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Friday, November 29, 2013


We're traveling home from our daughter's home today. No new post today. You're probably all out shopping on this Black Friday anyway.

New post on Monday. Enjoy the rest of this holiday weekend.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

To My Readers On Thanksgiving Day

When I made my list of things I'm grateful for on yesterday's post, I left off one that is very important to me. I saved it for today. My faithful readers here are one of the really big things I'm thankful for in my writing world. Without you, there would be no reason to spend time writing this blog five days a week. 

I appreciate those who read regularly, especially those who have signed on as a Follower, and those who take time to make comments on an occasional post. My thanks to all of you. 

A Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you. May your day be blessed!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fifteen Blessings In My Writing World

This is the week we're all suppose to be thankful, to ponder on the positives in our lives. Today, I'm going to list some of the blessings in my writing world.

I'm grateful for:

1. my online critique group--writersandcritters.

2. the many friends I've made through my writing endeavors.

3. the many times my work has been published.

4. the rejections that make me take a good look at what I've written.

5. having always been a good speller,

6. understanding grammar and its importance in writing.

7. the myriad books I've read about writing.

8. the writing conferences I've been able to attend.

9. my blog.

10. the authors who have asked me to read and review their books.

11. knowing that I must continue to learn and grow as a writer.

12. the many fine editors I've had occasion to work with.

13. the fact that story ideas keep coming to me.

14. seldom having to deal with Writer's Block.

15. being able to write in more than one genre.

A Memoir Book I'd Recommend

Product Details

A few weeks ago, an author wrote to me and said he'd like to send me three of his books. Being the reader and interested writer that I am, I accepted with pleasure. T. L. Needham didn't ask me to review any of the books, just said he'd like to send them. Within days, I'd received When I Was A Child, Pesky Poems, and Kitty Claus. The first is a memoir, the second a book of poetry and the third a Christmas story for small children. 

I've read all three now but the one I want to talk about today is the memoir. To begin with, the title of the book intrigued me as did the cover. Was this a memoir of the author's childhood and no farther into his life than that? The cover also showed 4 awards the book had won:

1.  Finalist USA Book News Best Book Awards
2.  Bronze Readers Favorite Award
3.  2013 Global Book Awards--Gold Medal History/Nonfiction
4.  2013 Global Book Awards Honorable Mention Best Book Cover

I was surprised when I started reading that the memoir is not about the author at all. Instead, it centers on his uncle, Louis Pfeifer. The story begins during theAllied invasion of France during WWII. Louis is a paratrooper who lands safely only to soon be captured by German troops. He spends the remainder of the war in a prison camp. The story jumps back and forth from that period to Louis's childhood which is filled with tragedy, sadness and, in spite of it, great bonds of love amongst his siblings. They all grew up in Hays, Kansas and the surrounding area. Louis's mother froze to death in a blizzard when he was only two years old, the youngest child in the Pfeifer family. His sister, Jerry, only a year older, became his protector, The close bond they formed during the tragedy lasted a lifetime. The family went through Depression era troubles, tornados, deaths, incest, a court trial and more. Louis and Jerry spent time in a Catholic orphanage while the older siblings found themselves on their own at very early ages. 

I started the book late one evening and was hooked so quickly that I stayed up too late that night. It's a fascinating story. Terry Needham does a fine job in moving from the WWII prison camp to the flashbacks of Louis's growing-up years. He weaves the two seamlessly and it is easy to see why the book one the Reader's Favorite award. 

I had one minor criticism, which doesn't take the reader out of the story at all. Some of the information is repeated when it's not necessary to do so. The reader would remember what is being told more than once. Believe me, it is a small flaw in a fine book. 

I write short memoir pieces but would like to do a booklength memoir someday. A good way to do that is to read other memoir books to get a good feel for the ways in which they can be done. If you have any interest in writing in this genre, I'd recommend this book. And if you never intend to write a memoir at all, I'd still recommend When I Was A Child as a fine read. It held my interest from start to finish. You can read more about it at Amazon. My thanks to Terry Needham for sharing his family's story with me.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Thanksgiving Family Memory Story

Thanksgiving week is here, and so it's time for a memory story that comes back to me every November. It's about a holiday when I was Grumpy Greta for a rather foolish reason, but there is a happy ending. Do you have any holiday birthdays in your family? Write about them for your Memory Book.

The Girl Who Has Birthday Cake and Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving of 1971 found us living with a bit of uncertainty. I was expecting our youngest child, and the due date fell only 3 days after Thanksgiving. That meant we wouldn’t be traveling to either side of our family for the holiday, and I also didn’t want to invite any of them to come to our house in case the baby arrived early or, Heaven forbid, on Thanksgiving Day. I had visions of stuffing the turkey while timing contractions. No, that would not work.

My husband suggested we go out for dinner to a lovely restaurant about 15 miles north of our town. “It’ll be nice for the three of us to have dinner out on a holiday for a change.” I wasn’t convinced but knew it was probably the best solution.

Thanksgiving Day arrived, and our house had no good smells coming from the kitchen. No roasting turkey scented the air. I couldn’t detect any cinnamon and pumpkin from the pies either, for there were none. It didn’t feel right, and besides that, we would not be with any of our family. It made me sad, and as the day progressed, my sadness swelled almost in proportion to the great mound of stomach that let the world know we’d soon be parents again.

I helped Kirk get dressed. He was three and a half but still liked help from Mommy. I wished a little of his excitement would transfer to me. I tried to put on a cheerful front. No sense in ruining the day for my husband or son. I managed to do that until we walked into the restaurant, which had once been a Victorian home. Elegant furnishings, crystal, china and linens on the tables, along with Thanksgiving centerpieces should have been the first thing I noticed. Instead, I saw only the many people either eating or getting ready to eat. Still holding Kirk’s hand, I turned to my husband and said, “What are all these people doing here? They should be eating at home!” Obviously, my vision centered on only one thing that day.

The hostess escorted us to our table, and we had a sumptuous meal. I think Kirk and Ken enjoyed it more than I, since the baby chose that time to practice somersaults so it was hard for me to concentrate on the fine food on my plate.

The next day, there were no Thanksgiving leftovers at our house, and the day progressed like any normal Friday. I stayed home all day, no Christmas shopping like other Thanksgiving week-ends. And the sadness of the day before refused to disappear. It enveloped me from head to toe. Pregnant women are known to be emotional, and I surely was all that holiday week.

In bed that night, I lay awake a long time thinking about the new baby. We’d lost both our first and third babies when they were still infants, so there was a little anxiety mixed in with the hope of having a healthy baby this time, just like Kirk had been. I’d felt very positive all through this pregnancy, but a tiny bit of fear still lingered. My nightly prayer centered on having a healthy baby, boy or girl didn’t matter.

Shortly before 2 a.m. a strong contraction woke me. I slipped out of bed, not wanting to wake Ken until I knew I was really in labor. By 2:30, I knew it was for real, and Ken was up and dressed. He scooped our sleeping little boy into a blanket and placed him in my arms in the front seat of the car. Good friends, alerted by a phone call, were waiting as we pulled into their driveway to deliver Kirk into their care. Then it was on to the hospital in the darkest part of night. It began to snow as we made our way through quiet streets.

Karen was born later that morning. When I held my baby girl with her small amount of golden hair and big blue eyes, all the sadness and grumpy behavior of the earlier few days melted away. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that we’d not seen our families on Thanksgiving Day. It didn’t matter that we’d eaten a holiday dinner in a restaurant and didn’t have any savory leftovers the next day. All that mattered lay in my arms—a healthy and beautiful baby girl for us to love.

Some years, Karen’s birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day. So, we have birthday cake and pumpkin pie at our Thanksgiving dinner. Even when the birthday falls on a day prior to or after the holiday, we still have birthday cake and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving as that is when we come together as a family. When she blows out the candles on her birthday cake, I think back to that Thanksgiving so long ago when I created my own problem and the great joy I received only two days later.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving Story For Kids--Little Ones and Big Ones

Today's post is a Thanksgivng story I wrote for a children's magazine. It was published several years ago. Children's magazines are always looking for holiday stories. They are overwhelmed with Christmas and Halloween tales so look for another holiday on which to center your kid lit story. The odds of it getting accepted will be much greater. But send it many months prior to the holiday. Now, here's my story aimed at middle grade kids--8 to 12 year olds. But maybe you'll enjoy it, too.

A Feast For Oscar

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Turkey!” shouted three boys in the back row of Miss Edwards’ fourth greade class.

“What else?” our teacher asked.

“How abour sweet potatoes and cranberries?” Melissa Martin asked.

We were listing foods people usually eat for Thanksgiving. Thinking of all those good things made my mouth water and my stomach growl like a hungry lion. I raised my hand and waved it back and forth so Miss Edwards would call on me.

“Yes Tim,” she said.

I added my Thanksgiving favorite. “How about stuffing for the turkey?”

Nearly everyone in our class named something—everyone except for Oscar Livingood.

Miss Edwards strolled between the rows of desks. “Oscar, what will you have for this special dinner?” she asked.

Oscar ducked his head and mumbled words that sounded like, Cereal, I guess.”

The class roared with laughter. I laughed long and hard at what Oscar had said. Oscar was a real comic.

Miss Edwards held up her hand for quiet, then asked Oscar, “Are you sure?”

Oscar kept his eyes on the desktop. “Pretty sure. That’s what we have most nights.”

Miss Edwards patted Oscar on the head and returned to the front of the room.

We waited. What would she say now?

“Take out your English books and turn to page 67.”

That was it. She never mentioned Oscar’s strange remark. Instead, she erased the long list of foods on the chalkboard and the subject of Thanksgiving dinner was dropped.

I walked home from school alone that day. I couldn’t stop thinking about Oscar. The guy had a funny name and it sounded like he ate funny, too. Maybe he wasn’t trying to amuse us, maybe he was serious.

I ran into the house letting the screen door slam behind me  I cringed and waited for Mom to yell “Don’t slam that door!” but she didn’t say a word. She was at the kitchen table writing.

I grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter and peered over her shoulder. “Hey Mom, what are you doing?”

She smiled but kept on writing. “I’m making a grocery list for Thanksgiving. There are so many extra things to buy when you create a super-duper, fantastic feast like we’ll have next week. Your Gran is coming and so is Uncle Pete.”

I said, “Get lots of good stuff. I’m saving up to eat enough for two people.” Mom’s list included all my favorites—turkey, cranberries, pumpkin, potatoes and sweet potatoes. On and on it went. “Yum, I can’t wait for Thanksgiving.”

“We have a lot to be thankful for ,” Mom said. “Not everyone can afford to buy all these extrea things for a holiday dinner.”

Her comment made me think of Oscar, and I didn’t like the picture forming in my mind. Would Oscar and his mom sit at their table with nothing but two bowls of cereal? I shook my head a little to clear the picture away and went upstairs to start on my homework.

The next day I watched Oscar Livingood. He needed a haircut and his clothes looked pretty worn and raggedy. Most days, Oscar faded into the background  because he didn’t have much to say.Maybe that’s why I never paid much attention to him before. Now, all I could think of was the bowl of cereal he’d eat for Thanksgiving dinner.

On Monday morning, Miss Edwards announced that the class would make up a basket of food for a needy family for a class project. By the day before Thanksgiving, cans and boxes rested in the basket our teacher had provided. Even Oscar slipped a can of soup in with the rest. Miss Edwards would add a turkey at the last minute.

We held a drawing to determine who would go with the teacher to deliver the basket. I drew one of the lucky tickets, and so did Oscar. After school, we climbed into Miss Edwards' van.  She stopped at the market to pick up the turkey and we were off to visit the family whose name had been given to us. They kenw we were coming, but even so, their faces lit up with happiness when they opened the door. The mother and father thanked us over and over, and three little kids fingered the big basket.

On the way home, I said to Oscar, “It’s good to help people who really need help, isn’t it?

Oscar grinned and pushed his long hair off his forehead. “They’ll remember this Thanksgiving for a long time. They’ll know somebody cared.”

Suddenly, the bowl of cereal popped into my head again. “Oscar, who are you going to be with tomorrow>”

:Just my mom.”

That night I tossed and turned in my bed while I dreamed about giant boxes of cereal marching in a parade. When I woke up, I knew what my plan for the day would be. First, I’d talk to Mom and Dad and tell them about Oscar and his mother. Next, I would walk down to Oscar’s house and invite them to join us at our dinner table.. I wanted him to know somebody cared about him, too. Oscar was not going to eat cereal on Thanksgiving Day.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Put One Foot In Front Of The Other and Climb

I love this picture and the quote. We do know that few, if any, people zoom to success like an elevator goes from lobby to the penthouse floor. Even if that was possible, think of all the fun you'd miss along the way. None of the irritations nor small joys that a writer meets on that arduous journey, none of the things that helps a writr earn his very own merit award.

I think it's better if we make our way one step at a time, even if the stairway seems endless at times. Yes, we have lots of little irritations as we plod from one step to the next one. We have to carve time from our already-busy lives so that we can write. We must write first drafts, then revise and revise yet again. We submit the same story to multiple editors hoping one will love it.

We have to receive rejections and then make adjustments so that the next editor will not reject the story you thought was great. On yet another step, we need to learn how to handle criticism when we put our work in front of another writer and ask them to critique. Each one of these things help us grow as a writer.

One more of those steps in that long, long climb is to write something that truly satisfies you. How many times do we write something that we think is pretty good, then a week later, we read it again and throw up our hands in disgust. Why did I ever think this was good? you ask yourself. But when that one story you write makes you feel like you've done a great job, it's worth all the ones that made you want to lose your lunch.. It's like trying on umpteen dresses in a department store and not liking any of them until...until you slip one over your head and look in the mirror and you know. This is it! We do know when we've written something good.

What about the many small successes a writer achieves in the writing journey? Maybe it's something published in a nonpaying market, but it's published. Or perhaps you establish a rapport with an editor who likes your writing and will publish anything you send in. It does happen. Each time we receive an acceptance, it's another small success.

Don't look at that long stairway as a detriment. Instead, consider it a blessing to be able to make your writing journey one step at a time. Once you reach the top, you'll appreciate being there ever so much more. Maybe it's one more thing to be thankful for next week.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Thanksgiving Memory Story

I have a few Thanksgiving stories that I've written over the years which I'm going to share with you every few days this week and next. Hopefully, it may trigger some memories of your own that you can write and put into your Family Memories Book

Turkey in the Raw
By Nancy Julien Kopp

One Thanksgiving dinner stands out in neon lights in my memory bank. It can bring a blush to my cheeks, even forty-one years after the fact.

My husband’s father passed away in the spring of 1972. I knew the first holiday without him would be difficult for my mother-in-law. She had not been adjusting well to a life without her spouse. What better way to help our children’s grandma through Thanksgiving than to gather her three sons and their families at our house for the day? Five of the seven grandchildren were preschool age, and two were slightly older. The house would be filled with children playing, adults talking and the soothing balm of a turkey dinner. We’d make this a good holiday for Grandma. I issued the invitations via phone and began to plan a special day.

By Thanksgiving Day, I’d baked and done the pre-cooking. Now the turkey, filled with a moist sage stuffing, roasted in the oven. White potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and a green bean casserole were close to being ready. Nutmeg and cloves scented the corner of the counter where the pumpkin pies cooled.

“When do we eat? When do we eat?” the kids pleaded more than once.

I consulted the scrap of paper where I’d jotted down the amount of time the turkey needed. “Pretty soon,” I told them.

The aroma of the roasting meat added to our hunger, and I placated the entire clan with sodas, juice and appetizers and some adult beverages.

Finally, it was time to take the turkey from the oven, and what a beautiful bird it was-- big, browned, and beckoning. I called my brother-in-law, known as “Best Carver in the Family,” to the kitchen. One sister-in-law mashed the potatoes, while the other made the gravy. Toddlers scurried around us yelling, “Is it time now?” My husband and his oldest brother were glued to a football game on TV. Grandma sat stone-faced on the sofa, bent on feeling sorry for herself and being as miserable as she could on this day when we were gathered to count our blessings and spread a little love. Chaos was beginning to form here, and I began to feel a little flustered.

As I was trying to move the little ones into the family room, my brother-in-law uttered words that sent a chill straight to my bones.

 “This turkey isn’t done. It’s raw in the middle.”

Silence suddenly reigned. No one said a word, but all eyes were on me. The unspoken question “Well, what you are going to do now?” reverberated in my head.

So what does a person do with a partially cooked turkey, side dishes ready for the table, and a houseful of very hungry people? I flew into action. First, I put the cover on the roaster, popped the bird back into the oven, and turned up the heat. Lids went on the already cooked dishes, and we fixed hot dogs for the children, who probably enjoyed them more than the big dinner anyway.

An hour later, we resurrected the turkey, reheated the side dishes and sat down to eat, minus hot-dog stuffed children. The seven adults gathered around our dining room table ate to satisfaction and then some. The children appeared like magic when the desserts were served. Grandma managed to eat her dinner and join in on the conversation, not exuberant but not crying either. I hoped she counted her blessings, for many of them sat nearby.

I’d sensed complete disaster when I knew the turkey wasn’t cooked through, but in the end the family togetherness took precedence over all other things. I’d planned the day so that Grandma would be surrounded with those she loved, and it didn’t really matter that I’d miscalculated the time for cooking the turkey. But I’ve never forgotten it, and every now and then, the story of turkey in the raw generates laughter and some good-natured teasing—one more bond within our family.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Give Thought To Selecting A Title

T  I  T  L  E  S

  A lot of writers can turn out essays or short stories of a thousand or more words in record time. But then they find themselves stumped. What shall I call this? The writer tries one title, then another, and goes on to create several more before settling on one.

Something that should be so simple is often the hardest part of writing your story. The title is what hooks the reader. It needs to be catchy, relatively short, but also indicative of what is in the story or essay. It shouldn't be boring. It shouldn't be too cutesy. It shouldn't be blasphemous.

One of the women in my online writers group has revised a personal essay several times She doesn't want to submit it anywhere until it is polished and satisfies her and the other writers who have been critiquiing it. She finally has it almost ready to go except for one thing. The title! She's tried a number of different titles, some vetoed immediately by those who have been critiquing the piece from the beginning. Others were considered to be so-so. Not terrible but also not terrific.

What should her title include? It can be something that reflects the theme of the essay. Or a short piece of dialogue that is central to the theme. It might show what lesson was learned. It might ask a question that will be answered within the essay itself. She could pull a phrase from the essay that shows enough to hook a reader.

Never pick one title and go with it. Play around with several titles. Line them up and select the one that stands out for some reason. If you keep returning to one of the titles, there is a good chance that it's the best choice.

Should you ever use a person's name as a title? Sure, why not? Think about the books that have become classics that use this kind of title. Hickleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are good examples. Both were written by Mark Twain. He chose simplicity rather than catchy. Each book was about the person whose name became the title. If you see a book or story with only a person's name for a title, aren't you going to be a little bit curious? I think you'll wonder what kind of problem and solution will there be for that person. So, your curiosity may need to be satisfied and that will happen when you read the book.

Consider the titles John Grisham used on his books. Most are very short. The Firm and The Litigators and The Racketeer and Calico Joe and The Client. If you read the entire list of his works, you'll find that nearly all are very short titles. The author wants you to see that short title and ask yourself what is there about this title that piques your interest. I think those two words will do exactly that.

How about Katherine Stockett's bestseller The Help? Short but it makes a browser want to know what about the help. Who are they? What will happen to them? Two words can create several questions in a reader's mind.

When I select a title for my blog posts, I often pose a question. I think it tells the reader that there is something to learn here.

Picking a title for your writing is not an easy task but it most assuredly is an important part of the whole piece. Don't grab for a title in a hurry. Give it some thought.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Creative Nonfiction?

Nonfiction reminds me of the old Dragnet TV show of many years ago. Sergeant Friday was famous for interviewing witnesses to a crime and saying "Just the facts, ma'm, just the facts." Or "Just the facts, sir, just the facts." That's what we get with pure nonfiction. Just the facts!

Creative nonfiction is still 100% factual but it uses fiction techniques to convey those facts to the reader. This style of writing true stories brings the facts to life through the use of dialogue, storytelling, and emotion. The stories in anthologies like Chicken Soup for the Soul or Not Your Mother's Book on... are creative nonfiction. Readers are able to relate to them because of the human side of the tale.

Last week, I read My German Christmas written by Ursula Turner who was born in Germany but has lived in the United States for many years. She wanted to write a book that let Americans see what a German Christmas was like. She could have written it as straight nonfiction but she chose to show readers the Christmas customs by writing a memoir piece about her childhood, her own family, and the customs they followed in Germany. I learned about more than just the traditions people in that country follow in the Christmas season. In addition, I was treated to a look at German family life and to the personality traits of a little girl named Ursula and her family. The author included poems, legends, true stories and even many of her own mother's recipes for special Christmas treats. It was a delightful read.

Why creative nonfiction? To me, it's a no brainer. I find that learning facts through this type of writing is painless and also far more interesting than the factual straight nonfiction which feels more like a textbook. I can be as entertained by creative nonfiction as I can when I read a novel or a fiction short story. I'm reading (or writing) a story that is truth but if done well, the reader will react emotionally. It's pretty doubtful any reader of straight nonfiction is going to get choked up, laugh or sigh when they read.

We classify personal essays and memoirs as creative nonfiction. A memoir that listed a person's life year by year using only events that occurred and omitting story techniques would probably be boring, not a bestseller and not recommended by readers. It's basically a report. Writing a memoir or personal essay as creative nonfiction makes the story live, allows the reader to get to know the characters and, I think, be more memorable.

NOTE:  Last Friday, I posted a picture for a writing exercise but told you nothing about it. You might like to know that it was taken in Cornwall, England in a place called The Lizard because the rugged coastline resembles that reptile. I'm curious to know what kind of stories you came up with when using the picture prompt.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Where In The World Is This?

Where in the world is this?

Let's finish the week with a picture prompt exercise. This is a photo I took this past summer. I'm not going to tell you where. In fact, this time I'm not going to give you any information about this place at all.

Study the picture and try to imagine where it is, who might show up and what they are doing. Then start writing and see what comes of your creative thinking process.

I like picture prompt exercises. I also like looking at a painting in someone's home or a hotel lobby and trying to create a story to go with whatever the picture portrays. Try it sometime. You may be surprised what comes from your picture-gazing.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Putting Words In Your Characters' Mouths


Last night Ken and I went to a dinner/theater in suburban Kansas City. The New Theater is known for excellent buffet dinners and plays that bring a smile to an audience's faces. Each of the 5 or so offerings over the year have a celebrity star accompanied by the local cast. This time, the pla was "Never Too Late" which starred George Wendt and his real life wife, Bernadette Birkett. You may remember Wendt as Norm in the top-rated TV sit-com, "Cheers." We enjoyed him in the play just as much as we did in every TV episode.

The play centered around a middle-aged married couple who suddenly discover they are going to have a baby. Add a 25 year old married daughter and her husband who lives with them and it's a great situation for fun and frolic. Sharp dialogue moved the play along so rapidly that it surprised me when the end arrived. Seemed way too soon. 

As we drove back to our hotel, I thought about the importance of dialogue. In a play or screenplay, it's the whole story, along with some stage directions. There are no descriptive paragraphs to read. The backstory must also come through in the dialogue. The characters need to speak in short enough sentences to sound like conversation, not an essay they are reading. They need to use conversational language, not poetic prose as we do in books or short stories. In a play, dialogue is IT!

But what about when we are writing a short story, a novel, or even a creative nonfiction story? Dialogue plays a large part here, too. Rather than having the author tell us how someone feels, dialogue can be used to show the reader how the character feels or acts. It also makes the story realistic and allows the reader to relate to the characters.

The editors of creative nonfiction anthologies, like Chicken Soup for the Soul books, urge writers to include dialogue in the true stories they submit. Anyone who wants to be successful with this publisher will make sure some dialogue is in each story they send in. No dialogue in what you submit? That is a good way to find your story rejected in a hurry.

Are there rules or recommendations when writing dialogue? Absolutely. Go to our favorite search engine and use keywords like writing dialogue and spend some time reading the articles that pop up on the subject. Writing snappy or humorous or deeply meaningful dialogue takes some talent. Oh sure, we can all write what our characters have said but that conversation can turn out to be incredibly boring unless you pay attention to what you make your characters say. 

Dialogue is only one of the tools a writer carries in her/his bag of tricks. Pay attention to it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Are You A Secret Writer?

I read something most interesting on a facebook post by The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life and I'd like to share some of what I learned with you. Yesterday marked the anniversary of the publication of the first book of poems written by Emily Dickinson. The year was 1890. Her sister, Lavinia, found hundreds of Emily's poems after she had died. They were stitched together in satchels and stored in camphorwood chests. 

Apparently, the young poet, who lived from 1830-1886, had kept her work hidden and asked that her poems be burned upon her death. She seldom left her home, spent much of her time writing poetry and left approximately 1800 poems. What a blessing for all of us that her family did not heed her wishes to have her work destroyed. Instead, they set about having the poems published. Before publication, it is said they were heavily edited. 

Selected poems of Emily Dickinson can be read here.

What a tragedy it would have been if Ms. Dickinson's sister had heeded her wishes and burned all the poems that the poet had saved. Emily obviously placed some value on them or she'd have torn them to pieces right after writing them. What kept her from wanting to share her work with the world? Shyness? Self-doubt? Selfishness? Fear? Low self-esteem? We'll most likely never know the answer and it may have been a combination of several of these traits. 

It makes me wonder how many people are what we might term "secret writers"--those who write only for themselves. The question for me is why? One of the reasons I write is to share my thoughts and stories with others in hopes that it might please, inspire, inform, or help those who read my work. I learned only this evening that an article I had written in an American Lutheran magazine had somehow reached the home of a couple in Rey, Guatemala. What they read in that article inspired them to give support to a mission school in their country.What if I'd written the article and never attempted to have it published? What if I'd added it to all the others in the large binders I keep and never shown it to anyone? 

If you have work that you've never shown to anyone else, have never attempted to submit to an editor, give consideration to doing so. No, all of us will not attain the greatness of Emily Dickinson, but we have no idea to what heights we can climb unless we are willing to share our writing with others. If you find the thought of showing your work to others frightening, start with a trusted friend or family member. And whatever you do, don't destroy what you've written. We are sometimes poor judges of our own work. Others may see what we write in a completely different light. Instead of being a secret writer, share your work with others. Let your light shine!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

You Might Like This Book

                                                                          Henry Mazel

I read the short stories of Henry Mazel a number of years ago at Our Echo, a website where writers can post their work. No worries about submitting and waiting for acceptance. Anyone who has a desire to post a story, essay, poem or musing can participate. It stands to reason that there will be many different levels of writing ability in this kind of venue. For me, Henry stood out as one of the more professional writers who always wrote stories that held my interest. He writes well with doses of humor scattered throughout, along with interesting facts of earlier eras. You can find a list of links to the stories he shared at Our Echo here.

A few months ago, I saw on facebook that Henry had published a novel called Red Chrysanthemum. The title and book cover both intrigued me. When I learned that the story was set in Occupied Japan immediately after the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII, I knew I wanted to read it. For several reasons. I like stories set in that era, I like novels that give a good historical picture of the WWII period, and I had gotten to know Henry through some story comments we left for one another and a few emails so I wanted to read his book. I purchased it on Amazon. And then it sat in a stack of books I had acquired but not had time to read.

I took Red Chrysanthemum with me when we drove to Dallas late last week. I read in the car both directions and finished the book just in time to devote my full attention to the fantastic fall scenery in the Flint Hills as we neared home.

The book is historical fiction, a detective story, and a love story woven into the mystery that Lieutenant Alex Rada falls into through his job in post-war Tokyo working as a translator for the Army. Rada is a wise-cracking disgraced ex-cop partenered with a Japanese man who works for the Occupation forces. It's a fast paced, easy read if you like detective stories. We get glimpses of what Occupied Japan was like immediately following the surrender, we see the softer side of Rada when he falls in love with a half-Japanese woman who is part of the mystery. A novel like this is a painless way to learn a history lesson. Anyone who lived through the 1940's will enjoy the celebrity names tossed in here and there. Many brought a smile as I remembered seeing or hearing them (movies and radio) in my growing-up years. There are political and military figures that will be familiar to readers, as well.

The author included a glossary of people and terms as well as a bibliography of books with information of that same period in time. A nice surprise in the middle of the book is a group of  photos taken in Occupied Japan.

If you like history and detective stories with a love interest, then you'll probably enjoy reading Red Chrysanthemum. The cover itself is a draw. My husband noticed it sitting on an end table at our son's this weekend, picked it up, read the back cover blurb and said, "I think I'd like to read this when you're finished." Kudos to Henry for a book cover that draws interest to his story within the covers.

Monday, November 11, 2013

An American Soldier On This Day of Remembrance

The following is a short piece I wrote several years ago, painting a picture of a mythical soldier to represent all servicemen and women who have served their country as well as those who died doing so. Let us remeber them all today and give our thanks.

Any Soldier, Any War—Maybe You Know Him
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Some call it Veterans Day while others say Remembrance Day. They are the same day commemorating the same wars, the same men who gave their lives fighting for what they believed in. Some volunteered while the draft nabbed others, but nearly all carried an unseen banner of the country they loved right next to their heart.

Any soldier, any war—maybe you know him.

He left mother and father, sweetheart and friends. Gone were his carefree summer days, spent with boyhood chums. Schoolbooks lay forgotten, dust settling over the covers. Baseball bats and marbles, toy cars and lead soldiers tumbled into a box, saved for the next generation. A letter jacket in the closet, placed there by a boy--would a man return to claim them? 

The boy who braved the high school football field turned into a young man whose hands trembled as they quickly wiped a tear from a cheek the first time he went into combat. Knees quaked and his heart beat double-time until training of both boot camp and a lifetime before that kicked in. The little unseen banner of his country fluttered right over his heart bringing calm and a determination to do all deemed necessary.

He fought in scorching heat and bitter cold, through fields of flowers in spring and myriad fallen leaves in autumn. He battled through sunlit daytimes and on moonless nights.

In the quiet moments, thoughts spiraled backward to home, to Mom and Dad, and Christmas trees, and baseball games, and to turkey dinners and ice cream sundaes. He fingered a treasured photo of Carol, the girl he loved, and swallowed the lump in his throat that rose whenever he studied her face. He’d taken the picture on one of the last days before he left for the army camp. A wisp of her dark hair had blown across her forehead, and her hand looked poised to sweep it back into place. She’d posed with her free hand on a hip and a quirky smile on her face, as though she might make a wisecrack at any moment. He slipped the picture into his pocket when the thunder of guns drew closer.

He adjusted his helmet, gripped his rifle in both hands, and scanned the line of trees ahead. Was there some soldier from the other side creeping closer? Did he, too, think of home during a lull in the fighting? Did he have a photo of the girl he loved? Wasn’t he fighting for his country, too? The insanity of it all sometimes swept over him like a wave crashing on the beach.

Countries disagreed and made war, but only the men who fought were lost. Some soldiers died, while others lived to carry the horrors of war forever, to hide them deep within, letting them surface only occasionally. Despite the human loss, countries rose again from the ashes like a phoenix to grow strong, to wait for a new generation, to wage war yet again.

He promised himself to never forget his fallen comrades, the towns and families they’d liberated, the good that evolved from the scathing waste of war. He’d march in every Veterans Day parade until his legs would carry him no more. And he’d wipe a tear from his cheek when other boys left childhood things to cross the sea and fight the next enemy. 

He’d wear the poppy in his buttonhole right over the unseen banner that still fluttered across his heart.
For God and country, he would remember, with pride and regret, those who did not return.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The French Connection--Sort Of

Let's finish the week with a picture prompt writing exercise. The two pictures I've posted were taken when we visited France. The first one is a street in Paris lined with trees. The second is in Giverny, a small town north of Paris, where famed artist Claude Monet lived with his family and where he created his famous gardens. 

Choose one of the pictures, or both, to write a paragraph or a story. Take time to study both pictures. Let your imagination run wild. You may decide to write a story that begins on that Parisian street and move to the country village where Monet painted for so many years. Who is the woman in the picture? A tourist? A caretaker? An author writing a book about the artist? Is she happy being there or would she rather be home doing something else. What about that tree-lined street? Where does it lead? Who is going to walk or run from one end to the other? Who is behind one of the trees?

Does the picture, or pictures, make you want to write fiction? Or perhaps you are inspired to write an essay instead. Or a poem. My pictures but the writing is your choice. You are in the pilot's seat so soar to the heights with your imagination. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Write Your November Memories Now

I'm going to post a piece I wrote for my Family Memories Book about the month of November and especially Thanksgiving. I have some other Thanksgiving stories that I'll post later this month. This one is here today for two reasons. We are driving to Dallas today so my time is short this morning. Second reason is to trigger some of your own memories so you can write them for your Family Memories Book. Do it early in the month before the holiday craziness begins.

Thanksgiving Then and Now
By Nancy Julien Kopp

The crisp, sunny days of October somehow slid into damp, gray ones during November in the Chicago area where I grew up. The sun played hide-and-seek in the late autumn and winter months, mostly hiding. Wind swept across Lake Michigan, bringing a chill that seeped through warm, woolen jackets and into our bones. Un-raked leaves swirled around our feet with each new gust of wind, and naked tree branches dipped and swayed like ballerinas announcing that winter would soon begin. We walked faster on our way to and from school, and Mom often commented that we had roses in our cheeks when we came into the warm kitchen from outdoors.
We accepted the chill and gloom of November because it heralded Thanksgiving. At school, we spent that month learning about Pilgrims and Squanto, the Indian who helped the settlers through that first tortuous winter. Teachers planned bulletin board displays with a Thanksgiving theme. Everyone celebrated this non-religious holiday. Rather strange since the Pilgrims came to this country seeking religious freedom.

Mom and my aunts prepared the dinner—turkey roasted to a golden brown and stuffed with a moist dressing redolent with sage, that teased for hours with its pervading aroma. Aunt Adeline made a second stuffing adding sausage, a recipe from the French side of the family. We had creamy mashed potatoes and rich gravy made from the turkey drippings, sweet potato casserole with a marshmallow topping, seasoned green beans, homemade yeast rolls, cranberry sauce, and the family favorite, Seafoam Salad, a mixture of lime jello, cream cheese, mashed pears and whipped cream.  Spicy pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream and apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream finished off our feast.

Dad’s two older sisters lived in the Chicago area, so we usually celebrated
Thanksgiving with them, alternating homes from year to year. The eight cousins, despite the wide range of ages, had a wonderful time together. After dinner, we got shooed outside to play. I suspect the adults sat around and drank more coffee, nibbled on the leftovers and did all they could to put off the dishwashing time.

 No dishwashers in those days, so all the women pitched in and cleared the table, washed and dried the dishes, often with towels made from flour sacks. When my female cousins and I got older, we were drafted into the kitchen with chattering women and clattering dishes.  The men plunked themselves into chairs and listened to the radio, or watched the small screen  black and white TV when we finally had one.

After I married, I invited my parents and brothers to our home for Thanksgiving, even though I wondered if my mom would be hurt. She’d been the hostess ever since my aunts
passed away. I needn’t have worried, for her answer was “Finally! I’ve been waiting to be invited out for Thanksgiving for years.”

Now, my children’s families make the trip home for Thanksgiving every other year. We use a few shortcuts in cooking, and we load the dishwasher instead of drying dishes, but the grandchildren revel in being with cousins just as I did. The faces around the table change, but the same warmth of a family gathering to give thanks remains. May it ever be so.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Never Stop Learning

This morning, I discovered a website geared to helping those who write essays. Essay Daily will send straight to your inbox if you subscribe. I found it only because of a link on another newsletter I subscribe to that is also aimed at essay writers. Be sure to look at links given in  a blog because you may find excellent information or even hidden treasure.

For those of you who write personal essays, it would be well worth your time to take a look at the essay I read today. Written by an editor, it's a good explanation of this type of writing, the kind that comes through the retelling of a personal experience. Like all writing, there are guidelines. A writer may relate something that happened to them in eloquent prose but if he/she doesn't let the reader know what was learned or what universal truth it illustrates, then the essay has little chance of being published. 

Go to Essay Daily to read what Stephanie G'Schwind, the editor-in-chief and nonfiction editor of Colorado Review, has to say about writing personal essays. After you read her gift to writers, as that is what I consider her piece to be, take some time to browse the website to determine if you'd like to sign on as a subscriber. I sometimes subscribe to a newsletter that I liked a lot at first glance, then find as time goes on, that maybe it isn't what is going to be as meaningful in my writing world as I thought. So I unsubscribe. Easy fix! 

Whatever the kind of writing you do, it is well worth your time and effort to read all you can about it. Never, ever think you can't learn more. Mastering the craft of writing is an ongoing process that has no exit door. No matter how successful you become as a writer, you can still learn something from others. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Keep Climbing

My knees are wearing out which is pretty common as we get older. Arthritis sets in and cartilage dissolves. It gets harder to go up a long flight of steps. Oh, I can do it but I have to push myself more than those days when I zipped up and down the steps without a thought. Now, I go more slowly and I hang on to the handrail. It's not really much different than when we climb a staircase of goals on our way to becoming a published writer. We all do it a little differently.

We start out on that bottom step and keep moving, one stair at a time. Somewhere along the way, we get tired and wonder if it's worth continuing to move on to the next level. Rejections might move us back a few steps. Wrtier's Block might do the same thing. We get discouraged when we send a story out to several editors and no one sees the potential it has. Only the one who has written the piece knows that. At least, they think they do.

So there we are, moving backward on that stairway to writing success. At that point, there are two choices. Either keep sliding down the steps until you hit bottom or use every ounce of determination you have and keep climbing. We know the view at the top is beautiful. We know that we're going to find real satisfcation in having made the climb. We know that once we hit the top, we won't ever want to slide downward again.

The stairway is long and each step may feel harder to achieve than the one before it. Picture an entire building the size of a train station with staircases lined up side by side. Each stairway has a writer at the bottom ready to make their way to the top. Think about the attributes of the writers as they proceed to climb step by step. Who will get stuck halfway up? Who is going to make it to the top? Who is not even going to try to move past the second or third step?

For one thing, they are not all going to ascend at the same speed. Some will get discouraged and may sit down on a step to ponder whether it's worth continuing or maybe quitting and heading home. Some may go it alone while others might ask for a mentor to be their cheerleader. A few are going to appear to be running up the steps like a gazelle across an African plain. Others may take their time, go very slowly but carefully and thoroughly. Fast or slow doesn't matter as much as putting one foot in front of the other and moving up one step at a time.

Whichever way you choose to go, I hope you will keep climbing and find that breathtaking view at the top.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A New Chicken Soup for the Soul Book

This is the cover for a brand new Chicken Soup for the Soul book. It is the fourteenth one in which one of my stories has appeared. The theme on this one is friendship and the stories explore that special relationship for women of all ages.

I submitted my story on March 27, 2012. Publication came 1 year and 7 plus months after submission. If you want to see your work in a Chicken Soup book, you learn to be patient. And no, I still don't like all the waiting time but I'm not the one in control of that part of the process. 

You can order the book now on Amazon for less than the $14.95 price it will be in bookstores. Some people order all their books online while others still feel the need to search the bookshelves in a shop. The book will be available in bookshops on Tuesday, November 5th.

My story is titled "New Friends, Faraway Friends, Forever Friends." It's about a very special friendship I have with a woman who lives in South Africa. The story details the place and way in which we met back in 1988, continues on through our firendship and that of our husbands, as well, up to this day. I have been blessed to have many friends in my life and Mavis is a very special one. 

The Chicken Soup books make great gifts for friends and family. The nice part of an anthology like this is that you can read one or two or three stories, put the book down and pick it up again a week later and keep right on going until you finish. The gift giving season is nearly upon us so do consider a book like this. And no, I do not receive any royalties if you purchase one or even a dozen of the books. The story authors receive a flat fee and 10 copies of the book. I have enjoyed giving my extra books to family and friends.

I have submitted several other stories for upcoming Chicken Soup books and am once again playing the waiting game. Perhaps one day that special message will appear in my Inbox that tells me my story has made it to the final cut stage, and then there will be more waiting before I learn if it will appear in the book. Add a few more months after that before the book is published. Is it any wonder that Chicken Soup authors may be the most patient people in the world? 

Friday, November 1, 2013

A New Month With Many Special Days

I love turning the calendar pages to a new month. Maybe because it's a good feeling to have finished the preceding one and there's also the unknown of what this next month will bring. It's an adventure about to begin.

What's on tap for your November? Today is National Author Day so if you're an author, preen your feathers and puff out your chest a bit. You've earned it. November 1st is also the first day of the NaNoWriMo project. In case you've been away on a desert island, NaNoWriMo is an ever-growing project to motivate writers. Read more about it here.

Besides the above, November brings us that much loved holiday--Thanksgiving. The Canadians have already celebrated their Thanksgiivng the second weekend of October. I'd like to have it about that time so there would be more time between the stuffing holiday and Christmas. I'm already thinking about the feast to come.

In our family, we have several November birthdays so I must be sure to send cards and have a birthday cake for my daughter the day before Thanksgiving. 

In many parts of our country, the weather takes a sharp downward turn this month. Those warm Inidan Summer days of October are nowhere to be found. Instead, we have the trees shedding the remainder of their leaves in those sharp winds and temps falling lower than we'd like. Depends on what part of the USA you live in, however, as some places are still enjoying warm temps and a relief from the high summer heat. 

We also celebrate Veterans Day during this eleventh month of the year. A perfect day for writers to pen their feelings in prose or verse. 

You have a whole new month ahead of you. Fill it with worthwhile writing projects, family gatherings and honoring our vets. Make a few new memories for your Family Memories Book.