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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Do You Write Halloween Stories? Or Read Them?

Vintage Hlloween Postcard

Today is a holiday that the vast majority of people enjoy. Not me! Never have and probably never will. You can read my personal essay published a couple of years ago about my Halloween confessions here

Because I don't have a great love for Halloween, I have never written a story with that theme, other than the one mentioned above. Who writes scary monster stories? The people who count the days until October 31st, that's who. Drive around your community and see how many houses are now decorated for this holiday. I must admit, some of it is very cleverly done. I have a pumpkin on my front porch and will happily open the door to the trick or treaters tonight, but I'll just as happily turn off the porch light at nine and breathe a sigh of relief. 

I do love Christmas and Valentine's Day and any holiday stories I have written involve one or the other. It's a whole lot easier to write about a subject you like than one you don't. I'm sure there are writers who would rather climb a mountain than write a love story for February 14th. 

We read books in the genres that most appeal to us. I'm not a Stephen King fan because his kind of story doesn't appeal to me, but I do admire the way he writes. I prefer historical fiction over science-fiction when I'm searching the library shelves for a book to take home. So guess what? I'm going to write historical fiction, not futuristic tales. 

Writers will write the kind of things that appeal to them personally. If you happen to be a writer who is freelancing and looking for assignments from editors, then you may not have that privilege. Instead, you are going to write about all kinds of things whether they appeal to you or not. But which one do you think you will have the most passion for when you write? Certainly the topics that you like best. I have a feelilng your best writing is going to come with those subjects, too. 

No one genre or subject is better than any other. The only important thing is that you are writing what appeals to you and the markets you seek will be those that publish the kind of story you write. 

Meanwhile, Happy Halloween to those who love this day. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Passion Is A Plus

I live in a university community, and like so many others here, I’m a big fan of Kansas State football and basketball. One Saturday night a few years ago, our basketball team played the #1 team in the nation which also happens to be our in-state arch rival. Ah yes, the mighty KU! Year after year, they have beaten us, but occasionally we step up and surprise them. And this, we thought, would be the year it happened again. The fans were in a frenzy after being on ESPN Game Day earlier that morning. 12,500 screaming faithful in what is now termed the Octagon of Doom. Which translates into our 8 sided basketball arena.

That season, our team scratched its way into the Top 25 rankings, moving all the way up to #11 in one poll. We beat Texas who was #1 at the time. We beat Baylor in their arena and we had a team that believed they could win.

One player in particular played with such fervor that the other players followed him like the Pied Piper. Jacob Pullen, a junior guard from the Chicago suburbs, had the passion needed to be a winner. He played his heart out. He and his teammates didn’t win every game. That day they lost to KU by 2 points in overtime in what has been hailed as one of basketball’s truly memorable games. The loss was disappointing, but it wouldn’t dampen the passion Jacob displayed in every game. I knew that he’d show up for the next game with the same drive as he had in the previous one. He knew you don’t give up, you keep going. If you sit down and nurse your wounds, feed on your heartbreak, the rest of the world will pass right on by. I felt certain that if  he carried this trait into his post-college world, he’d do just fine.

Writers who have continuous passion for what they do are going to find success much sooner than those who feel it only sometimes. It’s a kind of magic when you can write with passion day after day. The passion seed is planted, and it grows little by little until it becomes a part of who you are.

Why do some have it and others don’t? I’m not sure I have the answer, but perhaps it comes from desire and goals they strive to attain. How badly do you want to be a successful writer? Are you satisfied writing a daily journal that no one else sees? Or do you want to write words that you can share with the world? Jacob Pullen wanted to take his team straight to the top, and he kept working in every practice session and every game to achieve that goal. Will you? Are you willing to make a total commitment to being a writer? 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Editing Process Polishes Your Work

Look at this stairway of famed books for children. I counted 13. That means 13 authors wrote a first draft. Undoubtedly, 13 authors edited that first effort once, twice, and even more times. Rare as a red rose in the snow is the book manuscript that stands ready to be published on its first writing.

I've often made the comment that the writing is easy while marketing your book is the tough part. Well, that was said with several grains of truth, but let it never be said that writing is easy. Anyone who has tried it will attest to that. I'm a person who likes to get a project done and then move on to the next one. I could do that when making a quilt or sewing a dress for a little daughter but not so with my writing projects. Those must be revisited many times before I can call them finished. Don't forget to let the project simmer a few days or more before you do the editing. That's key to the process.

Newer writers might wonder if editing their work means only checking for typos, punctuation, misspelled words and proper capitalization. While all those things should be looked at, there are others to be added to the list.

1. repetition:  This is bigger than you think. When I critique in my online writers group, one of the things that jump out in someone else's story is repeating words or ideas. If you use the same word in two consecutive sentences or, gasp, even three, you risk boring your reader. It may sound foolish but it's true. Same with ideas that are repeated even though you may use different words. Most readers will pick up on the fact that you're telling them the same thing twice. Writing book authors will tell you not to do it, they'll say you must respect your reader's intelligence.

2. sentence length:  When you look at your first draft, pay attention to how long or short your sentences are. Too many lengthy ones make the reader wear out and maybe even give up reading. Alternate short sentences with long ones, and I don't mean exactly every other one. Do consider tossing in a short sentence between a couple of long ones. Occasionally, a writer will use several very short sentences together for emphasis, and that's fine. There are exceptions to every rule or method. Think about those many short sentences in early reading books. As an adult, they'd irritate you if all the sentences were only a few words each.

3. clarity: When I write a story, especially a memoir piece, I know exactly what the situation was, I know the backstory, I know the setting. Readers do not know these things so you must be certain you write in such a way that all those things are clear. As you journey through the editing process, ask yourself if things are as clear as they should be. This is one thing that having another person go through the manuscript is invaluable. Anything not clear will jump out at them immediately. A good case for editing on your own, then asking someone else to do another edit.

4. unnecessary words:  Once upon a time, I was dubbed the Queen of Unnecessary words. I awarded myself this honor (or dishonor) early in my writing world. In the first online critique group I belonged to, using too many unnecessary words was the item marked most by those who critted my work. The moderator of the group did not use the finesse others did when pointing it out. She acted like a mother who had been disobeyed and read me the riot act more than once. It was good for me as the importance of not using words like just, very, that is, why, who is, which was and others (depending on where they land in your sentence) appeared very clear. By getting rid of these redundant or superfluous words, your remaining sentence will be much stronger. We use a lot of those unnecessary words when we speak to one another, but in our writing we need to be more concise.

5. passive verbs: Watch carefully for overuse of passive verbs--those that show no action--words like was, is, are. They're used by a lazy writer. Make it a habit to find active verbs, words that show us what someone is doing. Jump, run, batted, smashed, darted are words that bring the reader an instant mental picture. They are also far more interesting. I once pointed out in a critique that the writer had used a passive verb in every sentence in a lengthy paragraph. Boring! Practice using active verbs and it becomes a habit.

These are only some of the things to look for when you do an edit. Plot changes deserve another special editing process. Doing the ones I've listed will strengthen your writing, will make it more interesting to the reader, and make it more likely to be published.  

Writing is a step by step process. If anyone ever told you it happens easily, don't believe them. Capture the publishing prize by working through the process until you deem the work ready to market.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Talk To Your Friends

Daisy and Donald may be considered a couple, but you know what? I think they are also very good friends. They have been friends for a good many years, have smoothed out the bumps along the way, and would probably stand up for one another in any argument.

I've been thinking a lot about friendship this past weekend. A longtime, good friend of mine died Friday morning of an aneurysm. So unexpected and such a shock to her family and friends. She went to bed on Thursday night just like always, woke up Friday morning and never even had time to leave her bedroom before the tragedy occurred.

And so friendship has taken a major place in my thoughts these last couple of days. I asked myself why I'd never told her how much I admired her for so many qualities? We laughed together, commiserated over other friends' problems, dined together, played cards together, chatted on the phone for a lot of years. But not once did I tell her all the reasons I cared about her as a friend. I didn't tell her how much I admired the way she entertained others, the intelligent thoughts she had on world affairs and politics, or her ability to laugh at so many things that others might only shake their heads about. I admired the fact that a stay-at-home mom took it upon herself later in life to get a master's degree and ended up teaching at the college level until she retired long past the normal retirement age.

So, instead of talking about our writing world today, let me suggest that you let your good friends know how much they mean to you. Let them know what it is that you admire about them. Do it before there is no time left in which to do so. If it's too difficult to say it in person, write it down and send it to them.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Assignment? Imagination!

Let's finish the week with a writing exercise using the picture above. It's a place called Howard Arms in a small village in England. It's a pub with B&B rooms on the top floor. No elevator, one must haul the luggage up the steep stairway.. We had a wonderful dinner here one summer evening, enjoying not only the excellent food but rubbing elbows with local folk. There was a chill to the air that night and the roaring fire in the large stone fireplace proved very welcome. The well-worn tables and chairs proved inviting and comfy.

I've given you the setting and the picture. For this exercise, you create the characters and the situation using this pub as the place of action. If you would like to share what you've written with me and our readers, I'd be delighted. Add it to the comments section and I promise to respond.

Work on it today or over the weekend. Make your effort light and humor-filled or dark and eerie. Will it be the beginning of a Halloween tale or one of frivolity? Use your creativity to the fullest here. You are in control.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Couple of Problems

I have a  couple of problems. First, the stack of books waiting for me to read is growing considerably larger day by day. An author sent me three of his books this week. I still have four of the six Catherine Cookson books I bought in England in early July, the book for my November book club meeting sits unopened in the living room, and there's another stack of books I purchased at a discount publishers clearninghouse several weeks ago. Add a few others that I ordered at Amazon a month ago and the stack is near to teetering over at any minute.

Second problem is this--which one shall I read next? The answer to that is easy. It has to be The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin because Book Club meets the second Tuesday in November and I would like to be able to understand and add to the discussion. But which one after that? Maybe I should put them in a scattered circle on the floor, close my eyes and pick the one my hand finds first. How's that for not being scientific? Maybe I'll look over the assorted titles and pick the one that appeals most on that particular day. 

Do you gather books like kids use to save baseball trading cards? Do you have stacks of books in the living room, bedroom, office and even the kitchen? I can't think of anything better to collect than books. Oh, they do need a bit of dusting now and then, especially the ones sitting on the shelf for a very long time. Do you feel guilty for having too many books? Especially a large number of ones you haven't read yet? Don't! I hereby forgive you for doing so. For me, and other avid readers, there can never be too many books. 

I have friends who cannot pass a bookstore without stopping just to look a bit. To a book lover, that look can be dangerous. To look is to want. To want is to purchase. To purchase is to add to your big pile of books at home. But believe me--you could do much worse with a collection habit than with books. There are people who collect old cars or antique tractors. Think of the storage problem they have. With books, you can always, always find a spot in your house to put them, even if they do rise like a stack of children's blocks. 

So go ahead and buy books. They inform, entertain, soothe the soul and are just plain wonderful. You'll always be able to find a spot to put them even if you have to build an addition onto your house.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Something To Include In Your Family Memories Book

Fox News posted this photo on facebook this morning. The royal baby that so many waited for this past summer is to be christened today. Prince George, pictured with Mum and Dad, looks pretty calm for such an auspicious occasion. 

For those of you who are Christians, have you written about the day each of your children was baptized? Those special moments deserve space in your Family Memories Book. Even if they happened many years ago, I'm willing to bet each mother and father still have a clear memory of the day. Don't each of your children deserve to have a written memory of that day, too? 

Perhaps other religions have a similar day--maybe a dedication ceremony of some sort. If that's the case, you could write about that special time in your child's life. Some Christian denominations do not have infant baptism, but you can still write a fine story about the baptism of a son or daughter who is approaching or in their early teens. 

My son was born in early February, and his Baptismal Day was March 10th. We had given a lot of thought as to whom we would ask to act as his sponsors, or godparents. An older couple who were good friends to us became Kirk's godparents that day, and what a good choice we made. They were a very special part of his life for a long time. Grandparents, aunts and uncles came to share the day with us. One of Ken's brothers and family got lost on the way to the church and never made it to the service. I kept turning around hoping to see them come down the aisle of the church after the service had started. No such luck. We never saw them unti we arrived back at out house for the big dinner afterward. As I think about it now, many more little details come to mind. I haven't written the story for my son yet, nor one for my daughter, but it's going on my To Do List right now.

Karen was born the end of November and her Baptismal Day was December 26th. I didn't need to look up the dates, as they are etched into my memory even these several decades later. Karen's godparents were the same as Kirk's. My friend offered her own christening dress for Karen to wear. She said she'd wished she had thought of it for Kirk's special day, too, but at least one would get to wear the beautiful long white gown. I was thrilled to use it but also terrified the baby would spit up formula all over it. She didn't but it I still worried. Once again, family and friends were invited to this day after Christmas event, but our crowd dwindled one by one as a virulent flu bug was making the rounds at that time. Our phone rang several times that day with cancellations. The main characters for this event all made it, however, and our little girl was duly baptized in her godmother's baby gown. Again, there are more details I can add when I write this story for my Family Memories Book. 

Hopefully, my memories here might trigger some of your own. If you haven't already written a story like this for your own book, maybe it's time to do so. Let's hope Kate will write a story for Prince George to read many years from now. Then again, maybe she'll just have to clip several out of the UK newspapers. One of the perks of being a celebrity! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

You're A Committee of One

The header on my blog mentions that I am here to give tips and encouragement for writers. To be honest, some of the things I write that do so helps me as much as it does some of my readers. Writing about things I believe in my writing world is a good re-enforcement for this writer.

We've talked myriad times about what rejection feels like, what it does to our ego, and how to deal with it. Today's poster kind of sums up my advice in a smattering of words. I could write an entire lengthy essay on the subject but the little girl on the bike captured it well. Even so, I'm going to expand a bit more on what is said in the poster.

There are so many aspects of our writing world. At times, it seems like the actual writing is miniscule in comparison to the other parts we deal with on a regular basis. Look at the things we have to do once the initial writing is completed:

1. editing
2. revising
3. finding a market
4. writing a cover letter or query
5. the infernal waiting period
6. the request from an editor to rework parts of the story
7. the rejection
8. additional rewriting
9. resending the story to another market
10. when a story is published, getting the word out to readers
11. writing another story

The key phrase in the poster is ...have faith in what can be. Don't waste your time and energy on what has happened in the past. Concentrate on today and what the future can bring. That doesn't mean you can sit on your duff and wait for good things to happen. It's you that create what that future will bring. It's you that has to have that patience and perseverance to make the future satisfying. It's you that has to constantly improve your writing and it's you that must deal with the 11 points listed above. 

Nobody is going to do any of this for you. You're a committee of one. So, call a meeting with yourself and see what you can schedule for the near future. Have faith in yourself and see where it takes you.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Reading Is A Blessing

I gravitate toward any type of poster or quote that involves reading. I have always been a reader, ever since those first grade Dick, Jane and Baby Sally books enthralled me. Once I'd mastered those, I took off like a jackrabbit in an Arizona desert. My family didn't have extra money to purchase books so I learned early on to be a library patron. That practice carried on throughout my growing up years and adulthood right on into these senior years I'm living now. I do purchase books now but a good percentage of what I read comes from my local library.

My parents did subscribe to the Chicago Tribune and I learned to read it, too. My dad often bought a copy of an evening paper that he read on the train as he journeyed home every evening after work. I remember that it had strange creases in it as people who read on the commuter trains had to fold the paper in lengthwise sections to read it so they wouldn't disturb the person in the next seat. You have to read the newspaper to stay informed is what my dad told us many times, and I still believe that today. Maybe not only the newspaper in our present world, but we do need to read and stay informed. It might be online or in a paper copy or even watching the TV news shows.

In my youth, I read magazines ranging from Highlights for Kids to movie magazines and an occasional True Romance if I could manage to bring one home and keep it hidden from my mother, who did not approve. I read Life, The Saturday Evening Post and skimmed through an occasional National Geographic. When I married, my magazine choices changed to Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day and Family Circle as well as Better Homes and Gardens. Now, I take a lot of magazines that deal with food, health and travel. I find taking a break by reading a magazine to be relaxing as well as informative.

I read several newsletters each month--from my church, the hospital auxiliary, my husband's cardiac care quarterly, the Friend's group at our library, and several geared to writers that I read online.

I nearly always have a stack of books waiting to be read. When I've whittled it down to one, I begin to panic. I can't imagine my life without a book to read. So, it's then I'm off to a bookstore or the library to replenish the pile. The TV is on every evening in our house, as my husband is a big TV watcher. I am usually watching with one eye and the other on a book or magazine. I do concnetrate more on what I'm reading than what is happening on TV.

When we travel, one of the most important items I pack is reading material. Books and magazines accompany me. I have not purchased an ereader as yet, but I keep thinking it would be great to take along on a trip. So, it may be in my not too distant future.

Writers are readers. That's a safe statement to make, I think. I know a lot of writers and I know of only one who is not a reader. Why she does not read the work of others is a puzzle to me. I feel like all writers gain a lot of writing knowledge through reading the works of other writers. You may learn what you should do and perhaps what you should not do, as well.

Occasionally, we read news stories about someone or a group of people who never learned to read for various reasons. Illiteracy is found around the world, more in some countries than others. Because I love reading so much, it hurts me to learn of those who have never had the joy of reading a book, magazine or newspaper. I consider the ability to read one of my greatest blessings. How about you?

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Book Recommendation

Jessica Dotta and the cover of her book

You may remember the Tea Party Book Launch promotion that my friend, Jessica Dotta, sponsored to introduce her debut novel Born of Persuastion. Jessica was in my online writers critique group several years ago and I had the pleasure of meeting her in person at our group's conference last April. I was so impressed that this young woman had written not one, but three books to make up a trilogy. Self-described as being part Jane Austen and part Bronte's darkness, the tidbits I learned about the book during the conference intrigued me.

Me getting ready for Jessica's Tea Party--with a little photo shop addition

Jessica cleverly organized an online Tea Party to launch her book. It was a lot of fun with a new prize drawing each day for a full month. Since I didn't win a copy, I ordered the book from Amazon a few weeks ago but hadn't been able to start reading until this week. Historical fiction is my cup of tea (couldn't resist, sorry!) so I felt pretty sure I would like Jessica's book. She hooked me with chapter 1 and kept me turning pages far later at night than I'd like to admit. I seldom read during the daytime, but I found myself sneaking an hour after lunch to read a few more chapters. Oh yes, it's a definite page turner. Is the book for everyone? Probably not, but if you like the kind of stories that Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters wrote, like historical fiction and Gothic mysteries, then I guarantee you'll enjoy Born of Persuasion. Besides being a good story, it's beautiful prose. Jessica most definitely employs a bit of magic in the way she puts words together. 

There are so many twists and turns as the story progresses that I found myself changing my opinion of the various characters. One minute a character had my sympathy, and the next, I felt angry or frustrated by that character. Then doubt moved in and I decided maybe he/she was alright, after all. Exactly as Julia Elliston, the heroine, feels as she tumbles through a myriad of complexing situations.

You can read the editorial and customer reviews on the Amazon order page. Gift-giving time is just around the corner. At less than $11, this would make a nice gift for someone on your list. The second book in the trilogy is due to be released during summer of 2014. I know I'll be watching for it to see what happens next. Am I going to start liking some of those despicable people again or not? I know this fine author will keep me on a carousel of doubt as I read the second book. Maybe not doubt as much as she will keep me changing my opinions and turning those pages. I feel quite certain of that.

Amazon's synopsis is reprinted below to give you an inkling of what the story is about:

The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Can You Write A Story?

Last evening, I subbed in a dinner/bridge group at our club. It was an evening of things happening that were not scheduled, nor expected. Someone running down the hall asking for a doctor, then another looking for the defibrillator, of which no one knew the location, an ambulance screaming up the big hill where the club sits, a friend being tended to by EMTs on the floor in the dining room, a fire engine blocking the way when I wanted to go home. When things had settled down and I made it home, the first thing I did was to sit down in the living room and tell my husband the story of all that had occurred. Yes, I told him a story.

At that point, I wasn't completely sure my friend was alright, but this morning the good news is that she is in the hospital and doing fine. They think she had a severe allergic reaction to something she ate. I had not gone to the dining room where she was being treated because I didn't want to add to the chaos, but I prayed for her all the way home.

There definitely is a story in all that happened that evening, and of course, my first inclination when I arrived at home was to tell my husband the tale. It had a beginning, a middle and an end, although not a very satisfying ending at that point. It had tension. It had emotion. It had sensory details. It was not just idle talk, the ..words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences part of the quote in today's poster.

How many times have you come home to tell your spouse or parent or whoever is at your house a story about what happened that day? If your listener doesn't turn around and walk out, you are able to tell a story that captures their attention. So there is no reason why you cannot also write a story. I could write the story that happened last night in much greater detail because I lived the story, I remember the concern on everyone's face, I remember feeling several emotions. When you write the story, you don't want to only 'report' it. That would be the stringing words together in logical sentences method. Tell the story as it happened remembering all those tools that help you make it a real story--emotion, sensory detail, building up the tension and more.

A website I frequent is uses the same quote every day. It says Everyone has a story. What's yours? Some of the stories posted at Our Echo are fiction while many others are nonfiction and even poetry. If you're not sure you can write a story, read a few. You can probably write as well if not better than some that are posted, while others are so well written that you can learn something from reading them.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Is Writing A Lonely Life?

There was a time in my life, when I was very young, that I had a problem being alone. I'm a very social being and have always thrived on having people around me. Maybe it comes from growing up in a family of six in a small 2 bedroom apartment in a very large apartment building. I was never alone. Consequently, I never learned to appreciate time by myself. 

When I became a mom, there were moments when I craved nothing more than being alone. Loved my kids with every fiber of my being, but they were always with me. When my youngest child went to first grade, we had a problem early in the year. She cried every morning, didn't want to go to school. I worried that some terrible kid was giving her trouble, the teacher was too strict or something along those lines. One morning, as she cried and resisted leaving, I sat down and pulled her onto my lap. I held her and rubbed her back and talked with her. I finally asked her to please tell me why she didn't want to go to school. Her answer floored me. Because I don't want you to be alone. I couldn't very well tell her that I looked forward to those few hours alone each day. Not sure what I did tell her but the problem was solved and never came up again. 

When I started writing, a good friend of mine said she didn't know how I could be a writer because it was a lonely life. You're such a social person, Nancy, she said. But that has never been a problem. I now crave time alone to write. When I'm writing, I never feel lonely in any way. 

If you are a writer, enjoy the time by yourself that writing affords you. You need to be alone while you write. I'm sure there are mom writers who write with kids pulling on their arm or leg asking for attention, but for most writers, they can manage time alone to pursue those thousands of words that make up a story. Maybe it's one reason that the advice is given about getting up an hour earlier than anyone else in your family so that you'll have time alone to write. Or stay up an hour longer than anyone else. 

Savor those moments when you and your pencil or computer keyboard are the only ones that count. Make it a time to just be you--a time when you create. You have no need for anyone else in those periods. I'm grateful that I've learned to enjoy my time alone. I'm still a very social person but I can do both with ease at this stage of my life. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Birth Day Story For My Family Memories Book

Jordan--age 10

Happy Birthday to my granddaughter, Jordan, who is 10 years old today. I've been thinking this morning about the day she was born. Her mom called me very early in the morning, before I was even out of bed, to tell me they were on the way to the hospital. Being their first, I figured I'd have plenty of time to get there, despite the 2 hour drive, before Baby made her appearance. 

I arrived at the hospital around 9:30 that morning and shortly after, the other grandmother came to wait with me. The grandfathers were a different story. One was on a business trip and the other said he'd be there later (my husband). So, there we sat, two grandmothers, spending the morning talking about all kinds of things. I think it was the time when she and I got to know one another very well. Her son, my son-in-law, popped into the waiting room every now and then to give us an update on the labor progress. I'd stopped to see my daughter when I arrived, just to let her know I was there. Then I left the two of them alone. Part of me wanted to be with this child of mine for the birth and part of me wanted the two of them to share this experience alone. It was enough that my daughter knew I was only steps away in the waiting room.

Around noon, the elevator doors opened and out stepped three of Karen's good friends, two had been bridesmaids at her wedding a year and a half earlier. They were more nervous than either one of the grandmothers. Finally, they had to go back to work. Minutes after they'd left, Steve strolled into the waiting area, and I do mean strolled--acting so nonchalantly. Holding out a camera to us, he said, "Do you want to see her picture or meet your granddaughter in person?" 

We two grandmothers jumped to our feet and sped down the hall to the room where our new grandchild waited. Hugs and smiles, pictures and chatter--we were all on a high at that moment. Even Karen, who'd done all the hard work, looked joyful, yet content. In minutes, Ken walked through the door. He'd missed being there for the birth time, but he got there to see his newest grandchild. The other grandfather was on a plane back to Kansas City later that afternoon, and he met Jordan early that evening. 

Turns out that Ken delayed in coming to the hospital because he wanted to be there "when it was all over." Coward! Still, his happiness was as great as what the rest of us had. 

And me--I called my mother soon after the birth to give her the happy news, not realizing that I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I could not get the words out. My poor mom was far away, holding onto a phone with no one able to speak on the other end. I managed to tell her that the baby had arrived and Karen was fine, but after that, the emotion welled up and I could not speak for the lump in my throat and tears that streamed. Relief and joy intermingled at that moment. When I finally managed to get control, the great grandmother and I had a good talk. 

Jordan has been a light in our lives for ten full years. The sunny, fall day that she was born will continue to be a forever memory. One that will go into the family stories book for her to read many years from now. Maybe someday, she'll write a family memory story of her own about something she did with her grandparents. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Where Does This Path Lead?

The Road to Where?

What a perfect picture for a writing prompt. Look at it carefully for several minutes. Don't just glance at it. Take time to study the picture. Where is that road going to take you? Are you happy about walking on beyond what you can see? Or are you fearful of what lies in wait for you? 

Try to use lots of sensory details when you write something prompted by this gorgeous fall scene? Look at the sky, the leaves, the bare trees, the fence and the path itself. How does the air feel? Does it have a chill to it or is it a warm Indian Summer day? The picture lends itself to some great descriptions as you travel on to whatever is at the end. 

Are you alone or with one or more others? Will it be a memory from your past or something brand new? Is the story going to be happy, scary, or sad? 

Don't start writing too soon. Give yourself time to concentrate on the picture, to let it penetrate into your mind. Monday is a good day to try a writing exercise. Maybe it will inspire your writing for the remainder of this week. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

How Do You Look At Life?

I couldn't resist this beautiful blushing rose with the positive message it bears. The flower and the color are positives in themselves, even without the words of wisdom. This one comes from a facebook page called Daily Dose.

I've always been a person who prefers concentrate on the good things in my life and tried to push the negatives into a corner where I don't need to look at or deal with them. I know people who prefer to live doing exactly the opposite. They dwell so much on the dark parts of life that they never let the sunshine of the good things come through. I think it's pretty obvious which kind of people have the more satisfying life.

Sure, bad things happen to all of us but rather than sink into them, I try to deal with it and move on. I also have learned over the many decades of my life that some good comes from all bad. Sounds crazy to some people, but you can always find a kernel of goodness or hope in every difficult situation. Sometimes, you have to look pretty hard to find it, but I assure you--it's there. 

How do you view life's ups and downs? Something to ponder. Perhaps something to change in your life. Change is never easy but it can be so very beneficial if you stop resisting. Whether it's in your writing life, your family life, in a relationship or anything else, you hold the key to making things more positive. Try it and see if what the rose above tells us is true. Meanwhile, have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Self-editing--Not So Much Fun But....

A South African writer friend posted the quote above on her facebook page. It seemed to be a perfect fit with yesterday's post on being willing to edit your work when an editor asks. Richard North Patterson, novelist, gives writers a reason to do a lot of editing before ever submitting to an editor/agent/publisher. 

We may feel a great deal of satisfaction when a first draft is completed. We read it from start to finish and sigh in relief that it's finished and we like what we've read. But wait! How many times have you heard me say to put that first draft on the back burner and let it simmer for several days, or even longer? (The answer to that question is "Lots!")

When you read that initial draft a week later, it most likely will not be nearly as wonderful as you'd felt at first. Suddenly, the mechanical errors begin to wave red flags at you. Certain things in the story are not clear to the reader. Why didn't I see that before? you ask yourself. Maybe the pacing is off. Maybe there is a better way to finish the story than the one that satisfied you so much at first reading. 

Editing is not always glamorous, nor is it fun, but it's a necessary tool for every writer. I take that back--the part about it not being fun. I know more than one writer who truly enjoys editing, although it is often other peoples' work that they are editing. But most writers don't classify editing as one the things in life they enjoy most.

If you do a good job of editing before you submit, you are less likely to have an editor ask you for changes or to be rejected because there are too many questions, too many mechanical problems in your story. Consider self-editing step one in the submission process. Work at it until you get it right--until you feel completely satisfied with the end result. If you're not, then it's time for another edit. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

When An Editor Asks....

A Kansas Sunset

You can't change a sunset like this. No editing in nature. But you can change, or edit, your writing. You can do it before you submit your work to the eyes of an editor, agent, or publisher. You can do it after one of them asks for some changes in what you've written.

Recently, I sent a story for children to an editor. She wrote back that she liked the story a great deal, even pointed out the specific thngs she liked, but she didn't like the way the story ended. She invited me to work out a new ending and resubmit. 

It took me awhile to come up with a different conclusion for the story. Maybe it was because I liked the original ending and didn't really want to change it. I woke up in the middle of the night a few days later and before long, a new ending came to me. I wrote it the next day, waited a day until I was satisfied with it and sent it to the editor.

Within a short time, she contacted me with an offer to purchase, saying she thought the new ending was great. Well, guess what? I still like the original ending best, but if I want the story to be published, it's going to have to be with the new version. 

What should you do when an editor asks you to change something in your submission? You have options:

   1.  You can flatly refuse and submit elsewhere
   2.  You can argue with the editor to show why you want it left as is
   3.  You can agree to do the revisions and resubmit

If you choose either 1 or 2 in the list above, you risk cutting your connection with that editor. You may be labeled as an 'uncooperative writer.' That editor may or may not want to see more of your work. That would depend on the type of individual they are. If you have a longstanding relationship and suddenly decide to not give in to the editor, you may still come out OK. But it's possible that you'll be burning your bridges behind you. Still, it's your choice. 

Selecting number 3 may make the editor happy, probably makes publication more certain. If you can do this, you'll probably come out ahead, even though you might still like the version you wrote first better. Keep the goal of publication in mind. 

The funny thing about my story that ended up with a new ending is that I had entered it in our state authors contest with the original ending. It won first place in the Stories for Children category. Same story, two versions and yet both came out winners in their own way. 

Before you decide whether or not to go with an editing request, give it some thought. Don't say yes or no in a hurry. We all have immediate reactions to such a request, but take the time to look at it from several angles. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Some Talented Young People

Photo: A career high is when children I've mentored to write place in the prose/poetry state Kansas Authors Club contest and their families bring them all to Wichita to accept their awards. They are now published!
A Few of the Medal Winners with a Mentor

We hear so many negative things about our youth in the TV news and in the newspapers that one begins to lose confidence in the newer generations who will be the ones in charge in later years. But then, in an unexpected moment, my faith in the youth of our country is raised as high as a flag on the 4th of July. I had one of those moments this past weekend.

Our Kansas Authors state convention opened with a bang Friday evening. Parents and students from first grade through seniors in high school gathered from all areas of our state in a large meeting room for the Youth Contest Awards Ceremony. They had been notified that they were a winner in a writing contest but they didn't know what they'd won.

Two of our members sponsor the contest annually. Bill Karnowski is a poet and sponsors his Poetry Contest for Youth. Kris Polansky's contest is broader, incorporating poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Mentors, like Ronda Miller in the picture above, as well as teachers of all grades suggest that their students send in an entry. The entries arrive from different parts of our state and then the judges begin to sift and sort through them. 

I've been a judge in the nonfiction category twice now and truly enjoyed reading the entries. Some are humorous while others are serious and may tug at the heart a bit. Some are hard, cold facts while other entries make use of the creative nonfiction method. Some are short, while others are lengthier. Some have perfect grammar and mechanics while others flounder a bit with things like punctuation. Nevertheless, the children are writing and that is what is most important. Many of the entries are outstanding. The variety of subject matter is of interest to me and probably the other judges, as well.

The first part of the Friday night gathering was to give the children an opportunity to read their poem, story or article to the audience. Most of them were eager to read while a few others were too shy to do so. The audience, made up of family, members of Kansas Authors Club, and a few teachers or mentors, listened attentively. When the students read, they had no idea what place they'd won.

That knowledge came during the second part of the evening. When a name was called, necks craned to see what part of the room a child would pop up from the chair, then all watched them march rapidly to the front to accept a certificate for Honorable Mention and a certificate and medal for the top three places in each category. They each received a printed book of all the winning entries. Big smiles and sparkling eyes were a treat to witness. 

The evening finished with cake and punch for all. As I watched these talented children of a wide range of ages, I couldn't help but think that maybe there is hope for this old world, after all. Some of these kids had written with maturity and insight beyond their years. I have a feeling that many will continue in a creative endeavor as they get older. 

Mr. Karnowski made a statement in his comments to the children that I am certain they will not forget. He held up the book that inlcuded their stories and poems. "Your work," he said, "is in this book. You are a published writer."  I hope that many will be published multiple times in their future years.

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Amazing, Glittery Day

Awards Ceremony

If you read last Friday's post, you know that I spent the weekend in Wichita at the Kansas Authors state convention. The Youth Award Ceremony on Friday night was awesome. I was so impressed with the many young winners, enough so, that I will write a separate post re same later. 

Saturday was a full day of workshops, every one I selected was a winner. I had to choose one of three running at the same time and it wasn't always easy to narrow it down to only one. There were four sessions so I ended the day with my head swimming with information. We all relaxed at the banquet that evening.

Sunday morning, I was a panelist of one for a discussion session on the past, present and future of our 109 year old organization for writers in Kansas. The convention concluded with the Awards Luncheon at noon.

After we ate, contest awards were announced. Kansas Authors runs an annual state contest for both members and nonmembers, offering several categories in both Poetry and Prose. The two people who manage the contests usually stand at a podium and read the names of the winners. This year, it was upgraded a notch or more. The man and woman who were contest managers entered on a red carpet wearing evening dress clothes. Suddenly, everyone sat up and paid even closer attention. 

A large screen showed the names and titles of the winning entries in each category. As the names were called, the people walked the red carpet and gathered at the front of the room. At that point, the Poetry Manager, Ronda Miller, announced the Honorable Mentions and third, second and first place. 

For me, it turned out to be an amazing day. Four of my five entries in the Prose contest placed. I received 2 First Honorable Mention, a third place and a first place. So, I had to walk that red carpet four times. But when all the certificates and checks had been distributed, a new award was announced. They had selected the Prose Writer of the Year and the Poetry Writer of the year.

I was in a state of shock as I walked that red carpet once more after my name had been announced as Prose Writer of the Year. Roy Beckemeyer, a truly fine poet, won for Poetry. Ronda handed each of us a sparkly crown to wear and then she reached into a large plastic bag and showered us with glitter. Again and again! I was covered with tiny turquoise stars from head to toe. I felt truly honored to receive this award and very grateful.

But the amazing day was not finished yet. I won a drawing for a $50 Target gift card. 

It was a day filled with surprises and one that left me feeling very, very happy. On the drive home, I couldn't help but think that I must get some new stories written just to live up to being selected as Kansas Authors Prose Writer of the Year. I finally got all the glitter out of my hair in the shower this morning, but I'm still glowing inside from my amazing, glittery day.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thoughts On Attending My State Authors Convention

Our Town, 2013 Kansas Authors Club  Convention
My Weekend Destination

This afternoon, I'm driving to Wichita, Kansas to attend the Kansas Authors Club state convention. Last year, my district hosted the annual event and I had a lot of responsibilities. I was happy to do it, but this year I can be there as only an attendee and enjoy all of it without the weight of hosting sitting on my shoulders. 

The logo above shows the theme selected for this year. Our Town--It's Not On Any Map---True Places Never Are is also the theme for one of the contest categories. I entered five categories in the prose and poetry contests but, try as I might, I couldn't come up with anything for the theme category. It pays the biggest prizes so is well worth being a winner. I'm sure many others did write something for this category. I'm looking forward to hearing the titles when they are announced at the Sunday Luncheon. 

The first few years that I entered the state contest, I didn't win anything. As I honed my writing skills, my contest entries began to place and I've even been fortunate to win 1st several times. I won 1st in the theme category one year for a poem about Kansas. That was really a thrill, particularly so, since I have no formal training in writing poetry. Any poem I write comes from the heart and maybe a bit of instinct. 

I have been a member of Kansas Authors for 15 years but this will only be the 4th convention I've attended. Not because I didn't want to. The date for the meeting is always the first weekend in October and K-State more often than not has a home game at the same time. Going to those games with my husband has been a priority for me, because I think it's important that we do things together and this is one activity we both thoroughly enjoy. So, I put my guy first and my writing convention second every fall. I'm delighted when I can manage to get to the meeting.

Tonight, the first event of the convention is an Awards Ceremony for Youth. Two of our members run a Prose and Poetry contest each year for young writers from 1st through 12th grades. The winners are invited to attend tonight's ceremony with their family. It's a thrill for the young writers and their parents and will leave a lasting impression of the writing world on them. Some of these young writers do a really fine job. I've served as judge a few times and have been so impressed by some of the entries and also totally disheartened by others. 

Later tonight, there will be a Read Around for those who care to participate and just a gab session for others. Tomorrow, workshops will run all day long, 3 at a time. That presents a problem in that I must choose only one for each time slot and looking at the program, I know that will be a hard task. A banquet is on schedule for tomorrow evening with a Keynote Speaker--Marci Penner, author of 8 Wonders of Kansas Guidebook. Sunday morning, there will be a Devotions time for those who wish to attend, a business meeting and two discussion groups. I will be the Leader of the one that is titled "Past, Present and Future of Kansas Authors Club" Like most groups today, we need new and younger members to keep this 109 year old organization alive and well. We're very much alive but I'm not sure how much longer that will be the case.

Sunday luncheon will conclude the convention. It is after the meal that the contest winners will be announced. We'll all head to our various homes around the state with new goals and ideas for new stories to write. Motivation places high on the list of convention benefits.I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and making some new ones, also to meeting writers I've met online but have not in person.  I'll report on the weekend next Monday, so be sure to check the blog that day.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Trap The Reader

The poster quote above has a glaring typo or misspelled word in line 5, but the substance of what Marileta Robinson says is worth our time to read and consider.

I liked the idea of snaring the reader and keeping him trapped within the story until the end when we will let him go. It's what every writer should aim to do with the story they write. Doesn't matter if it's fiction or nonfiction. Our aim is to pull the reader in and keep him there until we are finished.

I had just such an experience earlier this morning. I read a revised chapter 1 of a novel a woman in my critique group is workin on. She had submitted the chapter a week or two ago and received plenty of crits with lots of suggestions. To her credit, she took those suggestions to heart and reworked the chapter, then submitted it to the group last night. I began to read and was soon swept into the story which is set in Venice. Before I knew it, I was eager to keep reading to see where these characters would take me next. She had captured my interest and held it to the very end of the chapter which left me wanting to turn the page.

Alas and alack! I have to wait until she subs chapter two, and it could be another week or more. That's one of the drawbacks of reading a novel, chapter by chapter, in a critique group. With the first submission, I had mild interest but with this new one, my desire to read more raised considerably.

Within this first chapter, I learned where the story takes place, I was introduced to four characters, one of them only minor but serving a purpose. I gained some background about two of the characters, and an event took place that will feature greatly in the overall story, or so I believe. Cheers for this author! I must say, however, that so far, I am not admiring any of the main characters, would not be on their side yet. Note I said, yet because I am hopeful that at least one of them will change in some way before the end of the novel.

Think about one of your all-time favorite books. Why is it a fave? What did the author do to capture your interest and keep it in your memory for many years? Find a copy of that book and read it again, but this time read it with the eyes of a writer. Figure out why the book is on your Favorites list. Then strive for the same kind of thing in your own writing.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Second Home

The Morning Pages I wrote today triggered a wonderful memory of the way I was introduced to the library when I was a small child. Thanks to my mother who took me to our local library to get my own card when I had learned to write my name. That was the requirement to be eligible for the library card. I once wrote a memoir piece about that time in my life and the subsequent years of loving the library. I'm going to post it here for you today. Maybe it will trigger fond memories of your own.

My Second Home
by Nancy Julien Kopp

In addition to my regular residence, I have a second home. My mother
introduced this special dwelling to me when I was only six years old.  She held my hand, and we walked several blocks in warm autumn sunshine, stopping only when we approached a square brick building. Graced by trees and shrubs and a patio-like courtyard, it had a certain elegance and air of importance that I recognized, even at so young an age.

We entered the building and stepped into a cool, quiet atmosphere. The first thing to meet the eye was a large, wrap-around desk that extended across the entryway. A stout woman stood behind the desk, gray hair severely drawn back and caught in a small bun. No make-up adorned her face, and there wasn't a smile there either. I moved instinctively closer to my mother, my hand nestled in hers, until I looked up into the woman's eyes. What I saw made me smile at her.  Blue eyes, the shade of cornflowers, sparkled with a smile of their own, softening her otherwise stern appearance. Soon, the smile in her eyes spread to her wide mouth.
"We've come to get a library card," my mother announced. The woman had the application card ready in a flash and passed it over to me to sign my name. I proudly printed it for her and slid the card back across the desk. Not only could I sign my name, I could read, as well. Dick and Jane and their dog, Spot had shown me the way.

"All right, Nancy," she said as she read from the form, "come with me."

She came around the desk and offered her hand, saying, “I am Miss Maze.” I grasped the hand this corseted woman in the black dress offered. My expectations were great, and I was not to be disappointed, for this kind woman led me to the Children's Department and patiently showed me all the books that stood on shelves like soldiers at attention. She spoke with wonder and awe as she explained the kinds of books that rested before us, making me eager to read every one.

It was a land of enchantment, a ticket to exotic places.  My mother and Miss Maze introduced me that day to the fascinating world of books and libraries, and thus began a love affair that continues to this day. I became a voracious reader and still am.

I was the child whose nose was always in a book. When old enough, I walked to the library alone at least weekly, sometimes more than that. I strolled past the conservatory that was home to a tropical rainforest, then on by a city park, across the railroad tracks and down a cinder path that ran behind the train platform. By the time I reached that cinder path, my pace increased, even though I carried a stack of books. I was in a hurry to reach the riches awaiting me at the library.

The grade school I attended had a separate library, which we could use when we reached fourth grade. I visited it regularly but also continued going to the public library. I felt at home in both places and felt much the same when I moved on to the high school library, then one on my college campus.  The libraries provided necessary information for all the papers I wrote during those years, as well as hours and hours of entertainment, as I read book upon book. The building I had frequented near my home during my growing up years was renamed when my old friend, the librarian, died.  The South Branch became the Adele Maze Branch Library, and every time I saw the plaque bearing her name, I thought of those cornflower blue, smiling eyes, and her kindness to me and other children through the years.  How I wish I could thank her for what she gave to so many.

During the years since I left my home community, I have made a habit of making a visit to the library one of the top priorities whenever moving to a new place. Within the first week, I have fled the packing boxes and sought out what has become a second home to me. Over 45 years of marriage, we have lived in five different towns, and, in all of them, the library has been a sanctuary and a haven.

Now, when I open the big glass door to my local library and walk through the atrium to the book-lined shelves, I feel just like I did when Miss Maze took my hand and led me to the children's books. I am happy and contented, as though loving arms have surrounded me with a great big hug. Best of all, I still feel an exciting anticipation of the unknown treasure waiting for me amongst the volumes that line the shelves in my second home.
I am so grateful that I had a mother who led me to one of the greatest treasures in my life, the public library.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

It's All Yours, Now Do Something With It

Month number 10--it's here. Brand new and shiny. What are you going to do with it? 

Take a look at the month we just finished before you decide. Did you have some goals for September? Were you going to get busy on some writing projects that you'd put off over the summer? Did you manage to do so? Did you submit anything to an editor or publisher? Did you read a new book about the craft of writing? 

Some of us will have positve answers to what we accomplished in September and others will sit with regret as their companion today. But not to worry. As I said, you have a whole new month ahead. Start by making a list of the goals you'd like to achieve in these next 31 days. 

Then you might write something to add to your Family Memories Book. It's a good way to get your writing world in tune. Include some or all of the following:

1.  What was the weather like where you grew up in October?
2.  What special things did you do in school?
3.  How did you celebrate Halloween?
4.  Did your school celebrate any other October holiday, like Columbus Day?
5.  Did your mother make special foods in this fall month?
6.  Did your wardrobe start to change?
7.  Did your family burn the fallen leaves they raked into a big pile?
8.  Did your family have any religious holiday celebration in October?

If we put off starting on our goals, the days tend to slip by like rushing water in a river. Once the day is gone, we can't retrieve it. Use your days wisely this month.Let the writing begin!  I started my month by writing the Morning Pages we've been discussing recently. It helped me decide some of the other things I'd like to do this month. There's more in my life than writing, but it definitely merits a gold star as to what I consider important.

Yep, you've got 31 beautiful days to work with in October. It's up to you what you do with them.