Search This Blog

Friday, October 31, 2014

Classics Speak To Us

Last night, Ken and I had a wonderful evening attending a touring company performance of the Broadway hit of years ago Anything Goes. Music and lyrics were written by Cole Porter and the first production in 1934 starred Ethel Merman. Debuting in the middle of the Great Depression, this entertaining show helped give people a short reprise from the worries of the day.

It made me feel somewhat the same. For 2 1/2 hours, I didn't have to answer the phone to yet another politcal poll questioner nor did I think about Ebola, Jihadists and the midterm election coming up. I escaped into another world, if even for a short time. And what a world it was. The snappy singing and dancing, the corny but fun storyline, and the exquisite costumes held my attention and made me feel slightly disappointed when the finale finished. I could have happily watched more. The play has been brought back a number of times on Broadway and with professional touring companies such as we had here at Kansas State University. There have also been two movie versions. I think we can rank Anythnig Goes as a classic.

What about the books and stories we read that have some quality that allows them to remain with us long after we close the cover after reading the final page? What makes a classic? The simple answer is that they stand the test of time. These books or stories are as relevant today as when they were written. They have a universal theme; something that most people can relate to. I think we must add that they are also well-written.

We all have our own personal list of classic reads. They may or may not appear on a literary list. Instead, they're stories that have some relevance to your life or speak to you in some exceptional way. They're books we read more than once. When I see a movie for the second time, I always find something I missed on the initial viewing. Reading a book for a second or third time is the same.

Here are a few of my own personal classics, books that I consider special for me alone. Many would not be on a literary list of classic books, I'm sure, but they each spoke to me in some particular way. There are many others but my list would be far too long if I named all of them, so here are five.

1.  The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

2. Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather

3. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

5. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Think about some of your favorite books, make a list, and make time to read some of them again. I have a feeling you'll enjoy the read just as much, if not more, the second time around.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sometimes Close Does Count

Last night the Kansas City Royals came so close to winning the World Series.  I went to bed feeling  so disappointed for this team that had a magical run through the play-offs and the series itself. At 4 a.m., I was wide awake and started thinking about the game. One run in the bottom of the ninth would have tied the game and given them new hope. The adage, Close does not count came to mind but then I decided that sometimes close does count.

For the Royals, it counts as a terrific accomplishment for a young team. They had a goal and almost reached it. Once they get over the hurt of the final loss, they have a lot to look forward to. Their fan base is as solid as a rock and a fresh slate appears next season. No way are they going to give up.

Still wide awake, it occurred to me that writers  can also experience that Close does not count situation during the submission process of the stories, poems, and essays they write. Those who submit to the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies are encouraged when they receive a notice that their submission has reached the final cut selection round. They are asked to sign a permission release form and return it to the editor. Hopefully, the editor reads the entire letter they receive because it also states that a small percentage of these final round stories will end up being cut. And then begins the waiting time.

When the congratulations letter arrives, the writer has final confirmation that her/his story made it. Time to celebrate, time to tell other writer friends, time to do the happy dance. For those few who didn't make the cut, it's definitely a disappointment. Should they pout a bit and tell themselves Close does not count? I hope not.

Instead, I'd rather they took the attitude that they almost made it. Their story was good enough to get to the final round and a few thousand others did not. It's time to take an objective look at the story and see if anything stands out as to why it did not get selected. Next, send it to another publication.

This is only one situation where a writer comes close to having work accepted and published but doesn't quite make it. It also happens when an editor returns a story with a rejection but adds a small personal note. When those 'encouraging rejections' happen, you know you almost got there. It's not enough to make you do the happy dance but it should serve to spur you on to continue writing and submitting your work. To me, it's a sign that should make you practice that old patience and persistance. 

Sometimes Close does count!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

All That Other Stuff Writers Do

A writer's most important job is to write. That's a given. But there's a lot more to this writing business than the writing itself. There are other things to be considered and time made for them, as well. There will be writers who say they want to write, not to do all that other stuff. I like to have a clean house but there are lots of thngs I have to do to make that possible. It's all that other stuff that helps me reach my goal.

Here are some of the other things a writer should make time for:

1. Reading a variety of published material that fits your writing. It's important to know what publications there are and to familiarlize yourself with them.

2. Learning the submission process. There are general rules here and ones specific to individual publications. Earlier today, I happened across an excellent article on submitting. It would be to your benefit to take a look at it here. It addresses submitting to literary magazines in particular but is good general advice, as well.

3. Keeping up with trends in publishing. It's one good reason to read magazines like Writer's Digest and The Writer. When I first started writing children's stories, the trend was mood books for younger children. They were all the rage until they suddenly evaporated for whatever came along next. It's much the same with all types of writing.

4. Continue educating yourself about the craft of writing. Subscribe to writers newsletters, read magazines like mentioned in #3 and watch for new books about writing. We don't reach a point and say we know it all. Not ever! Learning about writing is a never-ending process.

5. Record-keeping helps you be an organized writer. It's important that you know what you sent to whom and when. You need to note whether the submission ended up published, rejected or nothing heard. You also need to keep records of your earnings, if any, for tax purposes.

6. Attending conferences related to your writing field. Once again, you need to keep learning and these conferences also allow you to interact with others who write. This is a major benefit to conferences.

7. Critique groups, whether two people or a passle, are so worthwhile that making time for them is critical in my estimation. I've said it many times but here it is again--if you participate in a group like this with the right attitude, you'll learn a great deal and will grow as a writer.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Write Your Halloween Family Stories Now

Telling Halloween Stories

This being Halloween week, it occurred to me that those of us keeping Family Stories Books need to delve back into our memory banks and write a family story or two  to add to the ones already in the book. 

For newer readers, I have urged people to write those family stories we are all so good at telling around a holiday dining table. Hearing these family treasures is wonderful, but they need to be written and kept as a record for your children, grandchildren and generations to come. One of the things you should be sure to do is to date your entries and to add whatever dates you can to the stories. Years from now, the ones who read your efforts will be appreciative. 

What kind of stories should you include for Halloween? We all have memories of certain years that we or a sibling had an unusual costume, a scary party to attend, or a laughable mishap while out Trick or Treating. Maybe your dad ate most of your Halloween candy. 

Did you like Halloween? Or were you like me and listed it as your least favorite holiday? I've written a short essay on that subject which was published a few years ago. You can read it here. I've posted it on the blog a couple times so will just leave the link for those who have not read it.

What was your favorite Halloween costume? Which one did you hate? Which one did your mom insist you wear, even though you didn't want to? What kind of Halloween celebration did you have in school? Years ago, schools often had parades and parties and children wore costumes to school. Not so much anymore. 

Where did you Trick or Treat? Did you have any house in your neighborhood that the kids were wary of going to? Did you play tricks on the night of October 31st? Did your mom make special Halloween treats? Were you ever scared on Halloween?

Add your Halloween stories to your Family Stories Book now. Once the holiday is over, you'll forget about them again until next year. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Autumn Photo Prompt Exercise

Let's start off the week with a photo prompt writing exercise. I've put three autumn pictures below for you. You can choose one and write a poem or story or just a couple of paragraphs--whatever you like. Or, try all three and see what types of stories you can create. Imagination plays a big part here. 

If you look at the photos and nothing comes to mind, play the What if... game. Ask yourself a question like what if a pack of wild dogs destroyed the pumpkin display? Or any other thing that comes to mind. Keep asking what if... to get the creative juices flowing.

Anyone who would like to share can do so in the comments section. The three pictures offer three very different phases of our autumn season. 

Photo Number 1

Photo Number 2

Photo Number 3

Friday, October 24, 2014

First Step, First Draft

I noted the quote and picture above posted on facebook today by Authors Publish. I am not endorsing them but take a look at the webisite if you have any interest. The quote here inspired me to write about first drafts today.

I've known beginning writers who have acted upon a good idea for a story that had them panting to get to the computer and write the whole thing. Gotta do it while it's fresh in our minds. Right? They get excited and write the story and send it to an editor the same day. Big mistake.

It's a rare writer who can call a first draft a publishable piece. It's you taking that idea that's been swirling in your head and putting it in black and white. It's your template--the pattern from which you'll continue to create a finished piece.

Have you ever had a story idea that keeps coming back to your mind over and over? If you have, you know you absolutely must start writing or the idea is going to consume your every waking moment. OK, so that's a bit of an exaggeration, but close enough. You have to tell yourself the story before you can tell it to readers. 

It's a good idea to write the story from beginning to end without stopping. Don't consider any revisions at this point. Once the final paragraph is done, put it in a file. Don't even read it through, even though you'll be tempted. Go empty the dishwasher or out for a walk or make a phone call. Get away from what you've written. Go back the next day or even two or three days later and read it. 

You may have one of two reactions. You'll either be pleased as a cat lapping up a bowl of milk or as depressed as a man just turned down after a proposal. Either way, your next step is to start revising. Look at the piece as objectively as you can--and that's not always an easy task--and get to work. Check your overall impression and decide what major changes are needed. Then do a line by line edit and revision, cutting where needed and expanding on areas that might benefit. 

Few good writers do one rewrite and call it quits. One of the authors at the convention I attended earlier this month has a trilogy of historical novels that are quite good. In his workshop, he mentioned that he rewrote the first book in the series twelve times. Twelve times! That's an even dozen. Is the man a perfectionist? Possibly. Or he may have wanted to have the best novel he could write. 

The first draft is step one in writing a publishable piece. We all know that step one is the very best place to begin. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Avoid Cliches in your Writing

a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usuallyexpressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lostoriginality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser,or strong as an ox.(in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, characterdevelopment, use of color, musical expression, etc.

Time to confess. Are you guilty of using cliches in your writing? It's quite alright to admit it. If you do, you're in good company. Me included! Why do writers resort to a cliche when an original phrase would be so much better? 

They're convenient; they're ingrained in us from childhood; it's a lazy/easy way to write. We use them to make an interesting comparison but end up becoming just another writer instead of one who stands out.

I've been guilty of using cliches and have had it pointed out in critiques from members of my crit group many times. I do try to make amends when I rewrite but I don't always succeed. I'm working on it and trying to erase cliches from my stories. It's hard because they are so convenient; we can pluck them out of our memory bank in a flash.

I found an excellent article on the use of cliches that delves into the subject on a deeper scale. The author talks about phrases we use but also how cliches are seen within our story structure, too. Read the article and pay special attention to the section on story cliches.


Look at this list of cliches. Rewrite each one in a more original way. 

1. time will tell

2. fit as a fiddle

3. old as the hills

4. time heals all wounds

5. gut-wrenching pain

6. nerves of steel

7. nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof

8. brave as a lion

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Listen To Your Heart

A good many years ago, I submitted to a Chicken Soup for the Soul book for the first time. The story was a simple one, a childhood memory, that I thought might work for the Fathers and Daughters book. 

I hesitated to send it. Why? My pride told me it was impossible because rejection hurts a lot. Experience added that I hadn't been writing very long, and the Chicken Soup editors received hundreds, maybe even a thousand or more, submissions for each book. My chances were pretty slim. Reason stepped in and sneered at me as it told me it was pointless to send this story in. What would it matter to the rest of the world?

All three had ganged up on me, and then a funny thing happened. My heart whispered softly in my ear. Your story is something others can relate to. Go ahead and give it a try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I pushed pride, experience and reason out the door. I liked what my heart told me. 

I sent the story and many months later, I received a notice that I had made it to the finals. My heart did a happy dance. I waited a few weeks longer before learning that the story would be included in the book. What a thrill to hold the published book in my hand a few months later. 

That story was "Love In A Box" which is all about a Valentine box my dad made for when I was in the second grade. At age seven, I suddenly realized that my hardworking father truly loved me. For a child, that revelation came as a startling discovery, one that left a life-long impression on me. Apparently, readers related to it and responded positively, so much so that the story has been published many times in English and some foreign languages.It's even appeared in two Chicken Soup books. You can read it here. 

What if I hadn't listened to my heart? What if I'd let those three bullies push me into a corner? This was the first of my fifteen Chicken Soup for the Soul stories that have been published. There are those who advise to use your head, not your heart. In many instances, that's good advice. Once in awhile, however, you should heed the advice your heart sends to you. It might be the smartest thing you ever did. And if not--there's always another chance. 

Here's a final call for submissions on a new Chicken Soup book. Deadline is only days away, so see what you have in your files that will work, do a little revison and send it in. That is, if your heart tells you so!

Hope and Miracles
Everyone has experienced events in their lives that cause wonder and astonishment and give them hope for a better future. Why did these things happen? Were they answered prayers? Did divine intervention have something to do with it? Share your inspirational true stories with us to remind us that each day holds hope and that a miracle can happen at any time. The deadline for story and poem submissions is October 30, 2014.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Do You Read Biographies?


My local library sent me a list of new biographies and memoirs this morning. At the top of the list, I found the one I wanted to read. Maeve Binchy has always been one of my favorite authors. Actually, I like to call her storyteller because she had a gift for doing just that. She died two years ago and her final book, A Week In Winter, was published posthumously. So yes, I definitely want to read Maeve Binchy The Biography.

I've always felt that Ms. Binchy drew from her own background when writing her novels, much the same as Catherine Cookson had done. Read more about this new biography at Amazon.

All this brings me to today's topic--reading biographies. Far too many readers avoid nonfiction. Instead, they want an entertaining, heart-thrilling novel in their hands. I like those, too, but biographies are fascinating. We read about the lives of people we either admire or find disgusting. Humans are a curious lot--we want to know what made a person the way he/she was. What happened to them early on that influenced their accomplishments later in life? Who were the people who had an impact on them? 

We also read biographies to learn life lessons through what others have done. Even in the middle grades of elementary school, teachers encouraged us to read biographies. I remember reading about Jane Adams who started a settlement house for the poor in Chicago at a time in history when women usually sat inside on a sunny afternoon and did needlework. They didn't become activists. The story of her life stayed with me for many years. I had an example of a strong woman. Her story may have encouraged many a young woman to work for a cause, stand up for a belief and help others. And it led me to read more biographies. Pretty easy to write a book report for English class on someone's life story. We also learned a great deal of history through that kind of book.

We don't want to read a biography that reads like a report. A biographer needs to put some zip into the life story he's telling. We don't want to read a list of dates and places as much as we want to read personal anecdotes that reveal the character traits of the person in the book. Like all authors, there are outstanding biographers and mediocre ones, as well.

You probably prefer reading a biography of a person you admire rather than one you don't. Unless it satisfies you to read about character flaws in the disliked person. Author, Kitty Kelley, made a lot of money writing unauthorized biographies. She dug up all the dirt she could find on a celebrity and wrote a book. They sold well. They're OK to read now and then, but don't take every bit of information as gospel truth. It may not be exactly as written; that's something the reader must sift and sort for themselves.

Autobiographies tend to have a narrower focus than a biography written by another person. They also give us a close glimpse into the person who is writing his/her own life story. If they don't fudge, it should be true because who would know the story better? 

If you haven't read a biography before, or haven't read one for a long time, take some time to check that section in your bookstore, local library or online. There's a wealth of treasure to choose from, something that should appeal to almost every reader. Take a look at the list at GoodReads.

I noted that there is one copy of the Maeve Binchy biography at my library. It is out but there were no other holds on the book. Guess who put in a request? I'm looking forward to curling up on the couch with a book I know I'll enjoy. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

What About Writing Poetry? ({Part 2)

Poet, Roy J. Beckemeyer, has a second guest blogger post for us on the topic of poetry. Roy explains the ins and outs of poetry in a reasonable and understandable way. I'm learning something from his posts and I bet you are, too. If you didn't read the first one, be sure to click on the link and do so. Roy leaves us with promise of another installment of your own personal poetry class. Here's Part 2:

Thanks to Nancy for asking me to pen another poetry-writing piece for her blog. In an earlier installment, we discussed line length as one feature that distinguished poems from prose.

Another difference between poetry and prose is the way the poem sounds when read (preferably aloud). Poetry probably had vocal origins, and the rhythmic pattern of poetry, the assonance, dissonance, alliteration, the richness or starkness of the spoken words all contribute to the poem's feel and message.

Let's discuss rhythm as an element that distinguishes prose and poetry. A traditional and once common rhythmic pattern in English language poetry is based on the iamb. This is a unit of measure in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed one. It is likely the most common form because it reminds us of our own heartbeat (da dum). It is also the pattern that became familiar to most of us because we heard it in nursery rhymes or when reading Shakespeare. The iamb is also called an iambic foot (a foot is a rhythmical unit of two or more syllables; various feet are combined to make up a line).  If you combine five iambs together to make a line, you get a form called iambic pentameter, a five-footed line in which each foot (or nearly each one) is an iamb.

Here's a commonly-used example, the opening line of Shakespeare's Sonnet 12:

                        "When I | do count | the clock | that tells | the time"

I have used a bold font to denote the stressed syllables and the vertical line to separate the feet. Notice that iambic pentameter sounds a bit "sing-song-y." Poets often change one of the iambs to another pattern to vary the rhythm a little. For example, here is a nursery rhyme in which three feet are used:

                        "Jack and Jill | went up | the hill
                        to fetch | a pail | of water"

Here the first foot of the first line has been changed to a three-a three-syllable one, with an unstressed syllable separating two
 stressed ones.  The second line ends with a tri-syllabic foot in which a stressed syllable separates two unstressed ones.

You can find many examples of rhymed poetry. Reading them, you will be able to decipher how the poet used various kinds of feet to provide the feel and richness of their particular poems. There is a nice summary of traditional formal poetry, and the other various feet and meters that are commonly used. You should look at that tip sheet to widen your understanding of the rhythms of formal poetry.

Blank verse is written in iambic pentameter, but the ends of the lines do not rhyme. Here is an example from Milton's Paradise Lost (Book 8: line 460):

                        "Mine eyes | he clos'd | but op | 'n left | the Cell
                        Of Fan | cie my | inter | nal sight, | by which
                        Abstract | as in | a transe | methought | I saw
                        Though sleep | ing, where | I lay | and saw | the shape..."

You might notice that the rhythmic structure of the examples we have used could be read to the cadence of a metronome. So it is likely no surprise that traditional rhythmic patterns are referred to as the meter of the poem.

Most of the poetry written these days is unrhymed and also does not use any of the traditional repetitive rhythmic patterns; it is therefore called Free Verse. But free does not imply the lack of rhythm. One way of viewing the rhythm of a free verse poem was stated by Ezra Pound, who said that it takes the form of "the sequence of a musical phrase, not in the sequence of a metronome." That is, the rhythmic structure of a free verse poem is more complex (its units are not feet, but in phrases or lines), and is generally not repetitive.

We will investigate the rhythms of free verse in a future installment. 

Some References

Cooper, G. Burns. 1998. Mysterious Music: Rhythm and Free Verse. Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA.

Flint, F. S. 1913. "Imagisme." Poetry Magazine. 1(6): 198-200.

Haskell, Dennis. 2002. Rhythm and Resonance in Poetry. Pp. 157-163 In Brenda Walker (ed), The Writer's Reader: A Guide to Writing Fiction and Poetry. Halstead Press. Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Pound, Ezra. 1913. "A Few Don'ts by an Imagist." Poetry Magazine. 1(6): 200-206.

Friday, October 17, 2014

One of the Tools You Need To Be A Writer

One of the things I urged the attendees in the workshop I taught last weekend is to read about writing. Too many new writers plunge right in writing without arming themselves with the tools of the trade. It would be mighty nice if we could decide to write, then step right up to the batter's box and hit a homerun. (Sorry, but with the Royals in the World Series, baseball is on my mind!)

Artists and craftsmen need tools of some sort. For the writer, one that can be ongoing is to read as much as possible about writing. I suggested three books in that workshop that I particularly like. Here's a list of those three and two others for you. I've added links to their Amazon page so that you can scroll down the page and read the reviews and summary. Check your local library or purchase at your favorite bookstore, whether that is a local one or online.

1. On Writing by Stephen King The man knows what he's talking about. His long list of published books should tell us that immediately. Best part is that he writes about writing clearly and has some excellent information to give a new or intermediate writer.

2. Writing Alchemy--How To Write Fast and Deep by Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett  Editors of a womens' memoir website, these two women have written an award winning book for writers. This is a memoir edition, but the lion's share pertains to all kinds of writing. It kept me occupied and interested on an overseas flight a couple of summers ago.

3. Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott  You may notice the publication date being a bit old on this one, but don't let that deter you. Anne LaMott is an entertaining writer with good advice.

4. Beginnings, Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress  I read this book a number of years ago, and I read it again a few years later. This newer edition will help the novelist, short story writer and those who write personal essays, memoirs and more. Part of the Writer's Digest series.

5. The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron  A highly acclaimed gift book to give to aspiring authors, this one has plenty for a writer to absorb about the writing life and the emotional side. Her famous Morning Pages section is worth a read all on its own.

There are so many others to choose from but these are a few that I especially liked. There are many that are geared to a certain genre. If you specialize in writing for kids, google to find a list of the many books on this subject. Do the same with whatever part of writing interests you most but also read the ones that are a more general all about writing refernce book.

I'll close today with a great poster I found on my facebook page.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sometimes Writers Have To Make Hard Choices

This woman looks perplexed. I have a writer friend who must be having the same expression on her face, even though she lives on the other side of the world from me. She recently had to face an unexpected tragedy in her extended family. She wrote about it and asked for feedback.

Those who read her personal essay were all of the same mind--it was powerful and needed to be submitted for publication somwhere. I agreed at the outset but a question from the wirter made me step back and think a bit more. The piece has names and points fingers to the writer's family members, but it is not done in a malicious way. It's seeing the situation for what it is. I think she wrote it as a beginning to a healing therapy for herself but it could be hurtful to others in her family.

The writer asked if she should change the names or if it should even be published at all.

Writing difficult things about family and friends creates a dilemma. Even if it is one of the best things you've ever written, should you risk alienating family members by publishing? Do you take the chance that they would probably never read it if it's published in a small magazine or an online website? Do you tell them that you have written an unflattering essay about the family and that you really meant no harm but wanted to tell the story as you saw it? Do you write the story and change the names even though they'd probably recognize themselves anyway?

Does she risk losing some members of her extended family? Should she keep her written therapy in a file to publish much later when the wounds are not so fresh?

I've been in a similar situation with a few of the family stories I've written. I grew up with a father who could be extremely difficult to live with but who also loved his family deeply. He hurt so many people and he left me with so many stories to be written as to the how and why. I chose to not write anything about the difficult times until after he, and also my mother, had passed on. I still loved him enough that I wouldn't risk hurting him by telling the world what I thought of him. Nor could I hurt my mother by doing so either.

I did write a poem while Dad was still living that allowed me to begin some personal therapy over some things that happened long, long ago. But I put it in a file and have never considered publication for what turned out to be a powerful piece of writing. That was my choice. My writer friend must make her own choice, even while considering the advice others might give her.

If you find yourself having to decide whether to publish a fine piece of writing and risk hurting or alienating family or friends, you'll waver back and forth before you decide. It's far from an easy choice. The list of pros and cons might be short but important. What's also important to consider is how much relationships with the people involved means to you. Others can give objective advice but no one can make the final decision but you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Triple Birthday Day

I know three people who celebrate birthdays today. One is a longtime friend who is a few years younger than I. One is a Czech exchange student at Kansas State University who spent her first week in the USA in our home. The third is my granddaughter, Jordan, who turns eleven this 15th of October, 2014.

I love birthdays! It's your one very special day of the year. Even if you don't do anything huge to celebrate, the day has a bit of personal glow for you. Not every family makes a big deal of a birthday but a large number do so.

My mother made the day special for me and my siblings with a special birthday morning greeting. It might be Here's the birthday girl! as I got out of bed. Or It's a perfect day for a birthday!  She always either made or bought a cake to have at dinnertime. Those cakes that she purchased were from a bakery called Dressel's--three delectable layers of cake surrounded on top and sides and between the layers with whipped cream. Sprinkles or some decorative edging as well.Mom always said that birthday cakes tasted better than any other cake. The special was baked right in. 

The birthday person had the added pleasure of choosing the dinner menu, a tradition I carried on with my own children. Our favorite foods appeared each year. After we'd eaten our meal, made a wish and blown out the candles on the cake, then devoured that sweet treat, we opened our cards and gifts. I hated waiting all day long yet liked the anticipation that built through the day.

Our gifts were never anything huge or expensive but they were selected and wrapped with love. I often got new summer clothes or pajamas because my birthday falls the end of May. Toys and games were reserved for Christmas gifts. Mom saved the cards that had arrived from aunts and uncles for us to open at our birthday dinner.

What were your family birthday traditions? Did you ever have an exceptionally special birthday? Or one that turned out to be the gloomiest day of the year? Or one that brought an unexpected surprise? Write about birthdays for your Family Stories Book. Include your own, your parents, your siblings--perhaps even cousins or special friends, as well. Make the stories exciting because that's what birthday should be.

One added note about writing your family stories--a woman who had been at the workshop I taught last weekend stopped to talk to me afterward. She said her kids have been after her to write the family stories and she's done some. Her son, she told me, said she needed to make them more exciting. I suspected that she was reporting the facts not telling the stories. I made the comment to her and she nodded her head and smiled. I hope she'll rewrite her stories and make them more than a report listing details only.

The Three Birthday Girls

Vicki Rice Jarboe

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

One Tiny Piece of Advice For Novelist

You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed.
- Larry Niven

Larry Niven is a science fiction writer but the tiny piece of advice he gives in the quote above is one that every would-be novelist should take seriously. It only makes sense that you need to be able to write a good short story before you can write a novel.

After all, when we learn to walk, we take tiny, toddling steps long before we begin to run. We go to grade school to learn basics before we venture into high school. Athletes work their way up the ladder before they're ready to play in top competition. 

In the workshop that I taught at Kansas Authors Club convention this past Saturday, I expounded a bit on this idea. We need to work on the small projects before attacking the big ones. We need to submit our work to small publications before reaching for the big name publishers and magazine editors. 

Why? One reason is that we may not be ready for the bigtime until we've spent a lengthy period working on smaller projects and submitting to smaller publications. It is my belief that we need to write shorter works and submit to the smaller places for a long time before considering jumping into the deeper waters. 

We learn to write by writing. It is hoped that the more we write the better we write. But just writing alone is not going to help us write better. We need to read other writers' work but do it with the writer's eye. Enjoy the reading but evaluate as you read. We should read books and articles about writing whether online, in books you purchase, or those you borrow from your local library. We can't help but absorb some of that information. 

Next, we need to apply what we've learned. If you start having some success in the smaller markets with shorter pieces, then you're ready to move on to bigger things. It might be time to begin that novel you've always wanted to write. 

Lastly, Mr. Niven mentions that the money is in novels but that writing the short stories has its own benefits. A big controversy in the writing world is whether anyone should write for no pay or pitifully low pay. We can find pro and con arguments for each side, and both have some valid points. I am of the opinion that it's OK to write for no pay in the beginning. If nothing else, it gets your foot in the door. I did so in the beginning and am not sorry. It was publication and gave me exposure. I still occasionally submit to one of the places I sent to many years ago. They had the grace to publish my work so I can return the favor now. 

Mr. Niven gives us a tiny piece of advice that might become something you'll be happy you heeded. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Attending Writing Conferences and Conventions

I spent the weekend at the Kansas Authors Club annual state convention in Hutchinson, Kansas. The convention began with the Friday evening Youth Awards Ceremony. Children from around our state enter a writing contest, both prose and poetry, in hopes of winning some recognition for their work. I enjoy seeing these young, and often talented, people given an opportunity to showcase that talent. I couldn't stop watching the joy on those little faces  as they walked forward to receive a certificate, a medal on a ribbon and a print book filled with the work of all the winners. Writers for the future!

Saturday flew by as several workshops were in session throughout the day. I taught The Basics of Writing--Building A Strong Foundation in the morning and again during an afternoon session. Prior to my own workshops, I was able to attend some others. One was on writing songs, lyrics and melody. I'm no songwriter and never will be but found the topic fascinating. I came away with a much greater appreciation for those whose talent points to this kind of writing. 

A final session in the afternoon proved to be a fascinating history lesson about the salt mines that surround the Hutchinson area. Two local men have gathered many historical photos and delievered a powerpoint presentation with commentary. 

Sunday morning brought business meeting, a short church service and a time for memorials to the members of the organization who had died within the past year. The final workshop of the convention involved the writing and self-publishing route of a children's book author. I didn't it expect it to be as fruitful and interesting as it was. The author held her audience in the palm of her hand throughout the presentation. Self-publishing is such a biggie today that all writers want to learn all they can about doing so. Her book falls into the Easy Reader category, a picture book that a new reader can read on their own. Tight writing is a must. Too many think wriiting for kids is an easy task. Having done it, I know it is difficult. That old write tight admonition comes into play here. By the time the author and her illustrator/husband had published the book, they had invested $5,000. You'd have to sell a lot of books to make a profit. She showed us another book they'd published on CreateSpace which was an investment for them of only $200. I kept wondering about that adage that warns You get what you pay for.

Saturday evening, we had a dinner and program given by a Wichita TV news anchorman. Awards for authors who have written books of special merit and another for service were announced. Awards for the state writing contest were announced after the Sunday luncheon. I noted that many of the writers were winners of more than one category. I could almost see the neon sign blinkng above their head that said Here is a good writer

The final awards given were for the Poet of the Year and Prose Writer of the Year. Ronda Miller, whose poem I had featured here one day last week, was the Poet of the Year. A well-deserved honor. If you would like to read more of Ronda's poetry check out this page. 

Throughout the weekend, attendees wandered through the Book Room, where many of the authors at the convention had books for sale. I wish I could have purchased all of them, but I settled on two, both autographed by the authors.

Besides all that I learned at the convention, I managed to interact with dozens and dozens of other writers which is one of the top benefits of attending a writing conference or convention. If you've never attended a meeting like this for writers, give it a try. I don't think you'll be sorry. Ours is relatively small next to those happening in larger population states, but big or small, you'll come away with more than you had when you arrived.

The Kansas Authors Club is 110 years old and is the oldest writing club in the nation. That says something positive. Check and see if your state has an organization similar to this one.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Chicken Soup for the Soul Deadline Coming Soon

Are you like me? You sometimes delay writing a story for many good reasons, then suddenly panic as the deadline to submit is drawing mighty close. Note that I said 'sometimes' so I'm not guilty of this all of the time. Yesterday, something triggered a memory that there was a Chicken Soup for the Soul book deadline for stories coming up. 

I went to the website and then clicked on Submit Your Story in the list at the bottom of the home page. Once on the next page, I clicked on Possible Book Topics where I found the one with the looming deadline. The book is Thanks To My Mom and the deadline to submit is October 20, 2014. Panic set in!

I've been mulling a story that would work for the book quite a long time. It's been swirling in my head but I hadn't tried to put it in print. Pushing all else aside yesterday afternoon, I wrote a first draft. I read it over again this morning, then sent it to my criique group to get an initial reaction. So far, one person has responded and her words were supportive enough that I knew I needed to continue working on this story. 

The book will have stories by sons and daughters who learned something from their individual mother. It's a time to show readers why you're grateful to your mom or stepmom. I've pasted the call for submissions for this book below. Please note that they don't want general tributes or biographies or eulogies. They seek specific anecdotes. Read the copy carefully to see if you have a story to tell that would fit this book. Then get busy on it as you have only ten more days. 

Yes, I know that I normally encourage writers to plan ahead and not get caught up in these last-minute events. I still think that's the best way to do it, but now and then, we all break our own rules. Ten days is enough time to get a story written. So how about it?

Thanks to My Mom 
We are collecting stories of thanks written by sons and daughters of all ages about their moms and stepmoms. Tell us what your mom has done for you and why you are grateful to her. Is she always right? Do you still turn to her for advice? Have you turned into your mother even though you vowed you never would? Share your best stories-ones that will make us laugh, cry, or nod our heads in recognition. We are not looking for general tributes (we know your mom is terrific) nor are we looking for biographies or eulogies. We are looking for specific anecdotes about what your mom or stepmom did for you-something you want to thank her for. The deadline for story and poem submissions is October 20, 2014.(from Chicken Soup for the Soul website)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

So Much Talent Awes Me

The sunflower represents Kansas so well. It always appears to be smiling to me. But then, I'm also one of those people who see pictures in cloud formations. Even if these sunflowers don't appear to be smiling, you must admit that they are a cheerful sight. K-State planted an entire field of them across the street from the football stadium. What a joy to drive by on my way to do errands.

The reason I'm bringing up sunflowers and Kansas is that this mornng, two Kansas authors had good news to share. Ronda Miller has a wonderful poem at this link. It's filled with remembrance and emotion. I'm sure Ronda would love to have comments left after you read and savor her poem titled Moon Stain.

Another Kansas poet had good news today. Two of his poems are featured in Kansas City Voices fall issue. Roy is a fine poet and has been a guest blogger here. Roy's poems are Jack 1941-1959 and Ways of the Wind. Read excerpts here of some of the poems in Roy's debut book of poetry. I love the title of the book. Its Music I Once Could Dance To. 

It's been a pleasure to have met so many Kansas writers through the Kansas Authors Club, which just happens to have an annual state convention this weekend in Hutchinson, Kansas. I'm looking forward to mingling with people who love the writing world as much as I do. There are so many other members, besides Ronda and Roy, who will have their books for sale Saturday and Sunday. Browsing in the Book Room leaves me in awe of the marvelous talent of so many people. Novelists, poets, Short Story writers and more. Yep, awe is the proper word to use. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tom Spoke, I Listened

Today, I'm posting an article I wrote awhile back about how I learned to submit my work. The clipart below shows someone mailing their submission but most today are don via email. It doesn't matter how you submit, the main thing is to submit your work. The article below will show you how I came to that realization. It was the best advice I've ever had in my writing world. 

Tom Spoke, I Listened
By Nancy Julien Kopp

A new member of my critique group finished reading her short story, and the rest of us discussed it at length. Then, silence reigned, until Tom uttered familiar words in his quiet but firm manner. “Send it in! No editor is going to climb in your bedroom window and search for a manuscript stashed in a dresser drawer.” No smile came with the words. He meant every word. He repeated his advice in different ways at nearly every meeting of the small critique group he had founded. “You will never be published if you don’t submit your work.”

 He moderated with patience and consideration for the fragile egos of beginning writers. He dished out praise only when earned, and he had no qualms about pointing out the problems in a piece of writing shared with the group.

“Send it in!” became his mantra, and, for me, the encouraging words started to sink in. Common sense told me to follow his advice. After all, he submitted his stories to magazines and websites on a regular basis, and his work appeared in a printed media many times. But common sense often quarrels with a lack of confidence. I questioned Tom’s wisdom as I drove home from the meetings. Just because he can get his work published doesn’t mean I can. Or does it?

I worked up my courage and submitted a nonfiction article for kids to a magazine listed in Writer’s Market. The article detailed a game reserve park we’d visited, a good subject for young and curious minds. The interminable wait began. Several weeks later, the editor returned my story saying that she liked the subject but it needed energy, and she invited me to revise and send it to her again. Part of me thrilled to her invitation to rework the story, and another part slowly deflated like a balloon with a leak.

I pondered that word “energy” for several days. I had no clue what she was looking for, but one day I rewrote the piece featuring two children and their grandparents on a visit to Kruger Park in South Africa. I used a story approach but managed to get the pertinent info from the original article into it, as well. I still wasn’t sure what the editor wanted, but I followed Tom’s advice and sent it back to her. That turned out to be my first sale.

Greatly encouraged, I began to submit more of my work. Some went to nonpaying websites, but they accepted many of my submissions. I gathered several clips and my confidence level moved up the ladder. I also got many rejections, just as all beginning writers do, but somehow those published works soothed the rejection barbs. Success breeds confidence.

After moving to another state, I entered several pieces for the prose section in our state authors contest. I’d also written a poem to fit the Theme Division even though I knew little about poetry. I wanted to send it in, but I hesitated. I had no training nor real knowledge about writing poetry. Any poem I wrote came from the heart and satisfied me if it sounded right. The poem pleased me when I read it, but maybe it would sound like pretty amateur stuff to the judges. I lacked the courage to send it, until one day I heard Tom’s words in my head loud and clear—Send it in! Send it in! Send it in! I listened and mailed the entry that day. I got pretty excited when the first place notice and check arrived in my mailbox.

Time passed, and I wrote memoirs, inspirational articles, children’s stories and articles on the craft of writing. I didn’t let them stack up in my files. I submitted them to many places. My work has appeared in several anthologies, paying websites, magazines and newspapers. I still get rejections, but they don’t bother me as much now. I revise and submit elsewhere. Quite often, as I send a submission via e-mail or stamp a snail mail envelope addressed to an editor, I hear Tom’s voice with a clarity that makes it very real. “Send it in! Send it in! Send it in!”

Not everyone in that first critique group followed Tom’s advice. Some allowed stories and articles to pile up in a file of unpublished work. As for me, I took advantage of the best writing advice I’ve ever had, and I’m still reaping the benefits.