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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Writers--Are You A Lion Or A Lamb?

The Lion and the Lamb

On this 31st day of March, I thought about the old saying If March comes in a like a lion, it will go out like a lamb. And I think the reverse is thought to be true, I don't remember what March 1st, 2016 was like here in Kansas but today the temperature is mild and springlike, there is little wind, and the sun has peeked out to say hello. Definitely a lamb kind of day. 

What does this have to do with being a writer? We think of lambs as sweet, mild animals. We give stuffed lambs to babies and toddlers to cuddle. We all know that the lion is strong and sometimes fierce. He is dominant while the lamb is thought of as passive. 

Apply the above to yourself as a writer. Which one are you? Lion or lamb? 

When inspiration strikes, do you drop everything and act on it? Run to your computer and start hammering at the keyboard? Or maybe you grab your closest piece of paper or notebook and outline the idea immediately. You act on it right away. Are you excited and raring to go on this new idea? If you answer yes to all these questions, you're a lion. If inspiration hits and you push it to the back of your mind to act on at some later date, you're most likely a lamb.

When a rejection arrives, do you get angry? Do you pace the floor and figure out what you'd like to do to the editor who turned down your work? Do you make up your mind to send it somewhere else right away or after you edit the piece? If you're fierce in your reaction, you're probably a lion. Does a rejection find you in Depression City and staring at your computer wondering why you even try? Do you take the rejection as a sign that you should give up writing? Do you take your time and write something new before you sub the old piece again? If so, you're probably a lamb. 

Is it wrong in our writing world to be either a lion or a lamb?

No-- it's the uniqueness of our personalities. Some of us are strong and fierce in our reactions while others step back and accept whatever happens. Neither one is all right or all wrong. I think it would be great if we might reach a happy medium between the two. Some of us need to be more forceful in our writing world while others need to take a step back and consider their mild approach to the writing and the marketing and selling oneself as a writer. 

Something to consider:  Which one of these personalities--lion or lamb--is more likely to move faster on the writing journey? 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Seven Of My Favorite Authors

For a change of pace today, I'm going to share a list of seven of my favorite authors. Some of them have one outstanding book--outstanding for me, that is, while others have written several books that I have especially enjoyed. Each one of these writers were beginners at one time and I have a feeling they all practiced those two keywords I often mention--patience and perseverance. Their fame did not come during their earliest days of writing.

If there is one author here that you have never read, google him/her and select a book to read. Check your local library or Amazon. Do you have a list of favorite authors? Share them with us in the comments section.

 Ken Follett's expertise in storytelling is amazing. I could list a number of his books that I found to be wonderful reading but Pillars of the Earth and Eye of the Needle are two of my favorites. 

Catherine Cookson is one of the most prolific writers of all time. She has more titles published than most authors dream of. Her books are historical and tell stories of the working class of England. She is truly a wonderful storyteller. 

Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers is a book I think every mother and every daughter should read. I list it as one of my all-time favorite reads. Her other books are good reads, too, but The Shell Seekers is special.

I devoured Maeve Binchy's novels, each and every one. She writes about everyday people in Irleand, bringing them to life for her readers. It's difficult to pick a favorite of her work but one of the earliest, Light A Penny Candle, would be my choice.

I think that Daniel Silva is one of the very best spy-thriller authors. I have read numerous titles in his series featuring Gregory Allon, an art restorer who is also an Israeli spy. You can't go wrong with any of them but look for the early ones to get to know the protagonist, then follow him in additional titles.

Margaret Mitchell is still famous for her epic Civil War novel, Gone With The Wind. I first read it when I was still in high school. I learned more about the Civil War in this novel than I ever did in American History class. It's one book that I have read three times. I rarely ever read a book more than once, but this one...yes!

Another writer whose books I began to read while in high school was Pearl Buck. Her books, set in China, brought another culture to life while showing that people around the world are more alike than different. The Good Earth is one she is best known for. A movie was made in the '30's I believe--an Academy Award winning movie. There were many other books that she wrote that I considered as good.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Showing, Telling, Emotions and More in Writing

Here it is once again. Showing or Telling. No matter how many times writers are urged to show rather than tell, too many continue to tell the tale. Some even write a story like it was a report. This happened, then this happened and on and on. 

When the reader finishes the story, he/she might feel like the story was a report in a newspaper. Journalists are taught to relate the facts. They don't worry about the reader feeling the story. But those who write fiction or creative non-fiction, need to learn to show far more than they tell to bring out feeling in their readers.

I need to back up a bit. There are journalists who write human interest stories that bring us far more than the facts. They delve into the personal side of a factual story. Even in those articles, I find more telling than showing but I have also been moved by what was written.

If you write a scene and say that a strong wind blew as Ellen walked.  it's telling. If you write the scene and say something like Ellen bent over and put one heavy foot in front of the other. She moved slowly into the wind, squinting her eyes to keep the dirt away. Her hair whipped wildly around her face as the force of the wind increased. The reader is far more likely to understand what Ellen experienced. 

As a reader, I am almost always going to feel more emotion if you show me what the character is enduring or experiencing. Just tell me about it and my reaction might be, Okay, what's next? But if you show me and let me feel what the character is feeling, I might find the same emotion as that character, whether it be love, joy, fear or anger. 

When you read a book that is hard to put down, the author has probably written so that you are living the story with the characters. He/she didn't just relate a story, step by step. 

If the writer doesn't put some emotion into his/her writing--helped by showing rather than telling--the reader is not going to have any emotion either. When someone in my writing group subs a story, she will often ask those critiquing if the emotion came through. Writers know that is important but they don't always achieve it to their own satisfaction.

The same situation is true when using sensory details. As the quote above says, the fact that it is raining is just that--a fact. And the author told you that. If you can write the scene with enough sensory details so that the reader can feel that rain, then you've achieved something all writers hope to do.

After you've written a chapter or a long scene, put it away for a day or two. Read it later with an objective eye, the way your readers might see it. How much did you tell? How much did you show and bring out emotion and sensory details that help the reader feel what the characters feel? You're still in the midst of writing so it can be fixed if you're willing to take the time and make the effort required. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Write December Holiday Stories Now!

No, I haven't lost it. I know that it is the day after Easter, not Christmas. I also am aware I have written other posts with this same suggestion but now is the time to write Christmas stories. Consider me your adopted muse reminding you that time is moving along and you need to get started writing December stories.

Chicken Soup for the Soul is looking for stories for a book titled The Joy of Christmas. Title is a bit misleading as they want stories for other December holidays, as well. That includes Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Boxing Day and New Year's. The book will be published in time for the 2016 December holidays season.

Deadline for stories for this anthology is April 30th. That gives you slightly more than a month to submit. Read a bit more about what the editors are looking for on this page of possible book topics. The Christmas book is quite far down the list so don't give up as you scroll down. (Might check out the other books while there, as well.)

It's not easy to write a holiday story months ahead of the actual celebration. You might need to drum up some inspiration to be able to write for this book. I'm going to give Christmas examples as that is the December holiday with which I am most familiar. Do you keep old Christmas cards? Get them out and go through them one by one. Sure to bring back some memories. Play a Christmas CD. Go through your picture file and check out those family pictures you took last December. Spend some time scanning a Christmas cookbook. An idea for a story is sure to pop up along the way.

Another idea is to go through your files of already written, but never published, stories and see if any will fit the theme. Don't just upload them on the submittable form and feel satisfied that you sent a story. Step back and read your story as objectively as you can. Will it fit the guidelines? Can you find the emotion in the story? Chicken Soup books are big on emotion. Not phony kind, the real thing, so don't just insert a crying jag scene for that reason alone. Revise and edit carefully before sending.

While your friends are tip-toeing through the tulips in April, you should be hammering the keyboard of your laptop writing a Christmas story. Take a break now and then and enjoy the pleasantries of April now and then.

Magazine editors and book publishers are working on holiday books now. Wait until November and it's too late. Plan ahead for all holiday stories.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Should You Enter A Writing Contest?

Today's post is one that I wrote for an online writing site. The information is still pertinent today for those who have thought about entering a writing contest but didn't follow through. Also for those who have done so a time or two but not on a regular basis. The three little guys above have the right attitude. One thing I should add to what is below is that you should try to check to make sure the contest is legitimate.

Contests Calling—Should You Enter?
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 Have you ever wanted to enter a writing contest but talked yourself out of it? Ever convinced yourself you weren’t good enough to enter a writing contest? What’s in it for you if you don’t win, or what if you do win?

Many considerations come into play when I send my finest work to a writing contest. I’ve entered many contests and won in several--not always first place-- even Honorable Mention is a winner. You may have noticed that I stated “…sending my finest work….”  That’s important.

Find writing contests in writer’s newsletters, magazines, online and newspapers. Some require an entry fee. Many offer terrific prizes, while others promise only publication of the winning entries.

I didn’t enter writing contests in the early stages of my writing world. I didn’t have enough confidence and I knew my work hadn’t reached a professional level. Later, I sold some of the contest entry articles, stories and poems I submitted to editors. Oh sure, I got plenty of rejections, but my confidence level moved up a notch with each acceptance. Once my work began to sell, I thought more seriously about entering contests.

I submitted my first contest entry at the district level of my state authors’ organization, competing against only a couple dozen people. I entered in several categories, and to my great surprise, I placed in each and won small amounts of cash. The state contest offered bigger cash prizes, but also greater competition. I entered my prize-winners from the district contest, but when the winners list arrived, my name was absent. Even though disappointed, I continued to enter the district and state contests, winning often at district level. It took a few years before I saw results at the state level.

 One year, I entered a poem in the theme category of the state contest, though not a poet. I feared it was a waste of money as I had to pay a small fee. Winning first place surprised me. If I’d talked myself out of sending the poem, hadn’t wanted to waste that entry fee, I’d never have had the pleasure of winning nor of cashing the very nice check that arrived with my Award Certificate.

Since then, I’ve entered poetry contests at a few websites-- no entry fees so I had nothing to lose. I won first place with a poem about my granddaughter at a writers’ website, and I won third place and two Honorable Mention awards at another website’s poetry contest three successive years. I learned that you can’t win if you don’t enter.

Recognition comes with publication of the winner’s work. Editors sometimes look at winners in contests and offer to purchase the entry for their own publication. The first time I attended our state authors’ convention, more than one person remembered my name from the prize winners lists of the previous years.

A reading fee is the same as an entry fee. Some are nominal, and others seem quite high, but they offer a greater prize at the end as well as stronger competition. Each writer must weigh the options. Be selective, and an occasional entry fee is worth considering.

Adhering to contest guidelines is important. Time and effort go into the entries, so I check carefully and give my work a winner’s chance. If there is a theme to the contest, I try to make sure the entry fits. If single-spaced, non-indented paragraphs are called for, I don’t send a double-spaced manuscript.

Want another reason to enter contests? If I pen a winner, it’s a great addition to my cover letter when I submit the piece to an editor. Most will take note of such an announcement and may look more closely at the submission. It’s helpful but doesn’t always ensure a sale. For example, one of my stories for children won in three contests. But to date, it hasn’t sold.

So what are you waiting for? Check out the myriad writing contests and send your best work. If you don’t make it the first time, try again. Read and analyze the winning entries. Entering contests is no different than submitting your work to an editor. Both require patience and persistence. Start with the smaller contests and before you know it, you’ll be ready to enter bigger ones. There’s nothing to lose, and the payoff may be a prize or an impressive clip for your portfolio.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Does It Hurt To Cut Your Precious Words?

Fact or Fiction?

Two posters suggest cutting words. ...cut it to the bone Stephen King tells us. The anonymous author of the second quote tells us we are going to have to delete much of our first draft. He/she says that is when we know we are a writer but it might take us a long time to learn that.

Or maybe you don't agree with what these two quotes tell us. Maybe you are averse to cutting words or deleting entire sections of something to which you gave time and effort. You love some of the phrases or you are extremely proud of the way a certain section turned out. Cut? No way! 

I think this is when our ego and our talent as a writer get tangled. Those words we write are precious. We wouldn't take one of our children and toss them out, would we? That's how some writers feel about cutting parts of the story or deleting unnecessary words. They end up with wordy, dreary writing.

The cutting process will leave you with a much stronger piece of writing. If you edit with an objective eye--keyword here being objective--you can find areas that may be lovely prose but add nothing to the story itself. Or the essay or poem--whatever you are writing. 

In my first online writers' group, our moderator was a fine writer and a tough taskmaster. She was hard on all the members over one bad practice or another but she broke many of us of bad habits. One of those was being too wordy. She would cut huge chunks of a submission. That often hurt the writer but she always added a valid reason for what she suggested. Some people only needed unnecessary words cut but with others, it was entire paragraphs or even sections. I always read the critiques that this woman gave to other writers because I learned a great deal by doing so. As time went by, I could see that her suggestions on cutting were very beneficial. 

Here's a little problem with slashing our words. We're writers. We're word people. We love words and phrases and sentences. We don't want to get rid of any of it. Still, the second quote that suggests we are not real writers if we cannot make peace within as we slash, dice and slice some of what we've written. I know that, when I do this, I end up with a stronger piece of writing. 

Some of us tend to be redundant. We repeat the same idea with different words within the same paragraph. Part of the reason we tend to do that is to make sure the reader 'gets it.' Give your reader a little more credit for being able to 'get it' with only one try. When you edit your work, look for those areas where you have repeated yourself in some way and cut until you have made the point with one sentence. 

A fine poet in my online group frequently suggests cutting a lot out of a poem that has been subbed. That old less is more comes into play here. When she tells me to cut something, I pay close attention because I know she is a gifted poet and sees more than the average person. 

Don't be concerned with those many words you end up cutting. Put them away in your mental file box to use again some day. Those precious words aren't gone forever. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

When Writers Read

Writers are doubly blessed if they're also readers. I have always urged writers to be voracious readers as well as pursuing writing projects. Each one benefits the other. 

When writers read, they subconsciously are learning more about writing. And, when I read a book, I am sometimes stopped by a particularly nice bit of prose. You know the kind, the poetic phrases that are so visual and appeal to all your senses. I know that I absorb the many ways to use dialogue, the pace of the story, the plot itself, characterization and more. Does it lessen the enjoyment I get out of reading the book? Not at all. As I said, much of the learning is subconscious. 

The mind stores those little lessons and lets them surface when we are writing our own stories. The one thing we don't want to imitate is another writer's style. That is something that is individual and should be. I don't want to sound like you wrote my story, and you don't want to sound like I wrote yours. In that, we must each maintain our unique style or voice. If you have a favorite author, maybe the stories he/she writes is only part of the reason you try to read all the books that person wrote. You may respond positively to the way the books are written. 

The poster above made me smile but it has a certain amount of truth to it. Given a choice of housework or reading a book, I have no doubt which I'd choose. Right now, I'm deep into a WWII novel that has me wanting to put off mundane household tasks and keep reading. The book is Letters to the Lost by Ilona Grey. I remember long ago that I was near the end of a Louis L'amour novel that had me captivated. I stood at the stove stirring pudding with a wooden spoon in my right hand and the book in my right. I don't remember which I finished first--the book or the pudding. I am a serious reader, as you have probably figured out long ago. 

It was reading so many books in my growing up years and beyond that gave me the desire to also be a writer. There is one problem being both writer and reader. My reading time is considerably less than before I started writing. Thus, I treasure my reading moments. I am a fast reader and that's probably a good thing since I try to squeeze both writing and reading into my life. Housework gets done but I don't devote any more time to it than is absolutely necessary. 

One negative aspect of a writer also being an avid reader is that I also mentally edit or critique as I read. We aren't always going to find everything 100% positive when we read someone else's work. I note poor word choices, awkward sentences, incorrect capitalization or punctuation and just plain boring sections. Can't help it. I do it all the time but, if the story is good, I can get past the mechanical problems. Am I going to write the author a letter and point out all the things I found that bothered me? Of course not. But once again, I may file them away in my subconscious and try not to repeat same in my own writing. Of course, I will not succeed all of the time but even if I do so some of the time, it's a benefit. 

How about you? Do you think about the writing part of a novel when you read it or do you just simply enjoy the story and forget the rest? I'd love to know how other writers read. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Just Released--A New Chicken Soup Book

Chicken Soup is releasing a new book today just in time for Mother's Day. This one has stories that have already been published in one of the other Chicken Soup books. The editors selected 101 of their favorites for this newest book. Read more about for mom, with love here.

One of my stories was chosen and that pleased me, of course. The title of my story is The Girls On The Bus. My mother never learned to drive, so when my dad passed away, she was forced to use the Senior bus in her community. She resisted using it but knew she had to give up as it was the only way she could get groceries or go to Walmart. She found the other older people on the bus a sad lot. And so she set about trying to change that. Before long, I often heard her say "The girls on the bus said...."  It seemed the perfect title for my story. 

Many of us have written stories about our mothers. Whether they are humorous, heartwarming or just plain hard to believe, these tales bring back memories and let us share our mothers with others. 

There is a call out now for stories for another book about mothers. The title of the book will be Best Mom Ever. Go to this page to find out what kind of stories the editors are looking for. It's the second one in a lengthy list of books in the planning stages. Check out the others, too. The deadline for this one is September 30th so you have plenty of time to write a story or even several. The more you submit, the greater your chances will be. 

I love the book covers Chicken Soup uses. They are colorful, eye-catching and have titles that call out to readers. The newest one, released this very day, would make a nice gift for your mom if you are lucky enough to still have her, or perhaps for a daughter or daughter-in-law who is a mother. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Include Food In Your Writing

While going through some files yesterday, I noticed that I've written a lot of memoir pieces or personal essays that deal with food. Why not? Food is definitely a part of our everyday life and special foods and the people who prepared them linger in our memory bank for many years. 

Even novelists can use food to liven up a scene, or to move a plot along. A lot of dialogue can be enhanced by letting one of the people talking prepare food or be eating it. Then again, they can gag on it, throw it across a room, squash it. Whatever the author wants to do with it. 

One of the best parts of using food in your writing is that sensory details are a natural addition. Think of your favorite food; then consider how it looks, smells, tastes, what it feels like on your tongue and maybe even a sound (popcorn!) 

It's a natural for memoir writers to write about the foods of their childhood or perhaps what they ate in a college dorm or at their wedding reception. Maybe their own early attempts at preparing food that looked so easy when Mom did it. 

When I think back to the foods of my childhood, I can almost smell them. Of course, I am one of those people who live to eat, not like those who eat to live. 

Try writing a descriptive paragraph about each of the foods in this list:
  • fresh baked bread
  • an apple
  • chicken noodle soup
  • chocolate chip cookie
  • fried chicken
  • potato salad 
Here's a sample of a personal essay that deals with food. Just one food--my grandmother's special muffins. You could write an entire book of personal essays that deal with food.

Love On A Plate
By Nancy Julien Kopp

My grandmother moved away from Chicago about the time I started grade school, but, once in awhile, she would come back to visit us for a few weeks. At least once during her visit we had a “muffin day”--unannounced, and a happy surprise.

I walked the eight city blocks home from school every noon with my classmates. It was the late forties, and grade school lunchrooms were never a consideration. Each day was much the same. My classmates and I laughed, chattered, and played games like Stinkfish on our way home for lunch. The group diminished, as, one by one, kids disappeared into their various houses. Mothers waited inside with lunch on the table, soup or a sandwich in most cases.

I lived farthest from school so traveled alone on the final block. The sight of our large red-brick apartment building usually made my stomach growl with hunger. I'd walk a little faster, adding a hop, skip, and a jump now and then. Cars rumbled by on the brick street, and trains that ran parallel to the road often rolled and clattered by. Our vestibule doorway, one of seven entryways, was reached from the formal courtyard in the center of the large U-shaped building. Every day I ran around the bushes and grassy area that led to our entrance, my degree of hunger setting the pace.

I could count on there being one special day during my grandmother's visit. The day announced itself with the aroma of hot muffins the moment I opened the vestibule door. At the first sniff, my heart skipped a beat, and I felt a flutter of excitement deep inside. My nose twitched with genuine pleasure at the scent of the hot muffins, for the aroma floated down all three flights. My feet slid quickly across the cold, tiled floor to the softer, carpeted stairs. My fingers touched the smooth stairway railing only once or twice as I flew up the steps following that ever-stronger fragrance.

I burst through the unlocked door, heading straight to the kitchen in the back of the apartment. Grandma waited there, face flushed with heat from the oven, a plate of her special muffins in her wrinkled hands. Mother smiled at me, her delight nearly as great as mine.

Finally, seated at the table with a tall glass of cold milk and a steaming muffin on my plate, I sniffed the delectable treat to my heart’s content. The anticipation part was over. It was time to break the golden muffin in half and heap a generous pat of real butter on each piece. The first bite tasted of the salty butter and the sweet dates, all mingled together. Heavenly!

On these special days, that was all we ate for lunch--as many of these treats as a stomach could hold. They were so much better than a bologna sandwich. This was love on a plate. It’s a wonder that little red hearts didn’t escape into the air as I broke each muffin in two. My grandmother knew only one way to show her love, and that was through the food she prepared for those close to her heart. No amount of effort, time, or cost was too big when she cooked and baked for her family.

What has kept those date muffins in my memory bank for over half a century? Was it that they were especially delicious or that they were made with love? Perhaps a little of both. Which brings to mind my grandmother’s bakery…but that’s another story.

"Grandmother Studham’s Date Muffins"

Grandma mixed her muffins in a big blue crockery bowl, and she always wore an over the shoulder Mother Hubbard apron.

1/3 c. butter, softened 

2 c. cake flour

¼ c. sugar 

3 level tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt 
1 egg

¾ c. milk 

scant 1 c. dates, cut up

½ c. chopped pecans (optional)

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and mix well. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. Add alternately with the milk. Fold in the dates. Bake in greased muffin tins or use paper liners in the tins. Fill each ½ to ¾ full. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until done. Makes about one dozen muffins.

Note: I substitute margarine and 1% milk to make a healthier version, and they’re still wonderful. You don’t even need that generous pat of butter we used ‘way back when.’

Friday, March 18, 2016

How To Believe In Yourself

Writers are great self-doubters. We often have to work very hard to have a positive attitude and beleive we can write something worthy of publication. Even if we write a story, essay or poem that makes us feel like we've got something readers will like, that feeling might last only until we start looking for a market. Then our confidence level can go down slowly like a pin-pricked party balloon. When you start a writing project that is bigger than anything else you've tried, it's frightening and not a confidence booster.

This poster hits three good points, two of them being my own keywords:  Patience and Perseverance. The third one is believing those two keywords. Success in getting our work published certainly helps the belief part. It's more difficult to continue believing when we receive one rejection after another but it's not impossible. It's also not an easy task.

Here's the third poster that urges you to believe in yourself. If there are so many good quotes about doing so, it's pretty clear that it's important. You're probably thinking that it's easy for me to tell you to believe in yourself but how do you actually do it? 

I think the first thing to do is to get rid of the negative thoughts. When one comes along, push it away and replace it with something positive. Keep doing it and you might develop a habit of getting rid of the self-doubt. Not in two days but over time. It won't be easy but work at it.

Next, when you read over something you've written, look for the positives. Ask yourself What did I do well here? You've also got to look for the places that need work, as well but start with the good things first. 

Think about the pieces of writing that you're proud of. Aw c'mon--you know there are some writing projects that you felt especially good about. Believe that, if you wrote something really good once or more times, then you can do it again. 

If others compliment your writing abilities and/or publication successes, accept graciously and feel good about yourself. Do not put yourself down to others in a situation like this. Sure, your mother taught you to be humble but that's not for this situation. Each time someone compliments your writing or you see sales going up for a book you've written, it's another reason to believe in yourself. If others do, why shouldn't you? 

There is another factor that figures in for people who have trouble believing in themself. If you grew up in a family where someone, a parent or sibling, constantly told you that you were worthless, undeserving and more, it's not easy to overcome. You have to work harder than the average person to believe in yourself. Even so, you can do it if you work at it. You might even take an attitude of I'll show them! That could be very motivating. I've been there but I've moved beyond what I'd been told for so long and you can, too.

Slam the door on self-doubt. Acentuate the positive. Believe. Stop wallowing in the I can't... thoughts. Keep quotes on believing in yourself and read them often. Little by little, you can change. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bussing The Blarney Stone

Today's the day we all become Irish--that is, if we want to be in on the celebration of St. Patrick's Day. There are so many wonderful traditions in our country to celebrate this day. Far bigger celebrations here than in Ireland. One of the best is putting green dye in the river in Chicago. And yes, they really do that. Parades and festivals abound and green beer is often the special drink of the day in many pubs throughout the USA. 

We spent two weeks traveling in Ireland several years ago. It's where my roots are on my mother's side of the family so the visit there was special for me. One of the pieces I wrote after that trip has been published a few times. A personal essay and a travel piece. I'm repeating a short version of it here today. 

Bussing The Blarney Stone
By Nancy Julien Kopp

     On a visit to Ireland, my husband, two good friends, and I passed several euros apiece across a counter to visit the famed Blarney Castle. We strolled up a long, tree-lined path, keeping the castle’s stone walls in view on a chilly, summer morning.
     Four young women approached and asked if we’d take their picture. They posed carefully, and Ken snapped the photo. “You next!” one of them said. And so, we four struck a pose for our picture. As we exchanged cameras, one of the girls said, “You’ll love seeing the Blarney Stone at the top of the tower.”
     Top of the tower?  I hadn’t counted on climbing to the top to see the famous stone. The legend says that anyone who kisses the stone will always have the gift of gab—like the Irish are known for. It seemed foolish to come this far, pay to see the famous spot, and then not do so. So, through the iron gate and on to the stone stairs that spiraled upward farther than I could see.
     We climbed and climbed the narrow steps, steadying hands on walls that appeared to close in more at each new level. Halfway to the top, my knees began to ache and my legs started to tremble a bit. I pictured those four young women bounding up these stone stairs with an energy I’d not had for more years than I’d like to mention. Mere determination kept one foot in front of the other until I finally reached the walkway on top of the castle, where I found myself at the end of a line of tourists. Breathing hard, I looked down into a courtyard, miles below, then inched along with the crowd.
     And then I stopped cold. There was the Blarney Stone, below the walkway, and a woman was lying on her back, hands above her head, grasping two iron bars, a man on his knees supporting her. She wiggled a bit more, tipped her head back and bussed the stone as she appeared to be suspended in air.
     I have never made a decision so quickly in my life. There was no way this grandmother of four would perform that feat. I watched as one person after another became an acrobat only to be able to say they’d kissed the Blarney Stone. A few passed on by.
     My husband laid his hand on my shoulder. “Are you going to do it?” he asked.
     I calmly explained to him that there was no need for me to kiss the stone to receive the gift of gab. I was born with the blessing of being able to talk my way into or out of most anything, thanks to my being half-Irish in heritage. And before he could push me into it, I slid right by the attendant waiting for the next victim—or participant.
     I started the return trip down the many steps thinking the reverse direction would be easier. Instead, it proved almost more difficult. My legs were mere jelly by the time I reached the final step, and I sank onto a stone bench to recover.
     As I looked up at the top of the castle tower, satisfaction settled into my bones. I’d climbed the killer stairway, I’d seen the Blarney Stone, and I stuck to my decision. Besides all that, I’d made one more memory to savor again and again.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Try A New Market For Your Writing

Have you ever thought about submitting to a new market but then scratched the whole idea? Maybe you were afraid the market was too competitive. Or that maybe your writing might not measure up to what the guidelines suggested. Am I good enough? Can I compete with professional writers? These are questions we often ask ourselves and when we're not feeling sure and confident, we pass by the market possibility. 

Don't do that!

A few weeks ago, I was reading a marketing newsletter and saw information on The War Cry published by the Salvation Army. I knew it was a longtime publication and one that is highly respected. They also paid well. I thought of a couple stories I might send them. Then came the Should I? and Is my work worthy of this kind of magazine? Then I thought Why not? What have I got to lose? All they can do is send me a rejection. 

So, after a careful look at the two pieces I had in mind, I sent them after rechecking the guidelines. Marked both on my Submissions 2016 record list and went on with the rest of the things in my life.
Last Friday, I received a rejection notice for one of the stories, a fiction piece based on an experience we had while in South Africa many years ago. Disappointed? Yes. Upset? No. I knew it was a long shot. 

Monday, I received another email message from the editor of The War Cry informing me that they wanted to publish the second story, which was a personal essay. They are not sure which monthly issue it will appear in but I'm guessing December as the situation in the story took place during Christmas season. I was asked to call or mail my social security number. I did so the next morning and then answered a couple of questions the editor had. She finished our conversation saying that my check would be sent right away. Needless to say, I was elated to be published in a magazine of this quality and to be getting a nice check for same--right away, not after publication as is so often the case. 

I sent those two stories on a whim and am so glad that I did. Had I listened to my own doubts, I would have skipped right on by and look what I would have missed. 

So, take a chance and submit to a new market even if you think you have no chance of being accepted. You might end up being surprised like I was. If you don't try, you'll never know. It's the same with entering a writing contest. If you don't enter, you can't win. The worst that can happen is that you get a rejection or, if a contest, that you don't win. That happens a lot in our writing world so do take a chance and submit even when you're doubting yourself. Just make sure that what you send fits the market. Don't send a gardening article to a Dairy farmer's magazine. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Telephone Service and Erma Bombeck

You may have noticed that there was no post here yesterday, March 14th. Our power went out Sunday afternoon for a couple of hours. An hour after it returned, our phone line was dead. I called the phone company repair line on my cellphone and was told to hold, that volume of callers was high so it might be 8 minutes. Thirty minutes later I gave up. Called again Monday morning and this time they said volume of callers was very high but did not let me hold for an agent. Instead, the recorded voice told me my phones would be in working order by 8 p.m.

I looked out my kitchen window a short time later to see the repairman's truck. Hooray! He called me on my cellphone to let me know he was here and working on the problem. I noticed he walked a great distance from our house, wandering around for a long time. Then he left. Still no phone line.

Later in the day, he called to tell me they'd tracked down the problem in a large box of some kind quite a good distance from where we live. So, obviously, I was not the only one affected. He said a crew from Topeka was on the way to fix it. That was at 4 p.m. Monday and now, at 9:25 Tuesday morning, I still have no phone service! Somehow, that guy on the recording forgot to tell the repairmen of his promise to have lines restored by 8 p.m. Monday evening.

No phone line = no Internet service. But this morning, it dawned on me that I could use the Guest service connection here in our senior community.It's not a secure server so I don't want to use it for all day. One of the things I pledged long ago to my blog readers was to post five days a week and I hate to break that promise. But sometimes technology steps in and changes all those pledges we make.

I resisted having a cellphone for a long time but I'm so glad that I have one as I can still be semi-connected to the world with my iphone. Checking on facebook, I found messages from people who had tried to call me and received no answer. So, technology of all kinds helps out in situations like this.

I'm trying to be patient with my usually fine phone company but my understanding is wearing thinner by the hour. I suppose someone could write a very humorous essay about what has happened here. Right now, my humorous self is on the underside and the frustrated side is on top. Four of my fellow writers in my writing group are attending the Erma Bombeck Humor Writing Conference in a couple of weeks. If you like to write humorous essays, take a look at what they offer. She was the best of the best.

Hopefully, by tomorrow, I will be writing a regular blog post about writing. I have some exciting news to share with you. Exciting for me and perhaps of interest to you who write for publication.

Meanwhile, think kind thoughts about telephone repairmen who have the ability to make me and many others happy by being successful. Today! Soon!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Put Emotion Into Your Writing

E   M   O   T   I   O   N

I started working on a story for an anthology the other day. The story was in my mind quite clearly and I had no trouble getting the words down. When I finished, I read what I'd written. Flat! Just plain flat! 

Of course, it was a first draft and we know that it not going to be perfection but this was pretty awful. I saved it in a file and left the computer in disgust. What was wrong with it? I pondered on it the rest of the day. I realized that I had reported the story. I had told the story but it lacked emotion and also had few sensory details. 

I told the readers how I felt but I didn't show them. I described scenes but they felt flat because I didn't write with emotion. I didn't try to let the readers feel what I had been feeling. Why?

1. My aim in the first draft was to get the story down as it happened. 

2. I didn't write with passion. It didn't come from my heart. Instead, I wanted to report the story and that's all. 

3. I saw and felt the sensory details in my mind but I included very few for the reader. 

4. I didn't care about the story nearly as much as I should have. If I had, the passion would have been there--that and more.

5. I didn't use phrases that would be remembered. What I had written was ordinary.

6. If I didn't write with emotion, the reader was not going to see it either.

Writing with emotion can make the difference between a so-so kind of story and one that will be memorable and accepted by an editor. Think about your favorite books. Was it evident that the author wrote with emotion? Is that part of the reason you liked the book so much?

If you have writing projects in your files that have gone nowhere, look at them again. Ask yourself if you wrote with passion. Did you bring emotion and those improtant sensory details into play? If not, it might be time for a revision. You must care about what you're writing for the emotion to come through to the reader. If you don't give a hoot about it, then it might be time to dump it and move on to something you do care about a lot. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Are Editors Scary Folks?

Have you ever been afraid to contact an editor with a problem? One of the women in my online writers' group lives in Japan and is now on a trip to Nepal with her husband. While there, she received good news from a Chicken Soup for the Soul editor. Her submission had made it to the final round. The Permission Release agreement was attached to the email message which instructed her to fill out and sign and return.

She was thrilled her story had made it to the final round but dismayed that she was in a place where she had no access to a printer to complete the instructions regarding the Permission Release. She feared her story might be dumped if she could not respond in the correct way. So, she turned to the group members for help.

I (and others) assured her that if she emailed the editor and explained the situation, there should be no problem. She followed our advice and the editor contacted her saying it was fine, just send it when you return to Japan. Happy Ending. And, I also predict that her wonderful story for the Spirit of America book will make that final cut.

The situation brought to mind that lots of writers are afraid to contact an editor with questions or problems. Have no fear! The majority of editors are understanding people and they're happy to be of assistance if and when possible.  They're people just like you and me. They get up in the morning and have breakfast, maybe get kids off to school. They go to work, come home and do household tasks, maybe read or whatever relaxes them. Many have been writers or might still do some writing in free time. They do understand that writers have questions or run into snags of some sort. So, don't be afraid to contact them. (Unless they specifically asked you not to, but that would be a rare case)

That said, be sure you have a valid reason for contacting the editor. And do not bombard them with one email message after another.Don't try to make them your Best Friend of the Year. That's when you might get the message that you are to no longer contact them. Keep in mind that you are one of many writers they work with. They are ready to help if you have a legitimate concern but not for every little nitpicky thing.

Before you write to the editor, step back and see if you can find the answer yourself. If you cannot, then send the message. Keep in mind that they are ordinary people and part of their job is to help writers. They're not scary folks at all.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

You Can Write For Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup for the Soul sent out a call for submissions for a new anthology recently. This book is called Curvy and Confident. Nice title--that was my first thought. Women who don't have the much-desired perfect figure--maybe a size 8--can go through a gamut of emotions. They can be defensive, depressed or delighted with their own image.

This book will speak to the joys and sorrows of being more curvy than you might like. Body image is a hot topic in today's world among teens and adult women. Even tweens and younger are concerned with body image far more than ever before. I would hope that the stories in this book will all be confidence builders.

Here's your chance to tell a story to help others who may not have the perfect body and maybe increase your own confidence level at the same time. We are all unique individuals and don't look at at topic with the same perspective. So many things come into play--the way our mothers raised us, the experiences we had at school and as we moved into the working world or marriage and motherhood.

One thing I'd like to stress is that you do not have to be a professional writer to get a story accepted in the Chicken Soup anthologies. Everyday people have stories to tell and can write of their life experiences. If they need editing, CS editors will help.

Another important item is to read the guidelines carefully. If you've never submitted to this anthology series, read and study--see that word, it's study--those guidelines. They are given to you for a purpose. Every story needs to fit those guidelines, all of them, not just a few.

If you want to read more about what the editors are seeking for this book and a list of others in the works, check here.

Send stories for these other books, too:

  • Angels and Miracles
  • Best Mom Ever
  • Blended Families
  • College Student Stories (written by college students)
  • Dreams and Synchronicities
  • Parent to Parent
  • Stories About Cats
  • Stories About Dogs
  • Stories About Teachers and Teaching
  • The Joy of Christmas
  • Spirit of Canada
Will professional writers have a better chance at being accepted? The simple answer is probably a Yes. The reason is that a professional writer knows how to follow guidelines, how to include emotion, sensory details and active verbs. She/he knows how to open with an interesting hook, how to build tension and how to bring the story to a satisfying ending. If you aim at those things and have a good story to tell, even though you are not a professional writer, you have a very good chance of being accepted. As mentioned earlier in this post, if your story is a good one but not perfectly written, CS editors are willing to help make it fit their guidelines.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Seven Ways To Sell Yourself To Readers

(This article first appeared in the Institute of Childrens' Literature but it applies to all writers)

Seven Ways To Sell Yourself To Readers

Writers know that the first person in line we need to impress is an editor. Without her, our work never sees the light of day. But selling what you’ve written is only one step to being a successful writer. You also need to sell yourself to readers. They’re the ones who will come back for a second helping if they like what they read the first time.

It’s not easy to constantly promote yourself, especially if you don’t have a balloon-like ego. Quiet, introverted writers find it difficult to sing their own praises, but it’s almost a necessity if you want to make it in the writing world. Even social extroverts aren’t always aware of what they can do to make readers seek them out nor are they completely comfortable in doing so.

Maybe you’re a writer who prefers solitary confinement, spending your time doing what you do best—writing. There comes a time when you need to raise your head and make a concerted effort promoting yourself. You’ll see results, although they may not be immediate. So, what can you do to sell yourself as a writer?

.Share Your Published Work
When you have an article or story published, don’t hesitate to send it to all your friends and family. They, in turn, will probably share it with others, and your work and your name spread to untold places around the globe. I had a hard time doing this in the early days of my writing life. I feared that people who meant something to me would look at me as a braggart, but I’ve learned that it is a benefit to me and truly liked by many of those recipients. I try to add an out for them by saying they should hit the delete button if they have no interest. That makes it guilt-free for any who aren’t interested.

Submit to Ezines As Well As Print Publications
There are benefits when you submit your work to ezines, better described as online magazines. They can reach many thousands of people while a print magazine may only have a circulation of 5 or 6,000. There’s value in keeping your name in the cyberspace of the writing world regularly, as readers begin to recognize your name.  Print magazines are normally published in one country, but ezines reach across the seven seas to multiple countries.

Capitalize On the Electronic World
What better way to plug your work than on Facebook and Twitter? I have a Facebook account which I use for social networking but also to let others know when I’ve had something published or when I have a blog posting that might be of interest to writers and also non-writers. I post the same information on my state authors’ organization Facebook page. Consider a personal website. You may need to hire someone to help you design and set it up, but it’s probably money well spent. Like all things, you can start with something basic or go for the Cadillac right away.  Leave comments on other websites and blogs with your website/blog address. Curious readers click on links.

Join Local, State and National Writers’ Groups
Become active in writers’ groups, the face to face kind. I’ve entered my state authors club contest ever since becoming a member ten years ago, and I’ve placed many times. More than once, when I’ve introduced myself at a state convention, someone will say, “Oh, I’ve seen your name before.” It works in small groups or large. Make your work visible in every way you can, and your name becomes recognizable. If the group has a newsletter with writer news, make sure you send in your publishing successes. Let your name appear as often as possible.

Accept Speaking Engagements
If you have an opportunity to speak to a small group at your church or a civic organization, accept it. It can be nerve-wracking at first, but it gets easier each time and more people in your community will label you a writer whenever they see you. One
appearance may lead to more invitations to share your work. And again, your name becomes familiar. People in your community and surrounding area will soon know that you write great science fiction stories or that your travel articles contain insight and humor. They’ll remember you when seeking a program for some other organization. It’s not necessary to wait until asked either. There’s nothing wrong in letting groups know you would be willing to speak. Don’t do it meekly either. Tell them you would love to speak at one of the meetings, that you have a couple terrific programs that would be informative and entertaining. Sell yourself to get your foot in that first door.

Be A Blogger
Another way to sell yourself is to become a blogger. Starting a blog connected to your writing is not enough. You need to let people know about your blog. Leave comments at other blogs and sign with your blog address. Use your blog address as a set signature on all your e-mails. Advertise your blog on Facebook and Twitter. Add as many labels at the bottom of your blog as possible. The more keywords you have, the better your chances of a search engine zeroing in on your blog. Take time to study all the gadgets and stat tracking that your blog host offers. The more extras you use, the more visible you’ll become.

Take Advantage of Publisher’s Press Releases
Publishers often send press releases to TV and radio stations in your area, also newspapers. I’ve appeared on an afternoon TV show several times because of press releases sent by the Chicken Soup for the Soul publishers.  I’ll admit the initial appearance gave me butterflies in my stomach all day long, but the host of the show put me at ease once we were on the air as he interviewed me and discussed the process of getting a story into an anthology. I’ve read several of my stories from other Chicken Soup books on this same show, and now I enjoy doing so. No more butterflies. I’m helping the publishers, but I’m also selling myself. If you receive an invitation to do something similar, remember that it’s up to you to accept, and it’s a terrific way to become known to the reading public. Don’t pass up a golden opportunity like this.

At this point, you may be thinking that selling yourself amounts to bragging. You might remember your mother teaching you to be humble, to not blow your own horn. That’s still true in some instances, but when your writing career is the subject, it’s more than okay. Go right ahead and inform the world about you and your writing. No one can do it better than you. Believe in yourself and go for it!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Is There One Correct Way To Write?

This poster made me laugh and it also made me think that there is no one correct way to write. Some of the best writers write in an unorthodox way. That's alright. There is no Writing Sheriff or WBI (Writer's Bureau of Investigation) who will come knocking on your door in the middle of the night to haul you off to Writer Prison if you don't follow established rules.

Do read books about the craft of writing. Do attend workshops and conferences about writing. Learn what others suggest but don't be afraid to move away from normal and do it 'your way." You might have to search a bit harder for an editor willing to take a chance with a story or poem that doesn't fit into regular parameters. I sometimes see calls for submissions that specifically mention the editor is looking for something unusual. That's the market you want to pursue.

We hear frequently about the importance of voice for a writer. One way to attain your own specific voice is to step outside the box and write with passion and as you see it, not as a how-to book on writing might suggest. That doesn't mean that those of us who follow those how-to guidelines are wrong and will not find our voice. It can work either way. The important thing is to do it the way that is most comfortable for you.

If you write in an unusual way, be prepared to have a smaller audience. A lot of readers find it difficult to read an off-beat, away from the norm type of story, poem or essay. Even if your work speaks to fewer readers, it's fine. You might find that those readers will become faithful to your work. 

Do it by the book or do it your own way. Each of us must make that choice. We're all different personalities so we're going to look at this question from myriad viewpoints. Don't be afraid to try writing in a new way. You just might find the key to success.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Writers Write and Must Also Read

What Mr. Bradbury says here is something I wholeheartedly agree with. The problem is that doing both these things--writing every day and reading intensely--are not always easy to accomplish. Life gets in our way. Even so, this is something for writers to strive for.

I know that I have cut my reading time since I started writing. Didn't cut out reading altogether but I have to be more selective in what I read and create time to do so. It helps that I happen to be a pretty fast reader. I do look for bits and pieces of time where I can read. Think of all the places where you sit and wait. Doctor's and dentist's office, airports, pre-game times and more. Why not take a book or your kindle along? Might as well put that waiting time to good use. I even read while waiting for a tray of cookies to bake.

As writers, we read with a different perspective than most readers. We tend to mentally critique as we read. I really hate that I do that sometimes but it's just there. We also quietly applaud in our minds when we read a particularly well-written portion of a book, one that has prose that sings to us. 

I urge all writers, including myself, to write every day. It doesn't have to be 1000 words or 2 chapters or a complete article. It might only be a journal entry or a short poem. It's still writing. If you do no more than one writing exercise, it's writing (and learning). I consider my posts on this blog five days a week to count toward my writing daily goal. On the week-end, I try to write something, too. Do I always make it for a full seven days? No, but I do it the majority of the time.

When I've been ill or had a crisis of some kind and have had to put writing aside for a week or more, I have a harder time getting back into the habit. Once broken, it's hard to fix! So, if you follow that writing daily advice, you'll develop a good habit and you'll reap benefits. 

A number of years ago, I had to stop writing for several weeks. I was bedridden for a full month prior to surgery for a herniated disc and severe sciatica. Even though I couldn't write during that period, I read and read and read that month in bed and then during my recovery period. When I did get back to writing, I made sure I wrote something every day.

Set a goal to read more and to write daily. Grocery lists do not count!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Photo Prompt Exercise

Creative visual writing prompts for studuents

This looked like an interesting picture for a Photo Prompt Writing Exercise. It seems to me that a writer could use this picture and write several stories, each one taking a different path.

Some readers might see an exercise like this and pass right on by. Take a step back if that's you. Try your hand to see what you can create by studying this picture. It's great practice and you could end up with a story to market.

Consider place, physical characteristics, situation and more. Make your story humorous or sad. Make it heartwarming or violent. The choice is yours.

Care to share with the rest of us? You can post your story in the comments section.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Life In A Jar--a Book Review

The young Irena

Irena in her 90's
The 5 Star Book

I just finished reading Jack Mayer's Life In A Jar for my Book Club. I'd never heard of the book and had no idea what the subject was when a friend dropped it off one afternoon. I became hooked immediately. Most of us are familiar with the film, Schindler's List, which deals with the many Jews one man saved during WWII years. The book I read is about a woman who was just as much a hero in her own right. 

Irena Sendler saved 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto in Poland. As a social worker, she was allowed into the ghetto. Often wearing a nurse's uniform, this Catholic woman performed one heroic rescue after another, fear her constant companion. Imagine talking parents into giving their child to you, a woman of another faith. She convinced the parents that the children faced almost certain death. Who wouldn't do what they could to save their own children? Irena, pictured above as the young woman who saved so many and near the end of her long life. 

The book begins in a small town in southeastern Kansas where three high school students need a History Day project for a class. One of the girls happens upon a small article in a national magazine about Irena Sendler and the fact that her rescue work was never acknowledged by the Polish government, which became Communist soon after the end of WWII. What injustice! That was the reaction of the high school students--Megan and Liz. They had the topic for their project. Soon, they brought in Sabrina, an older student, to help them get the project ready for History Day. The girls painstakingly researched Irena Sendler and found bits and pieces. Putting it all together, they produced a play showing Irena and the Jewish parents giving up their children to her. Like a snowball rolling downhill, the project grew and grew with the play being produced locally, in the state capitol, then on to New York and finally, in Europe. 

The first part of the novel, based on fact, details the girls and the project. Then, it moves into Irena's work during those wartime years, her imprisonment and her many friends who aided her. One close friend helped Irena put slips of paper with the names of all the rescued infants and children into glass jars which they buried under an apple tree. They did it so there would be a record of which children were saved. Many were taken in by Christian families and Catholic convents. 

The third part of the book shows the girls making a trip to Poland to visit Irena and some of those she saved. It was thought that she had died in a prison and they were elated to find that she was alive and well in her 90's.Long before the actual visit, Irena and the girls began a correspondence which had to be translated on both ends. The meeting in Warsaw is extremely moving as are the return visits. Irena Sendler lived to be 98. She had the much deserved recognition which she never actually sought. When asked why she did the rescue work she tells the girls it was a thing of the heart, that her father had taught her to always help anyone who needed it. 

The reader is given insight to the lives of this heroic woman and also the three young women who helped gain recognition for her. The author, who is both a pediatrician and a writer, tells us the story masterfully. I admit to crying more than once in this novel which I give 5 stars to, as have many others who have written reviews. Read some of them at the bottom of this Amazon page. Order the book or check your library for a copy. 

There are many photos at the end of the book. I so enjoyed seeing the young women and all those involved in the project plus Irena herself.

World problems seem so overwhelming but Irena's story and the young women who brought it to the world's attention show that one person can make a real difference.