked themselves into chairs and listened to the radio, and in later years, watched the small screen TV we had.

Occasionally, it would snow on Thanksgiving Day but seldom enough to keep anyone from getting to wherever their dinner might be.

When I got married, I thought about asking my parents and my brothers to come to our house for Thanksgiving, but I hesitated to do so for fear of upsetting my mother who had cooked countless Thanksgiving turkeys. My aunts had passed away, so Mom was always the hostess. After a few years, I worked up the courage to suggest it, and Mom threw her hands skyward and said, “Finally! I’ve been waiting for someone to invite me for Thanksgiving for years.” After that, when we lived close enough, Thanksgiving for the extended family that lived nearby was at our house.

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




Monday, November 22, 2010

Spell It Out

I took a ten question quiz on spelling this morning, via a Squidoo page that someone had pasted on facebook. Once upon a time, I was a terrific speller, but today I got only 8 correct out of ten. 80% does not make for an A paper, does it?

You can take the test yourself at http://www.squidoo.com/top-10-spelling-pet-peeves/66977101-the-quiz-top-10-spelling-pet-peeves  If anyone gets 100%, be sure to tell us. Or tell us how you fare, even if it is less than 100%. I'm thinking that very few will score 100.

Long ago, when we handed in an essay in our English class, we were likely to get lots of red slashes in those words which were misspelled, along with other grammatical errors. Today's kids have no excuse for misspelled words. They write papers on the computer which has a spellcheck tool and underlines errors in red to alert them.  If they don't make corrections before handing in the paper, it's their own fault and they deserve all the red slashes they get.

I wonder if having the spellcheck tool helps in learning how to spell. I'm guessing that in most cases, it doesn't come close to the old-fashioned way we learned. The teacher gave us a spelling list every week, and it was our responsibility to memorize/learn those words. When the spelling test day arrived, the teacher pronounced the word, then used it in a sentence and we wrote the word on our paper. As an extra credit exercise, we could choose one word and write a sentence using the word.

When in grade school, my classes always had spelling bees. Two people were captains and they took turns selecting people to be on their team. I was always picked first because everyone knew I had straight A's in spelling test and was often the last one standing in the spelling bee competition.. It kind of made up for being chosen last when they picked sides for sports teams. An athlete I wasn't! I wonder if kids today have spelling bees. Surely they must, as I see in the paper when they have a spelling champion who goes to state ane national contests.

As nice as spellcheck is, it may have made us lazy. So, how'd you do on the spelling quiz?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Holiday Storytime--Make Mine A Turkey

With Thanksgiving next week, this is a perfect time for you to write a holiday memory story to include in your Family Stories folder. You do have one, don't you? If not, today's a good day to begin. Gather those family stories one at a time and leave a record for your family. It will become a treasure as the years go on.

My most memorable Thanksgiving was one where I ended up embarrassed but eventually thankful. Read it below:



Turkey in the Raw
By Nancy Julien Kopp


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Unlikely Motivation

In a nonfiction story, Patti Callahan Henry, author of Between The Tides, shares what motivated her to become a novelist. I doubt most of us would guess that being a preacher's kid led to her fiction writing. In her Chicken Soup for the Soul story, "The Preacher's Kid," she gives us an inside look to what it's like growing up with a preacher for a father and how he influenced her own career.

When I read her story, it was one of those Aha! moments. What she points out is so clear, and yet most of us would not have thought of it on our own. No portion of a Chicken Soup for the Soul story can be reproduced without specific permission, so I will offer the link to the story for you to read on your own instead. It's found at
http://www.beliefnet.com/Inspiration/Chicken-Soup-For-The-Soul/2010/11/The-Preachers-Kid.aspx?source=NEWSLETTER&nlsource=49&ppc=&utm_campaign=DIBSoup&utm_source=NL&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_term=networksplus.net#comments

After you read Ms. Henry's story, you may look at your own preacher in a slightly different light the next time he/she preaches a sermon.

Chicken Soup for the Soul sends a daily story to their subscribers. I find them entertaining and also inspiring. Besides that, it helps me to know what the editors of this popular anthology are looking for, what kinds of stories make it into their books. What might have been a shoe-in in the very first book might not have gotten through the process today. These long running anthologies follow trends just like novels and other nonfiction books do. Take a look at their website and sign up for the daily story at http://www.beliefnet.com/Inspiration/Chicken-Soup-For-The-Soul/index.aspx

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Good Historical Fiction Book

I picked up Ken Follett's latest novel, Fall of Giants, at the library last week. I'd had it on reserve/hold for so long, I'd almost forgotten about it until the notice that it was ready arrived in my e-mail. The size of the book startled me, so I asked the librarian at the check-out desk how long I could have it. "Three weeks," she said.

I checked when I got home to see the number of pages. Almost a thousand! Well, nine hundred and eighty-five to be exact. With everything else going on in my life and the Thanksgiving holiday coming up soon, I wondered how in the world I would get it finished in only three weeks.

I had read only a few pages to know that I would be able to read the book in the allotted time. Ken Follett hooked me almost immediately. This book is the first in a trilogy that deals with the entire twentieth century. We're introduced to a large cast of characters which I found quite easy to deal with. The author follows the lives of five families in the pre-WWI days and moves on into the war years and the 1920's. We become familiar with families in Wales, England, Germany, Russia and America. Their lives intertwine in various ways, and without even realizing it, the reader is treated to a painless way to learn history. Follett's research teams must have worked overtime to make the historical events accurate in the telling of this story.

I find myself wanting to pick up the book and continue reading several times each day and evening. I'm a third of the way through the book and my interest has not waned one bit. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read, and Ken Follett has not disappointed me in this multi-family saga of a distinct period of World History. Love, war, the feminist movement--all are included in this intriguing story.

I'd definitely recommend it, and if many-paged books intimidate you, don't get it at the library. Purchase your own copy or put it on your Christmas List. It's a bargain at Amazon for $18. Order it at http://www.amazon.com/Fall-Giants-Century-Trilogy-Follett/dp/0525951652/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1290008964&sr=1-1 If you know someone who enjoys historical fiction, it would make a nice Christmas or Hanukkah gift--perfect for reading in the cold, snowy days of January.

I've written a few short stories that are classified historical fiction, but I can't imagine writing a book or trilogy of this enormity. I'm glad that Ken Follett has done so.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sharp Words Can Be A Wake-Up Call

Once, a doctor sent me a note along with some test results that showed higher numbers than is desired for glucose. "I want this number below 100!!!!" he wrote. Not exactly the movie script type of kindly, country doctor. Those four exclamation marks at the end of his directive made me aware of the situation I was in. If I didn't get the number down I was headed for diabetes, only pre-diabetes at this time, but now was the time to do something. And I did, thanks to my doctor approaching me with a strong statement and those glaring exclamation marks.

Last week, I received sharp words from an editor which turned out to be another wake-up call. This particular editor has published several of my articles that deal with the craft of writing. I sent her a new article that dealt with seven ways to sell herself as a writer. The editor wrote to me saying she fully expected to buy whatever I'd sent her as she knew I was a good writer. That had me preening my feathers a bit, at least until I read further. She chastised me in no uncertain terms saying that the article was 'muddled' and covered two topics. I'd be interested in seeing an article that....... she concluded. An invitation to resubmit in her statement.

I have to admit that those sharp words made me feel like a child being scolded by her mother. They hurt. The article had been through a critique session at my online critique group. None of those who critted it saw what the editor pointed out at that time. Part of the article dealt with selling yourself as a writer to editors and part of it was directed at selling yourself to readers. I stewed over the whole thing for a few days, sent the article back to the wac group for another objective viewpoint, and finally agreed with what the editor had told me.

Lots of other things going on kept me from answering the editor's message for over a week, and perhaps that was a good thing. Had I fired back an answer that first day, it might not have been the same one I sent yesterday. I'm glad I took some time to consider her words and to take a good hard look at the article before revising it. I wrote to her yesterday to let her know I was willing to revise the article and resubmit it.

Last night, I worked on the article, slashing parts and adding others. I wanted it to sit overnight before I sent it as sometimes things that look good at the time of writing can appear fairly lame the next day. When I opened my e-mail in-box this morning, there was an answer to my message I sent to the editor yesterday. It's a good feeling when a writer and editor can have a positive working relationship. I'm hoping she'll like the revision better and will buy it. Stay tuned!

Once again, I have reason to be thankful for sharp words that opened my eyes. If the words sting, take some time to step back and look at whatever it is as objectively as possible. You'll grow as a writer and just might sell more articles.

Monday, November 15, 2010

One Big Party For Writers

November 15th is I Love To Write Day. A man by the name of John Riddle is the brain behind the idea. He began his grassroots campaign to bring writing to the attention of everyday people nine years ago. Like so many ideas, he started small and each year the number of people taking notice has swelled.

Nine years ago, his idea was only a seed and it's blossomed with 20,000 schools signed on to participate last year. His goal for 2010 is 25,000 schools. This Delaware author of 34 books has dubbed I Love To Write Day as the biggest party for writers. It certainly is as it spreads across the USA.

November 15th is the day Mr. Riddle selected to urge people to write something. It's not a day for only professional writers, this one's for every last person in our country. Today is the day to sit down and write a personal essay, write a poem, or write a letter to someone. Write in a journal, write a postcard, write song lyrics. But write! Write anything you like, but write! .

Learn more about I Love To Write Day at the website Mr. Riddle uses to spread the word. http://www.ilovetowriteday.org/ Then share it with your friends, your family, your school administrator or your child's teacher. If they can't participate this year, they can plan for it in 2011. It would be a wonderful learning tool in schools across our nation.

You don't have to write with the aim of publication. Write for personal satisfaction. Start a folder for the things you write every November 15th. Celebrate I Love To Write Day with me and thousands of others.

Celebrate I Love To Write Day with words--the ones written by you!