Thursday, December 31, 2015

We Say Good-Bye to 2015


Waving Good-bye to 2015


It's New Year's Eve. Time to say farewell to 2015. Which of these people are you? The woman with the tears or the guy who is looking jubilant? I suppose it depends on the kind of year you've had. 

For each one of us, there have undoubtedly been both ups and downs but the scales never seem to even those things our for us. Some years the good far outweighs the bad. Then there are years where the black cloud items pile up faster than snowflakes in a storm. 

Take a little time today to assess your year--in both your writing world and your personal life. For every downer you find, look for a positive to balance it. I know that sometimes we have to look very hard to find the pluses in life but many are right under our noses and we pass them by. You may have to search in all the places you can think of. 

If you classify 2015 as the worst year of your life, consider this. You have a whole  new year ahead of you. Some of those things you'd like to forget that occurred this past year are ones that might have turned out differently if you had used an attitude adjustment. No, I'm not pointing fingers at anyone. I could have done that myself a time or two. Ask yourself what you could have done to make a bad situation better or to have kept it from getting worse? 

If 2015 was a good year, make sure you know the reasons why. What did you do to help make it a positive year? ?Whatever it was, you'll want to repeat in 2016. 

There are some things that happen over which we have no control. Then we have to roll with it and do whatever we think is best--again in both our writing world and our personal life. Even so, we have many, many things in life where we do have choices to make which can change things for the better. Or for the worse, whatever the case might be. 

The point is that YOU are in control of a great deal of what happens in your writing world or your other life. I can't make choices for you. Your best friend cannot do that either. It's YOU who are at the wheel. When you're celebrating New Year's Eve tonight--be it out with friends or quietly at home with people you care about or even all alone--do a bit of reflecting and resolve to greet the new year with a positive attitude and a good work ethic.  Whether you wave good-bye to 2015 with tears or with joy, look forward to what is yet to come begionning January 1.

I wish you all good times, good health and good writing in the coming year. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Book Dilemma Solved



I had a major dilemma yesterday. We are moving mid-January to a house that has the same amount of space as we have on our main floor now. The new place has no lower level. Here we have a completely finished lower level with 4 walk-in closets for storage. So you know what must happen.

Sift and Sort! Purge! Sell! Give away! That's what we're going through right now. The new house will have less space for books and that became my problem for the day on Tuesday. I had no trouble making a stack of already-read books to give to our local library for their used book corner. When I came to the books in which I had stories published, it was another matter.

I put them on the dining room table in 4 stacks--over 30 anthologies. Should I save them or get rid of them? Where would I send them? Library? Sell at my P.E.O. meeting with half the profit going to the chapter? Put them in a box in the garage? If I saved them, where would they go in the new house?

Next thought was Why do I want to save them? Did I want to let the world know I'd written something in those 30+ books on display? Or was it a matter of self-satisfaction? As I mulled these things over through the day, I finally came to the conclusion that self-satisfaction ranked at the top of the list. Passing by the table and seeing the books made me happy. They were evidence of a goal achieved. The meaning they had was for me and me alone. Or so I thought.

Later in the day, I told my husband I had a problem. He stopped what he was doing and listened as I explained about wanting to keep the books but fearing there would be no room. Should I keep them or get rid of them? I asked him, near tears at that point.

The darling man immediately said I should keep them. He walked me into our office and pointed at the three shelf bookcase. I can replace that with a four or five shelf bookcase to put in our new office. He knew that the books meant a great deal to me. No wonder we've been married so long!

And so the downsizing continues. There are other things I will get rid of but not the books which hold my stories. For me, they are treasures.

How about you? Do you save copies of all your published works? Or do you get rid of them with no feelings of regret? Sure as it's Wednesday today, I know I'd regret it if I had tossed my books to the winds.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Your Submission Record for 2015



We're still in those end days of the year when we can look back and see what we accomplished these past twelve months. If you keep a submission record--and I hope you all do--open it and study your track record for this year. Which Snoopy will you be? The one on the left or the happy guy on the right?

1.  Look at the number of submissions. How do you feel about that number? Is it minuscule or way up in the double digits? What do your numbers say about you, the writer? I'm working my butt off. I could do better. I didn't give my writing much effort this year. I'm satisfied with the numbers.

2. Look at the SOLD or ACCEPTED comments next to the submissions. What was the percentage of submissions sold vs those made? Are you satisfied? One thing to keep in mind is that few writers sell everything they write. I was once told that the average sold is 1 of each 12 submissions. Pretty discouraging. It seemed to me a lot of good writing was being overlooked by some editors, but I was a newbie and should have given thought to the writers not submitting to proper markets as one reason for failure.

3. Look at the column that tells the places you submitted to. Do you see a pattern of any kind? Are you top heavy with one or two places? Ask yourself why you tend to submit so often to the same market. It could be that you and the editor have a good relationship and you know you'll get special attention. You may have had lots of work published in one place, so why not keep on going there? You might be afraid to venture from the secure into scary new markets. How varied is the list of markets where you submitted? Maybe one of your 2016 goals should be to try markets new to you.

4. Look at the money you made. How much becomes far more relevant if you are trying to make a living as a writer. If you're writing on the side or a hobbyist writer, the amount you made is not as important. Important yes, but not as much as for those trying to keep food on the table. Rate yourself as Satisfied or Dissatisfied, Euphoric or Damn Mad. It could be any one of those.

5. Look at the overall picture of your Submission Record. This is your starting place for your 2016 goals. When you make up a new Submission Record page for 2016, consider stating your goals at the top of the page. At the end of 2016, you can check to see which ones you accomplished and those that never got off the ground.

If you're happy with your 2015 submissions and acceptances, congratulations to you. If you're mumbling and grumbling about them, I sympathize. No, I empathize. I'm in that category myself this year. What I have to figure out now is the why and what I need to do to increase the numbers for next year. I have a post that tells about some great advice I was given as a newbie writer regarding submitting my work. Take a look and see if the advice my friend gave me resonates with you. Read it here.



Monday, December 28, 2015

The Past, The Future and Another Chance



When I saw this poster on facebook, I immediately thought of my writing world. And yours! Toward the end of the year, we read myriad articles in newspapers and online that sum up the past year. I have to admit that they irritate me more than anything because it's done. I'm a person who looks ahead, not behind.

On the other hand, all that we've done in the past does serve to teach us lessons. It is up to us, however, to consider and realize what those lessons might have been. Did a bad experience when submitting to the wrong market leave a lesson learned? Did an editor's negative response to your submission teach you something? I hope so. 

As for the future in our writing world, we need to be ready to move on and become a better writer. If you look at your writing journey and the writing you've produced over the past ten years, you should see improvement each year. If your writing is no better today than what you produced ten years ago, it's time to step back and reassess. Don't look at the whole picture; take it apart bit by bit to see where you can improve. That's where many of us go wrong, trying to see it all at once instead of examining the smaller areas that make up the whole. 

As for the last part of the quote above--we do have another chance each and every day when we get up and dive into whatever project we have going. If you're religious, you should thank God for every new chance you have to improve whatever you're doing. If you're not religious, thank Fate or whatever else you believe in. Having another chance is the big part. It's yours to do with as you will. Make the most of it. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Bells of Christmas





The Bells Of Christmas

Keep Christmas in my heart, Lord.
Help me remember the love and joy
that Advent season brings each year.

Let me hear the bells of Christmas
long after the sacred day is done,
ring them loud, ring them clear.

I want to celebrate your birthday
each and every day, if only quietly.
Let me not forget the beloved tale.

If I spread the love of Christmas
all January, June and hot July,
will its message sound as dear?

Keep Christmas in my heart, Lord.
Ring the bells of Christmas softly,
hold them close so that I may hear.

When everyday cares and woes
push the Christmas story far away,
let the blessed bells bring it back again.

Keep Christmas in my heart, Lord.
I'll ring the chimes for those who've
not yet heard the message of the bells.

---Nancy Julien Kopp

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Best Christmas Present Ever


Christmas stories are meant to be read again and again, so here's another repeat. This one was published in a wonderful Christmas anthology that was filled with 10 stories, poems, scripture, recipes and more. Today's story is about a lesson I learned about the joy of giving rather than receiving. 

The Best Christmas Present Ever
By Nancy Julien Kopp


 In 1949, the twenty-one children in my fifth grade class learned one of life’s greatest lessons. Ten year olds usually care more about the importance of receiving gifts than considering the joy in giving them. But that year, we found out that giving truly is better than receiving, and it was all because of a special teacher.

 Lyle Biddinger served on a navy destroyer during World War II, went to college on the GI Bill and landed in a Chicago suburban grade school teaching fifth grade. We were his first class, and he was the first male teacher in our Kindergarten through eighth grade school. Young, handsome, and an outstanding teacher—he was all any ten year old could ask for.

During family dinners, I talked endlessly about what Mr. Bid had told us that day, what he’d shown us, the games he’d taught us. He may as well have been sitting at our table every night, for his presence was evident Monday through Friday. I hurried through breakfast so I could get to school early, and I offered to stay after class and do whatever little jobs needed to be done. I wasn’t the only one who acted this way about Mr. Biddinger. Oh no--all of us adored him.

We were so proud to be in his class. We preened our feathers like peacocks around the kids in the other fifth grade. He was all ours, and like kids of that age, we let everyone know it. Our teacher made learning fun, and in the 1940’s this was a new approach. At one point, some of the parents went to the principal and complained that Mr. Biddinger spent too much time playing games during class time. School should not be fun; it was to be hard work. Somehow Mr. Biddinger and the principal placated the disgruntled parents, and life went on as before in the fifth grade.

December arrived, and the Room Mother contacted the other parents. Each family was asked to give a modest amount of money to be used for a Christmas gift for the teacher. It was not an unusual request in our school. Next she called Mr. Biddinger’s wife to find out what might be the perfect gift for him.

It was to be a secret, of course, but we all knew about it, and whispers and notes flew back and forth. Our class Christmas party would be held the last day before the holiday break. We would have a grab bag gift exchange, punch and cookies and candy. We’d play some games, get out of schoolwork and give Mr. Bid his gift. The days trickled by slower than ever before, and our excitement grew steadily. We looked forward to our school Christmas much more than the one we’d each have at home.

 Finally, the big day dawned. Our Room Mother arrived bearing the punch and brightly decorated Christmas cookies and hard candies. But where was the big box Mr. Bid’s present was in? We didn’t see it. We wriggled in our desks and fretted. Whispers sailed around the room until Mr. Bid scolded us. “Settle down,” he said, “or the party’s over as of now.” Quiet reigned. The treats and grab bag gifts were passed out. We munched on our sugar cookies and slurped the red punch. The classroom door opened, and a strange woman walked in. Mr. Biddinger’s looked surprised at first; then a big smile crossed his face. We were soon introduced to his wife. The Room Mother disappeared into the hall but was back in seconds holding a good-sized box wrapped in Christmas paper and tied with a wide red ribbon. The chatter in the room ceased immediately, and all eyes were riveted on that box.

The Room Mother cleared her throat, walked to our teacher and said, “Mr. Biddinger, this gift is from your students. They wanted to show their love and appreciation by giving you something special.” As she handed him the box, the room tingled with an air of excitement.

 Mr. Bid seemed excited, and that alone thrilled us. He untied the bow and handed the ribbon to his wife. Next came the wrapping, and we all leaned forward. He opened the box and lifted a hunting jacket from the folds of tissue paper. This had been his fondest wish for Christmas Mrs. Biddinger had told the Room Mother. He loved to hunt on the week-ends whenever possible, but the special hunting gear was beyond a teacher’s salary at that time.

For the first time, the man who taught us so much became mute, totally speechless. He turned the jacket over and over, looked at the special pockets on the inside and outside. He tried again to say something but couldn’t. But the sparkle in his eyes and the smile on his face said all we needed to know. He finally found his voice and told us over and over how much he loved his new jacket. “It’s probably the finest gift I’ve ever received,” he said. He didn’t say why, but we knew. We had no doubt that the reason was that it came from his first class, the twenty-one ten year olds who adored him.

I don’t remember the gifts I received at home that Christmas, but I’ll never forget the gift we gave Mr. Biddinger. It was the best Christmas present ever.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Christmas For Julie



  


Today's Christmas memory story was published twice. It's a sad story, yet hope is present as well. So many people experience sadness at Christmas. It is my fondest wish that they can see the good that comes with whatever sadness envelops them at this special time of year. If you know anyone experiencing a sad Christmas, perhaps you'll share my story with them. 

A Christmas for Julie

By Nancy Julien Kopp



Painful Christmases etch themselves into our hearts and minds, never to be forgotten. Difficult holiday times, which cut into the soul, linger in our memories and are brought soaring back when we least expect it. A picture, a song, or phrase triggers that which we thought remained locked safely away.

One such Christmas continues to haunt me, while at the same time surrounds me with the love and peace transcended by the Christmas story of Jesus' birth.

Forty-nine years ago, we were new parents. Our baby girl was born a few days after Thanksgiving, bringing us both great joy and bottomless sorrow. Unlike today, no sonogram or amniocentesis had prepared us for the news that Julie was a spina bifida baby. Because of a large opening in her spine, she was paralyzed from the waist down—legs, bowel, and bladder. Numb with shock, we agreed to the pediatrician's suggestion to transfer her to a renowned children's hospital in Chicago, an hour from our home.

"You can take her there as soon as we get the paperwork done," he told us.

With heavy hearts, we drove on icy roads from our home in a small Illinois town to the center of the big city on the shore of Lake Michigan. I held Julie close and gazed at her sweet face peeking out of a soft pink blanket. When we arrived at the hospital, a paperwork snafu in the Admissions Department gave us four more hours to hold and feed her. It turned out to be a most precious gift.

Our footsteps echoed in the wide hallway as we finally carried her to the fourth floor. A nurse with a sympathetic smile gently lifted our tiny daughter from my arms and carried her through the nursery door. I will never forget the ache of my empty arms or the slow cracking of my heart at that moment. My husband's hand clasped mine during our walk downstairs as we prepared to face an uncertain future. I went home to pray for a miracle cure.

It was the first of many trips to the hospital where we spent special moments with our baby girl, consulted with doctors, and attempted to ease our sorrow. We grasped each piece of good news and held on tightly.  We crumbled a little more whenever a doctor delivered a grim outlook for our child—multiple surgeries, a life of probable infections, wheelchair, crutches, and other unknowns. Only faith kept us from screaming in denial when hearing the dire predictions. Only faith brought back our strength after discussing the future with Julie’s doctors. Faith and a large dose of hope allowed us to soldier on.

December arrived, and each time we visited, I noted more signs of the season. Garland, ribbons and bows decorated the halls. Table-top Christmas trees adorned the waiting rooms, and some of the nurses wore Christmas pins on their uniforms.

One Sunday afternoon when we arrived at our station outside the nursery window, we could not help but smile. A small doll was tied onto Julie's tiny crib with a cheery red ribbon. No wings, but she reminded me of a guardian angel as she seemed to watch over our child. We questioned the nurse about the doll. Where had it come from? Who gave it to her?

"The auxiliary ladies bring a gift to every child in the hospital at Christmastime," she said. "They're the same wonderful women who come and rock the babies because we don't have time."

Unlike today, hospital rules kept us from being close enough to touch our baby, but a stranger had rocked her in our place, and another had brought her first Christmas gift. I could not help but think of Mary in the stable holding her child close and rocking him in her arms as he received the first Christmas gifts from the Wise Men who had followed the star.

Each time we returned during that December, I checked to be sure Julie's gift remained tied to her crib. Was it my imagination, or did that doll glow? I wondered if angels took on inanimate forms.

We talked to other parents who had children on the same floor. Children with heart problems, severe malformations, muscular weakness and more—our children shared the same home this Christmas. Our hearts were not the only ones breaking during this season of love and joy.

Christmas morning found us on the road to the Chicago hospital once more. Again, we stood outside the nursery window adoring our daughter with our eyes, while that empty-arms feeling washed over me again. She’d been placed on her tummy to protect the surgical site on her spine. Christmas music played softly in the background. Julie lifted her silver-blonde head and turned toward us, one eye open, tiny hands clenched into fists. "Merry Christmas Darling Girl," I whispered. My husband's arm slipped around me. Other parents moved through the halls spending Christmas morning with their little ones, too.

It was Julie's only Christmas, but it was one filled with the love of those who cared for her, family and friends in a small community who prayed for her, and the lifetime of love we bestowed on her during her few weeks on earth. To me, that's what Christmas is all about. Love and giving and a special glow from a tiny doll with a red ribbon around her tummy remain a part of my memory of that very special Christmas for Julie.

I’d prayed for a miracle, prayed that my child would live a full life and be as normal as other little girls. That didn’t happen, but we did experience the miracle of God’s love and comfort brought to us in so many small ways during that Christmas season of long ago. Every year as Thanksgiving ends and Christmas approaches, I silently relive those weeks with our firstborn, and I reach out to others who may be experiencing sadness during our most holy season.






Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Wish, An Angel and A Big Baby Doll


This is a Christmas memory story I submitted to Chicken Soup for one of their Christmas books. The story didn't make it and it has not been published until today. Most children remember a Christmas when they had a very special wish. Some were granted. Some were not. This is mine.


A Wish, An Angel, and A Big Baby Doll
By Nancy Julien Kopp

My bottom lip quivered when my mother laughed and said, “You’re too old for baby dolls.”

I didn’t think twelve was too old to play with dolls. My cousin, Carole, had the most wonderful baby doll, one the size of an actual infant. She wore real baby clothes. I coveted that doll more than anything I’d seen in my entire life. The one time of the year we got new toys was Christmas, so this was the perfect time to ask for one--Christmas of 1951.

I took a deep breath. “Carole has one, so why shouldn’t I?”
   
 This time my mother didn’t laugh at me. She stopped rolling the pie crust dough. “Girls who are twelve and in sixth grade don’t play with dolls. Carole’s only eleven and in the fifth grade.” She started rolling the dough again.
    
Why did a year make such a difference? I only had one doll, a Shirley Temple look-alike given to me six years earlier. At twelve, I had perfected sulking, and so I proceeded to do so. I watched while my two younger brothers turned the pages in the Sears catalog writing their initials next to the toys they wanted. The catalog filled quickly with the letters H and P. It probably wasn’t worth putting any N’s there. I only wanted one thing, and it looked like I wasn’t going to get it.

Even so, I harbored a twinge of hope all through the weeks that led up to the big day. We lived in a small apartment with little storage space, so my mother wrapped the gifts she purchased immediately and stacked them on the dressers in the bedroom where she and Dad slept. She delighted in sending us in there on made-up errands so we could watch the piles grow.  I didn’t see a box that might hold a life-size baby doll. Maybe tomorrow…
    
Signs of Christmas were all around us. My brothers and I listened to an episode of the The Cinnamon Bear on the radio every day after school. The same story about two children and a stuffed bear searching for a special star ran every year in December, and despite knowing the ending, I listened daily after school while I snacked on the latest Christmas cookies that appeared each day, washing them down with cold milk. But I thought about the big baby doll.
    
Mom baked many kinds of cookies, storing them in gaily patterned tins. I helped frost the sugar cookies and sampled the others that came out of the oven as soon as they cooled. Tiny rolled-up rugelach, powdered-sugar-coated crescents, and of course, chocolate chip.  Cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, and frosted layer cakes made our holiday special. We had fudge every Christmas—so soft and gooey, it had to be eaten with a spoon. While the spicy smells of the holiday filled the air, I thought about the doll.
    
A few days before Christmas, Dad put up the tree and strung the colored lights. Next, we three kids hung the ornaments. Being oldest, I was in charge of the upper branches. Howard worked on the next tier, and Paul, who was only four, put ornaments on the bottom branches. We finished with silver tinsel that shimmered in the Christmas tree lights. Christmas music played on our big console radio in the living room. If I got my doll Christmas morning, it would be a perfect holiday.
    
A special angel adorned every tree of my growing-up years. Mom pressed the angel’s pink satin dress, smoothed out her gold wings, and fluffed up her hair so she was ready to stand on top of our tree, watching over us. Dad waited until we decorated the entire tree, then he put the angel on the highest point. That year, I wondered if angels could grant special Christmas wishes. Just in case, I silently told her mine. She didn’t laugh or scold, just smiled sweetly while I inhaled the special aroma of the fir tree.
    
On Christmas Eve, we kids brought one of our everyday socks to the living room and Mom pinned them onto the back of an overstuffed chair since we had no fireplace with a mantel. We knew Santa would fill them with an orange, walnuts still in the shells and a few pieces of candy. Before we went to bed, Howard, Paul and I brought out all the colorful packages from the bedroom and watched as Dad arranged them under the tree.
    
It seemed almost magical with the lights, ornaments and the packages filled with secrets underneath, all watched over by the sweet pink angel on the top. All too soon, we were shooed off to bed with the annual reminder that the sooner we went to sleep, the sooner Christmas would arrive.
    
In the morning, my brothers found the gifts Santa brought them next to the tree, for Santa never wrapped his gifts. The boys knew immediately who they were from. Each of them received one of the items they’d marked in the Sears catalog weeks earlier. No Santa gift for me. Twelve year old girls didn’t play with dolls and they didn’t get gifts from Santa either. I swallowed my disappointment and settled down on the sofa waiting for Dad to pass out the wrapped packages, one by one.
    
We opened many packages that held practical items like new socks or pajamas and others that had small toys and comic books, some jewelry for me. I noticed a good-sized box in the corner that I hadn’t seen the night before. When we’d opened all the others, Dad handed me the big box. I looked at him and Mom, then at the angel on the tree. Could it possibly be?
    
“Open it,” Dad said.
    
I ripped the paper off and removed the lid, and gazed down on the face of the big baby doll I’d hoped for. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or hug my parents. Instead, I lifted the doll carefully out of the box and cradled her against me.
    
I looked at my mother still in her bathrobe and slippers on this holiday morning. My bottom lip quivered once again, but I finally got the words out. “But you said I was too old for dolls.” 
    
“Sometimes mothers are wrong. Daddy and I decided that if it was something you wanted so very much, you should have it. You’ve never had a lot of dolls like some girls.”
    
I laid my treasure on the sofa and rushed to my mother’s side. I hugged her and thanked her and then put my arms around my dad and squeezed hard, whispering my thanks in his ear.
    
Everyone moved to the kitchen to eat breakfast, but before I joined them, I stopped to say a silent thank you to the pink angel on the treetop. I picked up my special Christmas gift thinking about the fun Carole and I would have later in the day when her family joined ours for dinner.



Sunday, December 20, 2015

Magical Windows of Christmas--A Childhood Memory

Marshall Field's Windows and the Famous Clock

For this Christmas week, I'm going to feature Christmas stories today through Thursday. This one was published in an anthology of Holiday Stories. Posting Sunday evening for a sneak preview!


Magical Windows of Christmas
By Nancy Julien Kopp

At least once during the Christmas seasons of my 1940’s childhood, my mother and I rode the elevated train from suburban Oak Park to downtown Chicago, exiting at the Marshall Field’s station. Pigeons strutted on the wooden platform and railings, flapping soft gray wings now and then, drawing my attention, but Mother pulled me toward a long flight of steps to the street, leaving the pigeons far above us.

We headed to a special, magical place, the big department store’s Christmas windows. Often, the wind and cold air stung our cheeks. Sometimes snowflakes floated lazily over us, but it didn’t matter. A crowd formed close to the windows of Marshall Field’s, and Mother and I wiggled into the center, moving closer and closer to the front until we stood before Christmas Window #1.

There, before us was a wonderland that brought oohs and aahs from the crowd. “Look, Mommy!” could be heard off and on as well when excited children pointed out the obvious to their mothers.

Marshall Fields initiated the Christmas window display in 1897. During November, the windows were covered with brown paper and not unveiled until the day after Thanksgiving. For weeks, designers and their staff worked long hours to create a story told in eleven successive windows, using a fairy tale or child’s book theme. Animation came in later years, and the designs grew more and more lifelike.  Piles of snow and frost-covered trees looked real enough to touch. A tray of gingerbread men near an oven so perfect, I could almost smell the spicy aroma. A scroll or some other unique prop told part of the story, and the rest came with our imagination.

The earlier windows were toy displays, a marketing scheme that drew thousands of shoppers. Later, in the mid-40’s, the story windows began, and Uncle Mistletoe and Aunt Holly were introduced.

We moved from window to window enjoying the continuing tale. Stories like Snow White and Pinocchio came to life behind the giant windows. They were probably more exciting in the days prior to television, for we had nothing like this anywhere but the movie theaters. By the time we’d walked the entire route, our feet were tingling with the cold, and we headed into the store to warm up.

What better place to thaw out than in the line that ended with a short sit on Santa’s lap. By the time we reached Santa, we’d shed gloves and hats and unbuttoned our heavy coats. I told the bearded man in the red suit my dearest wishes, never doubting that he’d remember and bring at least one of the items I’d requested.
When the 1950’s rolled around, I made the trip downtown to Marshall Field’s with my girlfriends. Even then, my excitement stayed at a high pitch. I noticed more details, and my friends and I giggled and chatted, and pointed things out to one another. With rosy cheeks and numbing toes by the time we’d gotten to the end, we headed into the store. Not to see Santa but to savor a cup of hot chocolate and then spend some time wandering through the massive place looking for Christmas gifts for our family members. We might finish the day with a Frango Mint, the candy made famous by Marshall Field’s.


Today, Field’s is no more. The sign in front now says Macy’s. It was a sad day for me when that happened. A piece of my childhood crumbled, never to be the same. But the memory of the Christmas windows and my visits to Santa remain even many decades later. 


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Can Santa Help With Using Better Verbs?





You might ask Santa to gift you with some ways to make your writing better. Until he comes, here's something you might work on yourself.

We all use many passive verbs in everyday conversation. Consider how many times you include the words was, is, were or some variation of them. We do it subconsciously as a method of economizing our speech. Those words are short and we know the point of what we’re saying lies in the words that surround those bland verbs.

But as writers, we need to find verbs that show the reader something, verbs that bring out sensory details. Using too many passive verbs is the mark of a new writer. I profess to guilt in that department, too, when I first started writing. Besides the passive verbs. there are some that are rather mundane or boring--used too often. Using an abundance of passive or boring verbs comes under the heading of Lazy Writing.

Which of the following sentences are more interesting? Which ones give a mental picture to the reader?

A. She is sad.
B. Sadness engulfed her.

A. We went to the beach.
B. We motored to the beach.

A. We were hot in the sun.
B. We roasted in the blazing sun.

A. Alice turned around, her skirt moved, too.
B. Alice twirled until her skirt billowed.

The B sentences all bring a mental picture to mind and allow the reader to get into the scene far better than those passive verbs in the A sentences. In the final set, A has semi-active verbs, what we might call weak verbs. Again, the ones used in B are far more interesting and give a more vivid picture.

When you finish the first draft of a story or essay, look through it and mark the passive verbs with a highlighter. You might be shocked to see how many there are sprinkled throughout your story. Then try to find active verbs to replace them. Use a thesaurus if you need some help. Read your work from beginning to end and you’ll see how much stronger and more interesting it sounds. Work on using active verbs whenever possible. 

Half A Daddy For Christmas




This is a true story I wrote for a Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas book but it didn't make it into the book. Instead, it languished for a long time in my files until I decided to share it with you today.


 Half A Daddy For Christmas
By Nancy Julien Kopp
   
 Christmas Eve finally arrived. I’d finished baking, the gifts were under the tree, and we’d carried out our family tradition of driving around to look at homes ablaze with holiday lights on the way home from church. Our two children were out of the car as soon as Ken pulled into the garage. We followed close behind, reaching the kitchen just as the phone rang.
   
 Ken answered, and after a short conversation he said, “Thank you for letting me know.” He turned to me. “That was the nursing home. One of my customers passed away tonight, and I’ve got to let the family know.”
   
 Ken headed a trust department in a bank. He needed to inform family of the death of a customer as soon as possible. But it was Christmas Eve! The lady who died had only one relative that he knew of—a sister who lived far away from our state of Kansas. He needed to talk with her and find out if there were other living relatives.

The kids were in the family room shaking packages under the tree, but I didn’t bother to tell them to keep their hands off the gifts as I usually did. I waited, anxious to hear what he was going to do.
    
“I haven’t got the heart to call with news like this on Christmas Eve. I’ll wait til tomorrow. I’ve got the sister’s number in the file at the bank.”
   
Kirk and Karen abandoned the gaily wrapped presents when I offered them Christmas cookies for a bedtime snack. Their dad didn’t join in. In fact, he turned on the TV and said very little to anyone, unlike him on a festive evening like this one.
    
Ken spent a restless night and beat everyone out of bed. When the kids and I got downstairs, he had a fire blazing and Christmas music playing softly. Our children checked out what Santa had brought them and what he’d left in their stockings while I put the coffee on. Next, we opened gifts but it felt like there was only half a daddy in the room. His mind dwelled on an elderly lady in Seattle.
    
After I served a big breakfast, Ken left for the bank to make the phone call to Seattle. I hoped the light of Christmas Day made it easier for the woman to hear the news than the darkness of Christmas Eve.
    
The kids played with new toys while I made some preparations for our mid-day holiday dinner. We’d call our families back in Illinois later in the day. An hour went by and well into the second hour, I started to worry. The bank was locked, but Ken had his own key. He was there all alone, and what if the police saw a shadowy figure inside? What if they shot first and asked questions later? Just as panic grabbed a tight hold on me, he walked in the door. Even though I noted the concern on his face, relief washed over me.

 “I called the sister,’ he said, “but I couldn’t get her to understand. I think she has dementia. I have to call again.”
   
 Kirk wanted his dad to play a new game with him, but his request was met with, “Not now.” An unusual response from a caring dad.
    
I listened to Ken talking to the woman in Seattle while I peeled potatoes. His kindness and his patience seemed to never end as he tried to make sure the lady actually understood his message. After many repetitions, he finally gave up and ended the call. He paced the kitchen and passed right by a dish of fudge on the counter, something he’d never do under normal circumstances.
    
“All I can do is see if the Seattle police can get a social worker to go out and talk with this woman.”  He needed information about any other family before funeral arrangements could be made, and he also felt a moral obligation.
    
He called the Seattle police department and spoke with an officer there who told him there were no social workers. “It’s Christmas Day!” The man’s voice was so loud I heard him across the room and that’s when my husband ran out of kindness and patience.
    
In a raised voice, he informed the officer that both of them were working even though it was Christmas Day and it’s a sure thing that there’s a social worker on call. Both our children listened with wide eyes. This was not the daddy they knew. The call ended with the policeman’s assurance that the task would be taken care of before day’s end.

Christmas Day went on with a special roast duck dinner eaten from the good china, phone calls to and from family and quieter than usual children. They were well aware they had only half a daddy this Christmas.  His mind seemed to center on what was happening in Seattle in the apartment of an elderly woman who’d lost her sister.
    
The next day at work, he received a call from the social worker who’d made the visit. She assured him that the sister had finally understood the sad news she’d brought.
    

That Christmas, my husband’s kind, patient way with a stranger felt like another gift, one that did not come wrapped in shiny paper with a big bow, but one that I loved and treasured then, and still do. Our children may have only had half a daddy that Christmas, but over the years he’s made up for it. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Need a Little Motivation To Write A Seasonal Story?



What words come to mind when you study this picture? It seemed a perfect photo for a Photo Prompt Writing Exercise. 

Some of the words that came to me as I gazed at this scene are:
  • peace
  • cold
  • long ago
  • warmth inside 
  • glow
  • Christmas
  • rural area
And then I wondered who might be inside the carriage. Other thoughts I had are:
  • Who was waiting in the fully lighted house?
  •  Would there be a joyous reunion? 
  • Or would the greetings at the door be as frigid as the snow outside?
  •  Where did the tree standing inside come from? 
  • Who decorated it? 
  • What aromas met the callers as they entered the house?
  • What gifts did the callers bring?
  • Was it perhaps only a doctor in the carriage after being called by the home's owner?
  • What kind of room was in the tower at the top of the house? 
When you do an exercise like this, take some time to study the picture. Note the details, not just the main things that jump out immediately. Let your mind consider questions like I did above. 

Your writing effort for this photo prompt could quite easily turn into a Christmas story that you can market for 2016. Too many writers turn their nose up at doing an exercise like this. It's too bad as many a good story can come from using this motivational device. Awww, go on--give it try!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Small Goals For Writers Add Up



Any regular reader here knows I like lists. I didn't realize that lists were among my favorite things until a reader mentioned that she enjoyed my posts that included lists because she especially liked that form of organization. Her comment opened my eyes to the fact that I felt much the same way. I think it is because I have always been an organized person and a list is the perfect way to accomplish that.

Thus, today's poster is a list for those who whine. Oh come on...there are lots of you out there who whine about not being able to get any writing done. Hey, I'm one of them myself at times. Thinking about a big writing project can be overwhelming. Walking on the moon was probably pretty overwhelming in 1950 but by taking a step at a time in the future space program, we accomplished it.

You can reach your writing goal using the same process. Set a series of small goals that are attainable instead of making that one huge goal your end-all, be-all. Try to accomplish too much all at one time and you could end up making yourself a nervous wreck. You don't want to do that. Even though writing is darned hard work, there should be an element of fun, or satisfaction, in it, too.

There are times when we have to choose whether to write those 50 words or 400 words or a full manuscript. There's nothing wrong in writing 50 words and moving on to some other task. Come back later or two days hence and add another 50. No amount you write is too small. What is too little is to not write at all because you think you can't get the whole project completed.

Look at #4. I love how simple it is and yet what excellent advice. By writing every day, no matter how many words, we establish a habit. It's one of the reasons I have kept on with this blog for so many years on a Monday through Friday basis. It's become a habit that makes me write those 5 days of the week.

There are 8 points in this list. I could write a blog post on each and every one and I've probably touched on many in previous posts.

Use this list to remind yourself to slow down and take the steps to your final goal slowly but surely. You'll get there eventually. I've always been a NOW person, a person in a hurry, a person who want results right away. I sometimes think that becoming a writer served to teach me to slow down and take life in shorter hops instead of trying to accomplish too much at one time. It's worked in my writing life and I'm trying to apply it in my everyday life, as well. I've succeeded at times but still have little blips along the way.

We aren't perfect people so we're not going to be perfect writers either. But we can work to achieve being a better writer with the 8 step plan in today's poster. So go ahead--write 50 words today. It's a beginning. Remember this--there is no end unless there is a beginning!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Saint Lucia and Me


st Lucia

Saint Lucia Day in Sweden

It's time for a Christmas confession. Somewhere in the middle grades of my schooldays, our class read a story about the tradition of Saint Lucia Day in Sweden. We learned that the oldest daughter in each family played the part of Saint Lucia.

She dressed in a white robe and wore a wreath with lighted candles on her head. The girl served coffee and sweets to the other family members first thing in the morning. There was a fine illustration with the story. I became mesmerized by the story and the picture. It became my heart's desire to be the girl in my family who brought light and love and good things to eat.

The first part would be easy. I was one of four children but the only girl. I could get the job with no trouble there. Where would I get a long white robe? And a wreath with candles on it for my hair, which was long and curly just like the girl in the picture. How would I convince my parents that I should wear this garb and walk with lighted candles through our small apartment? The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was foolish to even talk to my family about doing it. 

I had visions of my father saying,  But we're not Swedish! Mom might have rolled her eyes and said, You're not walking through our home with fire on your head! I'm quite certain my brothers would have been rolling on the floor laughing. At me! Thus, I never tried to talk them into letting me try to be the Swedish Saint Lucia on the 13th of December. That day happened to also be the birthday of one of my brothers. He was to be the center of attention that day. Not me! 

Even so, I never gave up the desire to be the Saint Lucia girl. I kept that wish hidden all through my growing-up years, my years as a mother raising children, right up to today. Yes, I'm a senior citizen and I'd still love to be the Saint Lucia girl, even though the thought of me doing it now makes me laugh. It seemed such a wonderful tradition and the thought alone fed my desire to serve others, which I have tried to do all my life. 

Today, in Sweden, this special day is celebrated in schools and businesses, in homes and on TV. Sweden is cold and dark at this time of year but Saint Lucia Day brings warmth and light. That warmth and light is what attracted me all those years ago. It might also have been the possibility of being the center of attention for a little while.

This is my Christmas confession. Now the world knows one of my hidden desires. How about you? Do you have a Christmas confession to make? It could make a wonderful story for an anthology or a memory kind of magazine. Write it now and market it in 2016. 


Friday, December 11, 2015

A Little List For Poets



I'm going to finish the Little List posts for this week with a checklist for those who write poetry. One of our well-known and loved American poets, Robert Frost, wrote a poem about Christmas trees. You can read it here. So many poets have turned their pen to poems about our holidays that we celebrate this month. One of my favorites is I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The poetry world ranges from beginners to the world-renowned. Some write purely for themselves and others aim toward publication and sharing their words with others. Whether you are beginner or pro, use this little list when you have finished your poem. 

Does my poem...
  • bring out my inner feelings?
  • speak clearly to readers?
  • use sensory details?
  • use techniques like alliteration, onomatopoeia, similes and metaphors?
  • have the proper rhythm, rhyme, and meter as needed?
  • bring an emotional reaction to readers?
  • make the best use of lovely language without being too flowery?
  • make sense to anyone but me?
  • drag on?
  • end too quickly?
  • have a message?
  • have a title that will draw readers?
Even if you're not a poet, you might look at a few of the poems you like to read over and over and see how they match up with the list above.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Little List For Writers of Children's Stories



I've been sharing some lists for various types of writing this week. The checkpoints can help you assess your work. Most are things we already know but serve here as reminders.

Today, my list is for those who write for children. Anyone who has never attempted to write fiction or nonfiction for kids has no idea just how exacting and difficult it can be. But it's also a lot of fun to create something that a child will read and enjoy. And perhaps even learn from.

This list will remind you of some of the things important in a story for children.
Ask yourself Did I...
  • preach too much?
  • I talk down to kids?
  • let an adult solve the problem in the story?
  • let the child in the story figure it out?
  • use tension to keep interest?
  • use sensory details?
  • make use of some humor?
  • have a good opening hook?
  • create a satisfying ending?
  • use the proper vocabulary for the age group I aimed for?
  • like the story when I finished it?
You don't want to answer yes to all these questions. You'll know which ones should have yes answers and which should not.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Little List For Personal Essayists



I love Christmas ornaments. The ones that are favorites usually have some meaning or a story that goes along with them. It might be a place it was purchased--maybe on a trip. Or it could be one that was given by a special person for a particular reason. Those are the ones that give us a topic for a personal essay--the nonfiction essays that are often autobiographical in nature. Ones that give the facts but are also filled with some emotion. 

One of the tackiest ornaments on our tree is the one that means the most to me. Forty-nine years ago, our first child was born a month prior to Christmas. She had a birth defect that meant she had to be hospitalized for quite some time. Ken was a trust officer in a bank. One afternoon, he visited one of his customers in a nursing home. The lady knew that this was our first child and that she had severe problems. That afternoon, the woman who needed skilled nursing care handed Ken a funny little elf on a golden string. The elf had his knees pulled up and arms wrapped around them. His rubber face was not a thing of beauty. It was a cheap little ornament the lady had won at a Bingo game but she gave it to Ken with a loving heart and her wish for the baby to survive a coming surgery. We placed the cheap little elf on our tree that year along with other ornaments far more beautiful. Our sweet little girl only lived seven weeks but the elf ornament was given a special place on our tree and in our hearts each and every year since then. I could turn this little story into a full-length personal essay with sensory details if time and space were not a factor here. 

But you, too, have special ornaments on your tree that could be the topic of a personal essay. Look around your home for other things that might be a personal essay subject. It's how a lot of Chicken Soup for the Soul stories are written. If whatever the item is has special meaning for you, it could help you send a message to others through the essay you write. Personal essays are also meant to entertain as well as convey a message.

A little list of things to keep in mind when writing a personal essay:
  • It must be nonfiction
  • Is written in a conversational tone
  • Should send a message of some kind to the reader
  • Usually has a universal truth in it
  • Should bring out emotion in the reader
  • Is filled with sensory details
  • Is well organized
  • Is free of mechanical errors


When you have written a personal essay, use this little checklist to see if you have kept the qualities needed. Go through your files and see how other personal essays you've written measure up. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Little List For Novelists



Ever felt like this when you're reading a book? One that grabs you and holds on tight. Do you find yourself escaping from the hustle and bustle of everyday life by immersing yourself in a good book?

If you're a reader like I am, you probably answered yes to my questions. I find total relaxation when I read a book, or a short story, that commands my full attention because it's so good. I forget about everything and everyone around me.

What qualities does fiction like this have?
  • A title that catches my attention
  • A fine hook in the opening paragraphs
  • Leaves me with questions to be answered as I read
  • Speaks to me with elegant prose
  • Takes some twists and turns now and then
  • Allows me to relate to the characters
  • Ends each chapter with something that makes me want to continue reading
  • Allows me to react with emotion of some kind
  • Has enough sensory details to bring me into the scene
  • A satisfying ending

If you're a fiction writer, can you apply the list above to your novel and have positive answers? If you can, you are on the right track. If there are some that made you squirm a bit, that's where you might need to do some revisions. Like a car that veers off the highway, you don't want to over correct to get back on track. Take it slow and easy and you'll be on the road again. A truly good book doesn't just happen. It takes several tries and a lot of hard work. Whoever coined the now cliched term blood, sweat and tears, surely must have been a novelist.

It's not so easy to find large chunks of reading time in a busy holiday season but during January, give yourself some time to walk inside a good book like the little girl above so that no one can find you. When you're finished reading the book, use the checklist above on your own manuscript(s) to see if you can write a book that readers would love to get lost in.

Monday, December 7, 2015

My Favorite Sugar Cookie Recipe



Baking is a big part of Christmas for our family. Well--baking for me and eating the results for some of the others. I love sugar cookies and have tried many different recipes looking for the perfect one but I always go back to my favorite. I've never found another I like better. The secret is that this version uses confectioners' sugar rather than the granulated sugar called for in the majority of recipes for this type of cookie. And it also calls for two kinds of flavorings. 

I'm going to share the recipe today so you can enjoy these super good cookies, too. And then, a bit of chatter about writing in the food world.

 Best Ever Sugar Cookies 

1 1/2 c. sifter confectioners' sugar
1 c, butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond flavoring
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

Mix sugar and butter with mixer until creamy. Add egg and flavorings, mix thoroughly. Stir dry ingredients together and blend into the butter/sugar mixture. Refrigerate 2-3 hours.

Heat oven to 375'. Divide dough in half and roll on lightly floured pastry cloth about 3/16th inches thick. Cut with cookie cutter, sprinkle with sugar. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake 7-8 min, or until delicately golden. Cool on cookie sheet for a minute or so. Remove to wire rack to cool. 

If I plan to frost the cookies after baking, I roll them just a little bit thicker. Not much. Cool and frost. 

I found the recipe in a Betty Crocker Cooky Book that I purchased in 1961. I love using both the vanilla and almond flavorings. 

There are many opportunities to write about cooking and baking or eating in restaurants on your travels. I'm surprised more people don't consider it. One of my published articles early in my writing journey was about Pub fare we'd eaten on a trip in the UK and Ireland. I wrote it because so often we hear how blah the food in that part of the world is. We found it to be quite good in almost all the pubs we ate in during that 3 week trip. 

If you have a favorite recipe or a special place you like to eat or ethnic food recipes handed down from generations, consider using them in your writing world. Meanwhile, I hope you'll try my favorite sugar cookie recipe. They work for Valentine's Day or St. Patrick's Day or Easter, as well as for Christmas. Or any time of the year! 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Christmas Memories From the 1940's and '50's

Marshall Fields Christmas Tree Mark McMahon Artist @Linda Bruinenberg Rowland under the tree in the Walnut Room-an annual tradition.
The Walnut Room, Marshall Fields in Chicago

Today, I'm posting some Christmas memories from my growing-up years in the Chicago area. Hopefully, memories will trigger some of your own and you'll write about them for future generations in your own families. Don't just think about it. Do it!

Christmas Memories From the 1940's and '50's

When I was growing up, on December first my mother turned to the last page on the calendar and planted the seed of anticipation. “Oh look, it’s December,” she’d often remark. And immediately, my brothers and I started thinking about what we wanted Santa to leave under our tree. Our excitement grew day by day.

We turned the pages in the toy section of the Sears catalog over and over again, and we marked the initial of our first name by the items we wanted most, confident that Santa would bring at least one of our heart’s desires.

I looked forward to the time right after school in December because every year a Chicago radio station ran a serialized children’s story called “The Cinnamon Bear” which became a real part of Christmas for me over the years. The adventures of the two children and the Cinnamon Bear never changed, it was the same story every year, but that didn’t matter. I listened to each episode as if it were brand new and thrilled to the happy ending each year.

After a long, cold walk after school on December days, the smell of Christmas greeted me the moment I reached home. I’d open the apartment door to the pine scent of the Christmas tree mingled with the many delicacies Mother baked. She made an assortment of cookies that pleased every palate. Cinnamon rolls with icing drizzled over the top tasted so good straight from the oven. Coffeecakes, muffins, homemade bread and even her fudge, that never did get firm enough to pick up, graced our December table. Memories of a warm kitchen, the air filled with spicy aromas, and an after-school cup of hot chocolate and a fresh-baked treat remain with me these many years later.

Because our apartment had little storage space, Mother wrapped the gifts as she bought them and then stacked them up on the two dressers in her bedroom. All through December, she sent my brothers and me on little errands to that bedroom. “Bring my pincushion,” she’d say, and off I’d go to the bedroom to get it. The sight of the stack of gaily wrapped packages made me unbearably curious, but I knew better than to shake the packages. All I did was look and wonder which ones were mine.

I enjoyed buying gifts for my family almost as much as receiving them. I was the neighborhood babysitter from the time I was about ten. I made the grand sum of 25 cents an hour and I saved part of that hard-earned cash all year for Christmas purchases. I bought gifts for each member of my family and also for some of the children I took care of. At our school parties, we were to bring a grab bag gift marked ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ with a limited dollar amount. They were always small things, but I looked forward to getting that grab bag gift every year. It was the highlight of our class party, always held on the final day before the Christmas break.

When I got to the pre-teen and teen years, my friends and I rode on the elevated train to downtown Chicago for a visit to the famed Walnut Room in Marshall Fields. We seldom got to eat there as the lines were long and the food a bit pricey for girls our age. Instead, we stood in the entryway and gazed at the spectacular tree decorated more ornately than any at our homes. The dining tables closest to the tree were those most coveted, and it seemed more old ladies sat there than people with children who would have loved to dine so close to the magnificent tree.

Close to Christmas, the postman delivered a big box filled with packages from my aunt and uncle who lived in Phoenix, so far from our Chicago home. Aunt Jane wrapped her gifts fancier than my mother did and the sight of those gaily wrapped gifts brought sheer pleasure. I’d check all of them to see which one was mine and wonder if I could wait until Christmas morning to open it. But wait I did, as there was never any opening of gifts until the specified time. On Christmas Eve Mother sent us into the bedroom to bring the stacked packages to Dad. We watched as he placed them around the tree. Oh, what a glittering array it was by the time he’d finished. All evening I kept my eye on those packages, while little shivers of excitement ran up and down my spine. Mother shooed us to bed early, but not until we’d pinned one of our everyday socks to the back of a chair. No fireplace mantel for our stockings in the small apartment we called home. “The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner Santa will come.” It was her Christmas Eve mantra.

In the morning, my brothers and I tumbled out of bed and rushed to the living room to see what Santa had left us. Santa’s gifts were never wrapped but sitting somewhere near the tree. We all knew which one was ours for hadn’t we marked our wishes in the Sears catalog? After the excitement of seeing the surprises from Santa and checking our stockings, which always held an orange and walnuts in the shell, we opened the gifts one by one as Dad passed them out. Often, the packages held little things or something to wear but a few had new toys that thrilled us.

When the last gift was opened, we had a big breakfast, and it was the one day of the year I was allowed to eat fudge early in the morning, a special Christmas treat. The rest of the day we played with our new toys and I helped Mother in the kitchen with a special Christmas dinner. Often it was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, a special recipe my grandmother passed down. Sometimes my Aunt Vivienne and Uncle Jimmy came for Christmas dinner. Their daughter, Carol, was my age and an only child. She always got many more gifts than I did but it never seemed to bother me. I accepted the fact that she didn’t have brothers to share with like I did.

December holds many happy family memories. Our Christmases today are somewhat different than those of long ago, as we’ve made our own traditions with our children, as they are doing with theirs now, too. But the warmth of a family celebrating together remains constant, and I pray it always will.




Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Writers--Immerse Yourself In The Holidays of December



Yes, it's actually December and many of us will be working on Christmas stories. Write them now to submit for publication during the Christmas season of 2016. This goes for any Hanukkah or Kwanzaa stories, too. 

Write them now when the decorations, the smell of Christmas cookies in the oven, the special programs and church services all are an inspiration. It's ever so much easier to write that holiday story when you're immersed in all the trappings of the season. Sure, you can write a Christmas story in July using mental images and your memory bank but it will be far easier to do it this month. Put the story or poem in a file and let it sit for a few months.

Take it out next spring or early summer. Read it. Will you still like what you wrote in December 2015? Will you see places that need reworking? Will you want to add something? Or perhaps cut a whole paragraph? You'll see your story with different eyes. The frame is there and all you have to do is polish it.

Now, you're shaking your head and wondering why I'm suggesting you take time to write a holiday story during this busy month. Did you already forget the post of a couple days ago? Read it again and see if you can make some time for writing a Christmas story or two or.... 

The same goes for anyone who celebrates the other holidays of December. Write while the spirit of the celebration is with you.

                                                                                                


A List of Favorite Christmas Stories



What are your favorite Christmas books? The one pictured above is truly a classic. Even people who have not read the book seem to know the story because it is referred to in so many instances.

Libraries usually have big displays in December of Christmas books--ones that tell the religious significance and others that deal with the whimsical, fun commercialized end of this holiday.

Bookstores also feature holiday books for buying. What a nice gift to give someone in hopes they'll curl up with the book late on Christmas Day to top off their holiday celebration.

There are myriad holiday cookbooks to choose from, as well. If I received one of these, I'd hope it was early in the month so I could try out the most appealing recipes.

This is a short list of some of the favorite Christmas books or stories. Many,you'll note, are children's books. Guess what? We adults enjoy them, as well, and we're delighted when we have a child we can read these special stories to. You can google to find other favorite Christmas stories.

  •  The Gift of the Magi  by O. Henry
  • The Night Before Christmas  by Clement Moore
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  • A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg (one of my very favorites!)
  • The Snow Queen  Hans Christian Andersen
  • The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats
  • How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
  • The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell
  • A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
  • A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
Each of you probably have favorites you could list. You can find others at the Goodreads link.which names 735 titles of books that use a Christmas theme.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Find Time To Write During December, Too



Here it is, the final month of 2015. It's a month for celebrating--Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and New Year's Eve. Add the family birthdays or anniversaries some have and it's a busy, busy month. We'll be shopping, baking, addressing cards, decorating, wrapping, partying and more. Add to that the usual household tasks like laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, and housework and you wonder how you can fit it all into a mere 31 days.

Some of us can add writing to the many items listed above. I know what you're thinking. Writing! Is she crazy? In December?  

You can fit it into the hectic schedule if you work at it. You might not be able to devote as much time as usual for writing, but it's possible to get up half an hour earlier or go to bed half an hour later. Commuter time on a train or bus can serve as writing time if you take notebook and pen with you. Sometimes, you need to take a break from all the other things and give yourself half an hour to write.

I find that my writing time relaxes me. Usually. Not so much on those days when a story won't work no matter what I do with it, but most of the time I do push all other things out of my mind and enjoy my time alone writing. 

After that break, you'll probably go back to the holiday tasks with more energy and interest. There's nothing wrong with taking a little Me time so don't feel guilty. Just do it!


Monday, November 30, 2015

Ten Zany Birds--A Review

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 Thanksgiving has come and gone and November is about to slam the door. On the final day of this eleventh month, I'd like to do a book review. 

Georgia author, Sherry Ellis, has self-published Ten Zany Birds, a rhyming picture book which the author describes as "a feathered festival." The story itself is an old concept--begin with ten and one by one, the zany birds fly away leaving only one in the end. As a child, I remember a rhyming book about ten little Indians--sure to be labeled politically incorrect in present times. My children learned a rhyming jingle about ten little monkeys jumping on a bed. One fell off....you get the picture. 

Sherry Ellis has brought the old concept up to date while introducing counting and basic subtraction skills. Colors and patterns (stripes, spotted, and polka-dotted) also come into play in this picture book. Humor and whimsy float from page to page as the silly and easily distracted birds fly away, one by one.

The book would be fun for parent, grandparent or teacher to read to a pre-school child. Early readers would delight in the rhyming and fun throughout this book. as well as the illustrations.

Charu Jain, an artist who lives in India, illustrated the book. Her interpretation of the zany birds adds much to the author's story. The vibrant colors and whimsical expressions on the birds creates more joy when reading this book. 

Being a writer myself and a word person, I would have loved to see some explanation of the key word in the title--zany. It's definitely not a word most pre-schoolers are acquainted with. Perhaps the story itself transfers the meaning of the word to the children. But this is a counting and basic subtraction concept book so perhaps I ask too much. I would love to know how Ms Ellis picked the word zany to include in the title and repeated rhyme within the book itself. 

I asked my nine-year-old grandson to read the book when he was here on Thanksgiving Day. I told him it was for children much younger than he is but that I'd like his opinion to help me review the book. Cole read the book and then sat down at the computer to write his review. I've listed the things he liked below with my additions in red:

  • It shows what they (birds) look like.
  • I like when they fly away
  • They are all different colors
  • The birds look funny
  • The birds always look like they are having fun
  • I like the last page 
  • It was a good book
He did say he didn't like that it said the same thing on almost every page. We talked about the importance of using repetition when young children are learning to read and that children his age didn't need to have that repeating process anymore. 

I think I agree with my grandson. It was a good book. Gift-giving time is looming close. If you have little ones on your list, consider Ten Zany Birds by Sherry Ellis.