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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

When Stories Stall

I had a very emotional experience last summer while in France. We visited an American cemetery where soldiers who died in France during WWII are buried. I knew that I had to write a story about the visit and what occurred that day.

It stayed in my mind during the rest of the trip, even talked with the WWII veterans in our tour group to get their thoughts on the ceremony that took place at the cemetery. I thought about it on the long plane trip back to the USA.

I thought about it while doing all the catching up there is to be done after a three week absence from home. And finally, I had a free day and could begin to get the story down in actual words. I worked on it and deleted half, then rewrote and set it aside for a few days as the story didn't flow on the computer screen as it did in my head.

After yet another rewrite, I sent it to my critique group hoping they'd be thrilled with the story. Of course, they weren't. They liked the idea of the story but they pointed out one failing after another.
Deflated, I looked at the story through their objective eyes and knew they were right. I hadn't been able to get the 'emotion' across, hadn't left the reader with a reason for the story. I attempted another revision, but it wasn't working either. The  story was stalled. Bigtime!

I put it in a file and there it's stayed for many months. I told myself that, when the time was right, I'd work on it again. During the past week with the build-up to Memorial Day and the day itself, the stalled story keeps popping into my head. I think maybe it's time to pull it out and either revise what I have or start from scratch. It might be a good story for Veterans Day in November, so it needs to get worked on now.

When a story stalls, put it away and go back to it later. You'll know when the time is right. Those unfinished stories have a way of callling out to us. I only hope that this time I can make readers feel what I felt when in France.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Readings

Memorial Day 2011 has arrived. For some, it's the last day of a three day week-end that kicks off summertime activities. For others, it's a day to visit the cemetery where loved ones are buried to remember and decorate the graves. But most of all (for me), it is a day to pay tribute to our fallen military and those who have served or are doing so now.

I sent a personal essay to the Kansas City Star newspaper about Memorial Day. They published it today. You can read it in the As I See It column at

A friend sent me the poem below that is fitting for today. Sadly, the author is unknown. He/she deserves credit for these words that came from the heart.

He was getting old and paunchy
And his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion,
Telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he once fought in
And the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies;
They were heroes, every one.
And 'tho sometimes to his neighbors
His tales became a joke,
All his buddies listened quietly
For they knew where of he spoke.
But we'll hear his tales no longer,
For old Bob has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer
For a Soldier died today.
He won't be mourned by many,
Just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary,
Very quiet sort of life.
He held a job and raised a family,
Going quietly on his way;
And the world won't note his passing,
'Tho a Soldier died today.
When politicians leave this earth,
Their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing,
And proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell of their life stories
From the time that they were young.
But the passing of a Soldier
Goes unnoticed, and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution
To the welfare of our land,
Someone who breaks his promise
And cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow
Who in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his country
And offers up his life?
The politician's stipend
And the style in which he lives,
Are often disproportionate,
To the service that he gives.
While the ordinary Soldier,
Who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal
And perhaps a pension, small.

It is not the politicians
With their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom
That our country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger,
With your enemies at hand,
Would you really want some cop-out,
With his ever waffling stand?
Or would you want a Soldier—
His home, his country, his kin,
Just a common Soldier,
Who would fight until the end?
He was just a common Soldier,
And his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us
We may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict,
We find the Soldier's part.
Is to clean up all the troubles
That the politicians start.
If we cannot do him honor
While he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage
At the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline
In the paper that might say:

Display Old Glory with Pride on Memorial Day and 4th of July


Friday, May 27, 2011

Writers Need A Dose of Courage

Remember the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz? He journeyed with Dorothy and others to visit the magical, mystical Wizard to obtain courage. Instead of a confident lion, he was a scaredy-cat.

Have you ever waded into waters that became so deep you were soon in over your head? You need courage to tread water and/or swim to shore. Sometimes we feel like we're in way too deep in our writing world, and you need some confidence in yourself to come out on top. You're not alone if you feel this way.

1. It takes courage to make that first submission to a print or online publication.
2. It takes courage to open the envelope that you know holds a rejection.
3. It takes courage to write a novel after you've spent years composing short stories.
4. It takes courage to venture into non-fiction if you've always written fiction.
5. It takes courage to write poetry for the first time
6. It takes courage to accept a speaking engagement related to your writing.
7. It takes courage to actually say I am a writer.
8. It takes courage to promote your writing to others.
9. It takes courage to commit to a major writing project or weekly column.
10. It takes courage to continue writing when you receive myriad rejections

Some synonyms for courage are: bravery, fearlessness, spirit, pluck, mettle, self-reliance, grit, backbone, guts, intestinal fortitude. Take your pick of any one of them to keep your writing world strong. You'll reap the rewards and have a feeling of satisfaction.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Clear Day

We've had some bad weather in the heartland this past week. Killer tornado in Joplin, MO, more tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas. Add to that days of heavy rain, hail and high winds, and you have a recipe for major concern if not downright fright for many people.

Yesterday, we were in Louisburg, KS at our daughter's home to attend Cole's pre-school graduation in the morning and Jordan's dance recital later in the day. After the graduation, we were driving through their small community when the skies darkened and the wind came up, rain pelted down. It looked ominous, and it was. Only seconds later we came upon a pick-up truck which had been flipped on its side. Suddenly, tornado sirens blared and an ambulance and police arrived on the scene. We drove around what we thought had been an accident, trying to decide where to go because of the loud and continual sirens.

Only later in the day did we learn that a small tornado had touched down where the pick-up truck had been. It lifted the truck, which was pulling a small faltbed trailer, into the air about ten feet and slammed it down on its side. The driver was not injured and crawled out the passenger side window. I have a feeling he may be mighty sore this morning, however. On our way back from lunch, we  passed the area again and noted several large trees which had been split, top to bottom, making them look like a stalk of broccoli. The storm was so fast that the sirens blew only AFTER it had  happened.
More tornadoes skipped up and down throughout the Kansas City area yesterday, also.

Heavy rains visited the region off and on all day. People watched TV to keep up on any new storms in their area.

Today, we woke to clear skies and sunshine. As Ken and I drove home to Manhattan, there was no evidence of the furor of nature that had visited our area. It could not help but lift our spirits, even though we are still aware of what the people in the hard-hit areas still have to face in the clean-up and rebuilding of their communities and their lives, especially those who have lost family and friends.

So often in our lives, the stormy times threaten to pull us so far down we fear we may never get up again. And then, a clear, sunny time arrives when we least expect it, and we're ready to meet the world and all that is in it again. No matter how long those dark times are, there is almost always a sunny day to come. May it ever be so.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wednesday On Tuesday

Cole and Jordan

We're leaving for our daughter's home near Kansas City very early tomorrow morning. We were suppose to go late this afternoon, but a very stormy day with reports of more severe weather through the night caused us to change our plans. We'll get up before the chickens and be on the road before seven a.m. Thus, the reason for the Wednesday post on Tuesday evening.

Our grandson, Cole, is graduating from pre-school at 10 a.m. and we are invited guests. He is mighty excited about this big event. So, it's important that we be there for him.

Later that evening, his sister, Jordan, has her dance recital, so we'll be happy participants in that event. It's very nice to be close enough to attend special things for our grandchildren. I've missed doing that for our two granddaughters in Dallas. They also had special things in their lives last week-end. Gracen had a dance recital and Alexis went to prom. Both on the same night, so their parents were kept rather busy. Thank Heaven for photos and the ease of sending them via the internet. It's not as good as being there, but runs a close second.

Gracen at her recital

Alexis and her date, Andrew

Just goes to show that writers do have more in their lives than writing. As passionate as I am about writing, my family comes at the top of my list of things I love. 

Writing Dilemmas

 Yesterday, a writer friend wrote to me of a dilemma she was dealing with. She'd written a short story that would be perfect for a literary journal, but she'd decided to send it to a contest instead. She wanted it to be as clean of minor errors and clear to the reader as possible, so she subbed it to her critique group. After all their suggestions, she rewrote  and resubbed it. One more question was sent to the critiquers and finally, the story was to her satisfaction and ready to go. Click, click, click and off it went. But to her horror, once it was done, she realized she had not sent the final version, Instead, one of the earlier versions was submitted to the contest. What to do? My friend decided it was  water over the dam and she'd  send the final version of the story to a literary magazine later on.

I have another dilemma, but it's not nearly as dire as my friend's dealing with. I'm getting poetry and prose ready to send to our annual state authors contest. I have a haiku I'd like to send, but I don't know whether to submit to the Haiku category or Whimsy, as it could fit either one. I've been mulling it over for days and I keep changing my mind as to where it will go. Once, I even thought of submitting it to both categories. Somehow, I don't think that would be allowed or wise. What if it won in both categories? (How's that for confidence?) I have a couple more weeks to decide.

Writing is far more than just putting words on paper. Dilemmas like the two examples come up all the time, and we can do nothing but follow our instincts and hope for the best. But do take time to look at the situation from all angles. Don't make a hasty decision that you might regret later on.

Monday, May 23, 2011

One Very Short Classic

On recommendation from my friend, and fellow blogger, Annette Gendler, I checked out a book from our library that is short, classic, entertaining and more. Annette wrote about the book at her blog a week or so ago

I read the book in one sitting for 84, Charing Cross Road is only 97 pages, has no foreword or afterword. Helene Hanff, a New York City resident and writer, carried on a correspondence with a bookstore in London for twenty years. The letters, and that is all you'll find in this book, cover a period of twenty years--1949 to 1969. The author purchases old and special edition books from the bookstore, and in the course of the twenty years, the letter writers build a relationship that melds into friendship. 

Ms. Hanff is often blunt and caustically funny but also generous and caring as we see in letter after letter. Frank Doel is at first the formal British businessman, but it isn't long before he allows himself to be himself in his letters. 

We see the progression in the lives of the bookstore personnel and also Ms Hanff as she moves from one type of writng to another, eking out a living and always planning a trip to England. The letters show a slice of history as we watch postwar Britain and the evolution in Ms Hanff's writing world when TV shows mesmerized the American public. We see the difference in cultures as well as the many similarities. And best of all, we are thoroughly entertained by these charming letters. 

Spend an afternoon or evening with 84, Charing Cross Road and I think you'll agree. Definitely a classic memoir. Thanks Annette, for recommending it.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Take Advantage of Weather

We're having a siege of rainy days in Kansas. Just now, thunder rumbled and I can hear the rain as it swirls down the drainpipe of our house. I can't take my walk this morning, but I can take advantage of what the rainstorm offers.

It's the perfect time to write descriptive phrases and paragraphs about a rainy day. It's the best time ever to write about the way the lightning cracks and thunder rolls across the gray skies. What better time to write about something but when it's actually happening.

On stormy days like this, write about a memory you have of another stormy day. Long ago, when my now 56 year old brother was about 4, we had a summer storm and I didn't know where he'd disappeared. After looking around the house, I found him in my parents' bedroom, standing at the window. He was talking to God, telling him that all that noise scared little boys and could He please make it stop. He was so earnest and also frightened of the storm that my heart went out to him. I was 20--yes, there are 16 years between us as well as two other brothers sandwiched in-between--so I scooped him into my arms and tried to reassure him about our need for rain and more--anything I could think of to soothe him. I have often thought of that moment on stormy days, and someday it may end up in a story.

So, take advantage of the weather you're having, if it's rain, or snow, or spectacular sunshine and blue skies. No better time to write about the weather than when you're experiencing it. If the weather predictions hold true, it looks like I might be writing about rain for at least another 6 days!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Writer Frustrations

I've been hearing a lot lately about writers who are frustrated because of one major problem. Time! I've always been one to say that we can make time for the things we want to do. And I still believe that is true in many cases. When you concentrate on frivolous things like sitting in front of the TV or playing computer games, you can use some of that kind of time for writing, if you really want to.

But, people who are not full-time writers have so many other important things to do that it is sometimes very difficult to create that bit of extra time for writing.

One writer I know teaches on a part-time basis, but lately she's been working at that job full-time. And now her mother is making a major move, so she's spending time traveling to another city to help sift and sort her mom's belongings. Add to that the everyday needs of a household and there's little time to set aside for herself. It frustrates her!

Then there's another writer friend who is a caregiver for an elderly mother, is involved in a quilting organization, has been adjusting to widowhood for a couple of years, and is now in the middle of a new romance in her life. She is passionate about writing but it's hard to fit it in right now. It frustrates her!

And now it's me! My calendar has something on it every day for the next few weeks. They're all things I need or want to do. Add to that, grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning and staying in touch with friends and family--suddenly my writing time has diminished considerably. There have been many days when my writing has consisted of posting here on the blog. It frustrates me!

I know the three mentioned here are not alone. All writers, especially part-time writers run into periods of life like this. If nothing else, jot down ideas that come to you for working on later. Look at your calendar and determine just when "later" might be. Make it a date to aim for. And try hard to keep to it.

This is only one of the little frustrations writers encounter. Definitely not enough time to list the many others here today. Someday, make a list of all the things about writing that frustrate you, and then counter that with one about the reasons you love and continue to write.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Read About A Writer

Monday, I picked up a friend to take her to our surgery center for an epidural injection. When Barbara got into the car, she handed me a book saying, "I think you'll enjoy this book. I like to read about writers and you probably do, too.."

The book is I Am Scout by Charles Shields. I started reading this biography of Harper Lee about 8 o'clock last night. The author of To Kill A Mockingbird has been a reclusive person who shuns the spotlight and always has. Her brilliant first novel has become a classic and required reading for many high school students.

I think it's good for writers to read about other writers, so I would urge you to give the book a try. My thought was that I'd probably scan it and get the general idea since I am reading a good novel right now. Within a very few pages, I was totally hooked on the book. I read a bit more than half of the 212 pages.

This morning, I read a bit more about the author, Charles Shields, and I learned that this book is an adaptation of another that he wrote on the same subject. I Am Scout is geared to young readers, but is definitely for adult readers, as well. In fact, the book was in the Adult section of the library when my friend found it. The original book, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee was nominated for the Quill Award for Biography and also a Literary Guild selection.

The author pieced together Ms. Lee's life through myriad interviews with her teachers, classmates, friends, and acquaintances in her hometown of Monroeville, AL He's captured her family and the town where she was born and raised, pulling the reader into Nelle's world. Harper Lee's first name was Nelle, which she dropped when her book was published. Her closest childhood friend was none other than Truman Capote. They grew up next door to one another with both of them loving words and developing into writers. Their friendship carried through to their adult lives.

I'm looking forward to finishing the book today. If you enjoy biographies, this is one to put on your list of books to read. Read about a writer. They're usually pretty interesting people.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dogs, Cats and Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup for the Soul publishers are marketing two new books. One is My Dog's Life and the other one is My Cat's Life. One of the editors of these two books appeared on Fox News this morning. She brought her dog with her---a cute little beagle.

She summarized one funny story from each book, and the show's host commented that the stories in the Chicken Soup books are great reads because they make you feel good. He asked the editor if they had many stories sent in for each book. She replied that they receive thousands for each book but can only select around a hundred.

With odds like that, it makes writers wonder why they'd ever even try to write for such a popular anthology series. But I say--Why  not? Yes, the competition is fierce, but you'll never have a story accepted at Chicken Soup if you don't submit. I'm in eleven of their books but I have a whole lot of stories I submitted to them that never made it. It's alright because many of them ended up being published somewhere else.

I submitted stories for several of the Cup of Comfort anthologies, but I never had even one accepted. It proved to be a challenge that I set for myself. I kept sending work to them until they stopped publishing the books. I asked myself why my stories never made it at Cup of Comfort. I think part of the reason was that I'd never actually read one of their books, and in retrospect, I should have done so. I'd have learned more about the type of story they selected. I often urge writers to read the guidelines carefully and follow them exactly. That much I did.

Another thing that is paramount is that what appeals to one editor might not to another. Thats one reason Chicken Soup has a panel of readers as well as their own editors. I am not sure if Cup of Comfort books followed the same method or if Colleen Sell, the editor did all the reading and selecting. From some things she wrote in her newsletters, I got the impression that she was a panel of one.

Here's a list of the books Chicken  Soup is accepting submissions for and their deadlines::

Brides and Weddings    6-30-11
Christmas Stories          6-30-11
Family Caregiver          7-30-11
Food and Love            6-15-11  
Home Sweet Home      8-30-11
Married Life                 7-31-11
Think Positive For Kids           12-31-11

Go to to read about each of the titles.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Playing With Words

We read over and over about the benefit of exercise to keep our bodies flexible and in good shape as we age. How many times have you seen a healthcare worker push the "Walk 10,000 Steps A Day" program? Or heard about the good results of yoga or tai chi? The older I get, the more I pay attention to these suggestions.

I think mental exercise is every bit as important as the physical. I've read more than once that two activities that bring benefits to us as we age is to play bridge and do crossword puzzles. I'm happy to say I do both and have for many years. Bridge is my greatest relaxation, but it also makes me think

A crossword puzzle is a word game. I loved the simple ones we did in grade school, and I've moved on to adult puzzles. I'm  a word person, not one who likes to deal with numbers. People who love numbers excel in playing Sudoko. Give me a bunch of clues and a crossword grid to fill in any day.

Our Kansas City newspaper has a daily crossword puzzle that is of medium difficulty. I'm about 99% on completing it. The New York Times puzzle that many newspapers carry is a different story. I've never finished one, which tells me my vocabulary is not at the highest level. But the more we do the puzzles, the more words we learn.

Playing with words in a crossword puzzle can only help us as writers. Take a few minutes each day to work on a puzzle. We exercise our minds and store new words for later use. Now, if they'd only stop using rock stars as answers, I'd be able to do more of the harder puzzles. Just this morning, I quickly filled in the five letter space for a star named Clark. Being a senior citizen, the most famous Clark I knew was Gable. Fit right in, too.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hooray For Jennie

I wrote this post yesterday, but it somehow never showed up except to subscribers, so I'm reposting it today. was out of commission for over 24 hours, so that may have had something to do with it.

When we got home from a few days at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, there was a box on our front porch. I hadn't ordered anything, so I couldn't imagine what it was. The return address told me that my friend, Jennie Helderman, had sent it. Jennie is in my online writers group and has been my roomie at our conferences, and I consider her a good friend.

Puzzled, I opened the box to find a shiny black gift box tied with a hot pink ribbon. Inside the gift box was a hardback copy of Jennie's book. The book was originally published as an oversized paperback. As I held the book and admired the cover, I noticed that printed at the top was Limited Edition. Inside a couple of pages it said Numbered Limited Edition 17 of 250 and on the title page, Jennie had written a note and signed it.

It felt wonderful to receive something so very special from a gifted writer who is also my friend. 

Last night, there was news from Jennie. She wrote   

"I've just been notified that As the Sycamore Grows is an award-winning finalist in both the Nonfiction Narrative and Women's Issues categories for the 2011 INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS. Many countries represented and books from 2009-2011." 

Her words gave me goosebumps and brought a lump to my throat. 

Jennie spent five long years gathering material, writing and rewriting this book. She subbed many chapters to our online group for suggestions and to have more objective eyes on her precious words. Those of us who followed the story through her subs and heard of all the trials and tribulations involved, felt very much a part of the entire publishing process. We cheered with her when good things happened and we commiserated when they didn't. She persevered and achieved publication through hard work.

Jennie's nonfiction book tells the story of an abusive marriage and the woman who had the courage to walk away and start a new and successful life. As The ?Sycamore Grows has rceeived recognition  more than once since its publication. You can read more about it and order the book at (the Kindle editon) and paperback edition) There are editorial reviews and customer reviews at both sites.

Hooray for Jennie!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wednesday Post on Tuesday Night

I knew I wouldn't have time to post tomorrow as we'll be on the road so here's Wednesday's post on Tuesday night.

I was at a big outlet mall today that had a Publisher's Clearinghouse store, so since I can't ever pass up a bookstore, I stopped in. And I stayed a long time. And I left with a bag holding four books.

The prices were great. Many of the books were by authors whose names were quite recognizable while others were by virtual strangers to me. In talking to the manager, I learned that the books they sell are ones other book stores were not able to sell. Maybe they ordered more copies than they should have, or maybe the book, while publishable, might not be on the top tier.

Even so, I saw many books I'd already read that I would consider good books. I also saw things that turned me off completely. It made me wonder how many authors get the thrill of having a manuscript accepted by a publisher, live through the editing and galleys and marketing only to end up with a book that didn't come close to selling well. How very disappointing that must be.

If it happens, an author has two choices. She/he can give up writing or can write another book using what was learned along the way with the first one. I'd hope that more would try again than would cut themselves off from the literary world.

Meanwhile, I have four new books to enjoy.

Word Prompts Lead To Real Stories

One of the best writing exercises is the very simple word prompt.'  My critique group does one on a weekly basis, and we get the most interesting kaleidoscope of responses to a single word. The idea is to look at the word and then freewrite for ten minutes, stopping in mid-sentence at the end of that time if necessary.

It's my turn for all of May to provide the words that the other members will use in the exercise. Since we'd been to a wedding on Saturday, that's the word I selected for this week. And, oh what delicious responses there have been. Most wrote about their own weddings and their feelings toward the type of wedding they wanted, one wrote a piece of fiction about a wedding that was most amusing.

As for me, I wrote about my now-husband, then-fiance, saying he would not be there if more than 20 people attended. Believe me, it's a story worthy of a Chicken Soup book. There is a call for stories about weddings for a new Chicken Soup book now. The deadline for the Brides and Weddings book is June 30th, so you've got plenty of time to write your story to submit.

Start by doing the ten minute freewrite on the word wedding and see what you come up with. Then take the best part and write a story to submit. Remember that they want a real story, not an essay of your thoughts about weddings. Review the guidelines on the website

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Memorable Mother's Day

This was going to be an unusual Mother's Day because we were out of town at a wedding on Saturday and were to go on to a resort area in a lake district to meet two couples on Sunday. They are longtime friends whom we meet somewhere once a year.

I did see my daughter and her husband on Saturday as they were also at the wedding. We'd gone out to get a light lunch between the noon wedding and evening reception. Ragland Road Irish Pub in the new entertainment district of Kansas City was a nice spot to do that.

Sunday morning, we had breakfast at our hotel and lots of people from the wedding were there so I received many Happy Mother's Day greetings. We were ready to check out when Ken discovered his credit card was missing. Panic!

The only place he'd used it all day was at the Irish Pub. "Must've left it there after signing the receipt," he said.

5 hours later---security office tried to get hold of the manager, no go. We waited for them to open at noon. No go. Another restaurant manager said they opened at 3 on Sunday. More waiting. No go. Apparently they all went to spend Mother's Day with their mamas because they never opened at all!

We called and cancelled our credit card, called the two couples on their way to meet us to say we'd be late, and off we went to the Lake of the Ozarks. Had planned to be there by noon to open the condo and greet our friends when they arrived since we were host couple this year. Instead, we arrived after six and they greeted us!

Maybe it would have been better to spend Mother's Day with family in the more usual way. I did get to see my daughter that morning at the hotel and my son did call from Dallas to wish me a Happy Mother's Day.

Today, the three men are playing golf and we women will hit a huge outlet mall. A better Monday than Sunday, I hope.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Mother's Day Story

Mother's Day is May 8th. To commemorate the day and pay tribute to my own mother, I'd like to share a story that I wrote after losing my mother. The story was published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book and I also read it on a TV show in Topeka, KS. 

The next day a stranger, who'd seen the show, called me to offer her thanks for helping her deal with the first Mother's Day without her mom. It pleased me to know that my story had given comfort to someone. It's one of the reasons I write--to reach out and touch the lives of others. 

The story is reprinted below.

 With Us In Spirit. 
 By Nancy Julien Kopp

I stopped at a Hallmark shop the other day to buy Mother’s Day cards for my daughter and daughter-in-law. The aisle where the cards for this special day rested was a long one. There were Mother’s Day cards appropriate to send to everyone from your cleaning lady to your best friend. The colors were soft and spring-like, fitting for the month of May. I moved up and down the aisle looking for cards that worked for Karen and Amy, and suddenly without any warning, an ache started deep inside. It swelled and moved upward, hit my heart and pushed a tear from my eye.

The one card I really wanted to buy was one for my own mother, but she passed away more than two years ago. I could buy the card, write a special note, sign it with love, then seal and stamp it. But where would I send it? Heaven has no post office. A curtain of sadness dropped down and covered me like a shroud for a moment or two. My hand reached out to a card that I knew she’d love. It was lavender and purple, her favorite colors. I read the verse and smiled. This was the one I’d buy her if I could only send it to her. I slipped it back in the rack, picked it up and read it again, then replaced it.

I’m a mother and a grandmother of four, but I still miss my mom. I miss our long talks. She had little formal education, but she possessed a marvelous instinct and insight into human behavior. I learned so much listening to her observations. I miss the stories she told about her childhood in a coal mining town. She made me appreciate the differences in people’s lives. I miss the wonderful pies and cakes she made. I miss her terrific sense of humor and hearty laughter. I miss her hugs.

But as I look around my home, I see her in many places. I see her warm smile in photos carefully arranged in several different rooms. I see her every time I sift through my recipe box and finger the many cards with her handwriting, all so precious now.  I see her when I use my rolling pin, once hers, now mine. Whenever I use it, I’m reminded of the day she taught me how to put just the right pressure on a pie crust with the heavy wooden rolling pin. I see her when I show visitors to our guest room, for the bed is covered with a quilt she made by hand.

On Mother’s Day I will be with my daughter and her family at a Mother’s Day Brunch. To spend the day with a child I love and her husband and children will give me great pleasure. It wouldn’t surprise me if we sense another presence that day, for my mother will be with us in spirit, spreading her love once more.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Real Life Drama

As much as I love to read fiction, I'm finding more stories lately that are real life dramas. Open the newspaper, turn on the TV or listen to your car radio as you drive. One story after another is reported. We get the specifics but not the little human details that finish a story.

All those suspense novels appear more like truth than fiction when our news is filled with kidnappings, abuse of children or the elderly, robberies, fraud, and even murder. The more I read about these crimes, the more concerned I become for our world.

Add to the above the personal real life dramas we all deal with amongst our families and friends. Any one of you reading this today could list several real life dramas amongst your inner circle. Right now, I have a dear friend lying in a hospital in great pain waiting to have a hip replacement tomorrow. Add to that her Rheumatoid Arthritis and living with only one arm for many years while she runs a small ranch. Drama!

Another writer friend went out to dinner with his wife last Sunday. Before they left the restaurant, she complained of a severe pain in her head. Today, she lies near death in a hospital, and her husband says he wants her back if it's even a part of the person she was. Drama!

Still another friend has landed a great job, but she's terrified that she won't be able to perform the tasks as well as someone with far more experience. She's stressed out. Drama!

The three examples above may be real life dramas, but they are also people I care about. I can't close the book after reading the last page and feel satisfied. I need to keep following these stories and help out in any way I can, even if it's only moral support.

Look around you. There are more real life dramas than you can imagine. If only they might all have happy endings. That would be the same satisfying feeling after finishing a novel.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What Are Your Memories of May?

The Merry Month of May

We're in a new month, and it's a special  one for me and always has been. Many of my happiest memories are of things that occurred in May. It's time to add a new page of memories for the month by month memory book you're writing. If you haven't started one, make this the first month and keep going through next April to make it a full year. Below is something I wrote about May memories a few years ago. In the picture above, I'm ten years old

The Merry Month of May
By Nancy Julien Kopp

May is my favorite month. I was born in May, my parents were married in May, Mother’s Day comes in May, my youngest brother was born in May, and I had many a memorable Memorial Day celebration in May. Let me tell you a little about each of these events.

I always loved having a May birthday in my growing up years because it was not too close to Christmas and it arrived just prior to summer. That meant I often received new summer clothes as a gift from my parents. I loved opening those gifts looking for the surprise inside, usually something in rainbow sherbet colors to complement my fair skin and auburn hair. But the year I was in sixth grade, I opened a birthday package at the dining room table with my mother, father, and two younger brothers all watching. I untied the pink ribbon, opened the box and spread the tissue paper. There lying in all its glory was my first bra. I looked at it, then around the table at my family, and I felt the heat creep up from my toes to the top of my head. My face flamed in humiliation. I slammed the lid on the box and moved on to the next package. To this day, I cannot imagine why my mother did that to me. But there were other special birthday memories. One occurred that very same year. It was 1951 and my 12th birthday. A classmate had a birthday 3 days prior to mine, so we had a combined birthday luncheon that year. We had an hour and fifteen minutes for lunch, so it was not problem for all the girls in our class to walk to Carole’s house where our mothers waited with food and drink, cake and ice cream. We’d given an invitation to each girl in the class and also invited our teacher—Mr. Biddinger. He was the first man to teach in our grade school and became the most loved. The girls all brought a gift for each of us, but I have no idea what any of them were. Mr. Biddinger brought both birthday girls a gift that I’ll never forget. He handed each of us a white box, and nestled inside was a corsage made of two spicy scented carnations held together by a pink ribbon bow. It was the first corsage I’d ever had, and the thrill it gave has lasted to this very day.

My mother and father celebrated their first anniversary two days after I was born. They’d run away and eloped a year earlier, been married secretly for six weeks. One day my grandmother confronted Mom and with ice in her voice said, “You’re married, aren’t you?” Mom nodded her head, and there must have been fear spreading throughout her limbs. Grandma glared and told her, “Then you’d better go live with your husband.” Her two older brothers were angry, too, that she’d married that no-good guy, and they refused to speak to him. But the day after I arrived on the scene, the entire family gathered at Mom’s bedside, admiring yours truly lying in her arms. My two uncles reached across the bed and shook my dad’s hand. Suddenly, he was part of the family, and the three men became the best of friends. Even Grandma relented and decided to accept him. Babies soothe many a troubled heart.

Mother’s Day comes in May, too. And I’ve had some miserable ones when my children were going through their teen-age years, and then there have been some that are dear to my heart. When I was in college, I went home with my roommate on Mother’s Day week-end during my Senior year. I went because she asked me and we had a ride to her hometown. It was a week-end away and didn’t cost me a penny, and in those college years, each penny was carefully counted. It wasn’t until years later that I learned how hurt my own dear mother had been that I had chosen to go home with my roommate instead of coming to spend the week-end with her. At the time, it never crossed my mind that she’d be hurt, and years beyond, it was too late to make it up to her. It still bothers me.

My baby brother was born in May, two weeks before I turned sixteen, an unexpected addition to our family. I had two brothers already and I wanted a baby sister in the worst way, but along came Jimmy instead. The moment I laid eyes on him, I loved him, and I still do. He’s in his fifties now, but he’s still my baby brother and always will be. He’s the only one who didn’t witness me receiving my first bra at my 12th birthday celebration.

May finishes with Memorial Day week-end. Every year from kindergarten through eighth grade, all the students in Lincoln School marched by classes to Carroll Playground across the street. Every class selected a boy to carry the American flag and a girl to carry a bouquet of flowers to lay at a commemorative plaque honoring all those who had attended Lincoln School and had given their lives during WWII and the Korean War. A solemn ceremony accompanied the laying of the flowers. In those days Memorial Day was always May 30th and we had the ceremony the day before, which just happened to be my birthday. Because of that fact, I was chosen to carry the flowers almost every year, and the strange thing is that no one ever complained. It was accepted, and it made me feel so very special. The parade of classes, the patriotic songs, the many American flags waving, the speeches, and the floral offerings all instilled a great sense of patriotism in me that lasts to this day.

Yes, May is a very special month for me with memories that warm my heart. Always was and always shall be. At least, I hope so.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Submission Call From Chicken Soup

I received the following yesterday and wanted to share it with my readers. I f  you submit a story for Chicken Soup for the Soul, there is a place on the submission form to check if you want to receive mailings from this anthology publisher. This is the type of thing they send. Very worthwhile to any writer.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride
101 Stories of Love, Laughter and Family

You did it! You found that one special person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life... your soulmate... your best friend. Now it's time to plan for your big day. Your wedding is one of the most special and memorable events in your life. It will bring you warm and wonderful memories for many years to come. And there might also be some humorous and disastrous memories surrounding your big day too.

We want to hear all about everything! We are looking for true stories and poems about your wedding and about being a bride. We'd love to hear from the groom too. From the proposal to the multitude of arrangements to the rehearsal to the big day to the honeymoon and everything in between. Did everything go as planned? Did the best man forget the ring? Was your first dance the most romantic dance ever? Did your mother-in-law ruin your day? Stories can be touching and inspirational or wicked and funny.

Here are some suggested topics but we know you can think of many more:
  • The proposal
  • The rings
  • The perfect dress
  • The location of the wedding
  • The rehearsal/rehearsal dinner
  • The bridal shower/the bachelor party
  • The big day
  • The honeymoon
If your story is chosen, you will be a published author and your bio will be printed in the book if you so choose. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book, worth more than $100. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it.

Please remember, we do not like "as told to" stories. Please write in the first person about yourself or someone close to you. Do not ghost write a story for someone else. If a story was previously published, we will probably not use it unless it ran in a small circulation venue. Let us know where the story was previously published in the "Comments" section of the submission form.

SUBMISSIONS GO TO http://chickensoup.comSelect the Submit Your Story link on the left tool bar and follow the directions.

The deadline date for story submissions is June 30, 2011.


Please do not reply or send questions to this address. For any further questions or correspondence, contact or visit our website at

TO UNSUBSCRIBE please send an e-mail to with UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line or mail your request to:
    Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC P.O. Box 700 Cos Cob, CT 06807-0700

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Couple of Key Ingredients in Good Writing

Yesterday afternoon, I attended a program at our public library. Thomas Fox Averill, professor of English at Washburn University in Topeka Kansas, spoke about a book he's edited. What Kansas Means To Me is a compilation of essays and poems that all deal with the title of the book. The book would probably hold appeal only for those who are Kansans by birth or have lived here a long time or have family here.

The point is that Mr. Averill held the audience in the palm of his hand. It wasn't his subject matter that did it, however, but the way in which he presented the information. Warmth and humor are the keywords to his presentation. He is also a writer, and I feel certain his writing reflects those same two qualities.

He reached out to the audience with  a little humor and held them for the entire presentation with warmth. Granted, the information he gave was of interest, but he made it more so. Had he given a list of things about Kansas and sat down, his program would not have been a memorable one at all. Interesting perhaps, but not memorable at all.

In our writing, we face the same type of situation. Present the facts, report what happened and maybe you have an article or a story. Add those two key ingredients--warmth and humor--and you'll have a piece of writing that is most likely going to be published. Of course, there are some subjects that prohibit the use of humor, but the warmth can still be evident. In fact, in sad or tragic stories, maybe that warmth is needed to help soften the facts.

So, how do you do this? It's not easy to be funny, and there are certainly degrees of  humor. Some people are naturally funny while others may have a dry wit and still more have to force humor. The latter one seldom works. Find a writer whom you like for humor and warmth and read analytically. How did he/she accomplish these key factors? Read enough and you'll begin to understand.

Like all things, it takes practice to perfect writing this way. The next time you write a story or article, let it simmer a few days, then read it as objectively as you can and see if you were successful in using humor and creating a bit of warmth.