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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Surprise For Me

I received a check in the mal a few days ago for a story I'd sent to an editor of a senior newspaper published in the suburban area of Kansas City. I'd only sent the submission five days earlier so was quite surprised to receive the check so quickly. Then, I had a note from a reader telling me she enjoyed my stories in the July issue of The Best Times.

Now, I was really puzzled. Stories? Plural. What was going on here? So, I looked at the check again and saw that it was not for the story I'd sent in earlier that week. The story was one I'd sent over a year ago and had never heard from the editor about it. When that happens, you chalk it up as 'one more rejection' and move on. Apparently, the editor had saved it and decided to publish it.

When my three copies of the newspaper arrived yesterday, I found the story in question plus another one that the editor had purchased several months ago. The 'surprise' story is one I wrote more than a year ago when I was turning 70. It seems when you're about to enter a new decade, whether 40, 50, or 80, it's a time for reflection.

Reflections On Turning 70
by Nancy Julien Kopp

I received word today that a friend passed away after a month-long fight with a virulent form of pneumonia. When someone has been so seriously ill, death sometimes arrives as a blessed relief. But along with the sad news, I found myself forced to face a reality.

I am soon to celebrate my seventieth birthday, which is the same age as my friend taken by a disease that should have been easy to treat. A girlhood companion, also my age, died a month ago after a hellish number of years battling Alzheimer’s.

Suddenly, my birthday looms as more of a dread than the joy of previous years. I’ve always looked forward to marking another year, as it brought cards, phone calls, and gifts from friends and family. And I considered it my own special day of every year, a time to celebrate life, but it now seems less welcome.

Now, instead of being thankful, I find myself fearful. How many years do I have left? Will my mind stay whole or will it crumble bit by bit until nothing worthwhile is left? What lies ahead in this decade of my seventies? Will I face heart problems, a hip replacement perhaps, or a fatal disease of some sort? The thoughts come occasionally, only to flee, then return again. My own Chinese water torture, drop by drop.

Age is only a number. You’re as young as you feel. Those clichés sound good when you have decades ahead. Some days I believe them but other times I find myself shaking my head and muttering sarcastically, “Yeah, right!” Some thirty-year old must have coined those phrases.

I’m aware of the aging signs every time I stand before a mirror. I see gray hair and deep wrinkles etched from my mouth onto my chin, as well as under my eyes

Visible veins and yet more wrinkles cover the backs of both hands. Sometimes, I hide them in my lap. I watch the hands of my bridge pals as they deal, shuffle and play the cards. Most resemble my own, but it doesn’t always console me. We make jokes about our changing appearances. Laughter lights up our faces and brings that youthful sparkle back to our eyes. I resolve to laugh often.

My metabolism seems to delight in slowing itself further each year. My mouth takes in the same amount of food, allowing the pounds to stretch my clothes to the max. Where’s the magic pill that will speed my metabolic rate to that of a thirty year old?

I tire more easily now; climbing stairs is a chore which sometimes leaves me breathless. My muscle tone is not what it once was, so you’ll find no sleeveless fashions in my wardrobe. Cellulite and spider veins cover my thighs. Bathing suit days should be a thing of the past, but a cool pool on a hot day still calls out to me.

My memory isn’t too bad, but it’s not what it once was. I find that sometimes I need to concentrate a little more when trying to recall things. Names escape me more often than I’d like to admit, but eventually, the errant name lights up like a neon sign in my brain bringing a sense of relief. “Did it!” becomes my personal, but silent, mantra with each memory success. I read magazines that give tips on improving memory, and I try the exercises they suggest. My morning crossword puzzle challenges my mind just as the experts who write the articles suggest. I wonder how old those writers are. Are they my age or young enough to be my grandchild?

Because I’m a writer, I worry that my work may not be taken seriously once I hit seventy. Will my essays be passé? I sincerely hope not, but the thought sprints to the front of my mind now and then. Will the younger people in my writers group consider me an old lady now? No, I tell myself. They’re my friends and they know the real me, the one that hides under all these nasty telltale signs of my years.

Several years ago, some friends were traveling in England, and a host of the B&B where they stayed spoke about the vacationers who come in the winter. “Ah,” he said, “in winter we get the Wrinklies and the Crumblies.” When my friends asked for a further explanation, he answered, “Wrinklies are pensioners in their seventies and the Crumblies are those in the eighties.”

And now here I am, almost a Wrinkly. But hey, I’ve got a whole ten years of living to do before I’m a Crumbly. So, maybe I’ll have a joyous celebration of my seventieth, after all. Inside, I’m still that slim redhead with a bundle of energy. I still have the desire and stamina to travel and live life to the fullest. Besides that, I’ve got a lot more stories to write. If it’s a question of write what you know, I’ve lived long enough to know a great deal, which means plenty of stories ahead. This new age is going to be just fine.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Poetry--Do You Like It Or Avoid It?

I was at a PEO meeting the other morning. I've given several programs for my chapter of this all-female group that promotes education for women in the form of several scholarships. My programs, of course, have been about writing. I've encouraged the ladies in the group to write their family stories, and I've read them some of my own.

While we were having coffee and yummies, one of the ladies asked me if I might consider doing a program on poetry at some future meeting. "You do write poetry, don't you?" she asked. I told her that yes, I do write poetry and have even had a little success at having a few of my poems published.

"I really like poetry," she said, "and I think more people would like it if they gave it a chance."

Her statement made me think about why some people enjoy poetry and others avoid it at all costs. In high school, we were forced to read and try to interpret poetry that sometimes didn't make much sense. I'd read the poem, make a desperate attempt at figuring out what the poet was telling us, only to learn I was way off base when the teacher explained it to us. Have that happen often enough, and I suspect many of us did, and you'll learn to avoid reading poetry. I sometimes wondered if the object of the poet was to confuse readers.

Some people might think it's too 'flowery' and sweet. "Makes me gag." I heard one teen-ager say after reading a love poem. "I can't relate to this." said another. Maybe many of us feel that way, that we can't relate. But everyone can find some poetry they will like, but it takes some searching.

But what are the reasons that some people do read and enjoy poetry? For one thing, it's definitely a quicker read than a full-length book. It brings forth strong images and uses language in the best possible way. It can teach a lesson in a very few words or touch the heart. There is beauty in poetry but not everyone sees it.

I would hope that those who were turned off by poetry in their shool days might try reading it again. There are many small books of poetry that would serve as perfect bedtime reading.

A man in our community has written eight novels with a western theme, but he's also written a couple of books of poetry. His poems nearly all are based on something or someone in Kansas.

I know another man who is a contractor by profession, but he also writes wonderful poetry. He sponsors a Youth Poetry Contest every year in conjunction with our Kansas Authors annual writing contest. The winners are invited to the Awards Ceremony Luncheon and are asked to read their entries. I've been quie impressed with some of the winning young poets. Maybe they're doing a better job of teaching poetry in school now. I hope so.

The next time you go to a bookstore, browse in the poetry section. There are all kinds of poems written on all kinds of subjects. Surely, you can find one that appeals to you.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Start Good Reading Habits Early

Children are made readers on  the laps of their parents. (Emilie Buchwald, 1994)

I ran across this quote and my first thought was to wonder who Emilie Buchwald is. Why did her name not ring a bell. So I googled her and learned that she was the founder of Milkweed Publishing Co., one of the top juvenile books companies. I agree with Ms. Buchwald wholeheartedly.

Parents who do not begin reading to their children in infancy are doing them a disservice. It's never too soon to begin. In the book world of today, there are many books with no words, only pictures. What nicer way to begin than with baby cuddled on your lap, the book held in front of both of you. Sure, she's going to bat at it with her little hands, but soon, she'll begin to pay attention to the pictures and to the tone of your voice as you talk about them. Before long, there are toddler books with words below the pictures and full stories as they get a little older.

I still have memories of my mother and father reading to me. Also my aunts. As I got older, I'd snuggle up next to them, partly to see the pictures in the book, but also to have that closeness to a loved one that children enjoy. Positives on both counts.

My daughter and her husband began reading a bedtime story to their children at a very early age. They started with a child on their lap, and as the children have gotten older, that's changed to sitting on the side of the bed together to read. The children each have a large basket filled with books in their bedroom, and they pull out favorites for Mom or Dad to read. And when Grandma (that's me!) is there, guess who gets the pleasure of reading the bedtime story?

These are children who will one day graduate to reading a chapter or two in bed before falling asleep. A habit has been established, and a good one it is. Our two older grandchildren were also read to at a very early age, and both of them are voracious readers today.

Read to your children, your grandchildren, nieces and nephews--whatever children are in your life. You couldn't give them a finer gift.

Friday, June 25, 2010

And What About Younger Writers?

The last two days, we've been addressing the concept of starting to write later in life. I hope you've been convinced that it's never too late to begin as long as you have the desire and the will to work at it.

The same goes for people who start writing at a very young age. A few years ago, I was contest manager for the Prose Division of our district Kansas Authors Club. The contest was open to members and nonmembers. The winner of the short fiction category was a young woman still in high school. As well as being happy for her, I had a great deal of admiration for a teen-ager who felt confident enough in her writing that she'd enter it in an adult contest. And obviously, she did the right thing as her story surpassed all the other entries.

When a very young person has a serious desire to write for publication, or even for their own satisfaction, they are several jumps ahead of those who wait until they have accumulated a bushel basket full of life experiences. When they start early, there is so much more time for improvement. It's a given that we all improve as we practice the craft of writing. When I look back at some of my very early efforts, I cringe and am suddenly proud of the fact that I'm now a better writer.

We've said that it's never too late to begin, and at the same time, it's never too early. Young people who pursue writing in more than school assignments are the ones I'm speaking of. There are more of them than you think, bu unlike the contest winner I mentioned, they keep their writing a secret. It takes some time to learn the marketing ins and outs and to gain the confidence in sending work to an editor. Rejection is tough at any age.

If you see a son or daughter or a grandchild who exhibits a desire and a talent for writing, do all you can to encourage them. There are many books about the craft of writing written directly toward the teen and young adult writer.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More On Is It Too Late?

Here's Part 2 of the Is It Too Late? article. If you want to write, the time is now. It's only getting later!


"Will the Boots and Saddles Club please come to order?" That was the first line of a novel Molly Samuels penned at the age of 8. Molly says, "That was so horrible, I put my writing skills to work elsewhere for the next forty-four years. I never lost that desire to write a book, even though it was one of those "someday" dreams. I'm fifty-eight now and have been seriously focused on writing for only four years." At fifty-two Molly came to a cross-roads in her career. She realized that everything she enjoyed throughout her career related to writing, and a new door opened for her. She spends her free time turning out chapter upon chapter of a historical novel that has captured the interest of her online critique group.


Molly states her thoughts on writers who jump into the writing game at a later stage of life. "I really think we need to age a bit to get experiences, things to fill those wrinkles in our brain for our sub consciences to ferret out, for our writing to glow. I don't think the first fifty-two years of my life were wasted, even though I never wrote anything more scintillating than a survey analysis."

A teacher's criticism douses the spark of creativity in many cases. Shirley Letcher had an interest in writing all through her high school years. A creative writing teacher criticized her work mercilessly, adding a massive dose of sarcasm. Shirley did not write again for more than twenty years when she returned to college to pursue a master's degree. Professors complimented her on weekly essays she submitted. It wasn't long before she was publishing articles and getting paid. She writes in her free time and finds it exhilarating.

Leel Devi Panikar operated a lucrative pub/restaurant business in Hong Kong. At the age of sixty-six, her life moved in a different direction. She found it necessary to bring her elderly wheelchair bound mother to live with her. Leela's care-taking duties are time consuming, but she is well aware that she needs something else in her life, too. In her precious spare time, she works on a novel set in Hong Kong.

I have a personal interest in the topic at hand. A desire to write occupied the recesses of my mind all through my growing-up years, college, career, and raising children. Too busy now I told myself, until, at the age of fifty-three, I landed in a small town that did not accept new people very readily. I was lonely and homesick for all we left behind when my husband made a job change. I plunged in head-first by enrolling in a correspondence course that promised to teach me how to write for children. I was hooked after Lesson One, and I've never looked back in the years since.

Middle-aged and older people who have never written before can learn the craft. Bumps and bruises await along the road to a writing career, but if desire is strong, and you practice patience and perseverance, satisfaction and success lie within reach. Draw from your wealth of experience to write that first story soon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is It Too Late?

The following is the first half of an article I had published several times. It's one to start some thought processes for those who wonder if it's too late to begin writing and to give a bit of encouragement through the experiences of others. The second half will be posted tomorrow.

Is It Too Late?

"I'd love to write, but I'm too old now." Have you thought or said something like that aloud? Is it too late once you've passed through your forties? Can you learn a new craft later in life? Come along with me and meet several writers who took the first step when well into, or past, middle age.

Tragedy turned Kathe Campbell into a writer at the age of sixty-two. A wretched accident at her Montana ranch resulted in the loss of her right arm. Still in shock and feeling useless, Kathe held many a pity party. No one showed up but the Guest of Honor. Her son built a computer and urged her to practice using the keyboard with her left hand. Once a 120 words a minute typist, she played with the keyboard a little, finding it difficult but challenging. Kathe says "If any old broad ever needed confidence during this settling and coping time of life, I did. I discovered several writing e-zines on the internet and unabashedly submitted the wrenching story of my loss at the age of 62. The entire effort served as mental and physical therapy, jolting me right back into allowing my thoughts to spill over pages once again." Only a few years earlier Kathe had written her first story detailing a journey through her mother's Alzheimer's Disease. Cosmopolitan magazine published it. She never wrote another until after her accident. Now, at seventy-two, she turns out story upon story bringing folksy humor and touching warmth to readers at several website e-zines. Chicken Soup For The Grandparent's Soul recently published one of Kathe's true life tales.

Did Kathe Campbell start a writing career too late in life? She waited until she harbored a lifetime of experiences to draw from, until the goal of succeeding seemed less important than the fact that she enjoyed writing with every fiber of her being. In her own words, "Writing is such a lot of fun." Her accident became the catalyst for a part time career she'd never considered in her younger years.

Hollywood portrays young men writing the great American novel in garrets, outdoor cafes, or even at a kitchen table. They sweat, they agonize, they labor long into the night until that magical first sale turns them into Pulitzer Prize winners in a flash. Oh, that it might be that easy. Have you ever seen a film that portrays someone over the age of forty-five writing their first story? They don’t fit the stereotype Hollywood has invented, do they?

More than a few writers launch freelance careers in mid-life and beyond. Madge Walls, author of Hawaii Real Estate Exam Book, tried to write in her thirties but found the distractions of young children overwhelming. She shelved the writing itself but attended every workshop on the subject of writing that came to Maui where she lived. "I knew I would write seriously some day and wanted to absorb all I could while waiting to get the little distractions grown up" Madge says. She feels the older you are the more wisdom and experience you have accumulated. At sixty-one, she believes her writing to be much richer now than it might have been years earlier. Madge is currently working on a historical fiction novel and has completed another novel based on her experiences selling real estate in Hawaii

A woman in her sixties, who prefers to remain anonymous, entered the writing world partly because of being a copious letter writer all her life. Letters filled with mini-stories were a medium of self-expression which, over the years, evolved into writing short stories and novels. She enrolled in a correspondence course to learn the basics, writing many articles and stories that never reached publication. Rather than give up, she signed up for several writing courses found on the internet. Many were excellent but left her searching for more. She needed feedback and interaction, which these courses did not offer. She wrote five adult novels, one for teens and two for middle grade children. An online critique group became an eye-opener, teaching her more than all the previous period. Nearing seventy, she is an active person who still works to support herself but also writes four hours each day. Her positive attitude and consistent hard work aid this writer on her journey to publication.

Dick Dunlap creates stories that bring both laughter and an occasional tear to the reader. Dick says that anything he wrote in high school was overlooked because of poor spelling and bad handwriting. In spite of that, he won second prize in a Woman's Club essay contest in his teen years. It was the first time he received recognition for his writing, and the excitement was never forgotten. Dick avoided writing through the majority of his life, being ashamed of its appearance. When over sixty, he submitted a poem to a newspaper. A Writer's Guild member contacted him, and he took a big step by attending meetings. Soon, he bought a word processor and signed up for a writing course for Seniors. He created a fictitious family called "The Nevers", writing story upon story about the folks who make up this bumbling family. Dick says, "I like what I write. I laugh, I get a tear in my eye, I live my plots."

To be continued....

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

That Old Show, Don't Tell Once Again

Several years ago, I read an article urging writers to show, not tell. It's advice that has been given so many times in articles, books, and writers' workshops that you'd think no one would ever do otherwise. But maybe that's why the advice continues to be spread far and wide--precisely because too many writers want to tell a story rather than show it to the reader as it happened.

When you use more show than tell, a story comes alive. It's almost always more interesting when written this way. But what can you do to write your story this way? Let's look at a few examples:

Which of these sentences is more interesting? A tells us how Jennifer felt, but B shows us. Passage B not only shows emotion, it creates emotion in the reader, as well.

A. Jennifer felt angry.


B. Jennifer stormed into the kitchen, picked up a bowl of gravy and threw it against the wall. Body shaking, she clenched her hands into fists and searched wildly for another missile to hurl.

Now, look at this passage from Lois Newberry's award winning book Number The Stars which tells the story of a young girl living in Nazi-occupied Denmark. On her way home from school, Annemarie runs into two German soldiers. The author could have written 'Annemarie was frightened by the soldiers.' Instead, she showed us how Annemarie felt with this passage which shows us precisely why she is fearful:

Annemarie stared up. There were two of them. That meant two helmets, two sets of cold eyes glaring at her, and four tall shiny boots planted firmly on the sidewalk, blocking her path to home. And it meant two rifles, gripped in the hands of the soldiers.

It's a lot easier to simply tell a story, but if you take the more difficult path and show your story, it will almost always be the better way to a reader's heart.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not Too Late To Become A Reader

After our son had talked with his dad on Father's Day, I spent some time on the phone with Kirk. He lives 7 1/2 hours away in Dallas, so our weekly phone visit helps keep us in touch with him and his family. We'd chatted about a number of things when I told him he'd better get back to watching the golf tournament on TV.

He said, "Wait! I have something else to talk about." And then he proceeded to tell me he'd discovered the wonderful world of reading. It's a good thing I was sitting down, or I'd have fallen face-first on the kitchen floor upon hearing that proclamation from my 42 year old son. As a small child, he loved having me read picture books to him. As he got older, he did the required reading at school, but he seldom picked up a book at home, despite my encouragement. Oh, all right, call it what it was--nagging!  He spent his leisure time playing football, basketball, baseball, golf--whatever sport was in season. Or in front the TV.

I did all I could to encourage reading, hoping he'd establish a lifetime habit. But I can only say I was a dismal failure in that effort. Being a constant reader myself, it's hard for me to understand why anyone would not feel the same about books as I do. I pointed out over and over that books can take us to all kinds of places we'd never otherwise see, and that they can bring us wonderful entertainment in our own home. It all fell on deaf ears, as he tuned me out.

Kirk continued to do the required reading in high school and college, but once onto his career path, his reading was confined to the newspaper and work-related publications. But here he was--telling me he'd become a reader. Like his wife. Like his older daughter. Like his younger daughter. (Like his mother!)

When I asked for some more details, he told me he had been noticing that his mind worked fine at work, but once home he seemed to turn it off. Didn't pay attention and missed some of what his family was telling him. He began to be concerned that maybe he wasn't exercising his mind enough, and that was the trigger that started him reading. He said that once he got started, he found books to be fascinating, and when he finished one, he'd be on to another.

His fourteen year old daughter began recommending books he should read. She has been a strong reader and moved beyond childrens' books long ago. What a nice thing for a dad and daughter to do, I thought. Talk about books, recommend books and then most likely discuss the book when both had read it. Same with Kirk's wife. It's almost a family book club.

Kirk knew I'd be thrilled with his new habit, and I am. So as mothers of young children who balk at reading for pleasure, we shouldn't despair. Maybe all the groudwork I laid many years ago is finally coming to fruition.

I fully agree with his assesmment that we need to exercise our minds as well as our bodies. I've long been a proponent of that premise. It's one reason that in addition to reading books regularly, I also play Bridge and do crossword puzzles. Both those activities are fine mind sharpeners. I doubt I'd ever get him to play Bridge, but maybe crossword puzzles. Guess I'd better wait awhile on that one.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Rare Find

When I find a book that is hard to put down, I like to share it with readers of my blog. Several months ago, a friend who lives in Winnipeg, Canada recommended a book she'd just finished. I wrote down the name and then forgot to check to see if our library had a copy. Recently, I found the snippet of paper where I'd written the name. So I looked up the book in my library's online catalog.

Sure enough--they had a copy of Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens. That afternoon, I added a stop at the library to my list of errands. The book cover has a picture of a woman and young child walking down a road, as seen from behind. The woman is holding the child's hand, or if you wish, the little girl has her hand safely inside the woman's hand. The cover picture drew me in more than the title.

I started reading that evening and was hooked in a very few pages. The story is about a 70 year old black woman who lives in a trailer in a small town in Canada. The time is the 1970's. A white woman, mother of a biracial child, asks Addy Shadd to take care of her little girl for the summer. They both know the woman is never going to come back for the child. Sharla, the little girl who has been cursed and rejected all her life finds a true home and real love with Addy. The story of Addy's  sorrow-filled life is told in flashbacks that somehow do not detract from the present story of the woman and child. The writing is powerful, forthright, and pulls no punches. The author has the ability to reach out and pull emotion from the reader. Three gold stars to her for that ability. Many try and never achieve it.

Addy worries about what will happen to Sharla when she dies, for she sees signs that the end of her life is not far off. The reader worries right along with her. I admire the writing skill of Ms. Lensens, and I think you will, too. Rush Home Road is the first of the three novels written by Lori Lensens, who wrote films prior to that--encouraged by her actor-tunred-director husband.

I am nearing the end of the novel and am sorry to have it come to an end. But like all things, it must have a conclusion. If you're looking for a good summer read, look up this book

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Haiku For Kids--A New Market For Writers

I discovered a great new kids' magazine this morning. It's called Blueberry Haiku. The first quarterly issue can be found at http://www.cobaltcrowproductions.com/bbhjune2010.html  You'll need Adobe Acrobat to read it.

The twenty-page magazine is nicely done with most of the pages devoted to individual haiku poems written by students and school classes. I think this magazine will be a good teaching tool for classroom teachers this next school year. Along with the many haiku poems, there are a few pages with articles devoted to the subject of haiku. One gives directions on how to make a haiku journal. Again, teachers would find these non-fiction articles to be of merit.

I was amused by some of the poems and rather amazed at the quality and dept of others. Sometimes we don't give kids enough credit for the creative things they do. These poems are certainly an example of kids using their minds for something positive, not sitting in front of a computer playing games.

Oh sure, they're all going to do that, too.I do it myself sometimes. Right now, I'm hooked on a Lufthansa Airline game that tests my geography knowledge. Go ahead and give it a try, but be forewarned that it's addictive! http://www.lufthansa-vp.com/vp1/play.html

It appears to me that they only accept poems from students and classes, but if you're interested in submitting an article to this new magazine, go to http://www.cobaltcrowproductions.com/ and read the guidelines so you know what they are looking for. It does not mention payment, but since it is a brand new publication, I'm guessing there is none. Still, it's a credit to your writing file.

do you like haiku
try, write a new one each day
i bet you can't stop

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Christmas in June?


No, I haven't lost it. It's not Christmas, but I'm certainly keeping my thoughts centered on Christmas since receiving the call for Christmas stories from the Chicken Soup publishers. When we're in the middle of the actual Christmas season, it's easy to feel the joy, the love, the warmth--the emotion--of the holiday. Not so easy to bring it back on a hot June day.

But that's when a Christmas story must be written and sent if it's a quick call like this one. Especially with a short deadline of less than a month away. How do you go about writing a good Christmas story in the middle of summer?

Two days ago, after the call came via e-mail, I skimmed through my story files to see what I might have that I could send as is or revise and submit. That's always going to be easier than writing something brand new. I found a couple stories that were possibilities, but they weren't true 'stories'--more memories than a full story. And Chicken Soup wants a story with a beginning, middle and end. They specifically say that they do not want an essay. Ever since, I've had Christmas thoughts swirling through my mind trying to devise a way to use the memoirs and turn them into true stories.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the grocery store. People seeing me push my cart through the aisles had no idea that I was mentally writing a Christmas story. I find that letting a story come through slowly in this manner is better than sitting down cold at the computer and trying to come up with it. The story isn't in my head word for word, but the idea is, the specifics scenes are there. Once I feel ready, I can sit down and start writing the first draft.

The ideal way is to write a Christmas story during Christmas season when the house is decorated, packages wrapped, good smells coming from the oven. Write it with the emotion that the holiday brings to you, and then put the story aside and submit it 4 to 6 months later for publication the next Christmas. "But that's a whole year away," you might say. And my answer wuld be--"Yes, but that's the way this writing world works."  After awhile, it becomes easier to write Christmas stories in the summer or Halloween stories in February or Valentine stories in October. First choice is to write them at the holiday time and save them for later. 

Right now, I've got to start thinking about snow, fir trees, ginger cookies, and childrens' nativity plays so I can write my story. I'll write it, revise it a few times and send it in.  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Story Call--But Hurry

Note:  Yesterday I wrote about the possible demise of the Big 12 college sports conference and the sports writers who have written hundreds of thousands of words about the situation. Last night, the conference was saved by one school making a decision to stay. Texas holds the reins for the southern division, and where they go, so go the rest. Now, on to today's posting.

I received a call for stories for a new book that Chicken Soup for the Soul publishers are working on. They publish a Christmas story book on an annual basis, and this year's will be released in October, but now they are working on a second Christmas story book for this year. I have pasted the story call below for anyone who has a Christmas story to send in. Please note that they term this book "potential" which sounds to me like they will only publish it if they get enough worthwhile submssions. So, start looking through your files or whip up a new Christmas story as the deadline is less than a month away. And remember to go to the website and check and recheck the story guidelines. They are very clear on what is wanted and what is not. Make sure your story fits the guidelines.


STORY CALL OUT FOR A POTENTIAL EXTRA CHRISTMAS BOOK


--- SHORT DEADLINE ---

Everyone loves Christmas and the holiday season. We reunite scattered family members, watch the wonder in a child's eyes, and feel the joy of giving gifts. The rituals of the holiday season give a rhythm to the years and create a foundation for our lives, as we gather with family, with our communities at church, at school, and even at the mall, to share the special spirit of the season, brightening those long winter days.

Our Christmas Magic book has been completed and will be released in October, 2010. If you already submitted a story for that book title please do not submit the SAME story again - we already have it even if it is not being used in Christmas Magic and it will be considered for this extra Christmas book. If you have a NEW story that you would like to submit to us for this extra book, please do. Please make sure that your stories are "Santa Safe" as we do not want to spoil the magic for anyone. This book should delight every reader from the very young to the young at heart.

Your stories and poems should be of no more than 1,200 words, should be true and written in the first person. Stories should not have been previously published by Chicken Soup for the Soul or other major publications.

Here are some suggested topics, but we know you can think of many more:

The True Meaning of Christmas
Holiday Traditions
Memories of Christmas
The Love of Family
Holiday Humor
Gift Giving
Decorating
Eat, Eat, Eat... and Be Merry
Christmas Through the Eyes of a Child
Here Comes Santa Claus

... and any other stories you would like to share

If your story is chosen, you will be a published author and your bio will be printed in the book if you so choose. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book, worth more than $100. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it.

SUBMISSIONS GO TO http://chickensoup.com/

Select the Submit Your Story link on the left tool bar and follow the directions.

DEADLINE IS JULY 13, 2010.

Monday, June 14, 2010

So Many Words On One Subject


                  Ours is a college sports family, as you can see by the picture above taken at a bowl game a few years ago. Our son and daughter were raised in a university town, and they became avid fans of the Kansas State Wildcats. When they married, the following K-State and the other teams in our conference stayed intact. Except that Karen married a Jayhawk--the arch rivals of K-State. So, since we love our son-in-law, we look at the Jayhawks a bit more kindly and root for them unless they're playing us. During football bowl time and basketball tournament days, we root for all the Big 12 conference teams. When they do well, our conference does well. At least, we did all that until now.

Recently, there has been a shake-up in our conference. Nebraska fled straight into the arms of the Big 10 when invited. More money from TV exposure. Tradition and loyalty slid way down their ladder of values.
Next, Colorado moved to accept an invitation to the Pac-10 Conference. OK, that leaves 10 teams for us. Not necessarily so! Texas is deciding tomorrow if they are going to the Pac-10. If they go, so will Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Texas A&M may go with them, or they might just slip on into the SEC conference. If all this happens, what does K-State and KU do? What about Missouri and Baylor and Iowa State?

It's an unholy mess as far as the fans are concerned, but what does this have to do with writing? During all this upheaval, I've taken notice of something. Our newspapers are filled with numerous articles about the situation. Sports writers are pounding out one story after another, watching each day to see what new change has come about. They've researched and written about the great history of the Big 12 confeence, they report what's going on, they highlight Athletic Directors and chancellors of the schools involved. But what they are doing more than anything is speculating. It's all they can do for no one knows how this will all pan out.
The writers tell us 'if this happens, then this might happen, or if it doesn't, this could very well be the outcome.' They don't know any more than the guy in the barbershop or the convenience store counter, but they can guess. They guess and they put ideas into the heads of their readers who will come back the next day for more. And the guesses will probably be different on any given day.

For these sports writers, it's manna from Heaven. They don't have to think about something to write. The story is there each and every day with new material to build upon the old. I must admit that I've read some very good writing on the sports pages lately. They give us the facts, but they also appeal to the hearts of the fans, as well. I think these sports writers are going to have something to write about on this subject for quite some time to come. If Texas and its cronies flee to the Pac-10, then they can spend plenty of time speculating what thr few teams left in the Big 12 are going to do. There's going to be a summer's worth of writing floating down to them like snowflakes in a major storm Might even take them right up to the first football game of the season!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Keeping Up With Changes In The Writing World

I subscribe to several writers newsletters which give me tips on writing, marketing help, and help me keep up on the latest trends in the publishing world. Lately, writing and getting published has been changing faster than a frog can jump from one lily pad to another.

Only a couple of years ago, editor, publishers and writers were saying the e-book would never become popular. And now, I receive more and more newsletters urging me to start writing e-books. They can be downloaded so easily on the internet. And they can be self-published which is a plus for writers. The returns might not be as lucrative as standard publishing royalties and flat fee payments, but the possibilities of having your work seen and purchased by others is cerainly better. My concern was, and still is, that the quality of these books may not always be the best.

A book in my hands has always been my preferred way of reading, but that's changing, too. Thank you, Kindle! And all the copycat hand-held computer reading machines. Not a very professional or technological way of describing them, is it? But that's the way I think of  them. When they first came out, a writer friend demonstrated the use of one at a writers' meeting. She loved it! Said it was a super way to read as she commuted to and from her job. Downloading novels was easy and economical. I was skeptical, but it's taken off with more and more people using them. I know several who received one for a Christmas gift.

Just yesterday, I received a notice from a childrens book author who produces a monthly newsletter. This was a special notice in-between regularly scheduled editions. He wanted to tell us that there's another new trend in the childrens book world. He said that the best selling app in Apple's iPad is childrens' books. And he suggested a site that would help childrens' book authors enter this new world for free. He, of course, is going to give this information only to those who subscribe to his premium edition. He's not giving the information on this new phenomena away. The important thing for me was learning about the iPad app and knowing I can probably google and find out more about it on my own.

If we don't want to be left behind, we need to keep up with the latest in publishing trends in the writing world. And at the speed they're going, it's won't be easy. Prepare to huff and puff as you try to keep up.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Making Revisions With A Little Help

Yesterday, I wrote that I'd been procrastinating in a big way. I had a couple stories that needed revsising before I could send them to a state authors contest. One of the reasons I'd been putting this off on one of the stories was that I wasn't sure what to do with it. I'd even sent it through a critique session at writersandcritters so had many suggestiions from those who'd looked at it. Still, the whole thing left me feeling a bit hopeless.

Stubborn Irish determination ruled yesterday, and late in the afternoon I sat down at the computer, flexed my fingers like a concert pianist and began. I started by reading through the story and then checking the suggestions of the people who had critiqued the story weeks ago. Then I started chopping parts out and adding more. Once I started doing that step, the whole thing started coming clear, and I moved on at a rapid pace.

Add more dialgoue had been the suggestion of more than one critiquer. And once I did that, the story came alive. It became more real. It's that old 'showing is better than telling' rule.

Give us more emotion. And again, once I did it in one paragraph, the next one came more easily.

How did your husband react? The story wasn't about him, it involved two others, and he was cast in a minor role. Or so I thought. Upon reading through it again, I could see that his reaction to what was happening proved to be important, and so his role got expanded a little more.

Are you getting the idea that having your work critiqued helps tremendously with revisions? I'm living proof that it does. By the time evening rolled around, I'd made my revisions and felt satsified with the story. Today, the contest entry envelope will be mailed with 8 entries, this one included. Winners won't be announced until October. It's a long wait so it's time to push it to the back of my mind and start writing a new story.

And the second story that needed revisions? It's waiting in the wings. It needs major surgery, and there's not enough time left to do it justice.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Procrastinating Gets Me Nowhere

I enter my state authors organization contest every year. And every year entries can be sent in between mid-April to mid-June. So, here we are at almost the mid-June point. And have I sent in my entries? If you read the title of today's post, you know the answer to the question.

Procrastinating creates stress. It's as simple as that. My contest entries must be postmarked no later than June 15th. I do have several ready to be put in the envelope and mailed, but I still have two to revise and put into the required submission form. But I keep putting it off.

I could say I've been too busy to work on those two stories. And that's partially true. But the real reason is that I'm not looking forward to whipping those two stories into contest-ready shape because they have both given me grief in the early writing, and I know that revising them will be no picnic. It's so easy to tell myself that I'll do it tomorrow. Definitely a Scarlett O'Hara approach. (For those too young to know Scarlett as well as I do--she was the heroine in Gone With The Wind who often said, "I'll think about that tomorrow.")

With not quite a full week to deadline, today's the day I'm going to work on the revisions. Procrastinating much longer means they will never see the inside of the entry envelope. Now that I've made this public statement, I'm committed!

I wonder if there is anyone who can say they've never procrastinated. I'm betting it's the rare person who has never done so. Some people do it habitually and some only occasionally. I've already mentioned the stress procrastination creates. In a writing project, it can also mean that you are limiting yourself to not enough time to do the project as well as you might if started earlier. A hurry-up job may turn out looking like it's been dashed off with not enough thought behind it. You also run the risk of not making the deadline and missing out on a good opportunity to win a contest or have work accepted by an editor.

We are our own worst enemies when it comes to procrastination. It gets us nowhere. It's a hard habit to break, but it can be done with some determination. I'm going to work on it. How about you?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Club Favorites

My Book Club met this morning, but the format was a little different from usual. Normally, we seven women read the same book and then spend an hour and a half discussing it. We're longtime friends but seven very distinct personalities. That was shown in today's meeting.

Last month we met a week later than usual which gave us only 3 weeks to read the next book. The suggestion was made that instead of trying to read a full book, each of us would give a 10 minute presentation on one of their all-time favorite books. I wondered as I drove to Ginger's this morning if there would be any duplicates. Would they all be novels? Would any of the titles be new to us?

We ended up with seven books that were completely different. Three of them were completely new titles to me and to several others. Only three were novels. The list is below. You may want to look up some that are new to you.

1.  The Great Wing by Louis Tarataglia--a nonfiction book about geese who fly in formation, fly to the same places each year, how they care for one another. The person who chose it said it is easily translated to the interpersonal relationships among humans. A small book but worth reading, she told us.

2.  The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher--Probably Ms Pilcher's most popular novel. The setting is Cornwall, England and the story is a family saga told in flashbacks, beautifully written

3.  Nothing Like it In The World by Stephen Ambrose--this nonfiction book relates the story of building the intercontinental railroad during the mid-1800's. A sort of competition was held with Chinese immigrant laborers starting on the west coast and Irish immigrant laborers beginning in the eastern part of our nation. The idea was to see who could get farthest, to be determined where they met, somewhere in the middle of the country. Mr. Ambrose is a noted historian who writes nonfiction that reads like a novel.

4.  The Dog Who Wouldn't Be by Farley Mowatt--a humorous tale by a Canadian author

5.  Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher--one of the last books Ms Pilcher wrote--again about England and using very real people with very realistic problems.

6.  The Elegance of the Hedghog by Muriel Barbery--one of the newer books on the list. A review of the book said it does not really begin until page 119, but then it blooms. Filled with wicked humor.

7.  The Log of Christopher Columbus translated by Robert Fuson--an account of the first of four voyages taken by Christopher Columbus which took him to the West Indies. Sounded like an interesting read.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Book Covers

When I spend time with my youngest grandchildren, I am the one chosen to read a bedtime story to them. Mom and Dad take turns doing so on most nights, but when Grandma is visiting, I'm it. Saturday night, Cole who is almost 4, picked out a book called Franklin Goes To School. Franklin is a cute little turtle that preschool kids love. He has many of the same kind of fears, likes and dislikes that they do.

When we finished the story about Franklin's first day at school, Cole took the book from my hands and studied the front cover with the picture of Franklin on it. Then he turned the book over and spent some time looking at what the publisher had put on the back cover. There were five or six book covers that showed other Franklin books in the series. Cole pointed to each one and was able to tell me what the book would be about from the picture on the cover. One he especially liked showed Franklin in the hospital. "I want this one and this one and this...." my grandson told me. Cole did exactly what the publisher hoped. He was interested in the other books and wants to have them all.

When I returned home the next evening, I found an e-mail from a friend who is experiencing self-publishing a non-fiction books she's written. She's working with a group that helps authors through the self-publication process. She's also working with lawyers regarding the content of the book, for fear of possible law suits. Everything was going along well when she learned she could not use the picture a book designer had selected for the cover due to a possible copyright infringement. The review copies had already been printed and were ready to go out to 30 reviewers, so off they went with the wrong cover. The same picture was on the business cards she'd had printed, so out they go. And she's back to square one with the cover selection.

So there I was in a two day period learning about book covers, both front and back. One with an adult author and the other with a preschool child who spent a lot of time looking at the back cover of a book.
I think I may look at book covers, both front and back, a little differently now. It appears that both are pretty important, whether you're a reader or a writer.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Food Story Success

A few months ago, I learned that a story I'd sent to a memoir site's contest had earned an Honorable Mention. The editor wrote that the story would be published on the site sometime in June. Yesterday I received a notice from Matilda Butler, editor at http://www.womensmemoirs.com/ telling me that my story was up.

So of course, I clicked right on over to the website to see how the story looked. I was most pleased to see "Love On A Plate" in print and pictures to go with it--one of me at age 10 and another of my grandmother. The story is about Grandma and some special muffins she made. The recipe is included. You can read it at
http://womensmemoirs.com/memoir-scrapbooking/kitchenscraps-love-on-a-plate-by-nancy-julien-kopp/

The editor is urging readers to leave comments in the special section after the story. So, if you feel so inclined, please do so.

The womens' memoir site features food memory stories on a regular basis. Surely food comes in as a big category in our family memories. We all have favorite foods our mothers, grandmothers or aunt made. And we even have some that we don't ever want to eat again. Either way, they give us a story to be written and saved for posterity.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

More On Endings

My day was too busy to get to the library to check out Nancy Kress's book Beginnings, Middles and Ends, so I did the next best thing to find some answers to the questions I posed in yesterday's post. I googled Nancy Kress and story endings and came up with a good many choices of article to read. With limited time, I read only a few, but one struck me as being very informative and also explained the many ways of completing a story.

Go to http://www.writersdigest.com/article/?p_ArticleId=5708 to read Nancy Kress's article "How To Write Successful Endings."

One type of ending that Ms. Kress writes about is one she terms 'the barely there ending' which seemed to fit the story I mentioned yesterday. I still think it is not going to be a satisfying ending for many readers.

Have you ever read a story or a novel where the ending seems to have been thrown in hurriedly with an attitude of 'let's get this over with so I can get on to the next project?' I've run into that situation several times in the past year or two. With all it takes to complete a full novel, it seems a bit sad to end it with little thought and little regard for the reader.

Endings are important, but so is the rest of the book. There's no place where you can slack off. The entire project deserves the very best an author can give.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Elusive Endings

Someone at my wac critique group has been subbing and resubbing a short story. It's a good story, and the re-sub shows that she's worked at polishing it up after those who critiqued gave suggestions. As I read through the story the second time she subbed it, I was thoroughly enjoying the plot, character developement and more. But when I reached the end, I felt deflated. The final lines left me with a feeling of "Huh?" or "Is this the end?"

I've given it some thought the past couple days. In part, I have been trying to figure out why the story ending fell flat--at least for this reader. This morning, another critiquer mentioned much the same reaction, which made me feel a little better. It hadn't been my imaginiation or only me. I've read many published stories or novels that have been great reads until the ending. And then, I'm left with that same deflated feeling and questions circling in my mind.

I'm in the same dilemma with a short story I wrote several years ago. The story works well until it comes to the ending. And it's not satisfying to the reader or to me, the writer. I've rewritten the ending more than once, and I've yet to come up with the gold ring of endings. I'd like to enter the story in our state authors contest, and the deadline is June 15th, so I've got to come up with somethng soon.

The question is--Why do good endings so often elude a writer? Why don't endings follow in a natural way? Are we trying to always make it a 'happily ever after' conclusion? Are we afraid to make the ending more realistic, more true to life? Is it fair to leave the reader with a sad ending? Or a horrific happening that wipes out all that went before it? Or not knowing what actually happened?

I wish I had the answer to the above questions. If any of you readers can shed some light here, please do make comments. Meanwhile, I think I'm going to check out Nancy Kress's book Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. I'm going to flip right to the final third of the book and read about endings. Maybe she can help me figure this out.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Choosing Your Entertainment Medium

No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasures so lasting. (Lady Montagu, 1753)

I'm not sure who Lady Montagu was, but I'd say she can claim great insight and wisdom with the quote above. I"m in full agreement with her, but it might not be so easy to convince people today that reading surpasses other pastimes in both cost and lasting pleasure.

Many would rather sit in front of a TV, a movie theater screen or a computer for entertainment. Let someone else do the work, I'll just sit here and absorb what they've done. While many things in all three of those mediums are delightful and amusing, they don't do much to exercise your brain, do they? Think of the cost of this kind of entertainment versus the cost of a book. Doesn't even come close, does it? Granted, you put out a lot of money only once for the TV and the computer and you spend money on books, one at a time,, but the equivalent amount of money spent on books would keep you in reading material for a very long time.

Think about the number of books you've read that impressed you so much that you can recall the story or the theme in them. Now, think about the number of TV shows that have done the same for you. When a TV show is over, it's over. I seldom think about them later on. But I do think about books I've read, think about stories that left an indelible mark in my memory bank.

I'm not suggesting that people give up TV, movies or computer games and internet surfing. Not at all. But I'd like to see more people choose reading a book more often than they do now. Don't let yourself vegetate in front of a screen on a full-time basis. Pick up a book and let your mind take you to faraway places.