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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Books While Traveling

One thing I always remember to pack on any trip is an assortment of paperback books. Airports and airplanes offer the perfect opportunity for reading. It passes the time in a pleasurable way. I also like to read for a little while before bedtime when we're on a trip. It helps me relax after what is usually an activity-filled day. There's no way a reader like me could survive without a book for a full two weeks.

Looking back, I'm wondering why my parents never thought of denying me access to books when they wanted to inflict a punishment for some misdeed I'd committed. It would have been the worst type of punishment ever. I'm glad they never thought of it. Thinking back on those growing-up years, I don't remember having many punishments. Does that mean I was a perfect child? Not be a long-shot, but my parents scolded, hollered and lectured and then it was over. They seldom spanked or took favorite toys away. Couldn't deny TV privileges in my very early years because we didn't have one yet. Usually, when I was in trouble, I stayed out of sight with a book to comfort me.

I picked up a used copy of Widow of the South to take along. I'd read several reviews of this book when it was first released and put it on my mental list of Books I Want To Read, but for some reason, I never got around to this one. So, tomorrow I'll have it in hand during airport waiting time and on the planes. And I have three more books in my luggage. Better to leave two shirts at home and take the books!

I will be posting at Writer Grannys World again when we return. So make a note to check back on August the 10th. Au revoir til then.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Visiting Our Roots

Back in the 70's, I believe, a made for TV series called "Roots" left an indelible mark on the American people. We were hooked with episode one and continued right on to the end watching the story of an African man named Kunta Kinte as he was brought to America and sold into slavery. The story continued through his life and those who came after him. It made those who watched begin to think about their own roots, and it was a great promotion for those family stories I'm always harping on. Write down those family stories is almost a mantra for me.

Ken's ancestry is 100% German. Both his maternal and paternal grandparents immigrated to this country, and so he had a desire to visit Germany. We've been fortunate in doing so three times. Twice on tours and once on our own. Three years ago, I was able to visit my Irish roots when we drove through a good deal of Ireland with friends. My mother's side of the family was all Irish, making me half Irish. It touched me to travel through the land where people whose stories I'd heard all my life had started from. And yes, I felt something special there that I haven't in other countries. I laid claim to it if even in a small way. I felt I belonged, wasn't just another tourist.

And now, I'm going to visit the other half of my ancestry--the French side. My father's family were all French. Those from way back lived in France, and then in later times, they were French Canadian. On Wednesday morning, Ken and I will fly to Nice, France where we join a tour group for an eleven day stay in France.

We'll have one night in a hotel on the beach in Nice, and the next day, we board a 46 passenger river cruiser where we will spend seven nights cruising up the Rhone River, ending in Paris. There we transfer to a hotel for three nights. The boat stops somewhere every day, and we can explore the immediate area, much of which is in the Burgundy and Provence sections.

We've seen several other European countries via a river cruise, which we both think is a wonderful way to travel. Because I have a connection to France, however minimal that may be, this is one I'm excited about.
I'm wondering if I'll have that same feeling of belonging as I had in Ireland.

I'll have a journal with me to capture my thoughts and keep track of all the places we visit, the foods we eat, and the wine we drink. Having heard about the foods and wines of France for so long, I'm eager to see if they will live up to my expectations.

Today is the Dreaded-Packing-Day, but it will get accomplished with the expert help of my husband, who is a packer-par-excellence. I'll be posting again tomorrow and will start again on August 10th when we are  home.

I'm trying to pull up phrases from my three years of high school French. All countries are pleased if you try to speak a little of their language. I have a little French, enough to get by in a restaurant. A little---un petit peu!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Life Without A Book

I've had a very busy week, so something had to take a back seat. I chose to not begin reading a new book. That sounds so easy, doesn't it? But for me, it's almost like punishment, as if something is missing in my life.

Early this morning, as I was taking my walk, I started to think about why I feel like a piece of me has floated away into the blue sky when I don't have a book in progress. I think it's most likely because reading has been one of my greatest pleasures ever since first grade.. From the days of Dick, Jane and Baby Sally all the way up to now, I've been a voracious reader. Rare is the time when I don't have a book going.

I must admit that once I began writing, my reading time was considerably less. Even so, I still made my regular trips to the library and bookstores, and I continued to read, just not at the previous pace. I still read two newspapers every day, and I manage to keep up with the few magazines I subscribe to. Then, there are the several writers newsletters I receive online every week or month, as the case may be. It's those wonderful novels, biographies and occasional nonfiction books that have had to diminish. Belonging to a Book Club has helped push me into making time to read.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Next week, we leave on vacation, and I'm taking a few books along to while away the airport/airplane travel hours. When we travel, I usually take paperbacks I purchase in Rosie's Corner, which is a used book sales area of our local library. That way, when I finish one, I leave it in a hotel room or in the library on a ship or someplace that others can enjoy them, too. And I don't have to carry them home again. Leaves more room for all those goodies we like to purchase when far from home.

I'll tell you about our upcoming trip on Monday.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Only Kids Have Long Summer Vacations

I've noticed that some of the writers groups I'm affiliated with tend to slow down quite a bit in the summertime. Writers appear to be running straight back to their childhood school days when school let out the end of May or early June and there were "...no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks." as some sang on their way out the door. They turned their backs on schoolwork.

That's fine when you're a kid, but writers can't take an entire summer off. Oh, they can, but it's not going to be of much benefit to them in their writing world. We all need time off from whatever job we do, but the time off needs to be limited. An athlete who takes the whole summer off is going to find that he needs to work extra hard to get back to the level he was when he decided to loll on the beach and swing in a backyard hammock instead of conditioning and practicing.

Ask yourself how serious you are about your writing life. If you're only doing it for some self-satisfaction, you probably can take a summer off and not be any worse off. It's also possible that after being away from writing for so many weeks, you might not get back into the swing of it. But if you are writing with the hope of being published or making a name for yourself in the literary world, you can only afford short spurts of time off.

Summer brings many opportunities for all of us. We have more out of town company. We can be outdoors more often and longer with daylight lasting well after dinnertime. We have things to do with children or grandchildren. But it's that old story--we can make time for the things we want to do, and if we want to continue to grow as writers, we need to make writing a part of our regular schedule.

If you usually spend an hour each morning writing, cut it to half an hour if necessary--just don't cut it out altogether. If you go on vacation for a week or two, get right back into the swing of writing when you get home. Better yet, take a small notebook with you and write for a few minutes when you see or do something that moves you. Or take a journal and write something in it at least once each day. I do that when we travel overseas, and they're great fun to read years later. Things I've written while on the trip have helped me write a travel piece when we return home.

You don't have to be a kid again and take the entire summer off. You can find bits and pieces of time to write, and I hope you will.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Have You Heard About...?

Monday’s Guest Blogger, Harriet Cooper, is a member of the same critique group I belong to. writersandcritters is women’s only and international.


Our members come from the USA, Canada, Australia, and countries like Ireland, England, The Netherlands, Norway, and South Africa. All are English speaking and all have the common bond of honing writing skills on the path to publication.

We have a few rules regarding participation. Critiques given are fair and honest. No one likes to hear that something they’ve written needs a lot of work, but taken with the proper attitude, it can only help you grow as writer. The good is pointed out and places that need work are marked, too. And suggestions are given.

If you have any interest in the group, go to www.writersandcritters@yahoogroups.com and click on Join This Group. It obligates you to nothing. It is only a way to begin the application process. Joyce Finn, our moderator, will contact you and give you all the details. She’ll ask you to submit a writing sample and a short bio of your writing life.

Members will vote on acceptance, keeping two things in mind—A. will the group be a benefit to you and B. will you be a benefit to the group.

There are many online critique groups. Some are better than others, This one I can vouch for. I’ve been there a long time and credit its members for helping to get my work published.

One more thing I forgot to mention. We have a lot of fun while helping one another.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Trouble, Trouble, Trouble

I've been trying to post about my online critique group today, and words disappear, entire paragraphs disappear. I've made so many attempts that I've decided to call it quits for today and try again tomorrow. The Yahoo Ghosts are attacking, I fear. So, tune in tomorrow and see if we're back on track. Sorry for the delay!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Meet My Guest Blogger

Meet Harriet Cooper, a friend of mine who lives in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Harriet is a writer and a teacher. If you read anthologies like Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort, her name may seem familiar, as she's had many stories published in both. Who better to tell us how to write for this market? Harriet is my guest blogger today. A great way to begin this new week. You'll enjoy her subtle wit as well as some good advice in her words below.

Cracking the Anthology Market


In 2003, I decided to crack the anthology market. When I found out that Cup of Comfort was calling for submissions aimed at teachers, I figured I was a shoo-in. In addition to being a writer, I'm also a teacher.

Knowing that anthologies want stories, not essays, I thought of the most heart-rending tale I could think of. John, a 16-year-old boy who struggled to read at a grade-five level, immediately came to mind. I wrote about the two months I taught him – a tale of fear, pain and ultimate failure.

When Colleen Sell, the editor, rejected the story, I was dumbfounded. More than that, I was angry. Sure, she fobbed me off with words "powerful" and "well written," but she still rejected it.

A few days later, a friend of mine pointed out what should have been obvious. That series is about comfort, not pain and suffering – hence the title Cup of Comfort.

Once I stopped hitting myself over the head, I vowed to read all instructions carefully, and to beg, borrow or steal – possibly even buy – copies of anthologies I wanted to write for to get better understanding of their needs.

Since then, I've submitted over 125 pieces to various anthologies including biggies like Chicken Soup, Cup of Comfort and HCI – The Ultimate Series, the newest kid on the block. I've also sent to one-time anthologies on special topics like breast cancer or migraines.

I've spent a lot of time polishing my work, using techniques like scene and dialog from fiction-writing to make my creative non-fiction pieces more immediate and alive. I regularly check the publishers' websites for calls out and deadlines.

The result? I've published 4 pieces in Cup of Comfort, 25 in Chicken Soup, and another 4 in other anthologies. I've even been interviewed on radio for my stories in Chicken Soup. I have at least a dozen stories in the mail and have ear-marked another 15 or so to work on for upcoming titles.

I'm also on a first-name basis with Colleen, Teri, D'Ette, Lisa and other editors who work for various anthology publishers. I may not be the Queen of Anthologies, but I'm definitely one of her ladies-in-waiting.

For more information about writing for Chicken Soup, see my article "How to Get Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Books" at http://creative-non-fiction-writing.suite101.com/article.cfm/how-to-get-published-in-chicken-soup-for-the-soul-books.

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Harriet Cooper is a freelance writer who writes creative nonfiction as well as articles on cats, health, nutrition and eco-friendly products. She has also edited creative nonfiction, short stories and children's books. She can be reached at coopereditorial@live.ca

Friday, July 16, 2010

Family Time

We're going to have some family time this week-end. Our daughter's 20th high school renunion starts this evening, so she and her husband will be in and out all week-end while she catches up with old friends, and Ken and I will be watching her children. Jordan is 6 1/2 and Cole, who will turn 4 next month.

They're delights to have around. No more diapers to change. No bottles to fix. They're both pretty independent. Poppy is going to take them to the bank to deposit their piggy bank savings into their savings account. Since he's on the Board of Directors, he has a bit of pull so will take the kids on a little tour, including the big vault which impresses even me. We'll also visit the Insect Zoo at the Kansas State University gardens. Cole is really into insects right now, so he'll enjoy that. Add a trip to the library and an afternoon at the pool, and that will take care of Saturday. (And most likely wear us all out!)

Sunday morning, they'll go to church with us and eat doughnuts afterward at the Fellowship Time. After lunch, they'll head back home. They live near Kansas City, and while it's only a little over two hours between our homes, we don't see one another more than once every 4-6 weeks. Busy lives on both ends.

The older we get, the more precious these family visits have become. It seems our grandchildren are growing up far faster than our own children did. We even have a teen granddaughter in Dallas and one not far away from the teen years. Maybe it seems that way because we don't see them on a daily basis or perhaps because we don't have the responsibility of these children, just reap the fun

All four of our grnadchildren have grown-up with a love of books, thanks to parents who started reading to them when they were mere infants. And who provided many books for each child to call his/her own. Their grandparents have also added to the personal library each one has.

Yep, this week-end is family time, and I'm looking forward to it. Writing can wait until Monday..

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Not All Gems Shine Brightly

A few days ago, I posted some good news. I told you that I'd found a gem amongst the junk in my spam box. The message informing me I had made the Finalist list in the Thin Threads anthology series could have been overlooked had I not checked the spam regularly.

The message said that there would be four additional prizes awarded from that list of finalists. I was just pleased to have had my story selected. Any further prize would be a nice bonus.

The shine on that gem is considerably less this morning. I received another letter from the editor asking for a submission release form from the authors of the 100 finalist stories. Upon further reading, it turns out that all of those will not make it into the book, after all. After the release forms are signed and returned, the final cuts will be made. If the original message had included this information, I might not have misunderstood the selection process this publisher uses.

My friend, Kathe Campbell, has three stories in the list, and on Monday, we were both under the impression our stories had made it into the book. Did we not read the message carefully enough? Or did the editor not write the message clearly? It's possible it is a bit of both.

It's almost harder to take a rejection at this point, when you've come so very close to being IN. But all Kathe and I can do is hope for the best, hope our stories rise like cream to the top. And if they don't, we'll send them somewhere else. Perseverance and patience are companions once again!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Power Of Books

David Brooks, a columnist whose work appears on many editorial pages, wrote something today that interested me. He said, "Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year. They did this for three successive years." At the end of that time period, they looked at the students test scores. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher scores in reading than the other students. The power of books!

Other studies have been done that show the power of books in a child's home. Children who grow up in homes filled with books and other reading material seem to stay in school longer and prove to be better students. It's almost a common sense idea, isn't it?

In some homes today, having a selection of books available may not be as significant as it once was. The inanimate books must vie with the filled-with-animation computers, TVs and other technology driven forms of communication, learning and entertainment. What to do?

Here, I believe, is where parents and grandparents must step in and introduce the child to the glory of reading. The old 'practice what you preach' comes into to play here. Children don't learn from just being told about reading, They'll learn as much, or more, from witnessing other family members reading. Another adage comes to mind 'seeing is believing.'

I believe in the power of books. Economically privileged members of society sometimes take books for granted. They've always had access to them. If you are ever asked to donate a book, or purchase a book to give to a child through some social program or by a teacher, I hope you'll do it. Put a book in a child's hand, and it will stay with them forever.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Book I Enjoyed

Today's topic is about a book that my Book Club will discuss later this morning. It's one I read even before it was selected as one for our group. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See was entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking. Not bad to find a book that will cover all that.

Lisa See is an American who is part Chinese in heritage. She has explored her Chinese roots in two previous novels--Snow Flower and The Secret Fan and Peony In Love. I read the Snow Flower book but not the other one. Both books received high praise and the newest one, Shanghai Girls, also had good reviews.

This one is about two sisters, May and Pearl, who grow up in Shanghai in a privileged family. Even so, the sisters work as 'beautiful girls' modeling for photographers. Not sleazy photos but ones to sell products. Even the Chinese of that 1930's era knew that beauty is going to help sell a product. The girls father is deeply in debt from his addiction to gambling, and to pay off his huge debt, he agrees to sell his daughters to Gold Mountain men as brides. These men are Chinese who had moved to Los Angeles and become wealthy. The sisters are horrified and do all they can to avoid the marriages. Their plan to run away is thwared by the invasion of the Japanese army. They flee with their mother, still planning on never marrying the men they were sold to. But fate has other plans for them, and they soon find themselve on the way to America. They are held at a place called Angel Island, a misnomer if there ever was one! They spend months being detained before they can go to Los Angeles where they will finally live with their husbands. The book covers the next twenty years of the sisters' lives with the family they married into, life in the Chinatown of L.A. 

It's a book about the bond between sisters that never fully breaks completely, even in the harshest of times. It's about the immigrant experience of the Asian people. The history of the European immigrants coming through Ellis Island on the east coast has been written about in hundreds of books, but the Asian immigrant story has had less attention, though it is no less interesting. Racial problems were a part of the daily life of these Chinese-trying-to-become-American people.

I leanred a great deal about the history of the Asian immigration movement, and I was entertained by a very good story. Lisa See is a fine storyteller, thorough in her research, and bound to write more books that I will read. I'm definitely going to try Peony In Love next. As for now, I'm looking forward to discussing the book with the six other women in my BookClub.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Gem In The Junk

I check my spam box on a daily basis, and it's a good thing I do. Sitting amongst a lot of junk today was a gem. A message from the Thin Threads anthology publishers had slipped into the spam. I recognized the name, so quickly sent it flying to my inbox. An e-mail subject that says "Congratulations! You are a Thin Threads finalist." grabs your attention. Unlike the one yesterday telling me I'd won a lottery in London, and all I had to do was click on the attachment to find out how to claim my prize. That one I deleted in a hurry.

My story "College Isn't For Girls" tells about the hard road I traversed in convincing my parents I should go to college. No one in my immediate or extended family had ever gone beyond high school. The story qualified for the anthology as the editor defines the type of stories wanted as "thin thread" moments that have the power to change your life"

The editor worte that there were more than 1500 submissions for the book, and 100 finalists were selected. My good friend, Kathe Campbell, has three stories in that list. From the list of 100, four will be given prizes beyond regular payment and inclusion in the book. Some pretty nice prizes, too, but the odds of winning are fairly slim. Those winners will be announced August 15th.

For now, I'm pleased to have made it into an anthology series I've not been in before. I'ts a nice way to begin a new week. Be sure to check your spam box on a regular basis. You never know when that gem will appear. I put the address in my approved list.

If you'd like to check the Thin Threads websites go to:   http://www.kiwipublishing.com/index.php  and http://www.thinthreads.com/ 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Technology and Me

I took an aptitude test in college--a very long time ago. But the few minutes I sat across a desk from the advisor who went over the test results left a lasting impression. I scored very high in all service oriented categories. Helping others seemed to be my strength, good news for someone working on a degree to teach. When the man reached the category of Mechanical Ability, he wiped his hand across his forehead, leaned forward and said, "You scored in the first percentile here. 1%! You don't even like to open a can, do you?"

That was in 1957 and little has changed about me in that respect. But today, we can add Technology to the older Mechanical Ability category. Whenever I've had to do something with my computer or cellphone, I  panic. I know that I'll probably mess it up somehow. Possible lack of confidence? Most definitely! It's easy to panic when you perform a task that is so foreign.

I dread making changes on my computer, but I must admit that I am much better now than when I first started using a computer. Then, I really did panic whenever something needed to be installed. All those dialogue boxes that pop up and ask if you're sure you want to perform whatever frightened me. I thought the whole compuer might just blow up if I did something wrong. For me, it was foreign territory.

As time went on, and I became slightly more comfortable, I still worried but no longer went into panic mode. And I became emboldened enough to click on Yes when they asked if I was sure I wanted to change something. I still didn't like having to make major changes or to install a new program. And that's what I had to do this week.

After a discussion with my son, I decided to give up my anti-virus protection that goes up in price nearly every time it is renewed. Kirk suggested I use a free antivirus program that he'd been using and had been satisfied with. I checked, and it is also rated very high for performance. Free vs big bucks always catches my attention, so I decided when my subscription was finished with the paid version, I'd make the change.

Yesterday, I spent hours trying to contact the paid anti-virus company to cancel my subscription and make sure they did not go through with the automatic renewal. Didn't want that charge on my credit card. I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say the company made what should have been a simple task into a monumental feat. Early this morning, I had success. Mission accomplished!

Next, I had to uninstall the old anti-virus program and then install the new one, which I had already downloaded and saved. (according to technology-gifted son's instructions). It took time, but it all went smoothly. I followed the directions given step by step. My blood pressure didn't go up. I didn't panic. The deed is done. The best part is that my computer is already showing signs of great happiness. It's running faster and I can almost see it smiling.

I wish the man who talked to me about my poor mechanical abilities could see me now. If I've learned nothing else, I know now that going step by step and not hitting the panic button are key factors in this techology world we live in. Come to think of it--that works in a whole lot of things!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Meet Virginia Allain

Meet Virginia Allain. She's a retired librarian who will never be accused of whiling away her senior years rocking on the front porch. In her profile on a special internet page, she says: "Now I devote myself to writing, photography and designing books to self-publish. Having fun!"

Virginia helped her mother self-publish a book about her girlhood years in Kansas. It's called My Flint Hills Childhood and was written by 85 year old Gail Lee Martin. Gail also edits http://www.ourecho.com/ where she does a tremendous job overseeing this site where anyone can post their stories, poems and essays. Virginia has contributed to Our Echo many times. With Gail as a role model,  it's easy to understand why Virginia is such a busy retiree.

Virginia has a Squidoo Lens page that is geared to older writers. She started out featuring those in their 80's and 90's. I was very pleased when she began including my work and highlighting the titles of my blog postings. As pleased as I was, I decided I'd better set the record straight, so I wrote to Virginia and told her that someday I hoped to be among those 80 and 90 year old writers, but I was a kid of 71 right now. Quick as a wink, she changed the title of her lens to Writers At Seventy, Eighty and Ninety. It's the kind person she is--thoughtful and considerate of others. Her Squidoo lens is packed with information for both writers and readers. Take some time and go through the many sections, even a marketplace where you can order a variety of merchandise. You'll find it at http://www.squidoo.com/writers_80_90


To add to her already busy life, Virginia also writes articles for eHow, Helium and OurEcho. She has nearly 500 articles at eHow, a site where readers can find How-To info on almost any subject. When she isn't writing, Virginia is either gardening or taking photos any nature lover would admire.

Admire is the word I would use for my thought on Virginia. I am in awe of all she does when so many retirees are slowing down. Even if you're nowhere near 70, 80, 0r 90, you'll find information at her squidoo lens that will interest you. And I think you'll meet some people there whom you, too, will admire.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What's Going On?

Before I was a writer, I claimed title to being an avid reader, maybe even a voracious reader. And I still am, although I don't have as much time to read now. I split that time between reading and writing. I have always been a library user. It began way back in grade school days and has continued right into senior citizen land.

But lately, my trips to the library have been somewhat frustrating. Nothing wrong with the library itself or the staff that is still helpful and friendly. No, it's the choice of books that has me frowning while I scan the shelves. I am not a fan of sci-fi, fantasy, or horror stories. Yet, that is what seems to dominate the shelves of books today. That and mysteries. I do enjoy a good mystery now and then, but I certainly don't want to read a steady diet of mystery thrillers.

Is it a sign of our times that these books have taken the lead in today's reading world? Or is it a sign of my age that I find far too many of them on the shelves? There is obviously a market for books in these genres, or they wouldn't be publishing so many.

So, you're wondering--what kind of books does this writer look for if all the above are not on her list. I like historical fiction. It's a painless way to learn a lot of history. I'm entertained with the story and am absorbing all kinds of facts about the period in which the story is set. I like an occasional romance. I like literary novels that have a little more substance than some. I like stories that delve into personalities. I like WWII novels.
I like generational sagas. I like stories that touch the heart. And I do like mysteries but I don't want to read one after another. I like books that use language to the fullest, where the prose is almost poetic. I like the rags to riches stories, and there use to be plenty of those. I am fully entertained by a well-done biography, and I read non-fiction books on topics that interest me.

So, what kind of books do you like? Maybe your favorites are the ones I pass by. That's why we have so many genres. I just wish it was evened out a bit more.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

One More Chicken Soup Book

Sunday night, a good friend who is also a writer, sent me a message saying her story for the Chicken Soup Christmas book had been accepted. Then early yesterday, she wrote again to say that another mutual writer friend had received word that her story made it, too. I was happy for both of them, but....

...I was feeling pretty discouraged by then. Only last week, I'd had occasion to write the editor of the Chicken Soup Christmas book, and she'd responded to my question quickly. She added that my story was still in the running in this final cut stage. In fact, it had to pass only one more review editor before it was in the book. I told myself that last editor had not liked the story and put the fatal red slash across it.

As I took care of some household tasks, I gave myself silent pep talks. Just look at how many stories you've had accepted by Chicken Soup editors in the past. You should be proud of that. They've said many times that only an extremely small number of the submissions actually make it into the book. You can't expect to be a winner every time, I reminded myself while I folded laundry. You can talk to yourself, but you also need to listen and agree, and I'm not sure I was doing that.

Later in the morning, I sat down at the computer to check on e-mail, and there it was. The acceptance letter that I'd hoped for. "My Special Christmas Doll" will be part of the 2010 Chicken Soup For The Soul:  Christmas Magic book, which will be released in October. The story was attached to the letter which stated that some stories had no editing and some had a lot of editing to fit the parameters of the book. I was to check it over, make any corrections needed and approve or disapprove before returning to the editor.

I read the story carefully and found no typos, spelling errors or other mechanical problems. But I did discover that an entire paragraph was missing from the story. I dug into my files and retrieved the original submission to make sure I wasn't dreaming this up. Sure enough, an entire paragraph had been omitted. Otherwise, not a word had been changed. The missing paragraph had two important pieces of information, at least important to me. I soon realized that the reason the editor had scratched this section was to keep the story "Santa Safe" which is a term I'd seen in their call for Christmas stories. So, what could I do but agree to the edited version? I'm pleased to have my story about a doll that has passed from me to my daughter to her daughter during the last 65 years. And I'm also very pleased to be included in eleven Chicken Soup books.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Teen Writers

In this morning's Kansas City Star, a teen-age girl was profiled in a Monday feature that runs in the FYI section. The teen doesn't fit the image most of us have of teens today--texting, ipods, cellphones, standing in line to see a premier showing of a movie like those in the Twilight series.

The article stated that this young girl would rather write in her journal than text her friends. She'd rather read about boys in a book than see them in a mall. Her alarm is often set for 3 a.m. so she can work on her novel. She is a "teen-writer-in-residence" for a suburban library this summer. Her goal is to get other teens "jazzed" about writing. She will also teach creative writing to middle-schoolers. The article went on to give times this young woman is available each week to talk with other teens.

Typical teen? I think not. While I admire her drive and her goals, I wonder if she is missing out on some of the usual everyday teen life. As much as I would like to see middle school and high school students learn about writing and practice the skill, I'd also like them to do a lot of those normal kid things, too. Not always easy to hit that happy medium.

I have no doubt that this young woman has a bright future ahead of her, but will she one day look back and rue the things she missed in her younger years? There's no way of knowing, of course, but I hope that doesn't happen. The growing-up years are swift as water rushing over rocks in a mountain stream. And once they're gone, there's no way to relive them.

That said, I also hope that any teen who has an interest in writing will pursue it on a regular basis. As writers, we need to schedule time for writing, and teen-writers are no different. If they only think about writing but never take time out from their activity filled summer, they won't grow in this craft.

Do you have a teen in your family who has an interest in writing? If you do, encourage them to set aside some writing time and some reading time, too. Show interest in what they write (if they'll show it to you). Help make it possible for them to achieve writing goals.

I have a teen-aged granddaughter who likes to write and hopes to make it a career someday. She has her eye on being a TV journalist. She was editor of her middle school newspaper last school year. I wonder if she's reading the two books on writing for young people that this writer grandmother gave her a few months ago. Hope so!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Independence Day--Perfect Time For A Fanily Story

As the Fourth of July week-end dawns, you might think back to Independence Day celebrations in your childhood or perhaps your early married years. Families tend to gather on holidays, and when that happens, stories occur, too.

Let your 2010 holiday agenda trigger your memories and take time to jot them down. You needn't write the story immediately, although I find it's better if I do it as soon as possible when something triggers a memory of years ago.

Surely everyone has a firecracker story to tell, or how they decorated their bikes with red, white, and blue crepe paper. Part of it was to show patriotism, but mostly it was just great fun to do that once every year.

How about the family picnics, the community parades you may have either watched or participated in? Wasn't it a thrill to see marching bands playing songs that belonged to our entire nation? Still is in 2010 as far as I'm concerned.

Did you have big fireworks displays put on by your community, or were your fireworks strictly a family activity like mine?

Were politicians prominent in your town's Fourth of July celebrations? Or was it a day to forget politics and have a good time with friends and family?

Did your family fly an American flag in the yard or on the house? Or did you come from a family that gave little attention to America's birthday? Maybe your parents were immigrants and you can tell what the holiday meant to them.

Answer these questions I've posed, and you'll have a story to add to your Family Memoires Album. Pack it with emotion as well as description. We're a land of holidays to celebrate, and you can write about each and every one of them.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Writing Essays

What is it about essays that keep people reading them? In some way, an essay almost always presents a universal truth. It may be hidden, only inferred, or it may be stated boldly in the opening paragraph or the concluding one. On occasion, it might sit innocently in the very middle of the essay. But it should be there.

An essay illustrates a point--that's another way to put the 'universal truth' idea. An essay often uses a personalized story to illustrate what the author is attempting to convey. In fact, the story part can take up a great deal of the entire piece. There are so many different types of essays--some are very formal and almost prohibitive as they appear to be pure textbook stuff. Then there are those that speak clearly using everyday examples that most readers can relate to.

There are many books that give tips on writing essays. One I like is Writing and Publishing Personal Essays by Sheila Bender.

One of the pieces I had published in The Best Times July issue is a personal essay which uses my dad in a  story to help illustrate the point I tried to make. You can read this short piece below. Try your hand at writing an essay. Make sure you aren't just describing something or relating an event without a reason for using it.


Past, Present and Future
By Nancy Julien Kopp

My dad told great stories. It took very little to trigger a family memory, and he’d relate a tale from long ago regarding an aunt or a grandparent or himself. As he told how afraid he’d been when something bumped on the outhouse door in his childhood, Dad’s face would light up, and his eyes would sparkle. He’d draw the story out, adding details as he went along, almost as though he didn’t want to reach the end. We heard how the bumping made his heart turn over and how he sat in the outhouse shaking. “What could it be?” he’d ask. The bump turned out to be a dairy cow that finally butted her head hard enough to open the door and meet our dad nose to nose. His frightened yowl scared her away.

One day he started to tell a story about his grandmother. I watched his gnarled hands work expressively and the way he leaned forward in his chair as he talked. I’d heard the story multiple times. I listened, although not very patiently, when a thought struck like thunder in a summer storm. Old people live in the past because they don’t like the present and they fear the future. Maybe the past wasn’t the best, but they know what happened then, and it’s a safe haven.

Perhaps the past provides a more secure spot because many older people aren’t especially happy with life right now, and they await a future that holds only mysteries and promotes anxiety. Why not retreat into the safety of days gone by?

As we age, our once-strong bodies begin to betray us. Why is it so difficult to get up from a chair after sitting for a long time? Why has our energy level dropped so many points? Why do knees ache so often? Now that I’m seventy, I don’t like that part of the present, and I’m willing to bet that few seniors do.

I’m definitely a tad fearful of the unknown future. I don’t want to be a burden to my spouse or my children or to consider the fact that I may need help in my home and perhaps even move to an assisted living facility—maybe even a skilled care center.

So what is a twenty-first century senior to do? I’m not about to give up my past. I’m a storyteller just like my dad. I find joy in reliving some of my experiences and thinking about people who are no longer in my life. But I try to keep it to a minimum. I know that what occurs today is more important, so I do all I can to cultivate a good present, weaving in only a little of the past. I accept some of my limitations and work hard to change others. I pursue an active social life because I love being around people, plus it’s good for me to have social stimulation.

There’s not a whole lot of control with the future, but I hope I’ve planned for it financially, spiritually, and emotionally. I’ll cross each bridge as it appears in the best way I can at the time. My family will support me, I’m sure, and together, we can probably handle it pretty well. And if I can no longer be in charge, I’ll try to accept help in whatever form it takes.

I believe it all comes down to having the right attitude. Preserve the past, enjoy the present and meet the future one day at a time.