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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Moon Stain--A Life Experience

                                                                    Ronda  Miller

"Poetry is our most natural connection between one another."  So says Ronda Miller, a poet who resides in Lawrence, KS. Ronda's poems ring with the bold truth of her life experiences.

Already published in many journals, Moon Stain is her second published book of poetry. She was raised in the High Plateau area of northwest Kansas on her grandparents farm. It was here that nature sowed the seeds to heal a troubled heart and where the poet in her was released.

Moon Stain is the title of her book and also the name of the first poem the reader is treated to. It is, I must admit, my favorite. There are many other fine poems but this one touched me when I first read it and does each time I read it again. A child whose mother has died experiences the pain of loss again when she finds a stillborn calf in a barn. The simple telling of how it affects her brought a lot of emotion to this reader.

Many of the poems reflect the healing balm of the Kansas prairie throughout the poet's lifetime. Others detail her lovers, substance abuse, birth, her family, even a very old coat--all the things that have made her the person she is today.

In Stone Eyed Cold Girl, the poet curses her mother for committing suicide and leaving her wounded for life. In The Year I Went Missing, she writes of what may have been a typical teen rebellion--she runs away and experiences life on her own. One of the final poems in the book is titled Meeting Noah, a description of a visit to the grave of a four day old infant with the baby's father. This one reached my heart as a mother who visits two such graves. The reader would not have had to experience such loss to be touched by this poem. It is so well written that anyone would feel the scene described.

The section titles all deal with the moon. Listed in order, they are Blood Moon, New Moon, Moon Shadows, Moonbeams, and Full Moon.

Ronda Miller's search for nurturing and love has led to difficult times in her life but it has also brought an awakening through her poetry. In her final poem in Moon Stain, Ronda Miller lets her readers know she has reached acceptance and peace in her life. This is a book to be read multiple times.

Moon Stain can be ordered at Meadowlark Books or Amazon or Barnes and Noble. 

Read the title/poem, Moon Stain, here. Reading it just might entice you to purchase the book.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Meet Some Real People Who Have A Common Bond

Elaine--New York
Em--South Africa
IMAGE: “Water Fairy Sisters” by Ola Design . Prints available at ...
    Em--South Africa                                                                                  
Joyce--South Carolina


Miho--South Carolina
Wanda--Kansas (deceased)


What do you suppose these people have in common? They are all ages. They live in different states and countries. They all look like someone you might pass in the grocery store aisle. 

Each one is a writer. I know them all personally and can assure you that they are all very normal human beings. But each one has a passion for writing. Three are poets. Two wrote wonderful memoir pieces. Two are fiction writers. One writes personal essays. One blogs about life as seen through her eyes. One writes nonfiction books. One is deceased but her writing lives on.

All of them have a personal life, too. One that reads much like yours or mine. Some have jobs; some are retired; some try to make a living with their writing, some are hobbyist writers like me. They have spouses, parents, siblings, friends--just like you. 

The point of all this is that writers are real people. They don't sit on a pedestal between writing sessiosn waiting to be admired. Not at all. Instead, they do laundry, go to concerts, do yardwork, get groceries, and clean the house. 

I am proud to know each of these real people.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A WWII Story I Recommend

I finished reading this Pulitzer Prize novel very early this morning. I could have finished it last night but chose to read the final 43 pages today. For some reason, I didn't want to come to the end of this compelling novel written by Anthony Doerr.

And so, at 6:15 a.m., I sat in the quiet house and read to the end of this bestseller. You can't help but wonder if the world needs one more WWII story but perhaps we do, perhaps we need to be reminded on a frequent basis what the world became during those years. When they are as beautifully written as this book, they are a satisfying read. Despite the abundance of WWII books, each one tackles one small part of that war, introduces us to a handful of the thousandas actually involved. I've always thought that historical fiction is a painless way to learn history, and this novel deals out a healthy portion of history to the reader as well as some scientific knowledge.

The story begins in 1934 and centers around two children. Marie-Laure is a blind child who lives in Paris with her father, a locksmith in the Paris Museum of Natural History. Werner is an orphan who is being raised with a younger sister in an orphanage in a coal mining town in Germany.  He is gifted in the science of radio transmission and all involved with it. As a result he is sent to a training school for Nazi youth and eventually becomes a soldier. Marie-Clare and her father flee Paris when the Germans come. The go to Saint-Malo, a town on the seacoast of Brittany, where they stay with Marie-Clare's great-uncle. Etienne has never recovered from his WWI experiences and remains housebound in his tall, six story house, due to his never-ending fears. 

The book moves back and forth effortlessly between the two children and what occurs in the lives of each. It is only late in the book that their paths cross and then for only one day. As we follow the lives of these two characters, we also get involved with a mystery of the whereabouts of a huge diamond named The Sea of Flames. 

There is much more but I prefer the reader find it on his/her own. The story is fascinating and gripping. Not being of scientific mind at all, I felt I learned some things about radio transmissions during this period of history as well as learning something of what it is like to live without sight as Marie-Clare did from early childhood on.

I also reveled in the beauty of the prose. Some paragraphs almost felt like a prose poem as they were written in language that spoke to my heart.

I found a veil of overwhelming sadness throughout the story. How can a war story be anything else, I asked myself. Even the ending pages which take place long after the war ends did not leave me with joy or hopefulness. But this is not a reason to pass over this novel. 

Read it for the fascinating story. Read it for the beautiful prose. Read it for a painless history lesson. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Writing Beautiful Prose

I love flowers and I also love beautifully written prose. If it becomes too flowery, then I feel embarrassed for the writer. There's a fine line between what is termed purple prose and that which grabs the reader with its beauty.

I am about halfway through Anthony Doerr's bestseller All The Light We Cannot See. He is a fine storyteller but he also writes prose that sometimes makes me stop and go back to reread a sentence. Last night, one that I especially liked was The sky drops silver threads of sleet.  What a beautiful way to convey the fact that sleet was falling. It's visual; it's almost poetic. There are many other instances of this type of writing in this WWII novel.

Angeline Lajeunesse, a romance writer, said this about writing prose:
"Metaphors, simile, symbolism, imagery, description…all great tools.  Ugly prose happen when someone pastes adjectives, adverbs and long words they don’t understand into sentences trying to sound verbose and writerly."

She draws a definite distinction between good prose and that which is not. Let's go back to the term purple prose. We define it as being prose that is so ornate that it interferes with the flow of the narrative, bringing attention only to itself. As much as we want to write memorable prose, we don't want the words to take the reader away from the story.

Angeline Lajeunesse stated that tossing in adjectives, adverbs and long words doesn't accomplish much. To me, it shows that the writer still has much to learn. When a writer uses two or three adjectives per noun, we tire easily when reading the story. Throwing adjectives and adverbs into the air and letting them rain onto your story is a sure way to label yourself a newbie.

Let's take a look at the sentence that attracted me when I was reading last night. The sky drops silver threads of sleet. Note the action verb, the use of one adjective and the small bit of alliteration with silver and sleet. It's a simple sentence but beautiful, so much better than saying It was sleeting.

The story you write is of prime importance but the way you use words can make a good story a great one. Is this, perhaps, one of the reasons Mr. Doerr's novel is a bestseller?

For some writers, writing beautiful prose comes naturally. Others must acquire the ability to write memorable prose. When revising and editing your work, look at your sentences and ask yourself if there is a better way to get the idea of the sentence across. Are there words that bring a better image to the reader? But be careful. You don't want to be accused of purple prose.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Are You A Procastinator Or A Do-It-Now Person?

asleep-in-chair-while-watching-tv.jpgThis is the perfect picture of procrastination. The man has a deadline for an article but he's stuck. Can't think of a good ending. So, maybe he decides to go for a walk. Then, he goes to the kitchen for a snack. Next, he turns on the TV and sits back waiting for inspiration to hit. Now, he's fast asleep. The project has been put off and put off.

We're all human and it's a natural thing to sometimes push aside the things we know we should be doing but really don't want to. I have a major project in the works, but I have reached a point where I am not sure how to proceed. So, what have I done? Put it aside thinking I'll tackle it another day. The days come and go and that little project is still sitting all alone with no one to finish it. The worst part is that the longer I put it off, the easier it is to keep ignoring it.

Why do we procrastinate? Maybe because of difficulty and not being sure of what we're doing--which is the case for me. Some writers also have the attitude that I can always do that later. They know the project will be there waiting for them. Other things are so much more appealing.

How often, as a student, did you leave the studying for a test until the night before? Then you had to cram until the words or numbers were swirling in your head making no sense at all. The next day, you went to the exam with red-rimmed eyes and a fuzzy brain. Or how about those papers you had to write in high school or college? The ones that you had weeks to do but waited until a day or two before the due date. Was it your best work? Probably not.

Some of us are natural procrastinators--always putting things off til the last minute. They seem to get things done but I wonder if they produce their best work by doing it that way. There's certainly no time to let the paper simmer and then edit and/or revise, is there?

Procrastinators need to work hard to change their mindset from doing things last minute to getting to the task as soon as possible. It's a good feeling knowing that the assignment or project is done with time to spare.

I find that I can work both directions--getting things done immediately or putting them on hold until I'm in the mood to do whatever it might be. It's much easier to put off doing things I don't like to do and far simpler to tackle the appealing ones right away. So, liking or disliking what you have to do is of importance here.

My intention with this post is not to solve procrastination problems for others, or even myself, but rather to make you think about it. Check yourself--ask if you are a procrastinator or a do-it-now person. Then, consider why you are one or the other. Or are you like me--a combination of the two?

Have you ever missed a deadline because you put off doing whatever it was too long? Did you learn a lesson or has the same thing happened more than once? Have you ever made an effort to change from a procrastinator to a take-charge-and-do-it now person? Did it work or not? Let us know. We often learn from the experiences of others so it's good to hear these stories.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Philosophy For Writers

The quote above is good advice for everyday everything, but let's narrow it down to our writing life.

Yesterday: Whatever you wrote 10 years ago or last week is a thing of the past. If you've sent a story to an editor weeks or months ago and are still waiting to hear, there's nothing more you can do about it. If you entered an essay in a contest two months ago and suddenly thought of another angle or something wonderful to add, it's too late. You can't ask for your entry to be returned for revisions. The one thing you can do with what you wrote yesterday, that has not been submitted, is to revise and edit it until you reach satisfaction. Well, as close as you can get to satisfaction. I'm not sure writers are ever totally satisfied.

I was in a small discussion group yesterday. The question asked was If you could do something over again in your life, what would it be? The answers given were not about huge life-changing things. Some were quite minor in importance. At least of minor importance to the people listening. But to the person giving their answer, whatever it was that they wished they'd done differently was a big deal. The group concluded that many of those life events are seen with a totally different perception now than when they happened. What we have written long ago is much the same. We are older and, hopefully, wiser; we have added more experiences to our lives which in turn reflect in our writing.

Yesterday is gone. It's best not to dwell on it. Time to move on and chalk whatever you wrote and maybe regret to your youth and inexperience. It's done. It's finished.

Today:  Today is your day! Use it wisely. I read a biography of Barbara Bush several years ago. One of the best things I read in the story of this former First Lady's life was her approach to every day. The gist of what she said is this: Each morning, when you wake up, you have a choice. You can like what you do that day or hate it. She went on to say," I choose to like it." Attitude is the keyword here. If you get up in the morning and hate the thought of working on a difficult chapter, it's probably going to be a miserable chore. If you tell yourself that you are going to conquer the problems with that chapter today, chances are the writing will work out better than if you go with the negative attitude.

I know what you're thinking--easy to say, not so easy to do. Keeping that positive attitude is not a given. It takes work, especially if you're more often a negative person and want to make some changes. It doesn't happen overnight. You might have to start over each morning until it becomes a habit. Success depends on how much you want to change.

Live for today by writing the best you can. Write and rewrite until you like what you've written. If you like it, chances are a lot of readers will, too.

Tomorrow:  The quote tells us we can't control tomorrow. That's partially true. I think we can control what our plan is for the next section of our writing journey. We know where we want to go and we are aware of what needs to be done to achieve our goal. What is not under our control are the bumps in the road that we meet as we move along our writing path. Each one may set us back a bit, but there are ways to overcome and move on.

Once again, a positive attitude will help you get past those bumps in the road more easily and faster without any scars left on your psyche. You may not be able to completely control tomorrow but you can certainly learn to deal with it.

Don't spend today worrying about yesterday. Mark it as past history. Don't spend today worrying about tomorrow. Meet tomorrow when it comes. Write for today. That's what you have in your hands right now.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Soar To New Heights With A Random Word Exercise

To start the week, let's try a Random Word exercise. I will list some words below, one for each day this work week. Start with number 1 today and see where it takes you. Then on to the second one tomorrow and so on. 

The Random Word Exercise is one my online critique group does on a weekly basis. To do the exercise properly, look at the word, then start typing as fast as you can. Write whatever comes into your mind, even if it seems like gibberish. It doesn't have to have any form, or be related, multiple thoughts can come from one word. Or it can take you along one path. There is no right or wrong. Don't hesitate or stop. Keep typing. Continue for a full ten minutes. Set a timer before you begin if it helps. 

You'll have many unrelated thoughts about real things. Or you may start writing the beginning of a fiction story. Or you might just begin with words that rhyme with the word given. Memories from years ago might emerge. Whatever you do, don't stop. Keep on writing no matter how silly it may seem at the time. 

There are days when you get nothing but gibberish, nothing that you can use for a future writing project. But wait! There are also days when a gem of an idea bursts forth, something you can use as the bones of a new story or essay, or even a poem. Several members of my writers group have used their Random Word exercise results to go on to write a full story. You can, too.

You might wonder how the words are selected. Different methods for different people. Some open a book, close their eyes and put a finger on the page. Whatever word that finger lands on is it. Others use a theme, as one person chooses the words for a full month. I did seasons once; another time I used words that all began with the letters fr. If you're doing it on your own, the finger in the book is a good method. This is a great warm-up exercise for any writer.

Here are the five words for this week: 

1. apple

2. elevator

3. silver

4. carnival

5. canine

Friday, June 19, 2015

Dancing With Dad

My Dad in 1942

Father's Day is Sunday. My dad passed away 20 years ago but he remains with me through memories. One of those memories is a story published a couple years ago in Good Old Days magazine which will be my post for today. 

Dancing With Dad
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Most girls remember their first dance with joy, but I had a dilemma when mine was only days away. Not a boy ask girl dance. Instead, all the girls in my eighth grade Girl Scout troop would go to the Valentine Dance with their fathers. Not only for a dance but dinner, too. In the early fifties, that was heady stuff.

Oh, how I wanted to go, but would my dad be interested? Maybe he’d like the fact that we’d be eating and dancing in the basement of Ascension Church, the one he’d attended in his youth. Night after night went by, and I didn’t utter a word about the dance. Thirteen-year-old girls often lack confidence, and in my slightly warped early-teen thinking process, it occurred to me that if I didn’t invite him, Dad couldn’t say no. I lay awake a long time each night telling myself I had to ask. How could I go to the dance if I didn’t? 

My father disciplined my brothers and me with an iron hand, figuratively not literally. He believed in being strict, being consistent in punishments, but also fair. When he gave us a ‘No,’ he meant it, and no whining or pleading with him to change his mind was tolerated. But finally, my desire to go to the dance overcame my fear of a possible negative reaction.

At the dinner table one evening, I cleared my throat and everyone looked at me--Mom, Dad, and my two younger brothers. Heat radiated in my cheeks, and my hands shook a little when I picked up my fork and looked at my father.

“My scout troop is having a Father-Daughter Dinner Dance a week from Friday, and it’s at Ascension Church. I don’t suppose you… “  I took a deep breath. “Can we go?”

Dad looked across the table at my mother, and a smile spread across his thin face. I knew they were saying something to one another in that silent language all parents seemed to have. Then he spoke to me, and I noted a twinkle in his hazel eyes.

“I’d love to be your date to the dance”

Relief washed over me and a flicker of excitement began to build. Suddenly, a week from Friday sounded all too far away, but the big day finally arrived.

Mom had made me a new dress, perfect for the fifties decade, a wide circle skirt in a  satin-like peach fabric with black flocked flowers scattered over it.. The short-sleeved, scoop neck top was black, a color I’d never worn. It was the most grown-up dress I’d ever had. I wore black ballerina flats with it and a gold necklace of my mother’s. Dad looked so nice in a dark blue suit, a white shirt and tie. He’d shined his shoes until he could see his own reflection in them. I thought he looked a little bit like Frank Sinatra and a little bit like Bing Crosby.

We drove the few blocks to the church on that cold February evening. The aroma of roasting meat met us as we started down the steps to the lower level of the church. In my eyes, that basement looked beautiful with twisted crepe paper ribbons and hearts to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Paper lace doilies adorned the tables and small cardboard cupids stood on each one. We sat with two of my friends and their fathers at a long table. The girls all giggled a lot, and the dads talked about sports, weather and politics. We ate well-done roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans. Rolls and butter traveled up and down the table more than once, and dessert turned out to be chocolate cake. Then, it was time to dance.

The lights were dimmed and the scout leader played record after record, while every girl danced with her father. Dad had given me a few instructions before we left home. Right there in our living room with my mother and my brothers making comments. But I managed to get the box step down well enough to be able to actually dance with my dad. He whispered in my ear more than once to tell me to dance on my toes, not flat-footed, to let him lead. And he never said a word when I stepped on his well-shined shoes once or twice. I watched the other girls and their dads twirling around the dance floor. We were doing as well as any of them, and that flicker of excitement bubbled inside once again.

We danced and danced that evening. Nobody changed partners. Every girl stayed with her own father. When we got home, my mother wanted a full rundown on the dinner and the dancing. I have a feeling my report and my dad’s might have been somewhat different. I went to bed a happy girl.

I’ve never forgotten that the first time I went to a dance it was with my dad. That night, he treated me like an adult for the first time ever. I thought about it later when I went to high school and college dances. Even now, when I dance at a wedding reception with my husband of forty-nine years, I think about the things Dad taught me, about the way he whispered in my ear so no one else would know. It’s one more thing I silently thank him for.

Dad with one of his favorite cars

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why Some Writers Don't Want Others To Critique Their Writing

Yesterday I wrote about what we see when we critique the writing of others versus what we see when we look at our own writing. I have always urged writers to let other writers help them through critiquing. Many of us do this on a regular basis.

But there is a group of writers who would rather walk naked through JFK Airport than allow another writer to look at what they've written. There could be a number of reasons for this feeling.

1. Self-doubt:  (See my recent post on this.)  If you suffer from self-doubt, you probably are not going to want to show your work to another writer. You hear this little voice in your head saying things like This is so awful. I know they'll hate it. Actually, you don't know that, you just convince yourself.

2. Fear of criticism:  Nobody likes to be criticized. Our parents scolded us for not doing something the right way. Our teachers criticized us in remarks on papers handed back or when giving an oral report. Nothing makes you want to curl up in a corner and disappear than this kind of criticism. The thing to remember when another writer is critiquing your work is that it is never meant to hurt you. On the contrary, it is meant to help you end up with a publishable piece of writing. Keep that as a mantra--It's to help, not hurt. 

3. Loss of privacy:  We feel very protective of the stories, essays and poems we write. Our precious words are like our children--to be protected at all times. If you want your work to be the best, a critique from one or more writers can be beneficial. Let them into this part of your life so that you can become a better writer.

4. Fear that work will be stolen by another writer: There are writers who do fear this. The critiques you receive are most likely going to be from writers that you know personally or belong to an online group together. They are not strangers off the street, so the odds of something being stolen are very minute.

5. Knowing that it is not your best work: If this is the case, hold back on asking for a critique until you have polished that piece of writing until it shines. Revise, edit, revise, edit--do it as long as it takes for you be satisfied with what your end product is. More than likely, whoever critiques your work is going to find more for you to work on. But that's exactly the reason we ask for help. It's much better to receive a list of suggestions from a critique than a rejection from an editor.

6. I don't want to return the favor: If this is the reason you don't want to have someone critique your writing, I have little sympathy. It's a selfish reason. If you receive help, be willing to give it. 

The biggest reason to ask for someone to critique your work is that, if you take the suggestions to heart and rework wherever the critiquer suggests, you will grow as a writer. I don't mean that you must change every little thing the critiquing person marks. You change the ones you agree with, the ones that make sense to you, the ones that you see can help this story. If you receive several critiques on one story and everyone marks the same area as a trouble spot, pay close attention. That is definitely an area you might want to work on. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Other Eyes See More When Critiquing Your Writing

When I critique the work of my fellow writers in my online writing group, I see things that need fixing that I never see in my own writing. In reverse, when others critique my writing, they point out areas that I completely overlooked when doing the editing on the story or essay.

Why, I have asked myself many times, is it easier to see errors in other peoples' writing than in your own? I don't have a definitive answer to that question but perhaps it is a matter of objectivity versus subjectivity.

I can be completely objective when I critique the work of another writer. I have no emotional attachment to it. It is fresh meat--I've never seen it before.

When I edit my own work, I do have an emotional attachment and I've seen it too many times to count. I write a first draft, edit, revise, edit again and read it dozens of times in-between while deciding what to do to make my work better. And the keywords here are my work. Because it's mine, it's more difficult to be objective. I also tend to skip over little things like unnecessary words, repetition, awkward sentences and ones that are somewhat unclear. It's easier to skip past those minor problems when you have read the piece multiple times.

When I am critiquing a story written by another person, those things I mentioned in the paragraph above are the things that jump out at me. I'm tuned-in to finding them. I also look for that all-important universal truth sentence in an essay. I look for emotional impact. I look for reader appeal.

In my own essays, I know what it is that I'm attempting to get across to my readers, but sometimes I don't make it clear in the writing. And, because I feel the emotions when writing, I don't always check to make sure there is enough to bring out emotion in the reader.

One of the reasons for allowing whatever you've written to sit quietly somewhere for days, or even longer, is that little things that need fixing tend to jump out when you read it again. Do not ever, ever finish a story and submit it immediately. That's a subject for another post someday! Have I ever done it? Yes, and I usually wish I had not.

I hope I have made a case for the importance of having someone else critique your writing. They will find things that you never saw and, once you make the corrections, you'll end up with a stronger piece of writing.

My online writing group runs a membership of around 25 members. Over and over, I've seen those writers remark that they wonder why they had not seen the places that needed fixing in their own work. Instead, it took other eyes to zero in on the problem areas.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Overcoming Self-Doubt On Your Writing Journey

Nearly everyone is a victim of self-doubt at some time in their life. For some, it becomes a constant companion. As the poster says, self-doubt is not something a writer wants to catch or hold onto. And, by all means, do not let self-doubt be an excuse for not writing or submitting your work.

If you doubt your own ability to write a publishable story or essay, you could end up closing the door to publication. If you don't feel good about what you've written, how are you going to convince an editor that he/she should pay you for it? 

Why do we struggle with self-doubt? Where did it come from? Who cursed you with it? There will be different answers for all of us. Perhaps a teacher or a parent put a negative spin on something you'd attempted. Maybe an older sibling laughed when you tried something new. Or a friend jeered your attempt at writing.

As a teen, I said that I'd like to go into advertising and, quick as a wink, my dad said, "That's not a job for a woman. It's much too competitive." I didn't argue with my male chauvinist father, but inwardly I wanted to show him that I could do it. It was the 50's and lots of women were told they could not do this or that. After high school, most girls had the choice of being a secretary, a nurse or a teacher until they got married. I ended up being a teacher and it wasn't until many decades later that I tried my hand at writing. I didn't end up in the advertising field but I know now that I could have done it. My dad's comment did not cover me with self-doubt. It worked the opposite. I wanted to show him that I could do something more than just a 'woman's job.' 

It would be so easy to wear a mantle of self-doubt after a negative experience as mentioned above. When parents, teachers, siblings or even friends, put you down for one reason or another, you have two choices. You can slip into the self-doubt mode and make it your habitual spot or you can take the I'll show them attitude and kick self-doubt out the door. 

If you are a victim of self-doubt, you have lots of company. I think some writers fall into that category at different periods of their writing journey. Maybe you've had several successes and then it all changes. You receive nothing but one rejection after another. That would be enough to sink you into doubting your ability to write. Hopefully, it is a short term feeling and not enough to make you quit writing.

What are you going to do to overcome this self-doubt business? Here are a few things to consider: 

1. Recognize it--it's perfectly alright to admit that you're a victim. You're definitely not alone.

2. Focus on the positives--negative thoughts foster negative actions. Dwell on the positives so that they come first in your thoughts as time goes on.

3. Ignore others who feed your self-doubt. It's all about you, not them.

4. Use a mantra that will keep you on the positive track. Remember the little engine that could? His mantra gave him success. Yours can, too. 

5. Develop that I'll show them! attitude.

We all suffer with occasional self-doubt. We don't want it to persist and become a constant in our life so we need to work on it for as long as it takes to climb out of the pit.

Monday, June 15, 2015

My Flint Hills Week-end

The Flint Hills of Kansas

What an exciting week-end I had. Ten years ago, an event labeled "Symphony in the Hills" wowed the people of our state, so it's become  an annual event. Ken and I have always wanted to go but tickets go so fast that we'd never been successful. This year, we got smart and booked our tickets through our senior living community. We rode their bus and had reserved seating. Smartest thing we've done in a long time.

The Kansas City Symphony presents a concert smack dab in the heart of the Flint Hills, a different spot each year. This 10th Anniversary year, they returned to the initial spot near Cottonwood Falls in Chase County. The crowd was estimated at 7,000. 

The weather for this outdoor event was 'iffy' all day. Rain off and on and gloomy skies, but we packed rain gear and a few other items. For some unknown reason, I tossed in my sunglasses and so did Ken. On the hour bus ride through the spectacular scenery, I kept wondering if we had been crazy to even try going. The forecast didn't look good. As we neared the destination, the skies were more clear and clouds white and fluffy, not looking like gloom and doom as they had back in Manhattan. One of those clouds opened up and poured on us as we left town. 

We had a choice of riding up to the event site or walking a mile on a trail. The line for the ride was so long that we decided to walk and glad we did. Along the trail, we met riders on horseback every so often who watched over things and greeted people. We were also treated to the magnificent view no matter which way we turned. I donned my sunglasses as we set out and wore them until the sun went down later in the evening. So glad I had brought them!

When we saw the many white event tents, we knew we were there! Educational classes, art auctions, gift shop, bar and food--all these found in various tents.We strolled around and then ate, finishing in time to find our seats. We had seen many people carrying chairs as they hiked up the trail, some pulling wagons filled with chairs and food and rain gear. There were several rows for patrons of the Kansas City Symphony and then for groups like ours. We were right in the center so had a great view The rest sat on chairs or blankets they'd brought, even a few on the many hay bales provided. Huge speakers projected the sound across the prairie. 

With the opening composition, I felt goosebumps rising on my arms. To listen to such a fine symphony orchestra amidst nature at its best was a thrilling experience. One piece after another continued to thrill the audience. Lyle Lovett and his accompanists presented several songs to bring the show to a stunning end. The final moments brought shivers as the entire crowd rose to their feet and joined in singing Home On The Range

Partway through the performance, a herd of cattle and several cowboys on horses could be seen just to the left of the band shell and atop a hill. Talk about local color! This was it. Add the sight of the setting sun--which had spread its rays on us all afternoon--and I'd call it a perfect evening.

If you would like to learn more about this event go to the website for information and photos.

The sun had set when we started to walk down the well-lit trail to the parking areas. From the top of the hill as we set out, we could see what appeared to be a never-ending line of walkers leaving the symphony site. I thought that most of them had the same feelings as I'd had. The sound of music across those green hills had fed my soul and I knew the memory would stay with me for a very long time. 

On Sunday, I attended a poetry presentation by three Kansas poets who have an album called View From Smoky Hill. There are poems and spoken stories on the album that are about Kansas, the prairie, and the people. It was a perfect way to end my Flint Hills Week-end.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Gather Stories For A 50th Anniversary

Today, longtime friends are celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary. Ken and I did the same in June of 2014. It's a real milestone that can be marked with a family dinner, an Open House for family and friends, or perhaps a special trip for the anniversary couple.

Couples receive cards and money trees, flowers and maybe a magnificent cake like the one pictured. here. Another gift that could become a treasure is for the children of the couple to make up a book of stories and pictures that highlight the 50 years. It can't be done in a short time, so you would need to start well ahead of the big day. It could be the most treasured gift received--one that the couple will read over and over again.

About a month ago, I wrote about making a book of family stories for my youngest brother's 60th birthday. You can read it here if you missed it. You can learn what I did to make the book a simple project.

It's definitely easier to put a book like together if you've been writing the family stories for some time and have a treasure trove of them at hand. If you are starting from scratch, be sure to begin well ahead of the anniversary party. If time is short, write one all-inclusive piece instead of many individual stories. If at all possible, plan ahead so you can have a lot of stories. What about 50 stories for 50 years? Might be a bit daunting but maybe not.

Some things that can be included:

1. Their wedding

2. Honeymoon

3. children they had (birth dates, order etc)

4. family vacations

5. places they lived through the years

6. jobs they had

7. intersts/hobbies  they had

8. retirement years

9. travels as a couple

10. how they dealt with the Empty Nest

11. cars they had over the 50 years

12. houses they had over the 50 years

13. churches they may have attended

14. grandchildren/great-grandchildren

Fifty years together deserves some special recognition. Next week-end, Ken and I will celebrate 51 years. A lot of the stories I've written would make up a book of our married life. Hallmark and other similar companies sell baby books to record all those cute and wonderful things our children do as they grow. Maybe they should sell books to record the multiple years of married life.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

My Path To Books

Note: The following appeared in an anthology titled Flashlight Memories in 2011. I have always felt that my writing and reading have gone hand in hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Embellished Dialogue Tags Can Be Frustrating For Editors and Readers

The guy above could be an editor who wonders why writers can't write simple dialogue without constantly embellishing the tags with them. In case anyone does not know what a dialogue tag is--it's the he said or she said that accompanies the spoken words.

One of the big mistakes some writers make is to tack on an adverb to each tag. An adverb describes a verb; it lets the reader know how the character delivered the dialogue. Examples below:

1. "Look at what you've done," Mary said heatedly.

2. "I love you more than you;ll ever know," Susan said softly.

3. "Don't ever speak to me like that again," John said angrily.

Most editors prefer that you omit those adverbs. You might add a simple phrase after the tag such as:

"Look at what you've done," Mary said. She slapped the table with a shaking hand.

Or just leave the tag as 'Mary said.' Whatever preceded the piece of dialogue should have told the reader that she was angry. Using a constant barrage of these adverbs ends up with telling instead of showing. If you're unsure, it's better to skip those adverbs altogether. If you must use them, do it sparingly. 

The main thing to remember is that the actual dialogue is the most important thing that you're writing. The tag is there but it's only meant to keep the characters sorted out as to who said what. 

Some writers are wary of using the he said/she said tag multiple times. Most editors will tell you that it's alright to use it over and over, as readers tend to register it but not pay all that much attention to it. It's just a way to allow you to know who is speaking--Marilyn, Steve, Mr. Jones, or even the oft-used he or she. A brain is a wonderful tool--it can learn to register who is speaking the piece of dialogue, yet skip right over the tag so it doesn't become irritating.

If the dialogue section is lengthy, you can omit the he said/she said off and on if it's obvious to the reader who is speaking. 

Next time you read a novel, or creative nonfiction that uses dialogue, pay attention to how the writer handled the tags. Do you like what the author did? Or did it become an aggravation? What method do you like best? 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Create More Interest By Using Dialogue In Nonfiction

In fiction, we don't think twice about using dialogue between our characters. It seems the natural thing to do. But what about nonfiction essays and stories? Especially cretive nonfiction which is a true story told using fiction techniques.Fiction techniques? It stands to reason ,then, that you'd make use of dialogue.

Those who have been successful with Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies learn over time that the publisher does not like present tense, that the word limit is 1200 and that they do like dialogue within the true story. Why do you suppose they especially appreciate stories that include dialogue? They don't spell it out in the guidelines, but notice the stories in the Chicken Soup books and how many do use dialogue. It appears to be one of those unwritten rules. Personally, I think it makes a better story and that's why the ones with dialogue often get selected.

It's realistic. It's showing rather than telling. It's easy to relate to. It's far more intertesting than just being told that something happened by the narrator. Consider the following:

A.  Dana stopped at the sand dune. She shaded her eyes with her hand when the sun glinted on something metal sticking out of the sand. She reached out, then brushed away the sand.  She pulled out two golden plates. She turned to show her father what she'd found.

B. Dana stopped at the sand dune. "Dad, look! There's something buried in the sand." She dropped to her knees and scooped the sand with her hands until she'd uncovered two golden plates. "We've found it, Dad! The storm last night must have partly uncoverd the plates. Othewise, we'd never have found the treasure." 

Mr. Barnsworth leaned over to examine the two plates, a frown on his face. "Not so fast, Dana. We're not sure this is what we've been looking for. It could be something entirely different." 

"But Dad, they look just like the drawings. See the pattern around the edge. It's the same!" She jumped to her feet and did a little dance holding one plate in each hand. "We're rich!"

Example B did uses more words but it was more interesting, wasn't it? You could see clearly what Dana and her father were doing but also what they were feeling by the dialogue used. You could relate to a father and daughter on a beach.

One word of caution--don't overuse the dialogue technique. Sprinkle it throughout your nonfiction story.

When you write creative nonfiction, include dialogue in the story to make it more alive and draw your reader in. You also might impress an editor at Chicken Soup for the Soul or a similar type of anthology.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Craft A Travel Essay After A Trip

Here we are in Hamburg, Germany

If you like to travel, even if it's not far from home, take advantage of this time to write personal travel essays or nonfiction feature articles about the places you've been.You can go either way, but I prefer the personal essay as it gives me leeway to be a little more creative rather than just reporting the facts. Do it soon after you've returned home when the memories are fresh.

Ken and I have taken several trips to Europe and the UK as well as South Africa. Each time, I've kept a travel journal and have then written about our trips, the places we stayed, tourist attractions we visited and people we met. Several of the essays have been published in various magazines, newspapers, and in ezines. I've even written a few blog posts while we are on trips, not always easy to do with time issues.

I learned to put details in my journal as they will be helpful after I return home and start writing. It's amazing what small things you forget once you have gotten back to your home and normal routine. 

I try to add something about the people we meet while traveling as I think most of us like to read about people, especially those in other countries. But even in our own state or town or those we see and talk with in airports. 

Once, we were waiting for a flight in the Johannesburg, South Africa airport on our return trip. Two seats away from me was a young, college-age girl. After a few minutes, we got to talking. It turned out she was a K-State student (located in our town) and was from Topeka, an hour away from us. Yet, here we were--visiting with one another across a sea and on another continent. Small world? Yes, it is!

Hotels and food rank high on my list of things I pay attention to when we travel, so I include some of that in my travel pieces. Also, the feelings I have had when visiting impressive spots like the Normandy Beaches where D-Day took place in 1944.

Here we are in England with South African friends

I would urge you to start writing your travel piece as soon as you can before the memories fade and the details blow away like a child's lost balloon on a windy day. When you're dining in a magnificent restaurant, you think you'll never forget any of it, but you do. You remember highlights. That's why it is important to keep the details in your journal. You don't have to write paragraphs--make lists of things you want to remember. 

Me in Paris along the Seine River on a chilly March day

A few of the essays and articles I've written after trips can be found by clicking on the titles below.

Kissing The Blarney Stone  (scroll down the page for the story)

The essays above are all about trips to foreign countries, but places you visit in your own country provide lots of inspiration and information for travel articles. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Make Friends With Other Writers

I think having other writers as your friends can only enhance the writing part of your life. Who else understands what it takes to craft a publishable piece of writing? What other friend knows the agony of rejection? Who else will empathize with occasional writers block or lack of inspiration?

Who rejoices more with you when you have writing success than your writer friends? Who do you turn to when you have a problem with your writing? Your writer friends. Who gives you pep talks when you're down about the way your writing life is going? Your writer friends. Who do you turn to for marketing advice? Your writer friends. Who do you ask to help you spread the word when you have a book to sell? Those same people.

Where do you find friends like this? One way is to join writing organizations and critique groups. When I first joined my state organization for authors, I didn't attend the annual conventions because there was always a conflict with K-State football games. I let going to the games with my husband take precedence, and I'm not one bit sorry about that, but I didn't get to know the other writers that attended convention on a regular basis. On years the game was played somewhere else that first weekend of October, I opted to go to the convention week-end. The first year, I felt like a real stranger, but as I attended more often, and then started teaching workshops there, I began acquiring a nice group of friends.

When I first joined my online critique group, the 20+ women in it were scattered around the globe and all strangers to me. It didn't take long for those women to become familiar people in my life and finally, good friends. I can whine to them when my writing life isn't going so well and I can blow my horn when I have been published. They don't consider it bragging. Instead, they are enthused at the news.

With the social media we have today, we make friends on facebook writing pages and other similar places. I have many friends made this way, people I've never met face to fact but still consider friends.

There are writers who prefer to be loners. They write alone, don't belong to writing groups of any kind and are, apparently, content with that. I much prefer having lots of writing friends. We share so much with each other.

Think about the place writing friends have in your life. What if they all suddenly vanished? I know I'd feel like something big was missing from my life. Nurture those friendships you have with other writers. They're like stars in the sky. There are many but each one is unique.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Why You Should Be Yourself When You Write

We are all different and we are all special. We are unique in that no two of us has exactly the same personality. Genes decide our physical attributes but our environment is mostly responsible for our personality. I say mostly because I do see a few personality traits passed down from generation to generation in my own family, and it probably happens in your family, too. 

Going on the premise that the kind of person we are depends on our life experiences, I will venture out on a limb and say this: As writers, we are individuals. Yes, we learn about writing from our English teachers who try to pound grammar and exposition into teen-aged minds. We also glean much about writing from the books and magazines we read. Much of that kind of learning is subconscious but our minds do register a lot when we read a book, even if it is strictly for pleasure. 

So, we have the background of learning in school, absorb from our own reading and certain inherited traits along with our life experiences. When you become a writer, all four work to create a writer who writes in his/her own style. It's what gives you the base for your writer's voice. Yours and mine are completely different. And should be! You shouldn't want to write like me, nor I you. 

Don't try to emulate a writer you love by attempting to write in exactly the same way. That writer is an individual and so are you. Be yourself. Be the writer that doesn't copy anyone else. Use your own voice, not another writer's voice. Finding your voice is simply another way of saying that your personality comes through in your writing and readers can recognize it when they read what you've written. 

All our life experiences work together to help us form our writing voice. It makes a difference as to whether you grew up on a farm or in a major city. It makes a difference if you grew up in an affluent suburb or a ghetto. It makes a difference if you grew up in one country and moved to another. It makes a difference if you quit school when you turned 16 or if you hold a PHD degree. It makes a difference if you grew up with four siblings or were an only child. It makes a difference if your parents were loving and nurturing or cold and distant in their parenting. 

It comes down to this. I'm me and you're you. But just as the little girl in the poster says, you're special and so am I. We all need to believe that as we journey on our writing path. We'll traverse much faster if we do because of our positive attitude. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Being A Family Historian Is A Labor of Love

I submitted the following article to an editor in the Kansas City area several weeks ago. He did not respond which translates to most writers that the article was rejected. Monday, I received a check in the mail from said editor who had published my article in the June issue of The Best Times. The magazine, which is both print and online, is for seniors but my article is pertinent for all age groups.

I'm posting it below to once again nudge all of you to write those family stories. I can attest to the fact that the effort will be appreciated. I recently assembled a 167 page book of family stories and memories for my three younger brothers. All of them, and their wives, thanked me for the gift. Each one said it would be passed on to their own children and grandchildren in time to come. I had already written the stories. All I had to do was visit a copy center and purchase a 3 ring binder to put them in. That way, any future stories, can easily be added. 

Family Historian--A Labor Of Love
By Nancy Julien Kopp
I’m the Family Historian for both sides of our family. We didn’t hold an election that I won. The job fell naturally to me because I’m a writer and maybe because I am the eldest of four.  It might also be the fact that I care deeply that our history be passed on to future generations.
You needn’t be a professional writer to take on this important task. All that’s necessary is the desire to preserve the family stories and the ability to string words together. Write it like you’d tell it sitting around the dining room table after a Sunday dinner.
You don’t need to be chronological. Start anywhere. Tell a story and put it in a notebook. Then write another. Soon, your notebook will become fat with stories about your grandparents, your mother and father, your siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. Also stories about yourself.
A good place to trigger memories of your family tales is in old photo albums. Dig them out, dust them off and leaf through. Memories will flood back. If you’re lucky, there will be names and dates on some or all of the pictures. If not, guess at the time period. You’ll come close. Family bibles often have personal records in them that can serve as memory triggers for the stories that abound about your relatives.
Interview the older members of your family, even neighbors who lived nearby. Some folks get so enthused they end up doing research at the library or online to learn more about relatives in the distant past. They find out when Great-Grandpa came to America through ships’ records, or where someone lived by checking the census records. But the Family Historian needn’t go that far. Use your own knowledge and what you learn from other relatives to write the stories. You’ll still have plenty.
Someone might say that their family never did anything important enough to write about. I bet they did, because the everyday things are meaningful to those who care about the people involved.
For example, my father’s grandmother lived in Chicago but never learned a word of English. She spoke nothing but French. She made lace, then used it to fashion elegant baby clothing which she sold to a famed Chicago department store. It’s something I’d like my children and grandchildren to know.

   My maternal grandfather started work at age nine in a coal mine. He never finished school and spent the remainder of his working years in the mines. My mother walked to the mine after school and waited for his shift to end. They’d walk home together and talk over the day.
Two stories from two sides of my family, but I refuse to let them fade away. Consider this labor of love for your grandchildren. Write the funny things, the scary ones, and even
the very sad. It’s your family history and deserves to live on. What a legacy for you to leave!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Writers Generate Sales With Regular Submissions

The best way to generate sales of whatever you write is to submit your work on a regular basis. More than once, I've mentioned the Ferris wheel of submissions numerous times, mostly because it's a good illustration of what we need to do as writers to see our work published. Keep the seats filled and moving!

If you submit your work for publication once or twice a year, you're asking for disappointment. The odds are that you'll be rejected. But, if you submit five times a month, chances are that one will be accepted. Maybe more! That could depend on how savvy you are at matching your work to the right kind of publication. 

Writers have files filled with stories or essays they've written. Some have never been submitted while others have made the rounds but been rejected one or more times. Go through your files periodically to see what you might submit to a different publication or to assess the need for revisions before submitting again. Make good use of those pieces you've written and filed away. They get pretty dusty if you don't shake them a little every now and then.

A few weeks ago, I noted an article in my files that I thought might work in a senior newspaper that has purchased several pieces from me in the past. I had two versions, short and long. I sent the short one and later wondered if I should have sent the more detailed article on being your family historian. Never heard a word from the editor but, yesterday, I received a nice check in the mail from him. Shaking off the dust on an old story and submitting it does work.

Beginning writers tend to work very hard on a story, study the markets and choose one to submit to. They read the guidelines and send their work to the editor. Then they sit back and wait. Often, the wait seems interminable! If they sit around for results and do no more writing, they are wasting valuable time. A starred (*) rule in the submission process is to submit, then start working on a new writing project. Keep submitting but also keep writing. 

Writing is like the Ferris wheel above. We want to keep those seats filled with submissions at all times. When a story sells, a seat is emptied. What do you do? Fill it again with a new submission. You can't sell it if you don't send it!