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Monday, October 31, 2011

Conference Wrap-Up

Thanks to Carla who took this picture at the wac conference. Every cottage had a view like this. The Potomac River ran just a short way from the cottage deck. Yesterday morning, I took the trash out just priot to leaving Algonkian Park, and on my way back, I had to stop and drink in the scene before me, much like the one above. It was Sunday, and as I stood there surveying as far as my eyes could take me, I realized I was having my own private church service right there. I'd have watched longer, but I was shivering. 

On Saturday, the weather turned pretty nasty. We were treated to rain, sleet and snow as well as very cold temps. It was in the low 30's and there I was with nothing but a lightweight jacket. I did have a long-sleeved sweater on under it, but the cold worked it's way to my bones pretty quickly. Inside our sessions cabin, we had a nice old-fashioned wood stove that was now gas and worked by flipping a switch. I don't know if the warmth it gave was real or just psychological, but whichever it was, we all enjoyed it. The area we were in didn't receive measurable amounts of snow like farther north of us did.

Our final session was given by a former member of our group who lives in Paris, France. Alexis Niki has written and produced a webseries called "My Bitchy, Witchy Paris Vacation" She discussed the writing and producing of this relatively new medium vis Skype. We had a projector that put the computer picture on the wall, so we had a good view and heard her well, too. Technology is wonderful, isn't it? It was fascinating to learn about a new writing medium.

A discussion of our group policies and a read-around completed the conference. When I flew home Sunday, I reflected on the fact that writersandcritters and these conferences we've had have been a real blessing in my writing and also to me personally. I count as close friends these wonderful women who are intelligent, witty, knowledgeable, outright funny at times, and ever so talented. Besides all that, they are unselfish as they are willing to share their own writing talents with the other writers in the group. No one person is there to take and give nothing back. We all help one another.

And so our "Fourth and Final Conference" has come and and gone. Somehow, the Fifth and Final Conference got initiated before we all left for our homes around the world. In another 18 months, we'll gather again. Meanwhile, I have a whole folder of information received at this one to go through this week. I came home with one more thing, too---an inspiration to write!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Conference--Day 4

This is a picture my writer friend, Annette Gendler, put on her blog yesterday. She's here at the conference with me. I don't think she'll mind if I borrow her picture. Looks peaceful here, doesn't it? It most definitely is, even yesterday when it rained off and on all day. This morning, the sun has returned, and the scene before me as I write this is one that is totally soul-soothing.

Yesterday, we had some very good sessions. Some of the people making the presentations had writing exercises for us to do along with the excellent information they shared. One woman spoke about screenwriting for movies and TV. I would never do that type of writing, but I found it fascinating from a viewer's point.

And there was more good food. A Build Your Own Taco Bar last night with some of the best things to do it with. A homemade guacamole that I could have eaten out of the bowl with a spoon!

Today will be a full day with more sessions, mine included. I'm going to talk about writing for anthologies. I plan to open with a great quote a friend put on facebook. It works for writers or anyone else. It says Don't look back. You're not going there.

Tomorrow, the woman doing our presentation is in Paris and will come to us via skype. Technology is great!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Conference--Day 3

We begin our sessions this morning with an appealing line-up of topics. We'll hear about branding for writers, definitely not the kind you  find on cattle. Next is "Finding Focus," followed by a talk titled "Transitions:  Smooth Shifts in Time, Place and Viewpoint Character:

Then comes "Evoking A Sense of Place in Your Writing" That's one I'm looking forward to as it's an important, yet often overlooked, part of a piece of fiction.

After lunch, we'll hear a talk called "Journey to the Center of a Story:  Fleshing Out Flash Fiction" which is followed by one titled "Setting the Scene, Screenwriting Basics."

"Brainstorming With the Tarot" promises to be something just right for this Halloween week. The woman who will present this one gave a terrific talk on using your dreams in your writing at our last conference. It was fascinating and a few days later, I used the suggestions she made and ended up writing the best poem of any I'd ever written.

We'll finish the day with a session on marketing given by a woman who has spent the last year promoting a nonfiction book published a year ago.

We'll end with another great dinner tonight. When you have a small conference like ours--around 22 participants--you can be informal and have wonderful meals and camaraderie, and the sessions are ultra-professional and beneficial to every writer in the room. This was to be our Fourth and Final Conference, according to the moderator, but last night she started talking about when we would have the next conference. Happens every year when she sees the great benefits these conferences bring.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Conference--Day 2

I was right about all the waiting yesterday. Besides the airport wait, the plane sat on the tarmac for a full hour while maintenance checked an oil leak. Pilot put the 'pedal to the medal' though and made up half an hour's time.

We had a wonderful dinner here in one of the cottages (I was calling them 'cabins' but learned they are 'cottages). One of the wac members brought shrimp from the Carolina coast which landed in a giant pot of the best gumbo ever. Added to that were wonderful salads and more. It was time to catch up on news from people who had not seen one another in person for 18 months.

This morning, I'm writing looking out onto the Potomac River and lots of trees, little squirrels scampering between them. The golden leaves of some of the trees complement those that are still green. An occasional deer wanders through this wooded area, too. Nature at her best.

The cottages are wired for wi-fi, but it didn't work when I tried to connect last night. One of the park maintenance guys came over this morning to work on an electrical outlet and I asked him about it. He checked it out and figured it out. Plug all plugs in! The box was in a place none of us would ever had looked.  Big problem, simple solution!

My cottage mates and I are going to explore the area this afternoon. Tonight is the opening dinner of the conference--a barbecue. We begin our sessions tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Conference Report--Travel Day

It's a bright, warm morning in Kansas City. October 25th and already 67 degrees at 8:30 a.m. It is to reach the mid-80's by afternoon, same as yesterday. Then real October weather returns on Wednesday. We've been blessed with a warm fall this year, and I hope it continues right through the winter--warmer than usual, that is.

Today is Travel Day. Soon, Ken will take me to the airport where the waiting game begins. Flying has gotten to be a drag but is a means to an end, so we continue to do it. Wait to check in, wait in the line for security, then wait until boarding time, wait on the tarmac for clearance to take off. At the other end, it's wait for your luggage to show up. But then, all of a sudden, it's over and you forget all about it.

The one good thing is that airports are great places to people watch and look for stories. They're right in front of you, but you have to look for them. Also a good place to studay characters for your fiction stories.

By late afternoon, I'll be renewing friendships and meeting some who will become friends by week's end. This will be a free day, as will tomorrow. The conference actually begins with dinner on Wednesday evening. The microsoft specialist who attends our conferences does all the cooking. How great is that? She loves to cook, and we all benefit from the good food she produces.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Interesting Tidbits About Chicken Soup

I mentioned last week that I'm giving a presentation at my writers conference on anthologies. The one I know best, and have had most success with, is Chicken Soup for the Soul. While doing some research on this well-known anthology, I learned some interesting things which I'd like to share  with you today. 

Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield were inspirational speakers. Time and again, the people in their audiences requested a book filled with the kind of motivating, uplifting stories they told. In 1993, they published the very first Chicken Soup for the Soul book. It found success quickly through word of mouth and then was picked up by the media which sang its praises. Before long, the book received awards and other recognitions. 

Ten years later, they had $2 million in branded merchandise. The books are now distributed by Simon and Schuster. Over 112 million books have been sold with 200 titles in print and books now in 40 languages. These are some awesome stats. 

There are other anthologies that used the pattern Chicken Soup had perfected. Some have come and gone, others are still around and new ones pop up on the scene periodically. One that I like a lot is the Thin Threads series. I've been most impressed by the quality of stories they have published. Cup of Comfort antholgies had some real success but they have ceased publsihing. Silver Boomer Books has published several anthologies, which even though nicely done, have never reached the popularity that Chicken Soup achieved. One of my favorite anthology series is published by Guideposts. They are, as you would expect, Christian stories. The books are smaller than Chicken Soup, but they are hardback and beautifully done with appealing covers. 

The two men who started the Chicken Soup books were given an idea by everyday people, but they ran with it and grabbed the gold ring as they did so. I think one of the best things they did was to select Chicken Soup for the Soul as the title of the series. It reached the hearts of millions of everyday people.

I'm proud to be a part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul family. My stories have appeared in twelve of their books, and I hope there will be more in my future. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Conference Time

It's nearly time for me to go to the Fourth and Final WAC Conference held in a beautiful state park just outside Washington DC. The conference is sponsored by writersandcritters, my online critique group. We're an international group for women only. They're tough critiquers sometimes but they sure do know how to polish a submission someone sends in until it shines enough to be sent to an editor. Our online friendships were cemented forever with the first conference.

The picture below is of Jennie and Molly, both form Atlanta, relaxing in our shared cabin after some intense conference presentations. The decks on our cabins look out onto the Potomac River. It's a wooded area but the river is there for all to enjoy through the trees. An occasional deer trots by, as well. It's a perfect spot to do some writing, learn something at the 2 1/2 days of presentations by seasoned writers, and drink in some of nature's best offerings.

Jennie and Molly

Just so you know it's not all play and no work, here's another picture of a conference meeting. All those writers look like everyone else, don't they? Someone you'd pass by in the grocery store aisle. Only differnce is while they shop, they are probably mentally working on a story.


Here's one of me giving a presentation on blogging at the last conference. This time, I'm going to talk about anthologies.
Nancy on blogging

I'll be gone from Tuesday through Sunday next week. Looking forward to seeing old friends, making a few new ones and learning a lot while having a good time. I'll be posting on the blog each morning, as usual, it the wi-fi system works out.

The big confere3nces have big name presenters, but a small conference like ours offers every bit as much, and in some respects, even more. If you haven't attended a writers conference of any kind, make it a 2012 goal. Go to one, and you'll want to try others.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Contest News--Color Me Happy!

Color me happy! I entered four pieces of prose in the Kansas Authors state contest this year. They were sent in June and the results would not be known until October. That's a long time to wait. One of the rules of the contest is that no entry can be published before the contest results are announced, which ties up a
story for a lot of weeks into months.

I entered four categories--Short Story, Feature Article, Memoir, and Inspiration. My story, "Christmas Spirit--Lost and Found," won third place in the Inspiration category.

None of the others placed, but the judges did put some nice comments on those entries. On the Feature Article, "A Zoo With No Cages," the judge wrote Beautiful writing! Nice job which tells me that the article must have been close to winning and it also left me feeling encouraged enough to send it to a publication of some sort.Put it on my To-Do list.

The judge for the Memoir category had a full page of general comments for all participants and then one section where she said The part I liked best was __________  I appreciated seeing what had appealed to her in each of those memoir pieces. One of them rather surprised me. It made me think of my blog entry a few days ago about readers perception versus the writer's intent. They are often far apart.

Wrtiers who enter contests and don't win anything sometimes get discouraged and state that they will not be entering anymore contests in the future. It's a shame to do that. It took several years of entering this particular state contest before I won anything, even Honorable Mention. But, as the years went by, and I grew as a writer, I started winning. One year, I won for several entries--a banner year for sure. But besides winning, I gained other things. I learned how to follow guidelines carefully, to wait for a long time. I benefited from comments the judges made, and I felt more confident about entering other writing contests.

Enter contests. Start with smaller, local ones to gain a bit of confidence and move on from there. Consider the entry fees. Some are relatively minor and others quite steep. Weigh the entry fee against what you might gain. But do consider entering contests. There's gold out there waiting, and it isn't always the money.

So, yes--color me happy to have a third place winner. It's been sent to the Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas book of 2012. And now comes another long wait, as those stories will not be selected until next summer.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ten Years From Now

One of the younger members of my critique group posed some questions for our members. She's a young mother who teaches full-time and writes in whatever spare time she can eke out. She said she's been thinking about where she will be ten years from now career-wise and with her writing. She'd like to pursue something teaching-related and devote more time to serious writing by that time. But she has some concerns about being able to churn out writing at a faster pace than she does now, about what kind of career opportunities there will be for her.

A few of the other members sent their thoughts on the subject, me among those who did. My first thought when she asked about where she'd be in ten years was that, for me, I'd like to be A. Alive and B. Writing. And I sure hope the writing is more than a grocery list at that time. As long as I have a mind, I know I'll continue to write.

At my stage of life, looking ten years down the road isn't all that appealing, but it is certainly a good question for writers to pose. Have you thought about where you'd like to be in your writing life ten years from now? If you have one publishing credit now, are you satisfied with that, or do you want more? If your writing is anywhere from passable to great, do you want to grow and make it even  better? That would be super-great at the far end of the scale!

In ten years, do you want to be more knowledgeable about the craft of writing? Do you want to share your thoughts in print with more people then than you do now? Would you be happy staying right where you are now in your writing life?

We'll all have different answers to these questions. I hope that your answers will reflect growth in your writing in all aspects. I hope that you'll strive to write better than you do today, that you'll have more published pieces than right now, that your strength as a writer will increase.

Step back and take an honest look at your writing life today, then make a short list of your goals you'd like to reach by 2021. You may not attain all of them, but even reaching a few will show growth. Some of you will go in leaps and bounds, while others will move along more slowly.

Writers have unique qualities and no two will follow exactly the same path. So, ponder a bit on the question of where you'll be in ten years as a writer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Writing At Times Of Grief

A writer I know recently lost her best friend to cancer. The journey proved to be long and difficult for all concerned. The writer wrote about the death and her reaction to it. She wrote from her heart, allowed the emotion to come through, and ended up with a very strong personal essay. She plans to send it to a newspaper in the large city where she lives. I have no doubts that it will be published. The writer did two things by putting her feelings into print. She eased her own grief and reached out to others going through similar situations.

It's not necessary to be a professional writer to write about your feelings. I'm not proposing that this will make everything wonderful again after a tragedy or a heartbreaking event. Of course, it won't wipe away your hurting feelings.. But it could very well ease them. It might be a first step to healing.

I had four children in the early years of my marriage, but the first and third died as infants. I wanted to write about it. My aim then was to share with other parents who faced the same anguishing situation. But I absolutely could not do it in the early days. Sadly, I ended up waiting 30 years to write about it, and when I did, something hard and black inside me eased. I found a release for the grief I had not been able to let go completely. Oh sure, I'd moved on, raised my two surviving children and enjoyed my life. Still, the ache, even though the edges had dulled, was still with me. After the first story, I've written several others about those losses and many have been published. Besides helping myself, I hope I've been able to help others who have lost a child. I only wish I had not waited so long. Sooner is definitely better.

Professional writers probably think about writing at times of mourning more than the non-writer does, but it can help everyone to put their feelings on paper. Write it with paper and pencil or on your computer. It doesn't matter. Start freewriting and let the words come from your heart. Even if you never show it to another person, it may help you work through your grief. As I said above, it is not the sure cure, but it's a helpful step along the process of grieving.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Different Perception From Writers and Readers

I entered a poem in the 3011 Kansas Authors annual contest. The poem is one that was written after I'd accidentally broken one of the pottery art pieces in Ken's collection. Needless to say, I felt really awful when I saw it lying on the floor in pieces. He was not home at the time and the more I thought about it, the worse I felt about it. Thus "Shattered" was written and duly subbed to my crit group. They liked it but had some suggestions for a few minor changes. I revised it a bit before sending it to the contest.

The poem didn't place in the free verse category, but the judge wrote a lengthy comment and attached it to my poem. She had some nice things to say about the writing itself, but she also left me with mouth open and a "huh?" in my mind as she spoke about the fear and dissolving of a longtime relationship between the husband and wife, the fear of abuse etc etc. What I wrote and what she read were two different things completely. No one in my writers critique group saw that at all, but they also know me personally and know I have a good relationship with my husband.

That's one of the problems of the written word. The perception of the reader can be miles away from that of the writer. And yes, poetry is filled with metaphors, but my poem was telling about a mishap and my sadness at losing something I knew my husband loved. My husband, whom I love dearly, and have never feared one instant. not a nanosecond, of the more than half-century I've known him. The judge was making the poem far more intriguing and involved than it was ever meant to be.

The point here is that we need to be careful in our writing, try to wite with clarity and conciseness. When you've let the first draft simmer a few days and go back to look at it and do a rewrite, one of the questions to ask yourself might be "How will others react to what I've said? What perception will they have?" Keep in mind that the writer's perception and the reader's may be miles apart.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A New Chicken Soup for the Soul book

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness: 101 Stories about Finding Your Purpose, Passion, and Joy [Book]

The FedEx man delivered a box of happiness to my front porch yesterday afternoon. The box contained my ten author copies of the newest Chicken Soup book that includes one of my stories. It's always fun to see what the cover is like, and this one made me smile. Madame Rabbit with her carrot certainly depicts happiness. The book theme is Find Your Happiness.

This book makes an even dozen Chicken Soup books for me. It's a nice feeling. Definitely makes me feel just like that rabbit who found her carrot.

TV personality, Deborah Norville, has written the foreword which is followed by 101 inspirational stories. They're all true. The stories in the Chicken Soup books are classified as creavtive nonfiction. The authors have succeeded in making readers laugh, cry, or sigh with satisfaction.

The title tells us that these stories are going to be positive tales. Sometimes , we search high and low for happiness when it's right in front of our eyes all the time. We can pursue it recklessly or wait until it falls gently around us. Attaining happiness might show up on a majority of goal lists. Perhaps some of the stories in this newest Chicken Soup book will open a door for some readers.

"The Girls On The Bus" is the story I sent to the editor many months ago. It's one I inadvertently sent to another anthology series some months later. A complete lapse of memory and the fact that I failed to do a careful check before sending it out the second time created a dilemma for me when both publishers wanted the story. I had to go with the first one that accepted it, which was Chicken Soup. I still feel a little guilty and remorseful about having to withdraw the story from the second one. Happily, the editor was most understanding and I didn't end up on her black list.

The story is about my mother who had to ride a senior bus in her community after my dad passed away. She'd never learned to drive, so the bus was her only way to get out to do errands. She was most unhappy about it and even more so when she saw the sad, silent people on the bus. The story is about what she did to make the time on the bus better for all the riders, herself included.

The book will be released on October 25, 2011. Look for it in your favorite bookstore or on Amazon. It would make a nice gift or a treat for yourself.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Preparing To Teach A Writing Workshop

My online critique group conference is the last week of this month. About twenty of us will gather in a beautiful state park just outside Washington DC. Nicely furnished cabins all have decks that look out onto the Potomac River. The cabins are nestled among the wooded area of the park, and deer wander in and out among the trees. An ideal spot for writers to write, to mingle with other writers, to learn more about their craft and to enjoy nature at its best.

This will be the fourth conference our group has had but the third one for me. I had major problems while trying to make a connecting flight at the time of the first conference. Ended up stranded in Chicago for two days and missed the conference. OK, I wasn't exactly stranded as we have family in Chicago who took me in while I waited for a flight home. With no luggage which I finally found waiting for me in Kansas City. I still grieve over that first conference that I missed. One reason was that the women who went raved over the presentations as well as the great bonds they'd formed.

So, now here we are getting ready for our "Fourth and Final" conference. I've been asked to talk about writing for anthologies. Harriet Cooper, another member of the group, is the anthology queen. She has had 36 stories in Chicken Soup books, whilc I can only claim  12. I'd love it if we could do this conference presentation together, but Harriet is staying home in Toronto, so I'm on my own.

I've been pondering the subject, have a list of articles to read for some additional background and have selected one or two stories to use for examples. But I'd like some help from you, too. What would
you like to know about writing for anthologies? Send me your  questions via the comment section below, and I'll do my best to answer and include it in my talk.

I'd like to give the writers who will be listening some inspiration to try writing in this field. It took center stage with the explosive success of Chicken Soup books, but a good many more have burst onto the scene as well. Some have died quickly and others are still going and hoping to catch up with Chicken Soup.

Some of the things I will cover are:

History of today's anthologies
Submitting process
Kind of stories needed
List of anthologies needing submissions
Who reads these anthologies
New anthology possibilities
Importance of emotion in these stories

Can you come up with anything else? Do you have a specific question? Send them to me soon

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October Memories--Have You Written Yours?

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I have been urging writers and non-writers to write down your family stories. What better way to leave a record for your children and grandchildren? I've also suggested that each month you think abut your childhood days and write down your memories, or musings, if you prefer that word. By year's end, you'll have a nice assortment of your musings that can be put into booklet form.

October happenings are different in the various areas of our country and yet many of the activities are very similar. I've added my October memories from my growing-up years below. Maybe reading it will trigger some for you. If you start with only one thing about October, it will lead to more. Bet on it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Other Eyes See More

I've encouraged sending your work to a critque group or even to one other writer friend. Other eyes tend to see far more than your own.

We're often blinded to the inadequacies or minor grammatical errors in our own work. We 'see' the parts we like quite well and become somewhat oblivious to the rest. It is to your advantage to let other writers critique your work before you send it sailing off into cyberspace where you picture it landing on the desk of an editor who will scoop it up, hold it close to her breast and exclaim  "Just what I've been looking for!" Writers can be dreamers just like other people.

You don't want to hand a finished piece to your husband or best friend (in some cases they are one and the same!) because they care about you and your feelings. Plus, they are not reading with the practiced eye of a writer. They can easily miss important details that another writer might see.

But be careful who you select to read your work. A number of years ago, I was in a small writer's group. One of the women stopped me after a meeting and suggested we crit one another's work. I thought it was a great idea. She handed me several pages of a novel she was working on. I took it home and went through it. It was just plain awful. What to do? If I gave her a glowing report, I would be doing her a disservice, but if I told her what I really thought, even in as nice a way as possible, she might be truly hurt. I wrestled with the dilemma for awhile and finally decided to be honest. I did it as gently as I could, but she was crushed, hurt to the bone, and darned angry. Needless to say, our relationship crumbled and, to my knowledge, she has never been published.

Also consider your own attitude. If you submit work to other eyes, be prepared to take their comments in a constructive way. If you can't, then you're not ready for others to see your work and give their thoughts and suggestions. It didn't take me long to realize that those crits from other eyes would help me grow as a writer.

Just the other day, I submitted a new story aimed for a Chicken Soup book to my crit group. One of the first critiques I received pointed out that my final two paragraphs should be cut and might even be turned into a second story for the same book. I read through the piece again, and how right she was. The ending came far sooner than I was allowing it to. After it had been pointed out to me, it was so easy to see it. Had I just gone ahead and sent it in to Chicken Soup as it was, it would never have made the short list. Now, it has a better chance.

Yep, other eyes see things our own do not.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Writers Need Hope

I'm going to join a new bible study group at my church this morning. They'll meet twice a month, and the title for the current study is "Hope." which seemed to call out to me, since that is the theme I chose for our ladies guild annual brunch. Guess who was asked to write the program? Hope gained from the birth of Baby Jesus is what I'll use as a base.

Writers need hope, too. It's a small word that has great importance. Hope is what keeps us coming back for more. It gives us a reason to continue writing. But what gives us hope? It's not that writing fairy who we think sprinkles golden words over us like pixie dust.

It's little things that encourage us. When we get an acceptance on a submission early in our writing days (or even well into a writing career or avocation), it makes us want to keep trying. If someone comments on a piece you've written, you are pleased as punch and it makes you know you should keep writing.

Every time we send a submission to an editor or to a contest, we do so with the hope that it will be accepted or place in the contest. No matter how many times we receive a rejection or don't win a contest, we still have that tiny kernel of hope deep inside. And so we try again.

Keep hope alive in your writing life. It's a great springboard to success.

Friday, October 7, 2011

When Does Your Muse Visit?

Have you ever wakened in the middle of the night with an idea for a story swriling in your mind? Writers' minds must work on a 24 hour schedule as this is when inspiration sometimes hits. You have some choices if your muse suddenly wakes you up and whispers in your ear. You can bat her away like a pesky fly, roll over and sink into slumber once again. Or, you can get up and start writing. Another possibility is to keep a pad and pencil at your bedside and write down the idea, then roll over and go back to sleep.

Inspiration comes to us when we least expect it. Once, an entire fiction story flashed through my mind while I attended a symphony concert. I have no idea what the piece of music the orchestra played that night, but I do remember the story in detail. I wrote the bare bones as soon as I got home, then fleshed it out the next day. Why did the music inspire that particular story? I have no idea, but haven't you listened to a song or a concerto and had it bring something to mind? Did you act on it? I hope so.

While walking through an art museum, a painting or a sculpture might draw you in. As you study it, your muse might nudge you a bit. Look here, lady, there's a story lurking in that painting. Can you keep it in mind until you get home to write? ?Should you jot down notes while at the museum? Probably so.

Related to the idea in the middle of the night is to think about a dream as soon as you wake up in the morning. Use the dream for inspiration. Don't laugh. It happens! One of the best poems I've ever written came from a dream. I dreamed one night about old gypsy women riding on a speeding train while little girls played around them. The women were sewing. I'd recently heard a workshop speaker talk about the possibility our dreams give us in our writing. I sat down and started writing the poem, first two lines and then my fingers flew and the rest appeared almost like magic. I did run the poem through my crit group and did some revisons before  "Play, Gypsy Girl, Play" was published at LongStoryShort and again on The Wordsmith.

Your muse visits and touches her wand of inspiration in many ways. It's your job to listen to her, to pay attention to those little nudges she gives you. Dreams, music, deep sleep ideas, pictures and more--there's a story hiding. All you have to do is look.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Surprise Package

I received a surprise package in the mail earlier this week. A large envelope that was bent small enough to fit the mailbox popped out when I opened it. The return address told me it was from The Best Times.

When I got in the house, I opened it and found three copies of the October issue of this very fine monthly newspaper circulated in Johnson County, Kansas. That's the suburban side of the Kansas side of Kansas City. I normally receive copies only when I have a story in an issue.

I scanned the pages until I found my name on a story called "Halloween Confessions." The light dawned! A couple of months ago, I had sent the editor a personal essay about my dislike of the holiday most people love. She said she already had two Halloween stories for the October issue but she really liked the different angle I'd taken. She went on to say that she'd run it if they sold enough advertising to allow it to happen. Like so many publications, they run on a pretty tight budget, and to pay for one more story meant coming up with more paid advertising. My chances of getting the story published were not all that great, so I pushed thoughts of it far back into the recesses of my mind.

But there it was in the current issue. Read it here.  Then read the homepage and browse through the website pages. The newspaper website offers a great deal of information, much of it geared to people 60 and older but still of interest to young whipper-snappers of 59 and under. The current print issue can be accessed from the home page, as well.

Writers guidelines are posted elsewhere. Look for this page for editorial staff and guidelines. The Best Times is a paying market and editor, Lynn Anderson, is great to work with.

Doesn't matter how old we are, everyone likes to receive a surprise package in the mail.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Use Color in Your Writing

We've talked a number of times about the importance of using sensory details in our writing. Color isn't a sense like touch, smell or taste, but it's still a detail that can add some great visual images to your stories.

Our lives are filled with color, so why not incorporate that into your writing, as well. When I first began going to movie theaters, the films were mostly black and white. Only the musicals were done in full, blazing color. And what a glorious thing it was, too

Look at the following two passages that might come from a piece of fiction:

1.  Paul pinned the flowers onto her lapel. She grasped his hand and squeezed it gently. Paul's heart beat faster, and .....

3.  Paul pinned the violets onto her lapel. The deep purple of the flowers were a perfect match for her eyes. She grasped his hand and squeezed it gently. Paul's heart beat faster, and .....

The second example gives us a little more in our visual image than the first one does. It also tells us something we may not have known about the woman--the color of her eyes. (Wasn't Elizabeth Taylor known for her violet eyes, among other things!)

You can paint a spectacular word picture with color when describing things like a sunset, a mountain, a lake.

Saying that Johnny picked up a ball. is OK, but saying Johnny picked up the blue and yellow striped us an even better mental picture of what the boy is doing.  You don't have to describe everything with colors but adding it here and there will perk up your writing, let the reader see more.

When you proofread your work, check for those important sensory details, but also look to see if you have color mentioned in any way. Find the spots where it might add something for the reader.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Writing For Holidays

Lots of magazines and ezines look for holiday material. We mark holidays on the calendar and look forward to the decorations, foods and reading material meant for each one. My favorite holiday is Christmas with Valentine's Day a close second. I'd skip Halloween altogether, if possible, and sail right on to Thanksgiving. But that's me!

Writers can take advantage of the market for holiday material in children's magazines as well as those meant for adults. But it takes planning ahead. It's often at the time of the holiday that a great idea for a story pops up. Even if it's December the 5th, it's too late to market the story for Christmas only 20 days away. You can't write a wonderful patriotic piece for the Fourth of July on June 12th and exepct to see it published that same year.

It takes planning ahead, and there are two ways to do that. One is to write the holiday story when inspiration strikes and save it until the following year. Send out Christmas stories in June or July, Easter stories in early fall.

The other way is to write the holiday story in the off-season and send it  as soon as you have it in revised and polished shape. Both methods require planning ahead. If you write the story at the time of a holiday and file it for later submission, you run the risk of forgetting you ever wrote it!

In your 'Plan Ahead' mode, you should scan through your saved story files every now and then. Never hurts to refresh your mind as to what gem is sitting in the files.

One more thought regarding holiday stories. Editors receive myriad Christmas and Halloween stories, so your chances of acceptance will be better if you send a Thanksgiving story, or one on Memorial Day. Maybe something on Columbus Day to a kids' magazine. Even Valentine's Day stories are not found in as great a number as Christmas and Halloween. November brings Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. Stories for either one would be worth writing. Mabye not to submt this year, unless you know a publication that does a quick turnaround, but write it now and save it for next year.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Old Friends--Material for Memoir Stories

Yesterday, an old friend and her husband stopped here for a visit on their way from Phoenix to northern Minnesota. Zoe and I hadn't seen one another for 12 years in person. We have kept in close touch through email, skype and phone calls over the years. It's kept our friendship alive. But seeing this friend who had been seriously ill last year was better than all the emails rolled into one. Being able to put my arms around her and hug her is something I've wanted to do for a long time. We had a wonderful visit all afternoon and into the evening, and then again at breakfast before they hit the road again.

This morning, I read a post at Our Echo website that told about reconnecting with a friend of long ago. Veronica Breen Hogle (one of the Guest Bloggers here a couple of months ago) wrote about a friend who found her after many years of no contact. You can read Veronica's story here.

We all have friends who have meant a lot to us at one time in our lives. Whether we've kept in touch through the years like Zoe and I have, or whether it was like Veronica and Bridget, it doesn't matter if the friendship was a good one. The memories of things you've done together are like precious gems and should be carefully kept. The memories of things we've done with special people, places we've gone with them, or difficutlties we've lived through with them are--all material for memoir writing.

You don't need to write a full memoir book. If it involves people in your past, it can be considered memoir. Write about the people who have meant something to you. Use your relationship and happenings wtih them as a part of your family stories that you leave for your children to read later. Or use it to illustrate a universal truth of some kind in an essay and send it out for possible publication.

Longtime friendships can be treasured, but they can also be shared in memoir pieces. Pick one friend and wirte about her/him today for a writing exercise.