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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My New Year Greeting For Writers

I think most writers are also Dreamers. Why not? We can dream about the novel we'll write this next year. Or the essay that lands in The New Yorker. Maybe a poem that wins a $2500 prize in a contest. Or a Grant or Fellowship bestowed upon us. 

To dream about a big accomplishment in your writing life will serve to inspire, to push you into doing your best. It's not enough to only have the dream; you also need to pursue it. You can do it by keeping a steady stream of finished pieces of your writing moving through the days and weeks and months of 2015. 

No slacking off--make that one of your smaller goals for this year. No giving up--there's another. No pouting over rejections. Instead, be as objective as you can and figure out what needs to be done to the piece that didn't make it.

Maybe you won't reach those dream goals but it's perfectly alright to aim high. You might surprise yourself and hit that high someday. 

Note that the quote in the poster mentions efforts and achievements. It takes the first one to attain the second. We don't receive much of anything in this life without putting forth some effort. Those great achievements don't just appear. They require lots of hard work. A cliche works here--blood, sweat and tears go into those successes we have in our writing lives. The success would not be nearly as sweet without them, would it? 

As we face a brand new year, I wish each of you dreams come true and multiple achievements gotten through your own efforts. Waltz throught 2015 collecting gold rings from the carousel over and over again. 


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

15 Questions For Writers To Ask Themselves

Take a good look at the 2014 calendar above. A lot of months, even more weeks and a full 365 days. What happened in your writing life during the abundance of days? 

For some reason, looking back over a year when it is about to over irritates me. Every newspaper features articles of the newsworthy things that occurred, celebrities who passed away, accomplishments of federal and local governments and more. I'm a person who prefers to look ahead, not what's been left behind me. I've mentioned more than once an anonymous quote that I dearly love that says: Don't look back; that's not where you are going.

That said, I will concede that we writers would benefit from taking a look back at the 2014 section of our writing journey. Go through your records of submissions and acceptances/rejections to trigger some memories and thoughts of this year. Ask yourself the following questions:

1.  Did I submit a satisfying (to me) number of my writing efforts?

2.  Did I write an amount that makes me feel fulfilled?

3.  Did I have any of my writing published this year?

4.  Did I get more acceptances than rejections? Or vice-versa?

5.  Did I use the rejections as a learning tool?

6.  Did I have a good attitude when the rejections came?

7.  Did I look for and submit to markets new to me?

8,  Was this an inspiring writing year for me? 

9.  Is there any one piece of my writing for 2014 that deserves a gold star? 

10. Did I give my all to my writing?

11. Did I make a real effort to grow as a writer? 

12. Am I happy with the 2014 part of my writing journey? 

13. Did I use my writing time wisely this year?

14. What things in my writing life do I want to do differently in 2015?

15. Did I reach any of the goals I set last January?

Answering these questions will help you set goals for your writing life in 2015. It's going to be here in a very short amount of time. Those early days of January call out to us to set our goals for the year. If you made such a list last January and saved it, do a check to see how many goals you made, how many you came close to and how many evaporated into thin air.  

Monday, December 29, 2014

Three Topics For A Monday

How about starting the week with a call for submissions to a new contest? This one is for the poets. It's sponsored by RhymeZone and has a theme. It also has some nice prizes. Ten winners will each receive $500. Now that got your attention most likely. The theme is Understanding. One little word but up to your personal interpretation. You can find all the details here. Deadline to enter is February 1, 2015 and winners will be announced March 1, 2015. Be sure to read the guidelines carefully.

One of my blog posts of a couple months ago has landed as feature article in the December issue of the Publishing Syndicate's newsletter. When publisher, Dahlyn McKowen contacted me soon after the blog post came out and asked if she could use it in the newsletter, I was mighty pleased. Publisher's Syndicate is the group that has brought numerous Not Your Mother's Book On... books to the reading public. I have had stories in a few of the anthologies. You can read the newsletter here.  If you're interested in signing up to receive the monthly newsletter that has tips for writers, check this page.

I had a lovely gift on Christmas Eve morning in my email inbox. There was a notice of payment transferred via paypal to me from the Chinese publisher of the Red Squirrel magazine for children in the 8-12 year age group. Several of my children's stories have been published in the magazine, translated into Chinese. The editor says that Chinese children are very interested in American stories, especially historical ones. The story just published in Just Plain Sarah Jane. The title of the story popped into my head one evening while I was watching tv. No story, just the title. It kept coming back to me until finally, I sat down one day and wrote a story to go with the title. It's not the usual way it works, but for this one, it did. The story has been published several times. You can read it here

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Best Christmas Present Ever

This is the last of my Christmas memory stories. It will stay up through the weekend. Next Monday, we'll get back to tips and encouragement in our writing world. This story is a treasured memory. It happened when I was in the fifth grade. I remember it so clearly, I think, because it was the year I learned that it truly is better to give then receive. It was published in The Big Book of Christmas with yesterday's story.

A Very Merry Christmas to all. 

The Best Christmas Present Ever
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 In 1949 the twenty-one children in my fifth grade class learned one of life’s greatest lessons. Ten year olds usually care more about the importance of receiving gifts than the considering the joy in giving them. But that year, we found out that giving truly is better than receiving, and it was all because of a special teacher.

 Lyle Biddinger served on a navy destroyer during World War II, went to college on the GI Bill and landed in a Chicago suburban grade school teaching fifth grade. We were his first class, and he was the first male teacher in our Kindergarten through eighth grade school. Young, handsome, and an outstanding teacher—he was all any ten year old could ask for.

During family dinners, I talked endlessly about what Mr. Bid had told us that day, what he’d shown us, the games he’d taught us. He may as well have been sitting at our table every night, for his presence was evident Monday through Friday. I hurried through breakfast so I could get to school early, and I offered to stay after class and do whatever little jobs needed to be done. I wasn’t the only one who acted this way about Mr. Biddinger. Oh no--all of us adored him.

We were so proud to be in his class. We preened our feathers like peacocks around the kids in the other fifth grade. He was all ours, and like kids of that age, we let everyone know it. Our teacher made learning fun, and in the 1940’s this was a new approach. At one point, some of the parents went to the principal and complained that Mr. Biddinger spent too much time playing games during classtime. School should not be fun; it was to be hard work. Somehow Mr. Biddinger and the principal placated the disgruntled parents, and life went on as before in the fifth grade.

December arrived, and the Room Mother contacted the other parents. Each family was asked to give a modest amount of money to be used for a Christmas gift for the teacher. It was not an unusual request in our school. Next, she called Mr. Biddinger’s wife to find out what might be the perfect gift for him.

It was to be a secret, of course, but we all knew about it, and whispers and notes flew back and forth. Our class Christmas party would be held the last day before the holiday break. We would have a grab bag gift exchange, punch and cookies and candy. We’d play some games, get out of schoolwork and give Mr. Bid his gift. The days trickled by slower than ever before, and our excitement grew steadily. We looked forward to our school Christmas much more than the one we’d each have at home.
 Finally, the big day dawned. Our Room Mother arrived bearing the punch and brightly decorated Christmas cookies and hard candies. But where was the big box Mr. Bid’s present was in? We didn’t see it. We wriggled in our desks and fretted. Whispers sailed around the room until Mr. Bid scolded us. “Settle down,” he said, “or the party’s over as of now.” Quiet reigned. The treats and grab bag gifts were passed out. We munched on our sugar cookies and slurped the red punch. The classroom door opened, and a strange woman walked in. Mr. Biddinger’s looked surprised at first; then a big smile crossed his face. We were soon introduced to his wife. The Room Mother disappeared into the hall but was back in seconds holding a good-sized box wrapped in Christmas paper and tied with a wide red ribbon. The chatter in the room ceased immediately, and all eyes were riveted on that box.

The Room Mother cleared her throat, walked to our teacher and said, “Mr. Biddinger, this gift is from your students. They wanted to show their love and appreciation by giving you something special.” As she handed him the box, the room tingled with an air of excitement.

 Mr. Bid seemed excited, and that alone thrilled us. He untied the bow and handed the ribbon to his wife. Next came the wrapping, and we all leaned forward. He opened the box and lifted a hunting jacket from the folds of tissue paper. This had been his fondest wish for Christmas, Mrs. Biddinger had told the Room Mother. He loved to hunt on the week-ends whenever possible, but the special hunting gear was beyond a teacher’s salary at that time.

For the first time, the man who taught us so much became mute, totally speechless. He turned the jacket over and over, looked at the special pockets on the inside and outside. He tried again to say something but couldn’t. But the sparkle in his eyes and the smile on his face said all we needed to know. He finally found his voice and told us over and over how much he loved his new jacket. “It’s probably the finest gift I’ve ever received,” he said. He didn’t say why, but we knew. We had no doubt that the reason was that it came from his first class, the twenty-one ten year olds who adored him.

I don’t remember the gifts I received at home that Christmas, but I’ll never forget the gift we gave Mr. Biddinger. It was the best Christmas present ever.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Some Spend Christmas With Sorrow--Another Christmas Memory Story

I struggled a bit with today's Christmas memory story. It's not a happy one so I hesitated to post it but decided to do so because all Christmases are not filled with fun and joy. Some bring sorrow but also help us to see the true meaning of the holiday. This story happened 48 years ago. A few years ago, the story was published in The Big Book of Christmas Joy, an anthology published by Howard Books. The book is filled with poems, recipes, scriptture, quotes and 10 stories. I was so very pleased that two of those stories are mine. This is one of them and the other will run here tomorrow. I would like to dedicate today's story to all parents who are facing a difficult Christmas.

A Christmas for Julie

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Painful Christmases etch themselves into our hearts and minds, never to be forgotten. Difficult holiday times, which cut into the soul, linger in our memories and are brought soaring back when we least expect it. A picture, a song, or phrase triggers that which we thought remained locked safely away.

One such Christmas continues to haunt me, while at the same time surrounds me with the love and peace transcended by the Christmas story of Jesus' birth.

Forty-five years ago, we were new parents. Our baby girl was born a few days after Thanksgiving, bringing us both great joy and bottomless sorrow. Unlike today, no sonogram or amniocentesis had prepared us for the news that Julie was a spina bifida baby. Because of a large opening in her spine, she was paralyzed from the waist down—legs, bowel, and bladder. Numb with shock, we agreed to the pediatrician's suggestion to transfer her to a renowned children's hospital in Chicago, an hour from our home.

"You can take her there as soon as we get the paperwork done," he told us.

With heavy hearts, we drove on icy roads from our home in a small Illinois town to the center of the big city on the shore of Lake Michigan. I held Julie close and gazed at her sweet face peeking out of a soft pink blanket. When we arrived at the hospital, a paperwork snafu in the Admissions Department gave us four more hours to hold and feed her. It turned out to be a most precious gift.

Our footsteps echoed in the wide hallway as we finally carried her to the fourth floor. A nurse with a sympathetic smile gently lifted our tiny daughter from my arms and carried her through the nursery door. I will never forget the ache of my empty arms or the slow cracking of my heart at that moment. My husband's hand clasped mine during our walk downstairs as we prepared to face an uncertain future. I went home to pray for a miracle cure.

It was the first of many trips to the hospital where we spent special moments with our baby girl, consulted with doctors, and attempted to ease our sorrow. We grasped each piece of good news and held on tightly.  We crumbled a little more whenever a doctor delivered a grim outlook for our child—multiple surgeries, a life of probable infections, wheelchair, crutches, and other unknowns. Only faith kept us from screaming in denial when hearing the dire predictions. Only faith brought back our strength after discussing the future with Julie’s doctors. Faith and a large dose of hope allowed us to soldier on.

December arrived, and each time we visited, I noted more signs of the season. Garland, ribbons and bows decorated the halls. Table-top Christmas trees adorned the waiting rooms, and some of the nurses wore Christmas pins on their uniforms.

One Sunday afternoon when we arrived at our station outside the nursery window, we could not help but smile. A small doll was tied onto Julie's tiny crib with a cheery red ribbon. No wings, but she reminded me of a guardian angel as she seemed to watch over our child. We questioned the nurse about the doll. Where had it come from? Who gave it to her?

"The auxiliary ladies bring a gift to every child in the hospital at Christmastime," she said. "They're the same wonderful women who come and rock the babies because we don't have time."

Unlike today, hospital rules kept us from being close enough to touch our baby, but a stranger had rocked her in our place, and another had brought her first Christmas gift. I could not help but think of Mary in the stable holding her child close and rocking him in her arms as he received the first Christmas gifts from the Wise Men who had followed the star.

Each time we returned during that December, I checked to be sure Julie's gift remained tied to her crib. Was it my imagination, or did that doll glow? I wondered if angels took on inanimate forms.

We talked to other parents who had children on the same floor. Children with heart problems, severe malformations, muscular weakness and more—our children shared the same home this Christmas. Our hearts were not the only ones breaking during this season of love and joy.

Christmas morning found us on the road to the Chicago hospital once more. Again, we stood outside the nursery window adoring our daughter with our eyes, while that empty-arms feeling washed over me again. She’d been placed on her tummy to protect the surgical site on her spine. Christmas music played softly in the background. Julie lifted her silver-blonde head and turned toward us, one eye open, tiny hands clenched into fists. "Merry Christmas Darling Girl," I whispered. My husband's arm slipped around me. Other parents moved through the halls spending Christmas morning with their little ones, too.

It was Julie's only Christmas, but it was one filled with the love of those who cared for her, family and friends in a small community who prayed for her, and the lifetime of love we bestowed on her during her few weeks on earth. To me, that's what Christmas is all about. Love and giving and a special glow from a tiny doll with a red ribbon around her tummy remain a part of my memory of that very special Christmas for Julie.

I’d prayed for a miracle, prayed that my child would live a full life and be as normal as other little girls. That didn’t happen, but we did experience the miracle of God’s love and comfort brought to us in so many small ways during that Christmas season of long ago. Every year as Thanksgiving ends and Christmas approaches, I silently relive those weeks with our firstborn, and I reach out to others who may be experiencing sadness during our most holy season.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Marshall Field's Christmas Windows Of Long Ago

Marshall Field's State Street Department Store of Another Era

Here is the second Christmas memory story about something that is still very special to me. The story was published in an anthology clled A Quilt of Holidays published by Silver Boomer Books

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 aahs 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.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Christmas Memory Story--A Family Trip To the Tree Lot

For the next few days, I'm going to post some of my Christmas memory stories. This first one is about our family buying a Christmas tree--at least me, my dad and my brothers.

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 kin 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. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Memories Make Good Stories

On a recent December evening, Ken and I were having a glass  of wine and some cheese and crackers before I started fixing dinner. We were enjoying the Christmas tree we'd just decorated and the other Christmas things we'd scattered around our home. 

I mentioned to him that our tree, and all the ornaments on it, was filled with memories of the fifty years we've been married. He said he'd been thinking much the same. See what happens when you live together that long. You think alike! Happens to us often. 

Many of the ornaments on our tree are ones we've purchased on trips we've taken. Each one brings back a memory of a place either near or far away. A few are ones that were gifts from friends and family and those bring us a mental picture and fond feelings. The ones our children had during their growing-up years are now on their own trees as I boxed them one year and gave each of our children their own ornaments. Those designer trees in the magazines look spectacular but there are no memories adorning the branches of those trees. 

The many Christmas activities this month, or for those who celebrate Hanukkah, trigger memories of days gone by. It's when those memories come floating up to you that you should write a family memory story. I know, I know--who has time now? The thing is that it's when that memory comes back to you that the emotion is there and the story you write will show that. Think about it in February and you might have the facts but maybe not the same emotions. 

Even so, here's a list of triggers that might bring Christmas memories back to you now or in February. Your choice.

1.  What did you do in school to celebrate the holiday?

2.  When did your family put up the Christmas tree?

3.  Did you get lots of gifts or only a few or even just one?

4.  Did your family do something for the less fortunate at Christmastime?

5.  Did you make a visit to Santa in a local mall or department store?

6.  Did your family go to a Christmas parade?

7.  What traditional foods did your family have?

8.  Did you hang stockings for Santa to fill? Fancy ones or your own socks?

9.  What did Santa put in your stocking?

10.  Did you perform in a Christmas program at school or church? 

11.  Did you make some of the gifts you gave?

12.  Did you ever have a sad Christmas?

13.  Did you have one very best Christmas gift ever? 

14.  Did your mother do a lot of baking during Christmas?

15.  Did your family attend Christmas Eve services?

16.  Did you have a tradition when picking out a Christmas tree?

Hopefully, these questions will help bring long-gone days back to you and a story or two will be written to add to your Family Memory book. Don't forget that Chicken Soup for the Soul is ready for submissions of Christmas stories. Check the website for information on the latest call. The Christmas book is the fourth one in the list. Read the guidelines before submitting.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Little Lessons For Writers

Have you visited the Wordsmith site lately? Poems, stories, and spectacular graphics to go with them. This site is a place for both writers to post and for readers. Swing by today and see what's new.

Good quote today. When things go wrong in our writing life, there's usually a reason. When we discover what the reason is, we will hopefully see the lesson.

What kinds of things can go wrong?

1.  You might have a great beginning and middle for a story and cannot come up with a proper ending

2.  You might have worked hard on a project, submitted and received a rejection

3.  You might spend hours on a story and then decide it's pure drivel when you read it over again

4.  You might have a story you've written that you love. You take it to your writer's group and receive a negative reaction from all who critique it

5.  You might have submitted work for years and never had an acceptance

6.  You might lose your desire to write

7.  You might have to deal with that old enemy--writer's block

What kinds of lessons can you learn from these things that go wrong?

1.  You can see how strong a writer you are

2.  You may need to look harder for inspiration and in new ways

3.  You may find out that rejection is not the end of the world

4.  You may find that a first draft is just that--a first draft--not a finished product

5.  You may need to realize that the negative reaction of others will help you make the story better when you rewrite

6.  You my learn that nothing is perfect, that you need to work on honing your craft constantly

7.  You may need to read your own work with a more objective eye

8.  You may find out that there's not much about writing that is easy

9.   You might discover the degree of passion you have for writing

Whenever things go wrong in your writing life, look for a reason, then look for a lesson. Next, do your homework and carry on. When life is good, go right ahead and be especially grateful.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What's In A Name?

When writing fiction, there are so many little things to take into consideration. One of them is names for your characters. Do you pull out a name from the air and plunk it onto characters A, B and C? Then forget about it?

Or do you give considerable thought to naming your characters? Should you pick a strong name for a strong character and vice-versa? Should a glamourous woman have a name that goes along with her physical traits? Should a nerdy guy have a nerdy name?

If you've ever had to come up with a name for a newborn baby, you know the thought process involved. There are names you like, ones you hate and would never use, ones that are traditional in a family and ones you and your spouse cannot agree upon. It's a difficult job and naming your characters is not easy either.

One of the things to consider is the time in which your story is set. If it's a historical setting, don't go for 21st century names. Names in the colonial era of our country were different from those during the Civil War time period. In science fiction, you might even make up names no one has ever heard of.

Don't use names that have already been made famous in other novels. Forget Scarlett, Huckleberry, Ebenezer or any name that has instant recognition. You want your character's name to stand on its own. Who knows? Maybe your character will become one like the famed ones we already know.

Many authors use alliteration when choosing a name. That's OK if you do it occasionally but don't make a habit of it. Don't have several characters in one story with a first and last name beginning with the same letter. 

Is it alright to use real names you've run across in life? I think it is. You often see a page in front of the book that says something about the characters all being fictional. A protection for the author. Now and then, we run across a name of a real person that we think would be a good character name. When I was writing a juvenile novel, I used a name that I heard a friend mention once. She was telling a story about something in her hometown and mentioned the woman's name--Bertha Bloomer. It struck me immediately that I wanted Bertha Bloomer in my book. And she did end up as a woman who ran a boarding house for coal miners in my story. She was only a minor character but perhaps a reader would remember her for her name.

Consider the personality traits of your character when selecting a name for her/him. That might help you choose a good name. Is your character kind, cruel, sleazy, a pervert, or a helpful person? 

There are times when writing fiction that the name of a character comes to you without any thought process at all. It's just there. When that happens, I consider it a gift. It was meant to be. It happens fairly often which is a real plus for the writer.

Charles Dickens had a knack of selecting memorable names. Some fit the personality of the character and others were ones you remember because of the character himself. Names like Oliver Twist, Uriah Heep, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and more. 

Don't toss up a group of names and let one land on your character. Give it some thought. Google naming characters in fiction for some detailed articles on this subject. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Writers--Sail Your Boat Into the Harbor of Hope

Those who read this blog regularly know that the two keywords in my writing world are Patience and Perseverance. Today, I'd like to add one more. Hope

Anyone who wants to succeed in the writing world must have an expectation of good things to come. They have to sail their boat into the harbor of hope. Without hope for positive happenings in our writing, why bother continuing? I fear we'd feel defeated before we got started.

It's hope that makes us continue writing. It's hope that spurs us to submit our work for publication. It's hope that lifts us up when we receive a rejection. Maybe the next editor will accept this submission we tell ourselves. I've lost count of the number of times I've said this to myself. 

Writers fall into two categories--the negative ones and the positive ones. Which group do you think holds on to hope? To be hopeful, you need a positive attitude. Those who live day to day with a negative attitude tend to pull themselves down farther and farther and grasping hope becomes more and more difficult.

You've heard people who say Man, she needs an attitude adjustment! An easy solution perhaps for the person making the comment. But those who tend to live in the negatives of life can't just turn it off with a switch. It takes time and working at it before there can be an adjustment of attitude. 

How can you go about changing from a negative person to a positive one? To start with, whenever a situation comes up, ask yourself what a negative person might do or say and then what the positive person would do or say. Stand back and look at both objectively. Which one is more appealing? Can you move from one side to another? You can if you have the desire and the will to continue working at it. Will it happen overnight? No. But you can use a dose of that Patience and Perseverance to help you, 

Writers need hope to:

1. continue growing as a writer

2. keep on submitting work that has already been rejected

3. inspire them to write regularly

4. stay a positive person

5. stay on their writing path

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Bells of Christmas

Today I'm posting a poem I wrote several years ago when putting together a program for a church group. The theme was The Bells of Christmas, so I had the title for the poem ready made. We read and write Christmas stories, both fiction and creative nonfiction but consider trying to write a poem with a Christmas theme. 

The Bells Of Christmas

Keep Christmas in my heart, Lord.

Help me remember the love and joy
that Advent season brings each year.

Let me hear the bells of Christmas
long after the sacred day is done,
ring them loud, ring them clear.

I want to celebrate your birthday
each and every day, if only quietly.
Let me not forget the beloved tale.

If I spread the love of Christmas
all January, June and hot July,
will its message sound as dear?

Keep Christmas in my heart, Lord.
Ring the bells of Christmas softly,
hold them close so that I may hear.

When everyday cares and woes
push the Christmas story far away,
let the blessed bells bring it back again.

Keep Christmas in my heart, Lord.
I'll ring the chimes for those who've
not yet heard the message of the bells.