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Friday, October 29, 2010

Prompts To Write Memory Pieces

Anyone can write one of the monthly memory pieces like I talked about in yesterday's post. We all grew up. We all went to school, lived in a family, had activities, favorites as well as things we didn't like. To get started, make a list of questions to ask yourself like the one I've put below. The answers will start the memory ball rolling, and before you know it, you'll have a memory piece.

Using October as a guide:
1.  What kind of school projects did you do?

2.  Were you in scouts, 4 H or some other similar group? What were the activities for fall months?

3.  What kind of foods did your mom prepare in October?

4.  What things did your family do every fall to prepare your home for winter?

5.  What is your favorite memory of October?

6.  What is something you disliked about October?

7.  How did your wardrobe change when October came?

8.  What teacher did the best fall projects at school?

9.  What did the area where you lived look like in October?

10.  What fall sport did you like best?

11. What holiday did you recognize in October? How?

This is only a beginning. You can list many other things. Answer these questions and I think you'll find that your memories will surface and keep coming. Any one of the things in the above list will open the gates and let the past return to you.

Do October this week and next week, start on November. You'll have lots to write about with the Thanksgiving holiday in that month.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Write About Childhood Memories

I've got a challenge for you today. Write about your memories from childhood days in the month of October. Was your October filled with raking leaves, or did you go Trick or Treating in the high desert areas? What special things did you do at school in October? What foods did your mom serve when the chill days of October rolled around? I've done one of these memoir pieces for several different months of the year. Try October today, and next Monday when you turn the calendar to November, write your memories of November long ago.

Here is what I wrote about October:

October Musings

Do you remember when October meant burning leaves? When I was little, we lived in a big apartment building with more concrete than grass around it, and the janitor took care of the raking of the few leaves to be seen, but as I walked home from school or went to the library on a Saturday afternoon, I’d pass homes where piles of burning leaves left a telltale sign in the atmosphere, a pungent odor that tickled my nose. Or I’d see kids raking the leaves into huge piles, toss the rakes aside, and take a flying leap into the center of the pile, shrieking with glee as they did so. It looked like fun, but I never got to try it.

I was a Girl Scout all through my grade school years. First we joined Brownies, and about the end of third grade, we had a Flying Up ceremony which meant we were full-fledged Girl Scouts. We moved from the brown uniform to the green. Every October our scout troop went on a field trip to a local forest preserve. Country kids had nature all around them, but we big city scouts journeyed to a small piece of nature surrounded by city sights and sounds, even though we felt like we were far from the urban area. It was as if someone had gathered a piece of forest, rolled it up, and brought it to the city. Once there, they unrolled it, the trees popped upright, and city children could pretend they were far away.

We took hikes through the woods at the forest preserve, identified trees and plants, were warned to watch out for poison ivy and built a bonfire in a clearing. We gathered around the crackling fire to roast hot dogs and marshmallows on the end of a stick. Every Girl Scout learned how to prepare S’Mores with graham crackers, Hershey’s chocolate bars, and the blackened, gooey marshmallows. Squash the chocolate and marshmallow between two graham crackers, and you have a real treat. Sometimes we’d prepare a meal on the grate in a readymade grill in one of the forest preserve shelters. My favorite was a dish called Bags Of Gold. It was only a big pot of cream of tomato soup from cans, and dumplings made with a square of Velveeta cheese in the center floated in the soup. That hot soup and the soft pillow-like dumplings with their golden cheese center was my favorite outdoor meal. I never had it anywhere but on the Girl Scout field trips. Somehow, that dish belonged to outside eating, not to be done in our kitchen at home. I’m sure it would never have tasted as good as it did in the crisp October air.

October also meant Halloween parties where the most popular game in the late 1940s was bobbing for apples. I really hated that game, but everyone had to try. I had long hair, curly and auburn red, and no matter what I did to avoid it, I managed to have wet curls before I captured an apple between my teeth from the tub of water. I’m sure there were other games played, but those miserable little apples floating merrily around the tub have stayed in my mind as one of those memories better pushed into the deep recesses of my brain.

At school our art classes concentrated on leaves and pumpkins, witches and black cats all during October. The teacher read scary stories to us all that month, and we made plans for our Halloween parade and parties. Every class in the school lined up the day of the party wearing costumes of various kinds, most of them created from things we had at home. Nobody bought a costume. We marched around the outside of the school and some of the mothers came as spectators. Dads didn’t take off work for school events then like they often do today. We didn’t feel deprived not having our fathers see us in the parade. It was just the way it was. We’d get back to our classrooms and play games, including that awful bobbing for apples, and then have our treats. Usually frosted sugar cookies made to look like pumpkins, apple cider and a nut cup filled with candy corn and peanuts. Nobody seemed to be concerned about the kids who were allergic to peanuts then either.

We kept our costumes on after school, and as soon as darkness descended, we were out to Trick or Treat in groups. Big kids had to take their little brothers and sisters along. Our apartment building had sixty-two apartments, and we rang the doorbell of every one, climbing three flights of stairs in each vestibule. Great exercise, but we only looked at it as a means to get lots of candy. Mother put it all in a big bowl and allowed us only a piece or two each day until it was gone. I think my mother helped the level of the bowl go down during the day while we were at school, although she claimed she never touched it.

October in Chicago brought chilly mornings and evenings, but often pleasant afternoons. We had a lot of cold, rainy days, too, in October. It was time to put summer clothes away and bring out the flannel pajamas, sweaters and jackets. October brought a blaze of color that soothed the soul, and as the leaves dropped and swirled in the winds, we knew winter waited just around the corner.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Confession

My youngest grandchildren, Kitty and Skunk, last Halloween
Jordan and Cole on any other day.

With Halloween coming in a few days, I started musing a bit last evening and wrote the following confession. It is posted at You can read it here. They say confession is good for the soul, so....

Halloween Confessions

I have a confession to make. I don’t like Halloween, and I never have. Even as a kid in the Chicago suburbs, it was not a big deal for me. It was a day to get through. Oh, I participated in the school parties, school parade and Trick or Treat time in the evening, but I never got excited over it like some kids did.

As I got older, I asked myself what was wrong with me. Give me Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving or Christmas any day. But Halloween? During the forties, we didn’t go to Walmart or Target and buy a costume. First of all, those stores weren’t even born yet. Secondly, my family, like many others, didn’t spend money on things like costumes. No sireee. We raided our closets at home and came up with some kind of costume. We had to be creative.

I can’t tell you how many times I was a gypsy because it was easy to don a full skirt that twirled when I turned round and round, a peasant style blouse and many ropes of beads from my mother’s jewelry box. Sometimes, I added a colorful scarf over my hair before going out to Trick or Treat in our apartment building.  We climbed three flights of stairs in one vestibule after another. The building had 62 apartments, and my brothers and I hit nearly every one. We were getting beneficial exercise, but no one realized it..

When we got home, we dumped all our loot into a big blue mixing bowl that Mom had set out for us. No keeping your own candy, for it all went in together. We were never allowed to stuff ourselves with it either. Candy in our house was rationed, a little at a time. Mysteriously, the level of the bowl sank faster than might be expected. I feel pretty sure a couple of adult hands dipped into the bowl when we were asleep or away at school during the day.  

My brothers rigged up clown outfits or dressed as a bum, using things from our dad’s closet. Nobody cared if you wore the same costume year after year because we all did it.

But one year, I wore something totally different. My Aunt Vivienne had made her daughter a Martha Washington costume, even including a white cottony wig. The dress was something any girl would have delighted in wearing. My cousin had outgrown it, so I inherited the special outfit. It was in my fifth grade year when I slipped into the dress and wig and set off for school on Halloween morning. I felt pretty nifty. No gypsy girl costume for me this year.  But my happiness turned into misery faster than you can say ‘black cat’ when the boys howled at my wig and the girls giggled and pointed. I felt totally humiliated and dreaded walking in the school Halloween parade. I looked different than anyone else, and I guess that was the problem. But at such a young age, I had a hard time dealing with it.

At our school parties, we played the same games year in and year out. One of them was bobbing for apples. The only thing I hated more than Halloween itself was that silly game. The teacher produced a big tub of water and tossed apples into it. They bobbed merrily around. The object was to put your hands behind your back, lean over and grab an apple with your teeth. My face got wet, my long hair trailed in the water and I had a hard time grabbing the apple. I never won and I didn’t care. Even the year I wore the Martha Washington wig, it came up dripping after my unsuccessful try for the apple.

Slide across the years to the time I had small children who needed costumes, marched in school parades and went Trick or Treating. I dreaded the end of October and getting them ready for Halloween. By then, we bought cheap costumes at the store. No more gypsy girls outfits made up at home or bum clothes put together from Daddy’s stuff. Some mothers were creative and made costumes from boxes and other things. Very clever ideas, but I must admit that I didn’t even attempt to come up with anything like that.

Halloween was still a day to get through. And now, when it’s my grandchildren who are dressing up and Trick or Treating, I can enjoy seeing the pictures of them in their costumes. I don’t have to participate because they live in other towns. We don’t decorate the outside of our house for Halloween as so many do now, but I do answer the door many times during the evening of the 31st of October as does my husband. He is always hopeful we have some candy left over, and we usually do. It’s kind of fun to see the neighbor kids all dressed up, but somehow I’m relieved when it’s time to turn off the porch light and I know there are 365 days until Halloween comes again.

Last year, my daughter told me she really didn’t like Halloween and dreaded having to get her kids costumes and all the rest that goes with it. She said, “I didn’t really like it when I was a kid.” Do you suppose it’s genetic?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Use Your Own Voice

Have you found your writer's voice? A question asked in many articles on the craft of writing or by teachers of creative writing. Or perhaps by other writers. Beginning writers are sometimes perplexed by what a writer's voice actually is.

In simple terms, it's a style of writing that is unique to you alone. It may not emerge with your first effort at writing a short story or essay, but as you write more and more, your writer's voice begins to take form.

When I was a newbie writer, I had the good fortune to meet a children's picture book author who agreed to critique my work. We lived only minutes from one another and spent an afternoon now and then at a kitchen table, hers or mine, going through stories we'd written. She was a published author at the time, and I was not, so I felt especially blessed that she'd agreed to this arrangement.

One afternoon, after she'd gone through a new story I'd shown her, she turned to me and said, "You are so lucky. You've found your voice. It takes some writers a very long time to accomplish that."

I can't tell you how I was able to do that early on, but I can tell you one way to delay finding your own voice. That's to copy the style of writers you admire. We all have authors we especially like to read. We admire their  work because the stories they write appeal to us. So why not write just like Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts or David Baldacci? The answer is that you are not any of those people. You're you! And your writing needs to have your voice, not anyone else's.

At one point in your writing life, your voice will show itself loud and clear. When talking about personality, psychologists and counselors frequently advise people to "Be yourself" rather than trying to be something you're not. If you admire a horror fiction writer, fine, but don't try to use his dark voice in your teen romance. Make it all yours.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It Only Takes One Spark

I belong to the Kansas Authors Club, a state organization for people who live in Kansas and are writers. The state is divided into seven districts, and each district sets its own agenda for meetings. In early October, all the districts come together for the state convention. I attended this year's convention only a few weeks ago.

My district includes a good number of small communities and several decent size towns. In the past, members met in a centrally located town for a two hour meeting which included a program, a short business meeting, and a time for those who wanted to read their work to the group. It was also a time for networking with other writers.

Many of the members have not published anything but continue to write and still have an interest. Others are published many times over and continue to write and market their work. Like too many organizations, we are an aging group.

Our numbers have diminished due to death, illness, and inability to drive long distances to attend meetings. Another problem has been the "No, I'm not going to take any responsibility in this group" syndrome. No one works hard to find new, and younger, members. Apathy has creeped across the group. And once that happens, a terminal illness is not far behind.

When I was at the convention, I noticed that other districts seemed to be doing much better. Was it because of having large cities like Topeka, Lawrence, and the suburban area of Kansas City to draw from? It had to be a factor but certainly not the only reason.

The seven districts take turns planning and hosting the state convention. Our turn is in 2012. I wondered how in the world we'd pull it off. But one man, a poet who has several published books, stepped up at the state meeting with a suggestion. "We need to start planning the convention," he said. "I'll appoint myself as Convention Chairman."

It was the spark we needed. Bill set a meeting date via e-mails and then followed up with phone calls to the members. We met yesterday to select a slate of officers for this year and to do some pre-planning for the convention. I noted enthusiasm building around the table where we sat. Bill had spoken to several prior to the meeting and had a slate prepared. He radiated an attitude of "we can do it" so well that soon the suggestions were coming in fast and furious.

Before the meeting ended, Bill had everyone believing we can revive our district and also do a good job planning and hosting the convention. We're also on the march to find new members. All it took was a spark from one person. We had not met as a district for over a year, but not only did we meet yesterday, we have another meeting scheduled next month. I sensed a new life for this group.

The power of one person can be great. Can you be that one person who puts the pizzazz back into a dying group of writers?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fun In The Sun

Today is our last day in Florida having fun in the sun. We fly home tomorrow. I have a book that I'd planned to read while here, but our lazy days of relaxing have left me little reading time nor even the inspiration to do so. Somehow, sitting on the lanai and watching the waves tip-toe ashore has been more interesting. Some parts of the day, those same waves crash against the beach.

This morning, there were several sailboats bobbing along the waves, and I saw what may have been a dolphin jump out of the water and dive back in. If close enough, I might have heard him holler "Whee!" as he jumped.

Yesterday afternoon, an old friend brought lunch to the condo, and the four of us ate, talked and played bridge all afternoon. At one time, all four of us had lived in the same city in Illinois. Only a few years, but we formed lasting friendships.

Last evening, we ate a wonderful German restaurant,in the Sarasota area, trading in seafood dishes for schnitzel. The food at Hinrich's was as good as what we've eaten in Germany, red cabbage seasoned perfectly, sauerkraut that was not too sour, spaetzle done to perfection as was the schnitzel. But tonight, I hope we will go to a seafood place again for our last dinner out on this trip.

Once again, I noted interesting people in the restaurant, including the cooks who work behind the bar on a big grill and the waiter. The owners are from Germany, the waiter hails from Massachusetts, but they all worked together perfectly. in
The only dim cloud during this week's visit came about yesterday when I broke a tooth, or at least a portion of it. It was an experience I've heard others mention but I've never had to deal with it. Why now, when we are so far from home. I called a friend at home and asked her to make me an appointment with my dentist for Monday. So, until then, it's a jagged, broken off tooth in the lower back that I'm dealing with. Happily, it doesn't hurt, so I can handle chewing on the other side until Monday. I see big $$ ahead for the fix, however. T

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

AtThe Beach

We've been enjoying the Florida Gulf coast the last couple days. It was worth the long day of airports and planes on Monday. Three couples who haven't seen one another for a year and a half have a lot of talking to do.

Yesterday morning, I walked the beach and collected seashells for my two youngest grandchildren. This is off season here, so there are no crowds, but the weather is in the mid-eighties, sunny and a light breeze. Between fewer folk and great weather, it's kind of perfect.

Later in the day, Alice, Bonnie and I went to downtown Venice which is filled with cute little shops. We had lunch outside. We all had fried green tomatoes with lump crabmeat on top and a pear remoulade to top it. Mmmm, yummy stuff. I didn't buy much but enjoyed looking at the very Florida-like merchandise.

Alice is in a wheelchair for a few weeks while a broken pelvis heals. She amazes me the way she gets around and is so independent. Insists on wheeling herself instead of being pushed. She barely makes it in and out the shop doors. I could write a book about the health issues this woman has had the past twenty years and the marvelous attitude she's retained through it all. Having a helpful husband who is a super baker and cook helps, as they like to entertain.

I saw a lot of older couples as we shopped yesterday, and they all seemed to be helping one another. A good message for every American. If we'd all stop and help one another a little more, it might be a better world. Now, there's a subject for an essay. You see, everyday sights bring many things to mind.

When the men came home from the golf course and got cleaned up, we had cocktails and hors d'ouevres before heading to a seafood restaurant on the beach for dinner. Neighbors of our hosts joined us. Two interesting people originally from Canada. The more I spoke with the woman, the more I wanted to include her as a character in a story.

Today, another old friend is coming over to join we three women for the day. More chatter, I'm sure and maybe a little bridge and lunch. It's kind of nice to get out of the everyday routine for a short time.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Beach Stories

Ken and I are flying to Florida today. Once a year, we meet two couples who are friends from the years we lived in Rockford, IL.The men were golf pals, and when Ken retired thirteen years ago, we moved back to Kansas. The three men made a pact to have an annual golf outing somewhere in the US. This year, we are staying with one of the couples who have a condo on the beach.

While the men play golf the next few days, I hope to do a lot of walking on the beach, maybe a swim now and then in the Gulf waters, also sitting by the pool and reading. We'll  do some sightseeing and a little shopping. No meals for the women to cook as we'll have dinners out. I'm looking forward to some good, fresh seafood.

But what I know I'll also find are some stories to write about. Especially on the beach. What a wonderful place to people-watch. The stories may only begin with someone I note on the beach, and I'll let my imagination take me from there. You don't have to go to the beach to do it. Pushing a cart down the grocery aisles affords lots of opportunities, as well.

I'm also going to do some reading on the beach. Strictly entertainment kind of novels. Uninterrupted reading time is high on my list of favorite things to do. But I will have to stop for a little while. My grandson, Cole, who is four, asked me to bring him some seashells. Even collecting seashells can bring a beach story to mind, I bet.

If all is well with our friend's computer, my next post will be from the Florida Gulf area.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Celebrations Two Days In A Row

What a great week this has turned out to be. The program that I had to whip together in a hurry for my P.E.O. chapter yesterday turned out to be very well received, and even better, I had fun giving the program.

Later in the day, I had news that a dear friend who nearly died from a brain bleed two weeks ago is coming home and doing well.

And last night, Ken and I settled down to watch our beloved K-State Wildcats play our arch-rival, KU, over in Lawrence. KU had the home advantage and had been off nearly two weeks, while we were coming off a disastrous loss to Nebraska of only a week ago. This game would be a toss-up, according to those in-the-know and also low-scoring. Instead, our team won 59-7, and we, along with all Wildcat fans, were ecstatic.

Another happy event today, as it is our granddaughter's birthday. Seven years ago, I waited at the hospital with her other grandmother. What a glorious moment it was when her daddy walked nonchalantly into the waiting room and said, "Do you want to see a picture or meet the real Jordan?" With a whoop, we leaped to our feet and followed a now- beaming Steve to Karen's room to meet our granddaughter. For seven years, she's brought great joy into our lives.

                                                  Jordan on the first day of school 2010

All those things I've listed above are small events in the big scheme of our lives, but it's those happy moments that make special memories and as I look over the list, I see that a story might be written about each and every one. Look into the little things in your life that bring you some joy and see if there might be a story to write.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Europe Without A Passport

I'm Program Chairman for my PEO chapter, a woman's philanthropic organization which supports education for women. My committee met this summer and lined up programs from October through June. Our first meeting of the new year is this morning, so about ten days ago I tried to get in touch with the woman responsible for this one. Long story short, I didn't reach her until late yesterday afternoon and then discovered that we have no program for today. A snafu. A miscommunication. A misunderstanding. It doesn't matter how or why. The important thing was that I had no program that was to be given in less than 24 hours.

Suddenly, I was very happy to be a writer who has files of stories on hand. I've given programs for this group a few times, and they've always gone over well, so why not one more? But it should be on a theme of some sort, I thought. Our PEO theme for the year is Destination:  PEO. Travel came to mind. My travel stories popped into my head next so I began to look through the ones I had.

I selected three travel article/stories and 1 poem. I plan to open the program telling the ladies that we are going to Europe this morning, but they won't need a passport. They won't need a suitcase. They won't need any euros either.

The first story takes place in Lahr, Germany and is titled "Grandpa's Town" The picture above is of my husband, Ken, in Lahr, the town where his paternal grandfather grew up. Next, I'll take them to Ireland via "Kissing The Blarney Stone."  Back to Germany with "A Hungarian Hotel In Germany" which won first place in the Feature Article category in the Kansas Authors state contest this year. And finally, I'll read a poem that was inspired by our visit to Monet's home and garden in Giverny, France. It's called "In Monet's Garden." One of the women asked me if I'd do a program with poetry sometime, so this one's for Sue.

You can read "Grandpa's Town" at
and "Kissing The Blarney Stone" at

The moral of the story is to always have a back-up plan. This time, I was fortunate in being able to provide something at the last minute. I hope I don't have to do it again because I have few other talents. Can't sing. Can't dance. I write and that's about it for talent.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Good Way to De-Stress

Yesterday, I ran several errands, and one happened to be next to a book store. Since I had nothing calling me home immediately, I decided to browse and see what was new in the book world. I don't do it too frequently because once I open the door and glide into the aisles and aisles of books, I'm lost for a good long time.

This visit was no different. First, I looked at the display tables of new books, both fiction and non-fiction. There were a good many that I passed right over as they were science fiction, vampire books, mysteries that were a bit too much blood and gore and paranormal. I prefer historical fiction, family sagas, romance, suspense and adventure books.

I spent a little time at a display of Halloween books for children, considering a couple for my two youngest grandchildren. And then it was on to the regular fiction shelves. This particular store puts both new and used books on the same shelves, the used ones having a large dark green, wrap-around label on the bottom. I noticed that there would often be both new and used copies of the same title. The used books were not tattered and torn, they were all in very good condition, so which one to pick was a no-brainer.

I found two used books that appealed to me. Were money no object, I probably would have selected about a dozen more. I must admit that I buy few books. I read more from the library than I do books I purchase. I fear the book store will not make it on my purchases. I do buy books for gifts, however, and I love spending time in book stores.

Browsing in a book store is one of the most calming activities I know. My love for books manages to over-ride any stress about other things that I might have.  For me, being amongst hundreds, perhaps thousands of books feels like a shower of one of  life's greatest blessings.

Next time you're feeling harried and stressed, try a visit to a book store. Lose yourself among the words of others and let the rest go.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Our Book Club Discussion

My Book Club met this morning. I selected the novel that had been given many favorable reviews. Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife appealed to me first because it was historical fiction. Second, the story begins with a man waiting at a train station for a woman he has never met who will become his wife. She plans to poison him and become a wealthy widow.It sounded like a story with possibilities. The review goes on to say that the book is full of twists and turns. So, based on that, I selected it for our October book.

The book had been compared to classics like Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Personally, I don't think it comes close to those two classics in either storytelling or writing. That's not to say it was a bad read.

The book turned out to be very dark, depressing and filled with hopelessness. The review was correct in saying there are twists and turns in the story, but many of them were predictable. I kept wondering how the three main characters could all be such flawed personalities with so much baggage to carry around with them through their lives. To top it off, the entire thing takes place in northern Wisconsin during a cold winter filled with snowstorm upon snowstorm.

I wondered how the women in my Book Club would react to the story. It turned out that they all felt very much the same as I did. We all agreed that the author had done a good job in portraying life in 1909 in northern Wisconsin. Even reading on a hot, summer day left me wanting to curl up with an afghan. All agreed that it was a far stretch to find so many characters with so many psychological problems, all involving sex and lust.

The final consensus was that, even though it wasn't a book we'd recommend to others, we didn't mind reading it. It wasn't the kind of book that you wanted to slam shut and never open again. It did keep my interest and that's always a plus. So, if you like historical fiction filled with lust, dark psychological secretive pasts, and a bit of mystery, then you might enjoy A Reliable Wife.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's How You Look At It

I wrote several haiku poems during a workshop at the recent convention I attended. Kind of fun to jot them down using a list of words given as prompts. I used them as my submission this week for my wac group. I asked them to tell me which one they liked best and any other suggestions.

Talk about feedback! I had lots of critiques on the five short poems. The one they liked best was the one that was kind of an afterthought and one I even hesitated to send.

Another one left me a bit surprised. I had written about gravestones in France, thinking of the military cemetery we'd visited several weeks ago. What I wrote ended up being understood in two different ways. The poem is below. The word prompt was gravestones.

gravestones in France
all weep tears of anguish
senseless deaths, futile war

I meant that the visitors to the graves wept the tears, but some who read it took it to be the gravestones weeping. When I looked at the poem again, I saw how easily it could have been interpreted that way. So, I need to be more careful about doing that again. On the other hand, isn't poetry rather self-interpretive anyway? Maybe it's OK for different people to see different things in the same few words.  You might also like to know that some thought the last line a bit too 'already done' and suggested rewriting it. So far, I haven't come up with anything to replace that line.

The haiku that they liked best is this one. The word prompt was feather.

feather floats softly
on gentle autumn breeze
bird flies, loss unknown

The suggestion was to remove floats and gentle as they, too, are overused, perhaps even cliched words. Here it is in the new form, and I can see that it is stronger.

feather floats
on autumn breeze
bird flies, loss unknown

My own favorite is this one. The word prompt was came.

trembling hand grasps cane
diamond ring circles finger
life's chain of love

What you write may not be the same thing that readers see.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Handle Disappointment With Class

Last night, K-State played Nebraska for the final time. For nearly a century, these two schools have battled it out on a one-hundred yard field. Admittedly, Nebraska has won the vast majority, but K-State has been on top a few times, too. Nebraska is leaving the Big 12 conference next year for the Big 10. So this final game was definitely a significant one. K-State was pumped up as were the fans. The stadium was filled to capacity and then over a hundred more. Anticipation kept our community on a high all week. Besides all that, it was our coach's birthday. The team planned to give him a special birthday present in beating the mighty Nebraska Cornhuskers.

We couldn't have asked for a better night for football. Perfect weather. But things didn't work out like we'd hoped. In fact, they didn't even come close. Nebraska, with its greater speed and extremely talented quarterback, managed to beat us soundly. An embarrassing 48-13 loss for the Wildcats. The fans were deeply disappointed, and I'm sure the team was, as well. I watched people as they filed silently out to the parking lot, passing the hordes of Nebraska fans cheering and jeering, but our fans handled their disappointment with class.

It's much the same when we writers get a rejection on our work. Submitting a piece of writing and then waiting a long time to hear from an editor opens us up for major disappointment. It's not so much anger as it is having our hopes dashed. When we read that message which tells us our work isn't right for whatever publication, we experience the gamut of reactions--disappointment, anger, frustration, depression. We might feel like kicking the nearest piece of furniture or throwing something at a wall, but what does that get you in the end? Not much other than a sore foot or a dirty, maybe dented, wall.

We need to learn to handle rejection with class every bit as much as those fans who grapple with a crushing game defeat. Sure, you'll still be disappointed, but pick yourself and move on to the next market. Don't ever stop submitting something you've written after one rejection. It may not have been a fit for the first one, but it could be for the fourth or fifth. Before you submit again, go for a long walk and do some thinking about what you wrote. Was it your best effort? Is there a way it can be made better? Go home and read it with fresh eyes and then find your next market.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Attic of Your Mind

The convention workshop on memoir writing brought a couple of memorable quotes for me. One I wrote about earlier was that we write memoir to taste life twice. The other statement by Carolyn Hall, the woman who presented the workshop is a good one, too. She said, "Go into the attic of your mind...."

What a vivid image going into the attic of our mind brings. I grew up in a third floor city apartment, and we had no attic. The only thing above us was a flat tar roof that sizzled on summer days. But I had the good fortune to spend a full summer with a great-aunt and uncle in southwestern Minnesota. Uncle Charlie farmed, and they lived in an old two story house. The outside was white, trimmed in black, Victorian looking. I loved that house mostly because of my Aunt Jane who was queen of the realm. The guest bedroom was on the main floor and the other bedrooms upstairs, reached by a narrow, steep staircase. There was a door at the bottom of the staircase that opened into the kitchen. At the top of the stairs, another door to the right led the way to the attic.

Aunt Jane took me with her one day to find something stored away in the attic. She opened the door and we walked up a short staircase into a huge room with sloping ceiling.It smelled a bit musty. Old trunks, boxes, a dressmaker dummy, a child's rocking horse and other things were neatly placed. A small window let in a bit of light and exposed dust motes dancing in the sunlight. A bare bulb hanging from the ceiling added more light. I followed Aunt Jane as she rummaged around in one trunk after another, mumbling as she did so. I don't remember what it was she searched for that day, but I do remember wishing I could spend time looking through the trunks all by myself. I envisioned a full, rainy day in the attic. My plan was squashed flat as we descended the stairs to the bedroom hallway. As she closed the door, my great-aunt said, "Don't ever go in there unless I'm with you." And from the steely glint in her blue eyes, I knew she meant it.

But now, all these years later, I can reach into the attic of my mind and find many treasures. The stuff stories are made of. Take some time and visit the attic of your mind and see what surfaces. It's yours to explore anytime you desire.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Surprise Package

I went out to get our mail yesterday afternoon, irritated because it usually comes around 4, and the mail truck didn't pull up to our curb until after 5:30. Mail in hand, I picked up the evening newspaper from the drive and headed back to the house. I noticed a box sitting right next to the front door and wondered how I'd missed seeing it as I'd gone by. Obviously, I was a woman on a mission--the mail!

Simon and Schuster had been stamped on the side of the box, and I knew immediately what it contained. My ten copies of the brand new Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Christmas Magic book. The book of 101 Christmas stories is to be officially released next week on October 12th.

I hurried inside, dropped mail and paper and went back to retrieve the package. I opened it and smiled. The books were all snuggled together under some wrapping paper filler. I was delighted with the cover. It's eye-catching and appeals to our hearts that hold a special corner all for Christmas.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic

I leafed through the book and saw titles that sounded great, and then I flipped the pages of the book itself. Each section has a lovely piece of artowork to separate it from the preceding section. There are even small sketch-type illustrations with some of the stories. There's no doubt that Chicken Soup publishers have not used the same old, same old with every book. They keep adding small improvements as they go along which can only be appealing to the readers. 

Next, I searched for my story, "My Special Christmas Doll" and found it on page 40. It's a story about a doll Santa brought me the Christmas I was six. I saved it and passed it on to my daughter, and now she has done the same. My granddaughter, Jordan, has Katherine in her room. The doll is a bit worse for wear, but to me, she's every bit as beautiful as the day I received her. In a publisher's note near the back of the book, it was stated that there were 6,000 submissions for this book. 101 were selected, which made me feel mighty good.

Look for the new Christmas book beginning next week.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Second Helping

During the convention I attended this past week-end, something one of the workshop presenters said has stayed with me. It keeps popping up in my mind at the oddest times. It must mean it's saying something special to me. Why else would it come to me while I'm unloading the dishwasher or emptying the trash?

The workshop dealt with writing memoir, and even though there was a lot of good material presented, the one thing that I remember the most is this. Writing memoir is like tasting life twice. We, who write memoir, have the great good fortune to relive the important things in our lives through the written word. Surely, they are important parts of our lives, or we would not remember them so clearly. Something about the event impressed us so much that it stays in our mind until we reach in and pull it out again.

It might be a pleasurable happening or could be a tragedy we experienced. Either way, writing about it allows us to re-examine that part of our life and perhaps see it from a different perspective after many years have rolled by. If it's a happy moment that we experienced, we get to experience that euphoria once again. If it's a sad time, maybe we taste it again with new understanding. Maybe we can finally realize what it did to us as a person.

Tasting life a second time through memoir brings benefit to both the writer and the reader. During the award ceremony at the convention, the contest manager mentioned that Memoir was the category with the greatest number of entries. He also said that, if you placed in that category, you should feel very satisfied as it was the most competitive.

I received an Honorable Mention for my story "Grandma, Raspberries and Cream" which allowed me to go back and taste an experience with my grandmother and grandfather again. It was not a happy time, as Grandpa was dying of cancer and had asked to see me, a child of nine. He lived in a boarding house and my grandmother had come to nurse him in his final days. They had been separated for many years, but she never hesitated to come when he needed her. I traveled alone on a train to spend a few days with them. There was so much at the time that I didn't understand, but I found that writing about it all these years later made many things more clear.

Try writing a slice of your past life. Enjoy your second helping.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Convention Report

The Kansas Authors State Convention offered many good workshops and panel discussions. Enough to inspire me to want to hurry home and write! And that's one of the real reasons to attend conferences and conventions with other writers. Another is to be able to talk with other writers and see what they've been doing with their work. 

Those who have published books had copies to sell in the Book Room, and it was most interesting to browse there among the many different types of books. Everything from poetry books to recipe books with a whole lot of in-between.

Nancy Pickard, award-winning mystery author, was the keynote speaker after the Saturday night banquet. She spoke about her writing career, the eighteen novels she's had published and ended with some encouraging words to the many writers in the room. Nancy lives in Kansas City and her last two novels have been set in Kansas, as will the next two. It amazed me that she has the next two already planned. 

Sunday, I left the awards luncheon a happy woman. I'd entered my work in eight categories and four placed in the state contest. The entries had to be in by June 18th so it had been a long wait to see if I had any winners. The rule states that they cannot be published prior to the convention time, so it's also a long wait to hold up new work before submitting it to publishers. I won two Honorable Mentions, a second and a first place. 

Now, I have to decide where to submit each of those winners. If any of your work has won an award, be sure to state that in the cover letter you send with your submission. It just might make an editor look a bit more carefully at the submission. And do send your work to contests. You can't win unless you do!

Friday, October 1, 2010

October Musings

Happy First Day of October. I'm leaving in minutes to attend the Kansas Authors State Convention. I'll have a report on the meeting on Monday. But since today is the first day of a new month, I'm posting a memoir piece I once wrote about October during my growing-up years in Chicago.

October Musings
In the 1940’s October skies often smelled of newly-raked leaves burning by curbsides. My family lived in a big apartment building in suburban Chicago surrounded with more concrete than grass or trees. But when I walked home from school, I’d pass single-family homes where piles of smoldering leaves left a pungent odor that tickled my nose. Or I’d see kids rake leaves into huge piles, toss the rakes aside, and take a flying leap into the center, shrieking with glee. It looked like fun, but I never got to try it.

Every October, our grade school scout troop journeyed to a local forest preserve,   hidden away from city sights and sounds. It seemed like someone gathered a piece of forest, rolled it up, and brought it to the city In this setting, we enjoyed the same things as country kids.

We hiked through the woods, identified trees and plants, and heeded warnings to watch out for poison ivy. We gathered around a crackling fire to roast hot dogs and marshmallows on the end of a stick. Every Girl Scout learned how to prepare S’Mores with graham crackers, chocolate bars, and fire-blackened, gooey marshmallows. Squash the chocolate and marshmallow between two graham crackers, and you have a real treat. We made full meals on grills, too. My favorite main dish was Bags Of Gold--a big pot of canned tomato soup, and dumplings made with a square of Velveeta cheese in the center. That creamy soup and the soft pillow-like dumplings with their golden center ranks as my favorite outdoor meal.  

October also meant Halloween parties where bobbing for apples proved the most popular activity. I really hated that game. My long hair, curly and auburn red, always managed to get wet before I captured an apple between my teeth from the tub of water. I’m sure there were other games played, but those miserable little apples floating merrily around the tub have stayed in my mind as one of the memories better pushed into the deep recesses of my brain.
School art classes concentrated on leaves and pumpkins, witches and black cats. Our teacher read scary stories, and we planned Halloween parties. On Halloween Day, the entire school lined up wearing costumes, most of them created from things we had at home. Only a few bought a costume. Mothers watched as we marched around the outside of the school. Back in our classrooms, we played games, including that awful bobbing for apples, and then had frosted sugar cookie pumpkins, apple cider and a nut cup filled with candy corn and peanuts.

As soon as darkness descended Halloween night, we went in groups to Trick or Treat, younger siblings tagging along. We visited all fifty-two units in our building, climbing three flights of stairs in each vestibule. Great exercise, but we only looked at it as a means to get candy. Mother put our haul in a big bowl and allowed us only a piece or two each day.  

October in Chicago brought frosty mornings and chilly evenings, but often pleasant afternoons with occasional cold, rainy days. It was time to bring out the flannel pajamas, sweaters and jackets. October brought a blaze of color that soothed the soul, but as the leaves dropped and swirled in the winds, we knew winter waited just around the corner.