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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Guest Blogger--Barbara Carpenter

Barbara Elliott Carpenter

Barbara Carpenter was a Guest Blogger several weeks ago. She has more to share with us today.                                               


I didn’t see it coming.

So engrossed in what unfolded right before my eyes, I failed to see all the clues, the foreshadowing, in the movie The Sixth Sense. The writer did his part. As the movie ended, there were flashbacks showing us exactly what we should have noticed, but did not.

I watch for all those telltale signs now. The camera pans slowly across an ancient rifle above a rugged mantelpiece. A character is deeply engrossed in a book that is then carelessly tossed aside. It can be anything, but a careful observer notices and allows the clue to sink into his subconscious mind.

It’s the same with a book. I enjoy clever foreshadowing. Once I discover a writer who uses it well, I tend to read everything written by him/her. Perhaps that’s the main reason my book shelves (and bedside tables, dressers, counters and corners) boast stacks of mysteries.

In younger days, I devoured books by Daphne du Maurier. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.” Her book, Rebecca, will remain a classic. In my twenties when I read it, I subsequently found an aged copy of it at a library “old books” sale. I gave twenty-five cents for it, and it holds a place of honor among my favorites. I think I have read all of her books, and I reread them. Superb writer and a great storyteller.

Robert Ludlum is another example of a good mystery writer. When he died, I felt as if I had lost a friend! The Bourne books introduced me to Ludlum, but it was The Road to Gondolfo that made me love him. I literally chortled through that book! I can think of no better word to describe the half snort/half giggle that burst from my lips as I read.

My quest these days is to find a writer who can throw me completely off track. I don’t want to know “whodunit” in the first two chapters. There are some successful writers who tell us right away who is guilty. Some, such as Mary Higgins Clark, are good at their craft; and we must struggle along with the other characters to bring the guilty to justice.

I prefer not to be told. I want to suspect the butler, the maid, the driver, the gardener, the husband, the wife, right up to the end, when it turns out to be the lawyer! Well, of course it was the lawyer! The subtle foreshadowing did not register, which was delightful!

When I decide to write a mystery, I use a simple question; What if? At times I’ll be writing along so fast that my fingers cannot keep up with my thoughts; and that question will stop me in my, well, computer keys.  What if the good guy really isn’t? What if the bad guy really isn’t? How can I throw the reader off without lying or misrepresenting? It must be believable, not some far-out character who just stumbles onto the scene on the last page.

Throw out little tidbits, not beams. Show us mismatched earrings or a pillow out of place, not a bloody knife. While I was working on the second Starlight book, I could not decide which man would be the villain. I had several choices. Eventually, he just kind of decided for me: a glint in his eyes, a subtle turn of his upper lip, a nearly out-of-character solicitousness that didn’t seem quite right. Although I could not quite put my finger on why, I knew who it was going to be. It worked! Some readers were almost angry with me, but it was all there for them to see; so they couldn’t really quarrel about it.

Give the question a try next time you want to fool your readers, or yourself. What if? You might be surprised how good your story’s ending will be.
 Barbara Elliott Carpenter is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in anthologies, magazines and books. Three novels comprise her Starlight Series, and she has written and/or edited two memoirs. Without A Quarter In My Pocket and A Nickel Can of Pork and Beans. Currently, she is a Co-Creator for the Special Occasion book in the new NOT YOUR MOTHER’S BOOK anthology series, published by Ken and Dahlynn McKowen. She is an avid reader, paints, quilts and gardens while still giving attention to her husband, children and grandchildren.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Don't Forget Vacation Stories

Hula Hoops while waiting for dinner
Gracen's first fish

 My two children and their families spent four days at Lake of the Ozarks together this past week-end. Our granddaughter, Gracen--age 13, kept us in-the-know about their activities through many pictures posted on facebook. 
I've encouraged you all to keep a family stories notebook, adding things to it each month. Vacation stories are well worth saving and adding to your memory book. My grandchildren will probably always remember the four days spent together in the summer of 2012. Gracen got to fish, something she'd never done before. They skipped across the lake in the pontoon boat, played on the beach at Captain Ron's restaurant, swam in the pool and the lake and ate lots of good food.

Wouldn't it be nice if one of them wrote about it and saved the story to read later when they are adults and maybe parents themselves? Can you think back to some of the memorable vacations your family had? Maybe it was a huge cross-country trip or perhaps only a week-end at a cottage on a lake. Was your family one that took vacations every year or only once in a great while? Did you ever go abroad with your family? Or did you take advantage of things a big city nearby offered? Did something funny happen on a family vacation? Or did something disastrous occur? Did you hate family vacations or love them?

A few more vacation pictures below. Today, think about your favorite vacation memories and then write about them. Make this a Memorable Monday.

Cole is the lookout on the boat
Alexis and Jordan on the dock
Cole catching up on some zzzz's on the way  home

Friday, July 27, 2012

Make The Most Of Each Day

Imagine your heart rate if you opened your front door to find a coroner and security officer who had come to tell you that your brother had been killed in an auto accident in far-off Alaska. It happened to friends of mine only last evening. Shocked is the best word to describe how they must be feeling.

Hearing about how my friend's brother's car had swerved, then gone off a mountain road made me think about how fragile life is and how important it is that we make the most of each and every day.

How often do we postpone things, thinking that we'll do that later. What if 'later' doesn't happen? We've all done it. There's a friend I've been meaning to call but haven't gotten to it for far too long. There's a letter I need to write to my cousin who now lives in a nursing home. Then there's the dinner party I've only thought about having for far too long now.

There are days when I do little that can be considered productive. I've wasted some of the precious time allotted me. I've frittered away time that I might be doing something good for myself and/or others. I know I'm not alone. We all do this. For some, it becomes a habit.

When we see a life cut short, it jolts us into looking at life from a new perspective. For those of us who write, maybe it's a good jab in the ribs for us to get going on that long-dreamed of project. A book doesn't write itself. Uh-uh, you've got to be the pilot. A family stories project doesn't get done if you don't spend some time working on it instead of just thinking about it.

When you woke up this morning, a whole day stretched out before you. How are you going to use it? Will you tell yourself it's too hot to do much? Or will you make the most of it? 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stop and Smell The Roses

When we're in troubled economic times, the news in the papers, on TV, across the internet is filled with doom and gloom. I see it, too, in the comments from writers I know who are lamenting the increasing difficulty of selling their work. 

Publications have budgets which regulate the number of submissions they can accept. Books to be translated are put on hold until times get a little better. One editor had to scrap three good pieces for her Mother's Day issue because the newspaper had not sold enough advertising for that month. 

Lately, it appears that we are all facing more negatives than positives in our writing careers and in our everyday lives, too. When the TV and radio newspeople deliver one bad news item after another, it's pretty hard to keep a positive outlook. I'm of the opinion that bad news makes a better story, so the 24/7 news people keep throwing it at us.

Being me, I would far rather they accentuate the positive things happening. There definitely are some good stories for them to report amongst the negative ones. I think that if they would try to show us the roses rather than the thorns, whenever possible, it would help build confidence in people. We need that confidence in the business world, the investment area, and in our personal lives. Should we buy a new house now? Should we trade in our car? Should we go on a vacation or stay home this year? Should we self-publish our novel now or wait another year? 

Just this morning, I read a wonderful story in the Kansas City Star about one of the victim/survivors of the Colorado shootings. It was so uplifting and emphasized the many fine people in our world as opposed to the extremely small group of those akin to the shooter in Aurora. If you want a bit of inspiration and help to renew your faith in humankind, read the story. It's definitely one of the roses for me today.

Whenever you can, appreciate the roses instead of focusing on the thorns. The poster above seems to be a keeper, one that will be a good reminder when we get to feeling down. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Keyword Number Two--Perseverance

It seems only right that I balance yesterday's post on patience with the second keyword for writers--perseverance.

I once met a writer who said she had given up her day job to concentrate on writing. She'd add extra income to the family by selling the stories and articles she planned to write. I am not one to try and discourage someone who has a goal in mind and a passion for what they do. So, I kept my mouth shut, which isn't easy for I'm a person who likes to talk, and I like to help other people.

The woman wrote well but she'd underestimated the stiff competition in the writing world. It wasn't long before she became disgruntled and depressed over her lack of publication success. She gave up and started a business far removed from writing. I felt bad about her quitting something that she had a talent for. I think she stopped too soon. If she'd persevered, she might have a good freelance business going by now. 

Sometimes it's easier to give up than to keep going. It often takes far longer than we like to see results. When I made my first sale to a children's magazine, I was ecstatic. I kept writing stories for kids and sending them to various publications but the next sale didn't happen for quite a long time. Along with the first two sales, I had many rejections. Part of the reason was that I had the basics but I hadn't learned some of the finer points of good writing. That happened after I joined a critique group and benefited from a group of seasoned writers. 

Perseverance brings to mind another word. I think you have to be a little bit stubborn to keep going when things aren't panning out as you hoped. You need an I'll show them! attitude. Whatever it takes to attain your goals, stay with it. 

Put perseverance alongside patience and you'll have a winning combination. I wrote a family story many years ago that revolved around the word perseverance. It's a true story written as fiction, the way I think it could have happened. Read The No-Name Sisters to see how Katie persevered. She didn't give up, and neither should you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Patience--Is It One of Your Virtues?

Many times I try to encourage newbies in the writing world using two keywords--patience and perseverance. I think I could write a book for new writers that included only those two chapters, maybe only those two little words! That's how important I feel they are.

Today, let's look at patience. It isn't only writers who need this quality. A whole lot of folks in other walks of life could use a healthy dose. One of the big problems with a dose of patience is that it runs out and we have to swallow another patience pill. If only there was such a medication!

Seasoned writers learn that patience pays off. I've often joked to friends that I think God pushed me into the writing field in order to teach me to be a more patient person. It's true--I am and always have been a most impatient person. When I want something, I want it now! Bad trait, believe me, as it leads to major frustration. As I've aged, I've mellowed a bit and am definitely more willing to wait for things than in my younger years.

Sending a story to an editor is a very satisfying feeling. A project you've worked on, maybe for weeks, is finally polished enough to meet the eyes of she who will say Yea or Nay. But then you have to wait to hear from the editor. Some submission guidelines state the response time, and I find that most helpful. If they say six to eight weeks but ten weeks have elapsed, then I can be fairly certain that they did not want the story. In that case, I send it to another editor. There are many who say they have too many submissions to notify those they reject. Understandable on their end, a lot harder for the writer to swallow. I greatly appreciate those editors who do send rejection notices. We don't have to hearing a negative, but it lets us know where we stand and that it's time to move on.

Each of the above scenarios requires patience on the writer's part. So how do you get it? It's a mind-set, I think. You need to make up your mind that you are going to have a long wait before you hear from an editor, if at all. The longer you're in the writing world, the more practice you get in being patient.

While you wait weeks or months to hear from an anthology group or a magazine editor, get busy on a new project. Pushing the other in the background and working on a current story is the best antidote for the Impatience Syndrome.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Downton Abbey Fans Will Love This Book

The Novel in the Viola / The House at Tyneford

I raced through a book last week. Yes, raced is the proper word because the story hooked me immediately and made me want to keep reading as fast as possible. If I'd had a large time frame, I'd probably have read it one sitting. Instead, I devoured as much as I could each of three evenings til I'd finished.

Natasha Solomons' The House At Tyneford is historical fiction, a tribute to a English country estate house, and a romance. It begins in Vienna, 1938, when Elise Landau is 19. She lives a charmed life with her novelist father and opera singer mother and older sister. The family is Jewish and out of concern for their safety, they arrange to go to America. But a visa for Elise is delayed and she is sent to serve as a housemaid at a large country home in England. Frightened, alone, and inept as a maid, Elise makes friends with the owner's son, Kit. The story follows Elise into the war years, her desperate longing for news of her parents and sister. The reader watches her mature and change with each new hurdle she must clear. It ended as I knew it would, but even though I'd figured it out long before the final page, it satisfied me.

The author lives in Dorset, England. The House At Tyneford is her second novel. The debut novel, Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English sits by my chair waiting for me to open it this evening. I most certainly am looking forward to doing so.

These are a few quotes by others who have read the Tyneford book. Look for it at your library or bookstore, or for you e-reader. The book was published in England under the title The Book In The Viola. I'm wondering why the American version has a different title.

"Both a love story set during the Second World War and an elegy to the English country house . . . the greatest pleasure of the novel is its stirring narrative and the constant sense of discovery."
(-Times Literary Supplement (London) )

"A vivid and poignant story about hope, loss, and reinvention."
(-Psychologies Magazine (UK) )

"Natasha Solomons has written a lovely, atmospheric novel full of charming characters and good, old fashioned storytelling. Fans ofDownton Abbey and Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden will absolutely adore The House at Tyneford."
(-Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author of Home Front )

"The House at Tyneford is a wonderful, old-fashioned novel that takes you back in time to the manor homes, aristocracy and domestic servants of England. In this setting, Natasha Solomons gives us a courageous heroine whose incredible love story will keep you in suspense until the final page."
(-Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House )

"The House at Tyneford is an exquisite tale of love, family, suspense, and survival. Capturing with astonishing detail and realism a vanished world of desire and hope trapped beneath rigid class convention, Natasha Solomons's stunning new novel tells the story of Elise Landau, a Jewish Austrian teenager from a family of artists, who is forced to flee her home in Vienna carrying only a guide to household management and her father's last novel, hidden on pages stuffed inside a viola. Elise hides as a parlor maid in a fine English country estate, but soon she discovers that passion can be found in the most unexpected places. Already a bestseller in Britain, American readers will thrill to The House at Tyneford."
(-Katherine Howe, author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane )

Friday, July 20, 2012

3 Ways To Help A Blogger

Bloggers help a lot of people, but  as a reader, you can be of some assistance to the bloggers, too.

1. Sign on to Follow:  It's free, requires a few seconds of your time to sign up and is a boost to the blogger. It commits you to nothing. Never judge a blog by the number of Followers as there are always many more readers than the number of Followers shows. You can show a blogger that you like what you read by signing on.

2. Make Comments:  Bloggers like to have responses to the posts they write. It lets them know what subjects to continue with, or even those to never touch again. Comments from readers also gives a blogger a reason to keep posting. All comments need not be complimentary. If you disagree with something the blogger writes, let them know you do and why. Nicely, of course!

3. Pass the blog on to others:  If you like a blog, don't keep it to yourself. Let your friends know that you find something beneficial at XXX Blog most of the time, that you enjoy it or learn from it, are even inspired by it. Bloggers often gain readers in this way. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Don't Take It Personally

When you ask for a critique on a story, essay, poem or whatever it is that you've slaved over until you felt it was picture perfect, you need to do so with the right attitude. First of all, remember that you asked for other eyes to peruse your story. Naturally, the hope is always there that the critiquer is going to tell you that the piece is wonderful as written, that it's ready to market. 

Nice dream, but it seldom happens that way. I've found that no matter how satisfied I am when I sub a piece, someone has a suggestion for something that can be added  or a section that might be eliminated. They suggest better wording here and there. They look at what I've written objectively.  

Once the critiquers have slashed through my story, I have some options. I can leave it exactly as it is. I can study all the crits I received (anywhere from one to several) and choose to make either some or all of the changes suggested. Key to seeing what needs changing is if several people point out the same problem area. Then, you can be certain that it needs work. 

If I ignore all the suggestions given, deciding that my way is the better way, I'm doing myself a disservice. As said above, I asked for assistance, and the critiques are meant to help me have a stronger story which will be more marketable than the original. 

I need to have my hard shell on, just like Mr. Turtle above. I need to let those remarks that might smart bounce right off. Any  negative comments made in a critique are not meant to hurt the writer, although when writers first start to receive critiques, that is often what happens. They take the criticism personally. Don't! It's not YOU they are criticizing. Instead, it's YOU they are helping. 

Accepting criticism of your golden words takes some practice. The longer you do it, the easier it becomes to accept. And remember this--critiquers also point out the things they like about your story. It's not all negative. A little attitude adjustment never hurts. 

How do you feel about putting your work up for critique? 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How's Your Self-Image?

When you were a kid, did your mother ever say What will people think? I have a feeling many of us heard that when Mom admonished us about a misdeed. Lesson learned was that we need to worry about what others think of us. 

To a certain extent, that's true. But , like the poster says, it's what you think of yourself that counts most. A lot of what you think of yourself revolves around the type of person you are. Positive people tend to have better images of themselves. Those who put a negative spin on many things in their lives probably view themselves poorly. That's only one part. There's more.

If you don't think that you've accomplished a lot in your lifetime or feel you are always the one on the bottom of the pile, take heart. It doesn't have to stay that way. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or a nice cold glass of tea and make a list of the positive things you admire in other people, other writers if you are a part of that world. Make it as long or short as you like.

Now, check off the ones that you can apply to yourself. Be honest, no one else is going to see this list. It's only for you. Make an objective assessment. Look at the ones that are left. Take them one by one and ask yourself what you can do to change, what you can do to achieve this particular positive. Keep your list where you can see it daily. Are you making any progress?

Change involves effort--sometimes a great deal of effort. Change is seldom easy. If you want to rewrite your self-image, it needs to happen in small stages. No overnight miracles. We make progress in small steps. If you're a writer, you need to sell yourself to editors, publishers and readers. Thinking well of yourself goes a long way in being successful in that sales area.

There's also the possibility that you're very satisfied with who you are. That's great, but you still need to make a concerted effort to keep it that way. How do you feel about the statement in the poster? 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Doing The Happy Dance Today

Last night, I received unexpected and happy news. My story, Message in the Night, won second place in the People's Choice Awards at Knowonder magazine for children.

I've written here about this online magazine a number of times hoping to give them a plug, also to encourage those who write for children to submit stories, and because I hold them in high regard. Editor, Phillip Chipping, is passionate about reading with and to children and promoting fine stories on a daily basis for families who visit the website.

Each month, four stories receive awards with a monetary prize of different amounts. One is Editor's Choice which needs no further explanation. The People's Choice Awards are given to the three stories receiving the most votes for the month. Readers vote by clicking on the stars at the end of the story plus leave comments.

My story is a historical fiction adventure tale. Whether it was the adventure or the historical aspect that won the praise, I don't know. Could be that it was a combination of both. I have always enjoyed reading historical fiction and I've found that it's also fun to write. I love the fact that this is a very painless way to learn history.

If you write for children, be sure to consider this paying market for your stories but follow the guidelines with care. They spell out exactly what the editorial group is looking for.  Note that the guidelines page offers both a short and a long version. It will be to your benefit to read the longer version which gives examples. The first story I had published at Knowonder! is used as an example in the guidelines. Having There's A Dragon In The Library  cited on this page made me feel very good. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Writing Openings and Closings

Think about all the essays you had to write in school. They'd fill this folder and maybe another one or two. My English teachers pounded certain rules of writing into our heads over and over, and a great many of them stayed with me through the many decades that have passed since those school days.

One of them has been a point of criticism on many things I've subbed to my critique group. I learned that a story/essay needs an opening paragraph that introduces the topic and a closing paragraph that sums up the points made pr pulls everything together nicely. 

But time and again, people who have critiqued my work said to dump the opening paragraph and---now here's the biggie--Start with the action. In other words, hook 'em fast. They're absolutely right, and I know it, but old habits stick like glue. 

That summing up paragraph at the conclusion works sometimes, but too often we writers want to hit the reader over the head with what the essay contained to make sure they got it. It's far better to leave with a bit of a twist or a surprise statement that is not didactic but still finishes the piece. When the action is over, so is your story.

To return to the opening of a story, consider this. If you use a beginning paragraph to introduce the subject, you run the risk of losing your reader. If you start with a bang, they are more likely to hang on. You're probably thinking But I need to set the scene. or There is background material the reader needs to know. Regarding the scene--forget setting it, pull the reader right into your scene. As for the background material, that can be woven throughout in bits and pieces. 

In your closing paragraph, you don't need to state the obvious. Leave the reader satisfied at the end of the action of your creative non-fiction or short story. Stop writing at that point. 

If you, like me, were taught to include that opening and closing to help the reader, work on changing your method. I try bu, sometimes, I forget and carry on in the old ways. With a little effort, we can be as up to date as other writers.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Inspiration For A Story

My Grandmother

Writers find inspiration for stories in strange places sometimes. My maternal grandmother has been the inspiration for several stories I've written. Most are true stories so have been in the creative non-fiction category. Grandma died when I was only twelve, so my memories of her are condensed into those dozen years.

But one inspiration turned into historical fiction for kids. It wasn't Grandma herself who inspired the story. Instead, a pretty little china dish with red roses and green vines in the center provided the notion for writing Just Plain Sarah Jane.

The dish had been in my mother's china cabinet from my childhood on. When Mom was getting ready to move to North Carolina in her 80's, I helped her sift and sort through her possessions. When we came to the small dish, she told me the story of how her mother had come to own something so lovely.

One day in the early 1900's, Grandma stopped by the general store in the small coal mining town where she lived. The owner greeted her by saying "Hello Elizabeth. I hear you got married." Grandma confirmed that it was true. She and Alex had married. The general store owner told her he'd like to give her a wedding gift. He looked around the many items in his store. Rather than giving her something practical, he selected the small, china dish with the roses in the center, scalloped edges shaded in blue. Grandma treasured that dish, passed it on to her daughter and then it came to me. In the family of a coal miner, I'm guessing there were very few things of beauty. Money bought the necessities with none left over for pretty things.

After the dish came into my keeping, I kept it on a table where I could see and enjoy it on a daily basis. One day, I brought it with me to the desk where I wrote. I typed a detailed description of the dish and thought about Grandma going into that general store, oh so long ago. Before I knew it, my fingers flew and a story for middle grade children took shape. I revised it a few times and read it to my critique group. They gave it a thumbs up.

The story was published once several years ago, and yesterday, it was featured as the story of the day at Knowonder! magazine online. You can read it here. If you read it and like it, click on the stars at the end to vote for the story.

Writers use a number of things as inspiration for a story. Family members, places, events, illnesses, tragedies, weddings, christenings--those are only a few. It's up to the writer to see them and use them.

What have you used to inspire a story you've written?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Valuable Quote for Writers

Harriet Cooper, Toronto Writer

One of the great boons of the internet is that we can carry on a full conversation with a friend in another country with the click of the mouse. Yesterday, writer Buddy, Harriet Cooper, and I were having a chit-chat. She mentioned that she'd pulled out an old story and was reworking to fit a new Chicken Soup book. Harriet has more stories in Chicken Soup books than anyone I know.

Harriet said that she had noticed some differences in her present day writing over what she'd produced several years ago. I asked her what had changed. Her answer is below.

As for what's changed? Not the voice. That's been pretty consistent. But my technique has changed. A lot less narrative, more scene setting, more attention to flow, better word choice. Before I was so engrossed in the content that I didn't pay much attention to the form. I don't even think I was aware of form. Now I am. For that reason, I think my work is much better because the content and form now help each other rather than work against it. 
                                                                            ---Harriet Cooper

I definitely think Harriet's comment is a gem. We all start out with content and get so engrossed in it that sometimes we forget the form part of writing. It's easy enough to use a great deal of narrative to tell your story. But if you do as Harriet suggests--'more scene setting, attention to flow, better word choice'--your story will glow.

In addition, using more sensory details brings a sparkle to the basic story. Watching things like repetition of words and writing tight instead of rambling on and on will increase the chances that your story will be selected for publication.

Read Harriet's quote again. Maybe read it a few more times. There's gold in her words. Step 2 is to put those things to work in your own writing. Make it shine!

P.S.  Be sure to read Harriet's comment below.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Look With A Writer's Eyes

Notebook and Pencil

I played Social Butterfly yesterday. It was one of those days when I moved from one event to another all day. I went to Book Club in the morning which was a group of only five. We gathered on the hostess's screened-in porch with our coffee and discussed the book, Mao's Last Dancer--one I wrote about on this blog recently.

After lunch, I attended a PEO meeting with 30 other women. We had a social time, followed by a patriotic piano/songfest program, and then the business meeting, ending with more social time. I exchanged news with many people, heard lots of interesting tales.

At five, I picked up a friend, and off we went to a hospital auxiliary social hour. $5 allowed you one drink and appetizers. The noise level of the chatter would have hit the top of a sound checker, but again, women were catching up on family news, job happenings and more.

On my way home, I thought about the many stories that had surrounded me all day. Women can be witty, so I also heard some memorable remarks. It would have been nice to walk around with a notebook to record some of them. Might be a quick way to make people clam up, though. 

The stories I heard from the few people at Book Club would have made good material for a fiction story, even though they were all factual. Some of what I learned at the afternoon meeting was fascinating enough to end up in a book. The point is that there are stories all around us every single day. 

A writer can gather story ideas and pieces of ideas while grocery shopping, sitting in a doctors's waiting room, or at a local coffeeshop. When you see or hear something that might be useful in a future story, jot it down. Keep a small notebook in your purse or pocket. It's all too easy to forget about it once you get home. 

If you see an interesting looking person, write a short description to use for a character in a story later. If you witness a conversation that is caustic, romantic, or even leading up to a physical altercation, make a memo to yourself as soon as you can. Watching real life developments makes your story characters and situations more realistic. 

Key to doing this is to train yourself to be observant. When you're out doing errands or at a social event, look with a writer's eyes. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My Dilemma

I received a message from the editor at Silver Boomer Books this morning. She would like to include a patriotic poem I'd submitted for their new anthology A Quilt of Holidays. 

It's always nice to find news of an acceptance. But this one left me with a decision to make. The Flag Day poem I submitted is 51 lines. The editor would like to reduce it to 11 lines by using only the opening and closing stanzas.

My first thought was that is like eating a sandwich with no meat in the middle. She wants to cut 41 lines of my precious words, lines I'd labored over.  No writer likes to give up words, so a decision needs to be made.

I must decide if the pluses are greater than the minuses. Who do I hurt most by either withdrawing it or allowing it to be published as is? It's not a great scholarly work by any means, but it's my piece and so it's important to me. I've read the version the editor wants to use. It does work, although the first verse is 6 lines and the second one only 5. That bothers me. In the full poem, there was a mixture.

Editors sometimes hold out the carrot on a stick, ready to pull it back pretty fast if the writer is not in agreement with the proposal. The writer can make a choice, but it's the editor who has the upper hand. Still, I can also negotiate a bit with the editor. Because editors are of varied personalities, just like writers, we don't know if they are even willing to have the back and forth conversation needed. Even so, i'ts worth a try but needs to be done with some finesse and without the writer acting defensive. It's difficult to be objective about our own writing, but we'll get a lot farther in negotiating if we are.

As for my situation--I think I am going to try to add one more line to the second stanza so that the verses are more balanced, then present it to the editor. If she likes it, then I'll sign the contract. I still have the lengthier poem that can be submitted elsewhere and I'll be published in more anthology. I think I just solved my dilemma.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Encourage The Love Of Writing

Two things I saw on facebook this morning triggered my thoughts for this post. One was Save the Date and the other one that jumped out for me was I Love To Write Day.

November 15, 2012 will be the tenth annual I Love To Write Day. I usually feature it in my post on that mid-November day. It's the one day of the year that everyone is encouraged to write. Doesn't matter what it is--just write! A thank you note qualifies, but so does a poem, a story, a two paragraph description or memory piece. So, mark your calendars now. Save that date!

Personally, I celebrate this day every day because writing is something that satisfies me like nothing else. I'm willing to bet that my blood pressure evens out to normal whenever I write. It pleases me to string words together in hopes that they will touch the heart and soul of at least a few people who read them. Maybe my words will provide pertinent information or entertain someone. When I finish a writing project, no matter how long or short, I have a sense of accomplishment greater than when I do anything else. 

I like words. I like putting words together. I like creating stories and poems from those many words. I enjoy doing crossword puzzles because they are filled with words, unlike those sudoko puzzles that irritate me to no end. Some people love them. Must depend on whether you're a number person or one addicted to the beauty of words. There is no doubt which category I fall into.

I've heard far too many people say they hate writing. They offer a number of reasons, but one I hear frequently is that it is because of a teacher (or teachers) who made it a chore instead of pleasure or who ridiculed the results of an assigned essay. Sad that they who should be the greatest proponents of writing for enjoyment sometimes end up being the biggest discouragers. Maybe part of it is because we were often assigned the topic, not left to create our own subject. On the other hand, when the teacher said to write on anything of your choice, we sometimes sat there with a blank slate in our mind. 

I hope that teachers and parents will encourage children to write. We push reading at all levels today, which is wonderful. But I'd like to see more emphasis placed on writing. Mary Lane Kamberg, a Kansas author, has a fine book of tips for young people who want to write. She includes exercises in The I Love To Write Book--Tips and Ideas for Young People.

Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or a grandparent, I hope you will do what you can to promote the joy of writing to the young people you know today. There's plenty of time before November 15th to plan an event or project to celebrate I Love To Write Day 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Guest Blogger--Barbara Carpenter On Good Writing

Barbara Elliott Carpenter

I'm pleased to have author, Barbara Elliott Carpenter, as a Guest Blogger today.  

                                                          The Eye of the Beholder

     Who gets to decide what constitutes good writing? Critics hand out laurels and brutal assessments with apparent ease. Novels I have found well-written and entertaining have received extremely negative critiques. By contrast, some with rave reviews have left me unimpressed and disappointed.
     All readers have favorite authors. Some, I like for their descriptive prose, colorful description, even romanticism, like Deborah Smith. Others catch my fancy with straight-forward, hard-hitting narrative and dialogue, such as Nelson DeMille. Laura Hillenbrand is unparalleled as a writer of biography/non-fiction. Choosing a single favorite is impossible.
     The criteria for judging a good writer is simple for me. If I forget to edit as I read, the writer has done his/her job, which is to make me forget that I’m reading a book. I become immersed in the story, eager to turn the next page and the next, not wanting the book to end.
What makes the difference?
     After my mother had finished reading the last book of my Starlight trilogy, she looked at me with new respect. “How did you find the words?” she asked. Before I could answer, she continued. “I could do that.” She set about writing her memoirs, pencil to lined notebook paper. We lived 2000 miles apart, but I often asked how her book progressed.
“Oh, it’s coming along.”  Her standard reply changed after a few months. “I don’t have the words,” she confessed.  When she passed away four years ago, we found a stack of papers, hand-written in pencil, with no paragraphing or punctuation, disjointed facts recorded in a kind of “stream of consciousness writing.”
     It is among my prized possessions. One day I hope to convert her efforts into a story that will grip readers with its drama, for her life was certainly that. How will I do it? With words. First I will write a long, drawn-out, wordy account, filled with too many adjectives, adverbs and description. I will put it away for a time before I reread it.
     At that point, I will begin to slice and dice, deleting whole paragraphs and phrases that add nothing to the narrative, not forgetting to save the original. After I’ve worked on other pieces, I will go back to my mother’s story, reworking and editing, adding and taking away. It will take weeks, maybe months, before I have a semblance of what I want.
How will I know when it’s right? The day I can read that story and become immersed in it, forgetting that the petite, blue-eyed protagonist is my mother, is the day I will be satisfied with it. If it is the best I can make it, I won’t care what critics will say. Like beauty, a good book or story is in the eye of the beholder.
     Too many words can ruin a good tale. Too few make it a report. Between the extremes lie honed craft, skilled manipulation, imagination, perseverance and dogged determination. As important as all the above, probably even more, is the love of telling and writing a good story. If no one ever reads what I write, I will still write it, simply for the love of words and writing.
                                                                                                        ~Barbara Elliott Carpenter

Barbara Elliott Carpenter is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in anthologies, magazines and books. Three novels comprise her Starlight Series, and she has written and/or edited two memoirs. Without A Quarter In My Pocket and A Nickel Can of Pork and Beans. Currently, she is a Co-Creator for the Special Occasion book in the new NOT YOUR MOTHER’S BOOK anthology series, published by Ken and Dahlynn McKowen. She is an avid reader, paints, quilts and gardens while still giving attention to her husband, children and grandchildren.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Keep Our National Anthem

There are more and more people calling for our national anthem to be changed. They give various reasons, some of them have merit, most do not. Madison Rising, a rock band, is offering their rendition and a challenge. They'd like to have 1 million hits before Election Day 2012. Take a look here.

I'm one who does not want to change the anthem. It's been a part of the USA for far too many years. It's recognized around the world. Think how many decades it would take for a brand new one to earn that same recognition. Yes, it's not the easiest song to sing but it has meaning in its words. More people need to learn the history of when and how it was written. Watch a video to learn about it. Or google 'history of The Star Spangled Banner' to find many links.

There have been many instances when I've been overwhelmed with emotion when our anthem was  sung. But two of them stand out. Oddly enough, both happened in France.

Ken and I visited a WWII American cemetery in southern France while with a tour group two years ago. Three veterans in our group participated in a wreath laying ceremony in an open-air chapel on the cemetery grounds. After they had laid the flowers on the altar, our tour director asked that we sing our anthem. A few people started slowly, and more joined in. The voices grew stronger as the song continued by the forty-two Americans. I tried to join in but was so overwhelmed with emotion that I absolutely could not sing. Instead, I listened as this group of Americans sang the anthem with pride that we'd all learned as children in school. A story I wrote about the experience was published on Veterans Day in a senior newspaper.

Later, on this same tour, fourteen of us had dinner in a French home. Our hosts were a retired doctor and his wife who spoke no English. I had three years of high school French back in the early '50's so ended up being the translator for both our hosts and our tour group. A translator of sorts! I struggled for words, reaching back into my memory bank to pull them out, but the longer we were there, and the more wine we had, the easier it became. After much back and forth and a lot of laughs, the tone grew serious. Our hostess asked me to have the group sing our national anthem. I translated and noted the look of surprise on the faces of many of the Americans. Chairs scraped on the floor of the screened-in porch where we were eating as fourteen people rose. One person started the familiar words and the rest soon joined in. We sang with gusto, and I noted the broad smiles of our host couple as they listened to us, and my heart swelled with pride. As the Americans sat down, I turned to our hosts and requested that they now sing their national anthem for us. They beamed as they stood and sang  La Marseillaise.

That old Don't mess with success comes to mind when talk begins about changing our national anthem. I'd like to keep it just as it is. How about you?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July When I Was A Kid

I'm posting a memory piece for today that I also posted last year on July 4th. Some of you will have read it then and for others, it will be new. It's about the way we celebrated this holiday back in the 1940's. It was a simpler way of life, a slower pace, but it had a lot going for it. Maybe it will trigger memories of your own childhood celebrations. If it does, write about it for your family memory book. 

Independence Day In Chicago--What We Did and What We Learned
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Come back with me to the1940’s era in Chicago. During the first few days of July, my younger brothers and I walked to the neighborhood Woolworth’s store to buy a very important item for our Fourth of July celebration. We had to make our purchase no later than July 3rd, for all businesses closed on Independence Day.

We walked on the creaky wooden floor, smelling the penny candy lined up in glass cases near the front door. Straight to the back of the long aisle, we found rolls and rolls of colored crepe paper--red, white, and blue, of course.  We bought several rolls with money we’d saved. Once home, we stashed our purchase for the next day.
The first thing after breakfast on the Fourth of July, we clambered down the three flights of stairs from our top floor apartment to the basement where our bikes were kept..  Bump, bump, bump—up the steps from basement to courtyard we went with our two wheeled bikes. Down went the kickstands, and out came the rolls of crepe paper to decorate. We wove the colored streamers in and out of the wheel spokes, and fastened more on the handle-bars, then stepped back to see which looked best. Decorating our bikes for America’s holiday left an indelible impression of patriotism in us.
Other kids in our building worked on bikes, too. We rode all over the neighborhood, up and down alleys and sidewalks showing off our fancy bikes, not caring how high the temperature might be.

We spent the rest of the day like any other hot, sultry summer day. We ate popsicles to cool off, walked to the park where families sat on the lawn with picnic lunches and waited for the sun to go down. Dad had gone out earlier to one of the only businesses open—the fireworks stand. Money was usually scarce in our family, but Dad always found some extra to buy firecrackers and sparklers for us. No doubt, he enjoyed them as much as we did.
Darkness finally descended over our city, and once again, we hurried down the three flights of stairs. Not just kids this time, but our whole family. We gathered in the alley beyond the apartment courtyard along with several other families. Only Dad lit our firecrackers, although I’m sure my brothers wanted to try it. One I loved was a pinwheel which Dad stuck into a telephone pole. When he lit the fuse, the entire thing whirled round and round, throwing sparks in every direction. Little firecrackers on the ground did nothing but make popping noises, but the Roman candles gave us the real show. Big noise and showers of colorful sparks which delighted us. And finally, Dad lit sparklers we held. I loved whirling them round and round, watching the designs the sparks made. All too soon, they burned down to the end and we rushed to get another until the boxes were emptied.
We knew why we decorated our bikes, why people went on picnics and why we had fireworks on the Fourth of July. Our parents talked to us every year about what it meant to have Independence and how a war several years before was fought and won to ensure that we lived with freedoms like few other nations. We grew up knowing there was a serious side to the holiday. Even so, it was a special day we looked forward to every summer.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tell It Like It Is

Carousel in Strasbourg, France

A critique from a fellow writer is an invaluable tool in helping to whip a story into a marketable piece. When I submit my work to my online writers group (writersandcritters), I expect to find out what is wrong with my story and also what is right.

I submit with the thought in mind that my fellow writers will give me a fair and honest opinion. When the crits start flowing in, I know that I'm going to get as many, or more, negatives than positives.

Does that bother me? Only a little. Nobody likes to hear negative statements about the precious words they've written. Hey, we're all human! But what good is a critique that doesn't show us what needs to be fixed? Have the right attitude here and you'll reap benefits, one of which will be that your writing is bound to improve. Another is that your story will have a better chance of being published.

Do I become defensive? No.  What earthly good will it do to get your hackles up? Who do you hurt but yourself? Back down a bit and absorb the help the critiquer is handing to you. Accept it gratefully. These critters are here to help you make your work the very best it can be. Don't forget that when you submit your work for critique, you're looking for the problems with the story. If it bothers you a lot, leave it alone for a few hours or a day, then go back and read it again when you're calmer.

Do I use the suggestions given to me? Some, but not all. I do change a great many of the areas that the critters point out to me as being weak or the wording. I don't do it only because they said so. I do it if and when I agree with them that the change will make the story stronger and more readable. Often, I marvel at a simple reversal or omission or addition that puts a whole new light on a section. Why did they see it and I didn't? I usually end up being grateful for the help.

When I am the critiquer, should I be honest? Yes, by all means, give your honest opinion. Tell the writer what you like but also point out the trouble spots. You can be honest without being cruel. If there is an area that is very poorly written, pinpoint it and give suggestions for fixing it. I usually add something in the initial paragraph of my critique about this being my opinion and end by telling the writer Take what you can use.

So, what does the carousel above have to do with all this? I used it because it is a happy memory picture and also because it goes round and round and gets nowhere. Value the critiques you receive, revise and rewrite your story, and send it to an editor. Don't let it ride the carousel going nowhere.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Word Painting


Ever wish you could paint a spectacular sunset or an English garden or maybe a tall ship on the sea when you stand before it? The essay below was written several years ago, but it highlights painting without a brush. Writers have their own method. 

Word Painting

By Nancy Julien Kopp

     Out of breath and heart pounding, I make it to the top of the hill. Tallgrass prairie spreads before me, wildflowers springing up between the sharp blades of grass, dotting the hillsides with bits of bold color. Not a cloud mars the intensity of a clear azure sky.  The strong breeze ruffles my hair, and I take a deep breath, pleasure encasing my very soul. Soon, the sun will turn to flame and begin a slow descent before the darkness of night covers the rolling hills like a vast blanket.
     Oh, to be an artist and capture the scene God has placed before me. But a paintbrush and canvas are useless for a person like me.  I can see the spectacular display, but never would I be able to duplicate it with an artist’s tools. I earned C’s in art classes all through my school years, and only for effort, not as the successful result of any assigned project.
     I sigh, survey the living prairie once more, and bend to pluck a wildflower. I twirl the blossom between thumb and forefinger, then head to my car. The dust on the gravel road swirls behind me as I drive, and thoughts dance through my mind.
     Maybe there is a way to capture what I’ve seen here today. Since I’m a writer, I paint my canvas with words in every story or article I create. That flower lying on the seat next to me—soft as the down on a baby’s head, purple as royal robes, and delicate as lace. All of these phrases describe the pretty little blossom. I bring it close and sniff to catch its sweet scent. I think of more phrases to capture this beauty for others. The artist’s canvas hangs on a wall or rests on an easel for all to see, but my words can live on, too.
     The artist may dip his brush into paint and splash it across canvas to portray the sky, while I paint my sky with words—words that articulate, emote, surge the senses, highlight emotions. Can the artist capture the movement of the tallgrass prairie with a swish of his brush? A gifted painter can do so, but I can, too. I sift through phrases in my mind until I find the ones I want. Gentle breezes cause only a slight stir in the stiff blades of grass, but a strong Kansas wind can bring wave upon wave as it surges swiftly across the prairie. My words flow as easily as the artist’s brush. I paint my words with passion and excitement. The picture emerges from the depths of my heart. It is the gift God has given me, a gift He allows me to share with others who read my work.
     Danny Kaye, actor and comedian, said, “Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.”  I, too, am an artist, and I’ll dot my prose with colorful words as long as I’m able.