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Monday, November 30, 2015

Ten Zany Birds--A Review


 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 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.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Thanksgiving Story For Kids The (Big Ones Too!)

Today's Thanksgiving story is one for kids that adults might enjoy, too. It was published in a children's magazine several years ago. Maybe you can share it with any children who might be at your Thanksgiving table. 

A Feast For Oscar

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Turkey!” shouted three boys in the back row of Miss Edwards’ fourth grade class.

“What else?” our teacher asked.

“How about sweet potatoes and cranberries?” Melissa Martin asked.

We were listing foods people usually eat for Thanksgiving. Thinking of all those good things made my mouth water and my stomach growl like a hungry lion. I raised my hand and waved it back and forth so Miss Edwards would call on me.

“Yes Tim,” she said.

I added my Thanksgiving favorite. “How about stuffing for the turkey?”

Nearly everyone in our class named something—everyone except for Oscar Livingood.

Miss Edwards strolled between the rows of desks. “Oscar, what will you have for this special dinner?” she asked.

Oscar ducked his head and mumbled words that sounded like, Cereal, I guess.”

The class roared with laughter. I laughed long and hard at what Oscar had said. Oscar was a real comic.

Miss Edwards held up her hand for quiet, then asked Oscar, “Are you sure?”

Oscar kept his eyes on the desktop. “Pretty sure. That’s what we have most nights.”

Miss Edwards patted Oscar on the head and returned to the front of the room.

We waited. What would she say now?

“Take out your English books and turn to page 67.”

That was it. She never mentioned Oscar’s strange remark. Instead, she erased the long list of foods on the chalkboard and the subject of Thanksgiving dinner was dropped.

I walked home from school alone that day. I couldn’t stop thinking about Oscar. The guy had a funny name and it sounded life he ate funny, too. Maybe he wasn’t trying to amuse us, maybe he was serious.

I ran into the house letting the screen door slam behind me  I cringed and waited for Mom to yell “Don’t slam that door!” but she didn’t say a word. She was at the kitchen table writing.

I grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter and peered over her shoulder. “Hey Mom, what are you doing?”

She smiled but kept on writing. “I’m making a grocery list for Thanksgiving. There are so many extra things to buy when you create a super-duper, fantastic feast like w’ll have next week. Your Gran is coming and so is Uncle Pete.”

I said, “Get lots of good stuff. I’m saving up to eat enough for two people.” Mom’s list included all my favorites—turkey, cranberries, pumpkin, potatoes and sweet potatoes. On and on it went. “Yum, I can’t wait for Thanksgiving.”

“We have a lot to be thankful for ,” Mom said. “Not everyone can afford to buy all these extra things for a holiday dinner.”

Her comment made me think of Oscar, and I didn’t like the picture forming in my mind. Would Oscar and his mom sit at their table with nothing but two bowls of cereal? I shook my head a little to clear the picture away and went upstairs to start on my homework.

The next day I watched Oscar Livingood. He needed a haircut and his clothes looked pretty worn and raggedy. Most days, Oscar faded into the background  because he didn’t have much to say.Maybe that’s why I never paid much attention to him before. Now, all I could think of was the bowl of cereal he’d eat for Thanksgiving dinner.

On Monday morning, Miss Edwards announced that the class would make up a basket of food for a needy family for a class project. By the day before Thanksgiving, cans and boxes rested in the basket our teacher had provided. Even Oscar slipped a can of soup in with the rest. Miss Edwards would add a turkey at the last minute.

We held a drawing to determine who would go with the teacher to deliver the basket. I drew one of the lucky tickets, and so did Oscar. After school, we climbed into Miss Edwards”van.  She stopped at the market to pick up the turkey and we were off to visit the family whose name had been given to us. They knew we were coming, but even so, their faces lit up with happiness when they opened the door. The mother and father thanked us over and over, and three little kids fingered the big basket.

On the way home, I said to Oscar, “It’s good to help people who really need help, isn’t it?

Oscar grinned and pushed his long hair off his forehead. “They’ll remember this Thanksgiving for a long time. They’ll know somebody cared.”

Suddenly, the bowl of cereal popped into my head again. “Oscar, who are you going to be with tomorrow>”

:Just my mom.”

That night I tossed and turned in my bed while I dreamed about giant boxes of cereal marching in a parade. When I woke up, I knew what my plan for the day would be. First, I’d talk to Mom and Dad and tell them about Oscar and his mother. Next, I would walk down to Oscar’s house and invite them to join us at our dinner table.. I wanted him to know somebody cared about him, too. Oscar was not going to eat cereal on Thanksgiving Day.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Thanksgiving Disaster Story

To finish Thanksgiving week, I'm going to post three Thanksgiving themed stories I've written today, Thursday and Friday. (One for children on Thursday)  The story today is one my family still refers to now and then. It was my worst Thanksgiving disaster but it also held a little lesson for our family. 

Turkey in the Raw
By Nancy Julien Kopp

One Thanksgiving dinner stands out in neon lights in my memory bank. It can bring a blush to my cheeks, even many years after the fact.

My husband’s father passed away in the spring of 1972. I knew the first holiday without him would be difficult for my mother-in-law. She had not been adjusting well to a life without her spouse. What better way to help our children’s grandma through Thanksgiving than to gather her three sons and their families at our house for the day? Five of the seven grandchildren were preschool age, and two were slightly older. The house would be filled with children playing, adults talking and the soothing balm of a turkey dinner. We’d make this a good holiday for Grandma. I issued the invitations via phone and began to plan a special day.

By Thanksgiving Day, I’d baked and done the pre-cooking. Now the turkey, filled with a moist sage stuffing, roasted in the oven. White potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and a green bean casserole were close to being ready. Nutmeg and cloves scented the corner of the counter where the pumpkin pies cooled.

“When do we eat? When do we eat?” the kids pleaded more than once.

I consulted the scrap of paper where I’d jotted down the amount of time the turkey needed. “Pretty soon,” I told them.

The aroma of the roasting meat added to our hunger, and I placated the entire clan with sodas, juice and appetizers and some adult beverages.

Finally, it was time to take the turkey from the oven, and what a beautiful bird it was-- big, browned, and beckoning. I called my brother-in-law, known as “Best Carver in the Family,” to the kitchen. One sister-in-law mashed the potatoes, while the other made the gravy. Toddlers scurried around us yelling, “Is it time now?” My husband and his oldest brother were glued to a football game on TV. Grandma sat stone-faced on the sofa, bent on feeling sorry for herself and being as miserable as she could on this day when we were gathered to count our blessings and spread a little love. Chaos was beginning to form here, and I began to feel a little flustered.

As I was trying to move the little ones into the family room, my brother-in-law uttered words that sent a chill straight to my bones.

 “This turkey isn’t done. It’s raw in the middle.”

Silence suddenly reigned. No one said a word, but all eyes were on me. The unspoken question “Well, what you are going to do now?” reverberated in my head.

So what does a person do with a partially cooked turkey, side dishes ready for the table, and a houseful of very hungry people? I flew into action. First, I put the cover on the roaster, popped the bird back into the oven, and turned up the heat. Lids went on the already cooked dishes, and we fixed hot dogs for the children, who probably enjoyed them more than the big dinner anyway.

An hour later, we resurrected the turkey, reheated the side dishes and sat down to eat, minus hot-dog stuffed children. The seven adults gathered around our dining room table ate to satisfaction and then some. The children appeared like magic when the desserts were served. Grandma managed to eat her dinner and join in on the conversation, not exuberant but not crying either. I hoped she counted her blessings, for many of them sat nearby.

I’d sensed complete disaster when I knew the turkey wasn’t cooked through, but in the end the family togetherness took precedence over all other things. I’d planned the day so that Grandma would be surrounded with those she loved, and it didn’t really matter that I’d miscalculated the time for cooking the turkey. But I’ve never forgotten it, and every now and then, the story of turkey in the raw generates laughter and some good-natured teasing—one more bond within our family.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Stories At My Door

Last night, two stories appeared at our door. No, the picture above is not the door on my house--just a lovely looking door. The point is that when you open the door, you never know what kind of story might be on the other side.

Our doorbell rang as I was getting ready to fix dinner. Ken answered and a neighbor across the street asked if he could still buy something from our sale. He and his wife had been over the day before and purchased a few things. He'd been thinking about a lightweight vacuum cleaner we had and decided to buy it. Ken invited him in and the two men went out to the garage to get the vacuum. cleaner. When they returned to the kitchen, our neighbor, who is originally from the country of Colombia, stayed and talked. He told us he loved our house and wished his daughter had seen it before she purchased a new home a month earlier. "I could have her across the street if she'd bought this one," he said. Then he chuckled. "Maybe she wouldn't want to live so close to her parents." In his short visit, we learned a lot about his family.

Only ten minutes after our neighbor left, the doorbell rang again. I answered it this time. A man I'd never seen before said, "I just wanted you to know that I'm the one who took the Nordic Track you put out on the curb." "That's fine,"I told him, "it was there with a Free sign on it." He said he'd like to explain. "I work with the Wounded Warriors program and that exercise machine would be a godsend to a young man I'm helping." By this time, Ken came to the door and the two greeted each other like old friends. 

After the man had left, Ken told me he lived down the street and often stopped to talk when Ken was outside doing yard work. "The guy is a retired Army Colonel and he spends a lot of his time working with the Wounded Warrior group." 

In the space of less than half an hour, two stories showed up at our door. I could write full creative nonfiction essays about each visitor if I had the time. The point is that you run head-on into stories every day of the week. Writers bemoan the fact that finding story ideas is so hard. It's not hard at all. You can actually trip over story ideas as you go about your daily tasks, answer a phone call, do your shopping or attend a sporting event. The story ideas are there but it's your job to observe with the eyes of a writer. That's key!

Even fiction writers can use an encounter of some kind in a novel or short story. A character in your story can be based on a real person. They're all around you. Listen with a good ear for conversation that intrigues you. Watch for people who have an unusual appearance or a scintillating smile, maybe even a formidable scowl.

The longer you practice being more observant to your surroundings, the easier it becomes. With me, it's now second nature. If you run into a particularly appealing character, write a few paragraphs about him/her and keep in a file on your computer. When you're working on a new story or novel, you'll have a treasure trove of characters to use. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Musing On Having A Moving Sale

Nobody has a garage sale just days before Thanksgiving, do they? Yes, they do. I know because we did it yesterday. Ken and I are moving to a senior living community ten minutes east of our preent house where he will not have to do yard work or outside maintenance of the house. Many more perks for both of us but our lifestyle will stay the same as it is now. Our new house will have 1600 square feet, which is about the same as we now have on our main floor. Trouble is that we have that same amount on the lower level and it's filled with STUFF! 

The move won't be til mid-January but now seemed the only time we could handle a moving sale. Our new place doesn't have the amount of storage space that we have in our present home. I was all for loading the lot and dumping it in the great big lake outside of town but my practical husband vetoed that idea. Thus, a Moving Sale was born.

We spent days sifting and sorting, pricing, borrowing card tables from friends and arranging the garage to our satisfaction. The ad was in the paper for three days and online. We were ready. We set 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. as our hours. We came home from church, changed clothes and went out to the garage to make last minute adjustments. 10:30 a.m. and our first customer appeared. She was the first of a long line of shoppers. Our concern over doing it on a Sunday were for nothing. (Saturday was a K-State game and no one in our town does anything else on Game Day!) 

I watched an accumulation of our fifty-one years of marriage move out the door and into various cars and trucks of our customers. Many times, I suffered a pang on parting for certain items. I'd made up my mind that sentiment had to go out the window when I selected what to put in the sale. I did fine until the actual moment of money traded for goods occurred. Not on everything, of course. 

As some items were purchased, I thought about the place where I'd bought them. Many were toted home from European trips. Some were gifts given by friends or family. Hard, hard hard to part with many of those gifts. Others were things I'd bought just because I liked them A lot! 

The physical things left but I still have the memories. I can think back to a trip to Germany and the Christmas ornaments I bought there. Sadly, our new home has minimal storage so our pre-lit 7 foot Christmas tree box won't fit anywhere. No tree means get rid of ornaments, too. Sigh! 

I've collected Christmas tins over the years and always had a big display of them in our living room in December. I saved a few but about three-quarters of them ended up in the sale. Again, I remembered where I found each one or who gave it to me. 

I wondered mid-way through if Ken had any pangs watching his 'man stuff' go out the door. He mentioned that a conduit bender had sold for 50 cents. "I've had that since I did the electrical wiring in our basement family room in our first house back in the '60's." He'd kept it all these years, never needed to use it again, but whenever he saw it, I'm sure it reminded him of the big job he'd taken on in that first house. So, we both had some memories dashing and crashing through our minds yesterday. 

Many of those memories will inspire stories I'll write someday. Losing the material things we have is nowhere near the losses we experience with people in our lives. But even then, memories remain and stories about friends and family members who've passed will be written someday. Or have already been written. 

The longer this downsizing goes on, the easier it becomes. Occasional sentimental pangs will still happen but I'm alright with it now. All the things we've used or enjoyed now have new owners. Some of the customers we had were thrilled with what they'd found. And that was a good feeling for me. 

Did we sell everything? Not even close but we did watch an amazing amount of things leave our garage. We've still got almost two months to find homes for what is left. Most will go to charity organizations in our community. It's quite alright as I'll have plenty of memories to take with me.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Tribute To A Special Writer--Kathe Campbell

Kathe Campbell

My very dear friend, Kathe Campbell, passed away yesterday at the age of 84. We met through our writing many years ago. She wrote warm folksy stories laced with her unique brand of humor. She was feisty, loving, and talented. We cyber-chatted on a daily basis. I'll miss that contact with this woman whom I came to love and admire greatly. 

She lost her right arm many years ago in a horrific accident with one of the beloved show donkeys she and her husband raised on their mountaintop ranch in Montana. When she came home from the hospital, she was depressed, felt like she was useless. Then, her adult son built a computer for her and she started pecking the keyboard with one hand a little at a time. It wasn't long before she began to write stories about her life on the ranch, her family, experiences over the years. She started submitting her stories, classified as creative nonfiction to a website called 2TheHeart. That is where I met her. She has pages of titles she contributed to Our Echo--a website where writers can post their work. Next she submitted to the Chicken Soup books and has stories published in close to 30 books plus a few other anthologies, as well. 

She wrote despite a constant battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis which left her hand and feet crippled. She was not a quitter. She continued living on the ranch and writing after her husband died. With the RA worsening the past year, she had slowed down, had not written much. But she did have one more story in a Chicken Soup book published in 2015. It tickled her just as much as the first one long ago had. She loved God, her family and friends and she loved life. She wrote that final story with a hand so crippled by RA that she had little control over it.

I am a better writer and a better person because of knowing her. I often ran my stories by her to get her thoughts on what might be changed..The story below is one that I wrote and was published in Chicken Soup for the Sister Soul II quite a few years ago. You'll see in the story why I consider her a 'sister.' And why I'll miss her so much. 

Wish Upon A Star
Star light, star bright,
first star I see tonight,
I wish I may,
I wish I might 
have this wish 
I wish tonight
I wish..

I repeated the childhood poem on myriad starlit nights and finished with: "I wish for a baby sister." God would hear I told myself, for wasn't a wish like mine the same as a prayer? Perhaps God heard, but He chose to answer in a slightly different manner. When I neared four, He sent me a baby brother. At age eight, another brother joined our household. Even so, I continued to watch for the first star of the evening and repeated my wish. No baby sister arrived. When I'd nearly given up, my parents informed me there was to be another baby. 

My heart soared with hope. Finally, my baby sister would be a reality. Did it matter that I would be sixteen when she made her appearance? Most assuredly not. All through the months of waiting, I watched for the first evening star and repeated the same words "I wish for a baby sister." She'd make her appearance in May, which pleased me for it was also my birth month. In May trees blossomed and grass showed a new spring green coat, the sun warmed us, and gentle rains urged tulips from their winter's sleep. What more perfect time for my longtime wish to come true?

Dad called from the hospital to tell me that our new brother had arrived. Brother? My heart nearly broke. Three strikes and you're out--baseball or baby sisters; same difference. As disappointed as I'd been, I soon adored my third brother. I accepted the fact that I'd never have a sister. I even stopped repeating my wish whenever I spied the first evening star. 

I loved my three brothers, but something seemed to be missing in my otherwise full life.
Girlfriends held special places in my heart throughout high school, college, and newlywed years. I collected friends wherever we lived. But I still felt incomplete in some way. When I heard other women mention their sisters, a little pang rose within me. It couldn't be called jealousy. No, it was more a pang of envy. I chastised myself for feeling this way when I had a wonderful daughter and, as time went on, three beautiful granddaughters. 

Once my children were independent, I pursued a life-long wish to write. Many of my stories found a home at an inspirational e-zine. Fan mail arrived from readers, and I soon recognized names of others who wrote regularly for the same site. One in particular wrote often to comment on my stories. It was a mutual admiration society as I loved the folksy humor she injected in each of her stories, the way she taught life's lessons with amazing tales, and the manner in which she used words and phrases. Numerous pictures of her appeared in the e-zine, and I admired the sparkle in her eye and the broad smile in each photo. Our e-mails became more frequent. She lived on a mountaintop, raising donkeys and loving her family. I lived in a university town with neighbors nearby and no pets but also loving my family. Kathe often mentioned another writer who was also a marvelous editor. Before long, the three of us were good buddies. 

In time, our three-way friendship grew strong. In an e-mail, Kathe said she had something serious to discuss, something for me to ponder upon. Would I consider being her sister since she'd never had one? I knew this was no joke, and I sat in front of my computer feeling stunned. A lump rose in my throat and tears threatened. Pleasure warmed me from head to toe as my childhood wish was granted in my sixth decade of life. But this would be no baby sister, because Kathe was seven years older than I. After all the years of waiting, I wasn't about to quibble. My fingers flew over the keyboard as I wrote a glowing acceptance of her offer to be my sister. 

Not long after, she wrote to ask what I'd think about asking that sweet Maria to be our younger sister. And so it came to be that we three are sisters of the heart. Kathe is the eldest, I am the middle sister, and Maria is our baby sister. Is it only coincidence that she is the same age as my youngest brother? The messages fly between us. We edit one another's stories before they are sent to an editor. We rejoice when they sell, and we commiserate when they don't. We bare our souls to one another. 

This past summer I had the great good fortune to finally meet my older sister in the flesh, since my husband and I would be traveling through her state. I hesitated to suggest a visit, since Kathe had lost her husband only weeks earlier. She immediately told us to come. The long hug we gave one another sealed our sisterly bond forever. We talked nonstop for two days-the way sisters do. Late on the second afternoon, a phone call from our baby sister, Maria, brought more laughs and chatter between the three of us. How wonderful if Maria might have joined us on top of Kathe's mountain. 

One day perhaps we three sisters of the heart will find ourselves together in a place where we can give hugs whenever we like. Meanwhile, the messages fly through cyberspace. Each one is filled with the love only a sister can pass along to another sister. Now, when I see the first evening star, I repeat the little poem to myself and just smile. My sisters were worth the wait.

Wish Upon A Star      Wish Upon A Star     Click on the image to close this window

Thursday, November 19, 2015

An Exercise To Get You Ready For Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is only a week away. As a writing exercise today, let's use picture prompts of Thanksgiving foods and a table decoration. For each of the pictures below, write a descriptive paragraph, or even a poem. Use as many sensory details as you can.

Practicing descriptive writing helps us to think visually automatically when we write. The more we practice, the easier it becomes. Have fun with this one! These pictures have already made me hungry for our traditional dinner next week!

The Centerpiece

The main course--turkey

Sweet Potato Casserole

Mashed potatoes

The pumpkin pie

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Weathering Through Good Times and Bad As A Writer

I found this poster on a friend's facebook page this morning. It seemed like good advice for anyone. For writers, it should have significant meaning. 

When you decided you wanted to write, nobody ever told you it would be easy. They didn't tell you to quit your day job and devote your time and effort to writing pieces that are hard to sell. Neither did anyone let you know that, when you have a writing success, the joy is boundless. Nobody told you any of these things.

You had to learn on your own as you plodded your way along your writing path. Some days plod is exactly what you did. Those were the days that the story plot got all mixed-up or your secondary character suddenly took over the story. Or you read your work over and over and still felt like it was a bunch of hogwash.

Other times, you skipped merrily along your writing path. Those were the days when you received good news from an editor or your first book arrived on your doorstep. You skipped along when fan letters arrived or when you spoke publicly about your writing and your audience gave you their full attention. 

There are the ups and downs in all phases of our lives. That is not going to change, nor will it be any different in your writing life. I never known a writer who can claim that his/her writing life flowed like a river right over the rocks and debris it encountered. Nope. You will have the ups and downs whether you are a hobbyist writer or a professional who has numerous books published. 

The point here is that all the good and the bad experiences serve to help us learn and become a stronger person--a stronger writer. It's especially true with the difficult times, the hardest writing projects or the wrangling with a difficult editor. The learning process here can be difficult but maybe that only makes the lesson learned a better one and makes us a stronger person.

We'd all love it if the good times outweighed the bad. Some years that may happen while on others, it seems the bad is far heavier. In the long run, it probably averages out, even if it doesn't feel that way.

Be like Snoopy and Charlie Brown--weather the storms with a smile and benefit from the strength you'll gain along the way. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Take A Day Off With A Good Book

It rained during the night with thunder and lightning disturbing the sleep of many. This morning, the rain gauge was filled to the 2 1/2 inch mark. Now, it is gloomy and damp outside. Lights are needed in the house. It seems like the perfect day to curl up with a book.

But wait! I have a lengthy mental list of what I need to do today. What will happen if I take the day off and savor the pages of the book I've only just begun to read last week?

Two things will occur. First, the To-Do List is still going to be there tomorrow. Second, I'm going to thoroughly enjoy my day of reading.

Is that going to actually happen? I'm afraid not because there are some important items on that To-Do List. A few cannot be pushed off til tomorrow or next week. But I am going to take an hour or two and read. And why?

Because it's good for my mental and emotional health. It's also one of my greatest pleasures in life and I firmly believe we need to nourish those pleasures now and then.

Why do we want to spend a day with a book? Reading a good book is entertainment. It's an escape from everyday cares and woes. It's helpful to those of us who write to read as many books as we can to learn from other writers. It's a way to gain information. It's fun.

So, if you take a day off to read a book, don't feel guilty. It's a choice you make and it's perfectly alright to push a few other things off til tomorrow. Use Scarlett O'Hara's famous phrase "I'll think about that tomorrow." Most of the time, it will work.

If today is a good day for you to read a book, do it with sheer joy!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Write About Trauma--An Aid In Healng

Since Friday's dreadful attacks in Paris, I have been thinking about the traumas we all must face in our lives. We lose loved ones. We watch in horror the tragedies around our world. We read about accidents and murders and suicides in the newspapers every day. New parents must sometimes face raising a severely handicapped child. We cannot escape the sad parts of living.

As writers, we know that putting your thoughts into printed words after a traumatic event or great tragedy can be a beginning step in the healing process when grief engulfs us. It's a form of release for all the pent-up feelings within. It won't change whatever happened. It may not solve anything either but it can help us to deal with the situation.

Ronda Miller, author of Moonstain, has released her innermost feelings in the poems in this book. She has been traveling around her home state of Kansas speaking to groups about her poetry and urging others to write about the difficult times they have encountered. After a recent program, titled Motion in Emotion in Wichita, one of the hosts in the audience wrote the following regarding Ronda's presentation:

 "Her open and forthright talk about dealing with trauma and grief by writing poetry led one person after another to read their words aloud. Several readers had never shared these poems in public before today. In some cases, tears were shed by both readers and listeners. A moving, cathartic, and informative afternoon."

Ronda had sent an earlier request that audience members bring poems they'd written dealing with grief, tragedy and trauma. As you can see in the quote above, many were read in public for the very first time. Even though tears were shed, there must have been a great feeling of release by those who read their work aloud. There were several comments from audience members on a facebook posting that expressed deep appreciation for the way Ronda helped others who deal with trauma.

I'm not suggesting that you run out and find an audience to listen to a poem, or prose, that you wrote about a difficult time in your life. But I do urge you write about your feelings, whether it be in a private journal or something you hope to publish someday. 

It's not always easy to write this type of poetry or prose immediately after the trauma. Sometimes it takes years before you can do so. In my own case, losing two infants from totally different reasons made me want to share my story with others who might be going through the same kind of thing. And yet, it took me nearly 30 years before I could actually write about it. Once I started, I wrote many personal essays dealing with the loss of an infant. Several have been published and I hope with all my heart that they helped someone who read what I wrote. 

We're still experiencing great sadness over the Paris attacks. Those of you who may have visited Paris sometime in the past surely have some deep feelings about that city and what happened. Now is the time to write about it. If only for yourself but for others, too, if you care to share.

Friday, November 13, 2015

An Attitude of Gratitude For Writers

This Thanksgiving month brings thoughts of gratitude to mind. We're told to count our blessings and November is a good time to do so. 

I have many things to be thankful for in my writing life. Most likely, you do, too. It's too easy to dwell on our rejections or writing projects that give us migraines. So today, I'm going to compose a list of things and people I am grateful for in my writing world. 

I am grateful for:
  • being strong enough to pursue the writing life in my fifties
  • having a goal of getting published and achieving it
  • my critique groups who have helped me grow as a writer
  • writing friends who support me
  • writing friends who rejoice at my good times and soothe during the bad ones
  • the willingness to continue learning the craft of writing
  • being able to accept rejection (that took awhile!)
  • living in a technological world that makes life easier for writers
  • this blog which ensures I write 5 days a week
  • the readers of this blog
  • the Followers of this blog
  • the many wonderful people I have met in my writing world
  • the writing conferences I've attended where I learn and mingle with other writers
  • being asked to conduct workshops at conferences to share with other writers
  • being able to read other peoples' books with the perspective of a writer
  • the gift of being a writer
  • the ability to bring pleasure and knowledge to others through my writing
You might consider making your own list. When you look it over, you might be surprised at how many blessings have come to you through your writing life. Keep the list handy and add to it. I'm sure I've missed a few things that should be on my list.

Have an attitude of gratitude as you traverse your writing journey. It might not hurt to thank another writer for the influence they may have had in your writing life. As the poster tells us, we need to express that thankfulness.

Share this post with other writers you know. Let's start an Attitude of Gratitude trend amongst the writing world.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Can You Write A Very Short Romance Story?

You've probably seen this magazine at the check-out area of your local grocery store and other places that sell magazines. Did you ever think of submitting a romance story to them? Would you consider it for a payment of $800? 

I bet that got your attention. They pay $800 for a romance fiction story of 800 words. Easy? Not as easy as you might think. For one thing, writing a full story in so few words means you have to write tight. You still have to grab the reader's attention, create a problem and come to a satisfying solution at the end. 

No horror, sci-fi, erotic or historical fiction stories. Just a good contemporary romance. The story can be written from the point of view of either the male or female character. 

I submitted to this magazine once and I received a personal letter from the editor telling me he liked the twist I had in the story, but..... His suggestions for changes would have left the story completely different than what I intended. So, I chose not to rewrite. Maybe I was my own worst enemy in that case. Or maybe I didn't want to see my story radically changed just so that I could make a sale. 

I suggest you read a few of the romance stories in the magazine. Your local library may have back issues, or you can start picking it up at the grocery store until you've read several issues. Then, you'll have a better idea of what kind of story they are looking for. I've found that many of the stories are about the beginning of a relationship, not the development of it. 

Go to Freedom With Writing to read the full guidelines. You may be surprised that they do not take email submissions. Still use snail mail with a SASE enclosed for the reply. No SASE and your submission goes in the circular file below the desk.  Old-fashioned? Yes. But remember, they pay $1 per word.

Remember that they publish one of these romance stories in every issue, so you need to come with something that has not been done again and again. I think I might revise the story they rejected and send it again. Might be a new editor there now who will like it. Won't know if I don't try!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Our Military and Veterans Are More Than A Number

Today is Veterans Day. As we go about our work and leisure activities, I hope we will all take time to honor the military people of today and the veterans who served in the past. The following is an essay I wrote a few years ago. The thoughts are as sincere today as the day I wrote this. 

More Than A Number

The men and women in our armed forces are not numbers in a newspaper article. Each one that deploys leaves behind parents, sisters and brothers, spouses and children, as well as myriad friends. They are not numbers; they are people. They laugh, they cry, they love, they endure hardships, they work hard. They are human beings with all the emotions you and I experience. They sweat, they like to eat three times a day or more, they enjoy fellowship with others, they pray, they shake with fear more often than we’ll ever know. They are warm, living beings—not numbers in a newspaper account.

How often do we read that another brigade has deployed? Numbers? No, not numbers, that brigade is made up of people who smile, cry, tell jokes, treasure the photos they carry of loved ones. They have headaches and stomachaches like you and me. They get slivers in their fingers and bruises on arms and legs. They’re no less vulnerable to physical ailments than you or I, but they face dangers we have never dreamed of.

I live near an army post, so I see uniformed soldiers everywhere I go. They stop at the grocery store on their way home from work just like teachers and attorneys and librarians do. They pick up their children at soccer fields as a civilian mom or dad does. We are all very much alike, except for one thing. These soldiers, male and female, have volunteered to serve, to protect our country at home and in foreign lands, to perhaps put their life in danger while doing so.

Have you ever thanked a soldier or marine or sailor? Maybe you’d feel uncomfortable walking up to a total stranger and saying, “Thanks for all you do for me and the rest of America every day.” What a great gift it would be if you could say that or something like it to a member of the armed forces. Think about it the next time you see an American in uniform.

A few years ago, my husband and I were returning from a European trip. We were tired and anxious to get through customs when we landed in the USA. As we approached the passport checkpoint, a door opened and an entire unit of uniformed soldiers filed through. They were returning from Iraq, an even longer flight than we’d had. We stopped and watched these fatigued young men and women as they walked by us. Some nodded and smiled, others stared straight ahead. Some I could barely see for the tears that had filled my eyes. I wanted so badly to say Welcome Home to them, but the lump in my throat didn’t allow it. The pride that encompassed me at that moment cannot be described. I was every soldier’s mother for just an instant.

And what about the ones who didn’t return to walk through that airport door? The ones who came home in a body bag or a wooden coffin. My pride in them is every bit as strong along with a deep and abiding gratitude in what they gave for the rest of us. They sacrificed so that we can keep living in a free country. Yes, we Americans have many disagreements, but, even so, we are blessed in numerous ways.

Don’t wait for Veterans Day or Memorial Day, take time to say thank you to a military person. Say it in person or say it in your heart, but please say it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Any Soldier, Any War...Maybe You Know HIm

Today, I'd going to share something I wrote several years ago when Veterans Day drew near. In the essay, I tried to speak for all who served by writing about a fictitious soldier, one who might represent all the soldiers, sailors, and marines who served in WWII and later in Korea, Vietnam, and the more recent wars in the Middle East. 

Any Soldier, Any War—Maybe You Know Him
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Some call it Veterans Day while others say Remembrance Day. They are the same day commemorating the same wars, the same men who gave their lives fighting for what they believed in. Some volunteered while the draft nabbed others, but nearly all carried an unseen banner of the country they loved right next to their heart.

Any soldier, any war—maybe you know him.

He left mother and father, sweetheart and friends. Gone were his carefree summer days, spent with boyhood chums. Schoolbooks lay forgotten, dust settling over the covers. Baseball bats and marbles, toy cars and lead soldiers tumbled into a box, saved for the next generation. A letter jacket in the closet, placed there by a boy--would a man return to claim them? 

The boy who braved the high school football field turned into a young man whose hands trembled as they quickly wiped a tear from a cheek the first time he went into combat. Knees quaked and his heart beat double-time until training of both boot camp and a lifetime before that kicked in. The little unseen banner of his country fluttered right over his heart bringing calm and a determination to do all deemed necessary.

He fought in scorching heat and bitter cold, through fields of flowers in spring and myriad fallen leaves in autumn. He battled through daytimes and in moonless nights.

In the quiet moments, thoughts spiraled backward to home, to Mom and Dad, and Christmas trees, and baseball games, and to turkey dinners and ice cream sundaes. He fingered a treasured photo of Carol, the girl he loved, and swallowed the lump in his throat that rose whenever he studied her face. He’d taken the picture on one of the last days before he left for the army camp. A wisp of her dark hair had blown across her forehead, and her hand looked poised to sweep it back into place. She’d posed with her free hand on a hip and a quirky smile on her face, as though she might make a wisecrack at any moment. He slipped the picture into his pocket when the thunder of guns drew closer.

He adjusted his helmet, gripped his rifle in both hands, and scanned the line of trees ahead. Was there some soldier from the other side creeping closer? Did he, too, think of home during a lull in the fighting? Did he have a photo of the girl he loved? Wasn’t he fighting for his country, too? The insanity of it all sometimes swept over him like a wave crashing on the beach.

Countries disagreed and made war, but only the men who fought were lost. Some soldiers died, while others lived to carry the horrors of war forever, to hide deep within, letting them surface only occasionally. Despite the human loss, countries rose again from the ashes like a phoenix to grow strong, to wait for a new generation, to wage war yet again.

He promised himself to never forget his fallen comrades, the towns and families they’d liberated, the good that evolved from the scathing waste of war. He’d march in every Veterans Day parade until his legs would carry him no more. And he’d wipe a tear from his cheek when other boys left childhood things to cross the sea and fight the next enemy.
He’d wear the poppy in his buttonhole right over the unseen banner that still fluttered across his heart.

For God and country, he would remember, with pride and regret, those who did not return.



Monday, November 9, 2015

Points On Paragraphs

I found this great poster quote at The Writer's Circle. They credited it to  Amanda Patterson

Changing paragraphs is one small aspect of writing that I have seen few people feature on a blog or in a writing magazine or ezine. It may be that even writing instructors take it for granted that everyone knows when you should change to a new paragraph. Not necessarily so. Some of the above are pretty clear and something most writers would do automatically but others might not be so easy.

Note that the first three all contain the word new. It should be apparent that when introducing a new anything, you should start a brand new paragraph. Aha! There is that word new again. Hang on, as you'll see the word mentioned a few more times in this post. Much as I hate repetition, sometimes we have no way around it.

When a setting changes, it makes perfect sense to initiate an entirely different paragraph. it gives the reader a breathing space between settings, or places.

The point about using a new paragraph when a new person is speaking is one that many writers stumble over when writing dialogue. If Susie and Mary are having a conversation, begin a new paragraph each time there is a change from one character's dialogue to the other. It looks strange sometimes when you see lots of short paragraphs in a lengthy dialogue but it's a good rule to adhere to. 

The last two are pretty self-explanatory. They might both be included under the fourth point. 

There is another time when moving to a new paragraph is helpful. When the writer is making a strong statement, it is beneficial to set it in a paragraph on its own. It would be the same with something that might be of a shocking nature or particularly poignant.  It is going to make the reader sit up and pay attention if it stands alone rather than being the end of the preceding paragraph. 

When you're editing and revising your work, check your paragraphs. Do they measure up to the poster above? Or have you included too many topics in one long and convoluted paragraph? 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Don't Be A Repetitious Writer

A friend shared this Snoopy cartoon strip on facebook this morning. Maybe all writers should adopt this lovable guy as a mascot. He never makes it big in the writing world but he also does not give up. He's out there pecking away on his trusty typewriter again and again. We laugh at his antics with editors and the things he writes, I wonder how many times we recognize ourself in some of Snoopy's writing accounts. 

Today, he shows us the humorous side of being repetitious. Seeing Snoopy do it makes us laugh. It's not so funny, however, when it is a problem in our own writing. Repeating the same idea or same words leads to a boring reader. It brings out the irritability of an editor who reads a submission with constant repetition. The story itself would have to be outstanding for an editor to accept with revisions. No doubt, he/she would spell out those revisions quite clearly. 

When I urge repeatedly to let a first draft simmer on the back burner for a few days, or even longer, I have good reason. One is that immediately after writing a new essay or story, you can't see errors. All you see is the main idea of what you've written. Let it sit and when you read it again, the problems will jump out. More than once, I've read my work later and mentally went What? and wondered how in the world I'd been so repetitious or used a plethora of passive verbs or wrote an entire piece with no sensory details. Or maybe mixed tenses. 

The keen eyes of the members of my online writing group often catch things I never noticed. They are reading A. for the first time and B. objectively. Thus, the errors jump out. Many times, the critiquers point out that a sentence can be deleted, or even a whole paragraph. Their comment is usually something like You have already said this; you don't need to repeat it.

So, why do we tend to repeat things, whether words or whole ideas? One reason is that some writers fear the reader isn't going to get it. Thus, they say it again, maybe in a different group of words but the same idea. Scratch that worry off your list. Most readers do get it. Another reason is that we run out of new ideas or new words and so it's easier to repeat than to come up with new stuff. Do I dare say that we become lazy sometimes? Yes, I'll say it because I know I've done it myself. 

Snoopy knew he needed some more editing for his story. Don't let yourself be the Master of Mistress of Repetition. Slash those repeated words or ideas and replace them with new ones. You'll make your work far more publishable if you do. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Printed Garden

A stack of books spells pleasure for me and, I think, for any of us who love to read. I do and I have since my Dick and Jane and Baby Sally learn-to-read days.

I just finished reading David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet for my book club. It's a long, historical fiction novel exploring the Dutch trading company in Japan during the late 1700's to early 1800's. The book is of the literary kind and difficult reading at times. However, I was stopped cold by one sentence, which I cannot quote verbatim and cannot find it again in the 500 pages to do so. The gist of it is this: He had a treasure trove of books--a printed garden.

What a beautiful way to describe books. Is there any among us who does not appreciate the beauty of a garden of flowers and shrubs, trees and floral grasses? So it is with the printed garden. We who love reading know what blooms inside a book.

The author's choice of words to describe the books, which in that period truly were treasures, is phenomenal. He could have stopped with the part about having a treasure trove of books. Instead, he added the icing to the cake--a printed garden. Word choice by writers could be a topic for another blog post.

I do know that I will most likely bring that phrase...a printed garden to mind whenever I see a stack of books or walk into both bookstores and libraries. The poets among you could use the phrase to compose a new poem.

In an actual garden, we must plant, prune, and care for the flowers and more if it is to thrive. Isn't it similar with our books? We must read, care for, and save them or pass them on to other book lovers.

What does ...a printed garden say to you?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Writers and Deadlines

Kansas City Royals World Series Win Brought Record Crowds on Parade Day

Most of us in Kansas are Royals fans, even if we don't watch every game. Ken and I get involved with seeing the games on TV when they reach the play-offs and into the World Series. You must know, unless you live in a cave, that The Royals beat the Mets to win the series. Yesterday, there was a parade through downtown Kansas City where hundreds of thousands gathered to celebrate. I've heard estimates from 450,000 to 800,000--either way it's a whole lot of folks!

The Kansas City Star newspaper did a masterful job in covering the play-offs and the World Series games. Many staffers stayed long into the night to get stories written and the paper out as close to usual time as possible. Journalists work under deadlines and tremendous pressure. Yes, they probably do grow accustomed to it, but pressure is pressure. Not all people can handle it. 

How's your working toward a deadline score? Does it stress you to have a deadline to meet? Or does it motivate you to get your rear in gear and tap out those words? 

Contests have deadlines. Miss it and your chance of winning goes right to the bottom of the heap. Anthologies have deadlines. Chicken Soup editors recommend getting your submissions in long before the deadline. They claim that your story has a better chance if sent earlier. Still, sending it very close to deadline doesn't count you out because they also claim to read each and every submission. Magazines or ezines with themes usually have deadlines. 

Some writers work best when they have a deadline. Each day, they get out of bed with that Gotta write! Gotta write! Gotta write! attitude when a date to finish looms over them. It pushes them. They were probably college students who stayed up all night to finish a paper for English Lit. 

Other writers feel too pressured when they try to write to a deadline. They prefer writing on their own schedule and submitting to publications that take submissions on a regular basis. 

Writers are like the rest of the people in our world--all a little different in the way they approach jobs. Is one way better than the other? Will you be more productive if you write to deadlines? I think not. We're individuals and we need to work with the method that is best for each of us. You might admire another writer who can write to deadlines, even very short deadlines like newspaper reporters have. Go ahead and admire them but work to your own level. 

Do you remember being a teen-ager and hearing your parents say something like  If all your friends jump off a bridge, that doesn't mean you have to do it, too. They wanted you to be your own person, make your own decisions work the way that is best for you. Even all these years later, it still works.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Writers Need A Thick Hide

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
—Harper Lee, WD

What wise words these are. Every writer should wrap him/herself in the thickest hide he/she can find. Reviews and critiques are sometimes akin to standing before a target while someone shoots arrows straight at it. 

Will you let the sharp arrows bounce off and lie on the ground where they cannot hurt you? Or will you stand still as the arrows pierce right through to your heart? 

Let's face it. Criticism of our writing hurts, even when it's meant to help us learn and grow. And when we feel hurt, we become defensive, even angry. If we allow these emotions to emerge and take hold of our good sense, irreparable damage can be done.

I was once in a small local writer's group. I became friends with one of the young women and was happy when she suggested we do a one on one critique of our writing. I was delighted because the group members all said nicey-nice things no matter how poorly written a submission might be and this might be a way to gain an honest opinion. My friend gave me several pages of a novel she was writing to critique for her. When I read it, I didn't know what to do as the writing was quite juvenile in content and filled with mechanical errors. Should I look for the positives and say nothing about what she could do to improve the story? Or should I give a critique meant to help her learn? I chose the latter and, as a result, I lost a friend. She was furious that I had found anything wrong. I'd given an honest opinion and tried to do it as gently as I could, but it didn't matter.

A man in my first online critique group was from a Central American country so English was his second language. He was crazy about American baseball and most of his writing centered on that topic. The writing was pretty poor and he received many crits from other members pointing out the problems. He was furious that anyone would criticize those words he'd written. He had joined the group seeking praise, not to learn and grow as a writer. He quit in a huff after a lengthy written rant. 

We all hope that a critiquer or a reviewer praises those words we've written. When I first started submitting my work to the original online group, I must admit that I felt eager for praise and, when all the problems with the submission were pointed out to me, it hurt. It's deflating to our ego. We're humans and we don't like to be told we did a poor job. Plus it means revising and editing a piece we'd thought was just fine.

It didn't take me too long to realize that those arrows being flung my way were meant to help me, not hurt me. I figured out that I would never grow as a writer unless I got over being hurt when all my mistakes were pointed out. In early days, there were plenty of errors in my writing world. 

Over the years, my hide has thickened considerably. Maybe that's where those ten pounds I'd like to lose came from! I don't feel hurt anymore when a critiquer tears apart the 1200 words I'd written with such enthusiasm. Disappointed, yes, but not hurt because I know that the critiquer is helping me see my own work more objectively. 

I imagine that the older Harper Lee had a thicker hide than the very young one did. We age, we learn, we grow.

Monday, November 2, 2015

November Offers Many Story Ideas

November is here. Leaves continue to fall and swirl in the Kansas wind but temperatures in our area remain summerlike. Before we know it, a cold front will roar across the state and we'll be hunting for sweaters and jackets.

We spent Thursday through Sunday in Dallas with our son's family. No colorful trees there, all green but also lots of flowers still blooming. We went to two football games while there. The high school game had been moved to Thursday evening because of heavy rain forecast for Friday. So, we got to see our granddaughter beat her drum in the Marching Band. On Saturday, we went to the SMU campus to see the game and watch the other granddaughter perform with The Pom Squad--a dance group--at the football game. Chilly and damp that day but it was nowhere near as bad as it was further south in Texas. We left home in October and returned in November even though gone only four days.

This month brings us many topics to write about. Check this list to see if any one of them gives you an idea for a fiction story, a creative nonfiction piece, or maybe a poem. Perhaps you'll think of a story for children

  • Autumn colors
  • Falling leaves
  • All Saints Day
  • Veteran's Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • Family birthdays
  • Travel for the holiday
  • School memories of November
  • Childhood memories of November
  • Changing weather
  • Likes and dislikes of November
  • Favorite recipes you use this month
  • November history of our country
  • Harvest time