Thursday, September 30, 2010

Maybe It's Time To ....

We received sad news this morning about a friend who was airlifted to a hospital two hours from here after suffering a brain hemorrhage. The hospital is a highly regarded neurological trauma center, and I know she is getting the best care available to us.

Our friend is a woman in her mid-seventies but one that is vibrant and operates on a schedule that might daunt a thirty year old. She has given so much of herself to others throughout her lifetime. She has been a wife, a mother, grandmother, teacher, school social worker, and founder of the Children's Christian Concern Society.

The CCCS is a group that sponsors christian education in 21 countries around the globe. It began 42 years ago in Zacapa, Guatemala because of our friend's caring heart, and the organization has grown tremendously over the years, thanks to the leadership of our friend and her husband. She reminds me of the Energizer Bunny, always going, always doing something, even her mind seldom rests.

But now, she lies in a hospital fighting for life. And I am reminded of how very fragile life is. In a matter of minutes, our lives can change or even be snuffed out. It's totally out of our control.

It does make me think that I must do the things I've always wanted to do before there's no time to do them. I have a juvenile novel that I've written and never made a serious effort at marketing it, despite several people encouraging me to do so. Maybe it's time that I do that. Maybe it's time to stop saying someday and make it a today  thing instead.

Maybe it's time to tell special people how I feel about them. I know, but perhaps they aren't aware of it. And I'd like them to be aware that I admire and/or love them. Maybe it's time to treasure the little moments in life--like waking up in the morning with my husband's arms holding me close. Maybe it's time to say the thank you I owe to many people who have made a difference in my life.

Maybe we all need to step back and think about a lot of things. Tragedy illuminates the fragility of our lives.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

As The Sycamore Grows--A Great Book

Jennie M. Helderman--Author of As The Sycamore Grows

You may remember a blog post about a writer I admire--Jennie Helderman. We met through our online critique group, wac. Jennie was taking a writing class in her home area. One of her assignments was to write a 1500 word magazine article on poverty in Alabama which described real people and their actual names.  She found a subject with help from the Director of a Women's Shelter. After an interview where she gathered enough material for her article, Jennie realized she had enough to write an entire book.

Perhaps it was a fleeting thought at first, but after the teacher read the article she'd written, he agreed that it could easily be expanded into a full length book. Perhaps the word easily is not appropriate as it took a journey of five years duration to bring the idea to published book. But today, the book is a reality.

Jennie submitted her book a chapter at a time to our wac group, and we picked it apart, giving suggestions about places that might not be clear enough, or exclaiming over a particularly well done section. We watched as she wrote and rewrote so that the story would do justice to the people in it and send the right message to those who read it. We watched at a conference where we had all gathered as she pitched her book to an agent.

Once the book was complete, she began the masochistic marketing process. That adjective may be a bit strong, but anyone who is trying to sell a book knows they are putting themselves up for being rejected time and again. It can feel like standing at a whipping post with agent after agent, or editor after editor thrashing you. But if you believe in what you've written, as Jennie did, being published can happen.

I have been reading my copy of  As The Sycamore Grows, and even though I know the story of a woman's fight for freedom well, I'm captivated by it, thanks in part to excellent writing. In only pages, I found myself completely drawn into Ginger's story as told by Jennie. She gives equal time to Mike's story as well. For, in any abusive marriage, there are two characters  playing out the story. Ginger's tale is one of escape from a controlling, abusive husband, of finding a safe haven, and finally of making a new life for herself and her two boys.It's a fascinating read, and I feel privileged to have been able to watch this book grow from a seed to full fruit.

Amazon has a page that has the book details and an editorial review. They are also selling it at a reduced price. To learn more, go to:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Books vs Movies

I've seldom found a movie made from a book that surpassed the book. It's not that I don't like movies. I do.
But almost always, I find that I enjoy the book far more. I got to wondering the other day as to the reason for that.

The director and producers of the films made from books are free to interpret the story in any way they like. That sometimes means big changes from the original manuscript, which means people who view the movie leave the theater saying, "Well gee whiz, that wasn't like the  book at all. They changed the whole ending."

I think that is one reason I prefer the book. It allows me to interpret it for myself. It lets me use my own imagination when reading. I set the scene in my mind, and the movie scenes may be quite different. I also devise my own mental picture of each character, and maybe my heroine doesn't look like Meryl Streep.

Sometimes whole sections of a book are left out of the movie. Sacrilege! At least, it is to someone who writes words that are all deemed important and takes offense at them being sliced away. And I'm going to guess that isn't only me but just about all authors. Our words are precious to us but obviously not to the Hollywood crowd.

If I had to list books and movies in order of preference, books would definitely be number one. How many of you agree with me?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Storm Stories

The picture above was on the internet showing the wierdest cloud I've ever seen and never hope to again. The building beneath the ominous black cloud is the football offices and locker rooms of Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS. It's where we live and where we attend all K-State football games. Going out from either side of the building is our stadium which seats 50,000 fans. 

Saturday, we were playing the University of Central Florida. I read in the paper that many of the UCF players had never been to the Midwest before. After the experience we had during the game, they may never want to return. During the Ft. Riley Day pre-game festivities, I watched the thunderclouds in the north. A few jagged streaks of lightning sliced through them every now and then, but it all appeared to be far away from the stadium. Suddenly, a cloud lower than the others began to appear, and it spread from west to east looking like a wall. Later I heard someone say the actual term is a wall cloud, but on TV that evening, a weatherman corrected it. He said what we had is a shelf cloud. Seems a wall cloud has tornadoes boiling up inside it and a shelf cloud does not, just brings on severe storms. Whichever it was, I found it pretty scary.

The game had been going for about three minutes when the announcer told the fans that the game was suspended because of lightning in the area. He urged us to leave immediately and seek shelter. Surprisingly, thousands of people filed out in an orderly fashion. Some went to cars in the parking lots, while others found refuge in the basketball coliseum close by. Those in charge had opened it immediately. By the time Ken and I had gotten into the coliseum, the wind picked up and flags whipped furiously on their poles, and then torrents of rain covered the area. 

An hour and twenty-five minutes later, the teams were back on the field, fans in the stands, and play resumed. The rain stopped, the storm clouds disappeared and the sun came out. We had a happy ending to the storm and also the game, which we won late in the fourth quarter.

The experience made me think about how great storms are for background in stories. What offers better possibilities for vivid description? What offers better chances to bring emotion to the characters? What offers better opportunities to weave suspense or terror into a story?. Take a look at the fiction stories you've written, then try and rewrite them with a storm theme running through. It could be like taking one of those new 2:30 p.m. five hour energy pills I see in an oft-repeated TV commercial lately. Weave a storm around your story, and it might end up a winner.

Friday, September 24, 2010

One Or Two?

I pay close attention to the critiques the members of my online group do for me, but I also read most of the ones they do for others. It's almost equivalent to taking a class on writing. I've learned a lot reading what others have to say.

One of the things I've noticed that is said fairly often is that there are two stories in a submission that should concentrate on only one. I've had it said about a few of my own submissions, and it came up again recently in a story someone submitted as a possible Chicken Soup for preteens story.

It happens when we write too much of an introduction or give too much backstory. In the one I read yesterday, the author had a lot of intro material that was interesting and was most likely done to set the scene for the real story which began more than halfway through the piece. It's where the action began and where my interest heightened. I'm sure she felt all the intro part was necessary to the telling of the active part. And a lot of the information in it was most definitely pertinent.

I would rather she began with the action part of the story and weave in the needed background information. For one thing, it is going to grab the reader's attention sooner. Or she could use the information in the earlier part to write a separate story, turning one submission into two submissions.

As I said, I've done this myself more than once and not even realized it until a critter pointed it out in her critique. When I concentrated on one part and made it into one story, guess what happened? The story became much stronger. I've learned that the answer to One or Two? is almost always One.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Celebrity Authors

Those of us who struggle to make a name in the writing world will understand when I say that celebrities writing books that get wide acclaim from the publishing world and the media irk me. The book doesn't sell because it's a good book. It sells because a movie star, singer, or other entertainment celebrity wrote it.

But did they write it? I'm sure there are a few who actually do write the book, but there are also many who use ghost writers or have the idea and editors at a publishing house whip the whole thing into shape for them. I don't know this for a fact, but I'm reasonably certain that it does happen.

If these celebrities want to to be taken seriously in the writing world, they should write the book under a different name and go through the process just like the rest of us do. I wonder what percentage would make it.

On the other hand, if the book they've 'written' has  real merit or is helpful to children in some way, I'm all for it. If they are doing it to keep their name in lights a little longer or to rev up a sinking career, then I'm really irritated. But how do we know where each of these people fits? We don't, so every time it happens, I start mumbling and muttering.

Do other writers have the same kind of feelings I've had on this subject? I'd like to hear from you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Breaking My Own Rules

I did it. I broke one of my own rules. Time and again, I have preached about following the guidelines when looking for a place to send a story, poem, or article. It only makes sense to do the things the editor has asked for. If you don't, she'll toss the submission faster than a good running back moves down a football field.

Last night, I checked out a few possible places to send an essay, and while doing so, I found one that takes poetry. My poem about visiting Monet's garden in Giverny, France seemed a good fit in all but one way. They specified that shorter poems are more likely to be accepted due to space constraints in their publication. A suggestion of 18 lines came next.

My poem was considerably longer, but it definitely fit the other specifications. So, what to do? I mulled it over for a full 30 seconds and decided I had nothing to lose by sending it. If the editor looked at subject matter and appeal first, maybe it would pass. And if it didn't, I'd move on to another market.

I filled out the submission form, and clicked Submit, but as soon as I did, I started to feel guilty about breaking my own rule. That was last night, but this morning, there seems to be no sign of guilt. What I did hurt no one, unless perhaps myself.

Rules are good to have, but they can be bent once in awhile.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Confusing Call For Submissions

Chicken Soup publishers recently sent a call for submissions for a new preteen book that they plan to add to their series. I have a story I think might work, so I ran it through my online critique group. According to them, it will work but only when I put in a little more of my own work. S I must scratch that 'easy submission' thought.

Another member of our group has subbed two stories that she would like to submit to the Chicken Soup book. Both are good ones that would appeal to preteens, but she also was told she needed to change this or that by those who critiqued both stories.

The big question I have is whether the publishers want stories that are as told by an adult about the days they were a preteen or if the stories should be written from a preteen's viewpoint, happening in today's world. They're two distinctly different types of stories.

There are very few eleven and twelve year olds who would be able to write a story polished enough to be accepted into a book like this, so that leaves adult authors who most likely are going to delve back into the past for a story about their own preteen years, or perhaps that of a sibling or good friend. Those who are now mothers of preteens might have an edge here, since they witness preteen behavior on a daily basis.

If the story is written by an adult who is reaching far into her past for the topic, she must be very careful to tell the story without becoming preachy. It's something we adults tend to do--try to teach through a preach--when we are writing for children. And that's something editors of children's books and magazines really hate. They'll toss a story like that out faster than a wink. It's better if a story has a message that children can figure out on their own. Kids are smarter than we sometimes are willing to admit.

All this brings me back to my original confusion. Which kind of story is Chicken Soup looking for? There's only one way to find out, and that's to keep writing and sending the stories to them. Maybe by this time next year, we'll know which kind of stories made it into the book.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Book-ends On A Good Week-end

We all enjoy some R and R time now and then. Ken and I had it in Kansas City this week-end which left us both feeling relaxed and refreshed. We shopped, ate at some super good restaurants, went to the K-State game, visited a friend, and took in an art fair.

As if that wasn't enough, my writing world book-ended the week-end with good news. Friday evening, when we returned from dinner feeling totally full but not miserable from overeating, I turned on my laptop. One of the messages waiting for me was from the editor of Horizons, a small Canadian magazine. I'd sent him a fiction story in January and had no response until about May when he requested I send the story again. Seems he lost it. Then no word, so I figured he read it, hated it and dumped it. But here he was now, telling me I had written a "great story" and he wanted to publish "The Long Night" in the October issue. We hadn't ordered dessert at the restaurant, but this message seemed to be the dessert on top of an already nice day.

We got home late Sunday afternoon, and an hour later, I found a message from the editor of Thin Threads Anthologies put out by Kiwi Publishing. I had a story in the finals for one of their books, and this message was to let me know my story made the cut. "College Isn't For Girls" will be in a book about life changing moments to be published in October.

Two acceptances made good book-ends for this very fine week-end.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Scratch Those Passive Verbs

We all use many passive verbs in everyday conversation. Consider how many times you include the words was, is, were or some variation of them. We do it subconsciously as method of economizing our speech. Those words are short and we know the point of what we’re saying lies in the words that surround those bland verbs.

But as writers, we need to find verbs that show the reader something, verbs that bring out sensory details. Using too many passive verbs is the mark of a new writer. I profess to guilt in that department, too, when I first started writing.

Which of the following sentences are more interesting? Which ones give a picture to the reader?

  1. She is sad.
  2. Sadness engulfed her.

  1. We went to the beach.
  2. We motored to the beach.

  1. We were hot in the sun.
  2.  We roasted in the blazing sun.

  1. Alice turned around, her skirt moved, too.
  2. Alice twirled until her skirt billowed.

The B sentences all bring a mental picture to mind and allow the reader to get into the scene far better than those passive verbs in the A sentences. In the final set, A has semi-active verbs, what we might call weak verbs. Again, the ones used in B are far more interesting and give a more vivid picture.

When you finish the first draft of a story or essay, look through it and mark the passive verbs. Then try to find active verbs to replace them. Use a thesaurus if you need some help. Read your work from beginning to end, and you’ll see how much stronger and more interesting it sounds. Work on using active verbs whenever possible

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More Than One Reason To....

Writing an essay, article or story is sometimes the easiest part of the writing for publication process. Looking for a market can be the most difficult part, especially if we make it so. There's one I turn to quite often.

I've had many stories published in a newspaper published in Springfield, Missouri that is specifically aimed at a certain audience. Ozarks' Senior Living publishes things of interest to senior citizens. Being one myself, a lot of my work has been appropriate for this publication. Some of what the newspaper publishes is for pure entertainment, some for information needed by seniors, and some for no apparent reason at all. 

Being a small publisher means the pay is of equal amount--quite small. But unless you're trying to make a living from freelance writing, it's alright to work with this kind of publication if you like what they publish and are happy to have your work appear there. That's the case with me. Payment is little more than a token, but I like the newspaper very much. The editorial is almost always something seniors can relate to. No government policies, no politics to be found. The managing editor writes about things in her life that seniors can understand.

There's a man, obviously a senior, who writes one humorous story after another about life in general. It's a pleasure to read his work and feels like you're sitting across the table from him in a local coffee shop having a chat. 

A woman writes a religious column every month, another gives computer tips. I send them memoir, travel and inspirational stories, as do many other writers. They must like what I send, as I've only had one rejection from them. 

The back inside pages have a joke section and one for personal ads. Yes, seniors are looking for dates, too. Some only for companionship, others indicate they want a relationship.. This publication offers a lot more than big bucks, and that's why I am happy to have my work published there.

This month, they published one of my travel stories. "Grandpa's Town" has a personal side to it as well as giving a glimpse of a town in Germany. That 'personal' touch is what goes over well in Ozarks' Senior Living.

The next time you're in the Springfield, Branson, Missouri area, you might look for a copy. If you're a senior, that is.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Varying Tastes

Yesterday, I talked about the book my Book Club would be discussing. (No! I Don't Want To Join A Book Club) I could hardly wait to get there to see if anyone else agreed with me that the book was a little too repetitious and maybe better meant to be an essay than a full length book.

Ginger wasn't able to be at the meeting, but she sent her opinion through an earlier chat with the hostess. She thought it was hilarious from start to finish. Stephanie was in full agreement. She said she really loved the book, laughed out loud many times while reading.

Three others said they liked it but didn't classify it among their best reads, nor would they feel moved to recommend it to others to read.

Karen said she really didn't like it at all, and even when lots of good things about the book were brought up, she stood her ground. No one was going to sway her. And me? I was halfway between those who kind of liked it and Karen, who really didn't. I did say that I admired the way the author had used diary form and somehow had woven a complete story using that technique.

It shows that we all have varying tastes, mostly because we're all very different people. Life would be rather boring if everyone liked the same books, the same movies, the same TV shows. We'd be left with darned little discussion material in groups like Book Clubs, Theater Review etc.

I'm glad that the women in my Book Club have no qualms about saying they 'hated the book' or that they 'absolutely loved it.' Our differing opinions don't hurt our friendship at all , and perhaps that's a sign that we are good friends. We feel comfortable enough with one another to voice our honest opinion. That might play out in another way in a group where members don't know each other well. Someone might be the lone dissenter but afraid to state it. I might not be accepted here could be the thought that runs through her mind.

I think it's those dissenters that create the liveliest discussions in book groups. So be appreciative of those varying tastes. They'll keep your Book Club alive!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is Your Topic Enough For A Full Book?

My once-a-month Book Club meets today. The book we're going to discuss is No! I Don't Want To Join A Book Club by Virginia Ironside, a British journalist. She formatted the book as a diary of a woman about to turn sixty who glories in being an "older" woman. Her friends are all bemoaning the many little things that bother them about becoming older.

The theme is about aging, but the author brings in bits and pieces of her life which slowly weaves a complete story. Rather loosely, but a story. I became annoyed with the book when only halfway into it and for one reason only. There was constant repetition of the aging theme, and I got tired of it.

The material in the book might have made a fine essay. Ms Ironside writes with wit and humor, and I think a short essay along the same lines would have been entertaining and amusing and still sent the message that getting older is not a bad thing, that old age brings its own set of genuinely pleasant times. Instead, the author stretched it out to a full book, which I found to be too much of a good thing.

This is not the first book I've read that, to me, would have made a good essay but not a full length book. Nora Ephron wrote a terrific essay about hating her neck once she reached a certain age. It was hilarious and sent a message, but she didn't go on and on with it. Instead, she grouped it with several other essays she'd written over the years and used the neck essay for the title of her book. It's called "I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts On Being A Woman."  It was catchy enough to draw a reader to the book where they could discover several excellent and enjoyable essays.

I'm looking forward to hearing what the other six members of my Book Club have to say. Our discussion of this book is going to lead to talk about all of us getting older. I'm glad we only meet for an hour to hour and a half. Too much more of that, and I might get annoyed again.

Monday, September 13, 2010

How Frustrating Is This?

I'm working on an essay that was prompted by an experience we had when in France earlier this summer. It moved me a great deal, and I wanted to share it with the world--loosely speaking. I've given it a lot of thought and tried to figure out how best to approach the essay.

Should I set the scene and lead up to the main event, or should I begin with the action and fill in later? It's always a toss-up as to how to write something like this. Grabbing the reader right away is often the preferred method. Too much of setting the scene and moving slowly into the action can lose readers. I decided to write it both ways and then make a decision as to which one to keep. It takes more time and effort, but in the end, it may be worth it.

But more frustrating than the approach is being able to convey the emotion of what occurred. I experienced it first-hand, and even thinking back to the day we visited an American military cemetery and participated in a wreath laying ceremony brings back the lump in the throat and a tear to my eye. I can relate the sequence of what happened, but how can I make the reader feel some of that same emotion?

I find this to be one of the most frustrating parts of writing memoir. Even delving back into childhood and telling a family story presents the same problem. I was there, I experienced the emotion, but I want my readers to feel it, too. If I can do that, chances are, they'll finish reading and feel that it was a good read.

One solution is to show rather than tell. If you only tell a story, the reader steps back and sees it as a list of what happened. But if you show what occurred, chances are the reader will be drawn into the scene and begin to feel the emotion the writer is hoping to convey.

Google some keywords like 'writing with emotion' or 'emotion in writing' and see what you come up with.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rainy Days

We had a rainy day here yesterday, and this morning we woke to face yet another gloomy day with rain and possible t-storms in the forecast. Lots of people think rainy days are great for curling up with a book to read.
I like to do that sometimes, too, but being a writer, I find that rainy days are wonderful times to write.

I have no need or desire to be outdoors doing other things, and housework is very easy to set aside. Somehow, the dust on the tables will always be available for me to swipe away. If I don't do it today, there's always tomorrow. (Actually, I did it two days ago!)

I can hole up in our home office and spend my time composing a new essay, story or poem. My back is to the window, so I don't have to look outside at the gloom. In fact, while writing, I forget all about it and much of everything else in my life. Writing is one of the best escape mechanisms I have. Some people close their eyes and nap to escape the everyday stresses, but if nothing else, my escape also proves productive.

Today, I'm going to work on an essay that has been swirling in my mind ever since we were in France over a month ago. We had a moving experience there at an American military cemetery and I've wanted to write about it ever since. But I've been mulling over different ways to approach it, and I finally feel ready to begin. That doesn't mean it's going to stay the way it starts, but at least it will be a beginning.

Yes, a rainy day is perfect for beginning a new essay.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Writing To Heal

One of my critique group members lost her husband about a month ago. Only a year earlier, he'd been diagnosed with lung cancer. Surprising since he'd never smoked. She was completely devastated dealing with the unexpected loss.

Today, she wrote to our group saying that these have been some of the darkest days she's ever known, but there are glimmers of light here and there. The outpouring of love and kindness of others has helped. She's been working on a mystery novel for some time, and her four adult sons have urged her to get back to writing. They reminded her that it was their father's wish that she finish the novel. And so, she has returned to the group to have the novel critiqued, chapter by chapter.

I was very pleased that she is writing again. It can be a part of the healing process. No, she isn't going to be writing immediately about her husband and all that occurred, but someday she might. Even writing this novel will help. It will give her a focus point, something that requires her mind to be clear of other matters, and it can bring her slowly back to her more normal world again.

Grief counselors often encourage those dealing with a loss to write about it. Or to write about anything that comes to mind. I don't know what it is about putting the thoughts in our minds into print that acts as a soothing balm, but it does seem to help. Not overnight, but slowly and surely. What is written may never be seen by others. It might be for the person who is dealing with grief and nobody else.

Then again, they might end up publishing what they wrote to help others heal. There are many books that contain personal stories from those who have endured a tragedy of some kind. Reading about how others have handled a loss can be beneficial by making the widow or widower feel not quite so alone.

No matter what the problem might be, I truly believe writing about it can aid in the healing process.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Laura Bush's Autobiography

I have been reading Laura Bush's autobiography. It's over 400 pages, the majority of it covering the White House years of George H Bush and Laura's husband, George W. The title is Spoken From The Heart, and it's a most appropriate one as Laura Bush tells her story in a heartfelt manner.

The title, however, is lost on the cover. The first thing that catches your eye is Laura Bush in large letters at the top, and way down at the very bottom, you see the title. The importance of a celebrity name takes precedence over the title. That name is what will sell the book, not the title.

I admired Mrs. Bush during her eight years as First Lady and in these almost-two years afterward. For her, I think First Lady was an apt title, as she truly is a lady. Her external femininity didn't always show the strength she has inside. While reading her life story, I've seen how very sensible, yet compassionate, she is, and what a wonderful support she has been to her husband whose eight year term as our president was filled with tragedy and severe criticism by the press and public.

Even those who did not support Mr. Bush through his presidency can find something of interest and perhaps surprise in this book. I doubt, however, that many of George Bush's critics would choose to read the book. When it comes to politics, most of us have our minds made up and set in cement. Maybe we should all take a step back and try to assess things a bit more objectively. Easily said, but ever so difficult to put into practice.

Laura Bush writes in a conversational style, with insight and understanding. She details the tragic September 11th of 2001 and the extremely difficult months afterward. They were months of constantly watching the skies, of being ushered at top speed to the White House bunker, deep below ground, more times than any of us knew. Months of worry, of compassionate outreach to the families of the 9-11 victims and later tofamilies of those who were killed and to the severely wounded in the Iraq War. She lets us see the members of the Administration in a more personal light, bringing out the human side of those who make difficult decisions on a daily basis.

Personal tidbits about the early days of her teaching career, her marriage to the "most eligible bachelor in Midland, Texas" and the long wait to have children which culminated in having two at once. The reader sees Barbara Bush as a mother-in-law instead of the way most of us have known her--First Lady for four years. We learn of the many causes that Laura Bush promoted, as well as investing a great deal of time and love to them. One is The National Book Festival, which is still going on each year in Washington, DC. She worked hard to help the women of Afghanistan.

The pages of family photos and official White House photos are also of interest. Many familiar faces appear in them.

Reading Laura Bush's book is a perfectly painless way to delve back into our recent history and for an inside view of the White House from a First Lady's perspective.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Color Me Happy

The September issue of A Long Story Short ezine was released today. My poem, Artists All is on the poetry page. Go to and click on the poetry page, then go way down the page to find my poem. Or read it here. I would encourage you to check out this highly regarded ezine that showcases fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

It's a good place to submit your work. They are quite selective in the pieces they choose to publish, so don't give up if you don't make it the first time. I tried several times before they began to accept my non-fiction and poetry.

The poem won third place in the Kansas State Authors Themed Poetry Division in 2007. The theme for that year was "Pen Life As Art." I am not a trained poet, not by any stretch, but I enjoy reading poetry and have had fun writing it. If you've never given it a try, I urge you to do so. Like all things, you'll get better as you continue to write poems.

Artists All

Painting with oils,
watercolors brushed across canvas,
clay molded by loving hands,
marble chiseled to exquisite form

Artists ply their trade,
by the golden light of day
and velvet depths of night,
with passion and verve.

One more artist joins the rank.
The writer brushes words over paper,
molds a story bit by glittering bit,
chisels a novel to survive the ages.

The writer gathers life’s stories
from country roads to city streets,
written from the depths of a heart
bursting with intensity and rapture.

Artists all, masters of creation,
be they painters, sculptors or writers,
leaving footprints on canvas, marble and paper--
heartfelt tributes embraced by mankind.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Game Day Brings Many Thoughts

These are a few of my family members at our tailgate party held Saturday before the K-State vs UCLA football game. We had plenty to eat, some adult beverages and some for the kids. The purple flags were flying everywhere I looked, barbecue grills sent out tantalizing aromas, and music and radio sports announcers came through loud and clear across the huge stadium parking lot.

We cleaned up our party food and trash and headed into the stadium, with me wondering if four year old Cole would make it through the entire game. It's a long time for a little guy. Turned out he did just fine. Lots of things for him to watch and concession stands nearby for his dad to walk to with him.

Cole was thrilled with the long row of motorcycles that zoomed around the football field in the pre-game activities. It was Harley Day. Motorcyles with purple flags and American flags whipping behind them set the tone for an exciting day.

The game made us all happy as we left with a win. That first notch on the win-loss chart was made, and it landed on the right side. We left feeling uplifted and ready for the game next week. Only Ken and I will be at that one. It was great to have both our children and their families with us this week-end. Each and every one of those times we spend together are precious.

I thought of so many stories to write at different moments this week-end. But because I was occupied with many things, I didn't jot down notes, and I fear many will be forgotten by the time I am able to work on them. I didn't take my own advice about making notes to yourself when you have story ideas. When the thought is gone, sometimes it's really gone. Sad because those ideas would have given me a lot to write about. I can probably come up with a few of them later today, but to wait much longer than that would be like butterflies soaring into the summer sky. Beautiful but elusive.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Family Week-end Brings Stories To Write

We're celebrating the three day Labor Day week-end by having a family gathering here at our house. Our son, Kirk, and his family will come from Dallas to Manhattan, Kansas where we live and our kids grew up. Our daughter, Karen, and family will journey from Louisburg, Kansas, a short distance south of Kansas City.

We are all going to the K-State football game vs UCLA tomorrow, and on Sunday we'll take up two pews at the late church service, then off to brunch at our country club. Late that afternoon, one of Ken's brothers, his wife and daughter will arrive. They'll have dinner with us and then stay at a hotel overnight. Our inn will be too full to accommodate three more overnight. But they'll be able to have some family time with us and to help us celebrate Ken's upcoming birthday.

I've ordered  a chocolate cake with chocolate icing, decorated with white and a bit of purple for K-State. On top, it will say Happy 75th Birthday Poppy. The grandkids can help blow out the candles with Poppy.

I'm looking forward to having us all together, which only happens once or twice a year. As the grandchildren get older, it's going to be even harder to find a time for everyone to come. I know that and I understand, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

I'm sure to get ideas for some stories to write with all that will be going on these next few days. Our tailgate party at the stadium would be a subject for one, four-year-old Cole attending his first college football game, another. There could be a story about the joy of having an entire family worship together, and one about the birthday celebration. Yet another might highlight the reason Ken's brother and family are stopping here on their way from Chicago to Denver. Daughter, Kim, is moving to Denver after having lived her entire life in the Chicago suburbs. A promotion with her company is making this change in her life.

All writers have to do is look around, and they can find a story. The hard part is finding (taking) time to sit down and write it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

No Time Like The Present

Yesterday, I received good news. The editors of Looking Back magazine notified me that they would be sending me a contract for my story "Dancing With Dad" and then went on to ask for the pictures that accompany the story be sent in a higher resolution, or to send them the originals. (Fat chance of that happening! These are old pictures and family treasures!) I'd originally submitted the story for Good Old Days magazine, but the editor/publisher of both thought it fit better in Looking Back.

I shared the good news with my writers group, and one of our members who has been on hiatus and recently returned to the group wrote to me with a question. She said she has been trying to make herself submit her work. Every month, she says this will be the month I send something to an editor, but then it doesn't happen. She asked me if I had any tips that would help her achieve her goal.

It's not an uncommon problem among writers. I know many writers who write with the thought of publication, but they never submit their work to an editor. And if asked why, they probably could not give a direct answer.

I think that often our subconscious takes over and tells us that if we never send our work to an editor, we will never have to deal with rejection. That's true, but it isn't going to get your name in print anywhere. And it isn't going to help you grow as a writer. And it isn't going to allow the world to read what you've written. And it isn't going to boost your confidence level either. That's enough isn'ts.

Let's try being realistic about submitting your work.

1.  It takes time:  First, you need to do some searching to find a place where what you have written fits. You need to send an article on knitting to a handicraft magazine just as you would only send a gardening essay to a  publication that deals with that subject in some manner. Once you find a market, you had better spend time checking and rechecking the submission guidelines. I cannot emphasize that step enough. Many submissions get tossed because they simply did not follow the guidelines. Next, you need to get the submission ready to send, whether by e-mail or snail mail. And finally, you need to record (somewhere, anywhere) what you sent, where you sent it, and when.

2.  Success is not guaranteed:  Darned little in this life is a sure thing, and submitting your writing to objective eyes is definitely a gamble. The odds are that more of your work will be rejected than accepted, especially in the early stages of your writing life. Convince yourself that you're not alone in this. We all know misery loves company, but your own misery after a rejection always runs higher. Take a chance. One of the submissions will be accepted. Who knows, you might even have beginners luck and hit the jackpot on the first submission. A nice dream you say? Well, it does happen occasionally.

3. Discipline is needed:  We all need discipline in many aspects of our lives. You had to learn to discipline yourself doing homework from grade school on. Submitting your writing is no different. It, too, requires discipline. Your husband can't do it for you. Your kids can't do it for you, and neither can I. You know who must be the responsible one.

4.  No time like the present:  Don't promise yourself you'll submit your work next month or next week. Do it now. When we set the time line too far ahead, it's pretty easy to slide right on by. Do it now. And don't stop with one submission. I have numerous submissions out. All publications have different response times, so you need to keep the submissions going.

5.  Start writing a new story:  This is a biggie. Once you send a completed piece of your writing to an editor, get started writing a new story right away. Keep the wheel turning and before you know it, you've established a habit.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Happy Endings

When we write fiction, we can work the story any way we want to. We can kill off three characters or we can make the hero the beneficiary of a huge inheritance. We can even leave the hero licking his wounds after being soundly defeated by the villain, although this isn't likely. Even as writers, we want our hero to be successful in his journey with problem solving. We want a happy ending. In a novel, the hero meets obstacles along the way that would knock an average guy down and keep him down, but our hero picks himself up and moves on. It's no wonder we'd like a happy ending for him.

Fiction writers can make sure the ending is a happy one, but in those real life stories, it's a different scenario. The writer has to tell the story as it happened. A battered woman leaves her husband, fleeing into the dark night. She wanders aimlessly, perhaps finding herself in a dangerous part of town, or she searches for an emergency shelter for women. Can this story have a happy ending? It could go either way. She might be so emotionally scarred that she'll never be normal again, or she might find hope after pulling herself together at the shelter. The writer has to tell the story whichever way it happens.

If a writer of a real life story knows the ending is going to be a sad one, she can do one thing that might ease the pain of the unhappy ending. She can tell the story as it happened, but she doesn't come to a screeching halt. She can add a paragraph or even one line that leaves the reader with a ray of hope. Even if things didn't turn out so well for the person in the story, that bit of hope at the end can leave the reader feeling some satisfaction.

It's up to the writer to determine exactly how the ending will be constructed and what the reader takes away. Hope is always better than despair.