Friday, August 30, 2013

Chicken Soup is Looking For Stories

I recently checked the Chicken Soup for the Soul website to see what books they have in the works. It's been one of my best markets in the creative nonfiction area of my writing world. I will have number 14 in November in a book titled Just Us Girls.  The cover above is a book published several years ago but still available. I checked at Amazon.

A Chicken Soup story must be true and it must be a story, not an essay or a sermon. Creative nonfiction stories are no different than fiction in that they must have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. They aren't just a slice of life kind of writing. But let's go on to the book titles so you can see if you have a story that will fit or would like to write one. Check out this page for details on each book.

1.  Home Sweet Home
2.  Living With Alzheimers and Other Dementia
3.  My Guardian Angel
4.  Overcoming Challenges
5.  Reboot Your Life
6.  Recovering From Traumatic Brain Injuries
7.  The Cat Did What?
8.  The Dog Did What?

Numbers 2 and 6 are pretty specialized but some of you just might have a story to share on these difficult subjects. Read the blurbs behind the titles to see what the editors are looking for. It's interesting that they keep creating new books about cats and dogs, obviously a popular subject.

Remember the Golden Rule of Submitting--Follow the Submission Guidelines Carefully. The submission page that will give you guidance is found here. There is a great deal of information on this page but, beleive me, you had better read and digest it before you submit to this publisher. After you write your story, go back and read it again and see if your story fits within the guidelines. If not, make some revisions before submitting.

We have a long weekend coming up. August exits, September smiles at us and Monday is a holiday. Perfect time to get some writing done unless you have lots of outdoor activities planned. As for me, I'm going to the first Kansas State football game of the season tonight but will be working on some stories for Chicken Soup the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Write It, Publish It, Then Sell It

Play a little game with me today.When I look at this picture, I imagine myself spending a week in a seaside hotel with nothing to do but swim, dine, sip a glass of wine, relax and read. That book you see is mine. I've finally published a book. As an independent publisher. All mine. Glorious! I worked hard on the novel and I had a lot to learn about the self-publishing process, but it's all been accomplished. So I deserve this vacation. But it's not going to be a serenity filled week at all because I keep thinking about the stacks and stacks of books in cartons that are waiting for me at home. I'm writer, publisher and marketer. I have to sell all those books on my own. All of a sudden, my stomach hurts, my head is throbbing and I'm breaking out in a cold sweat. What next?

All of the above is purely imaginary, but the dream of writing and publishing your own book can end up being a major headache once it comes to the marketing end of the process. Publishing companies have people who do nothing but marketing. They know all the methods plus they have the contacts needed to get the word out when a book is published. You, as an independent publisher might think that's unfair competition.

Actually, it isn't. An independent goes into the project knowing that the burden of all parts of the process is going to fall on him/her. The joy of accomplishing the writing and creating an actual book to sell can often be dimmed considerably when the selling part grows to be a problem. I don't profess to know the best ways to go about it. There are certain things that most of us in the writing world would be able to suggest.

1.  Sell to your family and friends
2.  Advertise through social media
3.  Offer to speak to local groups about your book
4.  Contact libraries in your state
5.  Contact TV shows that do interviews in your area
6.  Attend Book Festivals and writer conferences
7.  Send promo copies and ask for reviews in newspapers, blogs and other media

All of the above will help sell some books but not in any large quantity. One thing that an independent publishing writer might consider is hiring a publicist. Another expense. But maybe it would be worthwhile. I do know that publicists sell their services as a package, and like all things, the more you pay, the more you get. I think I'd interview a publicist extensively to learn exactly what I might expect from them and how much difference they might make in your sales. Do some research and learn what a publicisit might do for you.

A few authors hit it lucky when they hit the ebook world. But I am guessing that it is only a very few. Many more sell enough books to cover original expenses and little more. Sounds discouraging, I know, but if you want to publish your own book, it's best to look at the realistic picture. That goes for ebooks and print.

Another suggestion is to head over to Amazon and take a gander at the help they have for you. Pages of titles! There are lots of people selling books about how to sell books. They've probably been there themselves and are willing to write a book and throw you a lifeline. Of course, they are also hoping for lots of sales on their book, just like you.

In all honesty, I've considered self-publishing a juvenile novel, a book of articles for beginning writers, an anthology of short stories for kids and a book of my memoir stories. I could learn the process of doing it as an ebook, maybe even the print on demand. It's the marketing that holds me back because I know that it's a huge process that must be worked on constantly and consistently. In my stage of life, I'm not sure I want to wrap that yoke around my neck. Twenty years ago, I'd have done it without even thinking about it. I'd have headed into it blindly no doubt, which is not a good way to take on a major project. Learn all you can before you commit.

If you want to be an independent author/publisher, do the research. Talk to others who have been there. Read books about the process. Then make the commitment but do so with your eyes wide open. I'm not trying to discourage those who would like to publish a book this way. Not at all. I admire anyone who does so and will give all the encouragement I can to them. Writing and publishing a book is a huge accomplishment, one to be proud of. Just know that there's still a lot of work to be done in the marketing.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Pinocchio Factor

Pinocchio color page, disney coloring pages, color plate, coloring sheet,printable coloring pictureAn intriguing plot that piques the reader's interest and holds it might be at the top of the list for goals for writing good fiction. As important as plot looms in creating memorable fiction, characters that show emotion and carry out the plot may surpass it in importance. Now matter how good the story line, stiff and unfeeling characters will deflate a story faster than a pin pierces a balloon.

In the classic tale, Pinocchio, a woodcarver named Gepetto creates a puppet boy of wood. Gepetto's fondest wish is to turn his inanimate creation into a live boy who can love and cry and be a son to him. Pinocchio's adventures and misadventures fill the pages of this beloved children's story. We're writers, not woodcarvers. We don't want to create lifeless characters that might drag a story into oblivion.

We've all read work with charactes that move the reader from Point A to Point B, but if they are wooden and show no emotion, we quickly lose interest. Emotion drives us, identifies us and creates feelings of one kind or another for the characters in a story.

Readers want to feel the anger, sadness or fear in a character. More important than a physical description is to show what that character feels within. Show is the keyword here.

Consider the following two passages:
A.  Jennifer felt angry
B.  Jennifer stormed into the kitchen, picked up a bowl of gravy and threw it against the wall. Body shaking, she clenched her hands into fists and searched for another missile to hurl.

Passage A is short and tells what Jennifer felt while B shows it through her actions. The reader can relate to and feel the emotion in B. It not only shows the emotion, it creates emotion in the reader.

In Lois Lowery's Newberry Award novel, Number the Stars, a girl living in Nazi-occupied Denmark during WWII runs into two German soldiers on her way home from school. Ms. Lowery did not say "Annamarie was frightened by the soldiers." Instead she wrote the following passage:

Annamarie stared up. There were two of them. That meant two helmets, two sets of cold eyes staring at her, and four tall shiny boots planted firmly on the sidewalk, blocking her path to home. And it meant two rifles, gripped in the hands of the soldiers.

When a reader comes this passage, her heart might beat a little faster. She feels the same fear that Annamarie must be experiencing by seeing the soldiers through the child's eyes. Thanks to Ms. Lowery!

In Pinocchio, Carol Collodi brigns Gepetto to life through his words and actions. When Gepetto carves his wooden puppet, strange things begin to happen and we see his fear and frustration in the following passage: a few minutes it had become an immense nose that seemed never to end. Poor Gepetto tired himself out with cutting it off... The mouth was not even completed when it began to laugh and deride him. 'Stop laughing I say' he roared in a deafening tone

In real life, we often hold back our emotions. When writing, we must learn to do exactly the opposite. If you want to create memorable characters that inspire deep feelings in the reader, release the passion in you and allow the emotion to rise to the top. It's the perfect place to give your own emotions the outlet you might not have in your everyday existence. Make your characters laugh and cry, shout and stomp.

Pinocchio spent an entire book trying to become a real boy. You can create a real person in a paragraph with the right words. Let yourself go. Who knows? It could be a lot of fun.5

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Sure Way To Lose Your Readers

Something crossed my mind the other day that I decided to talk about on a blog post. Today's the day. As the quote above tells us, almost all writers have the burning desire to be published. It's the brass ring on the carousel ride for most of us.

One way you are sure to take one step forward and three steps back is to write a whole lot of unnecessary description that end up boring a reader. Many years ago, I attended a Saturday workshop for writers in the area where we lived. Several who gathered in a cozy living room on that cold, winter day were published authors. Others were only wannabe authors, while still others fell halfway between. At one point in the day, we had a read-around. It was a chance to read our work aloud and get the reaction of the group.

Everything was going just fine until one young woman began to read a portion of a novel she was working on. She read many pages. Her audience listened attentively to page one, a bit less so on page two and by page three, many were squirming in their seats, writing in a notebook, staring into space, looking out the window at the snowy scene. In short, she had lost her audience. Completely! And why?

In several pages nothing happened. We learned about the character being hungry and wanting to eat something. The writer meticulously described the room, she took us along as the character rose from her chair, walked across the room and opened the refrigerator door. We went with her as she peered into its cavity looking for something to appease her hunger. We were then made to watch as she closed the fridge door, walked to the kitchen table and placed the lunch meat and mustard on its top. Then, we were taken with her as she went to the breadbox and selected a loaf of bread. On and on it went like this. How it can take several pages of sentences to make a sandwich is a wonder.

The point is that making that sandwich or her hunger had absolutely nothing to do with the story. It had no importance whatsoever. We don't care about the many steps it takes to get up, get the ingredients and make the sandwich. We only care about what is relevant to the story itself. Let the reader assume these mundane parts of the story. Respect your reader's intelligence enough to let them figure out that she rose from her chair and walked to the refrigerator, got the makings of a sandwich etc. If the many steps in making that sandwich had a major bearing on the story, fine, but in this one, it most certainly did not.

What the writer did was to bore her readers (in this case listeners) to the point that they literally tuned her out. Elmore Leonard, the mystery writer who died very recently is often quoted for this sage piece of advice. He said, I try to leave out the parts that people skip. It makes most people laugh, but oh what wisdom it holds.

Forget the mundane, the things that can easily be assumed by the reader, and all things that do not have any bearing on the story.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Will It Be I, He, She or You?

I    He    She   You

Since our oldest granddaughter is going to be applying to colleges this year, I paid close attention as I read Lacy Crawford's article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal, titled Tell Harvard What You Think.  It was an eye-opening article about writing the personal statement on a college application but it also gave me a thought for today's blog post.

The part that jumped out at me as a writer was the one and only sidebar shown in the article. It said The first person is a mighty tool. Use it. Ms Crawford is referring to the college application essay, but I immediately thought about writing fiction. I like writing stories using the first person. I enjoy reading stories written in the first person.

Why? When I write a story in first person, I can climb right into the head of my main character. The longer I write, the more I can feel my character. I begin to understand her in a way I might not if I wrote strictly using her name or she as done in third person. I feel as though I am living the story because of the use of I. It definitely feels more personal than if I wrote the story in third person.

Similarly, when I read a story written in first person, I seem to be living the story. I relate to that character, sometimes even thinking I am that person.

I have read only a few short stories using second person or you. Some writers think it a fun and unusual technique, but when I read a story written that way, it irritates me to no end. It actually sets my teeth on edge. Obviously, not everyone has this kind of reaction because editors continue to publish stories that have a zillion you words in them. I guarantee that you will never read one of my stories written this way.

I agree with Ms Crawford whole-heartedly. The first person is a mighty tool. Use it.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Are You At Land's End In Your Writing Life?

Sign posted at the farthest tip of land in Cornwall, UK

Some clever person came up with this signpost in the Cornwall area of England, which we visited earlier this summer. Made us smile and as Ken wandered farther on the adjacent pathway, I lingered. I gazed across that huge sea that appeared to have no other side. Where was it? Thousands of ocean miles beyond, that's where. I thought about the early immigrants who sailed to the Colonies from these shores, even those who started the American Colonies. How frightening to set off for the unknown. But also how very thrilling to embark on such an adventure. They didn't know what lay ahead of them but were willing to take a chance in hopes that good things waited across that vast body of water. History tells us that they received their share of difficulties, heartaches and discouraging experiences. But along with all of that, the people who went on the adventure gained a sense of achievement, satisfaction and joy as they made their way into the new world and settled the land there.

Beginning writers, even those who've been writing for some time, are very much like those early immigrants. It's never smooth sailing from day one to the day you call yourself a roaring success in this field. The writer's sea is fraught with many of the same problems the early settlers faced. There are heartaches when rejections come more than acceptances. We face discouragement when an editor takes time to write a note to let the writer know why their work was rejected. Especially, in our early days, we strike out far more often than we get a hit. I was once told by a longtime writer to expect an acceptance for one of every twelve submissions. Doesn't take a genius to figure out that means eleven times your heart falls to your feet when you receive the rejection notice, or even no notice at all after months slide by. We get discouraged when a story just doesn't seem to work. Why is it so flat? Why can't I make the characters come alive? Why doesn't my prose sing?

But along with those dismal things, there are the times in our writing life when we do have a tremendous sense of achievement. We are satisfied and elated with something we've written or the number of published pieces we've had. It's a good thing we do experience those positives to offset the negatives. If not, we might get so discouraged that we'd chuck the whole writer's journey into the nearest body of water. For me, that would be Tuttle Creek Lake, not an ocean. For some of you, it might be a meandering creek or river. Doesn't matter what kind of place it is, some of us are ready to dump it all at times.

But wait! Don't rush into giving up the writing life. If you set goals that are within the realm of being able to achieve, if you truly love to write, and if you can dwell on the positive aspects more than the bleak ones, then you'll keep going. You may feel like you're at Land's End on some days, but look across that ocean between frustration and success. It's worth trying to get to the other side. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

One Way To Plan A Book

"The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes. ”
-Agatha Christie

The quote above has been popping up over and over recently. It's one I've seen many times over the years but why is it getting so much attention now? She was born 123 years ago, so this is not a special anniversary year. But think of it--a woman born so very long ago is still quoted and her books are still read, still being made into movies for TV (Masterpiece Theater on PBS). 

She was an insightful person as well as being witty. One of her quotes that I like better and better, the older I get says An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her. 

But let's talk about the quote on planning a book. Doing the dishes in Ms Christie's day and doing them present day are two totally different tasks. At least in most homes. Now, we clear the table, scrape the plates and load them in the dishwasher in exactly the same pattern each time. Plates in one area, flatware in a basket of some sort, glasses and cups on the top tier. A task that needs no thinking on our part, just as it was in her day. Soapy water in the sink, a dishcloth and rinse water. A mindless task. A household chore like this leaves our mind completely free. 

And that is key here. Our hands may be busy but our mind can begin planning a novel or book. With a very practiced writer like Agatha Christie, I wouldn't doubt that she was able to plot an entire book with the washing of the dinner dishes. For others, it might mean figuring out the beginning of a novel, or depending where you are with the writing, even the concluding sections. 

I have two places where I am able to give my total thought attention to something I hope to write in the near future. The first is when I'm out walking by myself. I most often walk on a lovely trail that is lined on both sides with the backyards of homes. Bushes, trees, flower beds and birdsong--that's what I see and hear as foot hits ground over and over. I have developed ideas for many stories or essays while taking a walk. The other place that works for me is at the ironing board. It is definitely a task that takes no thought, it's as rote a practice as can be. But something about it is satisfying to me and I have often said that I do some of my best thinking at the ironing board. The problem is that we don't have to iron as many things as we once did, so that means less time standing there sliding an iron back and forth to get the wrinkles out--and planning what I want to write next.

Planning your writing projects while doing a no-thought task is fine as long as you do one important thing. When the job is finished, hie thee immediately to a place where you can jot down some notes. It doesn't matter how detailed they are. If you have nothing but keywords to jog your memory, that's fine. If you don't write it down somewhere or somehow, you risk losing some good ideas. You might remember part of what you mentally planned but perhaps not all of it. So for Heaven's sake, write it down. Same thing goes for those fabulous thoughts you have in the middle of the night. Write it down or it's going to be gone by morning.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Where The Heck Are We?

Harbor in Falmouth, Cornwall UK

A lot has been written about paying attention to the sense of place in the stories we write. Only yesterday, I read a good article highlighting the topic in the October issue of The Writer magazine. Last spring, at my critique group's conference, one of our outside speakers (as opposed to members in the group who spoke) was an editor who discussed the importance of place in writing. She gave us some exercises which we did on the spot. 

Several read what they'd written aloud. As the words floated through the room, the rest of us gained some terrific mental pictures. We knew exactly the kind of place the writer was transporting us to. We could hear it, see it in our mind, almost smell it. Sensory details are of great use in establishing place.

When you begin to read a short story or a novel, or even a memoir, you want to know where you are. Is it city or rural? Mountains or seaside? Bleak or beautiful? Industrial or upscale shops? The problem comes when the writer knows where the place is but doesn't convey it to the reader. In other words, I, as the writer, know the place well but unless I show it to the reader, they're going to feel like they're floating in space.

When friends or family move from one home to another and you haven't had an opportunity to make a visit, you can't picture their surroundings. You might talk to them on the phone and they mention they are just cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. Fine. But you have no clue as to what that kitchen looks like. Is your friend wiping down black granite countertops or white formica? Is the fridge white or stainless steel? Is the room huge or a small utility type kitchen? After your first visit to see this new home, you'll have that sense of place whenever you call or think about the person, or send a birthday card. You have to see it to have it.

That's the job the writer has--to let the reader see where the story happens. It's tempting to write several paragraphs describing the place, but I think a far better way is to weave it in around whatever is going on with the first character we meet in the opening of the story. 

The picture at the top of today's post was one I took when we visited England earlier this summer. Use it to try a quick writing exercise. Write a few paragraphs showing us where this is. Note that I said show. Telling us about it is far too easy for the writer, far too mundane and can be a bit boring to the reader.

Now try it again in the picture below. This is a favorite picture of one of my longtime friends. I love it because of who is in the picture but I also love this picture because of the place it was taken. It's a place I know well. Can you show us the kind of place it is?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Spread A Fisherman's Net

Spread A Fisherman's Net
A serene lake in Colorado

This is a post written in 2011. It seemed to be appropriate to repost today as I've been thinking about the importance of other writers in my life. Just couldn't do without them! 

Someone once asked me how I could do so much writing. "It's a lonely life," she said, "and you're such an outgoing person who loves being in social situations." She's right about the second part. I am a very social kind of person who thrives on being with others. But I don't find writing lonely at all.

Instead, it's comforting to spend time at the computer composing new things and marketing others. I would never consider it lonely, because I have spread a net like a fisherman and can count many other writers in the catch. I know that's a stretch of the advice to network, but it seemed to fit what I'm trying to say.

It's great getting to know other writers. I learn a lot by listening to them, watching what they do to market their writing, and reading their published work. When you have a net filled with other writers, they share markets and also let others know about a bad experience they might have had with an editor. Maybe an especially good experience, too. Writers have a common bond with one another just like people who are in police work, or the military, or fashion design.

But what about the competition factor? Sure, we're all competing to get published, but it's certainly not a cutthroat kind of thing. If twenty of us enter the same contest, only one is going to come out the winner. That doesn't mean I have to unfriend a writer. If she wins and I don't, I'm happy for her and move on. I find that writers are more than willing to help one another.

This morning, a writer I met only a few months ago sent me notice of an anthology call for submission. It was not one of the anthologies we know about, but a single time anthology of short fiction. I'd never have been aware of it if my new writer friend had not sent it to me. Likewise, there is an anthology of Christmas stories, poems, and more that bought two stories from me. Had another writer not let me know about their call for submissions, I'd have missed out.

Increase your circle of writer friends whenever you can. Join organizations for writers, join a critique group, hop on facebook and post regularly. I've established contact again there with writers I hadn't heard from or about for several years. Go to conferences and make contacts. Keep your name alive in the writing world and your number of writer contacts will only increase. Your net will be full.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Enjoy The Ride To The Top

free funny motivational inspirational quotes posters

What happens when you have struggled mightily to achieve your goals and suddenly make it? How long does the satisfaction last? Where do you go next? Do you set another goal and keep climbing or do you sit on your throne and wait for others to join your court? 

Maybe the happiness truly does come in reaching mini-goals on your way to the top. Growth certainly occurs as you move from one small goal to another. I think we need to learn to be happy with those little bits of success along the way to the bigtime. It doesn't mean you must give up your aim at the top goal. Not at all. Instead, savor those successes along your path to the top. 

Only a handful of writers are going to have instant name reognition across the literary world and even in the world of those who only read occasionally. What a thrill if a writer reaches that status. But what about the rest of us? Our writing might be known in our local community or even within our state. Maybe that's all the farther it goes. Once we get published in an anthology series like Chicken Soup for the Soul several times, our name is going to be known in other states, even other countries. Still, it's only one more step up that proverbial ladder of success. 

John Grisham's story of attaining fame is pretty well known. He pedaled his first novel to something close to 26 publishers before one took a chance and bought it. He soared to the top of the charts with The Firm and we all know what happened next. He didn't take the money and sit on his laurels. On the contrary, he has written many more novels. He hit the top and he obvioulsly wanted to stay there. The only way to do that was to continue writing best-sellers. 

Look at Harper Lee who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird. Her book is still read today by readers of all ages, used in school literature classes and has been deemed a classic. She never published another book. There are many reasons for that, no doubt, but perhaps one of them was that she'd reached her goal and was completely satisfied, felt no need to continue. 

Take time to enjoy the growth and positives in your writing journey. The inchworm eventually gets to his destination and so will you if you savor the journey.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Do Life Events Change People?

In the quote above, the final sentence stands out for me. Everyone has gone through something that has changed them. It's one of the rules of writing fiction, isn't it? The protagonist must change in some way by meeting problems and solving them (or not!). There wouldn't be any story if the hero or heroine didn't meet some obstacles along the way. We wouldn't care much about them unless we see some growth in them or a change of some sort.

Even Pollyanna, the little girl who saw the positive side of everything, wasn't immune to problems in her life. If all we read in her story was about how wonderful her life was and how charming everything and everyone around her was, why would we want to read it? If nothing happens, what incentive do we have to continue turning the pages?

It's that 'something that a person has gone through' that is the basis for writing a fiction story. But it works in nonfiction, too. If you're writing a memoir that you hope to have published, you'd better have a life story that shows how you were changed in some way, You need to tell your readers what is special about what happened to you that will make them want to continue reading to learn how you changed.

Yes, each and every one of us has a story. Granted, some are a whole lot more interesting than others. I've even heard people comment about their own life having been a pretty dull one, one that no one would care to know about. If they really give it some thought, they might come up with some interesting events that occurred over their lifetime, some things that changed them as a person.

Loss of someone you care about changes you in a number of ways. Once you achieve a long-sought goal, you're not the same person who started the journey as the one who reached the end. Falling in love and devoting your life to another person changes you. Becoming a parent certainly changes you in numerous ways.

Walk down the aisles of the grocery store and take a good look at the people who pass by. Each one of them has a story. Each one of them has been changed in some way by what has occurred over their lifetime. As a writer, it should make you want to tap them on the shoulder and ask them to tell you their story. I wouldn't suggest doing it, however, as they might call for help! What I'm suggesting is to be observant--watch and listen to the world around you. You might find the perfect character for your next short story or novel.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Memories of Starting School Each Year

School Kids at School

School started yesterday where our two youngest grandchildren live, also here in our community. It seems too early to me because I went to school in the days when we always started the day after Labor Day in September. 

I looked forward to that first day of school every year. Being among the fortunate who liked school, I longed for the happy days in the classroom, learning more each year. I remember thinking I would learn how to read on the very first day of first grade. My mother had promised it would happen. She spoke figuratively and I took it literally. First day, first grade, I'd be a reader. Needless to say, it took a bit longer but with the help of Dick and Jane and Baby Sally, their pets Spot and Puff, I acquired the ability to put letters together to make words and then put words together to read stories in our first readers. Bliss! 

In the few weeks prior to that first day of school, my mother took us shopping for school supplies. The list then was far shorter than the ones kids today have. We needed only the very basic things, never anything fancy. The school supplied a lot. A giant jar of school paste lived in a supply closet located in our primary classrooms section of the school. Stacks of paper to write on and reams of colored construction paper inhabited that closet, too. I still remember the smell of the paste when the teacher twisted the lid and lifted it off the jar. A sweet but clean aroma permeated the area as she refilled our classroom jar. No Elmer's Glue for us.

My brothers and I always had new shoes to begin the school year. No sneakers for everyday wear, those we put on for gym class or to play after school. We girls wore loafers or saddle shoes or mary janes. The boys had oxfords or loafers. Girls wore skirts or dresses. My mother usually made my clothes but I had a say in the fabrics and patterns she used. Our faces were scrubbed clean and hair fixed just so on that first day. We learned that we were to make a good impression on the teacher who stationed herself at the classroom door to greet us on that special morning. 

For me, one of the best parts of the first day of school was getting books I'd never seen before. Readers, math books, science books, social studies books, and in the higher grades English books filled with grammar lessons. Getting a new book still gives me a surge of joy. 

We walked to school in the morning, walked home for lunch, then back to school and a final walk home in the mid-afternoon. I lived the farthest from the school but those several city blocks never seemed long, even on the coldest days of winter or when it rained. There was only one busy street on my route and a retired policeman never failed to be there to see us across. Mr. Rawl made sure I made it safely to the other side of the street from kindergarten through eighth grade. He wore his police uniform, had silver white hair, merry blue eyes and always a smile for every kid who came along. I knew I was special to him, but so did every other child who walked that route. It was exciting to see him on that first day every September. 

Even the few years that I was a teacher, I loved the first day of school. I knew that I'd be able to stand in front of the class, look down the rows of desks and see brand new shoes, neatly combed hair and faces shining clean. Later in the year, the shoes were scuffed and faces sometimes clean, other times not. 

I stopped teaching after five years when I became a mother. I remember that first Tuesday morning, the day after Labor Day when I gazed out my living room window at the children walking to school. It was the first time in 22 years that I wouldn't be starting school. And it hurt! But only for a little while. I knew it would only be a few years until our first child would march off to school, new shoes, clean face and hair combed just so. And today, it was two of my grandchildren who carried on the tradition. Didn't matter that it was the middle of August, it was still that special first day of the school year.

What kind of first day of school memories do you have? Are they in your memory book or do you still need to write about it? Now's the perfect time.
Teacher at a Desk

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Return The Favor

Should writers help other writers? Aren't they all competitors? Why help the guy who is trying to beat you to the door of the publisher?

Good questions that have probably crossed the mind of many a writer on occasion. My unequivocal answer is Yes, writers should help other writers.

Newbie writers start out with a few skills related to writing. A whole lot of practice and writing experience helps them grow but assistance in one form or another from other writers is of great importance. It doesn't stop once you can say you are no longer a brand new writer. Even writers with years of experience, years of being published appreciate help from someone else who knows and understands what they deal with every day.

Yesterday, I reviewed a book for a fellow writer on my blog. Grant Overstake's YA novel was his first venture into this kind of writing. His background is in newspaper writing, sports columns, and editing rural newspapers. So, he is certainly no beginner. Anyone who has published a book, whether with a publishing house or independently, knows that it is not going to sell unless you get the word out. I was happy to help by reviewing the promo copy Grant sent me.

In return, he referenced my blog post on his own blog that is geared to his book Maggie Vaults Over the Moon. It really pleased me to read the kind things he said about me in his post today. You can read it here if you like. We ended up helping one another.

One of the reasons I started this blog back in 2009 was the desire to help other writers by giving tips and encouragement along with posts about my personal writing world. From comments I've received over the years, I know that it's been well received by those still acquiring knowledge about the field of writing and even for many who are longtime writers. Want to read my first-ever blog post? August 2009

I've had many writers inform me of new markets to try and I've done the same for many others. I don't feel like I need to keep a good market a secret. Giving the particulars on a market doesn't mean the other writer will get accepted and I won't. We are each going to submit and either be rejected or accepted on the merit of what we send the editor.

In my critique group, we help each other on a daily basis, and when one of us is published, we all rejoice.

Whenever you have an opportunity to help another writer, act on it. You never know when the favor may be returned.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

This One's A Winner!

Grant Overstake's first novel is in the YA category--geared toward teens. I spent two evenings reading Maggie Vaults Over the Moon and this long-time adult enjoyed the story immensely. Heartwarming and realistic, this book is a winner.

The author's background as a sports columnist and editor and participant in track and field events served him well in this newest venture. He must have heard that old write what you know because he gives his readers a good picture of the world of pole vaulting. How many kids have a burning desire to be a pole vaulter? Not nearly so many as want to be a pro baseball or football player, but after reading this debut novel a lot of kids might have the urge to look into track and field as a sport. Mr. Overstake weaves in a lot of information about pole vaulting that only adds intersest to an already good story.

A native of Wichita, Kansas, the author chose his home state as the setting for the book. He let Maggie Steele be the narrator of her story beginning in June after her junioir year in high school and finishing one year later as she graduates. In the space of that year, Maggie loses her beloved brother, Alex, in an auto accident. She takes her brother's place helping her dad harvest their wheat as they both continue to grieve for Alex. Maggie looks in vain for comfort at home and with her grandmother but finally finds some solace in the hayloft of the family's barn where she once spent happy times swinging on ropes with her brother.

With a little help from an unusual source, Maggie spends hours practicing with an old bamboo pole to learn the art of pole vaulting but never telling anyone until she goes out for the track and field team in the spring. There's a lot more here including a new boyfriend, her fear of what life holds for her after graduation, and how she slowly works through her grief. Maggie is a good role model for young people as she's determined, caring, and full of spirit and spunk. 

I'll say it again. Grant Overstake has written a winner. Maggie Vaults Over the Moon would be a perfect gift for a teen, even a quick but satisfying read for yourself. Readers of this book come away with a clear picture of what life is like in a rural setting and high school in this state known for wheat farming. They'll learn something about farm kids showing animals at the county and state fair, about the big responsibilities farm kids often have, and a lot about how track and field sport is conducted. Most of all, they'll learn that people slowly learn to live with a tragic event and that determination, dedication and desire to achieve will bring results. 

The author asked me if I'd read and review his book. I'm very pleased that he did so. It's a story I won't soon forget, even if it is meant for people a whole lot younger than I am. I plan to send the book to my two teen-age granddaughers in Dallas. I feel quite sure they'll like it as much as I did. 

Look for the book at Amazon. You can also visit the website to learn more and to see an announcement of Grant Overstake's upcoming appearance at the Kansas Book Festival in September 2013.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Writers Need To Use Emotion

Emotion is a key element in a good piece of writing. Poet, Robert Frost, said it perfectly in today's quote. If the writer isn't feeling the emotion, it is not going to come through to the reader.

In my critique group, I quite often see a critique that tells the writer that they couldn't feel any emotion when they read the submission, that it came across rather flat. Even though the subject may have been one that could be filled with emotion. Why?

Sometimes a writer is afraid to allow their feelings to surface completely. She/he might give little hints but they keep the floodgates closed. The other day I talked about why we write on the blog, and one of those reasons was to share with others. That's fine, but you need to give them whole picture. You need to dig deep and bring those feelings into the words you write. So, why are we fearful? Maybe it's comforting to let difficult emotions lie quietly where they are. It can be painful to dredge them up because then you have to deal with them.

If you want whatever you're writing to be a quality piece, one that reaches out and grabs the reader, then you will have to use all those emotions in your inner self to accomplish that. Do it to share and help others who may be experiencing some of the same feelings and do it for yourself as you deal with whatever it is that you've been keeping below the surface.

Frost references tears meaning sadness. That's far from the only emotions that we want to be able to portray. The list below is only a sampling. You will find many others if you google list of emotions.

1. fear
2. anger
3. joy
4. disgust
5. anxiety
6. worry
7. grief
8. gratitude
9. love
10. frustration

The old show, don't tell tool comes into play when writing with emotion. If you tell the reader that Jane was sad, they aren't going to have much reaction or sympathy. Show them Jane feeling sad and the reader will react in a completely different mode.

The articles, stories and poems that portray emotions will be the ones readers remember. They'll be the ones that editors accept immediately. They're the ones that will make you a good writer.

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Winning Day!

This morning, I turned on my computer, checked my Inbox for new messages and saw one with the subject 'Wahoo!'  Needless to say, it caught my attention pretty fast. Especially since it came from Jessica Dotta, my friend who is doing the 31 Day Giveaway to launch her first novel, Born of Persuasion.

The email directed me to check the facebook page, and when I went there, I learned that I was the winner of Day 8. Now how cool is it to begin your day with that kind of news? I won two things, a set of gaily decorated magnetic clothespins and a copy of Downton Abbey cookbook.

There are still plenty of days left in the giveaway, so check every day on Jessica's author page and enter. Today's giveaway is a pattern for an apron that might have been worn by our grandmothers. If that doesn't interest you, check back tomorrow and the next day. Enter for the items that appeal to you. And of course, enter for the lovely painting of stacked teacups which will be given at the end of the promotion.

Check on Day 10 as one of the giveaways is a book with one of my stories in it that deals with tea parties. The winner gets an autographed copy.

You can pre-order Jessica's book at Amazon here at a reduced price. The book will be released next month, so you won't have to wait long to read it. Help me spread the word. It will make Jessica keep smiling just as she is in this picture.

Jessica Dotta, author of Born of Persuasion

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Three Reasons A Writer Writes

Maya Angelou's quote made me think that a writer writes because she/he has something to say. A writer writes to share their innermost thoughts with others--namely their readers. A writer writes because there is something within them that drives them to do so. Let's look at these three reasons, one by one.

Something to say: If you say that writers are opinionated people, you'd probably be right in the majority of cases. Writers do have opinions and they come through in the stories, articles, essays and poems they write. Young people want to change the world, and if they are writers, they hope to do that with the pieces they write. As we mature, we finally realize that we alone cannot change the world, but guess what? We can do out part and have a say in what we think is either right or wrong.

Share thoughts:  Writers have a desire to share their thoughts with others. Writers don't necessarily need everyone to agree with their thoughts, but they do want readers to know about what they are. They also want to share their knowledge and/or expertise in a particular subject. They want to offer their own life experiences to readers which can explain or motivate or let the reader gain an understanding.

Driven to write:  I think that most writers will agree with me that there is something deep inside that makes them want to write more than any other thing they might choose to do. I heard one writer say I can't not write! And I nodded my head in agreement at her statement. I knew the feeling well. What it is that creates this strong feeling, I don't know. But it's definitely inside some of us, the ones who become writers. That doesn't mean only fulltime professional writers. It can run the gamut from occasional poet to bestselling novelist.

If you have something to say, want to share your thoughts with others and are driven to write, you can label yourself a true writer. There may be other criteria to call yourself a writer but these three work just fine.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Write About The Sad Times In Life

White Flower Stock Photo

Today's topic is not an easy one but I think it merits discussion. Life is never all giggles and joy. Nearly everyone experiences sad times as they make a lifteime journey on this earth. Some people must deal with true tragedies as well. It is my belief that writing about the difficult times can be beneficial in several ways. 

1. Bottling the hurt inside doesn't help healing. Talking to others about a sad or tragic time in your life is a form of emotional release. It doesn't matter whether you tell your story to a licensed therapist or a trusted friend. We need someone to listen. It's a part of the healing process. Writing about the situation can act as the same kind of release. If you never show what you've written to another soul, it's OK. Write it for yourself or for others. That's your choice.

2. Your experience can be of great help to others going through a similar situation. If we are having a rough time and we read that someone else has gone through the same thing and is able to talk about it, we can feel like a weight has been lifted. Oh certainly not completely but even if it's little by little, it helps. We don't feel so alone.

3. Reading what someone else has written about a terrible happening can motivate you to do the same. If they can do it, so can I might be the way you feel when you've learned about someone else's troubles. That motivation to write your own story might help begin the healing process.

Very few people can write this kind of memory piece while they are living the trauma. It takes some time to reach the point where you can do so. I don't think you can write about it once and claim victory. It takes multiple writings with each one helping you progress a little more. 

I've written numerous times about the two children we lost long ago as infants. It took many years before I was able to do so, but with each memory piece I wrote about those two very sad times in my life, the raw wound began to ease into a dull ache. It also helped me to know that perhaps my story would ease the pain of another mother who had lost a child. Those stories are a part of my Memory Book. Definitely included as a family story.

Too often, writers turn away from writing about the tragedies in their past life. To overcome we must face it head on. One word of caution--if the only thing you write about is your trials and tribulations and do it constantly, readers will turn elsewhere. Moderation is key here. Find the middle of the road and stay on it but do write about sad times. You'll know when the time is right. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Put Your August Memories In A Book

We're well into a new month--six days worth already. So, it must be time for me to remind you to add some more of your memories of summer days to the add-to book you're keeping for your children and grandchildren. You don't need to be a professional writer to do this. Every person who knows how to put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard can do it.

What? You haven't started one yet? Horrors! For the uninitiated, let me give you a quick rundown. Get a large 3 ring binder and section dividers. One divider for each of our twelve months of the year. When each new month rolls around, spend some time writing your memories of what it was like in your childhood, teen years or whenever. Write a family story that occurred in that month. If you add a little to the book each month, you'll soon have a wonderland of memories and stories. And yes, anyone can do this. I firmly believe that we need to leave something behind for our family members that gives them a picture of what life was like for each one of us. 

Maybe you grew up on a farm and none of your grandchildren have done so. Let them see what it was like being a rural kid. Show them the fun parts, the hard work involved, the feeling of being out in the country and more. For those who grew up in a city environment, like I did, tell them about the games you played on concrete instead of grassy fields. Write about the city transportation your family used. 

Whether you grew up on farm or city, tell them about your school, your teachers, the church you went to, the special events throughout each year. Many of you may have attended your county or state fair in August. What was it like? How many days ahead did you start anticipating the visit? Did you ever get sick when you ate too much cotton candy and more at a fair? 

Years ago, schools started the year later than most do today, but late August meant your mom started getting you ready for the school year. What did she do? What supplies did your family need to buy for you to take to school? Did you always have a new outfit on the first day of school? New shoes? Or did you wear the same old patched pants from the year before? Details that seem minor or even taken for granted can be real eye-openers to whoever reads your memory book in years to come. 

I so often hear people say they plan to write their memories and family stories. They keep on planning it but somehow never get around to it. If you haven't started yet, August of 2013 is the perfect time. Head out today to purchase your notebook. Buy the large one because, once you start, you'll be amazed at how much there is to tell. It doesn't matter how you write it--longhand or on the computer and printed--the important thing is to get going now. Make a section of memories of the weather, the current events when you were in whatever grade, the kinds of things your family ate. Then write full stories about something that happened. They can be a few paragraphs or a few pages. It's up to you. Tell the story, show the story as you remember it. 

There are 25 days left in this month. Plenty of time. What are you waiting for? Don't just think about it. Do it!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Harvest Your Dreams

I once heard a fine poet say that writers can harvest their dreams to come up with new ideas for poems. I think it works every bit as well for story ideas, perhaps even nonfiction articles.

Elaine Holoboff was the poet who told the women at the writers conference that if we remember a dream when we wake in the morning, do something about it immediately. Start writing and see where it takes you. It could be poem or story, either one. I did this shortly after returning home from the conference and the process and the result just amazed me.

For one thing, the poem that came from my dream seemed to write itself after I had put down the first two lines. It was fairly long, filled with imagery and metaphors, none of which I had to think about it. One line after another came painlessly. It's a poem that has been published and is also going to be part of a Painting/Poetry Collaboration next month. I don't consider myself a fine poet by any means but this is one I'm proud of.

So, the next time you have a vivid dream that is still with you upon awakening, do something with it, but do it immediatley. Don't get started on your usual morning routine, go to your computer or notebook and pencil and start writing. It won't be a finished, polished product, but you'll have the bones of something that might be a good poem or story. You can go back to it later and see what you've got and then add or cut in whatever way is going to make it a better piece of writing.

I know that not everyone remembers dreams. I'm one of those people who nearly always does. Some mornings, I just shake my head and wonder where in the world that weird story in my dreams came from. I've read that if you tell yourself to remember your dreams before you go to sleep, it helps. Can't verify it but why not give it a try?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Delaying Doesn't Produce Results

The little kitty above is doing something many writers don't. They put off finishing a chapter or a story. It's so easy to put other things ahead of our writing projects. Sure, there are plenty of other chores and projects that need our attention but we still occasionally delay working on writing and especially on rewriting.

I can attest to that because I've done it. I have a story that has gone through the first draft and three critiques. I know what has to be done to make it a better story, but I've pushed it aside day after day this past couple of weeks. Busy weeks to be sure. All this week, Ken and I have been taking care of our two youngest grandchildren while their parents are on vacation alone. One forgets how much attention is needed for even a 6 and 9 year old. But that's not the best excuse in the world, is it? Lots of moms write every day and continue to be a mother and caregiver while they write.

Part of the reason I'm not working on the particular piece mentioned is that I'm not sold that it's really a story worth finishing. It's meant for an anthology and it fits the theme but I don't think it sparkles in any way. Maybe it could if I keep working on it. I won't know unless I apply butt to chair and fingers to keyboard and see what happens during the rewrite. Delaying doesn't produce results.

How many unfinished stories, poems, articles or song lyrics do you have in your files? I doubt that many can answer None! There are times when we can't get motivated to write a brand new story which is the perfect time to pull out an old one or an unfinished one and get to work on it. For one thing, a story that you haven't looked at for quite awhile can appear altogether different to you. Maybe a place where you were stuck can suddenly present a solution, or perhaps a lot of it can be deleted and new put in.

Maybe, as writers, we should set aside one day a week or even one day a month, to work on those unfinished projects. Imagine the great feeling of satisfaction you'll receive when you do. You'll also have something new to submit to an editor.

Looks like the cat has a better attitude than I do and perhaps some of you, as well. Are we going to let a cat get the best of us? I hope not. We're going home tomorrow and the first writing project I'm going to do is rewrite that anthology story and send it in. How about you?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tea Party Giveaway--Day 1

If you want to enter on Day 1 to win this painting of stacked teacups, got to Jessica's blog to sign up. You can enter with either your email address or facebook sign-in. Bookmark the page and check every day this month to find the next giveaway.

Take a look at Wanda Wright's site to see more of her paintings.

After you enter, try a writing exercise with a picture prompt with a tea theme. You can use either the picture of the stacked teacups above or the one below that I found at Pinterest that seems to go perfectly with Born of Persuasion, the novel written by Jessica Dotta.

Afternoon Tea