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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Make Attitude Count In 2014

We're about to turn the page to 2014 which feels like opening a book you have never read before. You're not sure what the book will bring to you but you know you want to start on page one and keep moving on to find out. Same way with those new calendars that have been popping up in the mailbox the last several weeks. 

I looked for a poster and quote to use here today, looked long and hard, and finally settled on the one above. How could I go wrong with a quote from Albert Einstein? Nine words filled with wisdom and darned good advice. Which brings me to today's topic--attitude. Yesterday's post talked about reviewing your writing world of 2013. I asked you to look at the things you liked and those you didn't, then think about making changes.

One of the most important change is your attitude. My friend, Lenore Skomal, writes a column for the Erie-Times News in Erie, PA. In a recent video version, she made the comment If you say you can't, then you're right. We often talk ourselves into defeat before we ever begin. Easy enough to reverse the quote into If you say you can, you will. The hard part is that you can say it, but you must also believe it. That might take some practice. 

Make a poster on a sheet of paper of one of the sayings and place it where you see it every day. Put it where you darned near trip over it so there's no chance of missing it. Teachers use motivational posters on bulletin boards, classroom walls and doors, so why shouldn't you? Each one of us can use some motivation and having those words visible can only be helpful.

When I was sixteen, I worked in a dress shop for a man who used one phrase over and over again to motivate his sales staff. Beleive me, we girls got fed up with hearing Mr. Breen say Success comes in cans, not can'ts. He'd nod his head so hard when uttering those words that his jowls literally shook and we girls had to sometimes bite our lips to keep from laughing at the poor man. But his words have come back to me over and over again through the nearly six decades since I first heard them. Good advice again in a mere six words.

Attitude is nothing more than choice. You can choose to have a good day when you get up in the morning or you can choose to be a grump all day. Choose the more positive route and your life is going to be a lot more pleasant. Choose to believe that you are going to be a better writer this year, that you are going to submit more of your work to editors, and that you'll try new paths in writing. You'll most likely end up having more successes than failures.

Regarding those failures--take the positive attitude with them, too. They're not worthless. Uh-uh! You can learn from them if you step back and take a totally objective look to figure out the why and how whatever it was didn't make it. And you've got the bones of another piece of writing. Add more to it and maybe you'll turn it into a successful venture later on.

Stop listening to that voice of doom in your head that keeps telling you that you can't....... Kick that despairing voice right out the door and make positive choices. Make 2014 a year to remember.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Do Writers Benefit From A Review Of The Past Year?

What happened in your writing life this year?

During the final days of each calendar year, newspapers and TV journalists inevitably do a wrap-up of news that occurred that was of importance or interest. Some people enjoy the looking back but I have never been among that crowd. Nope--I'm done with this old year has been my attitude. Let me get on with the new one. What happened this past year is water over the dam. It's done and I can't change whatever happened, be it good or bad. I don't want to revisit any of it.

For a writer, that's a crummy attitude to have. I admit that I have finally learned to go back over my writing year with a considerably better results than for what's in the news. I know now that I can learn from whatever occurred with what I wrote, what I submitted for publication, and which ones made it as well as which came bouncing back to me. It took me several years into my writing world to step back at the end of the year and make those assessments. I started doing it only when I realized how much my next year would benefit. 

I didn't start reviewing the old year because of a personal epiphany. It was no brilliant idea of my own device. No, I read in writer's newsletters over and over about other writers setting this task for themselves. I took note of the writers in my critique group who mentioned their year end review. It finally hit me that, if so many writers were doing this, there must be some worth in it. Some of us need to be bonked in the head before the light dawns!

I waded into this unknown territory cautiously at first. I did a general look-back one year. The next year, I went a little deeper and found to my surprise that I noticed several things about my writing and the submissions I'd made. Little red flags popped up here and there. Besides seeing what I might have done differently, I also had some reasons to be happy with some of what had happened during the year. It didn't take too long to change my attitude. Each year, this review is easier to do because I'm more aware of what I'm looking for but often something entirely new will emerge.

I'm now a proponent of reviewing your personal writing world for the year that is about to conclude. It's not true that you can't change what happened. Of course, you can't undo the negatives of last year, but you can most definitely make changes in 2014 to improve on what you deemed as 'not so hot' ideas in 2013.

One way to begin making those changes is to make an attitude check. In tomorrow's post, I'll look into the ways you can do that as you prepare to move into the new year. 

What will 2014 bring to your writing life?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Do You Remember Your Teachers?

Do you know her name today?

Remember him?

How many of your teachers do you remember clearly? Can you name them? Are the ones that come to mind first the teachers you loved the most or the ones you disliked? Have you given any thought to what they did or didn't do for you that shaped the person you are today? 

We spent a year, occasionally two, with an indivdual whose job ws to instill information and skills into our head. Then they watched as we moved on to the next level and a new class entered their classroom door with the process beginning all over again. 

The recent death of a classmate who was a part of my grade school years triggered thoughts of the teachers we had in the 9 years he and I and the rest of our class attended Lincoln School. No matter that it was decades and decades ago, I could visualize each teacher so well, could hear their voices as they instructed, scolded and praised the students in their care. Our teachers of long ago deserve a special section in our Family Memories Books. They influenced us in so many ways during that time and since. 

Sub-divide this section into grade school, high school, college, grad school--whatever befits your situation. 

I would start my own section about the grade school teachers by making a list, jotting special notes on each teacher and then later go back and write a fuller account. Something like this:

Grade School

Kindergarten:  Miss Horst, a longtime teacher with prematurely silver hair, perfect makeup and wardrobe. Stern yet loving and beloved by all her students. Erect posture, a commanding voice. She had her students put on a circus for parents each spring.

1st grade:  Miss Curto, a brand new teacher, brunette with long, wavy hair. She taught me how to open a new book, how to care for a book, how to respect a book. And she taught me to read, for which I am ever grateful.

2nd grade:  Miss Vruink, nervous, strict, smacked errant studnts hands with a ruler, slapped my cheek for talking too much. My father came to school and raised cain with her and to the principal. She was gone the next year. The best Valentine experience ever in her class.

3rd grade:  Miss Marshak, tall and slender, long dark hair. Had no control of the class, shrieked at us often, had to take a few weeks off after what was termed "a nervous breakdown" She had great art projects.

4th grade:  Miss Alberts, the teacher everyone hoped to get in the 4th grade. Silver hair, longtime teacher who believed in hands on experience to learn about historical events. We made soap and candles like the pioneers had done. We produced plays bringing history to life. She was patient and kind and greatly loved. Her voice was soft, yet commanding respect. Her love for her students was obvious.

5th-6th grade:  Mr. Biddinger, one of my all-time favorites. The first male teacher in the lower grades in our school. A navy veteran of WWII, had gone to school on the GI Bill to become a teacher. Everyone adored him and the new teaching methods he brought to us. We learned through playing games he devised. Parents worried about that but we learned more with him than any other teacher. We had hamsters in his class, and we learned much about the care and treatment of pets.

7th & 8th grade:  Miss Gentle for English--thin as a stick, harsh voice, little control over the class. Miss Peterson for Library--middle-aged, strict but fair, married during our 7th grade year and became Mrs. Peterson, married a man with her same name! Miss Stange, who suddenly became Mrs. Dussias in her fifties. She taught Social Studies with an iron fist. Rarely smiled, all business but a good teacher. Miss Smith, the math teacher who had a way of being strict while the same time friendly and helpful and a fine teacher of all math-related things. Mr. Fengel, the music teacher, who was a funny little man who ended up marrying Miss Gentle at the end of our 7th grade year. So, in 8th grade we had both Mr. Fengel and Mrs. Fengel. Josephine Costanza was the girls gym teacher who barked at us constantly. She, too, married and became Mrs. Walker during our 8th grade. Maidie Johnson, the Home Ed teacher was elderly and had severe arthritis. Her pain made her one crabby old lady. 

Each of those men and women hold a place in my memory bank. I know now what they did for me and that they are a large part of who I am today. So, yes, they deserve a place in my Memory Book. 

Start your list like mine above to spark some inspiration to write further, then write a more detailed account of each teacher to include in your Memory Book. 


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Poem Written With A Broken Heart

We're all familiar with the Christmas song I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day, the words penned by one of America's greatest poets. But do you know the story of how the poem, that became the song, came to be written? 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's wife died in 1861 from severe burns inflicted when her dress caught fire as she lit the household candles. Soon after, his older son, age 17, ran away and joined the Union Army as the Civil War continued. Longfellow was left at home to raise a younger son. Charley was severely wounded and it was feared he would not live. Still heartbroken from his wife's death and now perhaps losing his eldest son, the poet wrote the poem in 1863.Writers often deal with grief by writing. It was much later that the poem was set to music as a song. The fourth and fifth stanzas were eliminated from the song as they speak of the Civil War that was raging at the time the poem was written and it was kept as a Christmas song, not one of war.

Christmas Bells
  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play, 
    And wild and sweet 
    The words repeat 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And thought how, as the day had come, 
The belfries of all Christendom 
    Had rolled along 
    The unbroken song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

Till ringing, singing on its way, 
The world revolved from night to day, 
    A voice, a chime, 
    A chant sublime 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

Then from each black, accursed mouth 
The cannon thundered in the South, 
    And with the sound 
    The carols drowned 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

It was as if an earthquake rent 
The hearth-stones of a continent, 
    And made forlorn 
    The households born 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And in despair I bowed my head; 
"There is no peace on earth," I said; 
    "For hate is strong, 
    And mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
    The Wrong shall fail, 
    The Right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Writer's Christmas Wish List

It's Christmas Eve day and Santa is double checking his list for all the good boys and girls and a bunch of us grown-up kids, too. If you've been bad this year, there's no more time to make up for it. What it is today is what it is!

Here's my Christmas Wish List for all my writer friends. I wouldn't mind some of these items for myself, as well. A few are definitely dream items while others are very possible.

1. Inspiration to write every day

2. A publisher knocking on the door begging to buy your book manuscript.

3. Editors so happy with your work that they write to ask you to submit

4. Being able to write a good first draft

5. Story ideas on a regular basis

6. The ability to overcome the rejections that arrive

7. New markets for your writing

8. A new mentor

9. Paying publications rather than non-paying

10. A better vocabulary to draw from

11. Perfect punctuation

12. Marvelous mechanical skills of writing

Maybe you can add a few more to your Writers Christmas Wish List. May you get at least a few of them.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Why My Children Had Only Half A Daddy One Christmas

Ken in Lahr, Germany

Today, I'm posting a Christmas story that has not been published. Yet! It's a memory story of a Christmas when our children were young. It was a year they only had half a daddy for Christmas. Read the story and find out why. 

Half A Daddy For Christmas
By Nancy Julien Kopp
 Christmas Eve finally arrived. I’d finished baking, the gifts were under the tree, and we’d carried out our family tradition of driving around to look at homes ablaze with holiday lights on the way home from church. Our two children were out of the car as soon as Ken pulled into the garage. We followed close behind, reaching the kitchen just as the phone rang.
 Ken answered, and after a short conversation he said, “Thank you for letting me know.” He turned to me. “That was the nursing home. One of my customers passed away tonight, and I’ve got to let the family know.”
 Ken headed a trust department in a bank. He needed to inform family of the death of a customer as soon as possible. But it was Christmas Eve! The lady who died had only one relative that he knew of—a sister who lived far away from our state of Kansas. He needed to talk with her and find out if there were other living relatives.

The kids were in the family room shaking packages under the tree, but I didn’t bother to tell them to keep their hands off the gifts as I usually did. I waited, anxious to hear what he was going to do.
“I haven’t got the heart to call with news like this on Christmas Eve. I’ll wait til tomorrow. I’ve got the sister’s number in the file at the bank.”
Kirk and Karen abandoned the gaily wrapped presents when I offered them Christmas cookies for a bedtime snack. Their dad didn’t join in. In fact, he turned on the TV and said very little to anyone.
Ken spent a restless night and beat everyone out of bed. When the kids and I got downstairs, he had a fire blazing and Christmas music playing softly. Our children checked out what Santa had brought them and what he’d left in their stockings while I put the coffee on. Next, we opened gifts but it felt like there was only half a daddy in the room. His mind dwelled on an old lady in Seattle.
After I served a big breakfast, Ken left for the bank to make the phone call to Seattle. I hoped the light of Christmas Day made it easier than the darkness of Christmas Eve.
The kids played with new toys while I made some preparations for our mid-day holiday dinner. We’d call our families back in Illinois later in the day. An hour went by and well into the second hour, I started to worry. The bank was locked, but Ken had his own key. He was there all alone, and what if the police saw a shadowy figure inside? What if they shot first and asked questions later? Just as panic grabbed a tight hold on me, he walked in the door. Even though I noted the concern on his face, relief washed over me.

 “I called the sister,’ he said, “but I couldn’t get her to understand. I think she has dementia. I have to call again.”
 Kirk wanted his dad to play a new game with him, but his request was met with, “Not now.” An unusual response from a caring dad.
I listened to Ken talking to the woman in Seattle while I peeled potatoes. His kindness and his patience seemed to never end as he tried to make sure the lady actually understood his message. After many repetitions, he finally gave up and ended the call. He paced the kitchen and passed right by a dish of fudge on the counter, something he’d never do under normal circumstances.
“All I can do is see if the Seattle police can get a social worker to go out and talk with this woman.”  He needed information about any other family before funeral arrangements could be made, and I think he also felt a moral obligation.
He called the Seattle police department and spoke with an officer there who told him there were no social workers. “It’s Christmas Day!” His voice was so loud I heard him across the room and that’s when my husband ran out of kindness and patience.
In a raised voice, he informed the officer that both of them were working even though it was Christmas Day and it’s a sure thing that there’s a social worker on call. Both our children listened with wide eyes. This was not the daddy they knew. The call ended with the policeman’s assurance that the task would be taken care of before day’s end.

Christmas Day went on with a special roast duck dinner eaten on the good china, phone calls to and from family and quieter than usual children. They were well aware they had only half a daddy this Christmas.  His mind seemed to center on what was happening in Seattle in the apartment of an old woman who’d lost her sister.
The next day at work, he received a call from the social worker who’d made the visit. She assured him that the sister had finally understood the sad news she’d brought.
That Christmas, my husband’s kind, patient way with a stranger felt like another gift, one that did not come wrapped in shiny paper with a big bow, but one that I loved and treasured then, and still do. Our children may have only had half a daddy that Christmas, but over the years he’s made up for it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What's So Special About Christmas Stories?

Have you ever thought about the favorite Christmas stories, ones that people read over and over again? What is so appealing that they have lasted for years and years? Same thing with those Christmas movies that were either adapted from books or written solely as a screenplay. And also the poems. Here are just a few that come to mind. You can probably add others to this list.

1. A Christmas Carol

2. Miracle on 34th Street

3. It's A wonderful Life

4. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

5. A Cup of Christmas Tea (Narrative Poem)

6. The Bells of  Christmas (Poem)

7. Twas The Night Before Christmas (Poem)

8. White Christmas

9. Polar Express

10. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

11. The Littlest Angel

12. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer

For one thing, Christmas is a holiday that touches the heart, the original Christmas story in the bible is filled with emotion as are the books, poem, and films with a Christmas theme. Some are happy, some are sad but all bring out emotion in some way.

Christmas memories are often very special and these books and more trigger those memories we hold dear. Only yesterday, a friend whose early childhood years were in an occupied European country told me about the Christmases when she had no gift and how hard it was to go to school and not be able to tell her friends what she got for Christmas. Some were like here, others had families that managed to find gifts somehow. But even though it was a sad memory, her face lit up with that memory and maybe others that went along with it. Perhaps she remembered the little things her mother did at home to make it look like Christmas. It doesn't matter whether our Christmas memories sparkle with joyous moments to be savored over and over or are of hard times when perhaps the gifts became less important than the meaning of Christmas and the family being together.

Almost all Christmas stories have happy endings, even those who tell of difficult times but brought a treasured lesson. And don't we all love a happy ending? They also let us reach deeper into the meaning of Christmas and the many aspects of the holiday--beyond the gift giving and receiving.

I've written several Christmas memory stories but never a fiction piece. I think it is better to write the story during the holiday season as you are so tuned in, but marketing a Christmas story must be done in the spring or early summer. Try to write a Christmas story when it is high summer and you may not be able to achieve the same emotions as you might when you write it in December.

Have you ever written a Christmas story? Whether fiction or memoir, poem or lyrics for a song, it is probably special to you in your list of works. If you don't celebrate Christmas, but some other winter holiday instead, have you written a story that fits the theme? Holiday stories are fun to write, wonderful to read, and make memories if they are good enough.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Christmas Story About Chocolate

One of my favorite Christmas treats

Today, I am going to repost a Christmas memory story that happened when I was in the third grade. It was an often retold tale in our family. Little did I know the dilemma I created for my poor mother. Read the story below. Maybe it will trigger a special memory of your childhood Christmases.

The story was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Chocolate Lovers Soul book.

 A Spoonful of Fudge

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Spiral back in time with me to a mid-December day in 1947 and relive one of my treasured memories. With our teacher’s guidance, my third grade class planned the Christmas party, which would be held on our final day before the holiday break. Our classroom already looked festive thanks to a live Christmas tree decorated with our art work. Cut-out paper snowflakes adorned the tall windows, and in free time we’d made construction paper chains which we used to decorate every available space in the room.

But now the most important part of getting ready was upon us. Miss Marshak asked for volunteers to bring Christmas napkins, cookies, and punch.

 “Now what else would be good to have at the party?” she asked.

A boy in the last row hollered, “Fudge!”

At his one-word answer, I sat up straight and waved my hand in the air. When Miss Marshak did not call on me immediately, I bounced up and down in my chair and gestured furiously.

 “Yes, Nancy,” she finally said.

“I’ll bring the fudge. My mother makes the best fudge in the world.” My mouth watered at the thought of the creamy, rich chocolate candy my entire family loved.

I could hardly wait to get home and tell my mother that I’d volunteered to bring fudge for the party. She’d be so excited to share her special fudge with all my classmates. I barely felt the cold December air as I hurried along the six blocks from school to our apartment building. My feet scarcely touched the stairs as I sailed up the three flights to our door.

Mother stopped peeling potatoes when I burst into the kitchen. I announced the great news, but I didn’t get the reaction I’d expected. Her face paled. “Fudge? Isn’t there something else you can bring?”

“No. Other people signed up for the rest.” My excitement deflated like a pricked balloon.
What could be wrong?

Mother shrugged, picked up the potato peeler and said, “It’s all right. I’ll make the fudge.”

The December days slid by, one by one. I helped Mother put up our Christmas decorations. Dad took my brothers and me to pick out a tree, and Mother spent her days wrapping packages and baking special cookies and Christmas cakes. At school, we practiced for our part in the all-school musical program, read Christmas stories in reading time and created our own in Language Arts period. Giggles got louder as Christmas surrounded us.

Finally, the day before the party arrived. Our teacher went over a checklist to make sure everyone remembered what they were to bring the next day. How could I forget? I’d thought about the chocolaty, wonderful fudge Mother would make every day. I could almost taste its smoothness and the lingering sweetness it left.

When I got home that afternoon, my baby brother was crying, and Mother looked about to cry along with him. “What’s wrong?” I asked. My worry centered not on the baby or my mother but on the fudge.

Mother sank into a kitchen chair. “I’ve made three batches of fudge today, and none of them worked. They’re all too soft. I can’t send it to school.”

I had no idea why she was so disturbed. Fudge was always soft and gooey. We spooned it up every time we had it. “Why?” was all I could think to say.

Nancy,” my mother said, “fudge is not meant to be eaten with a spoon. It should be firm enough to pick it up in a piece and pop into your mouth. I beat and beat it, but it’s like it always is when I make it. Too soft. And I made it three times today!”

Tears welled in her eyes, and my baby brother reached up and patted her cheek. Maybe even he knew how bad she felt. How could I bring the fudge to school? I loved my mother’s fudge, but maybe nobody else would. Maybe they’d laugh when they saw it. I worked up my courage and asked, “What are we going to do?”

The next morning, I carried a big pan of fudge and 21 spoons to school.

 The soft candy was the hit of the party. After we had our punch and cookies, everyone gathered around the cake pan of fudge, spoon in hand, and dug in. My fears were never realized. One of the boys licked his spoon and said, “You were right. Your mom does make the best fudge in the world.” Echoes of agreement sounded around the circle. We dipped our spoons for more.

Some years later, Mother began to make a new fudge recipe that contained marshmallow crème. The ads promised it was foolproof--firm fudge every time. They were right, but the spoonfuls of soft fudge we’d eaten all those years before remained my favorite, and I never forgot how my mother found a solution to what might have been my biggest third grade disaster. It wasn't only fudge she'd given me that December day.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pull From The Past For Your Writing Today

I think the quote above might be construed by some people to be strictly for memoir writers. After all, aren't they writing about events and people from the past? Yes, they are, but I think other genres of writing can fit into this quote, as well.

Whatever we write comes from both our creative side and our life experiences. If I'm going to write a novel about sled dog races in Alaska, it's going to be a far better story if I've had some experience in the activity, or at least been around it. Consider this--a writer telling a story like just mentioned need not have ever actually been in one of those exciting races, but maybe he lived in Alaska as a kid and remembers seeing men (and women) prepare for the races. He might have lived where someone in his small town trained the dogs or worked on the sleds. He may have taken a trip with his family to follow the route the racers took. All of that could give him an understanding and some knowledge of this cold weather sport.

I grew up in a very large apartment building community. I know what living on the 3rd floor with no elevator is like. If I write a story about a family that lives in similar circumstances, I can give a sense of place from my own life experience. The theme and plot of the story may have nothing to do with the apartment living, but my experience will let me give a realistic picture of the setting. I'm tasting it twice--having lived it and looked back at it. Wherever you lived in your earlier years will be of some importance in your writing. Much of it may come through subconsciously but you'll be doing that taste life twice section of today's quote.

Think about the places you've lived, jobs you've had over the years, perhaps more than one marriage--all those things will present themselves in some form in your writing. As I said, you may not do it consciously, but it's all stored in our memory bank and has a way of seeping through into our writing.

The older you are, the more experiences you have to taste life twice in your writing.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Windows Filled With A Story

Over many decades, Christmas windows in large department stores have given magical moments to those who viewed them. One of the highlights of my chidhood Christmases was a trip to Marshall Field's downtown store where a series of fabulously decorated windows told a story. What fun to move from window to window reading the short narrative and studying the window decor itself. 

What intrigued people so much? Was it the fairyland feeling? Was it the opportunity to move from the everyday cares to a fantasyland where nothing bad happened? Was it the fun of reading and seeing a story emerge as the viewers passed on from one window to another? 

We love stories. We who read love holding a book in hand and sailing through the chapters. Those who aren't big on reading a book could walk the windows and both see and read the story. Painless! Magical! Entertaining! Thrilling! Particularly in the days when we had no TV, no animated cartoons on several channels all hours of the day. Seeing the windows and learning the story long ago was a very special experience. 

Several years ago, I wrote a memoir piece about the Christmas windows of my childhood. It's been published a few times and some of you may have read it here some December prior to this year. If not, you can read it below. How about you? Were there special Christmas windows where you lived? 

Magical Windows of Christmas
By Nancy Julien Kopp

At least once during the Christmas seasons of my 1940’s childhood, my mother and I rode the elevated train from suburban Oak Park to downtown Chicago, exiting at the Marshall Field’s station. Pigeons strutted on the wooden platform and railings, flapping soft gray wings now and then, drawing my attention, but Mother pulled me toward a long flight of steps to the street, leaving the pigeons far above us.

We headed to a special, magical place, the big department store’s Christmas windows. Often, the wind and cold air stung our cheeks. Sometimes snowflakes floated lazily over us, but it didn’t matter. A crowd formed close to the windows of Marshall Field’s, and Mother and I wiggled into the center, moving closer and closer to the front until we stood before Christmas Window #1.

There, before us was a wonderland that brought oohs and ahs from the crowd. “Look, Mommy!” could be heard off and on as well when excited children pointed out the obvious to their mothers.

Marshall Fields initiated the Christmas window display in 1897. During November, the windows were covered with brown paper and not unveiled until the day after Thanksgiving. For weeks, designers and their staff worked long hours to create a story told in eleven successive windows, using a fairy tale or child’s book theme. Animation came in later years, and the designs grew more and more lifelike.  Piles of snow and frost-covered trees looked real enough to touch. A tray of gingerbread men near an oven so perfect, I could almost smell the spicy aroma. A scroll or some other unique prop told part of the story, and the rest came with our imagination.

The earlier windows were toy displays, a marketing scheme that drew thousands of shoppers. Later, in the mid-40’s, the story windows began, and Uncle Mistletoe and Aunt Holly were introduced.

We moved from window to window enjoying the continuing tale. Stories like Snow White and Pinocchio came to life behind the giant windows. They were probably more exciting in the days prior to television, for we had nothing like this anywhere but the movie theaters. By the time we’d walked the entire route, our feet were tingling with the cold, and we headed into the store to warm up.

What better place to thaw out than in the line that ended with a short sit on Santa’s lap. By the time, we reached Santa, we’d shed gloves and hats and unbuttoned our heavy coats. I told Santa my dearest wishes, never doubting that he’d remember and bring at least one of the items I’d requested.

When the 1950’s rolled around, I made the trip downtown to Marshall Field’s with my girlfriends. Even then, my excitement stayed at a high pitch. I noticed more details, and my friends and I giggled and chatted, and pointed things out to one another. With rosy cheeks and numbing toes by the time we’d gotten to the end, we headed into the store. Not to see Santa but to savor a cup of hot chocolate and then spend some time wandering through the massive place looking for Christmas gifts for our family members. We might finish the day with a Frango Mint, the candy made famous by Marshall Field’s.

Today, Field’s is no more. The sign in front now says Macy’s. It was a sad day for me when that happened. A piece of my childhood crumbled, never to be the same. But the memory of the Christmas windows and my visits to Santa remain even many decades later. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Destination? Publication!

Are we there yet? Just about every parent in the world has heard this plaintive cry from the back seat when on a road trip. Or even on a jaunt to the grocery store. Stock answers are things like We'll be there when we get there. Or If you ask one more time, I'm going to pull this car to the side of the road and.... Or I don't want to hear that question again! 

We are an impatient lot, no matter whether the children in the back seat fighting boredom as they wait to arrive at the destination or the parent who is quick to lose patience when children repeat the same question again and again. What happens then is that we get grumpy, even angry. That We'll be there when we get there. says a lot to me. The bare truth is laid out in those few words. 

It's the same with the path to publishing or to publishing more and in better publications. Seems to me that all humans come packaged with an impatience gene. We don't want to take our time to reach a goal or that desired destination. Make it happen fast is the attitude far too many of us have had when starting out in our writing life.

We don't have any parent in the front seat driving us to the destination. Nope. We're on our own. We are the ones who must make it happen. Remember the Aesop's Fable about the tortoise and the hare. The lesson gleaned from that ancient, beloved story is that slow and steady wins the race. I have written numberous posts on the subject of patience and I'll most likely continue to do so. 

Don't be in such a hurry to reach the mountaintop. Take your time and absorb knowledge and expertise along the way that is going to help you grow as a writer. You can't handle it all in one fell swoop. A little at a time means you'll retain what you learned. Master one area, then proceed to the next. The more you learn, the more you grow and the closer to your destination.

It might behoove all of us to make a sign with only one word on it. PATIENCE and place it near our working area. Every day, as soon as you see it, smile and nod your head, then proceed with the day.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Gifts That Cost Little But Mean Much

You may remember my blog post reviewing a YA novel called Maggie Vaults Over The Moon. You can read it here. I had never met the author, Grant Overstake, but he knew of me and contacted me through facebook. He asked if he could send me his YA novel. Of course, I said yes. The book arrived in the mail a short time later. I sat down with it one evening and was hooked immediately. Thus came the post/review on Grant's book. Then I sent it to my two teen-age granddaughters to read. I've recommended the book to a good many people since then.

This morning, I received notice that Grant had placed me and a portion of my review in Maggie's Hall of Fame. What a nice surprise. I received a message from Grant pointing me to the Hall of Fame page. When I got there and saw the above, I was so pleased. It felt like a Christmas package all done up with happy Christmas paper and sparkly ribbons. There I was alongside Miss Maggie (her book cover) and a quote from my earlier post. That and Grant's very nice message to me fits right into the category of Gifts I Love To Receive. Made my day!

A gift like this could be termed priceless. It costs the giver nothing but means the world to the recipient. In one of your 'sit down and catch your breath' moments today, why not make a list of people in your writing world that you think highly of for whatever reason. You know how you feel about them but they may not be aware of it. Why not take a few moments and send them a thank you for......note? You can do it as simply or as elaborately as you like. The wrappings are nice but it's the message that counts.

How about someone who has encouraged you in your writing endeavors? Or the friend who critiques all your work. What about the special buddy in your writing group that is there to catch you when you fall and cheer with you when you have a success? How about the illustrator who helps you with book covers for your ebooks? Or the friend who keeps the kids for a couple of hours so you can write? If you give it some thought, you'll find that there are a whole lot of folks out there who have been beneficial to your writing world.

In this season of gift-giving, take a little time and send a gift of thanks in lyrical poetry or prose. It's what you do best. Right?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Christmas Tree, A Pink Dress and Golden Wings

 beautiful christmas tree 01 hd pictures

What are your memories of the Christmas trees you had as a child? Were they always the same, or did you have a mom who wanted to try new and different decorations every year? What about thos flocked trees with spotlights on them? Or the all-silver aluminum ones? Did your family  walk to the forest and cut down the tree you liked best? Or did your family go to a tree lot and buy one? Family traditions involving getting a tree and putting it in your house, then decorating, make great remembrance stories for your Family Memory Book. Maybe you had a year that the tree proved a disaster or one that something funny happened during the tree-trimming. 

I have written my memories about the trees we had in the 1940's and 50's. I'm posting it below as an example for how you might approach writing this type of memory. Definitely not the only way as we each have our own approach. Reading my story might trigger memories for one of your own.  

A Christmas Tree, A Pink Dress and Golden Wings
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 In the 1940’s, we city folk didn’t cut down a tree in the fields but kept our own tradition. On a cold December evening, Dad announced that it was time to find a Christmas tree. My two younger brothers and I grabbed heavy coats, hats, gloves and snow boots, and flew down three flights of stairs to our 1939 Plymouth. Our excitement bubbled over in giggles and hoots.

The corner lot Dad drove to was normally empty--now in December, dozens of evergreen trees magically appeared, lined up like soldiers going into battle. A string of electric light bulbs ringed the entire lot, making it appear like a stage show.
The proprietors, who were also hunters, had erected a wooden teepee-like frame to display two dead deer and a black bear in a prominent corner. Animal rights groups didn’t protest in those days.

My brothers and I marched round and round the frozen animals.

“Go ahead, touch it,” Howard dared.
My hand reached within inches of the thick, matted fur, but I quickly drew it back. “You first,” I challenged, but Howard only circled the animals, hands behind him.

Meanwhile, Dad walked the rows of trees, pulling a few upright, shaking the snow off.

He called to us, and we crunched across the snow-packed ground

 “No,” we chorused. “It’s not big enough.”

We followed Dad and thumbed our noses at several others. “Not big enough,” we said, stamping cold feet to warm them.

The owner ambled over, so bundled up he looked akin to the dead bear. He kept a cigar clamped in his teeth and wore gloves with the fingers cut off, so he could peel off dollar bills from the stack he carried to make change.

Dad shook the man’s hand and said, “OK, let’s see the good trees now.”

The burly man moved the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, rolled his eyes and finally gestured for us to follow him.

We moved across the pine-scented lot to a brick building. The man opened a door, and we tromped single-file down a long flight of concrete steps.

Dozens of trees leaned against the walls. Dad pulled out one after the other until he found a tree that we three children deemed “big enough.”

Silence now, as the serious part of this adventure commenced. Dad and the cigar chomping man dickered about the price. Finally, money changed hands, and Dad hoisted the tree. We jostled one another up the steps to be closer to the green treasure.

Dad fastened the tree to the top of the car with the rope he’d brought with us. The boys and I knelt on the back seat, watching to make sure the tree didn’t slide off the roof of the car during the short drive.

Once home, Dad hauled the tree up three flights of stairs to our apartment and put it on our small outdoor balcony. We’d wait until close to Christmas to bring it in and decorate the branches. Several times a day, I peered through the glass door to check that no one had stolen it. Why I thought someone would climb to the third floor to steal our tree is a wonder.

Days later, Dad carried the tree inside and tried to put it in the stand, but it was no use. The tree was too tall. It should have been no surprise, as it happened every year. Dad found his favorite saw and cut several inches off the tree trunk. When he put it in the stand, it rose like a flagpole, straight and tall, nearly touching the ceiling. There was a  collective “Ahhh” from the entire family.

Dad hummed a Christmas tune as he strung the many-colored lights, then Mother helped us hang sparkly ornaments, and we finished with strand upon strand of silver tinsel.

Finally, Dad climbed a step-stool and placed the last piece on the top. What joy to see our special angel with the pink satin dress and golden wings. There were times I could swear she smiled at me.

That sweet angel got lost somewhere over the years. Most likely, she’d become tattered and torn, and Mother discarded her.

Now, my husband brings our tree upstairs from a basement storage closet. Artificial, always the same height, never needs to be made shorter. It’s easier, but I miss those cold, snowy excursions to the tree lot with my brothers. I still put an angel on top of the tree. She’s nice but not quite the same as the one with the pink dress and golden wings.

Family traditions may change, but the memories last forever. They are what makes us the people we are today.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Two Things Necessary For A Picture Prompt Exercise

Why are picture prompts such a good exercise for writers? One of the best reasons I can think of is that they help to develop our imagination and creativity. If I were teaching a class filled with twenty writers of all stages--newbies, intermediate and top pros--and I assigned the picture above for a writing exercise, I would receive twenty different stories. There is no doubt of that. Two main things enter into what comes of an exercise like this.

Experience: Each writer who studies this picture will see something different. A lot of what we see is based on our own experiences, or our dreams perhaps. If the writer had lived in a place where snow in winter was the norm, the many experiences taking place on snowy days would spark their writing. But if the writer had lived in southern Florida, a snowy day like this one is only a dream. Maybe a nightmare as it doesn't appeal at all to many of these people to be cold. They can only imagine the crunch of snow under a pair of warm boots. They don't know what it feels like to have the snow land flake by flake on already-chilled cheeks. Nor do they know the joy of making a snowball or building a snowman. So, yes, experiences do play a part in what we see in a picture prompt.

Imagination:  Let's face it. Some people have more vivid imaginations than others. Walk through a museum of contemporary art with 5 people, stop before a colorful abstract painting and ask each one what they see in it. You'd get widely diverse interpretations depending on the imagination quotient of each person. Can you develop a higher degree of imeagination? Yes, I think it's quite possible. As stated above, doing these picture prompts is one good way to increase your imagination. We're all familiar with stories about small children who live with a pretend friend or pet. My youngest brother kept 5 baby fire dragons and a mama fire dragon with him for a long time, blamed many of his misdeeds on them, and cautioned the rest of the family not to step on them. He's not a writer today, but I have a feeling that he'd have a good result with a picture prompt as he had that imaginative spark from early on. Doing the picture prompt exercise on a regular basis should help develop your imagination to a higher degree. 

So how about it? Give this picture a good look. Take time to study it top to bottom, side to side. Then start writing. Ask yourself where it is, what time of day it might be, who is going to come down that path and leave footprints. Add sensory details to let the reader know what it feels like in this scene. I wish I really were teaching a class of twenty writers who would hand in this assignment to me. I'd love to see what they created. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Perfect Birthday Cake For A Reader

This takes the cake! (Sorry, couldn't resist). What avid reader wouldn't love to get a birthday cake made of books? As long as part of the cake is edible and the books not damaged, it would be great, wouldn't it?

Today, I went to a local bookstore to pick up a few Christmas gifts, not books but other things the bookstore sells. I found what I was looking for immediately and checked 3 gifts off my list. But there is no way that I can enter a shop filled with books of all kinds and not look at a few. Alright, maybe more than a few. Yes, a whole bunch! 

Every time I visit this wonderland of books, there are new arrivals that I need to browse through. While doing so today, I found two more Christmas gifts to check off my list.

Books are a wonderful gift. Ask for a gift receipt, and if by chance, the person you are giving the book to has already read it, he/she can take it back and select another. It would please me to get several books for gifts. I'd have to add them to my stack waiting for me to read, but the anticipation of what lay ahead in this new year coming up would be great fun. 

Some might say that it's too hard to choose a book for someone else. I don't think it is because if you know the person well enough to give a gift to them, you know what their interests are. If you want to be sure the person has not read the book, go to that New Arrival section to find one. You could give a gift card to a bookstore but, nice as that might be, I'd still love to open a package that held a book. Wouldn't you?

Writers Have Choices

Look at that. How great is it that Santa is helping Mrs. Santa Claus decorate their tree? Pretty nice of the jolly old guy when he has a long list of other things to do this month.

Like so many of us, I have a list of things that must be done before the 25th. I check them off as I accomplish the tasks and attend or host social events. The list is dwindling but not as fast as I'd like it to. Meanwhile, there are several publishers to whom I'd like to submit some stories. There are new stories swirling in my head and I don't have as much time to work on them right now.

There's one story that won't stop calling out to me. I think I must make some time to work on this one now, not in January or February. I know that I'm capable of making time for the things I want to do. I might have to give up a party invitation or going to see a Christmas show or make fewer cookies this year, but I can do that.

The other day, I received a call for more stories for a Chicken Soup book. It was sent to writers who had stories in previous Chicken Soup books. Most likely, the editors did not get enough of the type of story they wanted for the book. It was definitely a call for help and the topic is an interesting one. The big problem is that the deadline is December 12th. That doesn't give time to write a first draft, let it sit awhile, then revise and/or rewrite before sending it in. That goes against all my principles of writing. Those of you who read this blog regularly know how I feel about rushing a story you write.

But in this situation, I'm going to have to do it if I want to be able to send the editors a possible story for their book. That old saying Rules are meant to be broken. may apply here. I wouldn't want to do it on a regular basis though.

If you have an urge to write but are swamped with other things to do right now, take a step back and look carefully at your agenda. What can you give up? What can you do without? Each one of us has to make the decision to create some writing time or scratch your writing totally this month and devote yourself to family and friends and celebrating your holidays to the fullest. There is no right or wrong. Do what feels right to you.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Baby Steps Are Best

"I'm going to be a writer." How many of you have said that at some period in your life? I'm willing to wager that the numbers are pretty high. Saying it and doing it are two distinctly different things. We don't declare something like this that will affect our entire lives and then expect it to happen in the manner of a fairy waving her magic wand. Poof! You're a writer. If only!

No, it begins with tiny steps. I can't tell you how many writers I know who startred out by writing a novel to pursue a dream. But guess what? Writing a novel is an enormous step. Starting out with a huge project like that often leads to frustration, failure and giving up.

In your first year of life, you were pretty helpless at the beginning, dependent on others to feed you, change you, turn you over, bathe you and more. You learned a lot that first year--you smiled, turned over, sat up alone, crawled, said a word or two, and you finally learned to walk. But you walked with baby steps. By the time you were two, you ran and jumped and did so many more things that brought clapping of hands and praise from Mama and Daddy.

Beginning a career, or even a hobby, as a writer should progress in much the same way. Start small and move along in baby steps. Write lots of short stories before you attempt a novel. Write short poems before you tackle the epic narrative. Write snippets of memoir before you try a full-blown memoir story. Then consider a nonfiction book in the memoir genre.

That fairy with her magic wand can rarely be found, so it's up to you. Start with those baby steps to reach your goal. The important thing is to make that first move. The more steps you take in your writing life, the easier it is and the better you write. Start small; aim high.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Write About The Weather

A March snow in another year

This week, weather seems to be taking topspot in the news stories. Winter Storm Cleon (when did we start naming snowstorms?) is marching across the northwest and today an ice storm is predicted for several southern states. Here in Kansas, we had a skiff of snow overnight, as if the snow fairies had sprinkled it here and there and then moved on. Lots of bare street showing but the temps are of arctic measure.

Our son and family were planning to go to Mongomery, Alabama for a family wedding this weekend. They're watching the Dallas weather carefully to see if they can get out of Dallas tonight or not. They're on the edge of the icing area, but even 50 or 100 miles of that is tense, treacherous kind of driving. Weather controls our lives many times.

Weather! We talk about it all the time. We learn to deal with it. We curse it at times when it interferes with plans. So why not write about it?

I've written several nonfiction pieces that have to do with weather. Ice storms, tornadoes, wall clouds, and big snowstorms. If you're going to write about the weather, it should have some kind of story or meaning--in other words, there should be a reason to write about it. In my story about a Christmas with a huge snowstorm, there was more to it than just being surrounded by the white stuff. It changed our Christmas in a big way. I've posted the story below. A good time to write about weather is when it's happening or very soon after, while it's still fresh in your mind. Later on, the emotional part is gone or lessened. Here's my snow story. What can you write that deals with weather?

The Christmas Of The Big Snow
By Nancy Julien Kopp

We finalized the 2009 Christmas plans at Thanksgiving when both our children’s families gathered around the dining room table. We would celebrate a week early in Texas with Kirk’s family, then go to Karen’s in-law’s on Christmas Day and on to her house the next day. All set—or so we thought.

Now, Christmas was only four days away, on Friday, and I still had some gift wrapping to do and a few things to bake. The radio and TV announcers kept repeating that we might have snow for Christmas—lots of it! But I didn’t worry about it as storms here in central Kansas so often ended up veering either north or south of us. We usually didn’t put much stock in the reports until we saw the first flakes of snow.

By Wednesday afternoon, the weather people repeated words like blizzard and drifting and icy roads. I looked out the window off and on but all we had was rain and foggy conditions. It looked dismal but not threatening. Still, something told me I’d better run to the grocery store and pick up some “just in case” steaks to have on hand.

I finished wrapping the gifts for Karen’s family and one for Steve’s parents that evening. Thursday morning, I made the last batch of cookies and cinnamon rolls, which left a lingering spicy scent in the warm kitchen. Not a flake of snow in sight. I scoffed at the weatherman on our local radio station when he predicted a record snow.

I work as a volunteer at our hospital gift shop on Thursday afternoons. As Ken and I ate lunch, the first flakes drifted from the sky. I must have looked worried because Ken said, “I’ll take you to the hospital and pick you up in time to get to church by five.”

I helped customers, most of whom were hospital employees, select last-minute gifts all that afternoon. Christmas music flowed through the shop. I kept watch out the shop’s big picture windows as the continuing snow turned the world white. The wind picked up and I saw the snow swirling as it fell, trees bowing down just like the Three Kings who visited Baby Jesus.

People who came in from outside stamped their feet, shaking snow as they walked in. We heard things like “It’s piling up fast out there!” and “The roads are pretty slick.”  “Wind’s getting a lot worse.” The manager decided to close at 4 p.m., so I called Ken to pick me up sooner than planned. As I buttoned my coat and pulled on gloves, I told myself it was sure to stop soon.

The moment I got outside, I had trouble staying on my feet with the whipping wind. The bitter cold seeped through my coat in only seconds. Once I got inside the car, we started creeping home on roads that were getting worse by the minute. The usually short drive seemed like an eternity.

 “Maybe we shouldn’t try to go to church,” I said.

Ken agreed, but I felt a real pang of regret. It would be the first Christmas Eve service we’d ever missed in the 45 years of our marriage. Later, we heard that nearly all the churches cancelled services.

Our house felt warm and welcoming, and we were soon in our comfy chairs in the living room. The wind howled outside, as we sipped wine and nibbled on cheese and crackers while we watched the weather report. They kept repeating that word blizzard and then added record amounts of snow, then high winds to cause major drifting. Karen and Steve were already at his parents’ house, so I didn’t worry about them. They were safe and enjoying Christmas Eve with family. And Kirk and Amy were in Mississippi where there was no snow. We had heat and lights and plenty of food in the house. But I had definite misgivings about our plans for Christmas Day. The roaring wind taunted me like a playground bully.

We’ve been married long enough that Ken answered my question before I even got the words out. “The roads will be cleared by late tomorrow morning when we leave.” And I believed him! But it snowed all night and was still snowing and blowing Christmas morning. The gifts were ready, the food I was taking waited in the fridge and pantry.

We opened the gifts we had for each other, then ate a hot breakfast with some of the cinnamon rolls as a Christmas treat. And still the snow came. Ken tried to clear the driveway, but it was slow going with the drifts along one side.

Reports on radio and TV warned people to stay off the highways as they were snow-packed and icy and would remain so all day. We looked at each other and made a silent decision to stay home. Finally, Ken said, “You’d better call Karen and tell her.”

We had the ‘just in case’ steaks for dinner and a choice of many kinds of Christmas cookies for dessert. The phone rang off and on all day, and we made some calls to family in other states, but the day seemed to creep by. We knew we weren’t the only ones whose plans had changed. We had power, unlike some, so I tried to be grateful, but I kept thinking about our grandchildren

We were disappointed but not devastated. Once the roads were cleared and traffic could move safely, we’d make the trip to Karen’s house on the 26th and have Christmas. Her small children wouldn’t mind repeating the gift opening one more day. But the roads weren’t much better the next day and reports of accidents and drifting along the interstate made us use more caution than usual. Those 120 miles could turn into an all-day, very tense drive. We stayed home.

Karen and Steve had to go back to work on Monday, and on Wednesday, Ken fell and ended up in the hospital with a mild concussion, so we had a further delay. Would we ever have Christmas with this part of our family?

On the ninth of January, we packed the car with the unopened gifts and the food taken from the freezer. We made our way to Kansas City on clear, dry roads. The big snow was a memory, the disappointing Christmas Day pushed aside. It didn’t matter what day we celebrated with our children and grandchildren, whether early or late, it was Christmas in our hearts and we relished being together. That holiday, however, will always be ‘the Christmas of the big snow.”

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

One Way To Learn To Write

"You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; in just the same way you lear to love by loving."
---Anatole France

I found the quote above in a quarterly journal for cardiac patients put out by St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. My husband is on their mailing list but it's filled with so much good information that both of us read it. When I saw the quote above, I silently added write by writing. Anantole France, who is the person quoted, was a poet, novelist, and journalist in Paris. He died nearly a hundred years ago but his wisdom is still pertinent today. 

We definitely learn by doing. We can read a dozen books about writing. We can attend half a dozen writers' conferences. We can discuss writing with other writers. But the number one most important thing in my estimation is to learn by actually writing. I'm not advocating that this is the only way to learn how to write. All those other things will also help. Immeasurably! Still, we must write in order to learn more about writing. 

I've heard and read many times that the first 3 or 4 novels anyone writes are meant to be hidden in a drawer because they are so bad. Probably not true for every single writer in the world. Some are great hits from day one but that lot is pretty small in number. The majority of writers write poorly when they start out. 

A basketball player might shoot baskets for hours every day to perfect his shot and be good enough to be recruited by a top college team. Track stars don't start out winning golf medals the first time out. Opera stars didn't have it down pat the first time they stepped onto a stage. 

We must write on a regular basis to become better writers. Write something every day. Even if it's nothing more than keeping a journal, but even if that is what you write, do it with thought and make it your best writing rather than a series of jotted down thoughts. Let the journal be your practice pad for writing. How about those of you who are doing the Morning Pages exercise? Dredge up your best effort for that, too.

Learn to write by writing. It's as simple as that.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why Give A Book As A Gift?

I've seen this picture on facebook several times and wanted to share it with all of you, in case you had not seen it somewhere. Even if you have seen it before, it should warm any reader's heart. A Christmas tree made of books is probably the highlight at some bookstore. Maybe they should run a contest to see who can guess the number of books it took to create this tree.

It does make me think about giving books as a gift, whether for Christmas, birthday or any other special occasion. I love books but it doesn't mean that everyone does, so be careful whom you choose to gift with a book. I can list any number of people among my family and friends who would receive the book graciously, set it aside and never open the cover. So, those people do not receive books from me.

You know who among your circle are the readers. Those are the ones you can gift with a book, but give serious thought to the genre. You might love historical fiction but your cousin, Lucy, devours only science fiction novels. So, don't buy a Civil War novel for her. That sounds like a no-brainer, I know, but there are people who select books for others based only on their own likes and dislikes.

When you give a book as a gift, do you inscribe the inside cover? Some people will always do that and others will never do so. What if the person already has the book and wants to return this one? That's always a possibility, but go ahead, take a chance and inscribe it. I love going back later and reading the inscription again. Somehow, it is even more meaningful later on. Give careful thought to what you will write. Once it's there, it's forever.

A book is a very easy present to wrap (or bag!). I purchased something for a brother-in-law a few weeks ago for his Christmas present which I thought a wonderful gift for him. But I have to mail it and it is an unwieldy size. Suddenly, it has become a problem rather than a great gift. I could have sent him a book so much more easily, but he is one of those who would most likely never open the cover..

A book is a gift that the recipient can read more than once. It can be tucked into a row of books on the bookshelf and pulled out over and over. Or if it's the perfect coffee table book, it can be displayed and become a conversation piece when guests come over.

If selecting a book for a gift is a problem, a gift card to a local bookstore or Amazon might work quite well. A couple of years ago, someone sent me an Amazon gift card. It was great fun deciding what books I would purchase with the card.

I'm a great proponent of gifting children with books from infancy on. My grandchildren have received books from us for many special occasions and sometimes just for no reason at all other than the fact that this grandmother encourages reading in a bigtime way. Kids today are interested in technology type of things, something that does something but I still want them to learn to appreciate what a solid book in hand can do for them. It informs, entertains, transports to other places in the world and can be a lot of fun.

You might not create a Christmas tree made of books but you can give a book to someone. Books feed the mind and soothe the soul.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December Thoughts For Writers

If you're like me, you're most likely wondering how in the heck December could be here. Weren't we just putting away Christmas decorations several weeks ago? Nope. It was about eleven months back that we did that. Oh my!

When I was a child and anxious for an important event in life to arrive, time seemed to drag. My mother often told me--when I complained about the length of time to wait--that the older you get, the faster time goes. How right she was.

I love the picture in this poster. Kind of fun to see an already lighted tree being toted home on that car, isn't it? My dad sure would have loved having one like that instead of a tree that required several strings of colored lights, laid on one strand at a time.

If you celebrate Christmas, this month brings time-robbers galore. Shopping, decorating, baking, gift-wrapping, parties to give and to attend and more. It's a lot of fun but also a little frustrating. Mostly because the everyday things still require our attention. We need to cook, grocery shop, do laundry, clean house--the common chores. Add that to the December extras and where in the world are you going to find time to write?

My online critique group cuts our requirements in half this month, closing down the last two weeks. If anyone wants to sub or crit that second half, that's fine but nobody is expected to do it. That gives a little relief, but there are still stories swirling in our heads. And we all know full well that if we don't work on them, or at least get the high points down, they'll be lost in that big area in space called "Stories That Never Got Written." I've got quite a few floating around in that huge vacuum and I'll bet some of you do, as well.

If you don't have time to work on the ideas now, at least make a list of the main thoughts or even an outline and save it for a cold, dismal January day to develop fully.

I've often said that we need to create time in our busy lives to write. I still believe that but I have to give you a slide-by in December. On the other hand, maybe you'd like to get away from all the December activities for an hour or two some afternoon or evening, so you'll sit at your computer and pound out a new story. If nothing else, write about a Christmas tradition in your family, or a funny story that happened at Christmas, or even the Christmas when you had tears rather than smiles. Your Family Memory Book could easily have the fattest section labeled December. Here's a list to trigger some of those memories:

1. Buying or cutting your Christmas tree
2. Decorating the hosue and tree
3. Christmas baking
4. Gift buying and giving
5. Christmas weather
6. When did Santa come to your house?
7. Did you perform in a children's program at church every year?
8. What did Santa give you at those programs? (I can never forget the hard candy we go and I hated)
9. Did your family go all our for Christmas or play it kind of low-key?
10. What school activities did you have in December?
11. Did you make any of the gifts you gave others?
12. Did you eat the same thing for dinner every Christmas?
13. Did you live on a farm or in the city? What traditions did you have there?
14. Your happiest Christmas
15. Your saddest Christmas