Friday, September 28, 2012

Meet Tex. Are Writers Like Him?

Meet Tex, our new granddog. Tex lives in Dallas with our son and his family. Where else would you expect a dog named Tex to live? This picture was take a couple months ago, and like all pups, Tex has grown fast. He's almost double this size now. He's smart but mighty stubborn. Again, like all pups, he wants to play all the time. His attitude is Look at me. Look what I can do. 

How about you? Do you want some recognition in this life? Do you want to show people what you can do? Writers can do that with the words they string together, then share with readers. Another question here is 'why do you write?'

People write for a number of different reasons. The list below is by no means complete, but it will give a picture, nevertheless.

Writers write...
1. because they can
2. because it satisfies something within
3. because they want to share with others
4. because they need income
5. because they are an expert in some field
6. because they have something to say
7. because they love putting words together
8. because it is a creative activity
9. because they crave recognition

What can you add to this list? 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

#13 Arrived Today

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Finding My Faith

The UPS driver roared up our street and stopped at our driveway this afternoon. I heard the screech of his brakes and then his feet running up the walk. Wham! He dropped a box on the porch and off he went. Ken went out to get the box. "It's your books," he hollered. 

I scurried from my office to the kitchen where he was opening the box. And sure enough, there were my ten author copies of a brand new Chicken Soup book titled finding my faith. The book will be on sale in bookstores October 16th, but you can pre-order at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

My story in the book is called The Body Beautiful which may be a strange title for a book about faith, but somehow it was the right one when I started playing around with titles. Most readers don't consider the amount of time and thought that goes into selecting a title for a story or a book. 

My friend, Harriet Cooper, has a story in the book, too. I'm Christian and Harriet is Jewish, but faith is not confined to only one religion. Her story is titled Am I Jewish Yet? You may remember a guest blog Harriet wrote for me.

There are other Chicken Soup for the Soul books being released in October, too:
   Hooked On Hockey  October 2, 2012
   The Gift Of Christmas  October 9, 2012
   The Power of Positive  October 23, 2012

It's not too early to start your Christmas or Hanukkah  shopping. One of these four books might be just the right gift for someone on your list. Or a hostess gift perhaps. Or gift yourself.

You may wonder what the authors do with ten copies of the book in which their work appears. In the past, I have given mine to family and special friends, but I always keep one for my personal library. This will be #13 Chicken Soup book for me. Even with the Baker's Dozen, it's still a thrill to see my work in a new Chicken Soup book.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Leave Your Family A Gift

Why is it that you often learn more about a person in his obituary than you ever did previously? Just this week, two men we've known for many years passed away. On the same day and near the same age. 

I never knew that one of them had been a teacher or that he had been a newspaper editor or that he researched and kept records of baseball statistics from old-time players. I was aware of many things in his life over the past 37 years that Ken and I knew him but not those earlier years. Nor did I know about his baseball stats hobby. 

Maybe some members of his own family didn't know all those things either, or if they did, only knew the surface of each phase of his life. It's for this reason that I so often urge people to write down their family stories. 

Wouldn't it have been nice if this man had written about the five years that he taught school, or the even fewer years in which he was a newspaper editor. There must have been many stories he could have written and left for his children, grandchildren, and maybe even great-grandchildren to read. In reading stories about his early years, they would come to know him from a young man, or even a boy, all the way up to the later years. 

Writing your family stories is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family. Let them follow the tracks you made through life. I can hear someone saying now But my life was boring. Nothing happened worth reading about.

Not true. Because you are a family member, the things you did, the places you lived, the jobs you held--all are of interest. If you include descriptions of the schools you went to, the church you attended, the neighborhoods and houses you lived in, you'll leave a picture of a bygone era. I grew up in an apartment that was part of a very large building. There were around 60 apartments, and the neighbors were such a part of my life. Any story about me is going to include some of them. 

You don't have to write continuously. If you only write one a month, it's better than none at all. Don't just tell the stories at the family dinner table. Write them so you can leave a priceless gift to those you love.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New Anthology From Silver Boomer Books

The mailman brought my author copy of a new anthology from Silver Boomer Books today. I have a poem and a prose piece in the book which covers myriad holidays in a variety of ways--stories, poetry and memoir. 

Independence Day In Chicago is a memoir piece about the way we celebrated the 4th of July where I grew up. My poem, Flag Day Thoughts, is only two verses but commemorates Flag Day, which is celebrated on June 14th each year. You can read the story here where it is published under a different title. 

The book runs continuous quotes at the bottom of each page--an interesting addition. It has a larger than normal font size so would be a good gift for someone with vision difficulties.

Silver Boomer Books has several anthologies in print, nearing a dozen. I have been in one other book they have published. Flashlight Memories is filled with stories about memories of learning to read, loving to read and more--all about reading and childhood. My story in that book is titled My Path To Books. You can listen to me read the story here

Flashlight Memories

Flashlight Memories is available in paperback or a kindle edition at Amazon. The new anthology, A Quilt of Holidays is in paperback only at this time.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chicken Soup Call For Stories

Photo: CATS WIN!

The picture above has nothing to do with today's post. It's there because I am still glowing over the great game K-State played on Saturday night. They beat Oklahoma at Oklahoma being the only ranked team to ever beat OU at home. On second thought, this picture just might have bearing on today's topic which is...

....making lemonade from lemons. That's the theme of the latest story call from the publishers at Chicken Soup for the Soul. The book title is From Lemons To Lemonade. Deadline to submit stories is February 28, 2012, which gives you lots of time to come up with an appropriate story. 

The notice I received stated the following:

"When life hands you lemons...make lemonade!: And don't just make lemonade but squeeze out every last drop of juice from that sour lemon to make the sweetest lemonade possible. We are looking for true stories that show how you made the best of a challenging situation and turned it into something positive. Tell us your success stories and how you made them happen.

Here are examples of the kinds of "lemon to lemonade" stories we are imagining:

  •  You got fired/laid off and discovered a new better career
  •  You prevailed over an illness or medical condition and found a wonderful silver lining
  •  You overcame an addiction and found new purpose
  •  You lost all your money and possessions and discovered new happiness with your family
  •  You went through a difficult time with your child but came out with a better relationship
 You lost a loved one and created a non-profit that is saving lives so other people don't go through the same loss

There are many more possibilities. The football picture above is actually a perfect such story. Last year, Oklahoma played at K-State and beat them soundly, 52-17. It was one of only two losses that K-State had in the 2011 season and it hurt a lot. The team felt embarrassed and downright humiliated. When it came time to prepare to play Oklahoma this year, I have a feeling that the coaches took the lemon part of that previous loss to motivate the players for this year. That loss had a great deal to do with the strong play they showed this time and the resulting victory.

Think of a time in your life when you made the most of a bad situation, turning it to your advantage at a later date. Write your story and then submit it here. Before you do that, check the guidelines very carefully to make sure your story qualifies. Guidelines are found here

You've got five months to work on this one. Maybe you can write more than one story to submit. 


Friday, September 21, 2012

Finding Stories Wherever You Go

Soon, Ken and I are heading to Kansas City for the annual Plaza Art Fair. This juried show gets around 1500 applications from artists around the nation. The judges whittle it down to 240 who are  then invited to participate. Rated as one of the 5 top art shows in the USA, there's something for everyone from a print for only $20 to an original piece of art costing thousands.

Football games here keep us from attending every year, but when this great event falls on a week-end when K-State plays an away game, we go with eager anticipation. Besides the artists' tents, there are 3 music stages and booths offering food from 27 restaurants. The weather is predicted to be perfect!

As much as I enjoy all the fair has to offer, I also love to people-watch. Many bring their dogs along, and I'm always amazed at how well the dogs do with the big crowd. It's also fun to see who has what kind of dog. There will be thousands of stories all around us that day, but a handful will truly stand out and be filed away in my memory bank to be used when writing a story someday. When you attend one of these 'crowd' events, use your senses to find which people will be the most interesting. Listen to tidbits of conversation, look at how they are dressed, sniff the air when they pass for lingering scents (or maybe odors). Better leave the taste and touch senses for something else or you might get arrested.

Later in the day, we'll drive south of the city to our daughter's home where we'll have dinner with her, our son-in-law, and our two youngest grandchildren. Jordan has a birthday coming up soon, number 9, so we'll have a little family celebration. She's a cheerleader this fall for the 3rd grade football team. They have a game at 8 p.m. that night. Strange time for a little kids' ballgame, but maybe I'll go along and watch Jordan cheer and see what kind of stories there might be in that smaller crowd.

We'll get back to their home in time to see most of the last half of the K-State game on TV. There are always stories for me when I watch a game. Sometimes, it's me that is the story as I get a little carried away when we play especially well or absolutely awful. It's going to be a tough game and one I'm not sure we can win. Oklahoma is #6 and K-State #15 right now. Both good teams but only one is going to go home happy. Two stories right there.

Trust me--you can find stories and/or characters for your stories everywhere you go. All you have to do is look.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Knowonder! Books--Digital and Print

I've written about the online magazine, Knowonder!, in earlier posts. Try Knowonder! in the search box at the top of this page to read any of the several listed. 

Today, I wanted to let you know about a new project the Knowonder! publisher has started. The online magazine ( ) offers a new story every day of the month. The stories are meant to be read aloud by parents or for older children to read on their own. The age range of the stories is 3-10. 

Phillip Chipping, publisher, published a digital book and offered an app for phones. Now, Volume 1 of what proposes to be a series of books has been published. This first volume offers 30 fun and original stories that were selected from the many Knowonder! stories published online. The book can be purchased at Amazon in either paperback or digital form. The price is a reasonable $4.95 or $2.99.

The two paperback copies I ordered arrived yesterday. One is for my writer's bookshelf after I read all the stories, and the other is as part of my granddaughter's birthday gift. Jordan will be 9 in a few weeks, just the right age for this book. I thought she would enjoy having a book that has a story in it written by her grandma. My story, "There's A Dragon in the Library," is one of the 30 selected for this first volume. 

I leafed through the book when it arrived and I was impressed with the format. Easy-to-read print, questions at the end of the story, stars to color in to rate the story, and sometimes a large, empty square for the child to draw a picture that correlates with the story. Combining reading and activities makes for pleasure and learning at the same time. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Where's The Emotion?


I subbed an old but revamped personal essay to my critique group last night. The subject was something very meaningful to me and it's filled with description. In fact, it could be a writing exercise in describing a place. This morning, I found the first critique on the essay. The biggest fault the critter found was the lack of emotion. 

She went on to say that the descriptions were fine but there was no reaction on my part to what I'd been trying to show the reader. She also said that she knew the emotion was there, but it was still inside the writer. It had not come through in the words that were written. 

When I sat back and took a good, hard look at the essay again, I realized she was right. There were lots of things to bring the reader into the farmhouse I wrote about, but the joy, the amazement, the puzzlement, the homesickness--none of those came through like they should. The essay, as it stands now, would have little chance of ever being published.

Numerous writers run into this problem. Part of the reason is that the writer lived it and felt it so doesn't make it clear to the reader. Readers are great people but they aren't mind readers. We, as writers, need to spell it out. Every action requires a reaction. Seems I was told that in a psychology class long ago, and it can apply to writing with emotion.

Another reason some essays or memoir stories lack emotion is the writer's reluctance to expose their own deep feelings. Conscious or sub-conscious? It could be either one. We need to train ourselves to open up, to delve deep for that emotion that we sometimes try to bury so no one will know our true feelings. Do we know why? Quite often we probably don't. We need to allow ourselves to let it all spill out for the sake of a good story. We need to show a reaction to whatever is taking place in what we're writing. If we write, we must be willing to expose our feelings to the reader. We want them to react with emotion to what we've written. A whole lot of paragraphs with beautiful description isn't going to result in that.

When you finish writing an essay or memoir story, go through and highlight the number of places where you showed emotion. Are there a lot of highlighted areas, a pitiful few, or even none? 

Do you have trouble writing with emotion? Why or why not? Any tips for other writers? Tell us in a comment.

My job today is to rewrite that essay. I like it enough to begin a lifesaving job on it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Play It Safe? Or Take A Chance?

Take a chance. Because you never know how absolutely perfect something could turn out to be.

Are you a risk taker? Or do you always play it safe? Where would we be today if myriad numbers of men and women had not taken a chance? With an invention or starting a business or producing a play for the theater any number of things? 

Taking a chance means weighing all options, swallowing a mammoth dose of hope, and diving in headfirst. We can fail miserably but it could also turn out absolutely perfect as the quote above states. How will you know if you don't take that chance? What about those who always play it safe? Don't you think they might always wonder what if....? If you do take a chance and it doesn't work out, you're back at square one and can move on from there. If your opportunity involved money, you might take a little longer to move on, but you will do so eventually in most cases.

What about writers? Are you willing to take a chance with a publisher who doesn't respond in a short time? Would you rather see your work published quickly for no-pay or a few cents per word, or would you consider taking a chance with the longer wait in hopes of hitting a prestigious market that pays well? I've done it both ways, and believe me, the publication after a lengthy wait turned out to be far more satisfying as well as being a better clip for my resume. 

What about stepping outside your comfort zone in the kind of writing you do? Most writers find a niche and tend to stay within its parameters. That's fine, but throw caution to the wind once in awhile and write in a completely different genre. The keynote speaker at our Kansas Authors state convention next month is the present poet laureate of Kansas. So, we think we know that poetry is her specialty. But guess what? She has a brand new novel just published. I'm looking forward to meeting her and learning how the poet laureate came to write a novel.

I've run across more than one writer who quit their secure job to become a full-time writer. Taking a chance? For sure! Does it work? For some, it does, but others get discouraged when the assignments and acceptances don't come rolling in the door. At least, they've all given it a try and they found out if it will work for them or if maybe they need to start searching for a job with a secure income. Even those people will probably continue to write in their off-hours. 

If you have a decision to make about trying something new, weigh all the options, take a deep breath and go with your gut feeling. Even with all the facts on the table, I find that my gut tells me a whole lot of good stuff! One note of caution--if you're the kind of person who becomes physically ill worrying after trying something risky, maybe you're better off playing it safe. Your health isn't worth it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Move On!

The quote above is definitely a keeper . It works for our writing world but it fits any other person's world just as well. 

Nearly everyone has a bit of guilt now and then. Some torture themselves with it. Why didn't I revise the story before sending it to the editor? Why didn't I take time to answer that editor's question? Why didn't I make better use of my free time? Why did I hurry through an assignment? We ask ourselves questions like these and the answers really don't matter a whole lot because whatever happened is over. It's gone like a leaf on a gust of wind, never to be seen again. 

As for the second part, we have no control over the future so why waste perfectly good time worrying about it? That's not to say we should throw caution to the wind and let just anything happen. We do need to consider the best course to follow for whatever looms in our future. We set goals and aim to achieve them, but it's fruitless to worry about reaching your goal. Work hard and it's more than likely going to happen. 

Let's take a couple examples of each one of the admonitions in the quote. 

1. Guilt:  Picture a writer who receives a note from an editor saying she likes parts of the article submitted but she cannot publish it until some changes are made. She suggests changes and invites you to resubmit. It's an encouraging rejection, but maybe it came at a time when your life is filled with must-do things, a trip coming up or when there is a serious illness, or even a death, in the family. Somehow, you set the revision job aside meaning to go back to it. Then you forget it for several weeks or even months. By the time you notice again. it's too late. There's no way you can submit a revision long after the invitation. And so, Mr. Guilt settles in for a visit. He jabs you off and on all day. Ignore him and concentrate on other things. You didn't get the job done, but so what? There will be other opportunities. Move on!

2.  Worry:  How about a writer who wants to be published in a certain anthology? She's tried and tried and never made it. But now, she has a story that is absolutely perfect for the newest title in the series. She submits the story and in the back of her mind, she worries that this one might not make it either. She worries to the point of being distracted from her other writing. She frets over this uncontrollable situation until she becomes physically ill. Once you submit your writing to a publication, your job is finished. There is no way to look into a crystal ball and foresee the future. Will the story make it into the book or will it be trashed like the others had been? Whichever way it goes, it's out of your hands. Move on!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Worth The Wait

One thing a writer needs, or must learn, is the art of patience. I have to admit that patience has never been one of my attributes. I was always a have it happen now person. I've been writing for close to twenty years and while on that path, I've learned to wait for things to happen.

I'm not there 100% yet, but I don't allow myself to get frustrated over waiting to hear from an editor about a submission nearly as soon as when I was a newbie writer.  It's a trait many new writers share. The hard work of writing has been accomplished and the harder work of marketing what you've written begins. Send it in and then---wait! And wait! And wait some more!

In time, you learn to let it simmer on a back burner while you move on to write other things and send other submissions. No two publications respond in the same amount of time nor in quite the same way. The longer you are in the writing world and are sending to the same publications over and over, you do begin to learn the pattern of each one. But when you send to a brand new market, you often have no idea as to response time. Some state a response time in the writer guidelines while others do not. Personally, I wish they all gave that information to writers.

Yesterday, I received an email message from an editor telling me they were going to use an article of mine in the next issue of their magazine. She requested that I send some pictures to accompany the article. I had submitted the article this past April--nearly 5 months ago--and when I had no response whatsoever, I mentally crossed it off. Silly me! The article is going to appear in a national Lutheran magazine, I will have a short bio with it, and I'm receiving payment and a copy of the magazine. All that is worth the wait.

If you don't receive a written rejection, then you can consider that your submission might still be in the editor's files and will be used at some time in the future. No, that's not a given but it's a possibility. It's also very likely that it will never be used, so do send it somewhere else if you've waited a reasonable amount of time and received no response. I once had an editor send me a gushy response saying how much she liked the lyrical prose used in an essay I'd sent. Then, she said, she couldn't use it right now but would put it in her files for possible publication in the future. That was more than 7 years ago. That one, I consider a goner.

Chicken Soup for the Soul has a very long waiting period. It can be months or even a year before they make the decisions on what stories will be included in the short list. They then notify the writers and tell them that not all will make the final cut. More waiting. My big complaint with Chicken Soup is that they do not let those whose stories were cut know that fact. The writers who get cut are left hanging. Once they read somewhere that a certain title book is being released, they know their story didn't make it.

Even with all the impatience, frustration and fretting, it's worth the wait when a submission makes it into print. But while you wait, keep on writing, keep on submitting.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Something To Think About

Time and again, we hear political candidates or elected officials make a statement that creates an outcry from the public.l Whether it is just insensitivity or ignorance of the facts or perhaps even a goal of destroying someone else doesn't matter. These people who are in the public eye need to be very careful about what they say. That old Engage mouth, insert foot comes to mind here.

As writers, we also need to be conscious of the strength our words may have. Whether we have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of readers doesn't matter. We need to be wary of what comes from brain to fingertips when we pound out a story, article or poem.

When you write an article, ask yourself if your statements are factual, not just your own thoughts. If you're creating a family story or memoir piece, step back and take a good look to see if you may hurt someone's feelings. If you base a character in a short story or novel on a real person, have you made it so obvious that they might be angry or hurt? Is what you've written irreverent, spiteful, or personality-slashing?

If you write an op-ed piece or Letter to the Editor, do you present your case in a respectful manner? A lot of people who write these letters or opinions are so vitriolic. Their sarcasm drips from their words like a leaky faucet. Others spew actual hatred. I often wonder if their words come back to bite them later.

When I hear or read something so negative or hurtful, it definitely diminishes my opinion of the writer or speaker.

Think before you send it to an editor. There are probably some editors who like things that shock or make people gasp a bit. So, you just might sell something filled with negative vibes, but what will your reading public think about you, the writer? Will you risk losing not only readers, but also friends?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How To Grow As A Writer

Doesn't this sound like something your parents would say to you in your formative years? I'll bet a whole lot of us heard this, or something mighty similar. But listen up writers, this is darned good advice.

I was once in a writer's critique group that met at a local coffeehouse once a month. Without going into detail, I'll just say that the majority of the people who attended regularly only wished for success in the writing world. They dreamed of it, they talked about it, and they came to the meeting to discuss this big wish with other writers. Most never brought a story to read to the group so that they could get some suggestions on how to make it better. They were happy to help anyone who did bring a story and they loved talking about being a writer, but that's where it ended. The group finally disbanded and rightly so. 

If you want to be a writer, hard work is involved. Write, submit, handle rejection and start all over again. It begins to feel like a pattern being set, and then one day, it's an acceptance instead of a rejection and the pattern is broken. Nothing gives a writer incentive to keep going like an acceptance. You keep working, keep submitting, keep getting rejections, but the acceptances are sprinkled in now and then, too. 

I can hear someone saying But it's so discouraging to get one rejection after another. I don't feel like writing anything new because it is just going to happen again. It might reoccur, but it also might not. If you truly want to make it as a writer, you'll keep working at it. It takes more than sitting at the computer and pounding out a new story, article or poem. 

Give yourself opportunities to grow as a writer. Try the following:

1.  read about writing
2.  attend conferences and workshops
3.  network with other writers
4.  find a writing buddy who will give help when needed
5.  join a critique group that is honest and fair with crits
6.  read frequently; assess the writing--what about it was good enough to get published?
7.  revise your work more than once before submitting

Finally, you might print the poster at the beginning of this post and place it where you see it often. Read it and believe it!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Saddest Birthday

Eleven years ago, our country was changed forever with the attack on the towers in New York City, Washington, DC and the downed plane in Pennsylvania. Today, we mark eleven years since this life-changing event.

Today is also my husband's birthday. For the last eleven years, his birthday is celebrated with a lingering sense of sadness surrounding it. Below is a story I wrote about his now-sad birthdays.

Read it and then take a quiet moment to think about those who lost their lives, the ones left to mourn, and the many thousands who have been affected on the day it happened and since.

The Saddest Birthday
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Birthdays are special in our family, celebrated and recognized all the waking hours of the specific day. Not only a cake and gaily wrapped gifts mark the occasion. Extra smiles and hugs come the way of the birthday person, as well. Treasured memories of other birthdays seem to pop up during dinner table conversation. Daily chores might be cancelled for the honoree. In short, the birthday person reigns as the star of the day.

But in recent years, my husband’s birthday has been clouded over with a sense of sadness and grief. His special day happens to be September 11th. Never again will we celebrate without remembering that ill-fated day in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. 

That morning I’d greeted the birthday boy with a kiss and a hug and presented him with a card and gift. He smiled broadly as he fingered the purple and white shirt with the Kansas State logo gracing it’s front, and I knew thoughts of wearing it to Saturday’s football game ran through his head.

After the gift-giving we settled into our usual routine. Since Ken had retired, we spent our early mornings reading the newspaper from front to back and keeping an occasional eye on the Today show on TV. We both looked up from the newspaper at the urgent sound in the broadcaster’s voice as she narrated film showing a plane flying into a skyscraper in New York City. In less time than it takes to sneeze, the tragedy repeated itself. And we knew immediately that it was no accident.

The remainder of the day found us tuned into further reports of the devastating occurrences which are seared into the memories and hearts of all American citizens. I never made the cake I’d planned on. The birthday greeting calls our children made to their dad were not filled with good wishes and teasing remarks. Instead, these adult children of ours were as overwhelmed with the day’s happenings as we were.

Late in the day, we received word that a baby boy had been born to one of our daughter’s childhood friends. Shadows of grief surrounded the joy we felt for Jen and James and their new son. As evening fell, it occurred to me that the birth of this baby and all the other babies born on this day might be taken as a sign from God that no matter what had happened, life would go on. These new lives became seeds of hope sown in sadness.

The American people banded together on that tragic September 11th. They picked up the shards of their lives and soldiered on. Hearts shattered, but prayerful resolve pieced them together again.

This year we celebrate another birthday for my husband on September 11th. We’re back to those special celebrations once again. I’ve been mulling over cake possibilities and worrying about what to give him to commemorate the day. Even so, we’ll take time to remember the saddest birthday he ever experienced and to honor those who’ll not have an earthly birthday anymore.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Are You A Book Geek?

That poster above fits me perfectly. I am rarely without a book to read. I learned how much having a book to read means to me only this past week. I finished the novel my book club is discussing this next week, and I didn't have another to begin reading.

Partly because I had not gone to the library to stock up on a few books but mostly because my life has been a real merry-go-round recently. I'm helping out with more than one committee, a convention, other groups and preparing to teach two workshops and give a presentation for another group. Suddenly, it felt overwhelming and I had to give up something.

Sadly, my reading time and even my usual amount of writing time had to be cut drastically. Either way, it's left me with a feeling of being unsettled, uncomfortable. I feel like something is missing in my life right now, and doggone it, there definitely is something missing because I'm a book geek.

I also feel like I'm not participating as much in my online writer's group. It makes me feel a little guilty, even though I know I'll get back to doing more within a few weeks. I miss it, too.

So, what's a busy writer to do about this? How many times have I written on this blog about writers making time to write. Well, I need to take my own advice and create some time to read and to write. I can do that if I put my mind to it. It won't be as much time as I'd like, but I will find bits and pieces of unused minutes in each day. I also know I need to do so for my own peace of mind. For me, reading and writing is like a little pill that provides calm and satisfaction. Emotionally, I need that as much as these other things need my attention.

I visited someone not too long ago in her home. I felt that something was missing although the decor was lovely, everything neat as a pin. On my way home, it hit me that there was no sign of a book or a magazine anywhere. This person is obviously not the book geek that I am.

How about you? Do you miss reading and/or writing when your life takes an unusually busy turn? Do you fret and fume, or do you do something about it? Are you a book geek to the point of choosing a book over other things in life? Have you found a way to balance things? Tell us about it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Call Me Musically Challenged

 Yesterday's post about teachers made me think of another story about a teacher. This one features a college professor. I went to a Normal school, which, long ago, was a university whose sole purpose was to train teachers. I was a Special Education major and Elementary Education minor, and one of my requirements was to take--and pass--a course called Music For The Elementary School. Music has never been my strong suit, not ever. 

The following story was published in an anthology called Ultimate HCI On Teachers. You can read about one of the most difficult classes in my college career. Only Statistics was worse! Those of you who have some musical ability will shake your head and wonder how anyone could be so musically challenged. Trust me--it happens!

The Promise
By Nancy Julien Kopp

I woke that fateful day immersed in anxiety and misery. How would I survive what lay ahead? It was 1959, my junior year in college, and I was studying to become a teacher.

I loved it, thrived in the preparations I was making to become a professional educator. Classes in English, Psychology, Reading Methods and more gave me no problems. What loomed ahead this awful day, however, made me shiver with fear.

No way out. I had to face the music I told myself as I dragged my reluctant body from the warm cocoon of blankets. Face the music? That was exactly what I had to do this morning. My churning stomach meant breakfast would be skipped today. Each tick of the clock brought me closer to disaster.

I donned coat and gloves, wrapped a scarf around my neck and set out on legs that felt heavier with each step. For once, I didn’t relish the walk across campus. Face the music? I shuddered as that simple phrase skipped through my mind once again. I journeyed slowly to the final exam in my Music For The Elementary School class…an exam with no paper and pencil. I might have done all right with a test like that. Instead, the professor would select any three songs of nine we were to learn to play on the piano. The pieces were not concertos or etudes. These were little children’s songs, like “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.

The professor explained the first week of class that we had to learn three groups of songs in three different keys. To be sure, we had all semester to do this, plenty of time to master them, he assured us. Music Department pianos were available for practice.

“Piece of cake,” the girl next to me said
“Easy enough,” another chirped as I glared at her.

“Cinch class,” yet another said rolling her eyes to Heaven.

I kept my silence, but the worry started, right then and there. I had many talents, but music was not one of them. I liked to listen to it. I was able to appreciate it, but I could not learn to tap a triangle at the right time in third grade. I could not sing on key. I could not read the musical notes on a staff. No musical aptitude whatsoever. No musical education either.

I signed up for practice times several days each week all semester. Anyone nearby must have winced at my efforts. Lovely songs tripped off the fingers of other practicing pianists, and the music floated through the hallway.

I asked my roommate for help. After several sessions, she told me it was a hopeless cause and suggested I cry on the professor’s shoulder, plead for mercy or something more drastic. What the more drastic might be I feared to ask.

I did talk to the professor, poured out my tale of woe. I explained that I was “Musically Handicapped.”

“Have you put some effort into this?” he asked me. “Really put some work into learning to play these little songs on the piano?”

With tears threatening, I assured him I had. His answer was that I would do fine when the time came, and he strode out of the classroom after patting me on the shoulder.

Now, the day of my demise had arrived. I could not have feared execution any more than I did this music exam.

The professor greeted me with a smile, rubbed his hands together and said, “Well now, are we ready?”

I sank onto the bench and attempted to play the three songs he selected. He kindly picked what were probably the three easiest pieces, and I managed to butcher each one.

At the end of my futile performance, the professor beckoned me to his desk. He looked at me, started to speak, then stopped and wiped his hand across his forehead. “Nancy, this is what we are going to do. You’ve put forth a great deal of effort, so I will give you a C in this class on one condition.

“Anything,” I answered.

“You must promise me that you will only teach in a school that also employs a music teacher!” He grinned at me after making the statement.

With vast relief, I made the promise.

I taught in more than one school district, but I always made sure it was one that had a music teacher. I watched with great admiration as music class was conducted, as songs were played on the piano the teacher rolled from classroom to classroom twice each week. What a genius she is, I thought, as her fingers flew across the keys.

To this day, the only musical thing I play is a CD player or radio. After all, a promise is meant to be honored.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Super Teacher

super teacher

September and the new school year brings to mind teachers. Some were Super Teachers like the woman above while others were Teacher Tyrants. At least, as kids we thought of them that way. We separated our teachers into those we loved and those we tolerated and the ones who terrified us. 

If you had a teacher that you adored or one you feared like a giant tarantula, you have a subject for a non-fiction story. Lots of anthologies have books with teachers as the theme and magazines will publish pieces along this line, too. Even if you write the story about a particular teacher only for yourself, it can be put into your Memory Book filled with family stories and your stories about your childhood. 

Think about the teacher you liked most and then the one that made you shake in your shoes. Which one would you like to write about? They'll be two completely different stories. I'm including a story below that I wrote many years ago about the very first male teacher I had. He was the first male classroom teacher in my K-8 school in suburban Chicago. Most men taught in high schools and colleges in those days.  

Having been a teacher myself for a few years, I admire all in that profession. Even the ones who were tough on us. Write about a teacher in your life soon.

To Touch A Child
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 "It's a man!" "We've got a man!" "Our teacher's a man!"

My classmates' comments echoed down the hallway, getting louder and more frequent the closer I got to my fifth grade classroom. My heart beat a little faster as I peered cautiously into the room.

Sure enough--there he was--the first male teacher at Lincoln School in the southwest corner of Oak Park, Illinois. The year was 1949, and Lyle Biddinger beckoned me with a welcoming smile into his first class. He served in the Navy during WWII and finished college on the GI Bill after being discharged. We would be the springboard for his teaching career.

All twenty-one of us in that room knew that something big was happening here. Men taught in high schools and colleges. Women took charge of the grade school classrooms. Yet, here he was--a man, not only a man, but a good looking one whose smile could melt the hardest heart
Mr. Bid, as we soon called him, taught us in both fifth and sixth grade, and what a teacher! Because of him, I hurried through breakfast every morning and raced out the door, in a hurry to get to school, eager to see what new adventure he had planned for us. He related stories about his service in the navy, taught us games, and made us laugh. Other teachers walked around the playground at recess time watching students play. Not Mr. Biddinger--he played with us. Kids from other classes joined us in those playground activities with this special man. They envied us when it was time to go in, because we had him for the rest of the day. We were proud as peacocks, too, for he was ours. Each of the twenty-one students in that class claimed him, hung on his every word, and loved him.

The main topic of dinner conversations at twenty-one homes centered on what Mr. Biddinger had done that day. What Mr. Biddinger said. What new game Mr. Biddinger taught us. It wasn't too many months into that first year when parents began to complain. "He plays games all day." "He doesn't teach them anything.” “What are they learning?"

I don't know what Mr. Biddinger, or the principal, said to appease these uneasy parents, but life in the fifth grade did not change. We continued to play games, but we learned a great deal too. Every game we played reinforced the facts and figures in our textbooks. Those games were educational tools unheard of in the 1940's. School wasn't meant to be fun. It should be hard work, dull and boring. Or so our parents thought.

At Christmastime, the Room Mother collected money from each student's family, then talked to Mr. Biddinger's wife to come up with the perfect gift for him. Our excitement knew no bounds when we presented him with a hunting jacket at the class Christmas party. The gift truly surprised him, almost overwhelming him with emotion. That was the best part of Christmas for all of us that year. It was the year many of us discovered that giving really is better than receiving.

Fifth grade flew. The lazy days of summer drifted by, and we returned to Lincoln School in September, eager to see what Mr. Bid had in store for us in sixth grade. That year proved to be as good as the previous one. We were still envied by the students in the other sixth grade, and we continued to preen our feathers whenever we had an audience

We learned new things daily, adding to the long list of facts and figures Mr. Biddinger taught us. I probably remember more of what I learned in those two grades than at any other time in my grade school years. Only a very good teacher could have accomplished that feat. After becoming a teacher myself, I realized the quality of Mr. Bid’s teaching. I knew then the gifts he gave on a daily basis. He helped us develop values and ethics as well as knowledge. He showed us that hard work and fun can line up side by side. He listened to whatever questions we posed or something we needed to discuss.

We moved on to Junior High after tearful farewells to our special teacher. Two years later, Mr. Biddinger attended our eighth grade graduation. We had been his first class, and I like to think that we were just a bit more special than any other to him, as he was to us. All the girls marched down the aisle in the gym that day, wearing high heels for the first time. After the ceremony, Mr. Bid told me that I walked better than anyone else in those new shoes. For all I know, he gave the same compliment to every one of the girls. Nevertheless, it made me feel special on my graduation day, the same way I had felt every day of the two years I claimed him as my teacher.
Now, I would like nothing better than to take him to lunch one day. I would reach across the table, take his hand in mine, and tell him how much he meant to all of us. Yes, he was our first male teacher and certainly the best. He armed us with knowledge and instilled self-confidence in our own abilities. But most of all, he reached out and touched all twenty-one of us with everlasting love.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It's Your Turn To Help Me

I need your help today. I'm a workshop presenter at our Kansas Authors state convention next month. I've been mulling over what things I'm going to include. "Creative Non-fiction and Writing for Anthologies" is the title of my presentation.

As a writer, or perhaps even as a reader, what would you like to know about those two subjects? I'd love to have you send questions to help me make final decisions as to what I will include. The reason I'm asking for your input is that some of you might come up with something I haven't considered yet.

So, how about it? I try to help you through this blog with tips and encouragement for writers as well as book reviews for readers.

Now it's your turn. What burning question dealing with creative non-fiction and writing for anthologies is keeping you up nights? If you're not pacing the floor worrying about this, then how about a question that you'd like to have answered?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

September Memories--Ready For Your Book

Ice cream trucks didn't stand a chance in Kansas this summer

Today was another of those hot summer days--pushing 100! Same for tomorrow. We've had more than our share here in Kansas this summer. My estimate is at about 28 days of 100+ degrees and a whole lot more that were in mid to upper 90's. It all boils down to one hot summer! Add the scarcity of rain and it's a lethal combination.

But it's now September, so I know those miserably hot days are winding down. Before too long, we'll have cool nights and mornings and pleasantly warm afternoons. We'll all feel more energetic, ready to get into fall projects.

And that brings up a pet project subject--your memory books. It's time to spiral back to your childhood days and dredge up those September memories. Then write a few paragraphs or a few pages to add to your memory book. Below are some questions to help trigger those long-buried events of yesterday.

1.  What was the September weather like where you lived?
2.  Did your school begin the day after Labor Day? Earlier? Later?
3.  What kinds of things did you and your mom shop for in September?
4.  What did your mom make for dinner and dessert in September that you hadn't had all summer?
5.  What else, besides school, began anew in September? Sunday School? Scouts? 4-H?
6.  What kind of clothes did you wear to school in the early Fall?
7.  What outdoor activities occurred where you lived during September?

If you've been adding to your memory book each month, it should be getting pretty full by now, and think of the great months left in the year, each of which brings a holiday of some kind---Columbus Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Veteran's Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's Eve.

If you haven't already started a memory book so that your children and grandchildren know what life was like back in the Dark Ages when you grew up, there's no time like the present to begin. Do a little every month and at the end of a year, you'll have an amazing collection.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Writers From All Walks of Life

The Kansas City Star ran an article today about a football player who filled time recovering from injuries by writing. Eric Berry plays Safety for the Kansas City Chiefs but while rehabbing from knee surgery, he followed his heart and started writing. He says he wrote three screenplays, over 200 poems and some music. Read the article here to learn why he did it and what he plans to do with those screenplays in the future.

We don't usually think of professional athletes composing music, poems, prose and plays, but there have been others. Notable among them is Muhammad Ali whose poetry was cited in many a newspaper, not because it was deep and literary--it wasn't--but because the boxing great had written it.

Movie stars have written children's books which sometimes get published because of the name behind it. A mother who sees a book written by a movie star is very likely to purchase it. If the story is worthy, I have no problem with it, but if it is published only because of the author's name, then I have a big gripe. But that's another blog post someday.

I have a writer friend who is a poet. He runs a construction company and spends the bulk of his time building houses, but on his own time, he pens poems about so many things. He has several books published and he attends poetry readings in various places to share his work.

Sadly, very few people can make a living through their writing, but many can supplement their income or write for their own pleasure on the side. Eric Berry, the football player, would most likely never be able to equal his NFL career pay with his writing, but I bet it would give him great satisfaction to see his work published or to watch one of his screenplays made into a movie.

Anyone who has an interest can be a writer. It might be the stay-at-home mom who steals some time to write when the baby naps. A farmer might use to slower winter months to write his memories. A cowboy could compose lyrics to a country western song at the end of a long day. I once knew a fine doctor who received accolades for his poetry which he wrote when he had some rare quiet time.

Teachers, nurses, lab technicians, grocery store checkers, auto mechanics can write if they are so inclined. Writers come from all walks of life, they run the gamut from the newbie to the ultra-professional.