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Friday, January 31, 2014

Memoir Anthology Sale Is About To Begin

Recently, I posted information about a new anthology series published by the editors of Seasons of our Lives:  Spring (and the other three seasons in separate books.) You can read all the particulars in that post here

Today, I wanted to remind you that all four of the books in this anthology of womens' memoir stories will be on a special sale beginning tomorrow. February 1st, each of the four books will be only 99 cents. That sale will last for 53 hours, then $1 will be added for another 53 hours, and $1 added until it reaches the full price of $3.99. On this sale, you can purchase all four volumes of the anthology for the price of one. 

You can purchase for your kindle or download to your computer (see the earlier post linked above). 

I think most women will relate to the stories in these books. They'll trigger memories of your own. Take a look at the amazon page for the Spring volume. The other three books are listed at the bottom of that page. My stories are in the Spring and Summer volumes. Go to the page to click and look inside the book.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Not All Plans Work Out

We're back home in Kansas. We'd expected to be well on our way to Phoenix by now but we had a glitch in our plans. Ken and I had a wonderful weekend in Dallas with our son and family. The plan was to leave there Monday morning to spend a couple days in the Hill Country of Texas, then on to Phoenix to visit family and friends. A nice winter getaway. I had the schedule all set as to whom we'd see on what days. We were both looking forward to this long overdue visit.

Early Monday morning, Ken had symptoms that sent us to a local Emergency Room. He ended up staying two days in the hospital after being diagnosed as having had a mild stroke. He's doing fine but it was a shock to us and our family. Dr. says he has no restrictions and should go back to all activities right away. But driving several days to Phoenix and home again would not be best at this time plus he is to see his own doctors here within this week. So, we came home yesterday. 

I've always been someone who has a plan, whether it's for the day, a season. a vacation or a plan for my writing journey. Having a plan of some sort is reassuring to me, something to fall back on when needed. I know that many people cruise through life just fine without a plan. They are content to let things happen and can go with the flow. In some ways, I envy those who can do so but I also wonder if they don't feel like they're flailing around in deep water all the time hoping they can keep swimming.

Earlier today, a writer friend asked a question on facebook. She asked Do you have a plan? A question that could cover myriad parts of life. I suspect there will be a variety of answers, too. But consider your writing life? Do you have a plan in that category? Should you? 

A plan can be as general or as detailed as you like. It can be something you store in your head or have written and filed away somewhere. It can be set in cement or subject to change. Personally, I would urge anyone to be flexible, to change the plan as needed. A plan made when you're twenty might be completely different from the plan you have in your fifties. 

What do you do when a plan doesn't work out? You make some adjustments and move on. Don't start a pity party. Believe me, you'll most likely be the only one in attendance. We've all heard that old cliche Rules were made to be broken. Maybe plans can, too. Or they can be followed to the letter and move you down the path to your goal in rapid fashion. 

Our vacation plan messed up in a big way, but now it's time to attend to the reason that plan didn't work out. You can do the same with your writing plan. If it doesn't work out, reorganize and get started again. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

It's A Forever Thing!

Anyone who is a regular reader here knows that I push reading in a big way. So, when I spot a poster quote about reading, as well as writing, I save it. The one above grabbed my attention, but especially the last two words. Take a good look at them. self-chosen ignorance. Those words cover more than reading.

Writers need to be self-educators. As Confucius tells us here, we are the ones to blame for some of our ignorance or failing to grow in whatever field we deal with. Let's look at a couple of writers who are figments of my imagination but ones who have many real-life partners dealing with life the same way.

A.  Susabelle dreamed of being a writer for a long time. She went to a writing workshop in her local community and finished the day with dreams of making it big. She wrote story  after story. As soon as she finished one, she'd send it off to the first magazine editor she found online. Each time, the story bounced back to her or she never heard a word. I just have to get more experience, write more stories she told herself. And so she did. Back came the stories, sometimes with nothing more than the editor saying they could not use it but occasionally an editor wrote a short note telling Susabelle what was wrong with the story. They don't know a good story when they see it! she thought. More workshops came along, but Susabelle had been to one and gotten the writing basics. She didn't bother to attend any others. She didn't read any articles or books about writing. She didn't network with other writers. She continued to receive rejection after rejection. 

B. Greg dreamed of being a writer. He'd dabbled in the field a bit and he attended the same workshop that Susabelle went to. He also went home and tapped out story after story, then he researched the markets and sent his work to editors. Most of the stories came back but he also had a few successes. How could he have more acceptances he wondered. He realized early on that he needed to learn more about this writing world to become a better writer. Greg attended more workshops. He checked out books about writing from his local library. The ones he liked best, he ordered from his local bookstore or online. He read them more than once. He networked with other writers. He continued to write but he kept his stories in a file and periodically went back to edit and revise before sending them to an editor. His successes far outweighed his rejections as time went on.

Susabelle showed that self-chosen ignorance while Greg did what he could to grow as a writer. The key here is that we all have a choice. We can try to wing it all on our own or we can find ways to educate ourself so that we become more successful writers. It's up to each one of us. Susabelle's way is by far the easier way while Greg's is one that requires a lot more of him personally. We all eventually learn that very little in this world comes easily. We have to work at it. We have to educate ourselves. We have to persevere in both.

I hope you'll choose to educate yourself as a writer in whatever way you can. Take advantage of every opportunity to do so. We don't reach a certain place in our writing journey and stop learning. It's a forever thing!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Do You Read Memoirs?

      George W. Bush Museum in Dallas
                                                                                       Father and Son in Courtyard

We went to visit the SMU campus and the George W Bush Museum today in the southeastern part of Dallas. Our oldest granddaughter will be attending Southern Methodist University next fall so we were especially interested in seeing the campus and I'd been wanting to see the Museum ever since it opened.

Ken and I have visited several presidential museums over the years. Each one is a little different, each one is a portion of our history. Each one has touched my heart in numerous ways. 

Many memoirs have been written by presidents and first ladies through the years. One that I especially enjyed was Barbara Bush's book. Such a wise, witty woman with a tongue that could be both sweet and acid, fitting the situation. No phony but an honest, kind and courageous woman. 

If you have not read memoirs in the past, consider doing so soon. As well as a  slice of history, they are a glimpse into someone else's life. We can't help but compare these lives to our own. There are major differences but also enough similarities that we can identify with the person whose memoir it is. We see reasons for actions and gain an appreciation of what these political figures had to deal with. Famous? Yes. Even so, they are also real people who act and react just as many of us do and would given the same situations. 

We tend to judge celebrities from the things we read in the papers and see on TV. They're one-sided views. Reading their memoirs gives us another viewpoint. Memoir writing is quite in vogue now. Give it a try--pick out someone you admire or even someone you don't. Read their story in their own words. 

Consider writing your own memoir. I have written bits and pieces, especially for Chicken Soup books that qualify as memoir. I once attended a workshop where the presenter said that ...memoir writing allows us to chew life twice. I think those who write memoirs end up seeing life in various lights. I have surprised myself in some of the revelations I've found in writing about my life through the years. 

Tomorrow, we move on to Fredericksburg, Texas down in the Hill Country. More on that in my next post.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Looking Forward to Reading Time

We're getting ready to leave on a little winter getaway trip. Our house is in good hands and we are packed and will be ready to hit the road in the morning. Destination:  Phoenix with a stop in Dallas to see our son and family for a couple days and then a couple more in the wonderful Hill Country west of San Antonio. From there, it's off to Phoenix where we will visit family and friends. 

I have a book bag that goes with me when we take a trip, whether for a weekend or 3 weeks. It actually has a little metal tag that says Book Bag. This morning, I decided I'd better fill the bag with reading material. Picked out two of the Catherine Cookson treasures I'd found last summer in England. I have been reading the six of them slowly as I don't want to have the joy of finding them over too soon.

After selecting the two books I wanted, I spied some other books underneath the Cookson ones. What a happy find. There were three novels that I'd bought last fall at a book outlet shop at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. With fall activities and then the holidays plus reading for my book club, I'd never gotten to them and had forgotten they were even there. Think of it! New novels waiting to be opened and read. So, into the book bag along with one for Ken and a pad of paper in case I get motivated to write something while sitting in the car all those hours. I'm not sure if I'm looking forward more to the trip itself or the books I'm bringing along.

Time to read is a pleasure but often scarce. I try to create more of it at home but it doesn't always work. On a trip, though, I can usually find plenty of reading time. Especially in airports or in the car. Helps while away the sometimes boring hours.

I will be posting here as often as possible while on this trip. Hope to have some pictures to share and tales to tell. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Introducing A New Memoir Anthology

One volume of four

Yesterday, I featured the womens memoirs website that Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett run for writers and readers. Their newest project is an anthology titled Seasons of Our Lives which includes four volumes, one for each season of our year. 

You'll find 25 stories in each one that were winners in the memoir contests run by these two fine editors and teachers. Yes, teachers because they are both so keen to help writers become better writers. 

I am pleased that I have two stories in the series. A Special Sibling is in the Spring book. It's a story dear to my heart and a very special memory. The summer book is the one that has my story Driving With Dad. Sounds like it might be about driving lessons, but it isn't. 

The four books are ebooks and can be ordered at Here are the links to each book at Amazon. Click on the book cover to look inside, read the intro and table of contents and a sample story in each one.

Each ebook sells for $3.99, can be downloaded to your Kindle and there is also a way to download directly to your computer. More on that later. On Saturday, February 1st, the books will go on a special sale--99 cents each for 53 hours. The price increases by $1 for each of the next 53 hours.

For those who do not have kindles, you can download these books onto your tablet, pc etc. Go here to learn how. It's pretty simple.

Two short reviews by an expert in the memoir field: 
What gems! These memoir vignettes pull us into and delight us with the rich stories of women’s lives. I literally couldn’t put the book down. Each story highlights a facet of life that speaks to our shared humanity. I found myself recalling moments from my own life and thinking, “It’s time to start writing my life stories!”

The beauty of this anthology is that the editors Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett have written “takeaways” at the end of each story to help budding memoir writers. These mini-lessons are a gold mine of tips and advice.  

I believe that in telling our stories we illuminate the world one voice at a time. “Seasons of Our Lives” has made my world glow a little brighter. --Dan Curtis award-winning documentary filmmaker, personal historian, and founder/coordinator of Victor Hospice's "Life Stories"

"It is true that each woman is a story waiting to be told—and in this outstanding collection of memoirs you’ll find many wonderful women’s stories. It is also true that each woman’s story is everywoman’s story, for we share so many of the same experiences. As I read these stories [in Seasons of Our Lives], I am reading bits and pieces from my own life, and I am inspired to write my own with a more passionate and compassionate heart. I hope you are, too." ~Susan Wittig Albert, NYT bestselling author of China Bayles mysteries, Writing from Life, Together, Alone: Memoir, and other books  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Memoir Site Offers Many Things To Writers and Readers

Matilda Butler, Kendra Bonnett and Rosie

Several years ago, I found a website that was of great interest to me. I wasn't looking for it, just kind of ran across it. And how glad I am that I did. Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett provide a wealth of information for memoir writers. Now, don't turn away saying I don't write memoir, this is not for me. The reason being that, even though memoir is the concentration here, good writing is featured at every turn. These two women are passionate about helping people tell their stories but they also promote good writing. They provide writing exercises, help with journaling and a myriad of other writing related subjects along with video seminars.

They have their own books featured on the website as well as a contest page, free books, workshops and more on the website. Check it out here.  The book I've pictured above is a series of true stories about women who personify the WWII Rosie the Riveter image. Strong, courageous, and tough--those were the women of the WWII years. But this is not Matilda and Kendra's only book. One that I purchased last summer is an award winning craft of writing book pictured below. I read the entire book on our flight from England to home last summer. Nonfiction--not a steamy romance chapter or a thriller/chase in it but it held my interest across the ocean and the USA. It's an excellent guide for nonfiction writers, but there is also much of worth to the fiction writer in this book. After one read-through, you'll want to go back and read chapters of particlar interest more than once. You can order it at the website.


Since I write a lot of family stories, I entered the contests these two editors run periodically. And I've been a winner many times. Check out the latest contest page and see what you might have to enter. The theme is "How I Met Your Father" which should prompt many fine stories. 

My aim in introducing you to these two editors, their contests, books and workshops is twofold. I think it is worth your time to visit the website and find out what may be of use to you. And I am also prefacing an announcement about some new ebooks Matilda and Kendra have just published. There are four volumes in this anthology series with the overall title Seasons of Our Lives. Each book features one of our four seasons with 25 appropriate memoir stories. There is much to relate about the books and I'll do that in tomorrow's post. These new books are perfect for readers who write and also just those who enjoy reading. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What's Happening In This Picture?

Time for a picture prompt exercise today. I'll give you a little background on the area which may help give you a bit of inspiration. The picture above is one we snapped in Strasbourg, France which is very close to the German border in what is known as the Alsace-Lorraine area. This bit of land has been both German and French, bouncing back and forth from country to country as the spoils of various wars over centuries. But for now, it is very French.

Give yourself some time to study the picture. Then ask yourself some questions. Perhaps you want to know more about the two men walking to the carousel. Or maybe you want to know what is in the blue trash bin. How about the elegant street light next to the bicycle rack? Who might be living in one of the buildings in the background?  Why do people close to the carousel have their umbrellas opened?

Next, play the What if.....? game. What if something dangerous is in the trash bin? What if the carousel suddenly gets out of control? What if.....? Your turn to continue this little motivational game.

What happens now? Start writing and see what kind of story you come up with. Give us a sense of place, add sensory details, include some tension--big or small.

I'd be delighted if anyone would like to share what they write through the comment box. This picture might bring stories that range from comic to murder and mayhem to a brilliant discovery of some sort. Let your imagination lead you.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Many Keys To Writing

Last night I dreamed about lost keys--one of those dreams that highlight frustration in giant letters. My plate is a wee bit too full this week so it's no wonder those lost keys and me chasing hither and yon looking for them came to haunt me in the dark of night. The one I lost was for my car and, in this world, we are toast with a car that sits in the garage waiting for its owner to find the key! When I woke up this morning, that dream made me think about other keys, the ones in our writing world.

Writers must find the keys that open up their writing world. It's not a hide-and-seek game, not nearly as easy as that. We don't find the keys as soon as we decide to pursue the craft of writing. It can sometimes take years and many, many words tapped out on the keyboard or written in longhand. I also think that we sometimes overlook the key when it's lying there staring us in the face. Open your eyes and find me! is what the key might say were it able to speak. 

There is no one key to open all phases of writing. Do you remember the old skeleton keys? They had been altered in such a way that they could open all locks. Writers have nothing so easy as that. Let's look at the areas  where we'd like to find keys to fling the door wide and allow us complete vision ahead. 

Writing:  OK, this one's a biggie. We want to know the very best methods to use when we write, the things that will make us memorable writers rather than one of the ordinary sheep in the flock. 

Editing and Revising:  One more thing that will make you grow as a writer and polish your writing

Marketing: Guess what? This one's a biggie, too. We want to find the best markets for the kind of writing we do.

Selling yourself as a writer: Very hard to do for some people but ever so helpful in promoting your work

Inspiration and Motivation to write:  We all need this. Where to find it is often frustrating and when we have it, life is good.

Now, you'd like me to give you the key to each of the categories above. Sorry, but we must each find the key that works for us. We're writers but we're also individuals and one key fits all isn't going to work here. My aim with today's post is to make you seek the key for each of the above in your own writing life. It's to make you think about what the key is for you. When you find it, use it and don't lose it. Lose it and Mr. Frustration moves right in. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

5 Writing Traps To Avoid

Don't let yourself get trapped

The following is a guest post I wrote awhile back for Word Count website.I thought it worth repeating. The information here is still very relevant for all writers.

Writers are urged to write often, to write voraciously, to write, write, write. Even so, to win the prize — publication — there are myriad things you must do besides putting words on your computer screen.
Non-writing tasks such as reading about writing techniques or joining critique groups are beneficial, even essential. But if you're not careful, those non-writing tasks become traps. You can become caught in a spider web of good intentions that eat into writing time.

The key is to maintain a healthy balance. Review your writing-related activities occasionally to make sure you aren’t falling into a time trap. When you produce fewer and fewer pages, it may be time to step back assess why.

Here are five common writing-related activities and how to get the most out of them without letting them cut into your writing time:

1. Books on writing.  Writers buy or borrow dozens of books on the keys to good writing. But read too much and you risk becoming so busy learning that you forget to apply what you learn. Use books to teach yourself the craft of writing, but be selective.

2. Writing websites and newsletters.  Writing websites, blogs and newsletters offer articles and classes. They also showcase markets, present contests, offer writing prompts and exercises. Many writers subscribe to several, sometimes many more than several. Though these resources offer excellent information, they take precious time to read. Pick the ones you like best and unsubscribe from the others.

3. Critique groups.  A face-to-face critique group is a great place to get constructive criticism and praise for your work. It also provides an opportunity to network with other writers. While writers can profit greatly from them, critique groups also take time. Ask yourself if belonging to one is worth the hours you might otherwise spend writing and if it works into your writing schedule. 

4. Research. For many writers, research and reporting is a necessary part of what they do, and for some, it's pure joy. But don't get so involved in the process that you spend far more time than is needed. Practice determining the appropriate amount of time to give to the research end of a story or article.

5. Writers' organizations.  Joining a local, state or national writers group offers networking possibilities with other writers, and can connect you with new-to-you markets and publishers. Being a member also is a way to keep up with the latest trends in your field. However, along with all that, some of organizations require members to become officers, committee chairs and or serve on committees. Before you join, know what you're getting yourself into. Keep your membership to a select number of groups and limit your participation to what you can handle.

Financial experts advise clients to take money out of their paycheck for savings before spending it on anything else. Writing is no different. Those 1,000 words a day take precedence over all other writing-related aspects of your life. Now that you know what the traps are, practice self-discipline to avoid them. Your greatest benefit will be more time to write.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

It's That Time Again

I've been avoiding this ever since turning to the first page of the new calendar. We're now at the halfway point of the month. Not once have I nagged you about spending time cleaning out your writing work area and your computer files. So why now? Mostly because I need to listen to what I am about to tell you. I need that tiny nudge--or a bop over the head--to get started in my own writing place. 

Let's face it. things have a tendency to pile up when we're busy with our writing, our family life, social life and taking care of our home. I have a home office which is the best of all worlds because I can walk out to the other part of my home with the thought that I really must get some straightening and organizing done in the office but I don't have to look at it constantly. You know what happens to good intentions. Once a year, though, I do make a concerted effort to sort out my writing life. When it's done, I feel like I've truly accomplished something and I wonder why I don't do it more often. Oh sure, I dust and vaccum in here on a regular basis. OK, I vacuum in here regularly and dust when I finally can't stand it anymore. I dust the rest of the house far more often than in my little sanctuary.

There's a good reason to clean out the files on your computer or those file drawers in your desk. I often discover little nuggets of gold--pieces I'd started and never finished because I got frustrated or moved on to a more interesting project or just plain didn't have time and then forgot about it. When I find a partially finished piece of writing, I'm often inspired to get moving on it again. But I set it aside until the rest of the cleaning process is done. There are lots of little surprises during the cleaning out process. 

Here's a list of things you can do to organize your work area and your writing life. Don't try to do it all at one time. Work your way down the list over several days. Believe me, the stuff isn't going to disappear. It waits for you just like those crusty casserole dishes you let soak overnight before you scrub them clean. (Want a hint on that little job? Fill the dish or pan with hot soapy water, then put a fabric softener sheet in it and let it soak overnight. Swish it out in the morning and you'll me amazed at how much easier it is to clean. A friend told me she's done it for years but I was skeptical until I tried it.)

The List:
1. Bookshelves with books and folders about writing--might take some time to weed this area but you may discover books you want to read again and some you are willing to donate to a local book sale.

2. Computer desk (or wherever you put your computer)  Having papers stacked up here is a surefire way to lose something important or overlook it until it's past time for it to be relevant

3. Computer files 
   A. Put the outdated things on a flashdrive or delete them. Don't let unneeded files take up space you might need later on. 
   B. Check your Submissions File often as a reminder to yourself as to what you have floating around in cyberspace between you and editors. 
   C. Go through your address book and delete the ones you no longer need. 
   D. Run your anti-virus and malware programs--do this on a regular basis, not just once a year
   E. Go through finished pieces to see which ones you want to try to market soon
   F. Look at stories that have been rejected once or more and see what you might do to revise

4. Paper Piles  It is amazing how paper piles up. Much of it is not worth keeping but to be sure, go through it and discard the junk and organize what might be of use to you at some time.  

When you've completed all of the above, you're going to feel pretty satisfied. Treat yourself to something you enjoy. Then get to work on your current or next writing project. It's a new year with eleven and a half months ahead to make it your best ever!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chicken Soup Needs Angel Stories

I received a call for submissions from Chicken Soup for the Soul editors for a new book with stories about guardian angels. I'm guessing they are not getting enough quality stories for this book so are looking for more to select from. Deadline is not until March 31st so it gives you time to write and polish something to send. Don't wait til the very end, however.
We talk about guardian angels a lot but to have actually had an experience with one is not an
everyday occurrence. Remember that the story must be true. Not a piece of fiction you dreamed
up while filling the dishwasher one evening. 
The announcement sent to me yesterday is below. I am always grateful to get these extra nudges
from the Chicken Soup editors and am happy to pass it on to other writers. 

Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Guardian Angel
Guardian angels, divine guides, supernatural protectors — whatever you call them, sometimes we have no earthly explanation for what we experience and we know a higher power is at work. People see angels in various forms: heavenly, human, animal, and others.
If you have had a miraculous, personal experience with an angel, please submit your story. We are looking for stories of true wonder and awe from people who have directly encountered or received help from angels. How did your angel protect you or someone you know? How did your angel help you or someone you know, or even change your life? How did your angel manifest himself or herself?
This book is for everyone who has a story, whether religious or non-religious. Please note that we are not looking for stories about people who are "angels" because they do nice things, and also please do not submit eulogies about a loved one who has died and is now an "angel."
Here are some possible story topics, but we know you can think of more:
  • Angel visitations
  • Divine protection
  • Miraculous recoveries
  • Messages from an angel
  • Prayers answered by an angel
  • Receiving support from angels or spirits
  • Angel intervention
  • Receiving guidance or lessons from angels
  • Interactions with angels
  • Receiving news or warnings from angels
Please remember, we do not like "as told to" stories. Please write in the first person about yourself or someone close to you. If you ghostwrite a story for someone else we will list their name as the author. If a story was previously published, we will probably not use it unless it ran in a small circulation venue. Let us know where the story was previously published in the "Comments" section of the submission form. If the story was published in a past Chicken Soup for the Soul book, please do not submit it.
If you have already submitted a story for this title, please do not submit it again. We have it in our database and it will be considered for the book. If you have an additional story you'd like to submit, we'd love to consider it.
If your story is chosen, you will be a published author and your bio will be printed in the book if you so choose. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book, which lists at $14.95. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it.
SUBMISSIONS GO TO OUR WEBSITE. Select the Submit Your Story link on the left tool bar and follow the directions.
The deadline for story and poem submissions is March 31, 2014. The book will be published in October 2014.
(sent by Chicken Soup for the Soul)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

All Parts Woven Together

A lot of blogs and writer's websites publish lists of favorite books for the year or ones that have been memorable reads over a lifetime. We all have our own personal lists for the same, whether on paper (or screen) or just a mental tabulation we keep in our heads.

Did you ever give thought to why those books have made these lists? What made them so easy to read and maybe read again? Perhaps the list should have a sublist--one that tallies those writers who wrote your favorite books.

I loved the quote above attributed to Nathaniel Hawthorne, born over 200 years ago. A lot of our contemporaries don't put much stock into quotes by those who lived (and wrote) so very long ago. What did they know? They lived in a different time, not worthwhile today is the attitude of many. I'd say that Mr. Hawthorne knew a great deal. He, who wrote The Scarlet Letter and so many more books and stories, spoke from personal experience. He knew firsthand that the writing of a memorable story was 'damn hard writing.'

You who write know it, too. You know that something that you write in a flash and comes so easily may be an alright piece but it's probably not going to live on into the next century. No, to write a book that will become a classic and a true pleasure to read, the writer has to dig deeper than many writers are willing to do. Some have the attitude to hurry up and finish this, sell it and on to the next one. Look at some of our most prolific writers of today. Danielle Steele writes an entertaining story but will her stories live into the next century? I rather doubt it. She turns them out like my grandmother produced biscuits for Sunday dinner. Well, maybe not quite that easily but you probably get my point. How about romance novelists, the ones who write those bodice rippers with the sexy pictures on the covers. Do you think any of those books will live on to 2192? Those authors churn out one book after another using a formula that anyone could follow. For many, it's all about the returns in bucks, not that they wrote a fine book.

Sure, some of the books I mentioned above can be considered easy reading by fans of these authors. But I think Mr. Hawthorne meant easy reading in a different perspective. The novel should flow well and carry the reader along like a rowboat gliding over a river on a Sunday afternoon. No blips. No puzzlement. No boring sections. A book like he's referring to might have poetic prose, fine sensory details, good transitions, excellent dialogue, outstanding plot and/or theme. In other words it should be a blue ribbon winner in not just one part but in all the parts that are then woven together to create a fine book--one that's an easy read.

If you want to write a book that qualifies to be that fine book that's an easy read, all it takes is some damn hard writing. Plan on lots of time and several rewrites before you achieve this kind of book. But if you do come up with one, all the toil put into it will be worth it in triplicate.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Adverbs Are Far Too Easy To Use


In school, we learn the parts of speech. Each one, we were told, has a job to do in the sentences we write. That's a pretty simplified version of learning a piece of grammar. But it will serve as an introduction to what I want to talk about today. 

Writers toss adjectives around a sentence to describe a person, place or thing--in other words, a noun. They also sprinkle adverbs into their dialogue tags with glee. They, too, are descriptive. How easy is it to have a character speak and then add an adverb in the tag line to let the reader know how the dialogue was spoken. Did John Doe speak his line harshly, happily, sadly, glumly, gleefully, angrily or some other ly word that describes a verb? Or sometimes writers use the one word adverb when a character does something. The writer wants us to know how the character performed whatever it might be. Easy enough to add one simple word. Maybe.

Using adverbs in this way speaks of a lazy writer. It tells us how the subject feels. It's far better to show what the speaker is feeling or doing. Dump the adverb and add something to show the same thing. If you do, you have a far more visual image. Adverbs can modify adjectives and other adverbs and not all end in ly, although a great many do so. 


1.OK:   John shut the door slowly.
   BETTER:  John inched the door until it closed.

2. OK:  Sally ran to school quickly.
    BETTER:  Sally ran to school faster than a jackrabbit in the desert.

3. OK:  Sam turned suddenly.
    BETTER:  Sam slid to a stop and turned the corner.

4. OK:  "I want to go home," Joanie said loudly.
    BETTER:  Joanie shrieked, "I want to go home"

5. OK: "I don't know," Buddy whispered softly.
    BETTER:  Buddy's voice softened to a bare whisper. "I don't know." 

Do you see that the second sentence in each example is more visual? Tells the reader more? Is more interesting? 

If you want to learn more about using adverbs or replacing them, use a search engine like google to find more detailed articles. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Hook Your Reader Right Away

Whether you're writing a short story, a book, a memoir, or a nonfiction article, one of your most important steps is to hook your reader. Your aim is to begin with something that pulls your reader in and makes him/her want to continue. Immediately! Not three paragraphs down the page, nor two chapters into the book. 

The world we live in today is one where speed and getting right down to business is of greater importance each and every year. People lead busy lives, they shorten everything to get to the main deal. Look at texting, facebook short comments, email notes rather than long letters. Get it done, make it quick--that's the 21st century attitude. Consequently, readers are more than likely to be of the same mind set. I only have so much time to read so get me into the story as fast as possible.

Beginning writers tend to give too much background material before they get into the heart of the story problem that needs to be solved. Nonfiction writers might begin with far too many technical aspects that turn all but the most detail oriented readers off in a hurry. Fiction writers may want to set the scene with a long description in the opening paragraphs. Doing so risks losing the reader before they ever reach the end of the first chapter of a book, or the first few paragraphs of a short story.

My state authors organization offers an annual contest with several categories. One has been First Chapter Of A Book. which is now Synopsis and First Five Pages of a Book. That first chapter or even the first five pages are of great importance. Why would they have an entire category devoted to it if not? It's your chance to hook your reader. Do it then or your story slides into nowhere fast. 

I attended a writers conference one Saturday many years ago. One of the sessions addressed hooking your reader. After speaking for awhile, the presenter asked the participants to write an opening paragraph designed to draw your reader immediately into the story. Remember that this occurred at least 18 years ago, but there was one person who read her paragraph that impressed me so much that I've never forgotten it. It revolved around a woman with a cane walking down a hallway in a building, being followed by an unknown person. The writer made the reader (or listener in this case) see what was happening, hear it, smell the air and experience emotion. All this in one not so very long paragraph. I can still hear the ...tap, tap, tap of her cane... She did not tell her reader what happened, she showed it. She opened with action. The background could come later, woven into more of the story. The setting was hinted at and would be expanded upon later. When she finished reading what she'd written (in what seemed like nanoseconds), I wanted to know more. Questions had arisen in my mind. Why was the woman using a cane and limping? Who was walking steadily behind her? Why was the hallway darkened? She hooked me and everyone else who listened to that paragraph. 

Hook your reader by:

1. starting with action

2. appealing to a reader's emotions

3. leaving the background material for later in the story

4. creating questions in the reader's mind

5. piquing the reader's natual curiosity

6. using sensory details

7. not telling too much at once

8. leaving the description of the setting until later

But remember, once you hook your reader, you have to come through with the promise you gave them in the opening and continue to keep his/her interest. You don't want to write a fantastic opening, then slide away into oblivion. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Do You Have A Special Writing Place?

This photo poster brought two questions to mind. 

1. Do you have a favorite place where you read in your home?  This little spot above looks so inviting. I can just see curling up with a good book on that soft cushion surrounded by books. I'd have to have a little space on the bottom shelf cleared where I could place my teacup or glass. I'm wondering what is in the drawers at the bottom. More books perhaps? One thing I wondered about was how good the light would be in a cozy nook like this one. I'm big on having proper light to read by. Eyes are so precious and I urge us all to treat them with care. 

2.  Do you have a specific place in your home where you write? When I started writing 20+ years ago, I plunked my electric typewriter on the kitchen table and tapped away. It wasn't ideal because I had to clean up the mess at the end of my writing session so we could eat there. I tried setting up a card table in a spare bedroom which worked alright when I happened to be in the middle of a bigger project. But I still had to clean it up when guests came to stay or company coming who would walk by the doorway on the way to the guest bathroom. The house we live in now has 4 bedrooms so we turned the smallest into a home office. And of course, the electric typewriters is stashed on the closet shelf. Now, I can pop in here and write for 15 minutes on my laptop whenever the mood moves me, or I can spend all morning here. The best part is that it is always ready for me and my writing library, files, paper and more are also in this room.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have an entire room for their writing spot. I do have to share it with my husband but he's in here a whole lot less than I am. If you can designate even a corner of a room to call your own special writing place, you're ahead of the game. Look at that little nook for reading in the picture. Tiny! But wonderful. Look for a spot in your home with a writer's eye. I have a feeling you can create space somewhere where you can write. 

There are writers who still prefer writing in longhand first, and you can take a pad and pen with you to almost anywhere in your home or yard. Even to that special little reading nook you may have created. That's fine, but you're going to have to transcribe that longhand sooner or later and you'll need a place to do it. 

A friend in Atlanta has a small home, but she transformed a small walk-in pantry into her office. A clever carpenter put in a desk and cabinets on the lengthwise wall, painted everything a pleasant white so she didn't feel so closed in and she had enough room to add her chair. Small but perfect. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Atychiphobia Begone!

A couple days ago my post addressed fear of rejection along with procrastination and lack of self-confidence. If you didn't read it, check it out here. Let's talk about that fear of failure a little more today. That dictionary word above is one you don't want used as a label for you.

It's a lot more common than we might think.It happens to newbies and to those who have published for many years. There are a lot of writers who have it but don't want to admit it, even to themselves. The first step to overcoming this fear is to admit it. You don't have to shout it to the mountaintops or put an ad in the local paper, but be honest with yourself. When you've finished a story and edited it, are you eager to send it to an editor or do you set it aside and play Scarlett O'Hara whose famous line was I'll think about that tomorrow. That illustrates fear breeding procrastination, doesn't it?

Steps in facing fear of rejection include the following:

1. Admit this fear to yourself

2. Don't procrastinate, meet it head on

3. Make an honest assessment of why you have this fear

4. Educate yourself about the underlying factors--books and articles address this, help is there if we look

5. Take it one step at a time

6. Do all you can to boost your self-confidence--read what experts say to understand your feelings or talk to another writer

7. Start small--don't write a novel as a first project, don't send your first work to a top literary magazine, work up to it

8. Accentuate the positives in your writing life

9. Keep a list of your successes--a great confidence booster

10. Look for a mentor so you're not swimming in deep water by yourself

So don't wear the hat of one who has  atychiphobia. Make yourself good enough by growing as a writer. The better writer you become, the more you can push that fear of rejection behind you. I won't say it will be gone forever because I think we all have it in some degree. The goal is that you don't want to let it rule your writing life. Look at that pronounciation guide for the word and then say the word a few times. Might be a good idea to end with Atychiphobia begone! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sometimes I'm a Dodo-brain!

I am feeling some mixed emotions this morning. That's the happy me on the left and the dodo- brain me on the right.

I'm happy that my story The Perfect Grandchild is published this month in Long Story Short, an ezine that promotes writers. One that rejects as many or more submissions than accepts. So, I'm always very pleased when any of my work has been published by this ezine.

My dodo-brain self is blushing a bit because I did not do something that I am always preaching about on my blog. Over and Over, I tell writers to check the guidelines carefully. One slip or more can mean sure rejection. This time, I followed the guidelines perfectly except for one. It didn't get my story tossed out but it did create an error.

The story is a true one that happened many, many years ago. It has been previously published in a Guideposts anthology called Miracles of Hope. I read Long Story Short's guidelines and paid strict attention to their formatting requirements which let you know you'd better follow them if you want to be considered. Their was one area that I did not follow to the letter. In the subject line, the writer was asked to write Submission: Fiction or Submission: Nonfiction. I wrote only Submission.

The result was that the story did get published even though I missed that guideline, but it is listed under Flash Fiction on the home page. It belongs in the nonfiction category. I did state in my letter sent with the submission that the story was nonfiction, but I'd definitely left that word out of the subject line on the email. I went back and checked. (A good reason for saving copies of all your submissions in a folder in your email program) So, I was wrong but the editor also did not pick up the word nonfiction in my letter. Not surprising when they receive multiple submissions. I'm not blaming her for the error. It was my earlier mistake in not following those guidelines to the nth degree.

I wrote to the editor about the mix-up. I didn't want her to change the category, more to let her know it had happened and that it was partly my own fault.

So here I am today, happy, yet frustrated with myself for not following those guidelines perfectly. I guess it proves I'm human. Right? I do know it will make me read guidelines very, very carefully the next time I submit. I hope you'll do the same.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Conquering Three Words

What do you think the three words below have to do with one another?

      Procrastination                                      Rejection                            Self-confidence

They are all part of a discussion going on in a group called Aspiring Writers which is sponsored by Linked In. Writers send in questions and others respond with their answers or thoughts on the topic. Recently, one of the writers said that she wonders why she can sit down and write stories or articles with no problem but procrastination sets in if she must send out a query or synopsis. She wondered if it was fear of rejection or some other problem.

Her question drew a good many responses. One man noted that fear of rejection of our writing is just as much a fear of others not liking me or what I do.

I responded that fear of rejection can also be a lack of self-confidence. Another writer agreed with that assessment. There were a few others that showed a great lack of sympathy. One advised that the best way to deal with fear is to rip off its mask and face it. I also suggested that she google 'query letters' and 'writing a synopsis' and read all she can about each one.To have a clear understanding of something helps us to deal with it more easily.

We all procrastinate at times. I find that I usually use that tactic when I either dislike the project, don't understand it, or lack confidence in doing it. Writers all have a fear of rejection to one degree or another. Some have it only on a rare occasion while others wallow in a tub of it with every submission they make. The important thing is that they are making those submissions. It's those who do not submit because of that fear factor that concern me. What about that self-confidence angle? The better we understand a subject, the more confident we are in dealing with it. If you're unsure of some part of the writing world, do all you can to educate yourself on that topic.

All of the above brings me to today's poster quote. If you're going to conquer that procrastination, fear of rejection and self-confidence problem, you must be the realist who adjusts the sail. It won't happen overnight but it's worth working on a little at a time. An attitude adjustment is a good place to begin.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Have You Read This Classic?

My book club read True Grit by Charles Portis for our January selection. It was my turn to choose the book, and after reading an article in the Kansas City Star about a book group that had read this classic, I chose it. I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read and hope the other members of the book club are enjoying it, too. We meet January 14th to discuss the book.

Charles Portis wrote a novel titled Norwood before he wrote True Grit. The author, once a newspaper writer, hails from Arkansas as does Mattie, the narrator of True Grit, which has become a classic comic western. Now, there's a genre that you don't run into all that often. Published in 1968, the book has been revived again and again after two movies were made based on the book. The first one starred John Wayne and Kim Darby along with Glen Campbell. This film version followed closely on the heels of the 1968 release of the book, hitting the movie screens in 1969. Much later, 2010 to be exact, the Coen brothers did a remake starring Beau Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld. I have seen the first film more than once but not the latter one. Somehow, John Wayne will always be Rooster Cogburn for me.

For those who have not read the book or seen either movie, the story takes place in Arkansas, home of Mattie, the narrator of the story. Mattie tells us the story from the other end of her life, but it's about what happened when she was 14 and lost her father. A hired hand named Tom Chaney shot and killed her father, stole his horse and rifle and two gold pieces. Mattie is a no-nonsense young woman who sets out to avenge her father's death by finding and capturing the killer. She looks for a mean lawman to help her in this quest. Marshall Rooster Cogburn is the the man she chooses. Overweight, having only one eye and a drinker, Rooster takes the job when Mattie offers him a goodly sum. He intends to leave her in town and head out on his own. He ends up accompanied by a Texas lawman by the name of LaBoeuf--prounounced in Arkansas as LaBeef, which is the literal translation of LaBoeuf! Mattie follows them as they move on to Indian Territory and they are finally forced to take her along.

The hunt and chase moves on from there with Mattie's narrative drawing the reader into the story and holding interest to the very end. What this young girl endures on this adventure is a great tertament to having 'true grit' the characteristic she looked for in the man she chose to help her find her father's killer. The characters are fully drawn, the wit cleverly done on every page and an appealing story for the young adult group as well as adults. Besides all that, the book has a wonderful sense of place and time. Mattie Ross is as classic a character as Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer. In fact, Charles Portis may be called the Mark Twain of the second half of the 20th century. 

Comic western--maybe that doesn't appeal to you but I still highly recommend this book. It might make you take a look at yourself and others you know to see if they have 'true grit' like Rooster and Mattie. Find the book at Amazon or check your local library. My library found seven copies for me through their interlibrary loan program. 

I had one, and only one, thing that bothered me about the book. The author uses a very formal way of speaking in the dialogue, no contractions as we find in our normal everyday speech. Perhaps he meant it as one more bit of subtle humor, but for some reason, it disturbed me. That's a pretty small complaint and in no way detracts from all the other good aspects of this well-written novel.

I saw the movie before reading the book, which is the reverse of what I normally do. I often think the movie does not do justice to the book. The original version with John Wayne was very well done and stayed quite true to the book. But guess what? I liked the book better than the movie which is almost always the case for me.