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Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Year Stories and More Unusual Holidays

In my childhood, Leap Years brought on a gaggle of giggles from my classmates as we tried to figure out a person's age if he/she had a birthday on February 29th. There are all kinds of articles online and in newspapers and magazines giving Fun Facts about Leap Year. Take a look at one of them.

Leap Year offers writers another opportunity for writing a new story, poem or essay. Some countries say February 29th is a day when women can propose to men. Perfect base for a short story, isn't it? How about an essay with factual information about this only-once-every-four-years day? A poem about having a birthday on February 29th might be unusual enough to get published.

There are plenty of days in the year that are celebrated in some way or other but I have a feeling few writers consider them worth writing about. Why not be the one to do so? You could get published and those who let those days slip by might not.

I know I recently wrote a post about writing stories for the lesser-known holidays but it doesn't hurt to repeat, so...

Consider writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry or a childrens' story about:

  • New Year's Day
  • Martin Luther King Day
  • Valentine's Day
  • President's Day
  • St. Patrick's Day
  • Easter
  • Mother's Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Father's Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Halloween
  • Veterans' Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • Hanukkah
  • Kwanzaa
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day
  • New Year's Eve
You'll have better luck if you choose one of the lesser-known, lesser-celebrated days. Everyone wants to write about Halloween and Christmas but how many stories have you read that revolve around Columbus Day or Labor Day? I didn't include days like National Tooth Fairy Day (February 28th) or Johhny Appleseed Day (March 11th)  but you can find lists of those online, I'm sure. The one I think I'd like to celebrate is No Housework Day on April 7th. 

You'll have to think ahead so that you can submit your work long before the actual holiday. If you write a Leap Year story today, it's not going to get published for another 4 years. Aim now for those days we celebrate in the last few months of the year. Write it, submit it soon. 

Take advantage of this year's extra day and write a little more than you have during those 365 day years. February 29th gives you one more day to ply your craft. Go for it!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Anthology on Siblings Needs Stories

Two of my brothers and me in 1947

We read frequently about sibling rivalry but there's a lot more to having brothers and /or sisters. We may push one another aside trying to get mom or dad's attention. We might fight with them like combat troops at times but we'll also stick up for them when outside playing in the neighborhood. Siblings know when to fight and when to band together, when to love and when to show complete support for one another. They make us mad and they make us glad we have them. No matter what, they're family.

Sibling relationships are as complicated as any relationship can get but most of us would not trade those years we grew up with brothers or sisters. I had a cousin who was an only child. There were times I envied her for all the 'stuff' she had that I didn't. When we were adults, she told me that she envied me having three brothers. (#3 is not in the picture as he was not born until much later).

Being the oldest--the bossy older sister--I still feel protective of my three younger brothers, even though two of them are retired men collecting social security. I fret about their health problems. I am delighted when one of them calls me just to chat. I understand each one better than many people because I was there from the beginning. I know now why one brother was more protected by our parents, why another received harsher punishments than the others, and why one got away with more than the other two and me. It took years of living for me to figure it out.

Think of the stories we could write that involved our sibling relationships! Well, you can write those stories now for a new anthology that will be filled with stories about siblings.  Full guidelines here.

Reach into your memory bank to bring those early years with brothers or sisters to mind. Once you start thinking about them, I bet you'll find more and more possible topics to write about. The word count for these stories is quite high, (up to 4500) so you can write in more detail if you like. Send stories about your relationship with siblings in your adult years and even senior years, too. The range is vast.

I noted in the call for submissions that there was nothing mentioned about payment. You might want to email the editor to inquire about that. If payment is important to you, this might not be a place you want to submit to. If publication is your aim, and there is no payment, then you're good to go. It would have been helpful had what the payment or nonpayment policy is had been specified.

I have one story already written about my youngest sibling that might be worth submitting and I can think of a whole lot more. How about you? Start reminiscing and see what you come up with.

Brother #3 born when I was 16

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Forget Yesterday, Today Is What We Have

Do you tend to dwell on the negatives in life long after they are history? It becomes a habit, a really bad habit. If you received two rejections and no acceptances last week, do you stew over it day after day? If you received a scathing critique from someone in your group, does it haunt you day after day until you're ready to scream? Well, just cut it out! It's done! 

Today's quote has some wise words. Every day is a new day--a place to start over again. If yesterday was a crummy day, so be it, but now you have a chance to make today a good day. Work on an unfinished writing project. Tackle that problem chapter in your almost-finished novel. Start a new story. 

I might add one caveat. Don't throw out all that happened before today. We've said many times that when those negatives happen, we can learn something. Actually, we should learn from the not-so-hot things that occur in our writing life. The important thing is to find the lesson, apply it and move on to a new day and a fresh start.

These lessons in our writing world often work in the rest of our life. Ever have an argument with your spouse/partner and go to bed still seething inside? When you wake up the next morning, be the bigger person and tell the other one that it's a new day and time to start over. Leave the grudge behind. 

In our writing life, we wake up each morning with the ability to start fresh. If the essay you worked on yesterday was nothing but one headache after another, toss it and start over. It might work better on this new day. If it doesn't, you know you made the effort and it's time to move on to a new project. 

When I get up each morning, I look outside to see if it's raining or snowing or the birds are singing to herald a lovely day and I make a mental list of what I'd like to accomplish in these next waking hours. I don't always get everything on my list done but that's OK. Tomorrow will be another day when I am given a new beginning. I won't rue the things I didn't do the day before because I can't change what happened yesterday. Today is what I have and I try to use it as best I can. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Don't Wait Too Long to Write Family Stories

Yesterday, we attended the funeral of a friend. He had been a career military man, served in the reserves after retiring from active duty for several years. In his heart, he never left the service. A longtime friend spoke at the service, standing near the flag-draped casket. 

He told of a friendship that began when the two men were freshman in college, continued through military service days and then living in the same community during their retirement years. There were humorous stories related and heartfelt words, as well. He painted a word picture for all to see.

As I listened, I wondered if the deceased, or any of his family members, had written anything about this patriot's life. Did anyone write about the years he served in Vietnam? Or the number of helicopters he jumped out of? Or the wedding at Ft. Knox when he married 51 years ago? Had the annual Christmas event--the days-long setting up of train and village--been written about? Or the parties this man loved to host along with his wife? Is there a written record of his coffee group friends and chatter--the retired men who met every morning, Monday through Friday? What about his beer group on Monday and Friday afternoons? He and his buddies hashed out the problems of the world.

Has anyone written about the two children this man and his wife adopted and raised with great love and dedication? Or about his weakness for his grandchildren--showering them with love and more Christmas gifts than any child might dream of? 

Did he keep a journal with details of his long life? If he did not and no other family member did not, the question is Why? I can't fault any one person if there is no written record. Many think about it and plan to do it later. But somehow, later gets farther and farther into the future until it is too late and never gets done. 

It's never too late to write about your family members (or yourself). Of course, it's better to begin sooner rather than later but do it! Below is a list of some of the things you might want to include:
  • place and date of birth
  • where he/she grew up
  • what kind of schools attended
  • what kind of student he/she was
  • physical traits and emotional characteristics
  • military record
  • jobs
  • girlfriends/boyfriends
  • childhood friends
  • church attended, if any
  • likes and dislikes
  • siblings
  • political affiliation
  • marriage(s)
  • children/grandchildren
  • travel
  • higher education
  • honors, medals, awards
  • service to the community
It's not necessary to sit down and create a full book length memoir of your family member, or yourself. Do it in bits and pieces, one story at a time. Each of my stories in the Chicken Soup books is about me or some family member. Put them all together and a book has been initiated. I keep a large 3 ring binder of all the things I write (except for these blog posts). Actually, there are now 2 of those big books. One section is labeled Family Stories and that is where those family-related writings go. They extend from me to my immediate family to extended family to my husband and many of his family members. They are a record of the past for those who are young ones now and those yet to come. As many stories as there are, I know that I can write about many other family personalities, events, and happenings.

So many people ask But where do I begin? Start with one story. That's all it takes. Only one. And then write another one and another. They do not have to be in chronological order. Anyone reading the stories later will soon be able to draw a full picture from the many stories. 

Another thing you can do for your own family is to keep a diary or a journal of your memories, your thoughts, present day happenings--anything that comes to mind. If you're 20, 40, 60 or 70, it's not too late to begin. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Storytelling versus Story Writing

Ever been to a storytelling event? I have not but I hear and read about them now and then. I'd like to attend one someday.  I ran across the quote above and found it gave me food for thought. Susanna Kearsley is a best-selling author who also blogs about writing.

Consider this:  You go to lunch with a friend and you tell her what happened to you on a recent camping trip in the mountains. You've got a captive audience of one and you're excited about the story you have to tell her. Your voice goes up and down, your hands gesture (maybe with fork clutched in one!) and your eyes reflect the mood of the story. Your voice emphasizes the best parts. Your sentences aren't grammatically perfect but they get the idea across. Your emotions are evident as you relate what happened and you have fun telling the story.

And now this:  You had an amazing experience when camping in the mountains. It's a story you want to write and submit to an adventure magazine. You write a first draft, then let it sit for a few days. Next, you edit to make sure your sentences are written with clarity and excellent grammar. The spelling is 100% correct. The facts are there. You set the scene and feel like there is a sense of place in the story. All good things but when you read the story with objective eyes, you think it feels flat. It sounded so good when you told the story to your friend. And she appeared to like it. What happened?

Why the difference? The audience for a written story is unseen. The writer doesn't have a chance to respond to the reading audience's reaction like he/she does with an in-person audience of one. It's difficult to put inflection into the telling in a written story while it's quite easy to do when you verbally relate a happening in your life. You can't use hand gestures; instead, you must create visuals as you write. You must instill a sense of place as you write. A written story with no emotions added is going to fall flat. It's up to the writer to bring emotion into the writing without banging the reader over the head. It's the old show rather than tell thing.

You have fun when you tell a story to a friend. Your voice and gestures and facial expressions are evidence of that. Try to write as though you're enjoying the story, too. If it's all business and no enjoyment, it could very well come through to the reader. The subject matter will make a difference in whether or not you can write with pure joy or not. But for most things, you can instill that feeling if you allow yourself to do it. If you do, your reader will appreciate what you've written more than if you write strictly to get the story down as it happened and forget the human side of it.

It would be great if we could all attend a storyteller's event so we could watch the way these verbal writers perform. I'm assuming they write the story first, then practice telling it aloud. I'm guessing that they add a great deal more in the telling than what was actually written. It's that human touch that comes through so well when we listen to someone telling a story. When you write, aim for that human touch in your stories, too. Use your writing voice that is like no other writer's voice to ensure that your written stories are special.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Lesson To Be Learned

This poster can be applied to many phases of our lives but we talk mostly about writing and books on this blog. Let's zero in on this quote as it relates to our writing life.

When we have several successes in a short time, we sometimes forget to to appreciate all that it means and what it brings to us. It means we've achieved a goal or two. It means we have a bit more money in  our pocket. It means that we have a certain amount of satisfaction. And it means that our self-confidence has taken a good leap. It also means we have achieved some good writing.

When rejection after rejection comes our way, it's difficult to be grateful and find the lesson. You know it and I know it. It's a great deal easier to hold a Pity Party which becomes a party for one person only. Our self-confidence takes a big hit. We feel guilty that our goals are not being met. We have less money to spend and there is little or no satisfaction. So who needs to learn a lesson on top of all that?

After we get all those crummy feelings out of the way, maybe we can learn something. Maybe then we can step back and look with more objective eyes. We must ask ourselves why we have had so many rejections. What's the answer? It might be right under our noses but we don't want to admit that we need to hone our skills a bit more. Perhaps we need to learn more about marketing our work. Maybe we need to take a crash course in a better way to edit and revise our work before we submit it.

Whatever the problem, we need to face it and create a plan to correct it. Once we stop feeling sorry for ourselves, we can do that. It may not get better in hours or even days. It took longer than that to get into the rejection mode, didn't it? We can correct these problems one step at a time. And that's exactly how to begin--with one step. Then another and another. Be grateful that there really is a lesson to be learned.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Great Week-end Read

Product Details

If you have a free week-end, zip over to your library and check out a copy of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. The book was recommended to me by a friend who loves books like I do. I zipped through the 272 pages of the hardcover copy in two evenings. When I have a book that I am thoroughly besotted by, I can read faster than when I have to plod through one that is of little interest.

A.J. Fikry owns a bookstore on a fictional island called Alice that is off the eastern coast of the USA. An automobile accident claims the life of his beloved wife. As the story begins, A.J. is despondent and grumpy. He's also a bit of a nerd but maintains his bookstore for the islanders and summer tourists and because he loves books more than anything in his dreary life.

Enter Amelia, a publishing company's sales rep who is unusual in her own way. She and A.J. clash at first but come to develop an interesting relationship. Someone leaves a life-changer in A.J.'s bookstore--a baby girl who captures the broken heart of this unusual man. By the time, he has cared for Maya through the week-end, A.J. cannot stand the thought of sending her into foster care. He adopts her and raises her as his own. 

We are treated to seeing him become a loving, if unusual, father while developing a friendship with the local police chief and maintaining ties with his dead wife's sister and her author husband. A.J. uses the wisdom he finds in books to live his life and to raise the little girl. I quickly developed a liking for this curmudgeonly protagonist and all the other quirky people in the story. 

Even though the book is not lengthy, we move through years of A.J's life with Maya and his relationship with Amelia. A bit of mystery is introduced at the beginning of the book which is not solved for a very long time. And throughout the story, books take the spotlight over and over.

Some short quotes by reviewers:
  “This novel has humor, romance, a touch of suspense, but most of all love--love of books and bookish people and, really, all of humanity in its imperfect glory.” —Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child

“Marvelously optimistic about the future of books and bookstores and the people who love both.” —The Washington Post

“You won’t want it to end.” —Family Circle

It's a perfect book for Book Clubs to read. you'll laugh, you'll nod your head in agreement, and you'll shed a few tears as well. Yes, it's a perfect week-end companion. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Advice From A Novelist

Yesterday's post featured the distractions writers who work at home deal with on a daily basis. The quote above by Edna Ferber, renowned American author, brings up yet another problem for the at-home writer.

If you have a job in an office, you spend X hours there every day and, while there are some distractions, you basically are free of the many interruptions an at-home writer must deal with.

What about those invitations you receive from friends and family? Someone calls and suggests lunch and a trip to the art museum. Or a shopping excursion. Maybe a performance of some kind. You want to go but you know that you also need to write a certain number of words per day to finish a novel.

If you accept the invitation, you know you'll have a wonderful time with someone whose company you enjoy. But the computer keyboard sits untouched. If you politely decline, you risk offending another person but your work gets done. Either way, you're going to feel some guilt.

Someone once said to me, "I don't know how you can be a writer, Nancy. You're such a social person and writers need to be alone most of the time." She was right. I love being around people but I also revel in being alone and writing. I try to balance the two but the scale weighs heavier on one side or the other many times.

What I don't do is allow myself to feel guilty for saying no to an invitation or for not getting a certain prescribed number of words written. I think we need to follow our gut instinct. There are times when that social event is important to our emotional well-being. There are moments when staying home and writing for hours at a time do the most for our mental health as well as other parts of our lives.

The point here is to do whatever feels best to you without letting guilt worm its way into your innards. Make a decision and stick with it. For the introverts, saying no to a social event is not so hard. They most likely prefer being alone and writing anyway. For the complete extrovert, the decision is a little more difficult. For those who, like me, are in the middle, you can waver too often. Try to choose what is best for you at the time.

Meanwhile, if you've never read anything Edna Ferber has written, hie thee quickly to your local library and check out one or two of her novels. Read them and ask yourself why they were so popular. What key did she have to success? Many of her books were made into movies--Giant, Cimarron, and Show Boat are a few. Here is a list of her novels.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Writers Deal With Distractions Daily

One of the detriments of writing at home is distractions. We all set certain goals each day, whether we write them down or just list them mentally. But we know that our plan is not always going to happen.

There are days when we can write without interruptions and the words flow easily. We hit our goal number of words and perhaps even exceed it. If only they could all be like that.

Instead, the phone rings over and over. Even if you let the answering machine take the call, you still cock and ear to listen. Just in case it's something important. Or interesting. So, fingers leave the keyboard and you answer the call. When you go back to work, it's not always easy to pick up the train of thought you had when you answered the call.

Doorbells ring. You're working and don't want to get up to answer. Probably some kid selling magazines to get through college. Or a religious group offering a tract. Then again, maybe it's a neighbor needing help. Or bringing a newly-baked gift. Depending on what your curiosity level is, you either go to the door or ignore it and keep on writing. Even if you continue to write, a part of your mind is still wondering who was at the door.

The dryer buzzes. Clothes are done. You know that if you hop up and fold them immediately, you'll have less ironing to do later. If you keep on working and let the clothes linger in the dryer for an hour or two, they'll have more wrinkles than those funny little dogs with a Chinese name! Once again, only you can decide which is more important--finishing the chapter or having a dryer full of wrinkled clothes. You can turn off the signal that buzzes on your dryer, but then you'd always have wrinkled clothes to fold.

Kids come home from school while you're pounding away at your keyboard. You're on a roll. Kids run into your office asking what they can have for an after-school snack. You know and they know that the same things are in the kitchen every day. They don't have to ask. But they do want to have some interaction with Mom or Dad, whichever the case may be. Again, it's your decision. Do you wave them away and keep working? Or do you give them a hug and go out to the kitchen to find snacks for them?

If a writer works at home, he/she is going to have to deal with distractions on a daily basis. And no two of us are going to handle those interferences in exactly the same way. We may not handle the same ones the same way every day.

One of my writer friends found that her recently retired husband constantly came into her home office to ask a question or just to comment on something he'd seen on TV or read in the newspaper. She was writing a book and his many interruptions finally got to her. So, she made a sign for the door that said WRITER WORKING. She taped it at eye level and closed the door. He got the hint and kept his chit-chat for times when she took a break.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Making Your Writing Clear For Your Reader

A giant wind came roaring through around 5 this morning. It blew ferociously enough to wake me from a sound sleep. No going back to dreamland again, so I lay there listening to the strong wind that gusted with such intensity that I feared the same fate as two of the Three Little Pigs. Was the big, bad wolf outside our door? Or was it just Mother Nature letting us know that, even though we are having warm temps this week, we have to pay for it somehow. Now, hours later, the wind continues to blow steadily with occasional huge gusts.

While I lay awake early today listening to the wind, I started thinking about a poem that I had critiqued for a writer friend yesterday. While I loved some of the images in the poem, I found that I really had no understanding of what it was all about. Later, she wrote to thank me for the crit and told me a bit more about where she wrote the poem and what prompted it. Suddenly, it all became much clearer.

Writers of poetry, fiction, memoir and more often have trouble getting things across to the reader. The person writing is fully aware of what happened, where it happened, what the people looked like and how they acted. It's all in their mind and it's perfect. But--and it's a big 'but'--it's not always easy to write the scene so that the reader sees it completely the same.

When I write a memoir piece, I know the people well. I know the background of the characters and the situation. I try to make sure what I've written helps the reader to be able to see much of what I know. I don't always succeed so I try to read through a reader's eye when I do the editing.

Having my work critiqued by others helps with this problem of the writer not clarifying enough for the reader. If the person doing the crit is left with a "Huh?" then something needs to be done. It's not easy to do without adding way too much to what you've written. You need to clarify as much as you can by writing as little as you can to add to what your original piece is. Easy? Not at all.

The best advice I can give writers to correct this problem is to let the piece sit for several days. Then, read it trying to put yourself in your reader's mode. Look for areas that take too much for granted, places where you need to add it little to let the reader know more.  Another thing to do is to rely on help from others who will critique the piece for you. They'll catch this problem and maybe others, too.

Monday, February 15, 2016

President's Day--Write A Story

President's Day

Today is President's Day. When I was a student at Abraham Lincoln School in the state of Illinois, we celebrated both Lincoln's and Washington's birthday each February. February 12th was Abe's day and the 22nd belonged to George. We got the day off for one of those birthdays each year, alternating the two. Our teachers brought both these revered presidents into our lessons in numerous ways and there was always a bulletin board on the topic. Red, white and blue was evident in each classroom.

From Kindergarten through the 8th grade, I learned a great deal about those two presidents. I'm grateful to all those teachers who instilled the knowledge of and respect for Lincoln and Washington and, later on, all our presidents' 

Now, on the third Monday of February, we celebrate President's Day to honor all the men who have held that office. Have you considered writing an essay, story or poem about the holiday or detailing the life of any one of our presidents? Is there one in particular that you admire?

Editors of children's magazines and ezines are always looking for material that addresses holidays other than Christmas and Halloween. The submissions that feature those two holidays are overflowing. They'd like to see more on the not-as-popular holidays. 

I don't think it's only the children's magazine editors looking for this kind of submission. Editors and publishers of stories, essays and poems for grown-ups would probably be pleased to get this type of submission, too. 

President's Day is only one of many special days of the year that you could use for a topic. Here's a  list:
  • New Year's Day
  • Epiphany
  • Groundhog Day
  • Valentine's Day
  • President's Day
  • Martin Luther King Day
  • St. Patrick's Day
  • Easter
  • April Fool's Day
  • May Day
  • Mother's Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Father's Day
  • Fourth of July
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veterans' Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • Hanukkah
  • Kwanzaa
This is a lengthy list and I probably missed a few. You could write a story for a religious publication or a secular one. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Valentine Memory

Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is Sunday. Editors of children's magazines often sent out pleas for Valentine stories. They have a glut of Christmas and Halloween stories but the other holidays of the year pale in comparison. Write a Valentine story now and submit in a few months for next year to either a kidlit publisher or adult. My only published Valentine story turned out to be the first one I ever sold to Chicken Soup for the Soul (Dads and Daughters book) and also one of the most widely published here in the USA and abroad. It's still a favorite of mine. A Valentine memory that has stayed with me for many, many years. You may have treasured Valentine memories of your own. 

My Dad 

Love In A Box
By Nancy Julien Kopp

When I was a little girl, I found love in a box all because of a class assignment. On a Friday night I made an announcement at the dinner table. The words bubbled out in a torrent of excitement I could no longer contain. "My teacher said we have to bring a box for our valentines on Monday. But it has to be a special box all decorated."

Mother said, "We'll see," and she continued eating.

I wilted faster than a flower with no water. What did "We'll see" mean? I had to have that box, or there would be no valentines for me. My second grade Valentine's Day would be a disaster. Maybe they didn't love me enough to help me with my project.

All day Saturday I waited, and I worried, but there was no mention of a valentine box. Sunday arrived, and my concern increased, but I knew an inquiry about the box might trigger anger and loud voices. I kept an anxious eye on both my parents all day. In 1947, children only asked once. More than that invited punitive measures; at least in my house it did.

Late Sunday afternoon, my father called me into the tiny kitchen of our apartment. The table was covered with an assortment of white crepe paper, red construction paper, and bits and pieces of lace and ribbon from my mother's sewing basket. An empty shoebox rested on top of the paper. Relief flooded through me when Daddy said, "Let's get started on your project."

In the next hour, my father transformed the empty shoebox into a valentine box I would never forget. Crepe paper covered the ugly cardboard. My father fashioned a ruffled piece of the pliable paper and glued it around the middle. He cut a slot in the lid and covered it with more of the white paper. Next came red hearts attached in what I considered all the right places. He hummed a tune while he worked, and I kneeled on my chair witnessing the magical conversion of the shoebox and handing him the glue when he needed it. When he finished, my father's eyes sparkled, and a smile stretched across his thin face. "What do you think of that?"

My answer was a hug and a "Thank you, Daddy."

But inside, joy danced all the way to my heart. It was the first time that my father devoted so much time to me. His world consisted of working hard to support his family, adoring my mother, disciplining my brother and me, and listening to every sports event broadcast on the radio. Suddenly, a new door opened in my life. My father loved me.

Monday morning, my mother found a brown grocery sack to protect the beautiful box while I carried it to school. I barely felt the bitter cold of the February day as I held the precious treasure close to me. I would let no harm come to my beautiful valentine box.

My teacher cleared a space on a long, wide windowsill where the decorated boxes would stay until Valentine's Day. I studied each one as it was placed on the sill, and none compared with mine. Every time I peeked at my valentine box, I felt my father's love. My pride knew no bounds. There were moments when the box actually glowed in a spotlight all its own. No doubt the only one who witnessed that glow was me.

Every day some of my classmates brought valentine cards to school and slipped them into the slots of the special boxes. The holiday party arrived, and we brought our boxes to our desks to open the valentines. Frosted heart cookies, red punch, valentines and giggles filled our classroom. Chaos reigned until dismissal time arrived.

I carried my valentine box home proudly. It wasn't hidden in a grocery sack but held out for the world to admire. I showed it to the policeman who guided us across a busy city street. He patted me on the head and exclaimed over the box. I made sure everyone along the way took note of my valentine box. My father had made it for me, and the love that filled the box meant more to me than all the valentines nestled inside.

From that time on, I never doubted my father's feelings for me. The valentine box became a symbol of his love that lasted through decades of other Valentine Days. He gave me other gifts through the years, but none ever compared with the tender love I felt within the confines of the old, empty shoebox.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Don't Rely On Cliches When You Write

Picture this. The woman in today's photo has just received an email from an editor regarding a recent submission. He wrote Your story idea is good but your manuscript is rife with cliches. This is not for us.

The dictionary definition of cliche:  a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usuallyexpressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lostoriginality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser,or strong as an ox.

When we write, we often pick cliches from the air like snatching apples off a tree. They're there for us to use, aren't they? Yes, the cliches are out there by the thousands and we can use them if we so choose. If you sprinkle these overused phrases throughout your manuscript, you're likely to get a note like the woman above, or perhaps just a rejection with no explanation. 

Overuse of cliches is the sign of a lazy writer. I've been guilty of relying on cliches, especially in the early years of my writing journey. Cliches are such a common part of our everyday conversations that it's easy to let them slip into our writing. We need to work at recogizing that we use them and then to avoid them. 

I found a list of hundreds of trite phrases that we should try to avoid. Take a look at them and ask yourself how many you have used in your writing?  Read it at Be A Better Writer blog.  Pick a few and see how you might get the same idea across using your own words rather than the cliche. Practice doing this several times as a writing exercise to help you begin to think outside the cliche circle. 

It's alright to use a cliche on occasion but try to make it a rare event. Rely on your own creativity to come up with another way to give the same meaning. It may seem like a little thing in the huge scope of writing mechanics. I'd say it's a pretty important when it comes to word usage. 

Let's hope the woman above can highlight all the cliches she used in her story and come up with original thoughts. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Christmas Stories Needed Soon!

No, it's not quite Christmastime yet, but it is most definitely time to get your stories polished and ready to submit to the newest Christmas book that Chicken Soup for the Soul will publish. The title is The Joy of Christmas and the deadline for sending stories is April 30th. That gives you plenty of time to write a new story or revise and edit an old one.

I found it interesting that the book will include more than just Christmas stories. This call for submissions also mentions Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, and New Year's. That gives you a wide range of holiday memories and stories to select from for this newest holiday book.

They want stories that are ...inspirational and joyous, heartwarming and humorous...  Joy seems to be the keyword here. I wouldn't send a sad story for this book. It's obviously not going to make it. Yes, there are sad holiday stories that would have a place elsewhere but not for this book.

Keep in mind that the Chicken Soup editors offer you a lengthy set of Guidelines for writing a Chicken Soup story. There is a reason for that. Follow them and you're more likely to be accepted. Ignore them and your story will be one of the many they reject. Don't just read the Guidelines--study them!

A word concerning deadlines for submissions. Chicken Soup editors start selecting stories before the deadline arrives, so if you wait til the last minute, your odds of being accepted drop.

The call is for both stories and poems. Remember that the stories must be true--no fiction for this publisher. I have not seen a lot of poetry in the Chicken Soup books. My guess is that they would look for narrative poems--those that tell a story--rather than imagery or slice of life types.

In one of my December posts, I urged you to write your Christmas stories while the spirit and emotion of the season was with you. Those of you who did so are a step ahead as you have a story to polish up and shoot off to the Chicken Soup editors on the Submission page.

If you have submitted a Christmas story for earlier holiday books and it didn't make it, you can submit same again. But, do take a close look at your story and see what you might do to add a bit of sparkle before submitting again.

Get geared up to write and submit those ...inspirational and joyous, heartwarming and humorous...stories suggested in the Call for Submissions for The Joy of Christmas.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Reaching For Perfection

A piece of dialogue in a long-ago movie popped into my head when I saw this poster. Ain't nothin' gonna be perfect in this life. I'm sorry to say I cannot remember which movie or the situation that brought forth this comment or who said it.That doesn't really matter. It's the words themselves that should have an impact on each one of us. 

Writers can attest to the fact that there is nothing perfect in this life we are leading on earth. Wouldn't it be great if it could be so? Seems to me there are degrees of that nothing perfect category. We have close to perfect, hardly perfect, near perfect, so perfect, not perfect and more. 

What if everything was perfect? What if you sold every story you submitted? What if every novel you wrote was an overnight best seller? Sounds wonderful? Hold on a minute. If all that you touched turned to gold, what would you have left to strive for? What incentive would there be to write the very best story? Why bother to write a good story if you know anything you write will sell? 

So, back to reality. Perfection is pretty hard to achieve. Glitches of all kinds rain on our parade. Sometimes we feel like there is one bump in the road after another. Nothing goes right. We hate what we write. We receive multiple rejections before one acceptance. Critiques of our work have more negatives than positives. We throw up our hands in disgust or lay our heads on the desk and shed a few tears. 

Yep, we all get down when things go wrong. The little girl with the wheelbarrow is right. Things do eventually come around to allow us a more positive view. Maybe not right away but eventually. All you and I need to weather through times that are tough is patience. A small word when standing all alone but so very important. Those who read this blog regularly know that my two keywords are patience and perseverance.  

It's not an easy task to be patient and wait for the good things to come to us. It takes grit and determination. It means you must wade through the bad times before you find that field of flowers waiting for you. Our writing world is filled with ups and downs. As that piece of dialogue so nicely illustrates--Ain't nothin' gonna be perfect in this life.  Even so, I think you'll find enough bits and pieces that are almost perfect to keep you motivated to continue writing. Patience does pay off.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Recipe Box Disaster Leads To Thoughts On Writing


Friday, I had a small disaster in my kitchen. I pulled out a shelf in my pantry cupboard and a small recipe box flipped over backwards onto the bottom shelf. Recipe cards were scattered all along the shelf and the floor in front of it along with the alphabetized dividers. I muttered to myself as I retrieved all the cards and the box. It's one I don't use all that often but there are some old tried and true recipes in there that I've collected over the years--many from friends and family. It still gives me great pleasure to see and use those handwritten by my mother. 

I tossed the whole mess on the kitchen counter after deciding I couldn't deal with it at that moment. Today, while I was watching a basketball game on TV, I put the dividers in order, then began sorting through the recipe cards, many faded with time. Ones I knew I'd never make again, I tossed and refiled the others. The box is now organized and lighter--ready to be put in a new spot. It will definitely go somewhere that the disaster will not repeat.

As I worked my way through the dozens and dozens of index cards, I started to think about the stories, articles and poems in my writing files. They aren't going to fall off a shelf and scatter hither and yon. Nope. They just sit quietly in my Documents file until I pull them up for one reason or another. 

It might be a good idea to go through your own file to see what you want to save and what you may want to dump. Some writers would never get rid of anything they've written. Not ever! Even if it is nothing more than an opening paragraph to a story. I would never delete without careful calculation. I'd need to ask myself if I've written something already to replace it. Or if it is so godawful that it doesn't deserve to be kept. I might wonder if revision and editing could save it. There could be a few things that I truly hate. I might wonder if I'd written it on a bad writing day. Yes, I do believe there are things not to be kept. But, if you just cannot destroy the words you've written, so be it. Make a folder with those stories in it. 

But what about those that merit staying in the file? There are plenty of completed stories that have already been published. Should I keep those? Yes. Why? There are plenty of places that take reprints and maybe the story can be published once again. I might possibly use it as a base for another story. I might want to use it for an example in this blog. I like it--which is as fine a reason as any other! An editor might ask for a sample of my writing and those published stories come in handy. 

Others might need to be kept for revision and editing. It seems like no story is ever completed. Even those published works are open to revision when submitting as a reprint. 

You know what else most of us have in our files? Unfinished pieces. I have some that are nothing more than a paragraph or two. I once wrote an opening scene for a children's story that was great. But once I set the scene, I didn't know where to take it. And so it sits--waiting for me to continue. I bet you have some of those, too. 

Spend some time with your Document files. You may discover some hidden gems--like me today with the recipes. Some of them made me want to start cooking on a bigtime scale. Maybe some of those forgotten stories will give you the itch to start writing to bring them to a submittable stage. 

It's all too easy to forget what is in our Document file so do check through it every now and then. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Food For Thought--Quotes On Writing

I'm posting several quotes about writing today. Many you will nod your head in agreement when you read them. Maybe some of you will raise your eyebrows and mutter "Really?"  These are quotes by writers and who knows better about this world of writing than he/she who has done it?  Consider them Food For Thought.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Caring and Boasting Are Two Different Things


A writer friend has been on a winning streak lately. Her work has been accepted by several editors and she's shared the good news with her fellow writers. In one comment she said,  I know we're not really supposed to care so much if others like our work or not, but it still feels awfully good when they do.

I fired back an answer to her that she had every right to care. Maybe her feeling is based on things our mothers taught us as kids. We all heard things like Don't brag. Nobody likes a person who boasts. Don't toot your own horn.  In some cases, that's good advice but once you become a writer, you need to step back and look with a different perspective. Besides, caring and boasting are two different things.

So, exactly why do I think this writer should care? Here's my list of reasons

  • she's put in a great deal of time and effort on her accepted pieces
  • she sends in her very best work
  • she studies her markets carefully
  • she continues to learn and grow as a writer
  • she has set goals and attains them one by one
  • she is genuinely talented in this field
  • she has a strong voice that comes through in all her work
  • she's earned the joy of caring a lot about her accomplishments
I think every writer should care if others like their work. We care a lot when an editor sends an acceptance. We care when a reader sends a positive comment. We care when our writer friends compliment our work. And you know what? It's perfectly alright to care a lot. So go for it without any reservation. Jump for joy! Do the Happy Dance! Smile broadly! Puff out your chest! 

And most of all--when the bad times come in the form of stories that don't work or multiple rejections, reach into your memory bank to remind yourself how good you felt when things were going well. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bits and Pieces About My Writing World and Yours

OK, so it's the third day of this new month but we can still say hello to this shortest month of the year. Leap Year adds one more day in 2016. Today, I have several bits and pieces to share. 

1.  Followers on this blog:  For some strange reason, when I finally got my internet service going again, I noticed that my Followers number had dropped by 20. One or two might have been understandable but 20! I had not been posting because of the move and phone/internet problems so I knew it was not because of anyone getting angry over something I'd written. Would 20 people drop when they didn't see the usual Monday to Friday posts? I rather doubt it. So, I went to the Help section on Blogger and found no help regarding the situation at all. 

So, I would ask for your help in this small matter which probably means something to me and few others. Please check and see if your name is gone from the Follower's section. If it is, and you're agreeable, please sign on once again. If you did drop purposely and have a complaint, please let me know. If you like this blog, would you recommend it to others? Ask them to sign on as a Follower, too? 

2. Being Published:   We were invited to a Wine and Cheese party last evening in our new neighborhood. We knew only one person there so were asked many questions regarding what Ken and I do, where we hailed from long ago etc. I mentioned that I had started writing about 20 years ago to follow a lifelong desire.
"Are you published?" was the next quick question. I said that I was and they asked "Where?" When I mentioned having many stories in the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, one lady said "Never heard of it!" She is a retired archaeologist, so maybe stories about people who are alive today do not interest her. But it did make me think that something as popular as the Chicken Soup books may only hit a certain percentage of our reading population. 

3. Learning Something New:   I have been part of a group that is exploring Prose Poetry for 4 weeks. Sadly, it started about the time we moved and I have not been able to give it the amount of attention I would like to. Pamela Casto is the coordinator of the group. She is known for Flash Fiction and has a group that you can join if you are interested. The newsletter she puts out is most informative and filled with market suggestions. I'd like to learn more about Prose Poetry and may continue to learn on my own. It appears that there are many schools of thought on what a prose poem is. 

4.  Writing Group:  I was told that there is a Writing Group in this Senior Living Community where we now live. I have been wondering whether to visit it and see if I would like to be a part of the group. One of the women at last night's gathering mentioned it but then added, "You're probably way beyond most of them." Maybe yes and maybe no, so I would need to visit to find out if it is a group where I could gain something as well as offer something. It's a bit difficult to know what to do. If I visit once and don't return, they might think that I thought their group wasn't good enough for me, and I wouldn't want that. 

5. Writing Routines:   Ever take a break from writing and then had a hard time getting back to it? With the break I've had these past weeks, I am definitely finding it a bit difficult to get back in my usual writing routine. The desire is there but the habit got bent a bit. It only pointed out to me the benefit of keeping a writing routine and writing on a very regular basis. Definitely a life lesson! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Character Sketches--A Writing Exercise

I had a series of flashbacks when I saw the poster above. Growing up in a large apartment building meant I had a passel of neighborhood kids to grow up with. We separated ourselves into age groups. Nothing formal, just drifted to those within a year or two of our own age. When my brothers and I went out to play, it was rare that we found the courtyard empty. It seems kids were always around.

Some stand out more than others now that these many decades have passed but I do remember all of them. With some, it is because I liked and admired them, had fun with them. And for others, it is due to their unpleasant behavior. One or two were just plain mean! Yes, we had bullies in the 40's and 50's, too. 

Think about the kids in your own neighborhood during the years you were growing up. Which ones did your mother encourage you to bring home? And who were the kids your mother told you to avoid? 

Those kids you played childhood games with can benefit you today as a writer. Make a list of the kids you remember most. Write a character sketch for each of them. Start with the basics like physical description. As you do so, I think that more about each one will come back to you. Round out with the child's emotional make-up, their kindness quotient, or their ability to make other kids cry. Add the reasons you liked or disliked each one. What kind of small habits did each one have? Did one always lick his fingers before pitching a baseball? Or was there someone who turned around 3 times before starting a hopscotch game? Highlight whatever was a unique habit. 

By the time you finish writing these character sketches of the kids you grew up with, you'll have a nice folder to draw from when writing your stories. Any one of them could fit into one of your fiction stories or perhaps you can use one or more when writing memoir pieces or other creative nonfiction. 

These short character sketches might even be an inspiration for a story idea. Give it a try. Do one a day for as long as you can, or keep on going if you're motivated to do several at one time. 

Playmates Character Sketch:
  • make a list of the names you remember
  • choose one and write a physical description
  • include any habits unique to this person
  • add their emotional make-up
  • tell what kind of family they came from
  • designate the leaders and followers
  • why you liked or disliked them
  • tell if they were leaders or followers
  • how they dressed
  • voice--loud, soft, annoying
  • crybaby vs tough guy

Monday, February 1, 2016

Journaling--Every Writer Should Do It!

Home Office, Workstation, Office, Business, Notebook

Yesterday, I read an interesting article in our local paper that had appeared in the Wall St. Journal this past Tuesday (1/26/16). The article featured a man who lived in Manhattan, KS, where I live, for many years. He has held several jobs in his nearly eight decades but writing tops his list. Charley Kempthorne started the LifeStory Institute when he initiated workshops in journaling and writing life stories for senior citizens.

He wrote to the Wall St. Journal about a life story written by a woman in her nineties. He felt it deserved publication. A very long story short--Jessie Foveaux of Manhattan, KS manuscript sold for over a million at a publisher's auction. 

But back to Charley and journaling. Read here what he has to say on the subject, then hop over to his Home Page for more. If you're interested in the book written by Jessie Foveaux and how it came to be published, check out that page, too.

Journaling is a calming salve that aids in emotional healing. It also serves as an anchor, something to hold us in the right place. Journaling every day is like coming home after a hard day's work. It brings a sense of peace, gives the writer a place to vent about that day or the day before. Writing our thoughts on a daily basis also allows gives us chance to let those thoughts flow into words, phrases and sentences that last.

I wrote some time ago about Julia Cameron's suggestion to write first thing in the morning. Every day. She says to write at least three pages (longhand) and let your thoughts flow in a ceaseless way. She terms it Morning Pages. It's just a different name for journaling. Young girls love to keep a diary, and that is also a form of journaling.

My oldest granddaughter had a second grade teacher who used journaling as a classroom tool. Those little children wrote something in their journal every day. What good practice that was. I wonder how many have carried it through the rest of the growing-up years. My granddaughter is nearing twenty and she is a writer. Whether that early journaling had anything to do with her loving to write, I'll never know. I think it was one of those 'can't hurt, might help' kind of things.

When you keep a daily journal, you give yourself the gift of writing every day. There is no better exercise for the writer than that. Write something every day! Be it journal, morning pages, diary or a set writing exercise--it's going to benefit you in some way.

It's your choice as to how you proceed to journal. The photo above shows both laptop and notebook for longhand writing. And, that cup of coffee can only add to making the journaling part of your day a pleasant chore.

Journaling might be a job at first but as you progress, day by day, it will become a habit. One of the most important parts of journaling is to set aside some time each day to do it. Not hours. You can manage 10 or 15 minutes a day. Work on establishing this habit and you'll not be sorry.