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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Anthology Week

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

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

I submitted a story to a Holiday Memories Contest sponsored by Cup of Comfort, one of the better known anthologies. You can enter, too, at

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful? You Bet!

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

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

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

Writing has given me great joy and confidence in myself.

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

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

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

I wish all my American readers a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Travel Times Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Are Your November Memories?

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

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

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

November In Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Spell It Out

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

You can take the test yourself at  If anyone gets 100%, be sure to tell us. Or tell us how you fare, even if it is less than 100%. I'm thinking that very few will score 100.

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Holiday Storytime--Make Mine A Turkey

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

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

Turkey in the Raw
By Nancy Julien Kopp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Unlikely Motivation

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

When I read her story, it was one of those Aha! moments. What she points out is so clear, and yet most of us would not have thought of it on our own. No portion of a Chicken Soup for the Soul story can be reproduced without specific permission, so I will offer the link to the story for you to read on your own instead. It's found at

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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Good Historical Fiction Book

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

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

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

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

I'd definitely recommend it, and if many-paged books intimidate you, don't get it at the library. Purchase your own copy or put it on your Christmas List. It's a bargain at Amazon for $18. Order it at If you know someone who enjoys historical fiction, it would make a nice Christmas or Hanukkah gift--perfect for reading in the cold, snowy days of January.

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sharp Words Can Be A Wake-Up Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 15, 2010

One Big Party For Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Day Late

My mother, father and me in 1942. I was almost three years old.

Yesterday was Veteran's Day, but it wasn't until last evening that I had a chance to sit down and write something about it that I posted at Our Echo. It began as a Veteran's Day thoughts and suddenly veered off into my WWII memories. I was only a little girl during those war years, but I have memories of the way things were then, memories perceived from a child's view.

Maybe reading them will trigger memories of your own from those years, or the Korean Conflict, Vietnam or the present day wars. Write about them, save them in your family memories book. You do have one, don't you? If not, there's no time like the present to begin.

You can read  my Veteran's Day and WWII memories which might help trigger some of your own.

Veteran’s Day 2010 and WWII Memories
By Nancy Julien Kopp

It’s nearly the end of another Veteran’s Day. Newspapers, TV, local radio stations—all have given space to commemorating this special day.

In the troubled times we live in, I’m pleased to see the recognition of our veterans, whether they be octogenarians of WWII, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam situation, Desert Storm, the present Iraqi War or Afghanistan. Old vets or young  enlisted men and women, all are worthy of celebration and appreciation.

In my community (Manhattan, Kansas), the day began with a special breakfast with sausage and gravy on biscuits, a Midwestern specialty. The parade down our main street followed with veterans, soldiers from Ft. Riley, and 1200 school children marching proudly. Flags flapped in the strong Kansas wind this morning, and the sun spread its rays over those in the bands. More than a thousand people lined the streets, bundled in jackets to ward off the morning chill. Hearts swelled with pride and thanksgiving.

At our house today, the American flag fluttered in the strong breeze all day. It was our statement that we believe in our country. We believe in our military personnel of today and we honor those who served in the past.

I was only six years old when WWII ended, but I remember hearing the president on the radio telling the American people that the war was over. A long war which brought shortages of sugar, meat and gasoline to the American shores, while it brought loss of life to many in the European theater and in the Pacific. I remember my mother taking our ration books to the meat market and the grocery store, Dad handing his ration book over at the service station when we needed gas. He drove as little as possible to conserve on the tires. No possibility of getting new tires during wartime.

Even as a little girl, I remember another sign of shortage in WWII. A young woman who lived in the basement apartment of our section of a large apartment building provided great entertainment for me. I stood in the basement doorway as she hiked her leg over the laundry tub and painted her legs to look like she was wearing hose. She even managed to make a straight vertical line up the back of her leg to indicate a seam. When she’d finished one leg, she started on the other one. Satisfied with her artwork, she smoothed down her skirt and skipped back to her apartment.

Another WWII memory was a trip my mother, grandmother, little brother and I took. We boarded a troop train and traveled from Chicago to Phoenix to visit my mother’s brother and family. I would celebrate my fifth birthday in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. It was 1944, and perhaps some strings had to be pulled for us to be allowed to travel on that train. We had a small compartment, but during the day, I wandered up and down the aisles making friends with the soldiers, sailors and marines. I should have had a knapsack to store all the candy and gum they gave me along with the smiles and chatter. It made a big impression on me as I remember it well.

My parents were movie buffs, and they took me with them to watch the double features during the war years. Besides two full length movies, we had a cartoon and the world news shown in black and white. Battles of weeks earlier were shown while we munched on our popcorn. It seemed surreal, like it was part of the make-believe movies we also watched. Surreal until the news of a wartime death hit the family of one of our neighbors or friends.

It was all so very long ago, and yet, here we are, living through yet another war. Are the people of the world slow learners? Did they not figure out the cost of war is far higher than the benefit of the winner? Have we not learned to love one another as Jesus taught?
Perhaps not.

Meanwhile, all we can do is to tell those who have fought in the past and now that we love them and thank them and will continue to support them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Story With Two Titles

Yesterday, I wrote about one of my stories being published in a Canadian magazine. The editor used a completely different title than the one I had chosen. I called it "The Long Night" and he dubbed it "The Night My Dad Was Buried." I promised to post the story today so you can decide which title fits best. I'd love to hear what you think.

Read the story at the link below. It's been published three times now--once in a teen ezine and at Our Echo, now in the Canadian magazine geared to adults.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's Out Of My Hands

I sold a story to a small magazine published in Canada several weeks ago. My copy and check arrived in yesterday's mail. When I received the acceptance message from the editor, he told me how much he liked the story. Of course, I was happy to hear that.

I thumbed through the magazine to find "The Long Night" which is a story I wrote for teens that also has some adult appeal, which is why the editor bought it. It's historical fiction about a coal mine cave-in in a small town in Iowa. The protagonist is a young teen who had argued with his dad one morning, went off to school and then had to face the possibility later in the day that he might never have a chance to see his father and make things right again.

I chose the title The Long Night because of the eternity it must have felt like as the boy and his mother waited with the other townspeople for a rescue. So imagine my surprise when I found the story on page 4 with the title in two fonts. The editor changed the title to "The Night My Dad Was Buried." The last two words (Was Buried) was in a much larger font, so caught the eye immediately. Shock value? Probably. A hook to pull readers in? Most likely. Necessary? I doubt it.

To me, the new title is misleading, because the first thought would be that this is a story about someone whose father died and was buried in a cemetery. But the title does tell the truth about this story since the father was 'buried' in the mine cave-in. The reality is that the cave-in blocked the way out for the miners and the boy is the one who can squeeze through and help the rescue team in clearing it. The miners were not 'buried' in debris.

It all boils down to the fact that I was not happy about the title change, but in the writing world the editor has final say. It was out of my hands as soon as I accepted the offer to purchase. I know that and I accept it, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

I'll post the story tomorrow for those who might like to read it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Make a Good Story Better

I am part of a website where writers can post their work. It's a site where the level of writing runs from basic beginner to polished professional. Readers can leave comments and a tally is kept of how many hits each posting receives. I read as many of the stories as I have time for, and I  post one now and then, too.

Recently, I read two stories that might be classified as memoir, but they were worlds apart for one simple reason. Story number one told about a move made by the author's family when she was around twelve. It was interesting because she was able to bring out the way of life at that time, the kind of houses and that they'd lived near the railroad tracks. She told about her mother's reaction to the house, the bare light bulb in the middle of the ceiling in every room, and the lack of plumbing.

Story number two was a simple slice of life about ice cream that delved into the author's boyhood and then into the period he had small children and up to today when he shares the treat with grandchildren. Again, it held my interest.

But the two stories were worlds apart in one particular way. The first one lacked sensory details. The writer reported what happened. If she'd used sensory details, she'd have brought us tumbling back through the years to experience the whole episode with her. Living near the railroad tracks allowed for using the sense of sound. Think of those long, low train whistles, or the clack of wheels on the tracks. Then, there's the special smell of the old trains. The house she describes could have been brought to life by illustrating the sense of touch--perhaps the worn smooth doorknob, or the rough, warped front door.

The second writer filled his story with sensory detail. He had me licking my lips as he described eating the ice cream. And I don't even like ice cream! Because of the extra element of using the senses in his writing, his story came alive. It allowed the reader to live it with him.

Pay close attention to sensory detail in your writing. It can make a good story better.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Storytellers from Guatemala to Kansas

The picture above is of my husband, Ken, me and our houseguests of last week. Nury and Arnaldo de Milian live in Guatemala. Arnaldo is an engineer and Nury is a tour guide, but both have an interest in and support a group called the Children's Christian Concern Society. The CCCS supports Christian Education in 21 countries around the world, but it began 42 years ago in Guatemala, thanks to a lay-missionary couple from Kansas. Learn more about the group at

Nury was invited to be the keynote speaker at the annual CCCS dinner last Friday evening in Topeka, KS. Ken and I hosted them in our home for a couple of days prior to that. What a delightful couple they are. We never seemed to run out of things to discuss while comparing our families, our towns, our lives. Nury worked on her speech in-between our other activities. 

At the dinner on Friday evening, she told the story of the CCCS in Guatemala and showed pictures of the many children helped by this non-profit group. In her lilting, slightly accented English, she touched the hearts of the nearly 300 people in attendance. Nury is a storyteller just like me, but she does it live, while mine are on the printed page. 

Both of us have a goal of reaching out to others in the best way we can. I feel blessed to have spent time with another person who shared my goal. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

One Final Story in Life

A few years ago, a couple we know were taking a lifelong dream trip. They were going to spend two weeks touring Egypt. Before they left, Rosie wrote her obitiuary and one for her husband. Then she called her adult son and told him where he would find them should anything happen while they were overseas.

"Mom, that's absolutely ghoulish!" David retorted. Rosie assured him it wasn't like that at all. "Things happen," she said, "and if something did happen, you'd be very happy to have the obitiuaries written." It turned out they got stranded because of a New York City blizzard, so they couldn't get their connection and never made it to Egypt. But a few years later, when Rosie passed away after a valiant fight against lung cancer, her obituary was ready and waiting. I remembered the story she'd told me about writing it.

This morning, we are attending the funeral of a man we've known and called Friend for many years. Reading his obituary in last evening's paper made me aware of all he had done and all the lives he'd touched along the way. It reminded me why we had been friends with him for so long.

Writing your own obituary is not at all 'ghoulish' as my friend's son thought. It's a kindness you can do for your family. And who knows better what should go into it than you? Some people want every organization they've been in and every recognition they've earned included. Others want only the basic information. I've seen obituaries that go on so long you wonder if anyone ever finishes reading them. Others are so short, you wonder if the person led a totally boring life. Hit the happy medium, write tight and let people know who you really are.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Movie Remakes

I read in this morning's paper that the Coen brothers are remaking "True Grit." John Wayne starred in the original  movie which has become a classic. It's a compelling story of an old gunfighter who is dying of cancer. He returns to spend his final days in a boarding house of a woman he'd known earlier. A young girl approaches him for help. She can't go searching out the bad guys on her own, and Rooster Cogburn is the man she knows can help in her quest. Of course, Rooster doesn't want to take on a new job, but he does and it all makes for a great film with a star who is still remembered fondly by his many fans.

Now, Jeff Bridges is going to play Rooster Cogburn. I have nothing against Jeff Bridges. He's a fine actor and will probably do the role justice, but he isn't John Wayne. And my take on this is why try to make a really good movie over again? Why not let the original stand alone? But apparently, the producer/director brothers think they can do it better. I know one thing--it will probably be more violent as movies about the old West tend to be today.

It made me think about the idea of a remake. There are lots of remakes on movies, but I don't ever remember someone trying to remake a book. Copyright privilege comes into play there, I'm sure. Plus who would want to try and rewrite some classic novel? It would never work as the same, that's just plain plagarizing, and to write it differently doesn't make sense. It's not the same story any longer.

On the other hand, look at how many times someone has taken the classic poem "The Night Before Christmas" and rewritten it about Thanksgiivng or Halloween or some other far-fetched subject while keeping the idea and rhythm of the original intact. But that's a poem, not a novel.

I vote for leaving the original "True Grit" alone. Maybe the Coen brothers have run out of ideas of their own. Too bad, as they're a talented pair. I'd much rather they found a brand new script for Jeff Bridges.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Day When You Shouldn't Write

Without boring you with the details, I'm having a lousy day. Make that a lousy week. Plans made and almost complete for today have been changed last minute,  then longtime friends planning an overnight visit had to cancel, and this morning came word of the death of a good friend. Add a few other upsetting things and it's not a pretty picture right now.

It's a bad day, and one thing that I know is that I shouldn't try to write a story or essay on days like this. Why? Because it's not the real me writing. It's not my usual outlook on life coming through. Normally, I'm a pretty positive person, but when all kinds of things go wrong, I get cranky and/or sad just like any other person. And when that happens, my writing is not anything that would inspire a reader, not something that would touch the heart of a reader, not something I would feel proud of.

So, the best thing to do is to get through these next few days of changes and upsets in my life. I can then take a deep breath and step back into the shoes of the person I usually am and I can write with a better outlook.

Artists's paintings often show their mood. When going through difficult times, they might paint in dark, dreary colors or depressing subjects. Maybe it's a good release, but it's not all that pleasing to those who are appreciators of art. For writers, I doubt they'd sell a whole lot of work that comes with a dark cloud hanging over it. Better to wait until the sun breaks through.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Color Me Puzzled

In the writing world, we write, we submit to an editor, and then we wait. Sometimes, we wait a very long time. Sometimes, we never stop waiting as there is no response at all. If we're ready to face rejection, we know that the editor didn't like, want, or need our story.

Sunday, I ran across a market new to me--a children's ezine that looked interesting. It's a paid subscription ezine and the sample issue ran about 59 pages, so they use quite a bit of material each month. I read the writers guidelines and was surprised to see that they paid 20 cents a word. A good rate for an online magazine. I flipped through my children's stories mentally, then went to the files and read through one that I thought would work for this publication.

I sent the story to the editor about 5 p.m.. After dinner, I came in to do some work in the office and there was a message from the editor. I figured it was one of those "thank you for submitting" standard messages, but instead it was an acceptance for the story sent only two hours earlier.

Well, sort of an acceptance. The whole thing is a bit perplexing. The editor began the message with "I love your story, and I want to use it in January, February or March." Happy Nancy at this point. Next she said she's promised a lot of others to do the same and so she isn't sure if she can fit it in. Sad Nancy. She next wrote that if at all possible, she'd fit the story in one of those months. Happy Nancy again. She finished by saying to go ahead and send it to other magazines. Bewildered Nancy by now.

I thought about the so-called acceptance all day yesterday. What I finally concluded is that this is an editor who is new to the game and she wants to please everyone. In the writing world, we know that's a veritable impossibility. I'm not going to bank on "Angels In The Snow" landing in the ezine. If it does, it will be a nice surprise. If it doesn't, I know I've been forewarned. At this point, color me puzzled.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Anthologies Are Good Markets

I had good news Friday. My story "The Right Prayer" will be in the newest Guideposts anthology book in the Incredible Prayers series. I'd received a notice from them several weeks ago saying they needed more stories for this latest book, so I sent in a story I'd written for our Kansas Authors state contest. It received a second place in the Inspirational category in the contest and will now soon be published. Made for a very nice Friday afternoon.

Anthologies are good markets for those who write creative nonfiction, although there are anthologies that publish fiction, as well. Most, however, compile dozens of true stories which are about life and all if offers us. They're stories the readers can empathize with or sympathize or just plain nod their head in agreement. They can relate!

Chicken Soup for the Soul is one of the best known anthology markets, but there are many others. Thin Threads, Patchwork, and Guideposts are only a few others. Google keywords like anthologies seeking submissions or anthologies accepting submissions to find a list. Use other keywords of your own choosing and see what you come up with.

Go through your files and see which stories fit a particular anthology. Most important of all, read the writers guidelines and read them again. Follow the guidelines carefully, just as you would contest rules. One misstep and your masterpiece hits the cyber wastebasket.