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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Dream A Little

Sunday was my birthday. It was a day filled with calls, facebook messages, emails greetings and cards. All of that brings family and friends just a bit closer than on a normal day. It kind of made my day.

I remembered this birthday poster that is in my collection so pulled it up and absorbed the words. What, I asked myself, are my birthday dreams? There are many in my personal and family life but I also considered my writing life.

Dreams I Have For My Writing Life

  • That my health holds up so I can continue the journey
  • That I keep growing as a writer
  • That I see mu juvenile novel published
  • That I continue to enjoy helping other writers through this blog
  • That I stay a useful part of my online writing group
  • That I have more work published
  • That I continue to love to write
  • That more of my blog readers will sign on as Followers
They sound like goals and I suppose they are, in a way. They're also dreams that are possible. I know I'll never write a bestselling novel and that's OK. I'm satisfied if I can accomplish what is on this list.
What are your dreams for your writing life?

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Story For Today and A Free Download

Some time ago, I was invited to contribute a fiction story to an anthology put together by Kansas author, Sonny Colline. Flattered, I sent him one of my stories. The book sold for awhile on Amazon Kindle but is now listed there for free. The stories are of varying quality; some will appeal, some may not.

Since today is a holiday and the book is now free, I'm going to share my story that is in the book. It's about a woman who lives in Kansas and...well, read it and see how she deals with a problem in her old age.  Fiction is not my strong suit but I enjoy dabbling in it now and then.

Assisted Living
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Amelia glanced at her packed suitcase by the kitchen door, ready for her son, J.D., to hoist into his pick-up in the morning. He’d help her into the front seat and pat her knee like he always did before he closed the door. But this time, they wouldn’t be coming back to the ranch with groceries or a new pair of shoes. This trip would end at the assisted living section of Stonevale.

She moved to the porch for one last sit. Her rocking chair creaked as she stroked Cassie, the calico cat in her lap. This porch on the back of the old stone house was her favorite spot, smaller than the wide, showier one in front. Somehow, the view from the back porch sated Amelia’s thirst for quiet beauty best.

Even Cassie seemed more content here than any other place on the ranch. Could this old cat adjust to life at J.D.’s busy place? One more thing to worry about. And how would she adjust to life without this longtime pet? Her worry list grew every day.

 She’d miss times like tonight--the sky tiered in shades of pink to crimson as the sun slowly descended behind the hills. She’d lived amidst prairie grasses and cattle the forty-five years of her married life and another ten years beyond. The Flint Hills seeped into her very bones from the day Jeb carried her across the threshold of the small, snug house he built before their wedding. He added more to the house as their family increased until it could be seen a long way off, no longer only a speck on the horizon. Sprawling, made of natural stone that had to be hauled out to the ranch. Walls so thick that the blistering Kansas summer heat and the bitter winds of winter never bothered those inside. Decades passed and her spirit grew as strong as the stone walls and her love for Jeb.

She only had a few head of cattle now, not like the days when the Circle AJ put hundreds out to graze and grow fat on the prairie grass. She'd fed cowhands at round-up time and played mama to many of them. Christmas brought cards from many of those boys turned  men running their own herds now and heading their own families.

Her own J.D. turned into a man who knew what was best for her. Least, that’s what he said often enough. She’d fought this tall son of hers. Argued and hollered and bellowed to him and her other three grown children about the move. Each one stood in front of her like a piece of the stone their dad used to build the house. She even cried, and her tears almost broke them. She wondered who hurt more—her children or herself. She knew one thing—the ache inside far surpassed the pain from her arthritis. There were pills for that, but the other cut too deep.

Jordy, her youngest, had tried to put plump arms around her, but Amelia pushed her away. ”Mom, listen to us, please. We don’t want to….”

The bitterness bled through when Amelia spoke. “Don’t say it again, Jordy. I’ve heard all your arguments. An old woman with health issues shouldn’t live out here alone.” She slammed the kitchen door as she marched out to her rocker on the back porch that day, and she’d been stewing for weeks after.

Now, she held the cat close and inhaled the gentle sweetness of the prairie wildflowers mixed with the bit of leftover smoke from the controlled burns that still wafted toward the back porch. Both scents spelled home.

The kids were right about one thing. The arthritis made it harder and harder to get chores done inside and the few animals cared for. Some days, she ached in every joint in her body, and sometimes she fell. She never told them. But she kept her cellphone in her pocket to call for help if needed. Only problem, she couldn’t see the numbers very well lately nor the names on the contact list. Hadn’t told those busybodies that either. But they had eyes; they could see the house wasn’t as clean as when they were youngsters. They probably noticed other things, too
Her children offered no choice. They were moving her to this assisted living place tomorrow with a bunch of doddering old people for company and staff to make sure she took her pills at the right time of day and ate a good dinner. No porch to sit on either. The woman who showed them the small studio apartment pointed out the view of the distant hills from the small window. Amelia had turned away, silent as the stone walls at home.  

Now, Amelia swallowed hard. “Jeb, if you were here, there’d be no cause for any of this. Damn rude of you to up and die when you went out to check calves.” There, she’d done it again—talked out loud to a dead man. So what? Who was here to know?
The cat jumped off her lap and hissed when the sudden sound of someone knocking on the front door interrupted Amelia’s thoughts.

A woman’s voice called. “Hello, anyone home?” She sounded breathless

Strong rapping made a steady drumbeat as Amelia made her way slowly through the kitchen, down the hall to the massive wooden door while the knocking continued. “Hold on. I’m coming,” she hollered.
With some difficulty, she opened the solid oak door. One more thing hurting her bones.
A tall, middle-aged woman waited on the porch, hand still raised after all the infernal knocking. Her long hair needed combing, and her shoes were dusty. She looked dog-tired.
Before Amelia could speak, a torrent of words gushed from the woman. “My car broke down on the highway. I’ve walked a long way. Your house looked a lot closer. Can your husband help with my car?”

Amelia studied the woman, then decided she told the truth.  “Come on in, you look wore out. I’ve got some cold tea out in the kitchen. It might perk you up a bit.” She led the way, one slow step at a time. The woman closed the door behind her and followed.

Amelia waited until the stranger had her first swallow of the strong tea. “I’m Amelia Jeffords and my husband is gone.”  She quickly added, “My kids come out here to check on me every day.” She closed her eyes and uttered a silent prayer for telling such a fib. Her kids all lived such busy lives, they stopped by only once in a while. No need for a stranger to know it.
The woman’s bottom lip quivered, and her hand tightened around the glass. “I’m Sarah, and ….” She burst into tears.

Amelia reached across the table and patted Sarah’s hand. “Now honey, your car can be fixed, I’m sure. Nothing to cry about. You can spend the night here and my son can look at your car when he comes out tomorrow.”
Sarah sniffled and wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. She pushed her hair behind her ears. “It’s not the car, it’s more than that.” She sighed so deeply Amelia feared the woman might collapse in a heap on the floor.
Amelia poured more tea into their glasses and pulled a tin of cookies closer. She lifted the lid before she spoke, leaning in to catch the spicy cinnamon scent. “Might as well spit it out, Sarah. Better out than in. That’s what my Jeb always said.”
Sarah inched her chair closer to tell her story. By the time the glasses and pitcher were empty and the last cookie eaten, Amelia learned a lot of sad things about her caller. No wonder the poor woman looked so worn down. Her husband walked away from their marriage after he cleaned out the bank account. He’d loaded up a van with all their belongings while she was at work. She came home to a For Rent sign on the house they leased by the month. Next, she’d lost her job when the place where she worked had to cut costs. She had no other family, only her old car which sat broken-down on the highway.
Amelia pushed her chair back and pulled herself to her feet. She started to lose her balance and Sarah moved quickly to steady her.
“Careful,” Sarah said. “When you stand up, put your hands on the table.” She smiled and stepped back. “I worked in an assisted living place, so I know a few tricks to help.”

Amelia sat down again in a rush. “Assisted living? That’s where you worked? Doing what.?”
 “I’m an Aide. Or I was, until they made the cuts and let me go.”
Amelia’s heart beat faster than usual. “Do you have references? Because if you do, I’ve got an idea that might help both of us.”  She pointed to the suitcase by the door. “My son is going to take me to the Stonevale Assisted Living tomorrow morning. I’ve been hoping and praying for a way out, and honey girl, you could be a wish come true.”
Sarah dropped into her chair at the words that spouted from Amelia like a geyser at a national park. “Yes, I have references. If your idea is what I think it is, I’m all for it!”
“Not so fast, now,” Amelia countered. “There’s lots to talk about. Let’s you and me get it all on paper so we can show it to J.D. when he comes in the morning. He’ll take some convincing, but two of us could do it. No reason we girls can’t get along out here just fine.”
Amelia’s cellphone vibrated in her pocket. “Probably J.D. calling,” she told Sarah.
 “Evenin’ J.D. Yep, my suitcase is packed, but I may not need it. Some assisted living walked in here tonight.” She winked at Sarah, who was clearing the table. “Now, don’t get all riled up, we’ll talk about it in the morning when you come.”
Amelia patted Sarah’s arm. “Let’s go out on the back porch for a bit. We can watch the stars on a clear night like this while we wait for J.D. No way he’s gonna wait til tomorrow to come out, not after what I just told him.”  

Sarah grinned, then offered her arm and Amelia took it, grateful for this woman who’d shown up at exactly the right time. Amelia knew it would be a temporary fix. Still, it would give her time to consider the idea of Stonevale later on. The kids had decided on a new way of life for her a little too fast.
They each settled into a rocker on the porch. Cassie moved close to Sarah’s feet and purred. The day’s wind had died to a gentle breeze.

Amelia reached over and patted Sarah’s hand. “Looks like Cassie approves.”
The cat jumped onto Amelia’s lap. “Look at that, Cassie, a carpet of stars. I think Sarah will enjoy living in our hills.”  She pulled the cat close and laid her cheek on the soft fur.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Pen Your Own Personal Essay for Memorial Day

On Memorial Day week-end, I have often posted a personal essay dealing with the subject. 

Today, I'd like you to write one of your own. Tell us what the day means to you. Give us a written picture of someone you have loved and lost in the military.

Somehow, we have gotten to let Memorial Day weekend the beginning of summer activities instead of giving tribute to those who lost lives in one American conflict or another. 

Write a paragraph, a full story or just some thoughts jotten down and then share them with us.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Have A Big, Black Cloud Hovering Over You?

This cute little poster reminded me that nothing goes bad forever. When we have a spate of rejections, we feel like there's a big, black cloud hovering over us. Sometimes, it doesn't want to move either, just hangs there blocking out the sunshine of your writing life. Send a story out, get it back with a "Sorry, but this is not for us." Or even worse, you never hear from the place where you sent it.

That is one of my pet peeves in this submission business. I'm fine if an editor does not want what I sent but I'd like to know that, not just be ignored. How long do I wait until I send it elsewhere? Some editors have a turnaround of only weeks while others take months. Just let me know and I'll move on.

Another gripe I have is when there are no, or extremely limited, writer's guidelines given. Print the guidelines and writers can, and should, follow them. If there are none, we're left with a big "Huh?" on our faces. It seems to me that editors would benefit by having guidelines, too. They would not get lots of submissions that have nothing to do with the kind of publication they have.

What bothers you in this writing business? Let us know in the comments box and maybe others can address the topic you bring up.

Just remember this--Everything is going to be alright, maybe not today but eventually. Just keep plugging away writing what you write best and sending your work out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Do You Have Imagination?

Mr. Einstein speaks to we who are writers here. Logic is just fine for mathematicians but imagination is a better requirement for those who partake in the writing craft.

Take a look at this list of synonyms for the word imagination found in Webster's New World Thesaurus:

  • intelligence
  • thoughtfulness
  • inventiveness
  • creativity
  • ingenuity
  • artistry
  • impressionableness
  • perceptibility
  • acuteness
  • mental agility
  • wittiness
  • wit
  • sensitivity
  • fancy
  • mental receptivity
  • suggestability
  • visualization
  • congntion
  • awareness
  • dramatization
  • pictorialization
  • insight
  • mental adaptability
I think the one that works best for me is creativity. To use our imagination, we need to have that creative ability--to dream about a world different than what we see spread out before us in logical formation. 

Remember that witer's exercise called What if...? You set up a situation in a story, then ask yourself a series of questions beginning with those two words. The idea is to continue asking the question and jotting down the answers until you have a full series of possibilities to make your story sparkle with creativity. 

Kansas Authors Club sponsors an annual writing contest. This contest is open to non-member writers residing in Kansas and to all members of the Kansas Authors Club, regardless of residence. Each year, the District that hosts the state convention in October selects the theme for the contest. There is a special category in both prose and poetry for those who write to the theme. This year, it is Imagine. Only one word that leaves the entrants wide open to creativity. 

Maybe it's too wide open! I've been trying to be creative and come up with an idea for a story, essay or poem to enter in this category. So far, I've written one very lame poem and nothing else using that theme. Deadline is June 15 so I keep thinking that a brilliant idea will fall out of the sky and hit me in the head any day now. If only! If you're a writer who lives in Kansas, consider entering the contest. There are several categories besides the all-important theme. See link above for information.

Yes, imagination will take us to places unknown or perhaps even unthought of. Ever hear someone described as a dreamer? Sometimes, that label has been used with derision, especially with kids in school. Seems to me, however, that those dreamers are the ones who have real imagination. They are the ones who become the creative people in life. The ones who write plays, sculpt statues, paint canvases, pen novels or create music that reaches out to us. 

If you list imagination as one of the qualities you have, be happy. Then be creative!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Send Your Work Via Any Method You Choose


I could write three words that cover the topic I’ve selected for today, but readers might not be satisfied with such brevity, even though the words are pretty self-explanatory. Send it out! It's not the first time I've written a post with this subject. Nor will it be the last. This is a rerun of a guest blog post I did for a writer friend.

Your work may never be published, nor will you ever be paid, if you don’t send your stories, essays, articles or poems to an editor. It sounds so simple. Write a story, study a market guide, send the story to an acquisitions editor and wait for the acceptance.

When I was a newbie writer, I joined a critique group that met twice a month. Tom, the moderator of the group, and also the only published writer, constantly encouraged the members to send their work to editors. “No editor is going to climb in your bedroom window and search in your top dresser drawer for your manuscript.” He said it so often that I began to believe him. Send it out became our mantra, and the more I heard it, the more I believed it.

I was a late bloomer—didn’t start writing until well into my fifties. The desire to write had been there for many years, but I let Life get in the way. Because of that late start, I felt I needed to make up for lost time.

I studied market guides and sent my work to editors with high hopes, trying not to be discouraged when the rejection letters shot back into my mailbox like bullets from a high-powered rifle. Every now and then, an acceptance would arrive.

I began with no-pay websites and moved on to paying ezines and anthologies. Did I get rejections? You bet I did. Lots of them. But, my nonfiction stories are in eighteen Chicken Soup for the Soul books, three Guideposts anthologies, and a few others. The successes I had encouraged me to keep submitting my work. I tried some newspapers whose content aimed for senior citizens. Since I’m one of them, it seemed a natural.  And sure enough, they liked what I sent. I’ve become a regular in one. I’ve written articles on the craft of writing for several writers’ newsletters. I’ve even sold a few pieces of fiction.

None of that would have happened if I hadn’t sent my work to all those editors. “Send it out!” I hear Tom’s words in my mind when I’ve written something and am satisfied that it is a finished product. So I send it out.

There are reasons that some writers don’t send their work to an editor. Their files are filled with writing that no eyes but their own have ever seen.  

  1. Fear of rejection:  Nobody likes rejection, but it’s a part of the writing game. Remember that it isn’t you personally that is being rejected. Maybe your story isn’t right for that particular publication
  2. Not knowing how to study a market guide:  The more you read marketing material, the better you become at selecting the right editor.
  3. It’s hard work:  Yes, it is, so you must decide how great a desire you have to see your work published.
  4. Fear of success:  This one may sound laughable, but it can happen. If you succeed once, you’re compelled to do it again. And what happens if you become famous? It’s a very real fear for some people.
  5. Lack of confidence:  Doubt runs rampant in a writer’s mind. Most writers question their own worth at times.

Look through your files and pick three finished pieces to send out. If one or all are returned, send them out again. If you get three rejections on one story, it’s time to look at it with objective eyes and revise. Then send it out again. John Grisham sent his blockbuster novel The Firm, to twenty-six publishers before it sold. We can all learn a lesson from that. Send it out and take a healthy dose of patience and perseverance along the way.

It's so much easier to submit your writing today than when you had to write a letter, enclose a SASE for the editor's convenience to return or accept your work. Email it or send via your phone. Many use the Submittable form on a website which is also very simple. It doesn't matter how you do it. Send it out!

Monday, May 23, 2016

So, What's It All About?

Today's post is a rerun but worth repeating. If you're like me, you sometimes need a nudge to remember something from long ago. 

“The difference between real life and a story is that life has significance, while a story must have meaning.

The former is not always apparent, while the latter always has to be, before the end.”
Vera Nazarian 

This author quote comes from a writer who is known for fantasy and science fiction works, both novels and short stories. Her premise that a story must have meaning can be expanded into nonfiction works, as well. If there is no meaning to what we write, what's it all about? We don’t put hundreds of words together to babble. We have a reason for writing. There is something we hope to convey to our readers.

In other words, be sure there is a why I wrote this aspect to everything you write. What is it that you're attempting to show the reader? Essays, including personal essays, should include some universal truth. Essayists don’t string words together because they like the way they look. They have something to tell you. Even if it is only one line, it can be the entire reason for the rest of the piece which illustrates the idea behind the essay. It's why you wrote it.

After you're finished with a story, a nonfiction essay or memoir piece, read it over again and ask yourself what the meaning of the entire piece is, what did you try to portray to the reader. If you can't find it, your reader certainly won't either. And I am not suggesting that there be a line in the story that says I wrote this because.... Definitely not. It needs to be there for the reader to find. We might consider the meaning of what is written as the hidden treasure--something not to stay buried but to be found and savored by the reader. There need be only one golden nugget within a story but let it shine.

I've noted many times when someone offers a critique in my online critique group, they will ask why the writer wrote the piece. They want to know what the meaning is, especially if it is not obvious. Sometimes the meaning of what we write is very clear, while others remain a bit too deeply entrenched. A good writer will make sure the reader knows the meaning and a good reader will be able to find it.

We don’t always begin a new story, essay or memoir piece with the idea we want to get across to our readers as our prime objective. In telling your story, the meaning should emerge. If it doesn’t, ask yourself what in the world you’re trying to say. Even when we write a story to entertain others, there should be some worth to it.

Look at a few synonyms for the word meaning. Maybe they will clarify that word. There are a lot of them listed in a thesaurus. A short list includes sense, purpose, aim, essence, intrinsic value, object, intent, and symbolization.

Writers who tend to ramble usually have no real purpose in what they write. They can write hundreds of words that may sound poetic, or trip merrily off the tongue but are worth a lot of nothing. Include the meaning to give the reader that special “Aha!” moment, even if it’s rather subtle. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cutting Your Precious Words

Stephen King's quote came on in neon lights in my mind this week as I posted a first draft of a memoir piece to my online critique group. When the crits came rolling in, there was not as much about the content as cutting unnecessary words.

No matter how long I write, that first draft fills up with words that can and should be cut. It's especially important to get rid of what you can when you have a maximum word count. Those needless words are taking up valuable space! One of the reasons they appear in the first draft, at least for me, is that I tend to write it just as I think and speak normal conversations. The writer part of me has to take over when it's time to write the second or third draft.

Entire paragraphs can be cut when we repeat the same idea but in different words. For some reason, we like to repeat some important part just to make sure our readers 'get it.' I remember a college professor giving exam instructions for an essay question saying Don't be redundant. At the time, I didn't know the meaning of redundant so I sat and squirmed a bit, wasting precious writing time. Finally, I slipped over to the prof's desk and admitted my inadequacy. He gave me a short explanation and I hurried back to begin writing. Got an A on the exam and added to my vocabulary that day.

When you are revising a first draft, check to see that you have not told your reader the same thing in different places. You might be able to cut large amounts if you are guilty of this writer's sin.

Adverbs take a hit over and over again as we are advised to use them sparsely, if at all. Go through your story, essay or chapter and slash those adverbs. They tend to tell rather than show. Maybe they are also the lazy writer's crutch.

Another way to cut is to keep descriptive areas to a minimum. The less is more theory works here. It's a little like the woman who goes to a fancy function who puts on a simple but elegant dress and then drapes herself with a gaggle of jewelry that covers the attraction of the dress itself. Let the best part shine and dump the extras.

When using dialogue, put words in your characters' mouths that make a point and then stop. Don't let them talk on and on. Let their words move the story along; make the important point and quit.

Finally, cut anything that does not move your story from it's beginning to its conclusion. Keep your reader focused on the plot and the characters who carry the story.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sweat A Little Over Your Opening Line

If you've ever taken a class on writing or read a reference book regarding the craft, you've learned that opening lines are at the top of the list in order of importance when you write a story, a novel, an essay or a memoir.

We know that our first job as a writer is to hook the reader. That all-important first reader is the editor to whom you have sent your precious words. If the editor has to read three paragraphs (or more!) before there is a slight stirring of interest, you can bet your work is going to slip right through the cracks of the publishing world. If you cannot make an editor want to read more, then other readers are going to tune you out, as well.

Some writers think that those first paragraphs are meant to set a scene, a mood or introduce the protagonist. All well and good but how you do that is of prime importance. If you begin with It is night in the Peaceful Gardens Cemetery., you aren't going to make me care a whole lot. But if you say Evil seeped from every grave in the Peaceful Gardens Cemetery where no body lay at rest. That makes you question immediately. Why and how does evil seep from the graves. Why is no one at rest in the 'peaceful' cemetery?

In Moby Dick, the first line is short and simple but introduces an unusual name. That in itself makes the reader sit up and take notice. 

The opening line above sets the scene and definitely captures your attention. Clocks striking thirteen? Unheard of! So, you are definitely going to want to continue and find out more about those clocks, aren't you?

I like this opening line. It makes me wonder why the person took the mug from the mother's house. I question whether the coffee drinker is male or female. I also ask myself why that coffee mug is important. One line gives me three things to consider. 

Pride and Prejudice

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Jane Austen's famous opening line lets the reader know what lies ahead in the story. We know we will find out how this works and why. 

One of the biggest mistakes a beginning writer makes is in rambling during the opening line, or lines, trying to set a scene or give background information but not piquing the reader's interest yet. 

One thing to remember about your opening line(s) is this. You can always change what you've written before you submit it. Start somewhere--anywhere--but know that you can revise and edit as many times as you like before you submit your work. When you are ready to do a revision and edit on your story or essay, ask yourself how the opening line strikes you. How does it pull the reader in? Does it make the reader want to go farther to answer whatever question popped into mind? You can write twenty opening lines and then choose the one that seems best to you. 

Remember that it is you who are in charge here. It's your story. Your call for the opening line. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Rejections and New Beginnings

When I downloaded the list of email messages this morning that arrived while I was snoozing last night, my eye skipped right to the two labled Submission. My heart skipped a beat. What editor had sent them? Was it acceptance or rejection? I opened the first one to find that the children's story I'd sent to Cadet Quest in February had not been accepted. Same with the second one.

Not the way to begin my day. That was my first thought. Second thought was I really hate rejection!

I have written many a blog post about how we need to learn and grow as writers when our work is rejected. I've written that maybe the story had great merit but just was not right for the place it was sent or the editor had recently published something similar. I've written that we must not take it to heart when we are rejected. That we should spend some time reading our submission again and see if we can figure out why it didn't make it. Then, we should try to do some revising and editing to make it a better story.

Yes, I wrote all those things and I believe them but rejection still puts a pall on our day. It tells me I've failed in some way. That's the clue but not the answer.

As for revisions and editing the failed submission, my best advice is this. Don't do it the same day as the rejection arrived. Your outlook is bound to be 100% subjective at that time. Give it a rest and do your review several days from now, even a week later. You'll be past the Oh, poor me! stage and can look with a more objective eye.

After you do your revisions, you can start looking for a new market. Or you can file the story and wait until a market pops up that might fit what you've written. We all have mental files of the pieces we've written. When we note a new market in a writer's newsletter, our mind flips through those files to let us know that we have something that might fit.

The one thing you do not want to do is to give up on the story that was rejected, to not ever send it out again because one editor didn't want it. That's giving up! In your writing journey giving up should not be a factor. We all need to meet those bumps in the road, then move past them and keep going.

Each time you do that, you have the possibility of a new beginning. Yes, keep those older stories in circulation as often as you can but move on to starting somethng brand new. There is nothing more inspiring to a writer than beginning a brand new project. Our enthusiasm is tenfold that of marketing some of our old things.

What new beginning will you have during this month of May? Have you been inspired? Are you mentally working on the project before you actually start writing? Does the new project excite you? Does it scare you because of its enormity? Are you eager to get started?

If you have a new project in mind, you're one of the fortunate writers. It's exciting to take those first steps on something new.

Maybe I need to start a new story to soothe the double rejection I received earlier today. Push it behind me and get excited about something brand new. Later, I'll look at those stories that didn't make it and see if I can figure out why they were rejected. Not today!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fifteen Questions That Reveal The Writer You Are

  Loretta Young

Some of you will wonder who the woman pictured here might be. A writer? No. A movie star from long ago? Yes.

Loretta Young starred in numerous films and, in the 1950's, she hosted a TV show. Each week, she came through a door into a living room setting wearing a gorgeous outfit. She introduced the half hour story that was to follow. That is all she did but her name alone brought viewers. That and some good stories.

One evening, in her introduction, she asked a question related to the story being shown. Who are you? She went on to suggest that each viewer list three things that described who they were. It was an interesting question and one I've thought about several times over the years. At that time, I was a college student, a daughter and a sister. Today's answers would be entirely different.

One of the things I am is a writer. If you're reading this post, then you are most likely a writer and would list it as one of the three things that describe you. Let's go a step farther and define the writer you are today.

Fifteen questions that will reveal the writer you are:

1.  Are you a full-time freelance writer or a part-time hobbyist writer?

2. Are you a newbie or a longtime writer?

3. Are you passionate about your writing on a daily basis or just sometimes?

4. Have you set goals for your writing journey or have you just let it happen?

5. Do you read books and articles that enhance your skills as a writer or skip them?

6. Do you attend conferences and workshops to increase your writing knowledge or pass on by?

7. Do you seek others to critique your work or rely on your own editing completely?

8. Do you try new forms of writing or stay with what you know best?

9. Do you meet deadlines easily or race to the finish?

10. Do rejections hurt your feelings to the point of misery or do you try to learn from them?

11. Do you check your work for good grammar and spelling or submit as is?

12. Do you search for new markets or stay with the ones where you have been successful?

13. Do you market yourself as a writer or just hope it happens by accident?

14. Do you offer to help other writers or tell them you're too busy?

15. Do you look for inspiration to write or wait until it finds you by accident?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Historical Fiction--Read It and Write It!

History is one subject we all had to take during our education years. We studied American History and World History, Ancient History and that closer to our own times. There were dates to be memorized, treaties and pacts to figure out and myriad historical figures who influenced our lives to this very day.

Even with all that, history was sometimes boring and even a bit overwhelming. Facts and figures, personalities and battles become great blurs once we are past the learning process for this subject. 

I find a far more painless way to learn history is to read historical fiction stories and novels. It's one of my favorite genres. It's painless because we get involved in a good story and many of those facts and figures drop unnoticed into our subconscious. Instead of learning a list of Civil War battles, we can read about fictitious folk who lived through it because an author put them there.

We can read about a slave girl in ancient Rome who served her mistress well enough to be made a favorite messenger sent to warn soldiers of a coming siege. Or the story of immigrants who fled religious persecution, sailing on none-too-sturdy ships across an ocean to a newly settled country. 

Yes, we can read about those things but we can also write those stories. I have written several historical fiction short stories for kids. They are as enjoyable to write as reading them. I like making up the characters and slipping them into a particular period of history in our country. I try to add bits and pieces to show the times when the story takes place. Knowonder! ezine published one I especially liked writing. It takes place during the Civil War and features a young Southerner stuck in the Northern Territory, trying to reach Southern lines and a father fighting on that side to give a special message. You can read the story here if you would like to get an idea of ways to incorporate history into a fiction story.

Things to keep in mind when writing Historical Fiction:
  • Check you facts--you don't want to make up dates, battles etc.
  • Be careful you don't end up giving a historical lecture--stick to the fiction story itself
  • Use fiction techniques to tell the story but add accurate historical points
  • Sprinkle in details about clothing, foods, transportation and more
  • Develop characters your readers can relate to
If Historical Fiction writing is new to you or relatively so, use your favorite search engine to find article with tips from writers who have experience in this genre. Read and absorb the suggestions, then give it a try on your own. 

Whether you write for kids or for adults, Historical Fiction is worth trying. One of the Historical Fiction novels that is set in my state of Kansas gives a good picture of what homesteading was like here in the nineteenth century but it is also a wonderful story about people and how they meet new challenges. Check out Never Waste Tears by Gloria Zachgo on Amazon. 

What Historical Fiction books or stories would you recommend to others? Ones you especially liked and have stayed in your mind long after you finished reading? 

Friday, May 13, 2016

What About Writers Using Superstitions?

Yep--today is Friday the 13th. For those who are superstitious, it's not the best of days. Lots of people thumb their noses at the whole idea of Friday the 13th bringing bad luck to many. Others will warn that we should not walk under a ladder on that day or stay away from black cats. Wouldn't want one crossing our path. And for Heaven's sake, don't break a mirror on Friday the 13th. All those 'bad luck' things are purported to be even worse on the 13th day of the month that falls on a Friday.

Then, there are those who believe that weird things happend when there is a full moon. Obstetric nurses will tell stories about the increased number of births when the moon is full. You shouldn't do this or that when there is a full moon.

These superstitions get handed down from generation to generation. Some pass them on with a chuckle while others have a deep-seated belief in them. They can be fun, scary, or ridiculous. Your choice. Origins of some date back centuries and some are said to be a part of our Christian history.

Writers can use these superstitions to their advantage when writing a story or novel. They help set up some visual and scary moments. They can be used with multiple sensory details, lots of emotion involved, too.

A writer might also use one of these superstitions in a story to debunk the whole idea. Make fun of it and the people who believe in whatever it might be.

I had an aunt who was terrified if anyone opened an umbrella in the house. My cousin opened one in the living room one day and Aunt Vivienne threw her hands above her head, ran to my cousin shouting, "Put that down! It's bad luck!" Scared both of us. A writer could use a scene like that to develop a character, too.

Superstitions are a part of life--a small part, to be sure. Even so, you, the writer, can put them to use as you write. Put them in your fiction or poetry. Write a nonfiction informational article about them. There are several ways to feature them.

Meanwhile, have a great day on this Friday the 13th.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Just A Bit of Constructive Criticism...

Today's poster has it right. How many of us have vowed to never, ever say something our mothers were prone to saying to us? The next thing you know, we are moms (or dads) and the same words come spewing forth. We heard whatever it was so many times that it must have gotten lodged forever in our subconscious, only to rise at appropriate moments. 

One of the things my mother was famous for saying is this:  Just a bit of constructive criticism...and then she'd be off letting me know about some dumb thing I'd done or an error I'd made. I got to a point that when I heard those opening words, I cringed and waited to get hit between the eyes with the words that followed. And yes, I did say it now and then to my own children. By that time, I had come to realize that Mom tried to soften the admonishment with those opening words. 

This blog is about my writing world with tips and encouragement for writers. So, what's this about constructive criticism? From my senior citizen vantage point, I am aware of how beneficial constructive criticism can be. I've learned that it can be of great help to me.

I have urged writers to get critiques from other writers. If the crits they receive are constructive--meaning useful, valuable, helpful--the writer derives great benefits. On a rare occasion, a crit might be mean and hurtful, but that's not the writer's fault. That is due to something wrong with the critiquer. I hope none of us has to live through one of those kinds of crits, but it does happen occasionally. Best to dwell on the helpful crits and toss the dark and gloomy one to the four winds.

When I write that you should never do this or that and you suddenly realize you've already done it many times, what are you going to do? You can get mad at me for pointing out your error and probably some people do. Or you can take two steps back and try to look at whatever it was objectively rather than with your passionate writer's eye. 

Keep in mind this truth:  When constructive criticism is offered, it is meant to help you grow as a writer. It is not meant to slam you, hurt you, or offend you. It's a helping hand reaching out to you. It's up to you to either slap it away or reach out and grasp that offered hand.

I do try to keep those opening words silent in my blog posts. I may give constructive criticism but I try hard not to use that opening phrase Just a bit of constructive criticsim... I'll save that for my kids!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Self-Publishing--Delightful or Regrets?

Self-publishing becomes bigger and bigger news as time goes by in our writing world. Years ago, we called it Vanity Publishing. Good term for those who felt they had a great book that people should read and were willing to pay someone to publish it. There were plenty of these publishing companies willing to take an author's money and produce the book. Then, the author had a garage filled with boxes of books which he/she had to sell in order to recoup what they put out to have the book put into print. I have a feeling it worked only in a small percentage of cases.

Today, it's pretty easy to self-publish online for nothing, or very little, or go to a Print On Demand publisher so that you needn't invest a huge amount of money at one time. As a result, many authors are taking steps along that path.

One of the problems is that many rush into this self-publishing market without thinking through the entire process. I would encourage you to read, read, and read some more about the how and why, the pitfalls and successes of others who have delved into this method. Use your favorite search engine to find articles on self-publishing. Read as many as you can.

We hear about someone who has had success in self-publishing and it spurs us into thinking we can do it, too. Hey, I know! I've had those same thoughts and have even gone so far as to begin the process. Midway through, I got stuck on the book cover step. How to do it, whether to pay someone to do it for me, how important is it? Lots of questions so I stepped away for awhile.

This morning, I received an article on self-publishing that should make us all step back and take a serious look at whether we want to get into the process or whether we might be rushing into it too quickly. Alicia Rades writes with honesty about the regrets she had in self-publishing her first book. It's well worth the couple minutes it takes to read her article.

I think the biggest thing I took away from the article was that authors who go this route tend to move too quickly. They often do not take the time or steps needed to make sure they have a top quality piece of writing to self-publish.

I could probably write an entire post on taking time to get a piece of writing, whether short story or novel or essay, into perfect shape before either self-publishing or submitting to a publisher. And someday, I probably will write a post on the same. But for now, concentrate on what Alicia Rades learned and is willing to share with us.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ready For A Challenge?

If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you!

I read the quote above while waiting in my doctor's office lab for a blood test. There were other quotes fixed to the wall but this one reached out to me. Why?

We're all striving to be better writers. Not just occasionally but on a regular basis. We want to grow from that fledgling wannabe to a regularly published writer. Most of us do, anyway. I grant that there are people who write for the sheer pleasure of writing. They never show their work to anyone else; it's for their own private files. And that's fine but more are heading for publication than aren't.

One way we can achieve our goal is to challenge ourselves with new and different types of writing. Or perhaps a more in-depth writing in the genre we feel comfortable with. If you write sweet romances of 1000 words and have been successful, why not move on to writing one that is 3,000 words? A little more intricate plotting, space to add more detail and develop characters. 

If you have never written a novel for teens but have written short stores for that age group, why not give it a try? Do you love to read sci-fi but have only written contemporary or historical stories? Branch out and see what you can do with a sci-fi story.

If you've written nonfiction exclusively but have never attempted creative nonfiction, maybe now is the time to give that a spin. Delve back into your family history for a special story to write--one that is true but uses fiction techniques in the writing. 

Have you steered clear of poetry because it scared you or you felt you weren't up to it? Experiment with writing poems of different types. Set a goal and work toward it. You can be both a prose and poetry writer.

If we have some success in what we write, it's nice and safe to stay with whatever category that might be. I've done this and I can keep doing this--that's what your inner self is telling you. Why not reach out and try whatever is the next rung on the ladder? Who knows? You might come up with something great and could even change into a new kind of writer. 

Be a writer who accepts challenges and is willing to let them change you into a better writer than you've ever been before. 

I challenge each of you to try one piece of writing that is different from what you normall write. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

When The Itch To Write Strikes...

Do you have times when you are overwhelmed by the desire to sit at your keyboard and write, or pick up a pen and notebook and scrawl merrily away in longhand? If you do, you can definitely classify yourself as a writer. When an urge like this hits and we cannot take time to answer it immediately, we end up frustrated. Sometimes, we need to take at least moments out of the rest of our busy lives to answer the call to write. 

If we don't, and that urge is insistent, we can never find rest until we respond to that inner itch. Even if you cannot eke out half an hour to write when you feel the call, at least take a few seconds, a moment or two, to jot down keywords that will help you recover the thoughts you had when your muse hit you over the head and said Write! 

The need to write can assail us at almost anytime and anyplace. You might be taking a Saturday morning bike ride when a story idea pops. You could be sitting in a doctor's waiting room when the base for a personal essay floats through your mind. Maybe you're sitting in a conference room with co-workers when that itch to write comes through. Enough to make you squirm in your chair because you'd far rather be somewhere conducive to writing.

It's obvious that you can't respond immediately but you might be able to jot down a minimal amount of notes to help you get going on the idea once you do have time. 

Keep a small notebook with you. Keep one at your bedside for we know many times a great idea appears in the middle of a night. The best poem I ever wrote came from a dream. The moment I woke and remembered the dream, I hurried to my computer and started writing. Had I waited til later in the day, I feel certain parts would have been lost. 

When the itch strikes, answer as soon as possible. If you don't you'll just keep on itching! 

Friday, May 6, 2016

We Honor Our Grandmothers This Weekend, Too

Elizabeth Doonan Studham, my maternal grandmother

This weekend we celebrate Mother's Day. Included in the honorees are not only our mothers but our grandmothers, too. I have written many stories about my mother but today I'm sharing one about my mother's mother--my grandmother. 

The story below recently won Honorable Mention in the GENEii Family History Writing Contest sponsored by the Southern California Genealogical Society. The entries were global and included 26 states in the USA. I was thrilled to place in the contest. My story about what I learned from my grandmother during a difficult time is below. Think about what life lessons you learned from your mother or grandmother.

Grandma, Raspberries and Cream
By Nancy Julien Kopp

I was nine years old when my parents put me on a train in Chicago. Dad slipped the porter a few dollars to keep an eye on me until I reached Rock Island, IL. When the train pulled into the Rock Island station, wheels grinding, puffs of steam coming from the engine, I slid to the edge of my seat and peered out the window at the people waiting outside. Excitement, then fear moved in because I didn’t see a familiar face

The porter bent down and said, “C’mon miss, this is where you get off. Your grandma be waitin’ for you.”

I slid off the soft upholstered seat and followed the man down the aisle. The porter smiled broadly as he helped me down the two steps to the ground, and before I could look around, my grandmother appeared. She nodded her thanks to the porter, accepted the small suitcase he handed her, and clasped my hand in hers.

Grandma was tall, slim and serious. No hugs and kisses. She wore her long gray hair in a braid that wound around the top of her head, and her rimless glasses gleamed in the sunlight. She walked fast, her black laced-up oxfords keeping a steady beat. My little girl legs had to work overtime to keep up with her.

We marched for several blocks at this smart pace, when Grandma stopped so suddenly, I nearly fell on my face. She pulled me into a small neighborhood grocery shop and let go of my hand as she picked up a wooden box of red raspberries. A smile lit up her usually sober face.

“We’ll have these,” she told the clerk as she handed him the box of raspberries and some money.

Back on the sidewalk, we passed houses that were old and not very well kept. Some lawns were neat and tidy while others were overrun with weeds and too-tall grass. Finally, we reached a big, yellow house with a fence around it. Grandma opened the gate and climbed the front steps pulling me with her. “This is the rooming house where we’re staying,” she said as she opened the screen door.

I wasn’t sure why my mother and father had sent me here. I knew Grandma lived in Arizona now, not here in Rock Island with Grandpa. I didn’t like the narrow hall with a steep stairway rising to the unknown. I didn’t like the smell of dinners long past that seeped into my nose and stayed there.

We climbed the steps and went down another hallway to a small bedroom. “This is where I sleep-- you’ll stay here with me,” Grandma said.
She laid her pocketbook and my suitcase on the bed, then led the way to a tiny kitchen that held all the necessary equipment. A small, square table sat under a sloped ceiling, a red geranium perched on the window sill, while white curtains fluttered in the open
window. A calendar picture on the wall showed a calm, blue lake with August 1948 printed underneath.

Grandma washed the raspberries, divided them into two green glass bowls and poured heavy cream over them.

Placing them on the table with two spoons, she said, “Now, sit down and have your raspberries. They’re only good if you use real cream on them.”

And they were good, both sweet and tangy, covered in the smooth, cold cream. They were so good that I think of the day Grandma introduced me to this wonderful fruit every time I see them. And I know they need ‘real cream’ to taste the very best.

When we’d spooned up the last bit, Grandma said Grandpa was waiting for me. My hand tightened around my spoon, and I wished there were more berries in the bowl to delay the visit. My mother said he was sick and asked to see me. Was that why Grandma was here? Was she taking care of him? My friends’ grandparents lived together. Mine did not. I didn’t know why.

We moved down the long hallway to a small bedroom that smelled stuffy and like medicine. This room had a sloped ceiling, too, something I’d never seen. I studied it carefully so I didn’t have to look at the bed right away. Finally, I moved to the side of the bed where my grandfather lay. He didn’t look like the grandpa who came to visit us. He didn’t look like the grandpa who brought me a cigar box filled with pennies he’d saved for me.

This grandpa looked thin and pale, deep circles under his eyes. His silver-white hair was combed neatly, but there was a bit of stubble on his face. His hand trembled as he reached out to me. Grandma nudged me, and I moved closer and took Grandpa’s hand.

“How long have you been here?” he asked in a quivery voice. Not like Grandpa at all.

I looked up at Grandma, not sure what the answer was.

She said, “About an hour.”

Grandpa chuckled, “If that had been your mother when she was your age, she’d have known everyone in town by now.”

This was the grandpa I knew, and seeing him released the knot of strangeness and fear in me, and I chattered on about my mother and father, my little brother, the train, the raspberries—whatever came into my mind. And Grandpa listened to every word. Finally, Grandma told me we’d better leave.

I slept that night with Grandma in a bed meant for one person. The next morning, I reached up to touch her cheek. Her skin looked so soft. She put her hand around mine and squeezed it ever so gently.

Our day went on with short visits to Grandpa. Once, Grandma made me wait in the little kitchen while she gave Grandpa a bath and shaved him. When she was done, she came to get me and I moved quickly through the narrow, dark hallway. Grandpa asked me questions about school and my friends. Sometimes he closed his eyes and lay there quietly, but I knew he wasn’t asleep. He was sick, but no one told me what was wrong. When I was sick, I got well in a few days, but somehow I knew Grandpa wasn’t ever going to get well. Not even with Grandma taking care of him.

It was only weeks later when my mother got the call that made her cry.

She hugged me close as she wiped her tears. “The last thing my dad asked was to see you one more time, and he got his wish before he died.”

I didn’t fully understand then, but many years later I realized what it must have meant to him, and I understood what my grandmother had done. Even though they’d lived apart for so many years, she spent those last weeks by his side caring for him. Though she’d never said a word about what she was doing, I learned something about duty, loyalty and, yes, love, from this serious grandmother who also taught me the joy of a bowl of raspberries swimming in cream.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Sharing A Blog Post By Donald Maas

What pixie dust are you sprinkling in your manuscript today?  What delightful experience will you give your readers?  

The quote above is from an article written by Donald Maas, president of the Donald Maas Literary Agency and author of many craft books on writing the novel. The quote is actually the conclusion to a wonderful article he posted on a blog yesterday. It all pertains to fiction writing but I think it could easily be applied to those of you who write creative nonfiction, as well.

It was such a delightful article that I'd like to share it with my readers today. You can read it here.  The blog is titled Writer Unboxed--about the craft and business of fiction. 

A successful fiction author shared the article on her facebook page yesterday. Because she seemed so awed by the article, I read it and found myself a happy person after reading it. Lots to think about after finishing it. 

Hope you enjoy the article as much as I did. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

When You Write...

Anne Frank's story is known world-wide. Many of her quotes are still with us today. The one above is new to me but one I, as a writer, can definitely relate to. No doubt, you who write, get the message loud and clear, as well.

Think of all the weeks and months that Anne's family spent in hiding. Her writing became her lifeline to others even though she never knew about the millions of people who would read what she wrote many years later. She lives on through the writing she did as a young girl, writing that showed maturity and insight beyond her years. It makes me wonder what she might have achieved through her writing had she lived to adulthood. Instead of being sad about what might have been, let's be grateful for what she did give the world during her short life.

And now on to more on the quote itself. We hear about men wanting to have their Man Cave where they can do the things men do. Writers could use a Writer Cave, too. It's a place where we can escape from the everyday cares and enter our writing world where we are in charge and our other concerns do not touch us for the time we are writing.

When I'm writing, I don't think about the problems plaguing a few members of my family right now. It doesn't mean that I am dismissing those concerns. Not at all. Instead, I devote my full attention to my writing and I almost always finish with a sense of fulfillment. Even when a story doesn't work out just right. I know that it will as I continue revising and editing.

When I'm writing, I don't give a thought to the household tasks waiting for me. I can keep writing as long as my muse is willing and I know that those dust bunnies will still be there when I'm finished with the writing session. Housework never disappears but does seem willing to wait for us until we're ready to tackle it.

When I'm writing, I don't let the committee work I promised to do enter my mind. I wait until the writing is done and then consider what I need to do for the committee. Deadlines make me put something like this as a priority for the non-writing time.

During some of the sad times in my life, I have found writing to be an escape to a happier place, if even for an hour or two. Often, the writing then involves whatever that sadness might have been--the loss of a loved one, perhaps. I have found that kind of writing to be a small step in the healing process when grieving.

Give some thought today to this quote by Anne Frank. How does it apply to your own writing life? Few of us have to bear what she and her family lived through during the attic years. We were given many more years to pursue the craft that Anne, herself, loved so dearly. I, for one, am feeling very grateful after thinking about this.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Quitters Don't Win

Haven't we all felt like quitting our writing journey now and then? The questions begin to swirl through your mind. Ones like:  How many years can I give this before it's time to bail? What is my percentage of acceptances over rejections? Does anybody but me care about what I write? Do I have any Followers of my work at all? Am I a better writer today than I was ten years ago? What writing goals have I achieved? The list could go on and on.

When that Self-doubt creeps in, spiral back to the days when you first decided to write. You were excited about trying something new, weren't you? You had high hopes, major goals, big dreams. Maybe you should create a poster showing the reasons you became a writer. Keep it where you can see it on a daily basis. When you're ready to throw up your hands and storm away from the writing path, study that poster. Carefully. Then assess your next step.

I ran across a short piece that I'd written earlier titled Why Bother? I used it in another post but it bears repeating today. This is what I wrote:

Does it appear that writing is meant to defeat a writer rather than buoy him/her to great heights? It may make you wonder why in the world you're beating your head against the writing wall if it is this hard to become a widely published writer. Why bother?

We bother, and I include myself here, because we love to write. We bother because we have something to say. We bother because we may want to prove something to ourselves. We bother because we know that the more we write, the more we grow as a writer. We bother because we've had positive feedback from readers. We bother because we've had some encouraging rejections from editors. We bother because we've had enough acceptances to know that we are not a washout as a writer. 

Now, aren't those enough reasons to stay on the writing journey? I think so. Just keep in mind that there is no express elevator. You move up one step at a time.

Dinty Moore, author of several books on writing said "The rewards of publication are fleeting, while the rewards of a regular writing practice are countless."  There's more to this writing game than being published so step back and look at the beginning, middle and end results before you storm away from something you probably love.