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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Routine Works For Some, Not For Others

We're staying with our two youngest grandchildren for a few days while their parents are basking on a beach in Jamaica enjoying a well-earned vacation. My daughter leaves lots of info for us when we are in charge of her 7 and 10 year old. We try to stay with the routine they have established but sometimes veer off to the left or right. I also forget sometimes the frequent reminders kids of this age need. 

As writers, many of us have a set routine. Being a creature of habit, I definitely do. Unless I have an early morning appointment, I read the newspaper, fix breakfast for my husband and me, then bring my coffee into the office. I check e-mail first, often answer many and leave the others til later. Then I check in at facebook to see what's going on and also to get inspiration for my blog post. I often have no clue what I'm going to write about until something on facebook hits me smack in the face. After finding out what my friends are up to on that addictive social media site, I write my blog post for the day. Then post it and put links to it at several places. That's the routine. What happens next can vary.

The rest of my writing and critiquing is done in bits and pieces during the remainder of the day and evening. Because I'm a hobbyist writer, I don't have to keep my bottom on the chair for the better part of the day tapping the keyboard and hoping sensible words result. When I have time between housework or meetings, lunches with friends, bridge groups and grocery shopping, I am at my computer working on a story or helping a friend with one. It's another kind of a routine. Might be called the In and Out Routine.

When you do things in a routine way, I think you are more productive on a regular basis. There are probably many writers who write in bursts of creativity and energy--whenever they happen to strike. It could be 3 a.m. or 10 a.m. If that works for them, then so be it. 

For me, having a routine feels comfortable. It's the same when we're staying with the grandkids. Keeping to the given routine is a security thing for them. Grandma makes me do the same things Mom does and that feels good.

How about you? Do you work better when you follow a routine or when you wait for inspiration to hit? Can you figure out the reason for the way you feel? 

For me, it's the fact that I'm an organized person. I like following a pattern. I like things done in an orderly way. We're all different, however. What works for me might not be your cup of tea at all. In the end, it doesn't matter how you get your writing accomplished. The big thing is that you do it!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Mother-Daughter Story To Warm Your Heart


My Book Club is reading Together Tea by Marjan Kamali for our May meeting. I wasn't terribly enthused when the moderator for May gave us each a copy. We've read several Middle Eastern immigrant themed books in the past. I was feeling like I'd had my fill but being the obedient child my parents raised, I took the book with me on our trip to the Texas Hill Country a couple weeks ago. 

I had plenty of time to read in the car on the way but chose to catch up on magazines instead. I had time each evening before bedtime to open the book and begin reading, but I watched TV instead. Finally, on the final day of our journey back home, I opened the book and began to read. I could delay no longer.

I was pleasantly surprised when the author drew me in from the very first pages. Marjan Kamali has done very well with her debut novel. She writes from her heart and, in doing so, she touches the hearts of her readers. I certainly felt that way and I'm betting a good many other readers would feel the same. Besides that, she had me close to  laughing out loud at times.

The story is about an Iranian family that emigrates from Iran to the USA when life in Iran has become filled with tension and fear. Mina, the youngest child, grows up more American than Iranian. By the time Mina is in graduate school, her mother, Darya, spends her time looking for the perfect husband for Mina--an Iranian man, of course. Darya would consider nothing else. Her spreadsheets on the possible candidates are famous within the family, but after one last disastrous attempt to find Mr. Right for Mina, Darya must reconsider.

Mother and daughter find themselves at odds over many things. Mina is in the school of Business working toward her master's degree but she's a reluctant student. Art is her passion. Her mother, too, has a passion--math! Darya cannot understand Mina's desire to become a professional artisit. Unthinkable! 

Mina has a two week winter break and comes up with a plan to visit Iran, the place she spent the first ten years of her life. Her plan doesn't include her mother tagging along, but that is the way the trip will happen. The women take the trip together, learn new things about one another, view their past in a new light, and look to the future in another perspective, too. 

The dialogue is witty, the relationship between mother and daughter universal in its conflict mixed with love and hope. Romance enters in for both mother and daughter in ways that find both of them struggling a bit within. 

While all this is happening, the reader is treated to the sights and sounds of Iran, the double life most Iranian people live, the Perisan influence that stays with the immigrants. The story is filled with warmth, humor and wit. We cheer for both mother and daughter as the stoy unfolds and are left feeling that mothers and daughters the world around are more alike than different. 

I'm looking forward to our discussion of the book next week. It was a great read, despite my reluctance to get started. It was the perfect book for our group to discuss so close to Mother's Day. Read more about it at Amazon.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ever Think About Writing a Book of Poems?

Nattional Poetry Month is nearly over. This morning, I learned that a poet in my state writers organization has a book of poetry soon to be released. I'm looking forward to reading it for one reason. Roy J. Beckemeyer is one fine poet.

He's started a blog about the process of writing a book of poetry. I hope to follow it as Roy guides us through the steps taken to do this. His blog can be found here.  He's only posted twice, two consecutive Sundays, so I'm guessing it's gonna be a Sunday kind of thing.

Poets can assemble a book of their poems in different ways. There might be a theme of some kind--transportation, childhood, coming of age, job-related, love, tragedy--any number of choices. Or, it could be just a crazy quilt assembly with the theme coming through in each section rather than the entire book.

If the poet is prolific and has hundreds of poems to choose from, how in the world does he/she do it? I think all writers have their own favorites and those are the ones that will be selected. The ones that shine through the stacks of poems written over years.

Have you ever thought of putting a book of poems together? Do you have enough poems in your files to make up a full book? Poetry books are often short so perhaps you do. Here's a book with blank pages for you to get inspired.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Time For A Picture Prompt Exercise

It's the end of the week so let's consider a picture prompt writing exercise. Spring has finally arrived in the USA, although it's in various stages in different parts of our country. Some are still dealing with leftover snow while others are surrounded with the colorful blossoms on trees and in gardens. 

I've selected three pictures that have springtime flowers. The picture gives you the setting. It's your job to provide the story or poem that comes from studying the picture. Try your favorite, or if you're ambitious, try all three. No rules here. It's up to you to write a paragraph, a full story, or a poem. Even an essay or memoir piece. 

Hint:  this one's in England

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Don't Dwell On Past Errors In Judgment

Clip Art - A man thinking with his hand on his chin. Fotosearch - Search Clipart, Illustration Posters, Drawings, and EPS Vector Graphics Images

Do you worry too much about what you did days, weeks, months or years ago in your writing world? I think a lot of us spend more time than is good for us regretting the way we wrote a story or a response to an editor when a story was rejected.--even a scathing critique we might have given someone who wrote a god-awful story.

How many times can we tell ourselves--I wish I had...  or I never should have...? We shouldn't put our past problems, or perhaps a better term is errors in judgement, in a position to hinder our writing world future.

Think about the past but don't dwell on it. 

Maybe some of you don't even want to think about those things you now regret. My thought is that we need to think about it in order to learn from it. I firmly believe that we learn from our mistakes. Or maybe I should rephrase that to we are given th e opportunity to learn from our mistakes. We need to look back and do two things:
   1.  figure out why what happened was a mistake or error in judgement
   2.  decide what can be learned from the experience.

Think about the past but don't let whatever happened overwhelm you. You can't change what happened but you do control the present and the future. Make both your top priorities.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Birthday Mr. Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Big day today for fans of Will Shakespeare. It's his 450th birthday. He lived a mere 52 years but what an influence he has had on the English speaking world. The playwright, poet and actor began life in Stratford-Upon-Avon in England and he died there, too.

Several years ago, Ken and I visted this charming town on the River Avon. We saw the outside of the place where his birth supposedly took place, and we visited and toured Anne Hathaway's cottage. Anne and Will married when he was 18 and she 26. I would think she was considered a spinster at that age during that period of time. The story goes that Miss Anne was pregnant at the time of the wedding. Great fodder for gossip at the local shops and marketplace.

After seeing the announcement that this is William Shakespeare's birthday, I got to wondering if one of the world's most famous playwrights had a critique group. Did he sit around a table at a pub with other men in the arts world? Did they banter back and forth as to who was the best? Which one could claim the most fame? Who was  the dunderhead of them all? More importantly, did they look at one another's work and offer suggestions?

If they did critique one another's work, did they do it politely or with scathing words tossed across the table? Did they compliment one another when face to face, then tear another writer apart behind his back? Were they all good enough friends that they could accept criticism in any form? We'll never know the answers to these questions.

Whether William Shakespeare had a critique group, or even a single mentor, in his writing world is of little importance to us today, it's more of a curiosity topic. But for writers in our own world, having that one special mentor or a writing group of some kind ranks very high on my list of what a writer needs.

Whether a single mentor or a group, you can only benefit from their input. You'll grow as a writer by truly  listening to what they tell you about your writing. You might not like some of what they say. It's a bitter pill to swallow at times. You'll appreciate any praise you receive but you'll learn from the constructive criticism. Enter any critique group with the proper attitude and you'll come out the winner. Go in with a poor attitude and you'll reap poor results.

When you are in the position of critiquing someone else's writing, keep in mind that you should point out all the things you liked as well as what you felt could do with some revision. Be honest but be kind. Keep in mind that you might be the person being critiqued next.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare. We're still benefiting from the words you wrote in longhand so long ago.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Where Do Readers Buy Books?

Not Your Mother's Book On Being a Mom
A Perfect Gift For Mother's Day

Where do you buy your books? Strictly at the local bookshop? Or online? Or at secondhand bookstores? Or at big box discount retailers? There are differences in prices, ambience and appeal, as well as your views on publishers.

I received a notice yesterday that Not Your Mother's Book On Being A Mom is no longer just a pre-order status on Amazon You can order it for immediate shipping at a 10% discount on the retail price. At Barnes and Noble, you can order this anthology as an ebook for close to half off the retail price of the print copy. I checked the Walmart booksite and did not find the book there. However, there was another title in the Not Your Mother's Book On... series and it was priced at about 1/3 off the retail price.

The bookstore that you physically walk into, stop and soak up the atmosphere, is more than likely going to sell at full retail price. I don't have a problem with that because that bookstore is offering me an experience along with the ability to purchase a book. Or two! The chain stores offer volume while the local bookseller has far fewer books but they might be high up on the atmosphere scale. Anyone who is a true reader benefits a great deal from a visit to a bookstore.

You're not going to find a recently released book in a secondhand store or your annual library book sale, so don't bother checking those places.

I buy books at different places. Sometimes, it's easier to order online so I do. Sometimes I am traveling and find a large retail bookseller and purchase books there. Sometimes, I go to my local bookstore and look for a title. If they don't have it on the shelf, I'm always offered the option of letting them order it for me.

If I'm in Kansas City and shopping at Costco, I always take time to browse the open bin book area. Good selections, good prices. Besides that, browsing through a whole lot of books is satisfying to my soul!

Book prices go up just like everything else in our world. It happens for good reasons. Publishers costs go up and must be passed on to the customer or the publishing house will soon be out of business. Those who self-publish print books also have costs which increase over time, as well. It's one reason that publishing as an ebook has become so attractive. The costs are lower and the author can set the selling price lower but still make a profit.

The next time you grumble about the price of a book, give consideration to all that goes into it. I hated to see the jump in prices of children's picture books. I understand full well why they had to go up but I also felt bad that it meant many children would have fewer books to call their own.

Where do you buy your books? Or are you a library user instead? How do you feel about paying full reatil price versus a discount seller? Let us know in the comments section below.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Write About The Place Where You Live

The Flint Hills

We spent last week in the Hill Country of Texas. In some ways, it reminded me of the scenery where I live. There are probably more trees and bushes in the Texas area that what we have here in the Flint Hills of Kansas. We're known for being tallgrass prairie. 

You often hear about Montana being referred to as the Big Sky country. That's true, but the term applies to this area of Kansas, too. As we drive the four lane road the nine miles out to the interstate, we're surrounded by the prairie grasses, the hills, and the amazing sky. It always makes me wish I could reach out and graps a handful of the sky. Occasionally, there are cattle close enough to see but usually, it's the natural scenery that makes my heart soar. The vastness alone makes me feel so very small and inconsequential. 

The prairie grasses change with the seasons, a glorious green now after the spring burning. Yes, they burn in early spring to allow the tender new grass to emerge. I've read that this new grass will add extra pounds to the cattle that graze on it. As long as it's a controlled burn, there is great beauty in the blazes. The charred earth left afterward lets those who pass by know that the new grass will be coming up soon. In the fall, the grass gets dry and has a rust-hued tinge to it. 

National Geographic has featured this area as have TV shows and other magazines and books. Artists and photographers spend hours painting or snapping pictures. Ours is the largest stand of tallgrass prairie left. That fact alone brings biologists and paleontologists here to study. 

One day, when we were driving through the Flint Hills on our way to Topeka, I felt so overcome by all that surrounded me that I wrote a poem, submitted to a state contest and won first place. 

A Heavenly Gift

One calm and peaceful day
the hand of God
passed over the land
we know as Kansas,
this place where the
hills meet the plains,
where sweet prairie grasses
bend and sway
like ballerinas amidst
soft and gentle breezes,
then dance wildly
when furious winds blow.

The Lord God pulled the vast
skies close to the ground, like
a soft coverlet of blue.
He gave us air to breathe
so clear the stars can do
no less than shine in
glorious reply
through velvet nights.

Over these hills and
across these plains,
the Creator scattered
many-hued wildflowers
and treasured trees in
all the right places.
His mighty hand
carved brooks and
streams alike.

With grateful heart
my prayer of thanks
soars Heavenward from
this very special place
that I call home.
The point of all this talk about where I live is that each one of you lives somewhere that has something unique about it. Look around you. What is your area noted for? Write about it. Let others know what it is about the placewhere you live that warms your heart and makes you proud. It may be more concrete than grass but that's alright. There is beauty of different kinds in different places. There is something that says home to you. 

Make this your writing exercise one day this week. Share it here with me and other readers if you like. Make us want to come and visit the place where you live.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Memories

Bunny Hopping

Have you written Easter memories for your Family Memory Book? This is one I wrote a few years ago. 

I’ve been thinking about the Easter celebrations of my childhood years in the Chicago area during the 1940’s. When Easter fell in March or early April, we donned colorful spring dresses and coats to walk to church in sharp north winds, even a little snow on occasion.

On one of those bitter cold Easter mornings, I had a new aqua-blue spring coat and hat that I’d looked forward to wearing. Mother told me it was much too cold to wear it. “You have too far to walk to church. You’ll freeze,” she said.

I begged and begged. “Please let me wear it. I’ll wear a sweater underneath.” Tears slipped from my eyes as I waited for her to give in. They were genuine, not a ploy. Wearing that new coat was a monumental need at that moment at age eight.

Mother relented, but I did have to wear the sweater I’d proposed underneath my lightweight, pastel-colored coat. I think I was very glad to have it as my brother and I headed to church to hear the Easter story once again. My parents never attended church
with us. Theirs was a mixed marriage—Dad was Catholic and Mother Methodist, and neither ever gave in to the other. But we kids all attended the Methodist church and Sunday School. Dad polished our shoes every Saturday night so we’d look our best on Sunday mornings. He buffed them to a high shine and lined them up in the living room.

The day before Easter, we dyed eggs in glorious colors. Coffee cups filled with hot water, a dye tablet and a splash of vinegar covered the kitchen table. We arranged the eggs on a big platter with artificial grass as a nest. The Easter Bunny would hide them while we slept that night.

The Easter Bunny usually brought us a few chocolates, jelly beans and a new comic book. He also hid the brightly colored eggs in our living and dining rooms. What fun it was to discover the decorated eggs, one or two of which we always found in Dad’s shoes left out overnight.

Later in the day, aunts, uncles and cousins joined us for a special dinner. Mother usually fixed a leg of lamb or a big ham, glazed with brown sugar and mustard, cloves inserted in the scored top. Many side dishes weighed down the dining room table-- scalloped or mashed potatoes, two or three vegetables, a jello salad, homemade rolls, pickles, olives and pickled beets, and a springtime dessert of some kind, cream pies, berry pies, or a cake with whipped cream frosting. The aroma of all these good things filled our small apartment.

When we were all too full to move, it was time to do dishes. No dishwashers, but all the women pitched in and they were finished in no time. Maybe not all the women. I had one aunt who always announced she needed to use the bathroom as soon as the cleaning up began. Off she went, and she never appeared in the kitchen again! The clatter of dishes and the chatter of women filled the tiny kitchen. My cousin, Carol, and I were drafted at an early age to dry the silverware, a job neither of us liked. We hurried through our task so we could walk to the park to play the rest of the afternoon.  Occasionally, we finished our Easter celebration by going to the movies. We sat transfixed at the fabulous musicals starring Betty Grable or some other glamorous star.
The rebirth of springtime flowers, trees and bushes still symbolizes the meaning of Easter for me. Christ’s resurrection created a rebirth for all Christians, and as He taught us to love one another, I also think of the love of family as part of our Easter celebrations. It isn’t only the ones of my childhood but for today, as well. We will be spending this Easter holiday with our daughter’s family, going to church, having a celebration dinner, and being together. Not so very different than all those years ago.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Start With A Dream and Move On From There

I hardly need to add anything to this poster with its wise words. Note that my two keywords for those in the writing world are both in this poster quote. Patience and Perseverance are words that I cannot say often enough to those who are writers or want to be writers. 

Writers do begin with a dream. Then they must believe in that dream--so much so that it becomes a part of who they are. Next, add the perseverance and the patience and you may have a dream which comes true. Of course, that isn't going to happen without a lot of hard work. Yours!

You can't only dream, have faith, perseverance and patience. A big part of that dream coming true depends on your action. It's what you do with that dream and the belief in yourself that matters. 

I've seen writers who give up because success didn't happen in the amount of time they thought it should. It always makes me feel bad because some of these people were truly fine writers. They gave up too soon. If only they'd have kept moving on the path to publication a little longer, they may have had a totally different outcome. 

Nothing worthwhile happens in a very short time. Be patient. Be persistent. Continue to dream and be hopeful. I did, and you can, too.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Story About Being A Mom

The big announcement for today is that I am published in a brand new anthology which has just been released on Amazon. It says you can pre-order but regular orders should be forthcoming any day now.

Publishing Syndicate is the publisher of the book, along with several others in the Not Your Mother's Book on... series. I'm also in the Travel book in this series.

The mom book should have all mothers who read it nodding their heads as they relate to various stories. There are 64 stories in the book, some about things that happened with adult kids and others about when moms were raising kids.

My story took place when my son was in the middle grades in school. An incident one morning made me aware that my little boy was growing up. He cared about what girls thought about him. Oh-oh! Time to have 'the talk' with him. But who would do it? Me or his dad? And what would he say, or me for that matter? How much did we need to tell this child? The problem was solved in a way that let both my husband and me off the hook. Thus, the story title--Off The Hook.

I'm proud to be a part of this new series. Each book is edited by very qualified writers along with Ken and Dahlynn McKowen who are the publishers. If you would like to submit a story for one of the future titles, check the guidelines page.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Importance of Your Opening Pragraphs

National Museum of the Pacific War
Fredericksburg, Texas

You can visit a Peace Garden given by the people of Japan to the National Museum of the Pacific War. This fine museum is located in Fredericksburg, Texas, which also happens to be the hometown of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz of WWII fame. 

Fredericksburg has many other draws that bring tourists from near and far. Shopping, dining of all kinds, lovely old homes and the scenic Hill Country all around it. This is, I believe, our fourth trip to this Texas community settled long ago by hardworking German immigrants.

I hope my opening of this post drew your interest because today's topic is actually openings of your stories, essays, and articles. 

When I was in high school and college, English teachers pushed writing the introductory paragraph to let readers know what the piece would be about. In that paragraph, the all-important topic sentence was to be the highlight. Sometimes those paragraphs were eternally long. And boring! They didn't really draw the reader in. So what should you do?

Start immediately with action in a fiction piece. Make it visual, bring your reader into the story as quickly as you can. A mystery might start with the actual murder, not the hours leading up to it. A love story could begin with the kiss at the wedding altar, not the courtship, proposal and bridal showers. Pull your reader in immediately. If you don't, they're going to move on to something else. 

If you're writing a memoir or a personal essay, begin with the most important part. Don't take pages or mulitple paragraphs to lead up to the 'good part.' Nope. Give the reader the good part right away. Later you can show them what led up to this.

What about a nonfiction article? Perhaps it's a how-to article on fixing a holiday dinner. Jump right in on the Easter, Passover or Thanksgiving Day meal prep in the kitchen. Show the hostess cooking and setting the table. Then bring in how she planned the meal, shopped for the meal and more. 

What about poetry? I am drawn in by first lines that show me something special. Or I'm turned off by the first lines that tell me nothing, show me nothing. You know the ones that try to set a scene and then get to what the poem is really about three verses later.

In today's world, time is Public Enemy #1. People are feeling constantly pushed for time. It's up to the writer to draw in the reader immediately. If you don't, they'll move on faster than a jackrabbit crosses the Arizona desert. 

Did I pique your interest with my opening in this post? That depends on whether you are a person interested in history, museums and famous people. Or like visiting interesting towns. My aim with this post was to make writers aware of the need of a good opening in whatever you're writing.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bluebonnets and Inspiration

We're in Texas on our way to spend a few days in the Hill Country west of San Antonio where the bluebonnets are blooming. The Texas state flower can put on a spectacular show.

April is National Poetry month. Now, who wouldn't want to write a poem about something this beautiful? The best time to do it is when the inspiration hits. That means I should have pad and pen while traveling in the car. The emotion is not the same sitting in a hotel room later. That old adage Strike while the  iron's hot applies here.

It's why you should write a story about your favorite holiday when that holiday is upon us, not six months later while you're just thinking about it. It's why you write the best travel stories when you're traveling, not two weeks after you return home. Oh sure, you can do it but it's so much better to write at the time you're in a new place.

What if inspiration hits when you have a long list of other things to do first? Those of us who are sometime writers run into this situation many times. If you can't delay the other things, at least make some notes about what inspired you and what you want to include in your writing. Then, get to it as soon as you can.

I've told you about the poet who suggested writing a poem from a dream but do it immediately upon waking. If you wake in the night after dreaming, that's the time to write. I know, I know--who wants to get out of a warm, cozy bed, pad barefoot in a possibly cold house to write? You might be very happy you did so. The best poem I ever wrote came that way, although I didn't get up in the middle of the night, I started writing immediately upon waking in the morning.

If you're inspired to write, do it as fast as possible. We're moving deeper into the Hill Country today and I'm hoping for more inspiration. Today, I'll have my pad and pen right next to me in the car. Come back tomorrow to see what our travels brought us on this Monday in April.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Thinking About Theme

A repeat of a post of a couple years ago. Sometimes, we need to review the basics.

Writing is a gift given by God to only a few people.
The craft of writing can be learned by anyone with a desire to write.

Some truth rings in each of these statements. There are definitely people who seem to have a natural ability to write prose that sings, but with study and practice, along with a desire to learn the craft, anyone can write prose that is worthy. That's my take on the two sentences.

It does not necessarily follow that because you can speak, you can write. Good writing comes down to identifying what tools you need to learn the craft and putting them to use.
An understanding of theme is one of those basic tools.

Theme is often misunderstood or even ignored by the beginning writer and also by some who claim experience in the writing world. In her book Write Away, Elizabeth George says “…most novels are unified around their theme. This—the theme—is the basic truth about which you are writing, the idea you’re playing with..., or the point you are attempting to make.” This internationally best selling novelist goes on to say that even if theme isn’t addressed directly, the unification of the subplots will make it clear to the reader.

The theme in fiction and nonfiction is the central idea, or focus, that runs through the entire story.  For instance, most fairy tales use the theme of good vs. evil. We select a theme from both good and bad principles of life—guilt, greed, revenge, kindness, service to others, and unconditional love are all possible subjects for a theme in a story. Try making a list of conceivable themes for future stories.

The story you write should illustrate the theme without preaching to the reader. Few readers want to be told what the theme is. It’s much more fun to figure it out as you read. The theme should come through in subtle ways. If it doesn’t, it’s time to go back, rethink and revise. Ask yourself what message you want the reader to take away.

Some people confuse theme and plot. An author friend who writes historical fiction says that what your characters do in a story is your plot, but what they learn is the theme. The plot should illustrate your theme and leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Do you select a theme and write a story around it? Or should you write a story and see a theme emerge little by little? There is no set rule. Either way works, but you must be careful that you don’t scatter too many themes throughout the story. All that is does is to confuse the reader who might think: What in the world is she trying to tell me? Pick a theme and stay with it.

When you pick up a book for your own pleasure, read with a critical eye. Look for theme in every piece you read. Search for the message the author sends and ask yourself if the plot of the story brought out the theme. With practice, you’ll find it easier to mentally critique the stories you read, and writing your own stories with a theme in mind won’t be nearly so difficult.

Some Points To Remember  

  1. Theme is the central idea, or focus, that runs through the entire story.
  2. The story should illustrate the theme.
  3. What characters do is a plot, but what they learn is the theme.
  4.  Let the theme come through the story in subtle ways; don’t preach.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

We All Love Surprises

Maybe the something this poster mentions is wonderful because it's unexpected. Don't we all love surprises? Isn't it fun when you pull the envelopes from your mailbox and find one that is not a bill, not a piece of junk mail, or not an advertising circular? Maybe it's an envelope holding a letter from a friend, one who passes on email and still sends you snail mail letters. I love getting those hand-written letters.

How about when an email pops into your inbox from an editor telling you he/she is going to publish the story you sent months earlier? That never fails to please me. A writer friend decided to try to write a Chicken Soup story for a particular book. She asked me for some thoughts and then I critiqued the story for her. My last piece of advice to her was send it in and then forget about it. It could be many months before you hear from them, or you may not hear at all. Move on to new projects.

Her story is a good one and I have high hopes of it getting into the final cut stage and then into the book. If it happens, it will be that something wonderful for her.

When that something wonderful does occur in our writing world, it helps to diminish the hurt and frustration of the times when we were rejected, or ignored.

One thing to keep in mind is that something wonderful cannot happen unless you keep sending your work to editors. Not once or twice a year--keep the ferris wheel moving at all times. The more you submit, the greater your chances of publication.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Writing About Special Springtime Celebrations

There are lots of special days in the spring of the year. I've noted just a few above but you can also add Passover, St. Patrick's Day, Memorial Day and Father's Day. Many publications, whether in print or online, seek stories to commemorate each one of these celebrations.

It's a great opportunity for writers. Fiction, creative nonfiction, essays and poetry are all sought by editors of magazines, ezines and newspapers. The writing can be serious or humorous. It can be a made-up story or fact. Just be sure the made-up story is labeled fiction. 

Memoir writing works well in this holiday or special day writing category. There are anthologies filled with holiday stories. The market is there, but what should you consider when writing for it?

1.  Decide on a children's story or one for adults. This should be step one and an easy decision to make. Unless you're like me and write for both children and adults.

2.  Gather information and background before you begin to write. We have the information about our own family celebrations but it might be to your benefit to read all you can about the day--how it started, what different people do to celebrate, how it became popular and more. Weave these bits of info into your story or essay, or keep it strictly an informational article with many facts and figures.

3.  Don't try to hurry up and write something for a special day happening next week. This, to me, is one of the big problems when writing holiday, or celebration, stories. You know that Easter is on a certain date each year and a week or two ahead, you decide you'd like to write a story and get it published. Not likely to happen that quickly. Editors want stories for special days sent in far ahead. They need them early for planning purposes. But you and I both know, we do our best when writing for a special holiday when it is close and we are seeing advertising that brings back memories. Or, we're getting ready to celebrate within our own family. The emotion is there. If I try to write a Christmas story on a hot July day, I'm not going to be able to feel it as well as I might in early December. What to do? Go ahead and write the story when the holiday is close but save it to submit the following year. You'll have plenty of time to let the story simmer on the back burner, plenty of time to revise and edit. Write too close to the celebration day and you hurry, you have less chance of being published, and you probably won't do your best writing.

4.  Aim for a religious or nonreligious market, don't try to mix the two. Another decision that should be fairly easy. A mix of these two is pretty difficult to achieve in a satisfying way even though it can be done. I'd suggest aiming at either the religious side or the commercial as your main thrust.

5.  Look for a new angle. I see editors remarking over and over that they get too many of one kind of story or another. Approach it from a different angle and you might hit paydirt a lot sooner.