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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

We Write For Our Readers

One of my Chicken Soup stories was featured at The Good News Factory earlier this week. The editor posted on facebook this morning to let me know of some of the positive comments she'd received about my story. So, color me happy!

I responded to the editor, Ellie Braun-Haley, that one of the reasons I write is to reach out and touch the lives of others in some positive way. When a reader writes to me that my story helped them face a situation or was something they could relate to or came just when needed, I rejoice.

That's why today's photo is one of thanks. I appreciate my readers on a daily basis. Without them, there would be little reason to try to write well enough to be published. When the positive comments arrive, I know that the time spent writing and marketing was well worthwhile. It is also an inspiration to continue.

We all like to hear good things about what we write but it's more than that with me and with many of other writers, too.

Fifty years ago, our first child died when she was only seven weeks old from complications of birth defects. I wanted to write the story then because I hoped to help other parents who had lived through the heartache Ken and I had experienced. I didn't, no, I couldn't, write about it then. Three years later, we lost our third child who lived only one day because his lungs were not full developed. Again, I wanted to write about our experience but I couldn't. It was thirty years before I wrote about those sad times. I have written several stories about those two children and how they affected our lives and our extended families as well. Every one of the stories was published, partly because the editors knew that this was a topic other parents could relate to.

Even though long-delayed, I'm so glad that I finally did write those stories because I received so many responses from readers who related to the topic. I didn't write those stories to gain sympathy; I had come to terms with the losses long before. I wrote to help others.

I wrote a story about missing my mother on Mother's Day. I was interviewed on a Topeka TV station about the Chicken Soup book the story appeared in. The host asked me to read the story aloud that day. The next morning, I received a phone call from a woman who had seen the show, heard the story and wanted to tell me she had lost her own mother within the year and she had been dreading Mother's Day. She said, "After hearing your story, I know I can face that day and get through it just fine." It meant a lot to me that the woman had cared enough to find my phone number and make that call.

We do write for our own satisfaction but we also write for our readers. It does not matter whether you are writing fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry. Our aim is for others to read what we've written, for readers to find something of use or pleasure. The sad thing is that we only get feedback from a very few.

So today, I send bunches of thanks to my readers of this blog and to those who have read the many stories I have written over the years. The next time you especially like something you've read and have the opportunity to make a comment, take a minute and do it. It means so much to writers to hear from their readers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ever Make a To-Be List?

I like lists because they help me keep organized. Lots of writers blogs or reference books suggest keeping a To-Do list of things pertaining to your writing world. They're fine but there are other kinds of lists for writers, too.

Today, I'd like you to make a list of who or what you want to be in your writing world. It's a To-Be list. Start it with the following heading:  I want to be...  Then give some real thought to what you are going to put under your heading.

There are any number of things we can be in the writing world. Maybe you'll write some of these:  famous, published, admired, satisfied and many others. What do you want to be as a writer? 

Whatever it is will take hard work. None of it is going to happen with the snap of your fingers. If only! Much of it will require starting with small steps and moving up a little at a time. It most likely will demand passion and drive. It will take my two keywords--patience and persistence. 

Make your list and keep a copy in your writing area to remind you of where you want to go, who you want to be in the writing world. Writers hear the advice that they should write something every day. They also need to strive to be the writer they want to be each and every day. 

No time like right now to begin your list. You can add to it as other thoughts are bound to come to mind as the day goes on. So, here's the heading for you. Now you add the rest. If you would like to share with others, do so in the comment area. 

I want to be...

Monday, August 29, 2016

Writers and Poets--Call for Submissions


Calling All Writers and Poets

Chicken Soup for the Soul has some deadlines looming for books in the planning stages. If you're like me, you have been meaning to look at that list and see if you either have a story that would fit or have an idea to write one. Life gets in the way all too often, so perhaps a reminder from me today will get you moving on this one. 

If you're a fiction writer, you can write a true story, too. You have all the tools, just follow the Chicken Soup guidelines and be sure it's a  true story. Poets can submit, also. A narrative poem on the topic is fine, as long as it's true. 

The Curvy and Confident submission date is August 30th. That's tomorrow! If you have a story for this book, push all other things aside and work on it. No time to write a first draft and let it simmer a few days on this one. Maybe you have a story in your files that can be revised and edited in time to submit to this book.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident: 101 Stories about Loving Yourself and Your Body by [Newmark, Amy, Emme]

The Random Acts of Kindness book deadline is September 15th. That gives you a full 2 weeks and 3 days. I've been mulling over a story idea for this one long enough. It's time to get going on it if I want to write carefully and edit and then submit.

Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Random Acts of Kindness

The Spirit of Canada book deadline is September 30th, over a month from now. If you're not a Canadian but you have a story that illustrates the spirit of the Canadian people, send it in. Many of us have traveled to our neighbor to the north. (No book cover found for this one)

The Best Mom Ever book deadline is September 30th. I have a feeling that there will be a large number of submissions for this book. We all have stories about our moms or grandmas that could be submitted.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

Four opportunities if you get moving today. You cannot be published in any of these books unless you submit. Those of you who say you've submitted over and over again to Chicken Soup and never made it need to do two things. Study those guidelines and keep submitting. One of these times, you will be the one whose story is selected. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Everyone Has A Story

We moved to a senior living community seven months ago. We eat at the restaurant here a couple times each week. If there is an empty place at a table, anyone can join those already there. It's a good way to get to know the other people living here.

Life stories get shared across the table that is covered with a white linen cloth and contrasting color linen napkins. A small vase of flowers sits in the center of each table. It's quite nice but even better are the people who sit at our table. Ken and I have heard some of the most fascinating life stories from the people who eat with us.

One woman seldom talks; she says she'd rather listen to others. But one evening, she told us about being a Navy nurse during WWII. She met her husband on a ship in the Pacific theater during that period of time. Anyone seeing her in a grocery store checkout line would be so surprised at the life-changing experience she had during wartime. No doubt in my mind that she could have written a book if she'd wanted to.

Another woman was married to a funeral director for many years. She has a great wit and can tell a story so that everyone stops eating to give their full attention to her. She says she wishes she could write a book about some of the experiences she and her husband had in the funeral business but being in her nineties now keeps her from doing so.

When you pass people on the street, you make a mental assessment of them. You know what they look like physically, how they are dressed, whether they made eye contact or not. But you don't know their story. Pass ten people in one block of walking and you've moved by ten life stories, ten people who have gone through something that changed them. It might be huge or minuscule but they all do have a story.

To help you create a fictional character, make a point of talking to the people you meet. Learn about their background. Ask about the work experiences they had. Or what happened while they raised children. Talk to people and ask questions. Many times, they'll answer and keep on talking. All the things you learn can be filed away to use when you write.

I've found that real people are far more fascinating than those we make up in a story we write but they can also help us create fictional characters.

Years ago, I started posting many of my stories on a website called Our Echo. At the top of the page, it says Everyone has a story. What's yours? Maybe your own life story will give you material to create a fictional character. It's certain that many fictional characters have been based on a real person, or a combination of people.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grab Your Grammar Hat

Grammar is probably not the topic you would list as something you wanted to learn more about as you move along your writing journey. Boring? Maybe. It's also something that might make an editor toss your submission in a hurry if you write with too many mechanical errors or grammar no-no's.

The people in my online writers group are not beginners but I have seen many submissions where the writer changes tense in the middle of a paragraph, then reverts back to the original in the next. I will venture to say that most, if not all, of these writers know better but they get wrapped up in the content and errors slip by. It's one very good reason to have others critique your writing for both content and mechanics.

The three main categories of verb tenses are Past, Present and Future. I'm sure you all know that but if you are writing in past tense, then suddenly switch to present in one or two sentences, it throws everything off. Consistency in verb forms is not just a nice thing to do. It's mandatory.

I frequently suggest--even urge--writers to wait a couple days or even longer before editing whatever has been written. It's the little things like verb tense that will show up then. If you start revising and editing immediately after writing the first draft, you're less likely to catch the errors.

Strive for harmony with your subjects and verbs. If you have a singular subject, you need a singular verb. A plural subject requires a plural form of the verb. 

I remember grammar exercise sheets that my 7th and 8th grade English teacher handed out at the beginning of every class, five days a week. We had to fill in the blank with the proper form of verbs, adjectives, adverbs and other grammatical subjects.  It's a known fact that we learn through repetition. Some students hated those exercise sheets but I know that they helped me learn proper grammar. Ok, I have to confess that I enjoyed doing these exercises while many of my classmates did not. I have always been a word person while many others claim title to being a numbers person. For them, those grammar sheets caused a lot of misery.

There are far too many articles on this topic for me to link to just one. Use your favorite search engine to find them, then take some time to review the proper usage of tenses in writing. You'll find good examples of subject and verb agreement as well as the usage of different tenses of verbs. My aim here today is to make you aware of these two parts of grammar so that you will see them when you write, then edit, your own work. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Believe In Yourself

Yesterday's post centered on turning negatives into positives. One way to be able to do so is to believe in yourself. It's obvious that the kitten above has great plans for her life. She's going to be Somebody. She believes it!

If we grow up with parents who encourage us to try new things and to challenge ourselves, we'll have an easier time of achieving that attitude. If we had parents who consistently told us we couldn't achieve this or that, we might start believing that we didn't have the ability and stop trying. What a shame that would be.

Parenting books urge moms and dads to instill an attitude of I can do this! in their children. We should tell our daughters they could be president of a big company someday, or even president of the USA. We should let our children know that anything is possible if they work hard and have a passion for whatever field they choose to work in. Once again, the positives outweigh the negatives. 

My dad was definitely a male chauvinist and he readily admitted it. Nothing would convince hm that a woman could work in a man's world and achieve big things. As a teen, I once thought I'd like to work in the advertising world. Dad burst that bubble in a hurry. "That's way too competitive for women," he told me. I didn't agree but I knew better than to argue with him. I never did work in advertising but I pursued the one thing I was truly passionate about--writing. 

I knew that I had the basic tools to be a writer. I loved my English classes in school, from the early grades on through college. I had good grades in that subject and encouraging comments on the papers I wrote for those classes. That helped me believe that I could be a writer. I knew that it was a tough field to work in. More writers hope to be published than the number that actually achieve that goal. I never worked as a writer on a career path; instead, my writing is as a hobbyist, but serious, writer.

Even so, I did believe in myself as I worked my way along the writing path. Every rejection felt like I'd fallen down and couldn't get up. But I did make it to my feet and moved on. Part of what helped me move on was that self-confidence I had. There are lot of falls along the way to be a successful writer but you can overcome them. Bumps and bruises perhaps but also experience. 

We learn from our experiences and we also boost our self-confidence if we concentrate on the positives of those situations. When I joined my first online writing group, I knew I might not be as professional as some of the other members, but I told myself I would learn from them and reach a new level in my writing. That is exactly what happened. That group gave me the self-confidence to submit more and more of my work for publication. I still got plenty of rejections but I also received numerous acceptances and placed in many contests. Small contests, to be sure, but I tried bigger and better ones as I moved along my writing journey. 

If you believe in yourself, your writing will probably show it. If you believe in yourself, you'll make it in the writing world eventually. You'll achieve those small goals along the way and maybe you'll hit the big ones someday, as well. If you believe in yourself, others will, too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Turn Negatives Into Positives


We encounter a lot of negatives in our writing world. Things like writers' block, rejection, fierce competition and lack of growing as a writer--they can all evoke anger, sadness, or actual depression. I doubt that there is any writer who has not had to deal with any or all of these problems.

We can deal with them by having a furious temper tantrum, thereby alienating anyone who happens to cross our path. What we are seeking is to vent our frustration and maybe to get some attention from a family member or friend. Unless they are also writers, we aren't going to have a lot of sympathy from them. They might easily adapt the attitude that you wanted to be a writer, this is part of it, now deal with it. They might come up with a superficial phrase like It will get better. Remember that they can't understand what you're going through.

We can handle the problems by being the saddest person on the planet--too sad to get out of bed some mornings, too sad to clean the house, too sad to carry on a normal conversation with others. Sadness tends to expand. The longer we have it, the harder it is to rise above it. We can fall into the 'poor me' syndrome pretty easily.

Some writers fall into a real depression over the problems in their writing life. It would be a relatively small number but if you're there, you know how debilitating it can be. At this stage, professional help is needed.

One way to fight the problems cited above is to turn the negatives into positives. Instead of falling into the anger mode or the sad situation, adopt a I'll show them attitude. Make I can do this! your mantra.

Rejections mean that you need to find a different market to submit to or start revising and editing the piece until you know it is improved. Look at it as a challenge. Ask yourself how you can make the story better than it was. I think every story, essay, poem or article can be made better. None are perfect; some come close but there's always somewhere to up it a bit.

If Writer's Block is getting you down, walk away from writing for awhile. Do other things that you've been putting off. Inspiration often strkies when we least expect it. When the urge hits, hie thee to thy keyboard and start writing again. Don't try writing an entire story or chaper. Write a scene. Move on a little at a time.

As for fierce competition in the writing world--don't let it trigger an attitude that you're not good enough. Remember that those writers at the top of the game had to learn and grow in their own writing world just like you and I are doing now. They didn't become hotshots the day they started writing. You are as good as anyone else if you have the passion for writing that they do. You're as good as any other writer if you have the drive to learn and grow. Compettion is a good thing. It can only spur us on to improve as writers.

That final negative listed above is lack of growing as a writer. That is something you can control. You are the one who should read craft of writing articles and books. You are the one who should attend an occasional writers' conference or workshop. You are the one who must write on a constant basis so that you improve over time. You are the one who should read the work of other writers extensively to see how it's done.

Don't let the negatives become an excuse for not finding more success as a writer, Promise yourself to turn the negatives into positives. You'll feel better about yourself and you might have some success in your writing world. I'd like to see you smiling and dancing like the guy on the right.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Showing and Evoking Sensation Captures Your Readers

Here it is again. Don't tell. Show! You've heard it over and over from me and read the same in books about writing. You've heard workshop leaders say it. You've heard it on webinars you've attended. It's been said at your writing group meetings. 

Yep, we hear it, We read it, We know it. Even so, we still tend to do more telling than we should when we write. You can't eliminate all telling. That's nearly impossible. You can rid your work of a lot of it by showing and, as today's poster says, 'evoke sensation in the reader.' 

In a Random Word freewrite exercise that I did yesterday, I described a storm that occurred while we were at a cocktail party at a private club. After describing the thunder and lightning, the rain beating on the windows and wind bending trees to the ground, I wrote this:  Inside, the crowd enjoyed drinks and appetizers, laughter and chatter competing for noise with the thunder.  Several in my writing group commented that they liked this sentence, that it allowed them to 'hear' what happened. I could have written There was a lot of noise inside, too. That would be pure telling, wouldn't it? 

Learning to write so that we show, rather than tell, and write to 'evoke sensation,' is not a quick study. We must concentrate on writing this way. The longer we do it, the easier it becomes. We establish a habit of thinking in the show rather than tell mode. 

When you edit your work, look for areas where you can show, where you can 'evoke sensation' in your readers. Instead of saying Millie ate one bite of the apple pie you could write something like She let one bite of the apple pie slide across her tongue, savoring the combination of the tart apples and spicy cinnamon, before she swallowed. I don't know about you, but I suddenly want a bite of that pie, too. The second sentence showed Millie eating the pie and it also evoked the sensation of taste in the reader.

If you write a story that is all telling, it begins to sound like a report, or even a list of happenings. Not very interesting for your readers. Let them see the scene, allow them to feel what is happening and they are more likely to want to continue reading the story. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Wrting Your Memoir

Writing a memoir is high on the trend ladder right now. Yesterday, I read about a 35 year old man who has completed his memoir. Unusual for anyone to complete a memoir after a mere 35 years of living, but it seems this man did a whole lot of living in those three and a half decades. Much of it was negative but ends up on the positive side. His memoir is meant to be an example to others rather than a treasured story. 

Today's poster is the perfect springboard for memoir writers. My initial thought was that there are also a good many events or situations in our lives that we might not want to revisit. I do know, from experience, that writing about the bad things that happen is an aid to healing. This kind of writing can also allow us to look at whatever happened a bit more objectively which can lead to better understanding. All that adds up to a positive.

The biggest obstacle for those who would like to write a memoir is often Where do I begin? It's not necessary to begin with the day you were born. Nor is it necessary to think you have to write an entire book. Try writing bits and pieces instead. Write a story about the time you visited a grandparent you'd never met before. Write another story about the time you didn't make team captain in your chosen sport. Write a story about the day you met the person you would eventually marry. Write lots of stories about your life and keep them in a file. As the file grows, so will the base for your memoir book.

My annual state authors contest has a category for Memoir. That category receives the greatest number of entries in the contest. Why? Unlike fiction, memoir stories have happened and all the writer needs to do is bring them to mind and write about whatever occurred. To be a winner, however, the writer must present the story with all the tools he/she has in the writer's kit bag. The story needs to capture the reader (and the judge!). It needs to be written with sensory details, pleasing phrases, active verbs and more. Another reason is that we like to revisit our childhood or early adulthood memories--to feel a few things twice, as the poster says.

A memoir should not only entertain; the reader should gain some lesson or insight. It's much the same as writing the personal essay where a universal truth should be revealed somewhere within the essay's story. 

When you've finished writing a part, or all, of your memoir, look at it as objectively as you can. Ask yourself what others might gain from reading it. What might a reader relate to? What life lesson is there for the reader to see? Is there any emotion present--joy, sorrow, humor, anger and more? 

It's not only celebrities who can write a publishable memoir. You can, too. Or, you can write your memoir as a legacy to leave for your family members. I keep a hard copy of all that I write in a large loose leaf binder; actually, there are two filled at this point. I divided the writing into sections. One of them is Family Stories. My memoir section! 

There are many websites that give definition to memoir vs autobiography. Take a look at one of them. Note that the memoir is a more personal account. Being personal is the main reason I prefer memoir. How about you? Do you read them? Do you write memoir pieces? 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Book Clubs Vary in Style

There are activities in my life that take me away from writing. One of them, however, feeds my writing soul. It's my monthly Book Club. There are seven women in the group who have known one another for many years. Two of the women were the movers and shakers that got the group started. The approached people they knew who were readers and whom they thought would enjoy discussing what they'd read. 

There are several ways to operate a group like this but ours works like this. We each take a month to choose a book from a large list from our state library. We ask a specific librarian at our local library to get 7 copies. We need to allow sufficient time for the request and delivery of the books. The person for September hands out the books at the August meeting, giving members a full month to read the book. 

The person who chooses the book also hosts the meeting at her home. We made a rule that there will be nothing served but coffee or water. We meet at 9:30 in the morning, so a second cup of coffee is welcomed. The hostess also leads the discussion. Usually, the leader researches the author and finds discussion questions and editorial reviews online. Amazon has summaries and editorial reviews, as well as reader reviews. Click the link to see an example. Scroll down the entire page to see all that is offered. I find it a good resource. You can use a search engine to find others.

We are a varied group in political and religious backgrounds so our discussions are filled with different opinions. We do respect one another's opinion, even though we might not agree with it. We all grew up in different parts of the USA. Our childhood experiences often come into our discussions. 

We meet all twelve months of the year. The second Tuesday morning of the month is a day I look forward to. The husband of one of our members served on the Pulitzer Prize committee for a number of years, so she often has interesting 'asides' about a book. As a writer, I think I have helped these readers also see a book through a writer's eyes. Everyone offers something different. 

There is no one and only way to conduct a book club. These are a few things to keep in mind:

1.  Decide if you are a Discussion group or a Book Review group (In a Book Review group, only one person reads the book, then reviews it for the others)

2. Make a few basic rules--we have only two:  nothing served but coffee or water and whatever is said in Book Club goes no farther. This last rule allows frank discussions. Each group should make their own rules.

3. Don't have too many people in the group. If it is too large, it is easy for some to sit and absorb but not offer anything to the discussion.

4. Decide how you will select the books to read. Everyone purchases a book in some groups. In others, a few people buy the book, then share with others. Some groups select a full year's worth at one meeting. Others. allow individuals to choose the book.

5. Keep in mind that the newest books will be harder to get through your library. 

6. Vary the types of books you read. Include fiction, nonfiction, biographies, memoirs. I have read many books in book club that I might never have picked up on my own. Even so, I have learned something and enjoyed reading them.

7. It only takes one or two people to begin a book club. They should decide on a desirable number of members and start asking people they know. This is strictly a friends kind of group. There are others that are made up of people who do not know one another. You'll find these groups through your library or local book store. There are even online book clubs of different types. They all operate in a different manner.

8. There are groups that meet mornings or afternoons or evening, ones that serve food and drink or nothing at all, some that have one leader every meeting and those who share the duty. 

9. Reading is the number one priority for these groups. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Making Pies And Being A Writer

Her First Effort At Pie-Making

I loved this picture because I was about the same age when I made my first pie (with help!) It was far from perfect but we all have to start somewhere. I watched my grandmother make pies in her neighborhood bakery. She seemed to have magic hands when she created those beautiful pies. Through the years, I've learned to make pies with ease.

Our writing journey is much the same. That first story we write is not going to win a prize in a contest. Maybe not the twentieth one either. But, if we keep working at it and learn as we go, we will have a story worthy of winning a contest or being published someday. Learning the craft of writing is a slow process. We grow as writers in small steps, not by leaps and bounds. We don't decide to become a writer one day and start cashing the checks it brings the next. We keep working at it with that goal in mind. For some, publication comes sooner than for others. Part of the reason for that is how passionate a writer you are, how much effort you put into polishing and perfecting your writing, and learning to be a good marketer.

Here's a personal essay that I wrote awhile back about Grandma's pies and the first one I ever made. It seems to illustrate what I've said about our writing journey today.

 My Grandma’s Magic Hands
By Nancy Julien Kopp

I’ve made countless pies in my life, but the memory of the first one is as clear as a sunny April sky. I was a pre-school child, growing up in the WWII years. My mother and I spent our mornings at my grandmother’s bakery.

Grandma started her bakery in a tiny apartment kitchen in a Chicago suburb during the Depression years. When her home business grew, she rented a building large enough for a working area and a display center. My mother and her brother helped with the baking, and a young Czechoslovakian girl named Adeline waited on customers. Occasionally, Adeline baked, too. They weren’t professionals but turned out delectable cakes, pies, cookies and breads day after day to supply the neighborhood. The door in the display room opened and closed repeatedly through the day.

By the time I turned three, I’d stand on a large metal flour canister next to Grandma. I watched while she mixed, rolled, and formed cinnamon rolls, dinner buns, and loaves of bread. I looked on intently as she mixed pie crust and prepared fruit for her fast-selling pies. If I talked too much or got in her way, I landed none-too-gently on my bottom on a bench alongside a long picnic table used for tea breaks. And there I sat, watching from afar, until Grandma nodded her head which was crowned with a coiled braid. When she offered me a tiny glimmer of a smile, I scurried back to my perch next to her.

She offered me tastes of many of the goodies in the bakery. I nibbled on cookies, bits of cake, and rolls, but my favorite was pie crust. It didn’t matter if it was part of a pie or only the crust itself. If a pie shell came out of the oven with a crack in it, Grandma allowed me to break it into pieces and eat it when cooled—a wish come true. To make a pie of my own was yet another wish, so I watched very closely when Grandma made pies.

Grandma placed the pastry dough on a floured board, then she shaped it into a big round powder puff. She floured the rolling pin before applying pressure on that ball of dough. She rolled up and down, then sideways several times. The circle got thinner and larger, and when Grandma laid the rolling pin down, I handed her the pie tin. She folded the pie crust in half and lifted it with ease into the pan. Zap! She flipped the folded half over to cover the pan, and then her hands flew as she fluted the edge and pricked the center with the tines of a fork several times.

“Don’t forget to do this or you’ll have big bubbles in your pie shell,” she reminded me many times. I listened carefully for she seemed a wizard, performing magic with all the things she baked.

If Grandma was making a fruit pie, she didn’t prick the bottom crust. She mixed apples or peaches or apricots with sugar, a bit of flour and some cinnamon, then piled the fruit high in the pie crust, adding generous pats of butter. The top piece of pastry received special treatment. Grandma used a small paring knife to cut slits and tiny holes in a decorative pattern in the center of the crust before she folded it in half and lifted it onto the waiting, fruit-filled pie pan. Then her fingers worked their magic as she fluted the edge before sliding the newest pie into the oven.

Finally, a day arrived when Grandma put her flour-covered hands on her apron-covered hips and said to me, “Isn’t it time you made a pie? You’re four years old.”

A tiny shiver traveled up my spine. “By myself?”

“You might need a little help. Adeline can show you what to do.” She pointed toward Adeline who waited nearby.

Adeline set a huge flour canister on the floor and lifted me onto it. She had everything we needed ready and waiting--a small, tart-size pie tin, a rolling pin, flour, and the pie crust dough. She folded a flour sack dish towel in a triangle and tied it around my waist. Then she said, “OK, roll out the dough, Nancy.”

I shook my head. “We make a powder puff first.”

After forming the dough into a round, I picked up the rolling pin, a smaller version of Grandma’s, and I started to roll it across the dough. But it stuck! Before Adeline could tell me, I said, “I know what we need--flour on the rolling pin.” I pried the wooden tool from the crust, floured it and tried again. I did it exactly as Grandma had done so many
times as I watched her. I rolled up and down, then sideways and up and down again, but I didn’t have a perfect circle. It looked so easy when Grandma did it.

I didn’t have time to cry over that fiasco, as Adeline assured me it would be all right. “Now fold it over and put it in the pan,” she said.

That part I did with ease. She handed me the bowl of apples, already mixed so they were sweet and spicy. I dumped them into the pie shell, but half of the apples landed on the counter. I scooped them up with my flour-covered hands and piled them on top of the ones already in the pie shell. I remembered to flour the rolling pin before attacking the pastry for the top of the pie. This time Adeline put her hands over mine and helped me make a better circle, not perfect but better. After she cut slits in the dough into a letter A, I folded it in half and carefully picked it up. Plop! Down it went onto the apples. Adeline showed me how to pinch the pastry together around the edges to make a fancy finish. My fingers didn’t have the magic like Grandma’s, and my edge didn’t look nearly as pretty, but Adeline told me it looked very fine for a first pie. I clung to her side when she showed it to Grandma and waited to see what she’d say.

Grandma looked at the pie for a long time. “It looks like a nice little pie. You did a good job.”

My heart swelled at those few words.

When Adeline slid my pie out of the oven, the cinnamon and apple aroma filled the air. I could see the filling bubbling through the slits in the golden-brown crust. “It has to cool before you can eat it,” she warned.

“I’m taking it home to my daddy,” I told her. “It’s all for him. Every bite!”

Although my father seldom ate dessert, that night he had a piece of my pie. “It’s the best I ever ate,” he said, “and I hope you make a thousand more pies.”

 I think I really have made a thousand more pies since that very first effort. One of the nicest compliments my mother ever paid me was when she tasted one of my pies, laid down her fork, and said, “You make wonderful pie just like your grandmother.”
I couldn’t help but think of the many times I watched Grandma create pies, and I was both pleased and proud she’d shared her magic with me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The La-La Land Of Lost Writing--Don't Go There!

We admire strength; it's something we strive for in many parts of our life. Strong writing should figure in the top part of your list of writing goals. We use the term often and maybe even overuse it without giving enough serious thought to what it means to us, as writers.

To me, strong writing has many facets. Here is a partial list:

Sticking to the topic:  Too often, writers end up straying away from the original topic and find themselves writing two essays instead of the one they intended. Eliminate that second topic; save it for another essay to write later.

Perfect, or almost perfect, mechanics (grammar, punctuation, spelling): Don't think an editor is going to 'fix' everything you miss in this department. Have enough errors in this department and your submission will end up in the La-La Land Of Lost Writing.

No rambling:  Nothing is more boring than reading something that makes a point, then rambles on and on about the same thing. Say it and move on.

Active verbs:  We know that active verbs make a story more visual but too often we take the lazy man's way out with too many passives like is, was were...

Good dialogue:  Flat dialogue creates flat characters. Put active, interesting words into the mouths of your characters.

Redundancy:  Give your readers some credit. You can make a point without repeating it in different words. Most of them will 'get it' the first time.

No droning on and on: Similar to redundancy but some writers can drone on and on with the description of a chair. Unless it has great significance to the story, don't do it.

Use metaphors and similes but don't overdo: Use them but don't repeat the same ones in the same story. Some authors seem to find a simile that they like a lot and so they use it again and again. The simile begins to stand out to the reader. Come up with new ones or don't use them. Use any of them sparingly.

No clich├ęs:  Oh, aren't they tempting? We have heard them for years but that's the problem--so have your readers. They prefer something new.

Build tension:  Whether it is fiction or creative nonfiction, do this to make your reader want to keep reading. It can be huge or it can be a small thing, but it's a good way to keep your reader interested.

A good hook at the beginning:  Grab readers with an opening paragraph that piques interest. You also want to do this with an editor reading your submission.  Action works well.

Strong ending: Strength and satisfaction, maybe even a surprise, is called for in the ending of what you write. Haven't we all read a book with a flat ending? I feel cheated when that happens.

What other points would you add to this list? What do you consider to be strong writing?

Use the above as a checklist so your submission does not find a home in the La-La Land Of Lost Writing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Try This Writing Exercise Today

Let's start the week with an exercise geared to those who like to travel. It can also be used for all life experiences. Answer the question below, writing as much as you like about each subheading. Try to write at least a few paragraphs. You might come up with a memoir piece, an essay or the basis for a fiction story. Take your time. Do one each day rather than all of them at one sitting. Try to include sensory details and even some dialogue.

What is the travel or life experience in which you...

1. ...were the most frightened

2. ...were the most frustrated

3. ...experienced an outcome that surprised you

4. ...felt the most exhilarated from afterward

5. ...waited the longest to achieve/experience

6. ...learned the most from

7. ...didn't really want to do, but were glad you did afterward

This exercise was originally sent to a writer's group by Annette Gendler. I first used it in my online writers group several years ago. This morning, I ran across my answers to these 7 questions. They were most interesting to read after several years have passed. So, do save your work if you accept my challenge and do this exercise. I think you'll find your answers turn out to be quite interesting, both now and later.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Reaction To Rejection

Pursuing the writing life is inviting frustration into your life. Thousands of us do it on a regular basis, don't we? Every time we submit our work to an editor, we subject ourselves to the possibility of rejection, the frustration of having to try again, and the dent it puts in our self-confidence. The word masochistic comes to mind but that's not the case with someone who truly wants to be a writer.

I love the part of today's poster that gives us the okay to scream and cry when frustration hits like a water balloon tossed straight in the face. No one should take rejection with elation. Rejection stinks! Get those negative emotions brought to the surface, then let them go.

There are differences in the way writers react to rejection. We have different personalities so it stands to reason that we are going to receive the news that our precious words are not wanted by a particular editor. The reactions range from a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach to actual rage with damages in your surrounding area. The important thing is to react somehow. It's necessary before you move on.

And move on is exactly what is needed next. Vent your frustration or anger and then keep on writing and submitting. If you have a passion for writing, you must not give up. Something good is bound to happen sooner or later. I know what you're thinking about now--How much later? How much longer do I have to put up with these constant rejections?

Regular readers of this blog know that my two keywords for writers are Patience and Perseverance. Two words but they both take determination in actual practice. It's not easy to be patient when things don't go as hoped. It's tough to persevere when rejection after rejection rolls your way. Maybe a third keyword should be Passion. If you have a passion for writing, you can handle all that comes with it.

  • It's alright to vent your frustration.
  • It's not alright to give up something you love.
  • Keep working to improve your writing.
  • Keep sending your work to editors.
  • Keep growing as a writer.
  • Keep putting one foot in front of the other as you travel through the writer's journey.
  • Look ahead, not at what has happened in the past.
  • Be objective when assessing your own work.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

We Use Life Experiences In Our Writing

The poster for today makes me aware of how important our life experiences are. They feed our writer's soul and allow us to make our writing something readers can and will relate to.

It also gives consideration to the difference between a writer of a young age--say twenties--as opposed to those in fifties or sixties. It's not that one age group is a better writer than the other. It's more that the older writer has far more life experiences to draw from.

A plus for the twenty-something writer is that he/she can write toward their own age group far better than someone who is 65. The younger writer understands what the younger reader wants to read about. Technology of today is natural to them as they've grown up with it. For the older writer, it was not all that easy to learn the technology of today. Sure, lots of us have done it but we had to work at it. There was no 'natural' about it. Conversely, the older writer is able to reach the older reader more easily. They can use the large expanse of life happenings.

Wouldn't it be nice if all our life experiences could be arranged in a file drawer, waiting for us to rifle through the folders and use the one that best illustrates whatever we are writing about? Instead, those events that occurred throughout our lifetime are filed in our memory bank and it's not always so easy to pluck the right one at will.

Even so, our subconscious often pulls that memory for us. Start writing about a circus and a memory of a circus you attended as a child pops into your mind. As you think about it, you will add more and more to the memory and then use some of the information to bring your writing to life. If you concentrate on your circus memory, you might even bring sensory details to mind--the smell, the sounds, the taste of cotton candy, and more.

If you have lived through a tragic time in your life, you will be able to draw from the experience and write about it. Doing so can help others and also aid in your own healing. The joyous time of a wedding or the birth of a long-awaited child stays with you and comes through when you write about the same kind of event.

Getting poor grades in school might help you write a kid story about the same, or if you were the valedictorian of your high school class, you might write a YA story about a person who is at the top of his/her class. You were there so you know the feelings of that person.

Good or bad, nothing in our life experiences is wasted. It's all there in your memory bank waiting for you to make a withdrawal and put it to good use.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Reading The Black Widow by Daniel Silva

Daniel Silva's latest book featuring Gabriel Allon, art restorer and Israeli spy, is at the top of the bestseller list. When I first became aware of this latest in the Gabriel Allon series, I quickly put it on reserve at my local library. Sixteen people were ahead of me but there were multiple copies so I didn't have to wait too long before my turn.

I lean toward historical fiction, family sagas, and a mystery now and then for my pleasure reading. Now and then, I like to read a suspense thriller. Silva's newest book is exactly that. Filled with suspense and a thriller. It's lengthy, just over 500 pages but I read it in 3 days. I am normally a fast reader but this book kept me turning pages at an even more rapid pace than usual. I found myself sitting down to read whenever I had a spare moment and all evening.

As mentioned, this is the latest in a full series of books featuring Gabriel Allon, the man who escapes death time and again in his pursuit of Israel's enemies in the Middle East. You could still read this book on its own as the author provides enough background material sprinkled throughout that you can learn the history of this protagonist without losing anything in the story itself.

The subject of the book is ISIS and its aim at neutralizing Europe, America and Israel through many horrific attacks. We've seen much of that this summer in actual happenings. The author was still finishing the book when the Brussels and Paris attacks took place earlier this year. His story is fiction but parallels actual world events so well that it may send shivers up and down your spine.

Just prior to becoming the chief of Israeli spies, Gabriel delves into one more mission. He convinces a young Jewish doctor in France to help infiltrate ISIS. Natalie is reluctant at first but finally agrees to help. She is given intense training before she becomes an ISIS recruit and travels to the Middle East where she is given training to be a suicide bomber and finds herself ministering to a severely wounded leader called Saladin, although his real identity is unknown.

The story moves back and forth from Israel to European cities to American cities and the Middle East. The author weaves the story like a silken spider web, strand by strand until the reader is caught within emerging only when the last page is read and the book closed. I doubt it will be easily forgotten once that happens.

The reader easily relates to the characters to the point that you find yourself either cheering or trembling in fear as the story moves along.

One of the professional reviewers said, “Silva builds suspense like a symphony conductor.... A winner on all fronts.” (Booklist, starred review)

If you are waiting for a copy of this book, try some of the other books in the Gabriel Allon series first. You can find a list of the titles in the order in which they were published, beginning in 2000, at this website

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Don't Add Word Count With Unnecessary Words


Word count is always a concern when we are writing for a specific contest or a magazine that allows only a certain number of words. Many times, the members of my online writing group sub a piece and say that they are over the max for words. They request help in cutting words.

The first way to do that is through a line by line edit. Look for those unnecessary words that we all tend to use in our everyday conversation. Words like just, really, very, started, that, then and many more. Words like these add nothing to the meaning of the sentence. They're like ostrich feathers on a hat already adorned with fake roses. Too much!

Michelle Rafter of the WordCount website has a good post on words that we don't need. She has some excellent examples.

Beginning writers use more unnecessary words than seasoned writers. Why? One reason is because they start writing in the same manner as they talk to others. Those extra words seem to roll off our tongues with ease. Experienced writers learn to cut, cut, cut to keep to the word count and they know which can be axed.

When I'm critiquing a piece for someone else, I can spot those unnecessary words. They seem to be in neon lights. In reverse, I can miss many of my own when editing. Maybe it's like not seeing the faults in our own children as easily as we do the offspring of others.

If you are ruthless in cutting words, the result will be a stronger piece of writing. I have corrected the last sentence because I originally will end up with...  There is no reason to use the word up in that sentence. It's not easy to cut the many unnecessary words. You will need to train yourself to weed them out of your prose and also your poetry. Yes, you can add a lot of unnecessary words to a poem. Even in poetry, less is better.

The topic is of such importance that you can find dozens of articles through a search engine. Google unnecessary words in writing or cutting unnecessary words in writing. Take some time to read what the experts have to say.

Select a piece of prose from your files and do a line by line edit. Mark the unnecessary words. Then total them when you finish. If you do a Gulp!, you'd better start working at eliminating them from future writing.

Yes, it's a small thing when you consider all that must be considered when we write. It's those small things that make or break your writing.

Monday, August 8, 2016

My Memorable Books List

We are back from our summer getaway to Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. Lots of time on the screened-in deck watching the lake activity from boats of all kinds and speeds to turtle family to young teen cleaning fish he'd caught. Good food at a variety of restaurants, a bit of shopping, as well.

Now, it's time to get back to my writing world. I read an article in today's newspaper about the books that meant something to you, ones that you remember well even though you may have read them many years ago. I started pondering on what books that I've read over the years have stayed with me. My list ( in no particular order)  is below along with a comment as to why they are books stored carefully in my memory bank.  Make a list of your own and reasons why you still think of them fondly.

My Memorable Books

1. The Nancy Drew Mystery series by Carolyn Keene--she was such a role model for young girls, plus I liked her name.

2.  Sue Barton, Nurse series by Helen Dore Boylston--I had delusions of becoming a nurse and wanted to read all I could about that profession. After learning you had to take chemistry, I changed to teaching in a hurry.

3.  The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher--this book by an English author is one I think every mother and every daughter should read.

4.  A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford--by far her best novel; the story of a woman's life which spoke to me in many ways--a rags to riches story

5.  Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell--this one hooked me on historical fiction for life

6.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte--stayed with me after reading it as a young woman

7.  Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather--made me cry both times I read it

8.  Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney--it was the first book during my childhood that showed me what poverty and deprivation are like

No doubt, I will think of others to add to my list in the next few days. I believe I learned something from all of the books listed above. I gained understanding of myself and others. Some helped me set goals in my life. And others were just dearly loved stories.

Looking at how books have affected my life should have some bearing on my own writing. More than 'should have'--I think that the books in my list and several others have had a lot of influence on my own writing.

Make your list and see what effect the books you cherish most have had on your writing life.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Eight Writing Exercises

My husband and I are going away for a few days so there will be no new post here until Monday, August 8th. I'm posting four photos below that you can use to do the photo prompt exercise. Below that, you'll find a list of words that you can use for a freewrite exercise. That should keep you busy until I can post a new topic next week. 

Photo Prompt Exercise
Study the photo, then write a paragraph, several paragraphs or more using the photo as a base.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Words For Freewrite Exercise
For each word, write 10 minutes without stopping. Write whatever comes into your mind.

  • tasteful
  • torrid
  • bagpipes
  • shy

Monday, August 1, 2016

Writing Goals For This Month

I'm not at all sure where July went. It slid by so fast that I cannot believe that 31 days ago we were looking forward to celebrating July 4th with barbecues, fireworks, and being with family and friends. But there it is--July come and gone.

Today, we say hello to August, the final summer month for those in our northern hemisphere. It's back to school time for many, a final vacation time for others. It's also a new beginning for writers.

I love new beginnings. If I didn't accomplish all my writing goals during July, I can start the list for this next 31 days with the unfinished ones. I will also add a few more. Each time the calendar tells me it is the first day of a new month, I feel exhilarated. It's like opening the first page of a book you will read. You know there is something good ahead and you're eager to get started.

What are my writing goals for August 2016?
  • to check deadline dates for Chicken Soup for the Soul books
  • to work on an ebook I hope to publish someday
  • to do 2 subs and 4 crits at my online group
  • to continue working on a personal essay about trains
  • to get my computer/printer incompatibility problems solved
  • to write the first draft of a poem that has been swirling in my head
That's six tasks for me to accomplish, a bit more than one per week. That's enough. Too many writers make up such a long list of goals for the month that they feel overwhelmed before they begin. Make your goals realistic. Make them possible. Make most of them attractive--you want them to call out to you. No doubt there will be one or two that you dread tackling. Most likely, when you accomplish those unattractive ones, you'll feel the most satisfied. Nobody ever said that every part of being a writer is super wonderful, did they? 

Take some time today to list your goals for August 2016. Then pick one and start working on it.