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Friday, May 30, 2014

A Book Recommendation

I'm going to finish this week with a book recommendation. My book club is reading Melanie Benjamin's historical fiction The Aviator's Wife. I told the friend who is hosting that I would be out of town for the meeting so I wouldn't take the book that she was handing out. She said she had enough and suggested that I read it and return it to her before I left town. I'm so glad she gave me the opportunity to read this book but also sorry that I won't be here for the discussion that my book club will have.

The book is a fictionalized account of the marriage of Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh written as if Anne is telling the story. Melanie Benjamin does extensive research for a book of this type, then uses fiction technique to tell the story, aiming for as close to truth as possible. So, the reader must read knowing that it's a mixture of fact mixed with the author's thoughts as to what happened.

Older generations are familiar with the Lindbergh story--his solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 giving him instant hero status and the kidnapping of their first child. Both stories captivated our nation. This book gives us those stories and more, concentrating on the marriage and relationship of these two American celebrities.

We see Anne both loving and disliking her husband. We see her strike out to become a person in her own right, not just the wife of Charles Lindbergh or the mother of a child who was kidnapped. Anne lived first as an Ambassador's daughter and then as the Aviator's wife. Dubbing her that way was partly a sign of the times--the 20's, 30's and 40's but it also showed her submissive personality in her younger years.

The Lindberghs had five more children, continued to fly toghether in the early years of the marriage, and traveled the world extensively.They were hounded by the press wherever they were. The book covers the years prior to WWII when Charles became an admirer of Adolf Hitler, causing the American people to remove the aviator from the pedestal they had placed him upon years earlier. Anne was similarly chastised by her fellow Americans, as well. They were somewhat redeemed by Charles' work for our country during WWII.but the shine was never quite the same.

When Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote her acclaimed Gift From The Sea in the mid-fifties, I was one of the avid readers. It's a small book of essays that speaks to women. I so enjoyed the book that I've read it more than once. It's still available in many libraries and at Amazon.

I found The Aviator's Wife a fascinating read, a fine study of a marriage and the differing personalities of people who are attracted to one another. I sympathized with Anne many times and wanted to shake her and tell her to stand on her own two feet and defy her controlling husband at times, too. I cheered when she finally becomes her own person.

Give this book a try to learn some history and to have a satisfying read.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Who Are You? Who Am I?

I've received many greetings today from old friends and new ones, too, because it's my birthday.Also from family members. It's pure delight to have others share in an annual recognition of another year passing by. So thank you to each and every one.

My birthday is usually a time for reflection for me. I think about where I've been, what I've done, and who I am. With each passing year, the list grows.

Many years ago, movie-star, Loretta Young had a TV show. She gave a short intro speech before each drama was shown. The set was a room, possibly a library, in a home, and Loretta came whirling through a door in an ultra-feminine dress, perfect make-up and hair-do. The one I remember the most is the night she asked a question of her viewers. Who are you? Name the three most important people you are. Then think about it. I couldn't tell you anything about the story that was shown next, but I have always remembered her question, have even used it in a speech I once gave to a group of hospital auxiliary women. 

What three people am I today? The ones that come to mind first are these: I am a mother, a grandmother and a writer. There is little doubt that these are the important parts of my life right now. We'd probably give different answers at various stages of our lives. There was a time when I might have said that I was a student, a daughter and a friend. Another time, I could have listed wife, teacher and mother-to-be. 

Try asking yourself this same question. See what three things pop into your mind first. And in what order. Then give some thought to your list. 

Here's a little exercise on being a Writer. Use the letters and jot down what comes to mind in your writing life. Here's mine:

W is for the writer I've always wanted to be, ever since childhood

R is for the great ride my writing life has given me

I  is for the invigorating feeling I have when I write

T  is for the thrill when my work is published

E  is for everything my writing life has given to me

R  is for finding the right thing to make me happy

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Develop Friendships With Other Writers


I am fortunate to have many friends. I like the poster shown here today but it doesn't cover my range of friends, as they are of both genders and also those who write and those who don't. Which as it should be. I wouldn't want every one of my friends to be a writer, but...

...I do think it's beneficial for writers to develop friendships with other writers. Think of the great conversations you can have, the commiserating over the difficulties of the writing life and the shoulder to cry on when needed. If you have a great success in your writing life, all your friends will be happy for you, but another writer truly understands the excitement and the enormity of what has been accomplished.

That old saying about walking a mile in another man's shoes to understand him works well with your writer friends. We have traveled the same paths, met the same obstacles and rejoiced the same when success comes our way.

One of the best ways to develop friendships with other writers is to go where they go. How easy is that? A writing conference is the perfect place because you're literally surrounded by a sea of people who write or are interested in writing. Common ground! I've noticed that by attending the same conference each year, I've widened my circle of writing friends. By accepting the invitation to be a workshop presenter, I've noticed that more of the other writers stop to visit with me or ask an opnion.

Another place to develop friendships with other writers is a critique group. Most meet on a regular schedule, whether weekly, monthly or quarterly. If you're in a room with the same people every time, relationships are formed. You get to know the others well enough to feel comfortable asking for an opinion or suggesting two of you meet for coffee later in the week. Relationships develop into friendships over time.

It even works with an online critique group like I'm in. I know and work with about 25 other writers there. I've developed close friendships with several of them, especially ones I've met face to face at our conferences. These people know how you've struggled to improve your writing. They know about your rejections and your acceptances. They know whether or not you are open to helping a fellow writer when asked. It stands to reason, that the longer you know a writer, the easier it is to nurture the friendship.

Am I bosom buddies with every writer I meet? Of course not. It's no different than making friends in your out-of-writing life. You're attracted to some people more than others. Those are the relationships you work at. Making a friendship thrive takes some effort on both sides. There are some people you click with at first meeting while, with others, the friendship grows slowly or perhaps not at all.

I am well aware that some people make friends more easily than others. If that's the case for you, work at it slowly with one person at a time. Don't hesitate to ask another writer to have coffee or a coke with you or whatever.  If they don't respond positively, move on and try again. Another old saying works well here, I think. To make a friend, you must be a friend. That needs no more explanation from me.

With the vast land of social media at our disposal, we have one more place to make friends with other writers. There are any number of writing pages and groups on facebook. Join one or two or three and start posting. You'll get to know people pretty quickly. Some will draw you to them more than others. I consider many writers I've met this way as friends even though we've never met face to face, never had the opportunity to give a reassuring hug to one another.

Friendships with other writers will enrich your writing life.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hold Onto Those Story Ideas

A cold summer day in Cornwall, UK

My morning started out with good news via my email inbox. First, there was a permission given from an editor to send a submission to another editor as a reprint. I wrote and asked because the original is just coming out in the June issue of the editor's publication. He answered affirmatively so off went the submission to another editor on the other side of the USA. 

The second piece of good news today was an acceptance from the Red Squirrel magazine in China. They liked my story "Just Plain Sarah Jane" and made an offer to purchase which I shall be happy to accept. 

Having two pieces of good news definitely leaves me inspired to get cracking on a new writing project. I've had an idea for a personal essay that has been swirling through my mind for days now. I needed a little nudge, or maybe a swift kick, to get started on it. Today's news was just what was called for to help me  create a furst draft,

If you have an idea for a poem or a story or essay that keeps coming back to you while doing your everyday chores, then it's time to act on it. If it won't leave you, then it must have some merit. I like to think so. Ioften have fleeting thoughts about something to write that are exactly that--fleeting thoughts. They flash through my mind and are gone just as quickly. It's the ones that make return visits that I pay attention to. 

If a story idea comes to you while you're zipping down the highway at 75 mph, you can't do much about it. But if the idea hits when you're unloading the dishwasher, take a minute or two away from that fascinating job and jot down a few notes. You can add to these notes as you get more thoughts regarding the new project. I find that the more notes I take, the more anxious I am to get started on the first draft. 

Capture those new idea thoughts before they evaporate, and believe me, they will disappear if you don't do something to keep them in your thinking process. You've all read suggestions from writers to have a pad of paper and pen or pencil on your bedside table. When a creative idea pops up in the middle of the night, jot down a few notes to remind yourself in the light of day. Keep a small pad of paper in your purse, or even a pocket, so you can write yourself a note about an idea when it hits in the grocery store or the doctor's waiting room.

The picture with today's post is one of me looking out toward the sea when we were in Cornwall, England last summer. I wasn't just sea-gazing. My mind was going in full speed thinking about a story I hoped to write using the seacoast as the place where the story would be set. I know that many of you do much the same. 

Ideas for new writing projects are well worth your effort to do all you can to save and then act upon them. Don't let them slip away. My good news today has been the trigger to get my new essay started. What triggers you into beginning a new writing project.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Honor Your Family Veterans--Include Them In Your Family Memoires Book


We tend to use Memorial Day weekend as the kick-off to summer. School is out, or nearly out, and winter-weary folks want to grill and go to the pool or beach. Way back, there was a song about the lazy, hazy days of summer. With all that in mind, the important part of Memorial Day can get shoved in the background. 

Last evening, Ken and I watched the annual Washington, D.C. Memorial Day Concert. This was the 25th anniversary of the show and it lived up to that special mark. It honored our men and women who have served their country and those who are presently serving. Parts of the show were difficult to watch and I had to grab my tissues more than once, but we need to be reminded of the sacrifices made by these patriots. 

It made me think that there should be a section in our Family Memories book for those in our families who served in the military. You can include stories of bravery and honors earned, humorous incidents that have been passed down through the years, and yes, the sad stories, too. We need to leave a record of all of this for future generations. 

Telling the stories is wonderful, but writing them so they are recorded forever is fantastic. Don't just think about it. Do it. You need not be a professional writer to do this. It's your family, your book, and you can write the stories. 

A childhood memory of mine in an excerpt from an essay written about the month of May, not about a specific military person but about how I learned to respect and honor our military people when I was but a child.:
May finishes with Memorial Day week-end. Every year from kindergarten through eighth grade, all the students in Lincoln School marched by classes to Carroll Playground across the street. Every class selected a boy to carry the American flag and a girl to carry a bouquet of flowers to lay at a commemorative plaque honoring all those who had attended Lincoln School and had given their lives during WWII and the Korean War. A solemn ceremony accompanied the laying of the flowers. In those days Memorial Day was always May 30th and we had the ceremony the day before, which just happened to be my birthday. Because of that fact, I was chosen to carry the flowers almost every year, and the strange thing is that no one ever complained. It was accepted, and it made me feel so very special. The parade of classes, the patriotic songs, the many American flags waving, the speeches, and the floral offerings all instilled a great sense of patriotism in me that lasts to this day.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Graduation Memories--Write About Them!

G R A D U A T I O N

It's that time of year when graduations pop up like mushrooms on a dewy lawn. We attend these ceremonies for family members and friends and even go through them ourselves. This recognition of an accomplishment in our education should be a memorable occasion.

It's something you can write about for your Family Memories Book. Whether your own graduation or that of a sibling, child or grandchild, it's an occasion to highlight in your life journey. A few people have had the blessing of attending the graduation of one of their parents. One of my sisters-in-law waited until the last of her three children had finished college before beginning her own college education. She went straight through undergraduate work and the Master's Degree program. Needless to say, her family and her extended family were all quite proud of her. 

I graduated three times--from 8th grade, high school and college. All three events are vivid memories even though they happened a good many years ago. 

I attended a Kindergarten through 8th grade elementary school so our graduation was capping 9 years of being educated in Lincoln School, 9 years of moving from grade to grade, 9 years of relationships with others in that school. The school required that each girl make her own graduation dress in the Home Economics class. The girls spent each Monday morning working on the dresses, while the boys were in Industrial Arts. We selected our own pattern and fabric. After being in the class for nearly two years, we were suppose to be capable to make a dress. My dress was pale pink with a Peter Pan collar, capped sleeves and a wide circle skirt. Our teacher used a yardstick to measure the correct placement of the hem for each student. Miss Johnson placed the yardstick on the floor, then marked the spot on each girl to let her know where to put the hem. She didn't allow for the fact that we were all different heights, however. She marked every single one at the same mark on her treasured yardstick. With a skirt as wide as mine, and most of the others were the same, it took a long time to pin the hem and then sew it by hand making sure our stitches did not show on the right side of the fabric. I was the shortest girl in the class at the time and my dress fell to below my ankles. The tallest girl found herself with a dress above her knees, unheard of in 1953. We took our dresses home and our mothers insisted they be worked on again. Several inches had to be cut from my dress and the hem totally redone. By me! The tall girl, Gail, came to graduation with a huge ruffle that had been added to the bottom of her dress. By her mother! Even with the near disaster, our mothers must have been very proud to see us march down the aisle in a dress we'd made, wearing our first high heeled shoes. We all wore our dresses to the 8th Grade Graduation Dance the next night.

My high school graduation class differed in that we did not wear caps and gowns. Instead, the class of 750 marched down the aisle, passing under a rose arbor used for the occasion. Boys wore dark suits with a red rose boutionniere and the girls wore floor length white formals. Each girl was given a dozen long-stem red roses to carry. If a girl could not afford a dress, the school had a fund to help. There were rules as to the type of neckline the dress could have. Not too low, not strapless, not revealing. Teachers met the grads in the school hall as we lined up, handed out the roses and checked dresses. They kept a handful of lace and other fabrics to stuff into places they felt the public should not see. My dress had a high neck in front but dipped to a V in the back. I was terrified they'd add something to the back so I stood with my back to the lockers lining the wall whenever a teacher with an eagle eye walked by. A few of my friends had additions to their gowns, like it or not. 

College graduation gave me the only opportunity to wear a cap and gown. We graduated outdoors on a very hot June day, so hot that most of the girls opted to not wear a dress underneath. Off we went in our undies and full-length slips and our black gowns. At one point in the speeches, I rested my arm across my middle and jumped when the flesh touched the oh-so-hot zipper on the gown. Perspiration trickeld down faces, under arms and other unmentionable spots. 

I hope that these few memories will trigger graduation memories of your own, whether yours or someone else in your family. My son almost missed his high school graduation, but that's a story for another day. Take time to write something new for your Family Memories Book. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Blocked Blog on One Browser!

 
 
The image above is about the way I'm feeling today. Ready to fight but not knowing where to get the tools, or maybe weapons, to do so.
 
A writer friend sent me an email this morning to let me know that uses of GoogleChrome browsers could not access my blog. Instead a malware warning pops up and the site is blocked. I've never had a problem of this sort in all the years I've had the blog.
 
 
Started checking and found that it worked fine on Internet Explorer. Why one and not the other, I wondered.
 
I'm reasonably savy in computer usage but certainly not an expert. I started looking for an answer at BlogSpot.com and found zip there. Then tried GoogleChrome and found many directions, most of which only confused the issue more. I requested a diagnostic review which is to be given within 24 hours.
 
So right now, I'm waiting. If you use Internet Explorer, you're able to read this. If you use GoogleChrome, you're scared to death at the nasty warning sign and want to flee quickly.
 
Hoping for a fix before the day is done. My apologies for any inconvenience. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What? Speak In Public!

Writers spend a lot of time alone. By necessity. We can't turn out stories, articles and poems while socializing with others. But I hope that writers occasionally venture out of their writing digs into the world beyond to share their knowledge and expertise.

Kansas Authors Club, a state organization, promoted Writers In The Schools for a good many years, but recently the name was changed. It is now Writers In The Community. We've branched out! The organiztion didn't give a set of rules and regulations or a How-To list, but they do encourage writers to be a presence in their local areas.

Teachers love to have writers make an appearance in a classroom. Writers can talk to children about the craft of writing, outline their own writing journey, and perhaps read a sample of their published work. They might work with a class on a group poem or story. How inspiring a visit like that can be for children. The Q and A period could take up half the time allowed. Children are curious and they have an appreciation for others who have been successful.

There are lots of other places for writers to visit and speak. Service clubs that meet weekly are in need of speakers. Church groups are looking for programs. Same with garden clubs, women's organizations, hospital auxilaries, Friends of the Library and many more groups in your town. Gear your talk to a subject the particular group might be interested in but bring your writing world into it, as well.

I've given a program titled Writing Your Family Stories a few times. It's a subject that is of interest to many people. It served as a springboard for some to begin doing something they'd only thought about previously. I've done programs for my PEO chapter that relate to my writing but also a subject they might find of interest. A Mother's Day program, one on grandparents and another on my writing journey.

I was asked to give a program at a church women's group last July. The theme was "Christmas in July" so I created a program called "The Bells of Christmas" using poetry and stories of other writers and then something of my own.

But nobody has ever asked me to go to a school or give a program. I hear you saying that and it's true in many cases. So guess what? It's up to you to let the schools and organizations know that you are available and willing. Once you do a few appearances, the word will spread and you'll be approached with invitations to speak.But you may still have to offer your services. If you have any books published, it's a perfect way to promote them and perhaps sell a few. Sometimes you'll receive an honorarium and other times you are paid in nothing but gratitude. Even so, you've performed a service to your community, promoted yourself as a writer and maybe enjoyed the process.

I may be a writer but I can't stand up in front of others and speak about it. I bet you can. Sure, it can set your nerves on edge, especially the first couple times you do it. Look at it this way. You are the expert in this case. You know more about writing and what you've written than anyone in that room--at least in most cases. You're there to share your knowledge and to help others as well as entertain and inspire your listeners. I find that it's good to keep it low key, a conversational approach and not overly long. The more often you speak or work with a classroom of children, the easier it becomes.

At my next KS Authors district meeting, we're going to discuss Writers In The Community. I'm hoping to hear about some good experiences. Maybe a few laced with humor and probably some that didn't turn out as well as hoped for. My goal is to encourage the writers in that group to venture into the community.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Poetry Contest For Poets Over 50



National Senior Poet Laureate Competition

I learned of a contest for poets recently that has two major requirements. The poets who enter must be over 50 years of age and a U.S. citizen. 

Earlier contests sponsored by Great Spirit Publishing have resulted in a book of the winners and finalists with the title Golden Words. 

There is a small entry fee of $5 for the first entry and an additional $3 for each entry thereafter. Guidelines can be found here. As always, read them carefully and follow step by step. 

I found the direction about the cover letter not quite as clear as I'd have liked it to be but a quick query message to the editor cleared it up quickly. FYI, the cover letter can be sent as an attachment to your entry or sent as a separate email. Just be sure to use the subject line entry that is given in the guidelines. 

The fee(s) are paid separately by snail mail. Unusual? Yes. But if you want to enter a contest, you must follow the rules. Actually, it helps those people who do not have a paypal account, so it's not really a big deal. 

Since I'm a U.S. citizen and over 50, I plan to enter two poems in this contest. There are two categories, Rhymed and Unrhymed, which leaves a wide choice. 

Did I mention prize money? How could I forget? There is a $500 prize for National Senior Poet Laureate and a $100 prize for National Honor Scroll. It's hinted that there may be other prizes given at the discretion of the 2014 contest board. The more entries there are, the more prize money is available.

Poets--go through your files and select your best work, published or unpublished, and send it before the June 30, 2014 deadline. Spread the word to your poet friends so they, too, can enter. 

I have no affiliation with this publishing company and sponsor of the contest. It sounded interesting to me and I wanted to share with other poets who might qualify to enter. Don't be fooled by the word national in the contest title, it is not meant to be sponsored by the U.S. government, instead, it is termed national because poets from all parts of our country are eligible to enter. 




Friday, May 16, 2014

It's Not Like Picking Flowers


A writer friend frequently  poses a question on her facebook page. Today, she asked What's the title of your memoir? How many have actually written a full memoir book and can answer this question? Even so, let's suppose you had written pages and pages of your life story. What would you use for a title? 

It's not an easy question. I know because I sat at my computer staring at that question for longer than I should have. How in the world, I wondered, do you cover a lifetime in a smattering of words on the front cover of a book? I couldn't come up with a title I'd use on my (as yet unwritten) book. I bet it will be in the back of my mind all day long, however.

A few years ago, I wrote a short article for Absolutewrite newsletter about titles and quotes. You can read it here for a few ideas on selecting titles.

Titles serve to promote interest and to draw a reader to look more closely at the book. Selecting a title for your book article, essay, or short story--even a poem--is not to be taken lightly. It's serious business. You either hook or lose potential readers with your title. 

Only this morning, I had an editor send a final version of a story to be published in an anthology for my OK. She'd made some minor changes which worked fine for me. One of the changes she made was my title. She did it because of a category area in the book in which she wanted to place the story. She lifted a phrase from the story to use as the title--a good practice in selecting titles. It fit the story so well and I loved it. Made me mad that I hadn't thought of it myself. 

Many of the women in my online critique group ask critiquers to look at the title and give suggestions for a better one. I think many writers struggle with titles while a few have the perfect title at their fingertips for most of their work. I play around with titles for awhile before settling on the one that appears to fit best. Even with my blog posts, I sift and sort until I get a title that seems to work. Not for hours but I do give it some serious thought. 

The next time you go to your local library or bookstore, take a few minutes to peruse the titles on a shelf. Pay attention to the ones that reach out to you and make you want to look further at the book itself. Then try to analyze it a bit. Why did the title appeal to you? 

Choosing a title for your writing is not nearly as easy or as pleasurable as picking flowers!








Thursday, May 15, 2014

About Adjectives--Use But Don't Abuse

Mark Twain

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.”― Mark Twain


Author, Mark Twain, lived and wrote in the mid-nineteenth century. Even so, his advice to writers is still pertinent in ourown twenty-first century. The quote above is part of a letter he wrote to a young writer. What is above is important, but take a look at more of what he wrote:

     “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

We would be wise to pay attention to this advice. One of the marks of a newbie writer is that he/she tends to use a plethora of adjectives. This kind of writing reminds me of a woman who wears a dress with too many ruffles, then adds several necklaces, bracelets and over-sized earrings. Another woman who enters a ballroom in a dress with simple lines and only a bit of jewelery will stand out. Elegance in simplicity. That is the way our sentences should read, as well.

I was once part of an online writing community which was not a critique group but one that posted writing of many members. A young woman joined and posted stories on a regular basis. Most were memoir pieces with the basic story usually somethng interesting with take-away value. But--and this is a huge 'but'--she gathered adjectives like daisies in a field and sprinkled them throughout her narrative. Where one adjective might enhance, she tossed in three or even four. It got to the point that I had trouble reading her work as it became almost nauseating to read the many flowery adjectives she used. I know the poor girl felt she was adding a great deal to the story by doing this but I doubt that she ever had anything published by an editor. 

Adjectives like very and really add nothing much more than what you were trying to say in the first place. Some writers feel that these words emphasize what they are saying but I think they can be distracting.  It's also distracting to find a noun with three adjectives floating before it. One will do nicely. Besides that, every noun does not require an adjective. Use them too often and you weaken your piece. Mr. Twain said it and I concur.  

I have to admit that I have used adjectives a bit carelessly at times in my own writing. It's something that critiquers pointed out to me in my early days of writing. I have tried to eliminate those unneeded words like very and really and seldom use multiple adjectives for one noun. I know that when I follow the advice Mr. Twain left us, my writing is stronger and more readable. 

Take a favorite piece of writing from your files and go through it highlighting the adjectives. Then, take a look and see if you've used far too many or the right amount. Rewrite the piece being careful to not overuse adjectives. Which version is stronger? You decide. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Consider Your Memories A Lasting Gift



Novelist, Isabel Allende, got it right when she said that we should Write what should not be forgotten.

I was reminded of this last night when I was a sub in a Bridge group. Many of the women in the group have children close to the ages of my own. During our kids school years, our paths crossed on a frequent basis but then came years when I'd run into one of them occasionally, not regularly.

While we had dessert and coffee, we caught up on one another's life-- where the children were living, how old the grandchildren are, who had grandkids graduating this year and more. Old times were brought up, mused upon and laughed at.

There are so many parts of our lives that are exactly that--a part. We often change homes, friends, jobs and lots of other things as our life progresses. We all have periods we'd like to savor and some have times they'd like to never think about again.

Why not write about the times that you don't want to forget? They might not all be happy moments. There are difficult times that should be remembered for various reasons. One of them is to let your children, grandchildren and future family members know what happened to you and why it is a part of your family history. Maybe whatever happened is what made you the kind of person you are. Perhaps, it was a situation where medical information will make future generations aware of a genetic problem of some kind. We don't want to hide things like that, we should share them to help others.

We should most definitely write about the happy times, the places that soothed our souls, the people in our family whom we loved. If your mom made the best pot of vegetable soup on the planet, your family would love to hear about it. If your dad helped you make a Boy Scout or Girl Scout project, writing about it will show your family the love your dad had for you. It's not always a major accomplishment that a newspaper would feature that you'll want to write for your family. It's the little things that matter. It's seeing a personality trait in an ancestor that you may have yourself. So that's where I get it! might be your reaction when you read about a particular habit Aunt Sadie had.

Write about the times, places and people you don't want to forget. If you don't, they will most definitely get lost. Don't let your memories float away on the sea of time. Your memories are a gift to both your present and future family members.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Writing A Perfect Piece



When I sent my thank you message to those in my critique group who had given me suggestions on a new children's story, I made the comment that it would sure be nice if we could write a perfect piece on the first try. Not gonna happen, is it?

Revising and self-editing are all part of the game for a writer. How many times you do it for each piece you write will vary with the writer. Some are satisfied with 2 or 3 revisions while others will go for many more. Perfectionists, I suppose, rewrite the most.

I wonder if that writer who has redone her story a dozen times ends up with any better story than the one who does it 3 times. You can nitpick until you have nothing left to change. Even then, some writers will still not feel satisfied with the finished work. Once again, it will differ with the personality traits of the writer.

These are my own guidelines for revising and self-editing:

1.  Put the story aside for several days before you begin. You'll see it in a different lightthe next time you look at it and places that need work will pop out.

2  Decide on what major changes you want to make. Maybe you want to feature another character as the viewpoint character or perhaps you want to change the outcome of a situation. Play the 'what if?' game and see what you come up with.

3.  Then do the little things that are going to polish your story. Work on repetitive words/phrases. Replace passive verbs with active ones whenever possible. Check for typos and punctuation. Rearrange some sentences so that they are more clear in meaning.

4.  Put it away for a few days. Then read it again with an objective eye. Ask yourself what you'd say to another writer if you were the person doing the critiquing.

5.  Make any changes you feel are needed and call it finished.

I liked the poster at the top of this post. The editing process doesn't always happen in a 1, 2, 3 fashion. Lots of times, we do spend time staring at the story trying to figure out where to go with it. Keep at it and eventually you'll come up with the answer.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How About A Hug?


There are times when writers could use a hug. It might help when another rejection comes rolling your way. Or when a project seems stuck in the middle and you can't get finished. Or when inspiration doesn't come no matter how hard you try to entice it to happen.

Another time I would be happy to have a hug is when someone gives me a negative critique which occurred yesterday.On Mother's Day!  I know the person was not trying to hurt me in any way--she's a good friend actually. But she did find a whole lot of things wrong with a new children's story I'd submitted to my online critique group. As I read through the list of things she didn't like or had trouble accepting, I started to deflate. Sure could have used a hug then. I also knew that this person gives an honest, but fair, look at everything she critiques. It still left me feeling a bit down.

But only hours later, another member of our group critted the story. She had someminor suggestions but said she thought it only needed some polishing and should be ready to go. That lifted my spirits quite a lot.

Even so, I still need to look at both critiques carefully and see what I agree with or, what ways I might change the story. I'm also going to wait and see if more people crit this one and see who lands on which side. Heavy on one side will tell me to pay closer attention to what is said in the majority.

The point here is that not all people will give the same type of critique. For one thing, every person who critiques is not at the same level of writing in their own life. The more professional or more published writer is probably going to have a little more insight so they might be a little more picky. Even the critiquer's own personality is going to enter in. If they are a detail oriented person, they're going to look more closely at details. If they tend to be an upbeat personality, they will probably look for as many positives as possible. And the same in reverse.

Don't settle for one critique on your work. Even if you're not in a crit group like I am, ask at least 2, and 3 is better, of your writer friends to do a crit for you. If there are more negatives than positives, heave a huge sigh and start revising and self-editing. Then write and ask me for a hug!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mother's Live On In Hearts and Memories



It's Mother's Day weekend, a time to celebrate mothers whether they are still with us or live only in our hearts and memories now. My mother passed away over nine years ago. She spent a bit more than  a year prior to that in a nursing home far from where I lived. I couldn't vist her that Mother's Day, so I wrote a poem that seemed fitting.  


Mother’s Day Visit

Her step has slowed;
her hands shake.
Age has left its mark.

The sparkle’s gone;
her eyes no longer shine.
Years have taken a toll.

Yet, deep inside
the thin, frail body
lives my mother,

she who nurtured and
created a haven where
I rested, safe and loved,

a mom who taught me
all about devotion
and how to make a home.

She shared my joys
and wept at the sorrows
sprinkled in my life,

rejoiced at each new birth,
listened to my tales,
counseled and cared.

I hold her trembling hand,
and whisper thanks and love.
Please God, let her know,

before our time is gone,
that her love lives on
within me now and evermore.

      *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *  
After my mom passed away, Mother's Day took on a whole new meaning. I wrote the following short personal essay which was later published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. I read the story on a TV show in Topeka close to Mother's Day that year. The next day, I received a phone call from a woman who had lost her mother earlier in the year, had seen me on TV and was moved by the story. She told me that she'd been dreading Mother's Day but my story would help her through it. And that is one of the main reasons I write--to touch the hearts of others. 

With Us In Spirit (written in 2005)

I stopped at a Hallmark shop the other day to buy Mother’s Day cards for my daughter and daughter-in-law. The aisle where the cards for this special day rested was a long one. There were Mother’s Day cards appropriate to send to everyone from your cleaning lady to your best friend. The colors were soft and spring-like, fitting for the month of May. I moved up and down the aisle looking for cards that worked for Karen and Amy, and suddenly without any warning, an ache started deep inside. It swelled and moved upward, hit my heart and pushed a tear from my eye.

The one card I really wanted to buy was one for my own mother, but she passed away more than two years ago. I could buy the card, write a special note, sign it with love, then seal and stamp it. But where would I send it? Heaven has no post office. A curtain of sadness dropped down and covered me like a shroud for a moment or two. My hand reached out to a card that I knew she’d love. It was lavender and purple, her favorite colors. I read the verse and smiled. This was the one I’d buy her if I could only send it to her. I slipped it back in the rack, picked it up and read it again, then replaced it.

I’m a mother and a grandmother of four, but I still miss my mom. I miss our long talks. She had little formal education, but she possessed a marvelous instinct and insight into human behavior. I learned so much listening to her observations. I miss the stories she told about her childhood in a coal mining town. She made me appreciate the differences in people’s lives. I miss the wonderful pies and cakes she made. I miss her terrific sense of humor and hearty laughter. I miss her hugs.

But as I look around my home, I see her in many places. I see her warm smile in photos carefully arranged in several different rooms. I see her every time I sift through my recipe box and finger the many cards with her handwriting, all so precious now.  I see her when I use my rolling pin, once hers, now mine. Whenever I use it, I’m reminded of the day she taught me how to put just the right pressure on a pie crust with the heavy wooden rolling pin. I see her when I show visitors to our guest room, for the bed is covered with a quilt she made by hand.

On Mother’s Day I will be with my daughter and her family at a Mother’s Day Brunch. To spend the day with a child I love and her husband and children will give me great pleasure. It wouldn’t surprise me if we sense another presence that day, for my mother will be with us in spirit, spreading her love once more.













Thursday, May 8, 2014

Musically Challenged But Saved By A Kind Professor

N/AOne more Teacher Appreciation Week story for you. This time, it's one I wrote about a college professor who, happily for me, had a good heart and a sense of humor. He ranks among my favorites. The story was published in The Ultimate Teacher anthology.


The Promise
By Nancy Julien Kopp

I woke that fateful day immersed in anxiety and misery. How would I survive what lay ahead? It was 1959, my junior year in college, and I was studying to become a teacher.

I loved it, thrived in the preparations I was making to become a professional educator. Classes in English, Psychology, Reading Methods and more gave me no problems. What loomed ahead this awful day, however, made me shiver with fear.

No way out. I had to face the music I told myself as I dragged my reluctant body from the warm cocoon of blankets. Face the music? That was exactly what I had to do this morning. My churning stomach meant breakfast would be skipped today. Each tick of the clock brought me closer to disaster.

I donned coat and gloves, wrapped a scarf around my neck and set out on legs that felt heavier with each step. For once, I didn’t relish the walk across campus. Face the music? I shuddered as that simple phrase skipped through my mind once again. I journeyed slowly to the final exam in my Music For The Elementary School class…an exam with no paper and pencil. I might have done all right with a test like that. Instead, the professor would select any three songs of nine we were to learn to play on the piano. The pieces were not concertos or etudes. These were little children’s songs, like “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.

The professor explained the first week of class that we had to learn three groups of songs in three different keys. To be sure, we had all semester to do this, plenty of time to master them, he assured us. Music Department pianos were available for practice.

“Piece of cake,” the girl next to me said
.
“Easy enough,” another chirped as I glared at her.

“Cinch class,” yet another said rolling her eyes to Heaven.

I kept my silence, but the worry started, right then and there. I had many talents, but music was not one of them. I liked to listen to it. I was able to appreciate it, but I could not learn to tap a triangle at the right time in third grade. I could not sing on key. I could not read the musical notes on a staff. No musical aptitude whatsoever. No musical education either.

I signed up for practice times several days each week all semester. Anyone nearby must have winced at my efforts. Lovely songs tripped off the fingers of other practicing pianists, and the music floated through the hallway.

I asked my roommate for help. After several sessions, she told me it was a hopeless cause and suggested I cry on the professor’s shoulder, plead for mercy or something more drastic. What the more drastic might be I feared to ask.

I did talk to the professor, poured out my tale of woe. I explained that I was “Musically Handicapped.”

“Have you put some effort into this?” he asked me. “Really put some work into learning to play these little songs on the piano?”

With tears threatening, I assured him I had. His answer was that I would do fine when the time came, and he strode out of the classroom after patting me on the shoulder.

Now, the day of my demise had arrived. I could not have feared execution any more than I did this music exam.

The professor greeted me with a smile, rubbed his hands together and said, “Well now, are we ready?”

I sank onto the bench and attempted to play the three songs he selected. He kindly picked what were probably the three easiest pieces, and I managed to butcher each one.

At the end of my futile performance, the professor beckoned me to his desk. He looked at me, started to speak, then stopped and wiped his hand across his forehead. “Nancy, this is what we are going to do. You’ve put forth a great deal of effort, so I will give you a C in this class on one condition.

“Anything,” I answered.

“You must promise me that you will only teach in a school that also employs a music teacher!” He grinned at me after making the statement.

With vast relief, I made the promise.

I taught in more than one school district, but I always made sure it was one that had a music teacher. I watched with great admiration as music class was conducted, as songs were played on the piano the teacher rolled from classroom to classroom twice each week. What a genius she is, I thought, as her fingers flew across the keys.

To this day, the only musical thing I play is a CD player or radio. After all, a promise is meant to be honored.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Teacher I've Never Forgotten

What a surprise we had on the first day of school that year!

The following story has been published in a teacher anthology titled The Ultimate Teacher and a few other times, as well. It's here today as part of this week we celebrate and appreciate teachers of long ago and today.

To Touch A Child
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 "It's a man!" "We've got a man!" "Our teacher's a man!"

My classmates' comments echoed down the hallway, getting louder and more frequent the closer I got to my fifth grade classroom. My heart beat a little faster as I peered cautiously into the room.

Sure enough--there he was--the first male teacher at Lincoln School in the southwest corner of Oak Park, Illinois. The year was 1949, and Lyle Biddinger beckoned me with a welcoming smile into his first class. He served in the Navy during WWII and finished college on the GI Bill after being discharged. We would be the springboard for his teaching career.

All twenty-one of us in that room knew that something big was happening here. Men taught in high schools and colleges. Women took charge of the grade school classrooms. Yet, here he was--a man, not only a man, but a good looking one whose smile could melt the hardest heart
.
Mr. Bid, as we soon called him, taught us in both fifth and sixth grade, and what a teacher! Because of him, I hurried through breakfast every morning and raced out the door, in a hurry to get to school, eager to see what new adventure he had planned for us. He related stories about his service in the navy, taught us games, and made us laugh. Other teachers walked around the playground at recess time watching students play. Not Mr. Biddinger--he played with us. Kids from other classes joined us in those playground activities with this special man. They envied us when it was time to go in, because we had him for the rest of the day. We were proud as peacocks, too, for he was ours. Each of the twenty-one students in that class claimed him, hung on his every word, and loved him.

The main topic of dinner conversations at twenty-one homes centered on what Mr. Biddinger had done that day. What Mr. Biddinger said. What new game Mr. Biddinger taught us. It wasn't too many months into that first year when parents began to complain. "He plays games all day." "He doesn't teach them anything.” “What are they learning?"

I don't know what Mr. Biddinger, or the principal, said to appease these uneasy parents, but life in the fifth grade did not change. We continued to play games, but we learned a great deal too. Every game we played reinforced the facts and figures in our textbooks. Those games were educational tools unheard of in the 1940's. School wasn't meant to be fun. It should be hard work, dull and boring. Or so our parents thought.

At Christmastime, the Room Mother collected money from each student's family, then talked to Mr. Biddinger's wife to come up with the perfect gift for him. Our excitement knew no bounds when we presented him with a hunting jacket at the class Christmas party. The gift truly surprised him, almost overwhelming him with emotion. That was the best part of Christmas for all of us that year. It was the year many of us discovered that giving really is better than receiving.

Fifth grade flew. The lazy days of summer drifted by, and we returned to Lincoln School in September, eager to see what Mr. Bid had in store for us in sixth grade. That year proved to be as good as the previous one. We were still envied by the students in the other sixth grade, and we continued to preen our feathers whenever we had an audience

We learned new things daily, adding to the long list of facts and figures Mr. Biddinger taught us. I probably remember more of what I learned in those two grades than at any other time in my grade school years. Only a very good teacher could have accomplished that feat. After becoming a teacher myself, I realized the quality of Mr. Bid’s teaching. I knew then the gifts he gave on a daily basis. He helped us develop values and ethics as well as knowledge. He showed us that hard work and fun can line up side by side. He listened to whatever questions we posed or something we needed to discuss.

We moved on to Junior High after tearful farewells to our special teacher. Two years later, Mr. Biddinger attended our eighth grade graduation. We had been his first class, and I like to think that we were just a bit more special than any other to him, as he was to us. All the girls marched down the aisle in the gym that day, wearing high heels for the first time. After the ceremony, Mr. Bid told me that I walked better than anyone else in those new shoes. For all I know, he gave the same compliment to every one of the girls. Nevertheless, it made me feel special on my graduation day, the same way I had felt every day of the two years I claimed him as my teacher.
.
Now, I would like nothing better than to take him to lunch one day. I would reach across the table, take his hand in mine, and tell him how much he meant to all of us. Yes, he was our first male teacher and certainly the best. He armed us with knowledge and instilled self-confidence in our own abilities. But most of all, he reached out and touched all twenty-one of us with everlasting love.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Thoughts On National Teacher Day






This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week with today being singled out as National Teacher Day. If you're a teacher, be proud of what you do. If you've never taught, be grateful for those who do. Education is the key to myriad parts of our lives.

All of my growing up years, I wanted to be a teacher. Maybe many little girls have that desire if they've had good teachers, ones that children are drawn to because of the way they bring information to the children they teach. We all had favorite teachers. I consider myself fortunate to have had several favorites.

I graduated from Illinois State Normal Universityin 1961 with a degree in Special Education for the Socially Maladjusted Child, my minor field was Elementary Education. The Normal schools were ones that offered degrees in teacher education, nothing else. Many years after I graduated, Normal was dropped from the name of the university and many other degrees were offered. It had become a full-fledged university and grew rapidly but still had a fine teacher education program.

My professional teaching career lasted only five years. After I'd taught in a Chicago suburban school system for three years, I married Ken. Two years later, we were expecting our first child and we made the decision that I would become a stay-at-home mother. I never once regretted that decision but I did miss teaching. I used those skills off and on when I taught Sunday School or as a Den Mother for Cub Scouts, but those times were scattered over the years in which I was raising children.

Since I started writing, I've had opportunities to be a teacher again. I've conducted workshops at writing conventions, presented a topic on writing at conferences, spoken to church womens' groups about my writing life and written and presented other programs. Suddenly, I could call myself a teacher once again. It wasn't a conscious effort to do these things. Because of my writing and publishing credits, I was invited to do the workshops and speaking engagements. I've enjoyed taking on the role of teacher once again.

I've been told more than once by other writers that they couldn't do that. Stand up in front of a large group and teach a workshop? I'd rather chew nails. one writer told me. Maybe it's because I actually was a teacher those many years ago that I'm able to do this type of teaching now. Whatever it is, I know that it is satisfying to me to be able to help others in my field.

My blog which is meant to help other writers is just another form of teaching. And again, I find it very satisfying. I hope it is an aid to writers, gives them someone and something they can relate to, and offers advice and encouragement along the way.

Have you written about your favorite, or not-so-favorite, teachers? Every Family Stories book should have stories about teachers you loved or hated or influenced you in some way. For the rest of this week, I'm going to feature stories I've written about teachers in hopes that they will inspire some of you to write your own teacher stories. Check back tomorrow to read To Touch A Child.

Meanwhile, maybe there is some way you can thank a teacher today.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Less Thinking, More Doing

  Have you ever wanted to write a memoir? They're quite popular now. People are curious about other people and the way they've lived. Sometimes they can relate to another person's life or just admire what the author had done over a lifetime. Whatever the reason, memoirs continue to hit the bestseller list.

Like the woman above, many of us think about writing a memoir filled with family stories that will serve to be a history for our family now and in years to come. If we can write one that a publishing house is interested in, so much the better. Let's assume that you want to write the story of your life for your family first. Even that can be completely overwhelming.

You think about it a lot. You know you have some amusing stories, some that are heartrending and others that are simply quite amazing. You think about it a lot. You look at memoir websites which serve to inspire you. You decide that you will definitely write the book. You think about it a lot.

Here's an inside tip. If you think about it a lot but never start writing, you'll never finish the project. Your family won't have the benefit of reading your history (and theirs). You won't have anything to submit to a publishing house either. Whether you're heading for the bigtime publisher or a book for family and friends, you have to begin somewhere, somehow.

How do you avoid allowing a life story project inundate you? You begin with one small segment at a time. You can write one small story more easily than a 300 page manuscript. You don't need to write in chronological order. A memoir that begins with I was born on....at...during... isn't going to grab anyone's attention. Some people think a memoir must start at the beginning and move through the years one by one. Not so! I like memoir books that tell a story that grabs my attention when I start reading chapter one. T. L. Needham wrote a memoir of the life of one of his uncles. His book, When I Was A Child, begins during WWII when his Uncle Louis is taken prisoner by German forces. He hooks his reader immediately, then moves back to the man's early life.

Take an incident from the past that is important to you and write that story. Then do another. And again. Keep the stories in a file. When you have lots of them, consider the order in which you could put them in a book. Write and add more stories and place them in a good spot with the others. You'll know when it's time to stop. It's then that you'll have a book manuscript. Its up to you to arrange them in whatever order appeals to you.

Read lots of memoirs written by other people. Notice the order they have selected for their stories.It doesn't mean you have to do exactly as they have, but note whether the stories jump around in time or follow in careful steps from year one to the finish. Keep a record of the ones that especially appeal to you and determine what about that book made you single it out as one you liked a lot. Doing this will help you decide what style you want to use with your own memoir.

Don't let a memoir book project make you tear at your hair. Take it a little at a time. It's not something to be done in a week. It might take months or even years, depending on how much time you have to devote to it. The inchworm doesn't move too fast but he eventually gets where he's aiming to go. You can, too.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Nothing's Perfect



The other day I wrote a post on having a routine for your writing. I do well with having a routine to my writing world, but sometimes it doesn't work. Like today! 

It's our last day of babysitting with our two youngest grandchildren. We will be heading home this evening, the kids will be having a sleepover with their friends and our daughter and her husband are returning from their vacation. We'll be gone by the time they arrive. So, I've been doing laundry and will be hitting the housework mode shortly. 

Somehow the day has gotten away from me and I didn't post the blog as early in the day as I normally do. But guess what? The world will go on and so will I. It's better to post late than not at all. 

It's what happens to people who blog sometimes. They have a routine and plan to post once a week, twice a month or perhaps Monday through Friday as I do Then, something interrupts that plan. They miss one post, then the second one and then it can be a very long time between posts. Oh, they think about it but keep putting it aside to do something that feels more important at the time. Finally, they write a post and put it on the blog. Back on track!

But what might happen is that they've lost readers during that period of no posts. As a reader, wouldn't you give up on a blog that you like which suddenly disappears? Whether it's for a week or a month or even longer, you get tired of waiting for something new to pop up. So, you move on. 

Crises do happen and we occasionally have to stop posting for good reason. If that happens, do take a few minutes to post an announcement letting readers know that an event in your life has caused you to take some time off. You needn't go into details, unless you want to share. Just say that you'll be back again just as soon as possible. Maybe it's as simple as taking a vacation. If so, specify a date that you'll be posting again. 

Do link your blog to other websites like facebook groups and make an announcement there when you are ready to post on a regular basis again. Keep in touch with your readers if you want them to stay loyal to you and your blog. 

The picture quote at the top of today's post can be stretched to writing blog posts, too. I've heard so many writers express a desire to start a blog but they don't for various reasons. If you wait until your writing world is perfect, you'll never begin. Dive in and swim for all you're worth. Your blog may not be astounding when you begin, but you have to keep writing and working on it just as you do with your other writing projects. You'll need to keep attracting new readers and you can't do that unless you post on a regular basis. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Day Times Three


Today brings us three things to celebrate. The nostalgic one is May Day, celebrated the first day of May for centuries. It was the herald of spring and the glorious rebirth and vibrant colors that season brought with many trees blooming and flowers, as well. The custom of hanging a basket of flowers on a door on May Day is a longstanding one.

When my children were small, the neighborhood kids made construction paper baskets, filled them with candy and delievered them secretly to their friends' homes. Getting the basket delivered without being seen was the best part of that tradition.

Today is also Law Day. In our home, I usually greeted my husband and children with a cheerful Happy May Day as each appeared for breakfast. And as soon as I said it, Ken responded with It's Law Day! If nothing else, our children learned that May 1st was more than one thing.

This year, May 1st is also National Day of Prayer. My 10 year old granddaughter reminded me of that yesterday. It's not always May 1st but is celebrated on the first Thursday of May each year. This year's theme is One Voice. I like the theme selected because it is simple yet meaningful.

These special days may give writers some inspiration to write. It could be a memoir piece or an essay to show your feelings about one of these events. It could be an article about the history of May Day or Law Day, or perhaps on the far-reaching effects that National Day of Prayer might have.

There's hardly a month when we don't have some special holiday or a day of recogntion. You might want to bookmark this website that lists and links these days for 2014.

Celebrate one of the special May 1st events today. Better yet, go for all three. Being the Romantic I am, May Day will always top my list but I give thought to each of the others, as well.