Search This Blog

Friday, July 29, 2016

Writers--Tell Us Your Success Story

This morning, Katie Davis, of the Institute of Children's Literature, posted this on the group facebook page :  Finish Line Friday! The writer's journey is like no other. Share one of your successes here that only fellow writers will understand.

In an instant, one of the successes I am most proud of came to mind. The picture above was taken in a fine art museum in St. Joseph, Mo. a few years ago. Jennifer Rivera, a Kansas City abstract artist put out a call for submissions of poems. She would select a certain number and then create a painting to illustrate each one. I was pleased to have my poem chosen and delighted that my husband and I were invited to the Opening Night of the exhibit. I will never forget the thrill of standing before the painting and my poem. The more I studied the painting, the more I saw the interpretation of my words. 

I'm not sure why this is one of my most treasured successes in my writing journey. Perhaps it is because this is probably the best poem I have written to date and to get further exposure for it was wonderful. Or maybe it was the thrill of watching other people at the exhibit stand before my poem and the largest painting in the exhibit. It would be akin to a novelist watching someone read his/her book. A third possibility is that the artist saw what I tried to portray in Play, Gypsy Girl, Play."  You can read more about the poem and painting in a previous blog.

I think Katie Davis hit on a great suggestion for the members of her facebook group. Note that she asked for "one" success story. Writers sometimes have many successes so it might be difficult to select the very best one. It was interesting to me that I had no problem in selecting the one I wanted to highlight. Maybe a special one will pop right up for you, too.  I'm looking forward to reading some of the other responses on the facebook page.

How about you? What success story comes to mind? Will you share it with us? Do so by making a comment at the bottom of this post. It would be interesting as well as educational for my readers and for me. We have writers of all stages who are readers here. Maybe you're a newbie and you've only had one success story so far. That's the one that is going to be like no other. If you're a seasoned writer, you'll have many success stories to choose from. Which one truly stands out and why? 

We talk quite often about rejection but here's your chance to toot your horn a bit and tell us about one of the good times in your writing journey. Perhaps you were published in a top-rated magazine. Or landed a book contract. Or were hired to write a column based on previous writing. This blog is not just for reading. I love it when readers participate, too. Share with us, please. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Summertime Memories Are Stories To Write

Minnie Minoso--White Sox Player

Do you have special memories of summertime during your growing-up and teen years? I wrote a short piece about mine last year. You can read it here. Hopefully, my memories will trigger some of your own and you can write a memoir piece to submit somewhere or add to your Family Stories book. 

Minnie Minoso and Me, Riverview Too

I recently saw a notice detailing the death of Minnie Minoso, the first black major league baseball player on the Chicago White Sox team. Reading about this Cuban player’s many accomplishments brought back a memory.

When I was growing up, my dad received baseball tickets through his job from vendors he dealt with. Our family had many a nice afternoon watching either the Chicago Cubs or White Sox from box seats near home plate.

One sunny afternoon in the early 1950’s, when I was about 13 years old, we watched the Sox. My cousin, Carole, and I sat in the front row of the box with one of my brothers. Mom, Dad and another brother were behind us. The fans were cheering the home team, men were hawking their wares through the stands. The sun was shining and the sky was blue, not always the case in Chicago.
Carole and I had our sunglasses on, feeling like movie stars of that era.  At our age, we were more interested in people like Betty Grable, Esther Williams and Alan Ladd than baseball players. Even so, we were having fun.

Minnie Minoso came up to bat. He had a bad habit of letting the bat fly after he’d hit the ball. As he ran to first base that day, his bat flew into the air and shot like a missile straight toward me. My dad saw it coming and literally jumped over the seat I was in. The bat hit him on the arm and bounced off to the floor of our box, saving me from a possible head injury.

Ushers came running down the steps to see if anyone was hurt. I was scared but more of the fact that my father had suddenly jumped over me than the bat sailing toward me. Carole and I were probably looking elsewhere and talking so I never saw the bat coming.
An usher questioned us at length, asked for name and address and left once he was assured all was well. Dad’s arm may have been a bit sore but he never complained.

A few days later, we received a letter in the mail signed by Minnie Minoso. He apologized for throwing his bat and the near accident. He ended with saying he was grateful no one had been seriously injured.

The incident became a family story told many times. My mother was not a saver so the letter got tossed out after a reasonable amount of time. How I wish I had that letter signed by one of the most famous baseball players now, some 65 years later.

Summer wasn’t summer without at least one trip to a vast Chicago amusement park called Riverview, which was home to some of the best roller coasters ever. My dad told us that an uncle of his was a ride inspector and often had free tickets for Dad and his friends in the 1920’s. Riverview existed from 1904 to 1967.

Dad paid for our family at the entry gate. My cousin, Carole, often came with us. We rushed inside to go to Aladdin’s Fun House where we looked in mirrors that made us look funny, walked across rolling floors, rode down a moving slide,  navigated a turning barrel, walked in dark halls waiting to be terrified when a corner lit up with a scary scene and lots of noise and more. We rode the famous Bobs roller coaster, the Chute the Chutes boat ride—a thrill as a boat filled with people was hoisted high to the top of a long chute. Down we went into the water, screaming and laughing all the way. Carole and I loved the Parachute ride and the Ferris wheel and, of course, the Tilt-a-Whirl. I think we slept all the way home in the back seat of the car, exhausted from all we’d done.

My last visit to Riverview was with a date the summer after 8th grade graduation. Mike had been my grade school boyfriend since kindergarten. We walked through the gate, holding hands, and headed straight for Aladdin’s Castle. Mike treated me like a queen that day, keeping his arm around me on the rides and I loved that. It stopped when we climbed into a car for two on The Bobs, the scariest, fastest roller coaster at that time. The attendant clamped the safety bar in place and I waited for Mike to put his arm around me. Imagine my surprise, when he grabbed the bar in front of us with a death grip and said, “You’re on your own on this one!” We both screamed all the way through the ride and wobbled when we got off.

I learned that day that perhaps Mike was not husband material. He’d take care of me til the going got tough, and then he’d tell me I was on my own. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Thoughts On Being Rejected

When you receive rejection after rejection, it's pretty hard to think positive like today's poster recommends. With each new disappointing return, we sink a little lower into the muddy puddles of rejectionville. We feel so alone, so abandoned by the world, like no one else has ever been where we are.

But consider the rejections given people other than writers. Look at this list and you might not feel so alone:

  • artists
  • sculptors
  • playwrights
  • architects
  • musicians
  • athletes
  • politicians
  • inventors
  • dancers
  • actors/actresses
  • salespeople
  • job seekers
I'm sure there are others that might be added to the above. Note how many are in the creative arts world. One thing we must keep in mind is that we chose to pursue this field of writing because of several factors--passion for writing, a talent we feel we have, a way to make some money, searching for success. We didn't choose to be writers so that we could be rejected over and over. That little addenda just happens to come with the territory. Nevertheless, we did choose to write.

There is probably no job that is totally free of negatives of some kind. Set your mind to the fact that rejection is a part of a writer's life and you're going to have to deal with it. Plan on how you're going to do so. Make positive thoughts and positive action a part of your plan. 

Note the heart balloon at the bottom of the poster above. Remind yourself that, despite many rejections, there's love from your readers many times, too. Also, know that others do care. Whether you keep those rejections to yourself or tell, even rant and rave, friends and family is another choice. Maybe if you share your disappointment, you'll receive some welcome sympathy. Only another writer can actually empathize; they are the ones who have a better understanding. 

We know that we aren't going to get an acceptance on every submission. We know that and, even so, we experience disappointment each time a sub comes sailing back with a No answer. Just don't let it fester and become a wound that will never heal. Check today's poster often for a good reminder of which is the better direction in your writing life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Truth Tuesday--5 Truths For Writers

Yep! It's Tuesday. Let's call it Truth Tuesday this week. It's time for us all to be true to ourselves as we pursue our writing journey. Do any of the following Truths fit you? Are there others that might be added to this list?

Truth #1:

Do you ever try to fool yourself into thinking you're a good enough writer without continuing to learn more about this business? When I started teaching, I was surprised when I had to attend in-service meetings on a regular basis to continue learning more about my chosen profession. A new college graduate often steps into the first job thinking they are well-trained after 4 years of college. I figured out pretty quickly that those college years gave me a base to build on, no more. It's no different with writers. Learn a little as a base and then keep adding knowledge as you move along. Are you ever finished? I don't think so. We can always learn something new.

Truth #2:

Do you have lots of valid excuses for not submitting your work for publication? Or are you not submitting because you're afraid of rejection? Afraid you might find out you aren't good enough to be a published writer? Or because you know you can do better if you put more effort into your writing? We often make up reasons to avoid doing something--like submitting--because it's easier than admitting to the truth.

Truth #3:

When you get a negative critique of your work, do you become defensive and ignore the suggestions given by the person who did the critique? If you want to succeed in your chosen field of writing, you will need to be open to suggestions from other writers. You don't have to agree with everything they tell you but give real consideration to what they point out. Especially if several people find the same trouble spot. Then you know you must work on that area.

Truth #4:

When there is a deadline to meet, do you procrastinate and then have to do a rush job? If you own up to this one, you are your own worst enemy. In many of my posts here, I urge writing more than one draft and I suggest that you let that first draft simmer a few days before you revise and edit to create another draft. Maybe even a third one. Guess what? That takes time, and if you wait too long, you write in a hurry and it's not going to be your best effort. As a beginning writer, I was always excited when I finished a story and wanted to send it out immediately. I hadn't learned the benefit of taking time and writing more than one draft. When I did, it proved to be beneficial.

Truth #5:

Do you avoid writing groups because they take up too much time? Or do you turn away from them for fear of being judged harshly? Or do you fear that your work might not measure up to others in the group? Maybe several in the group feel the same way you do. What everyone needs to do is to remember that the group purpose is to help one another. It's to continue learning this craft. No one likes to be judged unfairly but when it's done with the spirit of helping you become a better writer, how can you fault it? Take a deep breath and join a writing group. Someday, you'll be glad that you did.

I don't like to say that we lie to ourself but we do tend to avoid the truth sometimes. Be honest in evaluating your working habits. Make a list of places in your writing life where you could use some improvement. Keep it somewhere that is visible so it serves as a regular reminder. It may be more comfortable to avoid the truth in your wriitng life but if you face it head-on, you'll reap the benefits as time goes on.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Critiquing Other Writers Using a Keyword

How many times have we all thought that we'd never, ever say some of the things our mothers said? Next thing you know, you are the parent and those same words slide over your tongue and out your mouth to someone else. When that happens, I sometimes want to bite my tongue. Other times, I suddenly know why my mom said this or that.

One of the standard comments my mother made started this way:  Just a bit of constructive criticism. And then she'd be off and running letting me know what I'd done wrong and how I might correct it.

I remind myself of her good method of correcting me. She let me know that what she was going to say was to help me do something better than I'd done. The keyword, of course, is constructive. Criticism can be rather harsh if we're not careful. Adding that keyword softens the blow a bit and it also teaches us a little something, as well.

All this leads me to discussing critiquing a fellow writer's work. If you've belonged to a writer's group of any kind--face to face, online or email message--you've most likely given critiques to other writers and received some yourself.

When you critique another writer's work:
  • do so only when asked
  • give your overall impression first, then do a line by line within the text
  • start with the positives
  • end with something positive, too
  • remember you are critiquing the writing, not the writer
  • be honest and fair but do so with kindness
  • when you do a line by line critique, mark the things you like as well as those that need work
  • point out areas of repetition
  • do not attempt to do a total rewrite for the writer
  • include punctuation and grammar corrections where needed
  • in your opening remarks, let the writer know if whole areas might be cut or expanded upon
  • remind the writer that your critique is one person's opinion
When you receive a critique:
  • remember to thank the person who did this favor for you (even if you don't like what was said)
  • adopt the attitude that the critique is meant to help you grow as a writer
  • adopt the attitude that the critique is meant to help you polish your piece before submitting
  • if you don't like what you received, set it aside for a few days, then read it again
  • remind yourself that any criticism is meant to be constructive, not destroy you
  • resolve to revise and edit using the suggestions the critiquer gave
  • be aware that, if you disagree with part of the critique, you are in charge and do not need to change it
Beginning writers tend to look for those 'atta girl' critiques when they first get brave enough to submit their writing to the eyes of another writer. That's natural. We all like praise but if we've agreed to have our work critiqued, we need to be able to take the bad along with the good. Darned few of us, whether beginners or seasoned writers, write a perfect piece even though we've done more than one draft. Other eyes see what our own often miss. That is exactly the reason we need to have someone else look at our work. That goes for poetry as well as prose. 

Long before I became a writer, my mom taught me the benefit of constructive criticism. There were times I resented those lessons just like you might resent parts of the critiques you'll receive. Even so, I knew in my heart that my mom was trying to help me learn something and doing it in a kind way. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Character Development Exercise For Writers

 Characterization is a big part of writing fiction, be it a novel or a short story, or even fiction for children. When you begin, you have the main characters in mind but what do you really know about each one? If you're lucky, you'll have this character really defined in your mind and will be able to transfer him/her in print so that your reader can see and know exactly what you see and know.

For most of us, however, we don't have our characters completely defined. The Character Brainstorming chart above would be a good aid in doing so. I'll list the categories below:

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Hometown
  • Age
  • Looks
  • Family
  • Favorite Food
  • Biggest Fear
  • Favorite Activity
  • Least Favorite Activity
  • Best Friend
  • Anything Else
You can jot down words or phrases next to each category, or you can write an entire paragraph or more. Let your imagination take you as far as possible.By the time you get through the entire list, you should have a pretty good idea of who this person is and  how he/she thinks or what motivates him/her.

Do this for each of the main characters in your story. When you know the characters well, you should be able to write your story easily. In fact, the characters may take hold of the story and let you know exactly how to write it. Don't laugh. It can happen that way. 

The longer your story is, or if a novel, the greater character development you'll do. In a middle grade short story, the word count maximum is often so short that the writer doesn't have time to fully develop a character, but write a book for kids of that age, and you can make your characters come alive just as an adult novelist does.

I can hear some of you saying that doing this Character Brainstorming exercise will take up too much time. You'd rather write the story and develop the character as you go. If that works for you, fine. But do give this exercise a try at least for one story or book and see if you think it worth the time and effort. 

I think that you might even use this exercise when writing a memoir piece. Sure, you already know the characters but your reader does not. Much of what you know about each character in a memoir is already-learned knowledge and you might not convey the full character to the reader. 

I would like to credit whoever designed the Character Brainstorming Chart but I found it one day without any name or other identification. I think the person who designed the exercise would be pleased that it is being used. At least, I hope so!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Movie Memories

One of my favorite theaters

I watched a clip of an old movie with Jimmy Cagney and Bob Hope dancing. What memories it brought back. You can all most likely write about your 'movie memories' which would be a great piece to include in your Family Stories book. 

What kind of theater did you go to? What kind of movies did you like? How did they influence you? Was it a family thing or only for the kids? Did you save your nickels and dimes to spend at the movie theater? Who were your favorite stars? Your favorite kind of movie? Did you go back to see any movies twice. 

Living in suburban Chicago, I had a choice of several theaters but two we could walk to were the ones my girlfriends and I frequented most often. What we loved to do on a Saturday morning was ride the 'el' train downtown so we could attend the morning showing at the Chicago Theater. They had a first run movie and a stage show after the movie with top name celebrities. What a thrill it was for teen-aged girls. We moved on from there the short walk to Marshall Field's for shopping and lunch. 

Here's a short essay I wrote about my family and movies. Maybe it will trigger some memories for you. Don't forget that movies had writers and many movies were adapted from books. 

Movies and Me
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 I grew up in pre-television days. Books and movies were our entertainment in the thirties and forties. Oddly enough, books cost more than movies at the time, so my parents chose movies over reading. They took me with them as it was cheaper than paying a babysitter. We lived in a Chicago suburb and had a choice of several theaters in the surrounding area. Later, when my brothers came along, we took turns going to the movies on Sunday afternoon. Mom and I would go while Dad stayed home with the boys, then he and the oldest boy would zip off to the next showing as soon as Mom and I
returned home. We went in stages until all of us were old enough to sit still and watch the screen together. Back home, we discussed the movies we’d seen.
 Movies were shorter in length, but the theaters generally showed two feature films, a cartoon, a newsreel, and previews of coming attractions. We didn’t have the 24/7 new coverage in those days, so the newsreels played to a very attentive audience, particularly during the WWII years. People wanted to see what the newspaper stories had told of the atrocities of war. The cartoons were not Bart Simpson look-alikes. Instead, we watched Donald Duck and Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweety, Heckle and Jeckle, the best known crows of the day. The theaters changed programs two or three times a week, and the star-studded previews assured repeat customers.
I remember a period in the forties when polio loomed as a dreaded and rampant disease. Theaters showed a short documentary about the rehabilitative work of Sister Kenny, an Australian nurse. Scenes of polio victims in iron lungs and clutching crutches to walk touched the hearts of all. The lights came on and collection cans were passed down the rows, coins clinking as they moved to the final row. Each coin brought a vaccine one step closer. That miracle vaccine was finally discovered in the mid-fifties by Jonas Salk.
My parents loved westerns, my dad especially. John Wayne rated number one at our house, along with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and Gary Cooper. When the fifties rolled around, people like Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford starred in westerns. And who can forget Alan Ladd as Shane? I remember my mother coming home disgusted after seeing Jeff Chandler play the part of Geronimo, the infamous
renegade Indian. “Geronimo didn’t have blue eyes like Jeff Chandler,” Mom said. She wanted reality in her movies.

I liked the movies of those earlier years far better than today. They were meant to entertain us, to take us away from our everyday existence for a little while. We rode along with John Wayne, sand and danced with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and we sighed with longing as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford offered melodrama. We attempted to help Charlie Chan solve a crime. Movies now try to frighten, to delve into the depths of psychology, mystify, or to rack up as many foul words as possible in one film along with baring every inch of he human anatomy. I’ll take a Betty Grable musical any day. Corny as they might have been, they were true entertainment.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Computer Woes For This Writer

Today's post is about a writing tool, not writing itself. The poster above pretty well fits my outlook for today. I have a sad tale to tell.

We bought a new printer last week and I had delayed getting it set up until the weekend. When I started to work on the installation, I found I needed to download some new drivers first. I fiddled and faddled with this and that and got it accomplished.

Then, I attempted the installation on Monday. I ran into a brick wall on multiple tries. Everything was good to a certain point and then an error box came up saying the file 'such and such' could not be copied. Another box popped up saying I needed permission from the owner/administrator. Well, that's me. Didn't tell me where to go to give my OK. No clue. Repeated attempts came up with the same thing.

Last night, I called HP support to ask for help. A very patient tech worked on the problem for 2 hours and 15 minutes. He ran into the same brick wall that I had. Repeatedly! Despite his doing many things in many places. Finally, he wanted to do a 4 hour scan overnight and get back to me in the morning. I agreed. But the scan would not work either. So, he suggested I call Dell support and he would also do some more research and call me this afternoon.

With all the things he tried, he restarted the computer several times. Once, he went back to the original Welcome screen. Nothing helped. After the long phone call, my head was pounding and I headed to bed. Not to sleep because I was worried about what was happening to my computer and not being able to install the printer. Slept off and on all night.

It turned out I had good reason to worry. This morning, I discovered that my email files, address book, documents and pictures have all been wiped out! I did manage to find the pictures file but haven't tried anything else with the rest. I have a back-up external hard drive but I'm not sure what all is on it.

I brought up the email window and was asked to sign in. I put in the user name and password and it would not accept it. Suggested making a new Microsoft account. I tried that and was told the app would not open. More brick walls!

It's obvious that I am not a tech guru. I can probably do more on a computer than most people my age but I reach a certain point and I'm finished.

The computer is my writing tool and I need it and all my files to function as a writer. I'm at a loss as which direction to go--Dell support or HP support. It's time to bow my head, say a prayer and weather the storm just like that little bird in the poster.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

One Important Step In Proofreading Your Work

Writers know that proofreading is ranked high on the Must-Do-Before-Submitting List. After you've written two or three drafts, it's necessary to go back over the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. You
want to get rid of those pitiful little errors that, if left in, will make your writing look amateurish. 

There is more than one school of thought on the basics of proofreading. Some feel you should not search for those grammatical and punctuation errors until you have done revisions on the piece a number of times. Others heed the advice to fix the little stuff as you do your revisions on each succeeding draft. That's the way I approach editing and then proofreading. What's right for me may not work for you. I am always a proponent of doing what works best for you. But proofreading is important either way.

What I'd like to promote today is one step in proofreading that many, maybe most, writers omit. It might be the most important and one you do not want to skip. Read it aloud. Reading your work aloud is more beneficial than most people think. 

You can read the piece silently ten times and come to the conclusion that it's now just the way you want it. Ready for submission. Take that last step and read your work aloud from beginning to end. Don't zip through it. Take your time. You will hear problem areas that never showed up when you read the piece silently. You'll find sentences that are too long, places where commas might be needed, repetition of words and even unnecessary words. 

A word of warning:  Choose the place where you read your work aloud carefully. Sitting on a subway train on your way to work wouldn't be the best place. Nor would you want to read your work aloud while watching your child's baseball game. Forget doing it with a flashlight while in a theater. Find a place where you can be alone and (hopefully) uninterrupted. 

It's especially helpful to read your poems aloud. Trouble spots pop up when you hear the words rather than just see them

Try reading titles you have selected aloud. Occasionally, a story almost writes its own title but more often, we make a list of possible titles and then eliminate them until we settle on the right one. Hearing them could help you decide which works best. 

Work on creating a habit of reading your work aloud.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Deadlines and Achievement

Boy tying his shoes Stock Photo

This is one of my most popular posts. I hope you'll find it helpful to you. A big thank you to two new Followers who signed on last week. Welcome! 

Years ago, I told my five-year-old son he could not go to kindergarten until he learned to tie his shoes. "The teacher is too busy to do it for every boy and girl," I added for emphasis. For weeks, he struggled, gave up, and tried again and again. The day before school started, he achieved his goal. What happiness radiated from that little face when he demonstrated his new ability to me.

This little episode illustrates two universal truths. We push ourselves harder when there is a deadline and achievement is all the sweeter when we can share our success with others.

In our writers world, don't we tend to work better when there is a specified deadline? Of course we do. We think and think about writing a story or article but life tends to get in our way. We make vague promises to ourselves thinking things like Tomorrow, I'll get to it. Tomorrow arrives, the phone rings and we're off to another meeting, pick up a sick child (or grandchild) at school or.... But if a story must be sent to an editor by Thursday, we'll create time and get the job done.

That deadline looms over us, so we move it to the top of our To-Do list. The machine can answer the phone. Pizza places deliver night and day, so the family will be fed. Few of us like to dust or vacuum anyway, so that's not a problem. The library committee meeting can go on without us this time and a niece will appreciate a check for her birthday as much as a gift. We need to block out everything but the writing project. We don't want to face failure or the humiliation of telling the editor the piece is not ready.

Achievement is accomplished by setting priorities and being firm in keeping them. Get your ducks in a row might be a good illustration. If we're wishy-washy, our goals float farther and farther away.

When we receive good news from an editor, we've achieved a goal. We'd love to share the good news with someone--usually someone who means something to us. Like my son, we radiate joy when sharing news of an acceptance from a publisher. Satisfaction settles over us like a warm comforter. That, however, is not the end. Success only inspires us to continue writing and submitting. If you receive eleven rejections and one acceptance, which one do you think you'll remember longest?

That small son of mine is now a successful businessman. He learned all about deadlines and achievement before he went to kindergarten Here's hoping you did, too. If not, it's never too late to learn.

Friday, July 15, 2016

My Second Home--The Library

I go to my local library fairly often. When I see young mothers with small children there, it pleases me. I know those children will benefit greatly from having a mother who guides them through the library, teaches them how to use it and shows them the great treasures that line the shelves.

I had such a mother and I am eternally grateful. I remember the day she took me to get my own library card so clearly. I have written a personal essay about that day, the librarian I met and how libraries have affected my life.  I've probably posted it here some other time but here it is once more. I can never emphasize the importance of introducing your children to reading, books and libraries. Laura Bush gave us reason to do so in the quote above. I would also add ...the doors of pleasure.

My Second Home
by Nancy Julien Kopp

In addition to my regular residence, I have a second home. My mother
introduced this special dwelling to me when I was only six years old.  She held my hand, and we walked several blocks in warm autumn sunshine, stopping only when we approached a square brick building. Graced by trees and shrubs and a patio-like courtyard, it had a certain elegance and air of importance that I recognized, even at so young an age.

We entered the building and stepped into a cool, quiet atmosphere. The first thing to meet the eye was a large, wrap-around desk that extended across the entryway. A stout woman stood behind the desk, gray hair severely drawn back and caught in a small bun. No make-up adorned her face, and there wasn't a smile there either. I moved instinctively closer to my mother, my hand nestled in hers, until I looked up into the woman's eyes. What I saw made me smile at her. Blue eyes, the shade of cornflowers, sparkled with a smile of their own, softening her otherwise stern appearance. Soon, the smile in her eyes spread to her wide mouth.
"We've come to get a library card," my mother announced. The woman had the application card ready in a flash and passed it over to me to sign my name. I proudly printed it for her and slid the card back across the desk. Not only could I sign my name, I could read, as well. Dick and Jane and their dog, Spot had shown me the way.

"All right, Nancy," she said as she read from the form, "come with me."

She came around the desk and offered her hand, saying, “I am Miss Maze.” I grasped the hand this corseted woman in the black dress offered. My expectations were great, and I was not to be disappointed, for this kind woman led me to the Children's Department and patiently showed me all the books that stood on shelves like soldiers at attention. She spoke with wonder and awe as she explained the kinds of books that rested before us, making me eager to read every one.

It was a land of enchantment, a ticket to exotic places.  My mother and Miss Maze introduced me that day to the fascinating world of books and libraries, and thus began a love affair that continues to this day. I became a voracious reader and still am.

I was the child whose nose was always in a book. When old enough, I walked to the library alone at least weekly, sometimes more than that. I strolled past the conservatory that was home to a tropical rainforest, then on by a city park, across the railroad tracks and down a cinder path that ran behind the train platform. By the time I reached that cinder path, my pace increased, even though I carried a stack of books. I was in a hurry to reach the riches awaiting me at the library.

The grade school I attended had a separate library, which we could use when we reached fourth grade. I visited it regularly but also continued going to the public library. I felt at home in both places and felt much the same when I moved on to the high school library, then one on my college campus.  The libraries provided necessary information for all the papers I wrote during those years, as well as hours and hours of entertainment, as I read book upon book. The building I had frequented near my home during my growing up years was renamed when my old friend, the librarian, died.  The South Branch became the Adele Maze Branch Library, and every time I saw the plaque bearing her name, I thought of those cornflower blue, smiling eyes, and her kindness to me and other children through the years.  How I wish I could thank her for what she gave to so many.

During the years since I left my home community, I have made a habit of making a visit to the library one of the top priorities whenever moving to a new place. Within the first week, I have fled the packing boxes and sought out what has become a second home to me. Over 50 years of marriage, we have lived in five different towns, and, in all of them, the library has been a sanctuary and a haven.

Now, when I open the big glass door to my local library and walk through the atrium to the book-lined shelves, I feel just like I did when Miss Maze took my hand and led me to the children's books. I am happy and contented, as though loving arms have surrounded me with a great big hug. Best of all, I still feel an exciting anticipation of the unknown treasure waiting for me amongst the volumes that line the shelves in my second home.
I am so grateful that I had a mother who led me to one of the greatest treasures in my life, the public library.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Questions Writers Get Asked

Friends and family often do not understand why you persist on your writing journey when you haven't become a raging success in the writing world.

They ask questions like Sold your book yet? How many articles have you had published this year? Don't you get tired of rejections? What makes you keep on writing? Let's look at each one.

1.  Sold your book yet? Non-writers haven't a clue as to what is involved in 'selling' a book. They would be amazed at the amount of time, effort and love that has gone into that novel you wrote. They don't know the statistics on the small percentage of novels written that actually end up published. They don't know the heartbreak each time you have a door slammed in your face.

2.  How many articles have you had published this year? I know you'd like to tell them it's none of their darned business and stalk away. Bite your tongue and then answer that you don't always keep track of the numbers, or if you know and are alright with telling, do so. It's going to be a very different number if you are a professional freelance writer as opposed to a hobbyist writer.

3.  Don't you get tired of rejections? You can most likely answere truthfully that you do get tired of rejections but that every acceptance wipes away the downside of a rejection. You can spout statistics to them about the number of acceptances and rejections according to numbers submitted but they will most likely just nod their head in agreement and then ask the same question a few weeks later.

4.  What makes you keep on writing? Here is where you can orate to your heart's content. You can tell family and friends about the passion you have for the written word, about the need to get your feelilngs written somewhere, about the desire to bring something to others. But guess what? They still won't understand. You have to walk the journey to understand it.

So, when those questions that grate get tossed at you, do your best to answer and know that the person asking will never completely understand your position. As long as you still have the desire to be a writer, keep on with your journey. You're doing this for yourself not for all those friends and family.

If you suddenly turn out to be the next bestseller author, those same people will most likely say I knew this would happen. I had faith in you all these years. You can just smile and say thank you and continue on that long journey that brought you success. I wish this for all of you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ideas Come To Us At The Strangest Times

Passenger Train 

Ideas come to us at the strangest times. Yesterday, I was at a meeting of a group I belong to at our old renovated train station. A woman who is curator of our local history museum spoke about the history of the station and trains in our community. She had some interesting photos and her talk was interesting and informative. 

After she finished, she asked us to share stories about trains in our lives. I found myself spiraling back in time to my growing up years when trains were our main form of transportation, other than our family car. I told the group about a memorable train trip I took at age 5 with my mother, grandmother and little brother. We traveled from Chicago to Phoenix on a troop train in 1944. The four of us shared a small compartment but during the daytime, I was allowed free rein in our car. Up and down the aisle I went talking to the soldiers who gifted me with more gum and candy than any little girl might want. There was much more that I remember about that trip which would have taken too much time to tell them.

But as I thought about that trip, other train excursions came to mind. My parents sent my brother and me to Minnesota alone by train when I was about 8 and Howard was 4. We had to change trains two times before reaching our destination so my dad gave a porter $5 to see that we got on the next train alright. I remember the porter so well. His name was Lemuel. "That's from the bible," he told us. He spent a lot of time with us and he made sure we got on the right train when it was time to connect. He must have handed the responsibility on to the next porter, as he also made sure we got on the correct train for the third leg of our journey to visit our great-aunt and great-uncle on a farm in southwestern Minnesota. 

It dawned on me that I could write a memoir piece about the role trains played in my life. I thought of two or three other trips by rail that could be incorporated into the story. My mind has been active last night and this morning thinking about how I'd write the piece and what to include. I definitely plan to act on my idea. It would be something that could be published but also a good addition to my Family Stories book. 

Ideas come to us at the strangest times. Yes, I know I said that at the beginning but it's what today's post is all about so it bears repeating. It's most likely happened to you when you least expected it. The important thing is to continue thinking about the idea and then act on it. Get a first draft written. Wait a few days and then revise and edit. By then, you may have come up with more to add or decided to eliminate some nonrelevant part. 

Ideas come to us at the strangest times. Has an idea for a story come to you when you had insomnia? There you are, tossing and turning, can't turn your mind off and sudenly--an idea for a poem or a story comes rolling through your mind. Will it be there in the morning? Maybe not so it's best to jot down the main idea right away. That's reason enough to keep a notepad and pen on your bedside table. 

Ideas come to us at the strangest times.  You could be walking through a mall and the smell of chocolates waft out the door of a little candy shop as you pass by. It could be enough to trigger your great love of chocolates and the lengths you went to as a child to get them. Perfect addition for your Family Stories book. This is when you want to have a small notebook in your purse or pocket so you can jot down enough to get you started when you have access to your computer. 

Ideas come to us at the strangest times. You might be hiking in the mountains or swimming at a beach when an idea for a story about same comes to mind. You're not able to get started on the story at that point. Keep on with your walk or your swim but let your mind mull over the possibilities for writing a memoir piece or a family story or personal essay. When you get to a place where you can jot down the main points, do so, then keep on enjoying your vacation time. Start writing when you get home.

Don't let that momentary inspiration pass on by. It's up to you to act on the idea once it enters your mind, no matter where or when or how. Be ready because ideas come to us at the strangest times.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

When You Write Something Really Good

If you've ever had the experience our friend, Snoopy, is talking about, you're a fortunate writer. We write and we write and we write over the years. Sometimes we're satisfied with the result but other times we squirm a bit because we know what came forth was not the best. 

I've looked at old pieces I've written when trying to decide what to submit for a contest and discarded quite a few. Why? Because I know it is not my best writing, it is not high quality that will outshine other entries. Maybe my effort was lackadaisical. So, why pay a submission fee and send it? Instead, I set it aside with the thought of revising it someday. That someday often takes a long time, however.

The ones that excite me--those I consider good writing--are usually submitted for publication soon after they are complete, meaning that they have simmered awhile and have gone through revision and editing. They're the ones I'm eager to send out because, in my heart, I know they have a good chance of being published. 

As for the contest entries, I don't send only old pieces in my files. I often write something new with the theme and/or guidelines of the contest in mind. Just recently, I found a new anthology I wanted to submit to. I read the guidelines and gave it some thought for a few days. I decided to write about a difficult time in my life. I wrote the personal essay over several days and ended up with a nearly 2000 word story. I felt good about the way it had turned out. I was excited that maybe this story might help someone else in a similar situation. I went back to the call for submissions page and reread the guidelines. Guess what? My story did not fit. I had strayed too far from what the editor was seeking. Even so, I have a new story written, revised and edited that I can submit somewhere else. So, all was not lost.

When I read those guidelines originally, I apparently skipped right through a crucial element. It's why I always suggest here on the blog that you not only read the guidelines carefully. Study them! That's what I tell others to do. Time I took my own advice, isn't it? 

I once wrote a fiction short story for a contest trying to write to their theme. I wrote to the theme alright but the story was pretty darned awful. I was racing to make a deadline and this was the only idea that had come to me. Another time I had not taken my own advice. Don't wait until it is close to the deadline to begin. 

You have definitely derived from the above that I am a human being, not a robot trying to give you tips on writing and encouraging you in your writing life. I'm not perfect and I doubt that any of you are either. We hit bumps in our writing journey and sometimes we even fall flat on our face. What's a writer to do? Stand up, dust yourself off and keep moving. Whatever you've done wrong can be corrected or something new started around the next curve in your journey. 

But do get excited when you've written something you know is good. Don't put it away and do nothing with it. Send it out into the vast writing world until it lands somewhere for publication. Take some time to evaluate that good piece of writing. Determine why you felt it was good. What did you do to make it shine? 

When you know you've written something really good, pat yourself on the back. It doesn't happen day after day. Revel in the times that it does!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Call For Submissions at Chicken Soup for the Soul

Cover of future book--stories needed

There are a number of deadline dates for stories to be submitted for Chicken Soup for the Soul books. July 31st seems to be the magic number for there are 5 of the anthologies that have this date for final submissions.

One more is August 1st, another on September 30th, and two on October 31st. You have some time for those September and October dates but the July 31st and August 1st are mere weeks away.

Here's a list of the books and deadline dates;

  • Blended Families  July 31
  • College Student Stories  July 31 (stories written by college students only)
  • Curvy and Condfident  July 31
  • Parent To Parent  July 31
  • Stories About Teachers and Teaching  July 31
  • Dreams and Synchronicities  August 1 (date was extended for this one)
  • The Spirit of Canada  August 31
  • Best Moms Ever!  September 30
  • Stories About Cats  October 31
  • Stories About Dogs  October 31
If you want to learn what the editors are seeking, go to this page at the Chicken Soup website. You'll find a detailed list for each book. You may even find some inspiration by reading their lists. 

Write something new or rewrite an old story that has never been published before. Start now, especially for those end of July and beginning of August dates.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Writers--Do It Now!

Procrastination is so easy when we have a project in mind but are not sure where to begin. That writing course we wanted to take still waits for us to register and get started. We have finished essays and stories which we want to submit for publication but they remain in our files.

We wait all too often and, when we do, nothing much happens. The project is still only a thought. The writing course is not doing us any good if we aren't participation. The stories will never be published if we don't take that first step of submitting.

Why do we wait? Why do we put off things we really would like to accomplish? Why oh why?

One reason is fear of failure. It is pretty easy to figure out that, if we don't do something, we aren't going to fail. If you try something and it doesn't work, what is the worst that will happen? Nothing earth-shaking. And, as the poster says, you will get older. Nothing else.

Another reason is what we talked about yesterday--self-doubt. Read yesterday's post for more on that.

I hate to even list this third reason but it's necessary. Sometimes we wait too long because we are lazy. Pursuing any of the things mentioned in the first paragraph here means work on your part. Maybe there are times when you just do not want to work at it. That's fine but it won't get you published or make you grow as a writer.

If you're guilty of any of the above, start out correcting it by setting small goals. Note that I said small. Accomplish one and move on to the next. Don't take on a huge project or you'll be so overwhelmed you'll give up quickly. Work on believing that you can do these projects or can market your work.

Waiting in one spot gets you nowhere in a hurry. Don't let that happen to you.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Believe In Yourself

If you want to be a published writer, this is step one. If you don't believe in yourself, why should anyone else? 

I had an experience maybe 25 years ago that has stayed with me. My husband was part of a group from the bank where he worked that was entertaining customers by going to dinner and a play. We were relatively new to the community and I had not met the other bank officers' wives. For some reason, we were one of the last to arrive at the bus. Ken parked the car and we headed to the waiting bus. I was introduced to a couple of the wives and one of them said, "I watched you walk over here and thought what a self-confident person. She knows who she is and where she's going." 

To be honest, her comment startled me and I asked how she determined that. "Easy," she answered. "It was the way you walked, the way you are dressed. Everything about you is positive." 

Her comments made me conscious of the way others dressed, walked etc. And I found that I could single out those who were self-confident, the ones who believed in themselves. 

If you believe in yourself as a writer, you will hold your head high. You will pounce on an idea and start writing. You will not be afraid to submit your work. You will choose markets to submit to that pay better than some. You will push fear aside and be eager to start a major writing project. You will move along your writing journey faster and with fewer bumps than a writer who is filled with self-doubts. 

How many times have you read about an avid reader of romance novels who finishes one and says to herself I could write a book like this. Some of them do exactly that. You can bet that these women are the ones who believe in themselves.  And some of them may believe but find that writing a novel is darned hard work and never finish. 

It's the athlete who believes in himself/herself who forges ahead and sets records. It's the musician who believes in himself/herself who becomes the soloist or first chair in a symphony orchestra. It's the actor who believes in himself who surges ahead of others waiting for parts. 

If you have a problem with believing in yourself, there are things you can do to achieve that status. Like the little engine that could, keep telling yourself that you can do it. Remember his famous line? I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. Stand in front of a mirror and say it multiple times. Hold your head high and shoulders back and keep going. Fix your mind on any one success you've had. If you've done it once, you can do it again. It isn't going to change overnight. Time will be a factor. Don't give up. Keep working on building your self-confidence and believing in yourself. You can do it!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Too ManyPassive Verbs Make For Boring Reading


When I critique someone's work, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the number of passive verbs used. We warn about not repeating words too close together, but somehow we ignore the large number of words like was, were, is are sprinkled like daisies in a field throughout our story or essay. It's terribly easy to fall into this habit. And it can beceome a habit. 

It also becomes the lazy way of writing. And it creates boredom in your story or essay. Using passive verbs tells me that something is being done to the subject and that gets tiresome. I would much prefer reading about the subject doing something. 

After you write your first draft, go back and highlight all the passive verbs. You might be shocked at the vast number of yellow splotches throughout your document. One by one, check to see if you can make each of those passives into active verbs. 

You cannot just substitute a word and call it done. You may have to reverse the order of your sentence to make the active verb fit into the sentence. That's alright. It's probably going to make it read better anyway. 

You've also read time and again that you should limit the use of adverbs. Using the passive is or was calls for more adverbs. She is what?  He was what? Another reason to limit those passive verbs.

Am I saying to never, ever use a passive verb? No. You will use them occasionally but don't make a habit of doing so. 

There are programs to help you count the number of times a specific word is used. I'm not going to recommend one over the other, so use a search engine to find them and then decide which one works best for you. 

Be conscious of eliminating passive verbs. The more you use active verbs, the easier they will come to you. Using the active verbs becomes a habit just as using those passive ones were habitual, too. 

It's a small thing but it can make a difference in the way your prose reads. Something to work on every time you write a new piece.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Book For Some, Not For Others

I had a quiet 4th of July weekend so plenty of time to read. I started a book that my Book Club is reading for this month. It had me hooked very quickly and I finished it in record time. Me Before You was written by English author, JoJo Moyes.

The book is a love story that deals with being gravely handicapped, assisted suicide, rich vs poor, sibling relationships and more. I looked at reviews of the book and it appears that you either love the book or think it's 'cheesy and corny' as one reviewer stated. 

Louisa Clark comes from a working class family in an English village. She loses her job and knows her dad may lose his any time so she is desperate for work. The only job she can find is as caregiver to a quadriplegic man whose mother hires her on a 6 month contract. Will Traynor has a man who is his medical and physical help caregiver. Lou is there to help him get something worthwhile out of his limited life. 

Lou learns that her 6 month contract is tied to one Will has made with his parents. He has asked them to take him to Switzerland for an assisted suicide at the end of the time frame. Lou sets out to bring meaning to Will's life as she cannot live with the thought of what he wants to do. 

The book deals also with Lou's family life, her boyfriend of six years, her willingness to stay in the small town and do little with her own life. Once they get over being nasty with one another, Will has his own program of getting Lou to reach for more in life. 

I liked the characters--all quite different, coming from varied backgrounds. 

Whether it's 'cheesy and corny' is a matter of opinion. I liked the book, liked the writing and I learned many things about the life of a quadriplegic. There is a movie, based on the book that was released this year. It received poor reviews. To be honest, I doubt I would have liked the story as much seeing it on the screen. Of course, I nearly always prefer a book to a film. 

It's a different kind of love story. I'm looking forward to my Book Club members discussing the book, most especially the concept of assisted suicide. Both sides of that coin are presented in the book. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Independence Day Memories

This weekend, we celebrate our nation's independence from Britain. It seems strange that right now some in Britain are celebrating their independence from the European Union, while others are mourning the same. No doubt there wer colonists who were not in favor of splitting from the British and forming our own country. 

I had a poem and a personal essay published in an anthology titled A Quilt of Holidays in 2012. Both address our Fourth of July holiday. The essay may trigger memories of your own.

Independence Day In Chicago
Bt Nancy Julien Kopp

Come back with me to the1940’s era in Chicago. During the first few days of July, my younger brothers and I walked to the neighborhood Woolworth’s store to buy a very important item for our Fourth of July celebration. We had to make our purchase no later than July 3rd, for all businesses closed on Independence Day.

We walked on the creaky wooden floor, smelling the penny candy lined up in glass cases near the front door. Straight to the back of the long aisle, we found rolls and rolls of colored crepe paper--red, white, and blue, of course.  We bought several rolls with money we’d saved. Once home, we stashed our purchase for the next day.
The first thing after breakfast on the Fourth of July, we clambered down the three flights of stairs from our top floor apartment to the basement where our bikes were kept.  Bump, bump, bump—up the steps from basement to courtyard we went with our two wheeled bikes. Down went the kickstands, and out came the rolls of crepe paper to decorate. We wove the colored streamers in and out of the wheel spokes, and fastened more on the handle-bars, then stepped back to see which looked best. Decorating our bikes for America’s holiday left an indelible impression of patriotism in us.
Other kids in our building worked on bikes, too. We rode all over the neighborhood, up and down alleys and sidewalks showing off our fancy bikes, not caring how high the temperature might be.

We spent the rest of the day like any other hot, sultry summer day. We ate popsicles to cool off, walked to the park where families sat on the lawn with picnic lunches and waited for the sun to go down. Dad had gone out earlier to one of the only businesses open—the fireworks stand. Money was usually scarce in our family, but Dad always found some extra to buy firecrackers and sparklers for us. No doubt, he enjoyed them as much as we did.
Darkness finally descended over our city, and once again, we hurried down the three flights of stairs. Not just kids this time, but our whole family. We gathered in the alley beyond the apartment courtyard along with several other families. Only Dad lit our firecrackers, although I’m sure my brothers wanted to try it. One I loved was a pinwheel which Dad stuck into a telephone pole. When he lit the fuse, the entire thing whirled round and round, throwing sparks in every direction. Little firecrackers on the ground did nothing but make popping noises, but the Roman candles gave us the real show. Big noise and showers of colorful sparks which delighted us. And finally, Dad lit sparklers we held. I loved whirling them round and round, watching the designs the sparks made. All too soon, they burned down to the end and we rushed to get another until the boxes were emptied.

We knew why we decorated our bikes, why people went on picnics and why we had fireworks on the Fourth of July. Our parents talked to us every year about what it meant to have Independence and how a war several years before was fought and won to ensure that we lived with freedoms like few other nations. We grew up knowing there was a serious side to the holiday. Even so, it was a special day we looked forward to every summer. 

Fourth of July Parade

Celebrate the red, white and blue.
                                             On this day, keep it in all you do.

    Blow the bugle and beat the drums,
       march proudly wherever you’re from.

                   Remember the patriots who steadfastly tried,
    and all those souls who readily died.

        Scores perished so that we may be free
               to worship God, not king, on bended knee.

              Carry the flag proudly this exceptional day.
         “I’m an American” you can happily say.

                     Move on with a steady step and head held high.
               Let your heart swell as you look to the sky.

                This is our Independence Day celebration—

                         the annual birthday of, this, our own great nation.
                                                                                           --Nancy Julien Kopp