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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Missing Comma--More Important Than You Might Think

Today's post may not be the most exciting thing you'll read this week but it could be of some help when you write. And that's exactly the reason I want to address one little punctuation mark. The comma!

When I critique submissions at my online writer's group, I frequently see one place that many people forget to use a comma. The missing comma also stands out when I read a book and makes me wonder how an editor missed it. Of course, since so many of the books we read today are self-published, it's not surprising that a few things get overlooked.

Am I a grammar nut? Well maybe but I also feel that we have grammar rules for a reason. Basically, they help a reader know where to pause, what's a question, when one sentence ends and another begins and more. They're like road signs--they guide us even though we're not always completely aware of it. It becomes a subconscious noting rather than the specific reading of each one.

The comma that is often missing is the one that separates an introductory phrase or clause from the main sentence. The main body of the sentence can stand alone if there is no intro phrase which adds information but is not totally necessary. It's something writers use a lot so they should know the rule and practice it.

If you try to read this sentence aloud that has a long intro phrase or clause without a comma between it and the main part of the sentence, you'd run out of breath. That comma sets the intro section apart and also gives you that slight pause. Take a look at the sentences below. A. is without the comma and B has it. Read the sentences out loud. Does having the comma give you a natural pause? Does it make reading the sentence easier?

A.  Before she put the children to bed Mary filled the dishwasher and wiped off the counter.
B.  Before she put the children to bed, Mary filled the dishwasher and wiped off the counter.

A.  When the blazing sunset filled the horizon Tom drove faster.
B.  When the blazing sunset filled the horizon, Tom drove faster.

A.  After four more mistakes John threw his hands up in utter disgust.
B.  After four more mistakes, John threw his hands up in utter disgust.

A.  Giving a dollar to the organ grinder Millie hurried past the man and his monkey.
B.  Giving a dollar to the organ grinder, Millie Hurried past the man and his monkey.

Can the part of the sentence that comes after the comma stand alone? Can the part of the sentence that comes before the comma stand alone? Read it up to the comma and ask yourself if it makes sense. If you read only that part of the sentence, the next thought you should have is then what? 

As you read this week, be aware of the intro phrases and clauses and check to see if the writer used the comma or not.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Your Writing Journey--A Trip Worth Taking!

Summer brings vacations to mind. You must make plans, pack your bags and start on your way to paradise. Or wherever it is that you plan to go.

Today, let's talk about another trip--your writing journey. Anyone who writes has been on this journey from the first time they applied pen to paper or tapped a keyboard to bring up words strung together that made some sense.

One of the women in my online writing group found a competition that required a personal essay of no more than 1000 words about a writing journey. My friend, who lives in South Africa, wrote to the theme and submitted it to our group for critique. I thought it was a great piece and told her so, along with a few suggestions for polishing before she sent it to the contest. In our email chat, I asked her if she minded if I'd send a piece of my own, already written to the same theme. She replied that she thought it a great idea and said, "Let's see if any others in the group would do the same." She sent out the challenge and a few have signed on.

I've been reading the efforts today and have been thrilled with the essays that have been submitted. We're all writers but we all came to it on different paths. One started because of letters she wrote to family members as an ex-pat overseas. She was shocked that they'd loved her letters, some had even kept them for her all tied up in pretty colored ribbons. Another had aimed to be a writer since kindergarten when her teacher had the children write their names and then said to them, "This is the beginning of your writing life."

Many start on the writing path later in life. I was one of those. The desire had been there for decades but I needed a nudge to get started. The one I got was more like a punch in the gut! No problem, it was what I needed to start writing. It didn't matter that I was well over fifty at the time.

If you have a yen to submit to the contest I mentioned earlier, go to this page for guidelines and details. But hurry. June 30th is the deadline. No entry fee so what do you have to lose. Make it funny, make it smart, make it inspirational--whatever you wish. The contest is sponsored in the UK but anyone around the world is eligible. You can even read past winners to get an idea of the type of essay they like.

Even if you don't enter the contest, give some thought to your personal writing journey. What kind of journey has your writing life taken you on? Where did it begin? What bumps in the road did you meet? How did you overcome them? Where are you now and where are you going? Who helped you?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Writers Need To Say Thanks

Our mothers conditioned us to say Thank You when we were toddlers, then as young grade schoolers and on into high school. We were taught to send a note of appreciatiion when we received a gift or if someone did something nice for us. Mothers today start out the same way but sometimes they don't continue to do so when their babies are suddenly teens and young adults. I hear more and more about those who do not.

Many people mean to say thank you, whether by note or phone call or email, but life gets in the way and the good intention slips farther and father into the background until it's forgotten. Practicing good manners of this kind comes down to habit. We either have it or we don't. I think it's a very good habit to acquire.

So, what is all this mean on today's post? Writers need to show some appreciation, too. To whom? Check my list below:

1.  Critiquers and personal editors

2.  Editors

3.  Readers

4.  Publishers

5.  Reviewers

6.  Bookstore Owners

All of the above are necessary to any success you achieve in your writing life. Whenever you have a personal interaction with any one of them, it is to your advantage to offer your appreciation.

Editors, publishers, and reviewers deal with myriad authors. Sure, it's their job but they also like being thanked for whatever help they may have given you. It certainly will aid in them remembering who you are the next time you interact with them and it creates positive working atmospheres. Of course, those are not the only reasons to send your thanks. Foremost, it's just plain good manners to do so,

Have I always done this with every acceptance I receive? No, I haven't but I do try to do it when possible. A lot depends on the situation and how well you know the person involved. I always, always send a thank you to anyone who critiques my writing. If I wrote novels, I think I would likely thank numbers 4, 5, and 6 in the list. As for number 2--editors--I have done so many times. I've even thanked editors who have rejected my submission on occasion. Strange? Not really. Often, a note that comes with the rejection helps me in some way.

It's not always easy to thank readers unless they are in a writing community or website where comments can be made. Or if you're famous enough to be asked to write in a literary magazine or book section of a newspaper.

Today, I'd like to thank the many who read this blog and have done so for a lot of years. Also the newer Followers of my blog. There would be little reason for me to conitinue if I didn't have faithful readers and if I didn't feel I offered a service that helped in some small way.

So Bunches of Thanks from me to you. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Community For Writers And Those Interested In Writing

This is the cheerful graphic that will greet you at Linda Carlson's Writer's Block. Linda is the owner/moderator of this interactive writing communtiy and Wordsmith, its offshoot. These two sister sites are all about giving writers a chance to gather in a community, or a neighborhood, for those with an interest in writing. It's not necessary to be a writer to join and enjoy the fruits of the groups.

Linda is gifted with the ability to use graphics to illustrate the stories and poems posted. I use the term 'gifted' because her interpretation of other's writing can sometimes be almost magical. Linda has waved her magic wand over several of the nonfiction stories and poems I've posted and when I see what she's done, I almost always am bowled over. To see a sample, look at this memoir story I posted to see what Linda did with it. She had asked me to send a photo of my grandmother. I was thrilled with the result.

Because there is so much to see on these sites, Linda has a page that will help you navigate easily. It's all in one place for you. Click on each topic and read, then go back to the list and click on another. Besides helping navigate this particular site, I found it to be a fab lesson in learning all the little things on the top tool bar. I knew many of them but a few were new to me.

Recently, Linda has added a section of Writing Opportunities by linking to a blog that lists places looking for submissions from writers. I spent some time with it last evening and was wowed by the numerous places that were new to me.

Start here. You'll see the poster above, then scroll down the page until you find the list of topics and start reading.(On most of the pages, you must scroll down to find what you want or click on a link that will take you to a new page.) Next, you'll want to read some of the other writers posts and comments. And finally, you can post work of your own. No worries about being accepted by an editor. You post your work here for the enjoyment of others. No one will critique your work, unless you specifically ask them to. Positive comments are allowed, negatives are not.

You do have to create an account to become a member of this writing community. But I assure you that it is free, easy and has no bearing on anything else you do. Websites which require creating an account do so to keep spammers out, so it's to your benefit. Once you have created your account, bookmark the site. I am considered signed in each time I return so am automatically taken to the page, no having to put in the user name and password each time. See how easy it is.

This is a place where writes can post, read the writing of others, chat with other writers or people interested in writing, and feel comfortable. Put in a nutshell--it's comfort food for writers! To get the most out of it, you need to participate.

One word of caution:  Remember that anything you post on this site, or any other, is considered published, and you will not be able to submit and sell to an editor except as a reprint. My personal solution to this problem is to post work at Writer's Block that has already been published elsewhere first.

For a complete printable guide to joining this writing community, go here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Process Of Learning To Love Books

I had a long conversation with a friend about why we love books so much. It brought to mind a personal essay that I had published in an anthology called Flashlight Memories, which contained memoir stories about reading as part of the growing-up process. I'm posting the essay here as I think many of you will be able to relate to it, be you strictly readers or reader/writers. Leave a comment about your own path to books.

Flashlight Memories

How I Learned To Love Books (Retitled in the anthology as My Path To Books)

By Nancy Julien Kopp

My earliest memory of a book is a story about Mr. Flibbertyjibbet. Is it any wonder that name can be easily plucked from my memory bank 65 years later? My mother reads the book to me as we snuggle on the sofa. My father reads the book to me, too. I bring the book out whenever an adult is there, and I hand it to them. My grandmother, every one of my aunts and Mother’s friends—they all read to me.

My kindergarten teacher reads to us, too. She sits on a small chair, and we all gather around her, sitting Indian-fashion on a green carpet. Every day Miss Horst reads a new story and shows us the pictures. Her hair is silver, her lips are cherry red, and her eyes sparkle as she reads. I want to read the book myself, but I don’t know how. Mother makes a promise. “Next year you’ll learn to read.” And I trust her, for she’s never been wrong.

I am six years old and in the first grade. Miss Curto passes out the books, one for each child. “Do not open the books,” she says. How can I wait any longer to see if I know how to read now? The teacher shows us the proper way to open a new book—first the front cover, then the back. Then we close it again and she instructs us to open to the first page. There are a few words, but I don’t know what they say. I’m disappointed. I can’t read. Was Mother wrong? But in only a matter of days, I am reading. I read stories about Dick and Jane and Baby Sally. I am one of the first to finish the book. And then there is a new book, and my happiness knows no bounds. This one has the same children in it and their dog and cat. Spot and Puff become my friends, and I read more and more books.

At home, I read Mr. Flibbertyjibbet to my mother. I read to my father, my grandmother and my aunts. I bring home books from school and I read them over and over.

One day my mother takes me to a new place. She explains we are going to the library, and by the time we have walked several blocks to the square brick building, I know that the library is full of books that I may borrow. I know that I must be very careful with the books because we must return them for other children to read.

“We would like a library card, please,” my mother tells the woman behind the big desk by the front door.

The woman has white hair that is pulled away from her face and fixed in a bun behind her head. Her cheeks look soft, and she has eyes that are as blue as the summer sky. Rimless glasses rest on her nose. She wears a navy blue dress with a white lace collar, and she is fat like one of my aunts. Her mouth is clamped tight like my grandmother’s when she is angry. Maybe I won’t like this place after all.

Then the lady slides a card across the desk, dips a pen in an inkwell, and hands it to me. “Write your name on this line, please.”

I print my first and last name as neatly as I can and slide the card back to her.

She comes around to the front of the desk. “I am Miss Maze,” she says. “and I will show you where the books for you are kept.” She smiles at me and holds out her hand.

Mother nods when I look at her for direction. I slip my hand into the one Miss Maze has offered. I look down and see she is wearing black oxfords that tie, and the skin around her ankles hangs down over her shoes. I wonder if it hurts.

We walk up two steps into a world of enchantment. Miss Maze patiently shows me row upon row of books, and she shows me how to replace them on the shelf after I look at them. She helps me choose three books to take home, and then it is time to go back to the big desk and learn how to check them out. My library card will be ready for me the next time we visit she tells us.

As the years go on, the library becomes my second home, and Miss Maze becomes my special friend. Her eyes light up, and she smiles whenever I walk in the door. She often shows me new books that have arrived, and I am eager to check them out. I am there winter and summer, in sunshine and thunderstorms.

I learn that if you like a book especially well, you should look for more books by the same author. I read a series of books with titles like Ballet Shoes, Theater Shoes, and Circus Shoes, and I dream about being one of the girls in those books. I read books by Lois Lenski called Strawberry Girl and Blueberry Sal, and I learn about being a child of a migrant worker. I read all the Nancy Drew mystery books, the Bobbsey Twins, the Little House books, and move into a series about a girl named Sue Barton. I follow Sue as she becomes a student nurse, a resident nurse, a visiting nurse and every kind of nursing job there is.

And then I am a teen, and I read young adult books like Bramble Bush, which moves me to tears, ands soon I move on to adult books. All these years in the 1940’s and 50’s, I visit the library almost on a weekly basis. I walk several blocks, taking a shortcut behind the elevated train platform. I carry a stack of books to the library on the cinder path and come back with books piled high in my arms. I read in all my spare time. I leave my everyday existence behind when I am reading. I learn about other cultures, live vicariously through the heroines in the books I devour. I store up a desire to travel so I can see these wondrous places in the books.

My favorite class in college is the literature class. I am the only one who doesn’t groan when the professor tells us we will read one novel every week. We go to the college book store, check out a book on Friday afternoon, and we are to be ready to discuss it on Monday morning. I look forward to Friday morning when the professor gives us the name of the book for the week. My feet fly across campus to the bookstore. I am a fast reader and have no trouble finishing by Monday, while some of the others sit up late on Sunday night trying to finish.

I’m a senior citizen now, but I still love books. I am never without a book to read, and the library still feels like home to me. When I am there surrounded by thousands of books, I feel a sense of peace and contentment that I find in no other place. As I make my selection from the fiction shelves and from the shelf that holds books about writing, I sometimes think of Miss Maze. I learned to read at school, but I learned about the world of books from Miss Maze. I wish I’d thanked her for what she gave me, but as a child and a teen, I was too shy to do that. Perhaps she knew what sharing her treasures meant to me. I’d like to think so.

Published in an anthology called "Flashlight Memories" compiled by Silver Boomer Books 2011

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Writing Keyword Today Is SUBMIT

I've been noticing that several members of my online critique group are writing toward a specific market. They're making an effort to write and submit. Keyword for today is submit. The majority of writers are aiming for publication. 

The very first step after writing and editing is to submit. A simple little word, a process that anyone should be able to complete. Right? Maybe not.

It takes more than a little courage to expose your work to the eyes of others, whether it be a friend, a critique group, or an editor. It's human nature to strive for praise. We'd all love to hear nothing but positives about the words we've strung together in a story, article, essay or poem. By submitting what you've written, you set yourself up for failure. Not really, but that's the way our minds work at times. 

Before you submit for publication, you need to get yourself in the proper frame of mind. Have a little chat with yourself. Do this in private or someone may call 911. Tell yourself that the only way you will ever see your work in print is to send it to an editor, or many editors. That you don't expect to have every single story you submit make it. That you'll keep the submision wheel turning. Remind yourself that the worst than can happen is that the first editor will reject your piece. Not a catastrophe. Every writer racks up rejections like beer cans at a frat party. 

Many fine writers have reams of stories, or whatever it is they write, in their files or printed and placed reverently in a looseleaf binder. They're afraid to take that first step to market their work. It's a shame because many of these writers could be, would be, should be published if they only had the courage and confidence in themselves to submit those stories. 

Notice the little meter at the top of this post--it says somethng important. You are in control. It's not me or your Aunt Susie or your husband/wife. It's you. I learned that from a man who was the moderator of the first critique group I joined, early in my writing years. His mantra was Send it in! Send it in! Send it in! I wrote an article about Tom and that group for the Long Ridge Writers Website several years ago. It details my own process of learning to submit my work. Read it before you have that little chat with yourself.

Ask yourself what you can do to gain the confidence it takes to show your work to others. You're not going to become a self-confident writer (or person) in one fell swoop. It's another of those step-at-a-time processes. If you do submit your writing and have an acceptance, or even an encouraging note from an editor, you'll move one step higher on the ladder. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Opening Lines--More Than Just A Beginning

I love the quote in this poster. We have a general idea of what kind of story we intend to write but it can easily veer off in other directions. More than once, I've noticed a critique at my online writers group that tells the writer that she's totally off the topic or that she has two stories going at the same time. Pick one or the other and go with it. the critter might say. Or write two stories--that would be even better.

You might take some time to look at your previously published stories, articles and essays. Note the opening line and then see where it went from there. Ask yourself three things:

   1.  Was it a good hook?
   2.  Did it guide you?

  3.  Did it make you want to keep writing?

Did your opening line take the story where you intended? Or did you take a few detours along the way and ended up with another story? It can work either way.

Here are the opening lines to 5 of my published stories. Do you think it was easy to move on from each of these sentences? Did any one of them seem to hook you better than the others? Number 3 was the one that I wrote without knowing how to get to the story swirling in my head, but I wrote that line and the story went on, seemingly by itself.

1.  Painful Christmases etch themselves into our hearts and minds, never to be forgotten. (From A Christmas For Julie)

2.  Children have been enchanted by fairy tales penned by the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen for centuries. (From A True Fairy Tale)

3.  I can do it, Mama. Please let me,” I pleaded.  (From A Message in the Night)

4.  Our heads were fuzzy and our legs like jelly when we left the long, overnight flight from Kansas City to Munich, Germany. (From A Hungarian Hotel in Germany)

5.  Dad couldn't deal with handicapped individuals. (From The Perfect Grandchild)

Give some thought to you opening lines. Then savor each new one you write. As Beatrix Potter said, "There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story."


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ever Been To A Blog Hop?

I've been tagged! Yep, my writer friend, Annette Gendler, tagged me to participate in the #MyWriting Process Blog Hop. To be fair, she did ask my permission first. She's a considerate person as well as a fine teacher of memoir writing and excellent blogger. Annette credits Carole Malone for starting the Blog Hop several months ago.

To participate, a blogger answers four questions about her/his writing world and process, then tags two or three more bloggers. It's a good idea to provide a link to the tagger's blog somewhere within your post. I was intrigued while reading Annette Gendler's Blog Hop post yesterday. Four simple questions gave me a lot of insight as to Annette, the writer. Perhaps you'll feel the same after reading my answers.

Questions and Answers 

1. What is Nancy working on? 
     Only days ago, I mailed my entries to the annual Kansas Authors state contest. I sent in 4 to the Prose Contest and 2 for the Poetry Contest. Winners are announced on the final day of the convention held in October. So, it's time to move on. Right now, I'm working on a personal essay to give seniors some insight into making the decision to move into senior living accomodations. A middle grade novel is always in the back of my mind. It's one I wrote several years ago but am constantly revising, hoping to make it a published product one day. Will Jamison and The Black Dog Mine is based on childhood days of my maternal grandfather. He was taken from school at the tender age of 9 to work in a below-ground coal mine. His story hauned me for years and inspired the book.

2.  How does Nancy's work differ from others of its genre?
     I write a lot of creative nonfiction, concentrating on memoir and personal essays but I also write articles on the craft of writing and dabble in kidlit and poetry. I've been successful in having my stories appear in several anthologies, most of them qualify as memoir. For me, the past is what makes the present what it is, what makes me the person I am, and so I've concentrated on keeping the family stories alive through my writing and encourage others to do the same. As for the craft of writing articles (including my blog)--I taught middle grade kids for a mere five years way back, but somehow the joy of teaching others has never diminished for me. This way, I continue to teach through the written word.

3.  Why does Nancy write what she does?
     I've had a passion for writing since I was a child, but because of life circumstances, I didn't pursue my passion until I was in my mid-fifties. That makes me dance as fast as I can now in my senior years so I can catch up! I realized just the other day that the act of writing brings me true joy. When I'm tapping away on my keyboard, I'm happy. I've always been a service-oriented person and touching others through my writing is a continuation of that.

4.  How does Nancy's writing process work?
     Oh my, must I confess? I don't have a set routine in my writing process. It's more when the mood moves me and when I have time. Correct that last part to be 'when I create time.' I do try to write my blog post in the morning after breakfast while drinking my coffee every day. But the remainder of my writing is a 'whenever' kind of thing. While I may not be physically writing, my mind is frequently working out a new story or article. It's one reason I have trouble falling asleep! I am often working on a story mentally while doing household tasks or taking a walk. I do try to jot bits and pieces on paper so I don't lose the thought completely.

I am tagging two writer/blogger friends: 

Betty Roan EnigkBetty Roan Enigk, known to me as B.J., came into my writing world through Our Echo, a website for people to post their writing. It became a community of writers and B.J. and I chatted off and on and have read one another's blogs and other writing. Her blog is Rubbish by Roan, one that is well worth some of your time. She's been a faithful reader of my blog and leaves comments, too, which makes me happy. She lives in Toledo, IL. B.J. has agred to tag more bloggers to jump into the Blog Hop.

Tracy Million Simmons, author of  Tiger Hunting, is the second blogger I'm tagging. Her blog centers on both her writing life and her family life in Emporia, KS. I met Tracy through the Kansas Authors Club several years ago. At convention time, she's a dynamite photographer and helper to all. She's earned my admiration. Tracy has agreed to tag more bloggers to jump into the Blog Hop.

There are lots of links for you to click on in this post. I hope you'll take some time and visit these people and places.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cut Those Words! It Won't Hurt Them A Bit

This morning, a member of my online writer's group posted a resub of a piece she'd subbed awhile back. She'd written it for a competition and when she finished the first draft, it was way too long. When contest guidelines give a word count maximum, they aren't kidding. They mean it. Go over the limit and you risk your entry being trashed before it's even read.

She went back to work. She cut 600 words from the first draft and she's still 69 words too high. That's why she resubbed the piece. Maybe some of those who critique her work will be able to cut those 69 words. I'm planning to crit it and will look at it as a challenge to slice away those extra words.

I've found that, when I edit something I've written and do some major cutting, I generally end up with a stronger story. Write tight! That's writing advice most all writers have heard or read at some time in their career.Trust me. It's to the writer's benefit to do so. We needn't fret about losing some of those precious words we've written.

How do you manage to cut a whole lot of words when writing to a specific word count? There are a few ways to accomplish the task.

1.  Keep the word count in mind as you write the first draft. You won't hit the magic number by doing this but you'll know when you start going way over the limit.

2.  Go through the first draft and look for repetition. I've mentioned many times that the writer does not need to keep repeating information. Give it to the reader once and respect the fact that they'll 'get it' then. Some of us have this need to say something two or three times so we're sure the reader understands. Say it once but say it well!

3.  Cut adjectives and adverbs. Yes, you do want to make use of them to add to the bare bones of a sentence but you needn't overdo it. Too many adjectives make for flowery prose that can overwhelm the reader.

4.  Ask yourself if every paragraph is important to the story/article/essay. Is there too much information? Does everything you've written cycle back to the main idea of your piece. If it veers off in any way, cut it!

5. A very easy way to cut some words is to revise the order of a sentence. Look at a particularly long sentence and ask yourself if there is another way to say the same thing? Usually, there is.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

For Your Summer Reading List

Believe it!

Summer! Beach reads! Lazy days in the cool house reads! In the car or plane heading to vacation spot reads! All are great places to plunge into a book.

Last Saturday, I was browsing the shelves at my local library when I ran across Amy Tan's latest novel--The Valley of Amazemen. I'd read a review when it was released but had not put it on a hold list. There it was on the shelf calling out to me, mostly because I've read and enjoyed many of her earlier books. It's a big book, well over 500 pages. It's historical fiction, romance, character study, a look at mother/daughter relationships and more. I must admit that I had a hard time getting into it as there was a great deal of backstory in about the first 50 pages, but once hooked, I have the urge to pick up the book whenever I have some free moments. I'm more than halfway through the novel now and find I'm making time to read. A good sign when a reader does that.

I posted a comment on facebook about reading this book and asked if anyone had recommendations for others that they'd read recently and liked. I hit the jackpot with several answers and not one duplicate. I'll list them below with a link to the Amazon page they're on so you can read the summary and editorial reviews. The link to the Amy Tan book is in the paragraph above. You'll know then whether you want to to put them on your summer reading list. There are both fiction and nonfiction in this list.

1.  The Man in the Wooden Hat

2.  The Pecan Man

3.  The Boys in the Boat

4.  The Price of Justice

5.  The Hunted

Thanks to all the women who suggested these titles. How about the men? What are you reading this summer?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Have You Ever Suffered The Slash?

Ever feel like this? A writer friend recently wrote a facebook post that created a good discussion with other writers.

She had made it to the short list on a forthcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul book. When the letter and permission release form are sent to those writers who have made it to the 'finals,' there is one paragraph that warns that this does not mean your story is definitely in. A few more stories will be cut before the final number are selected.

We all read it, we know it's possible but we believe our story will make it. My friend learned a couple of days ago that her story was one of the few that had been cut at the end of the selection process. Hurts. Oh, how it hurts! To top it off, she was sick with a very bad cold. The news was certainly not a good dose of medicine for her physical health or emotional either. She reached out to her fellow writers.

To make matters worse, this is the sixth time that she's been in this situation. Six stories that almost made it but then suffered the slash. Six times that she had to absorb the sad news. Six times she had to give herself a pep talk. Six times she had to remind herself of the many stories that did make it into a Chicken Soup book. Six times she's had to move on.

She must have felt like the jockey who ran just behind the horses that won the prize money. Or the long distance runner who comes in just after the first place winner. So close and yet...

If you're a writer, you've had to deal with coming in second or total rejection. We all have because it's a part of the writing game. The trick is to bounce back after you've given yourself a short time (note that I said 'short') to feel sorry for yourself. You deserve that but you can't let yourself wallow in pity. I don't think my friend will do that. She's a pro and knows she has to start writing and send in a story for a new Chicken Soup book. And I'm sure she will. She'll most likely come up with more winners than losers, too.

Go ahead, organize a pity party for one, attend for one full day, then start writing again. Go ahead, post your feelings about the rejection for other writers on fb or other writing groups you belong to. You deserve the cyber hugs they'll give you. They understand. Most have been there at one time or another. But then start writing again. It's the best cure for suffering the slash.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Writing To A Theme Is Not Easy

smiley down in the dumpsYep, this is the way I look and feel this morning. Not because of any catastrophe in my life. It's all my own doing. Our state authors club sponsors an annual writing contest with several categories to enter and I've created my own problem with it.

Each year, the theme is different and has its own category to enter either prose or poetry. This year's theme threw me for a loop. I've been thinking about it for months now, trying to come up with a story or a poem to fit Salt of the Earth. The district hosting our annual convention selected the theme because they happen to have a salt mine in one of their cities--Hutchinson, KS.

I've considered the scripture about salt as the basis for a story. I've toyed with the meaning of a person who is the salt of the earth. Nothing! Working in a salt mine. Nope, I know nothing about that. Writing to a particular theme is not easy. Interpretation enters in a big way. My interpretation and that of the judge may be miles apart.

But then, last night, an idea for a story started to form in my mind. I used The Great Salt Lake in Utah as the setting, placed a girl there who had just muffed a suicide attempt. Melodramatic? You betcha! I had no idea where the story would take me and how I'd bring salt of the earth into it. I knew that making the story happen by The Great Salt Lake was not enough to wow a judge.

I started writing and let the story take me with it. I questionned myself more than once. Was the bit on salt overdone or not emphasized enough? Did the part about salt appear contrived? Would anyone else 'get' what I was attempting to say?  Questions but few answers. So I went to bed hoping I'd wake up this morning with the light bulb on.

This morning, I still had the questions and no answers. This thing was not working. What to do? Scrap it? Start over? File it away for another day?

The deadline to mail entries is Sunday so this is my own fault, isn't it? I started too late. I should have pushed myself harder on coming up with a theme story sooner. No time to take the limp first draft and polish it into something that I might consider to enter. I didn't heed my own advice on this blog.

You might look as glum as the clipart guy above when you have a story idea that doesn't work out. We're not going to hit the bullseye every time we take aim. Even so, it's not the end of the world.

I plan to put in a little more time on my story today and if it doesn't work out, I'll put it in a file for another time. It's time to move on to a new project. I'm looking forward to seeing what others will enter in the theme category this year. What will they come up with that escaped me totally?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Backstory--Use It Or Lose It ?


I've run into the term backstory enough times recently to merit a post on this technique used in writing fiction, and perhaps some creative nonfiction, as well. 

Backstory is anything that happened before the present story begins. It's helpful to give your readers some background on the characters with this method, helps to paint the character for the reader. It also shows the reader why whatever is happening now is important to the character. Another way to do that is to write a prologue for a novel which shows and/or tells about something that happened earlier that has a momentous bearing on the story to come. The prologue is meant to hook the reader immediately. 

Backstory works, too, and is used in short stories but also novels but it's sprinkled throughout the entire story, not standing alone as in a prologue. What if a young woman falls overboard during a storm on a large lake? It might help the reader to know that she had been the star on her high school swim team. How about if a story opens with the protagonist shooting an escaped convict? If we're told that the man shooting the gun had an experience years earlier that made him terrified of guns, it puts a different light on what is happening.

One thing to remember is that the reader does not need to know as much backstory as the writer does. The writer develops the characters and knows intimate details that make the characters the people they are and how they react to particular situations. Give the reader enough information but don't overwhelm them.

For me, the concern about backstory is that the writer will give so much backstory that it begins to overshadow the main event. Given in small amounts, it works but go on for paragraphs of backstory and the reader can lose the train of thought in the action of the primary story. Like so many things in life, the backstory needs to be used in moderate amounts. That old adage Moderation in all things applies to using this technique. 

There are those who teach writing classes that will suggest eliminating all backstory. They might claim that it weakens the main story. And it might do so if you don't find that healthy balance. My own feeling is that you might sprinkle it through the story like Tinkerbelle does with her Fairy Dust. But don't dump a whole lot on at one time. 

If you would like to read a little more about the use of backstory, Jan Fields, editor of Children's Writer eNews, has a discussion going on the topic. The techniques in writing children's fiction are the same as for adult fiction, so what is being discussed works for all fiction writers. Take a few minutes and look at the discussion questions and answers here

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Graduation--A Time To Remember

I'm back home after almost a week away.  It was hard to get a new post written during those days on the road and spending time with a lot of people in Dallas while we celebrated my oldest granddaughter's high school graduation. I managed to sneak in a short one on Monday of this week but working on my tablet left it with a few typos that I hated to see.

Graduation is a time of saying good-bye to one section of life and catapulting into the next stage, whether it is moving on to college or vocational training or entering the workforce on a full time basis. Whichever one of those the graduate has chosen, the new world they enter will be vastly different than the high school days they've put behind.

Our granddaughter, Alexis, will be attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She made Ken and me proud grandparents with all she accomplished in high school and we're looking forward to following her college years.

For many of us, graduation is an event that happened ever so long ago. At the time, it was center stage in our life but looking back, it is only one of dozens of milestones in our lives. An important one, to be sure, but not nearly as huge as it seems when it is happening.

We watched 921 seniors walk across the stage to receive a diploma. Some had special honors of various kinds shown as additons to their maroon robes and with symbols next to their name in the booklet given to those attending. We heard great cheers for some, polite applause for others and respectful silence for still more. I'd like to think it was respectful silence rather than no one being there for the student. Perhaps it was some of both.

The audience was made up of families and friends of the graduates--a diverse groupin bothf race and national heritage. Even so, they all had one thing in common--pride in their graduate along with the joy that comes with this educational accomplishment. The students and audience members also came from different economic circumstances but were united in love for a child wearing the marron cap and gown of Lewisville High School on this special night. There had to be diversity in the political parties these audience members follow, too. On this night, nothing mattered except the fact that we were all there to celebrate a true occasion, to support a young student and to launch them into the next part of their life.

I had several flashbacks of things Alexis has said and done in the 18 years we have had the pleasure of having her in our lives. At the big  family party on Saturday, many stories were told about her baby years, toddler times and school days. With each story I heard, I realized how very much this young woman is loved. And so shall it be when our other three grandchildren reach graduation day. Every family in the audience of a few thousand probably had flashbacks of their student, too. Thousands of family stories which I hope will someday get recorded in a Family Memories book. Maybe not all of them will do it, but let's hope many do so.

Tomorrow, we'll get back to tips and encouragement for writers which is the aim of this blog, that and to share some of my world with you.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Who Is Your Family Story Writèr?

We're in Dallas for our oldest grandadaughter's graduation from high school. We drove down on Friday and have been having a good family time.  Relatives from both sides of Alexis's family have gathered to launch her from one phase of her life to the next.

There have been countless family stories told these past few days. Every time another is told, I  wonder who is going to write the story so it won't be lost. Who will be the one to make sure the stories about family members now and from the past don't  get lost?

Most people think someone else should  do it! Sure, it's a lot easier to pass the job on to someone else. Give some thought to taking on the job yourself, especially if you happen  to be a writer. If so, your family will most likely expect it of you so you might as well accept the  job.

In my family, I'm the one and I expect that  in  years to come, it will be Alexis will be the family story writer since she is planning to pursue a career in writing. She'll major in Journalism and English with an emphasis on Creative Writing at Southern Methodis   University in Dallas. She's the obvious selection , isn't she? I have no doubt that she'll carry   on  what I've  begun.

She's going to be a busy young woman these next few years,  I'd better keep the title of Family Story Writer for awhile longer.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Four Points For A Writer To Ponder

The poster above can be good advice for life in general or can be narrowed down to a specific portion of your life. Namely, your writing life. Give these four points some thought today.

Stronger: If you're a committed writer, you'll have a lot of glitches along the way. It's all part of the journey. Hopefully, you do become stronger as you meet obstacles of one kind of another. Gaining confidence in your work will result in being a stronger writer and person. It doesn't happen overnight. It's a work in progress for a very long time.

Smarter:  Of course, we hope to become a little smarter and not repeat our errors. We all make mistakes but we strive to not make the same mistake more than once. If you send in a submission without looking at the writer guidelines, your sub is probably going straight into oblivion. You don't want to do that again.

Happier:  Overcoming the sadness--mainly rejection of your work or inability to get that first published clip--is a must. You can wallow in self-pity for just so long. Hey, we're all entitled to a little of it but we need to move on. It puts a pin prick in your balloon of self-confidence if we let it take hold of us.

Wiser:  Are we wiser because of the things we learn in our writing world? I sure hope so because we spend a whole lot of time writing and dealing with all the things that area a part of that writing life.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Some Light Shed On A Writing Technique

A facebook writers group member shared an article today that appeared on a blog back in 2013. The title intrigued me so I took a look at it and was blown away by the premise the blogger, who runs a Canadian editorial service, gave us. The article title is "Why Show, Don't Tell Is the Big Myth of Fiction Writing." My first reaction was Whoa! This goes against everything we hear at writers' conferences, in books on the craft of writing and in critique groups.

The title pulls the reader in, but it's the article itself that is important. Arlene Prunkl, the author, isn't suggesting that 'showing' is not important and that 'telling' is the preferred method of writing a story. Not at all. She gives many examples that illustrate how showing adds drama and interest and how telling can sometimes, to quote her, be "flat and dull."

What I derived from this lengthy, but worthwhile article, is that the fiction writer can use both techniques but balance is the key. Too much of either telling or showing doesn't work. The trick for writers is to learn how to find that balance and use it. The article uses fiction as the basis for the article but I think it works for creative nonfiction, as well, since that genre uses fiction techniques while giving the reader a true story.

How many times have you read that you must show rather than tell your story? So many that you begin to feel that telling a story is akin to breaking a federal law! Don't worry--you aren't breaking any laws if you choose to tell a story from beginning to end. I plead guilty to being among those who have urged you to use more showing than telling. I'm a bit miffed with myself that I didn't come up with the idea that the two can worktogether if you balance the amount. Usually, I am a person who chooses the middle ground on most things, so I'm wondering why I leaned so far to the show the story side. I still think that writing a story with a good share of showing is going to create a more interesting read.

I think I will backtrack a bit, however, and grant that using telling as a technique in a story is alright, as long as it isn't overused.

It would be well worth your time to click on this link and read the full article. I flet like it was today's Aha! moment for me. Maybe it could be for you, too.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pictures To Stimulate Creativity

Vintage Telephone Stock Photo

Today, I have a writing exercise for you to do. Using any one of these three picture prompts, write a paragraph or several paragraphs, or an entire story.

Use past experiences or your imagination
Experiment with form. Try one that is whimsical, another that might be horror or mystery, and still another one as a romance. Make it a memoir or fiction.

Lab Equipment Stock ImageDon't glance at the three pictures and then claim to have no ideas. Study the picture. Look at details. What are you thinking about? Who does the picture bring to mind? Maybe you'll write a character study rather than a short story or memoir piece.

Fabric and Sewing pictures

An exercise like this is meant to stimulate your creativity. If you're having trouble finding an idea for one of the pictures, try the What if...? game. Ask yourself several What if...? questions about the picture that appeals most to you. Then start writing. If you care to share, we'd be delighted to read what you come up with.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Literary Contests--For Kansans and Writers In Other States

Here we are in a brand new month. The shine has not left June as this is only its second day. When I was growing up, June meant the end of school was near. We usually got out sometime in the second week of that month. Later, June meant graduation and still later, my wedding. It also meant summer had arrived. The pools were open, ice cream shops did lots more business that usual and it was watermelon time.

In my writing life, June brings a deadline for our state authors club literary contest. It's June 15th this year. Open to both  members and non-members of the Kansas Authors Club (a statewide organization), the contest gives opportunities to both poets and prose writers. Several categories are available in each section. 

Fees are $4 for members and $6 for non-members per entry. The theme category gives prizes of $100, $50 and $25 while the other categories award $25, $15 and $10 prizes plus Honorable Mentions. It's not a high cost entry fee. 

For the rules and guidelines, go to this page . Please note that the contest is for those who are Kansas residents whether they belong to the Kansas Authors Club or not, and also to any member of the Kansas Authors Club, no matter where they reside. 

The Theme category this year is "Salt of the Earth" with the reason being that the state convention will be held in Hutchinson, KS in October, 2014. Hutchinson is home of a renowned underground salt mine. I have not been able to come up with an entry that fits the theme, but I have two weeks left for a revelation to hit me. 

Many of my readers don't live in Kansas. Not to worry! Google your own state literary contest and see what you come up with. It's fun to write to a special theme and easy enough to go through your files to find unpublished work that might fit a particular category. Don't get discouraged about contests. Somebody has to win and it might as well be you. Don't enter? Can't win! 

I wrote a blog post a little over 2 years ago that addressed writing contests. Might be worth a read to give you the inspiration to enter one. Check it out here.

Whatever contest you enter, remember to follow the Guidelines to the letter!