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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Maybe You Should Sweat the Small Stuff

Yes, it is often the small decisions that can change our lives. The ones we agonize over but finally plunge ahead and do whatever it was that we were fearful of doing. Much later, we look back and say What if I hadn't....?

Several months ago, I saw a marketing newsletter that listed a religious magazine that was known to me and that paid well. It had a circulation of something like 2 1/2 million. I had a story that I thought might work for them but I hesitated. It was that circulation number that held me back.

I worried that maybe they only took work from freelance professionals, not a hobbyist writer like me. I wondered if my work was of the caliber they sought. So, I didn't do anything for a day or two. But I kept thinking about it and I had a few arguments with myself. You know the kind--you are on both sides of the argument, so you're gonna come out OK in the end. I told myself that the story had won a contest so it must be worth something. Then, I reminded myself that the worst that could happen if I sent it is that a rejection would come flying back. What did I have to lose? Nothing! If they accepted the story, I came out a winner.

I sent the story after a final edit and then forgot about it. Imagine how happy I was the day the offer to purchase the story arrived? If I'd backed off and not sent the story, I wouldn't have been published in a widely-read magazine, missed out on a nice check, and still felt timid about subbing to the big time magazines.

I've recently sent them another story and am waiting to hear whether it will be dumped or bought. I didn't hesitate when I sent this one. My former experience told me I was good enough to be published with the big kids. That said, it doesn't mean that they will accept every sub I send. Even so, getting my foot in the door of this highly regarded publication did wonders for my self-confidence.

We have a lot of big decisions to make throughout our lives but there are also a good many small ones.. They matter, too. They can direct your life in another direction just as well as those major decisions. Pay attention to the little things along with the major ones.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Photo Prompt Exercise

Here's a great picture for a photo prompt exercise.  Study the picture for several minutes and see what images come to mind. What can you write about it? One hint is that the photo is from England.

Who owns the store?

Who will come along and post a letter?

Who will purchase all the flowers in the trailer?

Who is the 'Stiffkey' mentioned in the sign?

Where is the store located?

What will happen there today?

Write a paragraph or a full story. Use sensory details, acrive verbs, and give the reader a sense of place.

Ready, set, go!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Can You Smell That?

A Happy Smell

A Nasty Smell

I read an article about memoir writing the other day. One small section has stayed with me, keeps popping into my mind off and on. It's a very small part of writing memoir that could be applied in fiction writing, personal essays and poetry, as well.

Smell! That's what has been on my mind. Writers know that the sensory details they include bring life to their writing and allows the reader to relate easily. Narrow it down to smell for today. 

When you reach  back into your memory bank, what smells from you childhood do you think of? Which ones, good and bad, stand out? Is it the perfume Great Aunt Nettie always wore? Or the smell of the barn that Grandpa carried with him through his work day? What about the aromas in your mom's kitchen on Thanksgiving Day? Did your grandmother use a certain floor cleaner that you can smell to this very day? 

Here's a list of smells, odors, or aromas that I remember from years ago:
  • the big jar of paste at school that the teacher used to fill smaller jars
  • chlorine at the swimming pool
  • baking in my mom's kitchen--cookies, pies, yeast breads, cakes and more
  • gasoline at the station when Dad filled the gas tank in our car
  • a red floor oil tht my Great Aunt Jane used on her wood floors
  • the real Christmas tree we had every year
  • meat roasting in the oven
  • the fresh smell after a spring rain
  • carnations--they had a sweet, spicy scent unlike the ones today that have no aroma
  • sheets dried on a clothesline
  • Vicks Vapo-rub that Mom rubbed on our chests when we had a cold
  • the special aroma found the minute we walked into a Fannie Mae chocolate shop
  • old books
  • coffee that my parents drank daily
  • a mingling of wonderful aromas in the back room of my grandma's bakery
  • the after-smell of a cap gun being shot
  • bubble gum
  • bleach and bluing my mother used in the laundry
  • disinfectant used in the restrooms at school
  • ink used in a mimeograph machine
  • baby brothers' diapers
  • leaves burning in the fall
Make your own list. I'm sure you'll duplicate some of mine but also add others. Your list may trigger memories that can be used when you write a new memoir piece, a personal essay or even a fiction short story. Include the way the smell affected you and your reaction.

Exercise for Today:  Take note of smells as you go about your daily routine. How many different ones have you encountered in one day? Keep a list, then write something about each one.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Are School Libraries In Danger of Being Replaced?

I think every day is a good day for a book. Squeeze in a little reading time as well as your writing time. You'll reap the benefits over and over.

I read an article in today's Kansas City newspaper that startled me, upset me, and gave me a great deal of food for thought. The article detailed a new trend in schools. When librarians retire, new ones are not being hired. Instead, schools are putting in maker spaces to sharpen science and creative skills and to encourage teamwork.

The article states that grade schools haven't much need anymore for the libraries of 20 years ago. Children are given tablets or notebooks and can read books on them rather than go to the school library. We're in the digital age which I must admit to. I also think that the maker spaces are innovative and beneficial to the children of today.

Even so, it hurts me to think of school libraries being obliterated. The article featured a Kansas City suburban school librarian who spoke to her school board about the importance of books in a child's life and a place where they can go to select one of the many on the shelves. One of her quotes was "Stories, stories and more stories" and I imagine she stated it with gusto.

Four of the schools in this suburban area have hired 'innovation specialists' to run their libraries when fall classes begin. That's the term given to those who conduct the hands-on labs of creation and computer-assisted innovation. The movement is nationwide and more about robotics than dealing with reading.

The article noted that the word librarian was not included in the job description for an innovation specialist in one school. Nor were the words stories, books, literature or shelves. 

Innovation specialists need only be certified to teach elementary education. A school librarian is state-certified. There is a difference but I imagine the state-certified librarian will go the way of the dinosaur before too very long.

The maker spaces are deemed so important in today's education world that schools are seeking space for them, and that library is considered prime property.

Click on the article link above if you'd like to read the entire story. I'm in no way putting down the maker space movement but I am heartsick over the trend of losing our school libraries because of this new innovation. I worry that, over time, children will not seek out stories and books on their pc, tablet or notebook. I would hope that the classroom teacher would urge that they do so. The classroom teacher will have to put on one more hat. She/he will be the new librarian.

I think of the many hours of joy I have found in my school libraries and my local library and I want that for my grandchildren, too. I sincerely hope that school systems will find a way to include both the maker spaces and school libraries. Space and funding will be a problem but let's hope the librarians left will blaze the trail.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Look Back To See Where You Stand As A Writer Today

When you find yourself a bit discouraged about your writing world, it's helpful to step back in time and see where you were 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years ago.

Go back to some of your earliest writing projects and read them. Read them carefully. Use an editor's eye. Are you proud of them? Or are you cringing a bit because they seem a bit amateurish to you? Do you see that the topic and the points you made were good but the mechanics were pretty awful? Or maybe it's the other way around.

The fact is that most of us do grow as writers as the years slip by. We read books about writing. We receive critiques from other writers. We read other writers' work and soak up the good things from what they've written.We read blogs about writing. The problem is that the growth may be slow and we aren't even aware that we've moved a great distance from those beginning days to the present.

I hope you have kept all your writing both in your computer files and hard copies in a large leaf loose binder. If you haven't done so, I'm sorry to hear it. It is so very important to keep copies, both digital and hard copies of everything you write. Do you date the copies? I have to admit that is not something I did and now I wish I had. I know which pieces are from my early days of writing but someone who goes through my hard copies years from now will not. They might be able to tell the earliest writings from the latest just by quality of the piece. Or maybe not because whoever reads this later--grandchildren or great-grandchildren--are not going to look with the same eyes as she who wrote it.

When you look back to your early days of writing, how long did it take before you were actually published? Did it get easier as time went on and you grew as a writer? Did the quality of the publications get better as the years went on? I have always advocated that beginning writers start submitting to smaller publications because their chances of being accepted would be greater. Start there--yes, but then move on to better quality markets. If you start with the high dollar markets, your rejections are likely to be overwhelming and discouraging.

How about the amount of time it takes you to complete a short story or essay or memoir piece? Can you do it faster now than you did 10 or 20 years ago? Most likely, the answer is yes. The more we write, the easier and faster we can turn out a finished piece. Another sign of growth as a writer!

What about the mechanics of writing in those early pieces? Did you use a lot of cliches? I did! Did you use more passive verbs than active? I did. Did you sprinkle the piece with unnecessary words? I definitely did. Did you repeat the same idea using different words because your weren't sure your reader would 'get it?' I did that, too. I committed the sins of all beginning writers and I think most of you did, too.

We do travel great distances over the years that we write. It takes looking back and some assessment of those early days compared to right now before we are fully aware of how far we have traveled in our writing journey. After you've checked out those early writings and compared them to what you write now, give yourself a pat on the back. Whether it's been only a few short years or a good many, whatever you've achieved, you've earned by hard work. Maybe you feel like you've reached the pinnacle of your writing journey. I hate to put a pin into your balloon, but with every year that goes by, you should grow even more. We can get closer and closer to the top but I'm not sure we ever want to actually reach it. Where would we go next?

Spend some time this week-end looking back to see where you started and how far you've come. You might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Are You A Positive Or A Negative?

Maybe I don't need to write a post today. This poster says it all so very well. Superb advice for our writing life and the rest of it, as well. However, being word-loving me, I will add my thoughts to the quote above. Do remember that this is my opinion. You may have an entirely different viewpoint.

We all know the old cliche It's water over the dam. Might be old but it still works when we start crying over what happened before today. It's done. It's over. You aren't going to be able to change it. Forget it!

That's easy to say but not always so easy to do. Many of us have to work at having the ability to put the past behind us and look ahead. It seems people are divided into the positives and the negatives. The negatives are more likely to dwell on the broken pieces of yesterday while the positives are going to have an easier time in looking ahead and beginning anew.

I fall into the positives group and I'm thankful that I do. How does it happen? How do we become one or the other? If we want to change, how do we do it?

When I look back at my growing-up years, it seems to me that I should have fallen into the negatives group. My dad was one of the original male chauvinists. He really believed that women could not do a man's job and he made it very clear to all how he felt. As far as he was concerned, my lot in life would be to marry, bear children and wait on others. I've done that and a whole lot more. What I'm pointing out is that my positive nature came out very early. Maybe it was a I'll show him! kind of thing. One of the reasons I try to stay positive and look ahead rather than back is that I know doing so makes me feel better. So why not pursue the pluses in life so that I can continue to feel better?

Do I ever get down? Do I ever sound negative? Of course, I do but I don't let it take hold of my life and continue in the same vein. Ever give yourself a verbal spanking? Well, I have done so many times, especially when those negative feelings begin to creep up. I can talk myself right out of them and start looking ahead.

If the writing project you're working on gave you fits yesterday, look at today as a whole new beginning. Start with a positive attitude and I bet your writing works out better, too. Wallow in yesterday's problems and today could very well end up the same way.

Why are some people more prone to dwell in the negatives? Fear and lack of self-confidence come into play here. Life experiences are also a factor but I think that there is something inborn in people that might push them into either that positive or negative group. That doesn't mean you have to stay there. You can work your way out and it might really be hard work.

There are also people who fall in the middle; they have both positive and negative tendencies. Might depend on which way the writing wind is blowing. Decide which place you are most comfortable. If you want to change, start a little at a time. If you're happy in whichever group you're in, then stay there but remember that it was your choice.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Voice in Writing

How is a writer going to be separated from other writers? One way is to develop your own voice as a writer. Many writers become confused as to what voice in writing is.

Voice is your style, your way of writing that is different from other writers. It's unique to you. It's the way you talk transferred to your writing. If you're born and bred in the deep South, your voice is going to come through in a very different manner than someone from New Hampshire. In addition, your life experiences will influence the voice you use when you write.

Those two people above are trying to shout each other down. They should forget that and work on developing their own voice for the stories or essays or articles that they write.

Have you ever heard a reader mention that they love a certain author and read all of his/her books? One of the things they find attractive is the voice that writer has developed. It's the way he/she says whatever they say. It's a matter of style.

Make a list of your favorite authors. Then ask yourself what it is about their voice, or style, that attracts you. You may want to write just like they do. Well, don't!

Instead, you want to develop your own voice, one that is unique to you and you alone. How do you do this? For one thing, don't try to copy others. Be yourself. Don't try to write in many different styles. Find what is comfortable for you and stay with it.

The more you write, the more your voice will come through to your readers. It's almost a natural progression. Work too hard at it and you'll end up sounding like a chorus of writers, not just you.

If you're still confused about a writer's voice, use your favorite search engine and read several articles to get a clearer picture.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Troubles We Have When Writing

I think I'll be a writer. Lots of writers have started out with a statement just like that. Piece of cake they think. I have ideas that can be put in print ready for the world to read. Fine, but...

Wanting to be a writer usually also means you wish to be published so others can read your work. That part is not so easy. You may have a super idea for a story or essay and you're eager to get it all down in black and white. First draft requires some editing. You know that. So you hurry through and add a bit of punctuation here, cut a word or two, add a thought and call it done. Next, you find an appropriate market and ship it off to the editor via an email, then sit back and wait to hear that your work was accepted.

If only it was that easy! You may have a great story idea but if the mechanics of writing fall way down to the bottom of your Writers should... list, your work will be rejected over and over. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have the following in everything you write:

  • proper punctuation
  • using same tense throughout
  • clarity 
  • sentences that are not awkward 
  • proper spelling
  • proper antecedents
  • noun and verb agreement
  • not overly wordy
  • few to no cliches
  • short and long sentences to balance
  • not too many adverbs
  • dialogue that is easy to follow
  • no repetition of same words
  • active verbs 
  • minimum adjectives
Some writers have the opposite problem. Their mechanics would get an A+ from any English teacher but the story idea doesn't come through clearly and concisely. They ramble on and on and never get to the real subject. They intersperse too many other bits and pieces and lose the reader. Their introduction is so long that the reader is long gone before he/she ever gets to the meat of the story. They write long and convoluted sentences that leave the reader scratching his/her head. I'm assuming the 'reader' here is an editor and I'm also guessing that the editor is never going to accept the story that is written in this manner. 

It does not matter what the writing problem is. All writers have some kind of trouble when writing. The longer we write, the fewer the problems become. Nevertheless, writing a new story or essay or article does not mean we are always going to do it perfectly. Something is going to give us trouble. But guess what? The more we write, the easier it is for us to A. see the problem and B. fix it. 

If you get frustrated by the difficulties you have when you write, know this:  You are in good company. Bestselling authors have trouble when writing certain parts of a new book. Experience has taught them, however, that they can work it out. Persistence is part of overcoming a problem like that. 

Have trouble writing? It's one way you know that you really are a writer!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Write Stories About Family Weddings

Today is our 52nd wedding anniversary. The pink bells remind me of the ones that topped our wedding cake in 1964. My mother and I ordered the cake from the local bakery, whose owners happened to live next door to my parents. What a lovely surprise when they refused to take any money for the cake, giving it to us as a wedding gift.

Our wedding was quite small by today's standards. We had twenty people celebrate the big day with us. Our immediate families and a couple close friends. Even so, we were married in church and I had a traditional wedding dress in the style of the day. It was ivory peau de soie with a waltz-length bell shaped skirt, appliqued embroidery on the bodice. My veil was attached to a Jackie Kennedy pillbox circlet to match the dress. We had a wedding dinner at a supper club after opening gifts and being toasted with champagne at my parents' home. The reason that our wedding was not a big one is that the groom declared that he was not coming if it was over 20 people. I thought it pretty important that he be there, so I caved! To this day, he still claims ours was one of the nicest weddings he ever went to.

Ken had just started a new job in a bank so no time for a honeymoon. We spent the night at a nice hotel near O'Hare airport and went on to our new home the next day. The 'new home' was a furnished apartment in Zion, IL which is located in about the farthest northeast corner of the the state of IL. Right on the shore of Lake Michigan. I remember a romantic walk on the beach that Sunday.

When I talked to my mom the next week, I mentioned that I hoped she saved the leftover wedding cake in the freeezer so that we could enjoy it on our first anniversary. "Oh, there wasn't any left. Your three brothers ate all the leftovers that night!" And then she also told me that middle brother had come down with the measles that night, as well.

Even 52 years later, our wedding week-end seems like only yesterday. Events like this stay with us in our memory bank. There are wedding stories of all kinds that should be recorded and kept somewhere for others in the family to read. They are a perfect addition to your Family Stories Book.

Think about it--your children and grandchildren would probably like to read about your wedding. It doesn't matter if it was a huge extravaganza or very small. Or perhaps an elopement, which is what my own parents did. They kept it a secret for a full six weeks. My mother never wrote the story about their unusual wedding but she told the story many times. I am the one who wrote it for her grandchildren and others to read. How many women get married in a scarlet red dress and have to wait for the Justice of the Peace to answer a phone call and plan a fishing trip in the middle of the ceremony?

What are the wedding stories in your family like? Happy? Humorous? Sad? Miserable? Weddings bring out all kinds of things in families--good and bad. They all deserve to be recorded sometime, somewhere, somehow. If no one in your family has done so, take it upon yourself to write the story of your wedding. Or your parents' wedding. Or that of your children or siblings--anyone you are related to.

How about those wedding stories where you were a bridesmaid or a groomsman? Lots of good stories there.

Our wedding in 1964 with my parents


Friday, June 17, 2016

A Father's Day Story

On this Father's Day week-end, I am going to post an essay about my dad and how he instilled some fine values into my life, and that of my three younger brothers, as well. That's Dad in the photo taken the year I was born with one of his favorite cars. Maybe the essay below will bring back a few memories for you, too.

Driving With Dad
By Nancy Julien Kopp

During my growing-up years, my dad drove a 1936 Plymouth, moved on to a 40’s model Buick and then a 50’s era Chrysler that was his pride and joy. Every one of those vehicles was a used car, but Dad burst with pride over each one. He kept them washed and waxed, made sure the engine hummed, and brushed and vacuumed the upholstered seats regularly.
I learned many life lessons during conversations in those cars, usually when Dad and I drove somewhere without my mother and brothers. Both of us sitting in the front seat of the car, we bumped along the brick street in front of our apartment building, our words quaking as we passed over each new brick the tires hit. Finally, we’d come to a paved street, and our voices resounded normally again. An innocent remark from me as we rode along brought forth long orations from Dad on more than one occasion.

My dad was a short, skinny guy, but his inner strength and street smarts created a powerful person. He steered with one hand and gestured to me with the other, citing one example after another to prove a point.
In my childhood years, I considered his words as nothing but lectures. Never content to say a little about a subject, he’d begin with the important part of the lesson and continue on and on until I effectively tuned him out. My own silent rebellion. I must have had a mental file folder in which I saved those little lectures, for bits and pieces float through my mind even now, over sixty years later. They’ve helped to make me the strong person I am today.
Dad grew up in the Depression years. He lost his father at the age of fourteen and dropped out of high school to search for work. He supported his mother and himself with one scrounged-up job after another, finally settling in permanently at International Harvester Co. when he turned eighteen. They hired him as a truck driver, and Dad moved on through the ranks of the parts department in a distribution center and finally to the General Office in downtown Chicago where he worked with men who, unlike himself, held college degrees. He supervised a department of men and women until his retirement, and never was a man more loyal to an employer than he.
As an adult, my dad’s words revisited me when I attended college, taught school, married, and became a mother. One of the things we often talked about in those old cars was loyalty. “Loyalty,” Dad told me, “will reap benefits beyond your wildest dreams.”  He repeatedly instructed me and my brothers to be loyal to our family, to our employer, and to our friends. Mixed within the admonition to show loyalty was respect and integrity as well as fidelity, subheadings for his favorite topic.
As a child and especially in my teen years, I resented Dad’s lectures and did my best to ignore them. In my young adult years, Dad often grasped an opportunity to repeat those lectures. The same stories, the same words, the same lesson, and I’d think ‘oh no, not again.’ How many times could I listen to what International Harvester Co. did for him? That his loyalty to them was returned a thousand-fold over the years. And didn’t I already know that his loyalty to his best friend resulted in a lifelong friendship?
Dad died over twenty years ago, but the lessons he taught through words and example live on. The words I naively thought I had tuned out so long ago come back to me at the strangest moments. When I see examples of others’ loyalty, Dad’s words drift through my mind, and I wish I might thank him now for what he taught me all those years. I tried to be loyal to my employer, my family, and my friends exactly as he’d said while we drove all around Chicago in his treasured cars. And he was so right. I’ve reaped the benefits in the form of good working relationships, a wonderful family life, and the joy of many warm friendships.

He didn’t have a college degree, but he knew the values to instill in his children and he worked hard to ensure we learned the meaning of loyalty. The little lectures in the car and sometimes at the dining room table were re-enforced by the way he led his own life. I listened and observed, quite often subconsciously, and applied what I learned throughout my own life. Thanks a million, Dad. 

Dad in 1942

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Father's Day Writing Exercise

Father's Day week-end is coming up. Today, try this exercise. Use one or all of the three pictures below to write a poem, a fiction piece, a personal essay or a memoir piece. Write about the dad and son in each picture or choose just one picture. Make it anonymous or delve back into your own childhood memories of your father. 

I realized after I chose these photos that they are all of fathers and sons. You can turn one of them into a little girl if you like. Especially the first and last one. 

Another approach would be to use the photo prompt to write a letter to your own father to tell him what he means to you, to mark a memory, or to say what you wished you might have said if he is no longer living. 

What if you grew up without a father in your life? Many do. Write your story with the What if...? approach or write it from the missing a dad in my life point of view. You might even write about some other man who became a father figure to you.

There have been several Chicken Soup for the Soul books that have had the father-daughter or father-son theme. They bring us some powerful stories. Write one now for possible submission for the next father themed anthology that comes up. Or to submit to a magazine for Father's Day 2017. Write it and slip it into the card you give your dad if you're fortunate enough to still have him close by. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Missed Chances For Writers

This poster can apply to our writing world as well as our everyday life. What about those submissions you didn't make? What about the story you wanted to write but never got around to doing it? What about the chance you had at a conference to introduce yourself to an editor but you were too shy to do so? What about the conference you wanted to go to but let the deadline to register slip on by?

Let's face it. We all have passed up opportunities in our writing life. Sometimes there were very valid reasons. At other times, we were a little too scared, a bit too lazy, or lacked the self-confidence to meet the new challenge head-on.

Why do we do these things? Fear is one reason. We are afraid that we won't measure up to the work of other writers. We are worried that rejection is the best we can expect if we submit our work  to an editor. That's a defeatist attitude right there. How in the world do you know if you don't submit your work?

If the worst thing that happens is rejection after rejection, life still goes on. You can still write another story or essay or article. You can revise the project that received multiple rejections and send it out again. Is it normal to get discouraged when your submissions come rolling back? Of course it is. We are human and have feelings. It just plain hurts at times.

The one thing a writer needs to develop is a thick skin. It's not you, the writer, that is being turned down. It's the piece you wrote and maybe it's a good piece of writing but is too similar to what has been published recently. Or perhaps it doesn't fit the word count. Or then again, it's possible that it needs revision before you send it out again.

Think back to some of those missed chances in your writing life. You'll never know how having moved ahead and taken the challenge would have worked out. That's in the past. Use any remorse you might have in missing opportunities to forge ahead now. When there is a call for submissions that you can answer, do it. Don't just think about it. Do it!

When you have a chance to speak to someone in the writing world, gather your courage and introduce yourself. Ask a question at a workshop or conference instead of cowering in your seat in the last row, trying to be invisible. Writers must stand up and be recognized if they want to make progress in their field. Hope Clark, fiction writer, had a best-selling writer's reference book titled The Shy Writer published in 2004. She published another in 2013 called The Shy Writer Reborn. Read about it here. It might be of help to those writers who are happy as a clam writing but have trouble with the rest of what is involved in the writing world.

Evey writer could make a list of missed chances. It happens. From now on, let's all try to move forward and take a chance instead of passing on by. Wondrous things could happen to you and me!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Flag Day 2016

I took our flag with me early this morning when I went outside to pick up our morning newspapers. I placed Old Glory in the holder and went on out to the end of the d rive to get the papers. I picked them up and turned around and there was the flag, flying gloriously in the early morning breeze with the sun spreading its rays over it. It was such a pretty sight that I stopped to take it in and think about what that flag reperesents.

The very first Flag Day was June 14, 1777. On that day, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress adopted the stars and stripes as the offical flag of our country. It wasn't until exactly 100 years later that the the birthday of our flag was observed. From then on, veterans groups, school children and others made note of the June 14th date to honor our flag.

In 1916, Woodrow Wilson established June 14th as an annual national celebration. Then President Truman and Congress made it a permanent national observance in 1949.

I grew up in an era when patriotism was at a high. The WWII years made Americans proud of their country and what it stood for, what it fought for. What better symbol to show that pride than our flag? When our troops overseas won a battle, they raised our flag on foreign soil time and again.

It seems to me that patirotism is not as great today. Instead of banding together as Americans, we split off into groups who like this, hate that, are offended by this, taunt other groups, and more. We are getting close to being as divided as we were during our own Civil War. It is my earnest desire that we unite as a country, that we remember we are all Americans.

As writers, we can help that cause. Consider writng something patriotic today. Not a rant to put down this or that group but something that will bring us together, something that will make us proud to be Americans. We do have much to be proud of in this country. Write an essay. Write a poem. Write a short story. Put the flag in the forefront of whatever you write today.

Celebrate America! Celebrate Flag Day! Unite with your fellow Americans today and every day.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Writer's Memoir To Help Other Writers

           Tom Mach    

Since I've been posting about memoir writing recently, I'd like to feature a memoir written by an award winning writer who details his long and often-difficult journey as a writer. Tom Mach asked me to review his book for Amazon and GoodReads which I did just recently. Here is the review:

   In Persistence, Then Peace, a memoir aimed at writers, Tom Mach doesn’t sugarcoat his journey. His is an honest account of what appears to be a roller coaster ride as he moves from one area of writing to another, as he moves from one career job to another, as well, moving his mostly supportive wife and family around the country numerous times.
   When I read this memoir of a writer’s life, I felt as though the author and I were sitting across from one another at a table having a cup of coffee and a long chat. Mach’s writing style is informal and conversational.
    The early chapters deal with his growing-up years and may not have relevance for writers reading this book, but do stay with it. You’ll see how persistence pays off despite years of writing novels that never got published. You’ll learn that with each writing project, the author learned something more about the craft. You’ll find that writing advertising copy and commercials in his day jobs helped his writing career and helped him get articles published. He admits to mistakes made over the years—such as not rewriting some of the earlier novels and stories.
    After many years pursuing his love of writing, Mach wrote a trilogy of historical novels that required much research. He self-published and found satisfaction in the sales of the three novels and the multiple awards received.
    Those who are new writers or wannabe writers would benefit from this memoir. Instead of being discouraged over the long period of time Mach worked at his craft before finding a modem of success, the writer/reader should take heart in the persistence of the author, his patience and willingness to continue to learn the craft well and his constant growth as a writer. He recaps 10 life lessons learned, all of which would benefit other writers. Any writer/reader would also be impressed by the lengthy list of his publications, as well. Persistence did pay off as this author continued his passion for writing and achieved his own sense of peace.

Writers definitely benefit from reading about the journey of other writers. We look at what they achieved, how long it took to get there, what might benefit us as writers. Just as no two people are alike, neither are writers. We may all be writers but we are also individuals who approach life from different perspectives. When you read about Tom's long road to where he is today--an award winning writer--you might wonder how in the world he kept going for so long with so many obstacles. Passion for writing is a big part of the answer to that question. By the end of the book, one cannot help but admire this man who stayed with his dream of being a published author. We can all benefit from lessons he learned along the way. He lists the ten lessons toward the end  of the book. 

If you're interested, you can order the book here from Amazon. 


Friday, June 10, 2016

10 Points For Memoir Writers

Yesterday's memoir posting led me to do some more thinking about the topic as I went about my day Thursday.

I mentioned that the way you present your memoir story is of prime importance. We want to recapture past experiences but a big snafu is that many who attempt to do this end up with a report of what happened. I did this. Then this happened. Next I did this. Then my aunt created a problem..... If all you do is write a detailed report as it might be seen in a newspaper article, you'll lose your readers pretty quickly. So, what do readers want to see in a memoir? (This may be subconsciously as well as what they are totally aware of.)

1. They want to be able to visualize and feel the place where the story happens

2. They want to see a beginning, middle and end to the story.

3. They want to feel some tension, no matter how small it might be.

4. They want to see emotion in the writing.

5. They want to feel the emotion.

6. They want sensory details so they can feel they are right where the story happens.

7. They want to be able to see the characters through vivid description by the author.

8. They want to be able to relate to the situation in some way.

9. They want to learn a universal truth, same as in a personal essay.

10. They want to read a good story!

Memoir pieces are stories but they're true stories. Be very sure you stay with the truth when you write memoir. It is so tempting to embellish a simple happening to make it more exciting. Don't! Eventually, someone will call you on it.

To conclude, write from your heart as today's poster tells us. If you do, you'll accomplish many of the 10 points I have listed above.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Many Facets To Memoir Writing

I saw this poster on facebook today and my first thought was This is one reason why we write memoir. I've heard it said that memoir writing came about because we want to taste certain things in life more than once. It also helps us look back with a different perspective and gain better understanding of something that occurred in our earlier life. 

Full memoir books have been a popular trend for quite some time now. Readers like to look into the life happenings of someone. It's a legal way of being a Peeping Tom, perhaps. We read them and compare the author's life to our own. If the author happens to be a celebrated name, his/her book is going to garner more interest than if Susie Jones who was a teacher for 60 years writes her memoir book. Other teachers might pick up Susie Jones' book because it's a topic they can relate to but how many others would do so?

It's also the memoir books that tell of trials and tribulations that soar to the top of the bestseller list. Who can forget Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt? This heart-tugging memoir is still considered one of the top memoir books. Part of the reason is the abject poverty portrayed and part of it is the skill of the author in presenting his life story. 

That is an important point. No matter how good the material for the book is, it also takes a skillful writer to present it so that readers want to keep turning the pages. Emotion, sensory details, description, visual images--all these create a better story.

You need not write a full memoir book. Take one incident and write a shorter piece. These shorter memoir snapshots can be contest entries or magazine stories or featured on a blog or website. It's tough to tackle an entire book but do it one episode of your life at a time and it's easier. 

How do you begin? Do you just dive in without any instruction? Some do but I'd suggest doing some reading about how we write memoirs. One of the better sites I've found is one that addresses womens' memoirs. Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett give valuable tips, run contests and video seminars through their website. Gentlemen--you can gain something from this website and the newsletter that you can sign up for, too. 

I often urge you to write your family stories--just another kind of memoir. Write about something that you want to feel again, as today's poster says. Write about something you might not have understood long ago to gain a different perspective on it. We write memoir as much for our personal satisfaction as we do for other readers. 

Yes, there are things you would like to feel twice, so write about them. There are also some you might like to keep hidden in the recesses of your mind. Even so, try writing about those events, too, so that you can gain insight, start some healing and ease the pain of whatever happened. 

Memoir writing is worth a try. Many people think their life was pretty boring; they wonder who would want to read about it. Maybe it's not as boring as you think and maybe the way you present it makes a difference, too. Something to ponder and read about before you tackle memoir writing. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Writing To A Theme

I've been getting my entries ready for our annual state contest. There are several categories in both poetry and prose. Each year, there is also a theme category which reflects the theme for the annual convention held in early October. This year's theme is Imagine.  It's the one category I have not entered. Yet! 

It's not that I haven't given it much thought. I have. I've considered this and that but none of the topics seemed to be of interest to me. Yesterday, I asked myself some questions. Many contests ask you to write to a theme and even some magazines ask that you write to whatever theme they have chosen for a specific month. So, it's something we all need to give thought to. 

Questions To Help When Writing To A Theme
  • What is the theme?
  • Do I have any experience with whatever it is?
  • What are the most common approaches to this theme?
  • How can I find a different perspective on the theme?
  • What can I write that might be unexpected?
  • What kind of surprise can I incorporate in my entry?
  • How strong a piece can I write?
  • Should it be prose or poetry?
  • Should it be way off the beaten path?
  • Should it strike a familiar chord instead?
  • Should it be fantasy?
  • Shold it be true?
An exercise to try

Take a piece of paper, 8 x 11, and a pencil or pen. Write the theme word(s) in the center. Then concentrate on that word you've written. What comes to mind? Draw a line from the word anywhere else on the paper and write a word that came to you. Continue doing this as long as you can, as long as you have room on your paper. Then, take a good look at the words you came up with. Do you see a pattern of any kind? Do any of the words give you inspiration? There is no guarantee that you'll come up with a story to write using this method but it is definitely possible to do so.

What will a winning entry written to a theme consist of?
  • It will avoid cliches.
  • It will be filled with awe and wonder.
  • It will not be predictable.
  • It will have emotion throughout--sad, mad or glad--doesn't matter, emotion does.
  • It will be filled with sensory details.
  • It will speak to the judge who reads it.
  • It will fit the theme well, not in a roundabout way.
  • It will sparkle.
  • It will be a satisfying read.
I wrote this post today to help myself come up with something for the Theme category. I hope you can use it, too, whenever you are asked to write to a theme. 

IMAGINE--that's my theme and that's what I have to do!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Yes, I'm A Book Addict

I'm of the belief that writers' homes should be filled with books. Why? For several reasons.

1. We learn more about our own craft of writing by reading other writers.

2. We absorb a lot from reading the writing of others, even subconsciously.

3. We get inspired to write when reading other writers.

4. Most writers love to read--I know of only one who never read other peoples' writing.

5. Seeing other writers' success encourages us to persist in our own writing.

6. Even seeing a stack of books is food for the soul of a writer

What kind of books should you accumulate in your personal library?

1. Books on the craft of writing

2. Cookbooks--practical and fun and often necessary

3. Novels

4. Poetry

5. Nonfiction of subjects of interest

6. Coffee Table books

7. Childrens' books

8. Reference books (dictionary, thesaurus etc)

9. Spiritual or religious--as per your belief

I once had a friend who kept her home in pristine condition. When my other friends and I played bridge at her house, I was totally amazed that I did not see a magazine, a newspaper, or a book anywhere in her home. She could have put her house on the Parade of Homes in minutes. There were no bookshelves either. The shelves held things other than books. For me, the person who thrives on being surrounded by books, it gave me a creepy feeling. One day, I wondered what she thought when she came to my house, or to the homes of my other book-loving friends. She probably cringed at what she considered clutter--all those books stacked on shelves and tables throughout the house.

Yes, if you came to my home, you'd find bookcases in my office and guest bedroom. You'd see books on the nightstand in my bedroom, books on the dresser in the guest room. There would be several books on tables in the living room. And of course--a stack of magazines on the bottom of one end table by the sofa. A big stack! I do try to keep the stacks neat, not tossed around helter-skelter but I like having books around me. There is a comfort in them that is sometimes hard to describe. I feel the same way when I walk into my local library or a bookstore. Surrounded by hundreds of thousands of words printed in myriad books gives me a feeling of peace and joy like nothing else.

I guess I'm a book addict! Seems to me there are worse things that one could be. Those books I've read and collected over the years have been a great comfort to me through many a crisis period in my life. They offer an escape when life becomes a bit overwhelming, as it does for all of us at times. They offer entertainment, knowledge and delight. I don't mind being addicted to books. How about you?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Keeping History Alive For New Generations

Today we remember a turning point in WWII, when the Allies invaded France and drove the enemy out in succeeding days and weeks and months. It happened 72 years ago and for many of our younger generations, the day has no relevancy at all. It is the senior generation that marks this day. It is the older veterans who rose early this morning and put the American flag in front of the house to mark the day.

I'm quite certain my children and grandchildren had no thought about this being D-Day, that it was only Monday again and time to begin a new week. It's through no fault of theirs or mine; time passes and history is just that--history! It is up to senior writers to keep these memorable events alive for the younger generations. It's our duty to mark these days in some way so that the youngsters of today don't think storming the beaches of Normandy was a really cool Spring Break.

Our Kansas City newspaper did not have anything in it today about D-Day but I did see it mentioned on a morning TV news show.

There are other days like this that happened so long ago they are slowly being forgotten. If they mean something to you, write about them. Help keep these momentous events alive in the minds of many generations.

Here's an essay I wrote two years ago after we visited Normandy that was published in a senior paper in Kansas City. May it serve as a reminder to all of us on this day. I have posted it before but felt it worth repeating today.

Remembering D-Day On The Normandy Beaches
By Nancy Julien Kopp

As we approach the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, our visit there in the spring of 2013 keeps coming to mind.

My husband and I were nearing the end of a river cruise in France which brought us from Paris to Normandy, famed for its Norman cows and fine dairy products as well as being the place where the Allied Invasion began during WWII. Our river ship docked at the final port--Honfleur, a picture postcard kind of town. Now, we were close to the highlight of the two week cruise that had begun in Paris. We’d spend a full day at the D-Day beaches of Normandy, something Ken and I had looked forward to since booking months earlier.

At breakfast in the ship’s dining room that next morning, we sensed an air of anticipation that had not been evident in our other sightseeing tours on this trip. We were not the only ones looking forward to this day when we would view the beaches where the landing took place on June 6, 1944. The ensuing battle resulted in the Allied Forces turning the tide of the long-fought war that threatened so many, not only in France but other countries as well.
Being mostly senior citizens, the people in our tour group knew the history of the battle well. One man had even been there with the British navy shortly after the initial invasion. Only 16, he lied about his age to join the navy and was among the first who arrived after the beaches were taken. This now-elderly gentleman had spoken about his experience one evening on the river ship. That morning, as the bus took us from ship to the beaches, I watched this man who sat silently while we rode through the Normandy countryside. What thoughts were going through his mind, what memories were returning one by one? I wanted to ask but out of respect for what must have been an emotional time for him, I kept my silence.  

We filed quietly off the bus on that cold, wet March morning. There was none of the usual chatter and good-natured teasing on this day. We were a solemn, respectful group as we were introduced to our local tour guide. Her scarf whipped wildly in the strong wind, and like us, she wore hat, gloves and a warm coat. The skies were gray which somehow seemed fitting for this place where the remnants of battle and death remained even these 69 years after the fact.

The pillboxes where the German artillery faced the beaches remain today. I slipped and slid down a muddy incline to see inside one where parts of the big guns remained. Looking out to the beaches, I was immediately struck by the incongruity of those in the pillboxes versus the men on the open beaches on that summer morning so long ago. An old cliché seemed most fitting. They were “sitting ducks.” I shivered with both the thought and the sharp wind that found its way through my warm jacket.

The Allied Forces came to liberate France from German occupation, to push the German forces back to their own country. The Canadians landed at Juno Beach, the British at Sword and Gold Beach. Our American troops came ashore at both Omaha and Utah Beach. Paratroopers landed first followed by amphibious landing craft manned by Navy and Coast Guard personnel. Thousands of men with one goal—take the beaches and move on.

Gnawing fear must have been in the belly of each man but they surged forward with many falling on the beach. More than a thousand died on Omaha Beach alone. Others continued to dodge the constant gunfire and scaled precarious cliffs to reach the German strongholds.

As the tour guide talked, I thought of the men I knew who had fought in this war of so long ago—my uncle who had been an Air Force pilot, my best friend’s uncle who had endured the hardships of a prison camp, and my dad’s cousin whose plane blew to pieces before he could escape. I thought of my father-in-law who served in Paris after the liberation and came home safely thanks to the courage of the men who fought on D-Day, those who carried General Eisenhower’s order with them. “Full victory—nothing else.”

Our tour guide told us of a U.S. Army veteran who had been on another of her tours. On the morning of the invasion, he was in a landing craft that held 32 men. 31 of them were violently seasick. By the time they landed, they were covered in vomit with no choice but to rush the beach and dodge the artillery fire. That was only one of nearly 7,000 boats that hit the five beaches early that morning. I shivered yet again but didn’t know if it was because of the cold misty rain or the stories she related.

Our next stop was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, located not far from the beaches. In gratitude, the government of France granted use of the land, in perpetuity, as a permanent burial ground. We walked through the immaculate grounds, viewing the choppy waters of the English Channel just beyond. Nearly 10,000 American soldiers are buried here, a Latin cross or a Star of David marking each grave.

We gathered in the light rain at the Memorial area which features a 22 foot statue called “The Spirit of American Youth Rising From the Waves.” A representative from the cemetery addressed our group before leading a short ceremony to honor those who had sacrificed so much in this place. Everyone faced the wildly waving American flag, hand on hearts. Cold raindrops mixed with the warm tears that fell as I listened to a recording of our national anthem followed by a volley of gunshots and finally the playing of “Taps.” The lump in my throat would allow me no words, nor were any needed.

As the group dispersed, Ken and I walked to the edge of the cemetery close to the sea. The rain had finally ceased. We gazed at the gray sky and the gray water, empty now save for the ghosts of 69 years earlier. We have heard about the Normandy Beaches and D-Day for most of our lives. We’ve seen pictures, watched movies depicting that day. But being there and hearing the personal stories brought reality like nothing else. What struck me as we walked silently back through the cemetery was that we humans didn’t learn from the horrors of WWII. We’ve continued to send our young men and women to fight in multiple wars since.

At home, we fly our American flag with pride every June 6th to honor those who fought and those who didn’t come home. After visiting Normandy, that day will take on even greater significance. Veterans of the D-Day battle dwindle year by year. Before long, there will be none left, so it will be up to the next generation and the next to keep the memory alive. It is my great hope that this year’s 70th Anniversary will spark some interest among all ages for this commemorated day.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Think Before You Type

Do you believe this guy? He looks like he's just hanging out with nothing on his mind. You might be wrong if that is what you think. 

There's a great deal more to writing than typing the words that people will one day read. 

Story Ideas
Writers are looking for story ideas 24/7. Yes, even in their sleep because dreams can bring inspiration for a story, too. If you see a writer in the grocery store picking peaches out of a bin, he/she may be thinking about how peaches can figure into a work in progress. If you see a writer at a child's baseball game, he/she might be cheering for a certain child but rest assured he/she is also looking for a story idea. 

Character Study
At that same baseball game, the writer appears intent on the game but could also be doing some character studies of the players, coaches, parents. Perfect spot to have a wide range of types of humans. Don't forget the writer who sits in an airport waiting area and studies those who walk by. Or any public place for that matter. 

There's a good deal of thinking about a plot before any typing begins. The writer you see at a coffeehouse, staring into space, is probably making a mental outline for a new project. Or maybe just staring into space. That happens, too! 

Getting Over A Problem Area
We all run into problem areas when writing. Sometimes, it takes a great deal of thought before we can start rewriting the troublesome part. No typing while that thought process takes place

Titles take much thought. Never pick a title lightly. They are of great importance. So think about each one that you jot down in your notebook (not tying at the top of your story yet). Step back and look at each one from the perspective of the reader, not the writer. 

So, that lazy-looking dude in the photo is probably working hard. He's just not typing yet!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Write About Summer Memories

                                                                    Summer's Song

Sing to me of
marshmallow clouds
and rainbow skies,
of baseball games and
ice cream cones,
buttercups and

Tell me about
white sand beaches
and clear blue lakes,
county fairs and
lemonade stands,
lightning bugs and
                                      ---Nancy Julien Kopp

Right now, we in the northern hemisphere are switching into summer clothes, end-of-school festivities and ready to jump into those things we only dream about on cold, winter days. 

I haven't done a post on your childhood memories to be put into your Family Stories Book for quite some time. Today seemed like a good time to do that. Think back to your growing-up years. The questions below should help trigger some memories that you can write about and add to your book. Or it may trigger an idea for a poem like mine above, or a story.

  • What did your school do to mark the end of the school year?
  • Where did you swim?
  • What summer chores did you have?
  • Who did you play with on summer days?
  • Did you read books?
  • Were you into sports?
  • What kind of foods did you mother serve in summer?
  • Did you go on long hikes or bike rides?
  • Do you remember big summer thunderstorms?
  • Did family come to visit during the summer?
  • Did your family visit others in your famly?
  • Did you hve an annual family reunion?
  • What was it like in your house on very hot days?
  • How did you cool off?
  • What were your favorite summer beverages?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Summer Slowdown For Writers

I just turned my calendars to June. One from Prague shows the Old Town Square, famed for its moving characters clock. The K-State calendar pictures the K-State Gardens Old Dairy Barn amid a glorious burst of flowers. The third one has a picture of rough coastal waters, boulders and a lighthouse in Canada. Not one of them tells me what my writing priorities should be this month.

It's good to take stock of what lies ahead in your writing world on the first day of a new month. You should:
  • Check deadlines
  • Follow-up on submissions you are wondering about
  • See what contests are available to enter this month
  • Make a list of projects that need your attention
  • Number them in order of importance
  • Jot down any writing craft books you would like to read
  • If you're in a writing group, what are your commitments this month
June is one of those months when it's hard to stay inside and devote yourself to growing as a writer. Look what's calling:
  • Days of sunshine and flowers 
  • The beach 
  • Picnics 
  • Day trips with your family
  • Lazy, hazy days of summer--the song was right
  • Books to be read
  • Vacations
So what are you suppose to do? Give all that up? Not necessarily. You can:
  • Move your writing spot outside
  • It's possible to write at the beach in-between having fun there
  • Take the kids on a picnic but take your notebook with you'
  • Vacations often mean airports and what better way to use all that wait time than to write?
  • Days are longer so you can read some of those books on your list
The one thing I would warn against is to stop all writing activity in lieu of those summer activities. Stop writing and it's much harder to get going again. Slow down but do not stop! You can still have a great summer.