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Friday, February 28, 2014

The Publishing Syndicate Newsletter

I've written a few times about the Not Your Mother's Book on.... anthology series published by Ken and Dahlynn McKowen. So far, I've had a story in their book on Travel and have hopes of being in others as I've submitted several stories to them.

The McKowens also publish a monthly newsletter called The Wow Principles. The e-newsletter for February marks a milestone for them--100 newsletters in 100 months. The newsletter offers tips for writers, calls for submissions, articles on the craft of writing and more.

The February issue highlights comments from readers about lessons learned from reading the monthly issues. The comments begin on page 2 and if you check carefully, you may find a comment from yours truly. It's the second one listed. Reading all the comments should make you want to subscribe.

Read the February issue of The Wow Principles. Next take a look at the website. Scroll down the page and check the right hand side to find the place where you can sign up as a subscriber to the monthly newsletter. There's a lot of other information on the website about The Publishing Syndicate for writers.

Here are a few book covers from the anthology series.

Not Your Mother's Book on TravelNot Your Mother's Book on Being a Parent

NYMB On Being a stupid Kid

Not Your Mother's Book on Home Improvement

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why Do We Write Memoirs?

The perfect wall art for the memoir writer. And who are the memoir writers? Anyone who writes family stories could be considered as a part of this group. I like the phrase in this quote that says to taste life twice. When we write memoir stories, or family stories, that's exactly what we do. But why?

Those memories that stay with us as we move through the adult stages of life remain because, in some way, the experience or the person impressed us greatly. That impression could be filled with the joy of the moment you're remembering or still give you the heebie jeebies because that moment was so terrible. Whichever it may be, these long ago happenings leave a visible mark upon us and it's beneficial to revisit the experience.

We savor those good memories and are happy to taste them twice but what about the sad, or even tragic, ones? Why do we want to relive them? I think that it helps us to understand the event, and the people involved, better when we can look at it from a completely different age. Our own further life experiences help us see whatever happened in a new light. Maybe reliving a difficult time is opening the door to forgiveness. If forgiveness is not possible, then maybe understanding can help soften the sharp edges of that particular memory. I doubt there is one of us that has nothing but happy memories. If so, then it's likely he/she blocked out the ones that hurt because they aren't ready to think about them yet.

I once went to a movie expecting only to be entertained, and I was until the final scenes which were so emotional, so tragic that it triggered something long buried in my memory bank. I sat in the dark theater with tears streaming but not from what I observed on the big screen. My anguish stemmed from a love/hate relationship with a close family member. I drove home from the theater and grabbed a pad of paper and a pen, then poured out my feelings about this person in a free verse poem. More tears but also a peacefulness that I can only attribute to bringing these memories to the surface, writing about them and recognizing that they were a part of what makes me who I am. Forgiveness was not there. Not then but it did come at a much, much later time.

Besides leaving a history for your family now and those in future generations, another reason to write memoir is to allow readers a glimpse into your life, to let them compare their own lives to yours, to help them see that maybe their experiences are similar. We humans are a curious lot and we like to learn about the lives of others, espeically famous people. It's why there are so many biographies (and autobiographies) written as well as memoirs. It's also a delight to history buffs who are able to learn about a different era.

Even writers of fiction, poetry, essays, educational articles and children's stories can also write memoir pieces. A memoir does not have to be booklength. Many anthologies, like Chicken Soup, publish many a memoir story of 1200 words or less. My own annual state writers club contest has a category for Memoir of 2000 words or less. Don't feel overwhelmed at the thought of writing an entire book. Take it one story at a time and one day, you'll have enough material for an actual book.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thoughts On The Writing Process

I saw this poster on a Motivational facebook page this morning. It's something most likely used at motivational meetings in businesses but I think it works quite well for writers, too. Let's take it bit by bit.

We're all capable of that Think part and we can come up with an Idea for a story or poem. Maybe we don't find that idea on an everday basis but often enough to fuel our writing life. 

The next part is a little tricky. Try  That means you must actually sit down and begin writing a first draft. Or maybe just a first sentence which can sometimes be most difficult. Trying means you must put forth some real effort. If only the words would flow endlessly from brain to fingers as you write! What if it did work that way? That you made little or no effort, just allowed the words to come and form a coherent thought. You'd lose a lot of satisfaction and sense of accomplishment--two things that boost our morale and self-esteem. 

Do--Do Again--And Again--Keep On Doing  For writers, you can substitute other illuminating words. Try these:  Revise and Edit--Revise and Edit Again--And Again--Keep On Revising and Editing. The chart uses arrows to move from one to the other but in the writing world, those revisions and editing should not be done one right after the other. Remember to let the piece simmer on a shelf for a few days, even a week, in-between these steps. You'll see the places that need work so much better when you let some time elapse before moving to the next self-editing and revising process. 

Success!  That should be the ulitmate goal, the positive result of the entire process you've just gone through. You and I know that in the writing world that can happen but it can also end in rejection the first time you submit this story you've spent time and great effort upon. Writers must acquire the attitude that if the story isn't accepted on the first try they will send it somewhere else. And keep sending it until that success is achieved. 

Writing is not a zip-zap-zip-I'm-published kind of world. Stay on the writing world carousel and keep reaching for that gold ring. Eventually, it will be yours.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Some Make It and Some Do Not

Did you ever get into a very long conversation on facebook or in one of the facebook groups?  For those who are not users of facebook--one person posts a comment and then all their Friends can add comments to the original one. Sometimes the list grows like weeds in a garden.

This week, a writer friend started a conversation about the permission releases that Chicken Soup for the Soul editors send to writers whose stories have made it into the final cut round. If you've ever received one, you know that the thrill is laced with fear. Why? Because the message that is sent warns that not every one of the stories in this category will make it into the book. A few will be cut. Oh please--not mine! is the normal reaction. The next thing you do is begin the waiting process. Fortunately, it isn't as long as the wait from submission to permission release notice. Even so, it's nail biting time. I've received 14 notices that I was in the final cut stage and have never been cut. I'm sure it must be awful to make it so close and then be told your story was left out. Hopefully, those stories will find a home elsewhere. If they were good enough to get to the final cut, then they should be good enough to be published elsewhere. No reason to trash the story forever.

But back to the conversation on facebook. The person who initiated the conversation was wondering if anyone knew any writer who had received the permission release form from the editors of an upcoming Chicken Soup book titled Home, Sweet Home. She'd checked and knew that the release forms were up and probably sent out. One by one, other writers knew of no one. I did have one friend who made the list and let the others know. A few days went by and suddenly another who'd made it into the final cut stage popped. Then another. Hope raised its head once again. Someone said they weren't giving up yet, maybe their notice would come in a day or two. The comments flew back and forth.

I'm wondering, however, how long we can keep this hope thing going. When do we know that the last permission release notice has been sent? That's the problem with submitting to anthologies like this. You can be left hanging. For those hundreds, occasionally thousands, of writers who did not get the notice, they hold out that little glimmer until the book is actually released and their name does not appear in the Table of Contents. The door has slammed shut on that one. So what next?

If you're dedicated to seeing your work published, you submit something new to the next book this anthology is working on or to another anthology, ezine, newspaper or wherever publication is a possibility. There's always a next time. It's the way the writing game works.

 The writer who takes a rejection from Chicken Soup or any other place as a personal affront had better move on to some other form of creative work. Taking it as a blow to you personally is the fastest way to the land of Writer Depression that I know. The story you sent that didn't make it might be a perfect fit somewhere else. Maybe the Chicken Soup editors had too many stories that ran along the same lines as yours. It may have been a good story but not the best one along that line. Keep trying and it might help to have one of these long conversations with other writers such as the one I mentioned above. Misery loves company!

For the record, the story I sent didn't make it into the finals. At least, not yet! You see how hopeful I can still be.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Long or Short--Stay on the Road

I feel safe in saying that almost all writers will agree with this poster quote. Author Unknown is at the bottom which is rather sad as I think it's a wonderful quote. 

This is a poster you can enlarge, print and post in your workspace as a daily reminder. Or put it on the fridge as it might be of some worth to the others in your home, too. 

Those difficult roads we travel only make the beautiful destination all that much better. Would you apprciate having your story or book published the first time you ever submitted? Of course, you would appreciate it once you stopped jumping up and down with glee, but I don't think the appreciation would be nearly as great as it would be had you traveled down those difficult roads for a lengthy time. 

We have all heard stories of now-famous authors who submitted a manuscript for a book to publisher after publisher until finally one decided to take a chance and accepted it. It happens all the time. Once they achieve fame, and maybe wealth, I'm betting they don't forget those long, bumpy roads they traversed to get to that beautiful place they're now in. It may be why so many celebrated authors are willing to mentor some of the newbies. They know what it's like at the beginning of the journey and they know how much encouragement from another author helps.

For some, those difficult roads are much longer than for others. As you move down that road, keep those signs held high, one in each hand. What signs? you ask? The ones that hold my two keywords in our writing world--Patience and Perseverance. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Characters In A Novel Should Draw You Into The Story

Book cover

The last few days, I 've been engrossed in Maeve Binchy's latest and last novel, A Week in Winter. This beloved Irish author passed away at age 72 just before this book was published. I have read almost every other book this excellent storyteller had published. I was hooked after reading one of her earliest books, Light A Penny Candle many years ago. As I read this newest book last evening, I kept pondering what it was besides good storytelling that made her books so enjoyable.

There's never only one element that draws us to the books of a particular author, as it's several things all tossed together that make a good read. But the one thing that kept popping up in my mind was characterization. Ms. Binchy had an uncanny knack of of introducing a new character in a story in a subtle way and before you know it, you're totally engrossed in that person's life. You know as much about him/her as you do your own best friend by the time you finish the book. She shows the character more than she tells about him/her. And yet, she is definitely telling us a story. Her characters are not wooden puppets; they are real live humans that readers relate to or admire or cheer on, or want to give a good shaking--whatever the case may be.

What's the secret of creating good characters? I wish I could say in one sentence what it might be, but it appears to be more than one thing and more than one way to create a character in a story. Some authors have a major outline for a novel, all thought out before they ever begin to write. For each character, they create a separate sheet with things like name,age, physical description, family, emotional makeup, lifetime events that helped form their personality and more. When the author is ready to write the first draft, they have their characters firmly in mind, they know who that character's friends are, what their hopes and dreams involve and much more. It's easy to fit these people into the slots where they belong on that big storyboard.

Others introduce a new character in their story and literally make up the person as they write. Some say they let the character tell their own story. A few will say that the outcome they had in mind when plotting the story mentally turns out to be completely different when they let the characters take over. Sound crazy? I know from experience that it's not.

What else must an author do to create memorable characters? In their excellent book, Writing Alchemy, Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett devote almost 50 pages to the subject. I've mentioned this book previously as one that is an excellent resource for writers. Theirs, of course, is not the only writing book that covers the subject of characterization. It would be to your benefit to spend some time in your library or bookstore or online at Amazon to find others that cover the subject. You can also google and find individual articles online. I have an earlier post about creating emotion in characters that you might like to read. It's titled The Pinnocchio Factor.

All writers would like to create memorable characters that draw in the reader. Read some of Maeve Binchy's novels keeping the characterization process in mind as you read. I think you'll be quite amazed.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How I Started My Writing Journey

Today's post is something I wrote to submit to an anthology last year. It traces my journey into the writing world. Those who are just beginning that journey or are partway on the path might be able to relate. If you're partway there, please keep going. In the long run, you'll be glad you did. How did you start writing? Let us know in the comments section. 

 Sometimes Life’s A Puzzle

I think life is a puzzle with many pieces that somehow fit together by the time we're done. It took more than fifty years and a whole lot of patience to find one of the most important of my puzzle’s pieces. And when I did, it fit perfectly into what was already there, even though I had to experience some difficult days before it happened.
From the time I was a little girl I wanted to write stories. I excelled in my English classes. It was one subject that I looked forward to, received top grades and soaked up every word the teachers offered.  Helping out at home and working to save money for college left me little extra time to pursue my passion for writing in high school.
College and working summers so I could return to campus filled the next four years. Suddenly, I was a teacher and my extra hours were devoted to lesson plans, extra projects for my students, dating and taking care of my apartment. Even so, I still loved words and read as often as my busy schedule allowed.
Marriage came next, more teaching, then motherhood and supporting my husband in his career. The writing dream remained in the recesses of my busy mind. Someday I’d tell myself, someday I’ll write stories for children. It was a goal I’d set, although I never mentioned it to anyone else. Maybe the desire hadn’t reached full strength yet.
I loved my life as teacher, wife and mother, but an important piece of the puzzle of my life was missing. Would I find it one day? I sometimes wondered, but it remained elusive.
Suddenly, my children were independent and my husband took a job in a state hundreds of miles away. After we’d moved to the small town, I found myself friendless, bored, and depressed.
One evening, we sat at the dinner table, neither of us talking. Finally, Ken said, “What’s wrong? You haven’t said a word since we sat down. That’s not like you.”
I erupted like a volcano that had been simmering for a long time. “I have nothing to talk about. I don’t go anywhere! I don’t see anyone! I don’t talk to anyone!”

As soon as the words spewed forth, I regretted it. Ken liked his new job and the people he dealt with at the bank all day. It wasn’t his fault that the people in this small town didn’t accept strangers. I had signed up weeks earlier to volunteer at the local hospital because I’d loved volunteering in our former community and I hoped it would be a way to meet people.
The job given to me was to do all the copy work for the Education department. I spent one afternoon every week in a small room with only a huge copy machine for company. I didn’t mind the work, but it wasn’t what I’d had in mind. It didn’t solve my problem.
The hospital held a Christmas Coffee for all hospital volunteers one December morning. It was a perfect opportunity to finally meet some other volunteers. The chairs
were placed in several circles. Great for conversation, I thought. I sat down, balancing my coffee and plate carefully in a circle where three women were chatting. The ladies took one look at me and pulled their chairs into another, already full, circle, leaving me sitting entirely alone, humiliated and miserable. I soon left for home. As hard as it was, the experience proved a trigger to action for me.
Flipping through a magazine the afternoon after my rant to Ken, I spied an ad that told me I could learn to write for children through a correspondence course. A tiny spark of interest flickered as I turned the page and then returned to it two more times. I talked it over with Ken that evening. I checked the school’s credentials the next day and enrolled. Why not? What did I have to lose?
I hoped a challenge like this might help me enjoy life more. I knew I couldn’t continue on in the same mode much longer. Little did I know then that it was going to change my life.
I finished the course in record time with great enthusiasm, wrote story after story geared to middle grade children, the age group I’d taught so many years before. Shortly after I’d finished the course, Ken’s bank was purchased by a bigger one and they transferred him to the main bank. It was located in a larger community, and I found a small critique group where I learned more about writing and heard encouraging words about my stories. I sold a story and was hooked for life. I also made friends within the Newcomers group. Now, my life felt full again.
I branched out, trying fiction for adults and turned out some pretty clichéd, lame tales. I attempted poetry and some of it was not half bad. Next, I delved into creative non-fiction and a lot of it was published at ezines and then magazines and finally anthologies like Chicken Soup for the Soul and Guideposts. That was where my strength lay. Being one who likes variety in life, I wrote some articles on the craft of writing and many of
them were published. I joined an online critique group and then another one when the first folded. I gained knowledge about our craft, confidence in myself as a writer and some lifetime writer friends.
I started a blog about my writing world with the intent of encouraging other writers and found that I loved posting five days a week about a subject dear to my heart. Somehow, the old teacher in me never died, and my blog, Writer Granny’s World, lets me teach through the written word.
Lately, I’ve been selling children’s stories again and have an editor interested in a juvenile novel I wrote several years ago. I also continue to write creative nonfiction and articles on the craft of writing as well as an occasional poem.

This second act of my existence turned out to be a large and important piece of my life’s puzzle. With it came great satisfaction which continues every time I string words together to create a new story or poem. The loneliness and rejection I felt in that small town ended up making me accept a personal challenge to change my life and satisfy a longing to write. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Grab A Story Idea and Write A First Draft

Two simple sentences. The first one is inspiring. The second is deflating. Let's take a look at both.

First drafts don't have to be perfect.  Sometimes a story starts swirling in your head while you're doing those mundane tasks we all must accomplish. The story keeps nagging at you until you finally must get it written somewhere, somehow. You might be at home where you can dash off a first draft. Or you could be in a restaurant, on a plane, or pushing a card down a grocery aisle. Grab the nearest item you can write on and get the gist of the story down, stuff it in your pocket and get to work when you are back home. Get the bones of the story written and flesh it out later. It's a rare first draft that is ready to be submitted for publication. If you write a first draft that you think is perfection itself, put it away for a few days and read it again. You'll see it in an entirely different perspective and that 'so perfect' draft may no longer look so wonderful. It doesn't matter a bit because you've done the big part. You've written that first draft and are ready to move on to step 2--the ediitng and revision. It could be the first of several revisions.

They just have to be written. In looking at this sentence and the preceding one, I can see reversing the order. Let's face it. Those first drafts do have to be written, not left dancing around in your head. I might change the quote above to read  First drafts have to be written but they don't need to be perfect. How many stories or articles have you thought about while cleaning up the dinner dishes? Or while folding the laundry? Or while idly picking out which cereal to buy at the grocery store? Or sitting in a doctor's waiting area? Or riding on a commuter train or bus? There are so many situations where our minds are left free, and writers' minds seem to wander into storyland on a regular basis. What about those story ideas that come to you after you've gone to bed but find you can't sleep? Do you get up and start writing or decide that you'll do it tomorrow? When tomorrow comes, life steps in and the story is lost. Even if you only write the most basic parts of the story, write it! Don't let it wander through your head like a lost child. Rescue it and put it safely into actual words on a screen or piece of paper. It's a first draft. It won't be perfect but it will be written!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Writing Contests--Questions and Answers

Have you ever entered a writing contest? Have you ever considered it? How do you find the contests? What's holding you back? Are you willing to give it a try? Lots of questions that maybe today's post can help answer.

Have you ever entered a writing contest?  I'm guessing that more writers will say No to this question than Yes. Why? It takes time, self-confidence, and sometimes money to enter a contest. Most contests will take only unpublished work and that ties up a story, poem or essay that you feel is one of your best. Do you want it languishing in a judge's stack of entries or would you rather it be submitted to someplace that might publish the piece soon?

Have you ever considered it? Far more people consider entering a writing contest than actually do. For many of the same reasons as stated above. I see notices about dozens of contests and I scan the guidelines and consider entering but I let most of them slide by. Competition can be scary. Think back to your school days. Sports competitions were tough for some of us, while others excelled. If you weren't an expert, it was pretty frightening to try out when you knew the risk of being cut was mighty high. In the same way, entering the writing contest may come down to how badly you want to compete and come out on top. Or how much money you're willing to invest in the entry fees.

What's holding you back?  Self-confidence may be one of the biggest things that keeps you from entering contests. Especially so if you are an unpublished writer. Or maybe you've been published a few times. Maybe your muse whispers in your ear what makes you think you can compete with hundreds, maybe thousands, of other writers and come out on top? A writer's muse isn't always there to help, they sometimes like to play devil's advocate or shock you a bit. Then, there's the question of money. Some contests are free to enter, some have minimal amount entry fees while others have sizable amounts for entrants. The fees collected end up being prize money in many cases. Each writer must decide on what they are willing to pay and how many times each year. One thing to remember--the contests with the highest entry fees usually award the highest amount in cash prizes.

How do you find the contests?  Watch your writers' newsletters for announcements and use your favorite search engine to find current contests.

Are you willing to give it a try?  Only you can answer this one. I would encourage you to enter a contest but with a word of caution. Don't aim for the big contests with big awards for your first try. I've said it many times in relation to submitting your work to an editor/publisher--start small and work your way to the top. There are many smaller contests. Look at your state writers group--many of them run annual contests via districts or the entire state. It's a good place to begin your contest journey.

At the end of this post, I've pasted an announcement page for a District Contest in Kansas as an example. Please note that it is not limited to members only. If you live in Florida, you can enter. Nonmembers pay a slightly higher fee to enter. Always measure the amount of the fee versus the possible prize amount to determine the worth of entering. Winning a writing contest will be a nice addition to your writing resume and something positive to add to your cover letter when you submit your work for publication.

Look at the guidelines in this announcement carefully. Just as in submitting your work to a publication, you must follow the rules to the letter or your story may be tossed out without a backward glance from whoever manages the contest. Every contest entry form will be different. Read it, study, and double-check once your entry is ready to send. The bigger the contest, the more difficult it is to be a winner and the reverse is true, too.

* More on writing contests can be read here.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What Are Your February School Day Memories?

Today offers another opportunity to write something for your Family Stories Book. We've not always honored our former presidents on the third Monday in February. Previously, Abraham Lincoln's birthday and that of George Washington was celebrated on the actual date of their birth. Lincoln was born on the 12th of February and Washington on the 22nd. 

What did you do at school in your growing-up years to celebrate these special dates? I went to school long before the birthdays were celebrated together on the third Monday of this month. On the first school day of February, we were sure to find bulletin boards and windows decorated with pictures or silhouettes of the two presidents and, of course, Valentine hearts and cupids. During my grade school years, we had a day off on Lincoln's birthday one year and the following year, we had that day of freedom on Washington's birthday. 

The name of my grade school was Abraham Lincoln which might have led the school board to give us this man's birthday off every year, but since there were several other grade schools in our suburb, they chose the alternate date plan. Our grade schools were all named for either a president or a well-known author of the classics. 

Every February, we spent some class time learning about these two revered presidents. As we progressed in age, the information grew greater in amount. By the time I reached the 8th grade, I knew a great deal about each of these men. Some of the stories proved to be myths but, even so, many served as good moral lessons for children. They helped instill values that have carried over with me to this day.

What are your memories of February and celebrating the presidents' birthdays? Write about it and add to your Memory Book. Hopefully, something in what I wrote here today will trigger some memories for you. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Memoir Writing Contest Anyone Can Enter

So--how do you think these two met?

Valentine's Day seemed the perfect time to alert you to a new writing contest that Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett recently announced. These two editors of a women's memoir site give tips and news for those women who are interested in writing memoir stories or books. I have found a wealth of information here as it's chock full of interesting and worthwhile tidbits for those who write in this genre. 

Some of you are probably shaking your head and saying But I don't write memoir. Maybe you do and don't realize it. If you write your family stories, you're a memoir writer. Memoirs don't need to be full books to qualify. Many short pieces fit in this category, too. Look at the numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul stories that belong in the memoir area. 

But back to the contest at women's memoir site. The theme is How I Met Your Father and for anyone who does not have a child, it is How Mother Met My Father. Submission deadline is March 31st so you have plenty of time to write, revise and edit your entry. Look on this page for the submission guidelines. You'll find it about a third of the way down the page. Just scroll until you come to the contest announcement. While you're there, check out the rest of the page, too.

I know how I met my children's father. I was there! I know the story of how my parents eloped and kept their marriage a secret for several weeks. When looking at the contest page, it hit me that I do not know how and where my parents actually met. Me! The great family story pusher. My parents were storytellers and family stories rained upon us on a regular basis. I have written about so many of them. Why, I'm wondering now, did I never hear the story of how my parents met in the late 1930's. Why did I never ask? Sadly, there is no one living today that knows the answer to my question. Unless---maybe one of my three brothers heard the story sometime when I was not present. I will check with each one of them soon.

Meanwhile, give this contest a try. Remember that memoir writing is classified as creative nonfiction. True stories that are written using fiction techniques. 
A checklist for you:
1.  Add enough sensory details to bring your story to life. 
2.  Use active rather than passive verbs. 
3.  Show rather than tell. 
4.  Sprinkle in some dialogue. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

An Early Valentine Memory

Vector Heart Valentine’s Day Background

Valentine's Day is nearly here. I have written only one story over the years for this holiday but it's one that has been published many times here in the USA and in some foreign countries. "Love In A Box" was the first story I had accepted by the Chicken Soup for the Soul publishers. They have published it in two of their books. It was also one of the first memoir pieces I'd written and it started my series of family stories.Some of you may have read it before but maybe you'd like to give it another go. And then write a  Valentine memory story of your own or use the comment box here and tell us your story. Then pass this post on to others, too.

Love In A Box
By Nancy Julien Kopp

When I was a little girl, I found love in a box all because of a class assignment. On a Friday night I made an announcement at the dinner table. The words bubbled out in a torrent of excitement I could no longer contain. "My teacher said we have to bring a box for our valentines on Monday. But it has to be a special box all decorated."

Mother said, "We'll see," and she continued eating.

I wilted faster than a flower with no water. What did "We'll see" mean? I had to have that box, or there would be no valentines for me. My second grade Valentine's Day would be a disaster. Maybe they didn't love me enough to help me with my project.

All day Saturday I waited, and I worried, but there was no mention of a valentine box. Sunday arrived, and my concern increased, but I knew an inquiry about the box might trigger anger and loud voices. I kept an anxious eye on both my parents all day. In 1947, children only asked once. More than that invited punitive measures; at least in my house it did.

Late Sunday afternoon, my father called me into the tiny kitchen of our apartment. The table was covered with an assortment of white crepe paper, red construction paper, and bits and pieces of lace and ribbon from my mother's sewing basket. An empty shoe box rested on top of the paper. Relief flooded through me when Daddy said, "Let's get started on your project."

In the next hour, my father transformed the empty shoe box into a valentine box I would never forget. Crepe paper covered the ugly cardboard. My father fashioned a ruffled piece of the pliable paper and glued it around the middle. He cut a slot in the lid and covered it with more of the white paper. Next came red hearts attached in what I considered all the right places. He hummed a tune while he worked, and I knelt on my chair witnessing the magical conversion of the shoe box and handing him the glue when he needed it. When he finished, my father's eyes sparkled, and a smile stretched across his thin face. "What do you think of that?"

My answer was a hug and a "Thank you, Daddy."

But inside, joy danced all the way to my heart. It was the first time that my father devoted so much time to me. His world consisted of working hard to support his family, adoring my mother, disciplining my brother and me, and listening to every sports event broadcast on the radio. Suddenly, a new door opened in my life. My father loved me.

Monday morning, my mother found a brown grocery sack to protect the beautiful box while I carried it to school. I barely felt the bitter cold of the February day as I held the precious treasure close to me. I would let no harm come to my beautiful valentine box.

My teacher cleared a space on a long, wide windowsill where the decorated boxes would stay until Valentine's Day. I studied each one as it was placed on the sill, and none compared with mine. Every time I peeked at my valentine box, I felt my father's love. My pride knew no bounds. There were moments when the box actually glowed in a spotlight all its own. No doubt the only one who witnessed that glow was me.

Every day some of my classmates brought valentine cards to school and slipped them into the slots of the special boxes. The holiday party arrived, and we brought our boxes to our desks to open the valentines. Frosted heart cookies, red punch, valentines and giggles filled our classroom. Chaos reigned until dismissal time arrived.

I carried my valentine box home proudly. It wasn't hidden in a grocery sack but held out for the world to admire. I showed it to the policeman who guided us across a busy city street. He patted me on the head and exclaimed over the box. I made sure everyone along the way took note of my valentine box. My father had made it for me, and the love that filled the box meant more to me than all the valentines nestled inside.

From that time on, I never doubted my father's feelings for me. The valentine box became a symbol of his love that lasted through decades of other Valentine Days. He gave me other gifts through the years, but none ever compared with the tender love I felt within the confines of the old, empty shoe box.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Submission Process--Part II

Man reaching into sky
Reach For the Sky When You Submit

This is the second part of the Submission Process post. If you missed part I, check the February 11th post.

Offering guidelines allows editors to reduce the amount of unusable submissions sent to them. Guidelines provide a step by step guide for the writer. For instance, a writer can learn if single or double spacing is asked for, if paragraphs are to be indented or not, if there are certain items to be listed at the top of the entry (ie. name, address, phone, e-mail, word count, rights offered). Guidelines might specify that only unpublished work is accepted, or they might say that reprints are welcome. The information is there to help and is meant to be followed carefully. If the writer disregards the information, the submission will end up being tossed, so it is to his/her benefit to follow guidelines carefully.

If a cover letter is included with the submission, keep it short and professional. If at all possible, learn the editor’s name and use it--Dear Mr. Brooks rather than Dear Dan. If a writer has never been published, there is no need to point it out. If published, he/she should give a short resume of where her work might be found.

Send the cover letter, the submission, and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) if you are submitting through postal mail. Don’t add cutesy things to any of the above. Be professional at all times. If indicated that submissions are accepted via e-mail, so much the better. No postage, no SASE to be included. Pay careful attention to the guidelines as to whether the editor prefers attachments or to have the submission copied and pasted into the body of the e-mail.

Set up a record-keeping system of some kind. It may be a series of index cards, a notebook with a page for each piece written, or a more complex spreadsheet on the computer. How it’s done is a personal choice, but do it.

The last step in the submission process is not to sit back and wait for an answer. A response may not arrive for weeks, perhaps even months, sometimes never. The final step is to begin to work on a new story, article, or essay and start the submission process all over again. Keep a ferris wheel of submissions going at all times.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Submission Process--Part I

Man reaching into sky
Aim High When You Submit Your Work

There is one great truth in writing for publication. You will not be published if you don’t submit your work. Submitting is step one. Sounds easy, doesn’t it, but in reality a writer must have a few items in her internal tote bag to help in the process.

First and foremost, she’ll need the courage to send her work to an editor. And don’t kid yourself--it does take courage to send your baby out into the publishing sea. The waters are deep, and the sharks numerous. Other authors have sent their precious words to the same editor. Which one is going to survive? There’s no way to tell, but if you don’t submit, you’ll never know if your words will be the ones to swim right into the publication process. Take a chance and send your work along with whatever is required in the writers’ guidelines. The rejections may outweigh the acceptances, but that’s what this business is all about. Statistics tell us that writers receive more rejections than acceptances, so toughen your hide and send your work to an appropriate publication. If it comes back, send it to another publication.

The best way to match your story, essay, or article with the right magazine, newspaper or ezine is to study market guides. There are several guides published annually that offer complete information about hundreds of publications. They list address, phone numbers, editors’ names, requirements, payment and sometimes list current needs. Guides exist for novel writers, magazines, playwrights, poets, and song lyric writers. It is to the writer’s advantage to study the guide that pertains to her particular type of work. Most library reference sections have copies of the market guides. A writer can spend hours in the library taking notes but can also go online to find market guides or websites of specific publications, or visit a bookstore and purchase a copy. Keep in mind that they become outdated in a hurry. This is one reason why I've switched to doing almost all my searching online. 

It’s also possible to use an internet search engine for writers’ guidelines. Use keywords to narrow the search. If you have written an article about building a backyard pond, look for garden magazines or How-To publications. If there is a particular magazine that interests you, put the name in a search engine and look for the guidelines. Ask yourself if your article, story or essay would be a good fit. It’s a waste of time to submit to them if you feel your work is way off base for that publication.

Part II will be on tomorrow's blog.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why Publish?

There are various reasons a person writes. A few people do it strictly for personal satisfaction, would never want the world to see what they've written. Nothing wrong with that. The mere act of writing soothes the soul for some, and for others, a lack of self-confidence keeps them from submitting their work for publication. But the majority of writers strive to publish for various reasons, some of which overlap.

Chief among them is cash, either needed or desired. Let’s be honest. There must be very few writers who wouldn’t welcome a check in exchange for words written. That old adage “Time is money” holds true for writers. They deserve compensation for the great amount of time it takes to ponder over an idea, to write, and then revise a piece. They offer knowledge and/or entertainment in exchange for money.

For others, the byline is important. Seeing your name on a story that is available for the world to read gives one a sense of pride and a feeling of accomplishment. I once knew an obstetrician who claimed he received a thrill with every baby he delivered. Writers might feel the same with every new story, essay or article created. Each one comes close to the joy that the doctor experienced with every newborn he held in his skilled hands.

Publication provides a way of touching the lives of others with the words written and printed in a magazine, newspaper or ezine. A writer often derives satisfaction in the hope that he/she has made a difference in someone’s life. The sad part is that the writer seldom knows who, or how many, his/her words have touched. Occasionally though, a reader will respond with a letter, phone call, or a comment via a website to tell the author how her words have made a difference, how they taught a lesson, or perhaps touched a heart. What could be a better inspiration to continue writing?

Perhaps some write to fill a need to produce something worthwhile. They hope to leave something personal, a legacy of a kind. Long after a writer dies, his/her words can still be read by and touch succeeding generations. Even writers who don’t achieve great fame and fortune can be reasonably assured that their work will be passed down through the family for generations to come. 

Perhaps some writers have a passion to share their knowledge or life experiences with others so feel driven to achieve publication. 

Whatever your reason for pursuing publication for your writing, use some of that patience and perseverance we so often mention here. It doesn't always happen in a hurry.

Friday, February 7, 2014

This and That On A Cold Friday

It's the end of a cold and snowy week so today I'm going to post a little of this and a bit of that. Let's begin with the entrancing photo below.

Unique Library: What could be more appropriate for a large public library than to have a facade of books. Downton Kansas City, Miss*ouri is home to this perfectly gorgeous library. Once a bank building, the inside is just as impressive. Read more about it at this blog post. You might be surprised that the author of the posting loved this building so much, her wedding took place there.

Workshops for Writers: I'd love to list all the workshops for writers offered around the USA but there are far too many. There are national, regional, and local community workshops and/or conferences, as well as online. I received an email the other day from a representative of the Highlights Foundation who wanted to publicize the many workshops put on by the Highlights For Children Magazine. They are geared to those who write for children, held in Pennsylviani and I believe they have some scholarships to help with expenses. Learn more about these workshops here. Do a quick search via google or some other search engine to locate other workshops and conferences that are closer to your home area to help you assemble all the pieces of the puzzle of being a published writer. 

Calls for Submissions:  Accidents happen and some of them are quite beneficial. Yesterday, I accidentally found a website that is a treasure trove of help in marketing your stories, articles and poem. Believe me, I quickly bookmarked it. Check it out here. Spend some time on this website and return to check new additions on a regular basis. 

Revising and Editing:  I can't say it often enough. The revising and editing part of writing is of five star importance. Yes, * * * * * of them. The point came rushing at me this week as I've been writing a story for a new Chicken Soup book. One of the members of my critique group found many places in the first draft that needed work. I used many of her suggestions in revising and then popped it off to her in hopes she'd take a quick look to see if she thought it was improved enough to send on its way. She gave me far more than a 'quick look' and sent it back to me. And yes, it is going through another revision. Frustrating in some respects, but also extremely helpful. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

May of 1955 Brought Me Someone Special

May's Flower--Lily-of-the-Valley

Today, I'm posting my story that is published in Seasons of our Lives:  Spring, one of the volumes in the womens' memoir anthology published by Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler. This story happend in May of 1955--the era of poodle skirts, saddle shoes and the onset of rock and roll. It's about the birth of my third sibling, who is still pretty special to me. Have you written family stories about your siblings, both older and younger? 

A Special Sibling

By Nancy Julien Kopp

I still feel a thrill when I think about that glorious month of May in 1955, the year I turned sixteen. In late fall of the previous year, my mother and father informed me that a new baby would arrive in May, my own birth month.

I learned later that my parents worried about my reaction to the news that they were to have a fourth child. I would be halfway through high school by the time the baby arrived, but rather than being embarrassed, repulsed, or angry, I was elated. Finally, I would have the sister I’d always hoped for, even prayed for. I loved my two younger brothers, but the idea of a sister thrilled me. Mom and Dad’s faces visibly relaxed when I squealed “Really?” when they made the announcement.

The day my youngest sibling arrived is as clear as though it happened last week. A stack of books in my arms, saddle shoes on my feet, and a long circle skirt made me look like every other girl on the school bus that Friday. I hopped off in the neighborhood shopping area of our Chicago suburb, turning away from the fumes the bus belched as it moved on.

A display of strawberries in a mom and pop grocery window caught my eye. These were the first of the season, and only a few days earlier, my mother expressed a desperate desire for the sweet, juicy fruit. Not all pregnant women had teen-aged daughters who could fulfill their cravings, even if it meant using lunch money that was to last all week.

I raced the four blocks to our apartment building with the precious berries, plump and rosy-red in a small balsa-wood basket. A freight train rumbled by across the street, and I waved to the engineer, not waiting for him to return my greeting as usual. I ran up three flights of stairs shouting, “Mom, I found strawberries for you.” I couldn’t have been more excited if I’d brought her a dozen roses.

“You’ll have to eat them yourself,” Mom said. “I’m going to the hospital.” She rubbed the small of her back, and a frown creased her forehead.

After all the months we’d waited and prepared for this surprise addition to our family, her words stunned me. I didn’t know what to do, how to help, or what to say. Books clutched in one arm and strawberries in my other hand, I listened as my mother calmly instructed me what to feed my two younger brothers before I left to baby-sit for a neighbor. Dad arrived home, nervous as a cat facing two growling dogs. He helped Mom down the long three flights of stairs, carrying her small suitcase as I ran behind, only to stop at the top step.

I leaned over the hallway banister. “Call me at Leslie’s house as soon as it happens.” A shiver ran up my spine. I couldn’t wait to hear about the arrival of my sister. There was no doubt in my mind. God heard all prayers, and He’d heard my earnest pleas for a sister many times.

I learned that afternoon how slowly time moves. I kept busy fixing dinner for the three of us and being the bossy older sister. I told the boys, who were eight and twelve years old, they were to come inside when dark fell. It was a time when kids played outside alone, and no one gave it a second thought. The warmth of the May day meant the boys wanted to be outdoors until the first fireflies flitted through the air.

Leslie, the neighbor child I cared for that night, was dainty and petite with blonde curls and blue eyes. In my mind, my soon-to-be-born sister would be her twin. I waited for the phone call while I read books to three-year-old Leslie and put her to bed. When the phone finally rang, it startled me, and I jumped up to answer, my heart beating fast. Much to my disgust, my youngest brother’s voice whined through the receiver. “When’s Dad coming home? Is the baby borned yet?”

Leafing through every magazine I could find, I waited. And I waited some more. When I’d about given up, Dad called. “You’ve got a fine new brother,” he said. Tears threatened to spill over, and there was a lump in my throat. I’d been so sure I’d have a sister. My hand tightened on the phone as I said, “That’s great, Dad.”  Words that rang hollow, perhaps to both of us.

A week later, Dad took me along to pick up Mom and the new baby at the hospital. When we were ready to go home, I climbed in the backseat of the car, and Mom sat in the front on the passenger side. A nurse leaned over to place the blanket-wrapped infant in her arms. Dad told the nurse to give me the baby, but she refused. “It’s hospital policy that we hand the baby to its mother. And no one else.” She set her mouth and tightened her grasp.

My dad was not a big man, but he had a way of taking charge and convincing people with a steely look and a few choice words.

After a short, heated exchange between Dad and the nurse, she moved a few steps to the left and handed the baby to me, closed the car door with a slam, and marched into the hospital.

The blue bundle felt so soft and warm. I looked down into Jimmy’s face. His eyes were open, and his tiny hands curled into fists. In that instant, I fell in love with my new baby brother. God had heard my prayer and His answer now lay in my arms. I couldn’t wait to get home and show this baby boy to anyone willing to look.

Maybe being the only girl wouldn’t be so bad. I pulled my newest brother closer and kissed his brow, that sweet baby scent somehow softening my earlier disappointment. Not a May goes by that I don’t think about the year my baby sister turned out to be a brother who quickly worked his way into my heart.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Remembering A "Birth" Day

sleeping baby

Forty-six years ago today, our son was born. That's not his picture above but looks very much like he did at that stage of life. The day was unseasonably warm for February in the Chicago area. I distinctly remember being grateful for the sunny, pleasant day as I could no longer button my winter coat when I went to my scheduled doctor appointment. Pull as I might, the buttons and buttonholes would not meet over the mound in my middle. It was 1968 and the baby was not due for another full week, but I'd had contractions off and on for days. False labor pains was the term used then.

That afternoon, the doctor told me the baby might come at any time. I drove home thinking that maybe tomorrow I should get a few things made ahead so Ken would have quick and easy meals while I was in the hospital. Women stayed 5 days not this one and out method of today. 

Ken normally went to a mens' service club dinner meeting on Monday nights but those little twinges had started up again, so I suggested he skip it on this particular night. We had stuffed peppers for dinner that evening, a favorite of mine. The twinges I'd had were getting stronger and more regular. I'd take a bite, then put my fork down and wait. I knew that you shouldn't eat once labor started. But I wanted that stuffed pepper in the worst way. I'd take another bite, then lay the fork on the plate again. I finally quit eating but reluctantly. We watched one of the big shows on TV at the time--Laugh-In. By the time the show was over at 8 o'clock, I told Ken we'd better go to the hospital. I'd packed a bag earlier in the day so it didn't take us long to be on our way. 

The same nurses were on duty as had been only 14 months earlier when our first baby was born with a serious birth defect. She lived only seven weeks. These wonderful women knew how special this birth would be for us. I felt confident that all would be well this time. My doctor had repeatedly said that the baby was a girl. "No, it's a boy," I'd respond each time. 

Two and a half hours after we arrived at the hospital Kirk made an appearance, crying lustily. When the doctor announced "It's a boy!" I immediately responded "I told you so!" No ultrasound testing in those days so the moment of arrival brought a surprise to parents. No husbands in the delivery room either. A nurse rushed out to relay the news of a healthy son to Ken. Our joy was so great that after Ken had gone home to call the grandparents, I lay awake all night, too excited to do something as mundane as sleep. I was flying high and couldn't come down off that cloud of elation. The window in my hospital room was raised a few inches and it suddenly got chilly in the room. I looked over to see snow piling up on the outer windowsill. Just then, a nurse came in and slammed the window shut. "End of yesterday's moment of spring," she said.

Mothers remember the birth day of each of their children. There is a theory that women don't remember the pain of labor once the birth has occurred. Maybe so, but all the rest stays with us, neatly filed away in our memory bank until something triggers it. Today, being our son's birthday, triggered these memories for me. 

If you have not written the story of your child's, children's, birth(s), do it soon. Put it in your Family Stories Book. Births, weddings, funerals--all of those deserve individual stories to be kept for generations to come. Your childrens' and grandchildrens' family history can only be detailed by you. Whether you are the mother or father, if you are the writer in the family, make sure there are pages that tell the story of these ever so important days. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Snowy Day--Perfect For A Writing Exercise and Other Stuff

We're having a snowy day here in mid-central Kansas with a prediction of ten inches by tonight. The snow started silently around 4 a.m. today while most of us were sleeping. We're not alone. The numerous snow and ice storms of this 2013-14 winter have spread over a vast area of the USA. It appears for some areas that no sooner do the people dig out and start normal life again that another storm blows its way across the mountains and plains up to the Great Lakes and on to the east coast. Spring seems light years away.

Snowstorms have the power to disrupt life as we know it. Schools close, businesses sometimes shut down, meetings are cancelled, travelers run into huge problems and grocery stores are a madhouse with shoppers stocking up prior to the big event. Depends on what part of the country you live in as to how panic-driven the shoppers are. 

I like to spend some time in the kitchen baking on snowy days like this. I've been wanting to try a couple new recipes and this is the perfect time. I have a story I've been working on so this afternoon would be an ideal time to continue. Of course, there are many books stacked up waiting for me to read. You may notice that housework is not among the things I've listed to do on a snowy day. Nope--gonna save that for a regular kind of day. 

Today is the perfect moment to use the pictures above to write a poem, a piece of fiction, or a creative nonfiction story that deals with a snowy day. What are some good adjectives to describe snow, or even a blizzard? Can you add tension to what you've written? Will you concentrate on sensory details? Can you convey either the beauty or the danger of a day like this? Can you go on a rant about the weather? Can you write a warm, fuzzy story? Did you ever experience a disaster during a snowstorm? There are so many different directions you can go. Study the pictures here, then search your memory bank before you begin to write. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Quiz for Writers

Do you like to take quizzes? I ran across one today that analyzes your answers, then tells you what kind of writer you are. Kind of interesting. If you'd like to try it, click on this link. My answers to the questions were first instinct ones which is probably the best way to go. Don't delve too deeply into the thought process when you answer.

I was surprised, yet not surprised, when my category turned out to be Poet. The description that came with it described me and my writing quite well. When these things turn out so correctly, I always wonder How did they do that? I'm sure there is some big scientific explanation but since I have no leanings in that world, I'd probably never understand it!

Bottom line for me is that it really doesn't matter what kind of writer I am. It matters that I am a writer and that I work at it on a consistent basis, that I aim to grow as a writer, and that I still enjoy the writing life.