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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Make Sure Children Read Poetry

Who is this?

This little boy grew up to be a widely read author of adventure tales. He was born in 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland, shunned the family business and took up the life of a traveler. He began writing in his twenties and wrote novels that have survived to this day. 

He also wrote poetry, much of it for children. Which brings me to the topic of today's post. Since this is the fiinal day of National Poetry Month, I wanted to honor a poet and to encourage parents and grandparents of today to help children develop a taste and a love for poetry. We are quite good at buying picture books for small children, but do we also make sure they own books of poetry for children? We should. 

Exposure to poetry of many kinds needs to begin at an early age. The author above wrote one of the best known and loved book of poetry for children. A Child's Garden of Verses has survived for more than a hundred years. Amazon lists myriad versions of the original book with many different illustrators putting their artistic abilities to work.

One of my favorite poems, written for children, comes from this book. The author was often sick as a child and into adulthood. This poem captures the time a little one must spend in bed and what he does to amuse himself. It's copied for you below. You might have to explain the meaning of a counterpane to today's kids, but they'll relate to the poem itself.

The Land of Counterpane

When I was sick and lay a-bed,   
I had two pillows at my head,   
And all my toys beside me lay   
To keep me happy all the day.   
And sometimes for an hour or so     
I watched my leaden soldiers go,   
With different uniforms and drills,   
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;   
And sometimes sent my ships in fleets   
All up and down among the sheets;  
Or brought my trees and houses out,   
And planted cities all about.   
I was the giant great and still   
That sits upon the pillow-hill,   
And sees before him, dale and plain, 
The pleasant land of counterpane.

The poem was written by Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote many, many poems as well as
books. Kidnapped, Treasure Island, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are only a few. Read more 
of the poems in A Child's Garden of Verses here. Better yet, purchase one of the newer 
versions of the book and give it to a child you love. 

Robert Louis Stevenson 
Author and Poet

Monday, April 29, 2013

Writers Are Real People

Jennie Helderman and Nancy Julien Kopp
Algonkian State Park 2013

Jennie Heldrman and I have been cabinmates at each of our writersandcritters conferences. She lives in Atlanta and I'm in Manhattan, KS so we only see each other in person every 18 months at our gathering. I'd tell you that the bottle Jennie is holding is meant for medicinal purposes, but actually it was to add to our evening meal and to be shared with the others. Well, maybe it fits into the mental health category.

Jennie is the author of As The Sycamore Grows. (A Reader recently learned that she could click on the highlighted words to read more. Are you all aware of that? ) Learn more about Jennie here. When you read about her, you're going to realize that, besides being a published author of a nonfiction book and other works, she is a real person. She even threads worms on a hook.

Like me and other authors, she has many fine characteristics but she and I both have flaws just like everyone else. Don't expect me to list them here, however. We have dreams for our children and grandchildren. We do menial tasks in our homes--even if an author has a cleaning person once a week, there are still everyday housework chores. We cook. We read newspapers and watch TV to keep up with what is happening in the world. We get sick sometimes and look just awful. We snap at our husbands when we're overly tired. Sound familiar?

It's because we're just like people who are not authors in many respects. We like to shop. Enjoy going to a play, concert or movie. We eat at home and also in restaurants. We take walks and chat with our neighbors. The only difference is that we also write. Whether it is to make a living or as a hobby (in my case), we do something that many people have never attempted. 

Many readers hold authors, especially the famous ones, in awe. Keep in mind that they are real people who one day became a writer. They have a skill that the reader may not have, but I'm willing to bet that many of those readers hold other skills that the writer could never accomplish with any success. Do you sing in a church choir? If I tried, I'd be asked to vacate the premises faster than a jackrabbit can run across an Arizona desert.

We all have our talents but they don't come with a crown. We're just regular folks. The only difference between us and non-writers is that we are dying for you read the words that come tripping through our fingers to keyboard to page. That and the fact that as writers we often feel compelled to write. As a writer who loves to read, I'm very pleased about that.

Next time you attend a book signing, admire the writer putting her signature on the inside of the book you've purchased but remember, she has to go home and do many of the same things you do.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Like Stories? Try The Narrative Poem

File:Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - Project Gutenberg eText 16786.jpg
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

National Poetry Month is coming to a close. One of the types of poetry that I like is narrative, which is nothing more than a poem that tells a story. Like prose stories, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It also involves character and plot as well as a setting. Some are epic in nature, book length. One of my all-time favorites is Longfellow's Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie. I first read it as a teen in an English class. Being that age, the love and lost love aspect appealed mightily to me. I still think it is a heart-touching story. 

The poem begins in the Acadian town of Grand Pre (now part of Nova Scotia)  and ends in St. Martinsville, Louisiana. I have been to both places and something about seeing the beginning and the end places in the story left me feeling satisfied, as though I had come full circle with this narrative poem that had stayed in my heart these many years since reading it as a girl. I bought the book at one of the gift shops and read it with great joy. Every now and then, I take it from my bookshelf and read it again. 

A shorter narrative poem that I had to memorize in high school has also found a place in my memory bank. The Destruction of Sennacherib written by Lord Byron is far shorter than Longfellow's epic poems, but it still tells a story. To this day, the first two lines come to me every now and then. They paint such a vivid picture of what is about to happen.

The narrative poem's popularity plunged for a good many decades but it is now being revived. Not only the classics but contemporary narrtive poetry. I have read a few but I tend to prefer the older ones written by masters. You might google contemporary narrative poems and read a few. Many are short, not the book length ones of long ago. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Problem? Ask Another Writer

I belong to a writing group connected to Linked-In called Aspiring Writers. It's one where writers send a question or post a problem they are having and in a nanosecond other writers are sending comments regarding whatever the subject happens to be. I've chimed in a time or two but not often as I don't visit Aspiring Writers on a regular basis. I drift on over there when I receive an email notice that a new topic has been introduced and it happens to be one I might find of interest.

Recently, someone wrote saying she'd just finished the manuscript for a nonfiction book. The thought of rewriting it was so daunting she didn't know what to do. Bells and whistles must have gone off because she got a lot of responses regarding her dilemma.

Over and over again, other writers told her that she could not go with that first manuscript. But she also did not have to rewrite the entire thing either. Who wants to begin all over again? An edit, however, was advised by nearly every responder. Then came the sub-topic of whether you should edit as you go or write the first draft and then edit.

There was a marked division here. It seemed to come down to a personal choice. Some writers preferred to edit as they wrote while others waited until the first draft was completed. Then they went back and did a chapter by chapter edit.

My own feeling is that the editing as you go slows down the thought process. I agreed with one man who said that editing is a right brain activity and writing is left brain. He says you're better off not trying to do both at the same time. I think I agree with that assessment.

However it's done, editing your work is of prime importance. I've said it here multiple times that you should also let a first draft simmer on the back burner for days or even weeks before doing that editing. You'll see it with fresh eyes and do a far superior job.

For those of you who are members of Linked-In, you can search for Aspiring Writers and sign on if you are interested in learning the opinions and receiving advice from other writers. Linked-In has a number of groups for writers to join. I think it's fine to try one or two, but even then, spend minimal time with them because they can hinder your writing time.

None of those books in today's poster were published after only a first draft was written. Some had edits and re-edits before they landed on the printing press while others had complete revisions. If you didin't already know it, writing is hard work. But if you have a passion for it and a set of goals to achieve, it's well worth all that work.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sound Sense

Let's face it. An ear is not the prettiest part of the body. Granted, some ears are nicer looking than others, but it doesn't matter whether they lay close to your head or stick out like the wings of a B-29 Bomber. It's what they do for us that counts. 

Ears allow us to absorb sound and transmit it to our brain where it registers. Sound is one of the sensory details that writers are so often advised to include in their stories. Why sensory details? Because they make a story come alive. They allow the reader to relate completely to the place, character and more. 

I thought about the thrill of sound last night when Ken and I went to the K-State campus to see the spring show put on by the orchestra and chorus made up of students. Students who were so talented and professional that they received a standing ovation. The program was the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein with selections from several of their Broadway shows--The King and I, South Pacific, Carousel, The Sound of Music and Oklahoma. 

As Ken drove us home across the campus, I started to think about sound in our life and how we need to emphasize it in our writing. So, let's consider how to add sound to your writing today.

When I read a novel or a story, or even creative nonfiction, I don't want to have the author tell me that he heard the clock. Show it to me instead. Try something like The clock chimed eleven times, each piercing my  aching head like an arrow. 

Don't tell me that you heard a bird outside in the morning. Instead, try to show it. Here you can use sight and sound. The red-breasted robin trilled its morning song in the early dawn.

Use action verbs to help you show a sound. So many of these verbs jump up and make you hear them. Use the phrases below to write a complete sentence that brings sound to life. Add other details in your sentences. The more you use them, the easier it will be to incorporate sound into your writing.

1. the gurgle of water

2. the hiss of a steam pipe

3. the trill of a bird

4. the chime of a clock

5..the tick of a clock

6. the growl of a bear

7. the screech of a braking car

8. the boom of thunder

Sounds can be irritating, soothing, even melodic. Pay attention to the sounds you hear today. Make a list of them if you have time. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

April Snow

Snow in April

The picture above was taken one January day a few years ago, but today, 23rd of April, looks much the same here in Manhattan, KS, often called The Little Apple. Those three trees in the photo are crabapples and they have leaves and buds ready to burst into lovely flowers, but this morning the trees are laden with a wet snow. The radio announced that a year ago on this date, we had a temperature of 91 degrees. Right now, it is 31! 

We are normally wearing spring and summer clothes by now, but this morning I opted for a nice warm sweater and winter-weight slacks. People are getting tired of the temperature roller coaster we've been on for weeks now. Spring smiles at us one day, and then winter comes back and knocks spring on her back. The forecast says we will be in the 70's by the week-end and all of next week. Are they going to tease us again and then slam us with a drop into the 30's? I certainly hope not. 

This brings me to thoughts of your Family Memory book. Be sure to add the weather stories. Weather plays a major part in our lives. It can create havoc with long-made plans. It can surprise us over and over again. Only several weeks ago, Manhattan had a day that felt more like midsummer, air-conditioning time,  in March. A town south and west of us has hail piled on the ground this morning. To our east, it's rain. Lucky us, we got the snow. Definitlely worth writing about. Spring of 2013 has been strange in many parts of the country, so lots of you will have something to add to your memory books. 

I had mentioned having a little surprise announcement today, but it's going to have to wait awhile longer. I need to check on a few things first.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Last Conference? Maybe Not.

Last week's conference was wonderful. This was our Fifth and Final Conference. Our moderator, Joyce Finn, always says it is so much work to put the whole thing together that she will never do another. She has recruited her husband, Charlie, to help with the planning and logistics. They make a great team. On Saturday morning, Joyce began a discussion about The Sixth and Final Conference to be held in October 2014. She says she needs 18 months to get over the last one.

We had such a variety of topics presented by various members. Included were:

1. Injecting humor in our writing
2. Letting people know who we are (branding)
3. The challenge of flash fiction
4.  PR--what we need to know as a writer
5. Story Crafting
6. Translation--a new market for most of us
7. Perseverance
8. Using Scrivener to write a novel
9. What prose can learn from poetry
10. NaNoWriMo--writing a full novel in one month website now has more than novel writing
11. Creating a sense of place in writing
12. Balancing respect with truth when writing memoir
13. Writing exercises as seen through a child's eyes
14. A computer presentation on Tracking Changes on a document
15. Judging manuscripts for contests.

All of the above given over a two day time frame--two very intense days which were followed by dinner and lots of chatter each evening. The final night brought some toasts to special people, an unexpected song, and quite a few tears shed, not from sorrow but from caring about the ones who did so much for all the conferences.

As I made my way home on flights from Washington, D.C. to Dallas and then Dallas to Kansas City, I had a lot to think about. I renewed friendships with old members, established new relationships with recent members and a few who are about to join our group, and I gained a great deal of knowledge. The presentations were all done in a professional manner, even if a bit of humor was inserted now and then. These women are serious writers and they continue to hone their craft while having a good time, too.

I arrived back in Kansas, the Sunflower state, feeling inspired to write. That alone is reason enough to attend a conference. As I sit at my computer this week, working on some new stories, I'll think of all the women gathered last week. I'll remember the great little tips and bits of advice so many of them had. I'll ponder on some of the stories they told about happenings in their writing lives, and I'll remember the support they gave one another. I'll also know that, should I have a question or need a cupful of that support again, I can go to them via email or a phone call any time.

I've been to big conferences and I did learn and gain something from them, but a small conference like ours last week has so much more to offer. I'll vote for the small ones every time.

A small surprise on tap for tomorrow. Tune in.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Online Friends In Person

The women at my writer's conference were all friends online before I ever met any of them in person. Our critique group, writersandcritters, was in existence for some time before we had our very first conference. We connected several times a week if not daily for a long time with our submissions and critiques.

It didn't take long to get to know who wrote what genre, who gave super critiques and who could accept a fair and honest critique. If they could not take what the critiquers had to say, then they soon dropped out. But those who stayed formed a fine circle of friends.

The very first conference was a bit scary when thinking of actually meeting one another in person but also very exciting. Finally, many of the women in this international women's group of writers would be able to meet face to face. I looked forward to it for weeks. Finally, the day came when I would fly to Washington, D.C. from Kansas City with a connecting flight in Chicago. Others were to travel from many US states, Ireland, Shanghai and a few other foreign countries. I ended up stranded in Chicago for 2 full days, missing the conference. Not sure when I have been so disappointed. I even wrote a nonfiction story about it. 

This is the fourth of five conferences, and I've managed to make all but that first one. To put your arms around a cyber friend and feel her warmth and see a face already familiar online is a terrific experience. 

Today's presentations by writers for writers was outstanding. A variety of topics captured our attention and inspired us to want to write as soon as possible. We heard from a professional publicist who wrote a historical fiction novel soon to be published. We learned about a new computer program for novelists, listened to one of our newer members who showed us how and why of adding humor to our stories. Another  showed the benefits of perseverance in writing. Branding ourselves as writers was a much-liked topic that hit the third year in a row, each time being somewhat different.

Tomorrow, there will be more to come. We'll hear from more members plus an editor. We'll stuff ourselves with more of Miss Nita's cooking. We'll seal the bonds of friendship that began online, and we'll be ready to write as soon as we return home. 

I have many wonderful people in my life, and these 'online' friends rank high on my list. I am most thankful for having met them and definitely include them as a big part of my life. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Conference Dedicated to a Deceased Writer

Toni M. Cauble
Toni Cauble, author of Alabama Baby

This fifth conference of my online writers critique group is meeting in the same place as it's been every time we've met, on the banks of the Potomac River in a state park in Sterling, VA. This time, however, the conference is a bit more special as it has been dedicated to one of our members who died last August. 

Toni Cauble lived in LaGrange, GA. She died there of pancreatic cancer after a valiant fight. Never have I seen anyone who faced death with such courage with a dose of humor tossed in. She saw specialists in several cities, had faith healing women visit in her home and even traveled to San Francisco to attend a special faith healing session where she believed she touched the hem of Jesus' robe. She became weaker and weaker, but she had a goal to reach and she dipped into hidden reserves of strength that maybe even she wasn't aware she had.

Her goal was to finish a novel called Alabama Baby. She continued to write and edit chapters, submitted them to our group one by one. She didn't only submit her work, she also critiqued dozens and dozens of submissions of the other members. Perhaps it gave her a reason to get up each morning. Maybe it helped her rise above the pain and sickness she dealt with on a daily basis. 

Sadly, she died before the final chapters were written. What do you do with an almost finished book? Toni's husband emailed back and forth with Joyce, the moderator of our critique group. And suddenly, four people took on the job of finishing the novel for Toni. One lived in Ireland, another in South Africa, one in San Francisco. The fourth worked on what the three had written and helped put it in final form. Then, Toni's husband took over. He worked to see that the book was published. Toni's dream came true months after her death.

This year, our conference is dedicated to Toni Cauble. Her thoughtful husband sent a big  box of the finished hardback copies of Alabama Baby. There is one for each writer who is attending the conference as a gift. After our dinner last evening, one member who knew Toni personally, spoke about the time Toni spent as a member of our group, the book she wrote, her goals and dreams and also had some kind words for Toni's husband, Zim. And yes, it felt like her spirit was with us. Others added some of their own thoughts and stories about Toni.

I have my copy to take home where I will read it and think of the woman who wrote it. And the four who finished it for her, keeping it as much like Toni's writing style as possible. Whenever I think of strong women, Toni will be high on the list. 

Ooops! What's That White Powder?

Yesterday morning, Ken drove me to Kansas City where I would hop on a United plane and fly off to my writer's conference. He helped me to the check-in line, kissed me and zoomed back to the car so he could make it home in time for his tee time at the golf course. I was on my own!

I checked the bigger bag and wheeled my carry-on to the security area. I put purse, shoes and jacket in one plastic bin, my laptop in another and then slid the carry-on through. I walked through with no problem but I noticed 2 security officers having a conference while looking at my carry-on on their screen. I caught the word "powder" and then a woman security officer asked me if I'd mind if they looked inside. 

I told her to go right ahead, so she opened the suitcase and saw all the tins and plastic boxes of cookies I'd made and packed to bring to the conference. My contribution to the meals and once started has become a tradition. "May I remove these?" she asked. "Sure," said I, "as long as you put them back the way they were." 

At that point it hit me. One of the cookies had powdered sugar on top, THAT was the 'powder' they were so concerned about. I explained to the woman and she took all the cookie containers out of the suitcase, placed them in a plastic tub and then put it through the screening process plus the almost-empty suitcase. Finally, they were satisfied that the threatening white powder was confectioner's sugar. Once repacked, I was free to go to the waiting area, still giggling inside over my threatening white powder.

My flight left early and arrived early. A gold star for United! One of the conference attendees who had driven picked me up. She waited in the cellphone lot while I walked what felt like a million miles to the baggage claim area. I called her from there and by the time I got outside, Shirley drove up. We stopped at a grocery store to get breakfast items and some wine and then it was off to the cabin.

Dinner last night was takeout Baja Fresh Mexican. Everyone paid $10 for a fabulous dinner. But the best part was seeing old friends and meeting the newbie members of our online critique group. Lots of hugs, lots of chatter, lots of food and wine. 

Today is a free day, and I'm going sightseeing with 3 others. More on that in tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Books, Airports and Planes

Today is the day I spend time in airports and on a plane on my way to the writer's conference. When I travel, rule one is to have books with me. I absolutely cannot survive without books or magazines within close proximity whether I am at home or on a trip. There is always space reserved in my suitcase for books. Airport sitting time is tedious and boring unless I have a book in my hands. Same for on the plane.

It's one reason I've considered getting a kindle or some other kind of reader. It would be for the ease of taking my reading material along, and think of the space I'd have left in my suitcase for purchases along the way! But I keep delaying actually getting a kindle or a nook. I still love the feel of the book in my hands. 

I have two books to take along on this trip. One is a fairly new John Grisham novel titled The Litigators. I have always enjoyed Grisham's books. He is a true storyteller who creates believable characters. 

The other one is written by Wm. Paul. Young, author of The Shack, a Top Ten book of a few years ago. This newest title is Cross Roads and from what the frontispiece tells me, it is in the same vein as his earlier novel. Religion and soul searching play into both stories. I must admit I had dragged my feet on reading The Shack, but when I did, I wondered why I'd waited so long to read this amazing story. A quote from the publisher of Young's first book says "Paul Young, author of the international bestseller THE SHACK, tells a story of the incremental transformation of a man caught in the torment of his own creation, somewhere between Heaven and Earth." I'm guessing that I'll be similarly impressed with this book which I will begin today while waiting for my flight. 

At home, I'm reading a Daniel Silva thriller novel which is the selection for May in my Book Club. The pace is fast and I'm sailing through the nearly 500 pages at a rapid pace, but not fast enough to finish before I leave on my travels.

I want to get Maeve Binchy's last book which was published after her death. The manuscript had been finished but not published prior to her unexpected and much-nourned death. I have no doubt that I'll like A Week In Winter as much as I enjoyed her many other novels. Like John Grisham, the woman was a master storyteller. I often get my books at the library but because this is her final book, I plan to buy it and keep it on my bookshelf when I finish reading.

What are you reading or hoping to read soon?  Click on the links in this post to see if any of these books appeal to you. We all like different types of books. My very favorite is historical fiction. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

How Do You Turn The Faucet On?

Good quote here, but the big question is how to turn the faucet on? 

Inspiration + faucet=something you'll write. 

This week I'm going to turn on the faucet by attending my online writer's group conference. This will be the fifth time part of our international women's critique group (writersandcritters)  has gathered at a state park in Virginia to listen to presentations on writing by members of the group as well as editors and authors who have been invited to spend a morning or afternoon with us. We talk about writing-related things as well as filling in the blanks on our personal lives. We eat like royalty, thanks to a very special woman from Mississippi who cooks for us. We take time to walk along the paths int he wooded area where we stay, we might have a dip in a hot tub, and we sip wine each evening which brings about more talking. 

At previous gatherings, after listening to the excellent presentations, I become excited about writing. I'm ready to go home and get busy on a new story or essay or poem.Maybe even before leaving the conference or on the plane traveling home. The 25 women who will attend this year come from all walks of life and from many states and other countries. Foreign country attendees this year are from South Africa and China, also Canada. Those coming from the USA will represent the far Northwest, the East, the Midwest and the Southeast. Some still work at non-writing jobs full-time and write in their spare time. Some devote all their time to writing, either as a job or a passion. Each year, we have familiar faces and voices, but there are a few who are missing and several attending the conference for the first time. There will be three husbands coming this year. They don't attend the meetings, but they are a great help with running errands, fixing technical glitches, even helping with serving and cleaning up after meals. They're great guys and good sports.

Note that I mentioned familiar faces and voices. At the first conference I went to, it thrilled me to hear these women who had become so much a part of my life online. I knew them well, I knew their writing well, but I did not know how they sounded. Once I met them at the conference, I heard the individual voices later when I'd read and critique their writing online. We are all English speaking but so many different accents, inflections, and tones. 

There are 12 cabins in the Algonkian State Park where we gather. We usually take nearly all the cabins. Some have 3 bedrooms, some 4 or 5. We use the largest for the meeting place. All have fireplaces that turn on with a flip of the switch. They have decks that face the Potomac River. The park is located about twenty minutes from Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. If you'd like to see the 5 bedroom cabin I will be staying in, go to this link.  Put your cursor in the top left corner and move it for a panoramic view. Three bedrooms on the main floor and two upstairs, a bathroom on each floor. A huge deck which calls me to sit and soak up the view. 

The park has wi-fi so I'll be taking my laptop along and hope to post each day. I fly tomorrow at noon and will return on Saturday, early evening. Ken will pick me up and we'll go out for dinner and spend the night in Kansas City before returning to Manhattan the next day. I'm excited about this special week.

Attending a conference is definitely one way to turn on that faucet so that the writing will begin to flow. Can you think of any other ways to do it?

Friday, April 12, 2013

April Celebrations

Yes, this is a poem

Hard to believe that what you see above is a poem. Read the book titles from top to bottom, considering each title a line of a free verse poem. I saw this on facebook and was intrigued enough to delve a little deeper.

Not only is this National Poetry Month but we also celebrate National Library Week this month. Susan Gaylord wrote about this unusal form for a poem on her blog.  She seemed as intrigued as I am about it. She also writes about a contest 

If you are interested in trying to create a book spine poem yourself, read how to do it and how to enter a contest here. Caroline Kennedy is the Honorary Chairperson of National Library Week. You may  remember that I wrote a post earlier this month about her latest book Poems To Learn By Heart. Even if you opt not to enter the contest, it might be fun to do this with books at your library or from your own bookshelf at home. Teachers could create a project that is fun, creative and thoughtful with their classes.

Book cover: Poems to LKearn by Heart

For those who love reading, poetry and prose, April gives us cause to pause and celebrate both poetry and our amazing libraries. If it's been awhile since you've visited your public library, put it on your list of things to do soon. 

The Manhattan Public Library that I use on a regular basis

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Being Alone With A Book

Most of us were fortunate to have someone read to us when we were small children. I still have memories of snuggling up against my mother while she read to me. Mr. Flibbertyjibbet was a favorite. Listening to Mom read those stories instilled a great desire in me to be able to read on my own. What a thrill it was when I did learn to read with the help of Dick, Jane, Baby Sally, Spot and Puff--the characters in the reading series used in my grade school.

Before long, I was checking books out of the library at a rapid pace and reading became a passion. At the tme, we lived in a 2 bedroom apartment that also had a small kitchen, living room, dining room and one bathroom. I was the oldest of 4 children, spread across sixteen years. When I learned to read there were only two of us, but in time two more brothers were added to our family. In a small apartment and the growing family, I was never alone. I had no room of my own to disappear into. There was no home office. Nor was there both living room and family room. We had no garage to escape to either. Wherever I went, someone else was there. The only place I could be all by myself was the bathroom and with only one, we weren't allowed to dawdle in there.

But when I read a book, I was alone. It didn't matter what was going on around me. My brothers could be playing games or watching our tiny TV or arguing. Mom might be in the kitchen banging pots and pans as she worked on getting dinner for our family. Dad often spent time fixing things when he was home, and when he did, he always hummed. None of that mattered to me for I was lost in a book and heard none of it.

I also often didn't hear my mother calling me to come and help her and that proved to be a cause for a raised voice and a scolding. Once involved in a book, I was as far away as if I'd rocketed to the moon. Reading was an escape from the everyday life. It provided me with dreams for my future and inspired me to pursue as much education as possible.

Those hours spent alone with books also left me with the hope of becoming a writer someday. That someday turned out to be half a century later, but it did happen.

As the poster above states, reading teaches us to be alone and I would add, to do so happily. When reading a book, I feel as if I have the warmth of a comforter around me, the joy of visiting faraway places, and a sense of total peace. It's always been that way for me with reading and I pray it will stay so forevermore.

How about you? Do you like the feeling of being alone with a book? Or do you need more than that?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I'd Rather Read The Book

Many successful books are eventually made into movies. I seldom like what Hollywood does to a good book. There are always exceptions but somehow, the movie always leaves me feeling dissatsified and occasionally a little frustrated. Give me a good book anytime!

It feels to me as if the Hollywood moguls prefer to pick the brain of a successful writer rather than finding a brand new movie script writer. It's got to be easier to take a successful book than to start from scratch. It's what they do with that book that sometimes bothers me. Directors and producers tend to eliminate important parts of the book. Too long.  Not enough action. Who cares about the background material? But worse is when they change the ending. That drives me crazy! 

My Book Club once read Captain Correlli's Mandolin written by Louis de Berniere. Everyone loved the book, so when the movie came out, we all wanted to see it. Big mistake! It didn't come close to the story in the book. Too much was left out. Historical events were glossed over loosely and often incorrectly. The screenplay was written by another individual. 

I have no idea if the novelist is ever consulted once he signs a contract selling his story to Hollywood. I'm guessing there are major restrictions which an author can overlook because of the big bucks return he will get. But what happens when the author settles back into a theater seat and watches what someone else did to HIS story? 

I don't know what per cent of authors also get to write the screenplay of their novel, but I'm guessing it is quite low. Hollywood has their own stable and think they are better. As a moviegoer, I can't often agree with that. 

One of the books made into movies that I did think was well done was The Help. One of the reasons that I think it worked is because the producer/director was a personal friend of the author--Kathryn Stockett. He used her as a consultant on the film and stayed true to the novel she'd written. Besides that, the casting was superb. 

Gone With The Wind is another example of a movie that was outstanding and stayed true to the book. Even so, I preferred reading it to seeing the movie. Maybe that's just a personal hang-up with me. How do you feel? Would you rather read the book or see the movie? Or do both and compare? Let us know.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How To Use a Picture Prompt Exercise

So many writers claim they have a problem finding story ideas. I've often responded to that with Look around you. Stories are everywhere. The trick is to use every ounce of creativity in your mind to find them. 

I've often given you picture prompts to help you find story ideas. Today, I have three pictures for you. Three great possibilities for a new story to write. You can study the picture. You can look at it all day and the story might not appear for you. To help it along, you must ask yourself some questions. 

In the first picture, ask yourself the following:  What time of day is it? Who is in the lighthouse? What is their job? What is happening in their personal life to distract them from keeping watch? Where is the lighthouse? Who else might come to visit the lighthouse? Are they friend or foe? Is there danger in the form of a storm coming? 

It's a simple picture. Asking yourself questions like those I've given you is what will help you create a story. You can also use the What if...approach. What if the lighthouse keeper is an old man having a heart attack? What if a serial killer approaches as the lighthouse keeper is fixing supper? What if an unexpected storm approaches? 

Now, let's go on to the next picture.

I love this picture. Ask yourself who is on the ferris wheel? Who is with them? Are they happy or are they angry? Where is the ferris wheel? What does the church steeple in the background have to do with the people on the ferris wheel? Who is operating the ride? Are they normal or insane? Keep the questions coming until a story possibility shows itself.

And finally, this last picture. The first two had no people in the picture. This one is filled with children and a dog. Ask yourself these questions and any others you come up with. Are the children related? Where do they live? Why do they look rather disheveled? Where are they going? Are they running away from home? Are they looking for help with a disaster left behind? Keep the questions coming until you are ready to write.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Rainy Days and Mondays Isn't Only The Name Of A Song

It rained last night and the forecast in our area is for more the next three days. Tuesday conditions will be right for possible severe storms. As much as we need the moisture in the state of Kansas, no one wants to see heavy hailstorms or tornado activity. A nice soaking rain would be most welcome, however. We've been declared an Extreme Drought area so we'll take what we can get.

Last week, we talked a bit about writing haiku poetry, many of which deal with the seasons, nature and also weather. But there are other types of poems to write that center around weather. Free verse, rhymed poetry and other more specific forms will help you describe days that bring us rain and thunder.

You can also write good descriptive paragraphs about a stormy day. Use it as an exercise. The picture above should be some inspiration. Review the lyrics of the song Rainy Days and Mondays made popular years ago by The Carpenters.

An entire story can be developed using the rainy day as the base on which the story plays out. Once again, a possibility for some good descriptive phrases. A nonfiction article about inclement spring weather in the area in which you live might be just the right subject for a local magazine or newspaper.

What sensory details come to mind when you study the picture here? Smell--sound--sight--touch--perhaps even taste if you stood outside with your tongue haning out! Think about it. What does the rain smell like? What sounds do you hear on a rainy day? Big ones and/or soft ones. What do you see when you look out your window on a day when the skies have opened up? How does it feel if you open your car window and put your hand out to catch the raindrops? And yes, what does it taste like if you dance in the rain with your mouth open? A stretch perhaps, but that might lend itself well to a story you're writing.

How about mood? What do you feel like on a day when the sun hides and the rain pounds steadily all day? Some of us hate it while others revel in it.

Give some thought to the questions I've asked. Study the picture and try your hand at a poem, story or article. Send it to me via the comments section. I'd love to see what you come up with.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Can You Haiku?

In keeping with National Poetry Month, we're going to talk a bit about haiku, a Japanese form of poetry. It's one of the simplest when you look at it because it is classically three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable count for the trio. It's an old form dating back hundreds of years.

When first begun, haiku nearly always dealt with the seasons in some way. Like all things, these short snippets of a poem have evolved to a contemporary mode which still highlights nature and the seasons but also other things, as well. 

I got interested in haiku when a writer friend gave a presentation at a conference. She made it seem so easy. That night as I lay in bed trying to go to sleep, words kept jumping over fences instead of sheep. I started composing  little haiku poems. One I liked so well that I got up and wrote it down. I knew I'd never remember it the next day. 

Some of today's haiku are serious while others inject a bit of humor. My state authors club annual contest has a separate category for haiku poetry. I've never had the courage to enter any of the ones I've written but maybe this year I should do so. Who's to say what is a winner? We never know til we submit. 

A good site I found on more about haiku--what it is and how to write it along with some examples can be read here. Give it a good read and then try writing your own haiku. This next site will show you poems from ancient Japanese poets. Reading them shows us how much alike our worlds are in some respects even though hundreds of years have elapsed.

I'm going to close with four of the haiku I have written. Can you haiku, too? Absolutely! Give it a try. It's really a lot of fun to create these little three line poems. Punctuation is up to you--use it or not. Same with subject matter but this is a perfect time to write about spring, isn't it? Send us one in the comments section.

feather floats softly
on gentle autumn breeze
bird flies, loss unknown

a pear tree in bloom,
beautiful cherry blossoms--
springtime sneezing machines

tall grass brushes sky,
prairie flowers, gold and flame--
a painting by God

trembling hand grasps cane
diamond ring circles finger
her life’s chain of love

 That night 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ever Had Red Tea?

I like variety in my life. I don't like to keep eating the same foods over and over. I don't like reading all the same kinds of books. I don't like wearing the same type of clothes all the time. I like to keep changing and adding new things in most all parts of my world. Including my writing world.

My specialty is creative nonfiction but I like to write stories for kids, a bit of adult fiction, poetry, essays and even informational articles. Some of the latter are geared to writers but others are general information. 

This month, one of those articles has been published in The Best Times. This newspaper geared to seniors in the Kansas City area, primarily on the Kansas side of that dual-sided city, publishes articles of interest to older residents. There are healthcare articles, information on services available in the area, a bit of poetry and a readers share section. I've had several essays published by The Best Times. This time, they published an article  I sent them last September. The editor had accepted it but said it might be some time before it saw the light of day. Sounded like a maybe so I wasn't too hopeful.

I forgot about it until a writer friend who subscribes to the newspaper mentioned seeing my article in the April issue on her facebook page. Happy news to start the new month, even though it's National Poetry Month. Yesterday, I received my three author copies.

The article Try Some Red Tea! was meant to alert people to the fact that South African red tea has many good health benefits and is a welcome change from the ordinary black teas most of us drink. Green tea has become a popular tea, too, but I don't care for it. I learned about the red tea when visiting friends in South Africa where many people drink it regularly and hail its benefits. Read the article(click on the title) to learn more about rooibus, as it is called in Afrikkans. While you're on that page, give a look to the other articles in the newspaper. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Revision and Self-Editing--A Necessary Evil

This is the perfect poster to emphasize today's subject. Revision and self-editing. When you read an exceptionally beautiful poem or a novel filled with outstanding prose and an intriguing plot, rest assured it was not that way when the first draft was written. 

Rare is the writer who comes up with the perfect piece on the first go-round. Authors, Rennie Browne and Dave King have written a book on self-editing that I think is one of the best on the subject. It's been a good resource for quite a few years but is still current enough for today's writers. There is a second edition as well as the original. If you don't want to purchase the book, try your library or library interloan service. I think once you've gone through the book, cover to cover, you'll see the benefit of owning it. 

My number one tip for revising and self-editing your work is to never do it as soon as you've finished the first draft. You'll be looking through rose-colored glasses at that point. Put it aside for a few days, even longer, then read it. Beleive me, you'll see an entirely different piece of writing at that point. The problems will be noted as easily as if there were red flags waving at you. Let the piece simmer on the back burner before attempting a revision.

Only yesterday, I was going through some old stories when I ran across one I liked a lot but had never been able to sell. I hadn't read it for a long time so I was looking with fresh eyes. I still liked it but I suddenly saw what it lacked. Add a little dash of that and maybe it will be a go the next time I submit it somewhere. 

Self-editing can involve a lot of the small mechanical things while a revision can entail far more. Revision is going to deal with the substance of the story or creative nonfiction story. You may end up reversing paragraphs, omitting some and adding more to it. 

Should you do more than one self-edit or revision? That is entirely up to the writer. There are some writers who go back over and over again, seeking perfection. But there comes a time when you have to say that it's done. Don't beat your head against the writing wall with multiple revisions and edits. Do it once, twice if you must and send it out. I fear that more than that and you might lose what started out to be a good story. Don't revise yourself into oblivion. 

Make a checklist to use when editing your work. Keep it handy and refer to it when you think you're finished. If you use it long enough, it will become automatic and you won't need that physical list. It will be etched into your brain. 

Taking time to revise and self-edit will be well worth the time and effort. It's not what we enjoy doing, it's one of those necessary evils in our writing world that will pay off.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Memorable Events

Lost my first tooth

This is my grandson, Cole, who is celebrating a big event in his life.  He lost his first tooth. The glory of it is that when only two, he fell off a chair and hit his mouth on the edge. When his mom picked him up, she saw that one front tooth was dangling. His other grandmother was visiting at the time and she told Karen to push the tooth back in. Nana held the struggling little boy while Mama quickly put the tooth in place. Hugs and kisses soothed his fears and tears. Next his mother called their dentist who told her she'd done the right thing. Then they had to wait to see if the tooth would hold. It did! Until yesterday when it came out at just the right time. It's a memorable event in the entire family.

That first success in having a story or poem published is also one of the most memorable events in a writer's world. Maybe THE most memorable. I have a feeling if you lined up fifty writers and asked them to tell about the first publishing success they had, none would hesitate for even seconds. That story would be told immediately as it holds a treasured spot in their memory bank. 

I know one writer who got her very first effort published in a national magazine. Her head was awhirl with the future possibilitites, but it was a long time before she was published again. That first time, she happened to hit on a timely subject and had done a decent job in writing the article. She's not the norm. For most writers, it takes many submissions before that first one is accepted. 

My own story is that I sent an article about Kruger Park, a game reserve in South Africa. I'd titled it "A Zoo With No Bars" and I thought it a wonderful article, clever title. Weeks later, an envelope arrived in the mail. Those were the days when all submissions were done by snail mail. I ripped the envelope open to find a short letter from the editor of the young peoples magazine that I'd submitted to. I read the letter and deflated like a pin-pricked balloon. She liked the idea but wanted me to 'energize' the story and resubmit.

I hadn't a clue as to what she meant but I pondered it for several days, then rewrote the nonfiction article as a story with two children visiting Kruger Park with their grandparents, let the reader see it from the children's perspective. She accepted the second submission, and what a thrill it was for me to receive a copy of the magazine along with the check. It was my first publication and seems one of the most important because of that.

How about you? What is the story of your first acceptance? Like Cole losing his first tooth, you will always remember that happy that of your initial publication. And if it hasn't happened for you yet--don't worry, one day it will and you'll have a special memory, too.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Is National Poetry Month

Today is the beginning of National Poetry Month. Read here about the background of this annual April event. I think the poster above is a great inspiration to write a poem. Give it a try and send it to us via the comments section. Don't worry, they won't be graded. Nor do we expect you to start writing poetry like Maya Angelou or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. They had to start somewhere and so do you and I.

This morning's Kansas City paper had an article, titled Power of Poetry about a new poetry book put together by Caroline Kennedy with the help of some young people. Poems To Learn By Heart is a book of 100 poems selected by the group. Ms. Kennedy is in Kansas City on a book tour and will be speaking at the Unity Temple in Kansas City tomorrow evening. Check out details in the sidebar of the article. There will also be a book signing at the event sponsored by Rainy Day Books, an independent bookstore. Note that the admission price includes a copy of the book.

Ms. Kennedy says that poetry is a way for even the shy person to express themselves. I'm in agreement with her on that point. The shy person hides so much. That young man or girl who says so little may be speaking volumes inside. What better way to let those thoughts emerge than through a poem?

I would like to obtain a copy of this new poetry book and share it with my grandchildren, too. You can order it at Amazon or look for it at your local book store. Read it, then share it with those you care about, especially young people.

A Challenge: During this National Poetry Month write a poem, short or long, each day. On April 30th, you'll have a full folder of your poetry. Pick the ones you like best and revise and edit until you're satisfied.