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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Join Me At A Literary Tea Party

Tomorrow, August 1st, is the first of a 31 day tea party. And you are invited! The invitation above gives you the URL that lets you in the door. It's a longer tea party than most but it's also one filled with fun, excitement, and giveaways. That's right! You can win all kind of things related to tea parties and the lauching of a brand new novel.

Jessica Dotta is a friend and wonderful writer all rolled into one. I spent a week with Jessica at our online writing group's conference last April. The entire group is very excited about her debut novel, Born Of Persuasion. The story is set in Victorian era England and has been compared to Jane Austen's works. But it was Jessica who wrote this intriguing story--one that will keep you turning pages late into the night. You can read an early review here. The really good news about this novel is that it is the first of a trilogy, so when you finish the first one, another will soon be ready.

New books need to attract attention. Jessica's Tea Party is one way to let readers know about her book. I told this fine author that I'd love to help her launch this first novel. What better way than to bring my own readers to the party with me. You'll notice that I'm all set to go with my hat, gorgeous necklace and teacup.I'm also going to change my profile picture on my facebook page to my Tea Party outfit. I hope you'll join me for some fun and a chance to win a neat prize. I'm donating one of the prizes myself. Check every day to see what is being given away.

If you like historical fiction and also have been hooked on the PBS Downton Abbey series, and if you enjoy gathering with friends for tea and conversation, please drop in at least once each day. Pass the invitation on to your reading friends. Jessica is happy to welcome all who want to attend her party. 

The novel 

You can preorder the novel at Amazon or Barnes and Noble for a great read.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Wannabe Writer's Song

Every writer was once a wannabe writer singing that song over and over. I wannabe a writer, oh Lordy, how I wannabe a writer! It's pretty easy to want that status but actually going after it is a different story.

I wanted to be a writer for the vast majority of my life, but I did little to make it happen. I gave myself one excuse after another. They were all pretty valid reasons--at least, I thought they were. Working while attending college left precious little time to pursue my desire. Next came marriage, still teaching and running a household for two. Still wanted to write but....  In a few years, I had quit teaching but was a stay at home mom to two children and helping my husband in his career by handling the social end of things connected to his job. Even so, I did take time to do other things I enjoyed. I played Bridge, read a lot, quilted baby quilts for a hospital gift shop, was a hospital volunteer. But I didn't try writing. I still thought about it but something held me back. It wasn't until we landed in a new community as empty nesters and where it was hard to make friends that I finally pursued my longtime desire.

Guess what? I wish with all my heart that I'd done so years and years sooner. But that's beyond happening so no use fretting now.

If you're a wannabe writer, don't give yourself a string of excuses like I did. Part of the reason we do that is fear. What if I am a terrible writer? I can almost guarantee that you will not be an award winning writer right from the git-go. It's a rare person who can achieve such a status. You won't become a good writer until you spend endless amounts of time writing. Almost every writer I know cringes a bit when he/she looks back at their early efforts. New writers generally commit all the no-no things possible. They overwrite, they are redundant, they forget the sensory details, they tell too much, they forget the use of dialogue--all kinds of things that they correct little by little as their writing life progresses.

I like the end of the quote above It's that easy, and that hard. I've found that most worthwhile things don't come easy. You have to work at it and maybe you need to work at it for a very long time. The important thing is that you must start. Yep, sit yourself down at the keyboard and put one word after another until you find a stopping place. Not gonna be a masterpiece, but it will be something you wrote. Progress! You don't need to show it to anyone unless you want to. You don't need to ask for a critique unless you want to grow as a writer. You don't need to do it again unless you really mean the words of the wannabe writer song.

Monday, July 29, 2013

What Method Do You Choose To Write A Novel?

What's the best way to write a novel or short story? Should you devise the plot, then make a detailed outline and finally begin to write? Or should you come up with a beginning that intrigues you enough that you want to start writing and see where it goes? Let's look at both.

Some writers are only comfortable writing a story that has all the basics lined up like fenceposts. They want that well-known beginning, middle and ending set before they put one word of the story on a piece of paper or computer screen. Some go so far as to have subheadings for each of those 3 general parts and detailed notes beneath each subheading. They will line up the characters, create a sheet for each one with glorious details. They may spend a great deal of time doing research that will help them write the story. These writers spend copious amounts of time preparing to write their book. They are definitely prepared.

Others have a glimmer of an idea, or perhaps an opening scene rattling around in their brain. They begin to write having no idea where the story will go. They also have no hint if their is actually enough to create a full story with that needed beginning, middle and ending but they're off on an adventure to find out. These writers let the story and the characters guide them. It may sound crazy but a lot of people write this way.

I have written only one novel, and that one is a juvenile historical fiction book. I had the general idea and sat down and started, having no inkling of how the book would end, didn't even have the middle section set in my mind. My main characters became my friends and they seemed to take the story on when I was at a standstill. They let me know each day that I wrote what direction we needed to go. Three-fourths of the way into the story, I still had no satisfying ending. I knew where I wanted my protagonist to be when the book ended but how was I going to get him there? I decided not to worry about it and kept writing, chapter after chapter. Soon, the end was in sight and I had no trouble writing a solution to the boy's problem. I allowed the story and the characters to guide me.

Is one way better than the other? I don't think so. A writer needs to use whatever method feels most comfortable to them. 

I do think that those who write off the cuff with no outline etc have a lot more editing and filling in to do after the first draft is written. Maybe it's then that they do those character sketches for each of the main ones in the book to help them create a better character. The outline writer has done a lot of that work before ever writing a word of the story. They both put in the time, it's only a question of whether it's at the beginning or ending of that first draft.

Writers are individuals and they work in individual ways. Some do their best writing in the pre-dawn hours, while others spend the hours between breakfast and lunch to hit it hard. Still others prefer afternoons. No one way is the only way. We do whatever works best for us--whether it is the time of day you write or the way in which you write a novel. 

Try it both ways and see which one feels the most comfortable for you. There might even be writers who do it both ways, although I'm guessing that most go one way or the other. If you've never written a novel, don't let the method stop you. Take the seed of an idea and run with it in whatever way feels right to you. It's the end result that counts most.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Some Books Are Too Long

background of old books

Last night, I finished a novel that my book club is reading for our August discussion. The book is 511 pages which I consider a pretty long read.  As I closed the book for the final time, I couldn't help thinking that the story had been drawn out far longer than need be, that the author could have told the same story in about half that number of pages and maybe had a better book. There were so many parts that were not necessary to the story line. A police detective narrates the story and we are in his head far too much. I got so I didn't give a darn what he thought about this character or that one, especially when it had no relevancy whatsoever to the plot. Nor his constant one liners meant to inject humor into several murders, a pretty serious subject. Nor were the sex scenes necessary to the plot. Even though I did enjoy the book, I found myself skimming a lot of it.

Which brings me to today's topic--writing too much. I used the just-read book as an example, but there are many more which are published that do the same thing. The writer comes up with a plot that is probably worthy of being published, then pads it to add more pages. The same can be said of some personal essays or memoirs. When I read a book like that, it makes me wonder why the editors didn't recommend some cuts.

Redundancy becomes the keyword in some books. I find it almost an insult to my intelligence when an author continually repeats the same thing but using different words. Why do they do it? I think that sometimes an author fears the reader might not 'get it' so they want to make it as clear as possible. Writers need to give their readers a little more credit. If it's written clearly one time, most readers are going to know what he's trying to say.

The old more is better doesn't always work, especially when writing a story. I would rather see a shorter, satisfying story than a longer, frustrating-to-the-reader tale. Some authors carry description too far. I don't need three pages to tell me where the protagonist is. A paragraph or two will do it. I don't need to spend pages learning what the hero thinks about one small piece of the puzzle. An author risks losing the reader's interest doing these things.

We read writer's guides that tell us over and over how important those opening lines are so that you capture the attention of the reader. Agreed! But it's also very important to keep the reader wanting to read more.

Another thing books on the craft of writing emphasize is to write tight. Say what is necessary in as few words as possible. Take out the fluff  and leave the important parts. Write that way and the story is almost always stronger and will hold the interest of the reader.

In my critique group, one of the most often raised criticisms is saying more than is necessary. Over and over, critiquers advice cutting senetences, even entire paragraphs from a story. Some writers tend to ramble on and on when they should say what needs to be said in as short a way as possible and still make the point.

Have I read long novels that I had no problem with? Yes, I have. Far too many to list here but those books kept my interest with nearly every page. The authors were very skillful in weaving a long but good story that didn't have unnecessary parts to it.

If you write a short story or novel, when you go back to self-edit, ask yourself if you have any unnecessary information. Check paragraph by paragraph to make sure each one is relevant.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Weed Out Your Bookshelves

Is this the coolest library ever? On our recent trip to England, we spent one night in a 500 year old country inn. As I was walking around the area after breakfast, I spied this old telephone booth which served as a lending library for the local folk. What a super way to get rid of some of the books you no longer want--donate them to the library. There were no rules or regulations posted. There was no librarian. It appeared to be run on the honor system. Maybe people take a book, read it, and then return a different book. Or perhaps they bring back the book they've read for others to select.

What do you do with books you've read and don't particularly want or need to keep forever? Bookshelves hold only so many, and if you are a person who likes to buy books, it doesn't take too long until the shelves are filled and overflowing into piles on the floor, table or wherever.

You can, of course, sell them at a consignment shop or online or through your own personal ad--even at a garage sale. But there are ways to clean up your personal library and help others by donating the books to various places.

Many public libraries have Friends groups that conduct book sales. They look for donations of books year round. My local library has a once-a-year book sale but they also have a section of the library devoted to used books for sale for very nominal prices. I often purchase a book there, read it, and then donate it back to them to sell again.

Donate books to a thrift shop. People who must stretch every dollar until it screams seldom have an opportunity to purchase a book. A thrift shop might charge only 25 cents which makes it doable for those who would love to own a book or to buy one for a child.

There are groups looking for book donations that will then send them overseas to give away to those who crave reading and/or owning a book but cannot do so on their own.

I read not long ago that there is a need for paperbacks to be given to our military personnel stationed overseas.

Many churches have small libraries that depend on donations. Hospitals sometimes have book carts that volunteers wheel to patient rooms.

All you need to do is google where to donate used books or something close to that and you'll come up with a list. Or check with your local Chamber of Commerce for suggestions.

Giving away your used books cleans up your house, helps someone else, and allows you to buy more books guilt-free. So, start weeding out your bookshelves soon.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Good News From Chicken Soup for the Soul

This chicken soup or.....

What is more satisfying than a bowl of chicken soup on a chilly day? Or when you're not feeling so hot? Even better when it's homemade. 

In the literary world, we've come to connect chicken soup with the very popular anthology series Chicken Soup for the Soul. Every time I think there can be no new titles in this series of creative nonfiction stories, up pops another one. 

Those who read this blog regularly know that I am a great supporter of the Chicken Soup books. Maybe it's because they have published 13 of my stories over the years. That definitely figures into the equation. I like the books because they are easy to pick up and read a few stories, put it down and pick it up a week later and keep right on going. Also nice bedtime reading because the stories are warm, inspirational, mildly humorous--nothing that will give you nightmares. They also make excellent gifts. 

The publishers and editors know what they're doing and turn out a quality book every time. It's not easy to be successful and keep on being successful, but they've accomplished that. Being so popular, they receive literally thousands of submissions for new books. Consider having to read story upon story, day in and day out. It must get tiring at some point, but it also means the good ones stand out. The editors use a reader panel to read the group of stories selected. So, the stories are seen by more than just one editor. The readers rate the stories, and then the editors select from the top rated stories. 

Yesterday, I received a notice from a Chicken Soup editor that my story New Friends, Faraway Friends, Forever Friends will be included in the Just Us Girls book to be available in November. I'd been notified some time ago that my story had made it to the final cut stage. Good but no guarantee that it will survive and make it into the book. Happily, this story made it. This will be the 14th Chicken Soup for the Soul book for me, and you know what? It's still a thrill when that final notice arrives. 

I was asked to proofread the story that they had possibly edited and approve. I was most pleased to see that they had changed only one word, and that was a slang term. Otherwise, my story stood as I wrote it, and that made me happy. 

When the book comes out, I'll be sure to remind you. A November publication date means it will be a good Christmas or Hanukkah gift for a friend. But before that month rolls around, I'm going to see what kind of stories I can come up with for the other new titles Chicken Soup has. Take a look and see which ones you might like to submit to here

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Are You Still In The Fog?

One February, we took a road trip heading southeast. On our second morning, I pulled aside the heavy draperies of the motel room window, hoping to see sunshine. Instead, I found a misty rain and light fog. “Fog again!” I said to my husband who stood before the mirror shaving.

We’d driven in fog the morning before when we set out from home to travel southeast, in hopes of finding a pocket of warmth during this winter month. As we crossed the hills of south central and southeast Kansas, we ran the gamut from a little fog to heavy curtains of it, blocking the view of the tallgrass prairie we normally enjoyed when driving this route.

I searched the road ahead for tail lights of any vehicles and the headlights of those approaching. At times, one would rise up from the fog, seeming to appear in only an instant. I watched the side roads, worrying that a truck or car would pull out in front of us before they realized we were there. Ken kept watch as he drove, and I offered one more set of eyes to help him. Fog frightens me almost as much as icy roads.

We left the motel, feeling relieved that the weather appeared to have improved. Euphoria lasted only a mile or two, as the arms of heavy fog wrapped around us and held on tightly, as though a lover who would never let go.

As writers, we sometimes move through years of our lives fighting fog, never being able to see clearly to our goals. We wait for the sun to break through and clear away the hard-to-see parts of our lives. Writers can feel like they're searching blindly to find the way to their publication goals. 

Then, that Aha! moment arrives and the world is bright and clear once again. That moment happens when we finally see what we need to do to improve our writing enough to achieve the goals we've set. For each of us, it occurs at a different time and a distinctly individual way. When it happens for me is not going to be the same as for you since our writing journeys are all different. 

You can help clear the fog away by continuing to learn your craft, hone your writing skills, and applying a whole lot of hard work. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Be True To Yourself

I've been pondering something and I'm going to pass it on to you. Misery always loves company. Right? Nah, not really. But something has come up that is giving me a bit of a quandry. Yet, deep in my heart, I know what my answer is. Still, it's good to sort it out and give some guidance to others who may have the same situation someday.

Last night I wrote a story about a difficult day I'd had the week before. It would be perfect for the title of a new anthology looking for stories on the same theme. I wrote it from a humorous angle (or so I thought) but I didn't exaggerate or embellish. The story itself felt like enough to me. The anthology group does like their stories to be a bit on the edgy side, humorous and even encourages the use of swear words. Nothing horrible, just what one would consider 'mild swearing' if there is such a thing.

I sent the story to my critique group and this morning one person had looked at it. She, whose writing I admire greatly, told me she thought it needed some swearing and up the humor by saying what could be construed as humiliating remarks about a person in the story. Exaggeration, it seemed, is what she was proposing. She knows the anthology market I was aiming for and she, like me, had taken their suggestion to heart. In fact, I had suggested somewhat the same to her on one of her stories aimed for this series, too. Maybe we are both trying to fall the guidelines a little too distinctly.

I thought about it for awhile and knew I could probably rewrite the story with a handful of mild cuss words tossed in for good measure. But it wasn't going to change what occurred. Not that I have a problem with an occasional expletive. I do use them once in awhile, usually when I'm extremely frustrated and lose control. So, it's not that I would never, ever say one of those words. But to me, it didn't need to be added to my story. Doing so would not make it a better story.

Nor do I feel the need to exaggerate the humor to the point of humiliating someone in the story. I can go along with some mild teasing but not out and out humiliation or degradation of character. Uh-uh! So, scratch that change, too.

The quandry is whether or not I should submit the story as is, or should I just decide that this anthology group is not for me and move on? 

One thing I have answered in my pondering of this situation is that I am not willing to write in a way that is not me just to get my story into this book. We've all heard the stories about editors who say the story is good in a novel but it needs a lot more sex and dirty words in it for it to sell. Sure, I'll read those kinds of books, but they are not the only books I read. I want a good story whether it is pure as the white sheets on my bed or as flaming as the scarlet roses in my garden. Story comes first for me, the sensational marketing ploys don't always attract me.

To be fair to the editors and publisher of the anthology series, I think they are willing to accept edgier stories than others are, but I don't think that is the only thing they are looking for. Nor do I think they will reject a story only because there are no cuss words in it. The more important consideration is the story itself.

I am going to look at my story again, perhaps try to up the humor a little and send it in. If it's good enough to stand on its own, the editor is going to take it. If not, then I know I made the effort and will chalk it up to experience. I hope that I will remember a piece of advice I've heard more than once. Be true to yourself.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Make Writing Exercises A Habit

Writing exercises are never a waste of time. They motivate, inspire and help us polish our writing. They are no different than a basketball player making 100 baskets before heading to the locker room on a Monday afternoon. He's increasing his skill and so will you when you make writing exercises a habit.

Today, it's time for another picture prompt writing exercise. But this time, I'm going to give you a few items that should be evident in your story or paragraphs that you write.

These are the things you should include:

1.  3 people
2.  an aroma (and it doesn't need to be the obvious flowers)
3.  a loud noise
4.  laughing
5.  tears

Does that start that wheels in your mind spinning? Study the picture for as long as it takes for an idea to begin to take shape. Then begin writing but be sure to use the five items listed for you. Your story/paragraphs can be silly, serious, mildly humorous, sad, poetic--whatever you choose.

I'd love it if you'd share your effort with us in the comments section. No one is going to judge it. It would be interesting to see the different directions people take with this. Even if you don't do the exercise (but I hope you will), you've had an opportunity to gaze on a very lovely scene. Now, where do you suppose it is?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Book Is A Big, Fat, Bargain!

Even in the earliest of times, man felt a need to keep records and to express himself. Before paper was known, people used stone, clay, papyrus, large flat leaves and more to do this. Simple marks became language for the future generations. Little by little, the idea of creating an entire book went from the seed to the accomplished task. And aren't we all the magnificent benefactors of all those who came before us and created BOOKS?

When you stop and think about it, just as the poster above claims, a book truly is an astonishing thing. That statement can be divided into two separate sections, yet each needs the other.

Section A:  Someone must write the thousands of words that, strung together, tell us a story or give us information on a subject of the author's choice. Those who write know that is no simple task. Then comes the editor/publisher. They have to be the mean guys and slash some of those precious words an author wrote with such verve.

Section B: The publisher works with the printer to set up the format in which a book will be printed. A font, or type, must be chosen, the kind of paper used will be selected, a cover created. Sometimes a foreward is included, a bibliography if needed, an index, even a glossary--depending on the kind of book that is being created.

There's more that goes into writing and producing a book that we read, but the above are some of the main components needed.

As readers, we scan the shelves of thousands of books at bookstores and libraries. Hundreds of thousands, even millions, of words are there for us to choose from. Do we consider a book because it has a pretty cover? Occasionally, but it's not the deciding factor in making a selection. Instead, we read the frontispiece to get an idea of what the book is about, or the back cover which often includes quotes regarding the book from well-known authors. We might scan the Table of Contents or flip through the book and read an excerpt or two before we walk to the cashier or librarian to check out.

Next, we settle down somewhere, as soon as time will allow, to open the book and begin to read. When I do that, I feel as if I am opening a treasure chest that's washed ashore, hoping that it will be filled with gold, not empty.

I must admit that I don't give much thought to how that book was created. Instead, I'm greedy to get into the story that awaits. But perhaps the next time you, or I, pick up a book, we should spare a minute or two and consider all that had to happen to bring the book into my own hands. From writer to editor to publisher to printer who all had a part in creating the book. Then maybe the price of a book won't seem quite so bad. In fact, maybe it's a big, fat, bargain!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Tip On Writing About Your Travels

This quote from Ernest Hemingway seems quite appropriate after recently returning from an overseas trip. There were so many things I saw that made me want to write, but as anyone who travels knows, there is seldom time to do so as you move from one attraction to another. Especially if you are with other people. I was traveling with my husband and two dear friends, and I wasn't about to say, "Can you guys go sit on that rock for an hour or two while I write a story?" I wouldn't say it because I know what the answer would have been. And rightly so!

I think what Hemingway was trying to convey to us is that, once we are away from a place, our mind and imagination takes over and we can be far more creative in our writing. It needs to be a place that impressed you, whether it was somewhere you loved or someplace that gave you the creeps. You need to carry that feeling home with you, dredge it up when you're alone, and then write about it.

One of the places I would like to include in a story is St. Michael's Mount (see picture below). We had a spectacular view of it from our hotel room and we also visited when the tide was out, walking across a cobblestone walkway, then climbing like mountain goats to the castle on top. It was an amazing experience and someday I will write about it. Little things about the day we went there keep popping into my mind, and I should be jotting them down to trigger the memories again.

So, don't despair if you can't write about a place you visit immediately. It may be a blessing in disguise. One reason to keep a daily journal when you travel is so that you can capture some of those on-the-spot reactions while there, then put them all together once home with time at your disposal. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Perils of Publishing

Computers clip art

There's been a small chat going on in my critique group. One of the members mentioned as her final comment to her message that ...once you start submitting everywhere...well, you start getting accepted, too.

How very simple a statement, but ladies and gentlemen, it's loaded with wisdom and good advice. If publication is your aim (and that's not always the case for every writer), you must submit your work. On a regular basis. It's like taking all your clothes off and walking naked down the main street of your town. Well, that may be pushing it a bit, but if you send your work to a magazine editor or an agent or a book publisher, aren't you baring it all? They are going to read what you've written. They are going to see what you think, what you write, what you care about in this life. Oh yes, it's all there hidden within the things you write.

I can't tell you how many times I run into a writer who is fearful of submitting. No one likes rejection, and if you submit your writing, you are at great risk of that happening. Not just risk. It's almost a certainty that you're going to receive some rejections. My own experience tells me it's not a bit fun, but along with those rejections, you have an excellent chance of being accepted, as well. With everything I write? might well be the first question you have after reading the preceding.

No, not with everything you write, but the chances are good that you'll have some acceptances if you do these things:

1. write and rewrite before you submit
2. edit and re-edit before you submit
3. let your work simmer a few days before you submit
4. add some sensory details to enhance what you've written before you submit
5. check for mechanical errors and correct them before you submit
6. read the guidelines carefully of the publication you are sending to before you submit

Submitting your work for publication is not for wimpy writers. Uh-uh! It's work. It all comes down to sending your best writing each time you submit. As for those inevitable rejections--learn from them. Study the returned piece and assess it with an objective, critical eye. 

Meanwhile, take your clothes off and walk down Main St--figuratively speaking, that is. Submit your best work and submit often. Don't let your writing gather dust in your files. Send it out!


Monday, July 15, 2013

Time For A Writing Exercise, Maybe Two

My online critique group does a Random Word writing exercise every week. It's up to me to try them or not. Random Word exercises are meant to get your brain moving at a good speed, to let the thoughts lying deep in the recesses of your mind come to the surface. 

We look at the word, then write nonstop for a full ten minutes. Doesn't matter what is written. It could be pure drivel, nonsense rhyming words, or a rant on some subject. More often than you would imagine, enough coherent thoughts come through with the bones for a story or essay. Many in our group have gone on to write a full story from the words that flowed mindlessly (or so some thought) during a Random Word exercise.

How can you do this one on your own? Open a book--any book, even the dictionary--close your eyes and point your finger on the page. Whatever word your finger lands on is it. Then, set a timer and take off. Don't just do one. Try several, even if you don't do them all at one time. Do one in the morning, another in the afternoon and again in the evening. Not all will come to fruition in the form of a full story or essay, but a good many can and will. 

For another writing exercise, try the one in the poster photo at the top of today's post. Sounds easy but you may have more difficulty with this one than you think. Even so, I think it would be a worthwhile effort to give this one a try. Send your results to me via the comments section below. I'd love to see what you do with this one. 

Great athletes practice all the time. Writers should, too.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Writers Can Be Speakers, Too

You'll never guess what I'm thinking about

In the picture posted here, I'm in Cornwall, sitting on a welcome bench after a hefty walk to get to the viewing spot for one of the most beautfiul sea views in England. The place is called The Lizard because of the shape of the cliffs that border the sea. The others in my travel group were off in another area so I had some time to myself. While enjoying the view, I started thinking about a program I was scheduled to give the week after we arrived home. On vacation, you're suppose to put all those other things aside and enjoy it fully. Not always!

I did savor the vacation/travel time with my husband and our two good friends, but things do tend to flit across our minds even in those periods of suppose-to-be-relaxing. I gave my program last evening to a ladies guild at a local church. Their theme was Christmas in July and a friend of mine who was in charge of the Salad Supper and Program asked me if I'd do my The Bells of Christmas program. She'd heard the original at my own church's Christmas Brunch several years ago. It was the one program I've done that I didn't save in a folder. After a fruitless search, I laid awake for a couple hours one night bringing back what I'd used and then began adding to it for a current presentation. 

The last Sunday we were in England, I stepped outside the hotel to see what the weather was like. I was greeted by glorious sunshine and the pleasing sound of church bells. It was a fine reminder that in only a dozendays, I'd be giving my program. I had this past week to put the final touches on it and practice. The group seemed to enjoy what I gave them and I have to admit that it was a pleasure for me to give the program.

All this is leading up to a point. Truly! Writers are the perfect people to give various programs to groups in their local areas. Okay--I can hear you now saying But I'm not a speaker, I can't stand up in front of people and talk. I've got news for you. You most certainly can do it. You've talked in everything you've written. All you need to do is add your living voice. Who better to read your work aloud than you? Use your stories and poems as a base for the program. Add some in-betweens and you can do it. When you stand before a group, tell yourself you're talking to a group of your friends around the table at a morning coffee. Be yourself. Use easy conversation, not formal, high vocabulary, above everyone's head kind of speaking. It relaxes the audience and you, too. 

I will admit that the first time or two, it's a little hard on the nerves, but once you get going, you'll be fine. There's a very good reason for you to go out into the community and speak. If you have been published, you want to get your name and your book/stories before the public. Publishers expect their writers to help with the marketing today. A lot! This is a perfect way to do it. 

So, what kind of programs can you give? There's no set type. The one I gave last night was easy because the theme had been selected and my friend asked me to do a program I'd already done once before. But you can come up with your own ideas, too, and promote yourself at the local Chamber of Commerce. Most of them have a Speaker's Bureau because all kinds of organizations are looking for programs. My state authors club has a speaker's bureau. Maybe yours does, too. One program that I've given several times is Writing Your Family Stories. It's a subject that I'm passionate about. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that. I use some of my own family stories that have appeared in anthologies as examples. If you're an expert in something, use it as a theme to promote your writing. If you have an interest in history or how current events affect a community and your writing correlates, use that. If you talk about what you know, you can't miss.

Make a list of topics you might use to base a program on. Next to the topic, list the stories, poems or articles you've written that could be used. Add to your list whenever you think of another one. Then, either wait to be approached and invited to give a program or be a little more aggressive and make an offer to give a program. If you do one or two, word gets around and you'll be asked by others. 

Why? You are giving something to others. You are promoting your writing self. You are feeding your self-esteem. Don't raise your eyebrows at that last one. We all need a little of that now and then. 

So, do consider doing some public speaking linked with your writing. You'll reap untold benefits. And so will your audiences.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Submission Advice From Annette Gendler

Annette Gendler

My good friend and fine writer, Annette Gendler, writes and teaches memoir writing in Chicago. She's graciously agreed to be a guest blogger here today on a topic that should be of interest to all writers. 

How I Got Published in the Wall Street Journal: A Little Lesson in Submitting

I just had a personal essay published in the Wall Street Journal: ‘Thrown Out’ of the Family Home. For me, that is one of the zeniths of publication success.

How did it happen? After all, I’m not a trained journalist; I haven’t pitched article ideas to the WSJ for years, and I don’t know any of the editors. I am merely a reader. But that, it turns out, is the secret, at least of this success story: I am a reader, and specifically a reader of the WSJ and the particular column I got published in.

If you’re at all interested in submitting your work for publication, I’m sure you’ve seen the advice in submission guidelines, “to read recent issues before submitting.” I would contend that what is really meant is: Be a reader of this publication.
I read the WSJ every day, and I absolutely love their Mansion section on Fridays, and especially the House Call column. For those unfamiliar with it, in House Call the WSJ asks prominent people to share something about their home. One of my favorites was Alexander McCall Smith (of No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency fame) writing about how, after five years of renovations, he now missed having the workmen around.

As a regular reader of House Call, in early January I spotted their call for submissions asking readers to submit essays about a memorable or special home. I was immediately excited: One of my favorite WSJ sections was calling for submissions (they hardly every do that)! I knew right away that I would write about my grandparents’ former house.

Now, how to get all that history, nicely written out in my memoir manuscript, into the WSJ’s maximum of 800 words? And how to make it work as a standalone piece? I put together a rough draft of about 1,000 words and asked a journalist friend who hadn’t seen any of the memoir work to look at it. Not only did she help me trim words, but her questions pointed out holes I had to fill for readers. Once I had filled those holes, the piece was about 900 words. I had my friend go through it again, and she cut another 50 words, which left me fine tuning the text to cut another 50. Then I submitted the essay a few days before the January 31 deadline and waited. I waited for a long time. In fact, by May my Outlook calendar was reminding me to seek other submission opportunities for that essay. For some reason, I dilly-dallied on that, and on May 15 the acceptance email popped up in my inbox. (Patience is another thing a writer must have lots of!)

However, adhering to the wordcount, submitting on time, and waiting patiently are not my point here. My lesson from this experience is to submit to those publications you read all the time, those publications you love. Of course big guns like the WSJ are hard to get into, so are glossy magazines. But as you can see from my experience, opportunites arise. And what about your local paper? Don’t you read that? Or a favorite blog? This rationale holds true for literary magazines as well. My most illustrious literary magazine acceptance to date, by the Gettysburg Review (how I messed that up is another story you can read here), proves my point: I subscribe to the Gettysburg Review and read it regularly. So, submit to those publications you read. Obviously you share an aesthetic. And that increases the odds of getting in there. 

Annette Gendler is a nonfiction writer. She has completed a memoir about an impossible love that succeeded; an excerpt, “Giving Up Christmas,” was published in December 2012 in Tablet Magazine, another excerpt, “‘Trown Out’ of the Family Home” just appeared in the Wall Street Journal. She regularly writes for the Washington Independent Review of Books, and her work has appeared in literary magazines such as Bellevue Literary Review, Natural Bridge, Under the Sun, and South Loop Review. Annette has twice been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and was the 2013 Peter Taylor Nonfiction Fellow at the Kenyon Writers Workshop. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and has been teaching memoir writing at StoryStudio Chicago since 2006. She lives in Chicago with her husband and three children.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Doors In Our Writing Life--Open and Closed

Lady Face clip art
Color Me Happy

After a rather lengthy dry spell, my writing world has filled with sunshine the past couple of weeks. It's the way it is in this game. Good things happen and a writer gets all excited, then it's as if a door was slammed and locked. No matter how hard you pound on it, the door doesn't open as soon as we'd like. If you're a writer, you've been there.

I hit a triple play one day while in England. I used my friend's computer to do a quick email check and was bowled over by three acceptances. Rare for that to happen in one day for a hobbyist writer like me. For someone who writes to make a living, it most likely occurs on a regular basis but not for writers in my category. 

First, Knowonder! online magazine for kids is publishing a new print and ebook with stories about princesses and dragons, and they are using my There's A Dragon In The Library story for the third time. The new book Spread Your Wings looks like a fun read.

Spread Your Wings: a Collection of Princess and Dragon Stories for Kids

The second message that put a smile on my face was from Matilda Butler, co-founder of the 
Women's Memoir website. She and her partner, Kendra Bonnet, run occasional contests on the site. She wrote to tell me that one of my stories, Driving With Dad, (a first place winner in an earlier contest) had been selected to be included in an anthology ebook they were preparing to publish. She asked for a photo and short bio to include, and I was happy to furnish that for her as soon as I returned home. 

The third happy message came from an abstract artist who is doing a Painting/Poetry Collaboration Project. I'd submitted a poem quite some time ago and had actually forgotten all about it. The artist liked the poem and is doing an interpretive abstract painting. The painting and poem will be on display in an art museum in St. Joseph, MO in September. I was pretty thrilled with this new kind of opportunity.

Yesterday, I received word from a Chicken Soup editor that a story I'd sent for a book on friendship had made it to the final round. Most of the stories that make it that far end up in the book, but a few can still be cut, so there is more waiting time to know for sure. Still, it's a thrill to get a story to this point with the Chicken Soup books as they receive literally thousands of submissions. 

The joy of these upcoming publications will keep me happy while I write and submit more of my work to places I think they fit. When that closed door finally opens up again, we all need to enjoy the sunlight it brings into our lives. I wish I could bottle it for those dimmer times one has in a writing life!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Good Read

The Art Forger: A Novel

Book Club met at my house this morning. The book I had selected for us to read this month was The Art
Forger by B. A. Shapiro. I had read it several months ago, motivated to read it by a review in the KansaCity newspaper which intrigued me. I was not disappointed when I got the book from my local library.
I decided that the next time my turn rolled around to select a book for the group to read, this would be it.

Just because I like a book does not guarantee that everyone will feel the same. We're a group of 7 women who have known one another for many years, so we have no problem in saying it aloud if we disliked the book. But today, everyone had positive comments. 

The story revolves around Claire Roth who copies paintings for a living. She wears a black mark in the art world when it comes to her own creations, however, due to a scandal in the early days of her art career. She was wrongly accused but never able to prove that she had painted a canvas that someone else took credit for--the someone else being her lover. Fast forward 3 years, and Claire is struggling to make ends meet. Enter a gallery owner who convinces her to forge one of the famed works of Degas. Temptation lies before her and she succombs to it. The rest of the book revolves around an actual art museum robbery that had never been solved, the woman who created the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Art Museum, and others in Claire's social circle as well as her forgery and the process it takes to create a good copy.

The book is well written and filled with fascinating information about the art world. I know that it has made me look at artwork in a museum or gallery with a different perspective and better understanding. It's a good read and we had an excellent discussion stemming from the book. One of our members is an artist and she had some enlightening comments to make. 

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy an absorbing story but also want to learn something. You'll manage both here. Even though the book jumps around in time periods, it's not a distraction or confusing as sometimes happens. 

I found two distinctly different covers for this book. The one above shows one of the paintings and the one below pictures Claire's studio. That is the one I like best. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Goals, Plans and Wishes

When I first started writing, I wished a lot. I wished I could be a better writer. I wished that I would be published soon. Then when it happened, I wished that it would continue on a regular basis. I wished that I would gain a following of readers. I wished that I might win an award for one of my stories.

Wishes do come true, but wishing alone doesn't make it happen. You can make a list of Writer Wishes that spreads from here to there but that isn't going to ensure success. Sadly, we don't have a Writer Fairy who makes wishes come true for us. Oh, that we did! I'd talk ever so sweetly to her, send her little gifts, praise her to the skies. 

This is what my Writer Fairy would look like. Notice the expression on her face? It's as if she's telling me to get my own writer's life. I can almost hear her saying It's up to you, Honey. Wishes don't rain down like leaves in the fall you know. 

If she and I could sit down and have a cup of tea and some fairy cakes, I think she'd counsel me. She might hand me the poster at the top of this page. Read this and absorb she'd say as she nibbled at the tiny pink cake. Then I'd get 'the look' again. This fairy definitely has an attitude.

Three things you can do to become a successful writer:

1. Set a goal

2. Make a plan

3. Carry out the plan, step by step

I know that list is pretty general. It's up to you to add the sub-sections to it. You each have different goals, you'll each have a different plan, and every one of you will carry out the plan in a little different way. The main thing is to do it. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Treasure Found

Catherine Cookson
Catherine Cookson

On our last full day in England, my friend needed to get some things at the grocery store, so while she was doing her shopping, Ken and I and our host, Mike, took a walk through the small village shops nearby. I was merely window shopping and enjoying the sights of the 4 bake shops and 2 butcher shops along with the clothing stores. I didn't expect to end up finding a treasure but that's what happened.

Mike, our host and good friend, loves books as much as I do so he's always looking for new and used books wherever he goes. Most English towns have several charity shops--secondhand goods--that are for sale. The profits go to support a particular charity. I assume the clerks are volunteers much like in our country where thrift shops are often run by churches. 

We popped into to two of them and then a third. Scanning the bookshelves, I let out an audible gasp when I spied a set of 10 paperback books written by one of my favorite English authors, Catherine Cookson. The books were in a gaily decorated heavy cardboard box, one of those sets that publishers sometimes put out. I ran my finger across the titles and realized I'd read about 4 of them but the rest were new to me. Many of Catherine Cookson's books have been publsihed in the USA but not all of the 110 she wrote over her career. 

The woman was a master storyteller who grew up in a working class society of middle England. Her older sister, Kate, was actually her mother, although she did not learn that fact for a long time. Her stories are not suspense or action thrillers, not adventure nor murder mysteries. Instead, they are about people and the things that affect their lives. Her characters are so real that the reader feels like part of the story and as if they knew the people personally. She makes you cheer her protagonists and boo the evil ones. 

I knew that I had to purchase the set of books to take home. I figured I could leave the 4 titles I'd already read with my friend, Mavis. That meant I needed to find a place for six paperbacks in our luggage. No problem, I told myself, being the always optimistic me. I paid the L4 price and clutched my treasure down the street and back to the car. L4 came to 40 pence per book--a pittance, even with the exchange rate of $1.52 to the pound.

I did manage to find room for all the books and they are now stacked on my desk. The hardest part is to choose which one to read first! You might like to read more about this English author and the stories she wrote, many of which were turned into films and TV movies. Google her name or read here. There is also an Amazon author page.

A simple stroll brought me a delightful treasure.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Finishing Our Trip to England

Today is our final day in England. We fly home tomorrow morning, leaving the Humberside airport at 6:10 a.m.
That means leaving the house at 4:30 a.m. to go to the airport. An hour flight to Amsterdam, then a 5 1/2 hour layover, long overseas flight to Detroit, another layover of 4 1/2 hours and then a flight of one hour to Kansas City. We plan to stay overnight at a hotel and drive home on the morning of July 4th. This all means a short night for us tonight and a very long day after that.
We've enjoyed our time in England visiting friends from South Africa. We know one another well and feel very comfortable with each other. Last week, we traveled together to Cornwall, which is a lovely area on the far southwest of England. The weather was sunny but cool, no rain.
Each day, we headed a different direction from our hotel to explore the area. Land's End was just what it sounds like! Great viewing point for the Atlantic Ocean and the inevitable shops that draw tourists like flies to honey. Another day, we visited another ocean viewing point called The Lizard. This was far better, I thought. High, rugged cliffs and clusters of huge rocks below with the ocean waves beating against them. Here is the kind of spot many authors add to their books set in England. There were a few shops here, too. A tea room and a tiny, tiny gift shop which was closed. But there were two craftsman shops where men were creating lovely pieces of useful items out of the serpentine rock native to this area. I bought a small bud vase which will hold my miniature roses nicely when we get home.
One day, we spent a long time at the Eden Project which was a very interesting environmental spot. This group supports recycling and saving our world. We walked through a huge rainforest with tagged plants, then a Mediterranean walk showing the plants and flowers from that type of climate. Several spots to eat while enjoying these places. Another phase was the science part of the project. These three places were housed under huge bubble rooftops that resembled huge golf balls. And of course, there was a giant gift shop at the end with all kinds of recycled items.
We stopped to tour many small towns on the coast, most of which were built on steep hills. It's fun to wander thorugh the shops and see what those from another country have to offer, to spend time in the bookshops browsing through the papers and books.
Another day, we drove to Falmouth, a port city where we spent a long time going through the Maritime Museum which was so well done. And oh yes--it had a shop, too.
We've done a great many things here in 2 weeks and will go home with a new set of memories and a mental file of stories to use in my writing.
Hope to post again on Friday when we are home in Kansas. As much as I've savored our time here, I'm looking forward to being home again.