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Friday, June 29, 2012

Deadlines and Achievement

Years ago, I told my five-year-old son he could not go to kindergarten until he learned to tie his shoes. "The teacher is too busy to do it for every boy and girl," I added for emphasis. For weeks, he struggled, gave up, and tried again and again. The day before school started, he achieved his goal. What happiness radiated from that little face when he demonstrated his new ability to me.

This little episode illustrates two universal truths. We push ourselves harder when there is a deadline and achievement is all the sweeter when we can share our success with others.

In our writers world, don't we tend to work better when there is a specified deadline? Of course we do. We think and think about writing a story or article but life tends to get in our way. We make vague promises to ourselves thinking things like Tomorrow, I'll get to it. Tomorrow arrives, the phone rings and we're off to another meeting, pick up a sick child (or grandchild) at school or....
But if a story must be sent to an editor by Thursday, we'll create time and get the job done.

That deadline looms over us, so we move it to the top of our To-Do list. The machine can answer the phone. Pizza places deliver night and day, so the family will be fed. Few of us like to dust or vacuum anyway, so that's not a problem. The library committee meeting can go on without us this time and a niece will appreciate a check for her birthday as much as a gift. We need to block out everything but the writing project. We don't want to face failure or the humiliation of telling the editor the piece is not ready.

Achievement is accomplished by setting priorities and being firm in keeping them. Get your ducks in a row might be a good illustration. If we're wishy-washy, our goals float farther and farther away.

When we receive good news from an editor, we've achieved a goal. We'd love to share the good news with someone--usually someone who means something to us. Like my son, we radiate joy when sharing news of an acceptance from a publisher. Satisfaction settles over us like a warm comforter. That, however, is not the end. Success only inspires us to continue writing and submitting. If you receive eleven rejections and one acceptance, which one do you think you'll remember longest?

That small son of mine is now a successful businessman. He learned all about achievement before he went to kindergarten Here's hoping you did, too. If not, it's never too late to learn.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Too Hot? Try This Exercise



A good sized portion of the USA is experiencing a heat wave. It's too hot to do much outside, and those who stay inside can only hope the A/C doesn't give up. It's being worked way too hard right now. 

That old When life gives you lemons, make lemonade came to mind this morning as I meandered down the driveway to pick up our newspaper. Usually, the cool morning air feels refreshing but today when I opened my front door and stepped onto the porch, the already-too-warm air hit me. 

Since there's little else you can do on a very hot day (106 predicted for us today), why not try a writing exercise? 

Write a paragraph or two or two describing the worst heat you can remember. Make the reader feel the burn, want to wipe sweat from her brow and wish for a cold drink. You might start by making a list of adjectives that you can include. There are lots of good ones that hot days bring to mind.

Now, write a paragraph or two describing the worst cold you ever encountered. Maybe writing about the shivering moments of bitter cold times will help cool you off today. Again, start with a list of adjectives and move on from there.

Share them here in the comments section. Let's see who can come up with the paragraph that makes us hate the heat or cold the most.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Good Autobiography

Book Cover:  Mao's Last Dancer: Young Readers Edition

Why do we enjoy reading about the lives of others so much? Biographies and autobiographies continue to be popular. I've just finished reading Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin. It' s the selection for my July Book Club. The woman who had chosen the book gave it to me, saying "It's a quick read." I wondered if she was apologizing for it or why she made the statement.

I noticed that the copy I had is a Young Readers edition, but I checked and there is an adult version  plus a movie made after the book was published. My friend was right. It was a quick read but also an interesting one. 

Li Cunxin was the sixth of seven sons in a peasant family who lived in one of the early communes in China during Mao's regime. He grew up in abject poverty with a stern but caring father and a mother who offered great love to all her sons. It was all she had to give. The boys were destined to work in the fields for the good of China as their father had done, but Fate stepped in for Cunxin. He was selected to attend a ballet school in Beijing when only age 11.

The autobiography continues through his years of schooling, the way he grew to love ballet, and his desperate homesickness. Fate intervened once again with his being chosen to go to Houston, Texas for two months to study with a famed choreographer. At age 18, he was overwhelmed with America, having been taught only of it's capitalist evils. Returning to China, he fights hard to return for a one year training period with the Houston Ballet Company. He rises to stardom, finds love and defects only a day before he is to return to China for good. The afterword allows us to see what has happened to him since his defection. He is married, father of three children, and is a motivational speaker who lives in Australia now. 

When we read a biography, we can't help but compare the person's life to our own. We often end up admiring the person's journey through life, what they did to help others, or perhaps a great contribution to society that they've made. I also find it's a way to learn about other cultures and about the human mind. What makes people do things that others might never have attempted? What makes them have the drive to succeed when others are content to wallow in misery? In the case of this story, it gives an opportunity to see the way the government rule of the Chinese people affects their everyday life. And again--we cannot help but compare it to our own system. 

I give a gold star to those who write autobiographies because they are leaving a perfectly wonderful personal history for their families. How fantastic it would be for someone to hand you a book written by your great-grandfather telling his life story. What a treasure!

I wouldn't want to read a steady diet of biographies, but once in awhile, they prove to be a rewarding read. What biography have you read that has stayed in your mind for a long time? 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Plight Of A Small Press

The University of Missouri Press has been operating for more than 50 years. Known for scholarly works and publishing the collected works of poet, Langston Hughes, they are suddenly being wiped off the university map.

It appears, from several articles I've read, that the new university president, decided to drop the Press as the university was subsidizing it to the tune of $400,000. The Press did not make a profit, but it had a good reputation in the small press world. President Wolfe has no background in academia. He came from the software industry to head the four campus system.

The greatest shock to the ten employees, who will all be unemployed, was that they had no warning. No one had come to discuss the situation with them or to gather information to make the decision. There is an excellent article in The Nation that gives more detail. You can read it here.

The article has a link to a site that allows you to sign a petition asking President Wolfe to save the press. It also compares the athletic budget to the paltry sum the Press requires--paltry on a comparative basis.

As many of you know, I am a big college sports fan and my team is Kansas State. Missouri has been in our conference for many years (but is leaving to be part of the SEC). K-State fans love to beat Missouri in football and basketball. The rivalry is not as great as it is versus KU, but it's there. Even so, seeing the University of Missouri Press close hurts me because I also support the Arts in a big way.

Our publishing industry has seen many changes. This is only one of them. If you would like to see this acclaimed university press continue, sign the petition

Monday, June 25, 2012

Follow Your Dreams But Do It Now!


The poster picture above made me smile. Not only is it a pretty picture with soothing colors, it says something profound. 

I can't begin to count the number of times I've heard people from my generation say I'm too old to use a computer. Or they say they're too old to travel overseas anymore or too old to enter a competition of some sort. 

Yes, some do have physical limitations that hold them back, but a good many are fully capable of learning new things, achieving new goals and making their mark in this world. It can be a little frightening to venture into unknown waters but it can be done. Suck up your fears and be a little adventurous. You still have time.

I've noted here before that I did not start writing until I was into my fifties. I must admit that I wondered if it was too late to delve into the writing world when many people were counting the years to retirement. But writing had been a longtime dream. What was the worst that could happen? I might turn out to be the most awful writer on the planet--fail miserably. I'd never know unless I tried. It was like diving off a high board into deep water before you knew how to swim. But jump I did, and instinct to swim through those writing waters kept me afloat. 

I know a good many other writers who didn't start writing until after age 50. Read about some of them in an article I wrote several years ago. "Is It Too Late?" has been published several times. Reading the stories of the writers I interviewed for the article may be the inspiration you need to follow a dream you may have put on hold. 

Your dream may not be writing. It could be any number of things, but don't wait any longer to do the things you really want to do. Take that long-dreamed-of trip. Try painting. Learn ceramics or sculpting. Write a poem. Go up in a hot air balloon. Whatever it is, start working on it now. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chock-Full Website for Kids and Parents

The first book Knowonder! is publishing features this cutie


     Yesterday, Phillip Chipping was a Guest Blogger. He wrote about the importance of reading to children. I urge you to check out his innovative website that appeals to both kids and adults, also to those who write for kids. 
     Knowonder! publishes a new story for kids every day of the week. All are written by professional writers and carefully selected by a team of editors. 
     There are articles with tips for parents and grandparents, artwork done by kids for kids, a section on fun facts--always a hit with children. 
     Children and the authors of the stories can win monthly prizes. Authors receive payment for their stories but can also win for having one of the top three stories of the month or Editor's Choice. Children can submit stories and art work, which are all in the running for awards.
     Knowonder! has a lot to offer, and as of September 1st, they will begin publishing digital books. They also have an app so you can check out all they offer on your smart phone. See the homepage for a link to download.  
     There is a page with detailed, and I do mean detailed, guidelines for writers. If you have a story for kids that you would like to submit to this paying market, read these guidelines carefully. Then follow them! Saves everyone time when writers adhere to guidelines. 
     Take some time to go through all the sections on this full-to-bursting website. Add it to your Favorites or Bookmarks and check it daily for a new story. 





Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wise Words From An Expert

Phillip Chipping, CEO and Founder of Knowonder! magazine


I'm privileged to have a Guest Blogger today. Phillip Chipping is the man responsible for the very fine childrens' magazine, Knowonder! His post is directed at parents and writers alike, especially childrens' writers. His are wise words! Phillip has published several of my children's stories in the past, the most recent being "Message In The Night."

Phillip says:
     As parents, there is nothing in the world quite as precious and special to us as our children and grandchildren. There is a love and magic there that doesn’t exist anywhere else in our lives. So it is understandable that we want them to succeed in life! We want them to get good grades in school, to make good friends, to get good jobs and graduate college. We want them to be self-sustaining, contributing members of society. And above all, we want them to have a strong self-esteem, to have confidence, to feel loved, and to be happy.
     So, no pressure, right?!
     Of course there is no guaranteed, magic solution to ensuring that each child will live up to our hopes for them. Each child is different. 
     Yet, statistics and new research show that there are definitely two things, above any others, that have a much higher likelihood of delivering on these hopes; proactively talking to your child, and regularly reading to your child.
     As simple as they sound at first blush, these two things, if done proactively and regularly, have the potential and power to literally hardwire your child’s brain for literacy, learning and success!
But therein lies the kicker. These are habits that need to be formed early on in a child’s life – even starting at birth – and that need to be done over and over and over, day after day after day. It is in the compounding of these actions that we find the greatest impacts. 
    “This particular strand of research is teaching us that a significant portion of a person’s intellectual capacity is determined in his or her first 36 months.” (Disrupting Class, by Clayton Christensen)
     It’s interesting to me that research is now showing that children’s intellectual and physical/eating habits are largely set by the time they are three years.  Think about it. This is the time of their lives when we, the parents, have almost absolute control of everything that goes into their minds and mouths. 
     And so, although a child’s success will largely be determined by their own choices in life as they grow older, we cannot ignore the impact of our influence on their lives during their youngest years. We cannot afford to sit back and pursue our own personal interests and hobbies at the expense of our children. Just as it would be negligence for us to simply feed a child only the scraps that fall on the floor, so, too, is it negligent for us to give them our attention only when it’s convenient for us.
In a world that is hell-bent on providing the easiest, most-convenient solutions for every situation, we cannot afford to turn to the TV, the video games, or other forms of entertainment whenever our child is bored or “in our way.”
     I invite you to learn more about the impact of reading to your child every day, and proactively talking to your infants every day, as well as the most effective ways these two things can be done. As simple as they sound, there are definitely “best practices” that every parent and grandparent should know. 
     You can find more information at www.knowonder.com.

Phillip Chipping (CEO & Founder) is a born entrepreneur and a natural storyteller and the creative force behind knowonder!  As a father of four young children, he understands the need to provide imaginative stimulation and creative outlets to developing minds.  Phillip learned his deep love of reading from an early age, which in turn nurtured his own imagination and creativity.  This fostered in him a desire to find innovative solutions for everyday problems.
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Phillip had the inspiration for knowonder! while living with his family in England as the Managing Director of ZAGG Ltd., the UK arm of ZAGG Inc.; a company Phillip founded.  He saw his children’s love of reading blossom when they had a new story each day and decided to bring that concept home when they returned.  Phillip now lives with his wife and children in Cache Valley, Utah.




Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Anniversary Day

At the 2012 Cotton Bowl in Dallas


Today is our 48th anniversary. On the day you say I do, there are no guarantees about what the future will hold. I'm among the fortunate who have made it this far with far more positives over the years than negatives.

Besides loving one another, we like each other. We have fun together. We might not always agree, but we respect one another's opinion. We worship together, we work in our home with Ken taking care of the outside and me doing the inside, even though we will both help out wherever needed. We both like to travel, go out to eat, attend K-State sporting events and spend time with friends. We have a deep love for our kids and grandkids.

Ours was a small wedding. Read about it here. There are a couple pictures posted with the story. One was taken a year after our wedding and the other 4 years ago. We've changed in looks but not in the love we've shared all these years.

Have you written your wedding memories for your family  memory book? An anniversary is a good time to do it. If you haven't done so already, put it on your To-Do List. Your children and grandchildren will appreciate it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pick Yourself Up


Have you ever  become discouraged when your writing life seems to be taking a downward trend? If you answered No, I am going to say I don't believe you. When rejections pile up faster than the acceptances, it's only human to begin to question yourself. 

When Mr. Doubt moves into your house, he can start to take over. He gets bigger and you feel more knocked down than ever. You may get to a point of wondering why you ever thought you could become a published writer. It happens to lots of writers. Maybe that old cliche Misery loves company works here. 

Writers are usually emotional people, and I think emotional people tend to beat themselves up, figuratively speaking, more easily and worse than the nonwriters. We tend to be dramatists.

The poster quote above has good advice for those whose writing life is spiraling in the wrong direction. Plain and simple--you have the key to getting yourself back on track. I can't do it for you. Your spouse or partner can't do it. Your kids or editor can't either. You and you alone are the one who has to change your mindset. 

So, how are you going to do it? Try looking at the writing goals you've set for yourself. Have you attained any of them? Most likely, you have. Probably not all, but at least one or two. Think back to the writing successes you've had. Whether they were published works or ones a critique group praised or something you felt great satisfaction after writing--all of those things are a form of success. 

Try dwelling on the positive things in your writing world. Push the negatives aside, with a resounding smack, if you like. Lift yourself up. Nobody else is going to do it. I once wrote a short essay on this subject. You can read it at Our Echo. If you do, check the comments section to see what some readers had to say.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

More On Summertime Memories

Here's an essay I wrote a few years ago that might trigger more summertime memories for those who would like to enter the Summer Memories Contest I posted on Friday. You may have other summertime activities to add to those I've listed here. What are they?


Summer Now and Summer Then
By Nancy Julien Kopp

In today’s world, moms start preparing for summertime months ahead. They scour the local papers and websites for summer activities for their children. The mindset today appears to be that school is out for 2 ½ months, and the children need to be busy. Lessons of all kinds fill the hot summer days for pre-schoolers and on into the teen years. Summer music lessons, swimming and diving, arts and crafts, drama and a summer reading program at the local library are only a few of the activities for these vacationing children.

Some mothers make charts so that there are Mon-Wed-Fri and Tues-Thurs things to do. The week-end might be free or taken up with a traveling baseball team. The aim is make sure the children never say “I’m bored!”

And they probably won’t make that statement as they’re too busy running from one event to another, or getting ready for camp. Ah yes, there are camps of every variety you can think of. basketball camp, football camp, cheerleading camp, band camp, golf camp, day camp, soccer camp, church camp—to name only a few. Some kids attend several every summer.

By the time school starts, these over-scheduled kids must be thrilled to get back to the classroom so they can rest. I was happy to go back to school every fall, too, but for a different reason. I’d had the summer to get away from the strict school routine, to enjoy those “lazy, hazy days of summer” we heard of in a popular song.

I grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s in a world that doesn’t come close to resembling that of the 21st century. Summer vacation meant sleeping a little later than usual, then helping my mother around the house for part of every day. When I finished the tasks she assigned, the day was mine. Occasionally, I walked the many blocks to the pool with a friend. Or I meandered down a cinder path behind the commuter train station to the library where I marched up and down the aisles between bookshelves selecting an armload of books to take home. As soon as I finished a stack of books, I headed down the cinder path again, only to return with another armload of reading material. I didn’t get a sticker for each book I read. I read them because they were exciting, because they transported me to places I’d never seen before.

Radio soap operas made the time helping Mom go fast. I’d get so caught p in the tragic doings of all the stars of these serials, and then when school started, I’d lose track of them. Would Helen Trent find love again? Did Stella Dallas come out all right? I’d only know if I happened to stay home from school with a cold or the flu the rest of the year.

As I got older, I spent many of my summertime hours babysitting neighborhood children or my own three brothers. Their toy boxes weren’t nearly as full as the ones today. A new coloring book and box of crayons brought forth cries of joy. Bubbles in a bottle appealed to every age. I’d sit on the steps with my babysitting charges, and we’d blow magical bubbles until the bottle was empty, and then go make more with dishwashing soap. We bounced balls against the brick wall of our apartment building where we lived, and we played Sewer Tag in the concrete courtyard. The sewer covers were safety zones, and the little kids shrieked as they darted from cover to cover. I pushed babies and toddlers in strollers to the park a few blocks away, where we ambled round and round the wooded pathways. And I made children jug upon jug of Kool-Aid. I liked the little bit of cash I earned babysitting, but I had fun with the kids, too. It proved to be part of what led me into the teaching field years later.

The only places that had air-conditioning back then were the movie theaters. Marquee banners proclaimed “It’s cool inside!” as they rippled in hot summer breezes. When the heat waves hit the streets of Chicago, it was time to go to the movies to cool off. It didn’t matter what movie they showed, we found blessed relief from the sticky humidity and heat for a dime.

Maybe we did tell our mothers we were bored, but if so, I have no memory of it. Looking back, I think I’m glad I had such a carefree, relaxed summertime. A glass of Kool-Aid and a Nancy Drew mystery left me feeling happy and content. I looked forward to summer vacations, and so did my friends.

So, which way is better? Who’s to say? Maybe we’d have been better off with a little more stimulation and structured activities, or maybe we benefited greatly from having to create our own activities. That was then, and this is now. Change may be hard, but it’s the way of the world. Now, we live in a multi-tasking, structured society. Maybe a program director of today can come up with a summer class for kids called “How To Relax and Have Fun On Your Summer Vacation.”

Friday, June 15, 2012

Summer Memories Contest

We all have memories of summertime of years past. It depends on where you lived as to what they might entail. I grew up in a Chicago suburb and in our teen years, my friends and I jumped on a commuter train to go to a beach on the shore of Lake Michigan. Or, we'd head north of the city to a small inland lake. We couldn't wait to slather on the mixture of baby oil and iodine to get the best tan ever. Didn't matter--I came home with a sunburn every time. No sunscreen in those days.

Locally, we had a giant pool that we walked to. I still remember the routine. We wore our swim suit under our clothes, stripped off shorts and t-shirt in the dressing room. Then had to stand under a warm shower. That lasted a matter of seconds, we knew we only had to get wet! At the doorway that led to the pool, there was a sunken area filled with a disinfecting liquid. Everyone had to walk through it. I wonder now what in the world was in it. Today, it would probably be banned! 

Farm kids summertime fun was different from ours, but they had a good time, too. Maybe they had more chores to do so less time for those summer fun activities, but they made the most of it.

Maybe the summer memories involve food--the growing, picking, preserving. Or it being the only time we ate corn on the cob or drank iced tea. You might remember being hot if you lived without air-conditioning. When I was a child, movie theaters hung big banners under the marquee that said It's cool inside! Lots of people paid the price of the ticket just to cool off during long hot spells.

Did you attend your county and state fairs during summer? Some states don't have them til fall, but Illinois State Fair was held in August, I believe.

Your age, the place you grew up, the kind of person you are--all those will influence what your summer memories are. How about writing an essay for a new contest at Womens Memoirs. The first contest listed is a Food Memoir and Recipe Contest, but just below that is the section on the Summer Memoirs. Read the guidelines carefully and note the deadline date of June 30th. That gives you a full two weeks to prepare your entry. 

You can add your entry to your own family memory book, too. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How Are Your Tracks?

 


We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
                                                    --Dakota




I saw this on Ladybug Whispers on facebook this morning. (See, going on fb is not wasted time!) There are a lot of these quotes and poster pictures, and they're all worthwhile, but now and then one comes along that impresses me and makes me think. This is one of them.


Stop and think about the tracks you have left as you move through your life. This includes both your personal life and your writing world. We are leaving tracks in both places.


Are your tracks deep and worth something, or did you skim across the sand and leave only a slight imprint? Are you at a point in your life where you can make a change if you feel you need to? 


When I look back over the years, I know that I could have done several things differently, but that's finished now. It's the path ahead where I can make some changes in both my personal and my writing life. 


How about you? Today's a brand new day. Let's use it in the best way we can. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Don't Jump To Conclusions Too Quickly


Yesterday, I wrote about my concern that my second cataract surgery had not seemed as good as the first one. Imagine my surprise when I went in for the recheck and learned that the progress on the second eye was completely normal, and what happened with the first one might be considered Perfection! Needless to say, relief washed over me upon hearing that. Even this morning, I see improvement over yesterday and vast difference from the first day. I had jumped to conclusions too quickly.

Maybe we do that in our writing world, too. When no word comes from an editor, we fret and fume. Rejected again! That's what we immediately think. There may be a good reason we haven't heard from the editor. They're people who have traumas in their lives, who go on vacations, and get sick. When they are dealing with any of those, regular work is put on hold. What's a writer to do? Be patient. Easier said than done, isn't it?

We might jump to conclusions too quickly before we write a story. Emotion takes over and we want to get words in print in a hurry. Possibly before we have all the facts or necessary info to write a complete story. Wouldn't it be awful to have to write a retraction later? What's a writer to do? Be patient. Wait till you have a complete file of information before you write the story.

Another time we jump to conclusions is when we finish a story, read it over again and decide it's pure rubbish. We want to hit the delete button and let it float off into cyberspace. What a piece of junk! you tell yourself. But wait--maybe the story isn't as bad as you think. Maybe you can salvage it. What's a writer to do? Patience is part of it but you can also send it to a critique group for suggestions on how to resurrect the story. Or you could put it in a file and leave it there for a week or two, then look at it again. You may see it in a different light and know what parts to save and which ones to chuck. 

The main thing is to take your time in all these situations, don't panic too quickly. Find out the facts, then tackle the situation bit by bit. It will keep your blood pressure down to normal.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Smooth Doesn't Always Happen

Last week, on Monday, I had my first cataract surgery. It was incredible! I had no discomfort (did you know that is the word drs use instead of pain?) and my vision was sharp and clear right from the start. I was thrilled. Yesterday, I had the second eye done but the process was not the same. I did have some discomfort in that eye all day. Not major but uncomfortable. I also did not have the same sharp vision that I'd experienced the first time. In fact, it was rather blurry. Ken and I surmised that sometimes it takes time for the lens to settle into the eye and that once the giant pupil shrinks back to normal, it could be better. The eye is dilated to a large proportion for the surgery.

This morning, my left eye feels better, the vision is improved although still not as good as the first eye. I see the dr for a recheck in an hour. I'm anxious to talk to her to learn why this second surgery did not go as smoothly as the first one.

It's not much different with our writing projects. Some of them are smooth as cream, while others meet one little bump after another. Wouldn't we love it if every story we wrote went together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Fit a piece here, a piece there and soon we have a lovely picture all completed, ready to be admired. I fear it's only an occasional story that works that way.

More often, we fit several pieces of the puzzle together but find that more are missing. Why isn't the story working? What else does it need? How would it be better? Why is it flat? Where's the punch? Why isn't there more emotion?

Step back and try to assess the story with objective eyes. So easy to say and ever so hard to do. Let the story rest a few days. Read it aloud. All of these things may help you fix whatever is wrong.

When a writing project does not go as smoothly as you hoped, the important thing is to keep working on it. But if you get totally bogged down with more going wrong than right, put it away for an extended period of time. When you next look at it, you might be able to fix it right away. Remember--smooth doesn't always happen

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Titanic Story With A New Slant

The Dressmaker: A Novel

Yesterday, I finished reading The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott. The cover drew me in since I am a big fan of historical fiction. When I read the synopsis on the inside cover, I brought the book home from the library. It was yet another story about the sinking of the Titanic, but this one had a new twist. 

The author wrote a fictional account but based her story on real people, using their names within her story. There were plenty of fictional characters, as well. Woven into the story of the sinking of the great ship on her maiden voyage is a love story, a quest for a new life, the high fashion industry, women's rights, and the plight of a female journalist who had an upward battle to wage in the newspaper world of 1912 and .

Above and beyond all that, what fascinated me was a thread that runs through the novel that is eerily similar to our world today. I was unaware that there were congressional hearings soon after the ship sank concerning the actions of the crew and some of the passengers as well as the owners of the ship line that launched the Titanic. For me, this part is what made the book a very worthwhile read. Admittedly, I did enjoy the heroine and her plight, too. I'm a sap for a good love story, and when two men are in love with the same woman and she must decide where her heart lies, well, I'm hooked. 

The story flows well, kept my interest from start to finish, and I learned quite a few things. That's one of the reasons I like this genre. It's a totally painless way to learn history!

I found a review of the book that appeared in the New York Times. Unlike most reviews, this one dealt with the author and the difficulty she had in getting her book published. It's a fascinating story, which anyone interested in being published would benefit in reading. It will both encourage and dishearten you if you have a book you want to sell. You'll find the review here.

If you like historical fiction, give this one a try. Let me know if you enjoyed it, or if you didn't. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Food For Thought

“Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That's part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads - at least that's where I imagine it - there's a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in awhile, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you'll live forever in your own private library.” 
                          --Haruki Murakami

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I saw the quote above on a Ladybug Whispers post on facebook. It intrigued me enough to find out more about the man who said it. Haruki Murakami is a contemporary Japanese author. He and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to memories. I decided to borrow the quote and lovely picture to share with you here. 

Like Murakami, I cherish memories and I think all writers need to do so in a big way. So much of what we write is drawn from our memories which are there because of our many experiences as we travel through our life journey. As the quote indicates, we keep adding new memories and every now and then, we need to sort through them and see which ones might be useful to us now.

I wrote a short essay years ago titled "Dust Off Those Holiday Memories."  It was published at a site called 2TheHeart and then I posted it later at Our Echo, a website where writers post their work for readers around the world. When I read the quote above this morning, I immediately thought of that essay, as it has similar threads, although it may not be said quite as eloquently. You can read the short piece here.

Read Murakami's quote a few times, let it soak in. It will give you food for thought for the rest of this day.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Oh Go Ahead--Brag A Little


I liked the poster above when I saw it on a friend's facebook page this morning. It made me think about how often writers don't consider themselves amazing. They downplay their accomplishments instead of blowing their horn. Telling the world all you've accomplished is bragging, isn't it? And Mom told us not to be too boastful. Then again....

...for a writer, it isn't truly bragging. It's part of building your platform. If you don't believe in yourself enough to tell the world what you've accomplished in your writing life, then maybe you need to take a good look at yourself and your writing goals.

A writer who is or hopes to be published needs readers. To get readers you have to write well enough to get published. It doesn't stop there. Someone who reads your work and likes it might want to know more about you, would like to read more of your work. In today's world, people can google your name, look for a website that tells more about you and your work. It's on that website that you have to paint a brilliant picture of yourself. Go ahead and brag a little. 

List your writing accomplishments whether published works or awards or nominations for awards. If the list is long, all the better. If it's short, add to it whenever something good happens with your writing. 

All writers, well nearly all, have families and friends. They allow you the perfect opportunity to continue building your platform. When you have a new story published online or in a book, send out a notice to this group. If you have a link where the story can be read, include it. I usually add a line at the end of the announcement to the effect that if they have no interest, just hit the delete button. I don't think many do, as I often get a note back regarding the story. Look at it this way-it's not bragging, it's sharing. A lot of those people will send the story on to several others. Some people have told me they love getting a new story of mine, that they look forward to it. I admit, I hesitated to do this in the very early days of my writing, but I've learned since that I need to get the word out.

When you have a new story published, spread the word on twitter and facebook or your state writers association website. We have so many outlets to use today, unlike the writers of the past century. Use them!

So go ahead and brag a little whenever and wherever you find an opportunity. Do it with a small dash of humility tossed in and a dose of respect for your readers. Like the poster says, you are amazing but it's up to you to let your readers know that.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Triggers That Help Us Write Family Stories

Me at age 3 with my parents in the backyard of my grandmother's apartment building

I have a gadget installed on my computer that allows rolling pictures from my picture file. It's on the right side of the screen and changes the picture every few seconds. I sometimes am not conscious of it but then a picture will pop up that catches my eye. There are pictures of our grandchildren at all stages, old pictures of my family and Ken's, photos from many of the trips we've taken and some of ice storms or especially pretty garden flowers. They trigger so many memories, and sometimes they make me want to write a story. The picture above gives me enough to write more than one story.

When you write family stories, it helps to have a trigger of some sort. One of the best is to sit down with an old photo album or box of old pictures. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or grab a coke. You can spend a long time looking at what happened in the past. You'll trigger many memories that will help you write more for your family story book. I have a photo album that my grandmother made for my mother on her 21st birthday. As a child, one of my favorite pastimes was to page through that album viewing pictures of my mom. I'd ask her about one and soon she'd be telling me a story. Even now, when I leaf through the pages, the stories return.

Another time when those old family stories come back to you is when you are with parts of your family and the Remember when... game begins. One person starts and pretty soon there are more memories passed around. It happens a lot after a holiday meal when families linger around the dining room table. We laugh, we cry, we shake our heads at the crazy things we once did, but we also remember enough to write a story.

Being with an older relative is one of the best ways to get ideas for your family memory book. Talk to them, ask them questions. Sometimes we know only portions of a story. Try to get the older person to give you the missing details. At times, we get tired of hearing older people repeat the stories of their childhood years or early struggles during hard times, but these people are treasures and we should treat them as such. They are literal fountains of information.

The memories of years past and momentous occasions in your own family are all around you. It's up to you to pluck them like flowers in your garden and save them for future generations of your family. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Looking For Adjectives

Parts of Speech Bears

I had cataract surgery yesterday. I learned nearly a year ago that it was time to remove the cataracts that had been sitting idle for some time but had finally advanced to the point of needing to be removed. Because I'd worn hard contacts for 50 years (yes, 50!) I had to go back to glasses for five months, then another complication with necessary eyelid surgery. It was one obstacle after another. Finally, the time had come. Yesterday's surgery went well and the result is---well, let me say that there are not enough adjectives to describe the result.

I am thrilled with the clarity, sharpness and brilliance of colors. It seems as if I'd been viewing the world through a curtain before and now it has been magically drawn aside to let me see the world as it really is. If it's this good with one eye done, what will it be like next week when the second eye is taken care of?

What are some of the adjectives I'd use to describe the changes? How about 

brilliant
clear
sharp
illuminating
gorgeous
delightful
amazing
thrilling
wonderful
marvelous

Which brings me to today's topic--adjectives. They are words that enrich or enhance a noun. They describe the noun more specifically, and they add to your prose. Adjectives help the writer offer a visual to the reader. If I write the house, you have no idea what it looks like. If I write the ancient house, a picture immediately comes to mind. The enormous house brings yet another picture, doesn't it? 

Try to find a list of adjectives for each of the following nouns:
1.  circus
2.  car
3.  woman
4.  train
5.  storm

A word of caution. One adjective is helpful, two or three preceding a noun is overdone. It's a common mistake beginning writers make. Using too many adjectives doesn't enhance your writing. One makes it stronger. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Grammar--Rule or Choice?


The blogathon I participated in last month is over. I managed to post every day during May--that's 31 consecutive days. During that time, I visited a good many of the other blogs that were taking the challenge. It was fun to see the many different themes and the varied approaches bloggers use. I hope to continue reading some of them.

But on to today's topic. A woman in my critique group brought up a question about something that bothers her. She said it drives her crazy when a writer begins a sentence with either And or But. She wanted to know if it was only her or did it bother other writers, too. 

Friday, my post brought out the point that writers read books, stories and articles a bit differently than a nonwriter. My fellow critter proved that point with her question. 

Several people chimed in with an answer. Some weren't disturbed by it while some of the others said it drove them crazy, too. My two cents was that it's a personal choice to use those either of those two conjunctions as the first word in a sentence. It's not grammatically incorrect, but it may not be the very best style either. To me, using And or But to begin a sentence means I want to put some real emphasis on those words. I want people to sit up and listen. It might mean I'm putting a condition on whatever was said in the previous sentence. It may be a way of not writing too long a sentence by stringing two separate thoughts together in a sentence that is overwhelming. Even so, it's not to be used too often.

There are definite rules in grammar but sometimes it's more a matter of choice. The writer needs to write what feels comfortable to her. I've seen sentences that begin with a conjunction in national magazines or in books by noted authors. If an editor hated it, they'd dump those initial words in a hurry. 

In defense of the person in my group that brought the subject to our attention, there are a lot of little things that bug us. However, that's going to happen only if we let it. I know I will never read her work and find a sentence beginning with a conjunction. My own bugaboo when I read is the word got. It seems crude to me but there would be other readers who would pass right on by that word and never cringe. 

So, there you are--it comes down to choice and what bothers each individual. Do you have words that make you shudder when you read them? Tell us about them.

Friday, June 1, 2012

When Writers Read A Book






I read a small but fascinating book this week. The Buddha In The Attic by Julie Otsuka tells the story of Japanese picture brides in eight distinct sections. Unlike most novels, we have not one protagonist but many. We don't learn their names.The story of this group of women is told in first person plural. Ms. Otsuka writes in spare fashion that comes across like poetry. The synopsis on the inside front cover describes the writing as incantatory. It does seem formulaic in some respects, it does appear to be almost a magical spell type of chanting. It was written in a style which I have never seen before. It held my interest and i think it was as much the writing style as it was the story that made me want to keep reading.

When I finished the 129 page book, I felt great sympathy for what these Japanese women faced coming to a new country to marry a man who they knew only from a picture he'd sent. Often the picture was 20 years old or of someone else. They endured a terrible voyage, a wrenching from family, and great disappointment when they met their husbands. They submitted to a life of hard work, sex with little love, child bearing and rearing, and the stigma of being Japanese when their home country and the country they'd adopted went to war. 

But more than the story, I will remember the writing style, the lyrical phrasing, the poetic prose that appeared on each page. When a writer reads a book, she looks for more than a good story. She looks at the writing with a more critical eye than someone who has never written either a book or a short story. 

Whether you are only a reader or a writer who reads, you might want to try this one. I'd love to hear your views on it.