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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Stretch Your Writng Muscles

Today, I have a picture prompt for you. Quite often, when we do this exercise, the picture is one of a place. That allows for description and creativity on the writer's part as to what might happen in that place.

This one is a bit different. I will tell you only that the picture was taken when we were in Germany a few weeks ago.

It's up to you to decide what the woman is doing. What is she thinking about as she works? Where is she going when she's finished? Who might she be waiting for. What is her name? Does she have a family? Or is she single?

An exercise like this is a good warm-up for whatever else you might be writing today. Stretch your writing muscles now.

Monday, September 29, 2014

When Family Stories Gain Importance

A friend of mine recently received a diagnosis of a very rare cancer. She has had one surgery and will meet with an oncologist to determine further treatment soon.  Yesterday morning, after church, I gave her a hug and we chatted for a few minutes. Near the end of our talking time, she  put her hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes. "Nancy," she said, "I am going to do something you have advised. So many times, I have heard you say we must write our family stories, and now I am going to do it. For my grandchildren." 

Of course, it pleased me that she is going to write the family stories but I am also saddened that it took a crisis to be the final trigger. I'm hoping for the best outcome with her treatment. I got to thinking later in the day that perhaps writing her family stories will be a review of her life and may reveal some things to her that might not have happened otherwise. A small side benefit perhaps. She's a determined, motivated woman so I think those family stories will definitely figure into her treatment time. I hope her project will help her through what may be difficult days ahead.

The reason I'm writing about my friend today is motivate more of you to get busy and write those family stories. Don't wait until there is a crisis in your family or in your own life. We're all human enough to have the best of intentions about getting started on a family story project but sometimes even those good intentions aren't enough for us to take that first step. 

Some people tell me there is so much to tell that they don't know where to begin. It might help to make a simple family tree. There are websites where you can download and print copies of multiple generation family trees for you to fill in. In fact, there are so many to choose from that I will just advise that you use a search engine with the keywords family tree template. Then you can choose the style you like and how far back you want it to go. 

Fill in the chart as best you can. Those of you who have old family bibles may find lots of the information on full names and birth dates, marriages etc in a front or back page. You may have to contact some older relatives to help fill in any gaps. I have far more information on one side of my famiy than the other. That's often the case. I also have limited information on my husband's family.

More than likely, images of the people and character traits and, yes, stories, will come to mind as you write in the names. Pick any one and write that story. Put it in a folder or notebook and try another family member. There may be multiple stories about your Great-uncle Oscar if he was a real character. That's alright. You don't need to give equal time to every person on that family tree. Write the stories as they come to you. Write about your childhood and the things that happened to you personally, as well as others in the family. It's all relevant, it's all important, it's all true treasure for your family.

In my friend's case, she will probably write about her childhood in another country, how she met an American who swept her off her feet, what it was like to come to live in another country and so much more. Her family will benefit form her stories set in two countries. 

There are times in our lives when family stories gain importance. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Finding Your Way To A Writing Method

When I read this quote attributed to Beatrix Potter, my first thought was that I wondered if she had the story of Peter Rabbit all planned out or did she just begin writing and let the story grow from those first 'delicious' words?

Her story begins with:

Once upon a time, there were four little Rabbits and their names were--Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter. 

Can you picture Ms. Potter, pen in hand, at her desk writing these words. Did the first words of the story fill her with delight? They might have done so just because getting that opening line proves a real accomplishment. The story is often in our head but how to begin? That is something we do and redo and redo multiple times before we are satisfied with the first words.

Every writer knows that to hook the reader immediately is of great importance. We know that but we don't always do it. How many times have you read a story that has so much introductory material that you want to say out loud  Get on with it! 

The Peter Rabbit book continues with:

They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.

In the first two sentences, we've learned some character names and we've been given the setting. Did she set up a possiblity for readers to wonder what living in a place like that would be like? Possibly. Was it a big action scene to begin the story? Not by a longshot.

Next, Ms. Potter wrote:

'Now,my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, 'you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden.'

Oh-oh. We already sense possible trouble ahead for the four little bunnies. The author has us now. We want to find out if the little rabbits all obey their Mama or if they get into trouble.

Did Beatrix Potter know what the trouble would be when she started writing this beloved classic tale of disobedience and a lesson learned? Or did she start writing and let the story take her along with it?

It happens both ways. Some writers are so organized that they have outlines, story boards, character lists with traits and background story for each character and more. Others prefer to wing it. They have a glimmer of an idea, begin to write and go with wherever those early words lead. The latter way is more creative while the first method is definitely more of a sure thing, and perhaps leads to fewer rewrites.

Many writers use both approaches. They go with whatever works best for that particular story or personal essay or full-length novel. Some of these writers write books on the craft of writing and they'll elaborate on the method they use when they write. It's good to read these books. I've always been a proponent of doing so. BUT, don't think that you absolutely must adhere to the way a celebrated author like John Grisham, Stephen King or Sue Grafton writes.

The longer you write, the more methods you use, the better you'll become at finding the way that works best for YOU. Just as no two people are alike, writers are all different. They find various plans for their own writing style. An approach you take isn't necessarily wrong, it's different from many others. If it works for you, go with it.

Beatrix Potter's quote started my thoughts on this post and as I wrote, I let the topic move on into other things as well. It works for me. If that is the way you write, too, it's fine. If you say you could never write that way, that's perfectly alright, too. Don't try to copy other writers. Be true to yourself and do it your way.  

Beatrix Potter (1866-1943)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Time Trap For Writers

Today's post is a repeat of one that I did as a Guest Blogger, one that I thought worth repeating because the subject is of great importance for me and, I hope, for you.

Time trap: 5 ways writers can minimize essential writing tasks

Writers are urged to write often, to write voraciously, to write, write, write. Even so, to win the prize — publication — there are myriad things you must do besides putting words on your computer screen.

Non-writing tasks such as reading about writing techniques or joining critique groups are beneficial, even essential. But if you're not careful, those non-writing tasks become traps. You can become caught in a spider web of good intentions that eat into writing time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Here Kitty, Kitty

Publishing Syndicate has published it's ninth book in the Not Your Mother's Book ... series. I'm happy to say that my story titled Top Dog is included in this anthology of 62 stories. The release date is October 7, 2014 but you can pre-order at Amazon for less than the retail price.

Similar to other anthologies in format, this series uses photos sent by the authors, usually at the end of the story. Here's the one that accompanies my story, although the editors cropped the Christmas gifts out of the photo, leaving Ming, the cat in all his glory.

The book is divided into sections. The section titles are:

1. Love and Hisses
2. Where the Wild Cats Are
3. What's New Pussycat?
4 The Games Felines Play
5. The Joy of Cats
6. Pussies Galore!
7. Cat-astrophe!
8. The Stray-Cat Strut

My story appears in the second section--Where the Wild Cats Are. This series of anthology books is similar to others but allows the authors to be a bit irreverent at times, pushes the humor and sometimes allows a slightly risque bit. Not to worry, it's not R rated at all. The books strives to be a fun read.

This one would be a perfect gift for anyone who loves cats. Holiday giving is not that far away. Think how easy it would be to order one for every cat lover on your list. Or for yourself if you're the one who craves being around cats. I must confess that I prefer dogs to cats but Ming worked his way into my heart. I still have a special spot there for him. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Let's Go To Class Together

I've got an invitation for you today. How about taking a class with me? Just because we live hundreds, maybe thousands of miles apart, we can still do that. We could listen to the same instructors, do the assignments, enter into discussions--all of that.

Am I calling in the Writing Fairy again? Nope. But there is a way we can all participate in the same class. A writer friend sent an announcement to the members of my online writing critique group that offered the opportunity. I read through the info and decided I had nothing to lose by taking the class and perhaps much to gain.

It's done on my own time. It's free. It's sponsored by a well-known writing program. The name of this particular class is How Writers Write Fiction  and it's hosted by The University of Iowa's Virtual Writing University. The program is called MOOCS--or Massive Open Online Courses. All you need is your computer and a desire to learn.

It's free because of grant money the university receives. The course on fiction writing runs September 26-November 21. The beauty of it is that you check in online at your convenience. There are seven sessions, one each week of the course. You will have opportunities for discussion, some writing assignments that you can then share if you so choose. There are several instructors, not just one.

Perhaps you'd like to read more about this course so you can decide if you would like to join me this fall in the online classroom. Consider this. You can go to class in your jammies if you like. You can go any time of the day or night. You can do as much or as little as you want to.

One caveat--you must register to become a member of the site and to join the class. It's not a big deal, costs nothing but a few minutes of your time. I don't know why but many people shy away from any website where they must register. Even those, like this one, that promise to keep your information private. Here they don't even require a last name. I hope you can read this page that tells more about the course than I've written here. It's possible that you may have to register to do so, but I'm not sure of that. Try the link and see.

I'd like to strengthen my fiction writing, so I'm going to try this course. If I like it, I'll probably try more. Looks like they run one each quarter of the year. So how about it? Would you like to go to class with me?

Monday, September 22, 2014

What If You Had Three Wishes?

I got to thinking today about what I'd say if a fairy swooped down from the sky, slipped under my front door and told me she'd grant me three wishes in my writing life. Wouldn't that be great? I'd be so excited I'd most likely blubber a bit before I could even speak to her.

But then I started to ponder on what three wishes I'd make. Didn't want to do it too quickly and ask for something silly. Uh-uh! I needed to think on this one. So I thought through the afternoon while I ran to the grocery store, watched some football, made dinner and answered many emails that stacked up while we were gone last week.

Here's what I came up with for my Three Wishes For My Writing Life:

1.  I wish that the one novel I've written (a juvenile historical one) would be published someday

2.  I wish that I can become a stronger fiction writer

3.  I wish that each of my blog readers would share my posts with 10 of their writer friends each day

OK, now it's your turn. If a Writing Fairy slipped into your house and granted you three wishes in your writing life, what would you ask her for? Remember that old piece of advice about being careful what you wish for. Take a bit of time and then make your three wishes. If you're willing, share them with me and my readers.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Will The Sun Come Up Tomorrow?

Last night, our Kansas State football team played a rare game on a Thursday evening which was shown on national TV. They faced a powerhouse Auburn team, ranked #5 in the nation while we are #20. It was a big, big, big game for us.

The stadium was full to capacity and then some, with over 53,000 fans that added deafening noise, cheers and a few jeers as well. The weather for the 6:30 game was near perfect. The teams both came out to play. The fans were ready, too. Our team held Auburn to 20 points, which is below what they usually score, but the K-State guys made a few costly mistakes that cost them the game. They ended up losing by 6 points.

Yes, the sun came up again this morning but I doubt the players cared much about that. Their thoughts are on the next game. Last night's game is history, it's time for them to move on. And they will. I know that as sure as I know that I'll write a new blog post next Monday. When practice time rolls around, coaches and players will work on those mistakes that cost the game. They'll watch film over and over until they're satisfied that there is no more benefit in doing so. The team will be ready to take on UTEP on the 27th. The fans will be back in the stadium cheering them on, too.

So, how does all this relate to your writing life? Think about it. You work hard to write a short story or an essay or a chapter of a novel. You give it your all, but perhaps you make a few costly errors in the writing. Things that an editor will spot immediately. Maybe the editor likes the general premise of what you submitted but finds that those little errors in the writing are too prevalent. Few editors today are going to help you rewrite a piece. They want you to send work that is publish-ready.

When your work is not accepted, you need to do what those football players and coaches will do this week. Go back and find the mistakes, make corrections. Write stronger, perhaps with more emotion. It all depends on what might have gone wrong with what you had written.

After any rejection you receive, the same thing happens for you. The sun will come up no matter what. Learn from your loss just as the football team should do. If you've made mistakes, your goal is not to make them again.

Last night, every K-State fan hoped for a stunning win over a great opponent. You hope for your work to be published with every submission you make. Sometimes it happens and, many times, it does not. When that occurs, move on. Don't beat yourself up over what feels like failure. Every writer knows that rejection is part of the writing world. We all just happen to hate when it is us who receives the rejection.

Yep, the sun will come up tomorrow no matter what today brings us.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Deadlines and Achievement

One more repeat post, one that was very popular when it first ran. 

Years ago, I told my five-year-old son he could not go to kindergarten until he learned to tie his shoes. "The teacher is too busy to do it for every boy and girl," I added for emphasis. For weeks, he struggled, gave up, and tried again and again. The day before school started, he achieved his goal. What happiness radiated from that little face when he demonstrated his new ability to me.

This little episode illustrates two universal truths. We push ourselves harder when there is a deadline and achievement is all the sweeter when we can share our success with others.

In our writers world, don't we tend to work better when there is a specified deadline? Of course we do. We think and think about writing a story or article but life tends to get in our way. We make vague promises to ourselves thinking things like Tomorrow, I'll get to it. Tomorrow arrives, the phone rings and we're off to another meeting, pick up a sick child (or grandchild) at school or....
But if a story must be sent to an editor by Thursday, we'll create time and get the job done.

That deadline looms over us, so we move it to the top of our To-Do list. The machine can answer the phone. Pizza places deliver night and day, so the family will be fed. Few of us like to dust or vacuum anyway, so that's not a problem. The library committee meeting can go on without us this time and a niece will appreciate a check for her birthday as much as a gift. We need to block out everything but the writing project. We don't want to face failure or the humiliation of telling the editor the piece is not ready.

Achievement is accomplished by setting priorities and being firm in keeping them. Get your ducks in a row might be a good illustration. If we're wishy-washy, our goals float farther and farther away.

When we receive good news from an editor, we've achieved a goal. We'd love to share the good news with someone--usually someone who means something to us. Like my son, we radiate joy when sharing news of an acceptance from a publisher. Satisfaction settles over us like a warm comforter. That, however, is not the end. Success only inspires us to continue writing and submitting. If you receive eleven rejections and one acceptance, which one do you think you'll remember longest?

That small son of mine is now a successful businessman. He learned all about achievement before he went to kindergarten Here's hoping you did, too. If not, it's never too late to learn.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Stringing Pearls

A repeat post with some story links

We do not remember days,
we remember moments

I read the quote above at the bottom of a Happy New Year greeting someone sent me this morning. It fit perfectly with the topic I'd selected for today's post. I wish that the person who wrote this quote had been named. Sadly, it is anonymous.

We do remember the special moments in our lives with a clarity that I find amazing. I've had special moments that have stayed with me for the many decades I've walked this earth, and it's been those moments that have created those memoir stories that seem to be perfect for many anthologies. 

Each one of those special moments is like a pearl, and as writers, we can string them together to create a memoir of our lives. The individual moments shine in our memory bank like the pearls on a necklace. They shine and step forth clearly so we can write about them. 

One of my favorite pearls is a story I wrote for a Chicken Soup Tea Lovers book. My grandmother and I had afternoon tea at the famous Walnut Room at Marshall Field's department store in Chicago when I was four years old. Only a young child, I still remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. Because the memory remained vividly in my mind, I found I could recreate the event well enough to have the story published. Read it here.

Another is a story about a valentine box my dad made for me during my second grade year. I remember it so well, I think, because a revelation hit me while Dad and I spent time together making the box. You can listen to or read the story here.

Yet a third special moment memory that produced a publishable story is about the first time I had surgery. I was four and staying in the hospital proved frightening until a beautiful and compassionate nurse eased the experience for me. She set me on a path of service to others for the rest of my life. Read it here.
When an event occurs in our life that has some importance in shaping our character or signifies love and family, the memory becomes more important than the mundane things in our days. The memories are stored until we pluck them out and add one more pearl to our life'sl necklace. All it takes is a little trigger to bring the memory forth. Once it's there, it's up to you to write the story. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

All On The Same Page

Another repeat post about a pleasant day with people who write because they want to, not because they are trying to make a living with words. The 'friend' referred to in this post has passed away. Her zest for life and her commitement to writing will remain with me forever.

Yesterday, I drove an hour east and south of my home to attend a writer's meeting with a group by the name of Cat Tales. A writer friend is the coordinator of the group, and she's invited me to attend many times, but they met on an afternoon when I have another commitment. This summer, the meeting time was changed to morning, so off I went after breakfast to visit the group.

I enjoyed my drive through the rolling Flint Hills along the interstate on a summer morning bathed in sunlight. I reached my exit and followed the mapquest directions. Found myself on a two-lane, no-shoulder country road for about seven miles. I didn't meet a car coming or going the entire way but did see farmhouses here and there, so I didn't feel like I'd left civilization. But almost! Finding the cafe where the group meets was no problem as the town is very, very small.

The first thing I noticed as I approached the entrance of the cafe was a bench with a large International Harvester logo on it. I had to smile when I noticed it, as my dad worked for that company his entire adult life. The first thing I heard as the door opened for me magically (I didn't see the man standing behind it who had graciously opened it for me) was noise. Lots of it!

This had to be the town meeting spot, and a joyous place it was. The cafe was one very large room, and I found the Cat Tales group seated around a large round table in a corner. My friend greeted me and said to bring up a chair. Everyone around the table scooted closer to one another, as I joined them. Eleven women and one man all introduced themselves to me. Those who had brought something to read did so, moving around the table with comments from the group when finished.

The group was made up of mostly senior citizens. I gathered that a few have been published, but probably more have not. Many write for their own pleasure. One woman told about pursuing writing as a way of healing after a long, abusive marriage. But one thing stood out amongst the people who sat around the table.

They share a bond in that they are people who write. They are people who like to write and who have done what many others have not--they've pursued their desire to write. And they have come together as a group to share their writing, to talk about writing experiences, and to encourage one another. I don't think their intent is  to become another Danielle Steele or Stephen King but to put their thoughts on paper for self-satisfaction, to leave for family members and sometimes in hopes of publication. They are hobbyists, not freelancers working to put food on the table. They call writing fun, not work.

 They won't spend their senior years rocking on the porch, hands in lap. No, they will be using hands and mind to write myriad stories, poems and memoirs. They're all on the same page in this writing world.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Wannabe Writer's Son

A repeat post while I'm away from home.

Every writer was once a wannabe writer singing that song over and over. I wannabe a writer, oh Lordy, how I wannabe a writer! It's pretty easy to want that status but actually going after it is a different story.

I wanted to be a writer for the vast majority of my life, but I did little to make it happen. I gave myself one excuse after another. They were all pretty valid reasons--at least, I thought they were. Working while attending college left precious little time to pursue my desire. Next came marriage, still teaching and running a household for two. Still wanted to write but....  In a few years, I had quit teaching but was a stay at home mom to two children and helping my husband in his career by handling the social end of things connected to his job. Even so, I did take time to do other things I enjoyed. I played Bridge, read a lot, quilted baby quilts for a hospital gift shop, was a hospital volunteer. But I didn't try writing. I still thought about it but something held me back. It wasn't until we landed in a new community as empty nesters and where it was hard to make friends that I finally pursued my longtime desire.

Guess what? I wish with all my heart that I'd done so years and years sooner. But that's beyond happening so no use fretting now.

If you're a wannabe writer, don't give yourself a string of excuses like I did. Part of the reason we do that is fear. What if I am a terrible writer? I can almost guarantee that you will not be an award winning writer right from the git-go. It's a rare person who can achieve such a status. You won't become a good writer until you spend endless amounts of time writing. Almost every writer I know cringes a bit when he/she looks back at their early efforts. New writers generally commit all the no-no things possible. They overwrite, they are redundant, they forget the sensory details, they tell too much, they forget the use of dialogue--all kinds of things that they correct little by little as their writing life progresses.

I like the end of the quote above It's that easy, and that hard. I've found that most worthwhile things don't come easy. You have to work at it and maybe you need to work at it for a very long time. The important thing is that you must start. Yep, sit yourself down at the keyboard and put one word after another until you find a stopping place. Not gonna be a masterpiece, but it will be something you wrote. Progress! You don't need to show it to anyone unless you want to. You don't need to ask for a critique unless you want to grow as a writer. You don't need to do it again unless you really mean the words of the wannabe writer song.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Authors Don't Always Write Good Books Every Tim

We're traveling again so I'm repeating some popular posts for a few days.

I read a wonderful book recently,which shall remain nameless for reasons apparent farther into this post.

It was a real page turner and so well written that it grabbed me in the opening pages and held on until I closed the book after finishing it.

I decided I'd like to read something else by the same author, so I looked up her credits and found that the boryyok I'd just read was her second published novel. I checked out her first book at our library and was eager to read it.

What a disappointment it was. It was a historical novel, like the other book, but set in an earlier time. It had all the elements of what should have been a good novel. There was a little romance, a mystery, a ghost, descriptive passages, an interesting setting. But I had to littering slog through it. There was an abundance of unnecessary material, and I got frustrated waiting for something important to the tale to happen. I kept plugging away at it thinking it was going to get better. It didn't. Finally, after going two-thirds of the way through the book, I flipped to the final chapter to see what happened to the characters. It was then that it hit me that I didn't really like any of these people, could not relate to any of them. The whole dreary thing disappointed me.

It made me wonder why an author cannot write a winning story every time. Maybe it's like a race horse who cannot win the race every time they fly out of the starting gate. And maybe we shouldn't expect an author to write the same kind of story (an interesting one) every time. The ones who stay in our minds and who make lots of money writing have the ability to do that. Maybe we shouldn't expect it of every author.

I don't write novels,, but I do know that some of my essays and inspirational creative nonfiction is better than others. It would be wonderful to have a winner every time, but that might happen only in a perfect world.

I reminded myself that even though this author had written one excellent book and one not so hot, she did get two novels published which is more than a good many writers can claim.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Saddest Birthday On A Day We Must Never Forget

The Saddest Birthday

Today we recognize and remember the tragedy of 9-11. I'm posting a story I wrote some time ago. I ran the same story one year ago today. It still seems appropriate to do it again this year. Take a moment or two out of your busy life to honor those who lost family members and friends that day. 

Birthdays are special in our family, celebrated and recognized all the waking hours of the specific day. Not only a cake and gaily wrapped gifts mark the occasion. Extra smiles and hugs come the way of the birthday person, as well. Treasured memories of other birthdays seem to pop up during dinner table conversation. Daily chores might be cancelled for the honoree. In short, the birthday person reigns as the star of the day.

But in recent years, my husband’s birthday has been clouded over with a sense of sadness and grief. His special day happens to be September 11th. Never again will we celebrate without remembering that ill-fated day in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. 

That morning I’d greeted the birthday boy with a kiss and a hug and presented him with a card and gift. He smiled broadly as he fingered the purple and white shirt with the Kansas State logo gracing it’s front, and I knew thoughts of wearing it to Saturday’s football game ran through his head.

After the gift-giving, we settled into our usual routine. Since Ken had retired, we spent our early mornings reading the newspaper from front to back and keeping an occasional eye on the Today show on TV. We both looked up from the newspaper at the urgent sound in the broadcaster’s voice as she narrated film showing a plane flying into a skyscraper in New York City. In less time than it takes to sneeze, the tragedy repeated itself. And we knew immediately that it was no accident.

The remainder of the day found us tuned into further reports of the devastating occurrences which are seared into the memories and hearts of all American citizens. I never made the cake I’d planned on. The birthday greeting calls our children made to their dad were not filled with good wishes and teasing remarks. Instead, these adult children of ours were as overwhelmed with the day’s happenings as we were.

Late in the day, we received word that a baby boy had been born to one of our daughter’s childhood friends. Shadows of grief surrounded the joy we felt for Jen and James and their new son. As evening fell, it occurred to me that the birth of this baby and all the other babies born on this day might be taken as a sign from God that no matter what had happened, life would go on. These new lives became seeds of hope sown in sadness.

The American people banded together on that tragic September 11th. They picked up the shards of their lives and soldiered on. Hearts shattered, but prayerful resolve pieced them together again.

This year we celebrate another birthday for my husband on September 11th. We’re back to those special celebrations once again. I’ve been mulling over cake possibilities and worrying about what to give him to commemorate the day. Even so, we’ll take time to remember the saddest birthday he ever experienced and to honor those who’ll not have an earthly birthday anymore.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Book By Dorothy Love That I Recommend

17456100I was drawn to this book at our local library for two reasons. One is that I enjoy historical novels, especially those set in the Civil War era. The other reason the book captured my attention when I spied it on the New Book shelf is that the author, Dorothy Love, is part of my facebook life. I see her now and then through other writers pages. You can learn more about her and the novels she's written at her website.

Carolina Gold is set in the post Civil War period in the low country of South Carolina. Charlotte Fraser returns to Fairhaven, her family's rice plantation, to find it in ruins. Her father has died so she is left to restore the plantation but it's a huge job without the 600 slaves that had maintained the life led before the war. Charlotte is determined as she sets about hiring a few men to plant one of her rice fields. She renews friendships with old neighbors, meets some new ones. Nicholas Betancourt, widower and father of two young girls, has moved onto the plantation nearest Charlotte. Their lives become intertwined when she is cajoled into teaching his two daughters. Charlotte agrees only because she is desperate for additional money.

We watch Charlotte struggle. We see her passion for her old home and her determination. We are not surprised when she and Nicholas form more than a casual acquaintance. Property rights, secrets, a yellow fever crisis and more come into play.I'm not going to reveal any more of the story.  The book held my attention to the end. There is a cast of varied and interesting characters and I learned some things about growing rice that I didn't know. I learnedmore than I'd known about the difficulty of the Reconstruction period in the South. I learned how unusual teaching methods were viewed in the nineteenth century.

Reading a book like this is also a painless way to learn some history. It's obvious that the author has done her research and the reader benefits from that. An actual woman who lived in this period and was a rice planter inspired the author to write the novel.

It took a little while to get into the story but, once I did, it moved at a rapid pace. I found myself looking forward to continuing to read during whatever free time I could manage. I liked the book well enough to look for others written by Dorothy Love and to recommend it to others. In a nutshell, Carolina Gold proved to be an entertaining read.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Use Memory Triggers To Write Family Stories

Last evening, I gave a program for a womens group at our church. "Remembering Our Grandparents" was the title I selected. Since Grandparents Day was Sunday, I thought it might be nice to honor and remember our grandparents.

My aim was to trigger some memories for the women who attended in hopes that they might start writing some of the family stories about their grandparents.

I read two of my stories about my grandparents and one about my dad as a grandparent. In-between the stories, I asked people in the audience to tell us a short anecdote or memory they had of a grandparent. What interesting stories we heard! At the end of the program, I challenged them to go home and write the stories they'd told this evening so that their own children and grandchildren would have them forever.

Many of the storytellers, and the stories I read, triggered memories for others. I have a feeling some of the ladies will go home and think about many other things that happened when they visited a grandparent or the grandmother came to see them or when Grandpa took them to town for ice cream.

Here are are few questions that might trigger memories of your own grandparents. Be sure to include your grandparents in your Family Memories Book.

1. What did your grandmother/grandfather look like?

2. Did any of your grandparents speak another language?

3.  Did your grandparents live near your family or far away?

4.  Were your grandparents a part of your life or did you see them only occasionally?

5.  Did your grandparents let you get away with more than your parents did, or were they strict?

6.  Did your grandparents have a sense of humor?

7.  What was the worst thing you ever did at your grandparents' home?

8.  What did your grandmother/grandfather cook that you especially loved?

9.. Did your grandparents take you to church?

10. Did your grandparents come to see you perform in sports or drama or musical events?

11. Did your grandmother/grandfather ever punish your?

12. Did you learn any life lessons from your grandparents?

Monday, September 8, 2014

One Day Past Grandparents Day

Ken adn I and our four grandchildren a few years ago

Yesterday was Grandparents Day. In 1973, West Virginian Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade started this day to recognize grandparents. It was a grassroots movement, never made official by our federal government. She and her husband had 15 children,43 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild. Seems rather obvious why she felt it important to honor grandparents.

Mrs. McQuade had three purposes for establishing this holiday that still hasn't received the national attention that Mother's Day and Father's Day have done:

   1.  To honor grandparents.2
   2.  To give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children's children
   3.  To help children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer.

This evening, I'm giving a program at the women's group at my church titled "Remembering Our Grandparents." I only knew 2 of my own grandparents. My father's parents passed away long before I was born. And the two I had were only part of my life for a very few years. Grandpa died when I was 9 and Grandma soon after my 12th birthday. Even so, I have vivid memories of both of them.  And I've written stories about them for my Family Memories Book. 

What about you? Did you have 4 grandparents? Or fewer? Or did you have grandparents and step-grandparents? Did they influence your life in any way? Mine certainly did, even in the handful of years I knew them. Grandma taught me life lessons that I still use today. One of the stories I'll read tonight is centered on what I learned at Grandma's bakery when I was very young. Obviously, I was impressionable as I remember so many things of the many hours spent in the back room of the bakery. 

The other story I'll read deals with the terminal illness my grandfather had, my grandmother's care for him at that time even though they'd been separated many years, and a short but memorable visit I had with both of them at that time. The visit brought on by a dying man's wish to see his granddaughter once more. 

Have you included stories about your own grandparents in your Family Memories Book? If you haven't, it's time to start thinking about doing so. What fun it would be for your own grandchildren (or your children) to read about your grandparents and how they influenced your life. 

My grandmother, Elizabeth Doonan Studham

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Surprise For Me In A New Chicken Soup for the Soul Book

A few days ago, the UPS delivery truck pulled up in front of our house, the driver zipped up to the front porch and dropped a box of books. Inside were ten copies of the newest Chicken Soup book that has one of my stories in it. I had Ken take a picture of me holding the book, a bit blurry but it's me and the book--my 15th story in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book.

The book is titled Reboot Your Life and my story is "Forgiveness and Freedom" which is in a section called Adjust Your Attitude. I'm delighted to have the story published but it got there in a roundabout way.

I had a vivid dream one night about my father, who had died many years earlier. In the dream, Dad said something to me that struck a nerve. I couldn't forget about it for days. When I finally faced the situation and made a decision, I did have a new way of looking at some long-festering feelings. And I knew that my life would be better for it.

Later, I wrote the story and submitted it for consideration in a Chicken Soup book on Forgiveness. The story would be perfect for this particular book. Or so I thought. Silly me! Imagine my surprise when I received a notice that my story had made the final cut in the Reboot Your Life book. What?

Apparently, someone read my story when they were reading for the Forgiveness book and decided it would work well in the other book. So, the story jumped the book lines and landed in one I'd never considered submitting to.

Several years ago, Chicken Soup selected one of my stories for their Christmas stories book. It wasn't one I'd submitted for the book that year. Instead, it was one I'd submitted 2 or more years earlier. They had kept it in their files and ended up using it. You can imagine my surprise when that happened.

These experiences show that Chicken Soup editors will put a story where they think it fits best and they will look back for earlier stories to use much later. I think it's part of what makes this anthology publisher so successful. They work hard to make sure the stories fit the book. It also gives hope to writers to know that, even if their story did not make it right away, it could pop up later. Believe me, when that happens, it's a delightful surprise. I'm guessing it doesn't happen frequently, but it does happen.

Reboot Your Life is to be released September 16th. The retail price in most bookstores is $14.95. You can pre-order on Amazon for a discounted price on the paperback and another special price to purchase it for your Kindle reader. Check it out here. Holiday gift giving season is closer than you think. Need I say more?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

An Entertaining How To Write Book

I picked up a book at the library a couple weeks ago that looked like something a bit different from the usual reference book on the writing craft. Writing With The Master by Tony Vanderwarker turned out to be amusing and both discouraging and encouraging, also to have a few gold nuggets in how one goes about writing a novel.

We follow Vanderwarker's journey as he writes a suspense novel with the help of author, John Grisham. They live near one another and had a friendship going before Mr. Grisham offered to be a mentor to help Tony write his book. Tony, a one-time ad writer, had already written several novels but none had been published. Self-publishing does not ever come into play with him, he wants to do it the way other famed authors have--through a publishing house via an agent.

Who wouldn't be excited if John Grisham offered to serve as a mentor? If it happened to be me, I'd give very serious thought to the offer before accepting. Acceptance means a hard road ahead, which is exactly what Tony found. Every time he thinks he's come up with a masterpiece of an outline that John will love, he's shot down by the myriad criticisms from his mentor. Again and again, Tony rewrites the outline. How can he give up and disappoint his mentor?

We watch as he follows one frustrating path after another, as he interacts with his wife about his writing, and also another important part of his life as a volunteer for the Piedmont Environmental Council, an environmental agency. Any writer will wince at the thought that Tony writes seven outlines for his book, receives critiques from author Grisham that send him back to the drawing board over and over. Despite the harsh critiques he receives, the two remain friends.

I'm not going to spoil the conclusion of the book for you, but any writer contemplating writing a novel would do well to read this book. It's entertaining, filled with humorous self-jabs, but honest in what it takes to become a published novelist. Like many other reader/reviewers, I didn't find enough about John Grisham in the book to satisfy my curiousity about him. But yes, I did get a picture of how hard the man works to turn out one bestseller after another. At this point, he doesn't need the money so he's got to do it for the love of birthing a book from conception to delivery.

There are little tips from Grisham throughout the text, things Tony derives from their lunchtime conversations and the notes scribbled by the author on Tony's outlines. I would have liked to see a compiled list of all of these tips somewhere in the final pages of the book but there wasn't one. If you read the book, I'd suggest keeping a pad and pencil handy so you can jot down a tip when you read it.

Is this book going to help you write a novel? I doubt it but it will help you decide if you want to give it a try or not. It will help you determine if you have the drive, the passion, the stamina it takes. I found Writing With The Master to be an entertaining read. Check out further info at Amazon.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Our School Nurse

When I was in grade school, which in our communtiy meant kindergarten through eighth grade, we had a School Nurse named Miss Wein. It was during the 1940's and early '50's that Miss Wein occupied a place in my life. She wore a tailored navy blue dress with white collar every day and sensible black oxfords on her feet. Her hair was swept up and twisted into a knot behind her head pulling her features tight. No make-up. A no-nonsense appearance for sure.

I believe she had taken an oath to never smile at a student. Her mouth was always set in a firm line, never allowing the corners to turn up a bit nor was there ever a twinkle in her eye. Oh no. This woman was all business. Yet, her hands were gentle as they swabbed my scraped knee with the green liquid soap she kept nearby for frequent use. After the grit of the playground was wiped away, Miss Wein dabbed the raw area with mercurochrome while I winced in supposed agony. Actually, it only stung for a few seconds. The memory is clear as I was often in her office to have a scrape attended to. I must have been a clumsy little girl! 

Once or twice a year, our entire class entered Miss Wein's domain for an eerie event. We stood in line and, one by one, we were taken into the tiny bathroom that adjoined her office. The room was completely dark. We sat on a chair while Miss Wein examined our scalp with an ultra-violet light for lice and ringworm and who knows what else.  I breathed a sigh of relief each time I passed what felt like a test. 

We also lined up for height and weight checks and to have our backs checked for scoliosis. Miss Wein did the height and weight but a doctor performed the scoliosis check. I passed that one for many years, too. Miss Wein checked our eyes each year, too, but she muffed that one with me. In the fifth grade, I passed her eye test but could not see the chalkboard. My mother took me to an eye doctor who determined that I was extremely nearsighted. 

I had friends who spent a little time on the cot in Miss Wein's office when they felt too ill to stay in class. She popped a thermometer in their mouth. The resulting number let her know if the child's mother was to be called or not. 

Whenever I passed the School Nurse's office door, the odor of the green soap and the mercurochrome drifted into the hall and tickled my nose. Now, I wonder if it really did or was I remembering it from the many times I visited Miss Wein to have my scraped knee attended to. I also wonder if she smiled once she left the school each day. And what did she wear at home? 

Search through your memory bank for a School Nurse. Did you have one at your grade or high school? Did you ever have the need to visit her? Do you remember what she was like? Write about it for your Family Memories book. 

Think about other people in your school days besides your teachers. Maybe the custodian was a special person in your school. Or the principal's secretary. Did you have a lunchroom? Maybe there was a memorable person who worked there. Write about them. 

I once wrote a poem about a little boy who visited a school nurse, relying solely on my own experiences to do so. So, how about you? Who from your school days of long ago will you write about? 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Use A New Approach

Most popular tags for this image include: eyes

This little poster should serve to make you sit up and pay attention. There's something about looking into another's eyes, or maybe 'eye' in this case, that commands your presence. The reason I selected it today is that time and again, I see a call for submissions asking for an original look at at an already covered subject.

Editors receive so many submissions that make them heave a huge sigh and think This has been done over and over. Give me something fresh. How many times do we read a book review in which the reviewer tells us that the story is well-done but predictable? 

What a successful writer does to combat either of the above situations is to use an original approach, to write with fresh eyes like the poster advises us. Sounds so easy, doesn't it? Sad to say, it's far more difficult than most people realize. Especially readers. They're the ones wanting that more original slant but it's the writers who must come up with an entirely new approach.

Children's magazine editors often put out a plea for stories on holidays like Halloween and Christmas that offer somethng new. If it's been done before, they don't want it. New writers, in particular, tend to copycat stories they liked themselves as children. No, they aren't plagarizing, but those older stories stayed with them and they write what they may think of as a different approach. In reality, they're right back to Susie and Nellie and the creaky door in Grandma's house. Or whatever story they happened to like a lot when they were kids themselves. 

We tell new writers to avoid writing phrases that are cliches. That goes for whole stories as well. If it's a tried and true subject but has a fresh approach, an editor is going to sit up and give it a second look. It's the same with essays and articles. Magazines don't want to keep printing stories or articles that all run in the same vein. Maybe a subject is very popular and you run across an article on it in several magazines. The one with a new approach is going to capture your attention and make you read to the end, isn't it? 

As writers, we want to avoid the same old, same old in what we submit for publication. That old story about the editor who told a reporter that Dog bites man is not newsworthy, but man bites dog definitely is puts it in a few but important words.

Another thing to avoid is to try to write in the same style as an author you admire. Don't do it. Develop your own style. Be an original. 

Write something new. Write an original approach to an old story. Write with fresh eyes. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

September Morning Thoughts

September In The Forest
September Morning

Isn't this a peaceful picture? It seemed perfect to greet a new month and the Labor Day holiday that we celebrate today. September brings changes in the weather, in our daily routine, and sometimes in our mood. 

August has come to a close, we've turned the page on our calendars, and our minds have turned to autumn, even though it doesn't officially begin for another 3 weeks. I like turning the page on the calendar every month. A whole month lies before me. Some of it is already scheduled as I check the little daily squares with notes I make to myself on the days I have appointments or social functions. But much of the month is unknown on day one. I have a sense of anticipation on the first day of each new month.

How about you? What are your thoughts on this Labor Day Monday, the very first day of September 2014? Did you look at your calendar and feel overwhelmed with what the month holds? Or did you look at it as one more new beginning? Could it be a time you start a fresh writing project? Will this be the month you write chapter one of a novel? Is September the month you'll finally start putting your family stories down in black and white instead of just telling them at family dinners?

I have a major project to begin this month. One that I've put off for a long time. The problem with putting things off is that the longer you procrastinate, the easier it is to keep it on the shelf. It becomes a habit to think about it, then shove it aside in lieu of other things. I've made up my mind that the project will begin in September even though it may not be finished this month. Once I begin, I know I'll keep working on this writing assignment I've given myself.

Thirty days hath September....and they're all yours. What will you choose to do with them?